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Title: One of Cleopatra's Nights and Other Fantastic Romances - One of Cleopatra's Nights—Clarimonde—Arria Marcella—The Mummy's Foot—Omphale: a Rococo Story—King Candaules
Author: Gautier, Théophile, 1811-1872
Language: English
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OTHER FANTASTIC ROMANCES***


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      http://archive.org/details/oneofcleopatrasn00gautiala



ONE OF CLEOPATRA'S NIGHTS

And Other Fantastic Romances

by

THEOPHILE GAUTIER



Published by Brentano's
at Union Square. New York
1900



TRANSLATED BY LAFCADIO HEARN



     _The love that caught strange light from death's own eyes,_
     _And filled death's lips with fiery words and sighs,_
       _And, half asleep, let feed from veins of his_
     _Her close, red, warm snake's-mouth, Egyptian-wise:_

     _And that great night of love more strange than this,_
     _When she that made the whole world's bale and bliss_
       _Made king of the whole world's desire a slave_
     _And killed him in mid-kingdom with a kiss._

                                                         SWINBURNE.

"_Memorial verses on the death of Théophile Gautier_."



TO THE READER


The stories composing this volume have been selected for translation
from the two volumes of romances and tales by Théophile Gautier
respectively entitled _Nouvelles_ and _Romans et Contes_. They afford in
the original many excellent examples of that peculiar beauty of fancy
and power of painting with words which made Gautier the most brilliant
literary artist of his time. No doubt their warmth of coloring has been
impoverished and their fantastic enchantment weakened by the process of
transformation into a less voluptuous tongue; yet enough of the original
charm remains, we trust, to convey a just idea of the French author's
rich imaginative power and ornate luxuriance of style.

The verses of Swinburne referring to the witchery of the novelette which
opens the volume, and to the peculiarly sweet and strange romance which
follows, sufficiently indicate the extraordinary art of these tales. At
least three of the stories we have attempted to translate rank among the
most remarkable literary productions of the century.

These little romances are characterized, however, by merits other than
those of mere literary workmanship; they are further remarkable for a
wealth of erudition--picturesque learning, we might say--which often
lends them an actual archæologic value, like the paintings of some
scholarly artist, some Alma Tadema, who with fair magic of
color-blending evokes for us eidolons of ages vanished and civilizations
passed away.

Thus one finds in the delightful fantasy of _Arria Marcella_ not only a
dream of "Pompeiian Days," pictured with an idealistic brilliancy beyond
the art of Coomans, but a rich knowledge, likewise, of all that
fascinating lore gleaned by antiquarian research amid the ashes of the
sepultured city--a knowledge enriched in no small degree by local study,
and presented with a descriptive power finely strengthened by personal
observation. It is something more than the charming imagination of a
poetic dreamer which paints for us the blue sea "unrolling its long
volutes of foam" upon a beach as black and smooth as sifted charcoal;
the fissured summit of Vesuvius, out-pouring white threads of smoke from
its crannies "as from the orifices of a perfuming pan;" and the
far-purple hills "with outlines voluptuously undulating, like the hips
of a woman."

And throughout these romances one finds the same evidences of
archæologic study, of artistic observation, of imagination fostered by
picturesque fact. The glory of the Greek kings of Lydia glows goldenly
again in the pages of _Le Roi Candaule_; the massive gloom and
melancholy weirdness of ancient Egypt is reflected as in a necromancer's
mirror throughout _Une Nuit de Cléopâtre_. It is in the Egyptian
fantasies, perhaps, that the author's peculiar descriptive skill appears
to most advantage; the still fresh hues of the hierophantic paintings,
the pictured sarcophagi, and the mummy-gilding seem to meet the reader's
eye with the gratification of their bright contrasts; a faint perfume
of unknown balm seems to hover over the open pages; and mysterious
sphinxes appear to look on "with that undefinable rose-granite smile
that mocks our modern wisdom."

Excepting _Omphale_ and _La Morte Amoureuse,_ the stories selected for
translation are mostly antique in composition and coloring; the former
being Louis-Quinze, the latter mediæval rather than aught else. But all
alike frame some exquisite delineation of young love-fancies; some
admirable picture of what Gautier in the _Histoire du Romantisme_ has
prettily termed "the graceful _succubi_ that haunt the happy slumbers of
youth."

And what dreamful student of the Beautiful has not been once enamoured
of an Arria Marcella, and worshipped on the altar of his heart those
ancient gods "who loved life and youth and beauty and pleasure"? How
many a lover of mediæval legend has in fancy gladly bartered the blood
of his veins for some phantom Clarimonde? What true artist has not at
some time been haunted by the image of a Nyssia, fairer than all
daughters of men, lovelier than all fantasies realized in stone--a
Pygmalion-wrought marble transmuted by divine alchemy to a being of
opalescent flesh and ichor-throbbing veins?

Gautier was an artist in the common acceptation of the term, as well as
a poet and a writer of romance; and in those pleasant fragments of
autobiography scattered through the _Histoire du Romantisme_ we find his
averment that at the commencement of the Romantic movement of 1830 he
was yet undecided whether to adopt literature or art as a profession;
but, finding it "easier to paint with words than with colors," he
finally decided upon the pen as his weapon in the new warfare against
"the hydra of classicism with its hundred peruked heads." As a writer,
however, he remained the artist still. His pages were pictures, his
sentences touches of color; he learned, indeed, to "paint with words" as
no other writer of the century has done; and created a powerful
impression, not only upon the literature of his day, but even, it may be
said, upon the language of his nation.

Possessed of an almost matchless imaginative power, and a sense of
beauty as refined as that of an antique sculptor, Gautier so perfects
his work as to leave nothing for the imagination of his readers to
desire. He insists that they should behold the author's fancy precisely
as the author himself fancied it with all its details; the position of
objects, the effects of light, the disposition of shadow, the material
of garments, the texture of stuffs, the interstices of stonework, the
gleam of a lamp upon sharp angles of furniture, the whispering sound of
trailing silk, the tone of a voice, the expression of a face--all is
visible, audible, tangible. You can find nothing in one of his
picturesque scenes which has not been treated with a studied accuracy of
minute detail that leaves no vacancy for the eye to light upon, no
hiatus for the imagination to supply. This is the art of painting
carried to the highest perfection in literature. It is not wonderful
that such a man should at times sacrifice style to description; and he
has himself acknowledged an occasional abuse of violent coloring.

Naturally, a writer of this kind pays small regard to the demands of
prudery. His work being that of the artist, he claims the privilege of
the sculptor and the painter in delineations of the beautiful. A perfect
human body is to him the most beautiful of objects. He does not seek to
veil its loveliness with cumbrous drapery; he delights to behold it and
depict it in its "divine nudity;" he views it with the eyes of the
Corinthian statuary or the Pompeiian fresco-painter; he idealizes even
the ideal of beauty: under his treatment flesh becomes diaphanous, eyes
are transformed to orbs of prismatic light, features take tints of
celestial loveliness. Like the Hellenic sculptor, he is not satisfied
with beauty of form alone, but must add a vital glow of delicate
coloring to the white limbs and snowy bosom of marble.

It is the artist, therefore, who must judge of Gautier's creations. To
the lovers of the loveliness of the antique world, the lovers of
physical beauty and artistic truth, of the charm of youthful dreams and
young passion in its blossoming, of poetic ambitions and the sweet
pantheism that finds all Nature vitalized by the Spirit of the
Beautiful--to such the first English version of these graceful fantasies
is offered in the hope that it may not be found wholly unworthy of the
original.

L.H.

NEW ORLEANS, 1882.



ONE OF CLEOPATRA'S NIGHTS



CHAPTER I


Nineteen hundred years ago from the date of this writing, a
magnificently gilded and painted cangia was descending the Nile as
rapidly as fifty long, flat oars, which seemed to crawl over the
furrowed water like the legs of a gigantic scarabæus, could impel it.

This cangia was narrow, long, elevated at both ends in the form of a new
moon, elegantly proportioned, and admirably built for speed; the figure
of a ram's head, surmounted by a golden globe, armed the point of the
prow, showing that the vessel belonged to some personage of royal
blood.

In the centre of the vessel arose a flat-roofed cabin--a sort of _naos_,
or tent of honor--colored and gilded, ornamented with palm-leaf
mouldings, and lighted by four little square windows.

Two chambers, both decorated with hieroglyphic paintings, occupied the
horns of the crescent. One of them, the larger, had a second story of
lesser height built upon it, like the _châteaux gaillards_ of those
fantastic galleys of the sixteenth century drawn by Della-Bella; the
other and smaller chamber, which also served as a pilot-house, was
surmounted with a triangular pediment.

In lieu of a rudder, two immense oars, adjusted upon stakes decorated
with stripes of paint, which served in place of our modern row-locks,
extended into the water in rear of the vessel like the webbed feet of a
swan; heads crowned with _pshents_, and bearing the allegorical horn
upon their chins, were sculptured upon the handles of these huge oars,
which were manœuvred by the pilot as he stood upon the deck of the
cabin above.

He was a swarthy man, tawny as new bronze, with bluish surface gleams
playing over his dark skin; long oblique eyes, hair deeply black and
all plaited into little cords, full lips, high cheek-bones, ears
standing out from the skull--the Egyptian type in all its purity. A
narrow strip of cotton about his loins, together with five or six
strings of glass beads and a few amulets, comprised his whole costume.

He appeared to be the only one on board the cangia; for the rowers
bending over their oars, and concealed from view by the gunwales, made
their presence known only through the symmetrical movements of the oars
themselves, which spread open alternately on either side of the vessel,
like the ribs of a fan, and fell regularly back into the water after a
short pause.

Not a breath of air was stirring; and the great triangular sail of the
cangia, tied up and bound to the lowered mast with a silken cord,
testified that all hope of the wind rising had been abandoned.

The noonday sun shot his arrows perpendicularly from above; the
ashen-hued slime of the river banks reflected the fiery glow; a raw
light, glaring and blinding in its intensity, poured down in torrents
of flame; the azure of the sky whitened in the heat as a metal whitens
in the furnace; an ardent and lurid fog smoked in the horizon. Not a
cloud appeared in the sky--a sky mournful and changeless as Eternity.

The water of the Nile, sluggish and wan, seemed to slumber in its
course, and slowly extend itself in sheets of molten tin. No breath of
air wrinkled its surface, or bowed down upon their stalks the cups of
the lotus-flowers, as rigidly motionless as though sculptured; at long
intervals the leap of a bechir or fabaka expanding its belly scarcely
caused a silvery gleam upon the current; and the oars of the cangia
seemed with difficulty to tear their way through the fuliginous film of
that curdled water. The banks were desolate, a solemn and mighty sadness
weighed upon this land, which was never aught else than a vast tomb, and
in which the living appeared to be solely occupied in the work of
burying the dead. It was an arid sadness, dry as pumice stone, without
melancholy, without reverie, without one pearly gray cloud to follow
toward the horizon, one secret spring wherein to lave one's dusty feet;
the sadness of a sphinx weary of eternally gazing upon the desert, and
unable to detach herself from the granite socle upon which she has
sharpened her claws for twenty centuries.

So profound was the silence that it seemed as though the world had
become dumb, or that the air had lost all power of conveying sound. The
only noises which could be heard at intervals were the whisperings and
stifled "chuckling" of the crocodiles, which, enfeebled by the heat,
were wallowing among the bullrushes by the river banks; or the sound
made by some ibis, which, tired of standing with one leg doubled up
against its stomach, and its head sunk between its shoulders, suddenly
abandoned its motionless attitude, and, brusquely whipping the blue air
with its white wings, flew off to perch upon an obelisk or a palm-tree.
The cangia flew like, an arrow over the smooth river-water, leaving
behind it a silvery wake which soon disappeared; and only a few
foam-bubbles rising to break at the surface of the stream bore testimony
to the passage of the vessel, then already out of sight.

The ochre-hued or salmon-colored banks unrolled themselves rapidly, like
scrolls of papyrus, between the double azure of water and sky so similar
in tint that the slender tongue of earth which separated them seemed
like a causeway stretching over an immense lake, and that it would have
been difficult to determine whether the Nile reflected the sky, or
whether the sky reflected the Nile.

The scene continually changed. At one moment were visible gigantic
propylæa, whose sloping walls, painted with large panels of fantastic
figures, were mirrored in the river; pylons with broad-bulging capitals;
stairways guarded by huge crouching sphinxes, wearing caps with lappets
of many folds, and crossing their paws of black basalt below their
sharply projecting breasts; palaces, immeasurably vast, projecting
against the horizon the severe horizontal lines of their entablatures,
where the emblematic globe unfolded its mysterious wings like an eagle's
vast-extending pinions; temples with enormous columns thick as towers,
on which were limned processions of hieroglyphic figures against a
background of brilliant white--all the monstrosities of that Titanic
architecture. Again the eye beheld only land-scapes of desolate
aridity--hills formed of stony fragments from excavations and building
works, crumbs of that gigantic debauch of granite which lasted for more
than thirty centuries; mountains exfoliated by heat, and mangled and
striped with black lines which seemed like the cauterizations of a
conflagration; hillocks humped and deformed, squatting like the
criocephalus of the tombs, and projecting the outlines of their
misshapen attitude against the sky-line; expanses of greenish clay,
reddle, flour-white tufa; and from time to time some steep cliff of dry,
rose-colored granite, where yawned the black mouths of the stone
quarries.

This aridity was wholly unrelieved; no oasis of foliage refreshed the
eye; green seemed to be a color unknown to that nature; only some meagre
palm-tree, like a vegetable crab, appeared from time to time in the
horizon; or a thorny fig-tree brandished its tempered leaves like sword
blades of bronze; or a carthamus-plant, which had found a little
moisture to live upon in the shadow of some fragment of a broken column,
relieved the general uniformity with a speck of crimson.

After this rapid glance at the aspect of the landscape, let us return to
the cangia with its fifty rowers, and, without announcing ourselves,
enter boldly into the _naos_ of honor.

The interior was painted white with green arabesques, bands of
vermilion, and gilt flowers fantastically shaped; an exceedingly fine
rush matting covered the floor; at the further end stood a little bed,
supported upon griffin's feet, having a back resembling that of a modern
lounge or sofa; a stool with four steps to enable one to climb into bed;
and (rather an odd luxury according to our ideas of comfort) a sort of
hemicycle of cedar wood, supported upon a single leg, and designed to
fit the nape of the neck so as to support the head of the person
reclining.

Upon this strange pillow reposed a most charming head, one look of
which once caused the loss of half a world; an adorable, a divine head;
the head of the most perfect woman that ever lived; the most womanly and
most queenly of all women; an admirable type of beauty which the
imagination of poets could never invest with any new grace, and which
dreamers will find forever in the depths of their dreams--it is not
necessary to name Cleopatra.

Beside her stood her favorite slave Charmion, waving a large fan of ibis
feathers; and a young girl was moistening with scented water the little
reed blinds attached to the windows of the _naos_, so that the air might
only enter impregnated with fresh odors.

Near the bed of repose, in a striped vase of alabaster with a slender
neck and a peculiarly elegant, tapering shape, vaguely recalling the
form of a heron, was placed a bouquet of lotus-flowers, some of a
celestial blue, others of a tender rose-color, like the finger-tips of
Isis the great goddess.

Either from caprice or policy, Cleopatra did not wear the Greek dress
that day. She had just attended a panegyris,[1] and was returning to
her summer palace still clad in the Egyptian costume she had worn at the
festival.

Perhaps our fair readers will feel curious to know how Queen Cleopatra
was attired on her return from the Mammisi of Hermonthis whereat were
worshipped the holy triad of the god Mandou, the goddess Ritho, and
their son, Harphra; luckily we are able to satisfy them in this regard.

For headdress Queen Cleopatra wore a kind of very light helmet of beaten
gold, fashioned in the form of the body and wings of the sacred
partridge. The wings, opening downward like fans, covered the temples,
and extending below, almost to the neck, left exposed on either side,
through a small aperture, an ear rosier and more delicately curled than
the shell whence arose that Venus whom the Egyptians named Athor; the
tail of the bird occupied that place where our women wear their
chignons; its body, covered with imbricated feathers, and painted in
variegated enamel, concealed the upper part of the head; and its neck,
gracefully curving forward over the forehead of the wearer, formed
together with its little head a kind of horn-shaped ornament, all
sparkling with precious stones; a symbolic crest, designed like a tower,
completed this odd but elegant headdress. Hair dark as a starless night
flowed from beneath this helmet, and streamed in long tresses over the
fair shoulders whereof the commencement only, alas! was left exposed by
a collarette, or gorget, adorned with many rows of serpentine stones,
azodrachs, and chrysoberyls; a linen robe diagonally cut--a mist of
material, of woven air, _ventus textilis_ as Petronius says, undulated
in vapory whiteness about a lovely body whose outlines it scarcely
shaded with the softest shading. This robe had half-sleeves, tight at
the shoulder, but widening toward the elbows like our _manches-à-sabot_,
and permitting a glimpse of an adorable arm and a perfect hand, the arm
being clasped by six golden bracelets, and the hand adorned with a ring
representing the sacred scarabæus. A girdle, whose knotted ends hung
down in front, confined this free-floating tunic at the waist; a short
cloak adorned with fringing completed the costume; and, if a few
barbarous words will not frighten Parisian ears, we might add that the
robe was called _schenti,_ and the short cloak, _calisiris_.

Finally, we may observe that Queen Cleopatra wore very thin, light
sandals, turned up at the toes, and fastened over the instep, like the
_Souliers-à-la-poulaine_ of the mediæval _chatelaines_.

But Queen Cleopatra did not wear that air of satisfaction which becomes
a woman conscious of being perfectly beautiful and perfectly well
dressed. She tossed and turned in her little bed, and her sudden
movements momentarily disarranged the folds of her gauzy _conopeum_,
which Charmion as often rearranged with inexhaustible patience, and
without ceasing to wave her fan.

"This room is stifling," said Cleopatra; "even if Pthah the God of Fire
established his forges in here, he could not make it hotter; the air is
like the breath of a furnace!" And she moistened her lips with the tip
of her little tongue, and stretched out her hand like a feverish patient
seeking an absent cup.

Charmion, ever attentive, at once clapped her hands. A black slave
clothed in a short tunic hanging in folds like an Albanian petticoat,
and a panther-skin thrown over his shoulders, entered with the
suddenness of an apparition; with his left hand balancing a tray laden
with cups, and slices of watermelon, and carrying in his right a long
vase with a spout like a modern teapot.

The slave filled one of these cups, pouring the liquor into it from a
considerable height with marvellous dexterity, and placed it before the
queen. Cleopatra merely touched the beverage with her lips, laid the cup
down beside her, and turning upon Charmion her beautiful liquid black
eyes, lustrous with living light, exclaimed:

"O Charmion, I am weary unto death!"


[1] _Panegyris_; pl., _panegyreis_,--from the Greek [], --signifies the
meeting of a whole people to worship at a common sanctuary or
participate in a national religious festival. The assemblies at the
Olympic, Pythian, Nemean, or Isthmian games were in this sense
_panegyreis_. See Smith's Dict. Antiq.--(Trans.)



CHAPTER II


Charmion, at once anticipating a confidence, assumed a look of pained
sympathy, and drew nearer to her mistress.

"I am horribly weary!" continued Cleopatra, letting her arms fall like
one utterly discouraged. "This Egypt crushes, annihilates me; this sky
with its implacable azure is sadder than the deep night of Erebus; never
a cloud, never a shadow, and always that red, sanguine sun, which glares
down upon you like the eye of a Cyclops. Ah, Charmion, I would give a
pearl for one drop of rain! From the inflamed pupil of that sky of
bronze no tear has ever yet fallen upon the desolation of this land; it
is only a vast covering for a tomb--the dome of a necropolis; a sky dead
and dried up like the mummies it hangs over; it weighs upon my shoulders
like an over-heavy mantle; it constrains and terrifies me; it seems to
me that I could not stand up erect without striking my forehead against
it. And, moreover, this land is truly an awful land; all things in it
are gloomy, enigmatic, incomprehensible. Imagination has produced in it
only monstrous chimeras and monuments immeasurable; this architecture
and this art fill me with fear; those colossi, whose stone-entangled
limbs compel them to remain eternally sitting with their hands upon
their knees, weary me with their stupid immobility; they trouble my eyes
and my horizon. When, indeed, shall the giant come who is to take them
by the hand and relieve them from their long watch of twenty centuries?
For even granite itself must grow weary at last! Of what master, then,
do they await the coming, to leave their mountain-seats and rise in
token of respect? Of what invisible flock are those huge sphinxes the
guardians, crouching like dogs on the watch, that they never close their
eyelids, and forever extend their claws in readiness to seize? Why are
their stony eyes so obstinately fixed upon eternity and infinity? What
weird secret do their firmly locked lips retain within their breasts? On
the right hand, on the left, whithersoever one turns, only frightful
monsters are visible--dogs with the heads of men; men with the heads of
dogs; chimeras begotten of hideous couplings in the shadowy depths of
the labyrinths; figures of Anubis, Typhon, Osiris; partridges with great
yellow eyes that seem to pierce through you with their inquisitorial
gaze, and see beyond and behind you things which one dare not speak
of--a family of animals and horrible gods with scaly wings, hooked
beaks, trenchant claws, ever ready to seize and devour you should you
venture to cross the threshold of the temple, or lift a corner of the
veil.

"Upon the walls, upon the columns, on the ceilings, on the floors, upon
palaces and temples, in the long passages and the deepest pits of the
necropoli, even within the bowels of the earth where light never comes,
and where the flames of the torches die for want of air, forever and
everywhere are sculptured and painted interminable hieroglyphics,
telling in language unintelligible of things which are no longer known,
and which belong, doubtless, to the vanished creations of the
past--prodigious buried works wherein a whole nation was sacrificed to
write the epitaph of one king! Mystery and granite--this is Egypt! Truly
a fair land for a young woman, and a young queen.

"Menacing and funereal symbols alone meet the eye--the emblems of the
_pedum,_ the _tau_, allegorical globes, coiling serpents, and the scales
in which souls are weighed--the Unknown, death, nothingness. In the
place of any vegetation only _stelæ_ limned with weird characters;
instead of avenues of trees, avenues of granite obelisks; in lieu of
soil, vast pavements of granite for which whole mountains could each
furnish but one slab; in place of a sky, ceilings of granite--eternity
made palpable, a bitter and everlasting sarcasm upon the frailty and
brevity of life--stairways built only for the limbs of Titans, which the
human foot cannot ascend save by the aid of ladders; columns that a
hundred arms cannot encircle; labyrinths in which one might travel for
years without discovering the termination--the vertigo of enormity, the
drunkenness of the gigantic, the reckless efforts of that pride which
would at any cost engrave its name deeply upon the face of the world.

"And, moreover, Charmion, I tell you a thought haunts me which terrifies
me. In other lands of the earth, corpses are burned, and their ashes
soon mingle with the soil. Here, it is said that the living have no
other occupation than that of preserving the dead. Potent balms save
them from destruction; the remains endure after the soul has evaporated.
Beneath this people lie twenty peoples; each city stands upon twenty
layers of necropoli; each generation which passes away leaves a
population of mummies to a shadowy city. Beneath the father you find the
grandfather and the great-grandfather in their gilded and painted boxes,
even as they were during life; and should you dig down forever, forever
you would still find the underlying dead.

"When I think upon those bandage-swathed myriads--those multitudes of
parched spectres who fill the sepulchral pits, and who have been there
for two thousand years face to face in their own silence, which nothing
ever breaks, not even the noise which the graveworms make in crawling,
and who will be found intact after yet another two thousand years, with
their crocodiles, their cats, their ibises, and all things that lived in
their lifetime--then terrors seize me, and I feel my flesh creep. What
do they mutter to each other? For they still have lips, and every ghost
would find its body in the same state as when it quitted it, if they
should all take the fancy to return.

"Ah, truly is Egypt a sinister kingdom and little suited to me, the
laughter-loving and merry one. Everything in it encloses a mummy; that
is the heart and the kernel of all things. After a thousand turns you
must always end there; the Pyramids themselves hide sarcophagi. What
nothingness and madness is this! Disembowel the sky with gigantic
triangles of stone--you cannot thereby lengthen your corpse an inch. How
can one rejoice and live in a land like this, where the only perfume you
can respire is the acrid odor of the naphtha and bitumen which boil in
the caldrons of the embalmers, where the very flooring of your chamber
sounds hollow because the corridors of the hypogea and the mortuary pits
extend even under your alcove? To be the queen of mummies, to have none
to converse with but statues in constrained and rigid attitudes--this
is, in truth, a cheerful lot. Again, if I only had some heartfelt
passion to relieve this melancholy, some interest in life; if I could
but love somebody or something; if I were even loved; but I am not.

"This is why I am weary, Charmion. With love, this grim and arid Egypt
would seem to me fairer than even Greece with her ivory gods, her
temples of snowy marble, her groves of laurel, and fountains of living
water. There I should never dream of the weird face of Anubis and the
ghastly terrors of the cities underground."

Charmion smiled incredulously. "That ought not, surely, to be a source
of much grief to you, O queen; for every glance of your eyes
transpierces hearts, like the golden arrows of Eros himself."

"Can a queen," answered Cleopatra, "ever know whether it is her face or
her diadem that is loved? The rays of her starry crown dazzle the eyes
and the heart. Were I to descend from the height of my throne, would I
even have the celebrity or the popularity of Bacchis or Archianassa, of
the first courtesan from Athens or Miletus? A queen is something so far
removed from men, so elevated, so widely separated from them, so
impossible for them to reach! What presumption dare flatter itself in
such an enterprise? It is not simply a woman, it is an august and sacred
being that has no sex, and that is worshipped kneeling without being
loved. Who was ever really enamoured of Hera the snowy-armed or Pallas
of the sea-green eyes? Who ever sought to kiss the silver feet of Thetis
or the rosy fingers of Aurora? What lover of the divine beauties ever
took unto himself wings that he might soar to the golden palaces of
heaven? Respect and fear chill hearts in our presence, and in order to
obtain the love of our equals, one must descend into those necropoli of
which I have just been speaking."

Although she offered no further objection to the arguments of her
mistress, a vague smile which played about the lips of the handsome
Greek slave showed that she had little faith in the inviolability of the
royal person.

"Ah," continued Cleopatra, "I wish that something would happen to me,
some strange, unexpected adventure. The songs of the poets; the dances
of the Syrian slaves; the banquets, rose garlanded, and prolonged into
the dawn; the nocturnal races; the Laconian dogs; the tame lions; the
hump-backed dwarfs; the brotherhood of the Inimitables; the combats of
the arena; the new dresses; the byssus robes; the clusters of pearls;
the perfumes from Asia; the most exquisite of luxuries; the wildest of
splendors--nothing any longer gives me pleasure. Everything has become
indifferent to me, everything is insupportable to me."

"It is easily to be seen," muttered Charmion to herself, "that the queen
has not had a lover nor had anyone killed for a whole month."

Fatigued with so lengthy a tirade, Cleopatra once more took the cup
placed beside her, moistened her lips with it, and putting her head
beneath her arm, like a dove putting its head under its wing, composed
herself for slumber as best she could. Charmion unfastened her sandals
and commenced to gently tickle the soles of her feet with a peacock's
feather, and Sleep soon sprinkled his golden dust upon the beautiful
eyes of Ptolemy's sister.

While Cleopatra sleeps, let us ascend upon deck and enjoy the glorious
sunset view. A broad band of violet color, warmed deeply with ruddy
tints toward the west, occupies all the lower portion of the sky;
encountering the zone of azure above, the violet shade melts into a
clear lilac, and fades off through half-rosy tints into the blue beyond;
afar, where the sun, red as a buckler fallen from the furnace of Vulcan,
casts his burning reflection, the deeper shades turn to pale citron
hues, and glow with turquoise tints. The water, rippling under an
oblique beam of light, shines with the dull gleam of the quicksilvered
side of a mirror, or like a damascened blade. The sinuosities of the
bank, the reeds, and all objects along the shore are brought out in
sharp black relief against the bright glow. By the aid of this
crepuscular light you may perceive afar off, like a grain of dust
floating upon quicksilver, a little brown speck trembling in the
network work of luminous ripples. Is it a teal diving, a tortoise
lazily drifting with the current, a crocodile raising the tip of his
scaly snout above the water to breathe the cooler air of evening, the
belly of a hippopotamus gleaming amidstream, or perhaps a rock left bare
by the falling of the river? For the ancient Opi-Mou, Father of Waters,
sadly needs to replenish his dry urn from the solstitial rains of the
Mountains of the Moon.

It is none of these. By the atoms of Osiris so deftly resewn together,
it is a man, who seems to walk, to skate, upon the water! Now the frail
bark which sustains him becomes visible, a very nutshell of a boat, a
hollow fish; three strips of bark fitted together (one for the bottom
and two for the sides), and strongly fastened at either end by cord well
smeared with bitumen. The man stands erect, with one foot on either side
of this fragile vessel, which he impels with a single oar that also
serves the purpose of a rudder; and although the royal cangia moves
rapidly under the efforts of the fifty rowers, the little black bark
visibly gains upon it.

Cleopatra desired some strange adventure, something wholly unexpected.
This little bark which moves so mysteriously seems to us to be conveying
an adventure, or, at least, an adventurer. Perhaps it contains the hero
of our story; the thing is not impossible.

At any rate he was a handsome youth of twenty, with hair so black that
it seemed to own a tinge of blue, a skin blonde as gold, and a form so
perfectly proportioned that he might have been taken for a bronze statue
by Lysippus. Although he had been rowing for a very long time he
betrayed no sign of fatigue, and not a single drop of sweat bedewed his
forehead.

The sun half sank below the horizon, and against his broken disk figured
the dark silhouette of a far distant city, which the eye could not have
distinguished but for this accidental effect of light. His radiance soon
faded altogether away, and the stars, fair night-flowers of heaven,
opened their chalices of gold in the azure of the firmament. The royal
cangia, closely followed by the little bark, stopped before a huge
marble stairway, whereof each step supported one of those sphinxes that
Cleopatra so much detested. This was the landing-place of the summer
palace.

Cleopatra, leaning upon Charmion, passed swiftly, like a gleaming
vision, between a double line of lantern-bearing slaves.

The youth took from the bottom of his little boat a great lion-skin,
threw it across his shoulders, drew the tiny shell upon the beach, and
wended his way toward the palace.



CHAPTER III


Who is this young man, balancing himself upon a fragment of bark, who
dares follow the royal cangia, and is able to contend in a race of speed
against fifty strong rowers from the land of Kush, all naked to to the
waist, and anointed with palm-oil? What secret motive urges him to this
swift pursuit? That, indeed, is one of the many things we are obliged to
know in our character of the intuition-gifted poet, for whose benefit
all men, and even all women (a much more difficult matter), must have
in their breasts that little window which Momus of old demanded.

It is not a very easy thing to find out precisely what a young man from
the land of Kemi, who followed the barge of Cleopatra, queen and goddess
Evergetes, on her return from the Mammisi of Hermonthis two thousand
years ago, was then thinking of. But we shall make the effort
notwithstanding.

Meïamoun, son of Mandouschopsh, was a youth of strange character;
nothing by which ordinary minds are affected made any impression upon
him. He seemed to belong to some loftier race, and might well have been
regarded as the offspring of some divine adultery. His glance had the
steady brilliancy of a falcon's gaze, and a serene majesty sat on his
brow as upon a pedestal of marble; a noble pride curled his upper lip,
and expanded his nostrils like those of a fiery horse. Although owning a
grace of form almost maidenly in its delicacy, and though the bosom of
the fair and effeminate god Dionysos was not more softly rounded or
smoother than his, yet beneath this soft exterior were hidden sinews of
steel and the strength of Hercules--a strange privilege of certain
antique natures to unite in themselves the beauty of woman with the
strength of man.

As for his complexion, we must acknowledge that it was of a tawny orange
color, a hue little in accordance with our white-and-rose ideas of
beauty; but which did not prevent him from being a very charming young
man, much sought after by all kinds of women--yellow, red,
copper-colored, sooty-black, or golden skinned, and even by one fair,
white Greek.

Do not suppose from this that Meïamoun's lot was altogether enviable.
The ashes of aged Priam, the very snows of Hippolytus, were not more
insensible or more frigid; the young white-robed neophyte preparing for
the initiation into the mysteries of Isis led no chaster life; the young
maiden benumbed by the icy shadow of her mother was not more shyly pure.

Nevertheless, for so coy a youth, the pleasures of Meïamoun were
certainly of a singular nature. He would go forth quietly some morning
with his little buckler of hippopotamus hide, his _harpe_ or curved
sword, a triangular bow, and a snake-skin quiver filled with barbed
arrows; then he would ride at a gallop far into the desert, upon his
slender-limbed, small-headed, wild-maned mare, until he could find some
lion-tracks. He especially delighted in taking the little lion-cubs from
underneath the belly of their mother. In all things he loved the
perilous or the unachievable. He preferred to walk where it seemed
impossible for any human being to obtain a foothold, or to swim in a
raging torrent, and he had accordingly chosen the neighborhood of the
cataracts for his bathing place in the Nile. The Abyss called him!

Such was Meïamoun, son of Mandouschopsh.

For some time his humors had been growing more savage than ever. During
whole months he buried himself in the Ocean of Sands, returning only at
long intervals. Vainly would his uneasy mother lean from her terrace and
gaze anxiously down the long road with tireless eyes. At last, after
weary waiting, a little whirling cloud of dust would become visible in
the horizon, and finally the cloud would open to allow a full view of
Meïamoun, all covered with dust, riding upon a mare gaunt as a wolf,
with red and bloodshot eyes, nostrils trembling, and huge scars along
her flanks--scars which certainly were not made by spurs.

After having hung up in his room some hyena or lion skin, he would start
off again.

And yet no one might have been happier than Meïamoun. He was beloved by
Nephthe, daughter of the priest Afomouthis, and the loveliest woman of
the Nome Arsinoïtes. Only such a being as Meïamoun could have failed to
see that Nephthe had the most charmingly oblique and indescribably
voluptuous eyes, a mouth sweetly illuminated by ruddy smiles, little
teeth of wondrous whiteness and transparency, arms exquisitely round,
and feet more perfect than the jasper feet of the statue of Isis.
Assuredly there was not a smaller hand nor longer hair than hers in all
Egypt. The charms of Nephthe could have been eclipsed only by those of
Cleopatra. But who could dare to dream of loving Cleopatra? Ixion,
enamoured of Juno, strained only a cloud to his bosom, and must forever
roll the wheel of his punishment in hell.

It was Cleopatra whom Meïamoun loved.

He had at first striven to tame this wild passion; he had wrestled
fiercely with it; but love cannot be strangled even as a lion is
strangled, and the strong skill of the mightiest athlete avails nothing
in such a contest. The arrow had remained in the wound, and he carried
it with him everywhere. The radiant and splendid image of Cleopatra,
with her golden-pointed diadem and her imperial purple, standing above a
nation on their knees, illumined his nightly dreams and his waking
thoughts. Like some imprudent man who has dared to look at the sun and
forever thereafter beholds an impalpable blot floating before his eyes,
so Meïamoun ever beheld Cleopatra. Eagles may gaze undazzled at the sun,
but what diamond eye can with impunity fix itself upon a beautiful
woman, a beautiful queen?

He commenced at last to spend his life in wandering about the
neighborhood of the royal dwelling, that he might at least breathe the
same air as Cleopatra, that he might sometimes kiss the almost
imperceptible print of her foot upon the sand (a happiness, alas! rare
indeed). He attended the sacred festivals and _panegyreis_, striving to
obtain one beaming glance of her eyes, to catch in passing one stealthy
glimpse of her loveliness in some of its thousand varied aspects. At
other moments, filled with sudden shame of this mad life, he gave
himself up to the chase with redoubled ardor, and sought by fatigue to
tame the ardor of his blood and the impetuosity of his desires.

He had gone to the panegyris of Hermonthis, and, in the vague hope of
beholding the queen again for an instant as she disembarked at the
summer palace, had followed her cangia in his boat--little heeding the
sharp stings of the sun--through a heat intense enough to make the
panting sphinxes melt in lava-sweat upon their reddened pedestals.

And then he felt that the supreme moment was nigh, that the decisive
instant of his life was at hand, and that he could not die with his
secret in his breast.

It is a strange situation truly to find one-self enamoured of a queen.
It is as though one loved a star; yet she, the star, comes forth nightly
to sparkle in her place in heaven. It is a kind of mysterious
rendezvous. You may find her again, you may see her; she is not offended
at your gaze. Oh, misery! to be poor, unknown, obscure, seated at the
very foot of the ladder, and to feel one's heart breaking with love for
something glittering, solemn, and magnificent--for a woman whose meanest
female attendant would scorn you!--to gaze fixedly and fatefully upon
one who never sees you, who never will see you; one to whom you are
no more than a ripple on the sea of humanity, in nowise differing
from the other ripples, and who might a hundred times encounter you
without once recognizing you; to have no reason to offer should an
opportunity for addressing her present itself in excuse for such mad
audacity--neither poetical talent, nor great genius, nor any superhuman
qualification--nothing but love; and to be able to offer in exchange
for beauty, nobility, power, and all imaginable splendor only one's
passion and one's youth--rare offerings, forsooth!

Such were the thoughts which overwhelmed Meïamoun. Lying upon the sand,
supporting his chin on his palms, he permitted himself to be lifted and
borne away by the inexhaustible current of reverie; he sketched out a
thousand projects, each madder than the last. He felt convinced that he
was seeking after the unattainable, but he lacked the courage to frankly
renounce his undertaking, and a perfidious hope came to whisper some
lying promises in his ear.

"Athor, mighty goddess," he murmured in a deep voice, "what evil have I
done against thee that I should be made thus miserable? Art thou
avenging thyself for my disdain of Nephthe, daughter of the priest
Afomouthis? Hast thou afflicted me thus for having rejected the love of
Lamia, the Athenian hetaira, or of Flora, the Roman courtesan? Is it my
fault that my heart should be sensible only to the matchless beauty of
thy rival, Cleopatra? Why hast thou wounded my soul with the envenomed
arrow of unattainable love? What sacrifice, what offerings dost thou
desire? Must I erect to thee a chapel of the rosy marble of Syene with
columns crowned by gilded capitals, a ceiling all of one block, and
hieroglyphics deeply sculptured by the best workmen of Memphis and of
Thebes? Answer me."

Like all gods or goddesses thus invoked, Athor answered not a word, and
Meïamoun resolved upon a desperate expedient.

Cleopatra, on her part, likewise invoked the goddess Athor. She prayed
for a new pleasure, for some fresh sensation. As she languidly reclined
upon her couch she thought to herself that the number of the senses was
sadly limited, that the most exquisite refinements of delight soon
yielded to satiety, and that it was really no small task for a queen to
find means of occupying her time. To test new poisons upon slaves; to
make men fight with tigers, or gladiators with each other; to drink
pearls dissolved; to swallow the wealth of a whole province all these
things had become commonplace! and insipid.

Charmion was fairly at her wit's end, and knew not what to do for her
mistress.

Suddenly a whistling sound was heard, and an arrow buried itself,
quivering, in the cedar wainscoting of the wall.

Cleopatra well-nigh fainted with terror. Charmion ran to the window,
leaned out, and beheld only a flake of foam on the surface of the river.
A scroll of papyrus encircled the wood of the arrow. It bore only these
words, written in Phœnician characters, "I love you!"



CHAPTER IV


"I love you," repeated Cleopatra, making the serpent-coiling strip of
papyrus writhe between her delicate white fingers. "Those, are the words
I longed for. What intelligent spirit, what invisible genius has thus so
fully comprehended my desire?"

And thoroughly aroused from her languid torpor, she sprang out of bed
with the agility of a cat which has scented a mouse, placed her little
ivory feet in her embroidered _tatbebs_, threw a byssus tunic over her
shoulders, and ran to the window from which Charmion was still gazing.

The night was clear and calm. The risen moon outlined with huge angles
of light and shadow the architectural masses of the palace, which stood
out in strong relief against a background of bluish transparency; and
the waters of the river, wherein her reflection lengthened into a
shining column, were frosted with silvery ripples. A gentle breeze, such
as might have been mistaken for the respiration of the slumbering
sphinxes, quivered among the reeds and shook the azure bells of the
lotus flowers; the cables of the vessels moored to the Nile's banks
groaned feebly, and the rippling tide moaned upon the shore like a dove
lamenting for its mate. A vague perfume of vegetation, sweeter than that
of the aromatics burned in the _anschir_ of the priests of Anubis,
floated into the chamber. It was one of those enchanted nights of the
Orient, which are more splendid than our fairest days; for our sun can
ill compare with that Oriental moon.

"Do you not see far over there, almost in the middle of the river, the
head of a man swimming? See, he crosses that track of light, and passes
into the shadow beyond! He is already out of sight!" And, supporting
herself upon Charmion's shoulder, she leaned out, with half of her fair
body beyond the sill of the window, in the effort to catch another
glimpse of the mysterious swimmer; but a grove of Nile acacias,
dhoum-palms, and sayals flung its deep shadow upon the river in that
direction, and protected the flight of the daring fugitive. If Meïamoun
had but had the courtesy to look back, he might have beheld Cleopatra,
the sidereal queen, eagerly seeking him through the night gloom--he, the
poor obscure Egyptian, the miserable lion-hunter.

"Charmion, Charmion, send hither Phrehipephbour, the chief of the
rowers, and have two boats despatched in pursuit of that man!" cried
Cleopatra, whose curiosity was excited to the highest pitch.

Phrehipephbour appeared, a man of the race of Nahasi, with large hands
and muscular arms, wearing a red cap not unlike a Phrygian helmet in
form, and clad only in a pair of narrow drawers diagonally striped with
white and blue. His huge torso, entirely nude, black and polished like a
globe of jet, shone under the lamplight. He received the commands of the
queen and instantly retired to execute them.

Two long, narrow boats, so light that the least inattention to
equilibrium would capsize them, were soon cleaving the waters of the
Nile with hissing rapidity under the efforts of the twenty vigorous
rowers, but the pursuit was all in vain. After searching the river banks
in every direction, and carefully exploring every patch of reeds,
Phrehipephbour returned to the palace, having only succeeded in putting
to flight some solitary heron which had been sleeping on one leg, or in
troubling the digestion of some terrified crocodile.

So intense was the vexation of Cleopatra at being thus foiled, that she
felt a strong inclination to condemn Phrehipephbour either to the wild
beasts or to the hardest labor at the grindstone. Happily, Charmion
interceded for the trembling unfortunate, who turned pale with fear,
despite his black skin. It was the first time in Cleopatra's life that
one of her desires had not been gratified as soon as expressed, and she
experienced, in consequence, a kind of uneasy surprise; a first doubt,
as it were, of her own omnipotence.

She, Cleopatra, wife and sister of Ptolemy--she who had been proclaimed
goddess Evergetes, living queen of the regions Above and Below, Eye of
Light, Chosen of the Sun (as may still be read within the cartouches
sculptured on the walls of the temples)--she to find an obstacle in her
path, to have wished aught that failed of accomplishment, to have spoken
and not been obeyed! As well be the wife of some wretched Paraschistes,
some corpse-cutter, and melt natron in a caldron! It was monstrous,
preposterous! and none but the most gentle and clement of queens could
have refrained from crucifying that miserable Phrehipephbour.

You wished for some adventure, something strange and unexpected. Your
wish has been gratified. You find that your kingdom is not so dead as
you deemed it. It was not the stony arm of a statue which shot that
arrow; it was not from a mummy's heart that came those three words which
have moved even you--you who smilingly watched your poisoned slaves
dashing their heads and beating their feet upon your beautiful mosaic
and porphyry pavements in the convulsions of death-agony; you who even
applauded the tiger which boldly buried its muzzle in the flank of some
vanquished gladiator.

You could obtain all else you might wish for--chariots of silver,
starred with emeralds; griffin-quadrigeræ; tunics of purple
thrice-dyed; mirrors of molten steel, so clear that you might find the
charms of your loveliness faithfully copied in them; robes from the land
of Serica, so fine and subtly light that they could be drawn through the
ring worn upon your little finger; Orient pearls of wondrous color; cups
wrought by Myron or Lysippus; Indian paroquets that speak like
poets--all things else you could obtain, even should you ask for the
Cestus of Venus or the _pshent_ of Isis, but most certainly you cannot
this night capture the man who shot the arrow which still quivers in
the cedar wood of your couch.

The task of the slaves who must dress you to-morrow will not be a
grateful one. They will hardly escape with blows. The bosom of the
unskilful waiting-maid will be apt to prove a cushion for the golden
pins of the toilette, and the poor hairdresser will run great risk of
being suspended by her feet from the ceiling.

"Who could have had the audacity to send me this avowal upon the shaft
of an arrow? Could it have been the Nomarch Amoun-Ra who fancies himself
handsomer than the Apollo of the Greeks? What think you, Charmion? Or
perhaps Cheâpsiro, commander of Hermothybia, who is so boastful of his
conquests in the land of Kush? Or is it not more likely to have been
young Sextus, that Roman debauchee who paints his face, lisps in
speaking, and wears sleeves in the fashion of the Persians?"

"Queen, it was none of those. Though you are indeed the fairest of
women, those men only natter you; they do not love you. The Nomarch
Amoun-Ra has chosen himself an idol to which he will be forever
faithful, and that is his own person. The warrior Cheâpsiro thinks of
nothing save the pleasure of recounting his victories. As for Sextus, he
is so seriously occupied with the preparation of a new cosmetic that he
cannot dream of anything else. Besides, he had just purchased some
Laconian dresses, a number of yellow tunics embroidered with gold, and
some Asiatic children which absorb all his time. Not one of those fine
lords would risk his head in so daring and dangerous an undertaking;
they do not love you well enough for that.

"Yesterday, in your cangia, you said that men dared not fix their
dazzled eyes upon you; that they knew only how to turn pale in your
presence, to fall at your feet and supplicate your mercy; and that your
sole remaining resource would be to awake some ancient, bitumen-perfumed
Pharaoh from his gilded coffin. Now here is an ardent and youthful heart
that loves you. What will you do with it?"

Cleopatra that night sought slumber in vain. She tossed feverishly upon
her couch, and long and vainly invoked Morpheus, the brother of Death.
She incessantly repeated that she was the most unhappy of queens, that
every one sought to persecute her, and that her life had become
insupportable; woeful lamentations which had little effect upon
Charmion, although she pretended to sympathize with them.

Let us for a while leave Cleopatra to seek fugitive sleep, and direct
her suspicions successively upon each noble of the court. Let us return
to Meïamoun, and as we are much more sagacious than Phrehipephbour,
chief of the rowers, we shall have no difficulty in finding him.

Terrified at his own hardihood, Meïamoun had thrown himself into the
Nile, and had succeeded in swimming the current and gaining the little
grove of dhoum-palms before Phrehipephbour had even launched the two
boats in pursuit of him.

When he had recovered breath, and brushed back his long black locks, all
damp with river foam, behind his ears, he began to feel more at ease,
more inwardly calm. Cleopatra possessed something which had come from
him; some sort of communication was now established between them.
Cleopatra was thinking of him, Meïamoun. Perhaps that thought might be
one of wrath; but then he had at least been able to awake some feeling
within her, whether of fear, anger, or pity. He had forced her to the
consciousness of his existence. It was true that he had forgotten to
inscribe his name upon the papyrus scroll, but what more of him could
the queen have learned from the inscription, _Meïamoun, Son of
Mandouschopsh_? In her eyes the slave and the monarch were equal. A
goddess in choosing a peasant for her lover stoops no lower than in
choosing a patrician or a king. The Immortals from a height so lofty can
behold only love in the man of their choice.

The thought which had weighed upon his breast like the knee of a
colossus of brass had at last departed. It had traversed the air; it had
even reached the queen herself, the apex of the triangle, the
inaccessible summit. It had aroused curiosity in that impassive heart; a
prodigious advance, truly, toward success.

Meïamoun, indeed, never suspected that he had so thoroughly succeeded in
this wise, but he felt more tranquil; for he had sworn unto himself by
that mystic Bari who guides the souls of the dead to Amenthi, by the
sacred birds Bermou and Ghenghen, by Typhon and by Osiris, and by all
things awful in Egyptian mythology, that he should be the accepted lover
of Cleopatra, though it were but for a single night, though for only a
single hour, though it should cost him his life and even his very soul.

If we must explain how he had fallen so deeply in love with a woman whom
he had beheld only from afar off, and to whom he had hardly dared to
raise his eyes--even he who was wont to gaze fearlessly into the yellow
eyes of the lion--or how the tiny seed of love, chance-fallen upon his
heart, had grown there so rapidly and extended its roots so deeply, we
can answer only that it is a mystery which we are unable to explain. We
have already said of Meïamoun,--The Abyss called him.

Once assured that Phrehipephbour had returned with his rowers, he again
threw himself into the current and once more swam toward the palace of
Cleopatra, whose lamp still shone through the window curtains like a
painted star. Never did Leander swim with more courage and vigor toward
the tower of Sestos; yet for Meïamoun no Hero was waiting, ready to pour
vials of perfume upon his head to dissipate the briny odors of the sea
and banish the sharp kisses of the storm.

A strong blow from some keen lance or _harpe_ was certainly the worst he
had to fear, and in truth he had but little fear of such things.

He swam close under the walls of the palace, which bathed its marble
feet in the river's depths, and paused an instant before a submerged
archway into which the water rushed downward in eddying whirls. Twice,
thrice he plunged into the vortex unsuccessfully. At last, with better
luck, he found the opening and disappeared.

This archway was the opening to a vaulted canal which conducted the
waters of the Nile into the baths of Cleopatra.



CHAPTER V


Cleopatra found no rest until morning, at the hour when wandering dreams
reenter the Ivory Gate. Amid the illusions of sleep she beheld all kinds
of lovers swimming rivers and scaling walls in order to come to her,
and, through the vague souvenirs of the night before, her dreams
appeared fairly riddled with arrows bearing declarations of love.
Starting nervously from time to time in her troubled slumbers, she
struck her little feet unconsciously against the bosom of Charmion, who
lay across the foot of the bed to serve her as a cushion.

When she awoke, a merry sunbeam was playing through the window curtain,
whose woof it penetrated with a thousand tiny points of light, and
thence came familiarly to the bed, flitting like a golden butterfly over
her lovely shoulders, which it lightly touched in passing by with a
luminous kiss. Happy sunbeam, which the gods might well have envied.

In a faint voice, like that of a sick child, Cleopatra asked to be
lifted out of bed. Two of her women raised her in their arms and gently
laid her on a tiger-skin stretched upon the floor, of which the eyes
were formed of carbuncles and the claws of gold. Charmion wrapped her in
_calasiris_ of linen whiter than milk, confined her hair in a net of
woven silver threads, tied to her little feet cork _tatbebs_ upon the
soles of which were painted, in token of contempt, two grotesque
figures, representing two men of the races of Nahasi and Nahmou, bound
hand and foot, so that Cleopatra literally deserved the epithet,
"Conculcatrix of Nations,"[1] which the royal cartouche inscriptions
bestow upon her.

It was the hour for the bath. Cleopatra went to bathe, accompanied by
her women.

The baths of Cleopatra were built in the midst of immense gardens filled
with mimosas, aloes, carob-trees, citron-trees, and Persian apple-trees,
whose luxuriant freshness afforded a delicious contrast to the arid
appearance of the neighboring vegetation. There, too, vast terraces
uplifted masses of verdant foliage, and enabled flowers to climb almost
to the very sky upon gigantic stairways of rose-colored granite; vases
of Pentelic marble bloomed at the end of each step like huge
lily-flowers, and the plants they contained seemed only their pistils;
chimeras caressed into form by the chisels of the most skilful Greek
sculptors, and less stern of aspect than the Egyptian sphinxes, with
their grim mien and moody attitudes, softly extended their limbs upon
the flower-strewn turf, like shapely white leverettes upon a
drawing-room carpet. These were charming feminine figures, with finely
chiselled nostrils, smooth brows, small mouths, delicately dimpled arms,
breasts fair-rounded and daintily formed; wearing earrings, necklaces,
and all the trinkets suggested by adorable caprice; whose bodies
terminated in bifurcated fishes' tails, like the women described by
Horace, or extended into birds' wings, or rounded into lions' haunches,
or blended into volutes of foliage, according to the fancies of the
artist or in conformity to the architectural position chosen. A double
row of these delightful monsters lined the alley which led from the
palace to the bathing halls.

At the end of this alley was a huge fountain-basin, approached by four
porphyry stairways. Through the transparent depths of the diamond-clear
water the steps could be seen descending to the bottom of the basin,
which was strewn with gold-dust in lieu of sand. Here figures of women
terminating in pedestals like Caryatides[2] spurted from their breasts
slender jets of perfumed water, which fell into the basin in silvery
dew, pitting the clear watery mirror with wrinkle-creating drops. In
addition to this task these Caryatides had likewise that of supporting
upon their heads an entablature decorated with Nereids and Tritons in
bas-relief, and furnished with rings of bronze to which the silken cords
of a velarium might be attached. From the portico was visible an
extending expanse of freshly humid, bluish-green verdure and cool shade,
a fragment of the Vale of Tempe transported to Egypt. The famous gardens
of Semiramis would not have borne comparison with these.

We will not pause to describe the seven or eight other halls of various
temperature, with their hot and cold vapors, perfume boxes, cosmetics,
oils, pumice stone, gloves of woven horsehair, and all the refinements
of the antique balneatory art brought to the highest pitch of voluptuous
perfection.

Hither came Cleopatra, leaning with one hand upon the shoulder of
Charmion. She had taken at least thirty steps all by herself. Mighty
effort, enormous fatigue! A tender tint of rose commenced to suffuse the
transparent skin of her cheeks, refreshing their passionate pallor; a
blue network of veins relieved the amber blondness of her temples; her
marble forehead, low like the antique foreheads, but full and perfect in
form, united by one faultless line with a straight nose, finely
chiselled as a cameo, with rosy nostrils which the least emotion made
palpitate like the nostrils of an amorous tigress; the lips of her
small, rounded mouth, slightly separated from the nose, wore a
disdainful curve; but an unbridled voluptuousness, an indescribable
vital warmth, glowed in the brilliant crimson and humid lustre of the
under lip. Her eyes were shaded by level eyelids, and eyebrows slightly
arched and delicately outlined. We cannot attempt by description to
convey an idea of their brilliancy. It was a fire, a languor, a
sparkling limpidity which might have made even the dog-headed Anubis
giddy. Every glance of her eyes was in itself a poem richer than aught
of Homer or Mimnermus. An imperial chin, replete with force and power to
command, worthily completed this charming profile.

She stood erect upon the upper step of the basin, in an attitude full of
proud grace; her figure slightly thrown back, and one foot in suspense,
like a goddess about to leave her pedestal, whose eyes still linger on
heaven. Her robe fell in two superb folds from the peaks of her bosom to
her feet in unbroken lines. Had Cleomenes been her contemporary and
enjoyed the happiness of beholding her thus, he would have broken his
Venus in despair.

Before entering the water she bade Charmion, for a new caprice, to
change her silver hair-net; she preferred to be crowned with reeds and
lotos-flowers, like a water divinity. Charmion obeyed, and her liberated
hair fell in black cascades over her shoulders, and shadowed her
beautiful cheeks in rich bunches, like ripening grapes.

Then the linen tunic, which had been confined only by one golden clasp,
glided down over her marble body, and fell in a white cloud at her feet,
like the swan at the feet of Leda....

And Meïamoun, where was he?

Oh cruel lot, that so many insensible objects should enjoy the favors
which would ravish a lover with delight! The wind which toys with a
wealth of perfumed hair, or kisses beautiful lips with kisses which it
is unable to appreciate; the water which envelops an adorably beautiful
body in one universal kiss, and is yet, notwithstanding, indifferent to
that exquisite pleasure; the mirror which reflects so many charming
images; the buskin or _tatbeb_ which clasps a divine little foot--oh,
what happiness lost!

Cleopatra dipped her pink heel in the water and descended a few steps.
The quivering flood made a silver belt about her waist, and silver
bracelets about her arms, and rolled in pearls like a broken necklace
over her bosom and shoulders; her wealth of hair, lifted by the water,
extended behind her like a royal mantle; even in the bath she was a
queen. She swam to and fro, dived, and brought up handfuls of gold-dust
with which she laughingly pelted some of her women. Again, she clung
suspended to the balustrade of the basin, concealing or exposing her
treasures of loveliness--now permitting only her lustrous and polished
back to be seen, now showing her whole figure, like Venus Anadyomene,
and incessantly varying the aspects of her beauty.

Suddenly she uttered a cry as shrill as that of Diana surprised by
Actæon. She had seen gleaming through the neighboring foliage a burning
eye, yellow and phosphoric as the eye of a crocodile or lion.

It was Meïamoun, who, crouching behind a tuft of leaves, and trembling
like a fawn in a field of wheat, was intoxicating himself with the
dangerous pleasure of beholding the queen in her bath. Though brave even
to temerity, the cry of Cleopatra passed through his heart, coldly
piercing as the blade of a sword. A death-like sweat covered his whole
body; his arteries hissed through his temples with a sharp sound; the
iron hand of anxious fear had seized him by the throat and was
strangling him.

The eunuchs rushed forward, lance in hand. Cleopatra pointed out to them
the group of trees, where they found Meïamoun crouching in concealment.
Defence was out of the question. He attempted none, and suffered himself
to be captured. They prepared to kill him with that cruel and stupid
impassibility characteristic of eunuchs; but Cleopatra, who, in the
interim, had covered herself with her _calasiris_, made signs to them to
stop, and bring the prisoner before her.

Meïamoun could only fall upon his knees and stretch forth suppliant
hands to her, as to the altars of the gods.

"Are you some assassin bribed by Rome, or for what purpose have you
entered these sacred precincts from which all men are excluded?"
demanded Cleopatra with an imperious gesture of interrogation.

"May my soul be found light in the balance of Amenti, and may Tmeï,
daughter of the Sun and goddess of Truth, punish me if I have ever
entertained a thought of evil against you, O queen!" answered Meïamoun,
still upon his knees.

Sincerity and loyalty were written upon his countenance in characters so
transparent that Cleopatra immediately banished her suspicions, and
looked upon the young Egyptian with a look less stern and wrathful. She
saw that he was beautiful.

"Then what motive could have prompted you to enter a place where you
could only expect to meet death?"

"I love you!" murmured Meïamoun in a low, but distinct voice; for his
courage had returned, as in every desperate situation when the odds
against him could be no worse.

"Ah!" cried Cleopatra, bending toward him, and seizing his arm with a
sudden brusque movement, "so, then, it was you who shot that arrow with
the papyrus scroll! By Oms, the Dog of Hell, you are a very foolhardy
wretch!... I now recognize you. I long observed you wandering like a
complaining Shade about the places where I dwell.... You were at the
Procession of Isis, at the Panegyris of Hermonthis. You followed the
royal cangia. Ah! you must have a queen?... You have no mean ambitions.
You expect, without doubt, to be well paid in return.... Assuredly I am
going to love you.... Why not?"

"Queen," returned Meïamoun with a look of deep melancholy, "do not rail.
I am mad, it is true. I have deserved death; that is also true. Be
humane; bid them kill me."

"No; I have taken the whim to be clement to-day. I will give you your
life."

"What would you that I should do with life? I love you!"

"Well, then, you shall be satisfied; you shall die," answered Cleopatra.
"You have indulged yourself in wild and extravagant dreams; in fancy
your desires have crossed an impassable threshold. You imagined yourself
to be Cæsar or Mark Antony. You loved the queen. In some moment of
delirium you have been able to believe that, under some condition of
things which takes place but once in a thousand years, Cleopatra might
some day love you. Well, what you thought impossible is actually about
to happen. I will transform your dream into a reality. It pleases me,
for once, to secure the accomplishment of a mad hope. I am willing to
inundate you with glories and splendors and lightnings. I intend that
your good fortune shall be dazzling in its brilliancy. You were at the
bottom of the ladder. I am about to lift you to the summit, abruptly,
suddenly, without a transition. I take you out of nothingness, I make
you the equal of a god, and I plunge you back again into nothingness;
that is all. But do not presume to call me cruel or to invoke my pity;
do not weaken when the hour comes. I am good to you. I lend myself to
your folly. I have the right to order you to be killed at once; but
since you tell me that you love me, I will have you killed to-morrow
instead. Your life belongs to me for one night. I am generous. I will
buy it from you; I could take it from you. But what are you doing on
your knees at my feet? Rise, and give me your arm, that we may return to
the palace."


[1] _Conculcatrice des peuples_. From the Latin _conculcare,_ to trample
under foot: therefore, the epithet literally signifies the "Trampler of
nations." (Trans.)

[2] The Greeks and Romans usually termed such figures Hermæ or Termini.
Caryatides were, strictly, entire figures of women.--(Trans.)



CHAPTER VI


Our world of to-day is puny indeed beside the antique world. Our
banquets are mean, niggardly, compared with the appalling sumptuousness
of the Roman patricians and the princes of ancient Asia. Their ordinary
repasts would in these days be regarded as frenzied orgies, and a whole
modern city could subsist for eight days upon the leavings of one supper
given by Lucullus to a few intimate friends. With our miserable habits
we find it difficult to conceive of those enormous existences, realizing
everything vast, strange, and most monstrously impossible that
imagination could devise. Our palaces are mere stables, in which
Caligula would not quarter his horse. The retinue of our wealthiest
constitutional king is as nothing compared with that of a petty satrap
or a Roman proconsul. The radiant suns which once shone upon the earth
are forever extinguished in the nothingness of uniformity. Above the
dark swarm of men no longer tower those Titanic colossi who bestrode the
world in three paces, like the steeds of Homer; no more towers of
Lylacq; no giant Babel scaling the sky with its infinity of spirals; no
temples immeasurable, builded with the fragments of quarried mountains;
no kingly terraces for which successive ages and generations could each
erect but one step, and from whence some dreamfully reclining prince
might gaze on the face of the world as upon a map unfolded; no more of
those extravagantly vast cities of cyclopæan edifices, inextricably
piled upon one another, with their mighty circumvallations, their
circuses roaring night and day, their reservoirs filled with ocean brine
and peopled with whales and leviathans, their colossal stairways, their
super-imposition of terraces, their tower-summits bathed in clouds,
their giant palaces, their aqueducts, their multitude-vomiting gates,
their shadowy necropoli. Alas! henceforth only plaster hives upon
chessboard pavements.

One marvels that men did not revolt against such confiscation of all
riches and all living forces for the benefit of a few privileged ones,
and that such exorbitant fantasies should not have encountered any
opposition on their bloody way. It was because those prodigious lives
were the realizations by day of the dreams which haunted each man by
night, the personifications of the common ideal which the nations beheld
living symbolized under one of those meteoric names that flame
inextinguishably through the night of ages. To-day, deprived of such
dazzling spectacles of omnipotent will, of the lofty contemplation of
some human mind whose least wish makes itself visible in actions
unparalleled, in enormities of granite and brass, the world becomes
irredeemably and hopelessly dull. Man is no longer represented in the
realization of his imperial fancy.

The story which we are writing, and the great name of Cleopatra which
appears in it, have prompted us to these reflections, so ill-sounding,
doubtless, to modern ears. But the spectacle of the antique world is
something so crushingly discouraging, even to those imaginations which
deem themselves exhaustless, and those minds which fancy themselves to
have conceived the utmost limits of fairy magnificence, that we cannot
here forbear recording our regret and lamentation that we were not
cotemporaries of Sardanapalus; of Teglathphalazar; of Cleopatra, queen
of Egypt; or even of Elagabalus, emperor of Rome and priest of the Sun.

It is our task to describe a supreme orgie--a banquet compared with
which the splendors of Belshazzar's feast must pale--one of Cleopatra's
nights. How can we picture forth in this French tongue, so chaste, so
icily prudish, that unbounded transport of passions, that huge and
mighty debauch which feared not to mingle the double purple of wine and
blood, those furious outbursts of insatiate pleasure, madly leaping
toward the Impossible with all the wild ardor of senses as yet untamed
by the long fast of Christianity?

The promised night should well have been a splendid one, for all the
joys and pleasures possible in a human lifetime were to be concentrated
into the space of a few hours. It was necessary that the life of
Meïamoun should be converted into a powerful elixir which he could
imbibe at a single draught. Cleopatra desired to dazzle her voluntary
victim, and plunge him into a whirlpool of dizzy pleasures; to
intoxicate and madden him with the wine of orgie, so that death, though
freely accepted, might come invisibly and unawares.

Let us transport our readers to the banquet-hall.

Our existing architecture offers few points for comparison with those
vast edifices whose very ruins resemble the crumblings of mountains
rather than the remains of buildings. It needed all the exaggeration of
the antique life to animate and fill those prodigious palaces, whose
halls were too lofty and vast to allow of any ceiling save the sky
itself--a magnificent ceiling, and well worthy of such mighty
architecture.

The banquet-hall was of enormous and Babylonian dimensions; the eye
could not penetrate its immeasurable depth. Monstrous columns--short,
thick, and solid enough to sustain the pole itself--heavily expanded
their broad-swelling shafts upon socles variegated with hieroglyphics,
and sustained upon their bulging capitals gigantic arcades of granite
rising by successive tiers, like vast stairways reversed. Between each
two pillars a colossal sphinx of basalt, crowned with the _pshent_, bent
forward her oblique-eyed face and horned chin, and gazed into the hall
with a fixed and mysterious look. The columns of the second tier,
receding from the first, were more elegantly formed, and crowned in lieu
of capitals with four female heads addorsed, wearing caps of many folds
and all the intricacies of the Egyptian headdress. Instead of sphinxes,
bull-headed idols--impassive spectators of nocturnal frenzy and the
furies of orgie--were seated upon thrones of stone, like patient hosts
awaiting the opening of the banquet.

A third story, constructed in a yet different style of architecture,
with elephants of bronze spouting perfume from their trunks, crowned the
edifice; above, the sky yawned like a blue gulf, and the curious stars
leaned over the frieze.[1]

Prodigious stairways of porphyry, so highly polished that they reflected
the human body like a mirror, ascended and descended on every hand, and
bound together these huge masses of architecture.

We can only make a very rapid sketch here, in order to convey some idea
of this awful structure, proportioned out of all human measurements. It
would require the pencil of Martin,[2] the great painter of enormities
passed away, and we can present only a weak pen-picture in lieu of the
Apocalyptic depth of his gloomy style; but imagination may supply our
deficiencies. Less fortunate than the painter and the musician, we can
only present objects and ideas separately in slow succession. We have as
yet spoken of the banquet-hall only, without referring to the guests,
and yet we have but barely indicated its character. Cleopatra and
Meïamoun are waiting for us. We see them drawing near....

Meïamoun was clad in a linen tunic constellated with stars, and a purple
mantle, and wore a fillet about his locks, like an Oriental king.
Cleopatra was apparelled in a robe of pale green, open at either side,
and clasped with golden bees. Two bracelets of immense pearls gleamed
around her naked arms; upon her head glimmered the golden-pointed
diadem. Despite the smile on her lips, a slight cloud of preoccupation
shadowed her fair forehead, and from time to time her brows became
knitted in a feverish manner. What thoughts could trouble the great
queen? As for Meïamoun, his face wore the ardent and luminous look of
one in ecstasy or vision; light beamed and radiated from his brow and
temples, surrounding his head with a golden nimbus, like one of the
twelve great gods of Olympus.

A deep, heartfelt joy illumined his every feature. He had embraced his
restless-winged chimera, and it had not flown from him; he had reached
the goal of his life. Though he were to live to the age of Nestor or
Priam, though he should behold his veined temples hoary with locks
whiter than those of the high priest of Ammon, he could never know
another new experience, never feel another new pleasure. His maddest
hopes had been so much more than realized that there was nothing in the
world left for him to desire.

Cleopatra seated him beside her upon a throne with golden griffins on
either side, and clapped her little hands together. Instantly lines of
fire, bands of sparkling light, outlined all the projections of the
architecture--the eyes of the sphinxes flamed with phosphoric
lightnings; the bull-headed idols breathed flame; the elephants, in lieu
of perfumed water, spouted aloft bright columns of crimson fire; arms of
bronze, each bearing a torch, started from the walls, and blazing
aigrettes bloomed in the sculptured hearts of the lotos flowers.

Huge blue flames palpitated in tripods of brass; giant candelabras shook
their dishevelled light in the midst of ardent vapors; everything
sparkled, glittered, beamed. Prismatic irises crossed and shattered each
other in the air. The facets of the cups, the angles of the marbles and
jaspers, the chiselling of the vases--all caught a sparkle, a gleam, or
a flash as of lightning. Radiance streamed in torrents and leaped from
step to step like a cascade, over the porphyry-stairways. It seemed the
reflection of a conflagration on some broad river. Had the Queen of
Sheba ascended thither she would have caught up the folds of her robe,
and believed herself walking in water, as when she stepped upon the
crystal pavements of Solomon. Viewed through that burning haze, the
monstrous figures of the colossi, the animals, the hieroglyphics, seemed
to become animated and to live with a factitious life; the black marble
rams bleated ironically, and clashed their gilded horns; the idols
breathed harshly through their panting nostrils.

The orgie was at its height: the dishes of phenicopters' tongues, and
the livers of scarus fish; the eels fattened upon human flesh, and
cooked in brine; the dishes of peacock's brains; the boars stuffed with
living birds; and all the marvels of the antique banquets were heaped
upon the three table-surfaces of the gigantic triclinium. The wines of
Crete, of Massicus, and of Falernus foamed up in cratera wreathed with
roses, and filled by Asiatic pages whose beautiful flowing hair served
the guests to wipe their hands upon. Musicians playing upon the sistrum,
the tympanum, the sambuke, and the harp with one-and-twenty strings
filled all the upper galleries, and mingled their harmonies with the
tempest of sound that hovered over the feast. Even the deep-voiced
thunder could not have made itself heard there.

Meïamoun, whose head was lying on Cleopatra's shoulder, felt as though
his reason were leaving him. The banquet-hall whirled around him like a
vast architectural nightmare; through the dizzy glare he beheld
perspectives and colonnades without end; new zones of porticoes seemed
to uprear themselves upon the real fabric, and bury their summits in
heights of sky to which Babel never rose. Had he not felt within his
hand the soft, cool hand of Cleopatra, he would have believed himself
transported into an enchanted world by some witch of Thessaly or Magian
of Persia.

Toward the close of the repast hump-backed dwarfs and mummers engaged
in grotesque dances and combats; then young Egyptian and Greek maidens,
representing the black and white Hours, danced with inimitable grace a
voluptuous dance after the Ionian manner.

Cleopatra herself arose from her throne, threw aside her royal mantle,
replaced her starry diadem with a garland of flowers, attached golden
_crotali_[3] to her alabaster hands, and began to dance before Meïamoun,
who was ravished with delight. Her beautiful arms, rounded like the
handles of an alabaster vase, shook out bunches of sparkling notes, and
her _crotali_ prattled with ever-increasing volubility. Poised on the
pink tips of her little feet, she approached swiftly to graze the
forehead of Meïamoun with a kiss; then she recommenced her wondrous art,
and flitted around him, now backward-leaning, with head reversed, eyes
half closed, arms lifelessly relaxed, locks uncurled and loose-hanging
like a Bacchante of Mount Mænalus; now again, active, animated,
laughing, fluttering, more tireless and capricious in her movements than
the pilfering bee. Heart-consuming love, sensual pleasure, burning
passion, youth inexhaustible and ever-fresh, the promise of bliss to
come--she expressed all....

The modest stars had ceased to contemplate the scene; their golden eyes
could not endure such a spectacle; the heaven itself was blotted out,
and a dome of flaming vapor covered the hall.

Cleopatra seated herself once more by Meïamoun. Night advanced; the last
of the black Hours was about to take flight; a faint blue glow entered
with bewildered aspect into the tumult of ruddy light as a moonbeam
falls into a furnace; the upper arcades became suffused with pale azure
tints--day was breaking.

Meïamoun took the horn vase which an Ethiopian slave of sinister
countenance presented to him, and which contained a poison so violent
that it would have caused any other vase to burst asunder. Flinging his
whole life to his mistress in one last look, he lifted to his lips the
fatal cup in which the envenomed liquor boiled up, hissing.

Cleopatra turned pale, and laid her hand on Meïamoun's arm to stay the
act. His courage touched her. She was about to say, "Live to love me
yet, I desire it!..." when the sound of a clarion was heard. Four
heralds-at-arms entered the banquet-hall on horseback; they were
officers of Mark Antony, and rode but a short distance in advance of
their master. Cleopatra silently loosened the arm of Meïamoun. A long
ray of sunlight suddenly played upon her forehead, as though trying to
replace her absent diadem.

"You see the moment has come; it is daybreak, it is the hour when happy
dreams take flight," said Meïamoun. Then he emptied the fatal vessel at
a draught, and fell as though struck by lightning. Cleopatra bent her
head, and one burning tear--the only one she had ever shed--fell into
her cup to mingle with the molten pearl.

"By Hercules, my fair queen! I made all speed in vain. I see I have come
too late," cried Mark Antony, entering the banquet-hall, "the supper is
over. But what signifies this corpse upon the pavement?"

"Oh, nothing!" returned Cleopatra, with a smile; "only a poison I was
testing with the idea of using it upon myself should Augustus take me
prisoner. My dear Lord, will you not please to take a seat beside me,
and watch those Greek buffoons dance?"


[1] Does not this suggest the lines which DeQuincey so much admired?--

     "A wilderness of building, sinking far,
     And self-withdrawn into a wondrous depth
     Far sinking into splendor, without end.
     Fabric it seemed of diamond, and of gold,
     With alabaster domes and silver spires,
     And blazing terrace upon terrace, high
     Uplifted. Here serene pavilions bright,
     In avenues disposed; their towers begirt
     With _battlements that on their restless fronts
     Bore stars_."


[2] John Martin, the English painter, whose creations were unparalleled
in breadth and depth of composition. His pictures seem to have made a
powerful impression upon the highly imaginative author of these
Romances. There is something in these descriptions of antique
architecture that suggests the influence of such pictured fantasies as
Martin's "Seventh Plague;" "The Heavenly City;" and perhaps, especially,
the famous "Pandemonium," with its infernal splendor, in Martin's
illustrations to "Paradise Lost."--(Trans.)

[3] Antique castanets.--(Trans.)



CLARIMONDE[1]


Brother, you ask me if I have ever loved. Yes. My story is a strange and
terrible one; and though I am sixty-six years of age, I scarcely dare
even now to disturb the ashes of that memory. To you I can refuse
nothing; but I should not relate such a tale to any less experienced
mind. So strange were the circumstances of my story, that I can scarcely
believe myself to have ever actually been a party to them. For more than
three years I remained the victim of a most singular and diabolical
illusion. Poor country priest though I was, I led every night in a
dream--would to God it had been all a dream!--a most worldly life, a
damning life, a life of Sardanapalus. One single look too freely cast
upon a woman well-nigh caused me to lose my soul; but finally by the
grace of God and the assistance of my patron saint, I succeeded in
casting out the evil spirit that possessed me. My daily life was long
interwoven with a nocturnal life of a totally different character. By
day I was a priest of the Lord, occupied with prayer and sacred things;
by night, from the instant that I closed my eyes I became a young
nobleman, a fine connoisseur in women, dogs, and horses; gambling,
drinking, and blaspheming, and when I awoke at early daybreak, it seemed
to me, on the other hand, that I had been sleeping, and had only dreamed
that I was a priest. Of this somnambulistic life there now remains to me
only the recollection of certain scenes and words which I cannot banish
from my memory; but although I never actually left the walls of my
presbytery, one would think to hear me speak that I were a man who,
weary of all worldly pleasures, had become a religious, seeking to end a
tempestuous life in the service of God, rather than an humble seminarist
who has grown old in this obscure curacy, situated in the depths of the
woods and even isolated from the life of the century.

Yes, I have loved as none in the world ever loved--with an insensate and
furious passion--so violent that I am astonished it did not cause my
heart to burst asunder. Ah, what nights--what nights!

From my earliest childhood I had felt a vocation to the priesthood, so
that all my studies were directed with that idea in view. Up to the age
of twenty-four my life had been only a prolonged novitiate. Having
completed my course of theology I successively received all the minor
orders, and my superiors judged me worthy, despite my youth, to pass the
last awful degree. My ordination was fixed for Easter week.

I had never gone into the world. My world was confined by the walls of
the college and the seminary. I knew in a vague sort of a way that there
was something called Woman, but I never permitted my thoughts to dwell
on such a subject, and I lived in a state of perfect innocence. Twice a
year only I saw my infirm and aged mother, and in those visits were
comprised my sole relations with the outer world.

I regretted nothing; I felt not the least hesitation at taking the last
irrevocable step; I was filled with joy and impatience. Never did a
betrothed lover count the slow hours with more feverish ardor; I slept
only to dream that I was saying mass; I believed there could be nothing
in the world more delightful than to be a priest; I would have refused
to be a king or a poet in preference. My ambition could conceive of no
loftier aim.

I tell you this in order to show you that what happened to me could not
have happened in the natural order of things, and to enable you to
understand that I was the victim of an inexplicable fascination.

At last the great day came. I walked to the church with a step so light
that I fancied myself sustained in air, or that I had wings upon my
shoulders. I believed myself an angel, and wondered at the sombre and
thoughtful faces of my companions, for there were several of us. I had
passed all the night in prayer, and was in a condition well-nigh
bordering on ecstasy. The bishop, a venerable old man, seemed to me God
the Father leaning over his Eternity, and I beheld Heaven through the
vault of the temple.

You well know the details of that ceremony--the benediction, the
communion under both forms, the anointing of the palms of the hands with
the Oil of Catechumens, and then the holy sacrifice offered in concert
with the bishop.

Ah, truly spake Job when he declared that the imprudent man is one who
hath not made a covenant with his eyes! I accidentally lifted my head,
which until then I had kept down, and beheld before me, so close that it
seemed that I could have touched her--although she was actually a
considerable distance from me and on the further side of the sanctuary
railing--a young woman of extraordinary beauty, and attired with royal
magnificence. It seemed as though scales had suddenly fallen from my
eyes. I felt like a blind man who unexpectedly recovers his sight. The
bishop, so radiantly glorious but an instant before, suddenly vanished
away, the tapers paled upon their golden candlesticks like stars in the
dawn, and a vast darkness seemed to fill the whole church. The charming
creature appeared in bright relief against the background of that
darkness, like some angelic revelation. She seemed herself radiant, and
radiating light rather than receiving it.

I lowered my eyelids, firmly resolved not to again open them, that I
might not be influenced by external objects, for distraction had
gradually taken possession of me until I hardly knew what I was doing.

In another minute, nevertheless, I reopened my eyes, for through my
eyelashes I still beheld her, all sparkling with prismatic colors, and
surrounded with such a purple penumbra as one beholds in gazing at the
sun.

Oh, how beautiful she was! The greatest painters, who followed ideal
beauty into heaven itself, and thence brought back to earth the true
portrait of the Madonna, never in their delineations even approached
that wildly beautiful reality which I saw before me. Neither the verses
of the poet nor the palette of the artist could convey any conception
of her. She was rather tall, with a form and bearing of a goddess. Her
hair, of a soft blonde hue, was parted in the midst and flowed back over
her temples in two rivers of rippling gold; she seemed a diademed queen.
Her forehead, bluish-white in its transparency, extended its calm
breadth above the arches of her eyebrows, which by a strange singularity
were almost black, and admirably relieved the effect of sea-green eyes
of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes! With a single flash
they could have decided a man's destiny. They had a life, a limpidity,
an ardor, a humid light which I have never seen in human eyes; they shot
forth rays like arrows, which I could distinctly _see_ enter my heart. I
know not if the fire which illumined them came from heaven or from hell,
but assuredly it came from one or the other. That woman was either an
angel or a demon, perhaps both. Assuredly she never sprang from the
flank of Eve, our common mother. Teeth of the most lustrous pearl
gleamed in her ruddy smile, and at every inflection of her lips little
dimples appeared in the satiny rose of her adorable cheeks. There was a
delicacy and pride in the regal outline of her nostrils bespeaking noble
blood. Agate gleams played over the smooth lustrous skin of her
half-bare shoulders, and strings of great blonde pearls--almost equal to
her neck in beauty of color--descended upon her bosom. From time to time
she elevated her head with the undulating grace of a startled serpent or
peacock, thereby imparting a quivering motion to the high lace ruff
which surrounded it like a silver trellis-work.

She wore a robe of orange-red velvet, and from her wide ermine-lined
sleeves there peeped forth patrician hands of infinite delicacy, and so
ideally transparent that, like the fingers of Aurora, they permitted the
light to shine through them.

All these details I can recollect at this moment as plainly as though
they were of yesterday, for notwithstanding I was greatly troubled at
the time, nothing escaped me; the faintest touch of shading, the little
dark speck at the point of the chin, the imperceptible down at the
corners of the lips, the velvety floss upon the brow, the quivering
shadows of the eyelashes upon the cheeks, I could notice everything with
astonishing lucidity of perception.

And gazing I felt opening within me gates that had until then remained
closed; vents long obstructed became all clear, permitting glimpses of
unfamiliar perspectives within; life suddenly made itself visible to me
under a totally novel aspect. I felt as though I had just been born into
a new world and a new order of things. A frightful anguish commenced to
torture my heart as with red-hot pincers. Every successive minute seemed
to me at once but a second and yet a century. Meanwhile the ceremony was
proceeding, and I shortly found myself transported far from that world
of which my newly-born desires were furiously besieging the entrance.
Nevertheless I answered "Yes" when I wished to say "No," though all
within me protested against the violence done to my soul by my tongue.
Some occult power seemed to force the words from my throat against my
will. Thus it is, perhaps, that so many young girls walk to the altar
firmly resolved to refuse in a startling manner the husband imposed
upon them, and that yet not one ever fulfils her intention. Thus it is,
doubtless, that so many poor novices take the veil, though they have
resolved to tear it into shreds at the moment when called upon to utter
the vows. One dares not thus cause so great a scandal to all present,
nor deceive the expectation of so many people. All those eyes, all those
wills seem to weigh down upon you like a cope of lead; and, moreover,
measures have been so well taken, everything has been so thoroughly
arranged beforehand and after a fashion so evidently irrevocable, that
the will yields to the weight of circumstances and utterly breaks down.

As the ceremony proceeded the features of the fair unknown changed their
expression. Her look had at first been one of caressing tenderness; it
changed to an air of disdain and of mortification, as though at not
having been able to make itself understood.

With an effort of will sufficient to have uprooted a mountain, I strove
to cry out that I would not be a priest, but I could not speak; my
tongue seemed nailed to my palate, and I found it impossible to express
my will by the least syllable of negation. Though fully awake, I felt
like one under the influence of a nightmare, who vainly strives to
shriek out the one word upon which life depends.

She seemed conscious of the martyrdom I was undergoing, and, as though
to encourage me, she gave me a look replete with divinest promise. Her
eyes were a poem; their every glance was a song.

She said to me:

"If thou wilt be mine, I shall make thee happier than God Himself in His
paradise. The angels themselves will be jealous of thee. Tear off that
funeral shroud in which thou art about to wrap thyself. I am Beauty, I
am Youth, I am Life. Come to me! Together we shall be Love. Can Jehovah
offer thee aught in exchange? Our lives will flow on like a dream, in
one eternal kiss.

"Fling forth the wine of that chalice, and thou art free. I will conduct
thee to the Unknown Isles. Thou shalt sleep in my bosom upon a bed of
massy gold under a silver pavilion, for I love thee and would take thee
away from thy God, before whom so many noble hearts pour forth floods of
love which never reach even the steps of His throne!"

These words seemed to float to my ears in a rhythm of infinite
sweetness, for her look was actually sonorous, and the utterances of her
eyes were reechoed in the depths of my heart as though living lips had
breathed them into my life. I felt myself willing to renounce God, and
yet my tongue mechanically fulfilled all the formalities of the
ceremony. The fair one gave me another look, so beseeching, so
despairing that keen blades seemed to pierce my heart, and I felt my
bosom transfixed by more swords than those of Our Lady of Sorrows.

All was consummated; I had become a priest.

Never was deeper anguish painted on human face than upon hers. The
maiden who beholds her affianced lover suddenly fall dead at her side,
the mother bending over the empty cradle of her child, Eve seated at
the threshold of the gate of Paradise, the miser who finds a stone
substituted for his stolen treasure, the poet who accidentally permits
the only manuscript of his finest work to fall into the fire, could not
wear a look so despairing, so inconsolable. All the blood had abandoned
her charming face, leaving it whiter than marble; her beautiful arms
hung lifelessly on either side of her body as though their muscles had
suddenly relaxed, and she sought the support of a pillar, for her
yielding limbs almost betrayed her. As for myself, I staggered toward
the door of the church, livid as death, my forehead bathed with a sweat
bloodier than that of Calvary; I felt as though I were being strangled;
the vault seemed to have flattened down upon my shoulders, and it seemed
to me that my head alone sustained the whole weight of the dome.

As I was about to cross the threshold a hand suddenly caught mine--a
woman's hand! I had never till then touched the hand of any woman. It
was cold as a serpent's skin, and yet its impress remained upon my
wrist, burnt there as though branded by a glowing iron. It was she.
"Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?" she exclaimed in a low
voice, and immediately disappeared in the crowd.

The aged bishop passed by. He cast a severe and scrutinizing look upon
me. My face presented the wildest aspect imaginable; I blushed and
turned pale alternately; dazzling lights flashed before my eyes. A
companion took pity on me. He seized my arm and led me out. I could not
possibly have found my way back to the seminary unassisted. At the
corner of a street, while the young priest's attention was momentarily
turned in another direction, a negro page, fantastically garbed,
approached me, and without pausing on his way slipped into my hand a
little pocket-book with gold-embroidered corners, at the same time
giving me a sign to hide it. I concealed it in my sleeve, and there kept
it until I found myself alone in my cell. Then I opened the clasp. There
were only two leaves within, bearing the words, "Clarimonde. At the
Concini Palace." So little acquainted was I at that time with the
things of this world that I had never heard of Clarimonde, celebrated as
she was, and I had no idea as to where the Concini Palace was situated.
I hazarded a thousand conjectures, each more extravagant than the last;
but, in truth, I cared little whether she were a great lady or a
courtesan, so that I could but see her once more.

My love, although the growth of a single hour, had taken imperishable
root. I did not even dream of attempting to tear it up, so fully was I
convinced such a thing would be impossible. That woman had completely
taken possession of me. One look from her had sufficed to change my very
nature. She had breathed her will into my life, and I no longer lived in
myself, but in her and for her. I gave myself up to a thousand
extravagancies. I kissed the place upon my hand which she had touched,
and I repeated her name over and over again for hours in succession. I
only needed to close my eyes in order to see her distinctly as though
she were actually present; and I reiterated to myself the words she had
uttered in my ear at the church porch: "Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What
hast thou done?" I comprehended at last the full horror of my situation,
and the funereal and awful restraints of the state into which I had just
entered became clearly revealed to me. To be a priest!--that is, to be
chaste, to never love, to observe no distinction of sex or age, to turn
from the sight of all beauty, to put out one's own eyes, to hide forever
crouching in the chill shadows of some church or cloister, to visit none
but the dying, to watch by unknown corpses, and ever bear about with one
the black soutane as a garb of mourning for one's self, so that your
very dress might serve as a pall for your coffin.

And I felt life rising within me like a subterranean lake, expanding and
overflowing; my blood leaped fiercely through my arteries; my
long-restrained youth suddenly burst into active being, like the aloe
which blooms but once in a hundred years, and then bursts into blossom
with a clap of thunder.

What could I do in order to see Clarimonde once more? I had no pretext
to offer for desiring to leave the seminary, not knowing any person in
the city. I would not even be able to remain there but a short time, and
was only waiting my assignment to the curacy which I must thereafter
occupy. I tried to remove the bars of the window; but it was at a
fearful height from the ground, and I found that as I had no ladder it
would be useless to think of escaping thus. And, furthermore, I could
descend thence only by night in any event, and afterward how should I be
able to find my way through the inextricable labyrinth of streets? All
these difficulties, which to many would have appeared altogether
insignificant, were gigantic to me, a poor seminarist who had fallen in
love only the day before for the first time, without experience, without
money, without attire.

"Ah!" cried I to myself in my blindness, "were I not a priest I could
have seen her every day; I might have been her lover, her spouse.
Instead of being wrapped in this dismal shroud of mine I would have had
garments of silk and velvet, golden chains, a sword, and fair plumes
like other handsome young cavaliers. My hair, instead of being
dishonored by the tonsure, would flow down upon my neck in waving curls;
I would have a fine waxed mustache; I would be a gallant." But one hour
passed before an altar, a few hastily articulated words, had forever cut
me off from the number of the living, and I had myself sealed down the
stone of my own tomb; I had with my own hand bolted the gate of my
prison! I went to the window. The sky was beautifully blue; the trees
had donned their spring robes; nature seemed to be making parade of an
ironical joy. The _Place_ was filled with people, some going, others
coming; young beaux and young beauties were sauntering in couples toward
the groves and gardens; merry youths passed by, cheerily trolling
refrains of drinking songs--it was all a picture of vivacity, life,
animation, gayety, which formed a bitter contrast with my mourning and
my solitude. On the steps of the gate sat a young mother playing with
her child. She kissed its little rosy mouth still impearled with drops
of milk, and performed, in order to amuse it, a thousand divine little
puerilities such as only mothers know how to invent. The father standing
at a little distance smiled gently upon the charming group, and with
folded arms seemed to hug his joy to his heart. I could not endure that
spectacle. I closed the window with violence, and flung myself on my
bed, my heart filled with frightful hate and jealousy, and gnawed my
fingers and my bedcovers like a tiger that has passed ten days without
food.

I know not how long I remained in this condition, but at last, while
writhing on the bed in a fit of spasmodic fury, I suddenly perceived the
Abbé Sérapion, who was standing erect in the centre of the room,
watching me attentively. Filled with shame of myself, I let my head fall
upon my breast and covered my face with my hands.

"Romuald, my friend, something very extraordinary is transpiring within
you," observed Sérapion, after a few moments' silence; "your conduct is
altogether inexplicable. You--always so quiet, so pious, so gentle--you
to rage in your cell like a wild beast! Take heed, brother--do not
listen to the suggestions of the devil. The Evil Spirit, furious that
you have consecrated yourself forever to the Lord, is prowling around
you like a ravening wolf and making a last effort to obtain possession
of you. Instead of allowing yourself to be conquered, my dear Romuald,
make to yourself a cuirass of prayers, a buckler of mortifications, and
combat the enemy like a valiant man; you will then assuredly overcome
him. Virtue must be proved by temptation, and gold comes forth purer
from the hands of the assayer. Fear not. Never allow yourself to become
discouraged. The most watchful and steadfast souls are at moments liable
to such temptation. Pray, fast, meditate, and the Evil Spirit will
depart from you."

The words of the Abbé Sérapion restored me to myself, and I became a
little more calm. "I came," he continued, "to tell you that you have
been appointed to the curacy of C----. The priest who had charge of it
has just died, and Monseigneur the Bishop has ordered me to have you
installed there at once. Be ready, therefore, to start to-morrow." I
responded with an inclination of the head, and the Abbé retired. I
opened my missal and commenced reading some prayers, but the letters
became confused and blurred under my eyes, the thread of the ideas
entangled itself hopelessly in my brain, and the volume at last fell
from my hands without my being aware of it.

To leave to-morrow without having been able to see her again, to add yet
another barrier to the many already interposed between us, to lose
forever all hope of being able to meet her, except, indeed, through a
miracle! Even to write her, alas! would be impossible, for by whom could
I despatch my letter? With my sacred character of priest, to whom could
I dare unbosom myself, in whom could I confide? I became a prey to the
bitterest anxiety.

Then suddenly recurred to me the words of the Abbé Sérapion regarding
the artifices of the devil; and the strange character of the adventure,
the supernatural beauty of Clarimonde, the phosphoric light of her eyes,
the burning imprint of her hand, the agony into which she had thrown me,
the sudden change wrought within me when all my piety vanished in a
single instant--these and other things clearly testified to the work of
the Evil One, and perhaps that satiny hand was but the glove which
concealed his claws. Filled with terror at these fancies, I again picked
up the missal which had slipped from my knees and fallen upon the floor,
and once more gave myself up to prayer. Next morning Sérapion came to
take me away. Two mules freighted with our miserable valises awaited us
at the gate. He mounted one, and I the other as well as I knew how.

As we passed along the streets of the city, I gazed attentively at all
the windows and balconies in the hope of seeing Clarimonde, but it was
yet early in the morning, and the city had hardly opened its eyes. Mine
sought to penetrate the blinds and window-curtains of all the palaces
before which we were passing. Sérapion doubtless attributed this
curiosity to my admiration of the architecture, for he slackened the
pace of his animal in order to give me time to look around me. At last
we passed the city gates and commenced to mount the hill beyond. When
we arrived at its summit I turned to take a last look at the place where
Clarimonde dwelt. The shadow of a great cloud hung over all the city;
the contrasting colors of its blue and red roofs were lost in the
uniform half-tint, through which here and there floated upward, like
white flakes of foam, the smoke of freshly kindled fires. By a singular
optical effect one edifice, which surpassed in height all the
neighboring buildings that were still dimly veiled by the vapors,
towered up, fair and lustrous with the gilding of a solitary beam of
sunlight--although actually more than a league away it seemed quite
near. The smallest details of its architecture were plainly
distinguishable--the turrets, the platforms, the window-casements, and
even the swallow-tailed weather vanes.

"What is that palace I see over there, all lighted up by the sun?" I
asked Sérapion. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and having looked in
the direction indicated, replied: "It is the ancient palace which the
Prince Concini has given to the courtesan Clarimonde. Awful things are
done there!"

At that instant, I know not yet whether it was a reality or an illusion,
I fancied I saw gliding along the terrace a shapely white figure, which
gleamed for a moment in passing and as quickly vanished. It was
Clarimonde.

Oh, did she know that at that very hour, all feverish and restless--from
the height of the rugged road which separated me from her and which,
alas! I could never more descend--I was directing my eyes upon the
palace where she dwelt, and which a mocking beam of sunlight seemed to
bring nigh to me, as though inviting me to enter therein as its lord?
Undoubtedly she must have known it, for her soul was too sympathetically
united with mine not to have felt its least emotional thrill, and that
subtle sympathy it must have been which prompted her to climb--although
clad only in her night-dress--to the summit of the terrace, amid the icy
dews of the morning.

The shadow gained the palace, and the scene became to the eye only a
motionless ocean of roofs and gables, amid which one mountainous
undulation was distinctly visible. Sérapion urged his mule forward, my
own at once followed at the same gait, and a sharp angle in the road at
last hid the city of S---- forever from my eyes, as I was destined never
to return thither. At the close of a weary three-days' journey through
dismal country fields, we caught sight of the cock upon the steeple of
the church which I was to take charge of, peeping above the trees, and
after having followed some winding roads fringed with thatched cottages
and little gardens, we found ourselves in front of the façade, which
certainly possessed few features of magnificence. A porch ornamented
with some mouldings, and two or three pillars rudely hewn from
sandstone; a tiled roof with counterforts of the same sandstone as the
pillars, that was all. To the left lay the cemetery, overgrown with high
weeds, and having a great iron cross rising up in its centre; to the
right stood the presbytery, under the shadow of the church. It was a
house of the most extreme simplicity and frigid cleanliness. We entered
the enclosure. A few chickens were picking up some oats scattered upon
the ground; accustomed, seemingly, to the black habit of ecclesiastics,
they showed no fear of our presence and scarcely troubled themselves to
get out of our way. A hoarse, wheezy barking fell upon our ears, and we
saw an aged dog running toward us.

It was my predecessor's dog. He had dull bleared eyes, grizzled hair,
and every mark of the greatest age to which a dog can possibly attain. I
patted him gently, and he proceeded at once to march along beside me
with an air of satisfaction unspeakable. A very old woman, who had been
the housekeeper of the former cure, also came to meet us, and after
having invited me into a little back parlor, asked whether I intended to
retain her. I replied that I would take care of her, and the dog, and
the chickens, and all the furniture her master had bequeathed her at his
death. At this she became fairly transported with joy, and the Abbé
Sérapion at once paid her the price which she asked for her little
property.

As soon as my installation was over, the Abbé Sérapion returned to the
seminary. I was, therefore, left alone, with no one but myself to look
to for aid or counsel. The thought of Clarimonde again began to haunt
me, and in spite of all my endeavors to banish it, I always found it
present in my meditations. One evening, while promenading in my little
garden along the walks bordered with box-plants, I fancied that I saw
through the elm-trees the figure of a woman, who followed my every
movement, and that I beheld two sea-green eyes gleaming through the
foliage; but it was only an illusion, and on going round to the other
side of the garden, I could find nothing except a footprint on the
sanded walk--a footprint so small that it seemed to have been made by
the foot of a child. The garden was enclosed by very high walls. I
searched every nook and corner of it, but could discover no one there. I
have never succeeded in fully accounting for this circumstance, which,
after all, was nothing compared with the strange things which happened
to me afterward.

For a whole year I lived thus, filling all the duties of my calling with
the most scrupulous exactitude, praying and fasting, exhorting and
lending ghostly aid to the sick, and bestowing alms even to the extent
of frequently depriving myself of the very necessaries of life. But I
felt a great aridness within me, and the sources of grace seemed closed
against me. I never found that happiness which should spring from the
fulfilment of a holy mission; my thoughts were far away, and the words
of Clarimonde were ever upon my lips like an involuntary refrain. Oh,
brother, meditate well on this! Through having but once lifted my eyes
to look upon a woman, through one fault apparently so venial, I have for
years remained a victim to the most miserable agonies, and the happiness
of my life has been destroyed forever.

I will not longer dwell upon those defeats, or on those inward victories
invariably followed by yet more terrible falls, but will at once proceed
to the facts of my story. One night my door-bell was long and violently
rung. The aged housekeeper arose and opened to the stranger, and the
figure of a man, whose complexion was deeply bronzed, and who was
richly clad in a foreign costume, with a poniard at his girdle, appeared
under the rays of Barbara's lantern. Her first impulse was one of
terror, but the stranger reassured her, and stated that he desired to
see me at once on matters relating to my holy calling. Barbara invited
him upstairs, where I was on the point of retiring. The stranger told me
that his mistress, a very noble lady, was lying at the point of death,
and desired to see a priest. I replied that I was prepared to follow
him, took with me the sacred articles necessary for extreme unction, and
descended in all haste. Two horses black as the night itself stood
without the gate, pawing the ground with impatience, and veiling their
chests with long streams of smoky vapor exhaled from their nostrils. He
held the stirrup and aided me to mount upon one; then, merely laying his
hand upon the pummel of the saddle, he vaulted on the other, pressed the
animal's sides with his knees, and loosened rein. The horse bounded
forward with the velocity of an arrow. Mine, of which the stranger held
the bridle, also started off at a swift gallop, keeping up with his
companion. We devoured the road. The ground flowed backward beneath us
in a long streaked line of pale gray, and the black silhouettes of the
trees seemed fleeing by us on either side like an army in rout. We
passed through a forest so profoundly gloomy that I felt my flesh creep
in the chill darkness with superstitious fear. The showers of bright
sparks which flew from the stony road under the ironshod feet of our
horses, remained glowing in our wake like a fiery trail; and had anyone
at that hour of the night beheld us both--my guide and myself--he must
have taken us for two spectres riding upon nightmares. Witch-fires ever
and anon flitted across the road before us, and the night-birds shrieked
fearsomely in the depth of the woods beyond, where we beheld at
intervals glow the phosphorescent eyes of wildcats. The manes of the
horses became more and more dishevelled, the sweat streamed over their
flanks, and their breath came through their nostrils hard and fast. But
when he found them slacking pace, the guide reanimated them by uttering
a strange, guttural, unearthly cry, and the gallop recommenced with
fury. At last the whirlwind race ceased; a huge black mass pierced
through with many bright points of light suddenly rose before us, the
hoofs of our horses echoed louder upon a strong wooden draw-bridge, and
we rode under a great vaulted archway which darkly yawned between two
enormous towers. Some great excitement evidently reigned in the castle.
Servants with torches were crossing the courtyard in every direction,
and above lights were ascending and descending from landing to landing.
I obtained a confused glimpse of vast masses of architecture--columns,
arcades, flights of steps, stairways--a royal voluptuousness and elfin
magnificence of construction worthy of fairyland. A negro page--the same
who had before brought me the tablet from Clarimonde, and whom I
instantly recognized--approached to aid me in dismounting, and the
major-domo, attired in black velvet with a gold chain about his neck,
advanced to meet me, supporting himself upon an ivory cane. Large tears
were falling from his eyes and streaming over his cheeks and white
beard. "Too late!" he cried, sorrowfully shaking his venerable head.
"Too late, sir priest! But if you have not been able to save the soul,
come at least to watch by the poor body."

He took my arm and conducted me to the death chamber. I wept not less
bitterly than he, for I had learned that the dead one was none other
than that Clarimonde whom I had so deeply and so wildly loved. A
_prie-dieu_ stood at the foot of the bed; a bluish flame flickering in a
bronze patera filled all the room with a wan, deceptive light, here and
there bringing out in the darkness at intervals some projection of
furniture or cornice. In a chiselled urn upon the table there was a
faded white rose, whose leaves--excepting one that still held--had all
fallen, like odorous tears, to the foot of the vase. A broken black
mask, a fan, and disguises of every variety, which were lying on the
arm-chairs, bore witness that death had entered suddenly and unannounced
into that sumptuous dwelling. Without daring to cast my eyes upon the
bed, I knelt down and commenced to repeat the Psalms for the Dead, with
exceeding fervor, thanking God that he had placed the tomb between me
and the memory of this woman, so that I might thereafter be able to
utter her name in my prayers as a name forever sanctified by death. But
my fervor gradually weakened, and I fell insensibly into a reverie. That
chamber bore no semblance to a chamber of death. In lieu of the fœtid
and cadaverous odors which I had been accustomed to breathe during such
funereal vigils, a languorous vapor of Oriental perfume--I know not what
amorous odor of woman--softly floated through the tepid air. That pale
light seemed rather a twilight gloom contrived for voluptuous pleasure,
than a substitute for the yellow-flickering watch-tapers which shine by
the side of corpses. I thought upon the strange destiny which enabled me
to meet Clarimonde again at the very moment when she was lost to me
forever, and a sigh of regretful anguish escaped from my breast. Then it
seemed to me that some one behind me had also sighed, and I turned round
to look. It was only an echo. But in that moment my eyes fell upon the
bed of death which they had till then avoided. The red damask curtains,
decorated with large flowers worked in embroidery, and looped up with
gold bullion, permitted me to behold the fair dead, lying at full
length, with hands joined upon her bosom. She was covered with a linen
wrapping of dazzling whiteness, which formed a strong contrast with the
gloomy purple of the hangings, and was of so fine a texture that it
concealed nothing of her body's charming form, and allowed the eye to
follow those beautiful outlines--undulating like the neck of a
swan--which even death had not robbed of their supple grace. She seemed
an alabaster statue executed by some skilful sculptor to place upon the
tomb of a queen, or rather, perhaps, like a slumbering maiden over whom
the silent snow had woven a spotless veil.

I could no longer maintain my constrained attitude of prayer. The air of
the alcove intoxicated me, that febrile perfume of half-faded roses
penetrated my very brain, and I commenced to pace restlessly up and
down the chamber, pausing at each turn before the bier to contemplate
the graceful corpse lying beneath the transparency of its shroud. Wild
fancies came thronging to my brain. I thought to myself that she might
not, perhaps, be really dead; that she might only have feigned death for
the purpose of bringing me to her castle, and then declaring her love.
At one time I even thought I saw her foot move under the whiteness of
the coverings, and slightly disarrange the long, straight folds of the
winding sheet.

And then I asked myself: "Is this indeed Clarimonde? What proof have I
that it is she? Might not that black page have passed into the service
of some other lady? Surely, I must be going mad to torture and afflict
myself thus!" But my heart answered with a fierce throbbing: "It is she;
it is she indeed!" I approached the bed again, and fixed my eyes with
redoubled attention upon the object of my incertitude. Ah, must I
confess it? That exquisite perfection of bodily form, although purified
and made sacred by the shadow of death, affected me more voluptuously
than it should have done, and that repose so closely resembled slumber
that one might well have mistaken it for such. I forgot that I had come
there to perform a funeral ceremony; I fancied myself a young bridegroom
entering the chamber of the bride, who all modestly hides her fair face,
and through coyness seeks to keep herself wholly veiled. Heartbroken
with grief, yet wild with hope, shuddering at once with fear and
pleasure, I bent over her and grasped the corner of the sheet. I lifted
it back, holding my breath all the while through fear of waking her. My
arteries throbbed with such violence that I felt them hiss through my
temples, and the sweat poured from my forehead in streams, as though I
had lifted a mighty slab of marble. There, indeed, lay Clarimonde, even
as I had seen her at the church on the day of my ordination. She was not
less charming than then. With her, death seemed but a last coquetry. The
pallor of her cheeks, the less brilliant carnation of her lips, her long
eyelashes lowered and relieving their dark fringe against that white
skin, lent her an unspeakably seductive aspect of melancholy chastity
and mental suffering; her long loose hair, still intertwined with some
little blue flowers, made a shining pillow for her head, and veiled the
nudity of her shoulders with its thick ringlets; her beautiful hands,
purer, more diaphanous than the Host, were crossed on her bosom in an
attitude of pious rest and silent prayer, which served to counteract all
that might have proven otherwise too alluring--even after death--in the
exquisite roundness and ivory polish of her bare arms from which the
pearl bracelets had not yet been removed. I remained long in mute
contemplation, and the more I gazed, the less could I persuade myself
that life had really abandoned that beautiful body forever. I do not
know whether it was an illusion or a reflection of the lamplight, but it
seemed to me that the blood was again commencing to circulate under that
lifeless pallor, although she remained all motionless. I laid my hand
lightly on her arm; it was cold, but not colder than her hand on the day
when it touched mine at the portals of the church. I resumed my
position, bending my face above her, and bathing her cheeks with the
warm dew of my tears. Ah, what bitter feelings of despair and
helplessness, what agonies unutterable did I endure in that long watch!
Vainly did I wish that I could have gathered all my life into one mass
that I might give it all to her, and breathe into her chill remains the
flame which devoured me. The night advanced, and feeling the moment of
eternal separation approach, I could not deny myself the last sad sweet
pleasure of imprinting a kiss upon the dead lips of her who had been my
only love.... Oh, miracle! A faint breath mingled itself with my breath,
and the mouth of Clarimonde responded to the passionate pressure of
mine. Her eyes unclosed, and lighted up with something of their former
brilliancy; she uttered a long sigh, and uncrossing her arms, passed
them around my neck with a look of ineffable delight. "Ah, it is thou,
Romuald!" she murmured in a voice languishingly sweet as the last
vibrations of a harp. "What ailed thee, dearest? I waited so long for
thee that I am dead; but we are now betrothed; I can see thee and visit
thee. Adieu, Romuald, adieu! I love thee. That is all I wished to tell
thee, and I give thee back the life which thy kiss for a moment
recalled. We shall soon meet again."

Her head fell back, but her arms yet encircled me, as though to retain
me still. A furious whirlwind suddenly burst in the window, and entered
the chamber. The last remaining leaf of the white rose for a moment
palpitated at the extremity of the stalk like a butterfly's wing, then
it detached itself and flew forth through the open casement, bearing
with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp was extinguished, and I fell
insensible upon the bosom of the beautiful dead.

When I came to myself again I was lying on the bed in my little room at
the presbytery, and the old dog of the former curé was licking my hand
which had been hanging down outside of the covers. Barbara, all
trembling with age and anxiety, was busying herself about the room,
opening and shutting drawers, and emptying powders into glasses. On
seeing me open my eyes, the old woman uttered a cry of joy, the dog
yelped and wagged his tail, but I was still so weak that I could not
speak a single word or make the slightest motion. Afterward I learned
that I had lain thus for three days, giving no evidence of life beyond
the faintest respiration. Those three days do not reckon in my life, nor
could I ever imagine whither my spirit had departed during those three
days; I have no recollection of aught relating to them. Barbara told me
that the same coppery-complexioned man who came to seek me on the night
of my departure from the presbytery, had brought me back the next
morning in a close litter, and departed immediately afterward. When I
became able to collect my scattered thoughts, I reviewed within my mind
all the circumstances of that fateful night. At first I thought I had
been the victim of some magical illusion, but ere long the recollection
of other circumstances, real and palpable in themselves, came to forbid
that supposition. I could not believe that I had been dreaming, since
Barbara as well as myself had seen the strange man with his two black
horses, and described with exactness every detail of his figure and
apparel. Nevertheless it appeared that none knew of any castle in the
neighborhood answering to the description of that in which I had again
found Clarimonde.

One morning I found the Abbé Sérapion in my room. Barbara had advised
him that I was ill, and he had come with all speed to see me. Although
this haste on his part testified to an affectionate interest in me, yet
his visit did not cause me the pleasure which it should have done. The
Abbé Sérapion had something penetrating and inquisitorial in his gaze
which made me feel very ill at ease. His presence filled me with
embarrassment and a sense of guilt. At the first glance he divined my
interior trouble, and I hated him for his clairvoyance.

While he inquired after my health in hypocritically honeyed accents, he
constantly kept his two great _yellow_ lion-eyes fixed upon me, and
plunged his look into my soul like a sounding lead. Then he asked me how
I directed my parish, if I was happy in it, how I passed the leisure
hours allowed me in the intervals of pastoral duty, whether I had become
acquainted with many of the inhabitants of the place, what was my
favorite reading, and a thousand other such questions. I answered these
inquiries as briefly as possible, and he, without ever waiting for my
answers, passed rapidly from one subject of query to another. That
conversation had evidently no connection with what he actually wished to
say. At last, without any premonition, but as though repeating a piece
of news which he had recalled on the instant, and feared might otherwise
be forgotten subsequently, he suddenly said, in a clear vibrant voice,
which rang in my ears like the trumpets of the Last Judgment:

"The great courtesan Clarimonde died a few days ago, at the close of an
orgie which lasted eight days and eight nights. It was something
infernally splendid. The abominations of the banquets of Belshazzar and
Cleopatra were reënacted there. Good God, what age are we living in? The
guests were served by swarthy slaves who spoke an unknown tongue, and
who seemed to me to be veritable demons. The livery of the very least
among them would have served for the gala-dress of an emperor. There
have always been very strange stories told of this Clarimonde, and all
her lovers came to a violent or miserable end. They used to say that she
was a ghoul, a female vampire; but I believe she was none other than
Beelzebub himself."

He ceased to speak and commenced to regard me more attentively than
ever, as though to observe the effect of his words on me. I could not
refrain from starting when I heard him utter the name of Clarimonde, and
this news of her death, in addition to the pain it caused me by reason
of its coincidence with the nocturnal scenes I had witnessed, filled me
with an agony and terror which my face betrayed, despite my utmost
endeavors to appear composed. Sérapion fixed an anxious and severe look
upon me, and then observed: "My son, I must warn you that you are
standing with foot raised upon the brink of an abyss; take heed lest you
fall therein. Satan's claws are long, and tombs are not always true to
their trust. The tombstone of Clarimonde should be sealed down with a
triple seal, for, if report be true, it is not the first time she has
died. May God watch over you, Romuald!"

And with these words the Abbé walked slowly to the door. I did not see
him again at that time, for he left for S---- almost immediately.

I became completely restored to health and resumed my accustomed duties.
The memory of Clarimonde and the words of the old Abbé were constantly
in my mind; nevertheless no extraordinary event had occurred to verify
the funereal predictions of Sérapion, and I had commenced to believe
that his fears and my own terrors were over-exaggerated, when one night
I had a strange dream. I had hardly fallen asleep when I heard my
bed-curtains drawn apart, as their rings slided back upon the curtain
rod with a sharp sound. I rose up quickly upon my elbow, and beheld the
shadow of a woman standing erect before me. I recognized Clarimonde
immediately. She bore in her hand a little lamp, shaped like those which
are placed in tombs, and its light lent her fingers a rosy transparency,
which extended itself by lessening degrees even to the opaque and milky
whiteness of her bare arm. Her only garment was the linen winding-sheet
which had shrouded her when lying upon the bed of death. She sought to
gather its folds over her bosom as though ashamed of being so scantily
clad, but her little hand was not equal to the task. She was so white
that the color of the drapery blended with that of her flesh under the
pallid rays of the lamp. Enveloped with this subtle tissue which
betrayed all the contour of her body, she seemed rather the marble
statue of some fair antique bather than a woman endowed with life. But
dead or living, statue or woman, shadow or body, her beauty was still
the same, only that the green light of her eyes was less brilliant, and
her mouth, once so warmly crimson, was only tinted with a faint tender
rosiness, like that of her cheeks. The little blue flowers which I had
noticed entwined in her hair were withered and dry, and had lost nearly
all their leaves, but this did not prevent her from being charming--so
charming that notwithstanding the strange character of the adventure,
and the unexplainable manner in which she had entered my room, I felt
not even for a moment the least fear.

She placed the lamp on the table and seated herself at the foot of my
bed; then bending toward me, she said, in that voice at once silvery
clear and yet velvety in its sweet softness, such as I never heard from
any lips save hers:

"I have kept thee long in waiting, dear Romuald, and it must have seemed
to thee that I had forgotten thee. But I come from afar off, very far
off, and from a land whence no other has ever yet returned. There is
neither sun nor moon in that land whence I come: all is but space and
shadow; there is neither road nor pathway: no earth for the foot, no air
for the wing; and nevertheless behold me here, for Love is stronger than
Death and must conquer him in the end. Oh what sad faces and fearful
things I have seen on my way hither! What difficulty my soul, returned
to earth through the power of will alone, has had in finding its body
and reinstating itself therein! What terrible efforts I had to make ere
I could lift the ponderous slab with which they had covered me! See,
the palms of my poor hands are all bruised! Kiss them, sweet love, that
they may be healed!" She laid the cold palms of her hands upon my mouth,
one after the other. I kissed them, indeed, many times, and she the
while watched me with a smile of ineffable affection.

I confess to my shame that I had entirely forgotten the advice of the
Abbé Sérapion and the sacred office wherewith I had been invested. I had
fallen without resistance, and at the first assault. I had not even made
the least effort to repel the tempter. The fresh coolness of
Clarimonde's skin penetrated my own, and I felt voluptuous tremors pass
over my whole body. Poor child! in spite of all I saw afterward, I can
hardly yet believe she was a demon; at least she had no appearance of
being such, and never did Satan so skilfully conceal his claws and
horns. She had drawn her feet up beneath her, and squatted down on the
edge of the couch in an attitude full of negligent coquetry. From time
to time she passed her little hand through my hair and twisted it into
curls, as though trying how a new style of wearing it would become my
face. _I_ abandoned myself to her hands with the most guilty pleasure,
while she accompanied her gentle play with the prettiest prattle. The
most remarkable fact was that I felt no astonishment whatever at so
extraordinary an adventure, and as in dreams one finds no difficulty in
accepting the most fantastic events as simple facts, so all these
circumstances seemed to me perfectly natural in themselves.

"I loved thee long ere I saw thee, dear Romuald, and sought thee
everywhere. Thou wast my dream, and I first saw thee in the church at
the fatal moment. I said at once, 'It is he!' I gave thee a look into
which I threw all the love I ever had, all the love I now have, all the
love I shall ever have for thee--a look that would have damned a
cardinal or brought a king to his knees at my feet in view of all his
court. Thou remainedst unmoved, preferring thy God to me!

"Ah, how jealous I am of that God whom thou didst love and still lovest
more than me!

"Woe is me, unhappy one that I am! I can never have thy heart all to
myself, I whom thou didst recall to life with a kiss--dead Clarimonde,
who for thy sake bursts asunder the gates of the tomb, and comes to
consecrate to thee a life which she has resumed only to make thee
happy!"

All her words were accompanied with the most impassioned caresses, which
bewildered my sense and my reason to such an extent, that I did not fear
to utter a frightful blasphemy for the sake of consoling her, and to
declare that I loved her as much as God.

Her eyes rekindled and shone like chrysoprases. "In truth?--in very
truth?--as much as God!" she cried, flinging her beautiful arms around
me. "Since it is so, thou wilt come with me; thou wilt follow me
whithersoever I desire. Thou wilt cast away thy ugly black habit. Thou
shalt be the proudest and most envied of cavaliers; thou shalt be my
lover! To be the acknowledged lover of Clarimonde, who has refused even
a Pope, that will be something to feel proud of! Ah, the fair,
unspeakably happy existence, the beautiful golden life we shall live
together! And when shall we depart, my fair sir?"

"To-morrow! To-morrow!" I cried in my delirium.

"To-morrow, then, so let it be!" she answered. "In the meanwhile I shall
have opportunity to change my toilet, for this is a little too light and
in nowise suited for a voyage. I must also forthwith notify all my
friends who believe me dead, and mourn for me as deeply as they are
capable of doing. The money, the dresses, the carriages--all will be
ready. I shall call for thee at this same hour. Adieu, dear heart!" And
she lightly touched my forehead with her lips. The lamp went out, the
curtains closed again, and all became dark; a leaden, dreamless sleep
fell on me and held me unconscious until the morning following.

I awoke later than usual, and the recollection of this singular
adventure troubled me during the whole day. I finally persuaded myself
that it was a mere vapor of my heated imagination. Nevertheless its
sensations had been so vivid that it was difficult to persuade myself
that they were not real, and it was not without some presentiment of
what was going to happen that I got into bed at last, after having
prayed God to drive far from me all thoughts of evil, and to protect the
chastity of my slumber.

I soon fell into a deep sleep, and my dream was continued. The curtains
again parted, and I beheld Clarimonde, not as on the former occasion,
pale in her pale winding-sheet, with the violets of death upon her
cheeks, but gay, sprightly, jaunty, in a superb travelling dress of
green velvet, trimmed with gold lace, and looped up on either side to
allow a glimpse of satin petticoat. Her blond hair escaped in thick
ringlets from beneath a broad black felt hat, decorated with white
feathers whimsically twisted into various shapes. In one hand she held a
little riding whip terminated by a golden whistle. She tapped me lightly
with it, and exclaimed: "Well, my fine sleeper, is this the way you make
your preparations? I thought I would find you up and dressed. Arise
quickly, we have no time to lose."

I leaped out of bed at once.

"Come, dress yourself, and let us go," she continued, pointing to a
little package she had brought with her. "The horses are becoming
impatient of delay and champing their bits at the door. We ought to have
been by this time at least ten leagues distant from here."

I dressed myself hurriedly, and she handed me the articles of apparel
herself one by one, bursting into laughter from time to time at my
awkwardness, as she explained to me the use of a garment when I had made
a mistake. She hurriedly arranged my hair, and this done, held up before
me a little pocket mirror of Venetian crystal, rimmed with silver
filigree-work, and playfully asked: "How dost find thyself now? Wilt
engage me for thy valet de chambre?"

I was no longer the same person, and I could not even recognize myself.
I resembled my former self no more than a finished statue resembles a
block of stone. My old face seemed but a coarse daub of the one
reflected in the mirror. I was handsome, and my vanity was sensibly
tickled by the metamorphosis. That elegant apparel, that richly
embroidered vest had made of me a totally different personage, and I
marvelled at the power of transformation owned by a few yards of cloth
cut after a certain pattern. The spirit of my costume penetrated my very
skin, and within ten minutes more I had become something of a coxcomb.

In order to feel more at ease in my new attire, I took several turns up
and down the room. Clarimonde watched me with an air of maternal
pleasure, and appeared well satisfied with her work. "Come, enough of
this child's-play! Let us start, Romuald, dear. We have far to go, and
we may not get there in time." She took my hand and led me forth. All
the doors opened before her at a touch, and we passed by the dog without
awaking him.

At the gate we found Margheritone waiting, the same swarthy groom who
had once before been my escort. He held the bridles of three horses, all
black like those which bore us to the castle--one for me, one for him,
one for Clarimonde. Those horses must have been Spanish genets born of
mares fecundated by a zephyr, for they were fleet as the wind itself,
and the moon, which had just risen at our departure to light us on the
way, rolled over the sky like a wheel detached from her own chariot. We
beheld her on the right leaping from tree to tree, and putting herself
out of breath in the effort to keep up with us. Soon we came upon a
level plain where, hard by a clump of trees, a carriage with four
vigorous horses awaited us. We entered it, and the postilions urged
their animals into a mad gallop. I had one arm around Clarimonde's
waist, and one of her hands clasped in mine; her head leaned upon my
shoulder, and I felt her bosom, half bare, lightly pressing against my
arm. I had never known such intense happiness. In that hour I had
forgotten everything, and I no more remembered having ever been a priest
than I remembered what I had been doing in my mother's womb, so great
was the fascination which the evil spirit exerted upon me. From that
night my nature seemed in some sort to have become halved, and there
were two men within me, neither of whom knew the other. At one moment I
believed myself a priest who dreamed nightly that he was a gentleman,
at another that I was a gentleman who dreamed he was a priest. I could
no longer distinguish the dream from the reality, nor could I discover
where the reality began or where ended the dream. The exquisite young
lord and libertine railed at the priest, the priest loathed the
dissolute habits of the young lord. Two spirals entangled and confounded
the one with the other, yet never touching, would afford a fair
representation of this bicephalic life which I lived. Despite the
strange character of my condition, I do not believe that I ever
inclined, even for a moment, to madness. I always retained with extreme
vividness all the perceptions of my two lives. Only there was one absurd
fact which I could not explain to myself--namely, that the consciousness
of the same individuality existed in two men so opposite in character.
It was an anomaly for which I could not account--whether I believed
myself to be the curé of the little village of C----, or _Il Signor
Romualdo_, the titled lover of Clarimonde.

Be that as it may, I lived, at least I believed that I lived, in Venice.
I have never been able to discover rightly how much of illusion and how
much of reality there was in this fantastic adventure. We dwelt in a
great palace on the Canaleio, filled with frescoes and statues, and
containing two Titians in the noblest style of the great master, which
were hung in Clarimonde's chamber. It was a palace well worthy of a
king. We had each our gondola, our _barcarolli_ in family livery, our
music hall, and our special poet. Clarimonde always lived upon a
magnificent scale; there was something of Cleopatra in her nature. As
for me, I had the retinue of a prince's son, and I was regarded with as
much reverential respect as though I had been of the family of one of
the twelve Apostles or the four Evangelists of the Most Serene Republic.
I would not have turned aside to allow even the Doge to pass, and I do
not believe that since Satan fell from heaven, any creature was ever
prouder or more insolent than I. I went to the Ridotto, and played with
a luck which seemed absolutely infernal. I received the best of all
society--the sons of ruined families, women of the theatre, shrewd
knaves, parasites, hectoring swashbucklers. But notwithstanding the
dissipation of such a life, I always remained faithful to Clarimonde. I
loved her wildly. She would have excited satiety itself, and chained
inconstancy. To have Clarimonde was to have twenty mistresses; aye, to
possess all women: so mo-bile, so varied of aspect, so fresh in new
charms was she all in herself--a very chameleon of a woman, in sooth.
She made you commit with her the infidelity you would have committed
with another, by donning to perfection the character, the attraction,
the style of beauty of the woman who appeared to please you. She
returned my love a hundred-fold, and it was in vain that the young
patricians and even the Ancients of the Council of Ten made her the most
magnificent proposals. A Foscari even went so far as to offer to espouse
her. She rejected all his overtures. Of gold she had enough. She wished
no longer for anything but love--a love youthful, pure, evoked by
herself, and which should be a first and last passion. I would have been
perfectly happy but for a cursed nightmare which recurred every night,
and in which I believed myself to be a poor village cure, practising
mortification and penance for my excesses during the day. Reassured by
my constant association with her, I never thought further of the strange
manner in which I had become acquainted with Clarimonde. But the words
of the Abbé Sérapion concerning her recurred often to my memory, and
never ceased to cause me uneasiness.

For some time the health of Clarimonde had not been so good as usual;
her complexion grew paler day by day. The physicians who were summoned
could not comprehend the nature of her malady and knew not how to treat
it. They all prescribed some insignificant remedies, and never called a
second time. Her paleness, nevertheless, visibly increased, and she
became colder and colder, until she seemed almost as white and dead as
upon that memorable night in the unknown castle. I grieved with anguish
unspeakable to behold her thus slowly perishing; and she, touched by my
agony, smiled upon me sweetly and sadly with the fateful smile of those
who feel that they must die.

One morning I was seated at her bedside, and breakfasting from a little
table placed close at hand, so that I might not be obliged to leave her
for a single instant. In the act of cutting some fruit I accidentally
inflicted rather a deep gash on my finger. The blood immediately gushed
forth in a little purple jet, and a few drops spurted upon Clarimonde.
Her eyes flashed, her face suddenly assumed an expression of savage and
ferocious joy such as I had never before observed in her. She leaped out
of her bed with animal agility--the agility, as it were, of an ape or a
cat--and sprang upon my wound, which she commenced to suck with an air
of unutterable pleasure. She swallowed the blood in little mouthfuls,
slowly and carefully, like a connoisseur tasting a wine from Xeres or
Syracuse. Gradually her eyelids half closed, and the pupils of her green
eyes became oblong instead of round. From time to time she paused in
order to kiss my hand, then she would recommence to press her lips to
the lips of the wound in order to coax forth a few more ruddy drops.
When she found that the blood would no longer come, she arose with eyes
liquid and brilliant, rosier than a May dawn; her face full and fresh,
her hand warm and moist--in fine, more beautiful than ever, and in the
most perfect health.

"I shall not die! I shall not die!" she cried, clinging to my neck, half
mad with joy. "I can love thee yet for a long time. My life is thine,
and all that is of me comes from thee. A few drops of thy rich and noble
blood, more precious and more potent than all the elixirs of the earth,
have given me back life."

This scene long haunted my memory, and inspired me with strange doubts
in regard to Clarimonde; and the same evening, when slumber had
transported me to my presbytery, I beheld the Abbé Sérapion, graver and
more anxious of aspect than ever. He gazed attentively at me, and
sorrowfully exclaimed: "Not content with losing your soul, you now
desire also to lose your body. Wretched young man, into how terrible a
plight have you fallen!" The tone in which he uttered these words
powerfully affected me, but in spite of its vividness even that
impression was soon dissipated, and a thousand other cares erased it
from my mind. At last one evening, while looking into a mirror whose
traitorous position she had not taken into account, I saw Clarimonde in
the act of emptying a powder into the cup of spiced wine which she had
long been in the habit of preparing after our repasts. I took the cup,
feigned to carry it to my lips, and then placed it on the nearest
article of furniture as though intending to finish it at my leisure.
Taking advantage of a moment when the fair one's back was turned, I
threw the contents under the table, after which I retired to my chamber
and went to bed, fully resolved not to sleep, but to watch and discover
what should come of all this mystery. I did not have to wait long.
Clarimonde entered in her night-dress, and having removed her apparel,
crept into bed and lay down beside me. When she felt assured that I was
asleep, she bared my arm, and drawing a gold pin from her hair,
commenced to murmur in a low voice:

"One drop, only one drop! One ruby at the end of my needle.... Since
thou lovest me yet, I must not die!... Ah, poor love! His beautiful
blood, so brightly purple, I must drink it. Sleep, my only treasure!
Sleep, my god, my child! I will do thee no harm; I will only take of thy
life what I must to keep my own from being forever extinguished. But
that I love thee so much, I could well resolve to have other lovers
whose veins I could drain; but since I have known thee all other men
have become hateful to me.... Ah, the beautiful arm! How round it is!
How white it is! How shall I ever dare to prick this pretty blue vein!"
And while thus murmuring to herself she wept, and I felt her tears
raining on my arm as she clasped it with her hands. At last she took the
resolve, slightly punctured me with her pin, and commenced to suck up
the blood which oozed from the place. Although she swallowed only a few
drops, the fear of weakening me soon seized her, and she carefully tied
a little band around my arm, afterward rubbing the wound with an unguent
which immediately cicatrized it.

Further doubts were impossible. The Abbé Sérapion was right.
Notwithstanding this positive knowledge, however, I could not cease to
love Clarimonde, and I would gladly of my own accord have given her all
the blood she required to sustain her factitious life. Moreover, I felt
but little fear of her. The woman seemed to plead with me for the
vampire, and what I had already heard and seen sufficed to reassure me
completely. In those days I had plenteous veins, which would not have
been so easily exhausted as at present; and I would not have thought of
bargaining for my blood, drop by drop. I would rather have opened myself
the veins of my arm and said to her: "Drink, and may my love infiltrate
itself throughout thy body together with my blood!" I carefully avoided
ever making the least reference to the narcotic drink she had prepared
for me, or to the incident of the pin, and we lived in the most perfect
harmony.

Yet my priestly scruples commenced to torment me more than ever, and I
was at a loss to imagine what new penance I could invent in order to
mortify and subdue my flesh. Although these visions were involuntary,
and though I did not actually participate in anything relating to them,
I could not dare to touch the body of Christ with hands so impure and a
mind defiled by such debauches whether real or imaginary. In the effort
to avoid falling under the influence of these wearisome hallucinations,
I strove to prevent myself from being overcome by sleep. I held my
eyelids open with my fingers, and stood for hours together leaning
upright against the wall, fighting sleep with all my might; but the dust
of drowsiness invariably gathered upon my eyes at last, and finding all
resistance useless, I would have to let my arms fall in the extremity of
despairing weariness, and the current of slumber would again bear me
away to the perfidious shores. Sérapion addressed me with the most
vehement exhortations, severely reproaching me for my softness and want
of fervor. Finally, one day when I was more wretched than usual, he said
to me: "There is but one way by which you can obtain relief from this
continual torment, and though it is an extreme measure it must be made
use of; violent diseases require violent remedies. I know where
Clarimonde is buried. It is necessary that we shall disinter her
remains, and that you shall behold in how pitiable a state the object of
your love is. Then you will no longer be tempted to lose your soul for
the sake of an unclean corpse devoured by worms, and ready to crumble
into dust. That will assuredly restore you to yourself." For my part, I
was so tired of this double life that I at once consented, desiring to
ascertain beyond a doubt whether a priest or a gentleman had been the
victim of delusion. I had become fully resolved either to kill one of
the two men within me for the benefit of the other, or else to kill
both, for so terrible an existence could not last long and be endured.
The Abbé Sérapion provided himself with a mattock, a lever, and a
lantern, and at midnight we wended our way to the cemetery of ----, the
location and place of which were perfectly familiar to him. After having
directed the rays of the dark lantern upon the inscriptions of several
tombs, we came at last upon a great slab, half concealed by huge weeds
and devoured by mosses and parasitic plants, whereupon we deciphered the
opening lines of the epitaph:

     Here lies Clarimonde
     Who was famed in her life-time
     As the fairest of women.[2]

"It is here without a doubt," muttered Sérapion, and placing his lantern
on the ground, he forced the point of the lever under the edge of the
stone and commenced to raise it. The stone yielded, and he proceeded to
work with the mattock. Darker and more silent than the night itself, I
stood by and watched him do it, while he, bending over his dismal toil,
streamed with sweat, panted, and his hard-coming breath seemed to have
the harsh tone of a death rattle. It was a weird scene, and had any
persons from without beheld us, they would assuredly have taken us
rather for profane wretches and shroud-stealers than for priests of God.
There was something grim and fierce in Sérapion's zeal which lent him
the air of a demon rather than of an apostle or an angel, and his great
aquiline face, with all its stern features brought out in strong relief
by the lantern-light, had something fearsome in it which enhanced the
unpleasant fancy. I felt an icy sweat come out upon my forehead in huge
beads, and my hair stood up with a hideous fear. Within the depths of my
own heart I felt that the act of the austere Sérapion was an abominable
sacrilege; and I could have prayed that a triangle of fire would issue
from the entrails of the dark clouds, heavily rolling above us, to
reduce him to cinders. The owls which had been nestling in the
cypress-trees, startled by the gleam of the lantern, flew against it
from time to time, striking their dusty wings against its panes, and
uttering plaintive cries of lamentation; wild foxes yelped in the far
darkness, and a thousand sinister noises detached themselves from the
silence. At last Sérapion's mattock struck the coffin itself, making
its planks reëcho with a deep sonorous sound, with that terrible sound
nothingness utters when stricken. He wrenched apart and tore up the lid,
and I beheld Clarimonde, pallid as a figure of marble, with hands
joined; her white winding-sheet made but one fold from her head to her
feet. A little crimson drop sparkled like a speck of dew at one corner
of her colorless mouth. Sérapion, at this spectacle, burst into fury:
"Ah, thou art here, demon! Impure courtesan! Drinker of blood and gold!"
And he flung holy water upon the corpse and the coffin, over which he
traced the sign of the cross with his sprinkler. Poor Clarimonde had no
sooner been touched by the blessed spray than her beautiful body
crumbled into dust, and became only a shapeless and frightful mass of
cinders and half-calcined bones.

"Behold your mistress, my Lord Romuald!" cried the inexorable priest, as
he pointed to these sad remains. "Will you be easily tempted after this
to promenade on the Lido or at Fusina with your beauty?"

I covered my face with my hands, a vast ruin had taken place within me.
I returned to my presbytery, and the noble Lord Romuald, the lover of
Clarimonde, separated himself from the poor priest with whom he had kept
such strange company so long. But once only, the following night, I saw
Clarimonde. She said to me, as she had said the first time at the
portals of the church: "Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?
Wherefore have hearkened to that imbecile priest? Wert thou not happy?
And what harm had I ever done thee that thou shouldst violate my poor
tomb, and lay bare the miseries of my nothingness? All communication
between our souls and our bodies is henceforth forever broken. Adieu!
Thou wilt yet regret me!" She vanished in air as smoke, and I never saw
her more.

Alas! she spoke truly indeed. I have regretted her more than once, and I
regret her still. My soul's peace has been very dearly bought. The love
of God was not too much to replace such a love as hers. And this,
brother, is the story of my youth. Never gaze upon a woman, and walk
abroad only with eyes ever fixed upon the ground; for however chaste and
watchful one may be, the error of a single moment is enough to make one
lose eternity.


[1] "_La Morte Amoureuse._"

[2]

     Ici gît Clarimonde
     Qui fut de son vivant
     La plus belle du monde.

The broken beauty of the lines is unavoidably lost in the translation.



ARRIA MARCELLA

A SOUVENIR OF POMPEII


Three young friends, who had under-taken an Italian tour together last
year, visited the Studii Museum at Naples, where the various antique
objects exhumed from the ashes of Pompeii and Herculaneum have been
collected.

They scattered through the halls, inspecting the mosaics, the bronzes,
the frescoes detached from the walls of the dead city, each following
the promptings of his own particular taste in such matters; and whenever
one of the party encountered something especially curious, he summoned
his comrades with cries of delight, much to the scandal of the taciturn
English visitors, and the staid _bourgeois_ who studiously thumbed
their catalogues.

But the youngest of the three, who had paused before a glass case,
appeared wholly deaf to the exclamations of his comrades, so deeply had
he become absorbed in contemplation. The object that he seemed to be
examining with so much interest was a black mass of coagulated cinders,
bearing a hollow imprint. One might easily have mistaken it for the
fragment of some statue-mould, broken in the casting. The trained eye of
an artist would have readily therein recognized the impression of a
perfect bosom and a flank as faultless in its outlines as a Greek
statue. It is well known, indeed the commonest traveller's guide will
tell you, that this lava, in cooling about the body of a woman,
preserved its charming contours. Thanks to the caprice of the eruption
that destroyed four cities, that noble form, though crumbled to dust
nearly two thousand years ago, has come down to us; the rounded
loveliness of a throat has lived through the centuries in which so many
empires perished without even leaving the traces of their existence;
chance-imprinted upon the volcanic scoriæ, that seal of beauty remains
unobliterated.

Finding that he still remained absorbed in contemplation, Octavian's
friends returned to where he stood; and Max, touching his shoulder,
caused him to start like one surprised in a secret. Evidently Octavian
had not been aware of the approach of Max or Fabio.

"Come, Octavian," exclaimed Max, "do not stay lingering whole hours
before every cabinet, else we shall get late for the train and miss
seeing Pompeii to-day."

"What is our comrade looking at?" asked Fabio, drawing near. "Ah, the
imprint found in the house of Arrius Diomedes!" And he turned a
peculiar, quick glance upon Octavian.

Octavian slightly blushed, took Max's arm, and the visit terminated
without further incident. On leaving the Studii Museum, the three
friends entered a _corricolo,_ and were driven to the railway station.
The _corricolo_, with its great red wheels, its tracket seat studded
with brass nails, and its thin, spirited horse harnessed like a Spanish
mule, and galloping at full speed over the great slabs of lava pavement,
is too familiar to need description here, especially as we are not
recording impressions of a trip to Naples, but the simple narrative of
an adventure which, although true, may seem both fantastic and
incredible in the extreme.

The railroad by which Pompeii is reached runs for almost its entire
length by the sea, whose long volutes of foam advance to unroll
themselves upon a beach of blackish sand resembling sifted charcoal.
This beach has actually been formed by lava-streams and volcanic
cinders, and its deep tone forms a strong contrast with the blue of the
sky and the blue of the waters. The earth alone, in that sunny
brightness, seems able to retain a shadow.

The villages bordered or traversed by the railway--Portici, celebrated
in one of Auber's operas; Resina, Torre del Græco, Torre dell'
Annunziata, whose dwellings with their arcades and terraced roofs
attract the traveller's gaze--have, notwithstanding the intensity of the
sunlight and the southern love for whitewashing, something of a
Plutonian and ferruginous character like Birmingham or Manchester. The
very dust is black there. An impalpable soot clings to everything. One
feels that the mighty forge of Vesuvius is panting and smoking only a
few paces off.

The three friends left the station at Pompeii, laughing among themselves
at the odd commingling of antique and modern ideas suggested by the
sign, "Pompeii Station"--a Græco-Roman city and a railway depot!

They crossed the cotton-field, with its fluttering white bolls, between
the railway and the disinterred city, and at the inn which has been
built just without the ancient rampart they took a guide, or, more
correctly speaking, the guide took them, a calamity which is not easily
avoided in Italy.

It was one of those delightful days so common in Naples, when the
brilliancy of the sunlight and the transparency of the air cause objects
to take such hues as in the North would be deemed fabulous, and appear
indeed to belong to the world of dreams rather than to that of
realities. The Northern visitor who has once looked upon that glow of
azure and gold is apt to carry back with him into the depths of his
native fogs an incurable nostalgia.

Having shaken off a corner of her cinder shroud, the resurrected city
again rose with her thousand details under a dazzling day. The cone of
Vesuvius, furrowed with striæ of blue, rosy, and violet-hued lavas,
ruddily bronzed by the sun, towered sharply defined in the background. A
thin haze, almost imperceptible in the sunlight, hooded the blunt crest
of the mountain. At first sight it might have been taken for one of
those clouds which shadow the brows of lofty peaks on the fairest days.
Upon a nearer view, slender threads of white vapor could be perceived
rising from the mountain-summit, as from the orifices of a perfuming
pan, to reunite above in a light cloud. The volcano, being that day in a
good humor, smoked his pipe very peacefully; and but for the example of
Pompeii, buried at his feet, no one would ever have suspected him of
being by nature any more ferocious than Montmartre. On the other side
fair hills, with outlines voluptuously undulating like the hips of a
woman, barred the horizon; and, further yet, the sea, that in other days
bore biremes and triremes under the ramparts of the city, extended its
azure boundary.

Of all spectacles, the sight of Pompeii is one of the most surprising.
This sudden backward leap of nineteen centuries astonishes even the
least comprehensive and most prosaic natures. Two paces lead you from
the antique life to the life of to-day, and from Christianity to
paganism. Thus, when the three friends beheld those streets wherein the
forms of a vanished past are preserved yet intact, they were strangely
and profoundly affected, however well prepared by the study of books and
drawings they might have been. Octavian, above all, seemed stricken with
stupefaction, and like a man walking in his sleep, mechanically followed
the guide, without hearing the monotonous nomenclature that the varlet
had learned by heart and recited like a lesson.

He gazed wildly on those ruts hollowed out in the cyclopean pavements of
the streets by the chariot wheels, and which seem to be of yesterday,
so fresh do they appear; those inscriptions in red letters skilfully
traced upon the surfaces of the walls by rapid strokes of the brush
(theatrical advertisements, notices of houses to let, votive formulas,
signs, announcements of all descriptions, not less curious than a
freshly discovered fragment of the walls of Paris, with advertising
bills and placards attached, would prove a thousand years hence for the
unknown people of the future); those houses, whose shattered roofs
permit one to penetrate at a glance into all those interior mysteries,
all those domestic details which historians invariably neglect, and
whereof the secrets die with dying civilizations; those fountains that
even now seem scarcely dried up; that forum whose restoration was
interrupted by the great catastrophe, and whose architraves and columns,
all ready cut and sculptured, still seem waiting in their purity of
angle to be lifted into place; those temples, consecrated, in that
mythologic age when atheists were yet unknown, to gods that have long
ceased to be; those shops wherein the merchant only is missing; that
public tavern where may still be seen the circular stain of the drinking
cups upon the marble; that barracks with its ochre and minium-painted
columns, on which the soldiers scratched grotesque caricatures of
battle, and those juxtaposed double theatres of song and drama which
might even now resume their entertainments, were not the companies who
performed in them turned long since to clay, and at present occupied
perchance in closing the bunghole of a cask or stopping a crevice in the
wall, after the fashion of Alexander's ashes or Cæsar's dust, according
to the melancholy reflections of Hamlet!

Fabio mounted upon the thymele of the tragic theatre while Max and
Octavian climbed to the upper benches; and there, with extravagant
gestures, he commenced to recite whatever poetical fragments came to his
memory, much to the terror of the lizards, who fled, vibrating their
tails, and hid themselves in the joints of the ruined stonework.
Although the brazen or earthen vessels formerly used to reverberate
sounds no longer existed, Fabio's voice sounded none the less full and
vibrant.

The guide then conducted them across the open fields which overlie those
portions of Pompeii still buried, to the amphitheatre situated at the
other end of the city. They passed under those trees whose roots plunge
down through the roofs of the edifices interred, displacing tiles,
cleaving ceilings asunder, and disjointing columns; and they traversed
the farms where vulgar vegetables sprout above wonders of art--material
images of that oblivion wherewith time covers all things.

The amphitheatre caused them little surprise. They had seen that of
Verona, vaster and equally well preserved; besides, the arrangement of
such antique arenas was as familiar to them as that of those in which
bull-fights are held in Spain, and which they much resemble save in
solidity of construction and beauty of material.

Accordingly they soon retraced their footsteps and gained the Street of
Fortune by a cross-path, listening half-distractedly to the _cicerone_,
who named each house they passed by the name which had been given it
immediately upon its discovery, owing to some characteristic
peculiarity--the House of the Brazen Bull, the House of the Faun, the
House of the Ship, the Temple of Fortune, the House of Meleager, the
Tavern of Fortune, at the angle of the Consular Road (Via Consularia),
the Academy of Music, the Public Market, the Pharmacy, the Surgeon's
Shop, the Custom House, the House of the Vestals, the Inn of Albinus,
the Thermopolium, and so on--until they came to that gate which leads to
the Street of the Tombs.

Within the interior arch of this brick-built gate, once adorned with
statues which have long since disappeared, may be noticed two deep
grooves designed to receive a sliding portcullis, after the style of a
mediæval donjon, to which era, indeed, one might have supposed such a
defence peculiar.

"Who," exclaimed Max to his friends, "could have dreamed of finding in
Pompeii, the Græco-Latin city, a gate so romantically Gothic? Fancy
some belated Roman knight blowing his horn before this entrance,
summoning them to raise the portcullis, like a page of the fifteenth
century!"

"There is nothing new under the sun," replied Fabio; "and the aphorism
itself is not new, inasmuch as it was formulated by Solomon."

"Perhaps there may be something new under the moon," observed Octavian,
with a smile of melancholy irony.

"My dear Octavian," cried Max, who during this little conversation had
paused before an inscription traced in rubric upon the outer wall, "wilt
behold the combats of the gladiators? See the advertisement! Combat and
chase on the 5th day of the nones of April; the masts of the velarium
will be rigged; twenty pairs of gladiators will fight during the nones;
if you fear for the delicacy of your complexion, be assured that the
awnings will be spread; and as you might in any case prefer to visit the
amphitheatre early, these men will cut each other's throats in the
morning--_matutini erunt._ Nothing could be more considerate."

Thus chatting, the three friends followed that sepulchre-fringed road
which, according to our modern ideas, would be a lugubrious avenue for
any city, but which had no sad significations for the ancients, whose
tombs contained in lieu of hideous corpses only a pinch of
dust--abstract idea of death! Art beautified these last resting-places,
and, as Goethe says, the pagan decorated sarcophagi and funeral urns
with the images of life.

It was therefore, doubtless, that Fabio and Max could visit, with a
lively curiosity and a joyous sense of being, such as they could not
have felt in any Christian cemetery, those funeral monuments, all gayly
gilded by the sun, which, as they stood by the wayside, seemed still
trying to cling to life, and inspired none of those chill feelings of
repulsion, none of those fantastic terrors evoked by our modern dismal
places of sepulture. They paused before the tomb of Mammia, the public
priestess, near which a tree (either a cypress or a willow) is growing;
they seated themselves in the hemicycle of the triclinium, where the
funeral feasts were held, laughing like fortunate heirs; they read with
mock solemnity the epitaphs of Navoleia, Labeon, and the Arria family,
silently followed by Octavian, who seemed more deeply touched than his
careless companions by the fate of those dead of two thousand years ago.

Thus they came to the villa of Arrius Diomedes, one of the finest
residences in Pompeii. It is approached by a flight of brick steps, and
after entering the door-way, which is flanked by two small lateral
columns, one finds himself in a court resembling the _patio_ which
occupies the centre of Spanish and Moorish dwellings, and which the
ancients termed _impluvium_ or _cavædium._ Fourteen columns of brick,
overlaid with stucco, once supported on four sides a portico or covered
peristyle, not unlike a convent cloister, and beneath which one could
walk secure from the rain. This courtyard is paved in mosaic with brick
and white marble, which presents a subdued and pleasing effect of color.
In its centre a quadrilateral marble basin, which still exists, formerly
caught the rain-water that dripped from the roof of the portico. It was
a strange experience, entering thus into the life of the antique world,
and treading with well-blacked boots upon the marbles worn smooth by the
sandals and buskins of the contemporaries of Augustus and Tiberius.

The cicerone led them through the _exedra_ or summer parlor, which
opened to the sea, to receive its cooling breezes. It was there that the
family received company, and took their siesta during those burning
hours when prevailed the mighty zephyr of Africa, laden with languors
and storms. He brought them into the basilica, a long open gallery which
lighted the various apartments, and in which clients and visitors erst
awaited the call of the Nomenclator. Then he conducted them to the white
marble terrace, whence extended a broad view of verdant gardens and blue
sea. Then he showed them the _Nymphæum_, or Hall of Baths, with its
yellow-painted walls, its stucco columns, its mosaic pavement, and its
marble bathing-basin which had contained so many of the lovely bodies
that have long since passed away like shadows; the _cubiculum_, where
flitted so many dreams from the Ivory Gate, and whose alcoves contrived
in the wall were once closed by a _conopeum_ or curtain, of which the
bronze rings still lie upon the floor; the _tetrastyle_, or Hall of
Recreation; the Chapel of the Lares; the Cabinet of Archives; the
Library; the Museum of Paintings; the _gynæceum_ or women's apartment,
comprising a suite of small chambers, now half fallen into ruin, but
whose walls yet bear traces of paintings and arabesques, like fair
cheeks from which the rouge has been but half wiped off.

Having fully inspected all these, they descended to the lower floor, for
the ground is much lower on the garden side than it is on the side of
the Street of the Tombs. They traversed eight halls painted in antique
red, whereof one has its walls hollowed with architectural niches, after
that style of which we have to-day a good example in the vestibule of
the Hall of the Ambassadors at the Alhambra, and finally they came to a
sort of cave or cellar, whose purpose was clearly indicated by eight
earthen amphoræ propped up against the wall, and once perfumed,
doubtless, like the odes of Horace with the wines of Crete, Falernia, or
Massica.

One solitary bright ray of sunshine streamed through a narrow aperture
above, half choked by nettles, whose light-traversed leaves it
transformed into emeralds and topazes, and this gay natural detail
seemed to smile opportunely through the sadness of the place.

"It was here," observed the cicerone, in his customary indifferent tone,
"that among seventeen others was found the skeleton of the lady whose
mould is exhibited at the Naples Museum. She wore gold rings, and the
shreds of her fine tunic still clung to the mass of cinders which have
preserved her shape."

The guide's commonplace phrases deeply affected Octavian. He made the
man point out to him the exact spot where the precious remains had been
discovered, and had it not been for the restraining presence of his
friends, he would have abandoned himself to some extravagant lyrism. His
chest heaved, his eyes glistened with a furtive moisture. Though blotted
out by twenty centuries of oblivion, that catastrophe touched him like a
recent misfortune. Not even the death of a mistress or a friend could
have affected him more profoundly; and while Max and Fabio had their
backs turned, a tear, two thousand years late, fell upon the spot where
that woman, with whom he felt he had fallen retrospectively in love, had
perished, suffocated by the hot cinders of the volcano.

"Enough of this archæology," cried Fabio. "We do not propose to write
dissertations upon an ancient jug or a tile of the age of Julius Cæsar
in order to obtain memberships in some provincial academy. These classic
souvenirs give me the stomachache. Let us go to dinner--if such a thing
be possible--in that picturesque hostelry, where I fear we shall be
served with fossil beefsteaks and fresh eggs laid prior to the death of
Pliny."

"I will not exclaim with Boileau:

     'Un sot, quelquefois, ouvre un avis important,'"

exclaimed Max, with a laugh. "That would be ill-mannered, but your idea
is a good one. Still, I think it would have been pleasant to banquet
here, on some triclinium, reclining after the antique fashion, and
waited upon by slaves according to the style of Lucullus or Trimalchio.
It is true that I see no oysters from Lake Lucrinus, the turbots and
mullets from the Adriatic are wanting, the Apuleian boar cannot be had
in market, and the loaves and honey-cakes on exhibition in the Naples
Museum lie, hard as stones, beside their green-gray moulds. Even raw
macaroni sprinkled with _cacciacavallo,_ detestable as it may be, is
certainly better than nothing. What does friend Octavian think about
it?"

Octavian, who was deeply regretting that he had not happened to be in
Pompeii on the day of the eruption, so that he might have saved the lady
of the gold rings, and thereby merited her love, had not heard a
syllable of this gastronomic conversation. Only the last two words
uttered by Max had fallen upon his ears, and feeling no desire to broach
a discussion, he gave a random nod of assent, upon which the amicable
party retraced the road along the ramparts to the inn.

The table was placed under a sort of open porch which served as a
vestibule to the hostelry, whose rough cast walls were decorated with
various daubs that the host entitled "Salvator Rosa," "Espagnolet,"
"Cavalier Massimo," and other celebrated names of the Neapolitan School,
which he deemed himself bound to extol.

"Venerable host," cried Fabio, "do not waste your eloquence to no
purpose. We are not Englishmen, and we prefer young women to old
canvases. Better send us your wine-list by that handsome brunette with
the velvety eyes whom I just now perceived on the stairway."

Finding that his guests did not belong to the mystifiable class of
Philistines and _bourgeois_, the _palforio_ ceased to vaunt his gallery
in order to glorify his cellar. To begin with, he had all the best
vintages: Château Margaux, Grand Lafitte which had been twice to the
Indies, Sillery de Moët, Hochmeyer, scarlet wine, port and porter, ale
and ginger beer, white and red Lachryma-Christi, Caprian, and Falernian.

"What, you have Falernian wine, _animal!_ And put it at the end of your
list! And you dare to subject us to an unendurable œnological litany!"
cried Max, leaping at the inn-keeper's throat with burlesque fury. "Why,
you have no sentiment of local color. You are unworthy to live in this
antique neighborhood. Is it even good, this Falernian wine of yours? Was
it put in amphoræ under the Consul Plancus--_Consule Planco?_"

"I know nothing about the Consul Plancus, and my wine is not put in
amphoræ, but it is good, and worth ten carlins a bottle," answered the
inn-keeper.

Day had faded away and the night came, a serene, transparent night,
clearer, assuredly, than full midday in London. The earth had tints of
azure, and the sky silvery reflections of inconceivable sweetness. The
air was so still that the flames of the candles on the table did not
oscillate.

A young boy, playing a flute, approached the table, and standing there,
with his eyes fixed upon the three guests, performed upon his sweet and
melodious instrument, one of those popular airs in a minor key which
have a penetrating charm.

Perhaps that lad was a direct descendant of the flute-player who marched
before Duilius.

"Our repast is assuming quite an antique aspect. We only need some
Gaditanian dancing women and ivy garlands," exclaimed Max, as he helped
himself to a great bumper of Falernian wine.

"I feel myself in the humor for making Latin quotations like a
_feuilleton_ in the _Débats_. Stanzas of odes come back to my memory,"
added Max.

"Keep them to yourself!" cried Fabio and Octavian, justly alarmed.
"Nothing is so indigestible as Latin at dinner."

Among young men with cigars in their mouths and elbows on the table, who
find themselves contemplating a certain number of empty flagons,
especially when the wine has been capitally good, conversation never
fails to turn upon women. Each explained his own system, whereof the
following is a fair summary:

Fabio cared only for youth and beauty. Voluptuous and positive, he found
no pleasure in illusions, and had no preferences in love. A peasant
girl would have pleased his fancy as well as a princess, provided she
were beautiful. The body rather than its apparel attracted him. He
laughed much at certain of his friends who were enamored of so many
yards of lace and silk, and he declared it were more rational to fall in
love with the stock of a fashionable _marchand des nouveautés_. These
opinions, which were rational enough in the main, and which he made no
attempt to conceal, caused him to pass for an eccentric.

Max, less of an artist than Fabio, cared only for difficult
undertakings, complicated intrigues. He sought resistances to vanquish,
virtues to seduce, and played at love as at a game of chess, with
long-premeditated moves, reserved ambuscades, and stratagems worthy of
Polybius. In a drawing-room he would always choose the woman who seemed
least in sympathy with him for the object of attack. To make her pass by
skilful transition from aversion to love afforded him delicious
pleasure. To impose himself upon characters which strove to repel him,
and master wills that rebelled against his influence, seemed to him the
sweetest of all triumphs. Like those hunters who, through rain,
sunshine, or snow, through fields and woods, and over plains, pursue
with excessive fatigue and unconquerable ardor some miserable quarry
which in three cases out of four they would not deign to eat, so Max,
having once captured his prey, troubled himself no further about it, and
at once started off on another chase.

As for Octavian, he confessed that reality itself had little charm for
him, not because he indulged in student-dreams, all moulded of lilies
and roses like one of Demoustier's madrigals, but because there were too
many prosaic and repulsive details surrounding all beauty, too many
doting and decorated fathers, coquettish mothers who wore natural
flowers in false hair, ruddy-faced cousins meditating proposals,
ridiculous aunts in love with little dogs. An acquatinta engraving after
Horace Vernet or Delaroche, hung up in a woman's room, would have been
sufficient to check a growing passion within him. More poetical even
than amorous, he wanted a terrace on Isola-Bella, in Lake Maggiore,
under the light of a full moon to frame a rendezvous. He would have
wished to elevate his love above the midst of common life, and transport
its scenes to the stars. Thus he had by turns fallen fruitlessly and
madly in love with all the grand feminine types preserved by history or
art. Like Faust, he had loved Helen, and would have wished that the
undulations of the ages might bear to him one of those sublime
personifications of human desires and dreams, whose forms, to mortal
eyes invisible, live immortally beyond Space and Time. He had created
for himself an ideal seraglio, with Semiramis, Aspasia, Cleopatra, Diana
of Poitiers, Jane of Arragon. At times also he had fallen in love with
statues, and one day, passing before the Venus of Milo in the Museum, he
cried out passionately: "Oh, who will restore thy arms that thou may'st
crush me upon thy marble bosom!" At Rome, the sight of a matted mass of
long thick human hair, exhumed from an antique tomb, had thrown him into
a fantastic delirium. He had attempted, through the medium of a few of
those hairs, obtained by a golden bribe from the custodian, and placed
in the hands of a clairvoyant of great power, to evoke the shade and
form of the dead; but the conducting fluid--the subtle odyle--had
evaporated during the lapse of so many years, and the apparition could
no more come forth out of the eternal night.

As Fabio had divined before the glass cabinet in the Studii Museum, the
imprint discovered in the cellar at the villa of Arrius Diomedes had
excited in Octavian wild impulses toward a retrospective ideal. He
longed to soar beyond Life and Time and transport himself in spirit to
the age of Titus.

       *       *       *       *       *

Max and Fabio retired to their room, and being somewhat heavy-headed
from the classic fumes of the Falernian, were soon sound asleep.
Octavian, who had more than once suffered the full glass to remain
before him untasted, not wishing to disturb by a grosser intoxication
the poetic drunkenness which boiled in his brain, felt from the
agitation of his nerves that sleep would not come to him, and left the
hostelry on tiptoe that he might cool his brow and calm his thoughts in
the night air.

His feet bore him unawares to the entrance which leads into the dead
city. He removed the wooden bar that closed it, and wandered into the
ruins beyond.

The moon illuminated the pale houses with her white beams, dividing the
streets into double-edged lines of silvery white and bluish shadow. This
nocturnal day, with its subdued tints, disguised the degradation of the
buildings. The mutilated columns, the façades streaked with fugitive
lizards, the roofs crumbled in by the eruption, were less noticeable
than when beheld under the clear, raw light of the sun. The lost parts
were completed by the half-tint of shadow, and here and there one
brusque beam of light, like a touch of sentiment in a picture-sketch,
marked where a whole edifice had crumbled away. The silent genii of the
night seemed to have repaired the fossil city for some representation of
fantastic life.

At times Octavian fancied that he saw vague human forms in the shadow,
but they vanished the moment they approached the edge of the lighted
portion of the street. A low whispering, an indefinite hum, floated
through the silence. Our promenader at first attributed them to a
fluttering in his eyes, to a buzzing in his ears; it might even, he
thought, be merely an optical delusion, coupled with the sighing of the
sea-breezes, or the flight of some snake or lizard through the nettles,
for in nature all things live, even death; all things make themselves
heard, even silence. Nevertheless he felt a kind of involuntary terror,
a slight trembling, that might have been caused by the cold night air,
but which made his flesh creep. Could it be that his comrades, actuated
by the same impulses as himself, were seeking him among the ruins? Those
dimly seen forms and those indistinct sounds of footsteps! Might it not
have been only Max and Fabio walking and chatting together, who had just
disappeared round the corner of a cross-road? But Octavian felt to his
dismay that this very natural explanation could not be true, and the
arguments which he made to himself in favor of it were the reverse of
convincing. The solitude and the shadow were peopled with invisible
beings whom he was disturbing. He had fallen into the midst of a
mystery, and it seemed that they were awaiting his departure in order to
commence again. Such were the extravagant ideas that floated through his
brain, and obtained no little verisimilitude from the hour, the place,
and the thousand alarming details which those can well understand who
have ever found themselves alone by night in the midst of some vast
ruin.

Passing before a house which he had attentively observed during the day,
and which the moon shone fully upon, he beheld in perfect integrity a
certain portico whereof he had vainly attempted to restore the design in
fancy. Four Ionic columns--fluted for half their height and their shafts
purple-robed with minium tints--sustained a cymatium adorned with
polychromatic ornaments that the artist seemed only to have completed
the day before. Upon one side wall of the entrance a Laconian molossus,
painted in encaustic, and accompanied by the warning inscription "_Cave
canem_" barked at the moon and the visitor with pictured fury. On the
mosaic threshold the word HAVE, in Oscan and Latin characters, saluted
the guest with its friendly syllables. The outer surfaces of the walls,
tinted with ochre and rubric, were unmarred by a single crack. The house
had grown a story higher; and the tiled roof, now surmounted by a bronze
acroterium, projected an intact outline against the light blue of the
sky, where a few stars were growing pale.

This strange restoration effected between afternoon and evening by some
unknown architect greatly puzzled Octavian, who felt certain of having
the same day seen that very house in a lamentable state of ruin. The
mysterious reconstructor had labored with great despatch, for all the
neighboring dwellings had the same fresh, new look; all the pillars were
coiffed with their capitals; not a single stone, a brick, a pellicle of
stucco or a scale of paint was wanting upon the shining surfaces of the
façades; and through the intervals of the peristyles surrounding the
marble basin of the cavædium one could catch glimpses of white laurels
and bayroses, myrtles and pomegranates. Surely all the historians were
mistaken; the eruption had never taken place, or else the needle of Time
had moved backward twenty secular hours upon the dial of Eternity!

In the climax of his astonishment, Octavian commenced to wonder whether
he might not actually be sleeping upon his feet, and walking in a dream.
He even seriously asked himself whether madness might not be parading
its hallucinations before his eyes; but he soon felt himself compelled
to admit that he was neither asleep nor mad.

A singular change had taken place in the atmosphere. Vague rose-tints
were blending through brightening shades of violet with the faintly
azure tints of moonlight; the sky commenced to glow brightly along its
borders; daylight seemed about to dawn. Octavian took out his watch: it
marked the hour of midnight. Fearing that it might have stopped, he
pressed the spring of the repeating mechanism. It struck twelve times.
It was midnight beyond a doubt, and yet the brightness ever increased.
The moon sank through the azure which became momentarily more and more
luminous. The sun rose!

Then Octavian, to whom all ideas of time had become hopelessly confused,
was able to convince himself that he was walking, not through a dead
Pompeii, the chill corpse of a city half-shrouded, but through a living,
youthful, intact Pompeii over which the torrents of burning mud from
Vesuvius had never flowed.

An inconceivable prodigy had transported him, a Frenchman of the
nineteenth century, back to the age of Titus, not in spirit only, but in
reality; or else had called up before him from the depths of the past a
desolated city with its vanished inhabitants, for a man clothed in the
antique fashion had just passed out of a neighboring house.

This man wore his hair short, and his face was closely shaven; he was
dressed in a brown tunic and a grayish mantle, the ends of which were
well tucked up so as not to impede his movements. He walked at a rapid
gait, bordering upon a run, and passed by Octavian without perceiving
him. He carried on his arm a basket made of Spanish broom, and
proceeded toward the Forum Nundinarium. He was evidently a slave, some
Davus, going to market beyond a doubt.

The noise of wheels became audible, and an antique wagon, drawn by white
oxen and loaded with vegetables, came along the street. Beside the team
walked a peasant--with legs bare and sunburnt, and feet
sandal-shod--who was clad in a sort of canvas shirt puffed out about the
waist; a conical straw hat hanging at his shoulders, and depending from
his neck by the chin-band, left his face exposed to view--a type of face
unknown in these days--a forehead low and traversed by salient, knotty
lines, hair black and curly, eyes tranquil as those of his oxen, and a
neck like that of the rustic Hercules. As he gravely pricked his animals
with the goad, his statuesque attitudes would have thrown Ingres into
ecstasy.

The peasant perceived Octavian and appeared surprised, but he proceeded
on his way without being able, doubtless, to find any explanation for
the appearance of this strange-looking personage, and in his rustic
simplicity willingly leaving the solution of the enigma to those wiser
than himself.

Campanian peasants also appeared on the scene, driving before them asses
laden with skins of wine, and ringing their brazen bells. Their
physiognomies differed from those of the modern peasants as a medallion
differs from a son.

Gradually the city became peopled, like one of those panoramic pictures
at first desolate, but which by a sudden change of light become animated
with personages previously invisible.

Octavian's feelings had undergone a change. Only a short time before,
amid the deceitful shadows of the night, he had fallen a prey to that
uneasiness from which the bravest are not exempt amid such disquieting
and fantastic surroundings as reason cannot explain. His vague terror
had ultimately yielded to a profound stupefaction. The distinctness of
his perceptions forbade him to doubt the testimony of his senses, yet
what he beheld seemed altogether contrary to reason. Feeling still but
half convinced, he sought by the authentication of minor actual details
to assure himself that he was not the victim of hallucination. Those
figures which passed before his eyes could not be phantoms, for the
living sun shone upon them with unmistakable reality, and their shadows,
elongated in the morning light, fell upon the pavement and the walls.

Without the faintest understanding of what had befallen him, Octavian,
ravished with delight to find one of his most cherished dreams realized,
no longer attempted to resist the fate of his adventure. He abandoned
himself to the mystery of these marvels without any further attempt to
explain them; he averred to himself that since he had been permitted, by
virtue of some mysterious power, to live for a few hours in a vanished
age, he would not waste time in efforts to solve an incomprehensible
problem, and he proceeded fearlessly gazing to right and left upon this
scene at once so old and yet so new to him. But to what epoch of
Pompeiian life had he been transported? An ædile inscription engraved
upon a wall showed him by the names of public personages there recorded,
that it was about the commencement of the reign of Titus, or in the
year 79 of our own era. A sudden thought flashed across Octavian's mind.
The woman whose mould he had seen in the museum at Naples must be
living, inasmuch as the eruption of Vesuvius by which she had perished
took place on the 24th of August in this very year: he might therefore
discover her, behold her, speak to her!... The mad longing which had
seized him at the sight of that mass of cinders moulded upon a divinely
perfect form, was perhaps about to be fully satisfied, for surely naught
could be impossible to a love which had had the strength to make Time
itself recoil, and the same hour to pass twice through the sand-glass of
Eternity!

While Octavian was abandoning himself to these reflections, beautiful
young girls were passing by on their way to the fountains, all balancing
urns upon their heads with their white finger-tips, and patricians clad
in white togas bordered with purple bands were proceeding toward the
Forum, each followed by an escort of clients. The buyers commenced to
throng about the booths, which were all designated by sculptured or
pictured signs, and recalled by reason of their shape and small
dimensions the moresque booths of Algiers. Over most of them a glorious
phallus of baked and painted clay, together with the inscription, _Hic
habitat Felicitas_, testified to superstitious precautions against the
evil eye. Octavian also noticed an amulet shop, whose shelves were
stocked with horns, bifurcated branches of coral, and little figures of
Priapus in gold, like those worn in Naples even at this day as a
safeguard against the _jettatura_, and he thought to himself that a
superstition often outlives a religion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Following the sidewalk which borders each street in Pompeii (and
deprives the English of all claim to this invention), Octavian suddenly
found himself face to face with a beautiful young man of about his own
age, clad in a saffron-colored tunic, and a mantle of snowy linen as
supple as cashmere. The sight of Octavian in his frightful modern hat,
girthed about with a scanty black frock-coat, his legs confined in
pantaloons, and his feet cramped in well-polished boots, seemed to
surprise the young Pompeiian in much the same way as one of us would
feel astonished to meet on the Boulevard de Gand some Iowa Indian or
native of Butocudo, bedecked with his feathers, necklace of
bear's-claws, or whimsical tattooing. Nevertheless, being a well-bred
young man, he did not burst out laughing in Octavian's face, and pitying
the poor barbarian who had lost his way, no doubt, in that Græco-Roman
city, he said to him in a soft, clear voice: "_Advena, salve!_"

Nothing could be more natural than that an inhabitant of Pompeii, in the
reign of the divine, most powerful, and most august Emperor Titus,
should speak Latin, yet Octavian started at hearing this dead tongue in
a living mouth. It was then, indeed, that he congratulated himself on
having been proficient in his college studies, and taken the honors at
the annual examinations. The Latin taught him by the University served
him in good stead on that unique occasion, and calling back to mind some
souvenirs of his college course, he returned the salutation of the
Pompeiian after the style of _De viris illustribus_ and _Selectæ e
profanis_, in a tolerably intelligible manner, but with a Parisian
accent which forced the young man to smile despite himself.

"Perhaps it will be easier for you to converse in Greek," said the
Pompeiian. "I am also acquainted with that language, for I studied at
Athens."

"I am even less familiar with Greek than with Latin," replied Octavian.
"I am from the land of Gaul--from Paris--from Lutetia."

"I know that country. My grandfather served under the great Julius
Cæsar in the Gallic wars. But what a strange dress you wear! The Gauls
whom I saw at Rome were not thus attired."

Octavian attempted to explain to the young Pompeiian that twenty
centuries had rolled by since the conquest of Gaul by Julius Cæsar, and
that the fashions had changed; but he forgot his Latin, and indeed, to
tell the truth, he had but little to forget.

"My name is Rufus Holconius, and my house is at your service," said the
young man, "unless, indeed, you prefer the freedom of the tavern. It is
hard by the public-house of Albinus, near the gate of the suburb of
Augustus Felix and the Inn of Sarinus, son of Publius, just at the
second turn; but if you wish, I will be your guide through this city, in
which you do not seem to be acquainted. Young barbarian, I like you,
although you endeavored to impose upon my credulity by pretending that
the Emperor Titus, who now reigns, died two thousand years ago, and that
the Nazarean (whose infamous followers were plastered with pitch and
burned to illuminate Nero's gardens) rules sole master of the deserted
heavens whence the great gods have fallen! By Pollux!" he continued as
his eyes fell upon a rubric inscription at a street-corner, "you have
just come in good time. The _Casina_ of Plautus, which has quite
recently been put upon the stage, will be played to-day. It is a curious
and laughable comedy which will amuse you, even if you only comprehend
the pantomime of it. Come with me. It is nearly time for the play
already. I will find you a place in the seat set apart for guests and
strangers." And Rufus Holconius led the way toward the little comic
theatre which the three friends had visited during the day.

The Frenchman and the citizen of Pompeii proceeded along the Street of
the Fountains of Abundance and the Street of the Theatres, passing by
the College, the Temple of Isis, and the Studio of the Sculptor, and
entered the Odeon or Comic Theatre by a lateral vomitory. Through the
recommendations of Holconius, Octavian obtained a seat near the
proscenium in a part of the theatre corresponding to our private boxes
which front upon the stage. All eyes were immediately turned upon him
with good-natured curiosity, and a low whispering arose all through the
amphitheatre.

The play had not yet commenced, and Octavian profited by the interval to
examine the building. The semicircular seats, terminated at either end
by a magnificent lion's paw sculptured in Vesuvian lava, receded,
broadening as they rose, from an empty space corresponding to our
_parterre_, but much narrower and paved in mosaic with Greek marble.
The rows of seats widened above one another in regular gradation
according to distance, and four stairways, corresponding with the
vomitories, and sloping from the base to the summit of the amphitheatre,
divided it into five _cunei_ or wedge-shaped compartments, with the
broad end uppermost. The spectators, all furnished with tickets
consisting of little slips of ivory, upon which were indicated in
numerical order the row, division, and seat, together with the name of
the play and its author, took their places without confusion. The
magistrates, nobility, married men, young folks, and the soldiers--who
attracted attention by the gleaming of their bronze helmets--all
occupied different rows of seats.

It was an admirable spectacle. Those beautiful togas and great white
mantles displayed in the first row of seats, contrasting with the
vari-colored garments of the women seated in the circle above, and the
gray capes of the populace who were assigned to the upper benches near
the columns which supported the roof, and between which were visible
glimpses of a sky intensely blue as the azure background of the
Panathenæa.

A fine spray aromatized with saffron fell from the friezes above in
imperceptible mist, at once cooling and purifying the air. Octavian
thought of the fetid emanations which vitiate the atmosphere of our
modern theatres--theatres so uncomfortable that they may justly be
considered places of torture rather than places of amusement, and he
found that modern civilization had not, after all, made much progress.

The curtain, sustained by a transverse beam, sank into the depths of the
orchestra; the musicians took their seats, and the Prologue appeared in
grotesque attire, his face concealed by a frightful mask which fitted
the head like a helmet.

Having saluted the audience and demanded applause, the Prologue
commenced a merry argumentation. Old plays, he said, were like old wine
which improves with age; and _Casina_, so dear to the old, should not be
less so to the young: all could take pleasure in it, some because they
were familiar with it, others because they were not. Moreover, the play
had been carefully remounted, and should be heard with a cheerful mind,
without thinking about one's debts or one's creditors, for people were
not liable to be arrested at the theatre. It was a happy day, the
weather was fair, and the halcyons hovered over the Forum.

Then he gave an analysis of the comedy about to be performed by the
actors, with that minuteness of detail which shows how little the
element of surprise entered into the theatrical pleasures of the
ancient. He told how the aged Stalino, being enamored of his beautiful
slave Casina, desired to marry her to his farmer Olympio, a complaisant
spouse whose place he himself would fill on the nuptial night; and how
Lycostrata, wife of Stalino, in order to thwart the luxury of her
vicious husband, sought to unite Casina in marriage to the groom
Chalinus with the further idea of favoring the amours of her son--in
fine, how the deceived Stalino mistook a young slave in disguise for
Casina, who, being discovered to be free, and of free birth, espouses
the young master whom she loves and by whom she is beloved.

As in a reverie, the young Frenchman watched the actors with their
bronze-mouthed masks, exerting themselves upon the stage; the slaves ran
hither and thither, feigning great haste; the old man wagged his head
and extended his trembling hand; the matron with high words and scornful
mien strutted in her importance and quarrelled with her husband, to the
great delight of the audience. All these personages made their entrances
and exits through three doors contrived in the foundation-wall and
communicating with the green-room of the actors. The house of Stalino
occupied one corner of the stage, and that of his old friend Alcesimus
faced it on the opposite side. These decorations, although very well
painted, represented the idea of a place rather than the place itself,
like most of the vague scenery of the classic theatres.

When the nuptial procession, pompously escorting the false Casina,
entered upon the stage, a mighty burst of laughter, such as Homer
attributes to the gods, rang through all the amphitheatre, and thunders
of applause evoked the vibrating echoes of the enclosure, but Octavian
heard no more and saw no more of the play.

In the circle of seats occupied by the women, he had just beheld a
creature of marvellous beauty. From that moment all the other charming
faces which had attracted his attention became eclipsed as the stars
before the face of Phœbus--all vanished, all disappeared as in a dream;
a mist clouded the circles of seats with their swarming multitudes, and
the high-pitched voices of the actors seemed lost in infinite distance.

His heart received a sudden shock as of electricity, and it seemed to
him that sparks flew from his breast when the eyes of that woman turned
upon him.

She was dark and pale. Her locks, crisp-flowing and black as the tresses
of Night, streamed backward over her temples after the fashion of the
Greeks, and in her pallid face beamed soft, melancholy eyes, heavy with
an indefinable expression of voluptuous sadness and passionate _ennui_.
Her mouth, with its disdainful curves, protested by the living warmth of
its burning crimson against the tranquil pallor of her cheeks, and the
curves of her neck presented those pure and beautiful outlines now to be
found only in statues. Her arms were naked to the shoulder, and from the
peaks of her splendid bosom, which betrayed its superb curves beneath a
mauve-rose tunic, fell two graceful folds of drapery that seemed to have
been sculptured in marble by Phidias or Cleomenes.

The sight of that bosom, so faultless in contour, so pure in its
outlines, magnetically affected Octavian. It seemed to him that those
rich curves corresponded perfectly to that hollow mould in the museum at
Naples which had thrown him into so ardent a reverie, and from the
depths of his heart a voice cried out to him that this woman was indeed
the same who had been suffocated in the villa of Arrius Diomedes by the
cinders of Vesuvius. What prodigy, then, enabled him to behold her
living, and witnessing the performance of the _Casina_ of Plautus? But
he forbore to seek an explanation of the problem. For that matter, how
did he himself happen to be there? He accepted the fact of his presence
as in dreams we never question the intervention of persons actually
long dead, but who seem to act nevertheless like living people; besides,
his emotion forbade him to reason. For him the Wheel of Time had left
its track, and his all-conquering love had chosen its place among the
ages passed away. He found himself face to face with his chimera, one of
the most unattainable of all, a retrospective chimera. The cup of his
whole life had in a single instant been filled to overflowing.

While gazing upon that face, at once so calm and passionate, so cold and
yet so replete with warmth, so dead, yet so radiant with life, he felt
that he beheld before him his first and last love, his cup of supreme
intoxication; he felt all the memories of all the women whom he ever
believed that he had loved, vanish like impalpable shadows, and his
heart became once more virginally pure of all anterior passion. The past
was dead within him.

Meanwhile the fair Pompeiian, resting her chin upon the palm of her
hand, turned upon Octavian, though feigning the while to be absorbed in
the performance, the velvet gaze of her nocturnal eyes, and that look
fell upon him heavy and burning as a jet of molten lead. Then she turned
to whisper some words in the ear of a maid seated at her side.

The performance closed. The crowd poured out of the theatre through the
vomitories, and Octavian, disdaining the kindly offices of his friend
Holconius, rushed to the nearest door-way. He had scarcely reached the
entrance when a hand was lightly laid upon his arm, and a feminine voice
exclaimed in tones at once low yet so distinct that not a syllable
escaped him:

"I am Tyche Novaleia, entrusted with the pleasures of Arria Marcella,
daughter of Arrius Diomedes. My mistress loves you. Follow me."

Arria Marcella had just entered her litter, borne by four strong Syrian
slaves, naked to the waist, whose bronze torsos shone under the
sunlight. The curtain of the litter was drawn aside, and a pale hand,
starred with brilliant rings, waved a friendly signal to Octavian, as
though in confirmation of the attendant's words. Then the purple folds
of the curtain fell again, and the litter was borne away to the
rhythmical sound of the footsteps of the slaves.

Tyche conducted Octavian along winding byways, tripping lightly across
the streets over the stepping-stones which connected the foot-paths, and
between which the wheels of the chariots rolled, wending her way through
the labyrinth with that certainty which bears witness to thorough
familiarity with a city. Octavian noticed that he was traversing
portions of Pompeii which had never been excavated, and which were in
consequence totally unknown to him. Among so many other equally strange
circumstances, this caused him no astonishment. He had made up his mind
to be astonished at nothing. Amid all this archaic phantasmagory, which
would have driven an antiquarian mad with joy, he no longer saw anything
save the dark, deep eyes of Arria Marcella, and that superb bosom which
had vanquished even Time, and which Destruction itself had sought to
preserve.

They arrived at last before a private gate which opened to admit them,
and closed again as soon as they had entered, and Octavian found
himself in a court surrounded by Ionic columns of Greek marble, painted
bright yellow for half their height and crowned with capitals relieved
with blue and red ornaments. A wreath of aristolochia suspended its
great green heart-shaped leaves from the projections of the architecture
like a natural arabesque, and near a marble basin framed in plants one
flaming rose towered on a single stalk--a plume-flower in the midst of
natural flowers. The walls were adorned with panelled fresco-work,
representing fanciful architecture or imaginary landscape views.

Octavian obtained only a hurried glance at all these details, for Tyche
immediately placed him in the hands of the slaves who had charge of the
bath, and who subjected him, notwithstanding his impatience, to all the
refinements of the antique _thermæ._ After having submitted to the
several necessary degrees of vapor-heat, endured the scraper of the
_strigillarius_, and felt cosmetics and perfumed oils poured over him in
streams, he was reclothed with a white tunic, and again met Tyche at the
opposite door, who took him by the hand and conducted him into another
apartment gorgeously decorated.

Upon the ceiling were painted, with a purity of design, brilliancy of
color, and freedom of touch which bespoke the hand of a great master
rather than of the mere ordinary decorator, Mars, Venus, and Love. A
frieze composed of deer, hares, and birds, disporting themselves amid
rich foliage, ran around the apartment above a wainscoting of cipollino
marble; the mosaic pavement, a marvellous work from the hand, perhaps,
of Sosimus of Pergamos, represented banquet-scenes in relief, with a
perfection of art which deluded the eye.

At the further end of the hall, upon a biclinium, or double couch,
reclined Arria Marcella in an attitude which recalled the reclining
woman of Phidias, upon the pediment of the Parthenon. Her
pearl-embroidered shoes lay at the foot of the couch, and her beautiful
bare foot, purer and whiter than marble, extended from beneath the light
covering of byssus which had been thrown over her.

Two earrings, fashioned in the form of balance-scales, and bearing
pearls in either scale, trembled in the light against her pale cheeks. A
necklace of golden balls, with pear-shaped pendants attached, hung down
upon her bosom, which the negligent folds of a straw-colored peplum,
with a Greek border in black lines, had left half uncovered; a gold and
black fillet passed and glittered here and there through her ebon
tresses, for she had changed her dress upon returning from the theatre,
and around her arm, like the asp about the arm of Cleopatra, a golden
serpent with jewelled eyes entwined itself in many folds and sought to
bite its own tail.

Close by the double couch had been placed a little table, supported upon
griffins' paws, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and freighted with
different viands served upon dishes of silver and gold, or of
earthenware enamelled with costly paintings. A Phasian bird, cooked in
its plumage, was visible, and also various fruits which are seldom seen
together in any one season.

Everything seemed to indicate that a guest was expected. The floor had
been strewn with fresh flowers, and the amphoræ of wine were plunged
into urns filled with snow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Arria Marcella made a sign to Octavian to lie down upon the biclinium
beside her and share her repast. Half-maddened with astonishment and
love, the young man took at random a few mouthfuls from the plates
extended to him by little curly-haired Asiatic slaves, who wore short
tunics. Arria did not eat, but she frequently raised to her lips an
opal-tinted myrrhine vase filled with a wine darkly purple like
thickened blood. As she drank an imperceptible rosy vapor mounted to her
cheeks from her heart, the heart that had never throbbed for so many
centuries; nevertheless, her bare arm, which Octavian lightly touched in
the act of raising his cup, was cold as the skin of a serpent or the
marble of a tomb.

"Ah, when you paused in the Studii Museum to contemplate the mass of
hardened clay which still preserves my form," exclaimed Arria Marcella,
turning her long, liquid eyes upon Octavian, "and your thoughts were
ardently directed to me, my spirit felt it in that world where I float,
invisible to vulgar eyes. Faith makes God, and love makes woman. One is
truly dead only when one is no longer loved. Your desire has restored
life to me. The mighty invocation of your heart overcame the dim
distances that separated us."

The idea of amorous invocation which the young woman spoke of entered
into the philosophic beliefs of Octavian, beliefs which we ourselves are
not far from sharing.

In effect, nothing dies; all things are eternal. No power can annihilate
that which once had being. Every action, every word, every thought which
has fallen into the universal ocean of being, therein creates circles
which travel, and increase in travelling, even to the confines of
eternity. To vulgar eyes only do natural forms disappear, and the
spectres which have thence detached themselves people Infinity. Paris,
in some unknown region of space, continues to carry off Helen. The
galley of Cleopatra still floats down with swelling sails of silk upon
the azure current of an ideal Cydnus. A few passionate and powerful
minds have been able to recall before them ages apparently long passed
away, and to restore to life personages dead to all the world beside.
Faust has had for his mistress the daughter of Tyndarus, and conducted
her to his Gothic castle in the depths of the mysterious abysses of
Hades. Octavian had been able to live a day under the reign of Titus,
and to make himself beloved of Arria Marcella, daughter of Arrius
Diomedes, she who was at that moment lying upon an antique couch beside
him in a city destroyed for all the rest of the world.

"From my disgust with other women," replied Octavian, "from the
unconquerable reverie which attracted me toward its radiant shapes as to
stars that lure on, I knew that I could never love save beyond the
confines of Time and Space. It was you that I awaited; and that frail
vestige of your being, preserved by the curiosity of men, has by its
secret magnetism placed me in communication with your spirit. I know not
if you be a dream or a reality, a phantom or a woman; if, like Ixion, I
press but a cloud to my cheated breast; if I am only the victim of some
vile spell of sorcery--but what I do truly know is that you will be my
first and my last love."

"May Eros, son of Aphrodite, hear your promise," returned Arria
Marcella, dropping her head upon the shoulder of her lover, who lifted
her in a passionate embrace. "Oh, press me to your young breast! Envelop
me with your warm breath. I am cold through having remained so long
without love." And against his heart Octavian felt that beautiful bosom
rise and fall, whose mould he had that very morning admired through the
glass of a cabinet in the museum. The coolness of that beautiful flesh
penetrated him through his tunic and made him burn. The gold and black
fillet had become detached from Arria's head, passionately thrown back,
and her hair streamed like a black river over the purple pillow.

The slaves had removed the table. A confused sound of sighs and kisses
was alone audible. The pet quails, indifferent to this amorous scene,
plundered the crumbs of the banquet upon the mosaic pavement, uttering
sharp little cries.

Suddenly the brazen rings of the curtain which closed the entrance to
the apartment slided back upon the curtain-rod, and an aged man of stern
demeanor and wrapped in a great brown mantle appeared upon the
threshold. His gray beard was divided into two points after the manner
of the Nazareans. His face seemed furrowed by the suffering of ascetic
mortifications, and a little cross of black wood was suspended from his
neck, leaving no doubt as to his faith. He belonged to the sect, then
new, of the Disciples of Christ.

On perceiving him, Arria Marcella, overwhelmed with confusion, hid her
face in the folds of her mantle, like a bird which puts its head under
its wing at the approach of an enemy from whom it cannot escape, to save
itself at least from the horror of seeing him, while Octavian, rising on
his elbow, stared fixedly at the provoking being who had thus abruptly
interrupted his happiness.

"Arria, Arria!" exclaimed the austere personage in a voice of reproach,
"did not your lifetime suffice for your misconduct, and must your
infamous amours encroach upon centuries to which they do not belong? Can
you not leave the living in their sphere? Have not your ashes cooled
since the day when you perished unrepentant beneath the rain of volcanic
fire? So, then, even two thousand years have not sufficed to calm your
passion, and your voracious arms still draw to your heartless breast of
marble the poor mad-men whom your philters have intoxicated!"

"Arrius, father, mercy! Do not crush me in the name of that morose
religion which was never mine! I believed in our ancient gods, who loved
life and youth and beauty and pleasure. Do not hurl me back into pale
nothingness! Let me enjoy this life that love has given back to me!"

"Silence, impious woman! Speak not to me of your gods, which are demons.
Let this man, whom you have fettered with your impure seductions, depart
hence. Draw him no more beyond the circle of that life which God
measured out for him. Return to the Limbo of paganism with your Asiatic,
Roman, or Greek lovers. Young Christian, forsake that larva, who would
seem to you more hideous than Empousa or Phorkyas, could you but see her
as she is!"

Pale and frozen with horror, Octavian tried to speak, but his voice
clung to his throat, according to the expression of Virgil.

"Will you obey me, Arria?" imperiously cried the tall old man.

"No, never!" responded Arria, with flashing eyes, dilated nostrils, and
passion-trembling lips, as she suddenly encircled the body of Octavian
with her beautiful statuesque arms, cold, hard, and rigid as marble. Her
furious beauty, enhanced by the struggle, shone forth at that supreme
moment with supernatural brightness, as though to leave its imperishable
souvenir with her young lover.

"Then, unhappy woman," exclaimed the old man, "I must needs employ
extreme measures, and render your nothingness palpable and visible to
this fascinated child." And in a voice of command he pronounced a
formula of exorcism that banished from Arria's cheeks the purple tints
with which the black wine from the myrrhine vase had suffused them.

At the same moment the distant bell of one of those hamlets which border
the sea-coast, or lie hidden in the mountain hollows, rang out the first
peal of the angelus.

A sob of agony burst from the broken heart of the young woman at that
sound. Octavian felt her encircling arms untwine, the draperies which
covered her sank fold on fold, as though the contours which sustained
them had suddenly given way, and the wretched night-walker beheld on the
banquet-couch beside him only a handful of cinders mingled with a few
fragments of calcined bones, among which gold bracelets and jewelry
glittered, together with such other shapeless remains as were found in
excavating the villa of Arrius Diomedes.

He uttered one fearful cry and became insensible.

The old man had disappeared, the sun rose, and the hall, so brilliantly
decorated but a short time before, became only a dismantled ruin.

After a heavy slumber, inspired by the libations of the previous
evening, Max and Fabio started from their sleep, and at once called
their comrade, whose room adjoined their own, with one of those
burlesque rallying cries which are so commonly made use of by
travellers. Octavian, for the best of reasons, returned no answer. Fabio
and Max, hearing no response, entered their friend's chamber and
perceived that the bed had not been disturbed.

"He must have fallen asleep in some chair," said Fabio, "without being
able to get to bed, for our good Octavian cannot bear much liquor; and
most likely he is taking an early walk to dissipate the fumes of the
wine in the fresh morning air."

"But he did not drink much," returned Max, in a thoughtful manner. "All
this seems very strange to me. Let us go and find him!"

Accompanied by the cicerone, the two friends searched all the streets,
squares, cross-roads, and alleys of Pompeii, entering every curious
building where they thought Octavian might be occupied in copying a
painting or taking down an inscription, and finally discovered him lying
insensible upon the disjointed mosaic pavement of a small ruined
chamber. They had much difficulty in restoring him to consciousness, and
on reviving, his only explanation of the circumstance was that he had
taken a fancy to see Pompeii by moonlight, and had been seized with a
sudden faintness, which would doubtless result in nothing serious.

The little party returned by rail to Naples, as they had come, and the
same evening, from their private box at the San Carlo, Max and Fabio
watched through their opera glasses a troupe of nymphs dancing in a
ballet, under the leadership of Amalia Ferraris, the _danseuse_ then in
vogue, all wearing under their gauzy skirts frightful green drawers,
which made them look like so many frogs stung by a tarantula. Pale, with
woful eyes, and the general air of one crushed by suffering, Octavian
seemed to doubt the reality of what transpired upon the stage, so
difficult did he find it to resume the sentiments of real life after the
marvellous adventures of the night.

From the time of that visit to Pompeii Octavian fell into a dismal
melancholy, which the good-humored pleasantry of his companions rather
aggravated than soothed. The image of Arria Marcella haunted him
incessantly, and the sad termination of his fantastic good fortune had
never destroyed its charm.

Unable to contain his misery, he returned secretly to Pompeii, and once
again wandered among the ruins by moonlight as before, his heart
palpitating with maddening hope; but the hallucination never returned.
He saw only the lizards fleeing over the stones, he heard only the
screams of the startled night-birds. He met his friend Rufus Holconius
no more, Tyche came not to lay her supple hand upon his arm, Arria
Marcella obstinately slumbered in her dust.

Abandoning all hope, Octavian finally married a charming young English
girl, who is madly in love with him. He is perfectly well behaved to his
wife, yet Ellen, with that subtle instinct of the heart which nothing
can deceive, feels that her husband is enamored of another. But of whom?
That is a mystery which the most unflagging watchfulness cannot enable
her to unravel. Octavian never entertains actresses. In society he
addresses to women only the most commonplace gallantries. He even
returned with the greatest coldness the marked advances of a certain
Russian princess celebrated for her beauty and her coquetry. A secret
drawer, opened during her husband's absence, afforded no confirmation of
infidelity to Ellen's suspicions. But how could she permit herself to be
jealous of Arria Marcella, daughter of Arrius Diomedes, the freedman of
Tiberius?



THE MUMMY'S FOOT



I had entered, in an idle mood, the shop of one of those curiosity
venders who are called _marchands de bric-à-brac_ in that Parisian
_argot_ which is so perfectly unintelligible elsewhere in France.

You have doubtless glanced occasionally through the windows of some of
these shops, which have become so numerous now that it is fashionable to
buy antiquated furniture, and that every petty stockbroker thinks he
must have his _chambre au moyen âge_.

There is one thing there which clings alike to the shop of the dealer in
old iron, the ware-room of the tapestry maker, the laboratory of the
chemist, and the studio of the painter: in all those gloomy dens where a
furtive daylight filters in through the window-shutters the most
manifestly ancient thing is dust. The cobwebs are more authentic than
the guimp laces, and the old pear-tree furniture on exhibition is
actually younger than the mahogany which arrived but yesterday from
America.

The warehouse of my bric-à-brac dealer was a veritable Capharnaum. All
ages and all nations seemed to have made their rendezvous there. An
Etruscan lamp of red clay stood upon a Boule cabinet, with ebony panels,
brightly striped by lines of inlaid brass; a duchess of the court of
Louis XV. nonchalantly extended her fawn-like feet under a massive table
of the time of Louis XIII., with heavy spiral supports of oak, and
carven designs of chimeras and foliage intermingled.

Upon the denticulated shelves of several sideboards glittered immense
Japanese dishes with red and blue designs relieved by gilded hatching,
side by side with enamelled works by Bernard Palissy, representing
serpents, frogs, and lizards in relief.

From disembowelled cabinets escaped cascades of silver-lustrous Chinese
silks and waves of tinsel, which an oblique sunbeam shot through with
luminous beads, while portraits of every era, in frames more or less
tarnished, smiled through their yellow varnish.

The striped breastplate of a damascened suit of Milanese armor glittered
in one corner; loves and nymphs of porcelain, Chinese grotesques, vases
of _céladon_ and crackle-ware, Saxon and old Sèvres cups encumbered the
shelves and nooks of the apartment.

The dealer followed me closely through the tortuous way contrived
between the piles of furniture, warding off with his hand the hazardous
sweep of my coat-skirts, watching my elbows with the uneasy attention of
an antiquarian and a usurer.

It was a singular face, that of the merchant; an immense skull, polished
like a knee, and surrounded by a thin aureole of white hair, which
brought out the clear salmon tint of his complexion all the more
strikingly, lent him a false aspect of patriarchal _bonhomie_,
counteracted, however, by the scintillation of two little yellow eyes
which trembled in their orbits like two louis-d'or upon quicksilver. The
curve of his nose presented an aquiline silhouette, which suggested the
Oriental or Jewish type. His hands--thin, slender, full of nerves which
projected like strings upon the finger-board of a violin, and armed with
claws like those on the terminations of bats' wings--shook with senile
trembling; but those convulsively agitated hands became firmer than
steel pincers or lobsters' claws when they lifted any precious
article--an onyx cup, a Venetian glass, or a dish of Bohemian crystal.
This strange old man had an aspect so thoroughly rabbinical and
cabalistic that he would have been burnt on the mere testimony of his
face three centuries ago.

"Will you not buy something from me to-day, sir? Here is a Malay kreese
with a blade undulating like flame. Look at those grooves contrived for
the blood to run along, those teeth set backward so as to tear out the
entrails in withdrawing the weapon. It is a fine character of ferocious
arm, and will look well in your collection. This two-handed sword is
very beautiful. It is the work of Josepe de la Hera; and this
_colichemarde,_ with its fenestrated guard--what a superb specimen of
handicraft!"

"No; I have quite enough weapons and instruments of carnage. I want a
small figure, something which will suit me as a paper-weight, for I
cannot endure those trumpery bronzes which the stationers sell, and
which may be found on everybody's desk."

The old gnome foraged among his ancient wares, and finally arranged
before me some antique bronzes, so-called at least; fragments of
malachite, little Hindoo or Chinese idols, a kind of poussah-toys in
jade-stone, representing the incarnations of Brahma or Vishnoo, and
wonderfully appropriate to the very undivine office of holding papers
and letters in place.

I was hesitating between a porcelain dragon, all constellated with
warts, its mouth formidable with bristling tusks and ranges of teeth,
and an abominable little Mexican fetich, representing the god
Vitziliputzili _au naturel_, when I caught sight of a charming foot,
which I at first took for a fragment of some antique Venus.

It had those beautiful ruddy and tawny tints that lend to Florentine
bronze that warm living look so much preferable to the gray-green
aspect of common bronzes, which might easily be mistaken for statues in
a state of putrefaction. Satiny gleams played over its rounded forms,
doubtless polished by the amorous kisses of twenty centuries, for it
seemed a Corinthian bronze, a work of the best era of art, perhaps
moulded by Lysippus himself.

"That foot will be my choice," I said to the merchant, who regarded me
with an ironical and saturnine air, and held out the object desired that
I might examine it more fully.

I was surprised at its lightness. It was not a foot of metal, but in
sooth a foot of flesh, an embalmed foot, a mummy's foot. On examining it
still more closely the very grain of the skin, and the almost
imperceptible lines impressed upon it by the texture of the bandages,
became perceptible. The toes were slender and delicate, and terminated
by perfectly formed nails, pure and transparent as agates. The great
toe, slightly separated from the rest, afforded a happy contrast, in the
antique style, to the position of the other toes, and lent it an ærial
lightness--the grace of a bird's foot. The sole, scarcely streaked by a
few almost imperceptible cross lines, afforded evidence that it had
never touched the bare ground, and had only come in contact with the
finest matting of Nile rushes and the softest carpets of panther skin.

"Ha, ha, you want the foot of the Princess Hermonthis!" exclaimed the
merchant, with a strange giggle, fixing his owlish eyes upon me. "Ha,
ha, ha! For a paper-weight! An original idea!--artistic idea! Old
Pharaoh would certainly have been surprised had some one told him that
the foot of his adored daughter would be used for a paper-weight after
he had had a mountain of granite hollowed out as a receptacle for the
triple coffin, painted and gilded, covered with hieroglyphics and
beautiful paintings of the Judgment of Souls," continued the queer
little merchant, half audibly, as though talking to himself.

"How much will you charge me for this mummy fragment?"

"Ah, the highest price I can get, for it is a superb piece. If I had
the match of it you could not have it for less than five hundred francs.
The daughter of a Pharaoh! Nothing is more rare."

"Assuredly that is not a common article, but still, how much do you
want? In the first place let me warn you that all my wealth consists of
just five louis. I can buy anything that costs five louis, but nothing
dearer. You might search my vest pockets and most secret drawers without
even finding one poor five-franc piece more."

"Five louis for the foot of the Princess Hermonthis! That is very
little, very little, indeed. 'Tis an authentic foot," muttered the
merchant, shaking his head, and imparting a peculiar rotary motion to
his eyes. "Well, take it, and I will give you the bandages into the
bargain," he added, wrapping the foot in an ancient damask rag. "Very
fine! Real damask--Indian damask which has never been redyed. It is
strong, and yet it is soft," he mumbled, stroking the frayed tissue with
his fingers, through the trade-acquired habit which moved him to praise
even an object of such little value that he himself deemed it only
worth the giving away.

He poured the gold coins into a sort of mediæval alms-purse hanging at
his belt, repeating:

"The foot of the Princess Hermonthis to be used for a paper-weight!"

Then turning his phosphorescent eyes upon me, he exclaimed in a voice
strident as the crying of a cat which has swallowed a fish-bone:

"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear
man!"

"You speak as if you were a contemporary of his. You are old enough,
goodness knows! but you do not date back to the Pyramids of Egypt," I
answered, laughingly, from the threshold.

I went home, delighted with my acquisition.

With the idea of putting it to profitable use as soon as possible, I
placed the foot of the divine Princess Hermonthis upon a heap of papers
scribbled over with verses, in themselves an undecipherable mosaic work
of erasures; articles freshly begun; letters forgotten, and posted in
the table drawer instead of the letter-box, an error to which
absent-minded people are peculiarly liable. The effect was charming,
_bizarre_, and romantic.

Well satisfied with this embellishment, I went out with the gravity and
pride becoming one who feels that he has the ineffable advantage over
all the passers-by whom he elbows, of possessing a piece of the Princess
Hermonthis, daughter of Pharaoh.

I looked upon all who did not possess, like myself, a paper-weight so
authentically Egyptian as very ridiculous people, and it seemed to me
that the proper occupation of every sensible man should consist in the
mere fact of having a mummy's foot upon his desk.

Happily I met some friends, whose presence distracted me in my
infatuation with this new acquisition. I went to dinner with them, for I
could not very well have dined with myself.

When I came back that evening, with my brain slightly confused by a few
glasses of wine, a vague whiff of Oriental perfume delicately
titillated my olfactory nerves. The heat of the room had warmed the
natron, bitumen, and myrrh in which the _paraschistes,_ who cut open the
bodies of the dead, had bathed the corpse of the princess. It was a
perfume at once sweet and penetrating, a perfume that four thousand
years had not been able to dissipate.

The Dream of Egypt was Eternity. Her odors have the solidity of granite
and endure as long.

I soon drank deeply from the black cup of sleep. For a few hours all
remained opaque to me. Oblivion and nothingness inundated me with their
sombre waves.

Yet light gradually dawned upon the darkness of my mind. Dreams
commenced to touch me softly in their silent flight.

The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld my chamber as it actually
was. I might have believed myself awake but for a vague consciousness
which assured me that I slept, and that something fantastic was about to
take place.

The odor of the myrrh had augmented in intensity, and I felt a slight
headache, which I very naturally attributed to several glasses of
champagne that we had drunk to the unknown gods and our future fortunes.

I peered through my room with a feeling of expectation which I saw
nothing to justify. Every article of furniture was in its proper place.
The lamp, softly shaded by its globe of ground crystal, burned upon its
bracket; the water-color sketches shone under their Bohemian glass; the
curtains hung down languidly; everything wore an aspect of tranquil
slumber.

After a few moments, however, all this calm interior appeared to become
disturbed. The woodwork cracked stealthily, the ash-covered log suddenly
emitted a jet of blue flame, and the disks of the pateras seemed like
great metallic eyes, watching, like myself, for the things which were
about to happen.

My eyes accidentally fell upon the desk where I had placed the foot of
the Princess Hermonthis.

Instead of remaining quiet, as behooved a foot which had been embalmed
for four thousand years, it commenced to act in a nervous manner,
contracted itself, and leaped over the papers like a startled frog. One
would have imagined that it had suddenly been brought into contact with
a galvanic battery. I could distinctly hear the dry sound made by its
little heel, hard as the hoof of a gazelle.

I became rather discontented with my acquisition, inasmuch as I wished
my paper-weights to be of a sedentary disposition, and thought it very
unnatural that feet should walk about without legs, and I commenced to
experience a feeling closely akin to fear.

Suddenly I saw the folds of my bed-curtain stir, and heard a bumping
sound, like that caused by some person hopping on one foot across the
floor. I must confess I became alternately hot and cold, that I felt a
strange wind chill my back, and that my suddenly rising hair caused my
night-cap to execute a leap of several yards.

The bed-curtains opened and I beheld the strangest figure imaginable
before me.

It was a young girl of a very deep coffee-brown complexion, like the
bayadere Amani, and possessing the purest Egyptian type of perfect
beauty. Her eyes were almond-shaped and oblique, with eyebrows so black
that they seemed blue; her nose was exquisitely chiselled, almost Greek
in its delicacy of outline; and she might indeed have been taken for a
Corinthian statue of bronze but for the prominence of her cheek-bones
and the slightly African fulness of her lips, which compelled one to
recognize her as belonging beyond all doubt to the hieroglyphic race
which dwelt upon the banks of the Nile.

Her arms, slender and spindle-shaped like those of very young girls,
were encircled by a peculiar kind of metal bands and bracelets of glass
beads; her hair was all twisted into little cords, and she wore upon her
bosom a little idol-figure of green paste, bearing a whip with seven
lashes, which proved it to be an image of Isis; her brow was adorned
with a shining plate of gold, and a few traces of paint relieved the
coppery tint of her cheeks.

As for her costume, it was very odd indeed.

Fancy a _pagne_, or skirt, all formed of little strips of material
bedizened with red and black hieroglyphics, stiffened with bitumen, and
apparently belonging to a freshly unbandaged mummy.

In one of those sudden flights of thought so common in dreams I heard
the hoarse falsetto of the bric-à-brac dealer, repeating like a
monotonous refrain the phrase he had uttered in his shop with so
enigmatical an intonation:

"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear
man!"

One strange circumstance, which was not at all calculated to restore my
equanimity, was that the apparition had but one foot; the other was
broken off at the ankle!

She approached the table where the foot was starting and fidgetting
about more than ever, and there supported herself upon the edge of the
desk. I saw her eyes fill with pearly gleaming tears.

Although she had not as yet spoken, I fully comprehended the thoughts
which agitated her. She looked at her foot--for it was indeed her
own--with an exquisitely graceful expression of coquettish sadness, but
the foot leaped and ran hither and thither, as though impelled on steel
springs.

Twice or thrice she extended her hand to seize it, but could not
succeed.

Then commenced between the Princess Hermonthis and her foot--which
appeared to be endowed with a special life of its own--a very fantastic
dialogue in a most ancient Coptic tongue, such as might have been spoken
thirty centuries ago in the syrinxes of the land of Ser. Luckily I
understood Coptic perfectly well that night.

The Princess Hermonthis cried, in a voice sweet and vibrant as the tones
of a crystal bell:

"Well, my dear little foot, you always flee from me, yet I always took
good care of you. I bathed you with perfumed water in a bowl of
alabaster; I smoothed your heel with pumice-stone mixed with palm oil;
your nails were cut with golden scissors and polished with a
hippopotamus tooth; I was careful to select _tatbebs_ for you, painted
and embroidered and turned up at the toes, which were the envy of all
the young girls in Egypt. You wore on your great toe rings bearing the
device of the sacred Scarabæus, and you supported one of the lightest
bodies that a lazy foot could sustain."

The foot replied in a pouting and chagrined tone:

"You know well that I do not belong to myself any longer. I have been
bought and paid for. The old merchant knew what he was about. He bore
you a grudge for having refused to espouse him. This is an ill turn
which he has done you. The Arab who violated your royal coffin in the
subterranean pits of the necropolis of Thebes was sent thither by him.
He desired to prevent you from being present at the reunion of the
shadowy nations in the cities below. Have you five pieces of gold for my
ransom?"

"Alas, no! My jewels, my rings, my purses of gold and silver were all
stolen from me," answered the Princess Hermonthis, with a sob.

"Princess," I then exclaimed, "I never retained anybody's foot unjustly.
Even though you have not got the five louis which it cost me, I present
it to you gladly. I should feel unutterably wretched to think that I
were the cause of so amiable a person as the Princess Hermonthis being
lame."

I delivered this discourse in a royally gallant, troubadour tone which
must have astonished the beautiful Egyptian girl.

She turned a look of deepest gratitude upon me, and her eyes shone with
bluish gleams of light.

She took her foot, which surrendered itself willingly this time, like a
woman about to put on her little shoe, and adjusted it to her leg with
much skill.

This operation over, she took a few steps about the room, as though to
assure herself that she was really no longer lame.

"Ah, how pleased my father will be! He who was so unhappy because of my
mutilation, and who from the moment of my birth set a whole nation at
work to hollow me out a tomb so deep that he might preserve me intact
until that last day, when souls must be weighed in the balance of
Amenthi! Come with me to my father. He will receive you kindly, for you
have given me back my foot."

I thought this proposition natural enough. I arrayed myself in a
dressing-gown of large-flowered pattern, which lent me a very Pharaonic
aspect, hurriedly put on a pair of Turkish slippers, and informed the
Princess Hermonthis that I was ready to follow her.

Before starting, Hermonthis took from her neck the little idol of green
paste, and laid it on the scattered sheets of paper which covered the
table.

"It is only fair," she observed, smilingly, "that I should replace your
paper-weight."

She gave me her hand, which felt soft and cold, like the skin of a
serpent, and we departed.

We passed for some time with the velocity of an arrow through a fluid
and grayish expanse, in which half-formed silhouettes flitted swiftly by
us, to right and left.

For an instant we saw only sky and sea.

A few moments later obelisks commenced to tower in the distance; pylons
and vast flights of steps guarded by sphinxes became clearly outlined
against the horizon.

We had reached our destination.

The princess conducted me to a mountain of rose-colored granite, in the
face of which appeared an opening so narrow and low that it would have
been difficult to distinguish it from the fissures in the rock, had not
its location been marked by two stelæ wrought with sculptures.

Hermonthis kindled a torch and led the way before me.

We traversed corridors hewn through the living rock. Their walls,
covered with hieroglyphics and paintings of allegorical processions,
might well have occupied thousands of arms for thousands of years in
their formation. These corridors of interminable length opened into
square chambers, in the midst of which pits had been contrived, through
which we descended by cramp-irons or spiral stairways. These pits again
conducted us into other chambers, opening into other corridors, likewise
decorated with painted sparrow-hawks, serpents coiled in circles, the
symbols of the _tau_ and _pedum_--prodigious works of art which no
living eye can ever examine--interminable legends of granite which only
the dead have time to read through all eternity.

At last we found ourselves in a hall so vast, so enormous, so
immeasurable, that the eye could not reach its limits. Files of
monstrous columns stretched far out of sight on every side, between
which twinkled livid stars of yellowish flame; points of light which
revealed further depths incalculable in the darkness beyond.

The Princess Hermonthis still held my hand, and graciously saluted the
mummies of her acquaintance.

My eyes became accustomed to the dim twilight, and objects became
discernible.

I beheld the kings of the subterranean races seated upon thrones--grand
old men, though dry, withered, wrinkled like parchment, and blackened
with naphtha and bitumen--all wearing _pshents_ of gold, and
breast-plates and gorgets glittering with precious stones, their eyes
immovably fixed like the eyes of spinxes, and their long beards whitened
by the snow of centuries. Behind them stood their peoples, in the stiff
and constrained posture enjoined by Egyptian art, all eternally
preserving the attitude prescribed by the hieratic code. Behind these
nations, the cats, ibixes, and crocodiles contemporary with
them--rendered monstrous of aspect by their swathing bands--mewed,
flapped their wings, or extended their jaws in a saurian giggle.

All the Pharaohs were there--Cheops, Chephrenes, Psammetichus,
Sesostris, Amenotaph--all the dark rulers of the pyramids and syrinxes.
On yet higher thrones sat Chronos and Xixouthros, who was contemporary
with the deluge, and Tubal Cain, who reigned before it.

The beard of King Xixouthros had grown seven times around the granite
table, upon which he leaned, lost in deep reverie, and buried in dreams.

Farther back, through a dusty cloud, I beheld dimly the seventy-two
preadamite kings, with their seventy-two peoples, forever passed away.

After permitting me to gaze upon this bewildering spectacle a few
moments, the Princess Hermonthis presented me to her father Pharaoh, who
favored me with a most gracious nod.

"I have found my foot again! I have found my foot!" cried the princess,
clapping her little hands together with every sign of frantic joy. "It
was this gentleman who restored it to me."

The races of Kemi, the races of Nahasi--all the black, bronzed, and
copper-colored nations repeated in chorus:

"The Princess Hermonthis has found her foot again!"

Even Xixouthros himself was visibly affected.

He raised his heavy eyelids, stroked his mustache with his fingers, and
turned upon me a glance weighty with centuries.

"By Oms, the dog of Hell, and Tmeï, daughter of the Sun and of Truth,
this is a brave and worthy lad!" exclaimed Pharaoh, pointing to me with
his sceptre, which was terminated with a lotus-flower.

"What recompense do you desire?"

Filled with that daring inspired by dreams in which nothing seems
impossible, I asked him for the hand of the Princess Hermonthis. The
hand seemed to me a very proper antithetic recompense for the foot.

Pharaoh opened wide his great eyes of glass in astonishment at my witty
request.

"What country do you come from, and what is your age?"

"I am a Frenchman, and I am twenty-seven years old, venerable Pharaoh."

"Twenty-seven years old, and he wishes to espouse the Princess
Hermonthis who is thirty centuries old!" cried out at once all the
Thrones and all the Circles of Nations.

Only Hermonthis herself did not seem to think my request unreasonable.

"If you were even only two thousand years old," replied the ancient
king, "I would willingly give you the princess, but the disproportion is
too great; and, besides, we must give our daughters husbands who will
last well. You do not know how to preserve yourselves any longer. Even
those who died only fifteen centuries ago are already no more than a
handful of dust. Behold, my flesh is solid as basalt, my bones are bars
of steel!

"I will be present on the last day of the world with the same body and
the same features which I had during my lifetime. My daughter
Hermonthis will last longer than a statue of bronze.

"Then the last particles of your dust will have been scattered abroad by
the winds, and even Isis herself, who was able to find the atoms of
Osiris, would scarce be able to recompose your being.

"See how vigorous I yet remain, and how mighty is my grasp," he added,
shaking my hand in the English fashion with a strength that buried my
rings in the flesh of my fingers.

He squeezed me so hard that I awoke, and found my friend Alfred shaking
me by the arm to make me get up.

"Oh, you everlasting sleeper! Must I have you carried out into the
middle of the street, and fireworks exploded in your ears? It is
afternoon. Don't you recollect your promise to take me with you to see
M. Aguado's Spanish pictures?"

"God! I forgot all, all about it," I answered, dressing myself
hurriedly. "We will go there at once. I have the permit lying there on
my desk."

I started to find it, but fancy my astonishment when I beheld, instead
of the mummy's foot I had purchased the evening before, the little green
paste idol left in its place by the Princess Hermonthis!



OMPHALE: A ROCOCO STORY



My uncle, the Chevalier de ----, resided in a small mansion which looked
out upon the dismal Rue de Tournelles on one side, and the equally
dismal Boulevard St. Antoine upon the other. Between the Boulevard and
the house itself a few ancient elm-trees, eaten alive by mosses and
insects, piteously extended their skeleton arms from the depth of a
species of sink surrounded by high black walls. Some emaciated flowers
hung their heads languidly, like young girls in consumption, waiting for
a ray of sunshine to dry their half-rotten leaves. Weeds had invaded the
walks, which were almost undistinguishable, owing to the length of time
that had elapsed since they were last raked. One or two goldfish
floated rather than swam in a basin covered with duck-weed and
half-choked by water plants.

My uncle called that his garden!

Besides all the fine things above described in my uncle's garden, there
was also a rather unpleasant pavilion, which he had entitled the
_Délices_, doubtless by antiphrasis. It was in a state of extreme
dilapidation. The walls were bulging outwardly. Great masses of detached
plaster still lay among the nettles and wild oats where they had fallen.
The lower portions of the wall surfaces were green with putrid mould.
The woodwork of the window-shutters and doors had been badly sprung, and
they closed only partially or not at all. A species of decoration,
strongly suggestive of an immense kitchen-pot with various effluvia
radiating from it, ornamented the main entrance, for in the time of
Louis XV., when it was the custom to build _Délices_, there were always
two entrances to such pleasure houses for precaution's sake. The
cornice, overburdened with ovulos, foliated arabesques, and volutes, had
been badly dismantled by the infiltration of rain-water. In short, the
_Délices_ of my uncle, the Chevalier de ----, presented a rather
lamentable aspect.

This poor ruin, dating only from yesterday, although wearing the
dilapidated look of a thousand years' decay--a ruin of plaster, not of
stone, all cracked and warped, covered with a leprosy of lichen growth,
moss-eaten and mouldy--seemed to resemble one of those precociously old
men worn out by filthy debauches. It inspired no feeling of respect, for
there is nothing in the world so ugly and so wretched as either an old
gauze robe or an old plaster wall, two things which ought not to endure,
yet which do.

It was in this pavilion that my uncle had lodged me.

The interior was not less rococo than the exterior, although remaining
in a somewhat better state of preservation. The bed was hung with yellow
lampas, spotted over with large white flowers. An ornamental shell-work
clock ticked away upon a pedestal inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl.
A wreath of ornamental roses coquettishly twined around a Venetian
glass. Above the door the Four Seasons were painted in cameo. A fair
lady with thickly powdered hair, a sky-blue corset, and an array of
ribbons of the same hue, who had a bow in her right hand, a partridge in
her left, a crescent upon her forehead, and a leverette at her feet,
strutted and smiled with ineffable graciousness from within a large oval
frame. This was one of my uncle's mistresses of old, whom he had had
painted as Diana. It will scarcely be necessary to observe that the
furniture itself was not of the most modern style. There was, in fact,
nothing to prevent one from fancying himself living at the time of the
Regency, and the mythological tapestry with which the Avails were hung
rendered the illusion complete.

The tapestry represented Hercules spinning at the feet of Omphale. The
design was tormented after the fashion of Vanloo, and in the most
Pompadour style possible to imagine. Hercules had a spindle decorated
with rose-colored favors. He elevated his little finger with a peculiar
and special grace, like a marquis in the act of taking a pinch of
snuff, while turning a white flake of flax between his thumb and index
finger. His muscular neck was burdened with bows of ribbons, rosettes,
strings of pearls, and a thousand other feminine gew-gaws, and a large
_gorge-de-pigeon_ colored petticoat, with two very large panniers, lent
quite a gallant air to the monster-conquering hero.

Omphale's white shoulders were half covered by the skin of the Nemean
lion. Her slender hand leaned upon her lover's knotty club. Her lovely
blonde hair, powdered to ash-color, fell loosely over her neck--a neck
as supple and undulating in its outlines as the neck of a dove. Her
little feet, true realizations of the typical Andalusian or Chinese
foot, and which would have been lost in Cinderella's glass slippers,
were shod with half-antique buskins of a tender lilac color, sprinkled
with pearls. In truth, she was a charming creature. Her head was thrown
back with an adorable little mock swagger, her dimpled mouth wore a
delicious little pout, her nostrils were slightly expanded, her cheeks
had a delicate glow--an _assassin_[1]


[1] Beauty-spot.

cunningly placed there relieved their beauty in a wonderful way; she
only needed a little mustache to make her a first-class mousquetaire.

There were many other personages also represented in the tapestry--the
kindly female attendant, the indispensable little Cupid--but they did
not leave a sufficiently distinct outline in my memory to enable me to
describe them.

In those days I was quite young--not that I wish to be understood as
saying that I am now very old; but I was fresh from college, and was to
remain in my uncle's care until I could choose a profession. If the good
man had been able to foresee that I should embrace that of a fantastic
story-writer, he would certainly have turned me out of doors forthwith
and irrevocably disinherited me, for he always entertained the most
aristocratic contempt for literature in general and authors in
particular. Like the fine gentleman that he was, it would have pleased
him to have had all those petty scribblers who busy themselves in
disfiguring paper, and speaking irreverentially about people of
quality, hung or beaten to death by his attendants. Lord have mercy on
my poor uncle! He really esteemed nothing in the world except the
epistle to Zetulba.

Well, then, I had only just left college. I was full of dreams and
illusions. I was as naive as a _rosière_ of Salency, perhaps more so.
Delighted at having no more pensums to make, everything seemed to me for
the best in the best of all possible worlds. I believed in an infinity
of things. I believed in M. de Florian's shepherdess with her combed and
powdered sheep. I never for a moment doubted the reality of Madame
Deshoulière's flock. I believed that there were actually nine muses, as
stated in Father Jouvency's _Appendix de Diis et Heroïbus._ My
recollections of Berquin and of Gessner had created a little world for
me in which everything was rose-colored, sky-blue, and apple-green. Oh,
holy innocence!--_sancta simplicitas_! as Mephistopheles says.

When I found myself alone in this fine room--my own room, all to
myself!--I felt superlatively overjoyed. I made a careful inventory of
everything, even the smallest article of furniture. I rummaged every
corner, and explored the chamber in the fullest sense of the word. I was
in the fourth heaven, as happy as a king, or rather as two kings. After
supper (for we used to sup at my uncle's--a charming custom, now
obsolete, together with many other equally charming customs which I
mourn for with all the heart I have left), I took my candle and retired
forthwith, so impatient did I feel to enjoy my new dwelling-place.

While I was undressing I fancied that Omphale's eyes had moved. I looked
more attentively in that direction, not without a slight sensation of
fear, for the room was very large, and the feeble luminous penumbra
which floated about the candle only served to render the darkness still
more visible. I thought I saw her turning her head toward me. I became
frightened in earnest, and blew out the light. I turned my face to the
wall, pulled the bed-clothes over my head, drew my night-cap down to my
chin, and finally went to sleep.

I did not dare to look at the accursed tapestry again for several days.

It may be well here, for the sake of imparting something of
verisimilitude to the very unlikely story I am about to relate, to
inform my fair readers that in those days I was really a very pretty
boy. I had the handsomest eyes in the world, at least they used to tell
me so; a much fairer complexion than I have now, a true carnation tint;
curly brown hair, which I still have, and seventeen years, which I have
no longer. I needed only a pretty stepmother to be a very tolerable
cherub. Unfortunately mine was fifty-seven years of age, and had only
three teeth, which was too much of one thing and too little of the
other.

One evening, however, I finally plucked up courage enough to take a peep
at the fair mistress of Hercules. She was looking at me with the saddest
and most languishing expression possible. This time I pulled my night-cap
down to my very shoulders, and buried my head in the coverlets.

I had a strange dream that night, if indeed it was a dream.

I heard the rings of my bed-curtains sliding with a sharp squeak upon
their curtain-rods, as if the curtains had been suddenly pulled back. I
awoke, at least in my dream it seemed to me that I awoke. I saw no one.

The moon shone full upon the window-panes, and projected her wan bluish
light into the room. Vast shadows, fantastic forms, were defined upon
the floor and the walls. The clock chimed a quarter, and the vibration
of the sound took a long time to die away. It seemed like a sigh. The
plainly audible strokes of the pendulum seemed like the pulsations of a
young heart, throbbing with passion.

I felt anything but comfortable, and a very bewilderment of fear took
possession of me.

A furious gust of wind banged the shutters and made the window-sashes
tremble. The woodwork cracked, the tapestry undulated. I ventured to
glance in the direction of Omphale, with a vague suspicion that she was
instrumental in all this unpleasantness, for some secret purpose of her
own. I was not mistaken.

The tapestry became violently agitated. Omphale detached herself from
the wall and leaped lightly to the carpet. She came straight toward my
bed, after having first turned herself carefully in my direction. I
fancy it will hardly be necessary to describe my stupefaction. The most
intrepid old soldier would not have felt very comfortable under similar
circumstances, and I was neither old nor a soldier. I awaited the end of
the adventure in terrified silence.

A flute-toned, pearly little voice sounded softly in my ears, with that
pretty lisp affected during the Regency by marchionesses and people of
high degree:

"Do I really frighten you, my child? It is true that you are only a
child, but it is not nice to be afraid of ladies, especially when they
are young ladies and only wish you well. It is uncivil and unworthy of a
French gentleman. You must be cured of such silly fears. Come, little
savage, leave off these foolish airs, and cease hiding your head under
the bed-clothes. Your education is by no means complete yet, my pretty
page, and you have not learned so very much. In my time cherubs were
more courageous."

"But, lady, it is because--"

"Because it seems strange to you to find me here instead of there," she
said, biting her ruddy lip with her white teeth, and pointing toward the
wall with her long taper finger. "Well, in fact, the thing does not look
very natural, but were I to explain it all to you, you would be none the
wiser. Let it be sufficient for you to know that you are not in any
danger."

"I am afraid you may be the--the--"

"The devil--out with the word!--is it not? That is what you wanted to
say. Well, at least you will grant that I am not black enough for a
devil, and that if hell were peopled with devils shaped as I am, one
might have quite as pleasant a time there as in Paradise."

And to prove that she was not flattering herself, Omphale threw back her
lion's skin and allowed me to behold her exquisitely moulded shoulders
and bosom, dazzling in their white beauty.

"Well, what do you think of me?" she exclaimed, with a pretty little air
of satisfied coquetry.

"I think that even were you the devil himself I should not feel afraid
of you any more, Madame Omphale."

"Ah, now you talk sensibly, but do not call me madame, or Omphale. I do
not wish you to look upon me as a madame, and I am no more Omphale than
I am the devil."

"Then who are you?"

"I am the Marchioness de T----. A short time after I was married the
marquis had this tapestry made for my apartments, and had me represented
on it in the character of Omphale. He himself figures there as Hercules.
That was a queer notion he took, for God knows there never was anybody
in the world who bore less resemblance to Hercules than the poor
marquis! It has been a long time since this chamber was occupied. I
naturally love company, and I almost died of _ennui_ in consequence. It
gave me the headache. To be only with one's husband is the same thing as
being alone. When you came I was overjoyed. This dead room became
reanimated. I had found some one to feel interested in. I watched you
come in and go out, I heard you murmuring in your sleep, I watched you
reading, and my eyes followed the pages. I found you were nicely
behaved, and had a fresh, innocent way about you that pleased me. In
short, I fell in love with you. I tried to make you understand. I
sighed. You thought it was only the sighing of the wind. I made signs to
you. I looked at you with languishing eyes, and only succeeded in
frightening you terribly. So at last in despair I resolved upon this
rather improper course which I have taken, to tell you frankly what you
could not take a hint about. Now that you know I love you, I hope
that--"

The conversation was interrupted at this juncture by the grating of a
key in the lock of the chamber door.

Omphale started and blushed to the very whites of her eyes.

"Adieu," she whispered, "till to-morrow." And she returned to her place
on the wall, walking backward, for fear that I should see her reverse
side, doubtless.

It was Baptiste, who came to brush my clothes.

"You ought not to sleep with your bed-curtains open, sir," he remarked.
"You might catch a bad cold. This room is so chilly."

The curtains were actually open, and as I had been under the impression
that I was only dreaming, I felt very much astonished, for I was certain
that they had been closed when I went to bed.

As soon as Baptiste left the room, I ran to the tapestry. I felt it all
over. It was indeed a real woollen tapestry, rough to the touch like any
other tapestry. Omphale resembled the charming phantom of the night only
as a dead body resembles a living one. I lifted the hangings. The wall
was solid throughout. There were no masked panels or secret doors. I
only noticed that a few threads were broken in the groundwork of the
tapestry where the feet of Omphale rested. This afforded me food for
reflection.

All that day I remained buried in the deepest brown study imaginable. I
longed for evening with a mingled feeling of anxiety and impatience. I
retired early, resolved on learning how this mystery was going to end.
I got into bed. The marchioness did not keep me waiting long. She leaped
down from the tapestry in front of the pier-glass, and dropped right by
my bed. She seated herself by my pillow, and the conversation commenced.

I asked her questions as I had done the evening before, and demanded
explanations. She eluded the former, and replied in an evasive manner to
the latter, yet always after so witty a fashion that within a quarter of
an hour I felt no scruples whatever in regard to my liaison with her.

While conversing she passed her fingers through my hair, tapped me
gently on the cheeks, and softly kissed my forehead.

She chatted and chatted in a pretty mocking way, in a style at once
elegantly polished and yet familiar and altogether like a great lady,
such as I have never since heard from the lips of any human being.

She was then seated upon the easy-chair beside the bed. In a little
while she slipped one of her arms around my neck, and I felt her heart
beating passionately against me. It was indeed a charming and handsome
real woman, a veritable marchioness whom I found beside me, poor student
of seventeen! There was more than enough to make one lose his head, so I
lost mine. I did not know very well what was going to happen, but I felt
a vague presentiment that it would displease the marquis.

"And Monsieur le Marquis, on the wall up there--what will he say?"

The lion's skin had fallen to the floor, and the soft lilac-colored
buskins, filigreed with silver, were lying beside my shoes.

"He will not say anything," replied the marchioness, laughing heartily.
"Do you suppose he ever sees anything? Besides, even should he see, he
is the most philosophical and inoffensive husband in the world. He is
used to such things. Do you love me, little one?"

"Indeed I do, ever so much!--ever so much!"

Morning dawned. My mistress stole away.

The day seemed to me frightfully long. At last evening came. The same
things happened as on the evening before, and the second night left no
regrets for the first. The marchioness became more and more adorable,
and this state of affairs continued for a long time. As I never slept at
night, I wore a somnolent expression in the day-time which did not augur
well for me with my uncle. He suspected something. He probably listened
at the door and heard everything, for one fine morning he entered my
room so brusquely that Antoinette had scarcely time to get back to her
place on the tapestry.

He was followed by a tapestry-hanger with pincers and a ladder.

He looked at me with a shrewd and severe expression which convinced me
that he knew all.

"This Marchioness de T---- is certainly crazy. What the devil could have
put it into her head to fall in love with a brat like that?" muttered my
uncle between his teeth. "She promised to behave herself.

"Jean, take that tapestry down, roll it up, and put it in the garret."

Every word my uncle spoke went through my heart like a poniard-thrust.

Jean rolled up my sweetheart Omphale, otherwise the Marchioness
Antoinette de T----, together with Hercules, or the Marquis de T----,
and carried the whole thing off to the garret. I could not restrain my
tears.

Next day my uncle sent me back in the B---- diligence to my respectable
parents, to whom, you may feel assured, I never breathed a word of my
adventure.

My uncle died; his house and furniture were sold; probably the tapestry
was sold with the rest.

But a long time afterward, while foraging the shop of a bric-à-brac
merchant in search of oddities, I stumbled over a great dusty roll of
something covered with cobwebs.

"What is that?" I said to the Auvergnat.

"That is a rococo tapestry representing the amours of Madame Omphale and
Monsieur Hercule. It is genuine Beauvais, worked in silk, and in an
excellent state of preservation. Buy this from me for your study. I will
not charge you dear for it, since it is you."

At the name of Omphale all my blood rushed to my heart.

"Unroll that tapestry," I said to the merchant in a hurried, gasping
voice, like one in a fever.

It was indeed she! I fancied that her mouth smiled graciously at me, and
that her eye lighted up on meeting mine.

"How much do you ask?"

"Well, I could not possibly let you have it for any less than five
hundred francs."

"I have not that much with me now. I will get it and be back in an
hour."

I returned with the money, but the tapestry was no longer there. An
Englishman had bargained for it during my absence, offered six hundred
francs for it, and taken it away with him.

After all, perhaps it was best that it should have been thus, and that I
should preserve this delicious souvenir intact. They say one should
never return to a first love, or look at the rose which one admired the
evening before.

And then I am no longer so young or so pretty that tapestries should
come down from their walls to honor me.



KING CANDAULES



CHAPTER I


Five hundred years before the Trojan war, and seventeen hundred and
fifteen years before our own era, there was a grand festival at Sardes.
King Candaules was going to marry. The people were affected with that
sort of pleasurable interest and aimless emotion wherewith any royal
event inspires the masses, even though it in no wise concerns them, and
transpires in superior spheres of life which they can never hope to
reach.

As soon as Phœbus-Apollo, standing in his quadriga, had gilded to
saffron the summits of fertile Mount Tmolus with his rays, the good
people of Sardes were all astir, going and coming, mounting or
descending the marble stairways leading from the city to the waters of
the Pactolus, that opulent river whose sands Midas filled with tiny
sparks of gold when he bathed in its stream. One would have supposed
that each one of these good citizens was himself about to marry, so
solemn and important was the demeanor of all.

Men were gathering in groups in the Agora, upon the steps of the temples
and along the porticoes. At every street corner one might have
encountered women leading by the hand little children, whose uneven walk
ill suited the maternal anxiety and impatience. Maidens were hastening
to the fountains, all with urns gracefully balanced upon their heads, or
sustained by their white arms as with natural handles, so as to procure
early the necessary water provision for the household, and thus obtain
leisure at the hour when the nuptial procession should pass. Washerwomen
hastily folded the still damp tunics and chlamidæ, and piled them upon
mule-wagons. Slaves turned the mill without any need of the overseer's
whip to tickle their naked and scar-seamed shoulders. Sardes was
hurrying itself to finish with those necessary every-day cares which no
festival can wholly disregard.

The road along which the procession was to pass had been strewn with
fine yellow sand. Brazen tripods, disposed along the way at regular
intervals, sent up to heaven the odorous smoke of cinnamon and
spikenard. These vapors, moreover, alone clouded the purity of the azure
above. The clouds of a hymeneal day ought, indeed, to be formed only by
the burning of perfumes. Myrtle and rose-laurel branches were strewn
upon the ground, and from the walls of the palaces were suspended by
little rings of bronze rich tapestries, whereon the needles of
industrious captives--intermingling wool, silver, and gold--had
represented various scenes in the history of the gods and heroes: Ixion
embracing the cloud; Diana surprised in the bath by Actæon; the
shepherd Paris as judge in the contest of beauty held upon Mount Ida
between Hera, the snowy-armed, Athena of the sea-green eyes, and
Aphrodite, girded with her magic cestus; the old men of Troy rising to
honor Helena as she passed through the Skaian gate, a subject taken from
one of the poems of the blind man of Meles. Others exhibited in
preference scenes taken from the life of Heracles the Theban, through
flattery to Candaules, himself a Heracleid, being descended from the
hero through Alcæus. Others contented themselves by decorating the
entrances of their dwellings with garlands and wreaths in token of
rejoicing.

Among the multitudes marshalled along the way from the royal house even
as far as the gates of the city, through which the young queen would
pass on her arrival, conversation naturally turned upon the beauty of
the bride, whereof the renown had spread throughout all Asia; and upon
the character of the bridegroom, who, although not altogether an
eccentric, seemed nevertheless one not readily appreciated from the
common standpoint of observation.

Nyssia, daughter of the Satrap Megabazus, was gifted with marvellous
purity of feature and perfection of form; at least such was the rumor
spread abroad by the female slaves who attended her, and a few female
friends who had accompanied her to the bath; for no man could boast of
knowing aught of Nyssia save the color of her veil and the elegant folds
that she involuntarily impressed upon the soft materials which robed her
statuesque body.

The barbarians did not share the ideas of the Greeks in regard to
modesty. While the youths of Achaia made no scruple of allowing their
oil-anointed torsos to shine under the sun in the stadium, and while the
Spartan virgins danced ungarmented before the altar of Diana, those of
Persepolis, Ebactana, and Bactria, attaching more importance to chastity
of the body than to chastity of mind, considered those liberties allowed
to the pleasure of the eyes by Greek manner as impure and highly
reprehensible, and held no woman virtuous who permitted men to obtain a
glimpse of more than the tip of her foot in walking, as it slightly
deranged the discreet folds of a long tunic.

Despite all this mystery, or rather, perhaps, by very reason of this
mystery, the fame of Nyssia had not been slow to spread throughout all
Lydia, and become popular there to such a degree that it had reached
even Candaules, although kings are ordinarily the most illy informed
people in their kingdoms, and live like the gods in a kind of cloud
which conceals from them the knowledge of terrestrial things.

The Eupatridæ of Sardes, who hoped that the young king might,
perchance, choose a wife from their family, the hetairæ of Athens, of
Samos, of Miletus and of Cyprus, the beautiful slaves from the banks of
the Indus, the blonde girls brought at a vast expense from the depths of
the Cimmerian fogs, were heedful never to utter in the presence of
Candaules, whether within hearing or beyond hearing, a single word which
bore any relation to Nyssia. The bravest, in a question of beauty,
recoil before the prospect of a contest in which they can anticipate
being outrivalled.

And nevertheless no person in Sardes, or even in Lydia, had beheld this
redoubtable adversary, no person save one solitary being, who from the
time of that encounter had kept his lips as firmly closed upon the
subject as though Harpocrates, the god of silence, had sealed them with
his finger, and that was Gyges, chief of the guards of Candaules. One
day Gyges, his mind filled with various projects and vague ambitions,
had been wandering among the Bactrian hills, whither his master had sent
him upon an important and secret mission. He was dreaming of the
intoxication of omnipotence, of treading upon purple with sandals of
gold, of placing the diadem upon the brows of the fairest of women.
These thoughts made his blood boil in his veins, and, as though to
pursue the flight of his dreams, he smote his sinewy heel upon the
foam-whitened flanks of his Numidian horse.

The weather, at first calm, had changed and waxed tempestuous like the
warrior's soul; and Boreas, his locks bristling with Thracian frosts,
his cheeks puffed out, his arms folded upon his breast, smote the
rain-freighted clouds with the mighty beatings of his wings.

A bevy of young girls who had been gathering flowers in the meadow,
fearing the coming storm, were returning to the city in all haste, each
carrying her perfumed harvest in the lap of her tunic. Seeing a stranger
on horseback approaching in the distance, they had hidden their faces in
their mantles, after the custom of the barbarians; but at the very
moment that Gyges was passing by the one whose proud carriage and richer
habiliments seemed to designate her the mistress of the little band, an
unusually violent gust of wind carried away the veil of the fair
unknown, and, whirling it through the air like a feather, chased it to
such a distance that it could not be recovered. It was Nyssia, daughter
of Megabazus, who found herself thus with face unveiled in the presence
of Gyges, an humble captain of King Candaules' guard. Was it only the
breath of Boreas which had brought about this accident, or had Eros, who
delights to vex the hearts of men, amused himself by severing the string
which had fastened the protecting tissue? However that may have been,
Gyges was stricken motionless at the sight of that Medusa of beauty, and
not till long after the folds of Nyssia's robe had disappeared beyond
the gates of the city could he think of proceeding on his way. Although
there was nothing to justify such a conjecture, he cherished the belief
that he had seen the satrap's daughter; and that meeting, which affected
him almost like an apparition, accorded so fully with the thoughts which
were occupying him at the moment of its occurrence, that he could not
help perceiving therein something fateful and ordained of the gods. In
truth it was upon that brow that he would have wished to place the
diadem. What other could be more worthy of it? But what probability was
there that Gyges would ever have a throne to share? He had not sought to
follow up this adventure, and assure himself whether it was indeed the
daughter of Megabazus whose mysterious face had been revealed to him by
Chance, the great filcher. Nyssia had fled so swiftly that it would have
been impossible for him then to overtake her; and, moreover, he had been
dazzled, fascinated, thunder-stricken, as it were, rather than charmed
by that superhuman apparition, by that monster of beauty! Nevertheless
that image, although seen only in the glimpse of a moment, had engraved
itself upon his heart in lines deep as those which the sculptors trace
on ivory with tools reddened in the fire. He had endeavored, although
vainly, to efface it, for the love which he felt for Nyssia inspired him
with a secret terror. Perfection in such a degree is ever awe-inspiring,
and women so like unto goddesses could only work evil to feeble mortals;
they are formed for divine adulteries, and even the most courageous men
never risk themselves in such amours without trembling. Therefore no
hope had blossomed in the soul of Gyges, overwhelmed and discouraged in
advance by the sentiment of the impossible. Ere opening his lips to
Nyssia he would have wished to despoil the heaven of its robe of stars,
to take from Phœbus his crown of rays, forgetting that women only give
themselves to those unworthy of them, and that to win their love one
must act as though he desired to earn their hate.

From that day the roses of joy no longer bloomed upon his cheeks. By day
he was sad and mournful, and seemed to wander abroad in solitary
dreaming, like a mortal who has beheld a divinity. At night he was
haunted by dreams in which he beheld Nyssia seated by his side upon
cushions of purple between the golden griffins of the royal throne.

Therefore Gyges, the only one who could speak of his own knowledge
concerning Nyssia, having never spoken of her, the Sardians were left to
their own conjectures in her regard; and their conjectures, it must be
confessed, were fantastic and altogether fabulous. The beauty of Nyssia,
thanks to the veils which shrouded her, became a sort of myth, a canvas,
a poem to which each one added ornamentation as the fancy took him.

"If report be not false," lisped a young debauchee from Athens, who
stood with one hand upon the shoulder of an Asiatic boy, "neither
Plangon, nor Archianassa, nor Thais can be compared with this marvellous
barbarian; yet I can scarce believe that she equals Theano of Colophon,
from whom I once bought a single night at the price of as much gold as
she could bear away, after having plunged both her white arms up to the
shoulder in my cedar-wood coffer."

"Beside her," added a Eupatrid, who pretended to be better informed than
any other person upon all manner of subjects, "beside her the daughter
of Cœlus and the Sea would seem but a mere Ethiopian servant."

"Your words are blasphemy, and although Aphrodite be a kind and
indulgent goddess, beware of drawing down her anger upon you."

"By Hercules!--and that ought to be an oath of some weight in a city
ruled by one of his descendants--I cannot retract a word of it."

"You have seen her, then?"

"No; but I have a slave in my service who once belonged to Nyssia, and
who has told me a hundred stories about her."

"Is it true," demanded in infantile tones an equivocal-looking woman
whose pale-rose tunic, painted cheeks, and locks shining with essences
betrayed wretched pretensions to a youth long passed away--"is it true
that Nyssia has two pupils in each eye? It seems to me that must be very
ugly, and I cannot understand how Candaules could fall in love with
such a monstrosity, while there is no lack, at Sardes and in Lydia, of
women whose eyes are irreproachable."

And uttering these words with all sorts of affected airs and simperings,
Lamia took a little significant peep in a small mirror of cast metal
which she drew from her bosom, and which enabled her to lead back to
duty certain wandering curls disarranged by the impertinence of the
wind.

"As to the double pupil, that seems to me nothing more than an old
nurse's tale," observed the well-informed patrician; "but it is a fact
that Nyssia's eyes are so piercing that she can see through walls.
Lynxes are myopic compared with her."

"How can a sensible man coolly argue about such an absurdity?"
interrupted a citizen, whose bald skull, and the flood of snowy beard
into which he plunged his fingers while speaking, lent him an air of
preponderance and philosophical sagacity. "The truth is that the
daughter of Megabazus cannot naturally see through a wall any better
than you or I, but the Egyptian priest Thoutmosis, who knows so
many-wondrous secrets, has given her the mysterious stone which is found
in the heads of dragons, and whose property, as every one knows, renders
all shadows and the most opaque bodies transparent to the eyes of those
who possess it. Nyssia always carries this stone in her girdle, or else
set into her bracelet, and in that may be found the secret of her
clairvoyance."

The citizen's explanation seemed the most natural one to those of the
group whose conversation we are endeavoring to reproduce, and the
opinions of Lamia and the patrician were abandoned as improbable.

"At all events," returned the lover of Theano, "we are going to have an
opportunity of judging for ourselves, for it seems to me that I hear the
clarions sounding in the distance, and though Nyssia is still invisible,
I can see the herald yonder approaching with palm-branches in his hands,
to announce the arrival of the nuptial _cortège_, and make the crowd
fall back."

At this news, which spread rapidly through the crowd, the strong men
elbowed their way toward the front ranks; the agile boys, embracing the
shafts of the columns, sought to climb up to the capitals and there seat
themselves; others, not without having skinned their knees against the
bark, succeeded in perching themselves comfortably enough in the Y of
some tree-branch. The women lifted their little children upon their
shoulders, warning them to hold tightly to their necks. Those who had
the good fortune to dwell on the street along which Candaules and Nyssia
were about to pass, leaned over from the summit of their roofs, or,
rising on their elbows, abandoned for a time the cushions upon which
they had been reclining.

A murmur of satisfaction and gratified expectation ran through the
crowd, which had already been waiting many long hours, for the arrows of
the midday sun were commencing to sting.

The heavy-armed warriors, with cuirasses of bull's-hide covered with
overlapping plates of metal, helmets adorned with plumes of horse-hair
dyed red, _knemides_ or greaves faced with tin, baldrics studded with
nails, emblazoned bucklers, and swords of brass, rode behind a line of
trumpeters who blew with might and main upon their long tubes, which
gleamed under the sunlight. The horses of these warriors were all white
as the feet of Thetis, and might have served, by reason of their noble
paces and purity of breeds, as models for those which Phidias at a later
day sculptured upon the metopes of the Parthenon.

At the head of this troop rode Gyges, the well-named, for his name in
the Lydian tongue signifies beautiful. His features, of the most
exquisite regularity, seemed chiselled in marble, owing to his intense
pallor, for he had just discovered in Nyssia, although she was veiled
with the veil of a young bride, the same woman whose face had been
betrayed to his gaze by the treachery of Boreas under the walls of
Bactria.

"Handsome Gyges looks very sad," said the young maidens. "What proud
beauty could have secured his love, or what forsaken one has caused some
Thessalian witch to cast a spell on him? Has that cabalistic ring (which
he is said to have found hidden within the flanks of a brazen horse in
the midst of some forest) lost its virtue, and suddenly ceasing to
render its owner invisible, have betrayed him to the astonished eyes of
some innocent husband, who had deemed himself alone in his conjugal
chamber?"

"Perhaps he has been wasting his talents and his drachmas at the game of
Palamedes, or else it may be that he is disappointed at not having won
the prize at the Olympian games. He had great faith in his horse
Hyperion."

No one of these conjectures was true. A fact is never guessed.

After the battalion commanded by Gyges, there came young boys crowned
with myrtle-wreaths, and singing epithalamic hymns after the Lydian
manner, accompanying themselves upon lyres of ivory, which they played
with bows. All were clad in rose-colored tunics ornamented with a silver
Greek border, and their long hair flowed down over their shoulders in
thick curls.

They preceded the gift-bearers, strong slaves whose half-nude bodies
exposed to view such interlacements of muscle as the stoutest athletes
might have envied.

Upon brancards, supported by two or four men or more, according to the
weight of the objects borne, were placed enormous brazen cratera,
chiselled by the most famous artists: vases of gold and silver whose
sides were adorned with bas-reliefs and whose hands were elegantly
worked into chimeras, foliage, and nude women; magnificent ewers to be
used in washing the feet of illustrious guests; flagons incrusted with
precious stones and containing the rarest perfumes; myrrh from Arabia,
cinnamon from the Indies, spikenard from Persia, essence of roses from
Smyrna; klamklins or perfuming pans, with perforated covers; cedar-wood
or ivory coffers of marvellous workmanship, which opened with a secret
spring that none save the inventor could find, and which contained
bracelets wrought from the gold of Ophir, necklaces of the most lustrous
pearls, mantle-brooches constellated with rubies and carbuncles; toilet
boxes containing blonde sponges, curling-irons, sea-wolves' teeth to
polish the nails, the green rouge of Egypt, which turns to a most
beautiful pink on touching the skin, powders to darken the eyelashes
and eyebrows, and all the refinements that feminine coquetry could
invent. Other litters were freighted with purple robes of the finest
linen and of all possible shades from the incarnadine hue of the rose to
the deep crimson of the blood of the grape; _calasires_ of the linen of
Canopus, which is thrown all white into the vat of the dyer, and comes
forth again, owing to the various astringents in which it had been
steeped, diapered with the most brilliant colors; tunics brought from
the fabulous land of Seres, made from the spun slime of a worm which
feeds upon leaves, and so fine that they might be drawn through a
finger-ring.

Ethiopians, whose bodies shone like jet, and whose temples were tightly
bound with cords, lest they should burst the veins of their foreheads in
the effort to uphold their burden, carried in great pomp a statue of
Hercules, the ancestor of Candaules, of colossal size, wrought of ivory
and gold, with the club, the skin of the Nemean lion, the three apples
from the garden of the Hesperides, and all the traditional attributes of
the hero.

Statues of Venus Urania, and of Venus Genitrix, sculptured by the best
pupils of the Sicyon School in that marble of Paros whose gleaming
transparency seemed expressly created for the representation of the
ever-youthful flesh of the immortals, were borne after the statue of
Hercules, which admirably relieved the harmony and elegance of their
proportions by contrast with its massive outlines and rugged forms.

A painting by Bularchus, which Candaules had purchased for its weight in
gold, executed upon the wood of the female larch-tree, and representing
the defeat of the Magnesians, evoked universal admiration by the beauty
of its design, the truthfulness of the attitude of its figures, and the
harmony of its coloring, although the artist had only employed in its
production the four primitive colors: Attic ochre, white, Pontic
_sinopis,_ and _atramentum_. The young king loved painting and sculpture
even more, perhaps, than well became a monarch, and he had not
unfrequently bought a picture at a price equal to the annual revenue of
a whole city.

Camels and dromedaries, splendidly caparisoned, with musicians seated on
their necks performing upon drums and cymbals, carried the gilded
stakes, the cords, and the material of the tent designed for the use of
the queen during voyages and hunting parties.

These spectacles of magnificence would upon any other occasion have
ravished the people of Sardes with delight, but their curiosity had been
enlisted in another direction, and it was not without a certain feeling
of impatience that they watched this portion of the procession file by.
The young maidens and the handsome boys, bearing flaming torches, and
strewing handfuls of crocus flowers along the way, hardly attracted any
attention. The idea of beholding Nyssia had preoccupied all minds.

At last Candaules appeared, riding in a chariot drawn by four horses, as
beautiful and spirited as those of the sun, all rolling their golden
bits in foam, shaking their purple-decked manes, and restrained with
great difficulty by the driver, who stood erect at the side of
Candaules, and was leaning back to gain more power on the reins.

Candaules was a young man full of vigor, and well worthy of his
Herculean origin. His head was joined to his shoulders by a neck
massive as a bull's, and almost without a curve; his hair, black and
lustrous, twisted itself into rebellious little curls, here and there
concealing the circlet of his diadem; his ears, small and upright, were
of a ruddy hue; his forehead was broad and full, though a little low,
like all antique foreheads; his eyes full of gentle melancholy, his oval
cheeks, his chin with its gentle and regular curves, his mouth with its
slightly parted lips--all bespoke the nature of the poet rather than
that of the warrior. In fact, although he was brave, skilled in all
bodily exercises, could subdue a wild horse as well as any of the
Lapithæ, or swim across the current of rivers when they descended,
swollen with melted snow, from the mountains, although he might have
bent the bow of Odysseus or borne the shield of Achilles, he seemed
little occupied with dreams of conquest; and war, usually so fascinating
to young kings, had little attraction for him. He contented himself with
repelling the attacks of his ambitious neighbors, and sought not to
extend his own dominions. He preferred building palaces, after plans
suggested by himself to the architects, who always found the king's
hints of no small value, or to form collections of statues and paintings
by artists of the elder and later schools. He had the works of
Telephanes of Sicyon, Cleanthes, Ardices of Corinth, Hygiemon, Deinias,
Charmides, Eumarus, and Cimon, some being simple drawings, and other
paintings in various colors or monochromes. It was even said that
Candaules had not disdained to wield with his own royal hands-a thing
hardly becoming a prince--the chisel of the sculptor and the sponge of
the encaustic painter.

But why should we dwell upon Candaules? The reader undoubtedly feels
like the people of Sardes: and it is of Nyssia that he desires to hear.

The daughter of Megabazus was mounted upon an elephant, with wrinkled
skin and immense ears which seemed like flags, who advanced with a heavy
but rapid gait, like a vessel in the midst of the waves. His tusks and
his trunk were encircled with silver rings, and around the pillars of
his limbs were entwined necklaces of enormous pearls. Upon his back,
which was covered with a magnificent Persian carpet of striped pattern,
stood a sort of estrade overlaid with gold finely chased, and
constellated with onyx stones, carnelians, chrysolites, lapis-lazuli,
and girasols; upon this estrade sat the young queen, so covered with
precious stones as to dazzle the eyes of the beholders. A mitre, shaped
like a helmet, on which pearls formed flower designs and letters after
the Oriental manner, was placed upon her head; her ears, both the lobes
and rims of which had been pierced, were adorned with ornaments in the
form of little cups, crescents, and balls; necklaces of gold and silver
beads, which had been hollowed out and carved, thrice encircled her neck
and descended with a metallic tinkling upon her bosom; emerald serpents
with topaz or ruby eyes coiled themselves in many folds about her arms,
and clasped themselves by biting their own tails. These bracelets were
connected by chains of precious stones, and so great was their weight
that two attendants were required to kneel beside Nyssia and support her
elbows. She was clad in a robe embroidered by Syrian workmen with
shining designs of golden foliage and diamond fruits, and over this she
wore the short tunic of Persepolis, which hardly descended to the knee,
and of which the sleeves were slit and fastened by sapphire clasps. Her
waist was encircled from hip to loins by a girdle wrought of narrow
material, variegated with stripes and flowered designs, which formed
themselves into symmetrical patterns as they were brought together by a
certain arrangement of the folds which Indian girls alone know how to
make. Her trousers of byssus, which the Phœnicians called _syndon_,
were confined at the ankles by anklets adorned with gold and silver
bells, and completed this toilet, so fantastically rich and wholly
opposed to Greek taste. But, alas! a saffron-colored _flammeum_
pitilessly masked the face of Nyssia, who seemed embarrassed, veiled
though she was, at finding so many eyes fixed upon her, and frequently
signed to a slave behind her to lower the parasol of ostrich plumes, and
thus conceal her yet more from the curious gaze of the crowd.

Candaules had vainly begged of her to lay aside her veil, even for that
solemn occasion. The young barbarian had refused to pay the welcome of
her beauty to his people. Great was the disappointment. Lamia declared
that Nyssia dared not uncover her face for fear of showing her double
pupil. The young libertine remained convinced that Theano of Colophon
was more beautiful than the queen of Sardes; and Gyges sighed when he
beheld Nyssia, after having made her elephant kneel down, descend upon
the inclined heads of Damascus slaves as upon a living ladder, to the
threshold of the royal dwelling, where the elegance of Greek
architecture was blended with the fantasies and enormities of Asiatic
taste.



CHAPTER II


In our character of poet we have the right to lift the saffron-colored
_flammeum_ which concealed the young bride, being more fortunate in this
wise than the Sardians, who after a whole day's waiting were obliged to
return to their houses and were left, as before, to their own
conjectures.

Nyssia was really far superior to her reputation, great as it was. It
seemed as though Nature in creating her had resolved to exhaust her
utmost powers, and thus make atonement for all former experimental
attempts and fruitless essays. One would have said that, moved by
jealousy of the future marvels of the Greek sculptors, she also had
resolved to model a statue herself, and to prove that she was still
sovereign mistress in the plastic art.

The grain of snow, the micaceous brilliancy of Parian marble, the
sparkling pulp of balsamine flowers, would render but a feeble idea of
the ideal substance whereof Nyssia had been formed. That flesh, so fine,
so delicate, permitted daylight to penetrate it, and modelled itself in
transparent contours, in lines as sweetly harmonious as music itself.
According to different surroundings, it took the color of the sunlight
or of purple, like the aromal body of a divinity, and seemed to radiate
light and life. The world of perfections inclosed within the
nobly-lengthened oval of her chaste face could have been rendered by no
earthly art--neither by the chisel of the sculptor, nor the brush of
the painter, nor the style of any poet--though it were Praxiteles,
Apelles, or Mimnermus; and on her smooth brow, bathed by waves of hair
amber-bright as molten electrum and sprinkled with gold filings,
according to the Babylonian custom, sat as upon a jasper throne the
unalterable serenity of perfect loveliness.

As for her eyes, though they did not justify what popular credulity said
of them, they were at least wonderfully strange eyes; brown eyebrows,
with extremities ending in points elegant as those of the arrows of
Eros, and which were joined to each other by a streak of henna after the
Asiatic fashion, and long fringes of silkily-shadowed eyelashes
contrasted strikingly with the twin sapphire stars rolling in the heaven
of dark silver which formed those eyes. The irises of those eyes, whose
pupils were blacker than atrament, varied singularly in shades of
shifting color. From sapphire they changed to turquoise, from turquoise
to beryl, from beryl to yellow amber, and sometimes, like a limpid lake
whose bottom is strewn with jewels, they offered, through their
incalculable depths, glimpses of golden and diamond sands upon which
green fibrils vibrated and twisted themselves into emerald serpents. In
those orbs of phosphoric lightning the rays of suns extinguished, the
splendors of vanished worlds, the glories of Olympus eclipsed--all
seemed to have concentrated their reflections. When contemplating them
one thought of eternity, and felt himself seized with a mighty
giddiness, as though he were leaning over the verge of the Infinite.

The expression of those extraordinary eyes was not less variable than
their tint. At times their lids opened like the portals of celestial
dwellings; they invited you into elysiums of light, of azure, of
ineffable felicity; they promised you the realization, tenfold, a
hundredfold, of all your dreams of happiness, as though they had divined
your soul's most secret thoughts; again, impenetrable as sevenfold
plated shields of the hardest metals, they flung back your gaze like
blunted and broken arrows. With a simple inflexion of the brow, a mere
flash of the pupil, more terrible than the thunder of Zeus, they
precipitated you from the heights of your most ambitious escalades into
depths of nothingness so profound that it was impossible to rise again.
Typhon himself, who writhes under Ætna, could not have lifted the
mountains of disdain with which they overwhelmed you. One felt that
though he should live for a thousand Olympiads endowed with the beauty
of the fair son of Latona, the genius of Orpheus, the unbounded might of
Assyrian kings, the treasures of the Cabeirei, the Telchines, and the
Dactyli, gods of subterranean wealth, he could never change their
expression to mildness.

At other times their languishment was so liquidly persuasive, their
brilliancy and irradiation so penetrating, that the icy coldness of
Nestor and Priam would have melted under their gaze, like the wax of the
wings of Icarus when he approached the flaming zones. For one such
glance a man would have gladly steeped his hands in the blood of his
host, scattered the ashes of his father to the four winds, overthrown
the holy images of the gods, and stolen the fire of heaven itself, like
the sublime thief, Prometheus.

Nevertheless, their most ordinary expression, it must be confessed, was
of a chastity to make one desperate--a sublime coldness--an ignorance of
all possibilities of human passion, such as would have made the
moon-bright eyes of Phœbe or the sea-green eyes of Athena appear by
comparison more liquidly tempting than those of a young girl of Babylon
sacrificing to the goddess Mylitta within the cord-circled enclosure of
Succoth-Benohl. Their invincible virginity seemed to bid love defiance.

The cheeks of Nyssia, which no human gaze had ever profaned, save that
of Gyges on the day when the veil was blown away, possessed a youthful
bloom, a tender pallor, a delicacy of grain, and a downiness whereof the
faces of our women, perpetually exposed to sunlight and air, cannot
convey the most distant idea. Modesty created fleeting rosy clouds upon
them like those which a drop of crimson essence would form in a cup of
milk, and when uncolored by any emotion they took a silvery sheen, a
warm light, like an alabaster vessel illumined by a lamp within. That
lamp was her charming soul, which exposed to view the transparency of
her flesh.

A bee would have been deceived by her mouth, whose form was so perfect,
whose corners were so purely dimpled, whose crimson was so rich and warm
that the gods would have descended from their Olympian dwellings in
order to touch it with lips humid with immortality, but that the
jealousy of the goddesses restrained their impetuosity. Happy the wind
which passed through that purple and pearl, which dilated those pretty
nostrils, so finely cut and shaded with rosy tints like the
mother-of-pearl of the shells thrown by the sea on the shore of Cyprus
at the feet of Venus Anadyomene! But are there not a multitude of favors
thus granted to things which cannot understand them? What lover would
not wish to be the tunic of his well-beloved or the water of her bath?

Such was Nyssia, if we dare make use of the expression after so vague a
description of her face. If our foggy Northern idioms had the warm
liberty, the burning enthusiasm of the Sir Hasirim, we might, perhaps,
by comparisons--awakening in the mind of the reader memories of flowers
and perfumes, of music and sunlight, evoking, by the magic of words, all
the graceful and charming images that the universe can contain--have
been able to give some idea of Nyssia's features; but it is permitted to
Solomon alone to compare the nose of a beautiful woman to the tower of
Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus. And yet what is there in the
world of more importance than the nose of a beautiful woman? Had Helen,
the white Tyndarid, been flat-nosed, would the Trojan War have taken
place? And if the profile of Semiramis had not been perfectly regular,
would she have bewitched the old monarch of Nineveh and encircled her
brow with the mitre of pearls, the symbol of supreme power?

Although Candaules had brought to his palace the most beautiful slaves
from the people of the Soræ, of Askalon, of Sogdiana, of the Sacæ, of
Rhapta, the most celebrated courtesans from Ephesus, from Pergamus, from
Smyrna, and from Cyprus, he was completely fascinated by the charms of
Nyssia. Up to that time he had not even suspected the existence of such
perfection.

Privileged as a husband to enjoy fully the contemplation of this beauty,
he found himself dazzled, giddy, like one who leans over the edge of an
abyss, or fixes his eyes upon the sun; he felt himself seized, as it
were, with the delirium of possession, like a priest drunk with the god
who fills and moves him. All other thoughts disappeared from his soul,
and the universe seemed to him only as a vague mist in the midst of
which beamed the shining phantom of Nyssia. His happiness transformed
itself into ecstasy, and his love into madness. At times his very
felicity terrified him. To be only a wretched king, only a remote
descendant of a hero who had become a god by mighty labors, only a
common man formed of flesh and bone, and without having in aught
rendered himself worthy of it--without having even, like his ancestor,
strangled some hydra, or torn some lion asunder--to enjoy a happiness
whereof Zeus of the ambrosial hair would scarce be worthy, though lord
of all Olympus! He felt, as it were, a shame to thus hoard up for
himself alone so rich a treasure, to steal this marvel from the world,
to be the dragon with scales and claws who guarded the living type of
the ideal of lovers, sculptors, and poets. All they had ever dreamed of
in their hope, their melancholy, and their despair, he possessed--he,
Candaules, poor tyrant of Sardes, who had only a few wretched coffers
filled with pearls, a few cisterns filled with gold pieces, and thirty
or forty thousand slaves, purchased or taken in war.

Candaules's felicity was too great for him, and the strength which he
would doubtless have found at his command in time of misfortune was
wanting to him in time of happiness. His joy overflowed from his soul
like water from a vase placed upon the fire, and in the exasperation of
his enthusiasm for Nyssia he had reached the point of desiring that she
were less timid and less modest, for it cost him no little effort to
retain in his own breast the secret of such wondrous beauty.

"Ah," he would murmur to himself during the deep reveries which absorbed
him at all hours that he did not spend at the queen's side, "how strange
a lot is mine! I am wretched because of that which would make any other
husband happy. Nyssia will not leave the shadow of the gynæceum, and
refuses, with barbarian modesty, to lift her veil in the presence of any
other than myself. Yet with what an intoxication of pride would my love
behold her, radiantly sublime, gaze down upon my kneeling people from
the summit of the royal steps, and, like the rising dawn, extinguish all
those pale stars who during the night thought themselves suns! Proud
Lydian women, who believe yourselves beautiful, but for Nyssia's reserve
you would appear, even to your lovers, as ugly as the oblique-eyed and
thick-lipped slaves of Nahasi and Kush. Were she but once to pass along
the streets of Sardes with face unveiled, you might in vain pull your
adorers by the lappet of their tunic, for none of them would turn his
head, or, if he did, it would be to demand your name, so utterly would
he have forgotten you! They would rush to precipitate themselves beneath
the silver wheels of her chariot, that they might have even the pleasure
of being crushed by her, like those devotees of the Indus who pave the
pathway of their idol with their bodies.

"And you, oh goddesses, whom Paris-Alexander judged, had Nyssia appeared
among you, not one of you would have borne away the golden apple, not
even Aphrodite, despite her cestus and her promise to the
shepherd-arbiter that she would make him beloved by the most beautiful
woman in the world!...

"Alas! to think that such beauty is not immortal, and that years will
alter those divine outlines, that admirable hymn of forms, that poem
whose strophes are contours, and which no one in the world has ever read
or may ever read save myself; to be the sole depositary of so splendid a
treasure! If I knew even, by imitating the play of light and shadow with
the aid of lines and colors, how to fix upon wood a reflection of that
celestial face; if marble were not rebellious to my chisel, how well
would I fashion in the purest vein of Paros or Pentelicus an image of
that charming body, which would make the proud effigies of the goddesses
fall from their altars! And long after, when deep below the slime of
deluges, and beneath the dust of ruined cities, the men of future ages
should find a fragment of that petrified shadow of Nyssia, they would
cry: 'Behold, how the women of this vanished world were formed!' And
they would erect a temple wherein to enshrine the divine fragment. But I
have naught save a senseless admiration and a love that is madness! Sole
adorer of an unknown divinity, I possess no power to spread her worship
through the world."

Thus in Candaules had the enthusiasm of the artist extinguished the
jealousy of the lover. Admiration was mightier than love. If in place of
Nyssia, daughter of the Satrap Megabazus, all imbued with Oriental
ideas, he had espoused some Greek girl from Athens or Corinth, he would
certainly have invited to his court the most skilful painters and
sculptors, and have given them the queen for their model, as did
afterward Alexander his favorite Campaspe, who posed naked before
Apelles. Such a whim would have encountered no opposition from a woman
of the land where even the most chaste made a boast of having
contributed--some for the back, some for the bosom--to the perfection
of a famous statue. But hardly would the bashful Nyssia consent to
unveil herself in the discreet shadow of the thalamus, and the earnest
prayers of the king really shocked her rather than gave her pleasure.
The sentiment of duty and obedience alone induced her to yield at times
to what she styled the whims of Candaules.

Sometimes he besought her to allow the flood of her hair to flow over
her shoulders in a river of gold richer than the Pactolus, to encircle
her brow with a crown of ivy and linden leaves like a Bacchante of Mount
Mænalus, to lie, hardly veiled by a cloud of tissue finer than woven
wind, upon a tiger-skin with silver claws and ruby eyes, or to stand
erect in a great shell of mother-of-pearl, with a dew of pearls falling
from her tresses in lieu of drops of sea-water.

When he had placed himself in the best position for observation, he
became absorbed in silent contemplation. His hand, tracing vague
contours in the air, seemed to be sketching the outlines for some
picture, and he would have remained thus for whole hours if Nyssia, soon
becoming weary of her rôle of model, had not reminded him in chill and
disdainful tones that such amusements were unworthy of royal majesty and
contrary to the holy laws of matrimony. "It is thus," she would exclaim,
as she withdrew, draped to her very eyes, into the most mysterious
recesses of her apartment, "that one treats a mistress, not a virtuous
woman of noble blood!"

These wise remonstrances did not cure Candaules, whose passion augmented
in inverse ratio to the coldness shown him by the queen. And it had at
last brought him to that point that he could no longer keep the secrets
of the nuptial couch. A confidant became as necessary to him as to the
prince of a modern tragedy. He did not proceed, you may feel assured, to
fix his choice upon some crabbed philosopher of frowning mien, with a
flood of gray-and-white beard rolling down over a mantle in proud
tatters; nor a warrior who could talk of nothing save ballista,
catapults, and scythed chariots; nor a sententious Eupatrid full of
counsels and politic maxims; but Gyges, whose reputation for gallantry
caused him to be regarded as a connoisseur in regard to women.

One evening he laid his hand upon his shoulder in a more than ordinarily
familiar and cordial manner, and after giving him a look of peculiar
significance, he suddenly strode away from the group of courtiers,
saying in a loud voice:

"Gyges, come and give me your opinion in regard to my effigy, which the
Sicyon sculptors have just finished chiselling on the genealogical
bas-relief where the deeds of my ancestors are celebrated."

"O king, your knowledge is greater than that of your humble subject, and
I know not how to express my gratitude for the honor you do me in
deigning to consult me," replied Gyges, with a sign of assent.

Candaules and his favorite traversed several halls ornamented in the
Hellenic style, where the Corinthian acanthus and the Ionic volute
bloomed or curled in the capitals of the columns, where the friezes were
peopled with little figures in polychromatic plastique representing
processions and sacrifices, and they finally arrived at a remote portion
of the ancient palace whose walls were built with stones of irregular
form, put together without cement in the Cyclopean manner. This ancient
architecture was colossally proportioned and weirdly grim. The
immeasurable genius of the elder civilizations of the Orient was there
legibly written, and recalled the granite and brick debauches of Egypt
and Assyria. Something of the spirit of the ancient architects of the
tower of Lylax survived in those thick-set pillars with their
deep-fluted trunks, whose capitals were formed by four heads of bulls,
placed forehead to forehead, and bound together by knots of serpents
that seemed striving to devour them, an obscure cosmogonic symbol
whereof the meaning was no longer intelligible, and had descended into
the tomb with the hierophants of preceding ages. The gates were neither
of a square nor rounded form. They described a sort of ogive much
resembling the mitre of the Magi, and by their fantastic character gave
still more intensity to the character of the building.

This portion of the palace formed a sort of court surrounded by a
portico whose architecture was ornamented with the genealogical
bas-relief to which Candaules had alluded.

In the midst thereof sat Heracles upon a throne, with the upper part of
his body uncovered, and his feet resting upon a stool, according to the
rite for the representation of divine personages. His colossal
proportions would otherwise have left no doubt as to his apotheosis, and
the archaic rudeness and hugeness of the work, wrought by the chisel of
some primitive artist, imparted to his figure an air of barbaric
majesty, a savage grandeur more appropriate, perhaps, to the character
of this monster-slaying hero than would have been the work of a sculptor
consummate in his art.

On the right of the throne were Alcæus, son of the hero and of Omphale;
Ninus, Belus, Argon, the earlier kings of the dynasty of the
Heracleidæ, then all the line of intermediate kings, terminating with
Ardys, Alyattes, Meles or Myrsus, father of Candaules, and finally
Candaules himself.

All these personages, with their hair braided into little strings, their
beards spirally twisted, their oblique eyes, angular attitudes, cramped
and stiff gestures, seemed to own a sort of factitious life, due to the
rays of the setting sun, and the ruddy hue which time lends to marble in
warm climates. The inscriptions in antique characters, graven beside
them after the manner of legends, enhanced still more the mysterious
weirdness of the long procession of figures in strange barbarian garb.

By a singular chance, which Gyges could not help observing, the statue
of Candaules occupied the last available place at the right hand of
Heracles; the dynastic cycle was closed, and in order to find a place
for the descendants of Candaules it would be absolutely necessary to
build a new portico and commence the formation of a new bas-relief.

Candaules, whose arm still rested on the shoulder of Gyges, walked
slowly round the portico in silence. He seemed to hesitate to enter into
the subject, and had altogether forgotten the pretext under which he had
led the captain of his guards into that solitary place.

"What would you do, Gyges," said Candaules, at last breaking the silence
which had been growing painful to both, "if you were a diver, and should
bring up from the green bosom of the ocean a pearl of incomparable
purity and lustre, and of worth so vast as to exhaust the richest
treasures of the earth?"

"I would inclose it," answered Gyges, a little surprised at this brusque
question, "in a cedar box overlaid with plates of brass, and I would
bury it under a detached rock in some desert place; and from time to
time, when I should feel assured that none could see me, I would go
thither to contemplate my precious jewel and admire the colors of the
sky mingling with its nacreous tints."

"And I," replied Candaules, his eye illuminated with enthusiasm, "if I
possessed so rich a gem, I would enshrine it in my diadem, that I might
exhibit it freely to the eyes of all men, in the pure light of the sun,
that I might adorn myself with its splendor and smile with pride when I
should hear it said: 'Never did king of Assyria or Babylon, never did
Greek or Trinacrian tyrant possess so lustrous a pearl as Candaules, son
of Myrsus and descendant of Heracles, King of Sardes and of Lydia!
Compared with Candaules, Midas, who changed all things to gold, were
only a mendicant as poor as Irus.'"

Gyges listened with astonishment to this discourse of Candaules, and
sought to penetrate the hidden sense of these lyric divagations. The
king appeared to be in a state of extraordinary excitement: his eyes
sparkled with enthusiasm; a feverish rosiness tinted his cheeks; his
dilated nostrils inhaled the air with unusual effort.

"Well, Gyges," continued Candaules, without appearing to notice the
uneasiness of his favorite, "I am that diver. Amid this dark ocean of
humanity, wherein confusedly move so many defective or misshapen beings,
so many forms incomplete or degraded, so many types of bestial
ugliness, wretched outlines of nature's experimental essays, I have
found beauty, pure, radiant, without spot, without flaw, the ideal made
real, the dream accomplished, a form which no painter or sculptor has
ever been able to translate upon canvas or into marble--I have found
Nyssia!"

"Although the queen has the timid modesty of the women of the Orient,
and that no man save her husband has ever beheld her features, Fame,
hundred-tongued and hundred-eared, has celebrated her praise throughout
the world," answered Gyges, respectfully inclining his head as he spoke.

"Mere vague, insignificant rumors. They say of her, as of all women not
actually ugly, that she is more beautiful than Aphrodite or Helen; but
no person could form even the most remote idea of such perfection. In
vain have I besought Nyssia to appear unveiled at some public festival,
some solemn sacrifice, or to show herself for an instant leaning over
the royal terrace, bestowing upon her people the immense favor of one
look, the prodigality of one profile view, more generous than the
goddesses who permit their worshippers to behold only pale simulacra of
ivory or alabaster. She would never consent to that. Now there is one
strange thing which I blush to acknowledge even to you, dear Gyges.
Formerly I was jealous; I wished to conceal my amours from all eyes, no
shadow was thick enough, no mystery sufficiently impenetrable. Now I can
no longer recognize myself. I have the feelings neither of a lover nor a
husband; my love has melted in adoration like thin wax in a fiery
brazier. All petty feelings of jealousy or possession have vanished. No,
the most finished work that heaven has ever given to earth, since the
day that Prometheus held the flame under the right breast of the statue
of clay, cannot thus be kept hidden in the chill shadow of the
gynæceum. Were I to die, then the secret of this beauty would forever
remain shrouded beneath the sombre draperies of widowhood! I feel myself
culpable in its concealment, as though I had the sun in my house, and
prevented it from illuminating the world. And when I think of those
harmonious lines, those divine contours which I dare scarcely touch
with a timid kiss, I feel my heart ready to burst; I wish that some
friendly eye could share my happiness and, like a severe judge to whom a
picture is shown, recognize after careful examination that it is
irreproachable, and that the possessor has not been deceived by his
enthusiasm. Yes, often do I feel myself tempted to tear off with rash
hand those odious tissues, but Nyssia, in her fierce chastity, would
never forgive me. And still I cannot alone endure such felicity. I must
have a confidant for my ecstasies, an echo which will answer my cries of
admiration, and it shall be none other than you."

Having uttered these words, Candaules brusquely turned and disappeared
through a secret passage. Gyges, left thus alone, could not avoid
noticing the peculiar concourse of events which seemed to place him
always in Nyssia's path. A chance had enabled him to behold her beauty,
though walled up from all other eyes. Among many princes and satraps she
had chosen to espouse Candaules, the very king he served; and through
some strange caprice, which he could only regard as fateful, this king
had just made him, Gyges, his confidant in regard to the mysterious
creature whom none else had approached, and absolutely sought to
complete the work of Boreas on the plain of Bactria! Was not the hand of
the gods visible in all these circumstances? That spectre of beauty,
whose veil seemed to be lifted slowly, a little at a time, as though to
enkindle a flame within him, was it not leading him, without his having
suspected it, toward the accomplishment of some mighty destiny? Such
were the questions which Gyges asked himself, but being unable to
penetrate the obscurity of the future, he resolved to await the course
of events, and left the Court of Images, where the twilight darkness was
commencing to pile itself up in all the angles, and to render the
effigies of the ancestors of Candaules yet more and more weirdly
menacing.

Was it a mere effort of light, or was it rather an illusion produced by
that vague uneasiness with which the boldest hearts are filled by the
approach of night amid ancient monuments? As he stepped across the
threshold Gyges fancied that he heard deep groans issue from the stone
lips of the bas-reliefs, and it seemed to him that Heracles was making
enormous efforts to loosen his granite club.



CHAPTER III


On the following day Candaules again took Gyges aside and continued the
conversation begun under the portico of the Heracleidæ. Having freed
himself from the embarrassment of broaching the subject, he freely
unbosomed himself to his confidant; and had Nyssia been able to overhear
him she might perhaps have been willing to pardon his conjugal
indiscretions for the sake of his passionate eulogies of her charms.

Gyges listened to all these bursts of praise with the slightly
constrained air of one who is yet uncertain whether his interlocutor is
not feigning an enthusiasm more ardent than he actually feels, in order
to provoke a confidence naturally cautious to utter itself. Candaules at
last said to him in a tone of disappointment: "I see, Gyges, that you
do not believe me. You think I am boasting, or have allowed myself to be
fascinated like some clumsy laborer by a robust country girl on whose
cheeks Hygeia has crushed the gross hues of health. No, by all the gods!
I have collected within my home, like a living bouquet, the fairest
flowers of Asia and of Greece. I know all that the art of sculptors and
painters has produced since the time of Dædalus, whose statues walked
and spoke. Linus, Orpheus, Homer, have taught me harmony and rhythm. I
do not look about me with Love's bandage blind-folding my eyes. I judge
of all things coolly. The passions of youth never influence my
admiration, and when I am as withered, decrepit, wrinkled, as Tithonus
in his swaddling bands, my opinion will be still the same. But I forgive
your incredulity and want of sympathy. In order to understand me fully,
it is necessary that you should see Nyssia in the radiant brilliancy of
her shining whiteness, free from jealous drapery, even as nature with
her own hands moulded her in a lost moment of inspiration which never
can return. This evening I will hide you in a corner of the bridal
chamber ... you shall see her!"

"Sire, what do you ask of me?" returned the young warrior with
respectful firmness. "How shall I, from the depths of my dust, from the
abyss of my nothingness, dare to raise my eyes to this sun of
perfections, at the risk of remaining blind for the rest of my life, or
being able to see naught but a dazzling spectre in the midst of
darkness? Have pity on your humble slave, and do not compel him to an
action so contrary to the maxims of virtue. No man should look upon what
does not belong to him. We know that the immortals always punish those
who through imprudence or audacity surprise them in their divine nudity.
Nyssia is the loveliest of all women; you are the happiest of lovers and
husbands. Heracles, your ancestor, never found in the course of his many
conquests aught to compare with your queen. If you, the prince of whom
even the most skilful artists seek judgment and counsel--if you find her
incomparable, of what consequence can the opinion of an obscure soldier
like me be to you? Abandon, therefore, this fantasy, which I presume to
say is unworthy of your royal majesty, and of which you would repent so
soon as it had been satisfied."

"Listen, Gyges," returned Candaules; "I perceive that you suspect me;
you think that I seek to put you to some proof, but by the ashes of that
funeral pyre whence my ancestor arose a god, I swear to you that I speak
frankly and without any after-purpose."

"O Candaules, I doubt not of your good faith; your passion is sincere,
but perchance, after I should have obeyed you, you would conceive a deep
aversion to me, and learn to hate me for not having more firmly resisted
your will. You would seek to take back from these eyes, indiscreet
through compulsion, the image which you allowed them to glance upon in a
moment of delirium; and who knows but that you would condemn them to the
eternal night of the tomb to punish them for remaining open at a moment
when they ought to have been closed."

"Fear nothing; I pledge my royal word that no evil shall befall you."

"Pardon your slave if he still dares to offer some objection, even after
such a promise. Have you reflected that what you propose to me is a
violation of the sanctity of marriage, a species of visual adultery? A
woman often lays aside her modesty with her garments; and once violated
by a look, without having actually ceased to be virtuous, she might deem
that she had lost her flower of purity. You promise, indeed, to feel no
resentment against me; but who can insure me against the wrath of
Nyssia, she who is so reserved and chaste, so apprehensive, fierce, and
virginal in her modesty that she might be deemed still ignorant of the
laws of Hymen? Should she ever learn of the sacrilege which I am about
to render myself guilty of in deferring to my master's wishes, what
punishment would she condemn me to suffer in expiation of such a crime?
Who could place me beyond the reach of her avenging anger?"

"I did not know you were so wise and prudent," said Candaules, with a
slightly ironical smile; "but such dangers are all imaginary, and I
shall hide you in such a way that Nyssia will never know she has been
seen by any one except her royal husband."

Being unable to offer any further defence, Gyges made a sign of assent
in token of complete submission to the king's will. He had made all the
resistance in his power, and thenceforward his conscience could feel at
ease in regard to whatever might happen; besides, by any further
opposition to the will of Candaules, he would have feared to oppose
destiny itself, which seemed striving to bring him still nearer to
Nyssia for some grim ulterior purpose into which it was not given to him
to see further.

Without actually being able to foresee any result, he beheld a thousand
vague and shadowy images passing before his eyes. That subterranean
love, so long crouched at the foot of his soul's stairway, had climbed a
few steps higher, guided by some fitful glimmer of hope. The weight of
the impossible no longer pressed so heavily upon his breast, now that he
believed himself aided by the gods. In truth, who would have dreamed
that the much-boasted charms of the daughter of Megabazus would ere
long cease to own any mystery for Gyges?

"Come, Gyges," said Candaules, taking him by the hand, "let us make
profit of the time. Nyssia is walking in the garden with her women; let
us look at the place, and plan our stratagems for this evening."

The king took his confidant by the hand and led him along the winding
ways which conducted to the nuptial apartment. The doors of the
sleeping-room were made of cedar planks so perfectly put together that
it was impossible to discover the joints. By dint of rubbing them with
wool steeped in oil, the slaves had rendered the wood as polished as
marble. The brazen nails, with heads cut in facets, which studded them,
had all the brilliancy of the purest gold. A complicated system of
straps and metallic rings, whereof Candaules and his wife alone knew the
combination, served to secure them, for in those heroic ages the
lock-smith's art was yet in its infancy.

Candaules unloosed the knots, made the rings slide back upon the thongs,
raised with a handle which fitted into a mortise the bar that fastened
the door from within, and bidding Gyges place himself against the wall,
turned back one of the folding doors upon him in such a way as to hide
him completely; yet the door did not fit so perfectly to its frame of
oaken beams, all carefully polished and put up according to line by a
skilful workman, that the young warrior could not obtain a distinct view
of the chamber interior through the interstices contrived to give room
for the free play of the hinges.

Facing the entrance, the royal bed stood upon an estrade of several
steps, covered with purple drapery. Columns of chased silver supported
the entablature, all ornamented with foliage wrought in relief, amid
which Loves were sporting with dolphins, and heavy curtains embroidered
with gold surrounded it like the folds of a tent.

Upon the altar of the household gods were placed vases of precious
metal, pateræ enamelled with flowers, double-handled cups, and all
things needful for libations.

Along the walls, which were faced with planks of cedar-wood,
marvellously worked, at regular intervals stood tall statues of black
basalt in the constrained attitudes of Egyptian art, each sustaining in
its hand a bronze torch into which a splinter of resinous wood had been
fitted.

An onyx lamp, suspended by a chain of silver, hung from that beam of the
ceiling which is called the black beam, because more exposed than the
others to the embrowning smoke. Every evening a slave carefully filled
this lamp with odoriferous oil.

Near the head of the bed, on a little column, hung a trophy of arms,
consisting of a visored helmet, a twofold buckler made of four bull's
hides and covered with plates of brass and tin, a two-edged sword, and
several ashen javelins with brazen heads.

The tunics and mantles of Candaules were hung upon wooden pegs. They
comprised garments both simple and double; that is, capable of going
twice around the body. A mantle of thrice-dyed purple, ornamented with
embroidery representing a hunting scene wherein Laconian hounds were
pursuing and tearing deer, and a tunic whereof the material, fine and
delicate as the skin which envelops an onion, had all the sheen of
woven sunbeams, were especially noticeable. Opposite to the trophy stood
an arm-chair inlaid with silver and ivory upon which Nyssia hung her
garments. Its seat was covered with a leopard skin more eye-spotted than
the body of Argus, and its foot-support was richly adorned with
open-work carving.

"I am generally the first to retire," observed Candaules to Gyges, "and
I always leave this door open as it is now. Nyssia, who has invariably
some tapestry flower to finish, or some order to give her women, usually
delays a little in joining me; but at last she comes, and slowly takes
off, one by one, as though the effort cost her dearly, and lays upon
that ivory chair all those draperies and tunics which by day envelop her
like mummy bandages. From your hiding-place you will be able to follow
all her graceful movements, admire her unrivalled charms, and judge for
yourself whether Candaules be a young fool prone to vain boasting, or
whether he does not really possess the richest pearl of beauty that ever
adorned a diadem."

"O King, I can well believe your words without such a proof as this,"
replied Gyges, stepping forth from his hiding-place.

"When she has laid aside her garments," continued Candaules, without
heeding the exclamation of his confidant, "she will come to lie down
with me. You must take advantage of the moment to steal away, for in
passing from the chair to the bed she turns her back to the door. Step
lightly as though you were treading upon ears of ripe wheat; take heed
that no grain of sand squeaks under your sandals; hold your breath, and
retire as stealthily as possible. The vestibule is all in darkness, and
the feeble rays of the only lamp which remains burning do not penetrate
beyond the threshold of the chamber. It is therefore certain that Nyssia
cannot possibly see you; and to-morrow there will be some one in the
world who can comprehend my ecstasies, and will feel no longer
astonished at my bursts of admiration. But see, the day is almost spent;
the Sun will soon water his steeds in the Hesperian waves at the further
end of the world, and beyond the Pillars erected by my ancestors. Return
to your hiding-place, Gyges, and though the hours of waiting may seem
long, I can swear by Eros of the Golden Arrows that you will not regret
having waited."

After this assurance Candaules left Gyges again hidden behind the door.
The compulsory quiet which the king's young confidant found himself
obliged to maintain left him ample leisure for thought. His situation
was certainly a most extraordinary one. He had loved Nyssia as one loves
a star. Convinced of the hopelessness of the undertaking, he had made no
effort to approach her. And nevertheless, by a succession of
extraordinary events he was about to obtain a knowledge of treasures
reserved for lovers and husbands only. Not a word, not a glance had been
exchanged between himself and Nyssia, who probably ignored the very
existence of the one being for whom her beauty would so soon cease to be
a mystery. Unknown to her whose modesty would have naught to sacrifice
for you, how strange a situation! To love a woman in secret and find
one's self led by her husband to the threshold of the nuptial chamber,
to have for guide to that treasure the very dragon who should defend
all approach to it, was there not in all this ample food for
astonishment and wonder at the combination of events wrought by destiny?

In the midst of these reflections, he suddenly heard the sound of
footsteps on the pavement. It was only the slaves coming to replenish
the oil in the lamp, throw fresh perfumes upon the coals of the
_klamklins,_ and arrange the purple and saffron-tinted sheepskins which
formed the royal bed.

The hour approached, and Gyges felt his heart beat faster, and the
pulsation of his arteries quicken. He even felt a strong impulse to
steal away before the arrival of the queen, and, after averring
subsequently to Candaules that he had remained, abandon himself
confidently to the most extravagant eulogiums. He felt a strong
repugnance (for, despite his somewhat free life, Gyges was not without
delicacy) to take by stealth a favor for the free granting of which he
would gladly have paid with his life. The husband's complicity rendered
this theft more odious in a certain sense, and he would have preferred
to owe to any other circumstance the happiness of beholding the marvel
of Asia in her nocturnal toilet. Perhaps, indeed, the approach of
danger, let us acknowledge as veracious historians, had no little to do
with his virtuous scruples. Undoubtedly Gyges did not lack courage.
Mounted upon his war-chariot, with quiver rattling upon his shoulder,
and bow in hand, he would have defied the most valiant warriors; in the
chase he would have attacked without fear the Calydon boar or the Nemean
lion; but--explain the enigma as you will--he trembled at the idea of
looking at a beautiful woman through a chink in a door. No one possesses
every kind of courage. He felt likewise that he could not behold Nyssia
with impunity. It would be a decisive epoch in his life. Through having
obtained but a momentary glimpse of her he had lost all peace of mind;
what, then, would be the result of that which was about to take place?
Could life itself continue for him when to that divine head which fired
his dreams should be added a charming body formed for the kisses of the
immortals? What would become of him should he find himself unable
thereafter to contain his passion in darkness and silence as he had done
till that time? Would he exhibit to the court of Lydia the ridiculous
spectacle of an insane love, or would he strive by some extravagant
action to bring down upon himself the disdainful pity of the queen? Such
a result was strongly probable, since the reason of Candaules himself,
the legitimate possessor of Nyssia, had been unable to resist the
vertigo caused by that superhuman beauty--he, the thoughtless young king
who till then had laughed at love, and preferred pictures and statues
before all things. These arguments were very rational but wholly
useless, for at the same moment Candaules entered the chamber, and
exclaimed in a low but distinct voice as he passed the door:

"Patience, my poor Gyges, Nyssia will soon come."

When he saw that he could no longer retreat, Gyges, who was but a young
man after all, forgot every other consideration, and no longer thought
of aught save the happiness of feasting his eyes upon the charming
spectacle which Candaules was about to offer him. One cannot demand
from a captain of twenty-five the austerity of a hoary philosopher.

At last a low whispering of raiment sweeping and trailing over marble,
distinctly audible in the deep silence of the night, announced the
approach of the queen. In effect it was she. With a step as cadenced and
rhythmic as an ode, she crossed the threshold of the thalamus, and the
wind of her veil with its floating folds almost touched the burning
cheek of Gyges, who felt well-nigh on the point of fainting, and found
himself compelled to seek the support of the wall; but soon recovering
from the violence of his emotions, he approached the chink of the door,
and took the most favorable position for enabling him to lose nothing of
the scene whereof he was about to be an invisible witness.

Nyssia advanced to the ivory chair and commenced to detach the pins,
terminated by hollow balls of gold, which fastened her veil upon her
head; and Gyges from the depths of the shadow-filled angle where he
stood concealed could examine at his ease the proud and charming face
of which he had before obtained only a hurried glimpse; that rounded
neck, at once delicate and powerful, whereon Aphrodite had traced with
the nail of her little finger those three faint lines which are still at
this very day known as the "necklace of Venus;" that white nape on whose
alabaster surface little wild, rebellious curls were disporting and
entwining themselves; those silver shoulders, half rising from the
opening of the chlamys, like the moon's disk emerging from an opaque
cloud. Candaules, half reclining upon his cushions, gazed with fondness
upon his wife, and thought to himself: "Now Gyges, who is so cold, so
difficult to please, and so skeptical, must be already half convinced."

Opening a little coffer which stood on a table supported by one leg
terminating in carven lion's paws, the queen freed her beautiful arms
from the weight of the bracelets and jewelry wherewith they had been
overburdened during the day--arms whose form and whiteness might well
have enabled them to compare with those of Hera, sister and wife of
Zeus, the lord of Olympus. Precious as were her jewels, they were
assuredly not worth the spots which they concealed, and had Nyssia been
a coquette, one might have well supposed that she only donned them in
order that she should be entreated to take them off. The rings and
chased work had left upon her skin, fine and tender as the interior pulp
of a lily, light rosy imprints, which she soon dissipated by rubbing
them with her little taper-fingered hand, all rounded and slender at its
extremities.

Then with the movement of a dove trembling in the snow of its feathers,
she shook her hair, which being no longer held by the golden pins,
rolled down in languid spirals like hyacinth flowers over her back and
bosom. Thus she remained for a few moments ere reassembling the
scattered curls and finally reuniting them into one mass. It was
marvellous to watch the blond ringlets streaming like jets of liquid
gold between the silver of her fingers; and her arms undulating like
swans' necks as they were arched above her head in the act of twisting
and confining the natural bullion. If you have ever by chance examined
one of those beautiful Etruscan vases with red figures on a black
ground, and decorated with one of those subjects which are designated
under the title of "Greek Toilette," then you will have some idea of the
grace of Nyssia in that attitude which, from the age of antiquity to our
own era, has furnished such a multitude of happy designs for painters
and statuaries.

Having thus arranged her coiffure, she seated herself upon the edge of
the ivory footstool and commenced to untie the little bands which
fastened her buskins. We moderns, owing to our horrible system of
footgear, which is hardly less absurd than the Chinese shoe, no longer
know what a foot is. That of Nyssia was of a perfection rare even in
Greece and antique Asia. The great toe, a little apart like the thumb of
a bird, the other toes, slightly long, and all ranged in charming
symmetry, the nails well shaped and brilliant as agates, the ankles well
rounded and supple, the heel slightly tinted with a rosy hue--nothing
was wanting to the perfection of the little member. The leg attached to
this foot, and which gleamed like polished marble under the lamp-light,
was irreproachable in the purity of its outlines and the grace of its
curves.

Gyges, lost in contemplation, though all the while fully comprehending
the madness of Candaules, said to himself that had the gods bestowed
such a treasure upon him he would have known how to keep it to himself.

"Well, Nyssia, are you not coming to sleep with me?" exclaimed
Candaules, seeing that the queen was not hurrying herself in the least,
and feeling desirous to abridge the watch of Gyges.

"Yes, my dear lord, I will soon be ready," answered Nyssia.

And she detached the cameo which fastened the peplum upon her shoulder.
There remained only the tunic to let fall. Gyges, behind the door, felt
his veins hiss through his temples; his heart beat so violently that he
feared it must make itself heard in the chamber, and to repress its
fierce pulsations he pressed his hand upon his bosom; and when Nyssia,
with a movement of careless grace, unfastened the girdle of her tunic,
he thought his knees would give way beneath him.

Nyssia--was it an instinctive presentiment, or was her skin, virginally
pure from profane looks, so delicately magnetic in its susceptibility
that it could feel the rays of a passionate eye though that eye was
invisible--Nyssia hesitated to strip herself of that tunic, the last
rampart of her modesty. Twice or thrice her shoulders, her bosom, and
bare arms shuddered with a nervous chill, as though they had been
suddenly grazed by the wings of a nocturnal butterfly, or as though an
insolent lip had dared to touch them in the darkness.

At last, seeming to nerve herself for a sudden resolve, she doffed the
tunic in its turn; and the white poem of her divine body suddenly
appeared in all its splendor, like the statue of a goddess unveiled on
the day of a temple's inauguration. Shuddering with pleasure the light
glided and gloated over those exquisite forms, and covered them with
timid kisses, profiting by an occasion, alas, rare indeed! The rays
scattered through the chamber, disdaining to illuminate golden arms,
jewelled clasps, or brazen tripods, all concentrated themselves upon
Nyssia, and left all other objects in obscurity. Were we Greeks of the
age of Pericles we might at our ease eulogize those beautiful serpentine
lines, those polished flanks, those elegant curves, those breasts which
might have served as moukis for the cup of Hebe; but modern prudery
forbids such descriptions, for the pen cannot find pardon for what is
permitted to the chisel; and besides, there are some things which can be
written of only in marble.

Candaules smiled in proud satisfaction. With a rapid step, as though
ashamed of being so beautiful, for she was only the daughter of a man
and a woman, Nyssia approached the bed, her arms folded upon her bosom;
but with a sudden movement she turned round ere taking her place upon
the couch beside her royal spouse, and beheld through the aperture of
the door a gleaming eye flaming like the carbuncle of Oriental legend;
for if it were false that she had a double pupil, and that she possessed
the stone which is found in the heads of dragons, it was at least true
that her green glance penetrated darkness like the glaucous eye of the
cat and tiger.

A cry, like that of a fawn who receives an arrow in her flank while
tranquilly dreaming among the leafy shadows, was on the point of
bursting from her lips, yet she found strength to control herself, and
lay down beside Candaules, cold as a serpent, with the violets of death
upon her cheeks and lips. Not a muscle of her limbs quivered, not a
fibre of her body palpitated, and soon her slow, regular breathing
seemed to indicate that Morpheus had distilled his poppy juice upon her
eyelids.

She had divined and comprehended all.



CHAPTER IV


Gyges, trembling and distracted with passion, had retired, following
exactly the instructions of Candaules; and if Nyssia, through some
unfortunate chance, had not turned her head ere taking her place upon
the couch, and perceived him in the act of taking flight, doubtless she
would have remained forever unconscious of the outrage done to her
charms by a husband more passionate than scrupulous.

Accustomed to the winding corridors of the palace, the young warrior had
no difficulty in finding his way out. He passed through the city at a
reckless pace like a madman escaped from Anticyra, and by making himself
known to the sentinels who guarded the ramparts, he had the gates opened
for him and gained the fields beyond. His brain burned, his cheeks
flamed as with the fires of fever; his breath came hotly panting through
his lips; he flung himself down upon the meadow-sod humid with the tears
of the night; and at last hearing in the darkness, through the thick
grass and water-plants, the silvery respiration of a Naiad, he dragged
himself to the spring, plunged his hands and arms into the crystal
flood, bathed his face, and drank several mouthfuls of the water in the
hope to cool the ardor which was devouring him. Any one who could have
seen him thus hopelessly bending over the spring in the feeble
starlight would have taken him for Narcissus pursuing his own shadow;
but it was not of himself assuredly that Gyges was enamoured.

The rapid apparition of Nyssia had dazzled his eyes like the keen zigzag
of a lightning-flash. He beheld her floating before him in a luminous
whirlwind, and felt that never through all his life could he banish that
image from his vision. His love had grown to vastness; its flower had
suddenly burst, like those plants which open their blossoms with a clap
of thunder. To master his passion were henceforth a thing impossible: as
well counsel the empurpled waves which Poseidon lifts with his trident
to lie tranquilly in their bed of sand and cease to foam upon the rocks
of the shore. Gyges was no longer master of himself, and he felt a
miserable despair, as of a man riding in a chariot, who finds his
terrified and uncontrollable horses rushing with all the speed of a
furious gallop toward some rock-bristling precipice. A hundred thousand
projects, each wilder than the last, whirled confusedly through his
brain. He blasphemed Destiny, he cursed his mother for having given him
life, and the gods that they had not caused him to be born to a throne,
for then he might have been able to espouse the daughter of the satrap.

A frightful agony gnawed at his heart; he was jealous of the king. From
the moment of the tunic's fall at the feet of Nyssia, like the flight of
a white dove alighting upon a meadow, it had seemed to him that she
belonged to him; he deemed himself despoiled of his wealth by Candaules.
In all his amorous reveries he had never until then thought of the
husband; he had thought of the queen only as of a pure abstraction,
without representing to himself in fancy all those intimate details of
conjugal familiarity, so poignant, so bitter for those who love a woman
in the power of another. Now he had beheld Nyssia's blonde head bending
like a blossom beside the dark head of Candaules. The very thought of it
had inflamed his anger to the highest degree, although a moment's
reflection should have convinced him that things could not have come to
pass otherwise, and he felt growing within him a most unjust hatred
against his master. The act of having compelled his presence at the
queen's dishabille seemed to him a barbarous irony, an odious refinement
of cruelty, for he did not remember that his love for her could not have
been known by the king, who had sought in him only a confidant of easy
morals and a connoisseur in beauty. That which he ought to have regarded
as a great favor affected him like a mortal injury for which he was
meditating vengeance. While thinking that to-morrow the same scene of
which he had been a mute and invisible witness would infallibly renew
itself, his tongue clove to his palate, his forehead became imbeaded
with drops of cold sweat, and his hand convulsively grasped the hilt of
his great double-edged sword.

Nevertheless, thanks to the freshness of the night, that excellent
counsellor, he became a little calmer, and returned to Sardes before the
morning light had become bright enough to enable a few early rising
citizens and slaves to notice the pallor of his brow and the disorder of
his apparel. He betook himself to his regular post at the palace, well
suspecting that Candaules would shortly send for him; and, however
violent the agitation of his feelings, he felt he was not powerful
enough to brave the anger of the king, and could in no way escape
submitting again to this _rôle_ of confidant, which could thenceforth
only inspire him with horror. Having arrived at the palace, he seated
himself upon the steps of the cypress-panelled vestibule, leaned his
back against a column, and, under the pretext of being fatigued by the
long vigil under arms, he covered his head with his mantle and feigned
sleep to avoid answering the questions of the other guards.

If the night had been terrible to Gyges, it had not been less so to
Nyssia, as she never for an instant doubted that he had been purposely
hidden there by Candaules. The king's persistency in begging her not to
veil so austerely a face which the gods had made for the admiration of
men, his evident vexation upon her refusal to appear in Greek costume at
the sacrifices and public solemnities, his unsparing raillery at what he
termed her barbarian shyness, all tended to convince her that the young
Heracleid had sought to admit some one into those mysteries which
should remain secret to all, for without his encouragement no man could
have dared to risk himself in an undertaking the discovery of which
would have resulted in the punishment of a speedy death.

How slowly did the black hours seem to her to pass! How anxiously did
she await the coming of dawn to mingle its bluish tints with the yellow
gleams of the almost exhausted lamp! It seemed to her that Apollo would
never mount his chariot again, and that some invisible hand was
sustaining the sand of the hour-glass in air. Though brief as any other,
that night seemed to her like the Cimmerian nights, six long months of
darkness.

While it lasted she lay motionless and rigid at full length on the very
edge of her couch in dread of being touched by Candaules. If she had not
up to that night felt a very strong love for the son of Myrsus, she had,
at least, ever exhibited toward him that grave and serene tenderness
which every virtuous woman entertains for her husband, although the
altogether Greek freedom of his morals frequently displeased her, and
though he entertained ideas at variance with her own in regard to
modesty; but after such an affront she could only feel the chilliest
hatred and most icy contempt for him; she would have preferred even
death to one of his caresses. Such an outrage it was impossible to
forgive, for among the barbarians, and above all among the Persians and
Bactrians, it was held a great disgrace, not for women only, but even
for men, to be seen without their garments.

At length Candaules arose, and Nyssia, awaking from her simulated sleep,
hurried from that chamber now profaned in her eyes as though it had
served for the nocturnal orgies of Bacchantes and courtesans. It was
agony for her to breathe that impure air any longer, and that she might
freely give herself up to her grief she took refuge in the upper
apartments reserved for the women, summoned her slaves by clapping her
hands, and poured ewers of water over her shoulders, her bosom, and her
whole body, as, though hoping by this species of lustral ablution to
efface the soil imprinted by the eyes of Gyges. She would have
voluntarily torn, as it were, from her body that skin upon which the
rays shot from a burning pupil seemed to have left their traces. Taking
from the hands of her waiting women the thick downy materials which
served to drink up the last pearls of the bath, she wiped herself with
such violence that a slight purple cloud rose to the spots she had
rubbed.

"In vain," she exclaimed, letting the damp tissues fall, and dismissing
her attendants--"in vain would I pour over myself all the waters of all
the springs and the rivers; the ocean with all its bitter gulfs could
not purify me. Such a stain may be washed out only with blood. Oh, that
look, that look! It has incrusted itself upon me; it clasps me, covers
me, burns me like the tunic dipped in the blood of Nessus; I feel it
beneath my draperies, like an envenomed tissue which nothing can detach
from my body! Now, indeed, would I vainly pile garments upon garments,
select materials the least transparent, and the thickest of mantles. I
would none the less bear upon my naked flesh this infamous robe woven by
one adulterous and lascivious glance. Vainly, since the hour when I
issued from the chaste womb of my mother, have I been brought up in
private, enveloped like Isis, the Egyptian goddess, with a veil of which
none might have lifted the hem without paying for his audacity with his
life. In vain have I remained guarded from all evil desires, from all
profane imaginings, unknown of men, virgin as the snow on which the
eagle himself could not imprint the seal of his talons, so loftily does
the mountain which it covers lift its head in the pure and icy air. The
depraved caprice of a Lydian Greek has sufficed to make me lose in a
single instant, without any guilt of mine, all the fruit of long years
of precaution and reserve. Innocent and dishonored, hidden from all yet
made public to all ... this is the lot to which Candaules has condemned
me. Who can assure me that, at this very moment, Gyges is not in the act
of discoursing upon my charms with some soldiers at the very threshold
of the palace? Oh shame! Oh infamy! Two men have beheld me naked and yet
at this instant enjoy the sweet light of the sun! In what does Nyssia
now differ from the most shameless hetaira, from the vilest of
courtesans? This body which I have striven to render worthy of being the
habitation of a pure and noble soul, serves for a theme of conversation;
it is talked of like some lascivious idol brought from Sicyon or from
Corinth; it is commended or found fault with. The shoulder is perfect,
the arm is charming, perhaps a little thin--what know I? All the blood
of my heart leaps to my cheeks at such a thought. Oh beauty, fatal gift
of the gods! why am I not the wife of some poor mountain goatherd of
innocent and simple habits? He would not have suborned a goatherd like
himself at the threshold of his cabin to profane his humble happiness!
My lean figure, my unkempt hair, my complexion faded by the burning sun,
would then have saved me from so gross an insult, and my honest
homeliness would not have been compelled to blush. How shall I dare,
after the scene of this night, to pass before those men, proudly erect
under the folds of a tunic which has no longer aught to hide from either
of them. I should drop dead with shame upon the pavement. Candaules,
Candaules, I was at least entitled to more respect from you, and there
was nothing in my conduct which could have provoked such an outrage. Was
I one of those ones whose arms forever cling like ivy to their husbands'
necks, and who seem more like slaves bought with money for a master's
pleasure than free-born women of noble blood? Have I ever after a repast
sung amorous hymns accompanying myself upon the lyre, with wine-moist
lips, naked shoulders, and a wreath of roses about my hair, or given you
cause, by any immodest action, to treat me like a mistress whom one
shows after a banquet to his companions in debauch?"

While Nyssia was thus buried in her grief, great tears overflowed from
her eyes like rain-drops from the azure chalice of a lotus-flower after
some storm, and rolling down her pale cheeks fell upon her fair forlorn
hands, languishingly open, like roses whose leaves are half-shed, for no
order came from the brain to give them activity. The attitude of Niobe,
beholding her fourteenth child succumb beneath the arrows of Apollo and
Diana, was not more sadly despairing, but soon starting from this state
of prostration, she rolled herself upon the floor, rent her garments,
covered her beautiful dishevelled hair with ashes, tore her bosom and
cheeks with her nails amid convulsive sobs, and abandoned herself to all
the excesses of Oriental grief, the more violently that she had been
forced so long to contain her indignation, shame, pangs of wounded
dignity, and all the agony that convulsed her soul, for the pride of her
whole life had been broken, and the idea that she had nothing wherewith
to reproach herself afforded her no consolation. As a poet has said,
only the innocent know remorse. She was repenting of the crime which
another had committed.

Nevertheless she made an effort to recover herself, ordered the baskets
filled with wools of different colors, and the spindles wrapped with
flax to be brought to her, and distributed the work to her women as she
had been accustomed to do; but she thought she noticed that the slaves
looked at her in a very peculiar way, and had ceased to entertain the
same timid respect for her as before. Her voice no longer rang with the
same assurance; there was something humble and furtive in her demeanor;
she felt herself interiorly fallen.

Doubtless her scruples were exaggerated, and her virtue had received no
stain from the folly of Candaules; but ideas imbibed with a mother's
milk obtain irresistible sway, and the modesty of the body is carried by
Oriental nations to an extent almost incomprehensible to Occidental
races. When a man desired to speak to Nyssia in the palace of Megabazus
at Bactria, he was obliged to do so keeping his eyes fixed upon the
ground, and two eunuchs stood beside him, poniard in hand, ready to
plunge their keen blades through his heart should he dare lift his head
to look at the princess, notwithstanding that her face was veiled. You
may readily conceive, therefore, how deadly an injury the action of
Candaules would seem to a woman thus brought up, while any other would
doubtless have considered it only a culpable frivolity. Thus the idea of
vengeance had instantly presented itself to Nyssia, and had given her
sufficient self-control to strangle the cry of her offended modesty ere
it reached her lips, at the moment when, turning her head, she beheld
the burning eyes of Gyges flaming through the darkness. She must have
possessed the courage of the warrior in ambush, who, wounded by a random
dart, utters no syllable of pain through fear of betraying himself
behind his shelter of foliage or river-reeds, and in silence permits his
blood to stripe his flesh with long red lines. Had she not withheld that
first impulse to cry aloud, Candaules, alarmed and forewarned, would
have kept upon his guard, which must have rendered it more difficult, if
not impossible, to carry out her purpose.

Nevertheless, as yet she had conceived no definite plan, but she had
resolved that the insult done to her honor should be fully expiated. At
first she had thought of killing Candaules herself while he slept, with
the sword hung at the bedside. But she recoiled from the thought of
dipping her beautiful hands in blood; she feared lest she might miss her
blow; and, with all her bitter anger, she hesitated at so violent and
unwomanly an act.

Suddenly she appeared to have decided upon some project. She summoned
Statira, one of the waiting women who had come with her from Bactria,
and in whom she placed much confidence, and whispered a few words close
to her ear in a very low voice, although there were no other persons in
the room, as if she feared that even the walls might hear her.

Statira bowed low, and immediately left the apartment.

Like all persons who are actually menaced by some great peril, Candaules
presumed himself perfectly secure. He was certain that Gyges had stolen
away unperceived, and he thought only upon the delight of conversing
with him about the unrivalled attractions of his wife.

So he caused him to be summoned, and conducted him to the Court of the
Heracleidæ.

"Well, Gyges," he said to him with laughing mien, "I did not deceive you
when I assured you that you would not regret having passed a few hours
behind that blessed door. Am I right? Do you know of any living woman
more beautiful than the queen? If you know of any superior to her, tell
me so frankly, and go bear her in my name this string of pearls, the
symbol of power."

"Sire," replied Gyges in a voice trembling with emotion, "no human
creature is worthy to compare with Nyssia. It is not the pearl fillet of
queens which should adorn her brows, but only the starry crown of the
immortals."

"I well knew that your ice must melt at last in the fires of that sun.
Now can you comprehend my passion, my delirium, my mad desires? Is it
not true, Gyges, that the heart of a man is not great enough to contain
such a love? It must overflow and diffuse itself."

A hot blush overspread the cheeks of Gyges, who now but too well
comprehended the admiration of Candaules.

The king noticed it, and said, with a manner half smiling, half serious:

"My poor friend, do not commit the folly of becoming enamoured of
Nyssia; you would lose your pains. It is a statue which I have enabled
you to see, not a woman. I have allowed you to read some stanzas of a
beautiful poem, whereof I alone possess the manuscript, merely for the
purpose of having your opinion; that is all."

"You have no need, sire, to remind me of my nothingness. Sometimes the
humblest slave is visited in his slumbers by some radiant and lovely
vision, with ideal forms, nacreous flesh, ambrosial hair. I--I have
dreamed with open eyes; you are the god who sent me that dream."

"Now," continued the king, "it will scarcely be necessary for me to
enjoin silence upon you. If you do not keep a seal upon your lips you
might learn to your cost that Nyssia is not as good as she is
beautiful."

The king waved his hand in token of fare-well to his confidant, and
retired for the purpose of inspecting an antique bed sculptured by
Ikmalius, a celebrated artisan, which had been offered him for purchase.

Candaules had scarcely disappeared when a woman, wrapped in a long
mantle so as to leave but one of her eyes exposed, after the fashion of
the barbarians, came forth from the shadow of a column behind which she
had kept herself hidden during the conversation of the king and his
favorite, walked straight to Gyges, placed her finger upon his shoulder,
and made a sign to him to follow her.



CHAPTER V


Statira, followed by Gyges, paused before a little door, of which she
raised the latch by pulling a silver ring attached to a leathern strap,
and commenced to ascend a stairway with rather high steps contrived in
the thickness of the wall. At the head of the stairway was a second
door, which she opened with a key wrought of ivory and brass. As soon as
Gyges entered she disappeared without any further explanation in regard
to what was expected of him.

The curiosity of Gyges was mingled with uneasiness. He could form no
idea as to the significance of this mysterious message. He had a vague
fancy that he could recognize in the silent Iris one of Nyssia's women;
and the way by which she had made him follow low her led to the queen's
apartments. He asked himself in terror whether he had been perceived in
his hiding-place or betrayed by Candaules, for both suppositions seemed
probable.

At the idea that Nyssia knew all, he felt his face bedewed with a sweat
alternately burning and icy. He sought to fly, but the door had been
fastened upon him by Statira, and all escape was cut off; then he
advanced into the chamber, which was shadowed by heavy purple hangings,
and found himself face to face with Nyssia. He thought he beheld a
statue rise before him, such was her pallor. The hues of life had
abandoned her face; a feeble rose tint alone animated her lips; on her
tender temples a few almost imperceptible veins intercrossed their azure
network; tears had swollen her eyelids, and left shining furrows upon
the down of her cheeks; the chrysoprase tints of her eyes had lost their
intensity. She was even more beautiful and touching thus. Sorrow had
given soul to her marmorean beauty.

Her disordered robe, scarcely fastened to her shoulders, left visible
her beautiful bare arms, her throat, and the commencement of her
death-white bosom. Like a warrior vanquished in his first conflict, her
beauty had laid down its arms. Of what use to her would have been the
draperies which conceal form, the tunics with their carefully fastened
folds? Did not Gyges know her? Wherefore defend what has been lost in
advance?

She walked straight to Gyges, and fixing upon him an imperial look,
clear and commanding, said to him, in a quick, abrupt voice:

"Do not lie; seek no vain subterfuges; have at least the dignity and
courage of your crime. I know all; I saw you! Not a word of excuse. I
would not listen to it. Candaules himself concealed you behind the door.
Is it not so the thing happened? And you fancy, doubtless, that it is
all over? Unhappily I am not a Greek woman, pliant to the whims of
artists and voluptuaries. Nyssia will not serve for any one's toy. There
are now two men, one of whom is a man too much upon the earth. He must
disappear from it! Unless he dies, I cannot live. It will be either you
or Candaules. I leave you master of the choice. Kill him, avenge me,
and win by that murder both my hand and the throne of Lydia, or else
shall a prompt death henceforth prevent you from beholding, through a
cowardly complaisance, what you have not the right to look upon. He who
commanded is more culpable than he who has only obeyed; and, moreover,
should you become my husband, no one will have ever seen me without
having the right to do so. But make your decision at once, for two of
those four eyes in which my nudity has reflected itself must before this
very evening be forever extinguished."

This strange alternative, proposed with a terrible coolness, with an
immutable resolution, so utterly surprised Gyges, who was expecting
reproaches, menaces, and a violent scene, that he remained for several
minutes without color and without voice, livid as a shade on the shores
of the black rivers of hell.

"I! to dip my hands in the blood of my master! Is it indeed you, O
Queen, who demand of me so great a penalty? I comprehend all your
anger, I feel it to be just, and it was not my fault that this outrage
took place; but you know that kings are mighty, they descend from a
divine race. Our destinies repose on their august knees; and it is not
we, feeble mortals, who may hesitate at their commands. Their will
overthrows our refusal, as a dyke is swept away by a torrent. By your
feet that I kiss, by the hem of your robe which I touch as a suppliant,
be clement! Forget this injury, which is known to none, and which shall
remain eternally buried in darkness and silence! Candaules worships you,
admires you, and his fault springs only from an excess of love.

"Were you addressing a sphinx of granite in the arid sands of Egypt, you
would have more chance of melting her. The winged words might fly
uninterruptedly from your lips for a whole olympiad; you could not move
my resolution in the slightest. A heart of brass dwells in this marble
breast of mine. Die or kill! When the sunbeam which has passed through
the curtains shall touch the foot of this table let your choice have
been made. I wait."

And Nyssia crossed her arms upon her breast in an attitude replete with
sombre majesty.

To behold her standing erect, motionless and pale, her eyes fixed, her
brows contracted, her hair in disorder, her foot firmly placed upon the
pavement, one would have taken her for Nemesis descended from her
griffin, and awaiting the hour to smite a guilty one.

"The shadowy depths of Hades are visited by none with pleasure,"
answered Gyges. "It is sweet to enjoy the pure light of day; and the
heroes themselves who dwell in the Fortunate Isles would gladly return
to their native land. Each man has the instinct of self-preservation,
and since blood must flow, let it be rather from the veins of another
than from mine."

To these sentiments, avowed by Gyges with antique frankness, were added
others more noble whereof he did not speak. He was desperately in love
with Nyssia and jealous of Candaules. It was not, therefore, the fear of
death alone that had induced him to undertake this bloody task. The
thought of leaving Candaules in free possession of Nyssia was
insupportable to him; and, moreover, the vertigo of fatality had seized
him. By a succession of irregular and terrible events he beheld himself
hurried toward the realization of his dreams; a mighty wave had lifted
him and borne him on in despite of his efforts; Nyssia herself was
extending her hand to him, to help him to ascend the steps of the royal
throne. All this had caused him to forget that Candaules was his master
and his benefactor; for none can flee from Fate, and Necessity walks on
with nails in one hand and whip in the other, to stop your advance or to
urge you forward.

"It is well," replied Nyssia; "here is the means of execution." And she
drew from her bosom a Bactrian poniard, with a jade handle enriched with
inlaid circles of white gold. "This blade is not made of brass, but with
iron difficult to work, tempered in flame and water, so that Hephaistos
himself could not forge one more keenly pointed or finely edged. It
would pierce, like thin papyrus, metal cuirasses and bucklers of
dragon's skin.

"The time," she continued with the same icy coolness, "shall be while he
slumbers. Let him sleep and wake no more!"

Her accomplice, Gyges, hearkened to her words with stupefaction, for he
had never thought he could find such resolution in a woman who could not
bring herself to lift her veil.

"The ambuscade shall be laid in the very same place where the infamous
one concealed you in order to expose me to your gaze. At the approach of
night I shall turn back one of the folding doors upon you, undress
myself, lie down, and when he shall be asleep I will give you a signal.
Above all things, let there be no hesitancy, no feebleness; and take
heed that your hand does not tremble when the moment shall have come!
And now, for fear lest you might change your mind, I propose to make
sure of your person until the fatal hour. You might attempt to escape,
to forewarn your master. Do not think to do so."

Nyssia whistled in a peculiar way, and immediately from behind a Persian
tapestry embroidered with flowers, there appeared four monsters,
swarthy, clad in robes diagonally striped, which left visible arms
muscled and gnarled as trunks of oaks. Their thick pouting lips, the
gold rings which they wore through the partition of their nostrils,
their great teeth sharp as the fangs of wolves, the expression of stupid
servility on their faces, rendered them hideous to behold.

The queen pronounced some words in a language unknown to Gyges,
doubtless in Bactrian, and the four slaves rushed upon the young man,
seized him, and carried him away, even as a nurse might carry off a
child in the fold of her robe.

Now what were Nyssia's real thoughts? Had she, indeed, noticed Gyges at
the time of her meeting with him near Bactria, and preserved some memory
of the young captain in one of those secret recesses of the heart where
even the most virtuous women always have something buried? Was the
desire to avenge her modesty goaded by some other unacknowledged desire?
And if Gyges had not been the handsomest young man in all Asia would she
have evinced the same ardor in punishing Candaules for having outraged
the sanctity of marriage? That is a delicate question to resolve,
especially after a lapse of three thousand years; and although we have
consulted Herodotus, Hephæstion, Plato, Dositheus, Archilochus of
Paros, Hesychius of Miletus, Ptolomæus, Euphorion, and all who have
spoken either at length or in only a few words concerning Candaules,
Nyssia, and Gyges, we have been unable to arrive at any definite
conclusion. To pursue so fleeting a shadow through so many centuries,
under the ruins of so many crumbled empires, under the dust of departed
nations, is a work of extreme difficulty, not to say impossibility.

At all events, Nyssia's resolution was implacably taken; this murder
appeared to her in the light of the accomplishment of a sacred duty.
Among the barbarian nations every man who has surprised a woman in her
nakedness is put to death. The queen believed herself exercising her
right; only inasmuch as the injury had been secret, she was doing
herself justice as best she could. The passive accomplice would become
the executioner of the other, and the punishment would thus spring from
the crime itself. The hand would chastise the head.

The olive-tinted monsters shut Gyges up in an obscure portion of the
palace, whence it was impossible that he could escape, or that his cries
could be heard.

He passed the remainder of the day there in a state of cruel anxiety,
accusing the hours of being lame, and again of walking too speedily. The
crime which he was about to commit, although he was only, in some sort,
the instrument of it, and though he was only yielding to an irresistible
influence, presented itself to his mind in the most sombre colors. If
the blow should miss through one of those circumstances which none could
foresee? If the people of Sardes should revolt and seek to avenge the
death of the king? Such were the very sensible though useless
reflections which Gyges made while waiting to be taken from his prison
and led to the place whence he could only depart to strike his master.

At last the night unfolded her starry robe in the sky, and its shadow
fell upon the city and the palace. A light footstep became audible,
aveiled woman entered the room and conducted him through the obscure
corridors and multiplied mazes of the royal edifice with as much
confidence as though she had been preceded by a slave bearing a lamp or
a torch.

The hand which held that of Gyges was cold, soft, and small;
nevertheless those slender fingers clasped it with a bruising force, as
the fingers of some statue of brass animated by a prodigy would have
done. The rigidity of an inflexible will betrayed itself in that
ever-equal pressure as of a vise--a pressure which no hesitation of
head or heart came to vary. Gyges, conquered, subjugated, crushed,
yielded to that imperious traction, as though he were borne along by the
mighty arm of Fate.

Alas! it was not thus he had wished to touch for the first time that
fair royal hand, which had presented the poniard to him, and was leading
him to murder, for it was Nyssia herself who had come for Gyges, to
conceal him in the place of ambuscade.

No word was exchanged between the sinister couple on the way from the
prison to the nuptial chamber.

The queen unfastened the thongs, raised the bar of the entrance, and
placed Gyges behind the folding door as Candaules had done the evening
previous. This repetition of the same acts, with so different a purpose,
had something of a lugubrious and fatal character. Vengeance, this time,
had placed her foot upon every track left by the insult. The
chastisement and the crime alike followed the same path. Yesterday it
was the turn of Candaules, to-day it was that of Nyssia; and Gyges,
accomplice in the injury, was also accomplice in the penalty. He had
served the king to dishonor the queen; he would serve the queen to kill
the king, equally exposed by the vices of the one and the virtues of the
other.

The daughter of Megabazus seemed to feel a savage joy, a ferocious
pleasure, in employing only the same means chosen by the Lydian king,
and turning to account for the murder those very precautions which had
been adopted for voluptuous fantasy.

"You will again this evening see me take off these garments which are so
displeasing to Candaules. This spectacle should become wearisome to
you," said the queen in accents of bitter irony, as she stood on the
threshold of the chamber; "you will end by finding me ugly." And a
sardonic, forced laugh momentarily curled her pale mouth; then,
regaining her impassible severity of mien, she continued: "Do not
imagine you will be able to steal away this time as you did before; you
know my sight is piercing. At the slightest movement on your part I
shall awake Candaules; and you know that it will not be easy for you to
explain what you are doing in the king's apartments, behind a door, with
a poniard in your hand. Further, my Bactrian slaves, the copper-colored
mutes who imprisoned you a short time ago, guard all the issues of the
palace, with orders to massacre you should you attempt to go out.
Therefore let no vain scruples of fidelity cause you to hesitate. Think
that I will make you King of Sardes, and that ... I will love you if you
avenge me. The blood of Candaules will be your purple, and his death
will make for you a place in that bed."

The slaves came according to their custom to change the fuel in the
tripod, renew the oil in the lamps, spread tapestry and the skins of
animals upon the royal couch; and Nyssia hurried into the chamber as
soon as she heard their footsteps resounding in the distance.

In a short time Candaules arrived all joyous. He had purchased the bed
of Ikmalius and proposed to substitute it for the bed wrought after the
Oriental fashion, which he declared had never been much to his taste. He
seemed pleased to find that Nyssia had already retired to the nuptial
chamber.

"The trade of embroidery, and spindles, and needles seems not to have
the same attraction for you to-day as usual. In fact, it is a monotonous
labor to perpetually pass one thread between other threads, and I wonder
at the pleasure which you seem ordinarily to take in it. To tell the
truth, I am afraid that some fine day Pallas-Athena, on finding you so
skilful, will break her shuttle over your head as she once did to poor
Arachne."

"My lord, I felt somewhat tired this evening, and so came down-stairs
sooner than usual. Would you not like before going to sleep to drink a
cup of black Samian wine mixed with the honey of Hymettus?" And she
poured from a golden urn, into a cup of the same metal, the
sombre-colored beverage which she had mingled with the soporiferous
juice of the nepenthe.

Candaules took the cup by both handles and drained it to the last drop;
but the young Heracleid had a strong head, and sinking his elbow into
the cushions of his couch he watched Nyssia undressing without any sign
that the dust of sleep was commencing to gather upon his eyes.

As on the evening before, Nyssia unfastened her hair and permitted its
rich blonde waves to ripple over her shoulders. From his hiding-place
Gyges fancied that he saw those locks slowly becoming suffused with
tawny tints, illuminated with reflections of blood and flame; and their
heavy curls seemed to lengthen with viperine undulations, like the hair
of the Gorgons and Medusas.

All simple and graceful as that action was in itself, it took from the
terrible events about to transpire a frightful and ominous character,
which caused the hidden assassin to shudder with terror.

Nyssia then unfastened her bracelets, but, agitated as her hands had
been by nervous straining, they ill served her will. She broke the
string of a bracelet of beads of amber inlaid with gold, which rolled
over the floor with a loud noise, causing Candaules to reopen his
gradually closing eyes.

Each one of those beads fell upon the heart of Gyges as a drop of molten
lead falls upon water.

Having unlaced her buskins, the queen threw her upper tunic over the
back of an ivory chair. This drapery, thus arranged, produced upon Gyges
the effect of one of those sinister-folding winding sheets wherein the
dead were wrapped ere being borne to the funeral pyre. Every object in
that room, which had the evening before seemed to him one scene of
smiling splendor, now appeared to him livid, dim, and menacing. The
statues of basalt rolled their eyes and smiled hideously. The lamp
flickered weirdly, and its flame dishevelled itself in red and sanguine
rays like the crest of a comet. Far back in the dimly lighted corners
loomed the monstrous forms of the Lares and Lemures. The mantles hanging
from their hooks seemed animated by a factitious life, and assumed a
human aspect of vitality; and when Nyssia, stripped of her last garment,
approached the bed, all white and naked as a shade, he thought that
Death herself had broken the diamond fetters wherewith Hercules of old
enchained her at the gates of hell when he delivered Alcestes, and had
come in person to take possession of Candaules.

Overcome by the power of the nepenthe-juice, the king at last slumbered.
Nyssia made a sign for Gyges to come forth from his retreat; and, laying
her finger upon the breast of the victim, she directed upon her
accomplice a look so humid, so lustrous, so weighty with languishment,
so replete with intoxicating promise, that Gyges, maddened and
fascinated, sprang from his hiding-place like the tiger from the summit
of the rock where it has been crouching, traversed the chamber at a
bound, and plunged the Bactrian poniard up to the very hilt in the
heart of the descendant of Hercules. The chastity of Nyssia was avenged,
and the dream of Gyges accomplished.

Thus ended the dynasty of the Heracleidæ, after having endured for five
hundred and five years, and commenced that of the Mermnades in the
person of Gyges, son of Dascylus. The Sardians, indignant at the death
of Candaules, threatened revolt; but the oracle of Delphi having
declared in favor of Gyges, who had sent thither a vast number of silver
vases and six golden cratera of the value of thirty talents, the new
king maintained his seat on the throne of Lydia, which he occupied for
many long years, lived happily, and never showed his wife to any one,
knowing too well what it cost.



ADDENDA


"ONE OF CLEOPATRA'S NIGHTS"

A. There is no correct English plural of "necropolis"; the French word
_nécropole_ is more normal. As the Greek plural could not be used very
euphoniously, and as I have tried throughout to render an exact English
equivalent for each French word whenever comprehensible, I beg
indulgence for the illegitimate plural "necropoli," used to signify more
than one necropolis, as an equivalent for the French _nécropoles_.

B. In the opening scene of "One of Cleopatra's Nights," the reader may
be surprised at the expression "the _chuckling_ of the crocodiles." Our
own southern alligators often make a little noise which could not be
better described--a low, guttural sound, bearing a sinister resemblance
to a human chuckle or subdued, sneering laugh. A Creole friend who has
lived much in those regions of Southern Louisiana intersected by bayous
and haunted by alligators, comprehended at once the whole force of the
term _rire étouffe_ as applied to the sounds made by the crocodile.
"_Je l'ai entendu souvent_" he said, with a smile.


"CLARIMONDE"

The idea of love after death has been introduced by Gautier into several
beautiful creations, sometimes Hoffmanesquely, sometimes with an
exquisite sweetness peculiarly his own. Among his most touching poems
there is a fantastic--_Les Tâches Jaunes_--so remarkable that I cannot
refrain from offering a rude translation of it. Though transplanted even
by a master-hand into the richest soil of another language, such
poetical flora necessarily lose something of their strange color and
magical perfume. In this instance the translator, who is no poet, only
strives to convey the beautiful weirdness of the original idea:

     With elbow buried in the downy pillow
                 I've lain and read,
     All through the night, a volume strangely written
                 In tongues long dead.

     For at my bedside lie no dainty slippers;
                 And, save my own,
     Under the paling lamp I hear no breathing:--
                 I am alone!

     But there are yellow bruises on my body
                 And violet stains;
     Though no white vampire came with lips blood-crimsoned
                 To suck my veins!

     Now I bethink me of a sweet weird story,
                 That in the dark
     Our dead loves thus with seal of chilly kisses
                 Our bodies mark.

     Gliding beneath the coverings of our couches
                 They share our rest,
     And with their dead lips sign their loving visit
                 On arm and breast.

     Darksome and cold the bed where now she slumbers,
                 I loved in vain,
     With sweet soft eyelids closed, to be reopened
                 Never again.

     Dead sweetheart, can it be that thou hast lifted
                 With thy frail hand
     Thy coffin-lid, to come to me again
                 From Shadowland?

     Thou who, one joyous night, didst, pale and speechless,
                 Pass from us all,
     Dropping thy silken mask and gift of flowers
                 Amidst the ball?

     Oh, fondest of my loves, from that far heaven
                 Where thou must be,
     Hast thou returned to pay the debt of kisses
                 Thou owest me?


"ARRIA MARCELLA"

Gautier doubtless obtained inspiration for this exquisite romance from
an old Greek ghost story, first related by Phlegon, the freedman of
Hadrian. Versions of it were current in the twelfth and sixteenth
centuries; and Goethe reproduced it in his "Bride of Corinth." We offer
a translation from the brief version of Michelet, who accuses Goethe of
bad taste for having introduced the Slavic idea of vampirism into a
purely Greek story.

       *       *       *       *       *

A young Athenian goes to Corinth to visit the house of the man who has
promised him his daughter in marriage. He has always remained a pagan,
and does not know that the family into which he hopes to enter has been
converted to Christianity. He arrives at a very late hour. All are in
bed except the mother, who prepares a hospitable repast for him, and
then leaves him to repose. He throws himself upon a couch, overwhelmed
with fatigue. Scarcely has he closed his eyes, when a figure enters the
room; it is a girl, all clad in white, with a white veil; there is a
black-and-gold fillet about her brows. She beholds him. Astonishment!
Lifting her white hand, she exclaims:

"Am I then such a stranger in the house? Alas! poor recluse that I am!
But I am ashamed to be here. I shall now depart. Repose in peace!"

"Nay, remain, beautiful young girl! Behold! here are Ceres, Bacchus,
and, with thee, Love! Fear not! be not so pale!"

"Ah! touch me not, young man! I belong no more to joy. Through a vow
made by my sick mother, my youth and life are fettered forever. The
gods have fled away. And now the only sacrifices are sacrifices of human
victims."

"What! is it thou! thou, my beloved affianced, betrothed to me from
childhood! The oath of our fathers bound us together forever under the
benediction of heaven! Oh, virgin, be mine!"

"Nay, friend, nay!--not I. Thou shalt have my young sister. If I sigh in
my chill prison, thou mayst, at least, while in her arms, think of me,
of me who pines and thinks only of thee, and whom the earth must soon
cover again."

"Never! I swear it by this flame, it is the torch of Hymen. Thou shalt
come with me to my father's house. Remain, my well-beloved!"

For marriage-gift he offers her a cup of gold. She gives him her chain;
but prefers a lock of his hair to the cup.

It is the ghostly hour. She sips with her pale lips the dark wine that
is the color of blood. Eagerly he drinks after her. He invokes Love.
She, though her poor heart was dying for it, nevertheless resists him.
But he, in despair, casts himself upon the bed and weeps. Then she,
flinging herself down beside him, murmurs:

"Ah! how much hurt thy pain causes me! Yet shouldst thou touch me--what
horror! White as snow, cold as ice, alas! is thy betrothed!"

"I shall warm thee, love! come to me! even though thou hadst but this
moment left the tomb." Sighs and kisses are exchanged.... Love binds
and fetters them. Tears mingle with happiness. Thirstily she drinks the
fire of his lips; her long-congealed blood takes flame with amorous
madness, yet no heart beats in her breast.

But the mother was there; listening. Sweet vows; cries of plaint and
pleasure. "Hush," says the bride; "I hear the cock crow! Farewell, till
to-morrow, after nightfall." Then adieu, and the sound of kisses
smothering kisses.

Indignant, the mother enters. What does she behold! Her daughter! He
seeks to hide her--to veil her! But she disengages herself; and waxing
taller, towers from the couch to the roof.

"O, mother, mother! dost thou then envy me my sweet night? dost thou
seek to drive me from this warm place? Was it not enough to have wrapped
me in the shroud, and borne me so early to the tomb! But there was a
power that lifted the stone! Vainly did thy priests hum above my grave.
What avail salt and water where youth burns? The earth may not chill
love.... Thou didst promise me to this youth.... I come to claim my
right.

"Alack! friend, thou must die. Here thou must pine and wither away. I
possess thy hair; to-morrow it shall be white.... Mother, a last prayer!
Open my black dungeon; erect a funeral pyre; and let the sweetheart
obtain the repose that only flames can give. Let the sparks gush out,
let the ashes redden! We return to our ancient gods."--_La Sorcière_,
pages 32-34; edition of 1863.



       *       *       *       *       *



Contents

   TO THE READER
   ONE OF CLEOPATRA'S NIGHTS
      CHAPTER I
      CHAPTER II
      CHAPTER III
      CHAPTER IV
      CHAPTER V
      CHAPTER VI
   CLARIMONDE
   ARRIA MARCELLA
   THE MUMMY'S FOOT
   OMPHALE: A ROCOCO STORY
   KING CANDAULES
      CHAPTER I
      CHAPTER II
      CHAPTER III
      CHAPTER IV
      CHAPTER V
   ADDENDA





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