Part 3 out of 6
"Ah, there was your mistake, my lady! You should have loved me
much, loved me devotedly, loved me savagely--loved me eternally!
Then I should have tired of you the sooner, and not hated you
so much afterward!--But let bygones be bygones!--WHERE are we?
Locality is the question! To be or not to be, is NOT the question!"
"We are in the other world, I presume!"
"Granted!--but in which or what sort of other world? This can't be
"It must: there's marriage in it! You and I are damned in each
"Then I'm not like Othello, damned in a fair wife!--Oh, I remember
my Shakspeare, madam!"
She picked up a broken branch that had fallen into a bush, and
steadying herself with it, walked away, tossing her little skull.
"Give that stick to me," cried her late husband; "I want it more
She returned him no answer.
"You mean to make me beg for it?"
"Not at all, my lord. I mean to keep it," she replied, continuing
her slow departure.
"Give it me at once; I mean to have it! I require it."
"Unfortunately, I think I require it myself!" returned the lady,
walking a little quicker, with a sharper cracking of her joints and
clinking of her bones.
He started to follow her, but nearly fell: his knee-grass had burst,
and with an oath he stopped, grasping his leg again.
"Come and tie it up properly!" he would have thundered, but he only
piped and whistled!
She turned and looked at him.
"Come and tie it up instantly!" he repeated.
She walked a step or two farther from him.
"I swear I will not touch you!" he cried.
"Swear on, my lord! there is no one here to believe you. But, pray,
do not lose your temper, or you will shake yourself to pieces, and
where to find string enough to tie up all your crazy joints, is more
than I can tell."
She came back, and knelt once more at his side--first, however,
laying the stick in dispute beyond his reach and within her own.
The instant she had finished retying the joint, he made a grab at
her, thinking, apparently, to seize her by the hair; but his hard
fingers slipped on the smooth poll.
"Disgusting!" he muttered, and laid hold of her upper arm-bone.
"You will break it!" she said, looking up from her knees.
"I will, then!" he answered, and began to strain at it.
"I shall not tie your leg again the next time it comes loose!" she
He gave her arm a vicious twist, but happily her bones were in
better condition than his. She stretched her other hand toward
the broken branch.
"That's right: reach me the stick!" he grinned.
She brought it round with such a swing that one of the bones of the sounder leg snapped. He fell, choking with curses. The lady laughed.
"Now you will have to wear splints always!" she said; "such dry bones
"You devil!" he cried.
"At your service, my lord! Shall I fetch you a couple of wheel-spokes?
Neat--but heavy, I fear!"
He turned his bone-face aside, and did not answer, but lay and
groaned. I marvelled he had not gone to pieces when he fell. The
lady rose and walked away--not all ungracefully, I thought.
"What can come of it?" I said to myself. "These are too wretched
for any world, and this cannot be hell, for the Little Ones are in
it, and the sleepers too! What can it all mean? Can things ever
come right for skeletons?"
"There are words too big for you and me: ALL is one of them, and
EVER is another," said a voice near me which I knew.
I looked about, but could not see the speaker.
"You are not in hell," it resumed. "Neither am I in hell. But
those skeletons are in hell!"
Ere he ended I caught sight of the raven on the bough of a beech,
right over my head. The same moment he left it, and alighting on
the ground, stood there, the thin old man of the library, with long
nose and long coat.
"The male was never a gentleman," he went on, "and in the bony stage
of retrogression, with his skeleton through his skin, and his
character outside his manners, does not look like one. The female
is less vulgar, and has a little heart. But, the restraints of
society removed, you see them now just as they are and always were!"
"Tell me, Mr. Raven, what will become of them," I said.
"We shall see," he replied. "In their day they were the handsomest
couple at court; and now, even in their dry bones, they seem to
regard their former repute as an inalienable possession; to see
their faces, however, may yet do something for them! They felt
themselves rich too while they had pockets, but they have already
begun to feel rather pinched! My lord used to regard my lady as a
worthless encumbrance, for he was tired of her beauty and had spent
her money; now he needs her to cobble his joints for him! These
changes have roots of hope in them. Besides, they cannot now get
far away from each other, and they see none else of their own kind:
they must at last grow weary of their mutual repugnance, and begin
to love one another! for love, not hate, is deepest in what Love
`loved into being.'"
"I saw many more of their kind an hour ago, in the hall close by!"
"Of their kind, but not of their sort," he answered. "For many years
these will see none such as you saw last night. Those are centuries
in advance of these. You saw that those could even dress themselves
a little! It is true they cannot yet retain their clothes so long
as they would--only, at present, for a part of the night; but they
are pretty steadily growing more capable, and will by and by develop
faces; for every grain of truthfulness adds a fibre to the show of
their humanity. Nothing but truth can appear; and whatever is must
"Are they upheld by this hope?" I asked.
"They are upheld by hope, but they do not in the least know their
hope; to understand it, is yet immeasurably beyond them," answered
His unexpected appearance had caused me no astonishment. I was like
a child, constantly wondering, and surprised at nothing.
"Did you come to find me, sir?" I asked.
"Not at all," he replied. "I have no anxiety about you. Such as
you always come back to us."
"Tell me, please, who am I such as?" I said.
"I cannot make my friend the subject of conversation," he answered,
with a smile.
"But when that friend is present!" I urged.
"I decline the more strongly," he rejoined.
"But when that friend asks you!" I persisted.
"Then most positively I refuse," he returned.
"Because he and I would be talking of two persons as if they were
one and the same. Your consciousness of yourself and my knowledge
of you are far apart!"
The lapels of his coat flew out, and the lappets lifted, and I
thought the metamorphosis of HOMO to CORVUS was about to take place
before my eyes. But the coat closed again in front of him, and he
added, with seeming inconsequence,
"In this world never trust a person who has once deceived you.
Above all, never do anything such a one may ask you to do."
"I will try to remember," I answered; "--but I may forget!"
"Then some evil that is good for you will follow."
"And if I remember?"
"Some evil that is not good for you, will not follow."
The old man seemed to sink to the ground, and immediately I saw the
raven several yards from me, flying low and fast.
DEAD OR ALIVE?
I went walking on, still facing the moon, who, not yet high, was
staring straight into the forest. I did not know what ailed her,
but she was dark and dented, like a battered disc of old copper,
and looked dispirited and weary. Not a cloud was nigh to keep her
company, and the stars were too bright for her. "Is this going to
last for ever?" she seemed to say. She was going one way and I was
going the other, yet through the wood we went a long way together.
We did not commune much, for my eyes were on the ground; but her
disconsolate look was fixed on me: I felt without seeing it. A
long time we were together, I and the moon, walking side by side,
she the dull shine, and I the live shadow.
Something on the ground, under a spreading tree, caught my eye with
its whiteness, and I turned toward it. Vague as it was in the
shadow of the foliage, it suggested, as I drew nearer, a human body.
"Another skeleton!" I said to myself, kneeling and laying my hand
upon it. A body it was, however, and no skeleton, though as nearly
one as body could well be. It lay on its side, and was very cold--
not cold like a stone, but cold like that which was once alive, and
is alive no more. The closer I looked at it, the oftener I touched
it, the less it seemed possible it should be other than dead. For
one bewildered moment, I fancied it one of the wild dancers, a
ghostly Cinderella, perhaps, that had lost her way home, and perished
in the strange night of an out-of-door world! It was quite naked,
and so worn that, even in the shadow, I could, peering close, have
counted without touching them, every rib in its side. All its bones,
indeed, were as visible as if tight-covered with only a thin elastic
leather. Its beautiful yet terrible teeth, unseemly disclosed by
the retracted lips, gleamed ghastly through the dark. Its hair was
longer than itself, thick and very fine to the touch, and black as
It was the body of a tall, probably graceful woman.--How had she
come there? Not of herself, and already in such wasted condition,
surely! Her strength must have failed her; she had fallen, and
lain there until she died of hunger! But how, even so, could she
be thus emaciated? And how came she to be naked? Where were the
savages to strip and leave her? or what wild beasts would have taken
her garments? That her body should have been left was not wonderful!
I rose to my feet, stood, and considered. I must not, could not let
her lie exposed and forsaken! Natural reverence forbade it. Even
the garment of a woman claims respect; her body it were impossible
to leave uncovered! Irreverent eyes might look on it! Brutal claws
might toss it about! Years would pass ere the friendly rains washed
it into the soil!--But the ground was hard, almost solid with
interlacing roots, and I had but my bare hands!
At first it seemed plain that she had not long been dead: there
was not a sign of decay about her! But then what had the slow
wasting of life left of her to decay?
Could she be still alive? Might she not? What if she were! Things
went very strangely in this strange world! Even then there would
be little chance of bringing her back, but I must know she was dead
before I buried her!
As I left the forest-hall, I had spied in the doorway a bunch of
ripe grapes, and brought it with me, eating as I came: a few were
yet left on the stalk, and their juice might possibly revive her!
Anyhow it was all I had with which to attempt her rescue! The mouth
was happily a little open; but the head was in such an awkward
position that, to move the body, I passed my arm under the shoulder
on which it lay, when I found the pine-needles beneath it warm:
she could not have been any time dead, and MIGHT still be alive,
though I could discern no motion of the heart, or any indication
that she breathed! One of her hands was clenched hard, apparently
inclosing something small. I squeezed a grape into her mouth, but
no swallowing followed.
To do for her all I could, I spread a thick layer of pine-needles
and dry leaves, laid one of my garments over it, warm from my body,
lifted her upon it, and covered her with my clothes and a great heap
of leaves: I would save the little warmth left in her, hoping an
increase to it when the sun came back. Then I tried another grape,
but could perceive no slightest movement of mouth or throat.
"Doubt," I said to myself, "may be a poor encouragement to do
anything, but it is a bad reason for doing nothing." So tight was
the skin upon her bones that I dared not use friction.
I crept into the heap of leaves, got as close to her as I could,
and took her in my arms. I had not much heat left in me, but what
I had I would share with her! Thus I spent what remained of the
night, sleepless, and longing for the sun. Her cold seemed to
radiate into me, but no heat to pass from me to her.
Had I fled from the beautiful sleepers, I thought, each on her "dim,
straight" silver couch, to lie alone with such a bedfellow! I had
refused a lovely privilege: I was given over to an awful duty!
Beneath the sad, slow-setting moon, I lay with the dead, and watched
for the dawn.
The darkness had given way, and the eastern horizon was growing
dimly clearer, when I caught sight of a motion rather than of
anything that moved--not far from me, and close to the ground. It
was the low undulating of a large snake, which passed me in an
unswerving line. Presently appeared, making as it seemed for the
same point, what I took for a roebuck-doe and her calf. Again a
while, and two creatures like bear-cubs came, with three or four
smaller ones behind them. The light was now growing so rapidly that
when, a few minutes after, a troop of horses went trotting past, I
could see that, although the largest of them were no bigger than the
smallest Shetland pony, they must yet be full-grown, so perfect were
they in form, and so much had they all the ways and action of great
horses. They were of many breeds. Some seemed models of cart-horses,
others of chargers, hunters, racers. Dwarf cattle and small
"Why are the children not here!" I said to myself. "The moment I am
free of this poor woman, I must go back and fetch them!"
Where were the creatures going? What drew them? Was this an exodus,
or a morning habit? I must wait for the sun! Till he came I must
not leave the woman!
I laid my hand on the body, and could not help thinking it felt a
trifle warmer. It might have gained a little of the heat I had lost!
it could hardly have generated any! What reason for hope there was
had not grown less!
The forehead of the day began to glow, and soon the sun came peering
up, as if to see for the first time what all this stir of a new
world was about. At sight of his great innocent splendour, I rose
full of life, strong against death. Removing the handkerchief I
had put to protect the mouth and eyes from the pine-needles, I
looked anxiously to see whether I had found a priceless jewel, or
but its empty case.
The body lay motionless as when I found it. Then first, in the
morning light, I saw how drawn and hollow was the face, how sharp
were the bones under the skin, how every tooth shaped itself through
the lips. The human garment was indeed worn to its threads, but
the bird of heaven might yet be nestling within, might yet awake to
motion and song!
But the sun was shining on her face! I re-arranged the handkerchief,
laid a few leaves lightly over it, and set out to follow the
creatures. Their main track was well beaten, and must have long
been used--likewise many of the tracks that, joining it from both
sides, merged in, and broadened it. The trees retreated as I went,
and the grass grew thicker. Presently the forest was gone, and a
wide expanse of loveliest green stretched away to the horizon.
Through it, along the edge of the forest, flowed a small river, and
to this the track led. At sight of the water a new though undefined
hope sprang up in me. The stream looked everywhere deep, and was
full to the brim, but nowhere more than a few yards wide. A bluish
mist rose from it, vanishing as it rose. On the opposite side, in
the plentiful grass, many small animals were feeding. Apparently
they slept in the forest, and in the morning sought the plain,
swimming the river to reach it. I knelt and would have drunk, but
the water was hot, and had a strange metallic taste.
I leapt to my feet: here was the warmth I sought--the first necessity
of life! I sped back to my helpless charge.
Without well considering my solitude, no one will understand what
seemed to lie for me in the redemption of this woman from death.
"Prove what she may," I thought with myself, "I shall at least be
lonely no more!" I had found myself such poor company that now first
I seemed to know what hope was. This blessed water would expel the
cold death, and drown my desolation!
I bore her to the stream. Tall as she was, I found her marvellously
light, her bones were so delicate, and so little covered them. I
grew yet more hopeful when I found her so far from stiff that I
could carry her on one arm, like a sleeping child, leaning against
my shoulder. I went softly, dreading even the wind of my motion,
and glad there was no other.
The water was too hot to lay her at once in it: the shock might
scare from her the yet fluttering life! I laid her on the bank,
and dipping one of my garments, began to bathe the pitiful form.
So wasted was it that, save from the plentifulness and blackness of
the hair, it was impossible even to conjecture whether she was young
or old. Her eyelids were just not shut, which made her look dead
the more: there was a crack in the clouds of her night, at which no
sun shone through!
The longer I went on bathing the poor bones, the less grew my hope
that they would ever again be clothed with strength, that ever those
eyelids would lift, and a soul look out; still I kept bathing
continuously, allowing no part time to grow cold while I bathed
another; and gradually the body became so much warmer, that at last
I ventured to submerge it: I got into the stream and drew it in,
holding the face above the water, and letting the swift, steady
current flow all about the rest. I noted, but was able to conclude
nothing from the fact, that, for all the heat, the shut hand never
relaxed its hold.
After about ten minutes, I lifted it out and laid it again on the
bank, dried it, and covered it as well as I could, then ran to the
forest for leaves.
The grass and soil were dry and warm; and when I returned I thought
it had scarcely lost any of the heat the water had given it. I
spread the leaves upon it, and ran for more--then for a third and
a fourth freight.
I could now leave it and go to explore, in the hope of discovering
some shelter. I ran up the stream toward some rocky hills I saw in
that direction, which were not far off.
When I reached them, I found the river issuing full grown from a rock
at the bottom of one of them. To my fancy it seemed to have run down
a stair inside, an eager cataract, at every landing wild to get out,
but only at the foot finding a door of escape.
It did not fill the opening whence it rushed, and I crept through
into a little cave, where I learned that, instead of hurrying
tumultuously down a stair, it rose quietly from the ground at the
back like the base of a large column, and ran along one side, nearly
filling a deep, rather narrow channel. I considered the place, and
saw that, if I could find a few fallen boughs long enough to lie
across the channel, and large enough to bear a little weight without
bending much, I might, with smaller branches and plenty of leaves,
make upon them a comfortable couch, which the stream under would
keep constantly warm. Then I ran back to see how my charge fared.
She was lying as I had left her. The heat had not brought her to
life, but neither had it developed anything to check farther hope.
I got a few boulders out of the channel, and arranged them at her
feet and on both sides of her.
Running again to the wood, I had not to search long ere I found
some small boughs fit for my purpose--mostly of beech, their dry
yellow leaves yet clinging to them. With these I had soon laid
the floor of a bridge-bed over the torrent. I crossed the boughs
with smaller branches, interlaced these with twigs, and buried
all deep in leaves and dry moss.
When thus at length, after not a few journeys to the forest, I had
completed a warm, dry, soft couch, I took the body once more, and
set out with it for the cave. It was so light that now and then
as I went I almost feared lest, when I laid it down, I should find
it a skeleton after all; and when at last I did lay it gently on
the pathless bridge, it was a greater relief to part with that fancy
than with the weight. Once more I covered the body with a thick
layer of leaves; and trying again to feed her with a grape, found
to my joy that I could open the mouth a little farther. The grape,
indeed, lay in it unheeded, but I hoped some of the juice might find
its way down.
After an hour or two on the couch, she was no longer cold. The
warmth of the brook had interpenetrated her frame--truly it was
but a frame!--and she was warm to the touch;--not, probably, with the
warmth of life, but with a warmth which rendered it more possible,
if she were alive, that she might live. I had read of one in a
trance lying motionless for weeks!
In that cave, day after day, night after night, seven long days and
nights, I sat or lay, now waking now sleeping, but always watching.
Every morning I went out and bathed in the hot stream, and every
morning felt thereupon as if I had eaten and drunk--which experience
gave me courage to lay her in it also every day. Once as I did so,
a shadow of discoloration on her left side gave me a terrible shock,
but the next morning it had vanished, and I continued the treatment--
every morning, after her bath, putting a fresh grape in her mouth.
I too ate of the grapes and other berries I found in the forest;
but I believed that, with my daily bath in that river, I could have
done very well without eating at all.
Every time I slept, I dreamed of finding a wounded angel, who,
unable to fly, remained with me until at last she loved me and would
not leave me; and every time I woke, it was to see, instead of an
angel-visage with lustrous eyes, the white, motionless, wasted face
upon the couch. But Adam himself, when first he saw her asleep,
could not have looked more anxiously for Eve's awaking than I
watched for this woman's. Adam knew nothing of himself, perhaps
nothing of his need of another self; I, an alien from my fellows,
had learned to love what I had lost! Were this one wasted shred of
womanhood to disappear, I should have nothing in me but a consuming
hunger after life! I forgot even the Little Ones: things were not
amiss with them! here lay what might wake and be a woman! might
actually open eyes, and look out of them upon me!
Now first I knew what solitude meant--now that I gazed on one who
neither saw nor heard, neither moved nor spoke. I saw now that a
man alone is but a being that may become a man--that he is but a
need, and therefore a possibility. To be enough for himself, a being
must be an eternal, self-existent worm! So superbly constituted,
so simply complicate is man; he rises from and stands upon such a
pedestal of lower physical organisms and spiritual structures, that
no atmosphere will comfort or nourish his life, less divine than
that offered by other souls; nowhere but in other lives can he
breathe. Only by the reflex of other lives can he ripen his
specialty, develop the idea of himself, the individuality that
distinguishes him from every other. Were all men alike, each would
still have an individuality, secured by his personal consciousness,
but there would be small reason why there should be more than two or
three such; while, for the development of the differences which make
a large and lofty unity possible, and which alone can make millions
into a church, an endless and measureless influence and reaction
are indispensable. A man to be perfect--complete, that is, in having
reached the spiritual condition of persistent and universal growth,
which is the mode wherein he inherits the infinitude of his Father--
must have the education of a world of fellow-men. Save for the hope
of the dawn of life in the form beside me, I should have fled for
fellowship to the beasts that grazed and did not speak. Better to
go about with them--infinitely better--than to live alone! But
with the faintest prospect of a woman to my friend, I, poorest of
creatures, was yet a possible man!
THE WHITE LEECH
I woke one morning from a profound sleep, with one of my hands very
painful. The back of it was much swollen, and in the centre of
the swelling was a triangular wound, like the bite of a leech. As
the day went on, the swelling subsided, and by the evening the hurt
was all but healed. I searched the cave, turning over every stone
of any size, but discovered nothing I could imagine capable of
Slowly the days passed, and still the body never moved, never opened
its eyes. It could not be dead, for assuredly it manifested no
sign of decay, and the air about it was quite pure. Moreover, I
could imagine that the sharpest angles of the bones had begun to
disappear, that the form was everywhere a little rounder, and the
skin had less of the parchment-look: if such change was indeed
there, life must be there! the tide which had ebbed so far toward
the infinite, must have begun again to flow! Oh joy to me, if
the rising ripples of life's ocean were indeed burying under lovely
shape the bones it had all but forsaken! Twenty times a day I
looked for evidence of progress, and twenty times a day I doubted--
sometimes even despaired; but the moment I recalled the mental
picture of her as I found her, hope revived.
Several weeks had passed thus, when one night, after lying a long
time awake, I rose, thinking to go out and breathe the cooler air;
for, although from the running of the stream it was always fresh
in the cave, the heat was not seldom a little oppressive. The moon
outside was full, the air within shadowy clear, and naturally I
cast a lingering look on my treasure ere I went. "Bliss eternal!"
I cried aloud, "do I see her eyes?" Great orbs, dark as if cut from
the sphere of a starless night, and luminous by excess of darkness,
seemed to shine amid the glimmering whiteness of her face. I stole
nearer, my heart beating so that I feared the noise of it startling
her. I bent over her. Alas, her eyelids were close shut! Hope
and Imagination had wrought mutual illusion! my heart's desire would
never be! I turned away, threw myself on the floor of the cave,
and wept. Then I bethought me that her eyes had been a little open,
and that now the awful chink out of which nothingness had peered,
was gone: it might be that she had opened them for a moment, and
was again asleep!--it might be she was awake and holding them close!
In either case, life, less or more, must have shut them! I was
comforted, and fell fast asleep.
That night I was again bitten, and awoke with a burning thirst.
In the morning I searched yet more thoroughly, but again in vain.
The wound was of the same character, and, as before, was nearly well
by the evening. I concluded that some large creature of the leech
kind came occasionally from the hot stream. "But, if blood be its
object," I said to myself, "so long as I am there, I need hardly
fear for my treasure!"
That same morning, when, having peeled a grape as usual and taken
away the seeds, I put it in her mouth, her lips made a slight
movement of reception, and I KNEW she lived!
My hope was now so much stronger that I began to think of some
attire for her: she must be able to rise the moment she wished! I
betook myself therefore to the forest, to investigate what material
it might afford, and had hardly begun to look when fibrous skeletons,
like those of the leaves of the prickly pear, suggested themselves
as fit for the purpose. I gathered a stock of them, laid them to
dry in the sun, pulled apart the reticulated layers, and of these
had soon begun to fashion two loose garments, one to hang from her
waist, the other from her shoulders. With the stiletto-point of an
aloe-leaf and various filaments, I sewed together three thicknesses
of the tissue.
During the week that followed, there was no farther sign except
that she more evidently took the grapes. But indeed all the signs
became surer: plainly she was growing plumper, and her skin fairer.
Still she did not open her eyes; and the horrid fear would at times
invade me, that her growth was of some hideous fungoid nature, the
few grapes being nowise sufficient to account for it.
Again I was bitten; and now the thing, whatever it was, began to
pay me regular visits at intervals of three days. It now generally
bit me in the neck or the arm, invariably with but one bite, always
while I slept, and never, even when I slept, in the daytime. Hour
after hour would I lie awake on the watch, but never heard it coming,
or saw sign of its approach. Neither, I believe, did I ever feel
it bite me. At length I became so hopeless of catching it, that
I no longer troubled myself either to look for it by day, or lie
in wait for it at night. I knew from my growing weakness that I
was losing blood at a dangerous rate, but I cared little for that:
in sight of my eyes death was yielding to life; a soul was gathering
strength to save me from loneliness; we would go away together, and
I should speedily recover!
The garments were at length finished, and, contemplating my handiwork
with no small satisfaction, I proceeded to mat layers of the fibre
One night I woke suddenly, breathless and faint, and longing after
air, and had risen to crawl from the cave, when a slight rustle in
the leaves of the couch set me listening motionless.
"I caught the vile thing," said a feeble voice, in my mother-tongue;
"I caught it in the very act!"
She was alive! she spoke! I dared not yield to my transport lest I
should terrify her.
"What creature?" I breathed, rather than said.
"The creature," she answered, "that was biting you."
"What was it?"
"A great white leech."
"How big?" I pursued, forcing myself to be calm.
"Not far from six feet long, I should think," she answered.
"You have saved my life, perhaps!--But how could you touch the
horrid thing! How brave of you!" I cried.
"I did!" was all her answer, and I thought she shuddered.
"Where is it? What could you do with such a monster?"
"I threw it in the river."
"Then it will come again, I fear!"
"I do not think I could have killed it, even had I known how!--I
heard you moaning, and got up to see what disturbed you; saw the
frightful thing at your neck, and pulled it away. But I could not
hold it, and was hardly able to throw it from me. I only heard it
splash in the water!"
"We'll kill it next time!" I said; but with that I turned faint,
sought the open air, but fell.
When I came to myself the sun was up. The lady stood a little way
off, looking, even in the clumsy attire I had fashioned for her, at
once grand and graceful. I HAD seen those glorious eyes! Through
the night they had shone! Dark as the darkness primeval, they now
outshone the day! She stood erect as a column, regarding me. Her
pale cheek indicated no emotion, only question. I rose.
"We must be going!" I said. "The white leech----"
I stopped: a strange smile had flickered over her beautiful face.
"Did you find me there?" she asked, pointing to the cave.
"No; I brought you there," I replied.
"You brought me?"
"From the forest."
"What have you done with my clothes--and my jewels?"
"You had none when I found you."
"Then why did you not leave me?"
"Because I hoped you were not dead."
"Why should you have cared?"
"Because I was very lonely, and wanted you to live."
"You would have kept me enchanted for my beauty!" she said, with
Her words and her look roused my indignation.
"There was no beauty left in you," I said.
"Why, then, again, did you not let me alone?"
"Because you were of my own kind."
"Of YOUR kind?" she cried, in a tone of utter contempt.
"I thought so, but find I was mistaken!"
"Doubtless you pitied me!"
"Never had woman more claim on pity, or less on any other feeling!"
With an expression of pain, mortification, and anger unutterable,
she turned from me and stood silent. Starless night lay profound
in the gulfs of her eyes: hate of him who brought it back had slain
their splendour. The light of life was gone from them.
"Had you failed to rouse me, what would you have done?" she asked
suddenly without moving.
"I would have buried it."
"It! What?--You would have buried THIS?" she exclaimed, flashing
round upon me in a white fury, her arms thrown out, and her eyes
darting forks of cold lightning.
"Nay; that I saw not! That, weary weeks of watching and tending
have brought back to you," I answered--for with such a woman I
must be plain! "Had I seen the smallest sign of decay, I would at
once have buried you."
"Dog of a fool!" she cried, "I was but in a trance--Samoil! what
a fate!--Go and fetch the she-savage from whom you borrowed this
"I made it for you. It is hideous, but I did my best."
She drew herself up to her tall height.
"How long have I been insensible?" she demanded. "A woman could
not have made that dress in a day!"
"Not in twenty days," I rejoined, "hardly in thirty!"
"Ha! How long do you pretend I have lain unconscious?--Answer me at
"I cannot tell how long you had lain when I found you, but there
was nothing left of you save skin and bone: that is more than three
months ago.--Your hair was beautiful, nothing else! I have done
for it what I could."
"My poor hair!" she said, and brought a great armful of it round
from behind her; "--it will be more than a three-months' care to
bring YOU to life again!--I suppose I must thank you, although I
cannot say I am grateful!"
"There is no need, madam: I would have done the same for any
woman--yes, or for any man either!"
"How is it my hair is not tangled?" she said, fondling it.
"It always drifted in the current."
"How?--What do you mean?"
"I could not have brought you to life but by bathing you in the hot
river every morning."
She gave a shudder of disgust, and stood for a while with her gaze
fixed on the hurrying water. Then she turned to me:
"We must understand each other!" she said. "--You have done me
the two worst of wrongs--compelled me to live, and put me to shame:
neither of them can I pardon!"
She raised her left hand, and flung it out as if repelling me.
Something ice-cold struck me on the forehead. When I came to myself,
I was on the ground, wet and shivering.
I rose, and looked around me, dazed at heart. For a moment I could
not see her: she was gone, and loneliness had returned like the
cloud after the rain! She whom I brought back from the brink of
the grave, had fled from me, and left me with desolation! I dared
not one moment remain thus hideously alone. Had I indeed done her a
wrong? I must devote my life to sharing the burden I had compelled
her to resume!
I descried her walking swiftly over the grass, away from the river,
took one plunge for a farewell restorative, and set out to follow
her. The last visit of the white leech, and the blow of the woman,
had enfeebled me, but already my strength was reviving, and I kept
her in sight without difficulty.
"Is this, then, the end?" I said as I went, and my heart brooded
a sad song. Her angry, hating eyes haunted me. I could understand
her resentment at my having forced life upon her, but how had I
further injured her? Why should she loathe me? Could modesty
itself be indignant with true service? How should the proudest
woman, conscious of my every action, cherish against me the least
sense of disgracing wrong? How reverently had I not touched her! As
a father his motherless child, I had borne and tended her! Had all my
labour, all my despairing hope gone to redeem only ingratitude? "No,"
I answered myself; "beauty must have a heart! However profoundly
hidden, it must be there! The deeper buried, the stronger and truer
will it wake at last in its beautiful grave! To rouse that heart
were a better gift to her than the happiest life! It would be to
give her a nobler, a higher life!"
She was ascending a gentle slope before me, walking straight and
steady as one that knew whither, when I became aware that she was
increasing the distance between us. I summoned my strength, and
it came in full tide. My veins filled with fresh life! My body
seemed to become ethereal, and, following like an easy wind, I
rapidly overtook her.
Not once had she looked behind. Swiftly she moved, like a Greek
goddess to rescue, but without haste. I was within three yards of
her, when she turned sharply, yet with grace unbroken, and stood.
Fatigue or heat she showed none. Her paleness was not a pallor, but
a pure whiteness; her breathing was slow and deep. Her eyes seemed
to fill the heavens, and give light to the world. It was nearly
noon, but the sense was upon me as of a great night in which an
invisible dew makes the stars look large.
"Why do you follow me?" she asked, quietly but rather sternly, as
if she had never before seen me.
"I have lived so long," I answered, "on the mere hope of your eyes,
that I must want to see them again!"
"You WILL not be spared!" she said coldly. "I command you to stop
where you stand."
"Not until I see you in a place of safety will I leave you," I
"Then take the consequences," she said, and resumed her swift-gliding
But as she turned she cast on me a glance, and I stood as if run
through with a spear. Her scorn had failed: she would kill me with
Despair restored my volition; the spell broke; I ran, and overtook
"Have pity upon me!" I cried.
She gave no heed. I followed her like a child whose mother pretends
to abandon him. "I will be your slave!" I said, and laid my hand
on her arm.
She turned as if a serpent had bit her. I cowered before the blaze
of her eyes, but could not avert my own.
"Pity me," I cried again.
She resumed her walking.
The whole day I followed her. The sun climbed the sky, seemed to
pause on its summit, went down the other side. Not a moment did
she pause, not a moment did I cease to follow. She never turned
her head, never relaxed her pace.
The sun went below, and the night came up. I kept close to her:
if I lost sight of her for a moment, it would be for ever!
All day long we had been walking over thick soft grass: abruptly
she stopped, and threw herself upon it. There was yet light enough
to show that she was utterly weary. I stood behind her, and gazed
down on her for a moment.
Did I love her? I knew she was not good! Did I hate her? I could
not leave her! I knelt beside her.
"Begone! Do not dare touch me," she cried.
Her arms lay on the grass by her sides as if paralyzed.
Suddenly they closed about my neck, rigid as those of the
torture-maiden. She drew down my face to hers, and her lips clung
to my cheek. A sting of pain shot somewhere through me, and pulsed.
I could not stir a hair's breadth. Gradually the pain ceased. A
slumberous weariness, a dreamy pleasure stole over me, and then I
All at once I came to myself. The moon was a little way above the
horizon, but spread no radiance; she was but a bright thing set in
blackness. My cheek smarted; I put my hand to it, and found a wet
spot. My neck ached: there again was a wet spot! I sighed heavily,
and felt very tired. I turned my eyes listlessly around me--and
saw what had become of the light of the moon: it was gathered about
the lady! she stood in a shimmering nimbus! I rose and staggered
"Down!" she cried imperiously, as to a rebellious dog. "Follow me
a step if you dare!"
"I will!" I murmured, with an agonised effort.
"Set foot within the gates of my city, and my people will stone you:
they do not love beggars!"
I was deaf to her words. Weak as water, and half awake, I did not
know that I moved, but the distance grew less between us. She took
one step back, raised her left arm, and with the clenched hand
seemed to strike me on the forehead. I received as it were a blow
from an iron hammer, and fell.
I sprang to my feet, cold and wet, but clear-headed and strong. Had
the blow revived me? it had left neither wound nor pain!--But how
came I wet?--I could not have lain long, for the moon was no higher!
The lady stood some yards away, her back toward me. She was doing
something, I could not distinguish what. Then by her sudden gleam
I knew she had thrown off her garments, and stood white in the dazed
moon. One moment she stood--and fell forward.
A streak of white shot away in a swift-drawn line. The same instant
the moon recovered herself, shining out with a full flash, and I
saw that the streak was a long-bodied thing, rushing in great,
low-curved bounds over the grass. Dark spots seemed to run like a
stream adown its back, as if it had been fleeting along under the
edge of a wood, and catching the shadows of the leaves.
"God of mercy!" I cried, "is the terrible creature speeding to the
night-infolded city?" and I seemed to hear from afar the sudden
burst and spread of outcrying terror, as the pale savage bounded
from house to house, rending and slaying.
While I gazed after it fear-stricken, past me from behind, like a
swift, all but noiseless arrow, shot a second large creature, pure
white. Its path was straight for the spot where the lady had fallen,
and, as I thought, lay. My tongue clave to the roof of my mouth.
I sprang forward pursuing the beast. But in a moment the spot I
made for was far behind it.
"It was well," I thought, "that I could not cry out: if she had
risen, the monster would have been upon her!"
But when I reached the place, no lady was there; only the garments
she had dropped lay dusk in the moonlight.
I stood staring after the second beast. It tore over the ground
with yet greater swiftness than the former--in long, level, skimming
leaps, the very embodiment of wasteless speed. It followed the line
the other had taken, and I watched it grow smaller and smaller, until
it disappeared in the uncertain distance.
But where was the lady? Had the first beast surprised her, creeping
upon her noiselessly? I had heard no shriek! and there had not been
time to devour her! Could it have caught her up as it ran, and
borne her away to its den? So laden it could not have run so fast!
and I should have seen that it carried something!
Horrible doubts began to wake in me. After a thorough but fruitless
search, I set out in the track of the two animals.
THE FUGITIVE MOTHER
As I hastened along, a cloud came over the moon, and from the
gray dark suddenly emerged a white figure, clasping a child to her
bosom, and stooping as she ran. She was on a line parallel with
my own, but did not perceive me as she hurried along, terror and
anxiety in every movement of her driven speed.
"She is chased!" I said to myself. "Some prowler of this terrible
night is after her!"
To follow would have added to her fright: I stepped into her track
to stop her pursuer.
As I stood for a moment looking after her through the dusk, behind
me came a swift, soft-footed rush, and ere I could turn, something
sprang over my head, struck me sharply on the forehead, and knocked
me down. I was up in an instant, but all I saw of my assailant was a
vanishing whiteness. I ran after the beast, with the blood trickling
from my forehead; but had run only a few steps, when a shriek of
despair tore the quivering night. I ran the faster, though I could
not but fear it must already be too late.
In a minute or two I spied a low white shape approaching me through
the vapour-dusted moonlight. It must be another beast, I thought at
first, for it came slowly, almost crawling, with strange, floundering
leaps, as of a creature in agony! I drew aside from its path, and
waited. As it neared me, I saw it was going on three legs, carrying
its left fore-paw high from the ground. It had many dark, oval spots
on a shining white skin, and was attended by a low rushing sound,
as of water falling upon grass. As it went by me, I saw something
streaming from the lifted paw.
"It is blood!" I said to myself, "some readier champion than I has
wounded the beast!" But, strange to tell, such a pity seized me at
sight of the suffering creature, that, though an axe had been in my
hand I could not have struck at it. In a broken succession of
hobbling leaps it went out of sight, its blood, as it seemed, still
issuing in a small torrent, which kept flowing back softly through
the grass beside me. "If it go on bleeding like that," I thought,
"it will soon be hurtless!"
I went on, for I might yet be useful to the woman, and hoped also to
see her deliverer.
I descried her a little way off, seated on the grass, with her child
in her lap.
"Can I do anything for you?" I asked.
At the sound of my voice she started violently, and would have risen.
I threw myself on the ground.
"You need not be frightened," I said. "I was following the beast
when happily you found a nearer protector! It passed me now with its
foot bleeding so much that by this time it must be all but dead!"
"There is little hope of that!" she answered, trembling. "Do you
not know whose beast she is?"
Now I had certain strange suspicions, but I answered that I knew
nothing of the brute, and asked what had become of her champion.
"What champion?" she rejoined. "I have seen no one."
"Then how came the monster to grief?"
"I pounded her foot with a stone--as hard as I could strike. Did
you not hear her cry?"
"Well, you are a brave woman!" I answered. "I thought it was you
gave the cry!"
"It was the leopardess."
"I never heard such a sound from the throat of an animal! it was
like the scream of a woman in torture!"
"My voice was gone; I could not have shrieked to save my baby! When
I saw the horrid mouth at my darling's little white neck, I caught
up a stone and mashed her lame foot."
"Tell me about the creature," I said; "I am a stranger in these
"You will soon know about her if you are going to Bulika!" she
answered. "Now, I must never go back there!"
"Yes, I am going to Bulika," I said, "--to see the princess."
"Have a care; you had better not go!--But perhaps you are--! The
princess is a very good, kind woman!"
I heard a little movement. Clouds had by this time gathered so thick
over the moon that I could scarcely see my companion: I feared she
was rising to run from me.
"You are in no danger of any sort from me," I said. "What oath
would you like me to take?"
"I know by your speech that you are not of the people of Bulika,"
she replied; "I will trust you!--I am not of them, either, else I
should not be able: they never trust any one--If only I could see
you! But I like your voice!--There, my darling is asleep! The foul
beast has not hurt her!--Yes: it was my baby she was after!" she
went on, caressing the child. "And then she would have torn her
mother to pieces for carrying her off!--Some say the princess has
two white leopardesses," she continued: "I know only one--with spots.
Everybody knows HER! If the princess hear of a baby, she sends her
immediately to suck its blood, and then it either dies or grows up
an idiot. I would have gone away with my baby, but the princess was
from home, and I thought I might wait until I was a little stronger.
But she must have taken the beast with her, and been on her way home
when I left, and come across my track. I heard the SNIFF-SNUFF of
the leopardess behind me, and ran;--oh, how I ran!--But my darling
will not die! There is no mark on her!"
"Where are you taking her?"
"Where no one ever tells!"
"Why is the princess so cruel?"
"There is an old prophecy that a child will be the death of her.
That is why she will listen to no offer of marriage, they say."
"But what will become of her country if she kill all the babies?"
"She does not care about her country. She sends witches around to
teach the women spells that keep babies away, and give them horrible
things to eat. Some say she is in league with the Shadows to put
an end to the race. At night we hear the questing beast, and lie
awake and shiver. She can tell at once the house where a baby is
coming, and lies down at the door, watching to get in. There are
words that have power to shoo her away, only they do not always
work--But here I sit talking, and the beast may by this time have
got home, and her mistress be sending the other after us!"
As thus she ended, she rose in haste.
"I do not think she will ever get home.--Let me carry the baby for
you!" I said, as I rose also.
She returned me no answer, and when I would have taken it, only
clasped it the closer.
"I cannot think," I said, walking by her side, "how the brute could
be bleeding so much!"
"Take my advice, and don't go near the palace," she answered. "There
are sounds in it at night as if the dead were trying to shriek, but
could not open their mouths!"
She bade me an abrupt farewell. Plainly she did not want more of
my company; so I stood still, and heard her footsteps die away on
I had lost all notion of my position, and was walking about in pure,
helpless impatience, when suddenly I found myself in the path of
the leopardess, wading in the blood from her paw. It ran against
my ankles with the force of a small brook, and I got out of it the
more quickly because of an unshaped suspicion in my mind as to whose
blood it might be. But I kept close to the sound of it, walking up
the side of the stream, for it would guide me in the direction of
I soon began to reflect, however, that no leopardess, no elephant,
no hugest animal that in our world preceded man, could keep such a
torrent flowing, except every artery in its body were open, and its
huge system went on filling its vessels from fields and lakes and
forests as fast as they emptied themselves: it could not be blood!
I dipped a finger in it, and at once satisfied myself that it was
not. In truth, however it might have come there, it was a softly
murmuring rivulet of water that ran, without channel, over the grass!
But sweet as was its song, I dared not drink of it; I kept walking
on, hoping after the light, and listening to the familiar sound so
long unheard--for that of the hot stream was very different. The
mere wetting of my feet in it, however, had so refreshed me, that I
went on without fatigue till the darkness began to grow thinner,
and I knew the sun was drawing nigh. A few minutes more, and I
could discern, against the pale aurora, the wall-towers of a
city--seemingly old as time itself. Then I looked down to get a
sight of the brook.
It was gone. I had indeed for a long time noted its sound growing
fainter, but at last had ceased to attend to it. I looked back:
the grass in its course lay bent as it had flowed, and here and
there glimmered a small pool. Toward the city, there was no trace
of it. Near where I stood, the flow of its fountain must at least
Around the city were gardens, growing many sorts of vegetables,
hardly one of which I recognised. I saw no water, no flowers, no
sign of animals. The gardens came very near the walls, but were
separated from them by huge heaps of gravel and refuse thrown from
I went up to the nearest gate, and found it but half-closed, nowise
secured, and without guard or sentinel. To judge by its hinges, it
could not be farther opened or shut closer. Passing through, I
looked down a long ancient street. It was utterly silent, and with
scarce an indication in it of life present. Had I come upon a dead
city? I turned and went out again, toiled a long way over the
dust-heaps, and crossed several roads, each leading up to a gate: I
would not re-enter until some of the inhabitants should be stirring.
What was I there for? what did I expect or hope to find? what did I
mean to do?
I must see, if but once more, the woman I had brought to life! I did
not desire her society: she had waked in me frightful suspicions; and
friendship, not to say love, was wildly impossible between us! But
her presence had had a strange influence upon me, and in her presence
I must resist, and at the same time analyse that influence! The
seemingly inscrutable in her I would fain penetrate: to understand
something of her mode of being would be to look into marvels such as
imagination could never have suggested! In this I was too daring:
a man must not, for knowledge, of his own will encounter temptation!
On the other hand, I had reinstated an evil force about to perish,
and was, to the extent of my opposing faculty, accountable for what
mischief might ensue! I had learned that she was the enemy of
children: the Little Ones might be in her danger! It was in the
hope of finding out something of their history that I had left them;
on that I had received a little light: I must have more; I must
learn how to protect them!
Hearing at length a little stir in the place, I walked through the
next gate, and thence along a narrow street of tall houses to a
little square, where I sat down on the base of a pillar with a
hideous bat-like creature atop. Ere long, several of the inhabitants
came sauntering past. I spoke to one: he gave me a rude stare and
ruder word, and went on.
I got up and went through one narrow street after another, gradually
filling with idlers, and was not surprised to see no children. By
and by, near one of the gates, I encountered a group of young men
who reminded me not a little of the bad giants. They came about me
staring, and presently began to push and hustle me, then to throw
things at me. I bore it as well as I could, wishing not to provoke
enmity where wanted to remain for a while. Oftener than once or
twice I appealed to passers-by whom I fancied more benevolent-looking,
but none would halt a moment to listen to me. I looked poor, and that
was enough: to the citizens of Bulika, as to house-dogs, poverty was
an offence! Deformity and sickness were taxed; and no legislation
of their princess was more heartily approved of than what tended to
make poverty subserve wealth.
I took to my heels at last, and no one followed me beyond the gate.
A lumbering fellow, however, who sat by it eating a hunch of bread,
picked up a stone to throw after me, and happily, in his stupid
eagerness, threw, not the stone but the bread. I took it, and he
did not dare follow to reclaim it: beyond the walls they were cowards
every one. I went off a few hundred yards, threw myself down, ate
the bread, fell asleep, and slept soundly in the grass, where the
hot sunlight renewed my strength.
It was night when I woke. The moon looked down on me in friendly
fashion, seeming to claim with me old acquaintance. She was very
bright, and the same moon, I thought, that saw me through the terrors
of my first night in that strange world. A cold wind blew from the
gate, bringing with it an evil odour; but it did not chill me, for
the sun had plenished me with warmth. I crept again into the city.
There I found the few that were still in the open air crouched in
corners to escape the shivering blast.
I was walking slowly through the long narrow street, when, just
before me, a huge white thing bounded across it, with a single flash
in the moonlight, and disappeared. I turned down the next opening,
eager to get sight of it again.
It was a narrow lane, almost too narrow to pass through, but it led
me into a wider street. The moment I entered the latter, I saw
on the opposite side, in the shadow, the creature I had followed,
itself following like a dog what I took for a man. Over his shoulder,
every other moment, he glanced at the animal behind him, but neither
spoke to it, nor attempted to drive it away. At a place where he
had to cross a patch of moonlight, I saw that he cast no shadow,
and was himself but a flat superficial shadow, of two dimensions.
He was, nevertheless, an opaque shadow, for he not merely darkened
any object on the other side of him, but rendered it, in fact,
invisible. In the shadow he was blacker than the shadow; in the
moonlight he looked like one who had drawn his shadow up about him,
for not a suspicion of it moved beside or under him; while the
gleaming animal, which followed so close at his heels as to seem
the white shadow of his blackness, and which I now saw to be a
leopardess, drew her own gliding shadow black over the ground by
her side. When they passed together from the shadow into the
moonlight, the Shadow deepened in blackness, the animal flashed
into radiance. I was at the moment walking abreast of them on
the opposite side, my bare feet sounding on the flat stones: the
leopardess never turned head or twitched ear; the shadow seemed
once to look at me, for I lost his profile, and saw for a second
only a sharp upright line. That instant the wind found me and blew
through me: I shuddered from head to foot, and my heart went from
wall to wall of my bosom, like a pebble in a child's rattle.
A WOMAN OF BULIKA
I turned aside into an alley, and sought shelter in a small archway.
In the mouth of it I stopped, and looked out at the moonlight which
filled the alley. The same instant a woman came gliding in after
me, turned, trembling, and looked out also. A few seconds passed;
then a huge leopard, its white skin dappled with many blots, darted
across the archway. The woman pressed close to me, and my heart
filled with pity. I put my arm round her.
"If the brute come here, I will lay hold of it," I said, "and you
"Thank you!" she murmured.
"Have you ever seen it before?" I asked.
"Several times," she answered, still trembling. "She is a pet of
the princess's. You are a stranger, or you would know her!"
"I am a stranger," I answered. "But is she, then, allowed to run
"She is kept in a cage, her mouth muzzled, and her feet in gloves
of crocodile leather. Chained she is too; but she gets out often,
and sucks the blood of any child she can lay hold of. Happily there
are not many mothers in Bulika!"
Here she burst into tears.
"I wish I were at home!" she sobbed. "The princess returned only
last night, and there is the leopardess out already! How am I to
get into the house? It is me she is after, I know! She will be
lying at my own door, watching for me!--But I am a fool to talk to
"All strangers are not bad!" I said. "The beast shall not touch
you till she has done with me, and by that time you will be in. You
are happy to have a house to go to! What a terrible wind it is!"
"Take me home safe, and I will give you shelter from it," she
rejoined. "But we must wait a little!"
I asked her many questions. She told me the people never did
anything except dig for precious stones in their cellars. They
were rich, and had everything made for them in other towns.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because it is a disgrace to work," she answered. "Everybody in
Bulika knows that!"
I asked how they were rich if none of them earned money. She replied
that their ancestors had saved for them, and they never spent. When
they wanted money they sold a few of their gems.
"But there must be some poor!" I said.
"I suppose there must be, but we never think of such people. When
one goes poor, we forget him. That is how we keep rich. We mean
to be rich always."
"But when you have dug up all your precious stones and sold them,
you will have to spend your money, and one day you will have none
"We have so many, and there are so many still in the ground, that
that day will never come," she replied.
"Suppose a strange people were to fall upon you, and take everything
"No strange people will dare; they are all horribly afraid of our
princess. She it is who keeps us safe and free and rich!"
Every now and then as she spoke, she would stop and look behind
I asked why her people had such a hatred of strangers. She answered
that the presence of a stranger defiled the city.
"How is that?" I said.
"Because we are more ancient and noble than any other nation.--
Therefore," she added, "we always turn strangers out before night."
"How, then, can you take me into your house?" I asked.
"I will make an exception of you," she replied.
"Is there no place in the city for the taking in of strangers?"
"Such a place would be pulled down, and its owner burned. How is
purity to be preserved except by keeping low people at a proper
distance? Dignity is such a delicate thing!"
She told me that their princess had reigned for thousands of years;
that she had power over the air and the water as well as the earth--
and, she believed, over the fire too; that she could do what she
pleased, and was answerable to nobody.
When at length she was willing to risk the attempt, we took our way
through lanes and narrow passages, and reached her door without
having met a single live creature. It was in a wider street, between
two tall houses, at the top of a narrow, steep stair, up which she
climbed slowly, and I followed. Ere we reached the top, however,
she seemed to take fright, and darted up the rest of the steps: I
arrived just in time to have the door closed in my face, and stood
confounded on the landing, where was about length enough, between
the opposite doors of the two houses, for a man to lie down.
Weary, and not scrupling to defile Bulika with my presence, I took
advantage of the shelter, poor as it was.
THE WHITE LEOPARDESS
At the foot of the stair lay the moonlit street, and I could hear
the unwholesome, inhospitable wind blowing about below. But not a
breath of it entered my retreat, and I was composing myself to rest,
when suddenly my eyes opened, and there was the head of the shining
creature I had seen following the Shadow, just rising above the
uppermost step! The moment she caught sight of my eyes, she stopped
and began to retire, tail foremost. I sprang up; whereupon, having
no room to turn, she threw herself backward, head over tail, scrambled
to her feet, and in a moment was down the stair and gone. I followed
her to the bottom, and looked all up and down the street. Not seeing
her, I went back to my hard couch.
There were, then, two evil creatures prowling about the city, one
with, and one without spots! I was not inclined to risk much for
man or woman in Bulika, but the life of a child might well be worth
such a poor one as mine, and I resolved to keep watch at that door
the rest of the night.
Presently I heard the latch move, slow, slow: I looked up, and
seeing the door half-open, rose and slid softly in. Behind it
stood, not the woman I had befriended, but the muffled woman of
the desert. Without a word she led me a few steps to an empty
stone-paved chamber, and pointed to a rug on the floor. I wrapped
myself in it, and once more lay down. She shut the door of the room,
and I heard the outer door open and close again. There was no light
save what came from the moonlit air.
As I lay sleepless, I began to hear a stifled moaning. It went on
for a good while, and then came the cry of a child, followed by a
terrible shriek. I sprang up and darted into the passage: from
another door in it came the white leopardess with a new-born baby
in her mouth, carrying it like a cub of her own. I threw myself
upon her, and compelled her to drop the infant, which fell on the
stone slabs with a piteous wail.
At the cry appeared the muffled woman. She stepped over us, the
beast and myself, where we lay struggling in the narrow passage,
took up the child, and carried it away. Returning, she lifted me
off the animal, opened the door, and pushed me gently out. At my
heels followed the leopardess.
"She too has failed me!" thought I; "--given me up to the beast to
be settled with at her leisure! But we shall have a tussle for it!"
I ran down the stair, fearing she would spring on my back, but she
followed me quietly. At the foot I turned to lay hold of her, but
she sprang over my head; and when again I turned to face her, she
was crouching at my feet! I stooped and stroked her lovely white
skin; she responded by licking my bare feet with her hard dry tongue.
Then I patted and fondled her, a well of tenderness overflowing in
my heart: she might be treacherous too, but if I turned from every
show of love lest it should be feigned, how was I ever to find the
real love which must be somewhere in every world?
I stood up; she rose, and stood beside me.
A bulky object fell with a heavy squelch in the middle of the street,
a few yards from us. I ran to it, and found a pulpy mass, with just
form enough left to show it the body of a woman. It must have been
thrown from some neighbouring window! I looked around me: the
Shadow was walking along the other side of the way, with the white
leopardess again at his heel!
I followed and gained upon them, urging in my heart for the leopardess
that probably she was not a free agent. When I got near them,
however, she turned and flew at me with such a hideous snarl, that
instinctively I drew back: instantly she resumed her place behind
the Shadow. Again I drew near; again she flew at me, her eyes
flaming like live emeralds. Once more I made the experiment: she
snapped at me like a dog, and bit me. My heart gave way, and I
uttered a cry; whereupon the creature looked round with a glance that
plainly meant--"Why WOULD you make me do it?"
I turned away angry with myself: I had been losing my time ever
since I entered the place! night as it was I would go straight to
the palace! From the square I had seen it--high above the heart
of the city, compassed with many defences, more a fortress than a
But I found its fortifications, like those of the city, much
neglected, and partly ruinous. For centuries, clearly, they had
been of no account! It had great and strong gates, with something
like a drawbridge to them over a rocky chasm; but they stood open,
and it was hard to believe that water had ever occupied the hollow
before them. All was so still that sleep seemed to interpenetrate
the structure, causing the very moonlight to look discordantly awake.
I must either enter like a thief, or break a silence that rendered
frightful the mere thought of a sound!
Like an outcast dog I was walking about the walls, when I came to
a little recess with a stone bench: I took refuge in it from the
wind, lay down, and in spite of the cold fell fast asleep.
I was wakened by something leaping upon me, and licking my face with
the rough tongue of a feline animal. "It is the white leopardess!"
I thought. "She is come to suck my blood!--and why should she not
have it?--it would cost me more to defend than to yield it!" So I
lay still, expecting a shoot of pain. But the pang did not arrive;
a pleasant warmth instead began to diffuse itself through me.
Stretched at my back, she lay as close to me as she could lie, the
heat of her body slowly penetrating mine, and her breath, which had
nothing of the wild beast in it, swathing my head and face in a
genial atmosphere. A full conviction that her intention toward me
was good, gained possession of me. I turned like a sleepy boy,
threw my arm over her, and sank into profound unconsciousness.
When I began to come to myself, I fancied I lay warm and soft in my
own bed. "Is it possible I am at home?" I thought. The well-known
scents of the garden seemed to come crowding in. I rubbed my eyes,
and looked out: I lay on a bare stone, in the heart of a hateful
I sprang from the bench. Had I indeed had a leopardess for my
bedfellow, or had I but dreamed it? She had but just left me, for
the warmth of her body was with me yet!
I left the recess with a new hope, as strong as it was shapeless.
One thing only was clear to me: I must find the princess! Surely
I had some power with her, if not over her! Had I not saved her
life, and had she not prolonged it at the expense of my vitality?
The reflection gave me courage to encounter her, be she what she
Making a circuit of the castle, I came again to the open gates,
crossed the ravine-like moat, and found myself in a paved court,
planted at regular intervals with towering trees like poplars. In
the centre was one taller than the rest, whose branches, near the
top, spread a little and gave it some resemblance to a palm. Between
their great stems I got glimpses of the palace, which was of a style
strange to me, but suggested Indian origin. It was long and low,
with lofty towers at the corners, and one huge dome in the middle,
rising from the roof to half the height of the towers. The main
entrance was in the centre of the front--a low arch that seemed
half an ellipse. No one was visible, the doors stood wide open,
and I went unchallenged into a large hall, in the form of a longish
ellipse. Toward one side stood a cage, in which couched, its head
on its paws, a huge leopardess, chained by a steel collar, with
its mouth muzzled and its paws muffled. It was white with dark
oval spots, and lay staring out of wide-open eyes, with canoe-shaped
pupils, and great green irids. It appeared to watch me, but not
an eyeball, not a foot, not a whisker moved, and its tail stretched
out behind it rigid as an iron bar. I could not tell whether it
was a live thing or not.
>From this vestibule two low passages led; I took one of them, and
found it branch into many, all narrow and irregular. At a spot
where was scarce room for two to pass, a page ran against me. He
started back in terror, but having scanned me, gathered impudence,
puffed himself out, and asked my business.
"To see the princess," I answered.
"A likely thing!" he returned. "I have not seen her highness this
I caught him by the back of the neck, shook him, and said, "Take me
to her at once, or I will drag you with me till I find her. She
shall know how her servants receive her visitors."
He gave a look at me, and began to pull like a blind man's dog,
leading me thus to a large kitchen, where were many servants, feebly
busy, and hardly awake. I expected them to fall upon me and drive
me out, but they stared instead, with wide eyes--not at me, but
at something behind me, and grew more ghastly as they stared. I
turned my head, and saw the white leopardess, regarding them in a
way that might have feared stouter hearts.
Presently, however, one of them, seeing, I suppose, that attack was
not imminent, began to recover himself; I turned to him, and let the
"Take me to the princess," I said.
"She has not yet left her room, your lordship," he replied.
"Let her know that I am here, waiting audience of her."
"Will your lordship please to give me your name?"
"Tell her that one who knows the white leech desires to see her."
"She will kill me if I take such a message: I must not. I dare not."
He cast a glance at my attendant, and went.
The others continued staring--too much afraid of her to take their
eyes off her. I turned to the graceful creature, where she stood,
her muzzle dropped to my heel, white as milk, a warm splendour in
the gloomy place, and stooped and patted her. She looked up at me;
the mere movement of her head was enough to scatter them in all
directions. She rose on her hind legs, and put her paws on my
shoulders; I threw my arms round her. She pricked her ears, broke
from me, and was out of sight in a moment.
The man I had sent to the princess entered.
"Please to come this way, my lord," he said.
My heart gave a throb, as if bracing itself to the encounter. I
followed him through many passages, and was at last shown into a
room so large and so dark that its walls were invisible. A single
spot on the floor reflected a little light, but around that spot
all was black. I looked up, and saw at a great height an oval
aperture in the roof, on the periphery of which appeared the joints
between blocks of black marble. The light on the floor showed
close fitting slabs of the same material. I found afterward that
the elliptical wall as well was of black marble, absorbing the
little light that reached it. The roof was the long half of an
ellipsoid, and the opening in it was over one of the foci of the
ellipse of the floor. I fancied I caught sight of reddish lines,
but when I would have examined them, they were gone.
All at once, a radiant form stood in the centre of the darkness,
flashing a splendour on every side. Over a robe of soft white, her
hair streamed in a cataract, black as the marble on which it fell.
Her eyes were a luminous blackness; her arms and feet like warm
ivory. She greeted me with the innocent smile of a girl--and in
face, figure, and motion seemed but now to have stepped over the
threshold of womanhood. "Alas," thought I, "ill did I reckon my
danger! Can this be the woman I rescued--she who struck me, scorned
me, left me?" I stood gazing at her out of the darkness; she stood
gazing into it, as if searching for me.
She disappeared. "She will not acknowledge me!" I thought. But
the next instant her eyes flashed out of the dark straight into
mine. She had descried me and come to me!
"You have found me at last!" she said, laying her hand on my
shoulder. "I knew you would!"
My frame quivered with conflicting consciousnesses, to analyse
which I had no power. I was simultaneously attracted and repelled:
each sensation seemed either.
"You shiver!" she said. "This place is cold for you! Come."
I stood silent: she had struck me dumb with beauty; she held me
dumb with sweetness.
Taking me by the hand, she drew me to the spot of light, and again
flashed upon me. An instant she stood there.
"You have grown brown since last I saw you," she said.
"This is almost the first roof I have been under since you left me,"
"Whose was the other?" she rejoined.
"I do not know the woman's name."
"I would gladly learn it! The instinct of hospitality is not strong
in my people!"
She took me again by the hand, and led me through the darkness many
steps to a curtain of black. Beyond it was a white stair, up which
she conducted me to a beautiful chamber.
"How you must miss the hot flowing river!" she said. "But there
is a bath in the corner with no white leeches in it! At the foot
of your couch you will find a garment. When you come down, I shall
be in the room to your left at the foot of the stair."
I stood as she left me, accusing my presumption: how was I to treat
this lovely woman as a thing of evil, who behaved to me like a
sister?--Whence the marvellous change in her? She left me with
a blow; she received me almost with an embrace! She had reviled
me; she said she knew I would follow and find her! Did she know my
doubts concerning her--how much I should want explained? COULD she
explain all? Could I believe her if she did? As to her hospitality,
I had surely earned and might accept that--at least until I came to
a definite judgment concerning her!
Could such beauty as I saw, and such wickedness as I suspected, exist
in the same person? If they could, HOW was it possible? Unable
to answer the former question, I must let the latter wait!
Clear as crystal, the water in the great white bath sent a sparkling
flash from the corner where it lay sunk in the marble floor, and
seemed to invite me to its embrace. Except the hot stream, two
draughts in the cottage of the veiled woman, and the pools in the
track of the wounded leopardess, I had not seen water since leaving
home: it looked a thing celestial. I plunged in.
Immediately my brain was filled with an odour strange and delicate,
which yet I did not altogether like. It made me doubt the princess
afresh: had she medicated it? had she enchanted it? was she in any
way working on me unlawfully? And how was there water in the palace,
and not a drop in the city? I remembered the crushed paw of the
leopardess, and sprang from the bath.
What had I been bathing in? Again I saw the fleeing mother, again
I heard the howl, again I saw the limping beast. But what matter
whence it flowed? was not the water sweet? Was it not very water
the pitcher-plant secreted from its heart, and stored for the weary
traveller? Water came from heaven: what mattered the well where it
gathered, or the spring whence it burst? But I did not re-enter the
I put on the robe of white wool, embroidered on the neck and hem,
that lay ready for me, and went down the stair to the room whither
my hostess had directed me. It was round, all of alabaster, and
without a single window: the light came through everywhere, a soft,
pearly shimmer rather than shine. Vague shadowy forms went flitting
about over the walls and low dome, like loose rain-clouds over a
The princess stood waiting me, in a robe embroidered with argentine
rings and discs, rectangles and lozenges, close together--a silver
mail. It fell unbroken from her neck and hid her feet, but its
long open sleeves left her arms bare.
In the room was a table of ivory, bearing cakes and fruit, an ivory
jug of milk, a crystal jug of wine of a pale rose-colour, and a
"Here we do not kill to eat," she said; "but I think you will like
what I can give you."
I told her I could desire nothing better than what I saw. She
seated herself on a couch by the table, and made me a sign to sit
She poured me out a bowlful of milk, and, handing me the loaf, begged
me to break from it such a piece as I liked. Then she filled from
the wine-jug two silver goblets of grotesquely graceful workmanship.
"You have never drunk wine like this!" she said.
I drank, and wondered: every flower of Hybla and Hymettus must have
sent its ghost to swell the soul of that wine!
"And now that you will be able to listen," she went on, "I must do
what I can to make myself intelligible to you. Our natures, however,
are so different, that this may not be easy. Men and women live
but to die; we, that is such as I--we are but a few--live to live
on. Old age is to you a horror; to me it is a dear desire: the older
we grow, the nearer we are to our perfection. Your perfection is a
poor thing, comes soon, and lasts but a little while; ours is a
ceaseless ripening. I am not yet ripe, and have lived thousands of
your years--how many, I never cared to note. The everlasting will
not be measured.
"Many lovers have sought me; I have loved none of them: they sought
but to enslave me; they sought me but as the men of my city seek
gems of price.--When you found me, I found a man! I put you to the
test; you stood it; your love was genuine!--It was, however, far
from ideal--far from such love as I would have. You loved me truly,
but not with true love. Pity has, but is not love. What woman of
any world would return love for pity? Such love as yours was then,
is hateful to me. I knew that, if you saw me as I am, you would
love me--like the rest of them--to have and to hold: I would none
of that either! I would be otherwise loved! I would have a love
that outlived hopelessness, outmeasured indifference, hate, scorn!
Therefore did I put on cruelty, despite, ingratitude. When I left
you, I had shown myself such as you could at least no longer follow
from pity: I was no longer in need of you! But you must satisfy
my desire or set me free--prove yourself priceless or worthless!
To satisfy the hunger of my love, you must follow me, looking for
nothing, not gratitude, not even pity in return!--follow and find
me, and be content with merest presence, with scantest forbearance!--
I, not you, have failed; I yield the contest."
She looked at me tenderly, and hid her face in her hands. But I
had caught a flash and a sparkle behind the tenderness, and did
not believe her. She laid herself out to secure and enslave me;
she only fascinated me!
"Beautiful princess," I said, "let me understand how you came to
be found in such evil plight."
"There are things I cannot explain," she replied, "until you have
become capable of understanding them--which can only be when love
is grown perfect. There are many things so hidden from you that
you cannot even wish to know them; but any question you can put, I
can in some measure answer.
"I had set out to visit a part of my dominions occupied by a savage
dwarf-people, strong and fierce, enemies to law and order, opposed
to every kind of progress--an evil race. I went alone, fearing
nothing, unaware of the least necessity for precaution. I did not
know that upon the hot stream beside which you found me, a certain
woman, by no means so powerful as myself, not being immortal, had
cast what you call a spell--which is merely the setting in motion of
a force as natural as any other, but operating primarily in a region
beyond the ken of the mortal who makes use of the force.
"I set out on my journey, reached the stream, bounded across it,----"
A shadow of embarrassment darkened her cheek: I understood it, but
showed no sign. Checked for the merest moment, she went on:
"--you know what a step it is in parts!--But in the very act, an
indescribable cold invaded me. I recognised at once the nature of
the assault, and knew it could affect me but temporarily. By sheer
force of will I dragged myself to the wood--nor knew anything more
until I saw you asleep, and the horrible worm at your neck. I crept
out, dragged the monster from you, and laid my lips to the wound.
You began to wake; I buried myself among the leaves."
She rose, her eyes flashing as never human eyes flashed, and threw
her arms high over her head.
"What you have made me is yours!" she cried. "I will repay you as
never yet did woman! My power, my beauty, my love are your own:
She dropt kneeling beside me, laid her arms across my knees, and
looked up in my face.
Then first I noted on her left hand a large clumsy glove. In my
mind's eye I saw hair and claws under it, but I knew it was a hand
shut hard--perhaps badly bruised. I glanced at the other: it was
lovely as hand could be, and I felt that, if I did less than loathe
her, I should love her. Not to dally with usurping emotions, I
turned my eyes aside.
She started to her feet. I sat motionless, looking down.
"To me she may be true!" said my vanity. For a moment I was tempted
to love a lie.
An odour, rather than the gentlest of airy pulses, was fanning me.
I glanced up. She stood erect before me, waving her lovely arms
in seemingly mystic fashion.
A frightful roar made my heart rebound against the walls of its
cage. The alabaster trembled as if it would shake into shivers.
The princess shuddered visibly.
"My wine was too strong for you!" she said, in a quavering voice;
"I ought not to have let you take a full draught! Go and sleep now,
and when you wake ask me what you please.--I will go with you: come."
As she preceded me up the stair,--
"I do not wonder that roar startled you!" she said. "It startled
me, I confess: for a moment I feared she had escaped. But that is
The roar seemed to me, however--I could not tell why--to come from
the WHITE leopardess, and to be meant for me, not the princess.
With a smile she left me at the door of my room, but as she turned
I read anxiety on her beautiful face.
A BATTLE ROYAL
I threw myself on the bed, and began to turn over in my mind the
tale she had told me. She had forgotten herself, and, by a single
incautious word, removed one perplexity as to the condition in which
I found her in the forest! The leopardess BOUNDED over; the princess
lay prostrate on the bank: the running stream had dissolved her
self-enchantment! Her own account of the object of her journey
revealed the danger of the Little Ones then imminent: I had saved
the life of their one fearful enemy!
I had but reached this conclusion when I fell asleep. The lovely
wine may not have been quite innocent.
When I opened my eyes, it was night. A lamp, suspended from the
ceiling, cast a clear, although soft light through the chamber. A
delicious languor infolded me. I seemed floating, far from land,
upon the bosom of a twilight sea. Existence was in itself pleasure.
I had no pain. Surely I was dying!
No pain!--ah, what a shoot of mortal pain was that! what a sickening
sting! It went right through my heart! Again! That was sharpness
itself!--and so sickening! I could not move my hand to lay it on
my heart; something kept it down!
The pain was dying away, but my whole body seemed paralysed. Some
evil thing was upon me!--something hateful! I would have struggled,
but could not reach a struggle. My will agonised, but in vain, to
assert itself. I desisted, and lay passive. Then I became aware
of a soft hand on my face, pressing my head into the pillow, and
of a heavy weight lying across me.
I began to breathe more freely; the weight was gone from my chest;
I opened my eyes.
The princess was standing above me on the bed, looking out into
the room, with the air of one who dreamed. Her great eyes were
clear and calm. Her mouth wore a look of satisfied passion; she
wiped from it a streak of red.
She caught my gaze, bent down, and struck me on the eyes with the
handkerchief in her hand: it was like drawing the edge of a knife
across them, and for a moment or two I was blind.
I heard a dull heavy sound, as of a large soft-footed animal
alighting from a little jump. I opened my eyes, and saw the great
swing of a long tail as it disappeared through the half-open doorway.
I sprang after it.
The creature had vanished quite. I shot down the stair, and into
the hall of alabaster. The moon was high, and the place like the
inside of a faint, sun-blanched moon. The princess was not there.
I must find her: in her presence I might protect myself; out of it
I could not! I was a tame animal for her to feed upon; a human
fountain for a thirst demoniac! She showed me favour the more easily
to use me! My waking eyes did not fear her, but they would close,
and she would come! Not seeing her, I felt her everywhere, for she
might be anywhere--might even now be waiting me in some secret cavern
of sleep! Only with my eyes upon her could I feel safe from her!
Outside the alabaster hall it was pitch-dark, and I had to grope my
way along with hands and feet. At last I felt a curtain, put it
aside, and entered the black hall. There I found a great silent
assembly. How it was visible I neither saw nor could imagine, for
the walls, the floor, the roof, were shrouded in what seemed an
infinite blackness, blacker than the blackest of moonless, starless
nights; yet my eyes could separate, although vaguely, not a few of
the individuals in the mass interpenetrated and divided, as well as
surrounded, by the darkness. It seemed as if my eyes would never
come quite to themselves. I pressed their balls and looked and
looked again, but what I saw would not grow distinct. Blackness
mingled with form, silence and undefined motion possessed the wide
space. All was a dim, confused dance, filled with recurrent glimpses
of shapes not unknown to me. Now appeared a woman, with glorious
eyes looking out of a skull; now an armed figure on a skeleton horse;
now one now another of the hideous burrowing phantasms. I could
trace no order and little relation in the mingling and crossing
currents and eddies. If I seemed to catch the shape and rhythm of
a dance, it was but to see it break, and confusion prevail. With
the shifting colours of the seemingly more solid shapes, mingled a
multitude of shadows, independent apparently of originals, each
moving after its own free shadow-will. I looked everywhere for the
princess, but throughout the wildly changing kaleidoscopic scene,
could not see her nor discover indication of her presence. Where
was she? What might she not be doing? No one took the least notice
of me as I wandered hither and thither seeking her. At length
losing hope, I turned away to look elsewhere. Finding the wall,
and keeping to it with my hand, for even then I could not see it,
I came, groping along, to a curtained opening into the vestibule.
Dimly moonlighted, the cage of the leopardess was the arena of what
seemed a desperate although silent struggle. Two vastly differing
forms, human and bestial, with entangled confusion of mingling bodies
and limbs, writhed and wrestled in closest embrace. It had lasted
but an instant when I saw the leopardess out of the cage, walking
quietly to the open door. As I hastened after her I threw a glance
behind me: there was the leopardess in the cage, couching motionless
as when I saw her first.
The moon, half-way up the sky, was shining round and clear; the
bodiless shadow I had seen the night before, was walking through the
trees toward the gate; and after him went the leopardess, swinging
her tail. I followed, a little way off, as silently as they, and
neither of them once looked round. Through the open gate we went
down to the city, lying quiet as the moonshine upon it. The face
of the moon was very still, and its stillness looked like that of
The Shadow took his way straight to the stair at the top of which
I had lain the night before. Without a pause he went up, and the
leopardess followed. I quickened my pace, but, a moment after,
heard a cry of horror. Then came the fall of something soft and
heavy between me and the stair, and at my feet lay a body,
frightfully blackened and crushed, but still recognisable as that
of the woman who had led me home and shut me out. As I stood
petrified, the spotted leopardess came bounding down the stair with
a baby in her mouth. I darted to seize her ere she could turn at
the foot; but that instant, from behind me, the white leopardess,
like a great bar of glowing silver, shot through the moonlight, and
had her by the neck. She dropped the child; I caught it up, and
stood to watch the battle between them.
What a sight it was--now the one, now the other uppermost, both too
intent for any noise beyond a low growl, a whimpered cry, or a snarl
of hate--followed by a quicker scrambling of claws, as each, worrying
and pushing and dragging, struggled for foothold on the pavement!
The spotted leopardess was larger than the white, and I was anxious
for my friend; but I soon saw that, though neither stronger nor
more active, the white leopardess had the greater endurance. Not
once did she lose her hold on the neck of the other. From the
spotted throat at length issued a howl of agony, changing, by
swift-crowded gradations, into the long-drawn CRESCENDO of a woman's
uttermost wail. The white one relaxed her jaws; the spotted one
drew herself away, and rose on her hind legs. Erect in the
moonlight stood the princess, a confused rush of shadows careering
over her whiteness--the spots of the leopard crowding, hurrying,
fleeing to the refuge of her eyes, where merging they vanished.
The last few, outsped and belated, mingled with the cloud of her
streamy hair, leaving her radiant as the moon when a legion of
little vapours has flown, wind-hunted, off her silvery disc--save
that, adown the white column of her throat, a thread of blood still
trickled from every wound of her adversary's terrible teeth. She
turned away, took a few steps with the gait of a Hecate, fell,
covered afresh with her spots, and fled at a long, stretching gallop.
The white leopardess turned also, sprang upon me, pulled my arms
asunder, caught the baby as it fell, and flew with it along the
street toward the gate
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