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The World's Desire by Andrew Lang

Part 3 out of 5

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"Swift as a bird or a thought," says the old harper of the Northern
Sea. The Wanderer's thoughts in the morning were swift as night birds,
flying back and brooding over the things he had seen and the words he
had heard in the Queen's chamber. Again he stood between this woman
and the oath which, of all oaths, was the worst to break. And, indeed,
he was little tempted to break it, for though Meriamun was beautiful
and wise, he feared her love and he feared her magic art no less than
he feared her vengeance if she were scorned. Delay seemed the only
course. Let him wait till the King returned, and it would go hard but
he found some cause for leaving the city of Tanis, and seeking through
new adventures the World's Desire. The mysterious river lay yonder. He
would ascend the river of which so many tales were told. It flowed
from the land of the blameless /Æthiopians/, the most just of men, at
whose tables the very Gods sat as guests. There, perchance, far up the
sacred stream, in a land where no wrong ever came, there, if the Fates
permitted, he might find the Golden Helen.

If the Fates permitted: but all the adventure was of the Fates, who
had shown him to Meriamun in a dream.

He turned it long in his mind and found little light. It seemed that
as he had drifted through darkness across a blood-red sea to the
shores of Khem, so he should wade through blood to that shore of Fate
which the Gods appointed.

Yet after a while he shook sorrow from him, arose, bathed, anointed
himself, combed his dark locks, and girded on his golden armour. For
now he remembered that this was the day when the Strange Hathor should
stand upon the pylon of the temple and call the people to her, and he
was minded to look upon her, and if need be to do battle with that
which guarded her.

So he prayed to Aphrodite that she would help him, and he poured out
wine to her and waited; he waited, but no answer came to his prayer.
Yet as he turned away it chanced that he saw his countenance in the
wide golden cup whence he had poured, and it seemed to him that it had
grown more fair and lost the stamp of years, and that his face was
smooth and young as the face of that Odysseus who, many years ago, had
sailed in the black ships and looked back on the smoking ruins of
windy Troy. In this he saw the hand of the Goddess, and knew that if
she might not be manifest in this land of strange Gods, yet she was
with him. And, knowing this, his heart grew light as the heart of a
boy from whom sorrow is yet a long way off, and who has not dreamed of

Then he ate and drank, and when he had put from him the desire of food
he arose and girded on the sword, Euryalus's gift, but the black bow
he left in its case. Now he was ready and about to set forth when Rei
the Priest entered the chamber.

"Whither goest thou, Eperitus?" asked Rei, the instructed Priest. "And
what is it that has made thy face so fair, as though many years had
been lifted from thy back?"

"'Tis but sweet sleep, Rei," said the Wanderer. "Deeply I slept last
night, and the weariness of my wanderings fell from me, and now I am
as I was before I sailed across the blood-red sea into the night."

"Sell thou the secret of this sleep to the ladies of Khem," answered
the aged priest, smiling, "and little shalt thou lack of wealth for
all thy days."

Thus he spake as though he believed the Wanderer, but in his heart he
knew that the thing was of the Gods.

The Wanderer answered:

"I go up to the Temple of the Hathor, for thou dost remember it is
to-day that she stands upon the pylon brow and calls the people to
her. Comest thou also, Rei?"

"Nay, nay, I come not, Eperitus. I am old indeed, but yet the blood
creeps through these withered veins, and, perchance, if I came and
looked, the madness would seize me also, and I too should rush to my
slaying. There is a way in which a man may listen to the voice of the
Hathor, and that is to have his eyes blindfolded, as many do. But even
then he will tear the bandage from his eyes, and look, and die with
the others. Oh, go not up, Eperitus--I pray thee go not up. I love
thee--I know not why--and am little minded to see thee dead. Though,
perchance," he added, as though to himself, "it would be well for
those I serve if thou wert dead, thou Wanderer, with the eyes of

"Have no fear, Rei," said the Wanderer, "as it is doomed so shall I
die and not otherwise. Never shall it be told," he murmured in his
heart, "that he who stood in arms against Scylla, the Horror of the
Rock, turned back from any form of fear or from any shape of Love."

Then Rei wrung his hands and went nigh to weeping, for to him it
seemed a pitiful thing that so goodly a man and so great a hero should
thus be done to death. But the Wanderer passed out through the city,
and Rei went with him for a certain distance. At length they came to
the road set on either side with sphinxes, that leads from the outer
wall of brick to the garden of the Temple of Hathor, and down this
road hurried a multitude of men of all races and of every age. Here
the prince was borne along in his litter; here the young noble
travelled in his chariot. Here came the slave bespattered with the mud
of the fields; here the cripple limped upon his crutches; and here was
the blind man led by a hound. And with each man came women: the wife
of the man, or his mother, or his sisters, or she to whom he was vowed
in marriage. Weeping they came, and with soft words and clinging arms
they strove to hold back him whom they loved.

"Oh, my son! my son!" cried a woman, "hearken to thy mother's voice.
Go not up to look upon the Goddess, for if thou dost look then shalt
thou die, and thou alone art left alive to me. Two brothers of thine I
bore, and behold, both are dead; and wilt thou die also, and leave me,
who am old, alone and desolate? Be not mad, my son, thou art the
dearest of all; ever have I loved thee and tended thee. Come back, I
pray--come back."

But her son heard not and heeded not, pressing on toward the Gates of
the Heart's Desire.

"Oh, my husband, my husband!" cried another, young, of gentle birth,
and fair, who bare a babe on her left arm and with the right clutched
her lord's broidered robe. "Oh, my husband, have I not loved thee and
been kind to thee, and wilt thou still go up to look upon the deadly
glory of the Hathor? They say she wears the beauty of the Dead. Lovest
thou me not better than her who died five years agone, Merisa the
daughter of Rois, though thou didst love her first? See, here is thy
babe, thy babe, but one week born. Even from my bed of pain have I
risen and followed after thee down these weary roads, and I am like to
lose my life for it. Here is thy babe, let it plead with thee. Let me
die if so it must be, but go not thou up to thy death. It is no
Goddess whom thou wilt see, but an evil spirit loosed from the under-
world, and that shall be thy doom. Oh, if I please thee not, take thou
another wife and I will make her welcome, only go not up to thy

But the man fixed his eyes upon the pylon tops, heeding her not, and
at length she sank upon the road, and there with the babe would have
been crushed by the chariots, had not the Wanderer borne her to one
side of the way.

Now, of all sights this was the most dreadful, for on every side rose
the prayers and lamentations of women, and still the multitude of men
pressed on unheeding.

"Now thou seest the power of Love, and how if a woman be but beautiful
enough she may drag all men to ruin," said Rei the Priest.

"Yes," said the Wanderer; "a strange sight, truly. Much blood hath
this Hathor of thine upon her hands."

"And yet thou wilt give her thine, Wanderer."

"That I am not minded to do," he answered; "yet I will look upon her
face, so speak no more of it."

Now they were come to the space before the bronze gates of the pylon
of the outer court, and there the multitude gathered to the number of
many hundreds. Presently, as they watched, a priest came to the gates,
that same priest who had shown the Wanderer the bodies in the baths of
bronze. He looked through the bars and cried aloud:

"Whoso would enter into the court and look upon the Holy Hathor let
him draw nigh. Know ye this, all men, the Hathor is to him who can win
her. But if he pass not, then shall he die and be buried within the
temple, nor shall he ever look upon the sun again. Of this ye are
warned. Since the Hathor came again to Khem, of men seven hundred and
three have gone to win her, and of bodies seven hundred and two lie
within the vaults, for of all these men Pharaoh Meneptah alone hath
gone back living. Yet there is place for more! Enter, ye who would
look upon the Hathor!"

Now there arose a mighty wailing from the women. They clung madly
about the necks of those who were dear to them, and some clung not in
vain. For the hearts of many failed them at the last, and they shrank
from entering in. But a few of those who had already looked upon the
Hathor from afar, perchance a score in all, struck the women from them
and rushed up to the gates.

"Surely thou wilt not enter in?" quoth Rei, clinging to the arm of the
Wanderer. "Oh, turn thy back on death and come back with me. I pray
thee turn."

"Nay," said the Wanderer, "I will go in."

Then Rei the Priest threw dust upon his head, wept aloud, and turned
and fled, never stopping till he came to the Palace, where sat
Meriamun the Queen.

Now the priest unbarred a wicket in the gates of bronze, and one by
one those who were stricken of the madness entered in. For all of
these had seen the Hathor many times from afar without the wall, and
now they could no more withstand their longing. And as they entered
two other priests took them by the hand and bound their eyes with
cloths, so that unless they willed it they might not see the glory of
the Hathor, but only hear the sweetness of her voice. But two there
were who would not be blindfolded, and of these one was that man whose
wife had fainted by the way, and the other was a man sightless from
his youth. For although he might not see the beauty of the Goddess,
this man was made mad by the sweetness of her voice. Now, when all had
entered in, save the Wanderer, there was a stir in the crowd, and a
man rushed up. He was travel-stained, he had a black beard, black
eyes, and a nose hooked like a vulture's beak.

"Hold!" he cried. "Hold! Shut not the gates! Night and day have I
journeyed from the host of the Apura who fly into the wilderness.
Night and day have I journeyed, leaving wife and flocks and children
and the Promise of the Land, that I may once more look upon the beauty
of the Hathor. Shut not the gates!"

"Pass in," said the priest, "pass in, so shall we be rid of one of
those whom Khem nurtured up to rob her."

He entered; then, as the priest was about to bar the wicket, the
Wanderer strode forward, and his golden armour clashed beneath the

"Wouldst thou indeed enter to thy doom, thou mighty lord?" asked the
priest, for he knew him well again.

"Ay, I enter; but perchance not to my doom," answered the Wanderer.
Then he passed in and the brazen gate was shut behind him.

Now the two priests came forward to bind his eyes, but this he would
not endure.

"Not so," he said; "I am come here to see what may be seen."

"Go to, thou madman, go to! and die the death," they answered, and led
all the men to the centre of the courtyard whence they might see the
pylon top. Then the priests also covered up their eyes and cast
themselves at length upon the ground; so for a while they lay, and all
was silence within and without the court, for they waited the coming
of the Hathor. The Wanderer glanced through the bars of bronze at the
multitude gathered there. Silent they stood with upturned eyes, even
the women had ceased from weeping and stood in silence. He looked at
those beside him. Their bandaged faces were lifted and they stared
towards the pylon top as though their vision pierced the cloths. The
blind man, too, stared upward, and his pale lips moved, but no sound
came from them. Now at the foot of the pylon lay a little rim of
shadow. Thinner and thinner it grew as the moments crept on towards
the perfect noon. Now there was but a line, and now the line was gone,
for the sun's red disc burned high in the blue heaven straight above
the pylon brow. Then suddenly and from afar there came a faint sweet
sound of singing, and at the first note of the sound a great sigh went
up through the quiet air, from all the multitude without. Those who
were near the Wanderer sighed also, and their lips and fingers
twitched, and he himself sighed, though he knew not why.

Nearer came the sweet sound of singing, and stronger it swelled, till
presently those without the temple gate who were on higher ground
caught sight of her who sang. Then a hoarse roar went up from every
throat, and madness took them. On they rushed, dashing themselves
against the gates of bronze and the steep walls on either side, and
beat upon them madly with their fists and brows, and climbed on each
other's shoulders, gnawing at the bars with their teeth, crying to be
let in. But the women threw their arms about them and screamed curses
on her whose beauty brought all men to madness.

So it went for a while, till presently the Wanderer looked up, and lo!
upon the pylon's brow stood the woman's self, and at her coming all
were once more silent. She was tall and straight, clad in clinging
white, but on her breast there glowed a blood-red ruby stone,
fashioned like a star, and from it fell red drops that stained for one
moment the whiteness of her robes, and then the robe was white again.
Her golden hair was tossed this way and that, and shone in the
sunlight, her arms and neck were bare, and she held one hand before
her eyes as though to hide the brightness of her beauty. For, indeed,
she could not be called beautiful but Beauty itself.

And they who had not loved saw in her that first love whom no man has
ever won, and they who had loved saw that first love whom every man
has lost. And all about her rolled a glory--like the glory of the
dying day. Sweetly she sang a song of promise, and her voice was the
voice of each man's desire, and the heart of the Wanderer thrilled in
answer to it as thrills a harp smitten by a cunning hand; and thus she

Whom hast thou longed for most,
True love of mine?
Whom hast thou loved and lost?
Lo, she is thine!

She that another wed
Breaks from her vow;
She that hath long been dead
Wakes for thee now.

Dreams haunt the hapless bed,
Ghosts haunt the night,
Life crowns her living head,
Love and Delight.

Nay, not a dream nor ghost,
Nay, but Divine,
She that was loved and lost
Waits to be thine!

She ceased, and a moan of desire went up from all who heard.

Then the Wanderer saw that those beside him tore at the bandages about
their brows and rent them loose. Only the priests who lay upon the
ground stirred not, though they also moaned.

And now again she sang, still holding her hand before her face:

Ye that seek me, ye that sue me,
Ye that flock beneath my tower,
Ye would win me, would undo me,
I must perish in an hour,
Dead before the Love that slew me, clasped the
Bride and crushed the flower.

Hear the word and mark the warning,
Beauty lives but in your sight,
Beauty fades from all men's scorning
In the watches of the night,
Beauty wanes before the morning, and
Love dies in his delight.

She ceased, and once more there was silence. Then suddenly she bent
forward across the pylon brow so far that it seemed that she must
fall, and stretching out her arms as though to clasp those beneath,
showed all the glory of her loveliness.

The Wanderer looked, then dropped his eyes as one who has seen the
brightness of the noonday sun. In the darkness of his mind the world
was lost, and he could think of naught save the clamour of the people,
which fretted his ears. They were all crying, and none were listening.

"See! see!" shouted one. "Look at her hair; it is dark as the raven's
wing, and her eyes--they are dark as night. Oh, my love! my love!"

"See! see!" cried another, "were ever skies so blue as those eyes of
hers, was ever foam so white as those white arms?"

"Even so she looked whom once I wed many summers gone," murmured a
third, "even so when first I drew her veil. Hers was that gentle smile
breaking like ripples on the water, hers that curling hair, hers that
child-like grace."

"Was ever woman so queenly made?" said a fourth. "Look now on the brow
of pride, look on the deep, dark eyes of storm, the arched lips, and
the imperial air. Ah, here indeed is a Goddess meet for worship."

"Not so I see her," cried a fifth, that man who had come from the host
of the Apura. "Pale she is and fair, tall indeed, but delicately
shaped, brown is her hair, and brown are her great eyes like the eyes
of a stag, and ah, sadly she looks upon me, looking for my love."

"My eyes are opened," screamed the blind man at the Wanderer's side.
"My eyes are opened, and I see the pylon tower and the splendid sun.
Love hath touched me on the eyes and they are opened. But lo! not one
shape hath she but many shapes. Oh, she is Beauty's self, and no
tongue may tell her glory. Let me die! let me die, for my eyes are
opened. I have looked on Beauty's self! I know what all the world
journeys on to seek, and why we die and what we go to find in death."



The clamour swelled or sank, and the men called or cried the names of
many women, some dead, some lost. Others were mute, silent in the
presence of the World's Desire, silent as when we see lost faces in a
dream. The Wanderer had looked once and then cast down his eyes and
stood with his face hidden in his hands. He alone waited and strove to
think; the rest were abandoned to the bewilderment of their passions
and their amaze.

What was it that he had seen? That which he had sought his whole life
long; sought by sea and land, not knowing what he sought. For this he
had wandered with a hungry heart, and now was the hunger of his heart
to be appeased? Between him and her was the unknown barrier and the
invisible Death. Was he to pass the unmarked boundary, to force those
guarded gates and achieve where all had failed? Had a magic deceived
his eyes? Did he look but on a picture and a vision that some art
could call again from the haunted place of Memory?

He sighed and looked again. Lo! in his charmed sight a fair girl
seemed to stand upon the pylon brow, and on her head she bore a
shining urn of bronze.

He knew her now. He had seen her thus at the court of King Tyndareus
as he drove in his chariot through the ford of Eurotas; thus he had
seen her also in the dream on the Silent Isle.

Again he sighed and again he looked. Now in his charmed sight a woman
sat, whose face was the face of the girl, grown more lovely far, but
sad with grief and touched with shame.

He saw her and he knew her. So he had seen her in Troy towers when he
stole thither in a beggar's guise from the camp of the Achæans. So he
had seen her when she saved his life in Ilios.

Again he sighed and again he looked, and now he saw the Golden Helen.

She stood upon the pylon's brow. She stood with arms outstretched,
with eyes upturned, and on her shining face there was a smile like the
infinite smile of the dawn. Oh, now indeed he knew the shape that was
Beauty's self--the innocent Spirit of Love sent on earth by the
undying Gods to be the doom and the delight of men; to draw them
through the ways of strife to the unknown end.

Awhile the Golden Helen stood thus looking up and out to the worlds
beyond; to the peace beyond the strife, to the goal beyond the grave.
Thus she stood while men scarce dared to breathe, summoning all to
come and take that which upon the earth is guarded so invincibly.

Then once more she sang, and as she sang, slowly drew herself away,
till at length nothing was left of the vision of her save the
sweetness of her dying song.

Who wins his Love shall lose her,
Who loses her shall gain,
For still the spirit woos her,
A soul without a stain;
And Memory still pursues her
With longings not in vain!

He loses her who gains her,
Who watches day by day
The dust of time that stains her,
The griefs that leave her grey,
The flesh that yet enchains her
Whose grace hath passed away!

Oh, happier he who gains not
The Love some seem to gain:
The joy that custom stains not
Shall still with him remain,
The loveliness that wanes not,
The love that ne'er can wane.

In dreams she grows not older
The lands of Dream among,
Though all the world wax colder,
Though all the songs be sung,
In dreams doth he behold her
Still fair and kind and young.

Now the silence died away, and again madness came upon those who had
listened and looked. The men without the wall once more hurled
themselves against the gates, while the women clung to them, shrieking
curses on the beauty of the Hathor, for the song meant nothing to
these women, and their arms were about those whom they loved and who
won them their bread. But most of the men who were in the outer court
rushed up to the inner gates within which stood the alabaster shrine
of the Hathor. Some flung themselves upon the ground and clutched at
it, as in dreams men fling themselves down to be saved from falling
into a pit that has no bottom. Yet as in such an evil slumber the
dreamer is drawn inch by inch to the mouth of the pit by an unseen
hand, so these wretched men were dragged along the ground by the might
of their own desire. In vain they set their feet against the stones to
hold themselves from going, for they thrust forward yet more fiercely
with their hands, and thus little by little drew near the inner gates
writhing forwards yet moving backwards like a wounded snake dragged
along by a rope. For of those who thus entered the outer court and
looked upon the Hathor, few might go back alive.

Now the priests drew the cloths from their eyes, and rising, flung
wide the second gates, and there, but a little way off, the veil of
the shrine wavered as if in a wind. For now the doors beyond the veil
were thrown open, as might be seen when the wind swayed its Tyrian
web, and through the curtain came the sound of the same sweet singing.

"Draw near! Draw near!" cried the ancient priest. "Let him who would
win the Hathor draw near!"

Now at first the Wanderer was minded to rush on. But his desire had
not wholly overcome him, nor had his wisdom left him. He took counsel
with his heart and waited to let the others go, and to see how it
fared with them.

The worshippers were now hurrying back and now darting onwards, as
fear and longing seized them, till the man who was blind drew near,
led by the hand of a priest, for his hound might not enter the second
court of the temple.

"Do ye fear?" he cried. "Cowards, I fear not. It is better to look
upon the glory of the Hathor and die than to live and never see her
more. Set my face straight, ye priests, set my face straight, at the
worst I can but die."

So they led him as near the curtains as they dared to go and set his
face straight. Then with a great cry he rushed on. But he was caught
and whirled about like a leaf in a wind, so that he fell. He rose and
again rushed on, again to be whirled back. A third time he rose and
rushed on, smiting with his blind man's staff. The blow fell, and
stayed in mid-air, and there came a hollow sound as of a smitten
shield, and the staff that dealt the blow was shattered. Then there
was a noise like the noise of clashing swords, and the man instantly
sank down dead, though the Wanderer could see no wound upon him.

"Draw near! Draw near!" cried the priest again. "This one is fallen.
Let him who would win the Hathor draw near!"

Then the man who had fled from the host of the Apura rushed forward,
crying on the Lion of his tribe. Back he was hurled, and back again,
but at the third time once more there came the sound of clashing
swords, and he too fell dead.

"Draw near! Draw near!" cried the priest. "Another has fallen! Let him
who would win the Hathor draw near!"

And now man after man rushed on, to be first hurled back and then
slain of the clashing swords. And at length all were slain save the
Wanderer alone.

Then the priest spake:

"Wilt thou indeed rush on to doom, thou glorious man? Thou hast seen
the fate of many. Be warned and turn away."

"Never did I turn from man or ghost," said the Wanderer, and drawing
his short sword he came near, warily covering his head with his broad
shield, while the priests stood back to see him die. Now, the Wanderer
had marked that none were touched till they stood at the very
threshold of the doorway. Therefore he uttered a prayer to Aphrodite
and came on slowly till his feet were within a bow's length of the
threshold, and there he stood and listened. Now he could hear the very
words of the song that the Hathor sang as she wove at her loom. So
dread and sweet it was that for a while he thought no more on the
Guardians of the Gate, nor of how he might win the way, nor of aught
save the song. For she was singing shrill and clear in his own dear
tongue, the tongue of the Achæans:

Paint with threads of gold and scarlet, paint the battles fought for
All the wars for Argive Helen; storm and sack by land or sea;
All the tale of loves and sorrows that have been and are to be.

Paint her lips that like a cup have pledged the lips of heroes all,
Paint her golden hair unwhitened while the many winters fall,
Paint the beauty that is mistress of the wide world and its thrall!

Paint the storms of ships and chariots, rain of arrows flying far,
Paint the waves of Warfare leaping up at Beauty like a star,
Like a star that pale and trembling hangs above the waves of War.

Paint the ancient Ilios fallen; paint the flames that scaled the
When the foe was in the fortress, when the trumpet and the cry
Rang of men in their last onset, men whose hour had dawned to die.

Woe for me once loved of all men, me that never yet have known
How to love the hearts that loved me. Woe for woe, who hear the moan
Of my lovers' ghosts that perished in their cities overthrown.

Is there not, of Gods or mortals, oh, ye Gods, is there not one--
One whose heart shall mate with my heart, one to love ere all be
All the tales of wars that shall be for my love beneath the sun?

Now the song died away, and the Wanderer once more bethought him of
the Wardens of the Gate and of the battle which he must fight. But as
he braced himself to rush on against the unseen foe the music of the
singing swelled forth again, and whether he willed it or willed it
not, so sweet was its magic that there he must wait till the song was
done. And now stronger and more gladly rang the sweet shrill voice,
like the voice of one who has made moan through the livelong winter
night, and now sees the chariot of the dawn climbing the eastern sky.
And thus the Hathor sang:

Ah, within my heart a hunger for the love unfelt, unknown,
Stirs at length, and wakes and murmurs as a child that wakes to
Left to sleep within some silent house of strangers and alone.

So my heart awakes, and waking, moans with hunger and with cold,
Cries in pain of dim remembrance for the joy that was of old;
For the love that was, that shall be, half forgot and half foretold.

Have I dreamed it or remembered? In another world was I,
Lived and loved in alien seasons, moved beneath a golden sky,
In a golden clime where never came the strife of men that die.

But the Gods themselves were jealous, for our bliss was over great,
And they brought on us division, and the horror of their Hate,
And they set the Snake between us, and the twining coils of Fate.

And they said, "Go forth and seek each other's face, and only find
Shadows of that face ye long for, dreams of days left far behind,
Love the shadows and be loved with loves that waver as the wind."

Once more the sweet singing died away, but as the Wanderer grasped his
sword and fixed the broad shield upon his arm he remembered the dream
of Meriamun the Queen, which had been told him by Rei the Priest. For
in that dream twain who had sinned were made three, and through many
deaths and lives must seek each other's face. And now it seemed that
the burden of the song was the burden of the dream.

Then he thought no more on dreams, or songs, or omens, but only on the
deadly foe that stood before him wrapped in darkness, and on Helen, in
whose arms he yet should lie, for so the Goddess had sworn to him in
sea-girt Ithaca. He spoke no word, he named no God, but sprang forward
as a lion springs from his bed of reeds; and, lo! his buckler clashed
against shields that barred the way, and invisible arms seized him to
hurl him back. But no weakling was the Wanderer, thus to be pushed
aside by magic, but the stoutest man left alive in the whole world now
that Aias, Telamon's son, was dead. The priests wondered as they saw
how he gave back never a step, for all the might of the Wardens of the
Gate, but lifted his short sword and hewed down so terribly that fire
leapt from the air where the short sword fell, the good short sword of
Euryalus the Phæacian. Then came the clashing of the swords, and from
all the golden armour that once the god-like Paris wore, ay, from
buckler, helm, and greaves, and breastplate the sparks streamed up as
they stream from the anvil of the smith when he smites great blows on
swords made white with fire.

Swift as hail fell the blows of the unseen blades upon the golden
armour, but he who wore it took no harm, nor was it so much as marked
with the dint of the swords. So while the priests wondered at this
miracle the viewless Wardens of the Gate smote at the Wanderer, and
the Wanderer smote at them again. Then of a sudden he knew this, that
they who barred the path were gone, for no more blows fell, and his
sword only cut the air.

Then he rushed on and passed behind the veil and stood within the

But as the curtains swung behind him the singing rose again upon the
air, and he might not move, but stood fixed with his eyes gazing
where, far up, a loom was set within the shrine. For the sound of the
singing came from behind the great web gleaming in the loom, the sound
of the song of Helen as she heard the swords clash and the ringing of
the harness of those whose knees were loosened in death. It was thus
she sang:

Clamour of iron on iron, and shrieking of steel upon steel,
Hark how they echo again!
Life with the dead is at war, and the mortals are shaken and reel,
The living are slain by the slain!

Clamour of iron on iron; like music that chimes with a song,
So with my life doth it chime,
And my footsteps must fall in the dance of Erinnys, a revel of wrong,
Till the day of the passing of Time!

Ghosts of the dead that have loved me, your love have been
vanquished of death,
But unvanquished of death is your hate;
Say, is there none that may woo me and win me of all that draw breath,
Not one but is envied of Fate?

Now the song died, and the Wanderer looked up, and before him stood
three shadows of mighty men clad in armour. He gazed upon them, and he
knew the blazons painted on their shields; he knew them for heroes
long dead--Pirithous, Theseus, and Aias.

They looked upon him, and then cried with one voice:

"Hail to thee, Odysseus of Ithaca, son of Laertes!"

"Hail to thee," cried the Wanderer, "Theseus, Ægeus' son! Once before
didst thou go down into the House of Hades, and alive thou camest
forth again. Hast thou crossed yet again the stream of Ocean, and dost
thou live in the sunlight? For of old I sought thee and found thee not
in the House of Hades?"

The semblance of Theseus answered: "In the House of Hades I abide this
day, and in the fields of asphodel. But that thou seest is a shadow,
sent forth by Queen Persephone, to be the guard of the beauty of

"Hail to thee, Pirithous, Ixion's son," cried the Wanderer again.
"Hast thou yet won the dread Persephone to be thy love? And why doth
Hades give his rival holiday to wander in the sunlight, for of old I
sought thee, and found thee not in the House of Hades."

Then the semblance of Pirithous answered:

"In the House of Hades I dwell this day, and that thou seest is but a
shadow which goes with the shadow of the hero Theseus. For where he is
am I, and where he goes I go, and our very shadows are not sundered;
but we guard the beauty of Helen."

"Hail to thee, Aias, Telamon's son," cried the Wanderer. "Hast thou
not forgotten thy wrath against me, for the sake of those accursed
arms that I won from thee, the arms of Achilles, son of Peleus? For of
old in the House of Hades I spoke to thee, but thou wouldst not answer
one word, so heavy was thine anger."

Then the semblance of Aias made answer: "With iron upon iron, and the
stroke of bronze on bronze, would I answer thee, if I were yet a
living man and looked upon the sunlight. But I smite with a shadowy
spear and slay none but men foredoomed, and I am the shade of Aias who
dwells in Hades. Yet the Queen Persephone sent me forth to be the
guard of the beauty of Helen."

Then the Wanderer spake.

"Tell me, ye shadows of the sons of heroes, is the way closed, and do
the Gods forbid it, or may I that am yet a living man pass forward and
gaze on that ye guard, on the beauty of Helen?"

Then each of the three nodded with his head, and smote once upon his
shield, saying:

"Pass by, but look not back upon us, till thou hast seen thy desire."

Then the Wanderer went by, into the innermost chamber of the alabaster

Now when the shadows had spoken thus, they grew dim and vanished, and
the Wanderer, as they had commanded, drew slowly up on the alabaster
shrine, till at length he stood on the hither side of the web upon the
loom. It was a great web, wide and high, and hid all the innermost
recesses of the shrine. Here he waited, not knowing how he should
break in upon the Hathor.

As he stood wondering thus his buckler slipped from his loosened hand
and clashed upon the marble floor, and as it clashed the voice of the
Hathor took up the broken song; and thus she sang ever more sweetly:--

Ghosts of the dead that have loved me, your love has been vanquished
by Death,
But unvanquished by Death is your Hate;
Say, is there none that may woo me and win me of all that draw
Not one but is envied of Fate?

None that may pass you unwounded, unscathed of invisible spears--
By the splendour of Zeus there is one,
And he comes, and my spirit is touched as Demeter is touched by the tears
Of the Spring and the kiss of the sun.

For he comes, and my heart that was chill as a lake in the season of snow,
Is molten, and glows as with fire.
And the Love that I knew not is born and he laughs in my heart, and I know
The name and the flame of Desire.

As a flame I am kindled, a flame that is blown by a wind from the North,
By a wind that is deadly with cold,
And the hope that awoke in me faints, for the Love that is born
shall go forth
To my Love, and shall die as of old!

Now the song sobbed itself away, but the heart of the Wanderer echoed
to its sweetness as a lyre moans and thrills when the hand of the
striker is lifted from the strings.

For a while he stood thus, hidden by the web upon the loom, while his
limbs shook like the leaves of the tall poplar, and his face turned
white as turn the poplar leaves. Then desire overcame him, and a
longing he could not master, to look upon the face of her who sang,
and he seized the web upon the loom, and rent it with a great rending
noise, so that it fell down on either side of him, and the gold coils
rippled at his feet.



The torn web fell--the last veil of the Strange Hathor. It fell, and
all its unravelled threads of glittering gold and scarlet rippled and
coiled about the Wanderer's feet, and about the pillars of the loom.

The web was torn, the veil was rent, the labour was lost, the pictured
story of loves and wars was all undone.

But there, white in the silvery dusk of the alabaster shrine, there
was the visible Helen, the bride and the daughter of Mystery, the
World's Desire!

There shone that fabled loveliness of which no story was too strange,
of which all miracles seemed true. There, her hands folded on her lap,
her head bowed--there sat she whose voice was the echo of all sweet
voices, she whose shape was the mirror of all fair forms, she whose
changeful beauty, so they said, was the child of the changeful moon.

Helen sat in a chair of ivory, gleaming even through the sunshine of
her outspread hair. She was clothed in soft folds of white; on her
breast gleamed the Starstone, the red stone of the sea-deeps that
melts in the sunshine, but that melted not on the breast of Helen.
Moment by moment the red drops from the ruby heart of the star fell on
her snowy raiment, fell and vanished,--fell and vanished,--and left no

The Wanderer looked on her face, but the beauty and the terror of it,
as she raised it, were more than he could bear, and he stood like
those who saw the terror and the beauty of that face which changes men
to stone.

For the lovely eyes of Helen stared wide, her lips, yet quivering with
the last notes of song, were wide open in fear. She seemed like one
who walks alone, and suddenly, in the noonday light, meets the hated
dead; encountering the ghost of an enemy come back to earth with the
instant summons of doom.

For a moment the sight of her terror made even the Wanderer afraid.
What was the horror she beheld in this haunted shrine, where was none
save themselves alone? What was with them in the shrine?

Then he saw that her eyes were fixed on his golden armour which Paris
once had worn, on the golden shield with the blazon of the White Bull,
on the golden helm, whose visor was down so that it quite hid his eyes
and his face--and then at last her voice broke from her:

"/Paris! Paris! Paris!/ Has Death lost hold of thee? Hast thou come to
drag me back to thee and to shame? Paris, dead Paris! Who gave thee
courage to pass the shadows of men whom on earth thou hadst not dared
to face in war?"

Then she wrung her hands, and laughed aloud with the empty laugh of

A thought came into that crafty mind of the Wanderer's, and he
answered her, not in his own voice, but in the smooth, soft, mocking
voice of the traitor, Paris, whom he had heard forswear himself in the
oath before Ilios.

"So, lady, thou hast not yet forgiven Paris? Thou weavest the ancient
web, thou singest the ancient songs--art thou still unkind as of old?"

"Why art thou come back to taunt me?" she said, and now she spoke as
if an old familiar fear and horror were laying hold of her and
mastering her again, after long freedom. "Was it not enough to betray
me in the semblance of my wedded lord? Why dost thou mock?"

"In love all arts are fair," he answered in the voice of Paris. "Many
have loved thee, Lady, and they are all dead for thy sake, and no love
but mine has been more strong than death. There is none to blame us
now, and none to hinder. Troy is down, the heroes are white dust; only
Love lives yet. Wilt thou not learn, Lady, how a shadow can love?"

She had listened with her head bowed, but now she leaped up with
blazing eyes and face of fire.

"Begone!" she said, "the heroes are dead for my sake, and to my shame,
but the shame is living yet. Begone! Never in life or death shall my
lips touch the false lips that lied away my honour, and the false face
that wore the favour of my lord's."

For it was by shape-shifting and magic art, as poets tell, that Paris
first beguiled Fair Helen.

Then the Wanderer spoke again with the sweet, smooth voice of Paris,
son of Priam.

"As I passed up the shrine where thy glory dwells, Helen, I heard thee
sing. And thou didst sing of the waking of thy heart, of the arising
of Love within thy soul, and of the coming of one for whom thou dost
wait, whom thou didst love long since and shalt love for ever more.
And as thou sangest, I came, I Paris, who was thy love, and who am thy
love, and who alone of ghosts and men shall be thy love again. Wilt
thou still bid me go?"

"I sang," she answered, "yes, as the Gods put it in my heart so I sang
--for indeed it seemed to me that one came who was my love of old, and
whom alone I must love, alone for ever. But thou wast not in my heart,
thou false Paris! Nay, I will tell thee, and with the name will scare
thee back to Hell. He was in my heart whom once as a maid I saw
driving in his chariot through the ford of Eurotas while I bore water
from the well. He was in my heart whom once I saw in Troy, when he
crept thither clad in beggar's guise. Ay, Paris, I will name him by
his name, for though he is long dead, yet him alone methinks I loved
from the very first, and him alone I shall love till my deathlessness
is done--Odysseus, son of Laertes, Odysseus of Ithaca, he was named
among men, and Odysseus was in my heart as I sang and in my heart he
shall ever be, though the Gods in their wrath have given me to others,
to my shame, and against my will."

Now when the Wanderer heard her speak, and heard his own name upon her
lips, and knew that the Golden Helen loved him alone, it seemed to him
as though his heart would burst his harness. No word could he find in
his heart to speak, but he raised the visor of his helm.

She looked--she saw and knew him for Odysseus--even Odysseus of
Ithaca. Then in turn she hid her eyes with her hands, and speaking
through them said:

"Oh, Paris! ever wast thou false, but, ghost or man, of all thy shames
this is the shamefullest. Thou hast taken the likeness of a hero dead,
and thou hast heard me speak such words of him as Helen never spoke
before. Fie on thee, Paris! fie on thee! who wouldest trick me into
shame as once before thou didst trick me in the shape of Menelaus, who
was my lord. Now I will call on Zeus to blast thee with his bolts.
Nay, not on Zeus will I call, but on Odysseus' self. /Odysseus!
Odysseus!/ Come thou from the shades and smite this Paris, this
trickster, who even in death finds ways to mock thee."

She ceased, and with eyes upturned and arms outstretched murmured,
"Odysseus! Odysseus! Come."

Slowly the Wanderer drew near to the glory of the Golden Helen--
slowly, slowly he came, till his dark eyes looked into her eyes of
blue. Then at last he found his voice and spake.

"Helen! Argive Helen!" he said, "I am no shadow come up from Hell to
torment thee, and of Trojan Paris I know nothing. For I am Odysseus,
Odysseus of Ithaca, a living man beneath the sunlight. Hither am I
come to see thee, hither I am come to win thee to my heart. For yonder
in Ithaca Aphrodite visited me in a dream, and bade me wander out upon
the seas till at length I found thee, Helen, and saw the Red Star
blaze upon thy breast. And I have wandered, and I have dared, and I
have heard thy song, and rent the web of Fate, and I have seen the
Star, and lo! at last, at last! I find thee. Well I saw thou knewest
the arms of Paris, who was thy husband, and to try thee I spoke with
the voice of Paris, as of old thou didst feign the voices of our wives
when we lay in the wooden horse within the walls of Troy. Thus I drew
the sweetness of thy love from thy secret breast, as the sun draws out
the sweetness of the flowers. But now I declare myself to be Odysseus,
clad in the mail of Paris--Odysseus come on this last journey to be
thy love and lord." And he ceased.

She trembled and looked at him doubtfully, but at last she spoke:

"Well do I remember," she said, "that when I washed the limbs of
Odysseus, in the halls of Ilios, I marked a great white scar beneath
his knee. If indeed thou art Odysseus, and not a phantom from the
Gods, show me that great scar."

Then the Wanderer smiled, and, resting his buckler against the pillar
of the loom, drew off his golden greave, and there was the scar that
the boar dealt with his tusk on the Parnassian hill when Odysseus was
a boy.

"Look, Lady," he said; "is this the scar that once thine eyes looked
on in the halls of Troy?"

"Yea," she said, "it is the very scar, and now I know that thou art no
ghost and no lying shape, but Odysseus' self, come to be my love and
lord," and she looked most sweetly in his eyes.

Now the Wanderer wavered no more, but put out his arms to gather her
to his heart. Now the Red Star was hidden on his breast, now the red
drops dripped from the Star upon his mail, and the face of her who is
the World's Desire grew soft in the shadow of his helm, while her eyes
were melted to tears beneath his kiss. The Gods send all lovers like

Softly she sighed, softly drew back from his arms, and her lips were
opened to speak when a change came over her face. The kind eyes were
full of fear again, as she gazed where, through the window of the
shrine of alabaster, the sunlight flickered in gold upon the chapel
floor. What was that which flickered in the sunlight? or was it only
the dance of the motes in the beam? There was no shadow cast in the
sunshine; why did she gaze as if she saw another watching this meeting
of their loves? However it chanced, she mastered her fear; there was
even a smile on her lips and mirth in her eyes as she turned and spoke

"Odysseus, thou art indeed the cunningest of men. Thou hast stolen my
secret by thy craft; who save thee would dream of craft in such an
hour? For when I thought thee Paris, and thy face was hidden by thy
helm, I called on Odysseus in my terror, as a child cries to a mother.
Methinks I have ever held him dear; always I have found him ready at
need, though the Gods have willed that till this hour my love might
not be known, nay, not to my own heart; so I called on Odysseus, and
those words were wrung from me to scare false Paris back to his own
place. But the words that should have driven Paris down to Hell drew
Odysseus to my breast. And now it is done, and I will not go back upon
my words, for we have kissed our kiss of troth, before the immortal
Gods have we kissed, and those ghosts who guard the way to Helen, and
whom thou alone couldst pass, as it was fated, are witnesses to our
oath. And now the ghosts depart, for no more need they guard the
beauty of Helen. It is given to thee to have and keep, and now is
Helen once more a very woman, for at thy kiss the curse was broken.
Ah, friend! since my lord died in pleasant Lacedæmon, what things have
I seen and suffered by the Gods' decree! But two things I will tell
thee, Odysseus, and thou shalt read them as thou mayest. Though never
before in thy life-days did thy lips touch mine, yet I know that not
now for the first time we kiss. And this I know also, for the Gods
have set it in my heart, that though our love shall be short, and
little joy shall we have one of another, yet death shall not end it.
For, Odysseus, I am a daughter of the Gods, and though I sleep and
forget that which has been in my sleep, and though my shape change as
but now it seemed to change in the eyes of those ripe to die, yet I
die not. And for thee, though thou art mortal, death shall be but as
the short summer nights that mark off day from day. For thou shalt
live again, Odysseus, as thou hast lived before, and life by life we
shall meet and love till the end is come."

As the Wanderer listened he thought once more of that dream of
Meriamun the Queen, which the priest Rei had told him. But he said
nothing of it to Helen; for about the Queen and her words to him it
seemed wisest not to speak.

"It will be well to live, Lady, if life by life I find thee for a

"Life by life thou shalt find me, Odysseus, in this shape or in that
shalt thou find me--for beauty has many forms, and love has many
names--but thou shalt ever find me but to lose me again. I tell thee
that as but now thou wonnest thy way through the ranks of those who
watch me, the cloud lifted from my mind, and I remembered, and I
foresaw, and I knew why I, the loved of many, might never love in
turn. I knew then, Odysseus, that I am but the instrument of the Gods,
who use me for their ends. And I knew that I loved thee, and thee
only, but with a love that began before the birth-bed, and shall not
be consumed by the funeral flame."

"So be it, Lady," said the Wanderer, "for this I know, that never have
I loved woman or Goddess as I love thee, who art henceforth as the
heart in my breast, that without which I may not live."

"Now speak on," she said, "for such words as these are like music in
my ears."

"Ay, I will speak on. Short shall be our love, thou sayest, Lady, and
my own heart tells me that it is born to be brief of days. I know that
now I go on my last voyaging, and that death comes upon me from the
water, the swiftest death that may be. This then I would dare to ask:
When shall we twain be one? For if the hours of life be short, let us
love while we may."

Now Helen's golden hair fell before her eyes like the bride's veil,
and she was silent for a time. Then she spoke:

"Not now, and not while I dwell in this holy place may we be wed,
Odysseus, for so should we call down upon us the hate of Gods and men.
Tell me, then, where thou dwellest in the city, and I will come to
thee. Nay, it is not meet. Hearken, Odysseus. To-morrow, one hour
before the midnight, see that thou dost stand without the pylon gates
of this my temple; then I will pass out to thee as well I may, and
thou shalt know me by the jewel, the Star-stone on my breast that
shines through the darkness, and by that alone, and lead me whither
thou wilt. For then thou shalt be my lord, and I will be thy wife. And
thereafter, as the Gods show us, so will we go. For know, it is in my
mind to fly this land of Khem, where month by month the Gods have made
the people die for me. So till then, farewell, Odysseus, my love,
found after many days."

"It is well, Lady," answered the Wanderer. "To-morrow night I meet
thee without the pylon gates. I also am minded to fly this land of
witchcraft and of horror, but I may scarce depart till Pharaoh return
again. For he has gone down to battle and left me to guard his

"Of that we will talk hereafter. Go now! Go swiftly, for here we may
not talk more of earthly love," said the Golden Helen.

Then he took her hand and kissed it and passed from before her glory
as a man amazed.

But in his foolish wisdom he spoke no word to her of Meriamun the



Rei the Priest had fled with what speed he might from the Gates of
Death, those gates that guarded the loveliness of Helen and opened
only upon men doomed to die. The old man was heavy at heart, for he
loved the Wanderer. Among the dark children of Khem he had seen none
like this Achæan, none so goodly, so strong, and so well versed in all
arts of war. He remembered how this man had saved the life of her he
loved above all women--of Meriamun, the moon-child, the fairest queen
who had sat upon the throne of Egypt, the fairest and the most
learned, save Taia only. He bethought him of the Wanderer's beauty as
he stood upon the board while the long shafts hailed down the hall.
Then he recalled the vision of Meriamun, which she had told him long
years ago, and the shadow in a golden helm which watched the changed
Hataska. The more he thought, the more he was perplexed and lost in
wonder. What did the Gods intend? Of one thing he was sure: the
leaders of the host of dreams had mocked Meriamun. The man of her
vision would never be her love: he had gone to meet his doom at the
door of the Chapel Perilous.

So Rei hasted on, stumbling in his speed, till he came to the Palace
and passed through its halls towards his chamber. At the entrance of
her own place he met Meriamun the Queen. There she stood in the
doorway like a picture in its sculptured frame, nor could any sight be
more beautiful than she was, clad in her Royal robes, and crowned with
the golden snakes. Her black hair lay soft and deep on her, and her
eyes looked strangely forth from beneath the ivory of her brow.

He bowed low before her and would have passed on, but she stayed him.

"Whither goest thou, Rei?" she asked, "and why is thy face so sad?"

"I go about my business, Queen," he answered, "and I am sad because no
tidings come of Pharaoh, nor of how it has fared with him and the host
of the Apura."

"Perchance thou speakest truth, and yet not all the truth," she
answered. "Enter, I would have speech with thee."

So he entered, and at her command seated himself before her in the
very seat where the Wanderer had sat. Now, as he sat thus, of a sudden
Meriamun the Queen slid to her knees before him, and tears were in her
eyes and her breast was shaken with sobs. And while he wondered,
thinking that she wept at last for her son who was dead among the
firstborn, she hid her face in her hands upon his knees, and trembled.

"What ails thee, Queen, my fosterling?" he said. But she only took his
hand, and laid her own in it, and the old priest's eyes were dim with
tears. So she sat for awhile, and then she looked up, but still she
did not find words. And he caressed the beautiful Imperial head, that
no man had seen bowed before. "What is it, my daughter?" he said, and
she answered at last:

"Hear me, old friend, who art my only friend--for if I speak not my
heart will surely burst; or if it break not, my brain will burn and I
shall be no more a Queen but a living darkness, where vapours creep,
and wandering lights shine faintly on the ruin of my mind. Mindest
thou that hour--it was the night after the hateful night that saw me
Pharaoh's wife--when I crept to thee and told thee the vision that had
come upon my soul, had come to mock me even at Pharaoh's side?"

"I mind it well," said Rei; "it was a strange vision, nor might my
wisdom interpret it."

"And mindest thou what I told thee of the man of my vision--the
glorious man whom I must love, he who was clad in golden armour and
wore a golden helm wherein a spear-point of bronze stood fast?"

"Yes, I mind it," said Rei.

"And how is that man named?" she asked, whispering and staring on him
with wide eyes. "Is he not named Eperitus, the Wanderer? And hath he
not come hither, the spear-point in his helm? And is not the hand of
Fate upon me, Meriamun? Hearken, Rei, hearken! I love him as it was
fated I should love. When first I looked on him as he came up the Hall
of Audience in his glory, I knew him. I knew him for that man who
shares the curse laid aforetime on him, and on the woman, and on me,
when, in an unknown place, twain became three and were doomed to
strive from life to life and work each other's woe upon the earth. I
knew him, Rei, though he knew me not, and I say that my soul shook at
the echo of his step, and my heart blossomed as the black earth
blossoms when after flood Sihor seeks his banks again. A glory came
upon me, Rei, and I looked back through all the mists of time and knew
him for my love, and I looked forward into the depths of time to be
and knew him for my love. Then I looked on the present hour, and
naught could I see but darkness, and naught could I hear but the
groans of dying men, and a shrill sound as of a woman singing."

"An ill tale, Queen," said Rei.

"Ay, an ill tale, Rei, but half untold. Hearken again, I will tell
thee all. Madness hath entered into me from the Hathor of Atarhechis,
the Queen of Desire. I am mad with love, even I who never loved. Oh,
Rei! Rei! I would win this man. Nay, look not so sternly on me, it is
Fate that drives me on. Last night I spoke to him and discovered to
him the name he hides from us, his own name, Odysseus, Laertes' son,
Odysseus of Ithaca. Ay, thou startest, but so it is. I learned it by
my magic, and wrung the truth even from the guile of the most crafty
of men. But it seemed to me that he turned from me, though this much I
won from him, that he had journeyed from far to seek me, the Bride
that the Gods have promised him."

The priest leaped up from his seat. "Lady!" he cried, "Lady! whom I
serve and whom I have loved from a child, thy brain is sick, and not
thy heart. Thou canst not love him. Dost thou not remember that thou
art Queen of Khem and Pharaoh's wife? Wilt thou throw thy honour in
the mire to be trampled by a wandering stranger?"

"Ay," she answered, "I am Queen of Khem and Pharaoh's wife, but never
Pharaoh's love. Honour! Why dost thou prate to me of honour? Like Nile
in flood, my love hath burst the bulwark of my honour, and I mark not
where custom set it. For all around the waters seethe and foam, and on
them, like a broken lily, floats the wreck of my lost honour. Talk not
to me of honour, Rei, teach me rather how I may win my hero to my

"Thou art mad indeed," he groaned; "nevertheless--I had forgotten--
this must needs end in words and tears. Meriamun, I bring thee
tidings. He whom thou desireth is lost to thee for ever--to thee and
all the world."

She heard, then sprang from the couch and stood over him like a
lioness over a smitten stag, her fierce and lovely face alive with
rage and fear.

"Is he dead?" she hissed in his ear. "Dead! and I knew it not? Then
thou hast murdered him, and thus I avenge his murder."

With the word she snatched a dagger from her girdle--that same dagger
with which she had once struck at Meneptah her brother, when he would
have kissed her--and high it flashed above Rei the Priest.

"Nay," she went on, letting the knife fall; "after another fashion
shalt thou die--more slowly, Rei, yes, more slowly. Thou knowest the
torment of the palm-tree? By that thou shalt die!" She paused, and
stood above him with quivering limbs, and breast that heaved, and eyes
that flashed like stars.

"Stay! stay!" he cried. "It is not I who have slain this Wanderer, if
he indeed is dead, but his own folly. For he is gone up to look upon
the Strange Hathor, and those who look upon the Hathor do battle with
the Unseen Swords, and those who do battle with the Unseen Swords must
lie in the baths of bronze and seek the Under World."

The face of Meriamun grew white at this word, as the alabaster of the
walls, and she cried aloud with a great cry. Then she sank upon the
couch, pressing her hand to her brow and moaning:

"How may I save him? How may I save him from that accursed witch?
Alas! It is too late--but at least I will know his end, ay, and hear
of the beauty of her who slays him. Rei," she whispered, not in the
speech of Khem, but in the dead tongue of a dead people, "be not wrath
with me. Oh, have pity on my weakness. Thou knowest of the Putting-
forth of the Spirit--is it not so?"

"I am instructed," he answered, in the same speech; "'twas I who
taught thee this art, I, and that Ancient Evil which is thine."

"True--it was thou, Rei. Thou hast ever loved me, so thou swearest,
and many a deed of dread have we dared together. Lend me thy Spirit,
Rei, that I may send it forth to the Temple of the False Hathor, and
learn what passes in the temple, and of the death of him--whom I must

"An ill deed, Meriamun, and a fearful," he answered, "for there shall
my Spirit meet them who watch the gates, and who knows what may chance
when the bodiless one that yet hath earthly life meets the bodiless
ones who live no more on earth?"

"Yet wilt thou dare it, Rei, for love of me, as being instructed thou
alone canst do," she pleaded.

"Never have I refused thee aught, Meriamun, nor will I say thee nay.
This only I ask of thee--that if my Spirit comes back no more, thou
wilt bury me in that tomb which I have made ready by Thebes, and if it
may be, by thy strength of magic wring me from the power of the
strange Wardens. I am prepared--thou knowest the spell--say it."

He sank back in the carven couch, and looked upwards. Then Meriamun
drew near to him, gazed into his eyes and whispered in his ear in that
dead tongue she knew. And as she whispered the face of Rei grew like
the face of one dead. She drew back and spoke aloud:

"Art thou loosed, Spirit of Rei?"

Then the lips of Rei answered her, saying: "I am loosed, Meriamun.
Whither shall I go?"

"To the court of the Temple of Hathor, that is before the shrine."

"It is done, Meriamun."

"What seest thou?"

"I see a man clad in golden armour. He stands with buckler raised
before the doorway of the shrine, and before him are the ghosts of
heroes dead, though he may not see them with the eyes of the flesh.
From within the shrine there comes a sound of singing, and he listens
to the singing."

"What does he hear?"

Then the loosed Spirit of Rei the Priest told Meriamun the Queen all
the words of the song that Helen sang. And when she heard and knew
that it was Argive Helen who sat in the halls of Hathor, the heart of
the Queen grew faint within her, and her knees trembled. Yet more did
she tremble when she learned those words that rang like the words she
herself had heard in her vision long ago--telling of bliss that had
been, of the hate of the Gods, and of the unending Quest.

Now the song ended, and the Wanderer went up against the ghosts, and
the Spirit of Rei, speaking with the lips of Rei, told all that
befell, while Meriamun hearkened with open ears--ay, and cried aloud
with joy when the Wanderer forced his path through the invisible

Then once more the sweet voice rang and the loosed Spirit of Rei told
the words she sang, and to Meriamun they seemed fateful. Then he told
her all the talk that passed between the Wanderer and the ghosts.

Now the ghosts being gone she bade the Spirit of Rei follow the
Wanderer up the sanctuary, and from the loosed Spirit she heard how he
rent the web, and of all the words of Helen and of the craft of him
who feigned to be Paris. Then the web was torn and the eyes of the
Spirit of Rei looked on the beauty of her who was behind it.

"Tell me of the face of the False Hathor?" said the Queen.

And the Spirit of Rei answered: "Her face is that beauty which
gathered like a mask upon the face of dead Hataska, and upon the face
of the Bai, and the face of the Ka, when thou spakest with the spirit
of her thou hadst slain."

Now Meriamun groaned aloud, for she knew that doom was on her. Last of
all, she heard the telling of the loves of Odysseus and of Helen, her
undying foe, of their kiss, of their betrothal, and of that marriage
which should be on the morrow night. Meriamun the Queen said never a
word, but when all was done and the Wanderer had left the shrine
again, she whispered in the ear of Rei the Priest, and drew back his
Spirit to him so that he awoke as a man awakes from sleep.

He awoke and saw the Queen sitting over against him with a face white
as the face of the dead, and about her deep eyes were lines of black.

"Hast thou heard, Meriamun?" he asked.

"I have heard," she answered.

"What dreadful thing hast thou heard?" he asked again, for he knew
naught of that which his Spirit had seen.

"I have heard things that may not be told," she said, "but this I will
tell thee. He of whom we spoke hath passed the ghosts, he hath met
with the False Hathor--that accursed woman--and he returns here all
unharmed. Now go, Rei!"



Rei departed, wondering and heavy at heart, and Meriamun the Queen
passed into her bed-chamber, and there she bade the eunuchs suffer
none to enter, made fast the doors, and threw herself down upon the
bed, hiding her face in its woven cushions. Thus she lay for many
hours as one dead--till the darkness of the evening gathered in the
chamber. But though she moved not, yet in her heart there burned a
fire, now white with heat as the breath of her passion fanned it, and
now waning black and dull as the tears fell from her eyes. For now she
knew all--that the long foreboding, sometimes dreaded, sometimes
desired, and again, like a dream, half forgotten, was indeed being
fulfilled. She knew of the devouring love that must eat her life away,
knew that even in the grave she should find no rest. And her foe was
no longer a face beheld in a vision, but a living woman, the fairest
and most favoured, Helen of Troy, Argive Helen, the False Hathor, the
torch that fired great cities, the centre of all desire, whose life
was the daily doom of men.

Meriamun was beautiful, but her beauty paled before the face of Helen,
as a fire is slain by the sun. Magic she had also, more than any who
were on the earth; but what would her spells avail against the magic
of those changing eyes? And it was Helen whom the Wanderer came to
seek, for /her/ he had travelled the wide lands and sailed the seas.
But when he told her of one whom he desired, one whom he sought, she
had deemed that she herself was that one, ay, and had told him all.

At that thought she laughed out, in the madness of her anger and her
shame. And he had smiled and spoken of Pharaoh her lord--and the while
he spoke he had thought not on her but of the Golden Helen. Now this
at least she swore, that if he might not be hers, never should he be
Helen's. She would see him dead ere that hour, ay, and herself, and if
it might be, Helen would she see dead also.

To what counsel should she turn? On the morrow night these two meet;
on the morrow night they would fly together. Then on the morrow must
the Wanderer be slain. How should he be slain and leave no tale of
murder? By poison he might die, and Kurri the Sidonian should be
charged to give the cup. And then she would slay Kurri, saying that he
had poisoned the Wanderer because of his hate and the loss of his
goods and freedom; and yet how could she slay her love? If once she
slew him then she, too, must die and seek her joy in the kingdom that
Osiris rules, and there she might find little gladness.

What, then, should she do? No answer came into her heart. There was
one that must answer in her soul.

Now she rose from the bed and stood for awhile staring into the dark.
Then she groped her way to a place where there was a carven chest of
olive-wood and ivory, and drawing a key from her girdle she opened the
chest. Within were jewels, mirrors, and unguents in jars of alabaster
--ay, and poisons of deadly bane; but she touched none of these.
Thrusting her hand deep into the chest, she drew forth a casket of
dark metal that the people deemed unholy, a casket made of "Typhon's
Bone," for so they call grey iron. She pressed a secret spring. It
opened, and feeling within she found a smaller casket. Lifting it to
her lips she whispered over it words of no living speech, and in the
heavy and scented dark a low flame flickered and trembled on her lips,
as she murmured in the tongue of a dead people. Then slowly the lid
opened of itself, like a living mouth that opens, and as it opened, a
gleam of light stole up from the box into the dusk of the chamber.

Now Meriamun looked, and shuddered as she looked. Yet she put her hand
into the box, and muttering "Come forth--come forth, thou Ancient
Evil," drew somewhat to her and held it out from her on the palm of
her hand. Behold, it glowed in the dusk of the chamber as a live ember
glows among the ashes of the hearth. Red it glowed and green, and
white, and livid blue, and its shape, as it lay upon her hand, was the
shape of a coiling snake, cut, as it were, in opal and in emerald.

For awhile she gazed upon it, shuddering, as one in doubt.

"Minded I am to let thee sleep, thou Horror," she murmured. "Twice
have I looked on thee, and I would look no more. Nay, I will dare it,
thou gift of the old wisdom, thou frozen fire, thou sleeping Sin, thou
living Death of the ancient city, for thou alone hast wisdom."

Thereon she unclasped the bosom of her robe and laid the gleaming toy,
that seemed a snake of stone, upon her ivory breast, though she
trembled at its icy touch, for it was more cold than death. With both
her hands she clasped a pillar of the chamber, and so stood, and she
was shaken with throes like the pangs of childbirth. Thus she endured
awhile till that which was a-cold grew warm, watching its brightness
that shone through her silken dress as the flame of a lamp shines
through an alabaster vase. So she stood for an hour, then swiftly put
off all her robes and ornaments of gold, and loosing the dark masses
of her hair let it fall round her like a veil. Now she bent her head
down to her breast, and breathed on that which lay upon her breast,
for the Ancient Evil can live only in the breath of human kind. Thrice
she breathed upon it, thrice she whispered, "/Awake! Awake! Awake!/"

And the first time that she breathed the Thing stirred and sparkled.
The second time that she breathed it undid its shining folds and
reared its head to hers. The third time that she breathed it slid from
her bosom to the floor, then coiled itself about her feet and slowly
grew as grows the magician's magic tree.

Greater it grew and greater yet, and as it grew it shone like a torch
in a tomb, and wound itself about the body of Meriamun, wrapping her
in its fiery folds till it reached her middle. Then it reared its head
on high, and from its eyes there flowed a light like the light of a
flame, and lo! its face was the face of a fair woman--it was the face
of Meriamun!

Now face looked on face, and eyes glared into eyes. Still as a white
statue of the Gods stood Meriamun the Queen, and all about her form
and in and out of her dark hair twined the flaming snake.

At length the Evil spoke--spoke with a human voice, with the voice of
Meriamun, but in the dead speech of a dead people:

"Tell me my name," it said.

"/Sin/ is thy name," answered Meriamun the Queen.

"Tell me whence I come," it said again.

"From the evil that is in me," answered Meriamun.

"Tell me whither I go."

"Where I go there thou goest, for I have warmed thee in my breast and
thou art twined about my heart."

Then the Snake lifted up its human head and laughed horribly.

"Well art thou instructed," it said. "So I love thee as thou lovest
me," and it bent itself and kissed her on the lips. "I am that Ancient
Evil, that Life which endures out of the first death; I am that Death
which abides in the living life. I am that which brought on thee the
woe that is in division from the Heart's Desire, and the name thereof
is /Hell/. From Life to Life thou hast found me at thy hand, now in
this shape, now in that. I taught thee the magic which thou knowest; I
showed thee how to win the Throne! Now, what wilt thou of me,
Meriamun, my Mother, my Sister, and my Child? From Life to Life I have
been with thee: ever thou mightest have put me from thee, ever thou
fliest to the wisdom which I have, and ever from thee I draw my
strength, for though without me thou mightest live, without thee I
must die. Say now, what is it?--tell me, and I will name my price. No
more will I ask than must be, for--ah!--I am glad to wake and live
again; glad to grip thy soul within these shining folds, to be fair
with thy beauty!--to be foul with thy sin!"

"Lay thy lips against my ear and thine ear against my lips," said
Meriamun the Queen, "and I will say what it is that I will of thee,
thou Ancient Evil."

So the human-headed Evil laid its ear against the lips of Meriamun,
and Meriamun laid her lips against its ear, and they whispered each to
each. There in the darkness they whispered, while the witch-light
glittered down the grey snake's shining folds, beamed in its eyes, and
shone through the Queen's dark hair and on her snowy breast.

At length the tale was told, and the Snake lifted its woman's head
high in the air and again it laughed.

"He seeks the Good," it said, "and he shall find the Ill! He looks for
Light, and in Darkness shall he wander! To Love he turns, in Lust he
shall be lost! He would win the Golden Helen, whom he has sought
through many a way, whom he has followed o'er many a sea, but first
shall he find thee, Meriamun, and through thee Death! For he shall
swear by the Snake who should have sworn by the Star. Far hath he
wandered--further shall he wander yet, for thy sin shall be his sin!
Darkness shall wear the face of Light--Evil shall shine like Good. I
will give him to thee, Meriamun, but, hearken to my price. No more
must I be laid cold in the gloom while thou walkest in the sunshine--
nay, I must be twined about thy body. Fear not, fear not, I shall seem
but a jewel in the eyes of men, a girdle fashioned cunningly for the
body of a queen. But with thee henceforth I must ever go--and when
thou diest, with thee must I die, and with thee pass where thou dost
pass--with thee to sleep, with thee to awake again--and so, on and on,
till in the end I win or thou winnest, or she wins who is our foe!"

"I give thee thy price," said Meriamun the Queen.

"So once before thou didst give it," answered the Evil; "ay, far, far
away, beneath a golden sky and in another clime. Happy wast thou then
with him thou dost desire, but I twined myself about thy heart and of
twain came three and all the sorrow that has been. So woman thou hast
worked, so woman it is ordained. For thou art she in whom all woes are
gathered, in whom all love is fulfilled. And I have dragged thy glory
down, woman, and I have loosed thee from thy gentleness, and set it
free upon the earth, and Beauty is she named. By beauty doth /she/
work who is the Golden Helen, and for her beauty's sake, that all men
strive to win, are wars and woes, are hopes and prayers, and longings
without end. But by Evil dost /thou/ work who art divorced from
Innocence, and evil shalt thou ever bring on him whom thou desireth. A
riddle! A riddle! Read it who may--read it if thou canst, thou who art
named Meriamun the Queen, but who art less than Queen and more. Who
art thou? Who is she they named the Helen? Who is that Wanderer who
seeks her from afar, and who, who am /I/? A riddle! a riddle! that
thou mayst not read. Yet is the answer written on earth and sky and
sea, and in the hearts of men.

"Now hearken! To-morrow night thou shalt take me and twine me about
thy body, doing as I bid thee, and behold! for a while thy shape shall
wear the shape of the Golden Helen, and thy face shall be as her face,
and thine eyes as her eyes, and thy voice as her voice. Then I leave
the rest to thee, for as Helen's self thou shalt beguile the Wanderer,
and once, if once only, be a wife to him whom thou desireth. Naught
can I tell thee of the future, I who am but a counsellor, but
hereafter it may be that woes will come, woes and wars and death. But
what matter these when thou hast had thy desire, when he hath sinned,
and hath sworn by the Snake who should have sworn by the Star, and
when he is bound to thee by ties that may not be loosed? Choose,
Meriamun, choose! Put my counsel from thee and to-morrow this man thou
lovest shall be lost to thee, lost in the arms of Helen; and alone for
many years shalt thou bear the burden of thy lonely love. Take it, and
he shall at least be thine, let come what may come. Think on it and

Thus spake the Ancient Evil, tempting her who was named Meriamun,
while she hearkened to the tempting.

"I have chosen," she said; "I will wear the shape of Helen, and be a
wife to him I love, and then let ruin fall. Sleep, thou Ancient Evil.
Sleep, for no more may I endure thy face of fear that is my face, nor
the light of those flaming eyes that are my eyes made mad."

Again the Thing reared its human head and laughed out in triumph. Then
slowly it unloosed its gleaming coils: slowly it slid to the earth and
shrank and withered like a flaming scroll, till at length it seemed
once more but a shining jewel of opal and of amethyst.

The Wanderer, when he left the inner secret shrine, saw no more the
guardian of the gates, nor heard the clash of the swords unseen, for
the Gods had given the beauty of Helen to Odysseus of Ithaca, as it
was foretold.

Without the curtains the priests of the temple were gathered wondering
--little could they understand how it came to pass that the hero who
was called Eperitus had vanished through the curtains and had not been
smitten down by the unseen swords. And when they saw him come forth
glorious and unharmed they cried aloud with fear.

But he laughed and said, "Fear not. Victory is to him whom the Gods
appoint. I have done battle with the wardens of the shrine, and passed
them, and methinks that they are gone. I have looked upon the Hathor
also, and more than that seek ye not to know. Now give me food, for I
am weary."

So they bowed before him, and leading him thence to their chamber of
banquets gave him of their best, and watched him while he ate and
drank and put from him the desire of food.

Then he rose and went from the temple, and again the priests bowed
before him. Moreover, they gave him freedom of the temple, and keys
whereby all the doors might be opened, though little, as they thought,
had he any need of keys.

Now the Wanderer, walking gladly and light of heart, came to his own
lodging in the courts of the Palace. At the door of the lodging stood
Rei the Priest, who, when he saw him, ran to him and embraced him, so
glad was he that the Wanderer had escaped alive.

"Little did I think to look upon thee again, Eperitus," he said. "Had
it not been for that which the Queen----" and he bethought himself and
stayed his speech.

"Nevertheless, here I am unhurt, of ghost or men," the Wanderer
answered, laughing, as he passed into the lodging. "But what of the

"Naught, Eperitus, naught, save that she was grieved when she learned
that thou hadst gone up to the Temple of the Hathor, there, as she
thought, to perish. Hearken, thou Eperitus, I know not if thou art God
or man, but oaths are binding both men and Gods, and thou didst swear
an oath to Pharaoh--is it not so?"

"Ay, Rei. I swore an oath that I would guard the Queen well till
Pharaoh came again."

"Art thou minded to keep that oath, Eperitus?" asked Rei, looking on
him strangely. "Art thou minded to guard the fair fame of Pharaoh's
Queen, that is more precious than her life? Methinks thou dost
understand my meaning, Eperitus?"

"Perchance I understand," answered the Wanderer. "Know, Rei, that I am
so minded."

Then Rei spake again, darkly. "Methinks some sickness hath smitten
Meriamun the Queen, and she craves thee for her physician. Now things
come about as they were foreshown in the portent of that vision
whereof I spoke to thee. But if thou dost break thy oath to him whose
salt thou eatest, then, Eperitus, God or man, thou art a dastard."

"Have I not said that I have no mind so to break mine oath?" he
answered, then sank his head upon his breast and communed with his
crafty heart while Rei watched him. Presently he lifted up his head
and spoke:

"Rei," he said, "I am minded to tell thee a strange story and a true,
for this I see, that our will runs one way, and thou canst help me,
and, in helping me, thyself and Pharaoh to whom I swore an oath, and
her whose honour thou holdest dear. But this I warn thee, Rei, that if
thou dost betray me, not thine age, not thy office, nor the friendship
thou hast shown me, shall save thee."

"Speak on, Odysseus, Laertes' son, Odysseus of Ithaca," said Rei; "may
my life be forfeit if I betray thy counsel, if it harm not those I

Now the Wanderer started to his feet, crying:

"How knowest thou that name?"

"I know it," said Rei, "and I tell thee that I know it, thou most
crafty of men, to show this, that with me thy guile will not avail
thee." For he would not tell him that he had it from the lips of the

"Thou hast heard a name that had been in the mouths of many," said the
Wanderer; "perchance it is mine, perchance it is the name of another.
It matters not. Now know this: I fear this Queen of thine. Hither I
came to seek a woman, but the Queen I came not to seek. Yet I have not
come in vain, for yonder, Rei, yonder, in the Temple of the Hathor, I
found her on whose quest I came, and who awaited me there well guarded
till I should come to take her. On the morrow night I go forth to the
temple, and there, by the gates of the temple, I shall find her whom
all men desire, but who loves me alone among men, for so it has been
fated of the Gods. Thence I bring her hither that here we may be wed.
Now this is my mind: if thou wilt aid me with a ship and men, that at
the first light of dawn we should flee this land of thine, and that
thou shouldest keep my going secret for awhile till I have gained the
sea. True it is that I swore to guard the Queen till Pharaoh come
again; but as thou knowest, things are so that I can best guard her by
my flight, and if Pharaoh thinks ill of me--so it must be. Moreover I
ask thee to meet me by the pylon of the Temple of Hathor to-morrow at
one hour before midnight. There will we talk with her who is called
the Hathor, and prepare our flight, and thence thou shalt go to that
ship which thou hast made ready."

Now Rei thought for awhile and answered:

"Somewhat I fear to look upon this Goddess, yet I will dare it. Tell
me, then, how shall I know her at the temple's gate?"

"Thou shalt know her, Rei, by the red star which burns upon her
breast. But fear not, for I will be there. Say, wilt thou make the
ship ready?"

"The ship shall be ready, Eperitus, and though I love thee well, I say
this, that I would it rode the waves which roll around the shores of
Khem and thou wert with it, and with thee she who is called the
Hathor, that Goddess whom thou desirest."



That night the Wanderer saw not Meriamun, but on the morrow she sent a
messenger to him, bidding him to her feast that night. He had little
heart to go, but a Queen's courtesy is a command, and he went at
sundown. Rei also went to the feast, and as he went, meeting the
Wanderer in the ante-chamber, he whispered to him that all things were
made ready, that a good ship waited him in the harbour, the very ship
that he had captured from the Sidonians, and that he, Rei, would be
with him by the pylon gate of the temple one hour before midnight.

Presently, as he whispered, the doors were flung wide and Meriamun the
Queen passed in, followed by eunuchs and waiting-women. She was
royally arrayed, her face was pale and cold, but her great eyes glowed
in it. Low the Wanderer bowed before her. She bent her head in answer,
then gave him her hand, and he led her to the feast. They sat there
side by side, but the Queen spoke little, and that little of Pharaoh
and the host of the Apura, from whom no tidings came.

When at length the feast was done, Meriamun bade the Wanderer to her
private chamber, and thither he went for awhile, though sorely against
his will. But Rei came not in with them, and thus he was left alone
with the Queen, for she dismissed the waiting ladies.

When they had gone there was silence for a space, but ever the
Wanderer felt the eyes of Meriamun watching him as though they would
read his heart.

"I am weary," she said, at length. "Tell me of the wanderings,
Odysseus of Ithaca--nay, tell me of the siege of Ilios and of the
sinful Helen, who brought all these woes about. Ay, and tell me how
thou didst creep from the leaguers of the Achæans, and, wrapped in a
beggar's weeds, seek speech of this evil Helen, now justly slain of
the angry Gods."

"Justly slain is she indeed," answered the crafty Wanderer. "An ill
thing is it, truly, that the lives of so many heroes should be lost
because of the beauty of a faithless woman. I had it in my own heart
to slay her when I spoke with her in Troy town, but the Gods held my

"Was it so, indeed?" said the Queen, smiling darkly. "Doubtless if she
yet lived, and thou sawest her, thou wouldst slay her. Is it not so,

"She lives no more, O Queen!" he answered.

"Nay, she lives no more, Odysseus. Now tell me; yesterday thou wentest
up to the Temple of the Hathor; tell me what thou didst see in the

"I saw a fair woman, or, perchance, an immortal Goddess, stand upon
the pylon brow, and as she stood and sang those who looked were bereft
of reason. And thereafter some tried to pass the ghosts who guarded
the woman, and were slain of invisible swords. It was a strange sight
to see."

"A strange sight, surely. But thou didst not lose thy craft, Odysseus,
nor try to break through the ghosts?"

"Nay, Meriamun. In my youth I looked upon the beauty of Argive Helen,
who was fairer than she who stood upon the pylon tower. None who have
looked upon the Helen would seek to win the Hathor."

"But, perchance, those who have looked upon the Hathor may seek to win
the Helen," she answered slowly, and he knew not what to say, for he
felt the power of her magic on him.

So for awhile they spoke, and Meriamun, knowing all, wondered much at
the guile of the Wanderer, but she showed no wonder in her face. At
length he rose and, bowing before her, said that he must visit the
guard that watched the Palace gates. She looked upon him strangely and
bade him go. Then he went, and right glad he was thus to be free of

But when the curtains had swung behind him, Meriamun the Queen sprang
to her feet, and a dreadful light of daring burned in her eyes. She
clapped her hands, and bade those who came to her seek their rest, as
she would also, for she was weary and needed none to wait upon her. So
the women went, leaving her alone, and she passed into her sleeping

"Now must the bride deck herself for the bridal," she said, and
straightway, pausing not, drew forth the Ancient Evil from its hiding-
place and warmed it on her breast, breathing the breath of life into
its nostrils. Now, as before, it grew and wound itself about her, and
whispered in her ear, bidding her clothe herself in bridal white and
clasp the Evil around her; then think upon the beauty she had seen
gather on the face of dead Hataska in the Temple of Osiris, and on the
face of the Bai, and the face of the Ka. She did its command, fearing
nothing, for her heart was alight with love, and torn with jealous
hate, and little did she reck of the sorrows which her sin should
bring forth. So she bathed herself in perfumes, shook out her shining
hair, and clad herself in white attire. Then she looked upon her
beauty in the mirror of silver, and cried in the bitterness of her
heart to the Evil that lay beside her like a snake asleep.

"Ah, am I not fair enow to win him whom I love? Say, thou Evil, must I
indeed steal the beauty of another to win him whom I love?"

"This must thou do," said the Evil, "or lose him in Helen's arms. For
though thou art fair, yet is she Beauty's self, and her gentleness he
loves, and not thy pride. Choose, choose swiftly for presently the
Wanderer goes forth to win the Golden Helen."

Then she doubted no more, but lifting the shining Evil, held it to
her. With a dreadful laugh it twined itself about her, and lo! it
shrank to the shape of a girdling, double-headed snake of gold, with
eyes of ruby flame. And as it shrank Meriamun the Queen thought on the
beauty she had seen upon the face of the dead Hataska, on the face of
the Bai, and the face of the Ka, and all the while she watched her
beauty in the mirror. And as she watched, behold, her face grew as the
face of death, ashen and hollow, then slowly burned into life again--
but all her loveliness was changed. Changed were her dark locks to
locks of gold, changed were her deep eyes to eyes of blue, changed was
the glory of her pride to the sweetness of the Helen's smile. Fairest
among women had been her form, now it was fairer yet, and now--now she
was Beauty's self, and like to swoon at the dream of her own

"So, ah, so must the Hathor seem," she said, and lo! her voice rang
strangely in her ears. For the voice, too, was changed, it was more
soft than the whispering of wind-stirred reeds; it was more sweet than
the murmuring of bees at noon.

Now she must go forth, and fearful at her own loveliness and heavy
with her sin, yet glad with a strange joy, she passes from her chamber
and glides like a starbeam through the still halls of her Palace. The
white light of the moon creeps into them and falls upon the faces of
the dreadful Gods, on the awful smile of sphinxes, and the pictures of
her forefathers, kings and queens who long were dead. And as she goes
she seems to hear them whisper each to each of the dreadful sin that
she has sinned, and of the sorrow that shall be. But she does not
heed, and never stays her foot. For her heart is alight as with a
flame, and she will win the Wanderer to her arms--the Wanderer sought
through many lives, found after many deaths.

Now the Wanderer is in his chamber, waiting for the hour to set forth
to find the Golden Helen. His heart is alight, and strange dreams of
the past go before his eyes, and strange visions of long love to be.
His heart burns like a lamp in the blackness, and by that light he
sees all the days of his life that have been, and all the wars that he
has won, and all the seas that he has sailed. And now he knows that
these things are dreams indeed, illusions of the sense, for there is
but one thing true in the life of men, and that is Love; there is but
one thing perfect, the beauty which is Love's robe; there is but one
thing which all men seek and are born to find at last, the heart of
the Golden Helen, the World's Desire, that is peace and joy and rest.

He binds his armour on him, for foes may lurk in darkness, and takes
the Bow of Eurytus, and the grey bolts of death; for perchance the
fight is not yet done, he must cleave his way to joy. Then he combs
his locks and sets the golden helm upon them, and, praying to the Gods
who hear not, he passes from his chamber.

Now the chamber opened into a great hall of pillars. As was his custom
when he went alone by night, the Wanderer glanced warily down the
dusky hall, but he might see little because of the shadows.
Nevertheless, the moonlight poured into the centre of the hall from
the clerestories in the roof, and lay there shining white as water
beneath black banks of reeds. Again the Wanderer glanced with keen,
quick eyes, for there was a sense in his heart that he was no more
alone in the hall, though whether it were man or ghost, or, perchance,
one of the immortal Gods who looked on him, he might not tell. Now it
seemed to him that he saw a shape of white moving far away in the
shadow. Then he grasped the black bow and laid hand upon his quiver so
that the shafts rattled.

Now it would seem that the shape in the shadow heard the rattling of
the shafts, or perchance saw the moonlight gleam upon the Wanderer's
golden harness--at the least, it drew near till it came to the edge of
the pool of light. There it paused as a bather pauses ere she steps
into the fountain. The Wanderer paused also, wondering what the shape
might be. Half was he minded to try it with an arrow from the bow, but
he held his hand and watched.

And as he watched, the white shape glided into the space of moonlight,
and he saw that it was the form of a woman draped in white, and that
about her shone a gleaming girdle, and in the girdle gems which
sparkled like the eyes of a snake. Tall was the shape and lovely as a
statue of Aphrodite; but who or what it was he might not tell, for the
head was bent and the face hidden.

Awhile the shape stood thus, and as it stood, the Wanderer passed
towards it, marvelling much, till he also stood in the pool of
moonlight that shimmered on his golden mail. Then suddenly the shape
lifted its face so that the light fell full on it, and stretched out
its arms towards him, and lo! the face was the face of the Argive
Helen--of her whom he went forth to seek. He looked upon its beauty,
he looked upon the eyes of blue, upon the golden hair, upon the
shining arms; then slowly, very slowly, and in silence--for he could
find no words--the Wanderer drew near.

She did not move nor speak. So still she stood that scarce she seemed
to breathe. Only the shining eyes of her snake-girdle glittered like
living things. Again he stopped fearfully, for he held that this was
surely a mocking ghost which stood before him, but still she neither
moved nor spoke.

Then at length he found his tongue and spoke:

"Lady," he whispered, "is it indeed thou, is it Argive Helen whom I
look upon, or is it, perchance, a ghost sent by Queen Persephone from
the House of Hades to make a mock of me?"

Now the voice of Helen answered him in sweet tones and low:

"Did I not tell thee, Odysseus of Ithaca, did I not tell thee,
yesterday in the halls of Hathor, after thou hadst overcome the
ghosts, that to-night we should be wed? Wherefore, then, dost thou
deem me of the number of the bodiless?"

The Wanderer hearkened. The voice was the voice of Helen, the eyes
were the eyes of Helen, and yet his heart feared guile.

"So did Argive Helen tell me of a truth, Lady, but this she said, that
I should find her by the pylon of the temple, and lead her thence to
be my bride. Thither I go but now to seek her. But if thou art Helen,
how comest thou to these Palace halls? And where, Lady, is that Red
Star which should gleam upon thy breast, that Star which weeps out the
blood of men?"

"No more doth the red dew fall from the Star that was set upon my
breast, Odysseus, for now that thou hast won me men die no more for my
beauty's sake. Gone is the Star of War; and see, Wisdom rings me
round, the symbol of the Deathless Snake that signifies love eternal.
Thou dost ask how I came hither, I, who am immortal and a daughter of
the Gods? Seek not to know, Odysseus, for where Fate puts it in my
mind to be, there do the Gods bear me. Wouldst thou, then, that I
leave thee, Odysseus?"

"Last of all things do I desire this," he answered, for now his wisdom
went a-wandering; now he forgot the words of Aphrodite, warning him
that the Helen might be known by one thing only, the Red Star on her
breast, whence falls the blood of men; and he no more doubted but that
she was the Golden Helen.

Then she who wore the Helen's shape stretched out her arms and smiled
so sweetly that the Wanderer knew nothing any more, save that she drew
him to her.

Slowly she glided before him, ever smiling, and where she went he
followed, as men follow beauty in a dream. She led him through halls
and corridors, past the sculptured statues of the Gods, past man-
headed sphinxes, and pictures of long-dead kings.

And as she goes, once more it seems to her that she hears them whisper
each to each the horror of her sin and the sorrow that shall be. But
naught she heeds who ever leads him on, and naught he hears who ever
follows after, till at length, though he knows it not, they stand in
the bed-chamber of the Queen, and by Pharaoh's golden bed.

Then once more she speaks:

"Odysseus of Ithaca, whom I have loved from the beginning, and whom I
shall love till all deaths are done, before thee stands that
Loveliness which the Gods predestined to thy arms. Now take thou thy
Bride; but first lay thy hand upon this golden Snake, that rings me
round, the new bridal gift of the Gods, and swear thy marriage oath,
which may not be broken. Swear thus, Odysseus: 'I love thee, Woman or
Immortal, and thee alone, and by whatever name thou art called, and in
whatever shape thou goest, to thee I will cleave, and to thee alone,
till the day of the passing of Time. I will forgive thy sins, I will
soothe thy sorrows, I will suffer none to come betwixt thee and me.
This I swear to thee, Woman or Immortal, who dost stand before me. I
swear it to thee, Woman, for now and for ever, for here and hereafter,
in whatever shape thou goest on the earth, by whatever name thou art
known among men.'

"Swear thou thus, Odysseus of Ithaca, Laertes' son, or leave me and go
thy ways!"

"Great is the oath," quoth the Wanderer; for though now he feared no
guile, yet his crafty heart liked it ill.

"Choose, and choose swiftly," she answered. "Swear the oath, or leave
me and never see me more!"

"Leave thee I will not, and cannot if I would," he said. "Lady, I
swear!" And he laid his hand upon the Snake that ringed her round, and
swore the dreadful oath. Yea, he forgot the words of the Goddess, and
the words of Helen, and he swore by the Snake who should have sworn by
the Star. By the immortal Gods he swore it, by the Symbol of the
Snake, and by the Beauty of his Bride. And as he swore the eyes of the
Serpent sparkled, and the eyes of her who wore the beauty of Helen
shone, and faintly the black bow of Eurytus thrilled, forboding Death
and War.

But little the Wanderer thought on guile or War or Death, for the kiss
of her whom he deemed the Golden Helen was on his lips, and he went up
into the golden bed of Meriamun.



Now Rei the Priest, as had been appointed, went to the pylon gate of
the Temple of Hathor. Awhile he stood looking for the Wanderer, but
though the hour had come, the Wanderer came not. Then the Priest went
to the pylon and stood in the shadow of the gate. As he stood there a
wicket in the gate opened, and there passed out a veiled figure of a
woman upon whose breast burned a red jewel that shone in the night
like a star. The woman waited awhile, looking down the moonlit road
between the black rows of sphinxes, but the road lay white and empty,
and she turned and hid herself in the shadow of the pylon, where Rei
could see nothing of her except the red star that gleamed upon her

Now a great fear came upon the old man, for he knew that he looked
upon the strange and deadly Hathor. Perchance he too would perish like
the rest who had looked on her to their ruin. He thought of flight,
but he did not dare to fly. Then he too stared down the road seeking
for the Wanderer, but no shadow crossed the moonlight. Thus things
went for awhile, and still the Hathor stood silently in the shadow,
and still the blood-red star shone upon her breast. And so it came to
pass that the World's Desire must wait at the tryst like some forsaken
village maid.

While Rei the Priest crouched thus against the pylon wall, praying for
the coming of him who came not, suddenly a voice spoke to him in tones
sweeter than a lute.

"Who art thou that hidest in the shadow?" said the voice.

He knew that it was the Hathor who spoke, and so afraid was he that he
could not answer.

Then the voice spoke again:

"Oh, thou most crafty of men, why doth it please thee to come hither
to seek me in the guise of an aged priest. Once, Odysseus, I saw thee
in beggar's weeds, and knew thee in the midst of thy foes. Shall I not
know thee again in peace beneath thy folded garb and thy robes of

Rei heard and knew that he could hide himself no longer. Therefore he
came forward trembling, and knelt before her, saying:

"Oh, mighty Queen, I am not that man whom thou didst name, nor am I
hid in any wrappings of disguise. Nay, I do avow myself to be named
Rei the Chief Architect of Pharaoh, the Commander of the Legion of

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