She shakes her parasol, and all the little bells begin to ring.
"I have many other things besides – there, now! I have treasures shut up in galleries, where they are lost as in a wood. I have summer palaces of lattice-reeds, and winter palaces of black marble. In the midst of great lakes, like seas, I have islands round as pieces of silver all covered with mother-of-pearl, whose shores make music with the beating of the liquid waves that roll over the sand. The slaves of my kitchen catch birds in my aviaries, and angle for fish in my ponds. I have engravers continually sitting to stamp my likeness on hard stones, panting workers in bronze who cast my statues, and perfumers who mix the juice of plants with vinegar and beat up pastes. I have dressmakers who cut out stuffs for me, goldsmiths who make jewels for me, women whose duty it is to select head-dresses for me, and attentive house-painters pouring over my panellings boiling resin, which they cool with fans. I have attendants for my harem, eunuchs enough to make an army. And then I have armies, subjects! I have in my vestibule a guard of dwarfs, carrying on their backs ivory trumpets."
"I have teams of gazelles, quadrigæ of elephants, hundreds of camels, and mares with such long manes that their feet get entangled with them when they are galloping, and flocks with such huge horns that the woods are torn down in front of them when they are pasturing. I have giraffes who walk in my gardens, and who raise their heads over the edge of my roof when I am taking the air after dinner. Seated in a shell, and drawn by dolphins, I go up and down the grottoes, listening to the water flowing from the stalactites. I journey to the diamond country, where my friends the magicians allow me to choose the most beautiful; then I ascend to earth once more, and return home."
She gives a piercing whistle, and a large bird, descending from the sky, alights on the top of her head-dress, from which he scatters the blue powder. His plumage, of orange colour, seems composed of metallic scales. His dainty head, adorned with a silver tuft, exhibits a human visage. He has four wings, a vulture's claws, and an immense peacock's tail, which he displays in a ring behind him. He seizes in his beak the Queen's parasol, staggers a little before he finds his equilibrium, then erects all his feathers, and remains motionless.
"Thanks, fair Simorg-anka! You who have brought me to the place where the lover is concealed! Thanks! thanks! messenger of my heart! He flies like desire. He travels all over the world. In the evening he returns; he lies down at the foot of my couch; he tells me what he has seen, the seas he has flown over, with their fishes and their ships, the great empty deserts which he has looked down upon from his airy height in the skies, all the harvests bending in the fields, and the plants that shoot up on the walls of abandoned cities."
She twists her arms with a languishing air.
"Oh! if you were willing! if you were only willing! … I have a pavilion on a promontory, in the midst of an isthmus between two oceans. It is wainscotted with plates of glass, floored with tortoise-shells, and is open to the four winds of Heaven. From above, I watch the return of my fleets and the people who ascend the hill with loads on their shoulders. We should sleep on down softer than clouds; we should drink cool draughts out of the rinds of fruit, and we gaze at the sun through a canopy of emeralds. Come!"
Antony recoils. She draws close to him, and, in a tone of irritation:
"How so? Rich, coquettish, and in love? – is not that enough for you, eh? But must she be lascivious, gross, with a hoarse voice, a head of hair like fire, and rebounding flesh? Do you prefer a body cold as a serpent's skin, or, perchance, great black eyes more sombre than mysterious caverns? Look at these eyes of mine, then!"
Antony gazes at them, in spite of himself.
"All the women you ever have met, from the daughter of the cross-roads singing beneath her lantern to the fair patrician scattering leaves from the top of her litter, all the forms you have caught a glimpse of, all the imaginings of your desire, ask for them! I am not a woman – I am a world. My garments have but to fall, and you shall discover upon my person a succession of mysteries."
Antony's teeth chattered.
"If you placed your finger on my shoulder, it would be like a stream of fire in your veins. The possession of the least part of my body will fill you with a joy more vehement than the conquest of an empire. Bring your lips near! My kisses have the taste of fruit which would melt in your heart. Ah! how you will lose yourself in my tresses, caress my breasts, marvel at my limbs, and be scorched by my eyes, between my arms, in a whirlwind – "
Antony makes the sign of the Cross.
"So, then, you disdain me! Farewell!"
She turns away weeping; then she returns.
"Are you quite sure? So lovely a woman?"
She laughs, and the ape who holds the end of her robe lifts it up.
"You will repent, my fine hermit! you will groan; you will be sick of life! but I will mock at you! la! la! la! oh! oh! oh!"
She goes off with her hands on her waist, skipping on one foot.
The slaves file off before Saint Antony's face, together with the horses, the dromedaries, the elephant, the attendants, the mules, once more covered with their loads, the negro boys, the ape, and the green-clad couriers holding their broken lilies in their hands – and the Queen of Sheba departs, with a spasmodic utterance which might be either a sob or a chuckle.
The Disciple, Hilarion
WHEN she has disappeared, Antony perceives a child on the threshold of his cell.
"It is one of the Queen's servants," he thinks.
This child is small, like a dwarf, and yet thickset, like one of the Cabiri, distorted, and with a miserable aspect. White hair covers his prodigiously large head, and he shivers under a sorry tunic, while he grasps in his hand a roll of papyrus. The light of the moon, across which a cloud is passing, falls upon him.
Antony observes him from a distance, and is afraid of him.
"Who are you?"
The child replies:
"Your former disciple, Hilarion."
Antony– "You lie! Hilarion has been living for many years in Palestine."
Hilarion– "I have returned from it! It is I, in good sooth!"
Antony, draws closer and inspects him – "Why, his figure was bright as the dawn, open, joyous. This one is quite sombre, and has an aged look."
Hilarion– "I am worn out with constant toiling."
Antony– "The voice, too, is different. It has a tone that chills you."
Hilarion– "That is because I nourish myself on bitter fare."
Antony– "And those white locks?"
Hilarion– "I have had so many griefs."
Antony, aside – "Can it be possible? …"
Hilarion– "I was not so far away as you imagined. The hermit, Paul, paid you a visit this year during the month of Schebar. It is just twenty days since the nomads brought you bread. You told a sailor the day before yesterday to send you three bodkins."
Antony– "He knows everything!"
Hilarion– "Learn, too, that I have never left you. But you spend long intervals without perceiving me."
Antony– "How is that? No doubt my head is troubled! To-night especially …"
Hilarion– "All the deadly sins have arrived. But their miserable snares are of no avail against a saint like you!"
Antony– "Oh! no! no! Every minute I give way! Would that I were one of those whose souls are always intrepid and their minds firm – like the great Athanasius, for example!"
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