The Purple Cloud Part 20

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To-morrow I start for Imbros: and whether this girl chooses to follow me, or whether she stays behind, I will see her from the moment I land no more.

She must rise very early. I who am now regularly on the palace-roof at dawn, sometimes from between the pavilion-curtains of the galleries, or from the steps of the telescope-kiosk, may spy her far down below, a dainty microscopic figure, generally running about the sward, or gazing up in wonder at the palace from the lake-edge.

It is now three months since she came with me to Imbros.

I left her the first night in that pale-yellow house with the two green jalousies facing the beach, where there was everything that she would need; but I knew that, like all the houses there now, it leaked profusely, and the next day I went down to the curving stair, cut through the rock at the back and south of the village, climbed, and half a mile beyond found that park and villa with gables, which I had noted from the sea. The villa is almost intact, very strongly built of purplish marble, though small, and very like a Western house, with s.h.i.+ngles, and three gables, so that I think it must have been the yali of some Englishman, for it contains a number of English books, though the only body I saw there was what looked like an Aararat Kurd, with spiral string wound down his turban, yellow ankle-pantaloons, and flung red shoulder-cloak; and all in the heavily-wooded park, and all about the low rock-steps up the hill, profusions of man-dragora; and from the rock-steps to the house a narrow long avenue of acacias, mossy underfoot, that mingle overhead, the house standing about four yards from the edge of the perpendicular sea-cliff, whence one can see the _Speranzas_ main top-mast, and broken mizzen-mast-head, in her quiet haven. After examining the place I went down again to the village, and her house: but she was not there: and two hours long I paced about among the weeds of these amateur little alleys and flat-roofed windowless houses (though some have terrace-roofs, and a rare aperture), whose once-raw yellows, greens, and blues look now like sunset tints when the last flush is gone, and they fade dun. When at last she came running with open mouth, I took her up the rock-steps, and into the house, and there she has lived, one of the gable-tips, I now find (that overlooking the sea), being just visible from the north-east corner of the palace-roof, two miles from it.

That night again, when I was leaving her, she made an attempt to follow me. But I was resolved to end it, then: and cutting a sa.s.safras-whip I cut her deep, three times, till she ran, crying.

So, then, what is my fate henceforth?--to think always, from sun to moon, and from moon to sun, of one only thing--and that thing an object for the microscope?--to become a sneaking Paul Pry to spy upon the silly movements of one little sparrow, like some fatuous motiveless gossip of old, his occupation to peep, his one faculty to scent, his honey and his achievement to unearth the infinitely unimportant? I would kill her first!

I am convinced that she is no stay-at-home, but roams continually over the island: for thrice, wandering myself, I have come upon her.

The first time she was running with flushed face, intent upon striking down a b.u.t.terfly with a twig held in the left hand (for both hands she uses with dexterity). It was at about nine in the morning, in her park, near the bottom where there are high gra.s.s-growths and ferny luxuriance between the close tree-trunks, and shadow, and the broken wall of an old funeral-kiosk sunk aslant under moss, creepers, and wild flowers, behind which I peeped hidden and wet with dew. She has had the a.s.surance to modify the dress I put upon her, and was herself a b.u.t.terfly, for instead of the s.h.i.+ntiyan, she had on a zouave, hardly reaching to the waist, of saffron satin, no feredje, but a scarlet fez with violet ta.s.sel, and baggy pantaloons of azure silk; down her back the long auburn plait, quite neat, but all her front hair loose and wanton, the fez c.o.c.ked backward, while I caught glimpses of her fugitive heels lifting out of the dropping slipper-sole. She is pretty clever, but not clever enough, for that b.u.t.terfly escaped, and in one instant I saw her change into weary and sad, for on this earth is nothing more fickle than that Proteus face, which resembles a landscape swept with cloud-shadows on a bright day. Fast beat my heart that morning, owing to the consciousness that, while I saw, I was unseen, yet might be seen.

Another noontide, three weeks afterwards, I came upon her a good way up yonder to the west of the palace, sleeping on her arm in an alley between overgrown old trellises, where rioting wild vine buried her in gloom: but I had not been peeping through the bushes a minute, when she started up and looked wildly about, her quick consciousness, I imagine, detecting a presence: though I think that I managed to get away unseen.

She keeps her face very dirty: all about her mouth was dry-stained with a polychrome of grape, _murs_, and other coloured juices, like s...o...b..ring _gamins_ of old. I could also see that her nose and cheeks are now sprinkled with little freckles.

Four days since I saw her a third time, and then found that the primitive instinct to represent the world in pictures has been working in her: for she was drawing. It was down in the middle one of the three east-and-west village streets, for thither I had strolled toward evening, and coming out upon the street from between an old wall and a house, saw her quite near. I pulled up short--and peered. She was lying on her face all among, a piece of yellow board before her, and in her fingers a chalk-splinter: and very intently she drew, her tongue-tip travelling along her short upper-lip from side to side, regularly as a pendulum, her fez tipped far back, and the left foot swinging upward from the knee. She had drawn her yali at the top, and now, as I could see by peering well forward, was drawing underneath the palace--from memory, for where she lay it is all hidden: yet the palace it was, for there were the waving lines meant for the steps, the two slanting pillars, the slanting battlements of the outer court, and before the portal, with turban reaching above the roof, and my two whisks of beard sweeping below the knees--myself.

Something spurred me, and I could not resist shouting a sudden "Hi!"

whereupon she scrambled like a spring-bok to her feet, I pointing to the drawing, smiling.

This creature has a way of mincing her pressed lips, while she shakes the head, intensely cooing a fond laugh: and so she did then.

"You are a clever little wretch, you know," said I, she c.o.c.king her eye, trying to divine my meaning with vague smile.

'Oh, yes, a clever little wretch,' I went on in a gruff voice, 'clever as a serpent, no doubt: for in the first case it was the Black who used the serpent, but now it is the White. But it will not do, you know. Do you know what you are to me, you? You are my Eve!--a little fool, a little piebald frog like you. But it will not do at all, at all! A nice race it would be with you for mother, and me for father, wouldn't it?--half-criminal like the father, half-idiot like the mother: just like the last, in short. They used to say, in fact, that the offspring of a brother and sister was always weak-headed: and from such a wedlock certainly came the human race, so no wonder it was what it was: and so it would have to be again now. Well no--unless we have the children, and cut their throats at birth: and _you_ would not like that at all, I know, and, on the whole, it would not work, for the White would be striking a poor man dead with His lightning, if I attempted that. No, then: the modern Adam is some eight to twenty thousand years wiser than the first--you see? less instinctive, more rational. The first disobeyed by commission: I shall disobey by omission: only his disobedience was a sin, mine is a heroism. I have not been a particularly ideal sort of beast so far, you know: but in me, Adam Jeffson--I swear it--the human race shall at last attain a true n.o.bility, the n.o.bility of self-extinction. I shall turn out trumps: I shall prove myself stronger than Tendency, World-Genius, Providence, Currents of Fate, White Power, Black Power, or whatever is the name for it. No more Clodaghs, Lucrezia Borgias, Semiramises, Pompadours, Irish Landlords, Hundred-Years'

Wars--you see?'

She kept her left eye obliquely c.o.c.ked like a little fool, wondering, no doubt, what I was saying.

'And talking of Clodagh,' I went on, 'I shall call you that henceforth, to keep me reminded. So that is your name--not Eve--but Clodagh, who was a Poisoner, you see? She poisoned a poor man who trusted her: and that is your name now--not Eve, but Clodagh--to remind me, you most dangerous little speckled viper! And in order that I may no more see your foolish little pretty face, I decree that, for the future, you wear a _yashmak_ to cover up your lips, which, I can see, were meant to be seductive, though dirty; and you can leave the blue eyes, and the little white-skinned freckled nose uncovered, if you like, they being commonplace enough. Meantime, if you care to see how to draw a palace--I will show you.'

Before I stretched my hand, she was presenting the board--so that she had guessed something of my meaning! But some hard tone in my talk had wounded her, for she presented it looking very glum, her under-lip pus.h.i.+ng a little obliquely out, very pathetically, I must say, as always when she is just ready to cry.

In a few strokes I drew the palace, and herself standing at the portal between the pillars: and now great was her satisfaction, for she pointed to the sketched figure, and to herself, interrogatively: and when I nodded 'yes,' she went cooing her fond murmurous laugh, with pressed and mincing lips: and it is clear that, in spite of my beatings, she is in no way afraid of me.

Before I could move away, I felt some rain-drops, and down in some seconds rushed a shower. I looked, saw that the sky was rapidly darkening, and ran into the nearest of the little cubical houses, leaving her glancing sideways upward, with the quaintest artlessness of interest in the downpour: for she is not yet quite familiarised with the operations of nature, and seems to regard them with a certain amiable inquisitive seriousness, as though they were living beings, comrades as good as herself. She presently joined me, but even then stretched her hand out to feel the drops.

Now there came a thunder-clap, the wind was rising, and rain spattering about me: for the panes of these houses, made, I believe, of paper saturated in almond-oil, have long disappeared, and rains, penetrating by roof and rare window, splash the bones of men. I gathered up my skirts to run toward other shelter, but she was before me, saying in her strange experimental voice that word of hers: "_Come_."

She ran in advance, and I, with the outer robe over my head, followed, urging flinching way against the whipped rain-wash. She took the way by the stone horse-pond, through an alley to the left between two blind walls, then down a steep path through wood to the rock-steps, and up we ran, and along the hill, to her yali, which is a mile nearer the village than the palace, though by the time we pelted into its dry shelter we were wet to the skin.

Sudden darkness had come, but she quickly found some matches, lit one, looking at it with a certain meditative air, and applied it to a candle and to a bronze Western lamp on the table, which I had taught her to oil and light. Near a Western fire-place was a Turkish mangal, like one which she had seen me light to warm bath-waters in Constantinople, and when I pointed to it, she ran to the kitchen, returned with some chopped wood, and very cleverly lit it. And there for several hours I sat that night, reading (the first time for many years): it was a book by the poet Milton, found in a glazed book-case on the other side of the fire-place: and most strange, most novel, I found those august words about warring angels that night, while the storm raved: for this man had evidently taken no end of pains with his book, and done it gallantly well, too, making the thing hum: and I could not conceive why he should have been at that trouble--unless it were for the same reason that I built the palace, because some spark bites a man, and he would be like--but that is all vanity, and delusion.

Well, there is a rage in the storms of late years which really transcends bounds; I do not remember if I have noted it in these sheets before: but I never could have conceived a turbulence so huge. Hour after hour I sat there that night, smoking a chibouque, reading, and listening to the batteries and lamentations of that haunted air, shrinking from it, fearing even for the _Speranza_ by her quay in the sequestered harbour, and for the palace-pillars. But what astonished me was that girl: for, after sitting on the ottoman to my left some time, she fell sideways asleep, not the least fear about her, though I should have thought that nervousness at such a turmoil would be so natural to her: and whence she has this light confidence in the world into which she has so abruptly come I do not know, for it is as though someone inspired her with the mood of nonchalance, saying: 'Be of good cheer, and care not a pin about anything: for G.o.d is G.o.d.'

I heard the ocean swing hoa.r.s.e like heavy ordnance against the cliffs below, where they meet the outer surface of the southern of the two claws of land that form the harbour: and the thought came into my mind: 'If now I taught her to speak, to read, I could sometimes make her read a book to me.'

The winds seemed wilfully struggling for the house to s.n.a.t.c.h and wing it away into the drear Eternities of the night: and I could not but heave the sigh: 'Alas for us two poor waifs and castaways of our race, little bits of flotsam and seaweed-hair cast up here a moment, ah me, on this sh.o.r.e of the Ages, soon to be dragged back, O turgid Eternity, into thy abysmal gorge; and upon what strand--who shall say?--shall she next be flung, and I, divided then perhaps by all the stretch of the trillion-distanced astral gulf?' And such a pity, and a wringing of the heart, seemed in things, that a tear fell from my eyes that ominous midnight.

She started up at a gust of more appalling volume, rubbing her eyes, with dishevelled hair (it must have been about midnight), listening a minute, with that demure, droll interest of hers, to the noise of the elements, and then smiled to me; rose then, left the room, and presently returned with a pomegranate and some almonds on a plate, also some delicious old sweet wine in a Samian cruche, and an old silver cup, gilt inside, standing in a zarf. These she placed on the table near me, I murmuring: 'Hospitality.'

She looked at the book, which I read as I ate, with lowered left eye-lid, seeking to guess its use, I suppose. Most things she understands at once, but this must have baffled her: for to see one looking fixedly at a thing, and not know what one is looking at it for, must be very disconcerting.

I held it up before her, saying:

"Shall I teach you to read it? If I did, how would you repay me, you Clodagh?"

She c.o.c.ked her eyes, seeking to comprehend. G.o.d knows, at that moment I pitied the poor dumb waif, alone in all the whole round earth with me.

The candle-flame, moved by the wind like a slow-painting brush, flickered upon her face, though every cranny was closed.

"Perhaps, then," I said, "I will teach you. You are a pitiable little derelict of your race, you know: and two hours every day I will let you come to the palace, and I will teach you. But be sure, be careful. If there be danger, I will kill you: a.s.suredly--without fail. And let me begin with a lesson now: say after me: 'White.'"

I took her hand, and got her to understand that I wanted her to repeat after me.

"White," said I.

"Hwhite," said she.

'Power,' said I.

'Pow-wer,' said she.

'White Power,' said I.

'Hwhite Pow-wer,' said she.

'Shall not,' said I.

'Sall not,' said she.

'White Power shall not,' said I.

'Hwhite Pow-wer sall not,' said she.

'Prevail,' said I.

'Fffail,' said she, p.r.o.nouncing the 'v' with a long fluttering 'f'-sound.

The Purple Cloud Part 20

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The Purple Cloud Part 20 summary

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