Ayesha Unveils

`THERE,' said She, `he has gone, the white-bearded old fool! Ah, how little knowledge does a man acquire in his life. He gathereth it up like water, but like water it runneth through his fingers, and yet, if his hands be but wet as though with dew, behold a generation of fools call out, "See, he is a wise man!" Is it not so? But how call they thee? "Baboon," he says,' and she laughed; `but that is the fashion of these savages who lack imagination, and fly to the beasts they resemble for a name. How do they call thee in thine own country,' stranger?

`They call me Holly, oh Queen,' I answered.

`Holly,' she answered, speaking the word with difficulty, and yet with a most charming accent; `and what is "Holly"?'

`"Holly" is a prickly tree,' I said.

`So. Well, thou hast a prickly and yet a tree-like look. Strong art thou, and ugly, but, if my wisdom be not at fault, honest at the core, and a staff to lean on. Also one who thinks. But stay, oh Holly, stand not there, enter with me and be seated by me. I would not see thee crawl before me like those slaves. I am aweary of their worship and their terror; sometimes when they vex me I could blast them for very sport, and to see the rest turn white, even to the heart.' And she held the curtain aside with her ivory hand to let me pass in.

I entered, shuddering. This woman was very terrible. Within the curtains was a recess, about twelve feet by ten, and in the recess was a couch and a table whereon stood fruit and sparkling water. By it, at its end, was a vessel like a font cut in carved stone, also full of pure water. The place was softly lit with lamps formed out of the beautiful vessels of which I have spoken, and the air and curtains were laden with a subtle perfume. Perfume too seemed to emanate from the glorious hair and white-clinging vestments of She herself. I entered the little room, and there stood uncertain.

`Sit,' said She, pointing to the couch. `As yet thou hast no cause to fear me. If thou hast cause, thou shalt not fear for long, for I shall slay thee. Therefore let thy heart be light.'

I sat down on the end of the couch near to the font-like basin of water, and She sank down softly on to the other end.

`Now, Holly,' she said, `how comest thou to speak Arabic? It is my own dear tongue, for Arabian am I by my birth,* even "al Arab al Ariba" (an Arab of the Arabs), and of the race of our father Yárab, the son of Kâhtan, for in that fair and ancient city Ozal was I born, in the province of Yaman the Happy. Yet dost thou not speak it as we used to speak. Thy talk doth lack the music of the sweet tongue of the tribes of Hamyar which I was wont to hear. Some of the words too seemed changed, even as among these Amahagger, who have debased and defiled its purity, so that I must speak with them in what is to me another tongue.'1

`I have studied it,' I answered, `for many years. Also the language is spoken in Egypt and elsewhere.'

`So it is still spoken, and there is yet an Egypt? And what Pharaoh sits upon the throne?* Still one of the spawn of the Persian Ochus, or are the Achaemenians gone, for far is it to the days of Ochus.'

`The Persians have been gone from Egypt for nigh two thousand years, and since then the Ptolemies, the Romans, and many others have flourished and held sway upon the Nile, and fallen when their time was ripe,' I said, aghast. `What canst thou know of the Persian Artaxerxes?'

She laughed, and made no answer, and again a cold chill went through me. `And Greece,' she said; `is there still a Greece? Ah, I loved the Greeks. Beautiful were they as the day, and clever, but fierce at heart and fickle, notwithstanding.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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