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To The House Of Bitterness
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"She is more likely to give her scratches!"
"Why?--You say she is her friend!"
"That is just why.--A friend is one who gives us what we need, and the princess is sorely in need of a terrible scratching."
They were silent again.
"If any of you are afraid," I said, "you may go home; I shall not prevent you. But I cannot take one with me who believes the giants rather than me, or one who will call a good lady the cat-woman!"
"Please, king," said one, "I'm so afraid of being afraid!"
"My boy," I answered, "there is no harm in being afraid. The only harm is in doing what Fear tells you. Fear is not your master! Laugh in his face and he will run away."
"There she is--in the door waiting for us!" cried one, and put his hands over his eyes.
"How ugly she is!" cried another, and did the same.
"You do not see her," I said; "her face is covered!"
"She has no face!" they answered.
"She has a very beautiful face. I saw it once.--It is indeed as beautiful as Lona's!" I added with a sigh.
"Then what makes her hide it?"
"I think I know:--anyhow, she has some good reason for it!"
"I don't like the cat-woman! she is frightful!"
"You cannot like, and you ought not to dislike what you have never seen.--Once more, you must not call her the cat-woman!"
"What are we to call her then, please?"
"That is a pretty name!" said a girl; "I will call her `lady Mara'; then perhaps she will show me her beautiful face!"
Mara, drest and muffled in white, was indeed standing in the doorway to receive us.
"At last!" she said. "Lilith's hour has been long on the way, but it is come! Everything comes. Thousands of years have I waited--and not in vain!"
She came to me, took my treasure from my arms, carried it into the house, and returning, took the princess. Lilith shuddered, but made no resistance. The beasts lay down by the door. We followed our hostess, the Little Ones looking very grave. She laid the princess on a rough settle at one side of the room, unbound her, and turned to us.
"Mr. Vane," she said, "and you, Little Ones, I thank you! This woman would not yield to gentler measures; harder must have their turn. I must do what I can to make her repent!"
The pitiful-hearted Little Ones began to sob sorely.
"Will you hurt her very much, lady Mara?" said the girl I have just mentioned, putting her warm little hand in mine.
"Yes; I am afraid I must; I fear she will make me!" answered Mara. "It would be cruel to hurt her too little. It would have all to be done again, only worse."
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