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Lilith George MacDonald

The Princess

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I put on the robe of white wool, embroidered on the neck and hem, that lay ready for me, and went down the stair to the room whither my hostess had directed me. It was round, all of alabaster, and without a single window: the light came through everywhere, a soft, pearly shimmer rather than shine. Vague shadowy forms went flitting about over the walls and low dome, like loose rain-clouds over a grey-blue sky.

The princess stood waiting me, in a robe embroidered with argentine rings and discs, rectangles and lozenges, close together--a silver mail. It fell unbroken from her neck and hid her feet, but its long open sleeves left her arms bare.

In the room was a table of ivory, bearing cakes and fruit, an ivory jug of milk, a crystal jug of wine of a pale rose-colour, and a white loaf.

"Here we do not kill to eat," she said; "but I think you will like what I can give you."

I told her I could desire nothing better than what I saw. She seated herself on a couch by the table, and made me a sign to sit by her.

She poured me out a bowlful of milk, and, handing me the loaf, begged me to break from it such a piece as I liked. Then she filled from the wine-jug two silver goblets of grotesquely graceful workmanship.

"You have never drunk wine like this!" she said.

I drank, and wondered: every flower of Hybla and Hymettus must have sent its ghost to swell the soul of that wine!

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"And now that you will be able to listen," she went on, "I must do what I can to make myself intelligible to you. Our natures, however, are so different, that this may not be easy. Men and women live but to die; we, that is such as I--we are but a few--live to live on. Old age is to you a horror; to me it is a dear desire: the older we grow, the nearer we are to our perfection. Your perfection is a poor thing, comes soon, and lasts but a little while; ours is a ceaseless ripening. I am not yet ripe, and have lived thousands of your years--how many, I never cared to note. The everlasting will not be measured.

"Many lovers have sought me; I have loved none of them: they sought but to enslave me; they sought me but as the men of my city seek gems of price.--When you found me, I found a man! I put you to the test; you stood it; your love was genuine!--It was, however, far from ideal--far from such love as I would have. You loved me truly, but not with true love. Pity has, but is not love. What woman of any world would return love for pity? Such love as yours was then, is hateful to me. I knew that, if you saw me as I am, you would love me--like the rest of them--to have and to hold: I would none of that either! I would be otherwise loved! I would have a love that outlived hopelessness, outmeasured indifference, hate, scorn! Therefore did I put on cruelty, despite, ingratitude. When I left you, I had shown myself such as you could at least no longer follow from pity: I was no longer in need of you! But you must satisfy my desire or set me free--prove yourself priceless or worthless! To satisfy the hunger of my love, you must follow me, looking for nothing, not gratitude, not even pity in return!--follow and find me, and be content with merest presence, with scantest forbearance!-- I, not you, have failed; I yield the contest."

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