I was so dashed that, as we continued our journey, nothing in me even fought against this answer of Bardia's. I felt as, I suppose, a tortured prisoner feels when they dash water in his face to rouse him from his faint, and the truth, worse than all his fantasies, becomes clear and hard and unmistakable again around him. It now seemed to me that all my other guesses had been only self-pleasing dreams spun out of my wishes, but now I was awake.
There never had been any riddle; the worst was the truth, and truth as plain as the nose on a man's face. Only terror would have blinded me to it so long.
My hand stole to the sword-hilt under my cloak. Before my sickness, I had sworn that, if there were no other way, I would have killed Psyche rather than leave her to the heat or hunger of a monster. Now again I made a deep resolve. I was half frightened when I perceived what I was resolving. "So it might come even to that," my heart said; even to killing her (Bardia had already taught me the straight thrust, and where to strike). Then my tenderness came over me again, and I cried, never more bitterly, till I could not tell whether it was tears or rain that had most drenched my veil. (It was settling down to steadier rain as the day went on.) And in that tenderness I even asked myself why I should save her from the Brute, or warn her against the Brute, or meddle with the matter at all. "She is happy,"
said my heart. "Whether it's madness or a god or a monster, or whatever it is, she is happy.
You have seen that for yourself. She is ten times happier, there in the Mountain, than you could ever make her. Leave her alone. Don't spoil it. Don't mar what you've learnt you can't make."
We were down in the foothills now, almost (if one could have seen through the rain) in sight of the house of Ungit. My heart did not conquer me. I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore? Would a woman see her lover happy as a coward? My hand went back to the sword. "She shall not," I thought. Come what might, she should not.
However things might go, whatever the price, by her death or mine or a thousand deaths, by fronting the gods "beard to beard" as the soldiers say, Psyche should not - least of all, contentedly - make sport for a demon.
"We are king's daughters still," I said.
I had hardly said it when I had good cause to remember, in a different fashion, that I was a king's daughter, and what king's. For now we were fording the Shennit again and Bardia (whose mind was ever on next things) was saying that when we had passed the city, and before we had reached the palace, I had best slip off the horse and go up that little lane - where Redival first saw Psyche being worshipped - and so through the gardens and into the women's quarters by the back way. For it was easy to guess how my father would take it if he found that I (supposed too sick to work with him in the Pillar Room) had journeyed to the Holy Tree.
It was nearly dark in the palace, and as I came to my chamber door a voice said in Greek,
"Well?" It was the Fox, who had been squatting there, as my women told me, like a cat at a mouse-hole.
"Alive, Grandfather," said I, and kissed him. Then, "Come back as soon as you can. I am wet as a fish and must wash and change and eat. I'll tell you all when you come."
When I was reclothed and finishing my supper, his knock came at the door. I made him come and sit with me at table and poured him drink. There was no one with us but little Poobi, my dark-skinned maid, who was faithful and loving and knew no Greek.
"You said alive," the Fox began, raising his cup. "See. I make a libation to Zeus the Saviour."
He did it Greek-fashion with a clever twist of the cup that lets fall just one drop.
"Yes, Grandfather, alive and well and says she's happy."
"I feel as if my heart would crack for joy, child," said he. "You tell me things almost beyond belief."
"You've had the sweet, Grandfather. There's sour to follow."
"Let me hear it. All is to be borne."
Then I told him the whole story, always excepting that one glimpse in the fog. It was dreadful to me to see the light die out of his face as I went on, and to feel that I was darkening it. And I asked myself, "If you can hardly bear to do this, how will you bear to wipe out Psyche's happiness?"
"Alas, alas, poor Psyche!" said the Fox. "Our little child! And how she must have suffered!
Hellebore's the right medicine, with rest, and peace, and loving care . . . oh, we'd bring her into frame again, I don't doubt it, if we could nurse her well. But how are we to give her all or any of the things she needs? My wits are dry, daughter. We must think, though, contrive.
I wish I were Odysseus, aye, or Hermes."
"You think, then, she's mad, for certain?"
He darted a quick glance at me. "Why, daughter, what then have you been thinking?"
"You'll call it folly, I suppose. But you weren't with her, Grandfather. She talked so calmly.
There was nothing disordered in her speech. She could laugh merrily. Her glance wasn't wild. If I'd had my eyes shut, I would have believed her palace was as real as this."
"But, your eyes being open, you saw no such thing."
"You don't think - not possibly - not as a mere hundredth chance - there might be things that are real though we can't see them?"
"Certainly I do. Such things as Justice, Equality, the Soul, or musical notes."
"Oh, Grandfather, I don't mean things like that. If there are souls, could there not be soul-houses?"
He ran his hands through his hair with an old, familiar gesture of teacher's dismay.
"Child," he said, "you make me believe that, after all these years, you have never even begun to understand what the word soul means."
"I know well enough what you mean by it, Grandfather. But do you, even you, know all? Are there no things - I mean things - but what we see?"
"Plenty. Things behind our backs. Things too far away. And all things, if it's dark enough."
He leaned forward and put his hand on mine. "I begin to think, daughter, that if I can get that hellebore, yours had better be the first dose," he said.
I had had half a thought, at the outset, of telling him about the ferly, my glimpse of the palace. But I couldn't bring myself to it; he was the worst hearer in the world for such a story. Already he was making me ashamed of half the things I had been thinking. And now a more cheering thought came to me.
"Then, perhaps," said I, "this lover who comes to her in darkness is also part of the madness."
"I wish I could believe it," said the Fox.
"Why not, Grandfather?"
"You say she's plump and rosy? not starveling?"
"Then who's fed her all this time?"
I was silenced.
"And who took her out of the irons?"
I had never thought of this question at all. "Grandfather!" I said. "What is in your mind?
You - you of all men - are not hinting that it is the god. You'd laugh at me if I said so."
"I'd be more likely to weep. Oh, child, child, child, when shall I have washed the nurse and the grandam and the priest and the soothsayer out of your soul? Do you think the Divine Nature - why, it's profane, ridiculous. You might as well say the universe itched or the Nature of Things sometimes tippled in the wine cellar."
"I haven't said it was a god, Grandfather," said I. "I am asking who you think it was."
"A man, a man, of course," said the Fox, beating his hands on the table. "What? Are you still a child? Didn't you know there were men on the Mountain?"
"Men!" I gasped.
"Yes. Vagabonds, broken men, outlaws, thieves. Where are your wits?"
Indignation came burning into my cheeks and I sprang up. For any daughter of our house to mix, even in lawful marriage, with those who have not (at least by one grandparent) divine descent, is an utter abomination. The Fox's thought was unendurable.
"What are you saying?" I asked him. "Psyche would die on sharp stakes sooner than - "
"Peace, daughter," said the Fox. "Psyche doesn't know. As I read it, some robber or runaway has found the poor child, half-crazed with terror and loneliness, and with thirst, too (likely enough), and got her out of her irons. And if she were not in her right mind, what would she most probably babble of in her ravings? Her gold and amber house on the Mountain, of course. She has had that fantasy from her childhood. The fellow would fall in with it. He'd be the god's messenger . . . why, that's where her god of the Westwind comes from. It would be the man himself. He'd take her to this valley. He'd whisper to her that the god, the bridegroom, would come to her that night. And after dark, he'd come back."