"Yes," I said. "I was raving. You had made me angry. But I had thought (you will set me right, I don't doubt, if I am mistaken) that all loves alike were eager to clear the thing they loved of vile charges brought against it, if they could. Tell a mother her child is hideous. If it's beautiful she'll show it. No forbidding would stop her. If she keeps it hidden, the charge is true. You're afraid of the test, Psyche."
"I am afraid - no, I am ashamed - to disobey him."
"Then, even at the best, look what you make of him! Something worse than our father. Who that loved you could be angry at your breaking so unreasonable a command - and for so good a reason?"
"Foolishness, Orual," she answered, shaking her head. "He is a god. He has good grounds for what he does, be sure. How should I know of them? I am only his simple Psyche."
"Then you will not do it? You think - you say you think - that you can prove him a god and set me free from the fears that sicken my heart. But you will not do it."
"I would if I could, Orual."
I looked about me. The sun was almost setting behind the saddle. In a little while she would send me away. I rose up.
"An end of this must be made," I said. "You shall do it. Psyche, I command you."
"Dear Maia, my duty is no longer to you."
"Then my life shall end with it," said I. I flung back my cloak further, thrust out my bare left arm, and struck the dagger into it till the point pricked out on the other side. Pulling the iron back through the wound was the worse pain; but I can hardly believe now how little I felt it.
"Orual! Are you mad?" cried Psyche, leaping up.
"You'll find linen in that urn. Tie up my wound," said I, sitting down and holding my arm out to let the blood fall on the heather.
I had thought she might scream and wring her hands or faint. But I was deceived. She was pale enough but had all her wits about her. She bound my arm. The blood came seeping through fold after fold, but she staunched it in the end. (My stroke had been lucky enough.
If I had known as much then as I do now about the inside of an arm, I might not - who knows? - have had the resolution to do it.)
The bandaging could not be done in a moment. The sun was lower and the air colder when we were able to talk again.
"Maia," said Psyche, "what did you do that for?"
"To show you I'm in earnest, girl. Listen. You have driven me to desperate courses. I give you your choice. Swear on this edge, with my blood still wet on it, that you will this very night do as I have commanded you; or else I'll first kill you and then myself."
"Orual," said she, very queenlike, raising her head, "you might have spared that threat of killing me. All your power over me lies in the other."
"Then swear, girl. You never knew me break my word."
The look in her face now was one I did not understand. I think a lover - I mean, a man who loved - might look so on a woman who had been false to him. And at last she said,
"You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your kind better than hatred. Oh, Orual - to take my love for you, because you know it goes down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an instrument of torture - I begin to think I never knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here."
"Enough of your subtleties," said I. "Both of us die here, in plainest truth and blood, unless you swear."
"If I do," said she hotly, "it will not be for any doubt of my husband or his love. It will only be because I think better of him than of you. He cannot be cruel like you. I'll not believe it.
He will know how I was tortured into my disobedience. He will forgive me."
"He need never know," said I.
The look of scorn she gave me flayed my soul. And yet, this very nobleness in her - had I not taught it to her? What was there in her that was not my work? And now she used it to look at me as if I were base beneath all baseness.
"You thought I would hide it? Thought I would not tell him?" she said, each word like the rubbing of a file across raw flesh. "Well. It's all of a piece. Let us, as you say, make an end.
You grow more and more a stranger to me at each word. And I had loved you so - loved, honoured, trusted, and (while it was fit) obeyed. And now - but I can't have your blood on my threshold. You chose your threat well. I'll swear. Where's your dagger?"
So I had won my victory and my heart was in torment. I had a terrible longing to unsay all my words and beg her forgiveness. But I held out the dagger. (The "oath on edge," as we call it, is our strongest in Glome.)
"And even now," said Psyche, "I know what I do. I know that I am betraying the best of lovers and that perhaps, before sunrise, all my happiness may be destroyed forever. This is the price you have put upon your life. Well, I must pay it."
She took her oath. My tears burst out, and I tried to speak, but she turned her face away.
"The sun is almost down," she said. "Go. You have saved your life; go and live it as you can."
I found I was becoming afraid of her. I made my way back to the stream, crossed it somehow. And the shadow of the saddle leaped across the whole valley as the sun set.
I think I must have fainted when I got to this side of the water, for there seems to be some gap in my memory between the fording and being fully aware again of three things: cold, and the pain in my arm, and thirst. I drank ravenously. Then I wanted food, and now first remembered that I had left it in the urn with the lamp. My soul rose up against calling Gram, who was very irksome to me. I felt (though I saw it to be folly even at the time) that if Bardia had come with me instead, all might have been different and better. And away my thoughts wandered to imagine all he would be doing and saying now if he had, till suddenly I remembered what business had brought me there. I was ashamed that I had thought, even for a moment, of anything else.
My purpose was to sit by the ford, watching till I should see a light (which would be Psyche lighting her lamp). It would vanish when she covered and hid it. Then, most likely far later, there would be a light again; she would be looking at her vile master in its sleep. And after that - very, very soon after it, I hoped - there would be Psyche creeping through the darkness and sending a sort of whispered call ("Maia, Maia") across the stream. And I would be half-way over it in an instant. This time it would be I who helped her at the ford.
She would be all weeping and dismayed as I folded her in my arms and comforted her; for now she would know who were her true friends, and would love me again, and would thank me, shuddering, for saving her from the thing the lamp had shown. These were dear thoughts to me when they came and while they lasted.
But there were other thoughts too. Try as I would, I could not quite put out of my head the fear that I had been wrong. A real god . . . was it impossible? But I could never dwell on that part of it. What came back and back to my mind was the thought of Psyche herself somehow (I never knew well how) ruined, lost, robbed of all joy, a wailing, wandering shape, for whom I had wrecked everything. More times than I could count that night, I had the wish, tyrannously strong, to re-cross the cold water, to shout out that I forgave her her promise, that she was not to light the lamp, that I had advised her wrongly. But I governed it.
Neither the one sort of thoughts nor the other was more than the surface of my mind.
Beneath them, deep as the deep ocean-sea whereof the Fox spoke, was the cold, hopeless abyss of her scorn, her un-love, her very hatred.
How could she hate me, when my arm throbbed and burned with the wound I had given it for her love? "Cruel Psyche, cruel Psyche," I sobbed. But then I saw that I was falling back to the dreams of my sickness. So I set my wits against it and bestirred myself. Whatever happened I must watch and be sane.
The first light came soon enough; and vanished again. I said to myself (though indeed once I had her oath I never doubted her faith to it), "So. All's well this far." It made me wonder, as at a new question, what I meant by well. But the thought passed.
The cold grew bitter. My arm was a bar of fire, the rest of me an icicle, chained to that bar but never melted. I began to see that I was doing a perilous thing. I might die, thus wounded and fasting, or at least get such a chill as would bring my death soon after. And out of that seed there grew up, in one moment, a huge, foolish flower of fancies. For at once (leaping over all question of how it should come about) I saw myself laid on the pyre, and Psyche - she knew now, she loved me again now - beating her breast and weeping and repenting all her cruelties. The Fox and Bardia were there too; Bardia wept fast. Everyone loved me once I was dead. But I am ashamed to write all these follies.