Poobi cried over my wound and when she had the bandage off - that part was bad - laid good dressings on it. That was hardly done, and I was eating (hungrily enough) when the Fox came.
"Daughter, daughter," he said. "Praise the gods who have sent you back. I have been in pain for you all day. Where have you been?"
"To the Mountain, Grandfather," said I, keeping my left arm out of sight. This was the first of my difficulties. I could not tell him of the self-wounding. I knew, now I saw him (I had not thought of it before), that he would rebuke me for putting that kind of force upon Psyche. One of his maxims was that if we cannot persuade our friends by reasons we must be content "and not bring a mercenary army to our aid." (He meant passions.)
"Oh, child, that was sudden," he said. "I thought we parted that night to talk it over again in the morning."
"We parted to let you sleep," said I. The words came fiercely, without my will and in my father's own voice. Then I was ashamed.
"So that's my sin," said the Fox, smiling sadly. "Well, Lady, you have punished it. But what's your news? Would Psyche hear you?"
I said nothing to that question but told him of the storm and the flood and how that mountain valley was now a mere swamp, and how I had tried to cross the stream and could not, and how I had heard Psyche go weeping away, on the south side of it, out of Glome altogether. There was no use in telling him about the god; he would have thought I had been mad or dreaming.
"Do you mean, child, you never came to speech with her at all?" said the Fox, looking very haggard.
"Yes," I said. "We did talk a little - earlier."
"Child, what is wrong? Was there a quarrel? What passed between you?"
This was harder to answer. In the end, when he questioned me closely, I told him about my plan of the lamp.
"Daughter, daughter!" cried the Fox, "what daemon put such a device in your thoughts?
What did you hope to do? Would not the villain by her side - he, a hunted man and an outlaw - be certain to wake? And what would he do then but snatch her up and drag her away to some other lair? Unless he stabbed her to the heart for fear she'd betray him to his pursuers. Why, the light alone would convince him she'd betrayed him already. How if it were a wound that made her weep? Oh, if you'd only taken counsel!"
I could say nothing. For now I wondered why indeed I had not thought of any of these things and whether I had never at all believed her lover was a mountainy man.
The Fox stared at me, wondering more and more, I saw, at my silence. At last he said, "Did you find it easy to make her do this?"
"No," said I. I had taken off, while I ate, the veil I had worn all day; now I greatly wished I had it on.
"And how did you persuade her?" he asked.
This was the worst of all. I could not tell him what I had really done. Nor much of what I'd said. For when I told Psyche that he and Bardia were both agreed about her lover I meant what was very true; both agreed it was some shameful or dreadful thing. But if I said this to the Fox, he would say that Bardia's belief and his were sheer contraries, the one all old wives' tales and the other plain workaday probabilities. He would make it seem that I had lied. I could never make him understand how different it had looked on the Mountain.
"I - I spoke with her," said I at last. "I persuaded her."
He looked long and searchingly at me, but never so tenderly since those old days when he used to sing "The Moon's Gone Down," I on his knee.
"Well. You have a secret from me," he said in the end. "No, don't turn away from me. Did you think I would try to press or conjure it out of you? Never that. Friends must be free. My tormenting you to find it would build a worse barrier between us than your hiding it. Some day - but you must obey the god within you, not the god within me. There, do not weep. I shall not cease to love you if you have a hundred secrets. I'm an old tree and my best branches were lopped off me the day I became a slave. You and Psyche were all that remained. Now - alas, poor Psyche! I see no way to her now. But I'll not lose you."
He embraced me (I bit my lip not to scream when his arm touched the wound) and went away. I had hardly ever before been glad of his going. But I thought, too, how much kinder he was than Psyche.
I never told Bardia the story of that night at all.
I made one resolve before I slept, which, though it seems a small matter, made much difference to me in the years that followed. Hitherto, like all my countrywomen, I had gone bareface; on those two journeys up the Mountain I had worn a veil because I wished to be secret. I now determined that I would go always veiled. I have kept this rule, within doors and without, ever since. It is a sort of treaty made with my ugliness. There had been a time in childhood when I didn't yet know I was ugly. Then there was a time (for in this book I must hide none of my shames or follies) when I believed, as girls do - and as Batta was always telling me - that I could make it more tolerable by this or that done to my clothes or my hair. Now, I chose to be veiled. The Fox, that night, was the last man who ever saw my face; and not many women have seen it either.
My arm healed well (and so all wounds have done in my body) and when the King returned, about seven days later, I no longer pretended to be ill. He came home very drunk, for there'd been as much feasting as hunting on that party, and very out of humour, for they had killed only two lions and he'd killed neither and a favourite dog had been ripped up.
A few days later he sent for the Fox and me again to the Pillar Room. As soon as he saw me veiled, he shouted, "Now, girl, what's this? Hung your curtains up, eh? Were you afraid we'd be dazzled by your beauty? Take off that frippery!"
It was then I first found what that night on the Mountain had done for me. No one who had seen and heard the god could much fear this roaring old King.
"It's hard if I'm to be scolded both for my face and for hiding it," said I, putting no hand to the veil.
"Come here," he said, not at all aloud this time. I went up and stood so close to his chair that my knees almost touched his, still as a stone. To see his face while he could not see mine seemed to give me a kind of power. He was working himself into one of those white rages.
"Do you begin to set your wits against mine?" he said almost in a whisper.
"Yes," said I, no louder than he, but very clearly. I had not known a moment before what I would do or say; that one little word came out of itself.
He stared at me while you could count seven and I half thought he might stab me dead.
Then he shrugged, and snarled out, "Oh, you're like all women. Talk, talk, talk . . . you'd talk the moon out of the sky if a man'd listen to you. Here, Fox, are those lies you've been writing ready for her to copy?"
He never struck me, and I never feared him again. And from that day I never gave back an inch before him. Rather I pressed on - so well that I told him not long after how impossible it was that I and the Fox should guard Redival if we were to work for him in the Pillar Room. He growled and cursed, yet henceforth he made Batta her jailer. Batta had grown very familiar with him of late and spent many hours in the Bedchamber. Not, I suppose, that he had her to his bed - even in the best of her days she had scarcely been what he called "savoury" - but she tattled and whispered and flattered him and stirred his possets, for he began to show his years. She was equally thick, for the most part, with Redival; but those were a pair who could be ready to scratch each other's eyes out one moment, and snuggling up for gossip and bawdy the next.
This, and all other things that were happening in the palace, mattered to me not at all. I was like a condemned man waiting for his executioner, for I believed that some sudden stroke of the gods would fall on me very soon. But as day came after day and nothing happened, I began to see, at first very unwillingly, that I might be doomed to live, and even to live an unchanged life, some while longer.
When I understood this I went to Psyche's room, alone, and put everything in it as it had been before all our sorrows began. I found some verses in Greek which seemed to be a hymn to the god of the Mountain. These I burned. I did not choose that any of that part of her should remain. Even the clothes that she had worn in the last year I burned also; but those she had worn earlier, and especially what were left of those she wore in childhood, and any jewels she had loved as a child, I hung in their proper places. I wished all to be so ordered that if she could come back she would find all as it had been when she was still happy, and still mine. Then I locked the door and put a seal on it. And, as well as I could, I locked a door in my mind. Unless I were to go mad I must put away all thoughts of her save those that went back to her first, happy years. I never spoke of her. If my women mentioned her name I bade them be silent. If the Fox mentioned it I was silent myself and led him to other things. There was less comfort than of old in being with the Fox.