The smile refreshed her courage, for she came nearer and made a sideways movement with her arm, apparently with the expectation that it would pass through the stalwart young man as readily as through the air. On encountering solid substance, she drew startled back, half in alarm and wholly in surprise. Balder had felt her touch, first as a benediction; then it chilled him, through remembrance of a deed forever debarring him from aught so pure and innocent as she. The subtleties of his philosophy might have cajoled him anywhere save in her presence. There, he felt unmistakably guilty; yet from irrational dread that she, whose intuitions seemed so swift and deep, might grasp the cause of his discomposure, he strove to hide it. Last of all the world should she know his crime!
Scarce two minutes since their meeting, yet perhaps a large proportion of their lives had meanwhile been charmed away. No word had been spoken,—eyes had superseded tongues. Nay, was ordinary conversation possible with a young goddess such as this? So perfect seemed her mastery over those profounder elements of intercourse underlying speech, which are higher and more direct than the mechanism of articulate words, that perhaps the latter method was unknown to her.
Nevertheless, one must say something. But what?—with what sentence of supreme significance should he begin? Moreover, what language should he use? for she, whose look and bearing were so alien to the land and age, might likewise be a stranger to modern dialects. But Aryan or Semitic was not precisely at the tip of Balder’s tongue!
In the midst of his embarrassment, the startling note of the hoopoe pierced his ear, and precipitated him into asking that great elemental question which all created things are forever putting to one another,—
“What is your name?”
The hoopoe and the crocodile.
“Gnulemah!” she answered, laying a finger on the head of her golden serpent, and uttering the name as though it were of the only woman in the world.
But the next moment she found time to realize that something unprecedented had occurred, and her wonder trembled on the brink of dismay.
“Speaks in my language!” she exclaimed below her breath; “but is not Hiero.”
Until Balder’s arrival, then, Hiero would seem to have been the only talking animal she had known. The singularity of this did not at first strike the young man. Gnulemah was the arch-wonder; yet she so fully justified herself as to seem very nature; and by dint of her magic reality, what else had been wonderful seemed natural. Balder was in fairy-land.
He fell easily into the fairy-land humor.
“I am a being like yourself,” said he, with a smile; “and not dumb like your plants and animals.”
“Understood!—answered!” exclaimed Gnulemah again, in a tremor. As morning spreads up the sky, did the sweet blood flow outward to warm her face and neck. As the blush deepened, her eyelids fell, and she shielded her beautiful embarrassment with her raised hands. A pathos in the simple grace of this action drew tears unawares to Balder’s eyes.