She stopped, and laid her hand upon his golden head, and then bent down and kissed his brow with a chastened abandonment of tenderness that would have been beautiful to behold had not the sight cut me to the heart—for I was jealous!
Then followed a silence of a minute or so, during which She appeared, if one might judge from the almost angelic rapture of her face—for she looked angelic sometimes—to be plunged into a happy ecstasy. Suddenly, however, a new thought struck her, and her expression became the very reverse of angelic.
“Almost had I forgotten,” she said, “that woman, Ustane. What is she to Kallikrates—his servant, or——” and she paused, and her voice trembled.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I understand that she is wed to him according to the custom of the Amahagger,” I answered; “but I know not.”
Her face grew dark as a thunder-cloud. Old as she was, Ayesha had not outlived jealousy.
“Then there is an end,” she said; “she must die, even now!”
“For what crime?” I asked, horrified. “She is guilty of naught that thou art not guilty of thyself, oh Ayesha. She loves the man, and he has been pleased to accept her love: where, then, is her sin?”
“Truly, oh Holly, thou art foolish,” she answered, almost petulantly. “Where is her sin? Her sin is that she stands between me and my desire. Well, I know that I can take him from her—for dwells there a man upon this earth, oh Holly, who could resist me if I put out my strength? Men are faithful for so long only as temptations pass them by. If the temptation be but strong enough, then will the man yield, for every man, like every rope, hath his breaking strain, and passion is to men what gold and power are to women—the weight upon their weakness. Believe me, ill will it go with mortal woman in that heaven of which thou speakest, if only the spirits be more fair, for their lords will never turn to look upon them, and their Heaven will become their Hell. For man can be bought with woman’s beauty, if it be but beautiful enough; and woman’s beauty can be ever bought with gold, if only there be gold enough. So was it in my day, and so it will be to the end of time. The world is a great mart, my Holly, where all things are for sale to whom who bids the highest in the currency of our desires.”
These remarks, which were as cynical as might have been expected from a woman of Ayesha’s age and experience, jarred upon me, and I answered, testily, that in our heaven there was no marriage or giving in marriage.