Psyche (Couperus)/Chapter 21
The path was steep, and covered with cactus and thistles. It was a narrow path, hewn out of the rocks, winding up the basalt mountain, where, high on the top, stood the castle. The castle had three hundred towers, which rose to the sky; along them swept the clouds. In the path were many steps hewn out of stone. Heavy masses of cactus grew on the side of the precipice, and over the leaves, prickly and round, Psyche saw the grassy valleys of the Kingdom of the Past, the villages, the towns, the river: a broad silver streak, and there, behind it, opal-like views, lakes in the sky, and quivering lines of ether. Higher and higher she went up the steps, up the path, in the gloomy, chilly shadow, whilst the sun shone over the meadows. She climbed up, and below she saw the shepherds with their sheep, and their song, quite faint, came up to her. In the coppice she broke a strong stick for a staff. A lappet of her mantle she had drawn over her head as a hood. And with her staff and her hood, she looked like a pious pilgrim.
The solitary countryman who was coming down the rocky path, did not throw stones at her, but greeted her reverently.
She kept climbing up.
High in the air lay the castle, gloomy and inaccessible, a town of towers, a Babel of pinnacles; along it swept the clouds. As an innocent child, as a naked princess with wings, Psyche had lived there like a butterfly on a rock, had wandered along the dreadful parapets, had longed and hoped and dreamed. Oh! her longings of innocence, her hope to fly through the air to the opal islands, her dreams, pure as the doves that flew round about her . . . .!
She had wandered through clouds, through desert and wood, from the North to the South. She had loved the Chimera, had put questions to the Sphinx; she had been Queen of the Present and the beloved of Bacchus, and now . . . . now she came back, wingless, with a soul that burned her continually, like a scarlet child of hell; now she came back up the steep path. . . .
Her penance-garb she had borrowed. But the thistles tore her foot, and pale from pain and suffering, from wounded feet, and ever-smarting shoulders, and a soul that burned continually, was her face, that peeped out from under her wide hood.
Up, up, she went, supporting herself with her staff. . . .
Oh, the voice of her father, of Eros, in her dream, when the grape-dance was over! Then repentance had begun. Then she had fled through the wood, through the wild beasts. And the lion had licked her foot, and the tigress had allowed her to rest in the warm lair of her whelps. . . .
Then she went on, climbing higher and higher. . . .
Would she never get to the top? Would the castle, the Babel of pinnacles, the town of towers remain ever inaccessibly high in the clouds?
Her step left blood behind on the rocky stone.
But she did not rest. Rest did not help her.
The Pilgrimage of Psyche
[To face p. 138
She preferred to go on, to climb. If she walked, if she climbed, the sooner would she reach the castle.
Step by step she advanced. Oh, she was no longer afraid of Emeralda! What could Emeralda do to her to make her afraid? What greater suffering could her sister inflict upon her than the pain of remorse, that was ever with her wherever she went!
And on she climbed, and the thistles tore her feet, and the solitary man who was coming down the rocky path greeted her reverently, when he saw the blood of her footstep.