Psyche (Couperus)/Chapter 26
The triumphal chariot rattled on madly. Emeralda stretched out her sceptre, on the top of which glowed a star of destroying rays. When she stretched out the sceptre and directed the rays, she scorched monuments, palaces, and parks to a white ash, and, for her cruel jubilant procession, she cut down everything that came in her way. The thick white ashes flew up like dust; the jubilant multitude were scorched; the palaces of jaspar and malachite shrivelled up like burnt paper; the breath of the horses blew away, like ash, the white burnt gardens. And right over everything went Emeralda, scorching as she went. Powerful, foolish, arrogant, and proud she was, and more unfeeling than ever, spiteful and cruel, hurt in her pride; and she scorched, and made the way smooth before her. Behind her lay all the town, and she drove through her kingdom, filling the air with her rays. She drove through valleys and burnt up the harvest; she reduced villages to dust; she dried up rivers; and before her, the mountains split asunder.
Her sceptre made a way for her, and no law of nature resisted her power. The air was grey with the clouds of ash, which rained down upon the earth.
She went along as swiftly as an arrow, swiftly as lightning, swiftly as light, swiftly as thought. She went so swiftly, that in a single hour she had gone all round her wide kingdom intoxicated with the pride of annihilation, and she drove her maddened horses through endless plains of sand.
Desert after desert she consumed; the lions fled before her; she overtook them in a moment; clouds of sand she sent up into the air. . . .
But then she relaxed her speed. She stopped.
Before her, grey and high through the clouds of sand and falling ash, there loomed a most dreadful shadow.
The shadow was like a gigantic beast, squatting in the sand, with a woman’s head in a stiff basalt veil. The woman’s head had a woman’s breast, two basalt breasts of a gigantic woman. But the body that squatted in the sand was a lion, and the paws stuck out like walls. And so great was the shadow, so monstrous the beast, that even the triumphal chariot of Emeralda appeared small.
“Sphinx!” said Emeralda, “I will know. I am powerful, but there is power above me. There are spheres above mine, and there are gods above my divinity. There are laws of nature which my sceptre cannot alter. Sphinx, tell me the riddle. Reveal to me the place where the Jewel lies hidden, which gives almighty power over the world and God, so that I may find it and become the mightiest of all gods. Sphinx, answer me, I say! Open your stony lips and let your voice once more be heard, that shall make the world tremble with wonder. For centuries you have not spoken. Sphinx, speak now! For if you do not speak, Sphinx, and reveal to me where the Jewel lies hidden, then, great and terrible as you are, I will scorch you to a white ash and go over you in triumph. Sphinx, speak!”
The Sphinx was silent. The Sphinx looked with stony eyes at the clouds of sand and raining ash. Her basalt lips remained shut. “Sphinx, speak!!” said Emeralda, threateningly and red with rage.
The Sphinx spoke not and looked.
Emeralda stretched out her sceptre and directed the destroying rays.
The rays split on the basalt with crackling sparks like flashes of forked lightning. Emeralda uttered a cry, hoarse and terrible. She threw away her broken sceptre. But of her greater power she did not doubt, and for the last time she threatened.
“Terrible Sphinx, tremble! I am more terrible than you!! Speak, Sphinx!!”
The Sphinx was silent.
Then Emeralda tugged at the reins.
The maddened horses reared, snorting, foaming, panting, trampling, pulling, and dashed against the Sphinx.
But the foremost horses were dashed to pieces against the god-like basalt.
Then Emeralda uttered cry after cry, one hoarse cry after another, which resounded through the desert. She tugged at the reins; the horses, despairing of their attack against the immovable, drove at the Sphinx, and fell back crushed, falling over one another and trampling one another to death; the triumphal chariot split, and the splinters of sparkling jewels flew up like cracking fireworks, and Emeralda fell between the still revolving wheels. And her heart of ruby broke. All her dazzling splendour suddenly faded. The terrifying fan-like aureola suddenly grew dim, and the desert was grey and gloomy, with a gentle rain of thick white ash falling down.
The Sphinx was silent, and looked on. . . .