Psyche (Couperus)/Chapter 4
In the evening, before she went to sleep, Psyche sought the king.
A good hundred years old he was, his beard hung down to his girdle, and generally he sat reading the historical scrolls of the kingdom, which his ministers brought him every day.
But in the evening Psyche climbed on to his knees and nestled in his beard, or sat at his feet in the folds of his tabard, and the scroll fell to the ground, and crumpled up, and the withered hand of the mighty monarch stroked the head of his third child, the princess with the little wings.
“Father, dear,” asked Psyche once; “why have I wings, and cannot fly?”
“You need not fly, child; you are much safer with me than if you were a little bird in the air.”
“But why then have I wings?” “I don’t quite know, my child. . . .”
“Why have I wings, and Astra a living star upon her head, and Emeralda eyes of jewels?”
“Because you are princesses; they are different from other girls.”
“And why, dear father,” whispered Psyche, secretly, “has Emeralda a heart of ruby? . . .”
“No child, that she has not. She has, it is true, eyes of emerald, because she is a princess—as Astra has a star and you two pretty wings—but she has a human heart.”
“No, father, dear, she has a heart of stone.”
“But who says so, my child?”
“The nurse does, father, her own pages, the guards at the gates, and the wise men who come to Astra.”
The king was very sad. He and his daughter looked deep into each other’s eyes, and embraced each other, for the king was sad, on account of what he saw in the future, and Psyche was frightened: she always trembled when she thought of Emeralda.
“Little Psyche,” said her old father, “will you now promise me something?”
“Yes, father, dear.” “Will you always stay with me, little Psyche? You are safe here, are you not? and the world is so great, the world is so wicked. The world is full of temptation and mystery. Winged horses soar through the air; gigantic sphinxes lurk in the deserts; devilish fauns roam through the forests. . . . In the world, tears are shed, which form brooks, and in the world people give away their noblest right for the lowest pleasure. . . . Stay with me, Psyche, never wander too far away, for under our castle glows the Netherworld! . . . . And life is like a princess, a cruel princess with a heart of stone. . . .”
Of precious stone, like Emeralda, thought Psyche to herself. Who rides in triumph with her victorious chariot over the tenderest and dearest, and presses them stone-dead into the deepest furrows of the earth. . . .
“Oh, Psyche, little Psyche, promise me always to stay here in this high and safe castle: always to stay with your father!”
She did not understand him.
His eyes, very large and animated, looked over her into space, with inexpressible sadness. Then she longed to console him, and threw her white arms round his neck; she hid herself, as it were, in his beard, and she whispered playfully:
“I will always stay with you, father dear. . . .”
Then he pressed her to his heart, and thought that he would soon die. . . .