Psyche (Couperus)/Chapter 3

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Emeralda, that was the name of her eldest sister. Surpassingly beautiful was Emeralda, dazzling fair as no woman in the kingdom, no princess in other kingdoms. Exceedingly tall she was, and majestic in stature; erect she walked, stately and proudly; she was very proud, for after the death of the king she was to reign on the throne of the Kingdom of the Past. Jealous of all the power which would be hers, she rejected all the princes who sued for her hand. She never spoke but to command, and only to her father did she bow. She always wore heavy brocade, silver or gold, studded with jewels, and long mantles of rustling silk, fringed with broad ermine; a diadem of the finest jewels always glittered on her red golden hair and her eyes also were jewels; two magnificent green emeralds, in which a black carbuncle was the pupil; and people whispered secretly that her heart was cut out of one single, gigantic ruby.

Oh, Psyche was so afraid of her!

When Psyche wandered through the castle and suddenly saw Emeralda coming, preceded by pages, torches, shield-bearers, and maidsin-waiting, who bore her train, and a score of halberdiers, then she was struck with fear, and hastily concealed herself behind a door, a curtain, no matter where, and then Emeralda rustled by with a great noise of satin and gold and all the trampling of her retinue, and Psyche’s heart beat loudly like a clock, tick! tick! tick! tick! till she thought she would faint. . . .

Then she shut her eyes so as not to see the cold, proud look of Emeralda’s green emeralds, which pierced through the curtains, and saw Psyche well enough, though she pretended not to see her. And when Emeralda was gone, then Psyche fled upstairs, high up on to the battlements, fetched a deep breath, pressed her hands to her bosom, and long afterwards her little wings trembled from fear.

Astra, that was the name of the second princess. She wore a living star upon her head; she was very wise and learned; she knew much more than all the philosophers

The Kingdom of the Past

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and learned men in the kingdom, who came to her for counsel.

She lived in the highest tower of the castle, and sometimes, along the bars of her window, she saw clouds pass by, like spirits of the mist. She never left the tower. She sat, surrounded by rolls of parchment, gigantic globes, which she turned with a pressure of her finger; and after hours of contemplation she described, with great compasses, on a slab of black marble, circle after circle, or reckoned out long sums, with numbers so great that no one could pronounce them.

Sometimes she sat surrounded by the sages of the land, and the king himself came and listened to his daughter, as in a low, firm voice she explained things. But because she possessed all the wisdom of the earth, she despised all the world, and she had had constructed on the terrace of her tower a telescope, miles long, through which she could look to every part of the illimitable firmament. And when the sages were gone, and she was alone, then she went on to the terrace and peered through the giant, which she turned to all the points of the compass. Through the diamond lenses, cut without facets, she saw new stars, unknown to men, and gave them names.

Through the diamond lenses she saw sun systems, spirals of fire, shrivel up through the illimitableness of the universe. . . . But she kept gazing, for behind those sun systems, she knew, were other spheres, other heavens, and there farther still, inimitably far, was the Mystic Rose, which she could never see. . . .

Sometimes, when Psyche wandered round the castle, she knocked nervously, inquisitively at Astra’s door, who graciously allowed her to enter. When Astra stood before the board and reckoned out long sums, Psyche looked very earnestly at her sister’s star, which glistened on her head, in her coal-black hair. Or she went on to the terrace and peeped through the telescope, but she saw nothing but very bright light, which made her eyes ache. . . .