A House of Pomegranates
‘I will not give thee anything,’ said Avarice, and she hid her hand in the fold of her raiment.
And Death laughed, and took a cup, and dipped it into a pool of water, and out of the cup rose Ague. She passed through the great multitude, and a third of them lay dead. A cold mist followed her, and the water-snakes ran by her side.
And when Avarice saw that a third of the multitude was dead she beat her breast and wept. She beat her barren bosom, and cried aloud. ‘Thou hast slain a third of my servants,’ she cried, ‘get thee gone. There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings of each side are calling to thee. The Afghans have slain the black ox, and are marching to battle. They have beaten upon their shields with their spears, and have put on their helmets of iron. What is my valley to thee, that thou shouldst tarry in it? Get thee gone, and come here no more.’
‘Nay,’ answered Death, ‘but till thou hast given me a grain of corn I will not go.’
But Avarice shut her hand, and clenched her teeth. ‘I will not give thee anything,’ she muttered.
And Death laughed, and took up a black stone, and threw it into the forest, and out of a thicket of wild hemlock came Fever in a robe of flame. She passed through the multitude, and touched them, and each man that she touched died. The grass withered beneath her feet as she walked.
And Avarice shuddered, and put ashes on her head. ‘Thou art cruel,’ she cried; ‘thou art cruel. There is famine in the walled cities of India, and the cisterns of Samarcand have run dry. There is famine in the walled cities of Egypt, and the locusts have come up from the desert. The Nile has not overflowed its banks, and the priests have cursed Isis and Osiris. Get thee gone to those who need thee, and leave me my servants.’
‘Nay,’ answered Death, ‘but till thou hast given me a grain of corn I will not go.’
‘I will not give thee anything,’ said Avarice.
And Death laughed again, and he whistled through his fingers, and a woman came flying through the air. Plague was written upon her forehead, and a crowd of lean vultures wheeled round her. She covered the valley with her wings, and no man was left alive.
And Avarice fled shrieking through the forest, and Death leaped upon his red horse and galloped away, and his galloping was faster than the wind.
And out of the slime at the bottom of the valley crept dragons and horrible things with scales, and the jackals came trotting along the sand, sniffing up the air with their nostrils.
And the young King wept, and said: ‘Who were these men, and for what were they seeking?’
‘For rubies for a king’s crown,’ answered one who stood behind him.
And the young King started, and, turning round, he saw a man habited as a pilgrim and holding in his hand a mirror of silver.
And he grew pale, and said: ‘For what king?’
And the pilgrim answered: ‘Look in this mirror, and thou shalt see him.’
And he looked in the mirror, and, seeing his own face, he gave a great cry and woke, and the bright sunlight was streaming into the room, and from the trees of the garden and pleasaunce the birds were singing.
And the Chamberlain and the high officers of State came in and made obeisance to him, and the pages brought him the robe of tissued gold, and set the crown and the sceptre before him.
And the young King looked at them, and they were beautiful. More beautiful were they than aught that he had ever seen. But he remembered his dreams, and he said to his lords: ‘Take these things away, for I will not wear them.’
And the courtiers were amazed, and some of them laughed, for they thought that he was jesting.
But he spake sternly to them again, and said: ‘Take these things away, and hide them from me. Though it be the day of my coronation, I will not wear them. For on the loom of Sorrow, and by the white hands of Pain, has this my robe been woven. There is Blood in the heart of the ruby, and Death in the heart of the pearl.’ And he told them his three dreams.
And when the courtiers heard them they looked at each other and whispered, saying: ‘Surely he is mad; for what is a dream but a dream, and a vision but a vision? They are not real things that one should heed them. And what have we to do with the lives of those who toil for us? Shall a man not eat bread till he has seen the sower, nor drink wine till he has talked with the vinedresser?’
And the Chamberlain spake to the young King, and said, ‘My lord, I pray thee set aside these black thoughts of thine, and put on this fair robe, and set this crown upon thy head. For how shall the people know that thou art a king, if thou hast not a king’s raiment?’
And the young King looked at him. ‘Is it so, indeed?’ he questioned. ‘Will they not know me for a king if I have not a king’s raiment?’
‘They will not know thee, my lord,’ cried the Chamberlain.
‘I had thought that there had been men who were kinglike,’ he answered, ‘but it may be as thou sayest. And yet I will not wear this robe, nor will I be crowned with this crown, but even as I came to the palace so will I go forth from it.’
And he bade them all leave him, save one page whom he kept as his companion, a lad a year younger than himself. Him he kept for his service, and when he had bathed himself in clear water, he opened a great painted chest, and from it he took the leathern tunic and rough sheepskin cloak that he had worn when he had watched on the hillside the shaggy goats of the goatherd. These he put on, and in his hand he took his rude shepherd’s staff.
And the little page opened his big blue eyes in wonder, and said smiling to him, ‘My lord, I see thy robe and thy sceptre, but where is thy crown?’
And the young King plucked a spray of wild briar that was climbing over the balcony, and bent it, and made a circlet of it, and set it on his own head.
‘This shall he my crown,’ he answered.
And thus attired he passed out of his chamber into the Great Hall, where the nobles were waiting for him.
And the nobles made merry, and some of them cried out to him, ‘My lord, the people wait for their king, and thou showest them a beggar,’ and others were wroth and said, ‘He brings shame upon our state, and is unworthy to be our master.’ But he answered them not a word, but passed on, and went down the bright porphyry staircase, and out through the gates of bronze, and mounted upon his horse, and rode towards the cathedral, the little page running beside him.
And the people laughed and said, ‘It is the King’s fool who is riding by,’ and they mocked him.
And he drew rein and said, ‘Nay, but I am the King.’ And he told them his three dreams.
And a man came out of the crowd and spake bitterly to him, and said, ‘Sir, knowest thou not that out of the luxury of the rich cometh the life of the poor? By your pomp we are nurtured, and your vices give us bread. To toil for a hard master is bitter, but to have no master to toil for is more bitter still. Thinkest thou that the ravens will feed us? And what cure hast thou for these things? Wilt thou say to the buyer, “Thou shalt buy for so much,” and to the seller, “Thou shalt sell at this price”? I trow not. Therefore go back to thy Palace and put on thy purple and fine linen. What hast thou to do with us, and what we suffer?’
‘Are not the rich and the poor brothers?’ asked the young King.
‘Ay,’ answered the man, ‘and the name of the rich brother is Cain.’
And the young King’s eyes filled with tears, and he rode on through the murmurs of the people, and the little page grew afraid and left him.
And when he reached the great portal of the cathedral, the soldiers thrust their halberts out and said, ‘What dost thou seek here? None enters by this door but the King.’
And his face flushed with anger, and he said to them, ‘I am the King,’ and waved their halberts aside and passed in.
And when the old Bishop saw him coming in his goatherd’s dress, he rose up in wonder from his throne, and went to meet him, and said to him, ‘My son, is this a king’s apparel? And with what crown shall I crown thee, and what sceptre shall I place in thy hand? Surely this should be to thee a day of joy, and not a day of abasement.’
‘Shall Joy wear what Grief has fashioned?’ said the young King. And he told him his three dreams.
And when the Bishop had heard them he knit his brows, and said, ‘My son, I am an old man, and in the winter of my days, and I know that many evil things are done in the wide world. The fierce robbers come down from the mountains, and carry off the little children, and sell them to the Moors. The lions lie in wait for the caravans, and leap upon the camels. The wild boar roots up the corn in the valley, and the foxes gnaw the vines upon the hill. The pirates lay waste the sea-coast and burn the ships of the fishermen, and take their nets from them. In the salt-marshes live the lepers; they have houses of wattled reeds, and none may come nigh them. The beggars wander through the cities, and eat their food with the dogs. Canst thou make these things not to be? Wilt thou take the leper for thy bedfellow, and set the beggar at thy board? Shall the lion do thy bidding, and the wild boar obey thee? Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art? Wherefore I praise thee not for this that thou hast done, but I bid thee ride back to the Palace and make thy face glad, and put on the raiment that beseemeth a king, and with the crown of gold I will crown thee, and the sceptre of pearl will I place in thy hand. And as for thy dreams, think no more of them. The burden of this world is too great for one man to bear, and the world’s sorrow too heavy for one heart to suffer.’
‘Sayest thou that in this house?’ said the young King, and he strode past the Bishop, and climbed up the steps of the altar, and stood before the image of Christ.
He stood before the image of Christ, and on his right hand and on his left were the marvellous vessels of gold, the chalice with the yellow wine, and the vial with the holy oil. He knelt before the image of Christ, and the great candles burned brightly by the jewelled shrine, and the smoke of the incense curled in thin blue wreaths through the dome. He bowed his head in prayer, and the priests in their stiff copes crept away from the altar.
And suddenly a wild tumult came from the street outside, and in entered the nobles with drawn swords and nodding plumes, and shields of polished steel. ‘Where is this dreamer of dreams?’ they cried. ‘Where is this King who is apparelled like a beggar – this boy who brings shame upon our state? Surely we will slay him, for he is unworthy to rule over us.’
And the young King bowed his head again, and prayed, and when he had finished his prayer he rose up, and turning round he looked at them sadly.
And lo! through the painted windows came the sunlight streaming upon him, and the sun-beams wove round him a tissued robe that was fairer than the robe that had been fashioned for his pleasure. The dead staff blossomed, and bare lilies that were whiter than pearls. The dry thorn blossomed, and bare roses that were redder than rubies. Whiter than fine pearls were the lilies, and their stems were of bright silver. Redder than male rubies were the roses, and their leaves were of beaten gold.
He stood there in the raiment of a king, and the gates of the jewelled shrine flew open, and from the crystal of the many-rayed monstrance shone a marvellous and mystical light. He stood there in a king’s raiment, and the Glory of God filled the place, and the saints in their carven niches seemed to move. In the fair raiment of a king he stood before them, and the organ pealed out its music, and the trumpeters blew upon their trumpets, and the singing boys sang.