As she did so

A few days later, Ulrik Frederik was spending the morning at Lynge. He
was crawling on all fours in the little garden outside of the house
where Karen Fiol lived. One hand was holding a rose wreath, while with
the other he was trying to coax or drag a little white lapdog from
under the hazel bushes in the corner.

“Boncœœœur! Petit, petit Boncœur! Come, you little rogue, oh, come,
you silly little fool! Oh, you brute, you–Boncœur, little dog,–you
confounded obstinate creature!”

Karen was standing at the window laughing. The dog would not come, and
Ulrik Frederik wheedled and swore.

“Amy des morceaux délicats,”

sang Karen, swinging a goblet full of wine:

“Et de la débauche polie
Viens noyer dans nos Vins Muscats
Ta soif et ta mélancolie!”

She was in high spirits, rather heated, and the notes of her song rose
louder than she knew. At last Ulrik Frederik caught the dog. He carried
it to the window in triumph, pressed the rose chaplet down over its
ears, and, kneeling, presented it to Karen.

“Adorable Venus, queen of hearts, I beg you to accept from your humble
slave this little innocent white lamb crowned with flowers–”

At that moment, Marie Grubbe opened the wicket. When she saw Ulrik
Frederik on his knees, handing a rose garland, or whatever it was,
to that red, laughing woman, she turned pale, bent down, picked up a
stone, and threw it with all her might at Karen. It struck the edge of
the window, and shivered the glass in fragments, which fell rattling to
the ground.

Karen darted back, shrieking. Ulrik Frederik looked anxiously in after
her. In his surprise he had dropped the dog, but he still held the
wreath, and stood dumbfounded, angry, and embarrassed, turning it round
in his fingers.

“Wait, wait!” cried Marie. “I missed you this time, but I’ll get you
yet! I’ll get you!” She pulled from her hair a long, heavy steel pin
set with rubies, and holding it before her like a dagger, she ran
toward the house with a queer tripping, almost skipping gait. It seemed
as though she were blinded, for she steered a strange meandering course
up to the door.

There Ulrik Frederik stopped her.

“Go away!” she cried, almost whimpering, “you with your chaplet!
Such a creature”–she went on, trying to slip past him, first on one
side, then on the other, her eyes fixed on the door–“such a creature
you bind wreaths for–rose-wreaths, ay, here you play the lovesick
shepherd! Have you not a flute, too? Where’s your flute?” she repeated,
tore the wreath from his hand, hurled it to the ground, and stamped on
it. “And a shepherd’s crook–Amaryllis–with a silk bow? Let me pass,
I say!” She lifted the pin threateningly.

He caught both her wrists and held her fast. “Would you sting again?”
he said sharply.

Marie looked up at him.

“Ulrik Frederik!” she said in a low voice, “I am your wife before God
and men. Why do you not love me any more? Come with me! Leave the woman
in there for what she is, and come with me! Come, Ulrik Frederik, you
little know what a burning love I feel for you, and how bitterly I have
longed and grieved! Come, pray come!”

Ulrik Frederik made no reply. He offered her his arm and conducted
her out of the garden to her coach, which was waiting not far away.
He handed her in, went to the horses’ heads and examined the harness,
changed a buckle, and called the coachman down, under pretence of
getting him to fix the couplings. While they stood there he whispered:
“The moment you get into your seat, you are to drive on as hard as your
horses can go, and never stop till you get home. Those are my orders,
and I believe you know me.”

The man had climbed into his seat, Ulrik Frederik caught the side of
the coach as though to jump in, the whip cracked and fell over the
horses, he sprang back, and the coach rattled on.

Marie’s first impulse was to order the coachman to stop, to take the
reins herself, or to jump out, but then a strange lassitude came over
her, a deep unspeakable loathing, a nauseating weariness, and she sat
quite still, gazing ahead, never heeding the reckless speed of the
coach.

Ulrik Frederik was again with Karen Fiol.

* * * * *

When Ulrik Frederik returned to the castle that evening, he was,
in truth, a bit uneasy–not exactly worried, but with the sense of
apprehension people feel when they know there are vexations and
annoyances ahead of them that cannot be dodged, but must somehow be
gone through with. Marie had, of course, complained to the King. The
King would give him a lecture, and he would have to listen to it all.
Marie would wrap herself in the majestic silence of offended virtue,
which he would be at pains to ignore. The whole atmosphere would be
oppressive. The Queen would look fatigued and afflicted–genteelly
afflicted–and the ladies of the court, who knew nothing and suspected
everything, would sit silently, now and then lifting their heads to
sigh meekly and look at him with gentle upbraiding in large, condoning
eyes. Oh, he knew it all, even to the halo of noble-hearted devotion
with which the Queen’s poor groom of the chambers would try to deck his
narrow head! The fellow would place himself at Ulrik Frederik’s side
with ludicrous bravado, overwhelming him with polite attentions and
respectfully consoling stupidities, while his small pale-blue eyes and
every line of his thin figure would cry out as plainly as words: “See,
all are turning from him, but _I_, never! Braving the King’s anger and
the Queen’s displeasure, I comfort the forsaken! I put my true heart
against–” Oh, how well he knew it all–everything–the whole story!

Nothing of all this happened. The King received him with a Latin
proverb, a sure sign that he was in a good humor. Marie rose and
held out her hand to him as usual, perhaps a little colder, a shade
more reserved, but still in a manner very different from what he had
expected. Not even when they were left alone together did she refer
with so much as a word to their encounter at Lynge, and Ulrik Frederik
wondered suspiciously. He did not know what to make of this curious
silence; he would almost rather she had spoken.

Should he draw her out, thank her for not saying anything, give
himself up to remorse and repentance, and play the game that they were
reconciled again?

Somehow he did not quite dare to try it; for he had noticed that,
now and then, she would gaze furtively at him with an inscrutable
expression in her eyes, as if she were looking through him and taking
his measure, with a calm wonder, a cool, almost contemptuous curiosity.
Not a gleam of hatred or resentment, not a shadow of grief or reproach,
not one tremulous glance of repressed sadness! Nothing of that kind,
nothing at all!

Therefore he did not venture, and nothing was said. Once in a while,
as the days went by, his thoughts would dwell on the matter uneasily,
and he would feel a feverish desire to have it cleared up. Still it was
not done, and he could not rid himself of a sense that these unspoken
accusations lay like serpents in a dark cave, brooding over sinister
treasures, which grew as the reptiles grew, blood-red carbuncles rising
on stalks of cadmium, and pale opal in bulb upon bulb slowly spreading,
swelling, and breeding, while the serpents lay still but ceaselessly
expanding, gliding forth in sinuous bend upon bend, lifting ring upon
ring over the rank growth of the treasure.

She must hate him, must be harboring secret thoughts of revenge; for an
insult such as he had dealt her could not be forgotten. He connected
this imagined lust for vengeance with the strange incident when she had
lifted her hand against him and with Burrhi’s warning. So he avoided
her more than ever, and wished more and more ardently that their ways
might be parted.

But Marie was not thinking of revenge. She had forgotten both him and
Karen Fiol. In that moment of unutterable disgust her love had been
wiped out and left no traces, as a glittering bubble bursts and is no
more. The glory of it is no more, and the iridescent colors it lent to
every tiny picture mirrored in it are no more. They are gone, and the
eye which was held by their splendor and beauty is free to look about
and gaze far out over the world which was once reflected in the glassy
bubble.

* * * * *

The number of guests in the castle increased day by day. The rehearsals
of the ballet were under way, and the dancing-masters and play-actors,
Pilloy and Kobbereau, had been summoned to give instruction as well as
to act the more difficult or less grateful rôles.

Marie Grubbe was to take part in the ballet and rehearsed eagerly.
Since that day at Slangerup, she had been more animated and sociable
and, as it were, more awake. Her intercourse with those about her had
always before been rather perfunctory. When nothing special called
her attention or claimed her interest, she had a habit of slipping
back into her own little world, from which she looked out at her
surroundings with indifferent eyes; but now she entered into all that
was going on, and if the others had not been so absorbed by the new
and exciting events of those days, they would have been astonished at
her changed manner. Her movements had a quiet assurance, her speech an
almost hostile subtlety, and her eyes observed everything. As it was,
no one noticed her except Ulrik Frederik, who would sometimes catch
himself admiring her as if she were a stranger.

Among the guests who came in August was Sti Högh, the husband of
Marie’s sister. One afternoon, not long after his arrival, she was
standing with him on a hillock in the woods, from which they could
look out over the village and the flat, sun-scorched land beyond.
Slow, heavy clouds were forming in the sky, and from the earth rose
a dry, bitter smell like a sigh of drooping, withering plants for
the life-giving water. A faint wind, scarcely strong enough to move
the windmill at the cross-road below, was soughing forlornly in the
tree-tops like a timid wail of the forest burning under summer heat
and sun-glow. As a beggar bares his pitiful wound, so the parched,
yellow meadows spread their barren misery under the gaze of heaven.

The clouds gathered and lowered, and a few raindrops fell, one by one,
heavy as blows on the leaves and straws, which would bend to one side,
shake, and then be suddenly still again. The swallows flew low along
the ground, and the blue smoke of the evening meal drooped like a veil
over the black thatched roofs in the village near by.

A coach rumbled heavily over the road, and from the walks at the foot
of the hill came the sound of low laughter and merry talk, rustling
of fans and silk gowns, barking of tiny lapdogs, and snapping and
crunching of dry twigs. The court was taking its afternoon promenade.

Marie and Sti Högh had left the others to climb the hill, and were
standing quite breathless after their hurried ascent of the steep path.

Sti Högh was then a man in his early thirties, tall and lean, with
reddish hair and a long, narrow face. He was pale and freckled, and his
thin, yellow-white brows were arched high over bright, light gray eyes,
which had a tired look as if they shunned the light, a look caused
partly by the pink color that spread all over the lids, and partly by
his habit of winking more slowly, or rather of keeping his eyes closed
longer, than other people did. The forehead was high, the temples well
rounded and smooth. The nose was thin, faintly arched, and rather long,
the chin too long and too pointed, but the mouth was exquisite, the
lips fresh in color and pure in line, the teeth small and white. Yet
it was not its beauty that drew attention to this mouth; it was rather
the strange, melancholy smile of the voluptuary, a smile made up of
passionate desire and weary disdain, at once tender as sweet music and
bloodthirsty as the low, satisfied growl in the throat of the beast of
prey when its teeth tear the quivering flesh of its victim.

Such was Sti Högh–then.

“Madam,” said he, “have you never wished that you were sitting safe in
the shelter of convent walls, such as they have them in Italy and other
countries?”

“Mercy, no! How should I have such mad fancies!”

“Then, my dear kinswoman, you are perfectly happy? Your cup of life
is clear and fresh, it is sweet to your tongue, warms your blood, and
quickens your thoughts? Is it, in truth, never bitter as lees, flat and
stale? Never fouled by adders and serpents that crawl and mumble? If
so, your eyes have deceived me.”

“Ah, you would fain bring me to confession!” laughed Marie in his face.

Sti Högh smiled and led her to a little grass mound, where they sat
down. He looked searchingly at her.

“Know you not,” he began slowly and seeming to hesitate whether to
speak or be silent, “know you not, madam, that there is in the world
a secret society which I might call ‘the melancholy company’? It is
composed of people who at birth have been given a different nature
and constitution from others, who yearn more and covet more, whose
passions are stronger, and whose desires burn more wildly than those
of the vulgar mob. They are like Sunday children, with eyes wider open
and senses more subtle. They drink with the very roots of their hearts
that delight and joy of life which others can only grasp between coarse
hands.”

He paused a moment, took his hat in his hand, and sat idly running his
fingers through the thick plumes.

“But,” he went on in a lower voice as speaking to himself, “pleasure
in beauty, pleasure in pomp and all the things that can be named,
pleasure in secret impulses and in thoughts that pass the understanding
of man–all that which to the vulgar is but idle pastime or vile
revelry–is to these chosen ones like healing and precious balsam. It
is to them the one honey-filled blossom from which they suck their
daily food, and therefore they seek flowers on the tree of life
where others would never think to look, under dark leaves and on dry
branches. But the mob–what does it know of pleasure in grief or
despair?”

He smiled scornfully and was silent.

“But wherefore,” asked Marie carelessly, looking past him, “wherefore
name them ‘the melancholy company,’ since they think but of pleasure
and the joy of life, but never of what is sad and dreary?”

Sti Högh shrugged his shoulders and seemed about to rise, as though
weary of the theme and anxious to break off the discussion.

“But wherefore?” repeated Marie.

“Wherefore!” he cried impatiently, and there was a note of disdain in
his voice. “Because all the joys of this earth are hollow and pass
away as shadows. Because every pleasure, while it bursts into bloom
like a flowering rosebush, in the selfsame hour withers and drops its
leaves like a tree in autumn. Because every delight, though it glow
in beauty and the fullness of fruition, though it clasp you in sound
arms, is that moment poisoned by the cancer of death, and even while it
touches your mouth you feel it quivering in the throes of corruption.
Is it joyful to feel thus? Must it not rather eat like reddest rust
into every shining hour, ay, like frost nip unto death every fruitful
sentiment of the soul and blight it down to its deepest roots?”

He sprang up from his seat and gesticulated down at her as he spoke.
“And you ask why they are called ‘the melancholy company,’ when every
delight, in the instant you grasp it, sheds its slough in a trice and
becomes disgust, when all mirth is but the last woeful gasp of joy,
when all beauty is beauty that passes, and all happiness is happiness
that bursts like the bubble!”

He began to walk up and down in front of her.

“So it is this that leads your thoughts to the convent?” asked Marie,
and looked down with a smile.

“It is so indeed, madam. Many a time have I fancied myself confined
in a lonely cell or imprisoned in a high tower, sitting alone at my
window, watching the light fade and the darkness well out, while the
solitude, silent and calm and strong, has grown up around my soul and
covered it like plants of mandrake pouring their drowsy juices in my
blood. Ah, but I know full well that it is naught but an empty conceit;
never could the solitude gain power over me! I should long like fire
and leaping flame for life and what belongs to life–long till I lost
my senses! But you understand nothing of all this I am prating. Let us
go, _ma chère_! The rain is upon us; the wind is laid.”

“Ah, no, the clouds are lifting. See the rim of light all around the
heavens!”

“Ay, lifting and lowering.”

“I say no,” declared Marie, rising.

“I swear yes, with all deference.”

Marie ran down the hill. “Man’s mind is his kingdom. Come, now, down
into yours!”

At the foot of the hill Marie turned into the path leading away from
the castle, and Sti walked at her side.

“Look you, Sti Högh,” said Marie, “since you seem to think so well of
me, I would have you know that I am quite unlearned in the signs of the
weather and likewise in other people’s discourse.”

“Surely not.”

“In what you are saying–yes.”

“Nay.”

“Now I swear yes.”

“Oaths gouge no eye without fist follows after.”

“Faith, you may believe me or not, but God knows I ofttimes feel that
great still sadness that comes we know not whence. Pastor Jens was
wont to say it was a longing for our home in the kingdom of heaven,
which is the true fatherland of every Christian soul, but I think it
is not that. We long and sorrow and know no living hope to comfort
us–ah, how bitterly have I wept! It comes over one with such a strange
heaviness and sickens one’s heart, and one feels so tired of one’s
own thoughts and wishes one had never been born. But it is not the
briefness of these earthly joys that has weighed on my thoughts or
caused me grief. No, never! It was something quite different–but ’tis
quite impossible to give that grief a name. Sometimes I have thought
it was really a grief over some hidden flaw in my own nature, some
inward hurt that made me unlike other people–lesser and poorer. Ah,
no, it passes everything how hard it is to find words–in just the
right sense. Look you, this life–this earth–seems to me so splendid
and wonderful, I should be proud and happy beyond words just to have
some part in it. Whether for joy or grief matters not, but that I
might sorrow or rejoice in honest truth, not in play like mummeries
or shrovetide sports. I would feel life grasping me with such hard
hands that I was lifted up or cast down until there was no room in my
mind for aught else but that which lifted me up or cast me down. I
would melt in my grief or burn together with my joy! Ah, you can never
understand it! If I were like one of the generals of the Roman empire
who were carried through the streets in triumphal chariots, I myself
would be the victory and the triumph. I would be the pride and jubilant
shouts of the people and the blasts of the trumpets and the honor and
the glory–all, all in one shrill note. That is what I would be. Never
would I be like one who merely sits there in his miserable ambition and
cold vanity and thinks, as the chariot rolls on, how he shines in the
eyes of the crowd and how helplessly the waves of envy lick his feet,
while he feels with pleasure the purple wrapping his shoulders softly
and the laurel wreath cooling his brow. Do you understand me, Sti Högh?
That is what I mean by life, that is what I have thirsted after, but I
have felt in my own heart that such life could never be mine, and it
was borne in on me that, in some strange manner, I was myself at fault,
that I had sinned against myself and led myself astray. I know not how
it is, but it has seemed to me that this was whence my bitter sorrow
welled, that I had touched a string which must not sound, and its tone
had sundered something within me that could never be healed. Therefore
I could never force open the portals of life, but had to stand without,
unbidden and unsought, like a poor maimed bondwoman.”

“You!” exclaimed Sti Högh in astonishment; then, his face changing
quickly, he went on in another voice: “Ah, now I see it all!” He
shook his head at her. “By my troth, how easily a man may befuddle
himself in these matters! Our thoughts are so rarely turned to the road
where every stile and path is familiar, but more often they run amuck
wherever we catch sight of anything that bears a likeness to a trail,
and we’re ready to swear it’s the King’s highway. Am I not right, _ma
chère_? Have we not both, each for herself or himself, in seeking a
source of our melancholy, caught the first thought we met and made
it into the one and only reason? Would not any one, judging from our
discourse, suppose that I went about sore afflicted and weighed down
by the corruption of the world and the passing nature of all earthly
things, while you, my dear kinswoman, looked on yourself as a silly old
crone, on whom the door had been shut, and the lights put out, and all
hope extinguished! But no matter for that! When we get to that chapter,
we are easily made heady by our own words, and ride hard on any thought
that we can bit and bridle.”

In the walk below the others were heard approaching, and, joining them,
they returned to the castle.

* * * * *

At half-past the hour of eight in the evening of September twenty-sixth,
the booming of cannon and the shrill trumpet notes of a festive march
announced that both their Majesties, accompanied by his Highness Prince
Johan, the Elector of Saxony, and his royal mother, and followed by the
most distinguished men and women of the realm, were proceeding from the
castle, down through the park, to witness the ballet which was soon to
begin.

A row of flambeaux cast a fiery sheen over the red wall, made the yew
and box glow like bronze, and lent all faces the ruddy glow of vigorous
health.

See, scarlet-clothed halberdiers are standing in double rows, holding
flower-wreathed tapers high against the dark sky. Cunningly wrought
lanterns and candles in sconces and candelabra send their rays low
along the ground and high among the yellowing leaves, forcing the
darkness back, and opening a shining path for the resplendent train.

The light glitters on gold and gilded tissue, beams brightly on silver
and steel, glides in shimmering stripes down silks and sweeping satins.
Softly as a reddish dew, it is breathed over dusky velvet, and flashing
white, it falls like stars among rubies and diamonds. Reds make a brave
show with the yellows; clear sky-blue closes over brown; streaks of
lustrous sea-green cut their way through white and violet-blue; coral
sinks between black and lavender; golden brown and rose, steel-gray and
purple are whirled about, light and dark, tint upon tint, in eddying
pools of color.

They are gone. Down the walk, tall plumes nod white, white in the dim
air….

The ballet or masquerade to be presented is called _Die Waldlust_. The
scene is a forest. Crown Prince Christian, impersonating a hunter,
voices his delight in the free life of the merry greenwood. Ladies,
walking about under leafy crowns, sing softly of the fragrant violets.
Children play at hide and seek and pick berries in pretty little
baskets. Jovial citizens praise the fresh air and the clear grape,
while two silly old crones are pursuing a handsome young rustic with
amorous gestures.

Then the goddess of the forest, the virginal Diana, glides forward in
the person of her Royal Highness the Princess Anne Sofie. The Elector
leaps from his seat with delight and throws her kisses with both hands,
while the court applauds.

As soon as the goddess has disappeared, a peasant and his goodwife
come forward and sing a duet on the delights of love. One gay scene
follows another. Three young gentlemen are decking themselves with
green boughs; five officers are making merry; two rustics come
rollicking from market; a gardener’s ‘prentice sings, a poet sings,
and finally six persons play some sprightly music on rather fantastic
instruments.

This leads up to the last scene, which is played by eleven shepherdesses,
their Royal Highnesses the Princesses Anne Sofie, Friderica Amalie, and
Vilhelmina Ernestina, Madam Gyldenlöve, and seven young maidens of the
nobility. With much skill they dance a pastoral dance, in which they
pretend to tease Madam Gyldenlöve because she is lost in thoughts of
love and refuses to join their gay minuet. They twit her with giving up
her freedom and bending her neck under the yoke of love, but she steps
forward, and, in a graceful _pas de deux_ which she dances with the
Princess Anne Sofie, reveals to her companion the abounding transports
and ecstasies of love. Then all dance forward merrily, winding in and
out in intricate figures, while an invisible chorus sings in their
praise to the tuneful music of stringed instruments:

“Ihr Nümphen hochberühmt, ihr sterblichen Göttinnen,
Durch deren Treff’ligkeit sich lassen Heldensinnen
Ja auch die Götter selbst bezwingen für und für,
Last nun durch diesen Tantz erblicken eure Zier
Der Glieder Hurtigkeit, die euch darum gegeben
So schön und prächtig sind, und zu den End erheben
Was an euch göttlich ist, auff dass je mehr und mehr
Man preisen mög an euch des Schöpfers Macht und Ehr.”

This ended the ballet. The spectators dispersed through the park,
promenading through well-lit groves or resting in pleasant grottos,
while pages dressed as Italian or Spanish fruit-venders offered wine,
cake, and comfits from the baskets they carried on their heads.

The players mingled with the crowd and were complimented on their art
and skill, but all were agreed that, with the exception of the Crown
Princess and Princess Anne Sofie, none had acted better than Madam
Gyldenlöve. Their Majesties and the Electress praised her cordially,
and the King declared that not even Mademoiselle La Barre could have
interpreted the rôle with more grace and vivacity.

Far into the night the junketing went on in the lighted park and the
adjoining halls of the castle, where violins and flutes called to the
dance, and groaning boards invited to drinking and carousing. From the
lake sounded the gay laughter of revellers in gondolas strung with
lamps. People swarmed everywhere. The crowds were densest where the
light shone and the music played, more scattered where the illumination
was fainter, but even where darkness reigned completely and the music
was almost lost in the rustling of leaves, there were merry groups and
silent couples. One lonely guest had strayed far off to the grotto in
the eastern end of the garden and had found a seat there, but he was
in a melancholy mood. The tiny lantern in the leafy roof of the grotto
shone on a sad mien and pensive brows–yellow-white brows.

It was Sti Högh.

“… E di persona
Anzi grande, che no; di vista allegra,
Di bionda chioma, e colorita alquanto,”

he whispered to himself.

He had not come unscathed from his four or five weeks of constant
intercourse with Marie Grubbe. She had absolutely bewitched him. He
longed only for her, dreamed only of her; she was his hope and his
despair. He had loved before, but never like this, never so timidly
and weakly and hopelessly. It was not the fact that she was the wife
of Ulrik Frederik, nor that he was married to her sister, which
robbed him of his courage. No, it was in the nature of his love to be
faint-hearted–his calf-love, he called it bitterly. It had so little
desire, so much fear and worship, and yet so much desire. A wistful,
feverish languishing for her, a morbid longing to live with her in
her memories, dream her dreams, suffer her sorrows, and share her sad
thoughts, no more, no less. How lovely she had been in the dance, but
how distant and unattainable! The round gleaming shoulders, the full
bosom and slender limbs, they took his breath away. He trembled before
that splendor of body, which made her seem richer and more perfect, and
hardly dared to let himself be drawn under its spell. He feared his own
passion and the fire, hell-deep, heaven-high, that smouldered within
him. That arm around his neck, those lips pressed against his–it was
madness, imbecile dreams of a madman! This mouth–

“Paragon di dolcezza!
· · · · · · ·
… bocca beata,
… bocca gentil, che può ben dirsi
Conca d’ Indo odorata
Di perle orientali e pellegrine:
E la porta, che chiude
Ed apre il bel tesoro,
Con dolcissimo mel porpora mista.”

He started from the bench as with pain. No, no! He clung to his own
humble longing and threw himself again in his thoughts at her feet,
clutched at the hopelessness of his love, held up before his eyes the
image of her indifference, and–Marie Grubbe stood there in the arched
door of the grotto, fair against the outside darkness.

All that evening she had been in a strangely enraptured mood. She
felt calm and sound and strong. The music and pomp, the homage and
admiration of the men, were like a carpet of purple spread out for
her feet to tread upon. She was intoxicated and transported with her
own beauty. The blood seemed to shoot from her heart in rich, glowing
jets and become gracious smiles on her lips, radiance in her eyes,
and melody in her voice. Her mind held an exultant serenity, and her
thoughts were clear as a cloudless sky. Her soul seemed to unfold its
richest bloom in this blissful sense of power and harmony.

Never before had she been so fair as with that imperious smile of joy
on her lips and the tranquillity of a queen in her eyes and bearing,
and thus she stood in the arched door of the grotto, fair against
the outside darkness. Looking down at Sti Högh, she met his gaze of
hopeless adoration, and at that she bent down, laid her white hand as
in pity on his hair, and kissed him. Not in love–no, no!–but as a
king may bestow a precious ring on a faithful vassal as a mark of royal
grace and favor, so she gave him her kiss in calm largesse.

As she did so, her assurance seemed to leave her for a moment, and she
blushed, while her eyes fell. If Sti Högh had tried to take her then or
to receive her kiss as anything more than a royal gift, he would have
lost her forever, but he knelt silently before her, pressed her hand
gratefully to his lips, then stepped aside reverently and saluted her
deeply with head bared and neck bent. She walked past him proudly, away
from the grotto and into the darkness.

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