Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
"DEMETRIOS!" she cried.
And she sprang forward . . .
But after having carefully closed the wooden latch, the young man had not moved, and he maintained in his look so profound a tranquillity that Chrysis was suddenly frozen.
She had hoped for a transport, a movement of his arms, his lips, something, an outstretched hand . . .
Demetrios did not move.
He waited an instant in silence, with a perfect correctness, as though he wished to establish clearly his disengagement.
Then, seeing that nothing was demanded of him, he made four steps to the window and leaned back in the opening, watching the day appear.
Chrysis had seated herself on the low bed, her look fixed and almost stupid.
Then Demetrios spoke to himself.
"It is better," he said, "that it should be thus. Such plays in the moment of death would, after all, be dismal enough. I wonder only that she would not have had a presentiment from the beginning and that she should have welcomed me with this enthusiasm. For me, it is a finished adventure. I regret a little that it
should have ended thus, for after all, Chrysis has done no other wrong than to express very frankly an ambition which, without doubt, might have been that of most women; and had it not been necessary to throw a victim to the public indignation, I would have contented myself in having this too ardent girl banished, in order to deliver myself of her and yet leave her the joys of life. But there has been a scandal and nothing else can avail. Such are the effects of passion. Voluptuousness without thoughtor the contrary, the idea without enjoymenthave no such sad result. One may have many mistresses but must keep himself, with the help of the gods, from forgetting that all lips are alike."
Having thus summed up one of his moral theories by an audacious aphorism, he resumed, easily, the normal current of his ideas.
He recalled vaguely an invitation to dine which he had accepted for the evening before, then forgotten in the whirlwind of events, and he promised to send an apology.
He reflected whether he should offer his tailor-slave for salean old man who remained attached to the cutting traditions of the preceding reign and was but imperfectly successful with the cup-shaped folds of the new tunics.
His mind was so free that he even drew, upon the wall, with the point of his modeling tool, a hasty study for his group of "Zagreus and the Titans," a variant which modified the movement of the right arm of the principal personage.
Hardly was it finished when someone knocked gently upon the door. Demetrios opened it without haste. The old executioner entered, followed by two helmeted hoplites.
"I bring the little cup," he said with an obsequious smile, to the address of the royal lover.
Demetrios kept silence.
Chrysis raised her head frantically.
"Come, my girl," continued the gaoler. "The moment has come. The hemlock is all crushed. There is truly nothing to do but take it. Do not be afraid. One does not suffer at all."
Chrysis looked at Demetrios, who did not turn aside his eyes.
Holding ever upon him her large black eyes surrounded by green light, she held out her right hand, took the cup and slowly carried it to her mouth.
She touched it with her lips. The bitterness of the poison and also the pains of the poisoning had been tempered by a honeyed narcotic.
She drank half of the cup, then, with a gesture she might have seen at the theater, in the Thyestes of Agathan, or which really issued from a spontaneous sentiment, she offered the rest to Demetrios . . . But with raised hand, the young man declined this indiscreet proposition.
Then the Galilæan swallowed the remainder of the brew, down to the green dregs which remained at the bottom. And there came to her lips a heart-rending smile which contained, indeed, a little scorn.
"What must I do?" she asked the gaoler.
"Walk around the room, my girl, until thy legs feel heavy. Then thou wilt lie down upon thy back and the poison will act by itself."
Chrysis walked to the window, leaned her hand upon the wall,
her temple on her hand, and cast toward the violet dawn the final look of lost youth.
The east was drowned in a lake of color. A long, livid band, like a strip of water, enveloped the horizon in an olive girdle. Above, many tints were born, one from the other, liquid pools of iridescent sky, sea-green or lilac, which melted imperceptibly into the leaden azure of the heavens. Then these degrees of shade lifted slowly, a golden line appeared, ascended, enlarged: a slender thread of crimson lighted this morose dawn and, in a deluge of blood, the sun was born.
"It is written:
She remained thus, standing as long as her legs could sustain her. The hoplites were obliged to carry her to the bed when she made a sign that she staggered.
There the old man disposed the white folds of her robe along her outstretched limbs. Then he touched her feet and asked her: "Dost thou feel?"
He touched her knees and asked her:
"Dost thou feel?"
She made a negative sign and, suddenly, with a movement of her mouth and of her shoulders (for even her hands were dead), seized again by a supreme ardor and perhaps by regret for this sterile hour, she lifted herself toward Demetrios . . . But before
he could have replied, she fell back lifeless, her eyes darkened forever.
Then the executioner drew the upper folds of her garment over her face; and one of the attendant soldiers, supposing that a more tender past has once united this young man and woman, cut off, with the end of his sword, the extreme ringlet of her hair upon the stones.
Demetrios touched it with his hand and, in truth, it was Chrysis herself, the surviving gold of her beauty, itself the pretext of her name . . .
He took the warm lock between thumb and fingers, separated it slowly, little by little, and under the sole of his shoe he ground it into the dust.