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And as the whistling breeze fled past her cheek,
“ Hear me !" she said, after a little space;
“Better it were that thou should'st fling me down
Out of thine arms, and hasten on alone;
As thou hast come that so thou should'st return."
He only smiled—for fast he felt her heart
Beat against his. “Oh! listen, youth,” she said
A second time. “'Twere better, better far
That thou hadst never look'd into my eyes-
Far better if thou didst thy dagger draw
Out of thy girdle, and so end my life :
For when, hereafter, thou wouldst fain be free,
My arms shall clasp thee 'round and hold thee fast !
“ Listen !”—and this time she no more entreats
“I am a serpent, I am not a maid ;
I am a Yukha.* Thou hast been allurid,
Unconscious, by mine eyes; yet 'twas thy will,
Thou didst compel me, and I raised them up.
My arms are circled 'round thy neck perforce
As now I hold thee, youth, I ever hold !
My soul hast thou imbibed from my lips-
Not that I turn'd or offer'd them to thee;
But, as the bee draws from the rose its balm,
So hast thou drunk the essence of my
Therefore my soul is no more mine, but thine,
And I must follow thee into thy home ;
As thy companion will I live with thee,
And thro' thy life no other shalt thou choose !"
“No other," answered fervently the youth.
And now the plain beneath his horse's feet
Into the glimmering distance fades away,
And thus they reach the home wherein he dwelt.
Into his home she steps, making it bright,
And at the fire prepares his evening meal.
Each day at dawn he left her, and rode out :
At eve she cast in haste her spindle down,
When, sitting at the door, she heard afar
The echo of his horse's hoofs approach.
Ever more beautiful when he return'd;
Ever more loving when, returning, he
Leaped from the saddle, kiss'd her blooming cheek;
Ever more charming when, before the hearth
Close sitting at his side, she softly ask'd
Whether the journey had o'er-wearied him.
Well pleased his kinsmen look'd upon his bride,
And every guest who sought a shelter there * A kind of household spirit, in the form of a serpent, supposed to remain seven years in a family from the time of a marriage, and then to depart
, leaving behind it good or evil fortune, according to the treatment it has received from the family during that period. Grimm the Elder mentions it in his “ Kinder-und-Hans-Marelieu,"
With blessings left the hospitable roof.
And so, awaiting his return, she sat
One evening; and he came, but not alone,
A stranger rode beside him as his guest,
Desiring shelter for the coming night :
And she mov'd busily, preparing food,
Laid it before him and her husband ; set
A well-filled goblet down, and cheerfully
Beside the hearth she turn'd her spinning-wheel.
But the strange guest, at every mouthful, glanc'd
Unseen at her ; with every draught he laid
The goblet down, still turning towards her eyes.
In silence look'd he, meanwhile, on a ring
Which on his hand he wore ; in the bright gold
Was set an onyx, well and rarely graved.
And in the morning, as the men rode out,
Her husband and his guest, stay'd suddenly
The stranger first his speed, and thus began :
“Oh, woe to thee! A Yukha is thy wife,
And to a serpent hast thou long been wed,
Who nightly, unsuspected, shares thy couch ;
Who looks expecting to the seventh year
When thou shalt be her own, that so she may
Suck from thy beating heart the life-blood out!"
Firm turn'd the other.-"Is it then for this
I gave thee shelter, that thou shouldst disturb
The single happiness I know in life?
She is no Yukha, no vile serpent she-
She is my gentle wife, my chosen one,
And she alone-tho' endless were my years !”
“Woe to thy heart,” the warning answer came,
“For thou art lost!” “Nay truly, thou art lost!”
The husband cried, “if thou canst bring no proof
Of what thou hast declar'd, thou slanderer!"
“At once,” the stranger said, “behold the proof!
Behold the stone which in my ring I wear ;
Milk-white at her approach its hue became,
And darker grew the figures cut thereon!
And I observ'd, and understood the change.
She is a serpent, and she drinks thy blood,
And as a serpent shall appear to thee,
That thou, when thou beholdest it, shall doubt
No more, but trembling shall believe my words.
Do thou, when sitting at the evening meal,
In secret cast, so she perceive it not,
Some salt upon the food her plate contains.
That evening thou shalt firmly close the door,
On every window bar the shutters fast
Yet ere thou thus hast done, bear from the house
All water, and all trace of water, that
No drop of it in flask or jar be found.
And on the evening after meet me here,
And tell me faithfully what thou hast seen.”
And the man ponder'd all the stranger's words
Thoughtfully in his soul. At evening strew'd
Upon her food the salt; with care remov'd
All trace of water; barr'd the shutters fast.
This having done, he lock'd the outer door,
And, ûnperceived, conceal'd its massive key.
And now the night was come. Confidingly
She rested at his side, and calmly slept.
At length there was a stir. Breathless he watch'd.
By the faint glimmer on the hearth he saw
How slowly from the couch she rose, and crept,
Busily groping 'round her, here and there,
Seeking for something. Took the vessels up,
And laid them down again without a sound,
And softly, softly tried the fastened door;
Tried then the shutters, firmly barr'd and clos'd,
Her movements ever growing more disturbid
Writhing her hands, and uttering low moans.
Then, by the glimmer of the dying fire,
The man beheld, as breathlessly he watch'd,
How suddenly she chang’d. Her lengthen'd neck
Stretched slowly upwards, glittring, green with scales.
Her arms and feet together disappear'd-
Still more distended grew she ; greedily
Shot from her jaws a forked and narrow tongue :
Thrusting it here and there, she writhing reach'd
At last the hearth, drew herself up the height
Into the darkness : still increasing, stretch'd
She to the brook, which close beside the house
Murmur'd refreshingly. And now he saw
How that she drank, when, through her body flow'd
The grateful draught, as, like a worm, her coils
With undulating motion swelld or shrank.
And so she drank. When she was satisfied
Backward she glided, her appalling length
Slow lessening by degrees, till she at last,
Free from her scales, stood forth in all that bloom
Of beauty which at first had won his heart.
Back, softly stepping, stole she to the couch,
Bent listening down, and heard his even breath,
Noiselessly smooth'd the pillows, and he heard
How once again she slumber'd. But awake
He lay. Deep through his heart cold shudders crept;
And, as again her beauty he beheld,
Ever again he thought how horribly
Had ris'n and mov'd around the serpent's head.
The stranger at that place again he found
Where they had parted. “Yes, I now believe,”
Cried he, “thy words; and I conjure thee now
To save me!” And the other answered him-
“Let her in thy demeanour find no change ;
For truly thou art lost if she conceive
Suspicion in her mind of thee. Wait thou
Till next she bakes her bread; and when she lays
Into the oven carefully the dough,
Then seize her suddenly and thrust her in,
Securing well the door. But be thou 'ware
Of heark’ning to her when she prays to thee ;
When she declares that thou hast been deceived ;
When she adjures thee by thy former love
Not to destroy her ;-surely thou art lost
If thou allow her words to move thy heart.
And when the flame shall wholly have consumed
Her form, then will I come, her ashes take
And scatter them afar before the wind,
Lest she should spring, destructive, to new life.”
And following his friend's advice, he turn'd
In silence home ; and there his young wife stood
The white flour kneading in a wooden trough.
Her sleeves were rais'd, so that her arms were free-
Her snow-white arms, which mov'd so busily
Ever in working. Smilingly she said-
“To-day, dear love, I cannot cast my arms
Around thy neck. Come then, nor let me quite
Forfeit the happiness I so should lose !"
Towards him caressingly she turns her cheek,
Blooming as blooms a rose-with soften'd tinge
Like a peach glowing ʼmid the shade of leaves.
He kisses it; but coldly through his frame
Creeps the remembrance of the serpent's eyes,
And of the poisonous tongue, which, midway cleft,
Out of the half-closed jaws mov'd flick’ring round.
And now she forms the dough. Upon a board
She ranges thoughtfully the loaves of bread;
And where, behind the house, the oven stands
She lightly bears it, pauses at the door,
Moving the embers further in, that she
Upon the glowing tiles may lay her bread.
But he with stealthy steps has follow'd her
To where she stands, springs forward, in both arms
He lifts her suddenly, and thrusts her far
Into the burning heat, shutting the door
With strong and nervous hands. Then 'rose a voice
Beseeching from within. “Dear Love,” it cried,
" Alas for me! what is it thou hast done?
Have I, then, ever broken faith with thee?
Have I aroused thy wrath? Do not I love,
Have I not ever lov'd thee? Did I not
E'en weave for thee thy clothes, and softly deck'd
For thee thy couch ? And in the lengthen'd nights
When thou wert sick, have I not cool'd thy brow ?
Hast thou not often, resting on my breast,
Told me of all the greatness of thy love?
Hast thou not often bless'd the day when first
Thou didst behold, and set me on thy horse ?
Ah, now I know ! Another's word can then
So move thy heart ? Thou hast put faith in him-
In him, a stranger-more in one short hour,
Than in thy wife, who now has liv'd for years
Faithful to thee-she who has evermore
As her salvation watch'd for thy approach,
And bless’d thy presence as her bliss supreme.”
As sing in sultry nights the nightingales,
So she laments. Gently and touchingly
Sounded her voice ; and echoing through nis soul
Soft as the breath of Spring-through every pulse,
Wak’ning a yearning pain, till
, half unnerved,
His hands relax'd their hold. “Oh, dearly loved !”
Fainter the voice resounds, "already seize
The flames upon my life! My cheek, on which
Thine own has often press’d, my arms, my hands,
Are shriv'lling horribly! My aching eyes
Are staring in the flames! Ah, 'round my heart
They wreath, and lap themselves unmerciful !"
Horror enthrals him. All the awe he felt
When, as a snake, at night he saw her 'risë,
Has vanish'd, and her beauty mounts supreme,
As o'er the mountain glows the morning sun.
A dying hope, a passionate desire
Kindles his soul. Already from the door
He tears the beam. Out from the scorching heat
Heart-piercing speeds a sound. “A serpent, yes !
But I first told it thee! A Yukha, yes !
Thou knew'st it long! Have I deceiv'd thee, then?
Didst not thou, having known it, make me thine ?
Didst not thou force my fate when I opposed ?
Hadst thou not, heartless, broken faith with me,
Still living by thy side I might have been,
Daily becoming that thou shouldst have lov'd.
Out of my veins should that have disappear’d
Which made our natures twain. I growing still,
Without thy knowledge, gradually pure,
Without thy knowledge should for evermore
Have cast aside the scales and loathsome shape,
Which, by the Will inscrutable, were mine!
But, cunningly, in secret thou hast watch'd,
And, unconfiding, forced me to return
Unto that form, which through éternity