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a short story



OH HANDSOME YOUTH, why are you so deeply sunk in thought?" asked the Old Woman who was renting a room to him.
   One evening she quietly entered his gloomy room, and her soft slippers rustling almost inaudibly along the uneven floor by the red painted bureau, she came up to the Youth and stood by his side. He shuddered in surprise—he had been standing by the only window of his cramped quarters in the uppermost lodgings of an old house for half an hour, staring fixedly at the beautiful Garden before him where a great multitude of plants were blooming with a tender, sweet and strange fragrance.
   Answering the Old Woman the Youth said, "No, Old Woman, l am not thinking about anything. I am just standing, gazing and waiting."
   The Old Woman shook her gray head reproachfully and the knots on her dark kerchief bounced up and down like two attentive ears pointing sharply inward. Her wrinkled face, more yellow and withered than those of the other old women living on that street on the outskirts of the Old City, now expressed concern and anxiety. The Old Woman said softly and sadly, "I feel sorry for you, dear Youth."
   Her voice, although already hoarse from age, rang so sadly and with such genuine compassion, and her eyes, already colorless from age, peered so mourn-fully that for one brief moment it suddenly seemed to the Youth in the dusk of his room that all these external signs of age were only a successfully assumed mask concealing a young and beautiful Woman who had just felt that heart-piercing grief of a mother who has wept for her dying son. But this strange moment passed and the Youth smiled at his fantasy.
   He asked her, "Why do you feel sorry for me, Old Woman?"
   The Old Woman stood beside him and looked out the window at the Garden, so beautiful, flowering and everywhere illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, and said, "I feel sorry for you, dear Youth, because I know where you are gazing and what you are waiting for. l feel sorry for you and your mother."
   Perhaps because of these words, or perhaps because of something else, there was a change in the Youth's mood. The Garden, flowering behind the high fence below his window, and exuding a wonderful fragrance, suddenly seemed somehow strange to him; and an ominous sensation, a sudden fear, gripped his heart with a violent palpitation, like heady and languid fragrances rising from brilliant flowers
   "What is happening?" he wondered in confusion.
   He did not want to give in to this gloomy enchantment of evening melancholy—he made a concerted effort, smiled cheerfully and with a swift movement of a powerful hand tossed back a lock of black hair from his forehead and asked, "What then, Old Woman, is so terrible and wrong with what I am gazing at or waiting for?"
   And at this moment he was cheerful and unafraid, beautiful, and his dark eyes flashed and his rosy cheeks reddened and his crimson and striking lips seemed as if they had just been kissed, and from behind them flashed strong white teeth, exuberant, sinister
   The Old Woman asked, "Here you are, dear Youth, you are looking at the Garden and do not know that it is an evil Garden. Here you are waiting for the Beautiful Woman and do not know that her beauty is destructive. You have been living in my room for two years and never before have you become so engrossed as you have today. Apparently your turn has come too. Go away from the window before it is too late, do not breathe the evil fragrance of these deceitful flowers and do not wait for the Beautiful Woman to appear below your window and enchant you. She will come, she will enchant you, and you will follow her against your will.
   Speaking thus, the Old Woman lit two candles on the table where some books were lying, banged the window shut and drew the curtain tightly across the window. The curtain rings scraped lightly along the bronze curtain rod, and the yellow linen of the curtain fluttered and once again lay motionless— and the room became cheerful, comfortable and peaceful. And it seemed that there was no longer any garden beyond the window, nor was there any sorcery in the world, and everything was simple, ordinary, and would remain so once and for all.
   "But it is true," said the Youth, "I never paid any attention to this Garden, and today for the first time I saw the Beautiful Woman."
   He has already seen Her," the Old Woman thought sadly. "The evil seed of fascination has already fallen into your soul."
   But the Youth was neither talking to the Old Woman nor even reasoning with himself. "It was never so earlier. During the day—at the lectures in the university, during the evening—at my books or with cheerful comrades and sweet girls at a party or the theater, somewhere up in the gallery or even in the parterre on a student pass when there was not much paying public: the producers loved us, we applauded heartily, shouted and called for the performer before all the lights were turned off. In the summer you went off to your parents. And so I had only heard that the magnificent Garden of our professor, the renowned Botanik, was next door."
   "He is famous because he sold his soul to the devil," the Old Woman said angrily.
   The student burst out laughing.
   "Well, nonetheless," he said, "it seems strange to me that I had never seen his daughter until this evening, although I had heard a great deal about her fascinating beauty and about how many of the distinguished youths of the Old City as well as from other places far and near sought her love and hoped and deceived themselves, while others even died, unable to bear her coldness."
   "She is cunning," said the Old Woman. "She knows the price of her charms and does not display herself to all. It would be difficult for a lowly student to make her acquaintance. Her father has instructed her in a great deal that not even scholars know, but she will not attend your gatherings. She spends more time with rich people from whom she can expect many gifts.
   "Old Woman, today I had a good look at her," objected the Youth, "and I think that a girl with such a beautiful face, with such virtuously bright eyes, such exquisitely graceful movements and dressed so beautifully, cannot possibly be cunning and mercenary and chase after gifts. I have firmly resoled to meet her. This very day I shall go to Botanist."
   "Botanist will not let you past the doorstep. His servant will not even go to announce your presence when he sees your wretched clothing."
   "What does he care about my clothing!" the Youth replied with annoyed
   "Well, if you came riding up on a winged serpent, then they would let you in without looking at your patches."
   The Youth laughed and exclaimed merrily, "Well then, Old Woman, I will saddle a winged serpent if there is no other way of getting in there!"
   The Old Woman grumbled, "There is no longer anything good to be expected from the students' strikes. If you all studied peacefully, everything would be fine. And there would not be any grief in store for you in this sly Beauty and the terrible Garden."
   "What is there so terrible in her garden?" asked the Youth. "And there was no alternative for us but to strike: all our rights and the rights of the university have been destroyed—do you really believe that we should debase ourselves without a struggle?"
   "Youths should study," grumbled the Old Woman, "and not take the laws apart. And you, dear Youth, before you become acquainted with the Beautiful Woman, take a good look into her Garden through the window tomorrow morning, when everything is clearly and genuinely visible in the light of the sun. You will see that in the Garden there are no flowers which are familiar to anyone here, and only such flowers as none of us in the City know. Just think about this carefully, after all, there is something strange about it. The devil is cunning; is this not his creation for the damnation of people?"
   "These foreign plants," replied the Youth, "have been brought from tropical lands where everything is different."
   But the Old Woman no longer wanted to talk. She waved her hand in annoyance and shuffling her slippers she muttered unkind words in an angry, indistinct voice, and she left the room.
   The Youth's first impulse was to go up to the window, turn back the yellow linen of the curtain and take another look into the enchanting Garden and wait. But he was prevented from this: a Comrade came, a noisy, clumsy young fellow, and he invited the Youth to go to a place where they often gathered to talk a great deal, argue, make noise and laugh.
   Along the way the Comrade, laughing, indignantly waving his arms somewhat more than necessary, told the Youth about what had happened that morning in the lecture halls and university corridors when all the lectures had been halted and how the opponents of the strike had been disgraced, what beautiful words the popular and good professors had spoken, and how ridiculously the unpopular professors, that is to say, the bad ones, had behaved.
   The Youth spent an interesting evening. He spoke just as excitedly as the rest. He listened to sincere and passionate speeches. He looked at his comrades whose faces expressed both the carefree bravado of youth and its fiery indignation. He saw girls that were dear, intelligent, modest, and dreamed of choosing himself a companion out of their cheerful circle. And he had almost forgotten about the Beautiful Woman in the enchanting Garden.
   He returned home late at night and fell soundly asleep.

   In the morning when he opened his eyes and when his glance fell upon the yellow linen of the curtain by the window, it seemed to him that its yellowness was suffused with the crimson of dark desire and that there was some strange and eerie tenseness in it. It seemed that the sun was insistently and fervently concentrating its burning and bitter rays towards this linen pierced by a golden color and summoning and demanding, and disturbing. And in reply to this fascinating external tension of gold and crimson the veins of the Youth were filled with a fiery agitation. His muscles were suffused with a resilient strength and his heart became like a spring of ardent fires. Sweetly pierced by millions of exciting, burning and arousing needles he leapt up from the bed and with a childlike gleeful laugh he began to leap and dance around the room without dressing.
   Attracted by the unusual noise, the Old Landlady looked in at the door. She shook her head reproachfully and said, grumbling, "Dear Youth, you are dancing and rejoicing and disturbing everyone, and you yourself do not even know why you are happy, nor do you know who is standing beneath your window and what she is preparing for you.
   The Youth was embarrassed and became quiet and modest as before, such as befitted his character and the fine upbringing which he had received at home. He washed up more carefully than ordinarily, perhaps because he did not have to hurry to lectures today, or perhaps from some other reason; and with the same care he dressed, and for a long time he cleaned his thoroughly frayed clothing: he did not have any new clothes since his parents were poor and could not send him very much money.
   Then he went up to the window. His heart began pounding excitedly when he turned back the yellow linen of the curtain.
   An enchantingly beautiful spectacle was revealed before him—although today he immediately noticed that there was something strange in the entire aspect of this extensive and excellently arranged Garden. Precisely what amazed him he was still unable to say right away, and he began to examine the Garden attentively.
   What was there so unpleasant in its beauty? Why was the Youth's heart trembling so painfully?
   Was it that everything in the enchanted Garden was too exact. All the paths were laid out geometrically, and all were of the same width, and all were covered with precisely the same amount of yellow sand; the plants were all arranged with exaggerated orderliness; the trees were trimmed in the form of spheres, cones and cylinders; the flowers were arranged according to the various shades so that their composition was pleasing to the eye, but for some reason or other this wounded the soul.
   But giving it careful thought, what was there unpleasant in that orderliness which merely bore witness to the careful attention which someone paid to the Garden?
   Of course there was no reason for this to cause the strange apprehension which oppressed the Youth. But it was in something else as yet incomprehensible to the Youth.
   One thing was for certain, though, that this Garden did not resemble any other garden which the Youth had happened to see in his time. Here he saw giant flowers of an almost too brilliant color—at times it seemed that many-colored fires were burning in the midst of the luxuriant greenery— brown and black stalks of creeping growths, thick like tropical serpents; leaves of a strange shape and immeasurable size, whose greenness seemed to be unnaturally brilliant.
   Heady and languid fragrances wafted through the window in gentle waves, breaths of vanilla, frankincense and bitter almond, sweet and bitter, ecstatic and sad, like some joyous funereal mysterium.
   The Youth felt the tender yet lively touches of the gentle wind. But in the Garden it seemed as if the wind had no strength and lay exhausted on the tranquil green grass and in the shadows beneath the bushes of the strange growths. And because the trees and grass of the strange Garden were breathlessly quiet and could not hear the softly blowing wind above them and did not reply to it, they seemed to be inanimate. And thus they were deceitful, evil and hostile to man.
   However, one of the growths moved. But looking closer the Youth began to laugh. What he had taken for the leafless trunk of a strange plant was a person small in size, gaunt and dressed all in black. He was standing before a bush with bright purple flowers, and then he slowly walked along the path, leaning on a thick cane and drawing near that very window out of which the Youth was looking.
   Not so much from the face which was hidden by the broad brim of a black hat and only partially visible from above, but rather from the movements and walk, the Youth recognized Botanik. Not wishing to appear immodest, the Youth retreated somewhat from the window into the depth of the room. But suddenly he saw the Beauty, his beautiful daughter, approaching Botanik. Her bare arms were raised towards the black braids gathered on her head, for she was just putting a bright crimson flower in her hair. Her short, filmy and open dress was fastened over one shoulder with a golden clasp. Her graceful white feet were adorned with gilded sandals and entwined with broad pink ribbons.
   The Youth's heart began to pound, and forgetting all caution and modesty, he rushed to the window once again and stared greedily at this sweet vision.
   The Beauty cast a fleeting and ardent glance in his direction—blue eyes gleamed from beneath black, even eyebrows—and she smiled tenderly and slyly.
   If there exist fortunate people, if from time to time the wild sun of joy soars towards foreign lands in a sweet whirling of ecstasy—then where are the words which might tell of this? And if in the world there exists a beauty for enchantment, then how might one describe it?
   But now the Beauty stopped, fastened her eyes on the Youth and began to laugh cheerfully and merrily—and amid the indescribable whirling of ecstasy the Youth forgot everything on earth, leaned impetuously out of the window and cried in a voice ringing with excitement, "Dearest! Beautiful one! Heavenly one! Come to me! Love me!"
   The Beauty drew near and the Youth heard her softly ringing, clear voice, every sound of which rent his heart with a sweet pain, "Dear Youth, do you know the price of my love?"
   "Let it be the price of life!" exclaimed the Youth, "Let it lead even to the dark gates of death."
   Her face was pale, her cheeks rosy, her eyes blue, her lips crimson—like some flaming and laughing sunset she stood before the Youth, stretching out her slender, naked arms to him. And she spoke, and there wafted from her words a fragrance both seductive and languid, like the sighs of a lily, "O dear Youth, so wise and passionate, you know, you see. you wait. Many have loved me, many have lusted to possess me, beautiful, youthful strong people, many have I smiled at with a fascinating smile, the smile of the ultimate consoler, but never before you have I spoken to anyone the sweet and terrible words: l love you. And now I desire you and await you."
   Her voice quivered with passion and desire. From her waist she unfastened a black silk string with a brass key on it and was about to throw it to the Youth, but not in time. The father had already rushed up to her when he noticed from afar that she was talking to a strange Youth. He seized her roughly by the hand, took the key from her and began to cry in a hoarse, senile voice which was as repulsive as the belabored cawing of some old crow in a graveyard, "You fool, what are you trying to do? There is nothing for you to talk about with him. This Youth is not from that sort for whom we have cultivated our Garden, where the juices of these plants have been mixed with the poisonous pitch of the upas tree. It was not for such as this beggar that our ancestor perished after inhaling the pernicious scent of the horrible pitch. Go home and do not dare to speak with him."
   The old man dragged his daughter back to the house which was visible in the depths of the Garden, her hands both tightly grasped in one of his. The Beauty followed her father obediently as she laughed. And her laughter was bright, clear, sweet, and stung the raging heart of the Youth with thousands of agonizing stings.
   He stood for a long time at the window and stared intensely for a long time into the neat and orderly expanses of the enchanted garden. But already the Beauty was out of sight. All was calm and motionless in the wondrous Garden, and the marvelously brilliant flowers seemed breathless; and they suffused the Youth with a scent which made the head whirl and oppressed the heart with a sinister languor—a scent which was reminiscent of the obscure, rushing, thirsting sighs of vanilla, cyclamen, datura and lily, of evil and fateful ; flowers which in dying themselves destroy, bewitching with a mysterious death .

   The Youth resolutely decided to make his way into the wondrous Garden, to inhale the mysterious fragrances which the Beauty inhaled, and gain her love even though the price might be life itself, even though the road to it might be a fatal road, a road of no return. But who could help him make his way into the home of the elderly Botanik?
   The Youth left the house. For a long while he wandered around the City, inquiring of all his acquaintances concerning the Beauty, the daughter of Botanik. Some could not, others would not take him into the home of the elderly Botanik, and all spoke of the Beauty with hostility.
   One comrade said to him, "All the young Aristocrats of the City are in love with her and praise her delicate and exquisite beauty. But for us, the Plebians, her beauty is hateful and undesirable: her lifeless smile chafes us, and the chaos lurking in the azure of her eyes repulses us."
   Supporting him a girl said, "Her beauty, about which many idle and rich youths talk, is really no beauty at all in our eyes. It is the lifeless beauty of decay and ruin. l even believe that she rouges and powders her face. She exudes an odor almost like that of a poisonous flower; even her breath is fragrant, and this is repulsive."
   A popular Professor said, "My colleague, Botanik, is a man of renown and learning; but he has no desire to subjugate his science to the lofty interests of humanity. They say that his daughter is bewitching; some speak of the uniqueness of her garments and manners, but I have not had the opportunity of speaking with her in more or less thorough fashion; moreover, in our circle one seldom has the opportunity of seeing her. l believe, though, that her charms contain something which is pernicious to well-being—I have heard strange rumor the veracity of which, of course, l cannot vouch for, rumors which say that the rate of mortality among the young Aristocrats visiting this house is higher than normal . "
   The abbot, with a pointed smile on his pale, shaved face, said, "When the Beauty comes to me in the church she prays too zealously. This could lead one to believe that she is seeking forgiveness for very serious sins. But I am certain that our eyes would never behold her in the woolen mantle of the repentant sinner."
   Sending out of the room all of her daughters, one mother said, "I do not understand what people see in her. People are destroyed through her; she is a coquette who breaks the hearts of youths, steals grooms from the brides, and yet loves no one herself. l do not allow my dear daughters, Minochka, Linochka, Ninochka, Rinochka, Tinochka, and Zinochka, to be acquainted with her. Mine are such modest, dear, sweet, cheerful, friendly, diligent daughters, such wonderful housekeepers and so clever with a needle. And how sorry I would be to part with them, but nonetheless I would give the eldest one in marriage to a fine and modest youth such as you.

   Old Botanist brought his daughter home. His wrath had subsided, but in spite of the fact that he had not released her folded hands from his large bony fingers he no longer squeezed his cheerfully smiling daughter so painfully, nor did he push her so roughly. His face was sad. He released his daughter's hands, and of her own accord she obediently followed him into his study, a huge, gloomy room whose walls were weighed down by shelves with a multitude of colossal and dusty books.
   Botanist sat down in an upholstered chair of dark leather by his heavy oak desk. He seemed to be tired. He covered his still youthfully flashing eyes with a trembling hand, yellow like parchment, and stared reproachfully at his daughter from under his hand.
   The Beauty knelt down at his feet and looked up into the face of the elderly Botanik and smiled tenderly and submissively. She sat there straight, with her arms at her side, and in her pose there was a modest submissiveness, and in the smile of her seductive lips a tender insistence. Her face appeared to have grown paler, and it seemed as if there were a mocking insanity flaring up almost imperceptibly on her lips and in the azure of her eyes there lurked the insanity of grief. She was silent, and she waited for what her father would say.
   And he spoke slowly, finding words almost with difficulty, "Dearest, what did I hear? I did not expect this of you. Why did you do it?"
   The Beauty bowed her head and said softly and sadly, "Father, sooner or later all this will come to pass anyway."
   "Sooner or later?" asked the father as if in surprise. And he continued, "Better late than sooner."
   "I am all aflame," said the Beauty softly.
   And the smile on her lips was like the reflection of some searing flame, and in her eyes there gleamed blue lightning, and her naked arms and shoulders were like some delicate vessel of alabaster, filled to the brim with a molten metal. Her firm breasts rose and fell impetuously, and two white waves strained forth from the tight confines of her dress, the delicate color of which was reminiscent of the yellowish rosiness of a peach. From beneath the folds of her short dress were visible against the dark green velvet of the rug and entwined by the pink ribbons of her gilded sandals her white and trembling legs.
   Her father shook his head silently and said in a sad and severe voice, "You, dear daughter, so experienced and so clever in the wondrous art of bewitching and yet remaining chaste yourself, you should know that it is still too soon for you to leave me and abandon my uncompleted project."
   "But will there ever be an end to it," protested the Beauty. "They keep coming again and again."
   "No one knows," said Botanik, "there will be an end to all this and we shall see the completion of our project, or we shall pass it on to other generations. But we will do what we can. Remember that a young Count is supposed to come to you. You will kiss him—but nothing more—and you will give him a poisonous flower of his choice. And he will leave, full of sweet hopes and trembling expectations—and the inescapable will happen to him too."
   An expression of submissiveness and melancholy was visible on the Beauty's face.
   "Go," said the father.
   He bent forward, kissed her on the forehead. The Beauty applied her crimson-hot lips to his wrinkled and yellow hand, pressing her white, half-naked bosom against his hard knees, sighed deeply and arose. And her sigh was like a fluting moan.

   In half an hour the Beauty, smiling tenderly, was speaking to a young, handsome, arrogant Count, standing before him in the middle of the Garden by a circular bed of large brilliant flowers which gave forth a stupefying scent.
   "Dear Count, you want a great deal. Your desires are too inflamed and impatient."
   Her smile was so tender and devilish, and her chaste, pure eyes slid along the well-proportioned physique of the Count with caressing admiration, along his rich attire, which was handsomely and stylishly tailored from the most expensive fabrics and trimmed with gold and semi-precious stones.
   "Dearest bewitcher," the Count began, "I know that you have been cold towards many who sought your favor. But to me you will be more tender. l will know how to win your love. l promise you on my honor that I will force the cold azure of your eyes to darken with passion."
   "By what means will you gain my love?" asked the Beauty.
   The expression on her beautiful face was unaffected and her voice did not betray that agitation which so easily overcomes maidens when they hear the searing voice which inspires passion in them. But the self-confident, arrogant Count was not dismayed. He replied, "Through my forebears I have gathered no small treasure and with gold and valor I have increased it. l possess many precious stones, valuable rings, necklaces, bracelets, oriental silks and perfumes, Arabian steeds, silk and velvet garments, rare weapons and much more than I can even mention at once, nor even remember. l shall scatter all at your feet, my bewitching one, l shall reimburse your smiles with rubies, your tears with pearls, your fragrant sighs with gold, your kisses with diamonds and your cunning infidelity with the blow of a swift dagger."
   The Beauty began to laugh. She replied, "I am not yours yet, and already you fear my infidelity and threaten me. After all, l could get angry at that."
   The Count quickly bowed down on his knees before the Beauty and covered her hands with kisses, hands so soft and slender, and whose flesh exuded a delicate, exotic fragrance.
   "Forgive my madness, fascinating Beauty," he begged, suddenly forgetting all his arrogance, "my love for you has deprived me of all calmness and prompts me to wild actions and strange words. But what am I to do! l love you more than my own soul, and to possess you I am ready to pay not only with my treasures, not only with my life, but even with that which is dearer to me than life or the salvation of my soul—with my honor!"
   The Beauty replied in a bewitchingly tender voice, "Your words have touched me, dear Count. Arise. l will not take from you an excessively large payment for my love—it cannot be bought, nor can it be sold. But he who loves must know how to bide his time. Genuine and faithful love will always find a path to the heart of the beloved."
   The Count arose. With a delicate motion he straightened the lace cuffs of his green velvet cloak and fastened a lingering, ecstatic look on the Beauty. Their eyes met, and as before the expression of the Beauty's chastely clear eyes was unchanged.
   Seized with that feeling of vague apprehension which overcomes even the arrogant and self-confident in moments of mortal danger, the Count went away from the Beauty. On the bench close by there lay a beautifully adorned casket made of oak. The Count opened it, and with a respectful bow he presented it to the Beauty.
   The rays of the sun quivered like cheerful laughter on the diamonds and rubies of a diadem. And it seemed to the arrogant Count that the brilliance and laughter fell on the priceless stones from the glowing lips of the Beauty. But her smile was unchanged from what it had been before, and she admired the present as if it were of little value, although a pleasant sign of esteem. And then in a flash she was saddened and said, "My ancestors were slaves and you present me with a diadem which not even a queen would refuse."
   "O bewitching one!" exclaimed the Count, "You are worthy of an even more brilliant diadem."
   The Beauty smiled at him in a friendly way, and again became somewhat melancholy and said softly, "The fate of my ancestors was the burning flow of blood beneath the lashes of cruel men, whereas I receive magnificent rubies and am crowned with joy."
   And quite, quite softly she whispered, "But I shall not forget."
   "Why think about what is long since forgotten?" exclaimed the Count. "Joyous are the days of bright youth, and let us abandon the grief of memories to old age."
   The Beauty began to laugh and with this laughter she chased away a grief as fleeting as a puff of smoke melting in the summer sun.
   She said to the Count, "in exchange for your beautiful gift, dear Count, i shall give you a single flower of your choice today, and one kiss. But only one"
   The young Count was in such ecstasy and expressed himself in such an impetuous and outspoken manner that the Beauty repeated tenderly but merely, "Only one, no more."
   And she inquired of the Count, "Which flower, dear Count, do you wish to receive from me?"
   The Count replied, "Beautiful enchantress, whatever you may give me I shall be thankful to you beyond words."
   The Beauty smiled and said, "All the flowers which you see here, dear Count, have been gathered from afar. They have been collected with great difficulty and even with danger. With painstaking care my father has improved their form, color and scent. For a long time he has studied their properties, replanted them, crossed them, introduced new qualities into them, and finally managed to produce out of miserable, wild and ugly flowers of the field and forest these enchanting and fragrant flowers."
   "And the most enchanting flower is you, my dear Beauty!" exclaimed the Count.
   The Beauty quietly sighed and continued, "Many consider their scent to be too powerful and overwhelming. And I notice that you, dear Count, are growing pale, you and I have spent too much time in the midst of these intense fragrances. But I have become accustomed to inhaling them, since childhood, and my very blood is drunk with their sweet fumes. But it is not good for you to stand here for a long time. Choose quickly whichever flower you wish to take from me."
   But the young Count insisted on the Beauty selecting a flower for him. He was waiting impatiently for her second present, the promised kiss—her fire kiss.
   The Beauty looked at the flowers. Once again her face was darkened by a delicate shade of sadness. Suddenly, as if prompted by some strange will, she quickly stretched out a hand, so exquisite in its naked whiteness, and plucked a many-petalled flower. Her hand hesitated, and she bowed her head, and finally with an expression of shy indecision she approached the Count and placed the flower in a buttonhole of his cloak.
   The powerful and pungent scent wafted into the young Count's face, which grew pale as his head reeled in languid impotence. Indifference and tedium overcame him. He was scarcely aware of himself, he hardly noticed that the Beauty took him by the arm and led him into the house, away from the fragrances of the wondrous Garden.
   In one of the rooms of the house where all was bright, white and rosy, the Count came to himself. A youthful vitality returned to his face, his black eyes were aflame with passion once again, and he felt the joy of life and the surge of desire anew. But already the inescapable lay in wait for him. A white hand, bare, slender, lay on his neck; and the fragrant kiss of the Beauty was tender, sweet, long. The two blue lightnings of her eyes flashed close to his eyes and were masked with the subtle mystery of her long eyelashes. The sinister fires of some sweet pain swirled like a whirlwind about the heart of the young Count. He raised his arms to embrace the Beauty—but with a soft cry she stepped away and softly, quietly, ran away, leaving him alone.
   The Count was about to rush after her. But in the doorway of the pink chamber he was met by the elderly Botanik. Poisonous was the smile on his thin lips, which slit the yellowish parchment of his face like a crimson line. The Count was embarrassed. With a sense of confusion uncharacteristic of him, and sensing a strange weakness through his entire body, he said good-bye to the elderly Botanik and left.
   Strange whirlwinds of sweet pain kept whirling faster and faster about the heart of the young Count as he rode home on his raven-black Arabian charger, and the rhythmic pounding of its hooves against the roadway was barely audible. His face grew paler and paler. Suddenly his eyes closed, his hand released the reins, and he slumped over heavily as he fell out of the saddle. The frightened horse reared up on its hind legs, cast off its pier and galloped away.
   They found the Count already dead, his head smashed against the cobblestones. And they did not know what he died of. They were amazed—for he was such an accomplished horseman!

   Night fell. The full moon shone sweetly and tremulously, bewitching and foreboding with rays which were cold and funereally silent. The heart of the Youth was filled with an apprehensive fear as he went up to his window. His hand, clutching the edge of the yellow curtain, hesitated and vacillated for s long time before he resolved to draw the curtain slowly aside. The yellow linen rustled as it slowly gathered, and its rustle was like the barely audible hissing of a serpent in the forest's undergrowth; and the thin brass rings jingled and scraped against the brass curtain rod.
   The Beauty stood beneath the window and looked at the window and waited. And the heart of the Youth shuddered, and he could not make out whether his heart was seized by ecstasy or terror.
   The black braids of the Beauty were undone and fell on her naked shoulders. A sharply outlined shadow lay on the ground beside her. Ruminated from the side by the moon, she stood like some distinct and well defined specter. That half of her face which was illuminated by the moon, as well as her shoulders and her arms, were deathly white, as white as her robe. The folds of her white robe were severe and dark. Dark was the azure of her eyes, mysterious her frozen smile. A smooth, burnished clasp, fastened at the shoulder, gleamed dully against the strange tranquillity of her body and garments. She began to speak softly, and her words, ringing like the fine silver chains of a lighted censer, gave forth a fragrance of ambergris, musk and lily.
   "Dear Youth, l love you. Obedient to your summons I went against the will of my father and came to tell you: beware of me and my charms, flee from this Old City far away and leave me to my gloomy fate, l who have become intoxicated with the evil breath of the upas tree."
   "O Beautiful One!" replied the Youth to her, "you whom I have hardly known and who for me are already dearer than my own life and soul—why do you speak such cruel words to me? Or do you not believe in my love which has burst into flame so suddenly and still burns unextinguished?"
   "l love you," repeated the Beauty, "I do not want to destroy you. My breath is full of poison, and my beautiful Garden is poisoned. You are the fire one whom I have told of this because l love you. Do not linger in this City, flee from this Garden of pernicious beauty, run far away and forget all about me."
   Intoxicated with an ecstasy and a grief sweeter than all earthly joys, the Youth exclaimed, "My beloved! What do I ask of you? My soul only thirsts for a single instant! To be consumed in the blissful flame of ecstasy and love, and to die at your most exquisite feet!"
   A gentle shiver ran through the Beauty's body, and she became like the bright joy of the sunset behind the white cloud. With a solemn, expansive motion she raised her white, bare arms and reached towards the Youth, saying, "O my beloved! Let it be as you wish, and it shall be sweet for me to die with you. Come to me, into my frightful Garden, and I will tell you my gloomy tale."
   Again, as in the morning, there gleamed in her hand a brass key on a pink ribbon. She began to laugh, shrilly, like a child, and she ran backwards, the whiteness of her slender legs flashing on the yellow sand of the pathway. She raised her arm quickly and adroitly hurled the key through the window. The Youth reached out his hands and caught the key in the air.
   "My dear, l am waiting, l am waiting!" repeated the Beauty.

   There in the poisoned Garden, beneath the canopy of mysterious growth where the lifeless moon mixed the bane of its melancholy with the poisonous breath of the evil flowers of earth, they stood, the Youth and the Beauty, intoxicated with ecstasy and grief. They looked into each other's eyes; and the Beauty, in a voice ringing like the fragile voice of the clavecin, said, "My ancestors were slaves—but even slaves long for freedom. Obedient to the command of the ruler one of my ancestors made an exhaustingly long journey to reach the desert where the upas tree grows. He gathered the poisonous pitch of the upas tree and brought it to his ruler. The poisonous arrows won many a victory for the ruler. But my ancestor, having inhaled the evil scent, died. His widow thought she could have revenge on the evil race of rulers. She stole the poisonous arrows, soaked them in water and hid these infusions in deep caves like some precious wine. She poured one drop of this compound into a barrel of water and with this water she irrigated the wasteland on the edge of the Old City where our house and garden now stand. Then she took a drop of water from the bottom of this barrel, mixed it into bread and fed her son. And the soil of this Garden became poisonous and she accustomed her son to this poison. And from that time our entire line, from generation to generation, has been raised on poison. And today there flows in our veins blood aflame with poison, and our breath is aromatic but pernicious, and whoever kisses us will die. And the power of our poison does not weaken as long as we live in this poisonous Garden, as long as we breathe the scents of these fantastic flowers. Their seeds have been brought from afar, my grandfather and father traveled wherever it was possible to procure growths evil and harmful to people—and here in this soil, so long poisonous, these evil, pernicious flowers displayed all their wrathful power, exuding such a sweet, such a joyful fragrance, and they cunningly converted even the dew falling from heaven into a fatal poison."
   Thus spoke the Beauty and her voice had a cheerful ring, and her face was aflame with a great rejoicing. She finished her story and began to laugh quietly, but not cheerfully. The Youth bowed down before her and silently kissed her hands, inhaling the languid fragrance of myrrh, aloe and musk which wafted from her body and her fine robes. The Beauty began to speak again.
   "There came to me streams of oppressors, because my evil, poisonous beauty bewitches them. l smile at them, they who are doomed to death, and I feel pity for each of them, and some I almost loved, but I gave myself to no one. Each one I gave but one single kiss—and my kisses were innocent as the kisses of a tender sister. And whomsoever I kissed, died."
   The soul of the troubled Youth was caught in agony, between two quite irresolvable passions, the terror of death and an inexpressible ecstasy. But love, conquering all, overcoming even the anguish of death's grief, was triumphant once again today. Solemnly stretching out his trembling hands to the tender and terrifying Beauty, the Youth exclaimed, "If death is in your kiss, o beloved, let me revel in the infinity of death. Cling to me, kiss me, love me, envelop me with the sweet fragrance of your poisonous breath, death after death pour into my body and into my soul before you destroy everything that once was me!"
   "You want to! You are not afraid!" exclaimed the Beauty.
   The face of the Beauty was pale in the rays of the lifeless moon, like a guttering candle, and the lightning in her sad and joyful eyes was trembling and blue. With a trusting movement, tender and passionate, she clung to the Youth and her naked, slender arms were entwined about his neck.
   "We shall die together!" she whispered "We shall die together. All the poison of my heart is afire and flaming streams are rushing through my veins, and I am all enveloped in some great holocaust."
   "I am aflame!" whispered the Youth, "I am being consumed in your embraces and you and I are two flaming fires, burning with the immense ecstasy of a poisonous love."
   The sad and lifeless moon grew dim and fell in the sky—and the black night came and stood watch. It concealed the secret of love and kisses, fragrant and poisonous, with gloom and solitude. And it listened to the harmonious beating of two hearts growing quieter, and in the frail silence it watched over the final delicate sighs.
   And so, in the poisonous Garden, having breathed the fragrances which the Beauty breathed, and having drunk the sweetness of her love so tenderly and fatally compassionate, the beautiful Youth died. And on his breast the Beauty died, having delivered her poisonous but fragrant soul up to sweet ecstasies.

Published in 1908
Translated in 1915

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