23    


IN THE DEPTHS of the forest the ascetic practised penance with fast-closed eyes; he intended to deserve Paradise.

        But the girl who gathered twigs brought him fruits in her skirt, and water from the stream in cups made of leaves.

        The days went on, and his penance grew harsher till the fruits remained untasted, the water untouched: and the girl who gathered twigs was sad.

 

The Lord of Paradise heard that a man had dared to aspire to be as the Gods. Time after time he had fought the Titans, who were his peers, and kept them out of his kingdom; yet he feared a man whose power was that of suffering.

        But he knew the ways of mortals, and he planned a temptation to decoy this creature of dust away from his adventure.

 

A breath from Paradise kissed the limbs of the girl who gathered twigs, and her youth ached with a sudden rapture of beauty, and her thoughts hummed like the bees of a rifled hive.

        The time came when the ascetic should leave the forest for a mountain cave, to complete the rigour of his penance.

        When he opened his eyes in order to start on this journey, the girl appeared to him like a verse familiar, yet forgotten, and which an added melody made strange. The ascetic rose from his seat and told her that it was time he left the forest.

        'But why rob me of my chance to serve you?' she asked with tears in her eyes.

He sat down again, thought for long, and remained on where he was.

 

That night remorse kept the girl awake. She began to dread her power and hate hertriumph, yet her mind tossed on the waves of turbulent delight.

        In the morning she came and saluted the ascetic and asked his blessing, saying she must leave him.

        He gazed on her face in silence, then said, 'Go, and may your wish be fulfilled.'

        For years he sat alone till his penance was complete.

        The Lord of the Immortals came down to tell him that he had won Paradise.

        'I no longer need it,' said he.

        The God asked him what greater reward he desired.

'I want the girl who gathers twigs.'