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THE FOLLY OF THE KHAN
(From the “Perilous Peregrinations” of Messer Marco Polo.)
To Chipangu1 did Kublai Khan
An expedition vast decree;
Where dwelt the Minamoto clan,
‘Mid treasures measureless to man,
Beyond the eastern sea.
So there he sent a mighty fleet
With horse and foot and arms replete,
To scourge the land with famine, sword, and flame,
The flowery isle where blooms the cherry tree,
Till all should yield subjection to his name!
Thus Kublai in his folly did decree.
But of that Mongol horde, which boldly started
Down the green hills athwart the sea to sail,
A merry crew that from Cathay departed,
Returned a sorry handful broken-hearted,
Famished and spent, to tell the shameful tale.
And so befell, an if ye list my story,
Unto the fleet as I shall now relate,
Disaster dire and murder red and gory,
A harvest reaped of two dead brothers’ hate.
1Chipangu—ancient Chinese name for Japan.
FORASMUCH as my most veracious chronicles have been slanderously named lying fabrications, do I hereinafter reserve these, the most curious of my voyages in orient lands, to be set forth publicly only after this generation shall have utterly departed, and a more enlightened race arisen to give them credence.
As to the wanton insinuations concerning my veracity, suffice it to state that the sobriety and moderation of this narrative refuteth these accusations. For, look you, were it my will to deceive, could I not prevaricate with greater proficiency? Hath not my creator endowed me with sufficient imagination and ingenuity of conceit? An I would, I might uncover such a tale of wonder as should pale to pretty prattle the misadventures of Sailor Sindbad or the amorous nocturnal prowlings of that he-cat Haroun Al Raschid.
In the stead thereof what have I indited? Marry but a plain tale of a few paltry fights, slayings a many and rescues innumerable, sweetly spiced with torture by fire and bitings of mad wolf-hounds. The closeting in a bath-house with a nymph more beauteous and bare than Venus, hidings in the mazzard of the idol Daibutsu, love most brave and ardent, death most dire and lamentable. The wreckings of a typhoon in all history most vast and terrible, with the miraculous bringing together of two hearts fashioned for one another from the foundations of the world.
“Mad merchants and their mountainous dromedary”
“Softened by sorrows of the centuries, his slanted eyes gaze
gravely down on garden and on tomb”
Such, gentle reader, is the simple, tempered, and unadorned tale of unassailable truth now laid before ye by one whose heroic deeds have ever spoken more loudly in his praise than his over-modest and self-deprecatory tongue.
There be likewise reasons of state wherefore the secrets herein sealed should not be disclosed during the lifetime of that puissant potentate, my gracious patron, the all-powerful monarch, Kublai Khan, King of Tartary and Emperor of Cathay; for so contrary to the policies of that august sovereign are certain of the emprises, that belike he himself might be constrained to disown them.
So, enough of exordium and let us to the meat of our chronicle.
For your silks to Sugarmago! For your dyes to Ispahan!
Weird fruits from the Isle o’ Lamaree!
But for magic merchandise,
For treasure trove and spice,
Here’s a catch and a carol to the great grand Khan,
The King of all the Kings across the sea!
Merchants from Cathay,
WILLIAM ROSE BENÉT.
It was in autumn of the year of our salvation one thousand two hundred and seventy-five that I, Marco Polo, Venetian merchant and voyageur, stood in a bazaar of the ancient city of Bokhara chaffering rugs, when into the market-place wended a caravan of mad merchant-men.
Mad do I advisedly nominate them, for a more disordered, brawling, bawling, cursing, sword-loosing, maid-bussing, lewd, and loathly crew hath it ne’er been my lot to encounter.
Bronzed were their faces beneath scarlet fez and white turban, broidered their robes, but foul with desert dust, and keen their scimitars as many a poor wretch, foolhardy enough to anger them, learned to his cost. Strange little, striped mules, cleped zebras, they be-strode, and mountainous dromedaries bedecked with sumptuous trappings and tinkling bells.
Many and outlandish were their costly wares: all manner of attars and gems, carven tusks of elephants, tiger and panther skins, and countless chests of a certain dried herb, whence they decocted a hot seductive beverage.
All these they spread in the bazaar, bartering for my commodities. Having overmatched them in every bargain, so great was their admiration that perforce must I journey with them to their land, and to this, after much chaffering as to my recompense, I at length consented.
Across interminable deserts and over lofty mountains toiled our motley caravan. Through dangers manifold we came at last to Cambaluc1 in the Empire of Cathay; and with much rejoicing I was conducted to the great grand Khan.
1That part of Peking now known as the Tartar City.
THE CAVE OF VOICES AND TWO DEAD BROTHERS’ HATE.
In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
Wherein a mighty fountain flung up ever
Mad dancing rocks from out that sacred river,
And, ‘mid this tumult, Kublai heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying War!
Upon a day the Emperor summoned me saying:
“Come with me, Friend, and I will disclose to thee a wonder of wonders.”
Whereupon we journeyed far without the mighty wall Jenghis Khan had builded, across leagues of tawny desert to the snow-mantled mountains, in whose verduous depths nested a lovesome garden. Amid black cypresses I beheld pinnacles and golden domes illumined by the sun till they blazed as though carven in amber against a sapphire sky.
Oft had I heard of its forbidden delights,—wondrous silver peacocks, which moved gem-studded tails, golden singing-birds, scented viands served by houris of Paradise; therefore great was my chagrin when the Khan entered not its open portal.
In the stead thereof he plunged into a deep ravine, winding his way along a tumbling torrent, which, ‘neath overarching boughs, descended ever deeper in gloom, till it glided beneath a natural archway of rock at the foot of a lofty precipice.
Then Kublai set free his horse, and I likewise, and we entered into a boat which lay moored among the rushes, loosing which we swept into the cavern and a great darkness wrapped us in its gloom.
But, presently, as we whirled on, I saw lights as the eyes of panthers in the night. No eyes were they but torches set in iron sockets, where the subterranean river swept in sharp angles round walls of jagged rock which we avoided by the means of boathooks. And so on and on through cavern after cavern which as we neared and passed the torches I perceived to be hung with stalactites of many-coloured crystals as it were great gems. Thus came we at length to the great and dazzling Hall of the Chrysolites; gorgeous with myriad lights, each lamp reflected an hundred times from its many-facetted crystals.
In the centre was a bottomless pit, circular in shape and parapeted by a low wall of sliming crystal. The place reverberated with a roar as of surges breaking upon the shore.
What is this awesome sound?” I questioned timorously.
Drawing me back from the yawning abyss, the Khan cried, “Wait!”
Then, with a roar of thunder, there rose a geyser, casting up stones, which fell at our very feet. Suddenly the fountain uttered hoarse, menacing cries. War! War! War!
Certes I was affrighted; my hair rose like bristles on the mane of a boar and my flesh was suffused with icy sweat.
When the tumult had subsided the Khan caught my arm:
“Thou didst hear the talking water?” he questioned. “Tis the spirit of my grandsire, crying ever, ‘Chipangu! Chipangu!’ Ne’er will that voice be silenced until I have obeyed its mandate and conquered the cradle of his race.”
“Thy grandsire, august monarch, as the world doth know, was the all-puissant Mongul conqueror, Jenghis Khan!”
“The world doth stand in misprision, Friend Marco,” he retorted, “for Jenghis Khan was none other than the famous outlaw, Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
* * * * * *
While we cantered joyfully homeward, under the blessed luminance of moon and stars, the Khan related to me the story of two dead brothers’ hate.
Returning in triumph from Dan-noura to lay the heads of the Taira chieftains before Yoritomo at Kamakura, Yoshitsune was most foully set upon by his brother’s samurai, and fled to mountain fastnesses.
Surrounding his home, Yoritomo took captive his defenceless wife. Though she was soon to become a mother he demanded that Morning Glory be brought before him to dance, for the entertainment of his court.
Undaunted she came, singing the prowess of her mis-fortunate lord so winsomely that all who beheld and heard wept for very pity.
All save Yoritomo who, with heart harder than a nether millstone, doomed her to instant death.
But his wife, the noble Lady Masa, took pity upon her and shielded the woeful woman until her son was born.
Thereupon Yoritomo commanded that the child be strangled; and cast the mother forth to wander barefoot ‘midst the winter snows.
But the faithful Benkei, strong as a bull, yet gentle-hearted as a child, discovered Morning Glory and bore her in safety to her husband.
Yoritomo gave out that Yoshitsune, seeing himself vanquished, committed seppuku, having first plunged his sword into the heart of his loyal wife.
Most false was this report as my story shows, for, guised as begging-bonzes, Yoshitsune, Morning Glory, and the faithful Benkei plodded over mountain and vale till they made their toilsome way to the Yellow Sea. Here it was their hap to fall in with a pious pirate, who through manifold ventures, dire and perilous, brought them safe at last to the sunny land of Arabia.
A full score years dwelt Yoshitsune among the wild and turbulent Tartars, when, their chieftain dying, they made him monarch, the all-powerful Jenghis Khan.
At the head of a mighty army he swept like an avenging flame across the steppes of Tartary, conquering and unconquerable, over the Ural Mountains to the gates of Moscow. Here he met with bloody defeat, and, turning eastward, subjugated Cathay and established his kingdom at Cambaluc.1
1Jenghis Khan placed under tribute a greater territory than was ever before subject to a single sovereign.
Whereupon he laid up vast stores of munitions against the invasion of Chipangu, not so much to make himself sovereign of so fair an isle as to wreak vengeance upon his unnatural brother.
“So bitter was my grandsire’s hatred,” said Kublai Khan, “that, though I was but a lad of ten years when he died, yet he made me swear eternal enmity toward Yoritomo and his descendants, till the last remaining spawn of his vile tribe be for ever exterminated.
“One other scene,” quoth he, “do I remember. Some whiles after his master’s death, Benkei bade me a last farewell ere he returned to avenge the murder of the infant son of Yoshitsune.”
“A blithe and wondrous tale, Sire, I exclaimed. “Indeed I marvel not that thou fain wouldst view thy fair ancestral land. When dost thou purpose thither to set sail?”
“This very month,” cried the Khan eagerly, “thither will I despatch an embassy demanding submission, wherein, garbed as a simple subject, I shall accompany them unknown.”
“Yet, Sire,” I protested, “were it not a most exceeding reckless venture thus to put thy life in jeopardy? Should these rascals penetrate thy disguisement they would tear thee limb from limb.”
‘Tis for this small peril,” quoth he, “that the notion liketh me well. I had thought, my valiant Marco, to hale thee with me on this quest, but if thou hast no stomach for the wild bee’s honey I shall in no wise upbraid thee.”
“Verily,” I cried, “whither thou wendest thither will I; and, though we be stung to the quick, yet perchance we shall sip of such honey” (and here I spake more truly than I wotted) “as we shall deem cheaply purchased, even by the sting of death.”
HOW WE CAME TO A HIVE OF WILD BEES; AND OF THE HONEY WHICH WE GATHERED
A fair wind blows.
The good ship goes
Swift flying o’er the sea.
The sails uplift and clap their hands
In eagerness and glee.
Thus came we to Kamakura the capital of the Regent, for none might approach the sacred person of the Mikado, and the Shoguness, the awesome Lady Masa, on account of her great age, held herself in seclusion.
The Khan, better to preserve his incognito, kept himself in the background and bade me address the Regent. This I did through the medium of a Korean interpreter, not willing to divulge the fact that I both understood and spake Chipangese.
When I had concluded, a doomful hush fell upon the throng. Hojo Tokimune scrabbled within his beard lie whiles a deep scowl knitted his brows.
A lean, fox-faced councillor whom I particularly disaffected, addressing the interpreter, pointed at me significantly and I heard the whispered words.
In a flash I comprehended that my kingly bearing had so impressed itself upon these gentlemen that they mistook me for the Grand Khan. Swelling with gratification and frowning haughtily, I turned my back upon the person who had so complimented me.
But now the eyes of Tokimune glared upon me, searching, suspicious, and menacing, like a cat watching a mouse, which, fascinated, ventures nearer and nearer, while the crouching furry flanks grow tense and the deadly claws steal from their sheath ready for the spring.
Then a veil seemed drawn over those windows whence the soul had momently peered, and he spake in purring accents, bowing obsequiously the whiles.
“The illustrious General declareth,” translated the Korean, “that had my Lord advertised him aforetime of his purposed visitation——”
“It is my desire,” I made answer condescendingly, “that my entertainment shall in no wise differ from that of my envoys.”
The words and mien of Tokimune were alike inscrutable. Smiling sardonically he led the way to the garden. I followed in blind incertitude as to what this might portend.
My forebodings were confirmed when the Khan suddenly grasped my arm:
“Ware thee, Marco,” he cautioned beneath his breath. “Hojo hath commanded that we be beheaded. For the moment mask thine alarm; but when I give the sign—flee!”
An icy sweat oozed from my every pore.
Tokimune with hateful sneering face pressed close upon me.
“Is the honorable Tojin ill?” he snarled. “Meseems thy complexion hath assumed the hue of a green olive.”
Verily,” assented the Khan, “the melons of which my master partook anon have engendered most damnable gripes. Needs must he repose himself for a little space. Request is proffered that the august General retire.”
Bowing obsequiously our host resumed his promenade.
Parting the foliage the Khan disclosed a wall. “Mount upon my shoulder and leap!” he whispered.
“But what of yonder side?” I gasped.
“It can hold naught worse than death!” was his reply.
In a trice I gained the summit and, giving my friend hand, we were over. Before us lay a garden wondrous fair. Crimson peonies glowed like lanterns in the bosky gloom. A path of stepping-stones led to a lotus pool upon whose marge stood a little temple.
Into that sanctuary incontinent I rushed. Within its perfumed dusk, to our mutual confusion, I found myself face to face with, nay almost in the arms of a toothsome morsel of female loveliness! With one hand she strove to gather her scanty raiment about her nude white body while with the other she would fain have thrust me forth.
Kneeling I kissed her feet beseeching, in words that rushed haphazard from frenzied lips, somewhat on this wise:
“O Goddess of all beatitude, have pity upon a fugitive doomed to die. Fountain of bliss, peach of lusciousness, thy cheek is the heart of a sea-shell, thy lips slices of ripe pomegranates, thy bosom a foam-flowered wave, thine arms—”
Here the Goddess stayed my transports in accents that strove to be severe, yet, meseemed, were kind:
“August Stranger, cease thine ill-timed importunities; and tell me from what peril thou dost flee.”
As hunters beating a jungle where croucheth a great tiger so at that instant there arose the hue and cry of my pursuers.
Better to move her compassion, most shamelessly I lied: “Behold in me Kublai Khan of great Cathay, secretly come to these shores for fame of thy surpassing charm. Now that I have seen thee I die content.”
“Nay, thou shalt not die,” she whispered, casting over me her silken robe, as there came a loud knocking at the door and a disrespectful hand wrested it wide, and abashed by that celestial vision as swiftly closed it again.
A voice rose in pleading apology: “Light of my eyes, jewel of my heart, O thou delight and torment of my soul—had I known thou wert here I would have thrust my hand into the flame rather than so have affronted thee. My beloved, my betrothed, forgive this outrage of thy modesty—”
But the lady thus addressed shrilled: “Off with thee, I take thy rude soldiery from my garden. Call no more betrothed, for I die of shame and hatred at thought of thee, thou mountain of vileness, thou demon of audacity.”
With that, like a whipped dog, he led his myrmidons from the place; and we heard the clank of their armour dwindle to silence.
Arraying herself in the robe with which she had shrouded my head, the lady sallied forth and in a while returned bringing sweet assurance that all were indeed clean gone. “Wend swiftly,” she counselled, “to the seashore yonder. There are fishing boats whereby thou mayst escape.”
To the nearest of these I prepared to swim, but started back in horror, for, washed close to shore by lie sluggish current, there rose and fell two headless bodies.
I knew these mutilated corpses for our comrades and, sickening at the gruesome sight, turned from lie river, seeking other means of escape. Happily it was close at hand, a wicket gate in the wall. As I discerned it I was ware of a pack of wolf-hounds scenting the bloody corpses; and faint with fear, I sprang through the gate and bolted it on the farther side.
HOW I HID IN THE MAZARD OF THE IDOL DAIBUTSU
At Kamakura in the forest gloom
O’ertopping palm and pine in solemn guise,
There sits a brazen god serene and wise,
Enthroned upon the golden lotus bloom.
Mysterious, peaceful, passionless as doom,
Peering from half-closed lids, his slanted eyes
Softened by sorrows of the centuries
Gaze gravely down on garden and on tomb.
Greeting with equal face both joy and dole,
Faint flickering shadows from the fronded palm
Touch his impassive lips as though he smiled
Pitiful, gentle as a little child,
Benignant Buddha, god of blissful calm,
Embodiment of all the Orient’s soul
A towering tori guarded an avenue whose fronded palms shaded a mighty temple.1
Daibutsu, now vaulted only by the sky, was anciently enclosed in a temple,
Casting off my sandals I reverently entered. Through shadowy dusk and wreathing incense, like a giant genie, loomed before me a golden idol, silent, colossal, and mysterious. Breathless with awe I stood at gaze, so grand and godlike was the giant.
Suddenly the hush was broken by the hue and cry of my pursuers. Trembling with terror I cast myself upon my knees and prayed:
“Benignant Buddha, succour a fugitive in woeful plight. Suffer not these devils to pollute thy holy shrine with my unworthy blood. Thou, who gayest thyself to a tigress to feed her famished cubs, save me who am of greater worth than a host of tiger cats!”
Belling lustily the wolf-hounds drew nearer and nearer till I heard the stealthy padding of their feet. Then dallied I no longer for vain orisons but ran for very life. Round the great Daibutsu post-haste I sped, and, chancing upon a door, found myself within its capacious carcase, where, half hidden in the gloom, dangled a welcome rope.
Swiftly I clomb, but not in time to ‘scape the foremost hound which tore my gamashes from my calves, inflicting wounds both grievous and bloody. Kicking lustily I freed myself from his ravenous fangs and I mounted into the mazzard of the god. Drawing up the rope, I nursed my gnawed shins and looked down with equanimity upon the baffled brutes as they leaped and yelped, lolling their long red tongues from which dripped a frothy slaver.
While I was laughing at their discomfiture there entered the temple two suppliants: a bent old bonze, prating garrulously with the fair maiden of the bath, who bore a basket of meats.
Sniffing this the curs swarmed greedily about her. Seizing a besom the old man, more valiant than wise, belabored them soundly. Whereupon the infuriated hounds sprang snarling at his throat.
Suddenly, whence I know not, with unsheathed scimitar, leapt the Khan, and with a twirl of his flashing blade, sliced me their heads.
“Hast suffered scathe, Stranger?” he questioned courteously, his eyes the whiles drinking the maiden’s beauty.
“Nay,” grunted the bonze, “had this besom but been a halberd, right lustily would Benkei have disembowelled those curs.”
Here I marvelled, “So this doddering, dim-eyed tonsure is the heroic henchman of Yoshitsune!”
But the Khan had eyes only for my nymph of the bathing-pool, whom he thus bespake:
“Lady, art thou in sooth a mortal, or e’en a heaven-descended houri of Paradise?”
The Maiden: “Noble Seignior, I am but a mortal princess, cleped Flower of the Orange, hither come in quest of thine august master.”
The Khan: “My master! Of whom dost thou speak?”
The Maiden: “Verily of the all-puissant Khan of Cathay, whom I sheltered from his foes.”
The Khan: “Vaunted that scurvy rascal that he was the Emperor?”
The Maiden: “Truly, my lord, had he not admitted it, his royal mien would have betrayed to me his rank. Let us straightway bear him these viands for it is not meet that his imperial majesty should die of hunger.”
“That he will not ,” cried the Khan, incontinently devouring a collop of venison, garnished with sea slugs. Thereupon, perceiving the goodly viands vanishing beneath my greedy eyes, I descended.
“Lo, behold!” cried the Emperor, winking at me behind the maiden’s back, “here cometh my noble lord and master, the great, grand Khan.”
Lowily I louted, “Truly, noble Lady, I disclaim these paltry honours,” I mumbled deprecatingly.
“Eat, Sire,” thundered the Khan, stuffing my mouth with morsels of flesh, as he whispered me:
“Hold thy tongue, rascal. Let it appear that thou art myself.”
“Beware, my Masters,” Benkei cried suddenly, these be the wolf-hounds of Tokimune!”
“Belly of Beelzebub!” I spluttered, my stomach turning at the thought, “this dainty venison is then but damned dog-flesh?”
“Heaven forbid,” laughed the Khan, “rather the beasts I but lately slew.”
“Yea, honourable Sir,” reiterated Benkei, “and anon the lord of the beasts will be upon us to wreak vengeance for their death.”
But the Khan, who had turned again to Orange Blossom, gave him no heed; and Benkei besought me anxiously:
“I pray thee, good Sir, aid me to cast their carcases in the river.”
“That will I gladly, “ I replied; but Orange Blossom cried out:
“Thou art wounded! See, good Sir, thy master bleedeth!”
“Nay, ‘tis but a scratch,” I shrugged, and shouldering a hound I trudged after Benkei.
Of a sudden armed men sprang upon me crying:
“Tis he whom we seek,” and binding my limbs they bore me to a cave, whose mouth was stockaded with great logs chained stoutly each to other.
Within, a fire of coals burned upon a forge as in a farrier’s smithy and grievous instruments of discomfiture, pincers, pulleys, goads, and their like, lay littered about. Holding my head in place with a great pronged fork, two Etas bound me upon a plank and stripped my feet for the bastinado.
Thus I lay in agonized suspense until the arrival of Hojo Tokimune and his councillors, who took their seats on cushions, laid upon a raised platform at the end of the apartment.
“Cursed Mongol,” he hissed, “slayer of my beauteous dogs, spying monkey, confess the infernal schemes which thou dost meditate against this country.”
“I am no Mongol,” I retorted, “but a noble Venetian gentleman cleped Marco Polo, fallen in by mischance with these accursed Tartars.”
“Liar!” he exclaimed, giving me a stinging slap on the cheek with his fan, “the truth shall be forced from thee. Bid the torturer enter and apply the moxa!”
With that an executioner, whose face was blackened it ii charcoal, stepped from behind a screen and, lifting a pot of molten copper from the fire, placed it beside me. I felt the heat rising therefrom but it scorched me not so much as the pitless glare of Tokimune’s evil eyes.
“Whelp, wilt thou die inch by inch under torture, or by a swift merciful stroke? If the latter, confess and thy raw wounds shall have other anointing.”
“Have mercy, dreadsome potentate,” I besought. “I have told thee the truth.”
“The moxa!” he commanded, “and if that looseth not the beast’s tongue give him to drink of thy hot liquor.”
With that the executioner drew from out the forge white-hot metal rod and thrust it hissing upon my lacerated limbs; the whiles Tokimune laughed derisively at my agonized howls. But, as my tormentor forced open my jaws, holding a steaming ladle above my face, Tokimune cried: “Hold, let him not yet drink that draught lest he be not able to answer further inquisition.”
As he spake I heard a light step, then respectful sibilations such as greet an honoured guest, and the voice of the Princess Orange Blossom rang forth.
“Reckless man, dost thou put to torture the monarch of a mighty realm who hath honoured our land by visiting it nebon?1 Know that thy guest is the great Khan of Tartary. Wherefore do I counsel thee, release and entreat him honourably, that he forgive thee thine offence.”
Tokimune regarded her with sullen suspicion. “How earnest thou by this knowledge?” he demanded.
Imperiously she tossed her head. “Not yet am I thy wife to endure thine inquisition. Only to the Ama Shogun will I make answer!”
Red waxed his face as the setting sun. “Doubt not,” he muttered, “that the Shoguness shall have full knowledge of thy deeds. Torturer, loose, the prisoner’s bonds, but let him not flee this dungeon! Assuage his burns with oil, for he must not perish without the command of the Ama Shogun!”
Thus speaking he departed leading with him the Princess.
Whereupon the torturer wiped from his face the charcoal, and to my great amaze I beheld—the Khan!
Whereat I waxed exceeding wroth: “Serpent that I nursed in my bosom, fiend that I deemed my friend,” I vituperated, “why hast thou thus maltreated me?”
“Softly, softly,” he expostulated. “When thou wert carried to this place, with gold I bribed the torturer that thus I might save thee. I did but cauterize thy wounds, fearing the cur that mangled thee was mad.”
“But wherefore wouldst thou have seared my throat with molten copper, seeing the curs bit not my tongue?”
“Friend, I did but feign. Had Hojo persisted thou wouldst have drunk but hot water. But, an thou hast stomach for other sport ‘twere well, methinks, to profit by the laxness of our host. Benkei waiteth without. There be but a few poltroon guards. Thy hands are unhurt. Meseems we are a match for the rogues.”
Arming myself with a great sledge, I followed. But ere we gained the portal the sentries fell upon us. The entry was so narrow that all could not win at us at the same time. The greater number the Khan transfixed, the rest put I gently to sleep with my hammer. Moreover it was no fragile besom but a mighty halberd with which Benkei pierced their bellies and scythed their heads.
And thus, night having fallen, we sought shelter once more within the mazzard of the Buddha.
“Needs must,” cried the Khan, “that we seek our ship and flee this accursed land. Bestir thyself, Benkei, and fetch us steeds.”
“In all the temple compound is but one, the Sacred Horse, which none but the Mikado may bestride,” demurred the bonze.
“I’ faith it will suffice,” grinned the Khan. “Fetch it forthwith.”
But Benkei remained obdurate. “Who art thou, Stranger, that I should further imperil my head for thy safety?” he demanded doggedly.
Whereat I shouted: “Fool, thou didst boast thyself the henchman of Yoshitsune. Know then that thou beholdest now his august grandson!”
With loud in-sucking of breath, Benkei kowtowed at the feet of the Khan, humbly kissing his sandals.
When he had left us the Khan spake: “Friend Marco,” he confided timorously, “whilst thou didst leave me yestreen with that lovely lady she made known to me her parentage. She is the Princess Orange Blossom, granddaughter of Yoritomo. Yet forgat I the blood fetid between us and wooed her warm and tenderly; nor, meseemed, was the maid unmindful of my suit. Wherefore I will not leave her. Mount thou the steed and seek the ship. Here will I bide till I devise some scheme whereby to take her to Cathay.”
“Nay, that thou shalt not,” I opposed him strenuously, as Benkei led forth the Mikado’s steed. “Away while yet there is time.”
“Then mount behind me,” commanded the Khan, setting foot in stirrup.
“My wounded legs will not suffer me to grip the charger’s flanks,” I urged. “Since I can neither run nor ride needs must I hide. Wait thou at Miyajima, I hither will fetch thy lady.”
“Here in sooth is friendship,” cried the Khan. “May the god who watcheth over love-smitten fools protect thee,” and flinging the bonze a purse he gave spur to his steed.
Now as I stood racking my brains how to fulfil my promise came a boy with a pannier of victuals from Lady Orange Blossom. Therein she had concealed a letter advising me that our flight from the torture chamber had been discovered and entreating us to return with all speed to our own land. But of this I wotted not till after, for Tokimune, deeming that through her he might compass our discomfiture, had supplanted the missive by another which read thus wise:
“In vain throughout the endless night
I wait thy coming, Dear,
Until the moon’s wan silvery light
Pales on the morning clear.
Therefore, divine Master, at moonrise meet me by the bathing-pool. There will I grant thee thy heart’s desire.”
“Thinketh Tokimune to befool me thus simply?” I laughed, penetrating his schoolboy device. “This from Orange Blossom, the very soul of purity? Nay, it cannot be.”
But soon thereafter, her face aglow with an undreamed joy, came Orange Blossom to the temple.
“I found thy letter,” she faltered, her eyes abased, “but someone spyeth by the pool, so came I hither.”
“My letter! I sent thee none,” I blurted in amazement.
“Didst thou not bid me forsake all for thee?” she questioned trembling. “Then in sooth am I shamed.”
“Heaven forbid, dear Lady, that I, a hopeless fugitive, should bid thee share my peril. Yet hath mine enemy wrought me a blessing in bringing thee.”
Then passionately I strove to persuade her to journey with me to my friend.
“What friend is this,” she flashed scornfully, “who deserteth his sovereign?”
(From a water-color by Frère Champney)
“Sweet Princess,” I cried, “I can no longer conceal the truth—he is the Emperor!”
“Why didst thou deceive me?” she reproached sadly.
“I did but play his part to save him from Tokimune,” I pleaded. “In pity, merciful Goddess, despise me not.”
“Despise thee!” she laughed, her eyes agleam with delight. “Thou art the noblest friend I e’er have known. List,” she urged, “yestreen for love of thee I broke with Tokimune. Today I go to the Shoguness. Even now am I upon my way, and will bear thee with me.”
As she spake the Princess threw off her broidered robe and tired me, willy-nilly, therein.
“Give me thy dirk,” she commanded. In a twinkling she had severed her glorious tresses, and, coiling them about my head, fastened them with jewelled pins, and with a fragment of charcoal pencilled me arching eyebrows.
“Lo, thou art now a lovely maid!” she laughed. “Hold thy fan thus, and thou wouldst deceive Hojo himself.”
“And thou a most adorable boy!” I exclaimed, for she had donned my doublet and hose.
“Haste thee to my norimon,” she cried, “for time is that we were upon our way.”
Bestowing myself therein I chuckled complacently:
“Marco, thou art surely the favourite of Fortune, for in sooth the Princess loveth thee.”
But while I thus laughed within myself, suddenly, with a clatter of hoofs and clank of mail, the troop of Tokimune galloped up.
Mistaking me for the Princess, Hojo gallantly saluted:
“Vouchsafe, my Adored One, that I may escort thee on thy journey.”
“I will befool him to my heart’s content,” thought I, simpering maidenwise.
“Paragon of Beauty, I die for love of thee,” he pleaded.
“And I for thee, my Hero,” I sighed amorously. Thereupon he sprang from his steed and burst into the norimon. Babbling words of endearment he crushed me in a passionate embrace.
Shrieking in outraged modesty I buffetted him a resounding smack.
Agog with stupefaction he glared at me a moment and was gone.
On we journeyed o’er vale and mountain till we reached the Ujigawa. In the midst of the turbulent stream the litter was suddenly overturned.
Encumbered by my unaccustomed draperies I was sinking, when Hojo plunged into the seething current, and, as I was on the point of drowning, dragged me to the shore.
Fearing for my discovery, Orange Blossom ran to me and set straight my wig, which was sore awry.
I vomited forth firkins of water while he gloated upon my throes.
When we left the mainland for the sacred isle Tokimune bade us farewell.
“Doubt not that I shall seek thee again,” he smiled ii ironically, “then thou wilt not escape.”
So beauteous is thy face, O autumn moon,
I fain would gaze thereon the livelong night.
A harvest moon silvered the sacred isle as we drifted through the water-gate.
The locks of Orange Blossom gleamed like the aureole of a madonna.
“Miyajima!” I mused regretfully; “our journey is nearly ended.”
Methought a cloud shadowed the serene brow of my companion. “Then must we part?” she sighed.
“Nay,” I remonstrated, “oft shall we meet upon the ship.”
“How may that be?” she queried, perplexed.
“Wouldst thou not for love’s sake sail to far Cathay?” I urged.
“For love’s sake,” she smiled assent, lifting her joy — brimmed eyes to mine.
Whereat I kissed her mouth in true Venetian fashion. She lingered a moment, then drew back affrighted.
Then, abashed that I had forgotten my friend, I burst into his praise, pleading his suit with all my wonted eloquence.
But the hand in mine lay limp and chill. The love-light faded from her eyes. Her lips moved tremulously, striving in vain to smile.
“Bring the Khan on the morrow,” she said coldly.
“Our little comedy is ended.”
THE TEMPLE OF FUJIN
Frail fluttering bamboo fingers beckon me
And a great bell intones its mellow boom,
Reiterant, mysterious, as doom,
Bidding me bare my feet and silently
Enter, where fringes of linked filigree,
Like rays of sunshine, filter through the gloom,
And fill with golden glory all the room,
Blazoned in cinnabar and lazuli.
An aged priestess calmly sits within
This wondrous, gleaming, gem-encrusted shrine,
O’ershadowed by a carven baldachin,
Whose silken ropes, hanging in heavy line,
Drip blood-red tassels through the incense mist,
The Shinto symbol for Rome’s eucharist.
“Niched in its gate a gruesome idol, the Wind God Fujin, brandished the sack of the tempests”
“The typhoon fell upon us with renewed fury,
churning the inky waters into frothing suds.”
In the mists of morning we mounted a rock-hewn staircase to the Temple of the Winds. Niched in its gate a gruesome idol, the Wind-God Fujin, brandished the sack of the tempests.
Unseen hands slid the screen aside, disclosing, on a great dragon-throne, a little, wizened crone.
Orange Blossom crept forward on her hands and knees and bumped her dainty head upon the floor, the whiles she kowtowed obsequiously.
Bent and shaking the Shoguness rose. “Foreign Devil,” she shrilled, “thou art the Mogul
monarch, come hither in disguise. Knowest thou not the penalty is death? Nathless, for that the Princess hath besought me, I pardon thy folly. Return for ever to thine own land!”
“Hear me, gracious Priestess,” besought the Khan. “No foreign devil I, but thy countryman, a Minamoto of thy very clan.”
The Lady Masa descended from her throne and peered into his visage through age-dimmed eyes. With trembling fingers she traced the profile of the Khan.
“Tis Yoshitsune,” she shrieked, “come to avenge his murdered son!”
On her knees she sank beseeching piteously: “Spare me, mighty Monarch, even as I saved thy helpless babe from the wrath of Yoritomo. Hearken to my tale.
“Upon the night thy child was born, gave I birth to a son, for whose father’s crimes, alas! the gods sent dead into the world. Unknown to all I changed my babe for thine, nourished it with these breasts, and reared him for my son.”
Reverently he raised the weeping woman and placed her upon the throne:
“Noble Priestess, the spirit of Yoshitsune doth bless thee for thy wondrous love. Grant of thy gracious clemency yet another boon! Give me the Princess Orange Blossom to be my wife and Empress!”
The aged Shoguness lay pallid, silent, and unheeding. With a heartrending wail the maiden ran to her side, and chafed the cold hands, crooning the whiles words of vain endearment.
“She heareth not,” murmured the Khan. “Her soul hath found Nirvana.”
Of a sudden there arose a mighty tumult. Priests and attendants rushed hither and thither wailing piteously as they perceived that their beloved Mother Priestess was indeed dead. Verily they would have torn us limb from limb but that a commanding voice cried:
“Hold! Leave the miscreants to me,” and Tokimune armed cap-a-pie, strode into the hall.
Orange Blossom fell at his feet, beseeching mercy, while the Khan, with bared blade, rushed upon his enemy.
Calmly Hojo folded his arms, reproving him for drawing sword in that sacred place, and bade us follow to the terrace.
“Fool,” he scoffed derisively, “from the day when first we met have I followed thine every move, playing with thee as cat with mouse. An it pleased my fancy I might have seized and crucified thee. But, Son of Yoshitsune, rather will I fight thee in fair combat in the death.”
“Willingly,” cried the Khan. His heart throbbed with a great elation. He was drunk with love.
“I will carve my name upon thy heart,” he boasted confidently.
They charged like stags battling for a doe.
With a lightning flash Hojo severed the crest of his antagonist, baring his cheek to the bone. “She will not love thy visage when I have done,” he jibed triumphantly.
Fast and faster they circled, in a furious dance of death. Many a famous fight have I witnessed, but never one like this.
Little by little his breath came short and the Khan’s lips grew set as he knew his hour had come.
Suddenly, with a mighty stroke, Hojo cleft through mail and vambrace, slicing his arm from shoulder to wrist. The sword fell from his nerveless grasp.
Setting foot thereon Tokimune scornfully commanded: “Mouse, get thee gone to thy hole! But if e’er thou dost venture forth, I swear by the tempests of Fujin, I will devour thee utterly.”
A wistful rune of perished melodies,
Sweet aftermath of music longsyne fled,
Lurks in my inner ear, as sea-shells dead,
Still chalice in their souls the ocean’s sighs.
Across the night of yesteryear you rise,
To bless my life with gladsome memory
Of days rose-scented, made of love and thee,
And sweet allurements of thy wild-flower eyes.
Then all my being trembles in a prayer
That once again before my spirit flee
I yet may look upon thy semblance fair,
Still shrined so deeply in my secret soul,
And live a little while with love and thee.
Then come what may! My happiness were whole.
Now you must know that the Khan’s flagship lurked hard by. Whereupon by dint of valorous swimming we gained it without further mischance, and, scudding before the favouring monsoon, sailed in safety to Cathay.
A twelvemonth passed. His heart still rankling with revenge, the Khan determined to return with a vast armada, and ravish the isles of Chipangu, if the only plunder he might bear thence were the peerless Princess Orange Blossom.
Wherefore he levied a mighty army of horse and foot and burden-beasts, huge engines of siege and vast supplies.
When I recounted how, during the siege of Modena, by means of a mangonel, I had slung a long-defunct ass into the city, poisoning the enemy by its deadly stench, he was filled with admiration and delight; and bade me fabricate a mighty mangonel such as we Venetians do nominate mal vezina (bad neighbours), which would vomit boulders of tremendous weight.
Therewith, in a mock battle, I cast a thousand pig-skins filled with muddy water upon the dumbfounded foe, drenching them most foully, and putting them to ignominious rout.
This moved the Emperor to unseemly merriment, for well he wotted that the Chipangese boasted no such fabrications, and with our “bad neighbours” we would belabour them most mercilessly. Wherefore he commanded that each of his ships should be furnished with a mangonel.
Four hundred fighting junks, war-galleons and lesser ships innumerable, manned by one hundred thousand warriors and twice as many mariners, he gathered for the venture.
Now it fortuned moreover that the Venetians having fallen into dispute with the Genoese, my kinsmen had equipped a galley of an hundred oars and as many lances. Desirous that I should return to take command they voyaged to Cathay, and would have haled me home but that the Khan would hear none of it, entreating me most handsomely to lead his vast enterprise. Whereat like an oat-fed war-horse eager for the fray I joyously consented.
So confident was the Khan of victory that he took with him a train of gold-caparisoned elephants, wherewith to wend in triumph to the capital. In each ship was one bestowed. A pack of fearsome tigers, with which he was wont to hunt, fetched he also, swearing that they should gnaw the bones of Tokimune.
But of that Mongol horde, which boldly started
Down the green hills athwart the sea to sail,
A merry crew that from Cathay departed,
Returned a sorry handful broken-hearted,
Famished and spent, to tell the shameful tale.
And so befell, and if ye list my story,
Unto the fleet as I shall now relate,
Disaster dire and murder red and gory,
A harvest reaped of two dead brothers’ hate.
In the Serpent month of the year Fire (June, 1281), the great, grand Khan with a mighty fleet embarked upon his magnificent misadventure.
Having sailed serenely across the Yellow Ocean, we were rounding the rock-bound isle of Tsushima when the fighting-junks of Tokimune fell upon us, like hounds upon a stag. Keen were their fangs, yet with caliber and mangonel we thrust them off, goring many and driving the remnant yelping to their kennels.
Swiftly we followed and drew up our ships in battle array eager for the conflict. But behold! so far as the eye could see the countryside teemed with myriads of Chipangese like swarms of crawling ants building barricade along the shore.
Into their wattled earthworks we flung pots of burning pitch, setting them aflame. Whereat the flame-stricken soldiery sought safety in the open.
Lashing together a long chain of rafts we made a goodly bridge, across which the Khan’s horsemen rode swiftly to the land. Making the welkin ring with most unholy clamour, they charged, clashing their gleaming scimitars upon the fleeing foe.
With my Venetian lancers mounted upon mad little zebras, I spurred furiously after. Misliking the pipes and kettledrums the malicious creatures suddenly balked, refusing to budge. Perceiving this, Tokimune and his hatamotos dashed between, cut off our advance, and surrounded the Khan.
Thereupon our misbegotten beasts took bits in teeth and scampered willy-nilly in mad stampede, plunging, kicking, and cavorting into the very thick of the fray.
Seizing the imperial banner, I brandished it in the face of Tokimune.
“Cat,” I cried, “thy mouse hath quit his hole!”
Gnashing his teeth, Hojo slashed at me impotently, his blows raining upon my zebra’s head. The infuriated little devil turned instant tail and, striking out with its heels, belaboured his charger so merrily that it bolted, bearing its humiliated rider incontinent from the field.
And so befell that we slew the base idolators with gruesome slaughter and carried the Khan in triumph to his flagship.
Full glorious renown gained I for this paltry bickering — “The hardiest feat,” thus weened my master, “that ever knight essayed.” Wherefore he invested me with the high exalted order of the Flying Zebra.
The morn dawned wan and sultry; from a far-off monastery, doomful and dolorous, boomed a mighty bell. The sea, a tawny green like the mottled coat of a serpent. Beneath the calm, satin surface it heaved with rhythmic undulations. There was no wind, yet from the heavens came a muttering weird and ominous, the wrathful drums of the Thunder God.
It seemed to my bemused fancy that the spirits of Taira warriors were rising from their watery tomb to wreak vengeance upon the grandson of Yoshitsune.
And now a cloud, like unto a mighty dragon, came winging through the east.
Drawing in the oars we furled the sails and lashed the helm, holding the junk’s nose to the wind. The hissing spume leapt high above our towering masts. The boom of the surges was like ceaseless salvos of artillery. They bit and tore at embankments, scattering huge boulders as they were tiny pebbles. Only flashes of lightning revealed to one another our terrified faces, for a blackness of night covered the face of the deep.
The dumb beasts below, frantic with fear, burst their tethers, and, careering amidships, drove the affrighted sailors to the hold. Scarce had they escaped when a great whirling column of water burst upon us with a tremendous shock, flooding the decks, washing masts and gear overboard, and all but swamping the ship.
Then came a lull in the tempest. The Khan roared to his crew, but not a Tartar dared to venture forth.
Crashing down his gates the elephant ran amuck upon the deck, trumpeting and spouting geysers of water. The zebras clustered about him, biting and kicking in fury unimaginable.
The huge beast responded, trampling, goring, and throttling them with his powerful trunk. Ever and anon the rolling of the junk would cause him to fall, crushing them beneath his monstrous bulk, until the remainder plunged headlong into the sea.
“At last, to our unbounded delight, we beheld my
from whose masthead flaunted defiantly the lion of St. Mark!”
From Yule’s “Marco Polo.” Permission of John Munroe.
“A pirate bold of a galleon old,
A buccaneer and a ruthless brute”
Blundering about in blind confusion, the elephant wrenched the hatchway from its hinges, thrust in his trunk, and dragged forth a cage of tigers, which he rolled like a ball about the ship. On a sudden it burst and the enraged beasts sprang upon him, sinking claws in eyes and teeth in throat.
Then ensued such tumult as hell had broken forth, causing us all rare and pleasant disport.
But now the tempest suddenly burst upon us with greater fury. Certes I would have been washed adrift but that I clung to the bulwark for very life. At the same time someone (the Khan, as I thought) embraced me from behind, digging his nails into my ribs, with a force to which Hojo’s clutch in the Ujigawa was but as the blandishments of a gentle maid. Thus he clung while in the inky darkness I beheld and heard naught though he gibbered incoherently in mine ear. Then I felt the beating of his great heart and the rasp of his bristling beard upon my neck. Then my nostrils were assailed by a foul and loathly odour, obscene and most unsavoury.
Grasping the hands which were causing me much discomfiture by their vise-like grip I saw that they were mittened in fur and suddenly comprehended that I was clasped—not in the embrace of my friend, but by the claws of the dreadsome tiger!
Whereat I instantly gave myself up for dead; but, as the brute did not molest me, I presently perceived that it clutched me, not with murderous intent but in deadly fear.
A sudden flash quivered in the sky, and a ghastly shriek burst from the Khan as he staggered feebly to his feet. Small wonder; he had clung to the tiger, mistaking it for me!
A freezing chill succeeded to the sultry tropic heat. Shivering and benumbed the beast slowly relaxed his grasp and was swept into the sea.
The typhoon now fell upon us with renewed fury, churning the inky waters into frothing suds, whirling us round in a dizzy maelstrom mounting ever higher in a toppling wall, which threatened each instant to crush the ship. Above, great swirling clouds joined iii the mad dance, gyrating like ghouls about the grave engulfing the doomed vessel.
Suddenly a tremendous upheaval lifted the junk in air, held it suspended for a moment, then hurtled it back into the sea.
As some mighty Cyclops dashes the heads of his victims each against his fellow, so the whirlwind crashed tar helpless ships one upon another and beat them into shreds.
With a shudder like that of a dying man, the ship gave up its spirit and swirling in the mighty whirlpool sank into the deep. Mingled with the roar of the tempest there rang in my ears a weird, unearthly wail, the death-throes of a myriad drowning men. Then a great darkness engulfed me.
How long I lay tossed midst foam and flotsam, the sport of the pitiless billows, I know not, but at last beneath my foot I felt solid substance and fell swooning upon the strand. At my feet, famished and spent, lay the Khan, and hard by, reeking under the noonday sun, the corpse of the tiger. Near and far the beach was a tangled mass of jetsam and dead bodies, our dear comrades, chill and lifeless, alas! a scene most dire and lamentable. Of all our great armada not a ship remained!
From the heavens glared down a red and merciless sun. Afar, reverberated ever the awesome boom of the temple bell, while cold and relentless a band of wreckers calmly looted the dead.
All day we skulked in the marshes. When night fell, quitting our hiding we quested the coast hoping to find some friendly craft. At last, to our unbounded delight, safe at anchor in a sheltered inlet we beheld my gallant galley, from whose masthead flaunted defiantly the lion of St. Mark!
HOW, BY MEANS OF A MANGONEL, A MOST UNEXPECTED PROJECTILE
WAS CAST AT THE FEET OF MY LADY, AND I CAME UNTO MY OWN
My Venetian mariners welcomed us with shouts of delight, rejoicing beyond measure at our miraculous deliverance.
Clapping me on the shoulder, the Khan laughed. “Mindest thou, Friend, the temple islet wherein thou didst go moon-gazing with the lovesome Orange Blossom?”
“Marry, that I do, Master,” I sighed. “In the chart of my memory is that isle indelibly bemapped.”
“This very night,” he declared vehemently, “shall we voyage thither. It likes me to do some small moon-gazing upon my own behalf.”
The tempest had abated. In the shadows of the night we stole forth under the very poop of a great fighting junk.
A Daimio armed cap-a-pie strode to the bulwarks and peered malignantly upon us. Though his face was shaded by his visor I could not but recognize his lambent, catlike eyes.
“Aha!” he cried, “the mouse hath ‘scaped the tempest but by the thousand hands of Kwannon he shall not ‘scape the cat!”
Heedless of his threat, eagerly we sped through the night upon our amorous quest.
A wan moon waned in the west. Dim and ghostly loomed the sacred tori. Beyond, upon a pine-fringed promontory rose the scythe-like roofs of the Temple of Fujin.
“Miyajima, the shrine of my pilgrimage!” cried lie Khan, as he leapt into the pinnace and bounded over the foam like a hound unloosed from leash.
Sorely against my will I kept my loveless watch, waiting peevishly for his return. A grove of cedars concealed my galley from the channel, where I suddenly spied, sailing swiftly toward the isle—a Chipangese war-junk. In a twinkling I resolved to steal through the landward passage, outspeed the junk, and advertise my master of his peril.
But the fairway was shallow and the shore surrounded by marshes. How to overcome this obstacle would have taxed the cunning of a less imaginative mind, but my native resourcefulness stood me in good stead.
Mounting my trusty mangonel, I trained it assiduously upon the midst of the marsh and, bestowing myself therein as projectile, resolutely let fly.
Like Icarus soared I gloriously through the heavens, and, as ingloriously, fell; but, dropping in the soft and squashy mire, rose foully besmirched but in no wise scathed. By good fortune I had calculated with perfect nicety the trajectory of my flight, else had I dashed out my brains upon the adamantine rocks.
Here I encountered, plying his peaceful craft, a heaven-sent fisherman. By dint of sundry fisticuffs I persuaded him to divest himself of all his habiliments, viz., a broad-brimmed hat, a straw rain-coat, and a crate of eels. Armed with these weapons I boldly clambered up the rock-hewn stairway to the Temple of the Winds.
Well was it that my mud-caked visage constituted a sure incognito, for the terrace swarmed with samurai. There also, to my astonishment and consternation, I beheld my master and Tokimune confronting each other in the same defiant attitudes as a twelvemonth since.
The Khan stared dazedly at his rival as though he saw him not, his courage crushed by sudden-blighted hope.
Tokimune laughed pitilessly.
“Before thee, Princess, stand two men,” sneered the victor. “Choose thou between. Never shalt thou taunt me that I took to mine arms an unwilling bride. Say the word and ye shall this hour be wedded and have safe-conduct to Cathay. But, an thou lovest him not, will I tear his heart from his carcase and cast it quivering at thy feet.”
Dumb with horror Orange Blossom stared from one to the other. Methought that, had the Khan’s eye glanced the slightest appeal, she would in sheer pity have sacrificed herself.
Instantly, he answered for her.
“The Princess hath made choice,” he said, and I knew that there was no fear in the whitened face. “Even now hath she trampled upon my heart.”
Tokimune stood amazed, scarce believing his senses. At last, “Hast thou in sooth cast off this rogue?” he asked.
“Aye,” assented Orange Blossom fearlessly, “yet, for that he is my kinsman, he must go unhindered to his land.”
Tokimune hesitated, loth to forego his long-waited revenge.
“The safe-conduct,” the Princess demanded imperiously.
Whirling upon his heel he snarled: “Begone fool, ere I repent my mercy and slay thee. Advertise the Khan, thy master, of my triumph. ‘Tis not for love but hate I spare thee!” Then to Orange Blossom he murmured exultingly: “This night shall I claim my reward,” and thus speaking clattered adown the rock-hewn stairway.
Never had the Khan seemed to me so great a hero as now in his humiliation and despair. He paused for an instant.
“Farewell, lost Blossom, mayest thou have ceaseless joy with him thou lovest,” he smiled bravely.
Her face flushed until it belied her name.
“Bring him to me,” she pleaded, “for it is not Tokimune, but Marco whom I love!”
Dumbfounded by this unhoped pronouncement I let fall my crate of eels which now squirmed and wriggled slimily about my lady’s ankles.
“Remove thy reptiles,” she shrieked, “get thee gone to the scullery!” Suddenly she stood at gaze. “Those eyes!” she gasped, “thou art, forsooth, no fisher.”
“Thy pardon, gem-bright maid,” I parried courteously, “verily a fisher who dareth death for one surpassing pearl.”
With that she laughed for joy, and leaping into my mire-bedaubed arms yielded her lips to mine in true Venetian fashion. Thence haled she me to a feast of purification, so that my last hour upon the isle of Chipangu ended as my first, in the torrid torrents of a bath!
Now ye shall understand, if it like you, that at our home-coming we were wedded with due festivities in the duomo of San Marco, which could scarce contain our admiring and loving friends, also so great a convoy of galleys and gondolas led us to our house one would have thought our barge was the Bucentaur wherein the doge was wont to wed the sea.
Assoiled am I by holy Church of all that lay upon my conscience: to wit the pilfering of his betrothed from Tokimune, who was a parfit, gentil knight, not devoid of courtesy to his foes; and yet more especial the like scurvy trick played upon my most beloved friend, the great grand Khan, though methinks he would have served me a like turn but for his impotent insuffisance.
Some small solace hath he in his garden of an hundred wives and sundry other sweethearts, though none, nor all together, could surpass my one sole Orange Blossom.
A camel’s load of presents: rubies, peridots, and diamonds; raiment of orfrays set with orient pearls; chalices of jade and crystal, together with a moult of such like trifles, conveyed he me by caravan under escort of the very same mad merchants that fetched me to Cathay.
These gentlemen I entertained with carnival and blithe disports, painting the good town a glorious vermilion, so that the Council haled them over the Bridge of Sighs, wherefrom I was at sorry costage to ransom them.
Thus I, a simple gentleman adventurer who meandered in many strange lands and oceans, consorted with kings and emperors, and wrought many a fair deed of arms, am come at last to the end of my peregrinations. And so, honoured Reader, of your courtesy repeat for me an Ave Maria that so the good Lord may shrive me of this my mendacious galimatias, that in his holiness I yet may live.
Written by me, Marco Polo, in my palazzo in the Contrada of San Giovanni Chrisostomo, Venice, the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety-five.
‘Tis Christmas Eve. Upon the moonlit balcony stands my child-wife, bearing upon her fragile shoulder a bouncing bambino. About her placid forehead, like a golden aureole, gleams a starry diadem.
From gliding gondolas belated revellers look up in amaze and cross themselves, deeming that they behold the Madonna.
Honourable Little Mother
Elaborately robed, a dainty doll,
In flowing Kimono and Obi square,
Fantastically coiffed, her lustrous hair
Crowned by a gem-encrusted aureole.
A babe, with mouth agape, like some small troll,
Bestrides her bended back with little care,
As on her wooden clogs she patters here and there,
Beneath a stork-emblazoned parasol.
Dream-painted butterfly on golden wing
She seems, this elfin fluttering dame,
Or some more exquisite and sacred thing,
A Raphael rare, stepped from an altar-frame
This Eastern-world Madonna, slim and mild
Child-Mother with her heavy clinging child.
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