The Shaving of Shagpat, by George Meredith

The Bosom of Noorna

Now, while a thousand sparks of fire were bursting on the sight of the two divers, and they speeded heels uppermost to the destiny marked out for them by the premeditations of the All–Wise, lo! Noorna was on the mountain in outer Aklis with Koorookh, waiting for the appearance of her betrothed, Sword in hand. She saw beams from the blazing eye of Aklis, and knew by the redness of it that one, a mortal, was peering on the earth and certain of created things. So she waited awhile in patience for the return of her betrothed, with the head of Koorookh in her lap, caressing the bird, and teaching it words of our language; and the bird fashioned its bill to the pronouncing of names, such as ‘Noorna’ and ‘Feshnavat,’ and ‘Goorelka’; and it said ‘Karaz,’ and stuck not at the name ‘Shagpat,’ and it learnt to say even ‘Shagpat shall be shaved! Shagpat shall be shaved!’ but no effort of Noorna could teach it to say, ‘Shibli Bagarag,’ the bird calling instead, ‘Shiparack, Shiplabarack, Shibblisharack.’ And Noorna chid it with her forefinger, crying, ‘O Koorookh! wilt thou speak all names but that one of my betrothed?’

So she said again, ‘Shibli Bagarag.’ And the bird answered, imitating its best, ‘Shibberacavarack.’ Noorna was wroth with it, crying, ‘Oh naughty bird! is the name of my beloved hateful to thee?’

And she chid Koorookh angrily, he with a heavy eye sulking, and keeping the sullen feathers close upon his poll. Now, she thought, ‘There is in this a meaning and I will fathom it.’ So she counted the letters in the name of her betrothed, that were thirteen, and spelt them backwards, afterwards multiplying them by an equal number, and fashioning words from the selection of every third and seventh letter. Then took she the leaf from a tree and bade Koorookh fly with her to the base of the mountain sloping from Aklis to the sea, and there wrote with a pin’s point on the leaf the words fashioned, dipping the leaf in the salt ripple by the beach, till they were distinctly traced. And it was revealed to her that Shibli Bagarag bore now a name that might be uttered by none, for that the bearer of it had peered through the veil of the ferrying figure in Aklis. When she knew that, her grief was heavy, and she sat on the cold stones of the beach and among the bright shells, weeping in anguish, loosing her hair, scattering it wildly, exclaiming, ‘Awahy! woe on me! Was ever man more tired than he before entering Aklis, he that was in turns abased and beloved and exalted! yet his weakness clingeth to him, even in Aklis and with the Wondrous Sword in his grasp.’

Then she thought, ‘Still he had strength to wield the Sword, for I marked the flashing of it, and ’twas he that leaned forward the blade to me; and he possesses the qualities that bring one gloriously to the fruits of enterprise!’ And she thought, ‘Of a surety, if Abarak be with him, and a single of the three slaves of the Sword that I released from the tail of Garraveen, Ravejoura, Karavejis, and Veejravoosh, he will yet come through, and I may revive him in my bosom for the task.’ So, thinking upon that, the sweet crimson surprised her cheeks, and she arose and drew Koorookh with her along the beach till they came to some rocks piled ruggedly and the waves breaking over them. She mounted these, and stepped across them to the entrance of a cavern, where flowed a full water swiftly to the sea, rolling smooth bulks over and over, and with a translucent light in each, showing precious pebbles in the bed of the water below; agates of size, limpid cornelians, plates of polished jet, rubies, diamonds innumerable that were smitten into sheen by slant rays of the level sun, the sun just losing its circle behind lustrous billows of that Enchanted Sea. She turned to Koorookh a moment, saying, with a coax of smiles, ‘Will my bird wait here for me, even at this point?’ Koorookh clapped both his wings, and she said again, petting him, ‘He will keep watch to pluck me from the force of water as I roll past, that I be not carried to the sea, and lost?’

Koorookh still clapped his wings, and she entered under the arch of the cavern. It was roofed with crystals, a sight of glory, with golden lamps at intervals, still centres of a thousand beams. Taking the sandal from her left foot and tucking up the folds of her trousers to the bend of her clear white knee, she advanced, half wading, up the winds of the cavern, and holding by the juts of granite here and there, till she came to a long straight lane in the cavern, and at the end of it, far down, a solid pillar of many-coloured water that fell into the current, as it had been one block of gleaming marble from the roof, without ceasing. Now, she made toward it, and fixed her eye warily wide on it, and it was bright, flawless in brilliancy; but while she gazed a sudden blot was visible, and she observed in the body of the fall two dark objects plumping downward one after the other, like bolts, and they splashed in the current and were carried off by the violence of its full sweep, shooting by her where she stood, rapidly; but she, knotting her garments round the waist to give her limbs freedom and swiftness, ran a space, and then bent and plunged, catching, as she rose, the foremost to her bosom, and whirled away under the flashing crystals like a fish scaled with splendours that hath darted and seized upon a prey, and is bearing it greedily to some secure corner of the deeps to swallow the quivering repast at leisure. Surely, the heart of Noorna was wise of what she bore against her bosom; and it beat exulting strokes in the midst of the rush and roar and gurgle of the torrent, and the gulping sounds and multitudinous outcries of the headlong water. That verse of the poet would apply to her where he says:

Lead me to the precipice,

And bid me leap the dark abyss:

I care not what the danger be,

So my beloved, my beauteous vision,

Be but the prize I bear with me,

For she to Paradise can turn Perdition.

Praise be to him that planteth love, the worker of this marvel, within us! Now, she sped in the manner narrated through the mazes of the cavern, coming suddenly to the point at the entrance where perched Koorookh gravely upon one leg, like a bird with an angling beak: he caught at her as she was hurling toward the sea, and drew her to the bank of rock, that burden on her bosom; and it was Shibli Bagarag, her betrothed, his eyes closed, his whole countenance colourless. Behind him like a shadow streamed Abarak, and Noorna kneeled by the waterside and fetched the little man from it likewise; he was without a change, as if drawn from a familiar element; and when he had prostrated himself thrice and called on the Prophet’s name in the form of thanksgiving, he wrung his beard of the wet, and had wit to bless the action of Noorna, that saved him. Then the two raised Shibli Bagarag from the rock, and reclined him lengthwise under the wings of Koorookh, and Noorna stretched herself there beside him with one arm about his neck, the fair head of the youth on her bosom. And she said to Abarak, ‘He hath dreamed many dreams, my betrothed, but never one so sweet as that I give him. Already, see, the hue returneth to his cheek and the dimples of pleasure.’ So was it; and she said, ‘Mount, O thou of the net and the bar! and stride Koorookh across the neck, for it is nigh the setting of the moon, and by dawn we must be in our middle flight, seen of men, a cloud over them.’

Said Abarak, ‘To hear is to obey!’

He bestrode the neck of Koorookh and sat with dangling feet, till she cried, ‘Rise!’ and the bird spread its wings and flapped them wide, rising high in the silver rays, and flying rapidly forward with the three on him from the mountain in front of Aklis, and the white sea with its enchanted isles and wonders; flying and soaring till the earth was as what might be held in the hollow of the hand, and the kingdoms of the earth a mingled heap of shining dust in the midst.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/meredith/george/shaving-of-shagpat/chapter18.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09