The Stork and The Jewels (short story)August 24th, 2011 by Mike
Below the full text of the now out-of-print book “The Stork and the Jewels” by R.-L Bruckberger, one of the best stories I’ve ever read about love and waiting. I know it’s long. Stick with it.
The Stork and the Jewels
by R.L. Bruckberger
At this place the river widens out on beaches of fine sand. The sun was disappearing behind the hills, and this day of summer’s beginning drew to a close in a peaceful light under which everything had lost its weight. A cry of triumph resounded.
Some children were playing on the beach, and a little boy had just finished a superb castle of sand. It was a real fortified castle, with towers and battlements, moat and drawbridge. On the turret our military architect had just planted a little flag. It was a great undertaking concluded, and there was much of which to be proud. All his little comrades, staring open-mouthed, admired the edifice. In all the world no one had ever seen a more beautiful castle.
“Tomorrow it will be demolished, your castle.” It was Matilda who spoke, the prettiest little girl of the band.
Over his shoulder the little boy scarcely deigned to look at her. Could a girl comprehend a fortified castle? There are fortified castles which have existed for more than a thousand years.
But what is to be done with it? No one has ever dared to live in a sand castle. When one is a little boy who has worked all day to build one of these castles, there always comes, nevertheless, the moment when it is time to go to bed. That moment had come, and the little boy heard his mother call him. He gathered up his shovel and his pail, gave a handsome military salute to his flag, and crossing the garden, climbed the old stone stairway, half overrun with moss, to the high terrace which dominated the valley. Having arrived at the top, he stopped, out of breath, blinded as well by the light of the evening which flamed in a tree. He looked at the house.
It was an old house muffled in flowers and Virginia creeper. A happy house, and the proof was that on the tallest chimney there was a nest of storks. It had always been seen there, and everyone was proud of it. The stork is a sacred bird who brings happiness everywhere it rests. It is a comical, peaceful creature who knows the world well, surveying it from the peaks of the sky, and who knows men well from observing them from the tops of their houses. In brief it is a very wise bird, since, in its wisdom, it judges all from a certain height. It has a long beak, which gives it a laconic look, and when, on the summit of a chimney, it sleeps on one foot, the other folded under its wing, it is there like a question mark on this house of men.
The fact is that nothing is more mysterious than a house, with its clearly defined partitions, where in daily monotony is accomplished all the small and great tasks of life and death, of birth and sleep, of money counted at night, of hospitality and quarrel, of prayer and dream. It is not, therefore, unimportant to be a question mark on an old house, and the stork who lodged on this one took its role very seriously. All the questions of all and each floated up the chimney right to the extremity of its long beak, and it savored attentively their import and their value.
The mother stork was at this moment on her nest of branches at the summit of the house. Standing on one leg, her long beak in her bodice, she had the appearance of being asleep. In reality, with her eye half closed she had very well discerned the little man returning home, rolling his shoulders in a swagger. She also knew a great deal about castles in the sand, and had understood perfectly the spiteful reflection of the little girl. And the mother stork thought, on the contrary, that in this world castles in the sand have never had the importance that they truly deserve.
The boy loved the mother stork. He had been told that it was she who one day had brought him to his mother. The fact is that he was born the day of the arrival of the storks, and each year they arrived at the time of his birthday. But that he had really been brought by the stork is a point not absolutely sure in our story, and even in the consciousness of the little boy this began to be disputed. In any case, he loved the mother stork, and before entering the house, he waved joyously, with great shouts.
He had had really worked hard. At the end of dinner he went to sleep at the table. His mother took him, and without awakening he was put to bed. The night was soft, full of stars. The trees hardly murmured, and the river itself had muted its voice. He dreamed of battles. He was in his fortified castle, and defended it against more than a thousand enemies. His flag in one hand, his saber in the other, he massacred them unmercifully. He remained master of the field. While he blew his trumpet to proclaim it, a traitor who had the visage of Matilda raised the drawbridge and let the enemy enter. He killed Matilda also, with a little regret, but— it was necessary to be just—- she well deserved it.
When he awakened it was broad daylight. Immediately he thought of his fortified castle. As soon as he was dressed he ran to the beach. Nothing existed now but his disappointed dream. The wind, and a wave of the river, had effaced all. He cried then in anger and despair. Matilda arrived to play with him. She tried at least to console him. He pulled her hair and she started to shriek, less in pain than in spite.
Returning to the house the boy cried no longer, but with just a look the mother stork understood that the was experiencing a man’s first sorrow. She had great pity for him. She unfolded her neck, extended her leg, and turned toward him. In moving she inadvertently thrust aside one of her storklings who, not yet being of flying age, lost its balance and, beating its wings and clacking its beak, fell all the height of the house to the feet of the child.
The mother stork was visibly upset. She flew in great circles above the terrace. But her storkling was not dead at all. It had only a broken foot. Before a greater unhappiness the child forgot his own. He gently picked up the little storkling, reassuring the mother as best he could, and carried it into the house, to care for it and give it food.
A broken foot is not very much, especially for a little storkling. This one remained, nevertheless, a bit lame. This falter in her gait gave her an amusing distinction, a sort of irony. In her case it was surely better that it was a foot that was broken and not a wing. It made her simply a stork a little different from the others. This was certainly the opinion of the little boy, who had acquired a tender friendship for her. They were never now more than one foot apart, or a lame stork-step if you prefer.
Matilda was jealous. She could not understand how a bird had been able to replace her in the heart and play of the little boy. Matilda was very pretty but she did not understand many things. One day she said to him: “Is it still true that we will marry when we grow up?”
“And my stork?” he asked.
“We will eat it for Christmas, with olives!”
Then he pummeled her with his fists, and she ran away crying.
The little boy, on the other hand, had absolutely no need of anyone. He amused himself very well with his stork. When they played at hide and seek it was always he who was caught. A boy is often a bit awkward, and a stork has naturally a beak as shrewd as it is long. In a race he had his revenge, but not for long, for as the summer advanced the wings of the stork grew stronger, and she commenced to test them.
He continued to build his sand castles, but now solely for his amusement. He took less seriously the art of fortification. His father told him that anyway they had no value in modern warfare. Now he no longer felt dishonored when, in the morning, he ascertained the disaster to his constructions of the previous evening. But he continued to build them, as generals hold great maneuvers on the last lost war. The generals believe, but he truly believed no longer. When he had finished a new castle the stork came and rested on the summit of a tower, fluttering a little to make itself lighter, very light. It sometimes also happened that all collapsed under the weight of the little stork. Then you could hear the mocking laugh of Matilda, who watched them from afar. But the boy also laughed wholeheartedly. Which proves to what degree he loved his stork.
They ate together in the kitchen before the grown people dined. The stork plucked little fishes from a tub full of water, and swallowed them very neatly, lifting its beak in the air to aid their descent. At night even, it remained with him, perched on the rod at the top of his bed. It slept on its strong leg in the manner of grown-up storks.
Storks grow up so quickly. At the end of the summer its wings were immense, and it flew very well. One day on the beach, just like that, without a moment’s warning, it took flight and came to rest on a roof on the other side of the river. The child cried in earnest. He understood that the destiny of storks is to go from one country to another, to cross frontiers, and that they are free birds, because their real country is the heavens. The child cried bitterly, watching his stork so far, there where he could not overtake it. Matilda laughed no longer. She came to him. Her eyes were very beautiful, so clear.
“But I am here, I,” she said softly. “I will remain with you always. I have no wings, I…”
“It is precisely that…” he replied.
He didn’t stop crying, and Matilda was never able to understand what he had meant to say.
The child knew that his stork was going to leave. He loved it too much to dispute its liberty. He knew in his heart that never, never, never would he do anything to detain it. Only, when he sensed that the departure was near, he attached a red ribbon to the foot of his stork, to recognizeit more surely if it returned, and to mark it as his own.
The season advanced rapidly. The window of his room remained wide open during the night. One morning on awakening the child saw the stork no longer. It had left with the great squadrons of all the storks of the country. Strangely, the child was not grieved. His sacrifice was made in advance. In his prayer he asked God for a good voyage for his stork, and also for its return.
Someone who was very satisfied was Matilda. Even though still a child, she had the cleverness to conceal her satisfaction. She was content to be charming, and more and more pretty. She therefore never spoke of the stork, but saw clearly that the boy’s wits were often wool gathering, even when she was beside him. She gave him little sermons, very well turned, to prove to him that it was shameful for a man to dream.
He did not even hear her. He thought of his stork. Would it ever return, or do storks completely forget those who have loved them? He believed that it would return. He wanted to believe it. At night, in spite of the cold of winter, he always left his window open. Who knows? Perhaps she yearned for him. Perhaps she would prefer him to the company of all the storks, and would return all alone to remain with him. He thought of that constantly.
He thought to such good purpose that the springtime came. One morning, in his sleep, he felt someone pinching his right ear. He woke, a little annoyed. A stork, his stork, standing pensively, was perched at the top of his bed. She had returned with all her nation, and it was she who had pinched his ear amicably, to wish him in her manner a happy birthday. Immediately he recognized her. Anyway the red ribbon was still attached to her foot, only a little faded. It was necessary to change it.
This was a great joy which lasted all the summer. The stork had made another nest on another chimney of the house. She was married and awaited some little ones. Her husband had not much importance, and remained always on high to cover the eggs. Now she descended often to play with her companion, and each morning she came to do sentry duty at the top of the bed, and pinched his ear.
For this particular birthday the boy had been given a pony, and he learned to ride. In the evening, when he had finished his school work, and later, during the vacation, he raced the pony on the banks of the river, and the stork accompanied him.
Matilda sulked. One hardly ever saw her now. She awaited the autumn. Her deep instinct told her also that a day would come when the friendship of a bird would not be sufficient to fill the heart of the boy. She was but half mistaken.
Several years passed. Each springtime the stork returned and departed again in the autumn. The boy was a young man now, no longer a child. And this time, when the stork returned, the red ribbon attached to its foot the previous autumn was no longer there. It had been taken off and replaced with a cord of woven gold.
Who had attached the golden ribbon? Was it a message? What was the meaning of the message? He pondered on it all through the summer. He resolved finally to set his heart at rest. He wrote a letter giving his address and asked for a response. He sealed the letter in one of those copper capsules that one attaches to the legs of carrier pigeons. At the beginning of autumn he suspended it, with a red cord, to the leg of his stork. The letter left with her to the other side of the sea.
He had now a real horse. The night of the departure of the storks he rode his horse alone on the banks of the river. He met Matilda, and for the first time was pleasantly moved by her presence. She was a young lady, and she was beautiful. He dismounted and told her the whole history fo the stork, the exchange of ribbons, and the letter he had just sent.
“I had, as a matter of fact, noticed these last few days that your stork carried a little shining ball on its leg. But I should never have believed you so silly. What do you await from so far?” She laughed, resting her hand on the boy’s arm, and she knew that the power of her eyes dominated him.
He sought to inform himself of the regions to which the storks migrate in winter. He learned that they are lands of sand, sun and wind, that the inhabitants of these countries are dispersed over immense distances, that men ride fast and high-strung horses or absurd camels, that the women have golden complexions, somber eyes, and use henna s make-up… He decided that later, when he had become a man, he would visit those countries.
He visited them already in his dreams. The margins of his school note books were covered with drawings. They were all storks, palm groves, horses, caravans, which twisted through a Latin theme, invaded a history lesson, barged into a theorem. Who had attached the golden cord? The question tormented him.
One evening when they returned from school, Matilda looked at his copybooks.
“You are losing your head,” she said, “to love someone who does not exist.”
“But this exists, Matilda, I assure you…”
“It is too far away, it cannot exist for you. You must ask God only for that which is within reach.”
“Very well then,” he answered, “let God give to me that for which others do not ask.”
“It’s pride,” she said, “I fear for you.”
And as the next day was the boy’s birthday, laughingly she kissed him on both cheeks.
He was awakened by a light pinching of his right ear. His stork was perched at the top of his bed. The red cord had been removed, the copper ball also. A bracelet of gold was suspended from the leg of the stork, the fine bracelet of a little girl, who must have a very small hand. Such was the response. Then in the delirium of his joy the boy kissed the foot of his stork, who received the homage with the gravity of a dowager.
As vague as it was, it was a response. Beyond what extent of briny water and burning sands, over what cities white or red, from alongside what spring or well was this little hand reaching toward him? He hung the bracelet around his neck, to think of it more often.
This morning Matilda waited to accompany him to school. She adopted a tone of voice intended to be very disinterested to ask him if he had received an answer. He showed her the bracelet. She became very pale, but quickly replied, “If someone is making fun of you, they are doing it very well,” she said. “Moreover, this delightful bracelet is too small for me, and yet I do not have a large hand. Your stork must migrate to the home of the dwarfs.”
And, as of old, she became spiteful and mocking.
But, in truth, when the stork was there the boy thought of no one else. He had passed the age of sand castles, but he had his fantasies nonetheless. He leaped into the saddle and galloped along the river. From the height of her nest the stork saw him dash forth. Taking flight, she overtook him and passed him, slowly sculling against the wind, with her powerful wings tracing for him an invisible wake. He stopped finally, dismounted, and allowed his horse to regain its breath. He stretched out on the sand in the sun, closed his eyes, and thought of the little hand that beckoned to him from so far. Sometimes he seemed to sense the light weight of this trembling hand on his heart, and he imagined he was on the brink of delicious death. Or he watched his stork walking on the fringe of the river searching for fish. She, she knew the identity of the little girl far away. Why could she not speak?
In the autumn she departed with a new message tied to a red ribbon. The boy again gave his address, and implored amore clear response.
He pondered long… I shall apply all the time necessary, he said to himself, but I shall discover Her. Nothing seemed impossible to him. He felt that the most precious things are attained only if merited, and he scorned to believe that happiness could be achieved without effort or warrant. He worked hard. He must arm himself not solely to be as skillful as possible in the adventure he anticipated, but also to become worthy of the far off being, whom he dowered in advance with all the adornments of the heart and of beauty. When he wearied at his work he pressed the gold bracelet against his heart.
At night he often dreamed. He dreamed this dream several times. He was on horseback in the desert. The stork preceded him, pointing the way. After an exhausting run, which seemed as if it would never end, the stork stopped near a large tent. He approached. A little hand, laden with bracelets, raised the curtain of the tent, inviting him to enter. He never saw more. At this moment he awakened.
Perhaps, he thought, Matilda is right. Perhaps I am mad. Why desire the unknown, and perhaps the impossible. A stork, I was told when I was a child, brought me to my mother. A stork has at least given me a taste for adventure and mad enterprise. But Matilda! It was surely a turtle that brought her to her parents, so limited is her horizon. After all would god be making fun of me? Would He have permitted the awakening in me of a sentiment so powerful, only to deceive me?
In the springtime the stork returned with an ivory comb encrusted with gold. Some hairs remained caught in the comb, long hairs, and fine, and of a lustrous black. The springtime following a gold earring was brought, and the year after, a little steel mirror ringed in gold.
Each time the stork departed it carried away a letter hanging form a red ribbon. But this letter, was it read and understood? Why did she not write? The boy could not understand, and the impatience of his torment became extreme. Sometimes he had the desire to kill his stork. She said too much, or not enough. Would he ever clear up this enigma? Would he see, would he see at least the dear face, which was outlined vaguely in his soul by the arrays of her beauty which the mirror had once reflected?
Had he now perhaps more light on the matter? These jewels had an unusual style. One should be able to determine the region of their origin, and thust he country to which the storks migrated. He confided them to an old artisan jeweler of his native city who, through love of his art, had become a scholar of the subject. The jeweler searched in books. He had also seen many travelers who liked to adorn themselves with exotic jewels. When the young man came back to see him, he was able to state that the bracelet, the comb, the pendant and the mirror came from a country beyond the seas, and far int eh desert, that is called the Country of the People in Blue.
It was then to this land that he must go to find her who spoke so well the language of jewels, but who seemed to want to speak only this language. He wrote now a rather mad letter.
But this letter never went.
This morning he was awakened with a start. It was even as though a hurricane had entered hi s room. He turned on the light and saw his stork, stiff and distorted, at the foot of his bed. He believed that it was dead, and he despaired. But, at the end of a moment, she beat feebly with her wing. She remained thus three days, nearly without life, taking only a little milk that he poured in her beak. The very morning of this mishap all the storks had left, and she remained, alone of all her nation. The young man had removed the copper ball from her leg, and he thought sadly that his farr off sweetheart would wait in vain this time. But he was frightened to think that his stork might have died during the migration. He cared for her with all his heart.
He reflected also on this strange mishap, and did not know what to make of it. The stork remained in his room, and the neighbors thought she had left with the others. What put him on the track was the triumphant air of Matilda, who redoubled her coquetries toward him. He recalled that in the afternoon before the illness of the stork, he had gone to a party where he had met Matilda. The stork came to him in the garden, as she often did, surprising him here or there, when he least expected. Everybody welcomed her and gave her food. But this evening, instead of giving her herrings, of which she was so fond and of which there was a full bowl for her, Matilda took from her handbag some little tiny cakes. Matilda had poisoned the stork.
This evidence grieved him, still more on Matilda’s account than the stork’s. It was sad to think that a young girl so beautiful could do a thing so ugly.
If I should question her, he thought, either she would deny it and therefore lie; or else she would confess, and explain that she loved me. Liar and poisoner, through love. If that was love and the motives of the heart, one should die of shame to be born through love.
He said nothing of the stay of the stork in his home . She was nearly well anyway. Winter had come, and it had snowed. One day, when the sky was clear, the stork jumped onto the window sill, flapped its powerful wings, and took flight. The young man saw it circle a moment over the house, and then swoop off toward the south. He had not foreseen this. He regretted bitterly that he had removed the message. He also greatly admired the courage of the stork, to confront alone the tempests of winter and the crossing of the sea. He trembled to think that she might be lost. If she did not return, he would never forgive Matilda.
Matilda was sure of her victory. She sensed that the young man was mortally disturbed. She never displayed more charm. Close to her, one was uncertain of everything, including oneself. She was so substantial, so real, and at the same times so beautiful, that she killed all that was not of her. She seemed born for it. Had she not tried to kill the stork? The young man recalled her words as a little girl. “I am here, I, and I do not have wings.” It was exactly that, as a matter of fact.
That was why in his heart he had decided against Matilda.
He was now a tall young man, clear-eyed, shy and secretive, sagacious and forceful. A dreamer, or rather, absent from himself, with a roving heart in search of treasure in the mysterious realms of the sun. He went and came in the world, worked, played, ate, spoke, but there was an invisible chasm between him and all that he did. Those around him were astonished to see him stubbornly learn a strange and far-off language. He was in the world, without belonging to it. Hi sinner nostalgia was mixed with all the encounters and all the events of his existence, warning him not to stop nor delay in the great undertaking he had decided upon: TO uncover the reality of the mystery which beset him from so far. What mattered to him all that surrounded him? The real desert was everywhere that she was not, and he knew that with her any desert would be a garden of marvels. This inflexible love tormented his soul, plowed it and turned it unceasingly, over and over, for he knew not what sowing. At the end of the winter he fell gravely ill.
He remained a long time in coma. In the somnolence of all his being he saw, at the center of an immense aurora, he saw at last and for the first time, the marvelous face appear to him; a beautiful face, pale and pensive, with eyes of velvet under long lashes, and which smiled at him, sadly. He had a brief vision of a flood of light. Then nothing more but an enormous emptiness, the detachment of his being from himself.
He was awakened by the song of birds. All was so clear, all was so gay. The storks would surely return now, one day or another. The springtime seemed to hasten. It arrived early, and all of a sudden. Suddenly the apple trees had blossomed, the air was full of warm breezes, and the light of the sky was softened. The anxiety of the young man reawakened. The sovereign of his hart had waited in vain, the stork had gone to her without a message. Did his fiancée believe he had forgotten, or been faithless ot her? And he, what would become of him? Would he not be abandoned? The jewels of her adornment that she had sent from so far, had she confided them to the stork in play, or, as one throws a bottle into thesea, were they messages of an undying hope?
To all these questions the answer came with striking clarity. On her arrival the stork brought, tied to her leg with a gold ribbon, a man’s signet ring of gold, in the setting of which was an emerald. Thus she had not despaired, and with this princely ring she had signified her love, soliciting his fidelity in return.
He improved rapidly, and as soon as he was cured the boy went to his friend the jeweler. He did not yet venture to put the ring on his finger, but he showed it to him. But this time the jeweler was disconcerted. This jewel was entirely different from the others, with respect to its era, and its place of origin. A very old jewel without doubt, and of a rare value. One circumstance touched the young man as a providential sign that this ring had always been destined for him: the ring carried an emerald and emerald was his birthstone.
He must have a ring for his faraway fiancée at the beginning of the autumn. What stone would he choose? He would like to have known the date of her birth. But did she know it herself? She might have responded, perhaps, the year that a panther killed the white camel, or else the year when a herd of gazelles crossed the palm grove.
…. At least he knew the season when her love had been born; the time of the year when she received the messages from the stork. He sent a ring ornamented with an aquamarine.
He was longing now for the storks to leave. He was impatient that the token of his gratitude and of his promise be carried beyond the seas. Now he loved his stork no longer but as the most precious of irreplaceable messengers.
He experienced now the tranquility of solace. His destiny was fixed, and in the direction of his desire. His destiny would join somewhere another destiny. He knew it, he was sure, these tow destinies would make henceforth but one. He thanked God, asking for the strength and the light to go to the end of this route. The exceptional and mysterious aspect of this engagement stimulated his courage. He defied obstruction with all the vigor of his love. Soemtimes also he was filled with sorrow and fretfulness. All fro him was absence. He moved in the world above this inner vertigo as a rope dancer crossing an abyss.
About this time Matilda married a boy, rather ordinary, homely and smaller than she, but replete with diplomas. Did she really love him? He was in any case the one “within reach”. The fault is with the turtle, thought the young man. In truth, each of us receives only that which he truly merits.
In the spring the stork carried, in a little sachet perfume bag, a rose of the sands. He gazed at this mineral flower of the deserts that one finds around wells, spontaneously born of crystallized sand. He knew well what it signified: a heart blossoming with love, a faithful heart, lost in the immense solitudes of the sands, and waiting near a fountain.
Yes, he is awaited. Let him depart! Let him hasten! Let him dare his luck and his love! Let him strive to find the treasure of his heart!
Toward the end of the summer he embarked.
He knew well where he would find the Country of the People in Blue. He arrived there at the same time the storks arrived. He went from palm grove to palm grove, from casbah to casbah, calling together the Elders, and showing them the jewels. All agreed that they were of the same region, without being able to say precisely to whom they had belonged. The ring appeared strange to them. But some of them believed they recognized it, and to have seen it on the hand of a great chief of the south. The time passed. The boy beseeched God not to let him remain longer in the agony of this uncertainty.
And now, here is what occurred, One morning he rode his horse to the edge of a casbah. Suddenly, and he could not imagine how she had found him, he saw, he saw with his own eyes, his stork walking on the side of the trail. There was no doubt that it was she, with her crazy foot. He believed that his heart would break with joy. Without taking thought, he charged his horse in the direction of the stork, which began to fly, and he started off as in the old days at full speed, in the wake of the bird. But this time they were in the desert. What folly!
Where was his stork leading him, and would he ever arrive? He had gone now for hours and hours. The sun lowered, and his goal was still in the distance. The horse panted with thirst, and at the end of the afternoon collapsed, foundered. The young man looked at it fraternally, as if to ask pardon, but he had to continue the journey. He abandoned the horse and followed the stork on foot. The stork advanced by spurts, waiting each time until he had nearly caught up.
Thirst commenced to torment the boy terribly. Ah yes, how mad to have gone on alone. But now there was no turning back; he had no wish to return. His destiny, whatever it was to be, was before him.
The sun flamed a moment in the vast sky, and disappeared behind the horizon. Night covered all, but the moon was so brilliant that one could still proceed quite well. The boy followed the stork. He went forward in a delirium of thirst, surrounded by phantoms. It seemed to him sometimes that all the birds of the sky, the fierce falcons of prey and carnage, beat their wings and cried savagely around him. At other times he felt light, light, the sky reversed itself and he swam amongst the stars. Before him yonder, a star shone brighter than the others, with a desperate flame, as though it were about to be extinguished. If only he could reach it before death, before the star died. He lay down upon the sand. The stork returned slowly to him.
He took the sachet bag, in which he enclosed the jewels, and attached it to the leg of the stork. He kept only the emerald ring, which he placed on his finger. He fainted from depression, and fatigue.
When he regained his senses it was broad daylight. A band of nomads surrounded him, and it was they who had revived him. They gave him drink from their animal skin gourds. This water which flowed in him was life itself, life inexhaustible in his veins., But everything seemed light to him, light, slow and light, a little above the earth, as in his dreams. He experienced everything as though ti were happening to another.
The nomads treated him with a profound reverence. They had recognized the ring on his finger as belonging to their old chief. They knew that his daughter, their princess, had sent it to her far-off fiancé. This then was the unknown whom she had loved so long, and for whom she was languishing as if to death. The young man was still too feeble to ride a horse. They improvised a stretcher and carried him on their shoulders. The stork had disappeared.
The sun made great shadows behind the dunes, and one heard the crackling of the sand, which the nomads say is the desert crying because it is not a garden. The first palm trees were in sight.
Suddenly the stork appeared above the caravan, and departed immediately, toward the palm grove. Then in the dazzling sunset a rising cloud of dust was seen. Horsemen arrived at a gallop. The young man stopped the caravan, and stood to receive them. The horsemen were clothed in long, blue tunics. They wore blue turbans, and white veils which masked their faces below the eyes. All dismounted. The old chief embraced the young man, and, in turn, each of the warriors kissed him on the shoulder. They gave him a horse. The sun had fallen behind the horizon, and in a few moments night had filled the sky. Torches were lighted, and the troop departed at a gallop, the young man and the old chief riding horse to horse.
When they entered the palm grove it was so dark that they seemed to enter into the very night of night. The horses walked, and under the light of the torches were seen the faces of laughing children, accompanying the procession. The horsemen now climbed an abrupt path to the top of a cliff, and they entered an immense garden with tranquil waters shining in the torchlight.
All stopped at the sill of the casbah, dismounting, and the torchbearers moved off, lighting the scene from afar. The old chief was now alone with the young man, before the door of the manorial dwelling. He approached and removed the ring from the young man’s finger. Having looked at it, he said: “God be blessed who has sent you amongst us. God be blessed who has permitted me to see your face before I die and rejoin my fathers. God be blessed who has sent a husband to my daughter.
“Here now is the history of this ring. It is a very ancient jewel. My most celebrated ancestor was, in those times, Emir in Spain, and warred against the Christians. He was one day challenged to single combat by a Frankish chevalier famous for his valor as a warrior. The combat took placed and ended in favor of my ancestor, who killed the chevalier. By right of conquest he took his arms, and this ring.
“The chevalier had a very beautiful daughter, his only child. My ancestor married her. By her I am also the descendant of this ancient chevalier of your country. Since then this ring has passed faithfully in our family, from father to eldest son. Without having his warrior abilities, I am, like my ancestor the Frankish chevalier, the last man of my race, with a very beautiful daughter who is the treasure of my old age. In losing her I will lose the light of my eyes.
“Buy God has permitted that she love an unknown from beyond the seas, and that she plight her troth to a Christian. The destiny of love, stronger than the destiny of war and death, has bestowed this ring, across the centuries, to a hand fraternal to that from which it first was removed. Let the will of God be done!
“This ring has never been worn other than by loyal, God-fearing, valiant men. It is henceforth yours. Be worthy of it, and war it in such manner that one day your son may receive it with honor.”
Still holding the ring in his hand, the old man pivoted the emerald and lifted it from its setting, uncovering a secret cavity.
“That which I now reveal to you,” he resumed, “is unknown to my subjects. IT was told me by my father when the ring was entrusted to me, as I now entrust it to you. He heard it from his ancestors, and this tradition is as old as the ring itself. This ring contains a relic of the true Cross of your God. Thus it is rightful that it should return one day to a Christian hand, and a worshiper of that Cross.”
Having received the ring on his finger, the young man knelt on the ground, and carried the precious relic to his lips. The old man raised him up and embraced him. Both turned then, and on the door sill they saw the young girl.
From the hour that the stork had returned with the jewels, the young girl knew that her fiancé was near. She had spent the ensuing time anointing herself with perfumes, and changing into the sumptuous clothes that noble girls of her tribe wear on their wedding day. The aquamarine was on her finger. She put the golden bracelet on her left wrist and the pendant on her left ear. She had combed back her hair with the ivory comb. She placed on her forehead an ancient diadem. She looked at herself in the mirror. She had prayed to God that he might bless this meeting.
She stood now on the sill of the house of her ancestors. She was clothed completely in blue, like the queen of the night, and the moon shone on her pale face. She did not smile. She was mute and rapt, as though seized with vertigo at the edge of an abyss.
The old man called forth all his subjects, and solemnly took in his hands the hands of the two young people. He sent messengers to assemble the tribes of the desert to the celebrations which would take place the next day.
In those times there still lived in that region the priest, famous for his saintliness, venerated by all the nomads, who was called the Hermit of theDesert. At break of day, the old man accompanied the young princess and her fiancé on horseback. IT was very cold, and the old man said that was a sign that rain had fallen in the mountains. If it had fallen in great abundance the water would appear on the plan, and that would be a great blessing. The horses whinnied with joy, and the stork preceded them. The hermitage was nto far; they saw the dome shining in the sun.
The Hermit received them with his gentlemanly courtesy, and he was told the whole story. He listened, his eyes shining as the eyes of children shine.
“IT is a fairy story, even a fable,” he said, “because of the presence of this bird who has united you. If nowa t the end you come to me, it is also surely because I should express the moral of the story. In the fables it would be rather the stork who spoke. But, in her manner, she has said very well what she wished to say. Look at her above us, her outspread wings making the sign of the cross over us.
“By its extended arms this Cross travels the sky, and binds one horizon to the other. And being planted in the soil, it too connects the earth and the sky. So also in the life of the children of men; the wind thrusts them from one end of the world to the other, but their ultimate destiny is to attain Heaven. You are today at the center of the Cross, united after many difficulties. But it is with but a single will, a single impulse that, henceforth bound one to the other, you must strive forward toward God.
“And you are not alone in this adventure. Jesus Christ our God has promised that each time two or three are joined together in His name, He will be amongst them. It is in His name that we are here. God is everywhere that people love each other in His name. He was with you in impatience and hope. He is with you in the accomplishment of this day, and your happiness. May He remain with you in the fidelity of the days to come.”
They entered the somber chapel as into a catacomb, where the pillars, closely spaced, mounted like the trunks of palm trees. It was the oasis of Christ in this desert. The Hermit baptized the young princess, and then blessed their marriage.
The banquet was prepared on the high terrace. From the height, facing the dunes, dominating the palm grove and the little village terraced against the cliff, like a scaffolding of red cubes, the view was wonderful. Nature’s silence was dense, without limit, solid as metal, as only can be the silence of the desert.
Suddenly in this silence a great clamor of joy was raised, which remained suspended in the sky. All the village was outdoors, on the roads and on the terraces. Bands of children ran shouting toward the palm grove. The storks took flight from everywhere, circling in the blazing light. The clamore of joy continued in waves, prolonging itself in a diffused murmur.
The evening before, rain had indeed fallen in great abundance, and the water flowed over the desert. The bed of the river, normally dry, filled with a seething yellowness that one saw emerge between the dunes and the cliff, like a liquid wall in movement, and with the speed of a galloping horse. In one half hour the enrie plain was flooded. The river now reached to the edge of the village, and it continued to flow past with a muffled rumble, like thunder under the earth. Naked children threw themselves into the water, and emerged dripping, their teeth shining in laughter.
All the people were joyous, and found this a happy omen for the young princess, whose husband had arrived nearly at the same time as the river, as though he had led it after him.
“He has green spurs,” they said, “God is with him!”
The married couple leaning against one another looked on, and they thanked God in their hearts for this water, which makes the earth fertile, and which, bringing life with it, gives a new birth to domestic animals and the birds of the sky, to the trees and to the wild beasts, to the flowers of the desert and to the children of men; they thanked God in their hearts for this water which washes and refreshes the body, and which also through Holy Baptism washes and purifies the soul, and causes the children of men to be reborn the sons of God.
The stork, their stork, circled above them in the sky, sheltering their joy with its wings, as in the First Days the Spirit hovered over the waters.