A beautiful moth brushed across the great blue eyes of Nycteris. She sprang to her feet to follow it--not in the spirit of the hunter, but of the lover. Her heart--like every heart, if only its fallen sides were cleared away--was an inexhaustible fountain of love: she loved everything she saw. But as she followed the moth, she caught sight of something lying on the bank of the river, and not yet having learned to be afraid of anything, ran straight to see what it was. Reaching it, she stood amazed. Another girl like herself! But what a strange-looking girl!--so curiously dressed too!--and not able to move! Was she dead? Filled suddenly with pity, she sat down, lifted Photogen's head, laid it on her lap, and began stroking his face. Her warm hands brought him to himself. He opened his black eyes, out of which had gone all the fire, and looked up with a strange sound of fear, half moan, half gasp. But when he saw her face, he drew a deep breath, and lay motionless--gazing at her: those blue marvels above him, like a better sky, seemed to side with courage and assuage his terror. At length, in a trembling, awed voice, and a half whisper, he said, "Who are you?"
"I am Nycteris," she answered.
"You are a creature of the darkness, and love the night," he said, his fear beginning to move again.
"I may be a creature of the darkness," she replied. "I hardly know what you mean. But I do not love the night. I love the day--with all my heart; and I sleep all the night long."
"How can that be?" said Photogen, rising on his elbow, but dropping his head on her lap again the moment he saw the moon; "--how can it be," he repeated, "when I see your eyes there--wide awake?"
She only smiled and stroked him, for she did not understand him, and thought he did not know what he was saying.
"Was it a dream then?" resumed Photogen, rubbing his eyes. But with that his memory came clear, and he shuddered, and cried, "Oh horrible! horrible! to be turned all at once into a coward! a shameful, contemptible, disgraceful coward! I am ashamed--ashamed--and so frightened! It is all so frightful!"
"What is so frightful?" asked Nycteris, with a smile like that of a mother to her child waked from a bad dream.
"All, all," he answered; "all this darkness and the roaring."
"My dear," said Nycteris, "there is no roaring. How sensitive you must be! What you hear is only the walking of the water, and the running about of the sweetest of all the creatures. She is invisible, and I call her Everywhere, for she goes through all the other creatures and comforts them. Now she is amusing herself, and them too, with shaking them and kissing them, and blowing in their faces. Listen: do you call that roaring? You should hear her when she is rather angry though! I don't know why, but she is sometimes, and then she does roar a little."
"It is so horribly dark!" said Photogen, who, listening while she spoke, had satisfied himself that there was no roaring.
"Dark!" she echoed. "You should be in my room when an earthquake has killed my lamp. I do not understand. How can you call this dark? Let me see: yes, you have eyes, and big ones, bigger than Madam Watho's or Falca's--not so big as mine, I fancy--only I never saw mine. But then--oh yes!--I know now what is the matter! You can't see with them because they are so black. Darkness can't see, of course. Never mind: I will be your eyes, and teach you to see. Look here--at these lovely white things in the grass, with red sharp points all folded together into one. Oh, I love them so! I could sit looking at them all day, the darlings!"
Photogen looked close at the flowers, and thought he had seen something like them before, but could not make them out. As Nycteris had never seen an open daisy, so had he never seen a closed one.
Thus instinctively Nycteris tried to turn him away from his fear; and the beautiful creature's strange lovely talk helped not a little to make him forget it.
"You call it dark!" she said again, as if she could not get rid of the absurdity of the idea; "why, I could count every blade of the green hair--I suppose it is what the books call grass--within two yards of me! And just look at the great lamp! It is brighter than usual to-day, and I can't think why you should be frightened, or call it dark!"
As she spoke, she went on stroking his cheeks and hair, and trying to comfort him. But oh how miserable he was! and how plainly he looked it! He was on the point of saying that her great lamp was dreadful to him, looking like a witch, walking in the sleep of death; but he was not so ignorant as Nycteris, and knew even in the moonlight that she was a woman, though he had never seen one so young or so lovely before; and while she comforted his fear, her presence made him the more ashamed of it. Besides, not knowing her nature, he might annoy her, and make her leave him to his misery. He lay still therefore, hardly daring to move: all the little life he had seemed to come from her, and if he were to move, she might move; and if she were to leave him, he must weep like a child.
"How did you come here?" asked Nycteris, taking his face between her hands.
"Down the hill," he answered.
"Where do you sleep?" she asked.
He signed in the direction of the house. She gave a little laugh of delight.
"When you have learned not to be frightened, you will always be wanting to come out with me," she said.
She thought with herself she would ask her presently, when she had come to herself a little, how she had made her escape, for she must, of course, like herself have got out of a cave, in which Watho and Falca had been keeping her.
"Look at the lovely colours," she went on, pointing to a rose-bush, on which Photogen could not see a single flower. "They are far more beautiful--are they not?--than any of the colours upon your walls. And then they are alive, and smell so sweet!"
He wished she would not make him keep opening his eyes to look at things he could not see; and every other moment would start and grasp tight hold of her, as some fresh pang of terror shot into him.
"Come, come, dear!" said Nycteris; "you must not go on this way. You must be a brave girl, and--"
"A girl!" shouted Photogen, and started to his feet in wrath. "If you were a man, I should kill you."
"A man?" repeated Nycteris: "what is that? How could I be that? We are both girls--are we not?"
"No, I am not a girl," he answered; "--although," he added, changing his tone, and casting himself on the ground at her feet, "I have given you too good reason to call me one."
"Oh, I see!" returned Nycteris. "No, of course! you can't be a girl: girls are not afraid--without reason. I understand now: it is because you are not a girl that you are so frightened."
Photogen twisted and writhed upon the grass.
"No, it is not," he said sulkily; "it is this horrible darkness that creeps into me, goes all through me, into the very marrow of my bones--that is what makes me behave like a girl. If only the sun would rise!"
"The sun! what is it?" cried Nycteris, now in her turn conceiving a vague fear.
Then Photogen broke into a rhapsody, in which he vainly sought to forget his.
"It is the soul, the life, the heart, the glory of the universe," he said. "The worlds dance like motes in his beams. The heart of man is strong and brave in his light, and when it departs his courage grows from him--goes with the sun, and he becomes such as you see me now."
"Then that is not the sun?" said Nycteris, thoughtfully, pointing up to the moon.
"That!" cried Photogen, with utter scorn; "I know nothing about that, except that it is ugly and horrible. At best it can be only the ghost of a dead sun. Yes, that is it! That is what makes it look so frightful."
"No," said Nycteris, after a long, thoughtful pause; "you must be wrong there. I think the sun is the ghost of a dead moon, and that is how he is so much more splendid as you say.--Is there, then, another big room, where the sun lives in the roof?"
"I do not know what you mean," replied Photogen. "But you mean to be kind, I know, though you should not call a poor fellow in the dark a girl. If you will let me lie here, with my head in your lap, I should like to sleep. Will you watch me, and take care of me?"
"Yes, that I will," answered Nycteris, forgetting all her own danger.
So Photogen fell asleep.