THE WHITE LEOPARDESS 171
hard to believe that water had ever occupied the hollow before them. All was so still that sleep seemed to interpenetrate the structure, causing the very moonlight to look discordantly awake. I must either enter like a thief, or break a silence that rendered frightful the mere thought of a sound !
Like an outcast dog I was walking about the walls, when I came to a little recess with a stone bench : I took refuge in it from the wind, lay down, and in spite of the cold fell fast asleep.
I was wakened by something leaping upon me, and licking my face with the rough tongue of a feline animal. ' It is the white leopardess ! ' I thought. ' She is come to suck my blood !—and why should she not have it ?— it would cost me more to defend than to yield it! ' So I lay still, expecting a shoot of pain. But the pang did not arrive ; a pleasant warmth instead began to diffuse itself through me. Stretched at my back, she lay as close to me as she could lie, the heat of her body slowly penetrating mine, and her breath, which had nothing of the wild beast in it, swathing my head and face in a genial atmosphere. A full conviction that her intention toward me was good, gained possession of me. I turned like a sleepy boy, threw my arm over her, and sank into profound unconsciousness.
When I began to come to myself, I fancied I lay warm and soft in my own bed. Is it possible I am at home ? ' I thought. The well-known scents of the garden seemed to come crowding in. I rubbed my eyes, and looked out: I lay on a bare stone, in the heart of a hateful city!
I sprang from the bench. Had I indeed had a leopardess for my bedfellow, or had I but dreamed it ?