THE SILENT FOUNTAIN 191
would I seek to restore her ! As I stood trembling beside the cage, I knew that in the black ellipsoid I had been in the brain of the princess !—I saw the tail of the leopardess quiver once.
While still endeavouring to compose myself, I heard the voice of the princess beside me.
'Come now,' she said; 'I will show you what I want you to do for me.'
She led the way into the court. I followed in dazed compliance.
The moon was near the zenith, and her present silver seemed brighter than the gold of the absent sun. She brought me through the trees to the tallest of them, the one in the centre. It was not quite like the rest, for its branches, drawing their ends together at the top, made a clump that looked from beneath like a fir-cone. The princess stood close under it, gazing up, and said, as if talking to herself,
' On the summit of that tree grows a tiny blossom which would at once heal my scratches ! I might be a dove for a moment and fetch it, but I see a little snake in the leaves whose bite would be worse to a dove than the bite of a tiger to me ! —How I hate that cat-woman !'
She turned to me quickly, saying with one of her sweetest smiles,
' Can you climb ?'
The smile vanished with the brief question, and her face changed to a look of sadness and suffering. I ought to have left her to suffer, but the way she put her hand to her wounded neck went to my heart.
I considered the tree. All the way up to the branches, were projections on the stem like the remnants on a palm of its fallen leaves.