“And it landed this afternoon, didn’t it?” he kept at her.
“Yes, yes, I think so, yes, but only in a dream!”
“Well”—he flung her hand away stiffly—“it’s good you’re truthful! I heard every word you said in your sleep. You mentioned the valley and the time.” Breathing hard, he walked between the pillars like a man blinded by a lightning bolt. Slowly his breath returned. She watched him as if he were quite insane. She arose finally and went to him. “Yll,” she whispered.
“I’m all right.”
“No.” He forced a tired smile. “Just childish. Forgive me, darling.” He gave her a rough pat. “Too much work lately. I’m sorry. I think I’ll lie down awhile—“
“You were so excited.”
“I’m all right now. Fine.” He exhaled. “Let’s forget it. Say, I heard a joke about Uel yesterday, I meant to tell you. What do you say you fix breakfast, I’ll tell the joke, and let’s not talk about all this.”
“It was only a dream.”
“Of course,” He kissed her cheek mechanically. “Only a dream.”
At noon the sun was high and hot and the hills shimmered in the light.
“Aren’t you going to town?” asked Ylla.
“Town?” he raised his brows faintly.
“This is the day you always go.” She adjusted a flower cage on its pedestal. The flowers stirred, opening their hungry yellow mouths.
He closed his book. “No. It’s too hot, and it’s late.”
“Oh.” She finished her task and moved toward the door. “Well, I’ll be back soon.”
“Wait a minute! Where are you going?”
She was in the door swiftly. “Over to Pao’s. She invited me!”
“I haven’t seen her in a long time. It’s only a little way.”
“Over in Green Valley, isn’t it?”
“Yes, just a walk, not far, I thought I’d—“ She hurried.
“I’m sorry, really sorry,” he said, running to fetch her back, looking very concerned about his forgetfulness. “It slipped my mind. I invited Dr. Nlle out this afternoon.”
“Dr. Nile!” She edged toward the door.
He caught her elbow and drew her steadily in. “Yes.”
“Pan can wait, Ylla. We must entertain Nile.”
“Just for a few minutes—“
He shook his head. “No. Besides, it’s a terribly long walk to Pao’s. All the way over through Green Valley and then past the big canal and down, isn’t it? And it’ll be very, very hot, and Dr. Nile would be delighted to see you. Well?”
She did not answer. She wanted to break and run. She wanted to cry out. But she only sat in the chair, turning her fingers over slowly, staring at them expressionlessly, trapped.
“Ylla?” he murmured. “You will be here, won’t you?”
“Yes,” she said after a long time. “I’ll be here.”
Her voice was dull. “All afternoon.”
Late in the day Dr. Nile had not put in an appearance. Ylla’s husband did not seem overly surprised. When it was quite late he murmured something, went to a closet, and drew forth an evil weapon, a long yellowish tube ending in a bellows and a trigger. He turned, and upon his face was a mask, hammered from silver metal, expressionless, the mask that he always wore when he wished to hide his feelings, the mask which curved and hollowed so exquisitely to his thin cheeks and chin and brow. The mask glinted, and he held the evil weapon in his hands, considering it. It hummed constantly, an insect hum. From it hordes of golden bees could be flung out with a high shriek. Golden, horrid bees that stung, poisoned, and fell lifeless, like seeds on the sand.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“What?” He listened to the bellows, to the evil hum. “If Dr. Nile is late, I’ll be damned if I’ll wait. I’m going out to hunt a bit. I’ll be back. You be sure to stay right here now, won’t you?” The silver mask glimmered.
“And tell Dr. Nile I’ll return. Just hunting.”
The triangular door closed. His footsteps faded down the hill.
She watched him walking through the sunlight until he was gone. Then she resumed her tasks with the magnetic dusts and the new fruits to be plucked from the crystal walls. She worked with energy and dispatch, but on occasion a numbness took hold of her and she caught herself singing that odd and memorable song and looking out beyond the crystal pillars at the sky.