Justice

By George Sterling

Nila the youth, first-born, whose father's name
Was honored in his market-place of Ind,
Loved Unda, and the dreaming twain, bethroathed,
Waited the springtide and their marriage-rites.
The springtide came, but Nila's joy came not,
For she, the girl that was to be his bride,
Was ravished from her lover, kin and home—
Prey to the bull-necked Rajah on the hill.
Then Nila, heedless of his father's hope,
Vanished.   Anon before the palace gate
That looked across the palm-tops to the south,
And whence the road ran eastward to the town,
There sat one cowled, a grey and mournful shape,
Who spoke not, and was deemed, for silence, saint—
Who lived upon the offerings of the poor,
And gave no sign, nor vision of his face,
To slave nor councilor. "For," said the youth,
"It well may be that on some day she fare
Forth to the temple, or to other ends:
And I, shall I not know her as she goes,
Tho' jeweled curtains hide the loyal face?
Aye! But to be as near to her as now
And do her service once in all my days
Were better than despair.  Yet if men find
That I am Nila, they may well discern
Wherefore I wait, and so the Rajah know,
Or, at the least, my kindred draw me hence."

He waiting, season after season came
With weal and woe unto the sons of men—
The time of sowing and the time to reap,
Summer, and crashing of the winter rain,
And plague and famines, gods that slew unseen.
He heard the stars plot evil unto man,
And saw the baleful meteor float to light
And many suns look down upon man's pain.
The days had each their will of him. The years
Wrought as with cunning chisels. Gaunt he grew,
A silent watcher by the carven gate,
And saw his kind go in and forth again.
But never one whose coming, with a thrill,
Sang to his heart: "Lo! I am even she!"
Hooded, unknown, so sat he 'mid the crows—
Sear as the summer, grey as any rain—
And watched the flowers' birth and death and heard
The sparrows' song of mating, or the din
Where the shrill apes held council in the grove.
Often, in dreams that broke his daytime's dream,
He somehow, somewhere, found the long-betrothed,
Far-wandered too in sleep's Elysium,
And clasped her form, and kissed her deathless lips,
Hushed, in some garden of eternal dews;
Then woke to silence and the dark, save where
In one lean tower gleamed a shrouded lamp,
Like some red planet still among the stars,
Or, hung above the temple to the south,
The failing lanthorn of the moon…Far off
A jackal barked…A whisper touched the wind.

So for two score of years his vigil ran,
Unbroken save for slumber, till his hope,
More faint at last, for all his hungering,
Than shadows cast by firstling moons, was fled.
But in the dust and detriments of noon,
And in the midnight, still he longed for her,
As, day by day, the marring seasons passed,
Heedless of his despair.  And yet, he dreamt,
Sustained by that which man must find at last—
Patience, his answer to the sneer of Hell.
Often he whispered prayer, and, in his age,
Spoke unto children and to ancient men,
But craved no word of her he loved, in dread
Lest he be told her death.  Then broke a day
Whereon a hush seemed come to mortal things.
A scarlet flower opened, near at hand,
Scentless.  Far up, he saw a lonely cloud,
Cold-purple, like a bruise upon the sky.
A restless wind plucked at the parent dust,
And all the apes were silent in the grove.
And Nila knew his end was near, and felt
His soul rise wearily and welcome Death.
Then one came forth from out the palace gate—
Broken and desolate with foul-eyed age,
And sat near by, nor held at all her peace,
Lamenting o'er some matter of a hen.
Whereat said Nila:  "Woman hast thou word
Of one whom, long ago, the Rajah tore
From lover and from kin—of her whose name
Was Unda?"  Then the crone bent low her head
And pondered, reaching back to the years agone,
As one that in the darkness of the sea
Gropes for a sunken gem.  At last she spoke,
Saying, "So long! So long ago! And yet
Do I remember Unda, for alone
Of all her band she mourned, nor would be still;
Wherefore our lord at last was wroth with her
And put her forth, for that she ever wept,
By the northern gate, forbidding that she turn
Again unto her kindred.  And some say
That she within the jungle perished, some
That to a city of the west she fared
And dwelt in shame.  Doubtless she long is dead."
And Nila gazed upon the land and sky,
Woven for man's illusion, and beheld
The scarlet petals fallen from their stem.
The cloud had gone; the wind was fled away.
And Nila turned him from the veils of Time,
And bowed his head, and murmured: "God is just."

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