THE STORY OF PYRAMUS AND THISBE

BY M. M. BIRD

"The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby."—Shakespeare.

In Babylon of old, where walls were first built of bricks, two houses had been set so close together that they shared one roof. Two families came to dwell in them, and young Pyramus of the one house soon made acquaintance with fair Thisbe of the other. Their friendship grew and ripened into love. But alas! a deathless feud had arisen to separate the two families, and the unhappy lovers were inexorably divided.

Still, though angry parents could forbid their love and could prevent them meeting, all this could not avail to kill their love. The thwarted pair could but gaze upon each other, could only look and sigh: yet that was enough to feed the flame of love. And at last they found a way to reach each other's ears, as lovers will: a chink between two bricks in the wall that divided the two houses—a little chink where the cement had crumbled away, so small it had never been noticed and filled in. Through this friendly chink young Pyramus breathed his vows, and fair Thisbe answered him with tender words. Their eager lips pressed the unresponsive brick, their hands that longed to clasp each other were kept apart by the hard, unfeeling wall. Their sighs and softly spoken words of love alone could pierce the barrier that divided them.

At last they resolved to defy the cruel parents who thus wronged their love; to steal out one night in the concealing darkness, and fly together despite all opposition.

Outside the town, beside a little brook and shaded by a widespread mulberry tree, stood the tomb of Ninus. Here they agreed to meet at nightfall.

Impatiently they watched the sun sink slowly down the western sky and bathe in the western sea. Thisbe, with caution, unbarred her father's door and stole softly forth, veiling her face and hasting through the town to the spot where the tomb stood on the open plain.

But in the darkness other creatures had come forth. A lioness, scouring the plain in search of prey, had slain an ox. Surfeited with flesh and all besmeared with blood, it came swiftly to the brook to slake its thirst. By the light of the moon Thisbe, approaching the trysting-place, saw the fearful beast. She flew trembling across the plain to the neighboring rocks and hid within a cave. And as she fled her floating veil dropped from her shoulders and was left upon the ground.

When the queen of beasts had drunk her fill, she came bounding back across the plain. She found the veil, and this she tore and mouthed with jaws still wet with the blood of the slaughtered ox. And then went on her way.

Young Pyramus, who could not elude his parents so soon, came hastening to the tryst. By the moonlight he noted the footprints of the savage beast beside the brook, and farther on his anguished eyes beheld his loved Thisbe's torn and blood-stained veil. Convinced that the beast had slain his love, he cried in his agony of grief that the fault was his in that he had not been first at the tryst to protect her, and cursed the malevolence of fate that had caused him to fix the spot where she should meet her death. He kissed the veil so torn, so dear to him. And then, crying that Death should not divide two hearts so fond, he drew his sword and plunged it into his breast. The life-blood spurted from the grievous wound and besprinkled all the white clusters of the mulberry.

Cautiously the trembling Thisbe left her hiding-place among the rocks, fearing lest delay should make her lover think her untrue, and neared the appointed spot. But though the tomb and the brook were there as of old, the tree she could not recognize with its new burden of crimson clusters.

As she gazed in doubt, her eyes fell on a form that lay stretched upon the ground. She saw her lover bathed in his blood.

She shrieked and tore her hair; she raised him, clasped him, bathed with her tears his gaping wound. She cried to him to wake and answer his poor Thisbe. His dying eyes unclosed in one long look of love, and then he died in her arms.

She gazed around, saw her torn veil, and saw his own sword lying, blood-stained and sheathless, by his side. She saw that by his own hand he had inflicted the fatal wound; that, believing her dead, he had not chosen to survive.

Should her love be weaker than his? She it was who had been the innocent cause of his death, and she would share it. One prayer she breathed that their cruel parents would grant them at last to be joined together, and in one urn confine their ashes. Of the drooping mulberry tree, beneath whose kindly shade she made her piteous lament, she begged one boon—that by the purple color of its fruit it would bear perpetual witness to their love and their untimely death.

Then in her bosom she plunged the sword, yet warm with the blood of its slaughtered lord, and fell dead beside him.

The prayer that dying Thisbe breathed was heard by compassionate gods and parents. Their ashes were mixed in one golden urn, and from that sad day the fruit of the mulberry tree has been stained a lustrous purple.