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Messer Marco Polo
Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne
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The times went by, and Marco Polo busied himself with his daily affairs, keeping
track of the galleasses with merchandise to strange far-away ports, buying
presents for refractory governors who didn't care for foreign trade in their
domains, getting wisdom from the old clerks, and knowledge from the mariners;
in the main, acting as the son of a great house while the heads of it were away.
You would think that he would have forgotten what the sea-captain of China told
him about Golden Bells, what with work and sport and other women near him.
You would think that would drop out of his memory like an old rime. But it stuck
there, as an old rime sometimes sticks, and by dint of thinking he had her fast
now in his mind -- so fast, so clear, so full of life, that she might be some one he
had seen an hour ago or was going to see an hour from now. He would think of
the now merry, now sad eyes of her, and the soft, sweet voice of her by reason
of which they called her Golden Bells, and the dusky little face, and the hair like
black silk, and the splotch of the red flower in it. She was as distinct to him as the
five fingers on his hand. It wasn't only she was clear in his mind's eye, but she
was inside of him, closer than his heart. She was there when the sun rose, so he
would be saying, "It's a grand day is in it surely, Golden Bells." She was there in
the dim counting house and he going over in the great intricate ledgers the clerks
do be posting carefully with quills of the gray goose, so that he would be saying:
"I wonder where this is and that is. Sure I had my finger on it only a moment ago,
Golden Bells." And when the dusk was falling, and the bats came out, and the
quiet of Christ was over everything, and the swallows flew low on the great
canals, she would be beside him, and never a word would he say to her, so near
to him would she be.
And she wrought strangeness between him and the women he knew, the great
grave lady with the large, pale mouth, her that was of his mind, and the little
black cloak-maker with the eager, red mouth, her that was closer than mind or
heart to him. So that the first found fault with his poetry.
"I don't know what's come over you, Marco Polo," -- and there was a touch of
temper in her voice, -- "but these poems of yours show me you haven't your mind
on your subject. Would you mind telling me when I had bound black hair?" she
says. "And you say my bosom is like two little russet apples. Now, a regular poet
once compared it to two great silver cups, and that was a good comparison,
though in truth," she says, "he knew as little about it as you. And my hands are
not like soft Eastern flowers. They're like lilies. I don't know where you do be
getting these Eastern comparisons," she says. "But I don't like them. Tell me,
pretty boy," -- she looks suspicious, -- "you haven't been taking any of the
strange Egyptian drugs the dark people do be selling in the dim shops on the
quiet canals? Look out, pretty boy! Look out!"