Messer Marco Polo
You must see him now as he was seventeen years after he had come to China,
and fourteen years after his wife, little Golden Bells, had died, a lean figure of a
man, with his hair streaked with gray, a lean, hard face on him and savage eyes,
and all the body of him steel and whale-bone from riding on the great Khan's
business, and riding fast and furious, so that he might sleep and forget; but
forgetting never came to him. . .You might think he was a harsh man from his
face and eyes, but he was the straight man in administering justice, and he had
the soft heart for the poor -- the heart of Golden Bells. He was easily moved to
anger, but the fine Chinese people never minded him, knowing he was a
suffering man. Though never a word of Golden Bells came from his mouth,
barring maybe that line of Dante's, the saddest line in the world, and that he used
to repeat to himself and no one there:
. . ."'la bella persona
Che mi fu tolta. . .che mi fu tolta'; who was
taken from me; Taken! Taken from me!"
And oftentimes a look would come over his face as if he were listening for a voice
to speak -- listening, listening, and then a wee harsh laugh would come from him,
very heartbreaking to hear, and whatever was in his hand, papers or a riding-
whip, he would pitch down and walk away. . .
He had just come in from the borders of the Arctic lands, from giving the khan's
orders to the squat, hairy tribes who live by the icy shores, and had come to the
garden by the Lake of Cranes, the garden where the Golden Bells of singing and
laughter were dumb this armful of years, and he was alone, and the listening look
was on his face, when there came Kubla and Li Po and the old magician. . .
Now Kubla was very old, so old he could hardly walk, and very frail, and Li Po
was very old, too, and gray in the face, and sadder in the eyes than ever, and the
magician's white beard had grown to his knees, but there was no more humor in
his eyes. . .And Marco Polo helped the old khan to sit down.
"Oh, sir, why did you come to me? Sure I was going to you the moment I had
changed my riding-clothes. . .Sir, you should have stayed in your bed. . ."
"There was something on my mind, Marco, and the old do be thinking long to get
things off their mind."
"What can I do sir?"