A Comedy of Justice
JAMES BRANCH CABELL
"Of JURGEN eke they maken mencioun, That of an old wyf gat his youthe agoon, And gat himselfe a shirte as bright as fyre Wherein to jape, yet gat not his desire In any countrie ne condicioun."
Before each tarradiddle, Uncowed by sciolists, Robuster persons twiddle Tremendously big fists.
"Our gods are good," they tell us; "Nor will our gods defer Remission of rude fellows' Ability to err."
So this, your JURGEN, travels Content to compromise Ordainments none unravels Explicitly ... and sighs.
* * * * *
"Others, with better moderation, do either entertain the vulgar history of Jurgen as a fabulous addition unto the true and authentic story of St. Iurgenius of Poictesme, or else we conceive the literal acception to be a misconstruction of the symbolical expression: apprehending a veritable history, in an emblem or piece of Christian poesy. And this emblematical construction hath been received by men not forward to extenuate the acts of saints."
"A forced construction is very idle. If readers of The High History of Jurgen do not meddle with the allegory, the allegory will not meddle with them. Without minding it at all, the whole is as plain as a pikestaff. It might as well be pretended that we cannot see Poussin's pictures without first being told the allegory, as that the allegory aids us in understanding Jurgen."
—E. NOEL CODMAN.
"Too urbane to advocate delusion, too hale for the bitterness of irony, this fable of Jurgen is, as the world itself, a book wherein each man will find what his nature enables him to see; which gives us back each his own image; and which teaches us each the lesson that each of us desires to learn."
—JOHN FREDERICK LEWISTAM.
* * * * *
A FOREWORD: WHICH ASSERTS NOTHING
I WHY JURGEN DID THE MANLY THING
II ASSUMPTION OF A NOTED GARMENT
III THE GARDEN BETWEEN DAWN AND SUNRISE
IV THE DOROTHY WHO DID NOT UNDERSTAND
V REQUIREMENTS OF BREAD AND BUTTER
VI SHOWING THAT SEREDA IS FEMININE
VII OF COMPROMISES ON A WEDNESDAY
VIII OLD TOYS AND A NEW SHADOW
IX THE ORTHODOX RESCUE OF GUENEVERE
X PITIFUL DISGUISES OF THRAGNAR
XI APPEARANCE OF THE DUKE OF LOGREUS
XII EXCURSUS OF YOLANDE'S UNDOING
XIII PHILOSOPHY OF GOGYRVAN GAWR
XIV PRELIMINARY TACTICS OF DUKE JURGEN
XV OF COMPROMISES IN GLATHION
XVI DIVERS IMBROGLIOS OF KING SMOIT
XVII ABOUT A COCK THAT CROWED TOO SOON
XVIII WHY MERLIN TALKED IN TWILIGHT
XIX THE BROWN MAN WITH QUEER FEET
XX EFFICACY OF PRAYER
XXI HOW ANAITIS VOYAGED
XXII AS TO A VEIL THEY BROKE
XXIII SHORTCOMINGS OF PRINCE JURGEN
XXIV OF COMPROMISES IN COCAIGNE
XXV CANTRAPS OF THE MASTER PHILOLOGIST
XXVI IN TIME'S HOUR-GLASS
XXVII VEXATIOUS ESTATE OF QUEEN HELEN
XXVIII OF COMPROMISES IN LEUKE
XXIX CONCERNING HORVENDILE'S NONSENSE
XXX ECONOMICS OF KING JURGEN
XXXI THE FALL OF PSEUDOPOLIS
XXXII SUNDRY DEVICES OF THE PHILISTINES
XXXIII FAREWELL TO CHLORIS
XXXIV HOW EMPEROR JURGEN FARED INFERNALLY
XXXV WHAT GRANDFATHER SATAN REPORTED
XXXVI WHY COTH WAS CONTRADICTED
XXXVII INVENTION OF THE LOVELY VAMPIRE
XXXVIII AS TO APPLAUDED PRECEDENTS
XXXIX OF COMPROMISES IN HELL
XL THE ASCENSION OF POPE JURGEN
XLI OF COMPROMISES IN HEAVEN
XLII TWELVE THAT ARE FRETTED HOURLY
XLIII POSTURES BEFORE A SHADOW
XLIV IN THE MANAGER'S OFFICE
XLV THE FAITH OF GUENEVERE
XLVI THE DESIRE OF ANAITIS
XLVII THE VISION OF HELEN
XLVIII CANDID OPINIONS OF DAME LISA
XLIX OF THE COMPROMISE WITH KOSHCHEI
L THE MOMENT THAT DID NOT COUNT
"Nescio quid certe est: et Hylax in limine latrat."
A Foreword: Which Asserts Nothing.
In Continental periodicals not more than a dozen articles in all would seem to have given accounts or partial translations of the Jurgen legends. No thorough investigation of this epos can be said to have appeared in print, anywhere, prior to the publication, in 1913, of the monumental Synopses of Aryan Mythology by Angelo de Ruiz. It is unnecessary to observe that in this exhaustive digest Professor de Ruiz has given (VII, p. 415 et sequentia) a summary of the greater part of these legends as contained in the collections of Verville and Buelg; and has discussed at length and with much learning the esoteric meaning of these folk-stories and their bearing upon questions to which the "solar theory" of myth explanation has given rise. To his volumes, and to the pages of Mr. Lewistam's Key to the Popular Tales of Poictesme, must be referred all those who may elect to think of Jurgen as the resplendent, journeying and procreative sun.
Equally in reading hereinafter will the judicious waive all allegorical interpretation, if merely because the suggestions hitherto advanced are inconveniently various. Thus Verville finds the Nessus shirt a symbol of retribution, where Buelg, with rather wide divergence, would have it represent the dangerous gift of genius. Then it may be remembered that Dr. Codman says, without any hesitancy, of Mother Sereda: "This Mother Middle is the world generally (an obvious anagram of Erda es), and this Sereda rules not merely the middle of the working-days but the midst of everything. She is the factor of middleness, of mediocrity, of an avoidance of extremes, of the eternal compromise begotten by use and wont. She is the Mrs. Grundy of the Leshy; she is Comstockery: and her shadow is common-sense." Yet Codman speaks with certainly no more authority than Prote, when the latter, in his Origins of Fable, declares this epos is "a parable of ... man's vain journeying in search of that rationality and justice which his nature craves, and discovers nowhere in the universe: and the shirt is an emblem of this instinctive craving, as ... the shadow symbolizes conscience. Sereda typifies a surrender to life as it is, a giving up of man's rebellious self-centredness and selfishness: the anagram being se dare."
Thus do interpretations throng and clash, and neatly equal the commentators in number. Yet possibly each one of these unriddlings, with no doubt a host of others, is conceivable: so that wisdom will dwell upon none of them very seriously.
With the origin and the occult meaning of the folklore of Poictesme this book at least is in no wise concerned: its unambitious aim has been merely to familiarize English readers with the Jurgen epos for the tale's sake. And this tale of old years is one which, by rare fortune, can be given to English readers almost unabridged, in view of the singular delicacy and pure-mindedness of the Jurgen mythos: in all, not more than a half-dozen deletions have seemed expedient (and have been duly indicated) in order to remove such sparse and unimportant outcroppings of mediaeval frankness as might conceivably offend the squeamish.
Since this volume is presented simply as a story to be read for pastime, neither morality nor symbolism is hereinafter educed, and no "parallels" and "authorities" are quoted. Even the gaps are left unbridged by guesswork: whereas the historic and mythological problems perhaps involved are relinquished to those really thoroughgoing scholars whom erudition qualifies to deal with such topics, and tedium does not deter....
In such terms, and thus far, ran the Foreword to the first issues of this book, whose later fortunes have made necessary the lengthening of the Foreword with a postscript. The needed addition—this much at least chiming with good luck—is brief. It is just that fragment which some scholars, since the first appearance of this volume, have asserted—upon what perfect frankness must describe as not indisputable grounds—to be a portion of the thirty-second chapter of the complete form of La Haulte Histoire de Jurgen.
And in reply to what these scholars assert, discretion says nothing. For this fragment was, of course, unknown when the High History was first put into English, and there in consequence appears, here, little to be won either by endorsing or denying its claims to authenticity. Rather, does discretion prompt the appending, without any gloss or scholia, of this fragment, which deals with
The Judging of Jurgen.
Now a court was held by the Philistines to decide whether or no King Jurgen should be relegated to limbo. And when the judges were prepared for judging, there came into the court a great tumblebug, rolling in front of him his loved and properly housed young ones. With the creature came pages, in black and white, bearing a sword, a staff and a lance.
This insect looked at Jurgen, and its pincers rose erect in horror. The bug cried to the three judges, "Now, by St. Anthony! this Jurgen must forthwith be relegated to limbo, for he is offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent."
"And how can that be?" says Jurgen.
"You are offensive," the bug replied, "because this page has a sword which I choose to say is not a sword. You are lewd because that page has a lance which I prefer to think is not a lance. You are lascivious because yonder page has a staff which I elect to declare is not a staff. And finally, you are indecent for reasons of which a description would be objectionable to me, and which therefore I must decline to reveal to anybody."
"Well, that sounds logical," says Jurgen, "but still, at the same time, it would be no worse for an admixture of common-sense. For you gentlemen can see for yourselves, by considering these pages fairly and as a whole, that these pages bear a sword and a lance and a staff, and nothing else whatever; and you will deduce, I hope, that all the lewdness is in the insectival mind of him who itches to be calling these things by other names."
The judges said nothing as yet. But they that guarded Jurgen, and all the other Philistines, stood to this side and to that side with their eyes shut tight, and all these said: "We decline to look at the pages fairly and as a whole, because to look might seem to imply a doubt of what the tumblebug has decreed. Besides, as long as the tumblebug has reasons which he declines to reveal, his reasons stay unanswerable, and you are plainly a prurient rascal who are making trouble for yourself."
"To the contrary," says Jurgen, "I am a poet, and I make literature."
"But in Philistia to make literature and to make trouble for yourself are synonyms," the tumblebug explained. "I know, for already we of Philistia have been pestered by three of these makers of literature. Yes, there was Edgar, whom I starved and hunted until I was tired of it: then I chased him up a back alley one night, and knocked out those annoying brains of his. And there was Walt, whom I chivvied and battered from place to place, and made a paralytic of him: and him, too, I labelled offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent. Then later there was Mark, whom I frightened into disguising himself in a clown's suit, so that nobody might suspect him to be a maker of literature: indeed, I frightened him so that he hid away the greater part of what he had made until after he was dead, and I could not get at him. That was a disgusting trick to play on me, I consider. Still, these are the only three detected makers of literature that have ever infested Philistia, thanks be to goodness and my vigilance, but for both of which we might have been no more free from makers of literature than are the other countries."
"Now, but these three," cried Jurgen, "are the glory of Philistia: and of all that Philistia has produced, it is these three alone, whom living ye made least of, that to-day are honored wherever art is honored, and where nobody bothers one way or the other about Philistia."
"What is art to me and my way of living?" replied the tumblebug, wearily. "I have no concern with art and letters and the other lewd idols of foreign nations. I have in charge the moral welfare of my young, whom I roll here before me, and trust with St. Anthony's aid to raise in time to be God-fearing tumblebugs like me, delighting in what is proper to their nature. For the rest, I have never minded dead men being well-spoken-of. No, no, my lad: once whatever I may do means nothing to you, and once you are really rotten, you will find the tumblebug friendly enough. Meanwhile I am paid to protest that living persons are offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent, and one must live."
Then the Philistines who stood to this side and to that side said in indignant unison: "And we, the reputable citizenry of Philistia, are not at all in sympathy with those who would take any protest against the tumblebug as a justification of what they are pleased to call art. The harm done by the tumblebug seems to us very slight, whereas the harm done by the self-styled artist may be very great."
Jurgen now looked more attentively at this queer creature: and he saw that the tumblebug was malodorous, certainly, but at bottom honest and well-meaning; and this seemed to Jurgen the saddest thing he had found among the Philistines. For the tumblebug was sincere in his insane doings, and all Philistia honored him sincerely, so that there was nowhere any hope for this people.
Therefore King Jurgen addressed himself, as his need was, to submit to the strange customs of the Philistines. "Now do you judge me fairly," cried Jurgen to his judges, "if there be any justice in this mad country. And if there be none, do you relegate me to limbo or to any other place, so long as in that place this tumblebug is not omnipotent and sincere and insane."
And Jurgen waited....
* * * * *
... amara lento temperet risu
Why Jurgen Did the Manly Thing
It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, saying: In the 'old days lived a pawnbroker named Jurgen; but what his wife called him was very often much worse than that. She was a high-spirited woman, with no especial gift for silence. Her name, they say, was Adelais, but people by ordinary called her Dame Lisa.
They tell, also, that in the old days, after putting up the shop-windows for the night, Jurgen was passing the Cistercian Abbey, on his way home: and one of the monks had tripped over a stone in the roadway. He was cursing the devil who had placed it there.
"Fie, brother!" says Jurgen, "and have not the devils enough to bear as it is?"
"I never held with Origen," replied the monk; "and besides, it hurt my great-toe confoundedly."
"None the less," observes Jurgen, "it does not behoove God-fearing persons to speak with disrespect of the divinely appointed Prince of Darkness. To your further confusion, consider this monarch's industry! day and night you may detect him toiling at the task Heaven set him. That is a thing can be said of few communicants and of no monks. Think, too, of his fine artistry, as evidenced in all the perilous and lovely snares of this world, which it is your business to combat, and mine to lend money upon. Why, but for him we would both be vocationless! Then, too, consider his philanthropy! and deliberate how insufferable would be our case if you and I, and all our fellow parishioners, were to-day hobnobbing with other beasts in the Garden which we pretend to desiderate on Sundays! To arise with swine and lie down with the hyena?—oh, intolerable!"
Thus he ran on, devising reasons for not thinking too harshly of the Devil. Most of it was an abridgement of some verses Jurgen had composed, in the shop when business was slack.
"I consider that to be stuff and nonsense," was the monk's glose.
"No doubt your notion is sensible," observed the pawnbroker: "but mine is the prettier."
Then Jurgen passed the Cistercian Abbey, and was approaching Bellegarde, when he met a black gentleman, who saluted him and said:
"Thanks, Jurgen, for your good word."
"Who are you, and why do you thank me?" asks Jurgen.
"My name is no great matter. But you have a kind heart, Jurgen. May your life be free from care!"
"Save us from hurt and harm, friend, but I am already married."
"Eh, sirs, and a fine clever poet like you!"
"Yet it is a long while now since I was a practising poet."
"Why, to be sure! You have the artistic temperament, which is not exactly suited to the restrictions of domestic life. Then I suppose your wife has her own personal opinion about poetry, Jurgen."
"Indeed, sir, her opinion would not bear repetition, for I am sure you are unaccustomed to such language."
"This is very sad. I am afraid your wife does not quite understand you, Jurgen."
"Sir," says Jurgen, astounded, "do you read people's inmost thoughts?"
The black gentleman seemed much dejected. He pursed his lips, and fell to counting upon his fingers: as they moved his sharp nails glittered like flame-points.
"Now but this is a very deplorable thing," says the black gentleman, "to have befallen the first person I have found ready to speak a kind word for evil. And in all these centuries, too! Dear me, this is a most regrettable instance of mismanagement! No matter, Jurgen, the morning is brighter than the evening. How I will reward you, to be sure!"
So Jurgen thanked the simple old creature politely. And when Jurgen reached home his wife was nowhere to be seen. He looked on all sides and questioned everyone, but to no avail. Dame Lisa had vanished in the midst of getting supper ready—suddenly, completely and inexplicably, just as (in Jurgen's figure) a windstorm passes and leaves behind it a tranquillity which seems, by contrast, uncanny. Nothing could explain the mystery, short of magic: and Jurgen on a sudden recollected the black gentleman's queer promise. Jurgen crossed himself.
"How unjustly now," says Jurgen, "do some people get an ill name for gratitude! And now do I perceive how wise I am, always to speak pleasantly of everybody, in this world of tale-bearers."
Then Jurgen prepared his own supper, went to bed, and slept soundly.
"I have implicit confidence," says he, "in Lisa. I have particular confidence in her ability to take care of herself in any surroundings."
That was all very well: but time passed, and presently it began to be rumored that Dame Lisa walked on Morven. Her brother, who was a grocer and a member of the town-council, went thither to see about this report. And sure enough, there was Jurgen's wife walking in the twilight and muttering incessantly.
"Fie, sister!" says the town-councillor, "this is very unseemly conduct for a married woman, and a thing likely to be talked about."
"Follow me!" replied Dame Lisa. And the town-councillor followed her a little way in the dusk, but when she came to Amneran Heath and still went onward, he knew better than to follow.
Next evening the elder sister of Dame Lisa went to Morven. This sister had married a notary, and was a shrewd woman. In consequence, she took with her this evening a long wand of peeled willow-wood. And there was Jurgen's wife walking in the twilight and muttering incessantly.
"Fie, sister!" says the notary's wife, who was a shrewd woman, "and do you not know that all this while Jurgen does his own sewing, and is once more making eyes at Countess Dorothy?"
Dame Lisa shuddered; but she only said, "Follow me!"
And the notary's wife followed her to Amneran Heath, and across the heath, to where a cave was. This was a place of abominable repute. A lean hound came to meet them there in the twilight, lolling his tongue: but the notary's wife struck thrice with her wand, and the silent beast left them. And Dame Lisa passed silently into the cave, and her sister turned and went home to her children, weeping.
So the next evening Jurgen himself came to Morven, because all his wife's family assured him this was the manly thing to do. Jurgen left the shop in charge of Urien Villemarche, who was a highly efficient clerk. Jurgen followed his wife across Amneran Heath until they reached the cave. Jurgen would willingly have been elsewhere.
For the hound squatted upon his haunches, and seemed to grin at Jurgen; and there were other creatures abroad, that flew low in the twilight, keeping close to the ground like owls; but they were larger than owls and were more discomforting. And, moreover, all this was just after sunset upon Walburga's Eve, when almost anything is rather more than likely to happen.
So Jurgen said, a little peevishly: "Lisa, my dear, if you go into the cave I will have to follow you, because it is the manly thing to do. And you know how easily I take cold."
The voice of Dame Lisa, now, was thin and wailing, a curiously changed voice. "There is a cross about your neck. You must throw that away."
Jurgen was wearing such a cross, through motives of sentiment, because it had once belonged to his dead mother. But now, to pleasure his wife, he removed the trinket, and hung it on a barberry bush; and with the reflection that this was likely to prove a deplorable business, he followed Dame Lisa into the cave.
Assumption of a Noted Garment
The tale tells that all was dark there, and Jurgen could see no one. But the cave stretched straight forward, and downward, and at the far end was a glow of light. Jurgen went on and on, and so came presently to a centaur: and this surprised him not a little, because Jurgen knew that centaurs were imaginary creatures.
Certainly they were curious to look at: for here was the body of a fine bay horse, and rising from its shoulders, the sun-burnt body of a young fellow who regarded Jurgen with grave and not unfriendly eyes. The Centaur was lying beside a fire of cedar and juniper wood: near him was a platter containing a liquid with which he was anointing his hoofs. This stuff, as the Centaur rubbed it in with his fingers, turned the appearance of his hoofs to gold.
"Hail, friend," says Jurgen, "if you be the work of God."
"Your protasis is not good Greek," observed the Centaur, "because in Hellas we did not make such reservations. Besides, it is not so much my origin as my destination which concerns you."
"Well, friend, and whither are you going?"
"To the garden between dawn and sunrise, Jurgen."
"Surely, now, but that is a fine name for a garden! and it is a place I would take joy to be seeing."
"Up upon my back, Jurgen, and I will take you thither," says the Centaur, and heaved to his feet. Then said the Centaur, when the pawnbroker hesitated: "Because, as you must understand, there is no other way. For this garden does not exist, and never did exist, in what men humorously called real life; so that of course only imaginary creatures such as I can enter it."
"That sounds very reasonable," Jurgen estimated: "but as it happens, I am looking for my wife, whom I suspect to have been carried off by a devil, poor fellow!"
And Jurgen began to explain to the Centaur what had befallen.
The Centaur laughed. "It may be for that reason I am here. There is, in any event, only one remedy in this matter. Above all devils—and above all gods, they tell me, but certainly above all centaurs—is the power of Koshchei the Deathless, who made things as they are."
"It is not always wholesome," Jurgen submitted, "to speak of Koshchei. It seems especially undesirable in a dark place like this."
"None the less, I suspect it is to him you must go for justice."
"I would prefer not doing that," said Jurgen, with unaffected candor.
"You have my sympathy: but there is no question of preference where Koshchei is concerned. Do you think, for example, that I am frowzing in this underground place by my own choice? and knew your name by accident?"
Jurgen was frightened, a little. "Well, well! but it is usually the deuce and all, this doing of the manly thing. How, then, can I come to Koshchei?"
"Roundabout," says the Centaur. "There is never any other way."
"And is the road to this garden roundabout?"
"Oh, very much so, inasmuch as it circumvents both destiny and common-sense."
"Needs must, then," says Jurgen: "at all events, I am willing to taste any drink once."
"You will be chilled, though, traveling as you are. For you and I are going a queer way, in search of justice, over the grave of a dream and through the malice of time. So you had best put on this shirt above your other clothing."
"Indeed it is a fine snug shining garment, with curious figures on it. I accept such raiment gladly. And whom shall I be thanking for his kindness, now?"
"My name," said the Centaur, "is Nessus."
"Well, then, friend Nessus, I am at your service."
And in a trice Jurgen was on the Centaur's back, and the two of them had somehow come out of the cave, and were crossing Amneran Heath. So they passed into a wooded place, where the light of sunset yet lingered, rather unaccountably. Now the Centaur went westward. And now about the pawnbroker's shoulders and upon his breast and over his lean arms glittered like a rainbow the many-colored shirt of Nessus.
For a while they went through the woods, which were composed of big trees standing a goodish distance from one another, with the Centaur's gilded hoofs rustling and sinking in a thick carpet of dead leaves, all gray and brown, in level stretches that were unbroken by any undergrowth. And then they came to a white roadway that extended due west, and so were done with the woods. Now happened an incredible thing in which Jurgen would never have believed had he not seen it with his own eyes: for now the Centaur went so fast that he gained a little by a little upon the sun, thus causing it to rise in the west a little by a little; and these two sped westward in the glory of a departed sunset. The sun fell full in Jurgen's face as he rode straight toward the west, so that he blinked and closed his eyes, and looked first toward this side, then the other. Thus it was that the country about him, and the persons they were passing, were seen by him in quick bright flashes, like pictures suddenly transmuted into other pictures; and all his memories of this shining highway were, in consequence, always confused and incoherent.
He wondered that there seemed to be so many young women along the road to the garden. Here was a slim girl in white teasing a great brown and yellow dog that leaped about her clumsily; here a girl sat in the branches of a twisted and gnarled tree, and back of her was a broad muddied river, copper-colored in the sun; and here shone the fair head of a tall girl on horseback, who seemed to wait for someone: in fine, the girls along the way were numberless, and Jurgen thought he recollected one or two of them.
But the Centaur went so swiftly that Jurgen could not be sure.
The Garden between Dawn and Sunrise
Thus it was that Jurgen and the Centaur came to the garden between dawn and sunrise, entering this place in a fashion which it is not convenient to record. But as they passed over the bridge three fled before them, screaming. And when the life had been trampled out of the small furry bodies which these three had misused, there was none to oppose the Centaur's entry into the garden between dawn and sunrise.
This was a wonderful garden: yet nothing therein was strange. Instead, it seemed that everything hereabouts was heart-breakingly familiar and very dear to Jurgen. For he had come to a broad lawn which slanted northward to a well-remembered brook: and multitudinous maples and locust-trees stood here and there, irregularly, and were being played with very lazily by an irresolute west wind, so that foliage seemed to toss and ripple everywhere like green spray: but autumn was at hand, for the locust-trees were dropping a Danae's shower of small round yellow leaves. Around the garden was an unforgotten circle of blue hills. And this was a place of lucent twilight, unlit by either sun or stars, and with no shadows anywhere in the diffused faint radiancy that revealed this garden, which is not visible to any man except in the brief interval between dawn and sunrise.
"Why, but it is Count Emmerick's garden at Storisende," says Jurgen, "where I used to be having such fine times when I was a lad."
"I will wager," said Nessus, "that you did not use to walk alone in this garden."
"Well, no; there was a girl."
"Just so," assented Nessus. "It is a local by-law: and here are those who comply with it."
For now had come toward them, walking together in the dawn, a handsome boy and girl. And the girl was incredibly beautiful, because everybody in the garden saw her with the vision of the boy who was with her. "I am Rudolph," said this boy, "and she is Anne."
"And are you happy here?" asked Jurgen.
"Oh, yes, sir, we are tolerably happy: but Anne's father is very rich, and my mother is poor, so that we cannot be quite happy until I have gone into foreign lands and come back with a great many lakhs of rupees and pieces of eight."
"And what will you do with all this money, Rudolph?"
"My duty, sir, as I see it. But I inherit defective eyesight."
"God speed to you, Rudolph!" said Jurgen, "for many others are in your plight."
Then came to Jurgen and the Centaur another boy with the small blue-eyed person in whom he took delight. And this fat and indolent looking boy informed them that he and the girl who was with him were walking in the glaze of the red mustard jar, which Jurgen thought was gibberish: and the fat boy said that he and the girl had decided never to grow any older, which Jurgen said was excellent good sense if only they could manage it.
"Oh, I can manage that," said this fat boy, reflectively, "if only I do not find the managing of it uncomfortable."
Jurgen for a moment regarded him, and then gravely shook hands.
"I feel for you," said Jurgen, "for I perceive that you, too, are a monstrous clever fellow: so life will get the best of you."
"But is not cleverness the main thing, sir?"
"Time will show you, my lad," says Jurgen, a little sorrowfully. "And God speed to you, for many others are in your plight."
And a host of boys and girls did Jurgen see in the garden. And all the faces that Jurgen saw were young and glad and very lovely and quite heart-breakingly confident, as young persons beyond numbering came toward Jurgen and passed him there, in the first glow of dawn: so they all went exulting in the glory of their youth, and foreknowing life to be a puny antagonist from whom one might take very easily anything which one desired. And all passed in couples—"as though they came from the Ark," said Jurgen. But the Centaur said they followed a precedent which was far older than the Ark.
"For in this garden," said the Centaur, "each man that ever lived has sojourned for a little while, with no company save his illusions. I must tell you again that in this garden are encountered none but imaginary creatures. And stalwart persons take their hour of recreation here, and go hence unaccompanied, to become aldermen and respected merchants and bishops, and to be admired as captains upon prancing horses, or even as kings upon tall thrones; each in his station thinking not at all of the garden ever any more. But now and then come timid persons, Jurgen, who fear to leave this garden without an escort: so these must need go hence with one or another imaginary creature, to guide them about alleys and by-paths, because imaginary creatures find little nourishment in the public highways, and shun them. Thus must these timid persons skulk about obscurely with their diffident and skittish guides, and they do not ever venture willingly into the thronged places where men get horses and build thrones."
"And what becomes of these timid persons, Centaur?"
"Why, sometimes they spoil paper, Jurgen, and sometimes they spoil human lives."
"Then are these accursed persons," Jurgen considered.
"You should know best," replied the Centaur.
"Oh, very probably," said Jurgen. "Meanwhile here is one who walks alone in this garden, and I wonder to see the local by-laws thus violated."
Now Nessus looked at Jurgen for a while without speaking: and in the eyes of the Centaur was so much of comprehension and compassion that it troubled Jurgen. For somehow it made Jurgen fidget and consider this an unpleasantly personal way of looking at anybody.
"Yes, certainly," said the Centaur, "this woman walks alone. But there is no help for her loneliness, since the lad who loved this woman is dead."
"Nessus, I am willing to be reasonably sorry about it. Still, is there any need of pulling quite such a portentously long face? After all, a great many other persons have died, off and on: and for anything I can say to the contrary, this particular young fellow may have been no especial loss to anybody."
Again the Centaur said, "You should know best."
The Dorothy Who Did Not Understand
For now had come to Jurgen and the Centaur a gold-haired woman, clothed all in white, and walking alone. She was tall, and lovely and tender to regard: and hers was not the red and white comeliness of many ladies that were famed for beauty, but rather it had the even glow of ivory. Her nose was large and high in the bridge, her flexible mouth was not of the smallest: and yet whatever other persons might have said, to Jurgen this woman's countenance was in all things perfect. Perhaps this was because he never saw her as she was. For certainly the color of her eyes stayed a matter never revealed to him: gray, blue or green, there was no saying: they varied as does the sea; but always these eyes were lovely and friendly and perturbing.
Jurgen remembered that: for Jurgen saw this was Count Emmerick's second sister, Dorothy la Desiree, whom Jurgen very long ago (a many years before he met Dame Lisa and set up in business as a pawnbroker) had hymned in innumerable verses as Heart's Desire.
"And this is the only woman whom I ever loved," Jurgen remembered, upon a sudden. For people cannot always be thinking of these matters.
So he saluted her, with such deference as is due to a countess from a tradesman, and yet with unforgotten tremors waking in his staid body. But the strangest was yet to be seen, for he noted now that this was not a handsome woman in middle life but a young girl.
"I do not understand," he said, aloud: "for you are Dorothy. And yet it seems to me that you are not the Countess Dorothy who is Heitman Michael's wife."
And the girl tossed her fair head, with that careless lovely gesture which the Countess had forgotten. "Heitman Michael is well enough, for a nobleman, and my brother is at me day and night to marry the man: and certainly Heitman Michael's wife will go in satin and diamonds at half the courts of Christendom, with many lackeys to attend her. But I am not to be thus purchased."
"So you told a boy that I remember, very long ago. Yet you married Heitman Michael, for all that, and in the teeth of a number of other fine declarations."
"Oh, no, not I," said this Dorothy, wondering. "I never married anybody. And Heitman Michael has never married anybody, either, old as he is. For he is twenty-eight, and looks every day of it! But who are you, friend, that have such curious notions about me?"
"That question I will answer, just as though it were put reasonably. For surely you perceive I am Jurgen."
"I never knew but one Jurgen. And he is a young man, barely come of age—" Then as she paused in speech, whatever was the matter upon which this girl now meditated, her cheeks were tenderly colored by the thought of it, and in her knowledge of this thing her eyes took infinite joy.
And Jurgen understood. He had come back somehow to the Dorothy whom he had loved: but departed, and past overtaking by the fleet hoofs of centaurs, was the boy who had once loved this Dorothy, and who had rhymed of her as his Heart's Desire: and in the garden there was of this boy no trace. Instead, the girl was talking to a staid and paunchy pawnbroker, of forty-and-something.
So Jurgen shrugged, and looked toward the Centaur: but Nessus had discreetly wandered away from them, in search of four-leafed clovers. Now the east had grown brighter, and its crimson began to be colored with gold.
"Yes, I have heard of this other Jurgen," says the pawnbroker. "Oh, Madame Dorothy, but it was he that loved you!"
"No more than I loved him. Through a whole summer have I loved Jurgen."
And the knowledge that this girl spoke a wondrous truth was now to Jurgen a joy that was keen as pain. And he stood motionless for a while, scowling and biting his lips.
"I wonder how long the poor devil loved you! He also loved for a whole summer, it may be. And yet again, it may be that he loved you all his life. For twenty years and for more than twenty years I have debated the matter: and I am as well informed as when I started."
"But, friend, you talk in riddles."
"Is not that customary when age talks with youth? For I am an old fellow, in my forties: and you, as I know now, are near eighteen,—or rather, four months short of being eighteen, for it is August. Nay, more, it is the August of a year I had not looked ever to see again; and again Dom Manuel reigns over us, that man of iron whom I saw die so horribly. All this seems very improbable."
Then Jurgen meditated for a while. He shrugged.
"Well, and what could anybody expect me to do about it? Somehow it has befallen that I, who am but the shadow of what I was, now walk among shadows, and we converse with the thin intonations of dead persons. For, Madame Dorothy, you who are not yet eighteen, in this same garden there was once a boy who loved a girl, with such love as it puzzles me to think of now. I believe that she loved him. Yes, certainly it is a cordial to the tired and battered heart which nowadays pumps blood for me, to think that for a little while, for a whole summer, these two were as brave and comely and clean a pair of sweethearts as the world has known."
Thus Jurgen spoke. But his thought was that this was a girl whose equal for loveliness and delight was not to be found between two oceans. Long and long ago that doubtfulness of himself which was closer to him than his skin had fretted Jurgen into believing the Dorothy he had loved was but a piece of his imaginings. But certainly this girl was real. And sweet she was, and innocent she was, and light of heart and feet, beyond the reach of any man's inventiveness. No, Jurgen had not invented her; and it strangely contented him to know as much.
"Tell me your story, sir," says she, "for I love all romances."
"Ah, my dear child, but I cannot tell you very well of just what happened. As I look back, there is a blinding glory of green woods and lawns and moonlit nights and dance music and unreasonable laughter. I remember her hair and eyes, and the curving and the feel of her red mouth, and once when I was bolder than ordinary—But that is hardly worth raking up at this late day. Well, I see these things in memory as plainly as I now seem to see your face: but I can recollect hardly anything she said. Perhaps, now I think of it, she was not very intelligent, and said nothing worth remembering. But the boy loved her, and was happy, because her lips and heart were his, and he, as the saying is, had plucked a diamond from the world's ring. True, she was a count's daughter and the sister of a count: but in those days the boy quite firmly intended to become a duke or an emperor or something of that sort, so the transient discrepancy did not worry them."
"I know. Why, Jurgen is going to be a duke, too," says she, very proudly, "though he did think, a great while ago, before he knew me, of being a cardinal, on account of the robes. But cardinals are not allowed to marry, you see—And I am forgetting your story, too! What happened then?"
"They parted in September—with what vows it hardly matters now—and the boy went into Gatinais, to win his spurs under the old Vidame de Soyecourt. And presently—oh, a good while before Christmas!—came the news that Dorothy la Desiree had married rich Heitman Michael."
"But that is what I am called! And as you know, there is a Heitman Michael who is always plaguing me. Is that not strange! for you tell me all this happened a great while ago."
"Indeed, the story is very old, and old it was when Methuselah was teething. There is no older and more common story anywhere. As the sequel, it would be heroic to tell you this boy's life was ruined. But I do not think it was. Instead, he had learned all of a sudden that which at twenty-one is heady knowledge. That was the hour which taught him sorrow and rage, and sneering, too, for a redemption. Oh, it was armor that hour brought him, and a humor to use it, because no woman now could hurt him very seriously. No, never any more!"
"Ah, the poor boy!" she said, divinely tender, and smiling as a goddess smiles, not quite in mirth.
"Well, women, as he knew by experience now, were the pleasantest of playfellows. So he began to play. Rampaging through the world he went in the pride of his youth and in the armor of his hurt. And songs he made for the pleasure of kings, and sword-play he made for the pleasure of men, and a whispering he made for the pleasure of women, in places where renown was, and where he trod boldly, giving pleasure to everybody, in those fine days. But the whispering, and all that followed the whispering, was his best game, and the game he played for the longest while, with many brightly colored playmates who took the game more seriously than he did. And their faith in the game's importance, and in him and his high-sounding nonsense, he very often found amusing: and in their other chattels too he took his natural pleasure. Then, when he had played sufficiently, he held a consultation with divers waning appetites; and he married the handsome daughter of an estimable pawnbroker in a fair line of business. And he lived with his wife very much as two people customarily live together. So, all in all, I would not say his life was ruined."
"Why, then, it was," said Dorothy. She stirred uneasily, with an impatient sigh; and you saw that she was vaguely puzzled. "Oh, but somehow I think you are a very horrible old man: and you seem doubly horrible in that glittering queer garment you are wearing."
"No woman ever praised a woman's handiwork, and each of you is particularly severe upon her own. But you are interrupting the saga."
"I do not see"—and those large bright eyes of which the color was so indeterminable and so dear to Jurgen, seemed even larger now—"but I do not see how there could well be any more."
"Still, human hearts survive the benediction of the priest, as you may perceive any day. This man, at least, inherited his father-in-law's business, and found it, quite as he had anticipated, the fittest of vocations for a cashiered poet. And so, I suppose, he was content. Ah, yes; but after a while Heitman Michael returned from foreign parts, along with his lackeys, and plate, and chest upon chest of merchandise, and his fine horses, and his wife. And he who had been her lover could see her now, after so many years, whenever he liked. She was a handsome stranger. That was all. She was rather stupid. She was nothing remarkable, one way or another. This respectable pawnbroker saw that quite plainly: day by day he writhed under the knowledge. Because, as I must tell you, he could not retain composure in her presence, even now. No, he was never able to do that."
The girl somewhat condensed her brows over this information. "You mean that he still loved her. Why, but of course!"
"My child," says Jurgen, now with a reproving forefinger, "you are an incurable romanticist. The man disliked her and despised her. At any event, he assured himself that he did. Well, even so, this handsome stupid stranger held his eyes, and muddled his thoughts, and put errors into his accounts: and when he touched her hand he did not sleep that night as he was used to sleep. Thus he saw her, day after day. And they whispered that this handsome and stupid stranger had a liking for young men who aided her artfully to deceive her husband: but she never showed any such favor to the respectable pawnbroker. For youth had gone out of him, and it seemed that nothing in particular happened. Well, that was his saga. About her I do not know. And I shall never know! But certainly she got the name of deceiving Heitman Michael with two young men, or with five young men it might be, but never with a respectable pawnbroker."
"I think that is an exceedingly cynical and stupid story," observed the girl. "And so I shall be off to look for Jurgen. For he makes love very amusingly," says Dorothy, with the sweetest, loveliest meditative smile that ever was lost to heaven.
And a madness came upon Jurgen, there in the garden between dawn and sunrise, and a disbelief in such injustice as now seemed incredible.
"No, Heart's Desire," he cried, "I will not let you go. For you are dear and pure and faithful, and all my evil dream, wherein you were a wanton and be-fooled me, was not true. Surely, mine was a dream that can never be true so long as there is any justice upon earth. Why, there is no imaginable God who would permit a boy to be robbed of that which in my evil dream was taken from me!"
"And still I cannot understand your talking, about this dream of yours—!"
"Why, it seemed to me I had lost the most of myself; and there was left only a brain which played with ideas, and a body that went delicately down pleasant ways. And I could not believe as my fellows believed, nor could I love them, nor could I detect anything in aught they said or did save their exceeding folly: for I had lost their cordial common faith in the importance of what use they made of half-hours and months and years; and because a jill-flirt had opened my eyes so that they saw too much, I had lost faith in the importance of my own actions, too. There was a little time of which the passing might be made endurable; beyond gaped unpredictable darkness: and that was all there was of certainty anywhere. Now tell me, Heart's Desire, but was not that a foolish dream? For these things never happened. Why, it would not be fair if these things ever happened!"
And the girl's eyes were wide and puzzled and a little frightened. "I do not understand what you are saying: and there is that about you which troubles me unspeakably. For you call me by the name which none but Jurgen used, and it seems to me that you are Jurgen; and yet you are not Jurgen."
"But I am truly Jurgen. And look you, I have done what never any man has done before! For I have won back to that first love whom every man must lose, no matter whom he marries. I have come back again, passing very swiftly over the grave of a dream and through the malice of time, to my Heart's Desire! And how strange it seems that I did not know this thing was inevitable!"
"Still, friend, I do not understand you."
"Why, but I yawned and fretted in preparation for some great and beautiful adventure which was to befall me by and by, and dazedly I toiled forward. Whereas behind me all the while was the garden between dawn and sunrise, and therein you awaited me! Now assuredly, the life of every man is a quaintly builded tale, in which the right and proper ending comes first. Thereafter time runs forward, not as schoolmen fable in a straight line, but in a vast closed curve, returning to the place of its starting. And it is by a dim foreknowledge of this, by some faint prescience of justice and reparation being given them by and by, that men have heart to live. For I know now that I have always known this thing. What else was living good for unless it brought me back to you?"
But the girl shook her small glittering head, very sadly. "I do not understand you, and I fear you. For you talk foolishness and in your face I see the face of Jurgen as one might see the face of a dead man drowned in muddy water."
"Yet am I truly Jurgen, and, as it seems to me, for the first time since we were parted. For I am strong and admirable—even I, who sneered and played so long, because I thought myself a thing of no worth at all. That which has been since you and I were young together is as a mist that passes: and I am strong and admirable, and all my being is one vast hunger for you, my dearest, and I will not let you go, for you, and you alone, are my Heart's Desire."
Now the girl was looking at him very steadily, with a small puzzled frown, and with her vivid young soft lips a little parted. And all her tender loveliness was glorified by the light of a sky that had turned to dusty palpitating gold.
"Ah, but you say that you are strong and admirable: and I can only marvel at such talking. For I see that which all men see."
And then Dorothy showed him the little mirror which was attached to the long chain of turquoise matrix about her neck: and Jurgen studied the frightened foolish aged face that he found in the mirror.
Thus drearily did sanity return to Jurgen: and his flare of passion died, and the fever and storm and the impetuous whirl of things was ended, and the man was very weary. And in the silence he heard the piping cry of a bird that seemed to seek for what it could not find.
"Well, I am answered," said the pawnbroker: "and yet I know that this is not the final answer. Dearer than any hope of heaven was that moment when awed surmises first awoke as to the new strange loveliness which I had seen in the face of Dorothy. It was then I noted the new faint flush suffusing her face from chin to brow so often as my eyes encountered and found new lights in the shining eyes which were no longer entirely frank in meeting mine. Well, let that be, for I do not love Heitman Michael's wife.
"It is a grief to remember how we followed love, and found his service lovely. It is bitter to recall the sweetness of those vows which proclaimed her mine eternally,—vows that were broken in their making by prolonged and unforgotten kisses. We used to laugh at Heitman Michael then; we used to laugh at everything. Thus for a while, for a whole summer, we were as brave and comely and clean a pair of sweethearts as the world has known. But let that be, for I do not love Heitman Michael's wife.
"Our love was fair but short-lived. There is none that may revive him since the small feet of Dorothy trod out this small love's life. Yet when this life of ours too is over—this parsimonious life which can allow us no more love for anybody,—must we not win back, somehow, to that faith we vowed against eternity? and be content again, in some fair-colored realm? Assuredly I think this thing will happen. Well, but let that be, for I do not love Heitman Michael's wife."
"Why, this is excellent hearing," observed Dorothy, "because I see that you are converting your sorrow into the raw stuff of verses. So I shall be off to look for Jurgen, since he makes love quite otherwise and far more amusingly."
And again, whatever was the matter upon which this girl now meditated, her cheeks were tenderly colored by the thought of it, and in her knowledge of this thing her eyes took infinite joy.
Thus it was for a moment only: for she left Jurgen now, with the friendliest light waving of her hand; and so passed from him, not thinking of this old fellow any longer, as he could see, even in the instant she turned from him. And she went toward the dawn, in search of that young Jurgen whom she, who was perfect in all things, had loved, though only for a little while, not undeservedly.
Requirements of Bread and Butter
"Nessus," says Jurgen, "and am I so changed? For that Dorothy whom I loved in youth did not know me."
"Good and evil keep very exact accounts," replied the Centaur, "and the face of every man is their ledger. Meanwhile the sun rises, it is already another workday: and when the shadows of those two who come to take possession fall full upon the garden, I warn you, there will be astounding changes brought about by the requirements of bread and butter. You have not time to revive old memories by chatting with the others to whom you babbled aforetime in this garden."
"Ah, Centaur, in the garden between dawn and sunrise there was never any other save Dorothy la Desiree."
The Centaur shrugged. "It may be you forget; it is certain that you underestimate the local population. Some of the transient visitors you have seen, and in addition hereabouts dwell the year round all manner of imaginary creatures. The fairies live just southward, and the gnomes too. To your right is the realm of the Valkyries: the Amazons and the Cynocephali are their allies: all three of these nations are continually at loggerheads with their neighbors, the Baba-Yagas, whom Morfei cooks for, and whose monarch is Oh, a person very dangerous to name. Northward dwell the Lepracauns and the Men of Hunger, whose king is Clobhair. My people, who are ruled by Chiron, live even further to the north. The Sphinx pastures on yonder mountain; and now the Chimaera is old and generally derided, they say that Cerberus visits the Sphinx at twilight, although I was never the person to disseminate scandal—"
"Centaur," said Jurgen, "and what is Dorothy doing here?"
"Why, all the women that any man has ever loved live here," replied the Centaur, "for very obvious reasons."
"That is a hard saying, friend."
Nessus tapped with his forefinger upon the back of Jurgen's hand. "Worm's-meat! this is the destined food, do what you will, of small white worms. This by and by will be a struggling pale corruption, like seething milk. That too is a hard saying, Jurgen. But it is a true saying."
"And was that Dorothy whom I loved in youth an imaginary creature?"
"My poor Jurgen, you who were once a poet! she was your masterpiece. For there was only a shallow, stupid and airy, high-nosed and light-haired miss, with no remarkable good looks,—and consider what your ingenuity made from such poor material! You should be proud of yourself."
"No, Centaur, I cannot very well be proud of my folly: yet I do not regret it. I have been befooled by a bright shadow of my own raising, you tell me, and I concede it to be probable. No less, I served a lovely shadow; and my heart will keep the memory of that loveliness until life ends, in a world where other men follow pantingly after shadows which are not even pretty."
"There is something in that, Jurgen: there is also something in an old tale we used to tell in Thessaly, about a fox and certain grapes."
"Well, but look you, Nessus, there is an emperor that reigns now in Constantinople and occasionally does business with me. Yes, and I could tell you tales of by what shifts he came to the throne—"
"Men's hands are by ordinary soiled in climbing," quoth the Centaur.
"And 'Jurgen,' this emperor says to me, not many months ago, as he sat in his palace, crowned and dreary and trying to cheat me out of my fair profit on some emeralds,—'Jurgen, I cannot sleep of nights, because of that fool Alexius, who comes into my room with staring eyes and the bowstring still about his neck. And my Varangians must be in league with that silly ghost, because I constantly order them to keep Alexius out of my bedchamber, and they do not obey me, Jurgen. To be King of the East is not to the purpose, Jurgen, when one must submit to such vexations.' Yes, it was Caesar Pharamond himself said this to me: and I deduce the shadow of a crown has led him into an ugly pickle, for all that he is the mightiest monarch in the world. And I would not change with Caesar Pharamond, not I who am a respectable pawnbroker, with my home in fee and my bit of tilled land. Well, this is a queer world, to be sure: and this garden is visited by no stranger things than pop into a man's mind sometimes, without his knowing how."
"Ah, but you must understand that the garden is speedily to be remodeled. Yonder you may observe the two whose requirements are to rid the place of all fantastic unremunerative notions; and who will develop the natural resources of this garden according to generally approved methods."
And from afar Jurgen could see two figures coming out of the east, so tall that their heads rose above the encircling hills and glistened in the rays of a sun which was not yet visible. One was a white pasty-looking giant, with a crusty expression: he walked with the aid of a cane. The other was of a pale yellow color: his face was oily, and he rode on a vast cow that was called AEdhumla.
"Make way there, brother, with your staff of life," says the yellow giant, "for there is much to do hereabouts."
"Ay, brother, this place must be altered a deal before it meets with our requirements," the other grumbled. "May I be toasted if I know where to begin!"
Then as the giants turned dull and harsh faces toward the garden, the sun came above the circle of blue hills, so that the mingled shadows of these two giants fell across the garden. For an instant Jurgen saw the place oppressed by that attenuated mile-long shadow, as in heraldry you may see a black bar painted sheer across some brightly emblazoned shield. Then the radiancy of everything twitched and vanished, as a bubble bursts.
And Jurgen was standing in the midst of a field, very neatly plowed, but with nothing as yet growing in it. And the Centaur was with him still, it seemed, for there were the creature's hoofs, but all the gold had been washed or rubbed away from them in traveling with Jurgen.
"See, Nessus!" Jurgen cried, "the garden is made desolate. Oh, Nessus, was it fair that so much loveliness should be thus wasted!"
"Nay," said the Centaur, "nay!" Long and wailingly he whinneyed, "Nay!"
And when Jurgen raised his eyes he saw that his companion was not a centaur, but only a strayed riding-horse.
"Were you the animal, then," says Jurgen, "and was it a quite ordinary animal, that conveyed me to the garden between dawn and sunrise?" And Jurgen laughed disconsolately. "At all events, you have clothed me in a curious fine shirt. And, now I look, your bridle is marked with a coronet. So I will return you to the castle at Bellegarde, and it may be that Heitman Michael will reward me."
Then Jurgen mounted this horse and rode away from the plowed field wherein nothing grew as yet. As they left the furrows they came to a signboard with writing on it, in a peculiar red and yellow lettering.
Jurgen paused to decipher this.
"Read me!" was written on the signboard: "read me, and judge if you understand! So you stopped in your journey because I called, scenting something unusual, something droll. Thus, although I am nothing, and even less, there is no one that sees me but lingers here. Stranger, I am a law of the universe. Stranger, render the law what is due the law!"
Jurgen felt cheated. "A very foolish signboard, indeed! for how can it be 'a law of the universe', when there is no meaning to it!" says Jurgen. "Why, for any law to be meaningless would not be fair."
Showing that Sereda Is Feminine
Then, having snapped his fingers at that foolish signboard, Jurgen would have turned easterly, toward Bellegarde: but his horse resisted. The pawnbroker decided to accept this as an omen.
"Forward, then!" he said, "in the name of Koshchei." And thereafter Jurgen permitted the horse to choose its own way.
Thus Jurgen came through a forest, wherein he saw many things not salutary to notice, to a great stone house like a prison, and he sought shelter there. But he could find nobody about the place, until he came to a large hall, newly swept. This was a depressing apartment, in its chill neat emptiness, for it was unfurnished save for a bare deal table, upon which lay a yardstick and a pair of scales. Above this table hung a wicker cage, containing a blue bird, and another wicker cage containing three white pigeons. And in this hall a woman, no longer young, dressed all in blue, and wearing a white towel by way of head-dress was assorting curiously colored cloths.
She had very bright eyes, with wrinkled lids; and now as she looked up at Jurgen her shrunk jaws quivered.
"Ah," says she, "I have a visitor. Good day to you, in your glittering shirt. It is a garment I seem to recognize."
"Good day, grandmother! I am looking for my wife, whom I suspect to have been carried off by a devil, poor fellow! Now, having lost my way, I have come to pass the night under your roof."
"Very good: but few come seeking Mother Sereda of their own accord."
Then Jurgen knew with whom he talked: and inwardly he was perturbed, for all the Leshy are unreliable in their dealings.
So when he spoke it was very civilly. "And what do you do here, grandmother?"
"I bleach. In time I shall bleach that garment you are wearing. For I take the color out of all things. Thus you see these stuffs here, as they are now. Clotho spun the glowing threads, and Lachesis wove them, as you observe, in curious patterns, very marvelous to see: but when I am done with these stuffs there will be no more color or beauty or strangeness anywhere apparent than in so many dishclouts."
"Now I perceive," says Jurgen, "that your power and dominion is more great than any other power which is in the world."
He made a song of this, in praise of the Leshy and their Days, but more especially in praise of the might of Mother Sereda and of the ruins that have fallen on Wednesday. To Chetverg and Utornik and Subbota he gave their due. Pyatinka and Nedelka also did Jurgen commend for such demolishments as have enregistered their names in the calendar of saints, no less. Ah, but there was none like Mother Sereda: hers was the centre of that power which is the Leshy's. The others did but nibble at temporal things, like furtive mice: she devastated, like a sandstorm, so that there were many dustheaps where Mother Sereda had passed, but nothing else.
And so on, and so on. The song was no masterpiece, and would not be bettered by repetition. But it was all untrammeled eulogy, and the old woman beat time to it with her lean hands: and her shrunk jaws quivered, and she nodded her white-wrapped head this way and that way, with a rolling motion, and on her thin lips was a very proud and foolish smile.
"That is a good song," says she; "oh, yes, an excellent song! But you report nothing of my sister Pandelis who controls the day of the Moon."
"Monday!" says Jurgen: "yes, I neglected Monday, perhaps because she is the oldest of you, but in part because of the exigencies of my rhyme scheme. We must let Pandelis go unhymned. How can I remember everything when I consider the might of Sereda?"
"Why, but," says Mother Sereda, "Pandelis may not like it, and she may take holiday from her washing some day to have a word with you. However, I repeat, that is an excellent song. And in return for your praise of me, I will tell you that, if your wife has been carried off by a devil, your affair is one which Koshchei alone can remedy. Assuredly, I think it is to him you must go for justice."
"But how may I come to him, grandmother?"
"Oh, as to that, it does not matter at all which road you follow. All highways, as the saying is, lead roundabout to Koshchei. The one thing needful is not to stand still. This much I will tell you also for your song's sake, because that was an excellent song, and nobody ever made a song in praise of me before to-day."
Now Jurgen wondered to see what a simple old creature was this Mother Sereda, who sat before him shaking and grinning and frail as a dead leaf, with her head wrapped in a common kitchen-towel, and whose power was so enormous.
"To think of it," Jurgen reflected, "that the world I inhabit is ordered by beings who are not one-tenth so clever as I am! I have often suspected as much, and it is decidedly unfair. Now let me see if I cannot make something out of being such a monstrous clever fellow."
Jurgen said aloud: "I do not wonder that no practising poet ever presumed to make a song of you. You are too majestical. You frighten these rhymesters, who feel themselves to be unworthy of so great a theme. So it remained for you to be appreciated by a pawnbroker, since it is we who handle and observe the treasures of this world after you have handled them."
"Do you think so?" says she, more pleased than ever. "Now, may be that was the way of it. But I wonder that you who are so fine a poet should ever have become a pawnbroker."
"Well, and indeed, Mother Sereda, your wonder seems to me another wonder: for I can think of no profession better suited to a retired poet. Why, there is the variety of company! for high and low and even the genteel are pressed sometimes for money: then the plowman slouches into my shop, and the duke sends for me privately. So the people I know, and the bits of their lives I pop into, give me a deal to romance about."
"Ah, yes, indeed," says Mother Sereda, wisely, "that well may be the case. But I do not hold with romance, myself."
"Moreover, sitting in my shop, I wait there quiet-like while tribute comes to me from the ends of earth: everything which men and women have valued anywhere comes sooner or later to me: and jewels and fine knickknacks that were the pride of queens they bring me, and wedding rings, and the baby's cradle with his little tooth marks on the rim of it, and silver coffin-handles, or it may be an old frying-pan, they bring me, but all comes to Jurgen. So that just to sit there in my dark shop quiet-like, and wonder about the history of my belongings and how they were made mine, is poetry, and is the deep and high and ancient thinking of a god who is dozing among what time has left of a dead world, if you understand me, Mother Sereda."
"I understand: oho, I understand that which pertains to gods, for a sufficient reason."
"And then another thing, you do not need any turn for business: people are glad to get whatever you choose to offer, for they would not come otherwise. So you get the shining and rough-edged coins that you can feel the proud king's head on, with his laurel-wreath like millet seed under your fingers; and you get the flat and greenish coins that are smeared with the titles and the chins and hooked noses of emperors whom nobody remembers or cares about any longer: all just by waiting there quiet-like, and making a favor of it to let customers give you their belongings for a third of what they are worth. And that is easy labor, even for a poet."
"I understand: I understand all labor."
"And people treat you a deal more civilly than any real need is, because they are ashamed of trafficking with you at all: I dispute if a poet could get such civility shown him in any other profession. And finally, there is the long idleness between business interviews, with nothing to do save sit there quiet-like and think about the queerness of things in general: and that is always rare employment for a poet, even without the tatters of so many lives and homes heaped up about him like spillikins. So that I would say in all, Mother Sereda, there is certainly no profession better suited to an old poet than the profession of pawnbroking."
"Certainly, there may be something in what you tell me," observes Mother Sereda. "I know what the Little Gods are, and I know what work is, but I do not think about these other matters, nor about anything else. I bleach."
"Ah, and a great deal more I could be saying, too, godmother, but for the fear of wearying you. Nor would I have run on at all about my private affairs were it not that we two are so close related. And kith makes kind, as people say."
"But how can you and I be kin?"
"Why, heyday, and was I not born upon a Wednesday? That makes you my godmother, does it not?"
"I do not know, dearie, I am sure. Nobody ever cared to claim kin with Mother Sereda before this," says she, pathetically.
"There can be no doubt, though, on the point, no possible doubt. Sabellius states it plainly. Artemidorus Minor, I grant you, holds the question debatable, but his reasons for doing so are tolerably notorious. Besides, what does all his flimsy sophistry avail against Nicanor's fine chapter on this very subject? Crushing, I consider it. His logic is final and irrefutable. What can anyone say against Saevius Nicanor?—ah, what indeed?" demanded Jurgen.
And he wondered if there might not have been perchance some such persons somewhere, after all. Their names, in any event, sounded very plausible to Jurgen.
"Ah, dearie, I was never one for learning. It may be as you say."
"You say 'it may be', godmother. That embarrasses me, rather, because I was about to ask for my christening gift, which in the press of other matters you overlooked some forty years back. You will readily conceive that your negligence, however unintentional, might possibly give rise to unkindly criticism: and so I felt I ought to mention it, in common fairness to you."
"As for that, dearie, ask what you will within the limits of my power. For mine are all the sapphires and turquoises and whatever else in this dusty world is blue; and mine likewise are all the Wednesdays that have ever been or ever will be: and any one of these will I freely give you in return for your fine speeches and your tender heart."
"Ah, but, godmother, would it be quite just for you to accord me so much more than is granted to other persons?"
"Why, no: but what have I to do with justice? I bleach. Come now, then, do you make a choice! for I can assure you that my sapphires are of the first water, and that many of my oncoming Wednesdays will be well worth seeing."
"No, godmother, I never greatly cared for jewelry: and the future is but dressing and undressing, and shaving, and eating, and computing percentage, and so on; the future does not interest me now. So I shall modestly content myself with a second-hand Wednesday, with one that you have used and have no further need of: and it will be a Wednesday in the August of such and such a year."
Mother Sereda agreed to this. "But there are certain rules to be observed," says she, "for one must have system."
As she spoke, she undid the towel about her head, and she took a blue comb from her white hair: and she showed Jurgen what was engraved on the comb. It frightened Jurgen, a little: but he nodded assent.
"First, though," says Mother Sereda, "here is the blue bird. Would you not rather have that, dearie, than your Wednesday? Most people would."
"Ah, but, godmother," he replied, "I am Jurgen. No, it is not the blue bird I desire."
So Mother Sereda took from the wall the wicker cage containing the three white pigeons: and going before him, with small hunched shoulders, and shuffling her feet along the flagstones, she led the way into a courtyard, where, sure enough, they found a tethered he-goat. Of a dark blue color this beast was, and his eyes were wiser than the eyes of a beast.
Then Jurgen set about that which Mother Sereda said was necessary.
Of Compromises on a Wednesday
So it was that, riding upon a horse whose bridle was marked with a coronet, the pawnbroker returned to a place, and to a moment, which he remembered. It was rather queer to be a fine young fellow again, and to foresee all that was to happen for the next twenty years.
As it chanced, the first person he encountered was his mother Azra, whom Coth had loved very greatly but not long. And Jurgen talked with Azra of what clothes he would be likely to need in Gatinais, and of how often he would write to her. She disparaged the new shirt he was wearing, as was to be expected, since Azra had always preferred to select her son's clothing rather than trust to Jurgen's taste. His new horse she admitted to be a handsome animal; and only hoped he had not stolen it from anybody who would get him into trouble. For Azra, it must be recorded, had never any confidence in her son; and was the only woman, Jurgen felt, who really understood him.
And now as his beautiful young mother impartially petted and snapped at him, poor Jurgen thought of that very real dissension and severance which in the oncoming years was to arise between them; and of how she would die without his knowing of her death for two whole months; and of how his life thereafter would be changed, somehow, and the world would become an unstable place in which you could no longer put cordial faith. And he foreknew all the remorse he was to shrug away, after the squandering of so much pride and love. But these things were not yet: and besides, these things were inevitable.
"And yet that these things should be inevitable is decidedly not fair," said Jurgen.
So it was with all the persons he encountered. The people whom he loved when at his best as a fine young fellow were so very soon, and through petty causes, to become nothing to him, and he himself was to be converted into a commonplace tradesman. And living seemed to Jurgen a wasteful and inequitable process.
Then Jurgen left the home of his youth, and rode toward Bellegarde, and tethered his horse upon the heath, and went into the castle. Thus Jurgen came to Dorothy. She was lovely and dear, and yet, by some odd turn, not quite so lovely and dear as the Dorothy he had seen in the garden between dawn and sunrise. And Dorothy, like everybody else, praised Jurgen's wonderful new shirt.
"It is designed for such festivals," said Jurgen, modestly—"a little notion of my own. A bit extreme, some persons might consider it, but there is no pleasing everybody. And I like a trifle of color."
For there was a masque that night at the castle of Bellegarde: and wildly droll and sad it was to Jurgen to remember what was to befall so many of the participants.
Jurgen had not forgotten this Wednesday, this ancient Wednesday upon which Messire de Montors had brought the Confraternity of St. Medard from Brunbelois, to enact a masque of The Birth of Hercules, as the vagabonds were now doing, to hilarious applause. Jurgen remembered it was the day before Bellegarde discovered that Count Emmerick's guest, the Vicomte de Puysange, was in reality the notorious outlaw, Perion de la Foret. Well, yonder the yet undetected impostor was talking very earnestly with Dame Melicent: and Jurgen knew all that was in store for this pair of lovers.
Meanwhile, as Jurgen reflected, the real Vicomte de Puysange was at this moment lying in a delirium, yonder at Benoit's: to-morrow the true Vicomte would be recognized, and within the year the Vicomte would have married Felise de Soyecourt, and later Jurgen would meet her, in the orchard; and Jurgen knew what was to happen then also.
And Messire de Montors was watching Dame Melicent, sidewise, while he joked with little Ettarre, who was this night permitted to stay up later than usual, in honor of the masque: and Jurgen knew that this young bishop was to become Pope of Rome, no less; and that the child he joked with was to become the woman for possession of whom Guiron des Rocques and the surly-looking small boy yonder, Maugis d'Aigremont, would contend with each other until the country hereabouts had been devastated, and the castle wherein Jurgen now was had been besieged, and this part of it burned. And wildly droll and sad it was to Jurgen thus to remember all that was going to happen to these persons, and to all the other persons who were frolicking in the shadow of their doom and laughing at this trivial masque.
For here—with so much of ruin and failure impending, and with sorrow prepared so soon to smite a many of these revellers in ways foreknown to Jurgen; and with death resistlessly approaching so soon to make an end of almost all this company in some unlovely fashion that Jurgen foreknew exactly,—here laughter seemed unreasonable and ghastly. Why, but Reinault yonder, who laughed so loud, with his cropped head flung back: would Reinault be laughing in quite this manner if he knew the round strong throat he thus exposed was going to be cut like the throat of a calf, while three Burgundians held him? Jurgen knew this thing was to befall Reinault Vinsauf before October was out. So he looked at Reinault's throat, and shudderingly drew in his breath between set teeth.
"And he is worth a score of me, this boy!" thought Jurgen: "and it is I who am going to live to be an old fellow, with my bit of land in fee, years after dirt clogs those bright generous eyes, and years after this fine big-hearted boy is wasted! And I shall forget all about him, too. Marion l'Edol, that very pretty girl behind him, is to become a blotched and toothless haunter of alleys, a leering plucker at men's sleeves! And blue-eyed Colin here, with his baby mouth, is to be hanged for that matter of coin-clipping—let me recall, now,—yes, within six years of to-night! Well, but in a way, these people are blessed in lacking foresight. For they laugh, and I cannot laugh, and to me their laughter is more terrible than weeping. Yes, they may be very wise in not glooming over what is inevitable; and certainly I cannot go so far as to say they are wrong: but still, at the same time—! And assuredly, living seems to me in everything a wasteful and inequitable process."
Thus Jurgen, while the others passed a very pleasant evening.
And presently, when the masque was over, Dorothy and Jurgen went out upon the terrace, to the east of Bellegarde, and so came to an unforgotten world of moonlight. They sat upon a bench of carved stone near the balustrade which overlooked the highway: and the boy and the girl gazed wistfully beyond the highway, over luminous valleys and tree-tops. Just so they had sat there, as Jurgen perfectly remembered, when Mother Sereda first used this Wednesday.
"My Heart's Desire," says Jurgen, "I am sad to-night. For I am thinking of what life will do to us, and what offal the years will make of you and me."
"My own sweetheart," says she, "and do we not know very well what is to happen?" And Dorothy began to talk of all the splendid things that Jurgen was to do, and of the happy life which was to be theirs together.
"It is horrible," he said: "for we are more fine than we shall ever be hereafter. We have a splendor for which the world has no employment. It will be wasted. And such wastage is not fair."
"But presently you will be so and so," says she: and fondly predicts all manner of noble exploits which, as Jurgen remembered, had once seemed very plausible to him also. Now he had clearer knowledge as to the capacities of the boy of whom he had thought so well.
"No, Heart's Desire: no, I shall be quite otherwise."
"—and to think how proud I shall be of you! 'But then I always knew it', I shall tell everybody, very condescendingly—"
"No, Heart's Desire: for you will not think of me at all."
"Ah, sweetheart! and can you really believe that I shall ever care a snap of my fingers for anybody but you?"
Then Jurgen laughed a little; for Heitman Michael came now across the lonely terrace, in search of Madame Dorothy: and Jurgen foreknew this was the man to whom within two months of this evening Dorothy was to give her love and all the beauty that was hers, and with whom she was to share the ruinous years which lay ahead.
But the girl did not know this, and Dorothy gave a little shrugging gesture. "I have promised to dance with him, and so I must. But the old fellow is a great plague."
For Heitman Michael was nearing thirty, and this to Dorothy and Jurgen was an age that bordered upon senility.
"Now, by heaven," said Jurgen, "wherever Heitman Michael does his next dancing it will not be hereabouts."
Jurgen had decided what he must do.
And then Heitman Michael saluted them civilly. "But I fear I must rob you of this fair lady, Master Jurgen," says he.
Jurgen remembered that the man had said precisely this a score of years ago; and that Jurgen had mumbled polite regrets, and had stood aside while Heitman Michael bore off Dorothy to dance with him. And this dance had been the beginning of intimacy between Heitman Michael and Dorothy.
"Heitman," says Jurgen, "the bereavement which you threaten is very happily spared me, since, as it happens, the next dance is to be mine."
"We can but leave it to the lady," says Heitman Michael, laughing.
"Not I," says Jurgen. "For I know too well what would come of that. I intend to leave my destiny to no one."
"Your conduct, Master Jurgen, is somewhat strange," observed Heitman Michael.
"Ah, but I will show you a thing yet stranger. For, look you, there seem to be three of us here on this terrace. Yet I can assure you there are four."
"Read me the riddle, my boy, and have done."
"The fourth of us, Heitman, is a goddess that wears a speckled garment and has black wings. She can boast of no temples, and no priests cry to her anywhere, because she is the only deity whom no prayers can move or any sacrifices placate. I allude, sir, to the eldest daughter of Nox and Erebus."
"You speak of death, I take it."
"Your apprehension, Heitman, is nimble. Even so, it is not quick enough, I fear, to forerun the whims of goddesses. Indeed, what person could have foreseen that this implacable lady would have taken such a strong fancy for your company."
"Ah, my young bantam," replies Heitman Michael, "it is quite true that she and I are acquainted. I may even boast of having despatched one or two stout warriors to serve her underground. Now, as I divine your meaning, you plan that I should decrease her obligation by sending her a whippersnapper."
"My notion, Heitman, is that since this dark goddess is about to leave us, she should not, in common gallantry, be permitted to go hence unaccompanied. I propose, therefore, that we forthwith decide who is to be her escort."
Now Heitman Michael had drawn his sword. "You are insane. But you extend an invitation which I have never yet refused."
"Heitman," cries Jurgen, in honest gratitude and admiration, "I bear you no ill-will. But it is highly necessary you die to-night, in order that my soul may not perish too many years before my body."
With that he too whipped out his sword.
So they fought. Now Jurgen was a very acceptable swordsman, but from the start he found in Heitman Michael his master. Jurgen had never reckoned upon that, and he considered it annoying. If Heitman Michael perforated Jurgen the future would be altered, certainly, but not quite as Jurgen had decided it ought to be remodeled. So this unlooked-for complication seemed preposterous, and Jurgen began to be irritated by the suspicion that he was getting himself killed for nothing at all.
Meanwhile his unruffled tall antagonist seemed but to play with Jurgen, so that Jurgen was steadily forced back toward the balustrade. And presently Jurgen's sword was twisted from his hand, and sent flashing over the balustrade, into the public highway.
"So now, Master Jurgen," says Heitman Michael, "that is the end of your nonsense. Why, no, there is not any occasion to posture like a statue. I do not intend to kill you. Why the devil's name, should I? To do so would only get me an ill name with your parents: and besides it is infinitely more pleasant to dance with this lady, just as I first intended." And he turned gaily toward Madame Dorothy.
But Jurgen found this outcome of affairs insufferable. This man was stronger than he, this man was of the sort that takes and uses gallantly all the world's prizes which mere poets can but respectfully admire. All was to do again: Heitman Michael, in his own hateful phrase, would act just as he had first intended, and Jurgen would be brushed aside by the man's brute strength. This man would take away Dorothy, and leave the life of Jurgen to become a business which Jurgen remembered with distaste. It was unfair.
So Jurgen snatched out his dagger, and drove it deep into the undefended back of Heitman Michael. Three times young Jurgen stabbed and hacked the burly soldier, just underneath the left ribs. Even in his fury Jurgen remembered to strike on the left side.
It was all very quickly done. Heitman Michael's arms jerked upward, and in the moonlight his fingers spread and clutched. He made curious gurgling noises. Then the strength went from his knees, so that he toppled backward. His head fell upon Jurgen's shoulder, resting there for an instant fraternally; and as Jurgen shuddered away from the abhorred contact, the body of Heitman Michael collapsed. Now he lay staring upward, dead at the feet of his murderer. He was horrible looking, but he was quite dead.
"What will become of you?" Dorothy whispered, after a while. "Oh, Jurgen, it was foully done, that which you did was infamous! What will become of you, my dear?"
"I will take my doom," says Jurgen, "and without whimpering, so that I get justice. But I shall certainly insist upon justice." Then Jurgen raised his face to the bright heavens. "The man was stronger than I and wanted what I wanted. So I have compromised with necessity, in the only way I could make sure of getting that which was requisite to me. I cry for justice to the power that gave him strength and gave me weakness, and gave to each of us his desires. That which I have done, I have done. Now judge!"
Then Jurgen tugged and shoved the heavy body of Heitman Michael, until it lay well out of sight, under the bench upon which Jurgen and Dorothy had been sitting. "Rest there, brave sir, until they find you. Come to me now, my Heart's Desire. Good, that is excellent. Here I sit with my true love, upon the body of my enemy. Justice is satisfied, and all is quite as it should be. For you must understand that I have fallen heir to a fine steed, whose bridle is marked with a coronet,—prophetically, I take it,—and upon this steed you will ride pillion with me to Lisuarte. There we will find a priest to marry us. We will go together into Gatinais. Meanwhile, there is a bit of neglected business to be attended to." And he drew the girl close to him.
For Jurgen was afraid of nothing now. And Jurgen thought:
"Oh, that I could detain the moment! that I could make some fitting verses to preserve this moment in my own memory! Could I but get into words the odor and the thick softness of this girl's hair as my hands, that are a-quiver in every nerve of them, caress her hair; and get into enduring words the glitter and the cloudy shadowings of her hair in this be-drenching moonlight! For I shall forget all this beauty, or at best I shall remember this moment very dimly."
"You have done very wrong—" says Dorothy.
Says Jurgen, to himself: "Already the moment passes this miserably happy moment wherein once more life shudders and stands heart-stricken at the height of bliss! it passes, and I know even as I lift this girl's soft face to mine, and mark what faith and submissiveness and expectancy is in her face, that whatever the future holds for us, and whatever of happiness we two may know hereafter, we shall find no instant happier than this, which passes from us irretrievably while I am thinking about it, poor fool, in place of rising to the issue."
"—And heaven only knows what will become of you Jurgen—"
Says Jurgen, still to himself: "Yes, something must remain to me of all this rapture, though it be only guilt and sorrow: something I mean to wrest from this high moment which was once wasted fruitlessly. Now I am wiser: for I know there is not any memory with less satisfaction in it than the memory of some temptation we resisted. So I will not waste the one real passion I have known, nor leave unfed the one desire which ever caused me for a heart-beat to forget to think about Jurgen's welfare. And thus, whatever happens, I shall not always regret that I did not avail myself of this girl's love before it was taken from me."
So Jurgen made such advances as seemed good to him. And he noted, with amusing memories of how much afraid he had once been of shocking his Dorothy's notions of decorum, that she did not repulse him very vigorously.
"Here, over a dead body! Oh, Jurgen, this is horrible! Now, Jurgen, remember that somebody may come any minute! And I thought I could trust you! Ah, and is this all the respect you have for me!" This much she said in duty. Meanwhile the eyes of Dorothy were dilated and very tender.
"Faith, I take no chances, this second time. And so whatever happens, I shall not always regret that which I left undone."
Now upon his lips was laughter, and his arms were about the submissive girl. And in his heart was an unnamable depression and a loneliness, because it seemed to him that this was not the Dorothy whom he had seen in the garden between dawn and sunrise. For in my arms now there is just a very pretty girl who is not over-careful in her dealings with young men, thought Jurgen, as their lips met. Well, all life is a compromise; and a pretty girl is something tangible, at any rate. So he laughed, triumphantly, and prepared for the sequel.
But as Jurgen laughed triumphantly, with his arm beneath the head of Dorothy, and with the tender face of Dorothy passive beneath his lips, and with unreasonable wistfulness in his heart, the castle bell tolled midnight. What followed was curious: for as Wednesday passed, the face of Dorothy altered, her flesh roughened under his touch, and her cheeks fell away, and fine lines came about her eyes, and she became the Countess Dorothy whom Jurgen remembered as Heitman Michael's wife. There was no doubt about it, in that be-drenching moonlight: and she was leering at him, and he was touching her everywhere, this horrible lascivious woman, who was certainly quite old enough to know better than to permit such liberties. And her breath was sour and nauseous. Jurgen drew away from her, with a shiver of loathing, and he closed his eyes, to shut away that sensual face.
"No," he said; "it would not be fair to what we owe to others. In fact, it would be a very heinous sin. We should weigh such considerations occasionally, madame."
Then Jurgen left his temptress, with simple dignity. "I go to search for my dear wife, madame, in a frame of mind which I would strongly advise you to adopt toward your husband."
And he went straightway down the terraces of Bellegarde, and turned southward to where his horse was tethered upon Amneran Heath: and Jurgen was feeling very virtuous.
Old Toys and a New Shadow
Jurgen had behaved with conspicuous nobility, Jurgen reflected: but he had committed himself. "I go in search of my dear wife," he had stated, in the exaltation of virtuous sentiments. And now Jurgen found himself alone in a world of moonlight just where he had last seen his wife.
"Well, well," he said, "now that my Wednesday is done with, and I am again a reputable pawnbroker, let us remember the advisability of sometimes doing the manly thing! It was into this cave that Lisa went. So into this cave go I, for the second time, rather than home to my unsympathetic relatives-in-law. Or at least, I think I am going—"
"Ay," said a squeaking voice, "this is the time. A ab hur hus!"
"Oh, more than time!"
"Look, the man in the oak!"
"Oho, the fire-drake!"
Thus many voices screeched and wailed confusedly. But Jurgen, staring about him, could see nobody: and all the tiny voices seemed to come from far overhead, where nothing was visible save the clouds which of a sudden were gathering; for a wind was rising, and already the moon was overcast. Now for a while that noise high in the air became like a wrangling of sparrows, wherein no words were distinguishable.
Then said a small shrill voice distinctly: "Note now, sweethearts, how high we pass over the wind-vexed heath, where the gallows' burden creaks and groans swaying to and fro in the night! Now the rain breaks loose as a hawk from the fowler, and grave Queen Holda draws her tresses over the moon's bright shield. Now the bed is made, and the water drawn, and we the bride's maids seek for the lass who will be bride to Sclaug."
Said another: "Oh, search for a maid with golden hair, who is perfect, tender and pure, and fit for a king who is old as love, with no trace of love in him. Even now our grinning dusty master wakes from sleep, and his yellow fingers shake to think of her flower-soft lips who comes to-night to his lank embrace and warms the ribs that our eyes have seen. Who will be bride to Sclaug?"
And a third said: "The wedding-gown we have brought with us, we that a-questing ride; and a maid will go hence on Phorgemon in Cleopatra's shroud. Hah. Will o'the Wisp will marry the couple—"
"No, no! let Brachyotus!"
"No, be it Kitt with the candle-stick!"
"Eman hetan, a fight, a fight!"
"Oho, Tom Tumbler, 'ware of Stadlin!"
"Hast thou the marmaritin, Tib?"
"A ab hur hus!"
"Come, Bembo, come away!"
So they all fell to screeching and whistling and wrangling high over Jurgen's head, and Jurgen was not pleased with his surroundings.
"For these are the witches of Amneran about some deviltry or another in which I prefer to take no part. I now regret that I flung away a cross in this neighborhood so very recently, and trust the action was understood. If my wife had not made a point of it, and had not positively insisted upon it, I would never have thought of doing such a thing. I intended no reflection upon anybody. Even so, I consider this heath to be unwholesome. And upon the whole, I prefer to seek whatever I may encounter in this cave."
So in went Jurgen, for the second time.
And the tale tells that all was dark there, and Jurgen could see no one. But the cave stretched straight forward, and downward, and at the far end was a glow of light. Jurgen went on and on, and so came to the place where he had found the Centaur. This part of the cave was now vacant. But behind where Nessus had lain in wait for Jurgen was an opening in the cave's wall, and through this opening streamed the light. Jurgen stooped and crawled through the orifice.