THE CERTAIN HOUR
(Dizain des Poetes)
JAMES BRANCH CABELL
"Criticism, whatever may be its pretensions, never does more than to define the impression which is made upon it at a certain moment by a work wherein the writer himself noted the impression of the world which he received at a certain hour."
ROBERT M. McBRIDE & COMPANY
Copyright, 1916, by Robert M. McBride & Co. Copyright, 1915, by McBride, Nast & Co. Copyright, 1914, by the Sewanee Review Quarterly Copyright, 1913, by John Adams Thayer Corporation Copyright, 1912, by Argonaut Publishing Company Copyright, 1911, by Red Book Corporation Copyright, 1909, by Harper and Brothers
ROBERT GAMBLE CABELL II
In Dedication of The Certain Hour
Sad hours and glad hours, and all hours, pass over; One thing unshaken stays: Life, that hath Death for spouse, hath Chance for lover; Whereby decays
Each thing save one thing:—mid this strife diurnal Of hourly change begot, Love that is God-born, bides as God eternal, And changes not;—
Nor means a tinseled dream pursuing lovers Find altered by-and-bye, When, with possession, time anon discovers Trapped dreams must die,—
For he that visions God, of mankind gathers One manlike trait alone, And reverently imputes to Him a father's Love for his son.
"Ballad of the Double-Soul" AUCTORIAL INDUCTION BELHS CAVALIERS BALTHAZAR'S DAUGHTER JUDITH'S CREED CONCERNING CORINNA OLIVIA'S POTTAGE A BROWN WOMAN PRO HONORIA THE IRRESISTIBLE OGLE A PRINCESS OF GRUB STREET THE LADY OF ALL OUR DREAMS "Ballad of Plagiary"
BALLAD OF THE DOUBLE-SOUL
"Les Dieux, qui trop aiment ses faceties cruelles"—PAUL VERVILLE.
In the beginning the Gods made man, and fashioned the sky and the sea, And the earth's fair face for man's dwelling-place, and this was the Gods' decree:—
"Lo, We have given to man five wits: he discerneth folly and sin; He is swift to deride all the world outside, and blind to the world within:
"So that man may make sport and amuse Us, in battling for phrases or pelf, Now that each may know what forebodeth woe to his neighbor, and not to himself."
Yet some have the Gods forgotten,—or is it that subtler mirth The Gods extort of a certain sort of folk that cumber the earth?
For this is the song of the double-soul, distortedly two in one,— Of the wearied eyes that still behold the fruit ere the seed be sown, And derive affright for the nearing night from the light of the noontide sun.
For one that with hope in the morning set forth, and knew never a fear, They have linked with another whom omens bother; and he whispers in one's ear.
And one is fain to be climbing where only angels have trod, But is fettered and tied to another's side who fears that it might look odd.
And one would worship a woman whom all perfections dower, But the other smiles at transparent wiles; and he quotes from Schopenhauer.
Thus two by two we wrangle and blunder about the earth, And that body we share we may not spare; but the Gods have need of mirth.
So this is the song of the double-soul, distortedly two in one.— Of the wearied eyes that still behold the fruit ere the seed be sown, And derive affright for the nearing night from the light of the noontide sun.
"These questions, so long as they remain with the Muses, may very well be unaccompanied with severity, for where there is no other end of contemplation and inquiry but that of pastime alone, the understanding is not oppressed; but after the Muses have given over their riddles to Sphinx,—that is, to practise, which urges and impels to action, choice and determination,—then it is that they become torturing, severe and trying."
From the dawn of the day to the dusk he toiled, Shaping fanciful playthings, with tireless hands,— Useless trumpery toys; and, with vaulting heart, Gave them unto all peoples, who mocked at him, Trampled on them, and soiled them, and went their way.
Then he toiled from the morn to the dusk again, Gave his gimcracks to peoples who mocked at him, Trampled on them, deriding, and went their way.
Thus he labors, and loudly they jeer at him;— That is, when they remember he still exists.
Who, you ask, is this fellow?—What matter names? He is only a scribbler who is content.
FELIX KENNASTON.—The Toy-Maker.
WHICH (AFTER SOME BRIEF DISCOURSE OF FIRES AND FRYING-PANS) ELUCIDATES THE INEXPEDIENCY OF PUBLISHING THIS BOOK, AS WELL AS THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IT: AND THENCE PASSES TO A MODEST DEFENSE OF MORE VITAL THEMES.
The desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings is, as the saying runs, old as the hills—and as immortal. Questionless, there was many a serviceable brick wasted in Nineveh because finicky persons must needs be deleting here and there a phrase in favor of its cuneatic synonym; and it is not improbable that when the outworn sun expires in clinkers its final ray will gild such zealots tinkering with their "style." Some few there must be in every age and every land of whom life claims nothing very insistently save that they write perfectly of beautiful happenings.
Yet, that the work of a man of letters is almost always a congenial product of his day and environment, is a contention as lacking in novelty as it is in the need of any upholding here. Nor is the rationality of that axiom far to seek; for a man of genuine literary genius, since he possesses a temperament whose susceptibilities are of wider area than those of any other, is inevitably of all people the one most variously affected by his surroundings. And it is he, in consequence, who of all people most faithfully and compactly exhibits the impress of his times and his times' tendencies, not merely in his writings—where it conceivably might be just predetermined affectation—but in his personality.
Such being the assumption upon which this volume is builded, it appears only equitable for the architect frankly to indicate his cornerstone. Hereinafter you have an attempt to depict a special temperament—one in essence "literary"—as very variously molded by diverse eras and as responding in proportion with its ability to the demands of a certain hour.
In proportion with its ability, be it repeated, since its ability is singularly hampered. For, apart from any ticklish temporal considerations, be it remembered, life is always claiming of this temperament's possessor that he write perfectly of beautiful happenings.
To disregard this vital longing, and flatly to stifle the innate striving toward artistic creation, is to become (as with Wycherley and Sheridan) a man who waives, however laughingly, his sole apology for existence. The proceeding is paltry enough, in all conscience; and yet, upon the other side, there is much positive danger in giving to the instinct a loose rein. For in that event the familiar circumstances of sedate and wholesome living cannot but seem, like paintings viewed too near, to lose in gusto and winsomeness. Desire, perhaps a craving hunger, awakens for the impossible. No emotion, whatever be its sincerity, is endured without a side-glance toward its capabilities for being written about. The world, in short, inclines to appear an ill-lit mine, wherein one quarries gingerly amidst an abiding loneliness (as with Pope and Ufford and Sire Raimbaut)—and wherein one very often is allured into unsavory alleys (as with Herrick and Alessandro de Medici)—in search of that raw material which loving labor will transshape into comeliness.
Such, if it be allowed to shift the metaphor, are the treacherous by-paths of that admirably policed highway whereon the well-groomed and well-bitted Pegasi of Vanderhoffen and Charteris (in his later manner) trot stolidly and safely toward oblivion. And the result of wandering afield is of necessity a tragedy, in that the deviator's life, if not as an artist's quite certainly as a human being's, must in the outcome be adjudged a failure.
Hereinafter, then, you have an attempt to depict a special temperament—one in essence "literary"—as very variously molded by diverse eras and as responding in proportion with its ability to the demands of a certain hour.
And this much said, it is permissible to hope, at least, that here and there some reader may be found not wholly blind to this book's goal, whatever be his opinion as to this book's success in reaching it. Yet many honest souls there be among us average-novel-readers in whose eyes this volume must rest content to figure as a collection of short stories having naught in common beyond the feature that each deals with the affaires du coeur of a poet.
Such must always be the book's interpretation by mental indolence. The fact is incontestable; and this fact in itself may be taken as sufficient to establish the inexpediency of publishing The Certain Hour. For that "people will not buy a volume of short stories" is notorious to all publishers. To offset the axiom there are no doubt incongruous phenomena—ranging from the continued popularity of the Bible to the present general esteem of Mr. Kipling, and embracing the rather unaccountable vogue of "O. Henry";—but, none the less, the superstition has its force.
Here intervenes the multifariousness of man, pointed out somewhere by Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, which enables the individual to be at once a vegetarian, a golfer, a vestryman, a blond, a mammal, a Democrat, and an immortal spirit. As a rational person, one may debonairly consider The Certain Hour possesses as large license to look like a volume of short stories as, say, a backgammon-board has to its customary guise of a two-volume history; but as an average-novel-reader, one must vote otherwise. As an average-novel-reader, one must condemn the very book which, as a seasoned scribbler, one was moved to write through long consideration of the drama already suggested—that immemorial drama of the desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings, and the obscure martyrdom to which this desire solicits its possessor.
Now, clearly, the struggle of a special temperament with a fixed force does not forthwith begin another story when the locale of combat shifts. The case is, rather, as when—with certainly an intervening change of apparel—Pompey fights Caesar at both Dyrrachium and Pharsalus, or as when General Grant successively encounters General Lee at the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor and Appomattox. The combatants remain unchanged, the question at issue is the same, the tragedy has continuity. And even so, from the time of Sire Raimbaut to that of John Charteris has a special temperament heart-hungrily confronted an ageless problem: at what cost now, in this fleet hour of my vigor, may one write perfectly of beautiful happenings?
Thus logic urges, with pathetic futility, inasmuch as we average-novel-readers are profoundly indifferent to both logic and good writing. And always the fact remains that to the mentally indolent this book may well seem a volume of disconnected short stories. All of us being more or less mentally indolent, this possibility constitutes a dire fault.
Three other damning objections will readily obtrude themselves: The Certain Hour deals with past epochs—beginning before the introduction of dinner-forks, and ending at that remote quaint period when people used to waltz and two-step—dead eras in which we average-novel-readers are not interested; The Certain Hour assumes an appreciable amount of culture and information on its purchaser's part, which we average-novel-readers either lack or, else, are unaccustomed to employ in connection with reading for pastime; and—in our eyes the crowning misdemeanor—The Certain Hour is not "vital."
Having thus candidly confessed these faults committed as the writer of this book, it is still possible in human multifariousness to consider their enormity, not merely in this book, but in fictional reading-matter at large, as viewed by an average-novel-reader—by a representative of that potent class whose preferences dictate the nature and main trend of modern American literature. And to do this, it may be, throws no unsalutary sidelight upon the still-existent problem: at what cost, now, may one attempt to write perfectly of beautiful happenings?
Indisputably the most striking defect of this modern American literature is the fact that the production of anything at all resembling literature is scarcely anywhere apparent. Innumerable printing-presses, instead, are turning out a vast quantity of reading-matter, the candidly recognized purpose of which is to kill time, and which—it has been asserted, though perhaps too sweepingly—ought not to be vended over book-counters, but rather in drugstores along with the other narcotics.
It is begging the question to protest that the class of people who a generation ago read nothing now at least read novels, and to regard this as a change for the better. By similar logic it would be more wholesome to breakfast off laudanum than to omit the meal entirely. The nineteenth century, in fact, by making education popular, has produced in America the curious spectacle of a reading-public with essentially nonliterary tastes. Formerly, better books were published, because they were intended for persons who turned to reading through a natural bent of mind; whereas the modern American novel of commerce is addressed to us average people who read, when we read at all, in violation of every innate instinct.
Such grounds as yet exist for hopefulness on the part of those who cordially care for belles lettres are to be found elsewhere than in the crowded market-places of fiction, where genuine intelligence panders on all sides to ignorance and indolence. The phrase may seem to have no very civil ring; but reflection will assure the fair-minded that two indispensable requisites nowadays of a pecuniarily successful novel are, really, that it make no demand upon the reader's imagination, and that it rigorously refrain from assuming its reader to possess any particular information on any subject whatever. The author who writes over the head of the public is the most dangerous enemy of his publisher—and the most insidious as well, because so many publishers are in private life interested in literary matters, and would readily permit this personal foible to influence the exercise of their vocation were it possible to do so upon the preferable side of bankruptcy.
But publishers, among innumerable other conditions, must weigh the fact that no novel which does not deal with modern times is ever really popular among the serious-minded. It is difficult to imagine a tale whose action developed under the rule of the Caesars or the Merovingians being treated as more than a literary hors d'oeuvre. We purchasers of "vital" novels know nothing about the period, beyond a hazy association of it with the restrictions of the schoolroom; our sluggish imaginations instinctively rebel against the exertion of forming any notion of such a period; and all the human nature that exists even in serious-minded persons is stirred up to resentment against the book's author for presuming to know more than a potential patron. The book, in fine, simply irritates the serious-minded person; and she—for it is only women who willingly brave the terrors of department-stores, where most of our new books are bought nowadays—quite naturally puts it aside in favor of some keen and daring study of American life that is warranted to grip the reader. So, modernity of scene is everywhere necessitated as an essential qualification for a book's discussion at the literary evenings of the local woman's club; and modernity of scene, of course, is almost always fatal to the permanent worth of fictitious narrative.
It may seem banal here to recall the truism that first-class art never reproduces its surroundings; but such banality is often justified by our human proneness to shuffle over the fact that many truisms are true. And this one is pre-eminently indisputable: that what mankind has generally agreed to accept as first-class art in any of the varied forms of fictitious narrative has never been a truthful reproduction of the artist's era. Indeed, in the higher walks of fiction art has never reproduced anything, but has always dealt with the facts and laws of life as so much crude material which must be transmuted into comeliness. When Shakespeare pronounced his celebrated dictum about art's holding the mirror up to nature, he was no doubt alluding to the circumstance that a mirror reverses everything which it reflects.
Nourishment for much wildish speculation, in fact, can be got by considering what the world's literature would be, had its authors restricted themselves, as do we Americans so sedulously—and unavoidably—to writing of contemporaneous happenings. In fiction-making no author of the first class since Homer's infancy has ever in his happier efforts concerned himself at all with the great "problems" of his particular day; and among geniuses of the second rank you will find such ephemeralities adroitly utilized only when they are distorted into enduring parodies of their actual selves by the broad humor of a Dickens or the colossal fantasy of a Balzac. In such cases as the latter two writers, however, we have an otherwise competent artist handicapped by a personality so marked that, whatever he may nominally write about, the result is, above all else, an exposure of the writer's idiosyncrasies. Then, too, the laws of any locale wherein Mr. Pickwick achieves a competence in business, or of a society wherein Vautrin becomes chief of police, are upon the face of it extra-mundane. It suffices that, as a general rule, in fiction-making the true artist finds an ample, if restricted, field wherein the proper functions of the preacher, or the ventriloquist, or the photographer, or of the public prosecutor, are exercised with equal lack of grace.
Besides, in dealing with contemporary life a novelist is goaded into too many pusillanimous concessions to plausibility. He no longer moves with the gait of omnipotence. It was very different in the palmy days when Dumas was free to play at ducks and drakes with history, and Victor Hugo to reconstruct the whole system of English government, and Scott to compel the sun to set in the east, whenever such minor changes caused to flow more smoothly the progress of the tale these giants had in hand. These freedoms are not tolerated in American noveldom, and only a few futile "high-brows" sigh in vain for Thackeray's "happy harmless Fableland, where these things are." The majority of us are deep in "vital" novels. Nor is the reason far to seek.
One hears a great deal nowadays concerning "vital" books. Their authors have been widely praised on very various grounds. Oddly enough, however, the writers of these books have rarely been commended for the really praiseworthy charity evinced therein toward that large long-suffering class loosely describable as the average-novel-reader.
Yet, in connection with this fact, it is worthy of more than passing note that no great while ago the New York Times' carefully selected committee, in picking out the hundred best books published during a particular year, declared as to novels—"a 'best' book, in our opinion, is one that raises an important question, or recurs to a vital theme and pronounces upon it what in some sense is a last word." Now this definition is not likely ever to receive more praise than it deserves. Cavilers may, of course, complain that actually to write the last word on any subject is a feat reserved for the Recording Angel's unique performance on judgment Day. Even setting that objection aside, it is undeniable that no work of fiction published of late in America corresponds quite so accurately to the terms of this definition as do the multiplication tables. Yet the multiplication tables are not without their claims to applause as examples of straightforward narrative. It is, also, at least permissible to consider that therein the numeral five, say, where it figures as protagonist, unfolds under the stress of its varying adventures as opulent a development of real human nature as does, through similar ups-and-downs, the Reverend John Hodder in The Inside of the Cup. It is equally allowable to find the less simple evolution of the digit seven more sympathetic, upon the whole, than those of Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country. But, even so, this definition of what may now, authoritatively, be ranked as a "best novel" is an honest and noteworthy severance from misleading literary associations such as have too long befogged our notions about reading-matter. It points with emphasis toward the altruistic obligations of tale-tellers to be "vital."
For we average-novel-readers—we average people, in a word—are now, as always, rather pathetically hungry for "vital" themes, such themes as appeal directly to our everyday observation and prejudices. Did the decision rest with us all novelists would be put under bond to confine themselves forevermore to themes like these.
As touches the appeal to everyday observation, it is an old story, at least coeval with Mr. Crummles' not uncelebrated pumps and tubs, if not with the grapes of Zeuxis, how unfailingly in art we delight to recognize the familiar. A novel whose scene of action is explicit will always interest the people of that locality, whatever the book's other pretensions to consideration. Given simultaneously a photograph of Murillo's rendering of The Virgin Crowned Queen of Heaven and a photograph of a governor's installation in our State capital, there is no one of us but will quite naturally look at the latter first, in order to see if in it some familiar countenance be recognizable. And thus, upon a larger scale, the twentieth century is, pre-eminently, interested in the twentieth century.
It is all very well to describe our average-novel-readers' dislike of Romanticism as "the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass." It is even within the scope of human dunderheadedness again to point out here that the supreme artists in literature have precisely this in common, and this alone, that in their masterworks they have avoided the "vital" themes of their day with such circumspection as lesser folk reserve for the smallpox. The answer, of course, in either case, is that the "vital" novel, the novel which peculiarly appeals to us average-novel-readers, has nothing to do with literature. There is between these two no more intelligent connection than links the paint Mr. Sargent puts on canvas and the paint Mr. Dockstader puts on his face.
Literature is made up of the re-readable books, the books which it is possible—for the people so constituted as to care for that sort of thing—to read again and yet again with pleasure. Therefore, in literature a book's subject is of astonishingly minor importance, and its style nearly everything: whereas in books intended to be read for pastime, and forthwith to be consigned at random to the wastebasket or to the inmates of some charitable institute, the theme is of paramount importance, and ought to be a serious one. The modern novelist owes it to his public to select a "vital" theme which in itself will fix the reader's attention by reason of its familiarity in the reader's everyday life.
Thus, a lady with whose more candid opinions the writer of this is more frequently favored nowadays than of old, formerly confessed to having only one set rule when it came to investment in new reading-matter—always to buy the Williamsons' last book. Her reason was the perfectly sensible one that the Williamsons' plots used invariably to pivot upon motor-trips, and she is an ardent automobilist. Since, as of late, the Williamsons have seen fit to exercise their typewriter upon other topics, they have as a matter of course lost her patronage.
This principle of selection, when you come to appraise it sanely, is the sole intelligent method of dealing with reading-matter. It seems here expedient again to state the peculiar problem that we average-novel-readers have of necessity set the modern novelist—namely, that his books must in the main appeal to people who read for pastime, to people who read books only under protest and only when they have no other employment for that particular half-hour.
Now, reading for pastime is immensely simplified when the book's theme is some familiar matter of the reader's workaday life, because at outset the reader is spared considerable mental effort. The motorist above referred to, and indeed any average-novel-reader, can without exertion conceive of the Williamsons' people in their automobiles. Contrariwise, were these fictitious characters embarked in palankeens or droshkies or jinrikishas, more or less intellectual exercise would be necessitated on the reader's part to form a notion of the conveyance. And we average-novel-readers do not open a book with the intention of making a mental effort. The author has no right to expect of us an act so unhabitual, we very poignantly feel. Our prejudices he is freely chartered to stir up—if, lucky rogue, he can!—but he ought with deliberation to recognize that it is precisely in order to avoid mental effort that we purchase, or borrow, his book, and afterward discuss it.
Hence arises our heartfelt gratitude toward such novels as deal with "vital" themes, with the questions we average-novel-readers confront or make talk about in those happier hours of our existence wherein we are not reduced to reading. Thus, a tale, for example, dealing either with "feminism" or "white slavery" as the handiest makeshift of spinsterdom—or with the divorce habit and plutocratic iniquity in general, or with the probable benefits of converting clergymen to Christianity, or with how much more than she knows a desirable mother will tell her children—finds the book's tentative explorer, just now, amply equipped with prejudices, whether acquired by second thought or second hand, concerning the book's topic. As endurability goes, reading the book rises forthwith almost to the level of an afternoon-call where there is gossip about the neighbors and Germany's future. We average-novel-readers may not, in either case, agree with the opinions advanced; but at least our prejudices are aroused, and we are interested.
And these "vital" themes awake our prejudices at the cost of a minimum—if not always, as when Miss Corelli guides us, with a positively negligible—tasking of our mental faculties. For such exemption we average-novel-readers cannot but be properly grateful. Nay, more than this: provided the novelist contrive to rouse our prejudices, it matters with us not at all whether afterward they be soothed or harrowed. To implicate our prejudices somehow, to raise in us a partizanship in the tale's progress, is our sole request. Whether this consummation be brought about through an arraignment of some social condition which we personally either advocate or reprehend—the attitude weighs little—or whether this interest be purchased with placidly driveling preachments of generally "uplifting" tendencies—vaguely titillating that vague intention which exists in us all of becoming immaculate as soon as it is perfectly convenient—the personal prejudices of us average-novel-readers are not lightly lulled again to sleep.
In fact, the jealousy of any human prejudice against hinted encroachment may safely be depended upon to spur us through an astonishing number of pages—for all that it has of late been complained among us, with some show of extenuation, that our original intent in beginning certain of the recent "vital" novels was to kill time, rather than eternity. And so, we average-novel-readers plod on jealously to the end, whether we advance (to cite examples already somewhat of yesterday) under the leadership of Mr. Upton Sinclair aspersing the integrity of modern sausages and millionaires, or of Mr. Hall Caine saying about Roman Catholics what ordinary people would hesitate to impute to their relatives by marriage—or whether we be more suavely allured onward by Mrs. Florence Barclay, or Mr. Sydnor Harrison, with ingenuous indorsements of the New Testament and the inherent womanliness of women.
The "vital" theme, then, let it be repeated, has two inestimable advantages which should commend it to all novelists: first, it spares us average-novel-readers any preliminary orientation, and thereby mitigates the mental exertion of reading; and secondly, it appeals to our prejudices, which we naturally prefer to exercise, and are accustomed to exercise, rather than our mental or idealistic faculties. The novelist who conscientiously bears these two facts in mind is reasonably sure of his reward, not merely in pecuniary form, but in those higher fields wherein he harvests his chosen public's honest gratitude and affection.
For we average-novel-readers are quite frequently reduced by circumstances to self-entrustment to the resources of the novelist, as to those of the dentist. Our latter-day conditions, as we cannot but recognize, necessitate the employment of both artists upon occasion. And with both, we average-novel-readers, we average people, are most grateful when they make the process of resorting to them as easy and unirritating as may be possible.
So much for the plea of us average-novel-readers; and our plea, we think, is rational. We are "in the market" for a specified article; and human ingenuity, co-operating with human nature, will inevitably insure the manufacture of that article as long as any general demand for it endures.
Meanwhile, it is small cause for grief that the purchaser of American novels prefers Central Park to any "wood near Athens," and is more at home in the Tenderloin than in Camelot. People whose tastes happen to be literary are entirely too prone to too much long-faced prattle about literature, which, when all is said, is never a controlling factor in anybody's life. The automobile and the telephone, the accomplishments of Mr. Edison and Mr. Burbank, and it would be permissible to add of Mr. Rockefeller, influence nowadays, in one fashion or another, every moment of every living American's existence; whereas had America produced, instead, a second Milton or a Dante, it would at most have caused a few of us to spend a few spare evenings rather differently.
Besides, we know—even we average-novel-readers—that America is in fact producing her enduring literature day by day, although, as rarely fails to be the case, those who are contemporaneous with the makers of this literature cannot with any certainty point them out. To voice a hoary truism, time alone is the test of "vitality." In our present flood of books, as in any other flood, it is the froth and scum which shows most prominently. And the possession of "vitality," here as elsewhere, postulates that its possessor must ultimately perish.
Nay, by the time these printed pages are first read as printed pages, allusion to those modern authors whom these pages cite—the pre-eminent literary personages of that hour wherein these pages were written—will inevitably have come to savor somewhat of antiquity: so that sundry references herein to the "vital" books now most in vogue will rouse much that vague shrugging recollection as wakens, say, at a mention of Dorothy Vernon or Three Weeks or Beverly of Graustark. And while at first glance it might seem expedient—in revising the last proof-sheets of these pages—somewhat to "freshen them up" by substituting, for the books herein referred to, the "vital" and more widely talked-of novels of the summer of 1916, the task would be but wasted labor; since even these fascinating chronicles, one comprehends forlornly, must needs be equally obsolete by the time these proof-sheets have been made into a volume. With malice aforethought, therefore, the books and authors named herein stay those which all of three years back our reviewers and advertising pages, with perfect gravity, acclaimed as of enduring importance. For the quaintness of that opinion, nowadays, may profitably round the moral that there is really nothing whereto one may fittingly compare a successful contribution to "vital" reading-matter, as touches evanescence.
And this is as it should be. Tout passe.—L'art robust seul a l'eternite, precisely as Gautier points out, with bracing common-sense; and it is excellent thus to comprehend that to-day, as always, only through exercise of the auctorial virtues of distinction and clarity, of beauty and symmetry, of tenderness and truth and urbanity, may a man in reason attempt to insure his books against oblivion's voracity.
Yet the desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings is, as the saying runs, old as the hills—and as immortal. Questionless, there was many a serviceable brick wasted in Nineveh because finicky persons must needs be deleting here and there a phrase in favor of its cuneatic synonym; and it is not improbable that when the outworn sun expires in clinkers its final ray will gild such zealots tinkering with their "style." This, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter. Some few there must be in every age and every land of whom life claims nothing very insistently save that they write perfectly of beautiful happenings. And even we average-novel-readers know it is such folk who are to-day making in America that portion of our literature which may hope for permanency.
Dumbarton Grange 1914-1916
"For this RAIMBAUT DE VAQUIERAS lived at a time when prolonged habits of extra-mundane contemplation, combined with the decay of real knowledge, were apt to volatilize the thoughts and aspirations of the best and wisest into dreamy unrealities, and to lend a false air of mysticism to love. . . . It is as if the intellect and the will had become used to moving paralytically among visions, dreams, and mystic terrors, weighed down with torpor."
Fair friend, since that hour I took leave of thee I have not slept nor stirred from off my knee, But prayed alway to God, S. Mary's Son, To give me back my true companion; And soon it will be Dawn.
Fair friend, at parting, thy behest to me Was that all sloth I should eschew and flee, And keep good Watch until the Night was done: Now must my Song and Service pass for none? For soon it will be Dawn.
RAIMBAUT DE VAQUIERAS.—Aubade, from F. York Powell's version.
You may read elsewhere of the long feud that was between Guillaume de Baux, afterward Prince of Orange, and his kinsman Raimbaut de Vaquieras. They were not reconciled until their youth was dead. Then, when Messire Raimbaut returned from battling against the Turks and the Bulgarians, in the 1,210th year from man's salvation, the Archbishop of Rheims made peace between the two cousins; and, attended by Makrisi, a converted Saracen who had followed the knight's fortunes for well nigh a quarter of a century, the Sire de Vaquieras rode homeward.
Many slain men were scattered along the highway when he came again into Venaissin, in April, after an absence of thirty years. The crows whom his passing disturbed were too sluggish for long flights and many of them did not heed him at all. Guillaume de Baux was now undisputed master of these parts, although, as this host of mute, hacked and partially devoured witnesses attested, the contest had been dubious for a while: but now Lovain of the Great-Tooth, Prince Guillaume's last competitor, was captured; the forces of Lovain were scattered; and of Lovain's lieutenants only Mahi de Vernoil was unsubdued.
Prince Guillaume laughed a little when he told his kinsman of the posture of affairs, as more loudly did Guillaume's gross son, Sire Philibert. But Madona Biatritz did not laugh. She was the widow of Guillaume's dead brother—Prince Conrat, whom Guillaume succeeded—and it was in her honor that Raimbaut had made those songs which won him eminence as a practitioner of the Gay Science.
Biatritz said, "It is a long while since we two met."
He that had been her lover all his life said, "Yes."
She was no longer the most beautiful of women, no longer his be-hymned Belhs Cavaliers—you may read elsewhere how he came to call her that in all his canzons—but only a fine and gracious stranger. It was uniformly gray, that soft and plentiful hair, where once such gold had flamed as dizzied him to think of even now; there was no crimson in these thinner lips; and candor would have found her eyes less wonderful than those Raimbaut had dreamed of very often among an alien and hostile people. But he lamented nothing, and to him she was as ever Heaven's most splendid miracle.
"Yes," said this old Raimbaut,—"and even to-day we have not reclaimed the Sepulcher as yet. Oh, I doubt if we shall ever win it, now that your brother and my most dear lord is dead." Both thought a while of Boniface de Montferrat, their playmate once, who yesterday was King of Thessalonica and now was so much Macedonian dust.
She said: "This week the Prince sent envoys to my nephew. . . . And so you have come home again——" Color had surged into her time-worn face, and as she thought of things done long ago this woman's eyes were like the eyes of his young Biatritz. She said: "You never married?"
He answered: "No, I have left love alone. For Love prefers to take rather than to give; against a single happy hour he balances a hundred miseries, and he appraises one pleasure to be worth a thousand pangs. Pardieu, let this immortal usurer contrive as may seem well to him, for I desire no more of his bounty or of his penalties."
"No, we wish earnestly for nothing, either good or bad," said Dona Biatritz—"we who have done with loving."
They sat in silence, musing over ancient happenings, and not looking at each other, until the Prince came with his guests, who seemed to laugh too heartily.
Guillaume's frail arm was about his kinsman, and Guillaume chuckled over jests and by-words that had been between the cousins as children. Raimbaut found them no food for laughter now. Guillaume told all of Raimbaut's oath of fealty, and of how these two were friends and their unnatural feud was forgotten. "For we grow old,—eh, maker of songs?" he said; "and it is time we made our peace with Heaven, since we are not long for this world."
"Yes," said the knight; "oh yes, we both grow old." He thought of another April evening, so long ago, when this Guillaume de Baux had stabbed him in a hedged field near Calais, and had left him under a hawthorn bush for dead; and Raimbaut wondered that there was no anger in his heart. "We are friends now," he said. Biatritz, whom these two had loved, and whose vanished beauty had been the spur of their long enmity, sat close to them, and hardly seemed to listen.
Thus the evening passed and every one was merry, because the Prince had overcome Lovain of the Great-Tooth, and was to punish the upstart on the morrow. But Raimbaut de Vaquieras, a spent fellow, a derelict, barren of aim now that the Holy Wars were over, sat in this unfamiliar place—where when he was young he had laughed as a cock crows!—and thought how at the last he had crept home to die as a dependent on his cousin's bounty.
Thus the evening passed, and at its end Makrisi followed the troubadour to his regranted fief of Vaquieras. This was a chill and brilliant night, swayed by a frozen moon so powerful that no stars showed in the unclouded heavens, and everywhere the bogs were curdled with thin ice. An obdurate wind swept like a knife-blade across a world which even in its spring seemed very old.
"This night is bleak and evil," Makrisi said. He rode a coffin's length behind his master. "It is like Prince Guillaume, I think. What man will sorrow when dawn comes?"
Raimbaut de Vaquieras replied: "Always dawn comes at last, Makrisi."
"It comes the more quickly, messire, when it is prompted."
The troubadour only smiled at words which seemed so meaningless. He did not smile when later in the night Makrisi brought Mahi de Vernoil, disguised as a mendicant friar. This outlaw pleaded with Sire Raimbaut to head the tatters of Lovain's army, and showed Raimbaut how easy it would be to wrest Venaissin from Prince Guillaume. "We cannot save Lovain," de Vemoil said, "for Guillaume has him fast. But Venaissin is very proud of you, my tres beau sire. Ho, maker of world-famous songs! stout champion of the faith! my men and I will now make you Prince of Orange in place of the fiend who rules us. You may then at your convenience wed Madona Biatritz, that most amiable lady whom you have loved so long. And by the Cross! you may do this before the week is out."
The old knight answered: "It is true that I have always served Madona Biatritz, who is of matchless worth. I might not, therefore, presume to call myself any longer her servant were my honor stained in any particular. Oh no, Messire de Vernoil, an oath is an oath. I have this day sworn fealty to Guillaume de Baux."
Then after other talk Raimbaut dismissed the fierce-eyed little man. The freebooter growled curses as he went. On a sudden he whistled, like a person considering, and he began to chuckle.
Raimbaut said, more lately: "Zoraida left no wholesome legacy in you, Makrisi." This Zoraida was a woman the knight had known in Constantinople—a comely outlander who had killed herself because of Sire Raimbaut's highflown avoidance of all womankind except the mistress of his youth.
"Nay, save only in loving you too well, messire, was Zoraida a wise woman, notably. . . . But this is outworn talk, the prattle of Cain's babyhood. As matters were, you did not love Zoraida. So Zoraida died. Such is the custom in my country."
"You trouble me, Makrisi. Your eyes are like blown coals. . . . Yet you have served me long and faithfully. You know that mine was ever the vocation of dealing honorably in battle among emperors, and of spreading broadcast the rumor of my valor, and of achieving good by my sword's labors. I have lived by warfare. Long, long ago, since I derived no benefit from love, I cried farewell to it."
"Ay," said Makrisi. "Love makes a demi-god of all—just for an hour. Such hours as follow we devote to the concoction of sleeping-draughts." He laughed, and very harshly.
And Raimbaut did not sleep that night because this life of ours seemed such a piece of tangle-work as he had not the skill to unravel. So he devoted the wakeful hours to composition of a planh, lamenting vanished youth and that Biatritz whom the years had stolen.
Then on the ensuing morning, after some talk about the new campaign, Prince Guillaume de Baux leaned back in his high chair and said, abruptly:
"In perfect candor, you puzzle your liege-lord. For you loathe me and you still worship my sister-in-law, an unattainable princess. In these two particulars you display such wisdom as would inevitably prompt you to make an end of me. Yet, what the devil! you, the time-battered vagabond, decline happiness and a kingdom to boot because of yesterday's mummery in the cathedral! because of a mere promise given! Yes, I have my spies in every rat-hole. I am aware that my barons hate me, and hate Philibert almost as bitterly,—and that, in fine, a majority of my barons would prefer to see you Prince in my unstable place, on account of your praiseworthy molestations of heathenry. Oh, yes, I understand my barons perfectly. I flatter myself I understand everybody in Venaissin save you."
Raimbaut answered: "You and I are not alike."
"No, praise each and every Saint!" said the Prince of Orange, heartily. "And yet, I am not sure——" He rose, for his sight had failed him so that he could not distinctly see you except when he spoke with head thrown back, as though he looked at you over a wall. "For instance, do you understand that I hold Biatritz here as a prisoner, because her dower-lands are necessary to me, and that I intend to marry her as soon as Pope Innocent grants me a dispensation?"
"All Venaissin knows that. Yes, you have always gained everything which you desired in this world, Guillaume. Yet it was at a price, I think."
"I am no haggler. . . . But you have never comprehended me, not even in the old days when we loved each other. For instance, do you understand—slave of a spoken word!—what it must mean to me to know that at this hour to-morrow there will be alive in Venaissin no person whom I hate?"
Messire de Vaquieras reflected. His was never a rapid mind. "Why, no, I do not know anything about hatred," he said, at last. "I think I never hated any person."
Guillaume de Baux gave a half-frantic gesture. "Now, Heaven send you troubadours a clearer understanding of what sort of world we live in——!" He broke off short and growled, "And yet—sometimes I envy you, Raimbaut!"
They rode then into the Square of St. Michel to witness the death of Lovain. Guillaume took with him his two new mistresses and all his by-blows, each magnificently clothed, as if they rode to a festival. Afterward, before the doors of Lovain's burning house, a rope was fastened under Lovain's armpits, and he was gently lowered into a pot of boiling oil. His feet cooked first, and then the flesh of his legs, and so on upward, while Lovain screamed. Guillaume in a loose robe of green powdered with innumerable silver crescents, sat watching, under a canopy woven very long ago in Tarshish, and cunningly embroidered with the figures of peacocks and apes and men with eagles' heads. His hands caressed each other meditatively.
It was on the afternoon of this day, the last of April, that Sire Raimbaut came upon Madona Biatritz about a strange employment in the Ladies' Court. There was then a well in the midst of this enclosure, with a granite ledge around it carven with lilies; and upon this she leaned, looking down into the water. In her lap was a rope of pearls, which one by one she unthreaded and dropped into the well.
Clear and warm the weather was. Without, forests were quickening, branch by branch, as though a green flame smoldered from one bough to another. Violets peeped about the roots of trees, and all the world was young again. But here was only stone beneath their feet; and about them showed the high walls and the lead-sheathed towers and the parapets and the sunk windows of Guillaume's chateau. There was no color anywhere save gray; and Raimbaut and Biatritz were aging people now. It seemed to him that they were the wraiths of those persons who had loved each other at Montferrat; and that the walls about them and the leaden devils who grinned from every waterspout and all those dark and narrow windows were only part of some magic picture, such as a sorceress may momentarily summon out of smoke-wreaths, as he had seen Zoraida do very long ago.
This woman might have been a wraith in verity, for she was clothed throughout in white, save for the ponderous gold girdle about her middle. A white gorget framed the face which was so pinched and shrewd and strange; and she peered into the well, smiling craftily.
"I was thinking death was like this well," said Biatritz, without any cessation of her singular employment—"so dark that we may see nothing clearly save one faint gleam which shows us, or which seems to show us, where rest is. Yes, yes, this is that chaplet which you won in the tournament at Montferrat when we were young. Pearls are the symbol of tears, we read. But we had no time for reading then, no time for anything except to be quite happy. . . . You saw this morning's work. Raimbaut, were Satan to go mad he would be such a fiend as this Guillaume de Baux who is our master!"
"Ay, the man is as cruel as my old opponent, Mourzoufle," Sire Raimbaut answered, with a patient shrug. "It is a great mystery why such persons should win all which they desire of this world. We can but recognize that it is for some sufficient reason." Then he talked with her concerning the aforementioned infamous emperor of the East, against whom the old knight had fought, and of Enrico Dandolo and of King Boniface, dead brother to Madona Biatritz, and of much remote, outlandish adventuring oversea. Of Zoraida he did not speak. And Biatritz, in turn, told him of that one child which she had borne her husband, Prince Conrat—a son who died in infancy; and she spoke of this dead baby, who living would have been their monarch, with a sweet quietude that wrung the old knight's heart.
Thus these spent people sat and talked for a long while, the talk veering anywhither just as chance directed. Blurred gusts of song and laughter would come to them at times from the hall where Guillaume de Baux drank with his courtiers, and these would break the tranquil flow of speech. Then, unvexedly, the gentle voice of the speaker, were it his or hers, would resume.
She said: "They laugh. We are not merry."
"No," he replied; "I am not often merry. There was a time when love and its service kept me in continuous joy, as waters invest a fish. I woke from a high dream. . . . And then, but for the fear of seeming cowardly, I would have extinguished my life as men blow out a candle. Vanity preserved me, sheer vanity!" He shrugged, spreading his hard lean hands. "Belhs Cavaliers, I grudged my enemies the pleasure of seeing me forgetful of valor and noble enterprises. And so, since then, I have served Heaven, in default of you."
"I would not have it otherwise," she said, half as in wonder; "I would not have you be quite sane like other men. And I believe," she added—still with her wise smile—"you have derived a deal of comfort, off and on, from being heart-broken."
He replied gravely: "A man may always, if he will but take the pains, be tolerably content and rise in worth, and yet dispense with love. He has only to guard himself against baseness, and concentrate his powers on doing right. Thus, therefore, when fortune failed me, I persisted in acting to the best of my ability. Though I had lost my lands and my loved lady, I must hold fast to my own worth. Without a lady and without acreage, it was yet in my power to live a cleanly and honorable life; and I did not wish to make two evils out of one."
"Assuredly, I would not have you be quite sane like other men," she repeated. "It would seem that you have somehow blundered through long years, preserving always the ignorance of a child, and the blindness of a child. I cannot understand how this is possible; nor can I keep from smiling at your high-flown notions; and yet,—I envy you, Raimbaut."
Thus the afternoon passed, and the rule of Prince Guillaume was made secure. His supper was worthily appointed, for Guillaume loved color and music and beauty of every kind, and was on this, the day of his triumph, in a prodigal humor. Many lackeys in scarlet brought in the first course, to the sound of exultant drums and pipes, with a blast of trumpets and a waving of banners, so that all hearts were uplifted, and Guillaume jested with harsh laughter.
But Raimbaut de Vaquieras was not mirthful, for he was remembering a boy whom he had known of very long ago. He was swayed by an odd fancy, as the men sat over their wine, and jongleurs sang and performed tricks for their diversion, that this boy, so frank and excellent, as yet existed somewhere; and that the Raimbaut who moved these shriveled hands before him, on the table there, was only a sad dream of what had never been. It troubled him, too, to see how grossly these soldiers ate, for, as a person of refinement, an associate of monarchs, Sire Raimbaut when the dishes were passed picked up his meats between the index- and the middle-finger of his left hand, and esteemed it infamous manners to dip any other fingers into the gravy.
Guillaume had left the Warriors' Hall. Philibert was drunk, and half the men-at-arms were snoring among the rushes, when at the height of their festivity Makrisi came. He plucked his master by the sleeve.
A swarthy, bearded Angevin was singing. His song was one of old Sire Raimbaut's famous canzons in honor of Belhs Cavaliers. The knave was singing blithely:
Pus mos Belhs Cavaliers grazitz E joys m'es lunhatz e faiditz, Don no m' venra jamais conortz; Fer qu'ees mayer l'ira e plus fortz—
The Saracen had said nothing. He showed a jeweled dagger, and the knight arose and followed him out of that uproarious hall. Raimbaut was bitterly perturbed, though he did not know for what reason, as Makrisi led him through dark corridors to the dull-gleaming arras of Prince Guillaume's apartments. In this corridor was an iron lamp swung from the ceiling, and now, as this lamp swayed slightly and burned low, the tiny flame leaped clear of the wick and was extinguished, and darkness rose about them.
Raimbaut said: "What do you want of me? Whose blood is on that knife?"
"Have you forgotten it is Walburga's Eve?" Makrisi said. Raimbaut did not regret he could not see his servant's countenance. "Time was we named it otherwise and praised another woman than a Saxon wench, but let the new name stand. It is Walburga's Eve, that little, little hour of evil! and all over the world surges the full tide of hell's desire, and mischief is a-making now, apace, apace, apace. People moan in their sleep, and many pillows are pricked by needles that have sewed a shroud. Cry Eman hetan now, messire! for there are those to-night who find the big cathedrals of your red-roofed Christian towns no more imposing than so many pimples on a butler's chin, because they ride so high, so very high, in this brave moonlight. Full-tide, full-tide!" Makrisi said, and his voice jangled like a bell as he drew aside the curtain so that the old knight saw into the room beyond.
It was a place of many lights, which, when thus suddenly disclosed, blinded him at first. Then Raimbaut perceived Guillaume lying a-sprawl across an oaken chest. The Prince had fallen backward and lay in this posture, glaring at the intruders with horrible eyes which did not move and would not ever move again. His breast was crimson, for some one had stabbed him. A woman stood above the corpse and lighted yet another candle while Raimbaut de Vaquieras waited motionless. A hand meant only to bestow caresses brushed a lock of hair from this woman's eyes while he waited. The movements of this hand were not uncertain, but only quivered somewhat, as a taut wire shivers in the wind, while Raimbaut de Vaquieras waited motionless.
"I must have lights, I must have a host of candles to assure me past any questioning that he is dead. The man is of deep cunning. I think he is not dead even now." Lightly Biatritz touched the Prince's breast. "Strange, that this wicked heart should be so tranquil when there is murder here to make it glad! Nay, very certainly this Guillaume de Baux will rise and laugh in his old fashion before he speaks, and then I shall be afraid. But I am not afraid as yet. I am afraid of nothing save the dark, for one cannot be merry in the dark."
Raimbaut said: "This is Belhs Cavaliers whom I have loved my whole life through. Therefore I do not doubt. Pardieu, I do not even doubt, who know she is of matchless worth."
"Wherein have I done wrong, Raimbaut?" She came to him with fluttering hands. "Why, but look you, the man had laid an ambuscade in the marsh and he meant to kill you there to-night as you rode for Vaquieras. He told me of it, told me how it was for that end alone he lured you into Venaissin——" Again she brushed the hair back from her forehead. "Raimbaut, I spoke of God and knightly honor, and the man laughed. No, I think it was a fiend who sat so long beside the window yonder, whence one may see the marsh. There were no candles in the room. The moonlight was upon his evil face, and I could think of nothing, of nothing that has been since Adam's time, except our youth, Raimbaut. And he smiled fixedly, like a white image, because my misery amused him. Only, when I tried to go to you to warn you, he leaped up stiffly, making a mewing noise. He caught me by the throat so that I could not scream. Then while we struggled in the moonlight your Makrisi came and stabbed him——"
"Nay, I but fetched this knife, messire." Makrisi seemed to love that bloodied knife.
Biatritz proudly said: "The man lies, Raimbaut."
"What need to tell me that, Belhs Cavaliers?"
And the Saracen shrugged. "It is very true I lie," he said. "As among friends, I may confess I killed the Prince. But for the rest, take notice both of you, I mean to lie intrepidly."
Raimbaut remembered how his mother had given each of two lads an apple, and he had clamored for Guillaume's, as children do, and Guillaume had changed with him. It was a trivial happening to remember after fifty years; but Guillaume was dead, and this hacked flesh was Raimbaut's flesh in part, and the thought of Raimbaut would never trouble Guillaume de Baux any more. In addition there was a fire of juniper wood and frankincense upon the hearth, and the room smelt too cloyingly of be-drugging sweetness. Then on the walls were tapestries which depicted Merlin's Dream, so that everywhere recoiling women smiled with bold eyes; and here their wantonness seemed out of place.
"Listen," Makrisi was saying; "listen, for the hour strikes. At last, at last!" he cried, with a shrill whine of malice.
Raimbaut said, dully: "Oh, I do not understand——"
"And yet Zoraida loved you once! loved you as people love where I was born!" The Saracen's voice had altered. His speech was like the rustle of papers. "You did not love Zoraida. And so it came about that upon Walburga's Eve, at midnight, Zoraida hanged herself beside your doorway. Thus we love where I was born. . . . And I, I cut the rope—with my left hand. I had my other arm about that frozen thing which yesterday had been Zoraida, you understand, so that it might not fall. And in the act a tear dropped from that dead woman's cheek and wetted my forehead. Ice is not so cold as was that tear. . . . Ho, that tear did not fall upon my forehead but on my heart, because I loved that dancing-girl, Zoraida, as you do this princess here. I think you will understand," Makrisi said, calmly as one who states a maxim.
The Sire de Vaquieras replied, in the same tone: "I understand. You have contrived my death?"
"Ey, messire, would that be adequate? I could have managed that any hour within the last score of years. Oh no! for I have studied you carefully. Oh no! instead, I have contrived this plight. For the Prince of Orange is manifestly murdered. Who killed him?—why, Madona Biatritz, and none other, for I will swear to it. I, I will swear to it, who saw it done. Afterward both you and I must be questioned upon the rack, as possibly concerned in the affair, and whether innocent or guilty we must die very horribly. Such is the gentle custom of your Christian country when a prince is murdered. That is not the point of the jest, however. For first Sire Philibert will put this woman to the Question by Water, until she confesses her confederates, until she confesses that every baron whom Philibert distrusts was one of them. Oh yes, assuredly they will thrust a hollow cane into the mouth of your Biatritz, and they will pour water a little by a little through this cane, until she confesses what they desire. Ha, Philibert will see to this confession! And through this woman's torment he will rid himself of every dangerous foe he has in Venaissin. You must stand by and wait your turn. You must stand by, in fetters, and see this done—you, you, my master!—you, who love this woman as I loved that dead Zoraida who was not fair enough to please you!"
Raimbaut, trapped, impotent, cried out: "This is not possible——" And for all that, he knew the Saracen to be foretelling the inevitable.
Makrisi went on, quietly: "After the Question men will parade her, naked to the middle, through all Orange, until they reach the Marketplace, where will be four horses. One of these horses they will harness to each arm and leg of your Biatritz. Then they will beat these horses. These will be strong horses. They will each run in a different direction."
This infamy also was certain. Raimbaut foresaw what he must do. He clutched the dagger which Makrisi fondled. "Belhs Cavaliers, this fellow speaks the truth. Look now, the moon is old—is it not strange to know it will outlive us?"
And Biatritz came close to Sire Raimbaut and said: "I understand. If I leave this room alive it will purchase a hideous suffering for my poor body, it will bring about the ruin of many brave and innocent chevaliers. I know. I would perforce confess all that the masked men bade me. I know, for in Prince Conrat's time I have seen persons who had been put to the Question——" She shuddered; and she re-began, without any agitation: "Give me the knife, Raimbaut."
"Pardieu! but I may not obey you for this once," he answered, "since we are informed by those in holy orders that all such as lay violent hands upon themselves must suffer eternally." Then, kneeling, he cried, in an extremity of adoration: "Oh, I have served you all my life. You may not now deny me this last service. And while I talk they dig your grave! O blind men, making the new grave, take heed lest that grave be too narrow, for already my heart is breaking in my body. I have drunk too deep of sorrow. And yet I may not fail you, now that honor and mercy and my love for you demand I kill you before I also die—in such a fashion as this fellow speaks of."
She did not dispute this. How could she when it was an axiom in all Courts of Love that Heaven held dominion in a lover's heart only as an underling of the man's mistress?
And so she said, with a fond smile: "It is your demonstrable privilege. I would not grant it, dear, were my weak hands as clean as yours. Oh, but it is long you have loved me, and it is faithfully you have served Heaven, and my heart too is breaking in my body now that your service ends!"
And he demanded, wearily: "When we were boy and girl together what had we said if any one had told us this would be the end?"
"We would have laughed. It is a long while since those children laughed at Montferrat. . . . Not yet, not yet!" she said. "Ah, pity me, tried champion, for even now I am almost afraid to die."
She leaned against the window yonder, shuddering, staring into the night. Dawn had purged the east of stars. Day was at hand, the day whose noon she might not hope to witness. She noted this incuriously. Then Biatritz came to him, very strangely proud, and yet all tenderness.
"See, now, Raimbaut! because I have loved you as I have loved nothing else in life, I will not be unworthy of your love. Strike and have done."
Raimbaut de Vaquieras raised an already bloodied dagger. As emotion goes, he was bankrupt. He had no longer any dread of hell, because he thought that, a little later, nothing its shrewdest overseer could plan would have the power to vex him. She, waiting, smiled. Makrisi, seated, stretched his legs, put fingertips together with the air of an attendant amateur. This was better than he had hoped. In such a posture they heard a bustle of armored men, and when all turned, saw how a sword protruded through the arras.
"Come out, Guillaume!" people were shouting. "Unkennel, dog! Out, out, and die!" To such a heralding Mahi de Vernoil came into the room with mincing steps such as the man affected in an hour of peril. He first saw what a grisly burden the chest sustained. "Now, by the Face!" he cried, "if he that cheated me of quieting this filth should prove to be of gentle birth I will demand of him a duel to the death!" The curtains were ripped from their hangings as he spoke, and behind him the candlelight was reflected by the armor of many followers.
Then de Vernoil perceived Raimbaut de Vaquieras, and the spruce little man bowed ceremoniously. All were still. Composedly, like a lieutenant before his captain, Mahi narrated how these hunted remnants of Lovain's army had, as a last cast, that night invaded the chateau, and had found, thanks to the festival, its men-at-arms in uniform and inefficient drunkenness. "My tres beau sire," Messire de Vernoil ended, "will you or nill you, Venaissin is yours this morning. My knaves have slain Philibert and his bewildered fellow-tipplers with less effort than is needed to drown as many kittens."
And his followers cried, as upon a signal: "Hail, Prince of Orange!"
It was so like the wonder-working of a dream—this sudden and heroic uproar—that old Raimbaut de Vaquieras stood reeling, near to intimacy with fear for the first time. He waited thus, with both hands pressed before his eyes. He waited thus for a long while, because he was not used to find chance dealing kindlily with him. Later he saw that Makrisi had vanished in the tumult, and that many people awaited his speaking.
The lord of Venaissin began: "You have done me a great service, Messire de Vemoil. As recompense, I give you what I may. I freely yield you all my right in Venaissin. Oh no, kingcraft is not for me. I daily see and hear of battles won, cities beleaguered, high towers overthrown, and ancient citadels and new walls leveled with the dust. I have conversed with many kings, the directors of these events, and they were not happy people. Yes, yes, I have witnessed divers happenings, for I am old. . . . I have found nothing which can serve me in place of honor."
He turned to Dona Biatritz. It was as if they were alone. "Belhs Cavaliers," he said, "I had sworn fealty to this Guillaume. He violated his obligations; but that did not free me of mine. An oath is an oath. I was, and am to-day, sworn to support his cause, and to profit in any fashion by its overthrow would be an abominable action. Nay, more, were any of his adherents alive it would be my manifest duty to join them against our preserver, Messire de Vernoil. This necessity is very happily spared me. I cannot, though, in honor hold any fief under the supplanter of my liege-lord. I must, therefore, relinquish Vaquieras and take eternal leave of Venaissin. I will not lose the right to call myself your servant!" he cried out—"and that which is noblest in the world must be served fittingly. And so, Belhs Cavaliers, let us touch palms and bid farewell, and never in this life speak face to face of trivial happenings which we two alone remember. For naked of lands and gear I came to you—a prince's daughter—very long ago, and as nakedly I now depart, so that I may retain the right to say, 'All my life long I served my love of her according to my abilities, wholeheartedly and with clean hands.'"
"Yes, yes! you must depart from Venaissin," said Dona Biatritz. A capable woman, she had no sympathy with his exquisite points of honor, and yet loved him all the more because of what seemed to her his surpassing folly. She smiled, somewhat as mothers do in humoring an unreasonable boy. "We will go to my nephew's court at Montferrat," she said. "He will willingly provide for his old aunt and her husband. And you may still make verses—at Montferrat, where we lived verses, once, Raimbaut."
Now they gazed full upon each other. Thus they stayed, transfigured, neither seeming old. Each had forgotten that unhappiness existed anywhere in the whole world. The armored, blood-stained men about them were of no more importance than were those wantons in the tapestry. Without, dawn throbbed in heaven. Without, innumerable birds were raising that glad, piercing, hurried morning-song which very anciently caused Adam's primal waking, to behold his mate.
"A curious preference for the artificial should be mentioned as characteristic of ALESSANDRO DE MEDICI'S poetry. For his century was anything but artless; the great commonplaces that form the main stock of human thought were no longer in their first flush, and he addressed a people no longer childish. . . . Unquestionably his fancies were fantastic, anti-natural, bordering on hallucination, and they betray a desire for impossible novelty; but it is allowable to prefer them to the sickly simplicity of those so-called poems that embroider with old faded wools upon the canvas of worn-out truisms, trite, trivial and idiotically sentimental patterns."
Let me have dames and damsels richly clad To feed and tend my mirth, Singing by day and night to make me glad;
Let me have fruitful gardens of great girth Fill'd with the strife of birds, With water-springs, and beasts that house i' the earth.
Let me seem Solomon for lore of words, Samson for strength, for beauty Absalom.
Knights as my serfs be given; And as I will, let music go and come; Till, when I will, I will to enter Heaven.
ALESSANDRO DE MEDICI.—Madrigal, from D. G. Rossetti's version.
Graciosa was Balthazar's youngest child, a white, slim girl with violet eyes and strange pale hair which had the color and glitter of stardust. "Some day at court," her father often thought complacently, "she, too, will make a good match." He was a necessitous lord, a smiling, supple man who had already marketed two daughters to his advantage. But Graciosa's time was not yet mature in the year of grace 1533, for the girl was not quite sixteen. So Graciosa remained in Balthazar's big cheerless house and was tutored in all needful accomplishments. She was proficient in the making of preserves and unguents, could play the harpsichord and the virginals acceptably, could embroider an altarcloth to admiration, and, in spite of a trivial lameness in walking, could dance a coranto or a saraband against any woman between two seas.
Now to the north of Balthazar's home stood a tall forest, overhanging both the highway and the river whose windings the highway followed. Graciosa was very often to be encountered upon the outskirts of these woods. She loved the forest, whose tranquillity bred dreams, but was already a woman in so far that she found it more interesting to watch the highway. Sometimes it would be deserted save for small purple butterflies which fluttered about as if in continuous indecision, and rarely ascended more than a foot above the ground. But people passed at intervals—as now a page, who was a notably fine fellow, clothed in ash-colored gray, with slashed, puffed sleeves, and having a heron's feather in his cap; or a Franciscan with his gown tucked up so that you saw how the veins on his naked feet stood out like the carvings on a vase; or a farmer leading a calf; or a gentleman in a mantle of squirrel's fur riding beside a wonderful proud lady, whose tiny hat was embroidered with pearls. It was all very interesting to watch, it was like turning over the leaves of a book written in an unknown tongue and guessing what the pictures meant, because these people were intent upon their private avocations, in which you had no part, and you would never see them any more.
Then destiny took a hand in the affair and Guido came. He reined his gray horse at the sight of her sitting by the wayside and deferentially inquired how far it might be to the nearest inn. Graciosa told him. He thanked her and rode on. That was all, but the appraising glance of this sedate and handsome burgher obscurely troubled the girl afterward.
Next day he came again. He was a jewel-merchant, he told her, and he thought it within the stretch of possibility that my lord Balthazar's daughter might wish to purchase some of his wares. She viewed them with admiration, chaffered thriftily, and finally bought a topaz, dug from Mount Zabarca, Guido assured her, which rendered its wearer immune to terrors of any kind.
Very often afterward these two met on the outskirts of the forest as Guido rode between the coast and the hill-country about his vocation. Sometimes he laughingly offered her a bargain, on other days he paused to exhibit a notable gem which he had procured for this or that wealthy amateur. Count Eglamore, the young Duke's favorite yonder at court, bought most of them, it seemed. "The nobles complain against this upstart Eglamore very bitterly," said Guido, "but we merchants have no quarrel with him. He buys too lavishly."
"I trust I shall not see Count Eglamore when I go to court," said Graciosa, meditatively; "and, indeed, by that time, my father assures me, some honest gentleman will have contrived to cut the throat of this abominable Eglamore." Her father's people, it should be premised, had been at bitter feud with the favorite ever since he detected and punished the conspiracy of the Marquis of Cibo, their kinsman. Then Graciosa continued: "Nevertheless, I shall see many beautiful sights when I am taken to court. . . . And the Duke, too, you tell me, is an amateur of gems."
"Eh, madonna, I wish that you could see his jewels," cried Guido, growing fervent; and he lovingly catalogued a host of lapidary marvels.
"I hope that I shall see these wonderful jewels when I go to court," said Graciosa wistfully.
"Duke Alessandro," he returned, his dark eyes strangely mirthful, "is, as I take it, a catholic lover of beauty in all its forms. So he will show you his gems, very assuredly, and, worse still, he will make verses in your honor. For it is a preposterous feature of Duke Alessandro's character that he is always making songs."
"Oh, and such strange songs as they are, too, Guido. Who does not know them?"
"I am not the best possible judge of his verses' merit," Guido estimated, drily. "But I shall never understand how any singer at all came to be locked in such a prison. I fancy that at times the paradox puzzles even Duke Alessandro."
"And is he as handsome as people report?"
Then Guido laughed a little. "Tastes differ, of course. But I think your father will assure you, madonna, that no duke possessing such a zealous tax-collector as Count Eglamore was ever in his lifetime considered of repulsive person."
"And is he young?"
"Why, as to that, he is about of an age with me, and in consequence old enough to be far more sensible than either of us is ever likely to be," said Guido; and began to talk of other matters.
But presently Graciosa was questioning him again as to the court, whither she was to go next year and enslave a marquis, or, at worst, an opulent baron. Her thoughts turned toward the court's predominating figure. "Tell me of Eglamore, Guido."
"Madonna, some say that Eglamore was a brewer's son. Others—and your father's kinsmen in particular—insist that he was begot by a devil in person, just as Merlin was, and Plato the philosopher, and puissant Alexander. Nobody knows anything about his origin." Guido was sitting upon the ground, his open pack between his knees. Between the thumb and forefinger of each hand he held caressingly a string of pearls which he inspected as he talked. "Nobody," he idly said, "nobody is very eager to discuss Count Eglamore's origin now that Eglamore has become indispensable to Duke Alessandro. Yes, it is thanks to Eglamore that the Duke has ample leisure and needful privacy for the pursuit of recreations which are reputed to be curious."
"I do not understand you, Guido." Graciosa was all wonder.
"It is perhaps as well," the merchant said, a trifle sadly. Then Guido shrugged. "To be brief, madonna, business annoys the Duke. He finds in this Eglamore an industrious person who affixes seals, draughts proclamations, makes treaties, musters armies, devises pageants, and collects revenues, upon the whole, quite as efficiently as Alessandro would be capable of doing these things. So Alessandro makes verses and amuses himself as his inclinations prompt, and Alessandro's people are none the worse off on account of it."
"Heigho, I foresee that I shall never fall in love with the Duke," Graciosa declared. "It is unbefitting and it is a little cowardly for a prince to shirk the duties of his station. Now, if I were Duke I would grant my father a pension, and have Eglamore hanged, and purchase a new gown of silvery green, in which I would be ravishingly beautiful, and afterward— Why, what would you do if you were Duke, Messer Guido?"
"What would I do if I were Duke?" he echoed. "What would I do if I were a great lord instead of a tradesman? I think you know the answer, madonna."
"Oh, you would make me your duchess, of course. That is quite understood," said Graciosa, with the lightest of laughs. "But I was speaking seriously, Guido."
Guido at that considered her intently for a half-minute. His countenance was of portentous gravity, but in his eyes she seemed to detect a lurking impishness.
"And it is not a serious matter that a peddler of crystals should have dared to love a nobleman's daughter? You are perfectly right. That I worship you is an affair which does not concern any person save myself in any way whatsoever, although I think that knowledge of the fact would put your father to the trouble of sharpening his dagger. . . . Indeed, I am not certain that I worship you, for in order to adore wholeheartedly, the idolater must believe his idol to be perfect. Now, your nails are of an ugly shape, like that of little fans; your mouth is too large; and I have long ago perceived that you are a trifle lame in spite of your constant care to conceal the fact. I do not admire these faults, for faults they are undoubtedly. Then, too, I know you are vain and self-seeking, and look forward contentedly to the time when your father will transfer his ownership of such physical attractions as heaven gave you to that nobleman who offers the highest price for them. It is true you have no choice in the matter, but you will participate in a monstrous bargain, and I would prefer to have you exhibit distaste for it." And with that he returned composedly to inspection of his pearls.
"And to what end, Guido?" It was the first time Graciosa had completely waived the reticence of a superior caste. You saw that the child's parted lips were tremulous, and you divined her childish fits of dreading that glittering, inevitable court-life shared with an unimaginable husband.
But Guido only grumbled whimsically. "I am afraid that men do not always love according to the strict laws of logic. I desire your happiness above all things; yet to see you so abysmally untroubled by anything that troubles me is another matter."
"But I am not untroubled, Guido——" she began swiftly. Graciosa broke off in speech, shrugged, flashed a smile at him. "For I cannot fathom you, Ser Guido, and that troubles me. Yes, I am very fond of you, and yet I do not trust you. You tell me you love me greatly. It pleases me to have you say this. You perceive I am very candid this morning, Messer Guido. Yes, it pleases me, and I know that for the sake of seeing me you daily endanger your life, for if my father heard of our meetings he would have you killed. You would not incur such hare-brained risks unless you cared very greatly; and yet, somehow, I do not believe it is altogether for me you care."
Then Guido was in train to protest an all-mastering and entirely candid devotion, but he was interrupted.
"Most women have these awkward intuitions," spoke a melodious voice, and turning, Graciosa met the eyes of the intruder. This magnificent young man had a proud and bloodless face which contrasted sharply with his painted lips and cheeks. In the contour of his protruding mouth showed plainly his negroid ancestry. His scanty beard, as well as his frizzled hair, was the color of dead grass. He was sumptuously clothed in white satin worked with silver, and around his cap was a gold chain hung with diamonds. Now he handed his fringed riding-gloves to Guido to hold.
"Yes, madonna, I suspect that Eglamore here cares greatly for the fact that you are Lord Balthazar's daughter, and cousin to the late Marquis of Cibo. For Cibo has many kinsmen at court who still resent the circumstance that the matching of his wits against Eglamore's earned for Cibo a deplorably public demise. So they conspire against Eglamore with vexatious industry, as an upstart, as a nobody thrust over people of proven descent, and Eglamore goes about in hourly apprehension of a knife-thrust. If he could make a match with you, though, your father—thrifty man!—would be easily appeased. Your cousins, those proud, grumbling Castel-Franchi, Strossi and Valori, would not prove over-obdurate toward a kinsman who, whatever his past indiscretions, has so many pensions and offices at his disposal. Yes, honor would permit a truce, and Eglamore could bind them to his interests within ten days, and be rid of the necessity of sleeping in chain armor. . . . Have I not unraveled the scheme correctly, Eglamore?"
"Your highness was never lacking in penetration," replied the other in a dull voice. He stood motionless, holding the gloves, his shoulders a little bowed as if under some physical load. His eyes were fixed upon the ground. He divined the change in Graciosa's face and did not care to see it.
"And so you are Count Eglamore," said Graciosa in a sort of whisper. "That is very strange. I had thought you were my friend, Guido. But I forget. I must not call you Guido any longer." She gave a little shiver here. He stayed motionless and did not look at her. "I have often wondered what manner of man you were. So it was you—whose hand I touched just now—you who poisoned Duke Cosmo, you who had the good cardinal assassinated, you who betrayed the brave lord of Faenza! Oh, yes, they openly accuse you of every imaginable crime—this patient Eglamore, this reptile who has crept into his power through filthy passages. It is very strange you should be capable of so much wickedness, for to me you seem only a sullen lackey."
He winced and raised his eyes at this. His face remained expressionless. He knew these accusations at least to be demonstrable lies, for as it happened he had never found his advancement to hinge upon the commission of the crimes named. But even so, the past was a cemetery he did not care to have revivified.
"And it was you who detected the Marquis of Cibo's conspiracy. Tebaldeo was my cousin, Count Eglamore, and I loved him. We were reared together. We used to play here in these woods, and I remember how Tebaldeo once fetched me a wren's nest from that maple yonder. I stood just here. I was weeping because I was afraid he would fall. If he had fallen and been killed, it would have been the luckier for him," Graciosa sighed. "They say that he conspired. I do not know. I only know that by your orders, Count Eglamore, my playmate Tebaldeo was fastened upon a Saint Andrew's cross and his arms and legs were each broken in two places with an iron bar. Then your servants took Tebaldeo, still living, and laid him upon a carriage-wheel which was hung upon a pivot. The upper edge of this wheel was cut with very fine teeth like those of a saw, so that his agony might be complete. Tebaldeo's poor mangled legs were folded beneath his body so that his heels touched the back of his head, they tell me. In such a posture he died very slowly while the wheel turned very slowly there in the sunlit market-place, and flies buzzed greedily about him, and the shopkeepers took holiday in order to watch Tebaldeo die—the same Tebaldeo who once fetched me a wren's nest from yonder maple."
Eglamore spoke now. "I gave orders for the Marquis of Cibo's execution. I did not devise the manner of his death. The punishment for Cibo's crime was long ago fixed by our laws. Cibo plotted to kill the Duke. Cibo confessed as much."
But the girl waved this aside. "And then you plan this masquerade. You plan to make me care for you so greatly that even when I know you to be Count Eglamore I must still care for you. You plan to marry me, so as to placate Tebaldeo's kinsmen, so as to bind them to your interests. It was a fine bold stroke of policy, I know, to use me as a stepping-stone to safety—but was it fair to me?" Her voice rose now a little. She seemed to plead with him. "Look you, Count Eglamore, I was a child only yesterday. I have never loved any man. But you have loved many women, I know, and long experience has taught you many ways of moving a woman's heart. Oh, was it fair, was it worth while, to match your skill against my ignorance? Think how unhappy I would be if even now I loved you, and how I would loathe myself. . . . But I am getting angry over nothing. Nothing has happened except that I have dreamed in idle moments of a brave and comely lover who held his head so high that all other women envied me, and now I have awakened."
Meanwhile, it was with tears in his eyes that the young man in white had listened to her quiet talk, for you could nowhere have found a nature more readily sensitive than his to all the beauty and wonder which life, as if it were haphazardly, produces every day. He pitied this betrayed child quite ineffably, because in her sorrow she was so pretty.
So he spoke consolingly. "Fie, Donna Graciosa, you must not be too harsh with Eglamore. It is his nature to scheme, and he weaves his plots as inevitably as the spider does her web. Believe me, it is wiser to forget the rascal—as I do—until there is need of him; and I think you will have no more need to consider Eglamore's trickeries, for you are very beautiful, Graciosa."
He had drawn closer to the girl, and he brought a cloying odor of frangipani, bergamot and vervain. His nostrils quivered, his face had taken on an odd pinched look, for all that he smiled as over some occult jest. Graciosa was a little frightened by his bearing, which was both furtive and predatory.
"Oh, do not be offended, for I have some rights to say what I desire in these parts. For, Dei gratia, I am the overlord of these parts, Graciosa—a neglected prince who wondered over the frequent absences of his chief counselor and secretly set spies upon him. Eglamore here will attest as much. Or if you cannot believe poor Eglamore any longer, I shall have other witnesses within the half-hour. Oh, yes, they are to meet me here at noon—some twenty crop-haired stalwart cut-throats. They will come riding upon beautiful broad-chested horses covered with red velvet trappings that are hung with little silver bells which jingle delightfully. They will come very soon, and then we will ride back to court."
Duke Alessandro touched his big painted mouth with his forefinger as if in fantastic mimicry of a man imparting a confidence.
"I think that I shall take you with me, Graciosa, for you are very beautiful. You are as slim as a lily and more white, and your eyes are two purple mirrors in each of which I see a tiny image of Duke Alessandro. The woman I loved yesterday was a big splendid wench with cheeks like apples. It is not desirable that women should be so large. All women should be little creatures that fear you. They should have thin, plaintive voices, and in shrinking from you be as slight to the touch as a cobweb. It is not possible to love a woman ardently unless you comprehend how easy it would be to murder her."
"God, God!" said Count Eglamore, very softly, for he was familiar with the look which had now come into Duke Alessandro's face. Indeed, all persons about court were quick to notice this odd pinched look, like that of a traveler nipped at by frosts, and people at court became obsequious within the instant in dealing with the fortunate woman who had aroused this look, Count Eglamore remembered.
And the girl did not speak at all, but stood motionless, staring in bewildered, pitiable, childlike fashion, and the color had ebbed from her countenance.
Alessandro was frankly pleased. "You fear me, do you not, Graciosa? See, now, when I touch your hand it is soft and cold as a serpent's skin, and you shudder. I am very tired of women who love me, of all women with bold, hungry eyes. To you my touch will always be a martyrdom, you will always loathe me, and therefore I shall not weary of you for a long while. Come, Graciosa. Your father shall have all the wealth and state that even his greedy imaginings can devise, so long as you can contrive to loathe me. We will find you a suitable husband. You shall have flattery and titles, gold and fine glass, soft stuffs and superb palaces such as are your beauty's due henceforward."
He glanced at the peddler's pack, and shrugged. "So Eglamore has been wooing you with jewels! You must see mine, dear Graciosa. It is not merely an affair of possessing, as some emperors do, all the four kinds of sapphires, the twelve kinds of emeralds, the three kinds of rubies, and many extraordinary pearls, diamonds, cymophanes, beryls, green peridots, tyanos, sandrastra, and fiery cinnamon-stones"—he enumerated them with the tender voice of their lover—"for the value of these may at least be estimated. Oh, no, I have in my possession gems which have not their fellows in any other collection, gems which have not even a name and the value of which is incalculable—strange jewels that were shot from inaccessible mountain peaks by means of slings, jewels engendered by the thunder, jewels taken from the heart of the Arabian deer, jewels cut from the brain of a toad and the eyes of serpents, and even jewels that are authentically known to have fallen from the moon. We will select the rarest, and have a pair of slippers encrusted with them, in which you shall dance for me."
"Highness," cried Eglamore, with anger and terror at odds in his breast, "Highness, I love this girl!"
"Ah, then you cannot ever be her husband," Duke Alessandro returned. "You would have suited otherwise. No, no, we must seek out some other person of discretion. It will all be very amusing, for I think that she is now quite innocent, as pure as the high angels are. See, Eglamore, she cannot speak, she stays still as a lark that has been taken in a snare. It will be very marvelous to make her as I am. . . ." He meditated, as, obscurely aware of opposition, his shoulders twitched fretfully, and momentarily his eyes lightened like the glare of a cannon through its smoke. "You made a beast of me, some long-faced people say. Beware lest the beast turn and rend you."
Count Eglamore plucked aimlessly at his chin. Then he laughed as a dog yelps. He dropped the gloves which he had held till this, deliberately, as if the act were a rite. His shoulders straightened and purpose seemed to flow into the man. "No," he said quietly, "I will not have it. It was not altogether I who made a brain-sick beast of you, my prince; but even so, I have never been too nice to profit by your vices. I have taken my thrifty toll of abomination, I have stood by contentedly, not urging you on, yet never trying to stay you, as you waded deeper and ever deeper into the filth of your debaucheries, because meanwhile you left me so much power. Yes, in some part it is my own handiwork which is my ruin. I accept it. Nevertheless, you shall not harm this child."
"I venture to remind you, Eglamore, that I am still the master of this duchy." Alessandro was languidly amused, and had begun to regard his adversary with real curiosity.
"Oh, yes, but that is nothing to me. At court you are the master. At court I have seen mothers raise the veil from their daughters' faces, with smiles that were more loathsome than the grimaces of a fiend, because you happened to be passing. But here in these woods, your highness, I see only the woman I love and the man who has insulted her."
"This is very admirable fooling," the Duke considered. "So all the world is changed and Pandarus is transformed into Hector? These are sonorous words, Eglamore, but with what deeds do you propose to back them?"
"By killing you, your highness."
"So!" said the Duke. "The farce ascends in interest." He drew with a flourish, with actual animation, for sottish, debauched and power-crazed as this man was, he came of a race to whom danger was a cordial. "Very luckily a sword forms part of your disguise, so let us amuse ourselves. It is always diverting to kill, and if by any chance you kill me I shall at least be rid of the intolerable knowledge that to-morrow will be just like to-day." The Duke descended blithely into the level road and placed himself on guard.
Then both men silently went about the business in hand. Both were oddly calm, almost as if preoccupied by some more important matter to be settled later. The two swords clashed, gleamed rigidly for an instant, and then their rapid interplay, so far as vision went, melted into a flickering snarl of silver, for the sun was high and each man's shadow was huddled under him. Then Eglamore thrust savagely and in the act trod the edge of a puddle, and fell ignominiously prostrate. His sword was wrenched ten feet from him, for the Duke had parried skilfully. Eglamore lay thus at Alessandro's mercy.
"Well, well!" the Duke cried petulantly, "and am I to be kept waiting forever? You were a thought quicker in obeying my caprices yesterday. Get up, you muddy lout, and let us kill each other with some pretension of adroitness."
Eglamore rose, and, sobbing, caught up his sword and rushed toward the Duke in an agony of shame and rage. His attack now was that of a frenzied animal, quite careless of defense and desirous only of murder. Twice the Duke wounded him, but it was Alessandro who drew backward, composedly hindering the brutal onslaught he was powerless to check. Then Eglamore ran him through the chest and gave vent to a strangled, growling cry as Alessandro fell. Eglamore wrenched his sword free and grasped it by the blade so that he might stab the Duke again and again. He meant to hack the abominable flesh, to slash and mutilate that haughty mask of infamy, but Graciosa clutched his weapon by the hilt.
The girl panted, and her breath came thick. "He gave you your life."
Eglamore looked up. She leaned now upon his shoulder, her face brushing his as he knelt over the unconscious Duke; and Eglamore found that at her dear touch all passion had gone out of him.
"Madonna," he said equably, "the Duke is not yet dead. It is impossible to let him live. You may think he voiced only a caprice just now. I think so too, but I know the man, and I know that all this madman's whims are ruthless and irresistible. Living, Duke Alessandro's appetites are merely whetted by opposition, so much so that he finds no pleasures sufficiently piquant unless they have God's interdiction as a sauce. Living, he will make of you his plaything, and a little later his broken, soiled and castby plaything. It is therefore necessary that I kill Duke Alessandro."