Part 1 out of 3
A Comedy of Woman-Worship
JAMES BRANCH CABELL
"_En cor gentil domnei per mort no passa_."
SARAH READ McADAMS
IN GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION
"The complication of opinions and ideas, of affections and habits,
which prompted the chevalier to devote himself to the service of a
lady, and by which he strove to prove to her his love, and to merit
hers in return, was expressed, in the language of the Troubadours, by a
single word, by the word _domnei_, a derivation of _domna_, which may
be regarded as an alteration of the Latin _domina_, lady, mistress."
--C. C. FAURIEL,
_History of Provencal Poetry_.
I HOW PERION WAS UNMASKED
II HOW THE VICOMTE WAS VERY GAY
III HOW MELICENT WOOED
IV HOW THE BISHOP AIDED PERION
V HOW MELICENT WEDDED
VI HOW MELICENT SOUGHT OVERSEA
VII HOW PERION WAS FREED
VIII HOW DEMETRIOS WAS AMUSED
IX HOW TIME SPED IN HEATHENRY
X HOW DEMETRIOS WOOED
XI HOW TIME SPED WITH PERION
XII HOW DEMETRIOS WAS TAKEN
XIII HOW THEY PRAISED MELICENT
XIV HOW PERION BRAVED THEODORET.
XV HOW PERION FOUGHT
XVI HOW DEMETRIOS MEDITATED.
XVII HOW A MINSTREL CAME
XVIII HOW THEY CRIED QUITS
XIX HOW FLAMBERGE WAS LOST
XX HOW PERION GOT AID
XXI HOW DEMETRIOS HELD HIS CHATTEL
XXII HOW MISERY HELD NACUMERA.
XXIII HOW DEMETRIOS CRIED FAREWELL
XXIV HOW ORESTES RULED
XXV HOW WOMEN TALKED TOGETHER
XXVI HOW MEN ORDERED MATTERS
XXVII HOW AHASUERUS WAS CANDID
XXVIII HOW PERION SAW MELICENT
XXIX HOW A BARGAIN WAS CRIED
XXX HOW MELICENT CONQUERED
It would be absorbing to discover the present feminine attitude toward
the profoundest compliment ever paid women by the heart and mind of men
in league--the worshipping devotion conceived by Plato and elevated to
a living faith in mediaeval France. Through that renaissance of a
sublimated passion _domnei_ was regarded as a throne of alabaster by
the chosen figures of its service: Melicent, at Bellegarde, waiting for
her marriage with King Theodoret, held close an image of Perion made of
substance that time was powerless to destroy; and which, in a life of
singular violence, where blood hung scarlet before men's eyes like a
tapestry, burned in a silver flame untroubled by the fate of her body.
It was, to her, a magic that kept her inviolable, perpetually, in spite
of marauding fingers, a rose in the blanched perfection of its early
The clearest possible case for that religion was that it transmuted the
individual subject of its adoration into the deathless splendor of a
Madonna unique and yet divisible in a mirage of earthly loveliness. It
was heaven come to Aquitaine, to the Courts of Love, in shapes of vivid
fragrant beauty, with delectable hair lying gold on white samite worked
in borders of blue petals. It chose not abstractions for its faith, but
the most desirable of all actual--yes, worldly--incentives: the sister,
it might be, of Count Emmerick of Poictesme. And, approaching beatitude
not so much through a symbol of agony as by the fragile grace of a
woman, raising Melicent to the stars, it fused, more completely than in
any other aspiration, the spirit and the flesh.
However, in its contact, its lovers' delight, it was no more than a
slow clasping and unclasping of the hands; the spirit and flesh,
merged, became spiritual; the height of stars was not a figment....
Here, since the conception of _domnei_ has so utterly vanished, the
break between the ages impassable, the sympathy born of understanding
is interrupted. Hardly a woman, to-day, would value a sigh the passion
which turned a man steadfastly away that he might be with her forever
beyond the parched forest of death. Now such emotion is held strictly
to the gains, the accountability, of life's immediate span; women have
left their cloudy magnificence for a footing on earth; but--at least in
warm graceful youth--their dreams are still of a Perion de la ForÍt.
These, clear-eyed, they disavow; yet their secret desire, the most
Elysian of all hopes, to burn at once with the body and the soul, mocks
what they find.
That vision, dominating Mr. Cabell's pages, the record of his revealed
idealism, brings specially to _Domnei_ a beauty finely escaping the
dusty confusion of any present. It is a book laid in a purity, a
serenity, of space above the vapors, the bigotry and engendered spite,
of dogma and creed. True to yesterday, it will be faithful of
to-morrow; for, in the evolution of humanity, not necessarily the turn
of a wheel upward, certain qualities have remained at the center,
undisturbed. And, of these, none is more fixed than an abstract love.
Different in men than in women, it is, for the former, an instinct, a
need, to serve rather than be served: their desire is for a shining
image superior, at best, to both lust and maternity. This
consciousness, grown so dim that it is scarcely perceptible, yet still
alive, is not extinguished with youth, but lingers hopeless of
satisfaction through the incongruous years of middle age. There is
never a man, gifted to any degree with imagination, but eternally
searches for an ultimate loveliness not disappearing in the circle of
his embrace--the instinctively Platonic gesture toward the only
immortality conceivable in terms of ecstasy.
A truth, now, in very low esteem! With the solidification of society,
of property, the bond of family has been tremendously exalted, the mere
fact of parenthood declared the last sanctity. Together with this,
naturally, the persistent errantry of men, so vulgarly misunderstood,
has become only a reprehensible paradox. The entire shelf of James
Branch Cabell's books, dedicated to an unquenchable masculine idealism,
has, as well, a paradoxical place in an age of material sentimentality.
Compared with the novels of the moment, _Domnei_ is an isolated, a
heroic fragment of a vastly deeper and higher structure. And, of its
many aspects, it is not impossible that the highest, rising over even
its heavenly vision, is the rare, the simple, fortitude of its
Whatever dissent the philosophy of Perion and Melicent may breed, no
one can fail to admire the steady courage with which it is upheld.
Aside from its special preoccupation, such independence in the face of
ponderable threat, such accepted isolation, has a rare stability in a
world treacherous with mental quicksands and evasions. This is a valor
not drawn from insensibility, but from the sharpest possible
recognition of all the evil and Cyclopean forces in existence, and a
deliberate engagement of them on their own ground. Nothing more, in
that direction, can be asked of Mr. Cabell, of anyone. While about the
story itself, the soul of Melicent, the form and incidental writing, it
is no longer necessary to speak.
The pages have the rich sparkle of a past like stained glass called to
life: the Confraternity of St. MÈdard presenting their masque of
Hercules; the claret colored walls adorned with gold cinquefoils of
Demetrios' court; his pavilion with porticoes of Andalusian copper;
Theodoret's capital, Megaris, ruddy with bonfires; the free port of
Narenta with its sails spread for the land of pagans; the
lichen-incrusted glade in the Forest of Columbiers; gardens with the
walks sprinkled with crocus and vermilion and powdered mica ... all are
at once real and bright with unreality, rayed with the splendor of an
antiquity built from webs and films of imagined wonder. The past is, at
its moment, the present, and that lost is valueless. Distilled by time,
only an imperishable romantic conception remains; a vision, where it is
significant, animated by the feelings, the men and women, which only,
at heart, are changeless.
They, the surcharged figures of _Domnei_, move vividly through their
stone galleries and closes, in procession, and--a far more difficult
accomplishment--alone. The lute of the Bishop of Montors, playing as he
rides in scarlet, sounds its ProvenÁal refrain; the old man Theodoret,
a king, sits shabbily between a prie-dieu and the tarnished hangings of
his bed; MÈlusine, with the pale frosty hair of a child, spins the
melancholy of departed passion; Ahasuerus the Jew buys Melicent for a
hundred and two minae and enters her room past midnight for his act of
abnegation. And at the end, looking, perhaps, for a mortal woman,
Perion finds, in a flesh not unscarred by years, the rose beyond
destruction, the high silver flame of immortal happiness.
So much, then, everything in the inner questioning of beings condemned
to a glimpse of remote perfection, as though the sky had opened on a
city of pure bliss, transpires in _Domnei_; while the fact that it is
laid in Poictesme sharpens the thrust of its illusion. It is by that
much the easier of entry; it borders--rather than on the clamor of
mills--on the reaches men explore, leaving' weariness and dejection for
fancy--a geography for lonely sensibilities betrayed by chance into the
blind traps, the issueless barrens, of existence.
_And Norman_ Nicolas _at heartÈ meant
(Pardie!) some subtle occupation
In making of his Tale of Melicent,
That stubbornly desirÈd Perion.
What perils for to rollen up and down,
So long process, so many a sly cautel,
For to obtain a silly damosel!_
Nicolas de Caen, one of the most eminent of the early French writers of
romance, was born at Caen in Normandy early in the 15th century, and
was living in 1470. Little is known of his life, apart from the fact
that a portion of his youth was spent in England, where he was
connected in some minor capacity with the household of the Queen
Dowager, Joan of Navarre. In later life, from the fact that two of his
works are dedicated to Isabella of Portugal, third wife to Philip the
Good, Duke of Burgundy, it is conjectured that Nicolas was attached to
the court of that prince . . . . Nicolas de Caen was not greatly
esteemed nor highly praised by his contemporaries, or by writers of the
century following, but latterly has received the recognition due to his
unusual qualities of invention and conduct of narrative, together with
his considerable knowledge of men and manners, and occasional
remarkable modernity of thought. His books, therefore, apart from the
interest attached to them as specimens of early French romance, and in
spite of the difficulties and crudities of the unformed language in
which they are written, are still readable, and are rich in instructive
detail concerning the age that gave them birth . . . . Many romances
are attributed to Nicolas de Caen. Modern criticism has selected four
only as undoubtedly his. These are--(1) _Les Aventures d'Adhelmar de
Nointel_, a metrical romance, plainly of youthful composition,
containing some seven thousand verses; (2) _Le Roy Amaury_, well known
to English students in Watson's spirited translation; (3) _Le Roman de
Lusignan_, a re-handling of the Melusina myth, most of which is wholly
lost; (4) _Le Dizain des Reines_, a collection of quasi-historical
_novellino_ interspersed with lyrics. Six other romances are known to
have been written by Nicolas, but these have perished; and he is
credited with the authorship of _Le Cocu Rouge_, included by Hinsauf,
and of several Ovidian translations or imitations still unpublished.
The Satires formerly attributed to him B¸lg has shown to be spurious
compositions of 17th century origin.
--E. Noel Codman,
_Handbook of Literary Pioneers._
Nicolas de Caen est un reprÈsentant agrÈable, naÔf, et expressif de cet
‚ge que nous aimons ‡ nous reprÈsenter de loin comme l'‚ge d'or du bon
vieux temps ... Nicolas croyait ‡ son Roy et ‡ sa Dame, il croyait
surtout ‡ son Dieu. Nicolas sentait que le monde Ètait semÈ ‡ chaque
pas d'obscuritÈs et d'emb˚ches, et que l'inconnu Ètait partout; partout
aussi Ètait le protecteur invisible et le soutien; ‡ chaque souffle qui
frÈmissait, Nicolas croyait le sentir comme derriËre le rideau. Le ciel
par-dessus ce Nicolas de Caen Ètait ouvert, peuplÈ en chaque point de
figures vivantes, de patrons attentifs et manifestes, d'une invocation
directe. Le plus intrÈpide guerrier alors marchait dans un mÈlange
habituel de crainte et de confiance, comme un tout petit enfant. A
cette vue, les esprits les plus ÈmancipÈs d'aujourd'hui ne sauraient
s'empÍcher de crier, en tempÈrant leur sourire par le respect: _Sancta
_Notice sur la vie de Nicolas de Caen._
_"Of how, through Woman-Worship, knaves compound
With honoure; Kings reck not of their domaine;
Proud Pontiffs sigh; & War-men world-renownd,
Toe win one Woman, all things else disdaine:
Since Melicent doth in herselfe contayne
All this world's Riches that may farre be found.
"If Saphyres ye desire, her eies are plaine;
If Rubies, loe, hir lips be Rubyes sound;
If Pearles, hir teeth be Pearles, both pure & round;
If Yvorie, her forehead Yvory weene;
If Gold, her locks with finest Gold abound;
If Silver, her faire hands have Silver's sheen.
"Yet that which fayrest is, but Few beholde,
Her Soul adornd with vertues manifold."_
--SIR WILLIAM ALLONBY.
THE ROMANCE OF LUSIGNAN OF
THAT FORGOTTEN MAKER IN THE
FRENCH TONGUE, MESSIRE NICOLAS
DE CAEN. HERE BEGINS THE TALE
WHICH THEY OF POICTESME NARRATE
CONCERNING DAME MELICENT,
THAT WAS DAUGHTER TO
THE GREAT COUNT MANUEL.
_How Perion, that stalwart was and gay,
Treadeth with sorrow on a holiday,
Since Melicent anon must wed a king:
How in his heart he hath vain love-longing,
For which he putteth life in forfeiture,
And would no longer in such wise endure;
For writhing Perion in Venus' fire
So burneth that he dieth for desire._
_How Perion Was Unmasked_
Perion afterward remembered the two weeks spent at Bellegarde as in
recovery from illness a person might remember some long fever dream
which was all of an intolerable elvish brightness and of incessant
laughter everywhere. They made a deal of him in Count Emmerick's
pleasant home: day by day the outlaw was thrust into relations of mirth
with noblemen, proud ladies, and even with a king; and was all the
while half lightheaded through his singular knowledge as to how
precariously the self-styled Vicomte de Puysange now balanced himself,
as it were, upon a gilded stepping-stone from infamy to oblivion.
Now that King Theodoret had withdrawn his sinister presence, young
Perion spent some seven hours of every day alone, to all intent, with
Dame Melicent. There might be merry people within a stone's throw,
about this recreation or another, but these two seemed to watch
aloofly, as royal persons do the antics of their hired comedians,
without any condescension into open interest. They were together; and
the jostle of earthly happenings might hope, at most, to afford them
matter for incurious comment.
They sat, as Perion thought, for the last time together, part of an
audience before which the Confraternity of St. MÈdard was enacting a
masque of _The Birth of Hercules_. The Bishop of Montors had returned
to Bellegarde that evening with his brother, Count Gui, and the
pleasure-loving prelate had brought these mirth-makers in his train.
Clad in scarlet, he rode before them playing upon a lute--unclerical
conduct which shocked his preciser brother and surprised nobody.
In such circumstances Perion began to speak with an odd purpose,
because his reason was bedrugged by the beauty and purity of Melicent,
and perhaps a little by the slow and clutching music to whose progress
the chorus of Theban virgins was dancing. When he had made an end of
harsh whispering, Melicent sat for a while in scrupulous appraisement
of the rushes. The music was so sweet it seemed to Perion he must go
mad unless she spoke within the moment.
Then Melicent said:
"You tell me you are not the Vicomte de Puysange. You tell me you are,
instead, the late King Helmas' servitor, suspected of his murder. You
are the fellow that stole the royal jewels--the outlaw for whom half
Christendom is searching--"
Thus Melicent began to speak at last; and still he could not intercept
those huge and tender eyes whose purple made the thought of heaven
The man replied:
"I am that widely hounded Perion of the Forest. The true vicomte is the
wounded rascal over whose delirium we marvelled only last Tuesday. Yes,
at the door of your home I attacked him, fought him--hah, but fairly,
madame!--and stole his brilliant garments and with them his papers.
Then in my desperate necessity I dared to masquerade. For I know enough
about dancing to estimate that to dance upon air must necessarily prove
to everybody a disgusting performance, but pre-eminently unpleasing to
the main actor. Two weeks of safety till the _Tranchemer_ sailed I
therefore valued at a perhaps preposterous rate. To-night, as I have
said, the ship lies at anchor off Manneville."
Melicent said an odd thing, asking, "Oh, can it be you are a less
despicable person than you are striving to appear!"
"Rather, I am a more unmitigated fool than even I suspected, since when
affairs were in a promising train I have elected to blurt out, of all
things, the naked and distasteful truth. Proclaim it now; and see the
late Vicomte de Puysange lugged out of this hall and after appropriate
torture hanged within the month." And with that Perion laughed.
Thereafter he was silent. As the masque went, Amphitryon had newly
returned from warfare, and was singing under Alcmena's window in the
terms of an aubade, a waking-song. "_Rei glorios, verais lums e
clardatz--" Amphitryon had begun. Dame Melicent heard him through.
And after many ages, as it seemed to Perion, the soft and brilliant and
exquisite mouth was pricked to motion.
"You have affronted, by an incredible imposture and beyond the reach of
mercy, every listener in this hall. You have injured me most deeply of
all persons here. Yet it is to me alone that you confess."
Perion leaned forward. You are to understand that, through the
incurrent necessities of every circumstance, each of them spoke in
whispers, even now. It was curious to note the candid mirth on either
side. Mercury was making his adieux to Alcmena's waiting-woman in the
middle of a jig.
"But you," sneered Perion, "are merciful in all things. Rogue that I
am, I dare to build on this notorious fact. I am snared in a hard
golden trap, I cannot get a guide to Manneville, I cannot even procure
a horse from Count Emmerick's stables without arousing fatal
suspicions; and I must be at Manneville by dawn or else be hanged.
Therefore I dare stake all upon one throw; and you must either save or
hang me with unwashed hands. As surely as God reigns, my future rests
with you. And as I am perfectly aware, you could not live comfortably
with a gnat's death upon your conscience. Eh, am I not a seasoned
"Do not remind me now that you are vile," said Melicent. "Ah, no, not
"Lackey, impostor, and thief!" he sternly answered. "There you have the
catalogue of all my rightful titles. And besides, it pleases me, for a
reason I cannot entirely fathom, to be unpardonably candid and to fling
my destiny into your lap. To-night, as I have said, the _Tranchemer_
lies off Manneville; keep counsel, get me a horse if you will, and
to-morrow I am embarked for desperate service under the harried Kaiser
of the Greeks, and for throat-cuttings from which I am not likely ever
to return. Speak, and I hang before the month is up."
Dame Melicent looked at him now, and within the moment Perion was
repaid, and bountifully, for every folly and misdeed of his entire
"What harm have I ever done you, Messire de la ForÍt, that you should
shame me in this fashion? Until to-night I was not unhappy in the
belief I was loved by you. I may say that now without paltering, since
you are not the man I thought some day to love. You are but the rind of
him. And you would force me to cheat justice, to become a hunted
thief's accomplice, or else to murder you!"
"It comes to that, madame."
"Then I must help you preserve your life by any sorry stratagems you
may devise. I shall not hinder you. I will procure you a guide to
Manneville. I will even forgive you all save one offence, since
doubtless heaven made you the foul thing you are." The girl was in a
hot and splendid rage. "For you love me. Women know. You love me. You!"
"Look into my face! and say what horrid writ of infamy you fancied was
apparent there, that my nails may destroy it."
"I am all base," he answered, "and yet not so profoundly base as you
suppose. Nay, believe me, I had never hoped to win even such scornful
kindness as you might accord your lapdog. I have but dared to peep at
heaven while I might, and only as lost Dives peeped. Ignoble as I am, I
never dreamed to squire an angel down toward the mire and filth which
is henceforward my inevitable kennel."
"The masque is done," said Melicent, "and yet you talk, and talk, and
talk, and mimic truth so cunningly--Well, I will send some trusty
person to you. And now, for God's sake!--nay, for the fiend's love who
is your patron!--let me not ever see you again, Messire de la ForÍt."
_How the Vicomte Was Very Gay_
There was dancing afterward and a sumptuous supper. The Vicomte de
Puysange was generally accounted that evening the most excellent of
company. He mingled affably with the revellers and found a prosperous
answer for every jest they broke upon the projected marriage of Dame
Melicent and King Theodoret; and meanwhile hugged the reflection that
half the realm was hunting Perion de la ForÍt in the more customary
haunts of rascality. The springs of Perion's turbulent mirth were that
to-morrow every person in the room would discover how impudently every
person had been tricked, and that Melicent deliberated even now, and
could not but admire, the hunted outlaw's insolence, however much she
loathed its perpetrator; and over this thought in particular Perion
laughed like a madman.
"You are very gay to-night, Messire de Puysange," said the Bishop of
This remarkable young man, it is necessary to repeat, had reached
Bellegarde that evening, coming from Brunbelois. It was he (as you have
heard) who had arranged the match with Theodoret. The bishop himself
loved his cousin Melicent; but, now that he was in holy orders and
possession of her had become impossible, he had cannily resolved to
utilise her beauty, as he did everything else, toward his own
"Oh, sir," replied Perion, "you who are so fine a poet must surely know
that _gay_ rhymes with _to-day_ as patly as _sorrow_ goes with
"Yet your gay laughter, Messire de Puysange, is after all but breath:
and _breath_ also"--the bishop's sharp eyes fixed Perion's--"has a
"Indeed, it is the grim rhyme that rounds off and silences all our
rhyming," Perion assented. "I must laugh, then, without rhyme or
Still the young prelate talked rather oddly. "But," said he, "you have
an excellent reason, now that you sup so near to heaven." And his
glance at Melicent did not lack pith.
"No, no, I have quite another reason," Perion answered; "it is that
to-morrow I breakfast in hell."
"Well, they tell me the landlord of that place is used to cater to each
according to his merits," the bishop, shrugging, returned.
And Perion thought how true this was when, at the evening's end, he was
alone in his own room. His life was tolerably secure. He trusted
Ahasuerus the Jew to see to it that, about dawn, one of the ship's
boats would touch at Fomor Beach near Manneville, according to their
old agreement. Aboard the _Tranchemer_ the Free Companions awaited
their captain; and the savage land they were bound for was a thought
beyond the reach of a kingdom's lamentable curiosity concerning the
whereabouts of King Helmas' treasure. The worthless life of Perion was
For worthless, and far less than worthless, life seemed to Perion as he
thought of Melicent and waited for her messenger. He thought of her
beauty and purity and illimitable loving-kindness toward every person
in the world save only Perion of the Forest. He thought of how clean
she was in every thought and deed; of that, above all, he thought, and
he knew that he would never see her any more.
"Oh, but past any doubting," said Perion, "the devil caters to each
according to his merits."
_How Melicent Wooed_
Then Perion knew that vain regret had turned his brain, very certainly,
for it seemed the door had opened and Dame Melicent herself had come,
warily, into the panelled gloomy room. It seemed that Melicent paused
in the convulsive brilliancy of the firelight, and stayed thus with
vaguely troubled eyes like those of a child newly wakened from sleep.
And it seemed a long while before she told Perion very quietly that she
had confessed all to Ayrart de Montors, and had, by reason of de
Montors' love for her, so goaded and allured the outcome of their
talk--"ignobly," as she said,--that a clean-handed gentleman would come
at three o'clock for Perion de la ForÍt, and guide a thief toward
unmerited impunity. All this she spoke quite levelly, as one reads
aloud from a book; and then, with a signal change of voice, Melicent
said: "Yes, that is true enough. Yet why, in reality, do you think I
have in my own person come to tell you of it?"
"Madame, I may not guess. Hah, indeed, indeed," Perion cried, because
he knew the truth and was unspeakably afraid, "I dare not guess!"
"You sail to-morrow for the fighting oversea----" she began, but her
sweet voice trailed and died into silence. He heard the crepitations of
the fire, and even the hurried beatings of his own heart, as against a
terrible and lovely hush of all created life. "Then take me with you."
Perion had never any recollection of what he answered. Indeed, he
uttered no communicative words, but only foolish babblements.
"Oh, I do not understand," said Melicent. "It is as though some spell
were laid upon me. Look you, I have been cleanly reared, I have never
wronged any person that I know of, and throughout my quiet, sheltered
life I have loved truth and honour most of all. My judgment grants you
to be what you are confessedly. And there is that in me more masterful
and surer than my judgment, that which seems omniscient and lightly
puts aside your confessings as unimportant."
"Lackey, impostor, and thief!" young Perion answered. "There you have
the catalogue of all my rightful titles fairly earned."
"And even if I believed you, I think I would not care! Is that not
strange? For then I should despise you. And even then, I think, I would
fling my honour at your feet, as I do now, and but in part with
loathing, I would still entreat you to make of me your wife, your
servant, anything that pleased you . . . . Oh, I had thought that when
love came it would be sweet!"
Strangely quiet, in every sense, he answered:
"It is very sweet. I have known no happier moment in my life. For you
stand within arm's reach, mine to touch, mine to possess and do with as
I elect. And I dare not lift a finger. I am as a man that has lain for
a long while in a dungeon vainly hungering for the glad light of
day--who, being freed at last, must hide his eyes from the dear
sunlight he dare not look upon as yet. Ho, I am past speech unworthy of
your notice! and I pray you now speak harshly with me, madame, for when
your pure eyes regard me kindly, and your bright and delicate lips have
come thus near to mine, I am so greatly tempted and so happy that I
fear lest heaven grow jealous!"
"Be not too much afraid--" she murmured.
"Nay, should I then be bold? and within the moment wake Count Emmerick
to say to him, very boldly, 'Beau sire, the thief half Christendom is
hunting has the honour to request your sister's hand in marriage'?"
"You sail to-morrow for the fighting oversea. Take me with you."
"Indeed the feat would be worthy of me. For you are a lady tenderly
nurtured and used to every luxury the age affords. There comes to woo
you presently an excellent and potent monarch, not all unworthy of your
love, who will presently share with you many happy and honourable
years. Yonder is a lawless naked wilderness where I and my fellow
desperadoes hope to cheat offended justice and to preserve
thrice-forfeited lives in savagery. You bid me aid you to go into this
country, never to return! Madame, if I obeyed you, Satan would protest
against pollution of his ageless fires by any soul so filthy."
"You talk of little things, whereas I think of great things. Love is
not sustained by palatable food alone, and is not served only by those
persons who go about the world in satin."
"Then take the shameful truth. It is undeniable I swore I loved you,
and with appropriate gestures, too. But, dompnedex, madame! I am past
master in these specious ecstasies, for somehow I have rarely seen the
woman who had not some charm or other to catch my heart with. I confess
now that you alone have never quickened it. My only purpose was through
hyperbole to wheedle you out of a horse, and meanwhile to have my
recreation, you handsome jade!--and that is all you ever meant to me. I
swear to you that is all, all, all!" sobbed Perion, for it appeared
that he must die. "I have amused myself with you, I have abominably
Melicent only waited with untroubled eyes which seemed to plumb his
heart and to appraise all which Perion had ever thought or longed for
since the day that Perion was born; and she was as beautiful, it seemed
to him, as the untroubled, gracious angels are, and more compassionate.
"Yes," Perion said, "I am trying to lie to you. And even at lying I
She said, with a wonderful smile:
"Assuredly there were never any other persons so mad as we. For I must
do the wooing, as though you were the maid, and all the while you
rebuff me and suffer so that I fear to look on you. Men say you are no
better than a highwayman; you confess yourself to be a thief: and I
believe none of your accusers. Perion de la ForÍt," said Melicent, and
ballad-makers have never shaped a phrase wherewith to tell you of her
voice, "I know that you have dabbled in dishonour no more often than an
archangel has pilfered drying linen from a hedgerow. I do not guess,
for my hour is upon me, and inevitably I know! and there is nothing
dares to come between us now."
"Nay,--ho, and even were matters as you suppose them, without any
warrant,--there is at least one silly stumbling knave that dares as
much. Saith he: 'What is the most precious thing in the world?--Why,
assuredly, Dame Melicent's welfare. Let me get the keeping of it, then.
For I have been entrusted with a host of common priceless things--with
youth and vigour and honour, with a clean conscience and a child's
faith, and so on--and no person alive has squandered them more
gallantly. So heartward ho! and trust me now, my timorous yoke-fellow,
to win and squander also the chiefest jewel of the world.' Eh, thus he
chuckles and nudges me, with wicked whisperings. Indeed, madame, this
rascal that shares equally in my least faculty is a most pitiful,
ignoble rogue! and he has aforetime eked out our common livelihood by
such practices as your unsullied imagination could scarcely depicture.
Until I knew you I had endured him. But you have made of him a horror.
A horror, a horror! a thing too pitiful for hell!"
Perion turned away from her, groaning. He flung himself into a chair.
He screened his eyes as if before some physical abomination.
The girl kneeled close to him, touching him.
"My dear, my dear! then slay for me this other Perion of the Forest."
And Perion laughed, not very mirthfully.
"It is the common usage of women to ask of men this little labour,
which is a harder task than ever Hercules, that mighty-muscled king of
heathenry, achieved. Nay, I, for all my sinews, am an attested
weakling. The craft of other men I do not fear, for I have encountered
no formidable enemy save myself; but that same midnight stabber
unhorsed me long ago. I had wallowed in the mire contentedly enough
until you came.... Ah, child, child! why needed you to trouble me! for
to-night I want to be clean as you are clean, and that I may not ever
be. I am garrisoned with devils, I am the battered plaything of every
vice, and I lack the strength, and it may be, even the will, to leave
my mire. Always I have betrayed the stewardship of man and god alike
that my body might escape a momentary discomfort! And loving you as I
do, I cannot swear that in the outcome I would not betray you too, to
this same end! I cannot swear--Oh, now let Satan laugh, yet not
unpitifully, since he and I, alone, know all the reasons why I may not
swear! Hah, Madame Melicent!" cried Perion, in his great agony, "you
offer me that gift an emperor might not accept save in awed gratitude;
and I refuse it." Gently he raised her to her feet. "And now, in God's
name, go, madame, and leave the prodigal among his husks."
"You are a very brave and foolish gentleman," she said, "who chooses to
face his own achievements without any paltering. To every man, I think,
that must be bitter work; to the woman who loves him it is impossible."
Perion could not see her face, because he lay prone at the feet of
Melicent, sobbing, but without any tears, and tasting very deeply of
such grief and vain regret as, he had thought, they know in hell alone;
and even after she had gone, in silence, he lay in this same posture
for an exceedingly long while.
And after he knew not how long a while, Perion propped his chin between
his hands and, still sprawling upon the rushes, stared hard into the
little, crackling fire. He was thinking of a Perion de la ForÍt that
once had been. In him might have been found a fit mate for Melicent had
this boy not died very long ago.
It is no more cheerful than any other mortuary employment, this
disinterment of the person you have been, and are not any longer; and
so did Perion find his cataloguing of irrevocable old follies and
Then Perion arose and looked for pen and ink. It was the first letter
he ever wrote to Melicent, and, as you will presently learn, she never
In such terms Perion wrote:
"Madame--It may please you to remember that when Dame MÈlusine and I
were interrogated, I freely confessed to the murder of King Helmas and
the theft of my dead master's jewels. In that I lied. For it was my
manifest duty to save the woman whom, as I thought, I loved, and it was
apparent that the guilty person was either she or I.
"She is now at Brunbelois, where, as I have heard, the splendour of her
estate is tolerably notorious. I have not ever heard she gave a thought
to me, her cat's-paw. Madame, when I think of you and then of that
sleek, smiling woman, I am appalled by my own folly. I am aghast by my
long blindness as I write the words which no one will believe. To what
avail do I deny a crime which every circumstance imputed to me and my
own confession has publicly acknowledged?
"But you, I think, will believe me. Look you, madame, I have nothing to
gain of you. I shall not ever see you any more. I go into a perilous
and an eternal banishment; and in the immediate neighbourhood of death
a man finds little sustenance for romance. Take the worst of me: a
gentleman I was born, and as a wastrel I have lived, and always very
foolishly; but without dishonour. I have never to my knowledge--and God
judge me as I speak the truth!--wronged any man or woman save myself.
My dear, believe me! believe me, in spite of reason! and understand
that my adoration and misery and unworthiness when I think of you are
such as I cannot measure, and afford me no judicious moment wherein to
fashion lies. For I shall not see you any more.
"I thank you, madame, for your all-unmerited kindnesses, and, oh, I
pray you to believe!"
_How the Bishop Aided Perion_
Then at three o'clock, as Perion supposed, someone tapped upon the
door. Perion went out into the corridor, which was now unlighted, so
that he had to hold to the cloak of Ayrart de Montors as the young
prelate guided Perion through the complexities of unfamiliar halls and
stairways into an inhospitable night. There were ready two horses, and
presently the men were mounted and away.
Once only Perion shifted in the saddle to glance back at Bellegarde,
black and formless against an empty sky; and he dared not look again,
for the thought of her that lay awake in the Marshal's Tower, so near
at hand as yet, was like a dagger. With set teeth he followed in the
wake of his taciturn companion. The bishop never spoke save to growl
out some direction.
Thus they came to Manneville and, skirting the town, came to Fomor
Beach, a narrow sandy coast. It was dark in this place and very still
save for the encroachment of the tide. Yonder were four little lights,
lazily heaving with the water's motion, to show them where the
_Tranchemer_ lay at anchor. It did not seem to Perion that anything
"It will be nearing dawn by this," he said.
"Ay," Ayrart de Montors said, very briefly; and his tone evinced his
willingness to dispense with further conversation. Perion of the Forest
was an unclean thing which the bishop must touch in his necessity, but
could touch with loathing only, as a thirsty man takes a fly out of his
drink. Perion conceded it, because nothing would ever matter any more;
and so, the horses tethered, they sat upon the sand in utter silence
for the space of a half hour.
A bird cried somewhere, just once, and with a start Perion knew the
night was not quite so murky as it had been, for he could now see a
broken line of white, where the tide crept up and shattered and ebbed.
Then in a while a light sank tipsily to the water's level and presently
was bobbing in the darkness, apart from those other lights, and it was
growing in size and brilliancy.
Said Perion, "They have sent out the boat."
"Ay," the bishop answered, as before.
A sort of madness came upon Perion, and it seemed that he must weep,
because everything fell out so very ill in this world.
"Messire de Montors, you have aided me. I would be grateful if you
De Montors spoke at last, saying crisply:
"Gratitude, I take it, forms no part of the bargain. I am the kinsman
of Dame Melicent. It makes for my interest and for the honour of our
house that the man whose rooms she visits at night be got out of
Said Perion, "You speak in this fashion of the most lovely lady God has
made--of her whom the world adores!"
"Adores!" the bishop answered, with a laugh; "and what poor gull am I
to adore an attested wanton?" Then, with a sneer, he spoke of Melicent,
and in such terms as are not bettered by repetition.
"I am the most unhappy man alive, as surely as you are the most
ungenerous. For, look you, in my presence you have spoken infamy of
Dame Melicent, though knowing I am in your debt so deeply that I have
not the right to resent anything you may elect to say. You have just
given me my life; and armoured by the fire-new obligation, you
blaspheme an angel, you condescend to buffet a fettered man--"
But with that his sluggish wits had spied an honest way out of the
Perion said then, "Draw, messire! for, as God lives, I may yet
repurchase, at this eleventh hour, the privilege of destroying you."
"Heyday! but here is an odd evincement of gratitude!" de Montors
retorted; "and though I am not particularly squeamish, let me tell you,
my fine fellow, I do not ordinarily fight with lackeys."
"Nor are you fit to do so, messire. Believe me, there is not a lackey
in this realm--no, not a cut-purse, nor any pander--who would not in
meeting you upon equal footing degrade himself. For you have slandered
that which is most perfect in the world; yet lies, Messire de Montors,
have short legs; and I design within the hour to insure the calumny
against an echo."
"Rogue, I have given you your very life within the hour--"
"The fact is undeniable. Thus I must fling the bounty back to you, so
that we sorry scoundrels may meet as equals." Perion wheeled toward the
boat, which was now within the reach of wading. "Who is among you?
Gaucelm, Roger, Jean Britauz--" He found the man he sought. "Ahasuerus,
the captain that was to have accompanied the Free Companions oversea is
of another mind. I cede my leadership to Landry de Bonnay. You will
have the kindness to inform him of the unlooked-for change, and to
tender your new captain every appropriate regret and the dying
felicitations of Perion de la ForÍt."
He bowed toward the landward twilight, where the sand hillocks were
"Messire de Montors, we may now resume our vigil. When yonder vessel
sails there will be no conceivable happening that can keep breath
within my body two weeks longer. I shall be quit of every debt to you.
You will then fight with a man already dead if you so elect; but
otherwise--if you attempt to flee this place, if you decline to cross
swords with a lackey, with a convicted thief, with a suspected
murderer, I swear upon my mother's honour! I will demolish you without
compunction, as I would any other vermin."
"Oh, brave, brave!" sneered the bishop, "to fling away your life, and
perhaps mine too, for an idle word--" But at that he fetched a sob. "How
foolish of you! and how like you!" he said, and Perion wondered at this
"Hey, gentlemen!" cried Ayrart de Montors, "a moment if you please!" He
splashed knee-deep into the icy water, wading to the boat, where he
snatched the lantern from the Jew's hands and fetched this light
ashore. He held it aloft, so that Perion might see his face, and Perion
perceived that, by some wonder-working, the person in man's attire who
held this light aloft was Melicent. It was odd that Perion always
remembered afterward most clearly of all the loosened wisp of hair the
wind tossed about her forehead.
"Look well upon me, Perion," said Melicent. "Look well, ruined
gentleman! look well, poor hunted vagabond! and note how proud I am.
Oh, in all things I am very proud! A little I exult in my high station
and in my wealth, and, yes, even in my beauty, for I know that I am
beautiful, but it is the chief of all my honours that you love me--and
"You do not understand--!" cried Perion.
"Rather I understand at last that you are in sober verity a lackey, an
impostor, and a thief, even as you said. Ay, a lackey to your honour!
an imposter that would endeavour--and, oh, so very vainly!--to
impersonate another's baseness! and a thief that has stolen another
person's punishment! I ask no questions; loving means trusting; but I
would like to kill that other person very, very slowly. I ask no
questions, but I dare to trust the man I know of, even in defiance of
that man's own voice. I dare protest the man no thief, but in all
things a madly honourable gentleman. My poor bruised, puzzled boy," said
Melicent, with an odd mirthful tenderness, "how came you to be
blundering about this miry world of ours! Only be very good for my sake
and forget the bitterness; what does it matter when there is happiness,
He answered nothing, but it was not because of misery.
"Come, come, will you not even help me into the boat?" said Melicent.
She, too, was glad.
_How Melicent Wedded_
"That may not be, my cousin."
It was the real Bishop of Montors who was speaking. His company, some
fifteen men in all, had ridden up while Melicent and Perion looked
seaward. The bishop was clothed, in his habitual fashion, as a
cavalier, showing in nothing as a churchman. He sat a-horseback for a
considerable while, looking down at them, smiling and stroking the
pommel of his saddle with a gold-fringed glove. It was now dawn.
"I have been eavesdropping," the bishop said. His voice was tender, for
the young man loved his kinswoman with an affection second only to that
which he reserved for Ayrart de Montors. "Yes, I have been
eavesdropping for an instant, and through that instant I seemed to see
the heart of every woman that ever lived; and they differed only as
stars differ on a fair night in August. No woman ever loved a man
except, at bottom, as a mother loves her child: let him elect to build
a nation or to write imperishable verses or to take purses upon the
highway, and she will only smile to note how breathlessly the boy goes
about his playing; and when he comes back to her with grimier hands she
is a little sorry, and, if she think it salutary, will pretend to be
angry. Meanwhile she sets about the quickest way to cleanse him and to
heal his bruises. They are more wise than we, and at the bottom of
their hearts they pity us more stalwart folk whose grosser wits
require, to be quite sure of anything, a mere crass proof of it; and
always they make us better by indomitably believing we are better than
in reality a man can ever be."
Now Ayrart de Montors dismounted.
"So much for my sermon. For the rest, Messire de la ForÍt, I perfectly
recognised you on the day you came to Bellegarde. But I said nothing.
For that you had not murdered King Helmas, as is popularly reported, I
was certain, inasmuch as I happen to know he is now at Brunbelois,
where Dame MÈlusine holds his person and his treasury. A terrible,
delicious woman! begotten on a water-demon, people say. I ask no
questions. She is a close and useful friend to me, and through her aid
I hope to go far. You see that I am frank. It is my nature." The bishop
shrugged. "In a phrase, I accepted the Vicomte de Puysange, although it
was necessary, of course, to keep an eye upon your comings in and your
goings out, as you now see. And until this the imposture amused me. But
this"--his hand waved toward the _Tranchemer_--"this, my fair friends,
is past a jest."
"You talk and talk," cried Perion, "while I reflect that I love the
fairest lady who at any time has had life upon earth."
"The proof of your affection," the bishop returned, "is, if you will
permit the observation, somewhat extraordinary. For you propose, I
gather, to make of her a camp-follower, a soldier's drab. Come, come,
messire! you and I are conversant with warfare as it is. Armies do not
conduct encounters by throwing sugar-candy at one another. What home
have you, a landless man, to offer Melicent? What place is there for
Melicent among your Free Companions?"
"Oh, do I not know that!" said Perion. He turned to Melicent, and long
and long they gazed upon each other.
"Ignoble as I am," said Perion, "I never dreamed to squire an angel
down toward the mire and filth which for a while as yet must be my
kennel. I go. I go alone. Do you bid me return?"
The girl was perfectly calm. She took a ring of diamonds from her hand,
and placed it on his little finger, because the others were too large.
"While life endures I pledge you faith and service, Perion. There is no
need to speak of love."
"There is no need," he answered. "Oh, does God think that I will live
"I suppose they will give me to King Theodoret. The terrible old man
has set my body as the only price that will buy him off from ravaging
Poictesme, and he is stronger in the field than Emmerick. Emmerick is
afraid of him, and Ayrart here has need of the King's friendship in
order to become a cardinal. So my kinsmen must make traffic of my eyes
and lips and hair. But first I wed you, Perion, here in the sight of
God, and I bid you return to me, who am your wife and servitor for ever
now, whatever lesser men may do."
"I will return," he said.
Then in a little while she withdrew her lips from his lips.
"Cover my face, Ayrart. It may be I shall weep presently. Men must not
see the wife of Perion weep. Cover my face, for he is going now, and I
cannot watch his going."
_Of how through love is Melicent upcast
Under a heathen castle at the last:
And how a wicked lord of proud degree,
Demetrios, dwelleth in this country,
Where humbled under him are all mankind:
How to this wretched woman he hath mind,
That fallen is in pagan lands alone,
In point to die, as presently is shown._
_How Melicent Sought Oversea_
It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, telling how love began
between Perion of the Forest, who was a captain of mercenaries, and
young Melicent, who was daughter to the great Dom Manuel, and sister to
Count Emmerick of Poictesme. They tell also how Melicent and Perion
were parted, because there was no remedy, and policy demanded she
should wed King Theodoret.
And the tale tells how Perion sailed with his retainers to seek
desperate service under the harried Kaiser of the Greeks.
This venture was ill-fated, since, as the Free Companions were passing
not far from Masillia, their vessel being at the time becalmed, they
were attacked by three pagan galleys under the admiralty of the
proconsul Demetrios. Perion's men, who fought so hardily on land, were
novices at sea. They were powerless against an adversary who, from a
great distance, showered liquid fire upon their vessel.
Then Demetrios sent little boats and took some thirty prisoners from
the blazing ship, and made slaves of all save Ahasuerus the Jew, whom
he released on being informed of the lean man's religion. It was a
customary boast of this Demetrios that he made war on Christians only.
And presently, as Perion had commanded, Ahasuerus came to Melicent.
The princess sat in a high chair, the back of which was capped with a
big lion's head in brass. It gleamed above her head, but was less
glorious than her bright hair.
Ahasuerus made dispassionate report. "Thus painfully I have delivered,
as my task was, these fine messages concerning Faith and Love and Death
and so on. Touching their rationality I may reserve my own opinion. I
am merely Perion's echo. Do I echo madness? This madman was my loved
and honoured master once, a lord without any peer in the fields where
men contend in battle. To-day those sinews which preserved a throne are
dedicated to the transportation of luggage. Grant it is laughable. I do
"And I lack time to weep," said Melicent.
So, when the Jew had told his tale and gone, young Melicent arose and
went into a chamber painted with the histories of Jason and Medea,
where her brother Count Emmerick hid such jewels as had not many equals
She did not hesitate. She took no thought for her brother, she did not
remember her loved sisters: Ettarre and Dorothy were their names, and
they also suffered for their beauty, and for the desire it quickened in
the hearts of men. Melicent knew only that Perion was in captivity and
might not look for aid from any person living save herself.
She gathered in a blue napkin such emeralds as would ransom a pope. She
cut short her marvellous hair and disguised herself in all things as a
man, and under cover of the ensuing night slipped from the castle. At
Manneville she found a Venetian ship bound homeward with a cargo of
swords and armour.
She hired herself to the captain of this vessel as a servant, calling
herself Jocelin Gaignars. She found no time--wherein to be afraid or to
grieve for the estate she was relinquishing, so long as Perion lay in
Thus the young Jocelin, though not without hardship and odd by-ends of
adventure here irrelevant, came with time's course into a land of
sunlight and much wickedness where Perion was.
There the boy found in what fashion Perion was living and won the
dearly purchased misery of seeing him, from afar, in his deplorable
condition, as Perion went through the outer yard of Nacumera laden with
chains and carrying great logs toward the kitchen. This befell when
Jocelin had come into the hill country, where the eyrie of Demetrios
blocked a crag-hung valley as snugly as a stone chokes a gutter-pipe.
Young Jocelin had begged an audience of this heathen lord and had
obtained it--though Jocelin did not know as much--with ominous
_How Perion Was Freed_
Demetrios lay on a divan within the Court of Stars, through which you
passed from the fortress into the Women's Garden and the luxurious
prison where he kept his wives. This court was circular in form and was
paved with red and yellow slabs, laid alternately, like a chess-board.
In the centre was a fountain, which cast up a tall thin jet of water. A
gallery extended around the place, supported by columns that had been
painted scarlet and were gilded with fantastic designs. The walls were
of the colour of claret and were adorned with golden cinquefoils
regularly placed. From a distance they resembled stars, and so gave the
enclosure its name.
Demetrios lay upon a long divan which was covered with crimson, and
which encircled the court entirely, save for the apertures of the two
entrances. Demetrios was of burly person, which he by ordinary, as
to-day, adorned resplendently; of a stature little above the common
size, and disproportionately broad as to his chest and shoulders. It
was rumoured that he could bore an apple through with his forefinger
and had once killed a refractory horse with a blow of his naked fist;
nor looking on the man, did you presume to question the report. His
eyes were large and insolent, coloured like onyxes; for the rest, he
had a handsome surly face which was disfigured by pimples.
He did not speak at all while Jocelin explained that his errand was to
ransom Perion. Then, "At what price?" Demetrios said, without any sign
of interest; and Jocelin, with many encomiums, displayed his emeralds.
"Ay, they are well enough," Demetrios agreed. "But then I have a
superfluity of jewels."
He raised himself a little among the cushions, and in this moving the
figured golden stuff in which he was clothed heaved and glittered like
the scales of a splendid monster. He leisurely unfastened the great
chrysoberyl, big as a hen's egg, which adorned his fillet.
"Look you, this is of a far more beautiful green than any of your
trinkets, I think it is as valuable also, because of its huge size.
Moreover, it turns red by lamplight--red as blood. That is an admirable
colour. And yet I do not value it. I think I do not value anything. So
I will make you a gift of this big coloured pebble, if you desire it,
because your ignorance amuses me. Most people know Demetrios is not a
merchant. He does not buy and sell. That which he has he keeps, and
that which he desires he takes."
The boy was all despair. He did not speak. He was very handsome as he
stood in that still place where everything excepting him was red and
"You do not value my poor chrysoberyl? You value your friend more? It
is a page out of Theocritos--'when there were golden men of old, when
friends gave love for love.' And yet I could have sworn--Come now, a
wager," purred Demetrios. "Show your contempt of this bauble to be as
great as mine by throwing this shiny pebble, say, into the gallery, for
the next passer-by to pick up, and I will credit your sincerity. Do
that and I will even name my price for Perion."
The boy obeyed him without hesitation. Turning, he saw the horrid
change in the intent eyes of Demetrios, and quailed before it. But
instantly that flare of passion flickered out.
Demetrios gently said:
"A bargain is a bargain. My wives are beautiful, but their caresses
annoy me as much as formerly they pleased me. I have long thought it
would perhaps amuse me if I possessed a Christian wife who had eyes
like violets and hair like gold, and a plump white body. A man tires
very soon of ebony and amber.... Procure me such a wife and I will
willingly release this Perion and all his fellows who are yet alive."
"But, seignior,"--and the boy was shaken now,--"you demand of me an
"I am so hardy as to think not. And my reason is that a man throws from
the elbow only, but a woman with her whole arm."
There fell a silence now.
"Why, look you, I deal fairly, though. Were such a woman here--
Demetrios of Anatolia's guest--I verily believe I would not hinder her
departure, as I might easily do. For there is not a person within many
miles of this place who considers it wholesome to withstand me. Yet
were this woman purchasable, I would purchase. And--if she refused--I
would not hinder her departure; but very certainly I would put Perion
to the Torment of the Waterdrops. It is so droll to see a man go mad
before your eyes, I think that I would laugh and quite forget the
She said, "O God, I cry to You for justice!"
"My good girl, in Nacumera the wishes of Demetrios are justice. But we
waste time. You desire to purchase one of my belongings? So be it. I
will hear your offer."
Just once her hands had gripped each other. Her arms fell now as if
they had been drained of life. She spoke in a dull voice.
"Seignior, I offer Melicent who was a princess. I cry a price,
seignior, for red lips and bright eyes and a fair woman's tender body
without any blemish. I cry a price for youth and happiness and honour.
These you may have for playthings, seignior, with everything which I
possess, except my heart, for that is dead."
Demetrios asked, "Is this true speech?"
"It is as sure as Love and Death. I know that nothing is more sure than
these, and I praise God for my sure knowledge."
He chuckled, saying, "Platitudes break no bones."
So on the next day the chains were filed from Perion de la ForÍt and
all his fellows, save the nine unfortunates whom Demetrios had
appointed to fight with lions a month before this, when he had
entertained the Soldan of Bacharia. These men were bathed and perfumed
and richly clad.
A galley of the proconsul's fleet conveyed them toward Christendom and
set the twoscore slaves of yesterday ashore not far from Megaris. The
captain of the galley on departure left with Perion a blue napkin,
wherein were wrapped large emeralds and a bit of parchment.
Upon this parchment was written:
"Not these, but the body of Melicent, who was once a princess,
purchased your bodies. Yet these will buy you ships and men and swords
with which to storm my house where Melicent now is. Come if you will
and fight with Demetrios of Anatolia for that brave girl who loved a
porter as all loyal men should love their Maker and customarily do not.
I think it would amuse us."
Then Perion stood by the languid sea which
severed him from Melicent and cried:
"O God, that hast permitted this hard bargain, trade now with me! now
barter with me, O Father of us all! That which a man has I will give."
Thus he waited in the clear sunlight, with no more wavering in his face
than you may find in the next statue's face. Both hands strained toward
the blue sky, as though he made a vow. If so, he did not break it.
And now no more of Perion.
* * * * *
At the same hour young Melicent, wrapped all about with a
flame-coloured veil and crowned with marjoram, was led by a spruce boy
toward a threshold, over which Demetrios lifted her, while many people
sang in a strange tongue. And then she paid her ransom.
"Hymen, O Hymen!" they sang. "Do thou of many names and many temples,
golden Aphrodite, be propitious to this bridal! Now let him first
compute the glittering stars of midnight and the grasshoppers of a
summer day who would count the joys this bridal shall bring about! Hymen,
O Hymen, rejoice thou in this bridal!"
_How Demetrios Was Amused_
Now Melicent abode in the house of Demetrios, whom she had not seen
since the morning after he had wedded her. A month had passed. As yet
she could not understand the language of her fellow prisoners, but
Halaon, a eunuch who had once served a cardinal in Tuscany, informed
her the proconsul was in the West Provinces, where an invading force
had landed under Ranulph de Meschines.
A month had passed. She woke one night from dreams of Perion--what else
should women dream of?--and found the same Ahasuerus that had brought
her news of Perion's captivity, so long ago, attendant at her bedside.
He seemed a prey to some half-scornful mirth. In speech, at least, the
man was of entire discretion. "The Splendour of the World desires your
presence, madame." Thus the Jew blandly spoke.
She cried, aghast at so much treachery, "You had planned this!"
"I plan always. Oh, certainly, I must weave always as the spider
does.... Meanwhile time passes. I, like you, am now the servitor of
Demetrios. I am his factor now at Calonak. I buy and sell. I estimate
ounces. I earn my wages. Who forbids it?" Here the Jew shrugged. "And
to conclude, the Splendour of the World desires your presence, madame."
He seemed to get much joy of this mouth-filling periphrasis as
sneeringly he spoke of their common master.
* * * * *
Now Melicent, in a loose robe of green Coan stuff shot through and
through with a radiancy like that of copper, followed the thin, smiling
Jew Ahasuerus. She came thus with bare feet into the Court of Stars,
where the proconsul lay on the divan as though he had not ever moved
from there. To-night he was clothed in scarlet, and barbaric ornaments
dangled from his pierced ears. These glittered now that his head moved
a little as he silently dismissed Ahasuerus from the Court of Stars.
Real stars were overhead, so brilliant and (it seemed) so near they
turned the fountain's jet into a spurt of melting silver. The moon was
set, but there was a flaring lamp of iron, high as a man's shoulder,
yonder where Demetrios lay.
"Stand close to it, my wife," said the proconsul, "in order that I may
see my newest purchase very clearly."
She obeyed him; and she esteemed the sacrifice, however unendurable,
which bought for Perion the chance to serve God and his love for her by
valorous and commendable actions to be no cause for grief.
"I think with those old men who sat upon the walls of Troy," Demetrios
said, and he laughed because his voice had shaken a little. "Meanwhile
I have returned from crucifying a hundred of your fellow worshippers,"
Demetrios continued. His speech had an odd sweetness. "Ey, yes, I
conquered at Yroga. It was a good fight. My horse's hoofs were red at
its conclusion. My surviving opponents I consider to have been
deplorable fools when they surrendered, for people die less painfully
in battle. There was one fellow, a Franciscan monk, who hung six hours
upon a palm tree, always turning his head from one side to the other.
It was amusing."
She answered nothing.
"And I was wondering always how I would feel were you nailed in his
place. It was curious I should have thought of you.... But your white
flesh is like the petals of a flower. I suppose it is as readily
destructible. I think you would not long endure."
"I pray God hourly that I may not!" said tense Melicent.
He was pleased to have wrung one cry of anguish from this lovely
effigy. He motioned her to him and laid one hand upon her naked breast.
He gave a gesture of distaste.
"No, you are not afraid. However, you are very beautiful. I thought
that you would please me more when your gold hair had grown a trifle
longer. There is nothing in the world so beautiful as golden hair. Its
beauty weathers even the commendation of poets."
No power of motion seemed to be in this white girl, but certainly you
could detect no fear. Her clinging robe shone like an opal in the
lamplight, her body, only partly veiled, was enticing, and her visage
was very lovely. Her wide-open eyes implored you, but only as those of
a trapped animal beseech the mercy for which it does not really hope.
Thus Melicent waited in the clear lamplight, with no more wavering in
her face than you may find in the next statue's face.
In the man's heart woke now some comprehension of the nature of her
love for Perion, of that high and alien madness which dared to make of
Demetrios of Anatolia's will an unavoidable discomfort, and no more.
The prospect was alluring. The proconsul began to chuckle as water
pours from a jar, and the gold in his ears twinkled.
"Decidedly I shall get much mirth of you. Go back to your own rooms. I
had thought the world afforded no adversary and no game worthy of
Demetrios. I have found both. Therefore, go back to your own rooms," he
_How Time Sped in Heathenry_
On the next day Melicent was removed to more magnificent apartments,
and she was lodged in a lofty and spacious pavilion, which had three
porticoes builded of marble and carved teakwood and Andalusian copper.
Her rooms were spread with gold-worked carpets and hung with tapestries
and brocaded silks figured with all manner of beasts and birds in their
proper colours. Such was the girl's home now, where only happiness was
denied to her. Many slaves attended Melicent, and she lacked for
nothing in luxury and riches and things of price; and thereafter she
abode at Nacumera, to all appearances, as the favourite among the
It must be recorded of Demetrios that henceforth he scrupulously
demurred even to touch her. "I have purchased your body," he proudly
said, "and I have taken seizin. I find I do not care for anything which
can be purchased."
It may be that the man was never sane; it is indisputable that the
mainspring of his least action was an inordinate pride. Here he had
stumbled upon something which made of Demetrios of Anatolia a temporary
discomfort, and which bedwarfed the utmost reach of his ill-doing into
equality with the molestations of a house-fly; and perception of this
fact worked in Demetrios like a poisonous ferment. To beg or once again
to pillage he thought equally unworthy of himself. "Let us have
patience!" It was not easily said so long as this fair Frankish woman
dared to entertain a passion which Demetrios could not comprehend, and
of which Demetrios was, and knew himself to be, incapable.
A connoisseur of passions, he resented such belittlement tempestuously;
and he heaped every luxury upon Melicent, because, as he assured
himself, the heart of every woman is alike.
He had his theories, his cunning, and, chief of all, an appreciation of
her beauty, as his abettors. She had her memories and her clean heart.
They duelled thus accoutred.
Meanwhile his other wives peered from screened alcoves at these two and
duly hated Melicent. Upon no less than three occasions did Callistion--
the first wife of the proconsul and the mother of his elder son--
attempt the life of Melicent; and thrice Demetrios spared the woman at
Melicent's entreaty. For Melicent (since she loved Perion) could
understand that it was love of Demetrios, rather than hate of her,
which drove the Dacian virago to extremities.
Then one day about noon Demetrios came unheralded into Melicent's
resplendent prison. Through an aisle of painted pillars he came to her,
striding with unwonted quickness, glittering as he moved. His robe this
day was scarlet, the colour he chiefly affected. Gold glowed upon his
forehead, gold dangled from his ears, and about his throat was a broad
collar of gold and rubies. At his side was a cross-handled sword, in a
scabbard of blue leather, curiously ornamented.
"Give thanks, my wife," Demetrios said, "that you are beautiful. For
beauty was ever the spur of valour." Then quickly, joyously, he told
her of how a fleet equipped by the King of Cyprus had been despatched
against the province of Demetrios, and of how among the invaders were
Perion of the Forest and his Free Companions. "Ey, yes, my porter has
returned. I ride instantly for the coast to greet him with appropriate
welcome. I pray heaven it is no sluggard or weakling that is come out
Proudly, Melicent replied:
"There comes against you a champion of noted deeds, a courteous and
hardy gentleman, pre-eminent at swordplay. There was never any man more
ready than Perion to break a lance or shatter a shield, or more eager
to succour the helpless and put to shame all cowards and traitors."
Demetrios dryly said:
"I do not question that the virtues of my porter are innumerable.
Therefore we will not attempt to catalogue them. Now Ahasuerus reports
that even before you came to tempt me with your paltry emeralds you
once held the life of Perion in your hands?" Demetrios unfastened his
sword. He grasped the hand of Melicent, and laid it upon the scabbard.
"And what do you hold now, my wife? You hold the death of Perion. I
take the antithesis to be neat."
She answered nothing. Her seeming indifference angered him. Demetrios
wrenched the sword from its scabbard, with a hard violence that made
Melicent recoil. He showed the blade all covered with graved symbols of
which she could make nothing.
"This is Flamberge," said the proconsul; "the weapon which was the
pride and bane of my father, famed Miramon Lluagor, because it was the
sword which Galas made, in the old time's heyday, for unconquerable
Charlemagne. Clerks declare it is a magic weapon and that the man who
wields it is always unconquerable. I do not know. I think it is as
difficult to believe in sorcery as it is to be entirely sure that all
we know is not the sorcery of a drunken wizard. I very potently
believe, however, that with this sword I shall kill Perion."
Melicent had plenty of patience, but astonishingly little, it seemed,
for this sort of speech. "I think that you talk foolishly, seignior.
And, other matters apart, it is manifest that you yourself concede
Perion to be the better swordsman, since you require to be abetted by
sorcery before you dare to face him."
"So, so!" Demetrios said, in a sort of grinding whisper, "you think
that I am not the equal of this long-legged fellow! You would think
otherwise if I had him here. You will think otherwise when I have
killed him with my naked hands. Oh, very soon you will think
He snarled, rage choking him, flung the sword at her feet and quitted
her without any leave-taking. He had ridden three miles from Nacumera
before he began to laugh. He perceived that Melicent at least respected
sorcery, and had tricked him out of Flamberge by playing upon his
tetchy vanity. Her adroitness pleased him.
Demetrios did not laugh when he found the Christian fleet had been
ingloriously repulsed at sea by the Emir of Arsuf, and had never
effected a landing. Demetrios picked a quarrel with the victorious
admiral and killed the marplot in a public duel, but that was
"However," the proconsul reassured himself, "if my wife reports at all
truthfully as to this Perion's nature it is certain that this Perion
will come again." Then Demetrios went into the sacred grove upon the
hillsides south of Quesiton and made an offering of myrtle-branches,
rose-leaves and incense to Aphrodite of Colias.
_How Demetrios Wooed_
Ahasuerus came and went at will. Nothing was known concerning this
soft-treading furtive man except by the proconsul, who had no
confidants. By his decree Ahasuerus was an honoured guest at Nacumera.
And always the Jew's eyes when Melicent was near him were as
expressionless as the eyes of a snake, which do not ever change.
Once she told Demetrios that she feared Ahasuerus.
"But I do not fear him, Melicent, though I have larger reason. For I
alone of all men living know the truth concerning this same Jew.
Therefore, it amuses me to think that he, who served my wizard father
in a very different fashion, is to-day my factor and ciphers over my
Demetrios laughed, and had the Jew summoned.
This was in the Women's Garden, where the proconsul sat with Melicent
in a little domed pavilion of stone-work which was gilded with red gold
and crowned with a cupola of alabaster. Its pavement was of transparent
glass, under which were clear running waters wherein swam red and
"It appears that you are a formidable person, Ahasuerus. My wife here
"Splendour of the Age," returned Ahasuerus, quietly, "it is notorious
that women have long hair and short wits. There is no need to fear a
Jew. The Jew, I take it, was created in order that children might
evince their playfulness by stoning him, the honest show their
common-sense by robbing him, and the religious display their piety by
burning him. Who forbids it?"
"Ey, but my wife is a Christian and in consequence worships a Jew."
Demetrios reflected. His dark eyes twinkled. "What is your opinion
concerning this other Jew, Ahasuerus?"
"I know that He was the Messiah, Lord."
"And yet you do not worship Him."
The Jew said:
"It was not altogether worship He desired. He asked that men should
love Him. He does not ask love of me."
"I find that an obscure saying," Demetrios considered.
"It is a true saying, King of Kings. In time it will be made plain.
That time is not yet come. I used to pray it would come soon. Now I do
not pray any longer. I only wait."
Demetrios tugged at his chin, his eyes narrowed, meditating. He
"It is no affair of mine. What am I that I am called upon to have
prejudices concerning the universe? It is highly probable there are
gods of some sort or another, but I do not so far flatter myself as to
consider that any possible god would be at all interested in my opinion
of him. In any event, I am Demetrios. Let the worst come, and in
whatever baleful underworld I find myself imprisoned I shall maintain
myself there in a manner not unworthy of Demetrios." The proconsul
shrugged at this point. "I do not find you amusing, Ahasuerus. You may
"I hear, and I obey," the Jew replied. He went away patiently.
Then Demetrios turned toward Melicent, rejoicing that his chattel had
golden hair and was comely beyond comparison with all other women he
had ever seen.
"I love you, Melicent, and you do not love me. Do not be offended
because my speech is harsh, for even though I know my candour is
distasteful I must speak the truth. You have been obdurate too long,
denying Kypris what is due to her. I think that your brain is giddy
because of too much exulting in the magnificence of your body and in
the number of men who have desired it to their own hurt. I concede your
beauty, yet what will it matter a hundred years from now?
"I admit that my refrain is old. But it will presently take on a more
poignant meaning, because a hundred years from now you--even you, dear
Melicent!--and all the loveliness which now causes me to estimate life
as a light matter in comparison with your love, will be only a bone or
two. Your lustrous eyes, which are now more beautiful than it is
possible to express, will be unsavoury holes and a worm will crawl
through them; and what will it matter a hundred years from now?
"A hundred years from now should anyone break open our gilded tomb, he
will find Melicent to be no more admirable than Demetrios. One skull is
like another, and is as lightly split with a mattock. You will be as
ugly as I, and nobody will be thinking of your eyes and hair. Hail,
rain and dew will drench us both impartially when I lie at your side,
as I intend to do, for a hundred years and yet another hundred years.
You need not frown, for what will it matter a hundred years from now?
"Melicent, I offer love and a life that derides the folly of all other
manners of living; and even if you deny me, what will it matter a
hundred years from now?"
His face was contorted, his speech had fervent bitterness, for even
while he wooed this woman the man internally was raging over his own
And Melicent answered:
"There can be no question of love between us, seignior. You purchased
my body. My body is at your disposal under God's will."
Demetrios sneered, his ardours cooled. He said, "I have already told
you, my girl, I do not care for that which can be purchased."
In such fashion Melicent abode among these odious persons as a lily
which is rooted in mire. She was a prisoner always, and when Demetrios
came to Nacumera--which fell about irregularly, for now arose much
fighting between the Christians and the pagans--a gem which he uncased,
admired, curtly exulted in, and then, jeering at those hot wishes in
his heart, locked up untouched when he went back to warfare.
To her the man was uniformly kind, if with a sort of sneer she could
not understand; and he pillaged an infinity of Genoese and Venetian
ships--which were notoriously the richest laden--of jewels, veils,
silks, furs, embroideries and figured stuffs, wherewith to enhance the
comeliness of Melicent. It seemed an all-engulfing madness with this
despot daily to aggravate his fierce desire of her, to nurture his
obsession, so that he might glory in the consciousness of treading down
no puny adversary.
Pride spurred him on as witches ride their dupes to a foreknown
destruction. "Let us have patience," he would say.
Meanwhile his other wives peered from screened alcoves at these two and
duly hated Melicent. "Let us have patience!" they said, also, but with
a meaning that was more sinister.
_Of how Dame Melicent's fond lovers go
As comrades, working each his fellow's woe:
Each hath unhorsed the other of the twain,
And knoweth that nowhither 'twixt Ukraine
And Ormus roameth any lion's son
More eager in the hunt than Perion,
Nor any viper's sire more venomous
Through jealous hurt than is Demetrios._
_How Time Sped with Perion_
It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, telling of what befell
Perion de la ForÍt after he had been ransomed out of heathenry. They
tell how he took service with the King of Cyprus. And the tale tells
how the King of Cyprus was defeated at sea by the Emir of Arsuf; and
how Perion came unhurt from that battle, and by land relieved the
garrison at Japhe, and was ennobled therefor; and was afterward called
the Comte de la ForÍt.
Then the King of Cyprus made peace with heathendom, and Perion left
him. Now Perion's skill in warfare was leased to whatsoever lord would
dare contend against Demetrios and the proconsul's magic sword
Flamberge: and Perion of the Forest did not inordinately concern
himself as to the merits of any quarrel because of which battalions
died, so long as he fought toward Melicent. Demetrios was pleased, and
thrilled with the heroic joy of an athlete who finds that he
unwittingly has grappled with his equal.
So the duel between these two dragged on with varying fortunes, and the
years passed, and neither duellist had conquered as yet. Then King
Theodoret, third of that name to rule, and once (as you have heard) a
wooer of Dame Melicent, declared a crusade; and Perion went to him at
Lacre Kai. It was in making this journey, they say, that Perion passed
through Pseudopolis, and had speech there with Queen Helen, the delight
of gods and men: and Perion conceded this Queen was well-enough to look
"She reminds me, indeed, of that Dame Melicent whom I serve in this
world, and trust to serve in Paradise," said Perion. "But Dame Melicent
has a mole on her left cheek."
"That is a pity," said an attendant lord. "A mole disfigures a pretty
"I was speaking, messire, of Dame Melicent."
"Even so," the lord replied, "a mole is a blemish."
"I cannot permit these observations," said Perion. So they fought, and
Perion killed his opponent, and left Pseudopolis that afternoon.
Such was Perion's way.
He came unhurt to King Theodoret, who at once recognised in the famous
Comte de la ForÍt the former Vicomte de Puysange, but gave no sign of
"Heaven chooses its own instruments," the pious King reflected: "and
this swaggering Comte de la ForÍt, who affects so many names has also
the name of being a warrior without any peer in Christendom. Let us
first conquer this infamous proconsul, this adversary of our Redeemer,
and then we shall see. It may be that heaven will then permit me to
detect this Comte de la ForÍt in some particularly abominable heresy.
For this long-legged ruffian looks like a schismatic, and would
singularly grace a rack."
So King Theodoret kissed Perion upon both cheeks, and created him
generalissimo of King Theodoret's forces. It was upon St. George's day
that Perion set sail with thirty-four ships of great dimensions and
"Do you bring me back Demetrios in chains," said the King, fondling
Perion at parting, "and all that I have is yours."
"I mean to bring back my stolen wife, Dame Melicent," was Perion's
reply: "and if I can manage it I shall also bring you this Demetrios,
in return for lending me these ships and soldiers."
"Do you think," the King asked, peevishly, "that monarchs nowadays fit
out armaments to replevin a woman who is no longer young, and who was
"I cannot permit these observations--" said Perion.
Theodoret hastily explained that his was merely a general observation,
without any personal bearing.
_How Demetrios Was Taken_
Thus it was that war awoke and raged about the province of Demetrios as
tirelessly as waves lapped at its shores.
Then, after many ups and downs of carnage,[1: Nicolas de Caen gives
here a minute account of the military and naval evolutions, with a
fullness that verges upon prolixity. It appears expedient to omit all
this.] Perion surprised the galley of Demetrios while the proconsul
slept at anchor in his own harbour of Quesiton. Demetrios fought
nakedly against accoutred soldiers and had killed two of them with his
hands before he could be quieted by an admiring Perion.
Demetrios by Perion's order was furnished with a sword of ordinary
attributes, and Perion ridded himself of all defensive armour. The two
met like an encounter of tempests, and in the outcome Demetrios was
wounded so that he lay insensible.
Demetrios was taken as a prisoner toward the domains of King Theodoret.
"Only you are my private capture," said Perion; "conquered by my own
hand and in fair fight. Now I am unwilling to insult the most valiant
warrior whom I have known by valuing him too cheaply, and I accordingly
fix your ransom as the person of Dame Melicent."
Demetrios bit his nails.
"Needs must," he said at last. "It is unnecessary to inform you that
when my property is taken from me I shall endeavour to regain it. I
shall, before the year is out, lay waste whatever kingdom it is that
harbours you. Meanwhile I warn you it is necessary to be speedy in this
ransoming. My other wives abhor the Frankish woman who has supplanted
them in my esteem. My son Orestes, who succeeds me, will be guided by
his mother. Callistion has thrice endeavoured to kill Melicent. If any
harm befalls me, Callistion to all intent will reign in Nacumera, and
she will not be satisfied with mere assassination. I cannot guess what
torment Callistion will devise, but it will be no child's play--"
"Hah, infamy!" cried Perion. He had learned long ago how cunning the
heathen were in such cruelties, and so he shuddered.
Demetrios was silent. He, too, was frightened, because this despot
knew--and none knew better--that in his lordly house far oversea
Callistion would find equipment for a hundred curious tortures.
"It has been difficult for me to tell you this," Demetrios then said,
"because it savours of an appeal to spare me. I think you will have
gleaned, however, from our former encounters, that I am not
unreasonably afraid of death. Also I think that you love Melicent. For
the rest, there is no person in Nacumera so untutored as to cross my
least desire until my death is triply proven. Accordingly, I who am
Demetrios am willing to entreat an oath that you will not permit
Theodoret to kill me."
"I swear by God and all the laws of Rome--" cried Perion.
"Ey, but I am not very popular in Rome," Demetrios interrupted. "I
would prefer that you swore by your love for Melicent. I would prefer
an oath which both of us may understand, and I know of none other."
So Perion swore as Demetrios requested, and set about the conveyance of
Demetrios into King Theodoret's realm.
_How They Praised Melicent_
The conqueror and the conquered sat together upon the prow of Perion's
ship. It was a warm, clear night, so brilliant that the stars were
invisible. Perion sighed. Demetrios inquired the reason. Perion said:
"It is the memory of a fair and noble lady, Messire Demetrios, that
causes me to heave a sigh from my inmost heart. I cannot forget that
loveliness which had no parallel. Pardieu, her eyes were amethysts, her
lips were red as the berries of a holly tree. Her hair blazed in the
light, bright as the sunflower glows; her skin was whiter than milk;
the down of a fledgling bird was not more grateful to the touch than
were her hands. There was never any person more delightful to gaze
upon, and whosoever beheld her forthwith desired to render love and
service to Dame Melicent."
Demetrios gave his customary lazy shrug. Demetrios said:
"She is still a brightly-coloured creature, moves gracefully, has a
sweet, drowsy voice, and is as soft to the touch as rabbit's fur.
Therefore, it is imperative that one of us must cut the other's throat.
The deduction is perfectly logical. Yet I do not know that my love for
her is any greater than my hatred. I rage against her patient tolerance
of me, and I am often tempted to disfigure, mutilate, even to destroy
this colourful, stupid woman, who makes me wofully ridiculous in my own
eyes. I shall be happier when death has taken the woman who ventures to
deal in this fashion with Demetrios."
"When I first saw Dame Melicent the sea was languid, as if outworn by
vain endeavours to rival the purple of her eyes. Sea-birds were adrift
in the air, very close to her and their movements were less graceful
than hers. She was attired in a robe of white silk, and about her
wrists were heavy bands of silver. A tiny wind played truant in order
to caress her unplaited hair, because the wind was more hardy than I,
and dared to love her. I did not think of love, I thought only of the
noble deeds I might have done and had not done. I thought of my
unworthiness, and it seemed to me that my soul writhed like an eel in
sunlight, a naked, despicable thing, that was unworthy to render any
love and service to Dame Melicent."
"When I first saw the girl she knew herself entrapped, her body mine,
her life dependent on my whim. She waved aside such petty
inconveniences, bade them await an hour when she had leisure to
consider them, because nothing else was of any importance so long as my
porter went in chains. I was an obstacle to her plans and nothing more;
a pebble in her shoe would have perturbed her about as much as I did.
Here at last, I thought, is genuine common-sense--a clear-headed
decision as to your actual desire, apart from man-taught ethics, and
fearless purchase of your desire at any cost. There is something not
unakin to me, I reflected, in the girl who ventures to deal in this
fashion with Demetrios."
"Since she permits me to serve her, I may not serve unworthily.
To-morrow I shall set new armies afield. To-morrow it will delight me
to see their tents rise in your meadows, Messire Demetrios, and to see
our followers meet in clashing combat, by hundreds and thousands, so
mightily that men will sing of it when we are gone. To-morrow one of us
must kill the other. To-night we drink our wine in amity. I have not
time to hate you, I have not time to like or dislike any living person,
I must devote all faculties that heaven gave me to the love
and service of Dame Melicent."
"To-night we babble to the stars and dream vain dreams as other fools
have done before us. To-morrow rests--perhaps--with heaven; but, depend
upon it, Messire de la ForÍt, whatever we may do to-morrow will be
foolishly performed, because we are both besotted by bright eyes and
lips and hair. I trust to find our antics laughable. Yet there is that
in me which is murderous when I reflect that you and she do not dislike
me. It is the distasteful truth that neither of you considers me to be
worth the trouble. I find such conduct irritating, because no other
persons have ever ventured to deal in this fashion with Demetrios."
"Demetrios, already your antics are laughable, for you pass blindly by
the revelation of heaven's splendour in heaven's masterwork; you ignore
the miracle; and so do you find only the stings of the flesh where I
find joy in rendering love and service to Dame Melicent."