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Jurgen by James Branch Cabell

Part 6 out of 6

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sort of thing, and speak with me more candidly! Come now, dear lady,
there should be no secrets between you and me. In Leuke you were
reported to be Cybele, the great Res Dea, the mistress of every
tangible thing. In Cocaigne they spoke of you as AEsred. And at
Cameliard Merlin called you Aderes, dark Mother of the Little Gods.
Well, but at your home in the forest, where I first had the honor of
making your acquaintance, godmother, you told me you were Sereda,
who takes the color out of things, and controls all Wednesdays. Now
these anagrams bewilder me, and I desire to know you frankly for
what you are."

"It may be that I am all these. Meanwhile I bleach, and sooner or
later I bleach everything. It may be that some day, Jurgen, I shall
even take the color out of a fool's conception of himself."

"Yes, yes! but just between ourselves, godmother, is it not this
shadow of you that prevents my entering, quite, into the appropriate
emotion, the spirit of the occasion, as one might say, and robs my
life of the zest which other persons apparently get out of living?
Come now, you know it is! Well, and for my part, godmother, I love a
jest as well as any man breathing, but I do prefer to have it

"Now, let me tell you something plainly, Jurgen!" Mother Sereda
cleared her invisible throat, and began to speak rather indignantly.

* * * * *

"Well, godmother, if you will pardon my frankness, I do not think it
is quite nice to talk about such things, and certainly not with so
much candor. However, dismissing these considerations of delicacy,
let us revert to my original question. You have given me youth and
all the appurtenances of youth: and therewith you have given, too,
in your joking way--which nobody appreciates more heartily than
I,--a shadow that renders all things not quite satisfactory, not
wholly to be trusted, not to be met with frankness. Now--as you
understand, I hope,--I concede the jest, I do not for a moment deny
it is a master-stroke of humor. But, after all, just what exactly is
the point of it? What does it mean?"

"It may be that there is no meaning anywhere. Could you face that
interpretation, Jurgen?"

"No," said Jurgen: "I have faced god and devil, but that I will not

"No more would I who have so many names face that. You jested with
me. So I jest with you. Probably Koshchei jests with all of us. And
he, no doubt--even Koshchei who made things as they are,--is in turn
the butt of some larger jest."

"He may be, certainly," said Jurgen: "yet, on the other hand--"

"About these matters I do not know. How should I? But I think that
all of us take part in a moving and a shifting and a reasoned using
of the things which are Koshchei's, a using such as we do not
comprehend, and are not fit to comprehend."

"That is possible," said Jurgen: "but, none the less--!"

"It is as a chessboard whereon the pieces move diversely: the
knights leaping sidewise, and the bishops darting obliquely, and the
rooks charging straightforward, and the pawns laboriously hobbling
from square to square, each at the player's will. There is no
discernible order, all to the onlooker is manifestly in confusion:
but to the player there is a meaning in the disposition of the

"I do not deny it: still, one must grant--"

"And I think it is as though each of the pieces, even the pawns, had
a chessboard of his own which moves as he is moved, and whereupon he
moves the pieces to suit his will, in the very moment wherein he is
moved willy-nilly."

"You may be right: yet, even so--"

"And Koshchei who directs this infinite moving of puppets may well
be the futile harried king in some yet larger game."

"Now, certainly I cannot contradict you: but, at the same time--!"

"So goes this criss-cross multitudinous moving as far as thought can
reach: and beyond that the moving goes. All moves. All moves
uncomprehendingly, and to the sound of laughter. For all moves in
consonance with a higher power that understands the meaning of the
movement. And each moves the pieces before him in consonance with
his ability. So the game is endless and ruthless: and there is
merriment overhead, but it is very far away."

"Nobody is more willing to concede that these are handsome fancies,
Mother Sereda. But they make my head ache. Moreover, two people are
needed to play chess, and your hypothesis does not provide anybody
with an antagonist. Lastly, and above all, how do I know there is a
word of truth in your high-sounding fancies?"

"How can any of us know anything? And what is Jurgen, that his
knowing or his not knowing should matter to anybody?"

Jurgen slapped his hands together. "Hah, Mother Sereda!" says he,
"but now I have you. It is that, precisely that damnable question,
which your shadow has been whispering to me from the beginning of
our companionship. And I am through with you. I will have no more of
your gifts, which are purchased at the cost of hearing that whisper.
I am resolved henceforward to be as other persons, and to believe
implicitly in my own importance."

"But have you any reason to blame me? I restored to you your youth.
And when, just at the passing of that replevined Wednesday which I
loaned, you rebuked the Countess Dorothy very edifyingly, I was
pleased to find a man so chaste: and therefore I continued my grant
of youth--"

"Ah, yes!" said Jurgen: "then that was the way of it! You were
pleased, just in the nick of time, by my virtuous rebuke of the
woman who tempted me. Yes, to be sure. Well, well! come now, you
know, that is very gratifying."

"None the less your chastity, however unusual, has proved a barren
virtue. For what have you made of a year of youth? Why, each thing
that every man of forty-odd by ordinary regrets having done, you
have done again, only more swiftly, compressing the follies of a
quarter of a century into the space of one year. You have sought
bodily pleasures. You have made jests. You have asked many idle
questions. And you have doubted all things, including Jurgen. In the
face of your memories, in the face of what you probably considered
cordial repentance, you have made of your second youth just nothing.
Each thing that every man of forty-odd regrets having done, you have
done again."

"Yes: it is undeniable that I re-married," said Jurgen. "Indeed, now
I think of it, there was Anaitis and Chloris and Florimel, so that I
have married thrice in one year. But I am largely the victim of
heredity, you must remember, since it was without consulting me that
Smoit of Glathion perpetuated his characteristics."

"Your marriages I do not criticize, for each was in accordance with
the custom of the country: the law is always respectable; and
matrimony is an honorable estate, and has a steadying influence, in
all climes. It is true my shadow reports several other affairs--"

"Oh, godmother, and what is this you are telling me!"

"There was a Yolande and a Guenevere"--the voice of Mother Sereda
appeared to read from a memorandum,--"and a Sylvia, who was your own
step-grandmother, and a Stella, who was a yogini, whatever that may
be; and a Phyllis and a Dolores, who were the queens of Hell and
Philistia severally. Moreover, you visited the Queen of Pseudopolis
in circumstances which could not but have been unfavorably viewed by
her husband. Oh, yes, you have committed follies with divers women."

"Follies, it may be, but no crimes, not even a misdemeanor. Look
you, Mother Sereda, does your shadow report in all this year one
single instance of misconduct with a woman?" says Jurgen, sternly.

"No, dearie, as I joyfully concede. The very worst reported is that
matters were sometimes assuming a more or less suspicious turn when
you happened to put out the light. And, of course, shadows cannot
exist in absolute darkness."

"See now," said Jurgen, "what a thing it is to be careful! Careful,
I mean, in one's avoidance of even an appearance of evil. In what
other young man of twenty-one may you look to find such continence?
And yet you grumble!"

"I do not complain because you have lived chastely. That pleases me,
and is the single reason you have been spared this long."

"Oh, godmother, and whatever are you telling me!"

"Yes, dearie, had you once sinned with a woman in the youth I gave,
you would have been punished instantly and very terribly. For I was
always a great believer in chastity, and in the old days I used to
insure the chastity of all my priests in the only way that is

"In fact, I noticed something of the sort as you passed in Leuke."

"And over and over again I have been angered by my shadow's reports,
and was about to punish you, my poor dearie, when I would remember
that you held fast to the rarest of all virtues in a man, and that
my shadow reported no irregularities with women. And that would
please me, I acknowledge: so I would let matters run on a while
longer. But it is a shiftless business, dearie, for you are making
nothing of the youth I restored to you. And had you a thousand lives
the result would be the same."

"Nevertheless, I am a monstrous clever fellow." Jurgen chuckled

"You are, instead, a palterer; and your life, apart from that fine
song you made about me, is sheer waste."

"Ah, if you come to that, there was a brown man in the Druid forest,
who showed me a very curious spectacle, last June. And I am not apt
to lose the memory of what he showed me, whatever you may say, and
whatever I may have said to him."

"This and a many other curious spectacles you have seen and have
made nothing of, in the false youth I gave you. And therefore my
shadow was angry that in the revelation of so much futile trifling I
did not take away the youth I gave--as I have half a mind to do,
even now, I warn you, dearie, for there is really no putting up with
you. But I spared you because of my shadow's grudging reports as to
your continence, which is a virtue that we of the Leshy peculiarly

Now Jurgen considered. "Eh?--then it is within your ability to make
me old again, or rather, an excellently preserved person of forty-odd,
or say, thirty-nine, by the calendar, but not looking it by a long
shot? Such threats are easily voiced. But how can I know that you are
speaking the truth?"

"How can any of us know anything? And what is Jurgen, that his
knowing or his not knowing should matter to anybody?"

"Ah, godmother, and must you still be mumbling that! Come now,
forget you are a woman, and be reasonable! You exercise the fair and
ancient privilege of kinship by calling me harsh names, but it is in
the face of this plain fact: I got from you what never man has got
before. I am a monstrous clever fellow, say what you will: for
already I have cajoled you out of a year of youth, a year wherein I
have neither builded nor robbed any churches, but have had upon the
whole a very pleasant time. Ah, you may murmur platitudes and
threats and axioms and anything else which happens to appeal to you:
the fact remains that I got what I wanted. Yes, I cajoled you very
neatly into giving me eternal youth. For, of course, poor dear, you
are now powerless to take it back: and so I shall retain, in spite
of you, the most desirable possession in life."

"I gave, in honor of your chastity, which is the one commendable
trait that you possess--"

"My chastity, I grant you, is remarkable. Nevertheless, you really
gave because I was the cleverer."

"--And what I give I can retract at will!"

"Come, come, you know very well you can do nothing of the sort. I
refer you to Saevius Nicanor. None of the Leshy can ever take back
the priceless gift of youth. That is explicitly proved, in the

"Now, but I am becoming angry--"

"To the contrary, as I perceive with real regret, you are becoming
ridiculous, since you dispute the authority of Saevius Nicanor."

"--And I will show you--oh, but I will show you, you jackanapes!"

"Ah, but come now! keep your temper in hand! All fairly erudite
persons know you cannot do the thing you threaten: and it is
notorious that the weakest wheel of every cart creaks loudest. So do
you cultivate a judicious taciturnity! for really nobody is going to
put up with petulance in an ugly and toothless woman of your age, as
I tell you for your own good."

It always vexes people to be told anything for their own good. So
what followed happened quickly. A fleece of cloud slipped over the
moon. The night seemed bitterly cold, for the space of a heart-beat,
and then matters were comfortable enough. The moon emerged in its
full glory, and there in front of Jurgen was the proper shadow of
Jurgen. He dazedly regarded his hands, and they were the hands of an
elderly person. He felt the calves of his legs, and they were
shrunken. He patted himself centrally, and underneath the shirt of
Nessus the paunch of Jurgen was of impressive dimension. In other
respects he had abated.

"Then, too, I have forgotten something very suddenly," reflected
Jurgen. "It was something I wanted to forget. Ah, yes! but what was
it that I wanted to forget? Why, there was a brown man--with
something unusual about his feet--He talked nonsense and behaved
idiotically in a Druid forest--He was probably insane. No, I do not
remember what it was that I have forgotten: but I am sure it has
gnawed away in the back of my mind, like a small ruinous maggot: and
that, after all, it was of no importance."

Aloud he wailed, in his most moving tones: "Oh, Mother Sereda, I did
not mean to anger you. It was not fair to snap me up on a
thoughtless word! Have mercy upon me, Mother Sereda, for I would
never have alluded to your being so old and plain-looking if I had
known you were so vain!"

But Mother Sereda did not appear to be softened by this form of
entreaty, for nothing happened.

"Well, then, thank goodness, that is over!" says Jurgen, to himself.
"Of course, she may be listening still, and it is dangerous jesting
with the Leshy: but really they do not seem to be very intelligent.
Otherwise this irritable maunderer would have known that, everything
else apart, I am heartily tired of the responsibilities of youth
under any such constant surveillance. Now all is changed: there is
no call to avoid a suspicion of wrong doing by transacting all
philosophical investigations in the dark: and I am no longer
distrustful of lamps or candles, or even of sunlight. Old body, you
are as grateful as old slippers, to a somewhat wearied man: and for
the second time I have tricked Mother Sereda rather neatly. My
knowledge of Lisa, however painfully acquired, is a decided
advantage in dealing with anything that is feminine."

Then Jurgen regarded the black cave. "And that reminds me it still
would be, I suppose, the manly thing to continue my quest for Lisa.
The intimidating part is that if I go into this cave for the third
time I shall almost certainly get her back. By every rule of
tradition the third attempt is invariably successful. I wonder if I
want Lisa back?"

Jurgen meditated: and he shook a grizzled head. "I do not definitely
know. She was an excellent cook. There were pies that I shall always
remember with affection. And she meant well, poor dear! But then if
it was really her head that I sliced off last May--or if her temper
is not any better--Still, it is an interminable nuisance washing
your own dishes: and I appear to have no aptitude whatever for
sewing and darning things. But, to the other hand, Lisa nags so: and
she does not understand me--"

Jurgen shrugged. "See-saw! the argument for and against might run on
indefinitely. Since I have no real preference, I will humor
prejudice by doing the manly thing. For it seems only fair: and
besides, it may fail after all"

Then he went into the cave for the third time.


In the Manager's Office

The tale tells that all was dark there, and Jurgen could see no one.
But the cave stretched straight forward, and downward, and at the
far end was a glow of light. Jurgen went on and on, and so came to
the place where Nessus had lain in wait for Jurgen. Again Jurgen
stooped, and crawled through the opening in the cave's wall, and so
came to where lamps were burning upon tall iron stands. Now, one by
one, these lamps were going out, and there were now no women here:
instead, Jurgen trod inch deep in fine white ashes, leaving the
print of his feet upon them.

He went forward as the cave stretched. He came to a sharp turn in
the cave, with the failing lamplight now behind him, so that his
shadow confronted Jurgen, blurred but unarguable. It was the proper
shadow of a commonplace and elderly pawnbroker, and Jurgen regarded
it with approval.

Jurgen came then into a sort of underground chamber, from the roof
of which was suspended a kettle of quivering red flames. Facing him
was a throne, and back of this were rows of benches: but here, too,
was nobody. Resting upright against the vacant throne was a
triangular white shield: and when Jurgen looked more closely he
could see there was writing upon it. Jurgen carried this shield as
close as he could to the kettle of flames, for his eyesight was now
not very good, and besides, the flames in the kettle were burning
low: and Jurgen deciphered the message that was written upon the
shield, in black and red letters.

"Absent upon important affairs," it said. "Will be back in an hour."
And it was signed, "Thragnar R."

"I wonder now for whom King Thragnar left this notice?" reflected
Jurgen--"certainly not for me. And I wonder, too, if he left it here
a year ago or only this evening? And I wonder if it was Thragnar's
head I removed in the black and silver pavilion? Ah, well, there are
a number of things to wonder about in this incredible cave, wherein
the lights are dying out, as I observe with some discomfort. And I
think the air grows chillier."

Then Jurgen looked to his right, at the stairway which he and
Guenevere had ascended; and he shook his head. "Glathion is no fit
resort for a respectable pawnbroker. Chivalry is for young people,
like the late Duke of Logreus. But I must get out of this place, for
certainly there is in the air a deathlike chill."

So Jurgen went on down the aisle between the rows of benches
wherefrom Thragnar's warriors had glared at Jurgen when he was last
in this part of the cave. At the end of the aisle was a wooden door
painted white. It was marked, in large black letters, "Office of the
Manager--Keep Out." So Jurgen opened this door.

He entered into a notable place illuminated by six cresset lights.
These lights were the power of Assyria, and Nineveh, and Egypt, and
Rome, and Athens, and Byzantium: six other cressets stood ready
there, but fire had not yet been laid to these. Back of all was a
large blackboard with much figuring on it in red chalk. And here,
too, was the black gentleman, who a year ago had given his blessing
to Jurgen, for speaking civilly of the powers of darkness. To-night
the black gentleman wore a black dressing-gown that was embroidered
with all the signs of the Zodiac. He sat at a table, the top of
which was curiously inlaid with thirty pieces of silver: and he was
copying entries from one big book into another. He looked up from
his writing pleasantly enough, and very much as though he were
expecting Jurgen.

"You find me busy with the Stellar Accounts," says he, "which appear
to be in a fearful muddle. But what more can I do for you,
Jurgen?--for you, my friend, who spoke a kind word for things as
they are, and furnished me with one or two really very acceptable
explanations as to why I had created evil?"

"I have been thinking, Prince--" begins the pawnbroker.

"And why do you call me a prince, Jurgen?"

"I do not know, sir. But I suspect that my quest is ended, and that
you are Koshchei the Deathless."

The black gentleman nodded. "Something of the sort. Koshchei, or
Ardnari, or Ptha, or Jaldalaoth, or Abraxas,--it is all one what I
may be called hereabouts. My real name you never heard: no man has
ever heard my name. So that matter we need hardly go into."

"Precisely, Prince. Well, but it is a long way that I have traveled
roundabout, to win to you who made things as they are. And it is
eager I am to learn just why you made things as they are."

Up went the black gentleman's eyebrows into regular Gothic arches.
"And do you really think, Jurgen, that I am going to explain to you
why I made things as they are?"

"I fail to see, Prince, how my wanderings could have any other
equitable climax."

"But, friend, I have nothing to do with justice. To the contrary, I
am Koshchei who made things as they are."

Jurgen saw the point. "Your reasoning, Prince, is unanswerable. I
bow to it. I should even have foreseen it. Do you tell me, then,
what thing is this which I desire, and cannot find in any realm that
man has known nor in any kingdom that man has imagined."

Koshchei was very patient. "I am not, I confess, anything like as
well acquainted with what has been going on in this part of the
universe as I ought to be. Of course, events are reported to me, in
a general sort of way, and some of my people were put in charge of
these stars, a while back: but they appear to have run the
constellation rather shiftlessly. Still, I have recently been
figuring on the matter, and I do not despair of putting the suns
hereabouts to some profitable use, in one way or another, after all.
Of course, it is not as if it were an important constellation. But I
am an Economist, and I dislike waste--"

Then he was silent for an instant, not greatly worried by the
problem, as Jurgen could see, but mildly vexed by his inability to
divine the solution out of hand. Presently Koshchei said:

"And in the mean time, Jurgen, I am afraid I cannot answer your
question on the spur of the moment. You see, there appears to have
been a great number of human beings, as you call them, evolved
upon--oh, yes!--upon Earth. I have the approximate figures over
yonder, but they would hardly interest you. And the desires of each
one of these human beings seem to have been multitudinous and
inconstant. Yet, Jurgen, you might appeal to the local authorities,
for I remember appointing some, at the request of a very charming
old lady."

"In fine, you do not know what thing it is that I desire," said
Jurgen, much surprised.

"Why, no, I have not the least notion," replied Koshchei. "Still, I
suspect that if you got it you would protest it was a most unjust
affliction. So why keep worrying about it?"

Jurgen demanded, almost indignantly: "But have you not then, Prince,
been guiding all my journeying during this last year?"

"Now, really, Jurgen, I remember our little meeting very pleasantly.
And I endeavored forthwith to dispose of your most urgent annoyance.
But I confess I have had one or two other matters upon my mind since
then. You see, Jurgen, the universe is rather large, and the running
of it is a considerable tax upon my time. I cannot manage to see
anything like as much of my friends as I would be delighted to see
of them. And so perhaps, what with one thing and another, I have not
given you my undivided attention all through the year--not every
moment of it, that is."

"Ah, Prince, I see that you are trying to spare my feelings, and it
is kind of you. But the upshot is that you do not know what I have
been doing, and you did not care what I was doing. Dear me! but this
is a very sad come-down for my pride."

"Yes, but reflect how remarkable a possession is that pride of
yours, and how I wonder at it, and how I envy it in vain,--I, who
have nothing anywhere to contemplate save my own handiwork. Do you
consider, Jurgen, what I would give if I could find, anywhere in
this universe of mine, anything which would make me think myself
one-half so important as you think Jurgen is!" And Koshchei sighed.

But instead, Jurgen considered the humiliating fact that Koshchei
had not been supervising Jurgen's travels. And of a sudden Jurgen
perceived that this Koshchei the Deathless was not particularly
intelligent. Then Jurgen wondered why he should ever have expected
Koshchei to be intelligent? Koshchei was omnipotent, as men estimate
omnipotence: but by what course of reasoning had people come to
believe that Koshchei was clever, as men estimate cleverness? The
fact that, to the contrary, Koshchei seemed well-meaning, but rather
slow of apprehension and a little needlessly fussy, went far toward
explaining a host of matters which had long puzzled Jurgen.
Cleverness was, of course, the most admirable of all traits: but
cleverness was not at the top of things, and never had been. "Very
well, then!" says Jurgen, with a shrug; "let us come to my third
request and to the third thing that I have been seeking. Here,
though, you ought to be more communicative. For I have been
thinking, Prince, my wife's society is perhaps becoming to you a
trifle burdensome."

"Eh, sirs, I am not unaccustomed to women. I may truthfully say that
as I find them, so do I take them. And I was willing to oblige a
fellow rebel."

"But I do not know, Prince, that I have ever rebelled. Far from it,
I have everywhere conformed with custom."

"Your lips conformed, but all the while your mind made verses,
Jurgen. And poetry is man's rebellion against being what he is."

"--And besides, you call me a fellow rebel. Now, how can it be
possible that Koshchei, who made all things as they are, should be a
rebel? unless, indeed, there is some power above even Koshchei. I
would very much like to have that explained to me, sir."

"No doubt: but then why should I explain it to you, Jurgen?" says
the black gentleman.

"Well, be that as it may, Prince! But--to return a little--I do not
know that you have obliged me in carrying off my wife. I mean, of
course, my first wife."

"Why, Jurgen," says the black gentleman, in high astonishment, "do
you mean to tell me that you want the plague of your life back

"I do not know about that either, sir. She was certainly very hard
to live with. On the other hand, I had become used to having her
about. I rather miss her, now that I am again an elderly person.
Indeed, I believe I have missed Lisa all along."

The black gentleman meditated. "Come, friend," he says, at last. "You
were a poet of some merit. You displayed a promising talent which might
have been cleverly developed, in any suitable environment. Now, I
repeat, I am an Economist: I dislike waste: and you were never fitted
to be anything save a poet. The trouble was"--and Koshchei lowered his
voice to an impressive whisper,--"the trouble was your wife did not
understand you. She hindered your art. Yes, that precisely sums it up:
she interfered with your soul-development, and your instinctive need of
self-expression, and all that sort of thing. You are very well rid of
this woman, who converted a poet into a pawnbroker. To the other side,
as is with point observed somewhere or other, it is not good for man to
live alone. But, friend, I have just the wife for you."

"Well, Prince," said Jurgen, "I am willing to taste any drink once."

So Koshchei waved his hand: and there, quick as winking, was the
loveliest lady that Jurgen had ever imagined.


The Faith of Guenevere

Very fair was this woman to look upon, with her shining gray eyes and
small smiling lips, a fairer woman might no man boast of having seen.
And she regarded Jurgen graciously, with her cheeks red and white, very
lovely to observe. She was clothed in a robe of flame-colored silk, and
about her neck was a collar of red gold. And she told him, quite as
though she spoke with a stranger, that she was Queen Guenevere.

"But Lancelot is turned monk, at Glastonbury: and Arthur is gone
into Avalon," says she: "and I will be your wife if you will have
me, Jurgen."

And Jurgen saw that Guenevere did not know him at all, and that even
his name to her was meaningless. There were a many ways of accounting
for this: but he put aside the unflattering explanation that she had
simply forgotten all about Jurgen, in favor of the reflection that the
Jurgen she had known was a scapegrace of twenty-one. Whereas he was
now a staid and knowledgeable pawnbroker.

And it seemed to Jurgen that he had never really loved any woman
save Guenevere, the daughter of Gogyrvan Gawr, and the pawnbroker
was troubled.

"For again you make me think myself a god," says Jurgen. "Madame
Guenevere, when man recognized himself to be Heaven's vicar upon
earth, it was to serve and to glorify and to protect you and your
radiant sisterhood that man consecrated his existence. You were
beautiful, and you were frail; you were half goddess and half
bric-a-brac. Ohime, I recognize the call of chivalry, and my
heart-strings resound: yet, for innumerable reasons, I hesitate
to take you for my wife, and to concede myself your appointed
protector, responsible as such to Heaven. For one matter, I am not
altogether sure that I am Heaven's vicar here upon earth. Certainly
the God of Heaven said nothing to me about it, and I cannot but
suspect that Omniscience would have selected some more competent

"It is so written, Messire Jurgen."

Jurgen shrugged. "I too, in the intervals of business, have written
much that is beautiful. Very often my verses were so beautiful that
I would have given anything in the world in exchange for somewhat
less sure information as to the author's veracity. Ah, no, madame,
desire and knowledge are pressing me so sorely that, between them, I
dare not love you, and still I cannot help it!"

Then Jurgen gave a little wringing gesture with his hands. His smile
was not merry; and it seemed pitiful that Guenevere should not
remember him.

"Madame and queen," says Jurgen, "once long and long ago there was a
man who worshipped all women. To him they were one and all of
sacred, sweet intimidating beauty. He shaped sonorous rhymes of
this, in praise of the mystery and sanctity of women. Then a count's
tow-headed daughter whom he loved, with such love as it puzzles me
to think of now, was shown to him just as she was, as not even
worthy of hatred. The goddess stood revealed, unveiled, and
displaying in all things such mediocrity as he fretted to find in
himself. That was unfortunate. For he began to suspect that women,
also, are akin to their parents; and are no wiser, and no more
subtle, and no more immaculate, than the father who begot them.
Madame and queen, it is not good for any man to suspect this."

"It is certainly not the conduct of a chivalrous person, nor of an
authentic poet," says Queen Guenevere. "And yet your eyes are big
with tears."

"Hah, madame," he replied, "but it amuses me to weep for a dead man
with eyes that once were his. For he was a dear lad before he went
rampaging through the world, in the pride of his youth and in the
armor of his hurt. And songs he made for the pleasure of kings, and
sword play he made for the pleasure of men, and a whispering he made
for the pleasure of women, in places where renown was, and where he
trod boldly, giving pleasure to everybody in those fine days. But
for all his laughter, he could not understand his fellows, nor could
he love them, nor could he detect anything in aught they said or did
save their exceeding folly."

"Why, man's folly is indeed very great, Messire Jurgen, and the
doings of this world are often inexplicable: and so does it come
about that man can be saved by faith alone."

"Ah, but this boy had lost his fellows' cordial common faith in the
importance of what use they made of half-hours and months and years;
and because a jill-flirt had opened his eyes so that they saw too
much, he had lost faith in the importance of his own actions, too.
There was a little time of which the passing might be made not
unendurable; beyond gaped unpredictable darkness; and that was all
there was of certainty anywhere. Meanwhile, he had the loan of a
brain which played with ideas, and a body that went delicately down
pleasant ways. And so he was never the mate for you, dear Guenevere,
because he had not sufficient faith in anything at all, not even in
his own deductions."

Now said Queen Guenevere: "Farewell to you, then, Jurgen, for it is
I that am leaving you forever. I was to them that served me the
lovely and excellent masterwork of God: in Caerleon and Northgalis
and at Joyeuse Garde might men behold me with delight, because, men
said, to view me was to comprehend the power and kindliness of their
Creator. Very beautiful was Iseult, and the face of Luned sparkled
like a moving gem; Morgaine and Enid and Viviane and shrewd Nimue
were lovely, too; and the comeliness of Ettarde exalted the beholder
like a proud music: these, going statelily about Arthur's hall,
seemed Heaven's finest craftsmanship until the Queen came to her
dais, as the moon among glowing stars: men then affirmed that God in
making Guenevere had used both hands. And it is I that am leaving
you forever. My beauty was no human white and red, said they, but an
explicit sign of Heaven's might. In approaching me men thought of
God, because in me, they said, His splendor was incarnate. That
which I willed was neither right nor wrong: it was divine. This
thing it was that the knights saw in me; this surety, as to the
power and kindliness of their great Father, it was of which the
chevaliers of yesterday were conscious in beholding me, and of men's
need to be worthy of such parentage; and it is I that am leaving you

Said Jurgen: "I could not see all this in you, not quite all this,
because of a shadow that followed me. Now it is too late, and this
is a sorrowful thing which is happening. I am become as a rudderless
boat that goes from wave to wave: I am turned to unfertile dust
which a whirlwind makes coherent, and presently lets fall. And so,
farewell to you, Queen Guenevere, for it is a sorrowful thing and a
very unfair thing that is happening."

Thus he cried farewell to the daughter of Gogyrvan Gawr. And
instantly she vanished like the flame of a blown out altar-candle.


The Desire of Anaitis

And again Koshchei waved his hand. Then came to Jurgen a woman who
was strangely gifted and perverse. Her dark eyes glittered: upon her
head was a net-work of red coral, with branches radiating downward,
and her tunic was of two colors, being shot with black and crimson
curiously mingled.

And Anaitis also had forgotten Jurgen, or else she did not recognize
him in this man of forty and something: and again belief awoke in
Jurgen's heart that this was the only woman whom Jurgen had really
loved, as he listened to Anaitis and to her talk of marvelous

Of the lore of Thais she spoke, and of the schooling of Sappho, and
of the secrets of Rhodope, and of the mourning for Adonis: and the
refrain of all her talking was not changed. "For we have but a
little while to live, and none knows his fate thereafter. So that a
man possesses nothing certainly save a brief loan of his own body:
and yet the body of man is capable of much curious pleasure. As thus
and thus," says she. And the bright-colored pensive woman spoke with
antique directness of matters that Jurgen, being no longer a
scapegrace of twenty-one, found rather embarrassing.

"Come, come!" thinks he, "but it will never do to seem provincial. I
believe that I am actually blushing."

Aloud he said: "Sweetheart, there was--why, not a half-hour
since!--a youth who sought quite zealously for the over-mastering
frenzies you prattle about. But, candidly, he could not find the
flesh whose touch would rouse insanity. The lad had opportunities,
too, let me tell you! Hah, I recall with tenderness the glitter of
eyes and hair, and the gay garments, and the soft voices of those
fond foolish women, even now. But he went from one pair of lips to
another, with an ardor that was always half-feigned, and with
protestations which were conscious echoes of some romance or other.
Such escapades were pleasant enough: but they were not very serious,
after all. For these things concerned his body alone: and I am more
than an edifice of viands reared by my teeth. To pretend that what
my body does or endures is of importance seems rather silly
nowadays. I prefer to regard it as a necessary beast of burden which
I maintain, at considerable expense and trouble. So I shall make no
more pother about it."

But then again Queen Anaitis spoke of marvelous things; and he
listened, fair-mindedly; for the Queen spoke now of that which was
hers to share with him.

"Well, I have heard," says Jurgen, "that you have a notable
residence in Cocaigne."

"But that is only a little country place, to which I sometimes
repair in summer, in order to live rustically. No, Jurgen, you must
see my palaces. In Babylon I have a palace where many abide with
cords about them and burn bran for perfume, while they await that
thing which is to befall them. In Armenia I have a palace surrounded
by vast gardens, where only strangers have the right to enter: they
there receive a hospitality that is more than gallant. In Paphos I
have a palace wherein is a little pyramid of white stone, very
curious to see: but still more curious is the statue in my palace at
Amathus, of a bearded woman, which displays other features that
women do not possess. And in Alexandria I have a palace that is
tended by thirty-six exceedingly wise and sacred persons, and
wherein it is always night: and there folk seek for monstrous
pleasures, even at the price of instant death, and win to both of
these swiftly. Everywhere my palaces stand upon high places near the
sea: so they are beheld from afar by those whom I hold dearest, my
beautiful broad-chested mariners, who do not fear even me, but know
that in my palaces they will find notable employment. For I must
tell you of what is to be encountered within these places that are
mine, and of how pleasantly we pass our time there." Then she told

Now he listened more attentively than ever, and his eyes were
narrowed, and his lips were lax and motionless and foolish-looking,
and he was deeply interested. For Anaitis had thought of some new
diversions since their last meeting: and to Jurgen, even at forty
and something, this queen's voice was all a horrible and strange and
lovely magic. "She really tempts very nicely, too," he reflected,
with a sort of pride in her.

Then Jurgen growled and shook himself, half angrily: and he tweaked
the ear of Queen Anaitis.

"Sweetheart," says he, "you paint a glowing picture: but you are
shrewd enough to borrow your pigments from the day-dreams of
inexperience. What you prattle about is not at all as you describe
it. You forget you are talking to a widely married man of varied
experience. Moreover, I shudder to think of what might happen if
Lisa were to walk in unexpectedly. And for the rest, all this to-do
over nameless delights and unspeakable caresses and other anonymous
antics seems rather naive. My ears are beset by eloquent gray hairs
which plead at closer quarters than does that fibbing little tongue
of yours. And so be off with you!"

With that Queen Anaitis smiled very cruelly, and she said: "Farewell
to you, then Jurgen, for it is I that am leaving you forever.
Henceforward you must fret away much sunlight by interminably
shunning discomfort and by indulging tepid preferences. For I, and
none but I, can waken that desire which uses all of a man, and so
wastes nothing, even though it leave that favored man forever after
like wan ashes in the sunlight. And with you I have no more concern,
for it is I that am leaving you forever. Join with your graying
fellows, then! and help them to affront the clean sane sunlight, by
making guilds and laws and solemn phrases wherewith to rid the world
of me. I, Anaitis, laugh, and my heart is a wave in the sunlight.
For there is no power like my power, and no living thing which can
withstand my power; and those who deride me, as I well know, are but
the dead dry husks that a wind moves, with hissing noises, while I
harvest in open sunlight. For I am the desire that uses all of a
man: and it is I that am leaving you forever."

Said Jurgen: "I could not see all this in you, not quite all this,
because of a shadow that followed me. Now it is too late, and this
is a sorrowful thing which is happening. I am become as a puzzled
ghost who furtively observes the doings of loud-voiced ruddy
persons: and I am compact of weariness and apprehension, for I no
longer discern what thing is I, nor what is my desire, and I fear
that I am already dead. So farewell to you, Queen Anaitis, for this,
too, is a sorrowful thing and a very unfair thing that is

Thus he cried farewell to the Sun's daughter. And all the colors of
her loveliness flickered and merged into the likeness of a tall thin
flame, that aspired; and then this flame was extinguished.


The Vision of Helen

And for the third time Koshchei waved his hand. Now came to Jurgen a
gold-haired woman, clothed all in white. She was tall, and lovely
and tender to regard: and hers was not the red and white comeliness
of many ladies that were famed for beauty, but rather it had the
even glow of ivory. Her nose was large and high in the bridge, her
flexible mouth was not of the smallest; and yet, whatever other
persons might have said, to Jurgen this woman's countenance was in
all things perfect. And, beholding her, Jurgen kneeled.

He hid his face in her white robe: and he stayed thus, without
speaking, for a long while.

"Lady of my vision," he said, and his voice broke--"there is that in
you which wakes old memories. For now assuredly I believe your
father was not Dom Manuel but that ardent bird which nestled very
long ago in Leda's bosom. And now Troy's sons are all in Ades'
keeping, in the world below; fire has consumed the walls of Troy,
and the years have forgotten her tall conquerors; but still you are
bringing woe on woe to hapless sufferers."

And again his voice broke. For the world seemed cheerless, and like
a house that none has lived in for a great while.

Queen Helen, the delight of gods and men, replied nothing at all,
because there was no need, inasmuch as the man who has once glimpsed
her loveliness is beyond saving, and beyond the desire of being

"To-night," says Jurgen, "as once through the gray art of Phobetor,
now through the will of Koshchei, it appears that you stand within
arm's reach. Hah, lady, were that possible--and I know very well it
is not possible, whatever my senses may report,--I am not fit to
mate with your perfection. At the bottom of my heart, I no longer
desire perfection. For we who are tax-payers as well as immortal
souls must live by politic evasions and formulae and catchwords that
fret away our lives as moths waste a garment; we fall insensibly to
common-sense as to a drug; and it dulls and kills whatever in us is
rebellious and fine and unreasonable; and so you will find no man of
my years with whom living is not a mechanism which gnaws away time
unprompted. For within this hour I have become again a creature of
use and wont; I am the lackey of prudence and half-measures; and I
have put my dreams upon an allowance. Yet even now I love you more
than I love books and indolence and flattery and the charitable wine
which cheats me into a favorable opinion of myself. What more can an
old poet say? For that reason, lady, I pray you begone, because your
loveliness is a taunt which I find unendurable."

But his voice yearned, because this was Queen Helen, the delight of
gods and men, who regarded him with grave, kind eyes. She seemed to
view, as one appraises the pattern of an unrolled carpet, every
action of Jurgen's life: and she seemed, too, to wonder, without
reproach or trouble, how men could be so foolish, and of their own
accord become so miry.

"Oh, I have failed my vision!" cries Jurgen. "I have failed, and I
know very well that every man must fail: and yet my shame is no less
bitter. For I am transmuted by time's handling! I shudder at the
thought of living day-in and day-out with my vision! And so I will
have none of you for my wife."

Then, trembling, Jurgen raised toward his lips the hand of her who
was the world's darling.

"And so farewell to you, Queen Helen! Oh, very long ago I found your
beauty mirrored in a wanton's face! and often in a woman's face I
have found one or another feature wherein she resembled you, and for
the sake of it have lied to that woman glibly. And all my verses, as
I know now, were vain enchantments striving to evoke that hidden
loveliness of which I knew by dim report alone. Oh, all my life was
a foiled quest of you, Queen Helen, and an unsatiated hungering. And
for a while I served my vision, honoring you with clean-handed
deeds. Yes, certainly it should be graved upon my tomb, 'Queen Helen
ruled this earth while it stayed worthy.' But that was very long

"And so farewell to you, Queen Helen! Your beauty has been to me as
a robber that stripped my life of joy and sorrow, and I desire not
ever to dream of your beauty any more. For I have been able to love
nobody. And I know that it is you who have prevented this, Queen
Helen, at every moment of my life since the disastrous moment when I
first seemed to find your loveliness in the face of Madame Dorothy.
It is the memory of your beauty, as I then saw it mirrored in the face
of a jill-flirt, which has enfeebled me for such honest love as other
men give women; and I envy these other men. For Jurgen has loved
nothing--not even you, not even Jurgen!--quite whole-heartedly.

"And so farewell to you, Queen Helen! Hereafter I rove no more
a-questing anything; instead, I potter after hearthside comforts,
and play the physician with myself, and strive painstakingly to make
old bones. And no man's notion anywhere seems worth a cup of mulled
wine; and for the sake of no notion would I endanger the routine
which so hideously bores me. For I am transmuted by time's handling;
I have become the lackey of prudence and half-measures; and it does
not seem fair, but there is no help for it. So it is necessary that
I now cry farewell to you, Queen Helen: for I have failed in the
service of my vision, and I deny you utterly!"

Thus he cried farewell to the Swan's daughter: and Queen Helen
vanished as a bright mist passes, not departing swiftly, as had
departed Queen Guenevere and Queen Anaitis; and Jurgen was alone
with the black gentleman. And to Jurgen the world seemed cheerless,
and like a house that none has lived in for a great while.


Candid Opinions of Dame Lisa

"Eh, sirs!" observes Koshchei the Deathless, "but some of us are
certainly hard to please." And now Jurgen was already intent to
shrug off his display of emotion. "In selecting a wife, sir,"
submitted Jurgen, "there are all sorts of matters to be

Then bewilderment smote him. For it occurred to Jurgen that his
previous commerce with these three women was patently unknown to
Koshchei. Why, Koshchei, who made all things as they are--Koshchei,
no less--was now doing for Jurgen Koshchei's utmost: and that utmost
amounted to getting for Jurgen what Jurgen had once, with the aid of
youth and impudence, got for himself. Not even Koshchei, then, could
do more for Jurgen than might be accomplished by that youth and
impudence and tendency to pry into things generally which Jurgen had
just relinquished as over-restless nuisances. Jurgen drew the
inference, and shrugged; decidedly cleverness was not at the top.
However, there was no pressing need to enlighten Koshchei, and no
wisdom in attempting it.

"--For you must understand, sir," continued Jurgen, smoothly, "that,
whatever the first impulse of the moment, it was apparent to any
reflective person that in the past of each of these ladies there was
much to suggest inborn inaptitude for domestic life. And I am a
peace-loving fellow, sir; nor do I hold with moral laxity, now that
I am forty-odd, except, of course, in talk when it promotes
sociability, and in verse-making wherein it is esteemed as a
conventional ornament. Still, Prince, the chance I lost! I do not
refer to matrimony, you conceive. But in the presence of these
famous fair ones now departed from me forever, with what glowing
words I ought to have spoken! upon a wondrous ladder of trophes,
metaphors and recondite allusions, to what stylistic heights of
Asiatic prose I ought to have ascended! and instead, I twaddled like
a schoolmaster. Decidedly, Lisa is right, and I am good-for-nothing.
However," Jurgen added, hopefully, "it appeared to me that when I
last saw her, a year ago this evening, Lisa was somewhat less
outspoken than usual."

"Eh, sirs, but she was under a very potent spell. I found that
necessary in the interest of law and order hereabouts. I, who made
things as they are, am not accustomed to the excesses of practical
persons who are ruthlessly bent upon reforming their associates.
Indeed, it is one of the advantages of my situation that such folk
do not consider things as they are, and in consequence very rarely
bother me." And the black gentleman in turn shrugged. "You will
pardon me, but I notice in my accounts that I am positively
committed to color this year's anemones to-night, and there is a
rather large planetary system to be discontinued at half-past ten.
So time presses."

"And time is inexorable. Prince, with all due respect, I fancy it is
precisely this truism which you have overlooked. You produce the
most charming of women, in a determined onslaught upon my fancy; but
you forget you are displaying them to a man of forty-and-something."

"And does that make so great a difference?"

"Oh, a sad difference, Prince! For as a man gets on in life he
changes in many ways. He handles sword and lance less creditably,
and does not carry as heavy a staff as he once flourished. He takes
less interest in conversation, and his flow of humor diminishes. He
is not the tireless mathematician that he was, if only because his
faith in his personal endowments slackens. He recognizes his
limitations, and in consequence the unimportance of his opinions,
and indeed he recognizes the probable unimportance of all fleshly
matters. So he relinquishes trying to figure out things, and
sceptres and candles appear to him about equivalent; and he is
inclined to give up philosophical experiments, and to let things
pass unplumbed. Oh, yes, it makes a difference." And Jurgen sighed.
"And yet, for all that, it is a relief, sir, in a way."

"Nevertheless," said Koshchei, "now that you have inspected the
flower of womanhood, I cannot soberly believe you prefer your
termagant of a wife."

"Frankly, Prince, I also am, as usual, undecided. You may be right
in all you have urged; and certainly I cannot go so far as to say
you are wrong; but still, at the same time--! Come now, could you
not let me see my first wife for just a moment?"

This was no sooner asked than granted; for there, sure enough, was
Dame Lisa. She was no longer restricted to quiet speech by any
stupendous necromancy: and uncommonly plain she looked, after the
passing of those lovely ladies.

"Aha, you rascal!" begins Dame Lisa, addressing Jurgen; "and so you
thought to be rid of me! Oh, a precious lot you are! and a deal of
thanks I get for my scrimping and slaving!" And she began scolding

But she began, somewhat to Jurgen's astonishment, by stating that he
was even worse than the Countess Dorothy. Then he recollected that,
by not the most disastrous piece of luck conceivable, Dame Lisa's
latest news from the outside world had been rendered by her sister,
the notary's wife, a twelvemonth back.

And rather unaccountably Jurgen fell to thinking of how
unsubstantial seemed these curious months devoted to other women, as
set against the commonplace years which he and Lisa had fretted
through together; of the fine and merry girl that Lisa had been
before she married him; of how well she knew his tastes in cookery
and all his little preferences, and of how cleverly she humored them
on those rare days when nothing had occurred to vex her; of all the
buttons she had replaced, and all the socks she had darned, and of
what tempests had been loosed when anyone else had had the audacity
to criticize Jurgen; and of how much more unpleasant--everything
considered--life was without her than with her. She was so
unattractive looking, too, poor dear, that you could not but be
sorry for her. And Jurgen's mood was half yearning and half

"I think I will take her back, Prince," says Jurgen, very
subdued,--"now that I am forty-and-something. For I do not know but
it is as hard on her as on me."

"My friend, do you forget the poet that you might be, even yet? No
rational person would dispute that the society and amiable chat of
Dame Lisa must naturally be a desideratum--"

But Dame Lisa was always resentful of long words. "Be silent, you
black scoffer, and do not allude to such disgraceful things in the
presence of respectable people! For I am a decent Christian woman, I
would have you understand. But everybody knows your reputation! and
a very fit companion you are for that scamp yonder! and volumes
could not say more!"

Thus casually, and with comparative lenience, did Dame Lisa dispose
of Koshchei, who made things as they are, for she believed him to be
merely Satan. And to her husband Dame Lisa now addressed herself
more particularly.

"Jurgen, I always told you you would come to this, and now I hope
you are satisfied. Jurgen, do not stand there with your mouth open,
like a scared fish, when I ask you a civil question! but answer when
you are spoken to! Yes, and you need not try to look so idiotically
innocent, Jurgen, because I am disgusted with you. For, Jurgen, you
heard perfectly well what your very suitable friend just said about
me, with my own husband standing by. No--now I beg of you!--do not
ask me what he said, Jurgen! I leave that to your conscience, and I
prefer to talk no more about it. You know that when I am once
disappointed in a person I am through with that person. So, very
luckily, there is no need at all for you to pile hypocrisy on
cowardice, because if my own husband has not the feelings of a man,
and cannot protect me from insults and low company, I had best be
going home and getting supper ready. I dare say the house is like a
pig-sty: and I can see by looking at you that you have been ruining
your eyes by reading in bed again. And to think of your going about
in public, even among such associates, with a button off your

She was silent for one terrible moment; then Lisa spoke in frozen

"And now I look at that shirt, I ask you fairly, Jurgen, do you
consider that a man of your age has any right to be going about in a
shirt that nobody--in a shirt which--in a shirt that I can only--Ah,
but I never saw such a shirt! and neither did anybody else! You
simply cannot imagine what a figure you cut in it, Jurgen. Jurgen, I
have been patient with you; I have put up with a great deal, saying
nothing where many women would have lost their temper; but I simply
cannot permit you to select your own clothes, and so ruin the
business and take the bread out of our mouths. In short, you are
enough to drive a person mad; and I warn you that I am done with you

Dame Lisa went with dignity to the door of Koshchei's office.

"So you can come with me or not, precisely as you elect. It is all
one to me, I can assure you, after the cruel things you have said,
and the way you have stormed at me, and have encouraged that
notorious blackamoor to insult me in terms which I, for one, would
not soil my lips by repeating. I do not doubt you consider it is all
very clever and amusing, but you know now what I think about it. And
upon the whole, if you do not feel the exertion will kill you, you
had better come home the long way, and stop by Sister's and ask her
to let you have a half-pound of butter; for I know you too well to
suppose you have been attending to the churning."

Dame Lisa here evinced a stately sort of mirth such as is
unimaginable by bachelors.

"You churning while I was away!--oh, no, not you! There is probably
not so much as an egg in the house. For my lord and gentleman has
had other fish to fry, in his fine new courting clothes. And
that--and on a man of your age, with a paunch to you like a beer
barrel and with legs like pipe-stems!--yes, that infamous shirt of
yours is the reason you had better, for your own comfort, come home
the long way. For I warn you, Jurgen, that the style in which I have
caught you rigged out has quite decided me, before I go home or
anywhere else, to stop by for a word or so with your high and mighty
Madame Dorothy. So you had just as well not be along with me, for
there is no pulling wool over my eyes any longer, and you two need
never think to hoodwink me again about your goings-on. No, Jurgen,
you cannot fool me; for I can read you like a book. And such
behavior, at your time of life, does not surprise me at all, because
it is precisely what I would have expected of you."

With that Dame Lisa passed through the door and went away, still
talking. It was of Heitman Michael's wife that the wife of Jurgen
spoke, discoursing of the personal traits, and of the past doings,
and (with augmented fervor) of the figure and visage of Madame
Dorothy, as all these abominations appeared to the eye of
discernment, and must be revealed by the tongue of candor, as a
matter of public duty.

So passed Dame Lisa, neither as flame nor mist, but as the voice of


Of the Compromise with Koshchei

"Phew!" said Koshchei, in the ensuing silence: "you had better stay
overnight, in any event. I really think, friend, you will be more
comfortable, just now at least, in this quiet cave."

But Jurgen had taken up his hat. "No, I dare say I, too, had better
be going," says Jurgen. "I thank you very heartily for your intended
kindness, sir, still I do not know but it is better as it is. And is
there anything"--Jurgen coughed delicately--"and is there anything
to pay, sir?"

"Oh, just a trifle, first of all, for a year's maintenance of Dame
Lisa. You see, Jurgen, that is an almighty fine shirt you are
wearing: it rather appeals to me; and I fancy, from something your
wife let drop just now, it did not impress her as being quite suited
to you. So, in the interest of domesticity, suppose you ransom Dame
Lisa with that fine shirt of yours?"

"Why, willingly," said Jurgen, and he took off the shirt of Nessus.

"You have worn this for some time, I understand," said Koshchei,
meditatively: "and did you ever notice any inconvenience in wearing
this garment?"

"Not that I could detect, Prince; it fitted me, and seemed to
impress everybody most favorably."

"There!" said Koshchei; "that is what I have always contended. To
the strong man, and to wholesome matter of fact people generally, it
is a fatal irritant; but persons like you can wear the shirt of
Nessus very comfortably for a long, long while, and be generally
admired; and you end by exchanging it for your wife's society. But
now, Jurgen, about yourself. You probably noticed that my door was
marked Keep Out. One must have rules, you know. Often it is a
nuisance, but still rules are rules; and so I must tell you, Jurgen,
it is not permitted any person to leave my presence unmaimed, if not
actually annihilated. One really must have rules, you know."

"You would chop off an arm? or a hand? or a whole finger? Come now,
Prince, you must be joking!"

Koshchei the Deathless was very grave as he sat there, in meditation,
drumming with his long jet-black fingers upon the table-top that was
curiously inlaid with thirty pieces of silver. In the lamplight his
sharp nails glittered like flame points, and the color suddenly
withdrew from his eyes, so that they showed like small white eggs.

"But, man, how strange you are!" said Koshchei, presently; and life
flowed back into his eyes, and Jurgen ventured the liberty of
breathing. "Inside, I mean. Why, there is hardly anything left. Now
rules are rules, of course; but you, who are the remnant of a poet,
may depart unhindered whenever you will, and I shall take nothing
from you. For really it is necessary to draw the line somewhere."

Jurgen meditated this clemency; and with a sick heart he seemed to
understand. "Yes; that is probably the truth; for I have not
retained the faith, nor the desire, nor the vision. Yes, that is
probably the truth. Well, at all events, Prince, I very unfeignedly
admired each of the ladies to whom you were friendly enough to
present me, and I was greatly flattered by their offers. More than
generous I thought them. But it really would not do for me to take
up with any one of them now. For Lisa is my wife, you see. A great
deal has passed between us, sir, in the last ten years--And I have
been a sore disappointment to her, in many ways--And I am used to

Then Jurgen considered, and regarded the black gentleman with
mingled envy and commiseration. "Why, no, you probably would not
understand, sir, on account of your not being, I suppose, a married
person. But I can assure you it is always pretty much like that."

"I lack grounds to dispute your aphorism," observed Koshchei,
"inasmuch as matrimony was certainly not included in my doom. None
the less, to a by-stander, the conduct of you both appears
remarkable. I could not understand, for example, just how your wife
proposed to have you keep out of her sight forever and still have
supper with her to-night; nor why she should desire to sup with such
a reprobate as she described with unbridled pungency and

"Ah, but again, it is always pretty much like that, sir. And the
truth of it, Prince, is a great symbol. The truth of it is, we have
lived together so long that my wife has become rather foolishly fond
of me. So she is not, as one might say, quite reasonable about me.
No, sir; it is the fashion of women to discard civility toward those
for whom they suffer most willingly; and whom a woman loveth she
chasteneth, after a good precedent."

"But her talking, Jurgen, has nowhere any precedent. Why, it deafens,
it appals, it submerges you in an uproarious sea of fault-finding; and
in a word, you might as profitably oppose a hurricane. Yet you want her
back! Now assuredly, Jurgen, I do not think very highly of your wisdom,
but by your bravery I am astounded."

"Ah, Prince, it is because I can perceive that all women are poets,
though the medium they work in is not always ink. So the moment Lisa
is set free from what, in a manner of speaking, sir, inconsiderate
persons might, in their unthinking way, refer to as the terrors of
an underground establishment that I do not for an instant doubt to
be conducted after a system which furthers the true interests of
everybody, and so reflects vast credit upon its officials, if you
will pardon my frankness"--and Jurgen smiled ingratiatingly,--"why,
at that moment Lisa's thoughts take form in very much the high
denunciatory style of Jeremiah and Amos, who were remarkably fine
poets. Her concluding observations as to the Countess, in
particular, I consider to have been an example of sustained
invective such as one rarely encounters in this degenerate age.
Well, her next essay in creative composition is my supper, which
will be an equally spirited impromptu. To-morrow she will darn and
sew me an epic; and her desserts will continue to be in the richest
lyric vein. Such, sir, are the poems of Lisa, all addressed to me,
who came so near to gallivanting with mere queens!"

"What, can it be that you are remorseful?" said Koshchei.

"Oh, Prince, when I consider steadfastly the depth and the intensity
of that devotion which, for so many years, has tended me, and has
endured the society of that person whom I peculiarly know to be the
most tedious and irritating of companions, I stand aghast, before a
miracle. And I cry, Oh, certainly a goddess! and I can think of no
queen who is fairly mentionable in the same breath. Hah, all we
poets write a deal about love: but none of us may grasp the word's
full meaning until he reflects that this is a passion mighty enough
to induce a woman to put up with him."

"Even so, it does not seem to induce quite thorough confidence.
Jurgen, I was grieved to see that Dame Lisa evidently suspects you
of running after some other woman in your wife's absence."

"Think upon that now! And you saw for yourself how little the
handsomest of women could tempt me. Yet even Lisa's absurd notion I
can comprehend and pardon. And again, you probably would not
understand my overlooking such a thing, sir, on account of your not
being a married person. Nevertheless, my forgiveness also is a great

Then Jurgen sighed and he shook hands, very circumspectly, with
Koshchei, who made things as they are; and Jurgen started out of the

"But I will bear you company a part of the way," says Koshchei.

So Koshchei removed his dressing-gown, and he put on the fine laced
coat which was hung over the back of a strange looking chair with
three legs, each of a different metal; the shirt of Nessus Koshchei
folded and put aside, saying that some day he might be able to use
it somehow. And Koshchei paused before the blackboard and he
scratched his head reflectively. Jurgen saw that this board was
nearly covered with figures which had not yet been added up; and
this blackboard seemed to him the most frightful thing he had faced

Then Koshchei came out of the cave with Jurgen, and Koshchei walked
with Jurgen across Amneran Heath, and through Morven, in the late
evening. And Koshchei talked as they went; and a queer thing Jurgen
noticed, and it was that the moon was sinking in the east, as though
the time were getting earlier and earlier. But Jurgen did not
presume to criticize this, in the presence of Koshchei, who made
things as they are.

"And I manage affairs as best I can, Jurgen. But they get in a
fearful muddle sometimes. Eh, sirs, I have no competent assistants.
I have to look out for everything, absolutely everything! And of
course, while in a sort of way I am infallible, mistakes will occur
every now and then in the actual working out of plans that in the
abstract are right enough. So it really does please me to hear
anybody putting in a kind word for things as they are, because,
between ourselves, there is a deal of dissatisfaction about. And I
was honestly delighted, just now, to hear you speaking up for evil
in the face of that rapscallion monk. So I give you thanks and many
thanks, Jurgen, for your kind word."

"'Just now!'" thinks Jurgen. He perceived that they had passed the
Cistercian Abbey, and were approaching Bellegarde. And it was as in
a dream that Jurgen was speaking, _"Who are you, and why do you
thank me?"_ asks Jurgen.

_"My name is no great matter. But you have a kind heart, Jurgen.
May your life lie free from care."_

_"Save us from hurt and harm, friend, but I am already married_--"
Then resolutely Jurgen put aside the spell that was befogging him.
"See here, Prince, are you beginning all over again? For I really
cannot stand any more of your benevolences."

Koshchei smiled. "No, Jurgen, I am not beginning all over again. For
now I have never begun, and now there is no word of truth in
anything which you remember of the year just past. Now none of these
things has ever happened."

"But how can that be, Prince?"

"Why should I tell you, Jurgen? Let it suffice that what I will, not
only happens, but has already happened, beyond the ancientest memory
of man and his mother. How otherwise could I be Koshchei? And so
farewell to you, poor Jurgen, to whom nothing in particular has
happened now. It is not justice I am giving you, but something
infinitely more acceptable to you and all your kind."

"But, to be sure!" says Jurgen. "I fancy that nobody anywhere cares
much for justice. So farewell to you, Prince. And at our parting I
ask no more questions of you, for I perceive it is scant comfort a
man gets from questioning Koshchei, who made things as they are. But
I am wondering what pleasure you get out of it all?"

"Eh, sirs," says Koshchei, with not the most candid of smiles, "I
contemplate the spectacle with appropriate emotions."

And so speaking, Koshchei quitted Jurgen forever.

"Yet how may I be sure," thought Jurgen, instantly, "that this black
gentleman was really Koshchei? He said he was? Why, yes; and
Horvendile to all intents told me that Horvendile was Koshchei. Aha,
and what else did Horvendile say!--'This is one of the romancer's
most venerable devices that is being practised.' Why, but there was
Smoit of Glathion, also, so that this is the third time I have been
fobbed off with the explanation I was dreaming! and left with no
proof, one way or the other."

Thus Jurgen, indignantly, and then he laughed. "Why, but, of course!
I may have talked face to face with Koshchei, who made all things as
they are; and again, I may not have. That is the whole point of
it--the cream, as one might say, of the jest--that I cannot ever be
sure. Well!"--and Jurgen shrugged here--"well, and what could I be
expected to do about it?"


The Moment That Did Not Count

And that is really all the story save for the moment Jurgen paused
on his way home. For Koshchei (if it, indeed, was Koshchei) had
quitted Jurgen just as they approached Bellegarde: and as the
pawnbroker walked on alone in the pleasant April evening one called
to him from the terrace. Even in the dusk he knew this was the
Countess Dorothy.

"May I speak with you a moment?" says she.

"Very willingly, madame." And Jurgen ascended from the highway to
the terrace.

"I thought it would be near your supper hour. So I was waiting here
until you passed. You conceive, it is not quite convenient for me to
seek you out at the shop."

"Why, no, madame. There is a prejudice," said Jurgen, soberly. And
he waited.

He saw that Madame Dorothy was perfectly composed, yet anxious to
speed the affair. "You must know," said she, "that my husband's
birthday approaches, and I wish to surprise him with a gift. It is
therefore necessary that I raise some money without troubling him.
How much--abominable usurer!--could you advance me upon this

Jurgen turned it in his hand. It was a handsome piece of jewelry,
familiar to him as formerly the property of Heitman Michael's
mother. Jurgen named a sum.

"But that," the Countess says, "is not a fraction of its worth!"

"Times are very hard, madame. Of course, if you cared to sell
outright I could deal more generously."

"Old monster, I could not do that. It would not be convenient." She
hesitated here. "It would not be explicable."

"As to that, madame, I could make you an imitation in paste which
nobody could distinguish from the original, I can amply understand
that you desire to veil from your husband any sacrifices that are
entailed by your affection."

"It is my affection for him," said the Countess quickly.

"I alluded to your affection for him," said Jurgen--"naturally."

Then Countess Dorothy named a price for the necklace. "For it is
necessary I have that much, and not a penny less." And Jurgen shook
his head dubiously, and vowed that ladies were unconscionable
bargainers: but Jurgen agreed to what she asked, because the
necklace was worth almost as much again. Then Jurgen suggested that
the business could be most conveniently concluded through an

"If Messire de Nerac, for example, could have matters explained to
him, and could manage to visit me tomorrow, I am sure we could carry
through this amiable imposture without any annoyance whatever to
Heitman Michael," says Jurgen, smoothly.

"Nerac will come then," says the Countess. "And you may give him the
money, precisely as though it were for him."

"But certainly, madame. A very estimable young nobleman, that! and
it is a pity his debts are so large. I heard that he had lost
heavily at dice within the last month; and I grieved, madame."

"He has promised me when these debts are settled to play no
more--But again what am I saying! I mean, Master Inquisitive, that I
take considerable interest in the welfare of Messire de Nerac: and
so I have sometimes chided him on his wild courses. And that is all
I mean."

"Precisely, madame. And so Messire de Nerac will come to me to-morrow
for the money: and there is no more to say."

Jurgen paused. The moon was risen now. These two sat together upon a
bench of carved stone near the balustrade: and before them, upon the
other side of the highway, were luminous valleys and tree-tops.
Fleetingly Jurgen recollected the boy and girl who had once sat in
this place, and had talked of all the splendid things which Jurgen
was to do, and of the happy life that was to be theirs together.
Then he regarded the composed and handsome woman beside him, and he
considered that the money to pay her latest lover's debts had been
assured with a suitable respect for appearances.

"Come, but this is a gallant lady, who would defy the almanac,"
reflected Jurgen. "Even so, thirty-eight is an undeniable and
somewhat autumnal figure, and I suspect young Nerac is bleeding
his elderly mistress. Well, but at his age nobody has a conscience.
Yes, and Madame Dorothy is handsome still; and still my pulse is
playing me queer tricks, because she is near me, and my voice has
not the intonation I intend, because she is near me; and still I am
three-quarters in love with her. Yes, in the light of such cursed
folly as even now possesses me, I have good reason to give thanks
for the regained infirmities of age. Yet living seems to me a
wasteful and inequitable process, for this is a poor outcome for
the boy and girl that I remember. And weighing this outcome, I am
tempted to weep and to talk romantically, even now."

But he did not. For really, weeping was not requisite. Jurgen was
making his fair profit out of the Countess's folly, and it was
merely his duty to see that this little business transaction was
managed without any scandal.

"So there is nothing more to say," observed Jurgen, as he rose in
the moonlight, "save that I shall always be delighted to serve you,
madame, and I may reasonably boast that I have earned a reputation
for fair dealing."

And he thought: "In effect, since certainly as she grows older she
will need yet more money for her lovers, I am offering to pimp for
her." Then Jurgen shrugged. "That is one side of the affair. The
other is that I transact my legitimate business,--I, who am that
which the years have made of me."

Thus it was that Jurgen quitted the Countess Dorothy, whom, as you
have heard, this pawnbroker had loved in his first youth under the
name of Heart's Desire; and whom in the youth that was loaned him by
Mother Sereda he had loved as Queen Helen, the delight of gods and
men. For Jurgen was quitting Madame Dorothy after the simplest of
business transactions, which consumed only a moment, and did not
actually count one way or the other.

And after this moment which did not count, the pawnbroker resumed
his journey, and so came presently to his home. He peeped through
the window. And there in a snug room, with supper laid, sat Dame
Lisa about some sewing, and evidently in a quite amiable frame of

Then terror smote the Jurgen who had faced sorcerers and gods and
devils intrepidly. "For I forgot about the butter!"

But immediately afterward he recollected that, now, not even what
Lisa had said to him in the cave was real. Neither he nor Lisa, now,
had ever been in the cave, and probably there was no longer any such
place, and now there never had been any such place. It was rather

"Ah, but I must remember carefully," said Jurgen, "that I have not
seen Lisa since breakfast, this morning. Nothing whatever has
happened. There has been no requirement laid upon me, after all, to
do the manly thing. So I retain my wife, such as she is, poor dear!
I retain my home. I retain my shop and a fair line of business. Yes,
Koshchei--if it was really Koshchei--has dealt with me very justly.
And probably his methods are everything they should be; certainly I
cannot go so far as to say that they are wrong: but still, at the
same time--!"

Then Jurgen sighed, and entered his snug home. Thus it was in the
old days.


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