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  • 1921
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fatal dealings with the Duke of Istria and the Prince of Camwy and three or four other lords. So the ship-captains whom Dom Manuel first approached preferred not to venture among the Red Islands. Then the Jewish master of a trading vessel–a lean man called Ahasuerus–said, “Who forbids it?” and carried them uneventfully from Novogath to Sargyll. They narrate how Oriander the Swimmer followed after the yellow ship, but he attempted no hurt against Manuel, at least not for that turn.

Thus Manuel came again to Freydis. He had his first private talk with her in a room that was hung with black and gold brocade. White mats lay upon the ground, and placed irregularly about the room were large brass vases filled with lotus blossoms. Here Freydis sat on a three-legged stool, in conference with a panther. From the ceiling hung rigid blue and orange and reddish-brown serpents, all dead and embalmed; and in the middle of the ceiling was painted a face which was not quite human, looking downward, with evil eyes half closed, and with its mouth half open in discomfortable laughter.

Freydis was clad in scarlet completely, and, as has been said, a golden panther was talking to her when Dom Manuel came in. She at once dismissed the beast, which smiled amicably at Dom Manuel, and then arched high its back in the manner of all the cat tribe, and so flattened out into a thin transparent goldness, and, flickering, vanished upward as a flame leaves a lampwick.

“Well, well, you bade me come to you, dear friend, when I had need of you,” says Manuel, very cordially shaking hands, “and nobody’s need could be more great than mine.”

“Different people have different needs,” Freydis replied, rather gravely, “but all passes in this world.”

“Friendship, however, does not pass, I hope.”

She answered slowly: “It is we who pass, so that the young Manuel whom I loved in a summer that is gone, is nowadays as perished as that summer’s gay leaves. What, grizzled fighting-man, have you to do with that young Manuel who had comeliness and youth and courage, but no human pity and no constant love? and why should I be harboring his lighthearted mischiefs against you? Ah, no, gray Manuel, you are quite certain no woman would do that; and people say you are shrewd. So I bid you very welcome to Sargyll, where my will is the only law.”

“You at least have not changed,” Dom Manuel replied, with utter truth, “for you appear today, if anything, more fair and young than you were that first night upon Morven when I evoked you from tall flames to lend life to the image I had made. Well, that seems now a lengthy while ago, and I make no more images.”

“Your wife would be considering it a waste of time,” Queen Freydis estimated.

“No, that is not quite the way it is. For Niafer is the dearest and most dutiful of women, and she never crosses my wishes in anything.”

Freydis now smiled a little, for she saw that Manuel believed he was speaking veraciously. “At all events,” said Freydis, “it is a queer thing surely that in the month which is to come the stork will be fetching your second child to a woman resting under my roof and in my golden bed. Yes, Thurinel has just been telling me of your plan, and it is a queer thing. Yet it is a far queerer thing that your first child, whom no stork fetched nor had any say in shaping, but whom you made of clay to the will of your proud youth and in your proud youth’s likeness, should be limping about the world somewhere in the appearance of a strapping tall young fellow, and that you should know nothing about his doings.”

“Ah! what have you heard? and what do you know about him, Freydis?”

“I suspicion many things, gray Manuel, by virtue of my dabblings in that gray art which makes neither for good nor evil.”

“Yes,” said Manuel, practically, “but what do you know?”

She took his hand again. “I know that in Sargyll, where my will is the only law, you are welcome, false friend and very faithless lover.”

He could get no more out of her, as they stood there under the painted face which looked down upon them with discomfortable laughter.

So Manuel and Niafer remained at Sargyll until the baby should be delivered. King Ferdinand, then in the midst of another campaign against the Moors, could do nothing for his vassal just now. But glittering messengers came from Raymond Berenger, and from King Helmas, and from Queen Stultitia, each to discuss this and that possible alliance and aid by and by. Everybody was very friendly if rather vague. But Manuel for the present considered only Niafer and the baby that was to come, and he let statecraft bide.

Then two other ships, that were laden with Duke Asmund’s men, came also, in an attempt to capture Manuel: so Freydis despatched a sending which caused these soldiers to run about the decks howling like wolves, and to fling away their swords and winged helmets, and to fight one against the other with hands and teeth until all were slain.

The month passed thus uneventfully. And Niafer and Freydis became the best and most intimate of friends, and their cordiality to each other could not but have appeared to the discerning rather ominous.

“She seems to be a very good-hearted sort of a person,” Niafer conceded, in matrimonial privacy, “though certainly she is rather queer. Why, Manuel, she showed me this afternoon ten of the drollest figures to which–but, no, you would never guess it in the world,–to which she is going to give life some day, just as you did to me when you got my looks and legs and pretty much everything else all wrong.”

“When does she mean to quicken them?” Dom Manuel asked: and he added, “Not that I did, dear snip, but I shall not argue about it.”

“Why, that is the droll part of it, and I can quite understand your unwillingness to admit how little you had remembered about me. When the man who made them has been properly rewarded, she said, with, Manuel, the most appalling expression you ever saw.”

“What were these images like?” asked Dom Manuel.

Niafer described them: she described them unsympathetically, but there was no doubt they were the images which Manuel had left unquickened upon Upper Morven.

Manuel nodded, smiled, and said: “So the man who made these images is to be properly rewarded! Well, that is encouraging, for true merit should always be rewarded.”

“But, Manuel, if you had seen her look! and seen what horrible misshapen creatures they were–!”

“Nonsense!” said Manuel, stoutly: “you are a dear snip, but that does not make you a competent critic of either physiognomy or sculpture.”

So he laughed the matter aside; and this, as it happened, was the last that Dom Manuel heard of the ten images which he had made upon Upper Morven. But they of Poictesme declared that Queen Freydis did give life to these figures, each at a certain hour, and that her wizardry set them to live as men among mankind, with no very happy results, because these images differed from naturally begotten persons by having inside them a spark of the life of Audela.

Thus Manuel and his wife came uneventfully to August; all the while there was never a more decorous or more thoughtful hostess than Queen Freydis; and nobody would have suspected that sorcery underlay the running of her household. It was only through Dom Manuel’s happening to arise very early one morning, at the call of nature, that he chanced to be passing through the hall when, at the moment of sunrise, the night-porter turned into an orange-colored rat, and crept into the wainscoting: and Manuel of course said nothing about this to anybody, because it was none of his affair.

[Illustration]

XXVIII

How Melicent Was Welcomed

So the month passed prosperously and uneventfully, while the servitors of Queen Freydis behaved in every respect as if they were human beings: and at the end of the month the stork came.

Manuel and Niafer, it happened, were fishing on the river bank rather late that evening, when they saw the great bird approaching, high overhead, all glistening white in the sunset, except for his thin scarlet legs and the blue shadowings in the hollows of his wings. From his beak depended a largish bundle, in pale blue wrappings, so that at a glance they knew the stork was bringing a girl.

Statelily the bird lighted on the window sill, as though he were quite familiar with this way of entering Manuel’s bedroom, and the bird went in, carrying the child. This was a high and happy moment for the fond parents as they watched him, and they kissed each other rather solemnly.

Then Niafer left Manuel to get together the fishing tackle, and she hastened into the house to return to the stork the first of his promissory notes in exchange for the baby. And as Manuel was winding up the lines, Queen Freydis came to him, for she too had seen the stork’s approach; and was, she said, with a grave smile, well pleased that the affair was settled.

“For now the stork has come, yet others may come,” says Freydis, “and we shall celebrate the happy event with a gay feast this night in honor of your child.”

“That is very kind and characteristic of you,” said Manuel, “but I suppose you will be wanting me to make a speech, and I am quite unprepared.”

“No, we will have none of your high-minded and devastating speeches at our banquet. No, for your place is with your wife. No, Manuel, you are not bidden to this feast, for all that it is to do honor to your child. No, no, gray Manuel, you must remain upstairs this evening and throughout the night, because this feast is for them that serve me: and you do not serve me any longer, and the ways of them that serve me are not your ways.”

“Ah!” says Manuel, “so there is sorcery afoot! Yes, Freydis, I have quite given over that sort of thing. And while not for a moment would I seem to be criticizing anybody, I hope before long to see you settling down, with some fine solid fellow, and forsaking these empty frivolities for the higher and real pleasures of life.”

“And what are these delights, gray Manuel?”

“The joy that is in the sight of your children playing happily about your hearth, and developing into honorable men and gracious women, and bringing their children in turn to cluster about your tired old knees, as the winter evenings draw in, and in the cosy fire-light you smile across the curly heads of these children’s children at the dear wrinkled white-haired face of your beloved and time-tested helpmate, and are satisfied, all in all, with your life, and know that, by and large, Heaven has been rather undeservedly kind to you,” says Manuel, sighing. “Yes, Freydis, yes, you may believe me that such are the real joys of life; and that such pleasures are more profitably pursued than are the idle gaieties of sorcery and witchcraft, which indeed at our age, if you will permit me to speak thus frankly, dear friend, are hardly dignified.”

Freydis shook her proud dark head. Her smiling was grim.

“Decidedly, I shall not ever understand you. Doddering patriarch, do you not comprehend you are already discoursing about a score or two of grandchildren on the ground of having a five-minute-old daughter, whom you have not yet seen? Nor is that child’s future, it may be, yours to settle–But go to your wife, for this is Niafer’s man who is talking, and not mine. Go up, Methuselah, and behold the new life which you have created and cannot control!”

Manuel went to Niafer, and found her sewing. “My dear, this will not do at all, for you ought to be in bed with the newborn child, as is the custom with the mothers of Philistia.”

“What nonsense!” says Niafer, “when I have to be changing every one of the pink bows on Melicent’s caps for blue bows.”

“Still, Niafer, it is eminently necessary for us to be placating the Philistines in all respects, in this delicate matter of your having a baby.”

Niafer grumbled, but obeyed. She presently lay in the golden bed of Freydis: then Manuel duly looked at the contents of the small heaving bundle at Niafer’s side: and whether or no he scaled the conventional peaks of emotion was nobody’s concern save Manuel’s. He began, in any event, to talk in the vein which fathers ordinarily feel such high occasions to demand. But Niafer, who was never romantic nowadays, merely said that, anyhow, it was a blessing it was all over, and that she hoped, now, they would soon be leaving Sargyll.

“But Freydis is so kind, my dear,” said Manuel, “and so fond of you!”

“I never in my life,” declared Niafer, “knew anybody to go off so terribly in their looks as that two-faced cat has done since the first time I saw her prancing on her tall horse and rolling her snake eyes at you. As for being fond of me, I trust her exactly as far as I can see her.”

“Yet, Niafer, I have heard you declare, time and again–“

“But if you did, Manuel, one has to be civil.”

Manuel shrugged, discreetly. “You women!” he observed, discreetly.

“–As if it were not as plain as the nose on her face–and I do not suppose that even you, Manuel, will be contending she has a really good nose,–that the woman is simply itching to make a fool of you, and to have everybody laughing at you, again! Manuel, I declare I have no patience with you when you keep arguing about such unarguable facts!”

Manuel, exercising augmented discretion, now said nothing whatever.

“–And you may talk yourself black in the face, Manuel, but nevertheless I am going to name the child Melicent, after my own mother, as soon as a priest can be fetched from the mainland to christen her. No, Manuel, it is all very well for your dear friend to call herself a gray witch, but I do not notice any priests coming to this house unless they are especially sent for, and I draw my own conclusions.”

“Well, well, let us not argue about it, my dear.”

“Yes, but who started all this arguing and fault-finding, I would like to know!”

“Why, to be sure I did. But I spoke without thinking. I was wrong. I admit it. So do not excite yourself, dear snip.”

“–And as if I could help the child’s not being a boy!”

“But I never said–“

“No, but you keep thinking it, and sulking is the one thing I cannot stand. No, Manuel, no, I do not complain, but I do think that, after all I have been through with, sleeping around in tents, and running away from Northmen, and never having a moment’s comfort, after I had naturally figured on being a real countess–” Niafer whimpered sleepily.

“Yes, yes,” says Manuel, stroking her soft crinkly hair.

“–And with that silky hell-cat watching me all the time,–and looking ten years younger than I do, now that you have got my face and legs all wrong,–and planning I do not know what–“

“Yes, to be sure,” says Manuel, soothingly: “you are quite right, my dear.”

So a silence fell, and presently Niafer slept. Manuel sat with hunched shoulders, watching the wife he had fetched back from paradise at the price of his youth. His face was grave, his lips were puckered and protruded. He smiled by and by, and he shook his head. He sighed, not as one who is grieved, but like a man perplexed and a little weary.

Now some while after Niafer was asleep, and when the night was fairly advanced, you could hear a whizzing and a snorting in the air. Manuel went to the window, and lifted the scarlet curtain figured with ramping gold dragons, and he looked out, to find a vast number of tiny bluish lights skipping about confusedly and agilely in the darkness, like shining fleas. These approached the river bank, and gathered there. Then the assembled lights began to come toward the house. You could now see these lights were carried by dwarfs who had the eyes of owls and the long beaks of storks. These dwarfs were jumping and dancing about Freydis like an insane body-guard.

Freydis walked among them very remarkably attired. Upon her head shone the uraeus crown, and she carried a long rod of cedar-wood topped with an apple carved in bluestone, and at her side came the appearance of a tall young man.

So they all approached the house, and the young man looked up fixedly at the unlighted window, as though he were looking at Manuel. The young man smiled: his teeth gleamed in the blue glare. Then the whole company entered the house, and from Manuel’s station at the window you could see no more, but you could hear small prancing hoof-beats downstairs and the clattering of plates and much whinnying laughter. Manuel was plucking irresolutely at his grizzled short beard, for there was no doubt as to the strapping tall young fellow.

Presently you could hear music: it was the ravishing Nis air, which charms the mind into sweet confusion and oblivion, and Manuel did not make any apparent attempt to withstand its wooing. He hastily undressed, knelt for a decorous interval, and climbed vexedly into bed.

XXIX

Sesphra of the Dreams

In the morning Dom Manuel arose early, and left Niafer still sleeping with the baby. Manuel came down through the lower hall, where the table was as the revelers had left it. In the middle of the disordered room stood a huge copper vessel half full of liquor, and beside it was a drinking-horn of gold. Manuel paused here, and drank of the sweet heather-wine as though he had need to hearten himself.

He went out into the bright windy morning, and as he crossed the fields he came up behind a red cow who was sitting upon her haunches, intently reading a largish book bound in green leather, but at sight of Manuel she hastily put aside the volume, and began eating grass. Manuel went on, without comment, toward the river bank, to meet the image which he had made of clay, and to which through unholy arts he had given life.

The thing came up out of the glistening ripples of brown water, and the thing embraced Manuel and kissed him. “I am pagan,” the thing said, in a sweet mournful voice, “and therefore I might not come to you until your love was given to the unchristened. For I was not ever christened, and so my true name is not known to anybody. But in the far lands where I am worshipped as a god I am called Sesphra of the Dreams.”

“I did not give you any name,” said Manuel; and then he said: “Sesphra, you that have the appearance of Alianora and of my youth! Sesphra, how beautiful you are!”

“Is that why you are trembling, Manuel?”

“I tremble because the depths of my being have been shaken. Since youth went out of me, in the high woods of Dun Vlechlan, I have lived through days made up of small frettings and little pleasures and only half earnest desires, which moved about upon the surface of my being like minnows in the shoals of a still lake. But now that I have seen and heard you, Sesphra of the Dreams, and your lips have touched my lips, a passion moves in me that possesses all of me, and I am frightened.”

“It is the passion which informs those who make images. It is the master you denied, poor foolish Manuel, and the master who will take no denial.”

“Sesphra, what is your will with me?”

“It is my will that you and I go hence on a long journey, into the far lands where I am worshipped as a god. For I love you, my creator, who gave life to me, and you love me more than aught else, and it is not right that we be parted.”

“I cannot go on any journey, just now, for I have my lands and castles to regain, and my wife and my newborn child to protect.”

Sesphra began to smile adorably: you saw that his teeth were strangely white and very strong. “What are these things to me or you, or to anyone that makes images? We follow after our own thinking and our own desires.”

“I lived thus once upon a time,” said Manuel, sighing, “but nowadays there is a bond upon me to provide for my wife, and for my child too, and I have not much leisure left for anything else.”

Then Sesphra began to speak adorably, as he walked on the river bank, with one arm about Dom Manuel. Always Sesphra limped as he walked. A stiff and obdurate wind was ruffling the broad brown shining water, and as they walked, this wind buffeted them, and tore at their clothing. Manuel clung to his hat with one hand, and with the other held to lame Sesphra of the Dreams. Sesphra talked of matters not to be recorded.

“That is a handsome ring you have there,” says Sesphra, by and by.

“It is the ring my wife gave me when we were married,” Manuel replied.

“Then you must give it to me, dear Manuel.”

“No, no, I cannot part with it.”

“But it is beautiful, and I want it,” Sesphra said. So Manuel gave him the ring.

Now Sesphra began again to talk of matters not to be recorded.

“Sesphra of the Dreams,” says Manuel, presently, “you are bewitching me, for when I listen to you I see that Manuel’s imperilled lands make such a part of earth as one grain of sand contributes to the long narrow beach we are treading. I see my fond wife Niafer as a plain-featured and dull woman, not in any way remarkable among the millions of such women as are at this moment preparing breakfast or fretting over other small tasks. I see my newborn child as a mewing lump of flesh. And I see Sesphra whom I made so strong and strange and beautiful, and it is as if in a half daze I hear that obdurate wind commingled with the sweet voice of Sesphra while you are talking of matters which it is not safe to talk about.”

“Yes, that is the way it is, Manuel, and the way it should be, and the way it always will be as long as life is spared to you, now. So let us go into the house, and write droll letters to King Helmas and Raymond Berenger and Queen Stultitia, in reply to the fine offers they have been making you.”

They came back into the empty banquet-hall. This place was paved with mother of pearl and copper; six porphyry columns supported the musicians’ gallery. To the other end were two alabaster urns upon green pedestals that were covered with golden writing in the old Dirgham.

Here Manuel cleared away the embossed silver plates from one corner of the table. He took pen and ink, and Sesphra told him what to write.

Sesphra sat with arms folded, and as he dictated he looked up at the ceiling. This ceiling was of mosaic work, showing four winged creatures that veiled their faces with crimson and orange-tawny wings; suspended from this ceiling by bronze chains hung ostrich eggs, bronze lamps and globes of crystal.

“But these are very insulting replies,” observed Dom Manuel, when he had finished writing, “and they will make their recipients furious. These princes, Sesphra, are my good friends, and they are powerful friends, upon whose favor I am dependent.”

“Yes, but how beautiful these replies are worded! See now, dear Manuel, how divertingly you have described King Helmas’ hideous nose in your letter to King Helmas, and how trenchant is that paragraph about the scales of his mermaid wife–“

“I admit that passage is rather droll–“

“–And in your letter to the pious Queen Stultitia that which you say about the absurdities of religion, here, and the fun you make of her spectacles, are masterpieces of paradox and of very exquisite prose–“

“Those bits, to be sure, are quite neatly put–“

“–So I must see to it that these replies are sent, to make people admire you everywhere.”

“Yet, Sesphra, all these princes are my friends, and their goodwill is necessary to me–“

“No, Manuel. For you and I will not bother about these stupid princes any more, nor will you need any friends except me; for we will go to this and that remote strange place, and our manner of living will be such and such, and we will do so and so, and we will travel everywhither and see the ends of this world and judge them. And we will not ever be parted until you die.”

“What will you do then, dear Sesphra?” Manuel asks him fondly.

“I shall survive you, as all gods outlive their creators. And I must depute the building of your monument to men of feeble minds which have been properly impaired by futile studies and senility. That is the way in which all gods are doomed to deal with their creators: but that need not trouble us as yet.”

“No,” Manuel said, “I cannot go with you. For in my heart is enkindling such love of you as frightens me.”

“It is through love men win to happiness, poor lonely Manuel.”

Now when Manuel answered Sesphra there was in Manuel’s face trouble and bewilderment. And Manuel said:

“Under your dear bewitchments, Sesphra, I confess that through love men win to sick disgust and self-despising, and for that reason I will not love any more. Now breathlessly the tall lads run to clutch at stars, above the brink of a drab quagmire, and presently time trips them–Oh, Sesphra, wicked Sesphra of the Dreams, you have laid upon me a magic so strong that, horrified, I hear the truth come babbling from long-guarded lips which no longer obey me, because of your dear bewitchments.

“Look you, adorable and all-masterful Sesphra, I have followed noble loves. I aspired to the Unattainable Princess, and thereafter to the unattainable Queen of a race that is more fine and potent than our race, and afterward I would have no less a love than an unattainable angel in paradise. Hah, I must be fit mate for that which is above me, was my crying in the old days; and such were the indomitable desires that one by one have made my living wonderful with dear bewitchments.

“The devil of it was that these proud aims did not stay unattained! Instead, I was cursed by getting my will, and always my reward was nothing marvelous and rare, but that quite ordinary figure of earth, a human woman. And always in some dripping dawn I have turned with abhorrence from myself and from the sated folly that had hankered for such prizes, which, when possessed, showed as not wonderful in anything, and which possession left likable enough, but stripped of dear bewitchments.

“No, Sesphra, no: men are so made that they must desire to mate with some woman or another, and they are furthermore so made that to mate with a woman does not content their desire. And in this gaming there is no gain, because the end of loving, for everybody except those lucky persons whose love is not requited, must always be a sick disgust and a self-despising, which the wise will conduct in silence, and not talk about as I am talking now under your dear bewitchments.”

Then Sesphra smiled a little, saying, “And yet, poor Manuel, there is, they tell me, no more uxorious husband anywhere.”

“I am used to her,” Manuel replied, forlornly, “and I suppose that if she were taken away from me again I would again be attempting to fetch her back. And I do not like to hurt the poor foolish heart of her by going against her foolish notions. Besides, I am a little afraid of her, because she is always able to make me uncomfortable. And above all, of course, the hero of a famous love-affair, such as ours has become, with those damned poets everywhere making rhymes about my fidelity and devotion, has to preserve appearances. So I get through each day, somehow, by never listening very attentively to the interminable things she tells me about. But I often wonder, as I am sure all husbands wonder, why Heaven ever made a creature so tedious and so unreasonably dull of wit and so opinionated. And when I think that for the rest of time this creature is to be my companion I usually go out and kill somebody. Then I come back, because she knows the way I like my toast.”

“Instead, dear Manuel, you must go away from this woman who does not understand you–“

“Yes,” Manuel said, with grave conviction, “that is exactly the trouble.”

“–And you must go with me who understand you all through. And we will travel everywhither, so that we may see the ends of this world and judge them.”

“You tempt me, Sesphra, with an old undying desire, and you have laid strong enchantments on me, but, no, I cannot go with you.”

The hand of Sesphra closed upon the hand of Manuel caressingly.

Manuel said: “I will go with you. But what will become of the woman and the child whom I leave behind me unfriended?”

“That is true. There will be nobody to look out for them, and they will perish miserably. That is not important, but perhaps upon the whole it would be better for you to kill them before we depart from Sargyll.”

“Very well, then,” says Manuel, “I will do that, but you must come up into the room with me, for I cannot bear to lose sight of you.”

Now Sesphra smiled more unrestrainedly, and his teeth gleamed. “I shall not ever leave you now until you die.”

[Illustration]

XXX

Farewell to Freydis

They went upstairs together, into the room with scarlet hangings, and to the golden bed where, with seven sorts of fruit properly arranged at the bedside, Dom Manuel’s wife Niafer lay asleep. Manuel drew his dagger. Niafer turned in her sleep, so that she seemed to offer her round small throat to the raised knife. You saw now that on the other side of the golden bed sat Queen Freydis, making a rich glow of color there, and in her lap was the newborn naked child.

Freydis rose, holding the child to her breast, and smiling. A devil might smile thus upon contriving some new torment for lost souls, but a fair woman’s face should not be so cruel. Then this evil joy passed from the face of Freydis. She dipped her fingers into the bowl of water with which she had been bathing the child, and with her finger-tips she made upon the child’s forehead the sign of a cross.

Said Freydis, “Melicent, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Sesphra passed wildly toward the fireplace, crying, “A penny, a penny, twopence, a penny and a half, and a halfpenny!” At his call the fire shot forth tall flames, and Sesphra entered these flames as a man goes between parted curtains, and instantly the fire collapsed and was as it had been. Already the hands of Freydis were moving deftly in the Sleep Charm, so that Niafer did not move. Freydis to-day was resplendently robed in flame-colored silk, and about her dark hair was a circlet of burnished copper.

Manuel had dropped his dagger so that the point of it pierced the floor, and the weapon stood erect and quivering. But Manuel was shaken for a moment more horribly than shook the dagger: you would have said he was convulsed with horror and self-loathing. So for an instant he waited, looking at Dame Niafer, who slept untroubled, and at fiery-colored Freydis, who was smiling rather queerly: and then the old composure came back to Manuel.

“Breaker of all oaths,” says Freydis, “I must tell you that this Sesphra is pagan, and cannot thrive except among those whose love is given to the unchristened. Thus he might not come to Sargyll until the arrival of this little heathen whom I have just made Christian. Now we have only Christian terrors here; and again your fate is in my hands.”

Dom Manuel looked grave. “Freydis,” he said, “you have rescued me from very unbecoming conduct. A moment more and I would have slain my wife and child because of this Sesphra’s resistless magic.”

Says Freydis, still smiling a queer secret smile: “Indeed, there is no telling into what folly and misery Sesphra would not have led you. For you fashioned his legs unevenly, and he has not ever pardoned you his lameness.”

“The thing is a devil,” Manuel said. “And this is the figure I desired to make, this is the child of my long dreams and labors! This is the creature I designed to be more admirable and significant than the drab men I found in streets and lanes and palaces! Certainly, I have loosed among mankind a blighting misery which I cannot control at all.”

“The thing is you as you were once, gray Manuel. You had comeliness and wit and youth and courage, and these you gave the image, shaping it boldly to your proud youth’s will and in your proud youth’s likeness. But human pity and any constant love you did not then have to give, either to your fellows or to the fine figure you made, nor, very certainly, to me. So you amused yourself by making Sesphra and by making me that which we are to-day.”

Now again showed subtly evil thoughts in the face of this shrewd flaming woman who had so recently brought about the destruction of King Thibaut, and of the Duke of Istria, and of those other enamored lords. And Dom Manuel began to regard her more intently.

In Manuel’s sandals the average person would have reflected, long before this, that Manuel and his wife and child were in this sorcerous place at the mercy of the whims and the unwholesome servitors of this not very dependable looking witch-woman. The average person would have recollected distastefully that unusual panther and that discomfortable night-porter and the madness which had smitten Duke Asmund’s men, and the clattering vicious little hoofs of the shrill dwarfs; and to the average person this room would have seemed a desirable place to be many leagues away from.

But candid blunt Dom Manuel said, with jovial laughter: “You speak as if you had not grown more adorable every day, dear Freydis, and as though I would not be vastly flattered to think I had any part in the improvement. You should not fish thus unblushingly for compliments.”

The sombre glitterings that were her eyes had narrowed, and she was looking at his hands. Then Freydis said: “There are pin-points of sweat upon the back of your hands, gray Manuel, and so alone do I know that you are badly frightened. Yes, you are rather wonderful, even now.”

“I am not unduly frightened, but I am naturally upset by what has just happened. Anybody would be. For I do not know what I must anticipate in the future, and I wish that I had never meddled in this mischancy business of creating things I cannot manage.”

Queen Freydis moved in shimmering splendor toward the fireplace. She paused there, considerately looking down at the small contention of flames. “Did you not, though, again create much misery when for your pleasure you gave life to this girl child? Certainly you must know that there will be in her life–if life indeed be long spared to her,” said Freydis, reflectively,–“far less of joy than of sorrow, for that is the way it is with the life of everybody. But all this likewise is out of your hands. In Sesphra and in the child and in me you have lightly created that which you cannot control. No, it is I who control the outcome.”

Now a golden panther came quite noiselessly into the room, and sat to the right of Freydis, and looked at Dom Manuel.

“Why, to be sure,” says Manuel, heartily, “and I am sure, too, that nobody is better qualified to handle it. Come now, Freydis, just as you say, this is a serious situation, and something really ought to be done about this situation. Come now, dear friend, in what way can we take back the life we gave this lovely fiend?”

“And would I be wanting to kill my husband?” Queen Freydis asked, and she smiled wonderfully. “Why, but yes, this fair lame child of yours is my husband to-day,–poor, frightened, fidgeting gray Manuel,–and I love him, for Sesphra is all that you were when I loved you, Manuel, and when you condescended to take your pleasure of me.”

Now an orange-colored rat came into the room, and sat down upon the hearth to the left hand of Freydis, and looked at Dom Manuel. And the rat was is large as the panther.

Then Freydis said: “No, Manuel, Sesphra must live for a great while, long after you have been turned to graveyard dust: and he will limp about wherever pagans are to be found, and he will always win much love from the high-hearted pagans because of his comeliness and because of his unfading jaunty youth. And whether he will do any good anywhere is doubtful, but it is certain he will do harm, and it is equally certain that already he weighs my happiness as carelessly as you once weighed it.”

Now came into the room another creature, such as no madman has ever seen or imagined, and it lay down at the feet of Freydis, and it looked at Dom Manuel. Couched thus, this creature yawned and disclosed unreassuring teeth.

“Well, Freydis,” says Dom Manuel, handsomely, “but, to be sure, what you tell me puts a new complexion upon matters, and not for worlds would I be coming between husband and wife–“

Queen Freydis looked up from the flames, toward Dom Manuel, very sadly. Freydis shrugged, flinging out her hands above the heads of the accursed beasts. “And at the last I cannot do that, either. So do you two dreary, unimportant, well-mated people remain undestroyed, now that I go to seek my husband, and now I endeavor to win my pardon for not letting him torment you. Eh, I was tempted, gray Manuel, to let my masterful fine husband have his pleasure of you, and of this lean ugly hobbling creature and her brat, too, as formerly you had your pleasure of me. But women are so queerly fashioned that at the last I cannot, quite, consent to harm this gray, staid, tedious fellow, nor any of his chattels. For all passes in this world save one thing only: and though the young Manuel whom I loved in a summer that is gone, be nowadays as perished as that summer’s gay leaves, it is certain a woman’s folly does not ever perish.”

“Indeed, I did not merit that you should care for me,” says Manuel, rather unhappily. “But I have always been, and always shall be sincerely fond of you, Freydis, and for that reason I rejoice to deduce that you are not, now, going to do anything violent and irreparable and such as your better nature would afterward regret.”

“I loved you once,” she said, “and now I am assured the core of you was always a cold and hard and colorless and very common pebble. But it does not matter now that I am a mortal woman. Either way, you have again made use of me. I have afforded you shelter when you were homeless. And now again you will be getting your desire.”

Queen Freydis went to the window, and lifted the scarlet curtain figured with ramping gold dragons; but the couching beasts stayed by the hearth, and they continued to look at Dom Manuel.

“Yes, now again, gray Manuel, you will be getting your desire. That ship which shows at the river bend, with serpents and castles painted on its brown sails, is Miramon Lluagor’s ship, which he has sent to fetch you from Sargyll: and the last day of your days of exile is now over. For Miramon is constrained by one who is above us all; therefore Miramon comes gladly and very potently to assist you. And I–who have served your turn!–I may now depart, to look for Sesphra, and for my pardon if I can get it.”

“But whither do you go, dear Freydis?” Dom Manuel spoke as though he again felt quite fond of her.

“What does that matter,” she answered, looking long and long at him, “now that Count Manuel has no further need of me?” Then Freydis looked at Niafer, lying there in a charmed sleep. “I neither love nor entirely hate you, ugly and lame and lean and fretful Niafer, but assuredly I do not envy you. You are welcome to your fidgeting gray husband. My husband is a ruthless god. My husband does not grow old and tender-hearted and subservient to me, and he never will.” Thereafter Freydis bent downward, and Freydis kissed the child she had christened. “Some day you will be a woman, Melicent, and then you will be loving some man or another man. I could hope that you will then love the man who will make you happy, but that sort of man has not yet been found.”

Dom Manuel came to her, not heeding the accursed beasts at all, and he took both the hands of Freydis in his hands. “My dear, and do you think I am a happy man?”

She looked up at him: when she answered, her voice trembled. “I made you happy, Manuel. I would have made you happy always.”

“I wonder if you would have? Ah, well, at all events, the obligation was upon me. At no time in a man’s life, I find, is there lacking some obligation or another: and we must meet each as we best can, not hoping to succeed, just aiming not to fall short too far. No, it is not a merry pursuit. And it is a ruining pursuit!”

She said, “I had not thought ever to be sorry for you–Why should I grieve for you, gray traitor?”

Harshly he answered: “Oho, I am not proud of what I have made of my life, and of your life, and of the life of that woman yonder, but do you think I will be whining about it! No, Freydis: the boy that loved and deserted you is here,”–he beat upon his breast,–“locked in, imprisoned while time lasts, dying very lonelily. Well, I am a shrewd gaoler: he shall not get out. No, even at the last, dear Freydis, there is the bond of silence.”

She said, impotently, “I am sorry–Even at the last you contrive for me a new sorrow–“

For a moment they stood looking at each other, and she remembered thereafter his sad and quizzical smiling. These two had nothing more to share in speech or deed.

Then Freydis went away, and the accursed beasts and her castle too went with her, as smoke passes. Manuel was thus left standing out of doors in a reaped field, alone with his wife and child while Miramon’s ship came about. Niafer slept. But now the child awoke to regard the world into which she had been summoned willy-nilly, and the child began to whimper.

Dom Manuel patted this intimidating small creature gingerly, with a strong comely hand from which his wedding ring was missing. That would require explanations.

It therefore seems not improbable that he gave over this brief period of waiting, in a reaped field, to wondering just how much about the past he might judiciously tell his wife when she awoke to question him, because in the old days that was a problem which no considerate husband failed to weigh with care.

XXXI

Statecraft

Now from the ship’s gangway came seven trumpeters dressed in glistening plaids: each led with a silver chain a grayhound, and each of the seven hounds carried in his mouth an apple of gold. After these followed three harp-players and three clergymen and three jesters, all bearing crested staves and wearing chaplets of roses. Then Miramon Lluagor, lord of the nine sleeps and prince of the seven madnesses, comes ashore. An incredible company followed. But with him came his wife Gisele and their little child Demetrios, thus named for the old Count of Arnaye: and it was this boy that, they say, when yet in swaddling-bands, was appointed to be the slayer of his own father, wise Miramon Lluagor.

Dame Niafer was wakened, and the two women went apart to compare and discuss their babies. They put the children in one cradle. A great while afterward were these two again to lie together thus, and from this mating was the girl to get long sorrow, and the boy his death.

Meanwhile the snub-nosed lord of the nine sleeps and the squinting Count of Poictesme sat down upon the river bank to talk about more serious matters than croup and teething. The sun was high by this time, so Kan and Muluc and Ix and Cauac came in haste from the corners of the world, and held up a blue canopy to shelter the conferring between their master and Dom Manuel.

“What is this,” said Miramon Lluagor to Dom Manuel, first of all, “that I hear of your alliance with Philistia, and of your dickerings with a people who say that my finest designs are nothing but indigestion?”

“I have lost Poictesme,” says Manuel, “and the Philistines offer to support me in my pretensions.”

“But that will never do! I who design all dreams can never consent to that, and no Philistine must ever enter Poictesme. Why did you not come to me for help at the beginning, instead of wasting time upon kings and queens?” demands the magician, fretfully. “And are you not ashamed to be making any alliance with Philistia, remembering how you used to follow after your own thinking and your own desire?”

“Well,” Manuel replies, “I have had as yet nothing save fair words from Philistia, and no alliance is concluded.”

“That is more than well. Only, let us be orderly about this. Imprimis, you desire Poictesme–“

“No, not in particular, but appearances have to be preserved, and my wife thinks it would look better for me to redeem this country from the oppression of the heathen Northmen, and so provide her with a suitable home.”

“Item, then I must obtain this country for you, because there is no sense in withstanding our wives in such matters.”

“I rejoice at your decision–“

“Between ourselves, Manuel, I fancy you now begin to understand the reasons which prompted me to bring you the magic sword Flamberge at the beginning of our acquaintance, and have learned who it is that wears the breeches in most marriages.”

“No, that is not the way it is at all, Miramon, for my wife is the dearest and most dutiful of women, and never crosses my wishes in anything.”

Miramon nodded his approval. “You are quite right, for somebody might be overhearing us. So, let us get on, and do you stop interrupting me. Item, you must hold Poictesme, and your heirs forever after must hold Poictesme, not in fee but by feudal tenure. Item, you shall hold these lands, not under any saint like Ferdinand, but under a quite different sort of liege-lord.”

“I can see no objection to your terms, thus far. But who is to be my overlord?”

“A person whom you may remember,” replied Miramon, and he beckoned toward the rainbow throng of his followers.

One of them at this signal came forward. He was a tall lean youngster, with ruddy cheeks, wide-set brown eyes, and a smallish head covered with crisp, tightly-curling dark red hair: and Manuel recognized him at once, because Manuel had every reason to remember the queer talk he had held with this Horvendile just after Niafer had ridden away with Miramon’s dreadful half-brother.

“But do you not think that this Horvendile is insane?” Dom Manuel asked the magician, privately.

“I confess he very often has that appearance.”

“Then why do you make him my overlord?”

“I have my reasons, you may depend upon it, and if I do not talk about them you may be sure that for this reticence also I have my reasons.”

“But is this Horvendile, then, one of the Leshy? Is he the Horvendile whose great-toe is the morning star?”

“I may tell you that it was he who summoned me to help you in distress, of which I had not heard upon Vraidex, but why should I tell you any more, Dom Manuel? Come, is it not enough that am offering you a province and comparatively tranquil terms of living with your wife, that you must have all my old secrets to boot?”

“You are right,” says Manuel, “and prospective benefactors must be humored.” So he rested content with his ignorance, nor did he ever find out about Horvendile, though later Manuel must have had horrible suspicions.

Meanwhile, Dom Manuel affably shook hands with the red-headed boy, and spoke of their first meeting. “And I believe you were not talking utter foolishness after all, my lad,” says Manuel, laughing, “for I have learned that the strange and dangerous thing which you told me is very often true.”

“Why, how should I know,” quiet Horvendile replied, “when I am talking foolishness and when not?”

Manuel said: “Still, I can understand your talking only in part. Well, but it is not right for us to understand our overlords, and, madman or not, I prefer you to Queen Stultitia and her preposterous rose-colored spectacles. So let us proceed in due form, and draw up the articles of our agreement.”

This was done, and they formally subscribed the terms under which Dom Manuel and the descendants of Dom Manuel were to hold Poictesme perpetually in fief to Horvendile. It was the most secret sort of compact, and to divulge its ten stipulations would even now be most disastrous. So the terms of this compact were not ever made public. Thus all men stayed at no larger liberty to criticize its provisos than his circumstances had granted to Dom Manuel, upon whom marrying had put the obligation to provide, in one way or another way, for his wife and child.

[Illustration]

XXXII

The Redemption of Poictesme

When then these matters were concluded, and the future of Poictesme had been arranged in every detail, then Miramon Lluagor’s wife told him that long words and ink-bottles and red seals were well enough for men to play with, but that it was high time something sensible was done in this matter, unless they expected Niafer to bring up the baby in a ditch.

The magician said, “Yes, my darling, you are quite right, and I will see to it the first thing after dinner.”

He then said to Dom Manuel, “Now Horvendile informs me that you were duly born in a cave at about the time of the winter solstice, of a virgin mother and of a father who was not human.”

Manuel replied, “Certainly that is true. But why do you now stir up these awkward old stories?”

“You have duly wandered from place to place, bringing wisdom and holiness to men–“

“That also is generally known.”

“You have duly performed miracles, such as reviving dead persons and so on–“

“That too is undeniable.”

“You have duly sojourned with evil in a desert place, and have there been tempted to despair and blaspheme and to commit other iniquities.”

“Yes, something of the sort did occur in Dun Vlechlan.”

“And, as I well know, you have by your conduct of affairs upon Vraidex duly disconcerted me, who am the power of darkness–“

“Ah! ah! you, Miramon, are then the power of darkness!”

“I control all dreams and madnesses, Dom Manuel; and these are the main powers of darkness.”

Manuel seemed dubious, but he only said: “Well, let us get on! It is true that all these things have happened to me, somehow.”

The magician looked at the tall warrior for a while, and in the dark soft eyes of Miramon Lluagor was a queer sort of compassion. Miramon said, “Yes, Manuel, these portents have marked your living thus far, just as they formerly distinguished the beginnings of Mithras and of Huitzilopochtli and of Tammouz and of Heracles–“

“Yes, but what does it matter if these accidents did happen to me, Miramon?”

“–As they happened to Gautama and to Dionysos and to Krishna and to all other reputable Redeemers,” Miramon continued.

“Well, well, all this is granted. But what, pray, am I to deduce from all this?”

Miramon told him.

Dom Manuel, at the end of Miramon’s speaking, looked peculiarly solemn, and Manuel said: “I had thought the transformation surprising enough when King Ferdinand was turned into a saint, but this tops all! Either way, Miramon, you point out an obligation so tremendous that the less said about it, the wiser; and the sooner this obligation is discharged and the ritual fulfilled, the more comfortable it will be for everybody.”

So Manuel went away with Miramon Lluagor into a secret place, and there Dom Manuel submitted to that which was requisite, and what happened is not certainly known. But this much is known, that Manuel suffered, and afterward passed three days in an underground place, and came forth on the third day.

Then Miramon said: “All this being duly performed and well rid of, we do not now violate any messianic etiquette if we forthwith set about the redemption of Poictesme. Now then, would you prefer to redeem with the forces of good or with the forces of evil?”

“Not with the forces of evil,” said Manuel, “for I saw many of these in the high woods of Dun Vlechlan, and I do not fancy them as allies. But are good and evil all one to you of the Leshy?”

“Why should we tell you, Manuel?” says the magician.

“That, Miramon, is a musty reply.”

“It is not a reply, it is a question. And the question has become musty because it has been handled so often, and no man has ever been able to dispose of it.”

Manuel gave it up, and shrugged. “Well, let us conquer as we may, so that God be on our side.”

Miramon replied: “Never fear! He shall be, in every shape and attribute.”

So Miramon did what was requisite, and from the garrets and dustheaps of Vraidex came strong allies. For, to begin with, Miramon dealt unusually with a little fish, and as a result of these dealings came to them, during the afternoon of the last Thursday in September, as they stood on the seashore north of Manneville, a darkly colored champion clad in yellow. He had four hands, in which he carried a club, a shell, a lotus and a discus; and he rode upon a stallion whose hide glittered like new silver.

Manuel said, “This is a good omen, that the stallion of Poictesme should have aid brought to it by yet another silver stallion.”

“Let us not speak of this bright stallion,” Miramon hastily replied, “for until this Yuga is over he has no name. But when the minds of all men are made clear as crystal then a christening will be appointed for this stallion, and his name will be Kalki, and by the rider upon this stallion Antan will be redeemed.”

“Well,” Manuel said, “that seems fair enough. Meanwhile, with this dusky gentleman’s assistance, I gather, we are to redeem Poictesme.”

“Oh, no, Dom Manuel, he is but the first of our Redeemers, for there is nothing like the decimal system, and you will remember it was in our treaty that in Poictesme all things are to go by tens forever.”

Thereafter Miramon did what was requisite with some acorns, and the splutterings were answered by low thunder. So came a second champion to aid them. This was a pleasant looking young fellow with an astonishingly red beard: he had a basket slung over his shoulder, and he carried a bright hammer. He rode in a chariot drawn by four goats.

“Come, this is certainly a fine stalwart fighting-man,” says Manuel, “and to-day is a lucky day for me, and for this ruddy gentleman also, I hope.”

“To-day is always his day,” Miramon replied, “and do you stop interrupting me in my incantations, and hand me that flute.”

So Manuel stayed as silent as that brace of monstrous allies while Miramon did yet another curious thing with a flute and a palm-branch. Thereafter came an amber-colored champion clad in dark green, and carrying a club and a noose for the souls of the dead. He rode upon a buffalo, and with him came an owl and a pigeon.

“I think–” said Manuel.

“You do not!” said Miramon. “You only talk and fidget, because you are upset by the appearance of your allies; and such talking and fidgeting is very disturbing to an artist who is striving to reanimate the past.”

Thus speaking, Miramon turned indignantly to another evocation. It summoned a champion in a luminous chariot drawn by scarlet mares. He was golden-haired, with ruddy limbs, and was armed with a bow and arrows: he too was silent, but he laughed, and you saw that he had several tongues. After him came a young shining man who rode on a boar with golden bristles and bloodied hoofs: this warrior carried a naked sword, and on his back, folded up like a cloth, was a ship to contain the gods and all living creatures. And the sixth Redeemer was a tall shadow-colored person with two long gray plumes affixed to his shaven head: he carried a sceptre and a thing which, Miramon said, was called an ankh, and the beast he rode on was surprising to observe, for it had the body of a beetle, with human arms, and the head of a ram, and the four feet of a lion.

“Come,” Manuel said, “but I have never seen just such a steed as that.”

“No,” Miramon replied, “nor has anybody else, for this is the Hidden One. But do you stop your eternal talking, and pass me the salt and that young crocodile.”

With these two articles Miramon dealt so as to evoke a seventh ally. Serpents were about the throat and arms of this champion, and he wore a necklace of human skulls: his long black hair was plaited remarkably; his throat was blue, his body all a livid white except where it was smeared with ashes. He rode upon the back of a beautiful white bull. Next, riding on a dappled stag, came one appareled in vivid stripes of yellow and red and blue and green: his face was dark as a raincloud, he had one large round eye, white tusks protruded from his lips, and he carried a gaily painted urn. His unspeakable attendants leaped like frogs. The jolliest looking of all the warriors came thereafter, with a dwarfish body and very short legs; he had a huge black-bearded head, a flat nose, and his tongue hung from his mouth and waggled as he moved. He wore a belt and a necklace, and nothing else whatever except the plumes of the hawk arranged as a head-dress: and he rode upon a great sleek tortoise-shell cat.

Now when these unusual appearing allies stood silently aligned before them on the seashore, Dom Manuel said, with a polite bow toward this appalling host, that he hardly thought Duke Asmund would be able to withstand such Redeemers. But Miramon repeated that there was nothing like the decimal system.

“That half-brother of mine, who is lord of the tenth kind of sleeping, would nicely round off this dizain,” says Miramon, scratching his chin, “if only he had not such a commonplace, black-and-white appearance, apart from being one of those dreadful Realists, without a scrap of aesthetic feeling–No, I like color, and we will levy now upon the West!”

So Miramon dealt next with a little ball of bright feathers. Then a last helper came to them, riding on a jaguar, and carrying a large drum and a flute from which his music issued in the shape of flames. This champion was quite black, but he was striped with blue paint, and golden feathers grew all over his left leg. He wore a red coronet in the shape of a rose, a short skirt of green paper, and white sandals; and he carried a red shield that had in its centre a white flower with the four petals placed crosswise. Such was he who made up the tenth.

Now when this terrible dizain was completed the lord of the seven madnesses laid fire to a wisp of straw, and he cast it to the winds, saying that thus should the anger of Miramon Lluagor pass over the land. Then he turned to these dreadful ten whom he had revivified from the dustheaps and garrets of Vraidex, and it became apparent that Miramon was deeply moved.

Said Miramon:

“You, whom I made for man’s worship when earth was younger and fairer, hearken, and learn why I breathe new life into husks from my scrap-heaps! Gods of old days, discrowned, disjected, and treated as rubbish, hark to the latest way of the folk whose fathers you succored! They have discarded you utterly. Such as remember deride you, saying:

“‘The brawling old lords that our grandfathers honored have perished, if they indeed were ever more than some curious notions bred of our grandfathers’ questing, that looked to find God in each rainstorm coming to nourish their barley, and God in the heat-bringing sun, and God in the earth which gave life. Even so was each hour of their living touched with odd notions of God and with lunacies as to God’s kindness. We are more sensible people, for we understand all about the freaks of the wind and the weather, and find them in no way astounding. As for whatever gods may exist, they are civil, in that they let us alone in our lifetime; and so we return their politeness, knowing that what we are doing on earth is important enough to need undivided attention.’

“Such are the folk that deride you, such are the folk that ignore the gods whom Miramon fashioned, such are the folk whom to-day I permit you freely to deal with after the manner of gods. Do you now make the most of your chance, and devastate all Poictesme in time for an earlyish supper!”

The faces of these ten became angry, and they shouted, “Blaerde Shay Alphenio Kasbue Gorfons Albuifrio!”

All ten went up together from the sea, traveling more swiftly than men travel, and what afterward happened in Poictesme was for a long while a story very fearful to hear and heard everywhere.

Manuel did not witness any of the tale’s making as he waited alone on the seashore. But the land was sick, and its nausea heaved under Manuel’s wounded feet, and he saw that the pale, gurgling, glistening sea appeared to crawl away from Poictesme slimily. And at Bellegarde and Naimes and Storisende and Lisuarte, and in all the strongly fortified inland places, Asmund’s tall fighting-men beheld one or another of the angry faces which came up from the sea, and many died swiftly, as must always happen when anybody revives discarded dreams, nor did any of the Northmen die in a shape recognizable as human.

When the news was brought to Dom Manuel that his redemption of Poictesme was completed, then Dom Manuel unarmed, and made himself presentable in a tunic of white damask and a girdle adorned with garnets and sapphires. He slipped over his left shoulder a baldric set with diamonds and emeralds, to sustain the unbloodied sword with which he had conquered here as upon Vraidex. Over all he put on a crimson mantle. Then the former swineherd concealed his hands, not yet quite healed, with white gloves, of which the one was adorned with a ruby, and the other was a sapphire; and, sighing, Manuel the Redeemer (as he was called thereafter) entered into his kingdom, and they of Poictesme received him far more gladly than he them.

Thus did Dom Manuel enter into the imprisonment of his own castle and into the bonds of high estate, from which he might not easily get free to go a-traveling everywhither, and see the ends of this world and judge them. And they say that in her low red-pillared palace Suskind smiled contentedly and made ready for the future.

[Illustration]

PART FIVE.

THE BOOK OF SETTLEMENT

TO

JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER

Thus _Manuel reigned in vertue and honoure with that noble Ladye his wyfe: and he was beloued and dradde of high and lowe degree, for he dyde ryghte and iustice_ according to the auncient Manner, _kepynge hys land in dignitie and goode Appearance, and hauynge the highest place in hys tyme._

XXXIII

Now Manuel Prospers

They of Poictesme narrate fine tales as to the deeds that Manuel the Redeemer performed and incited in the days of his reign. They tell also many things that seem improbable, and therefore are not included in this book: for the old songs and tales incline to make of Count Manuel’s heydey a rare golden age.

So many glorious exploits are, indeed, accredited to Manuel and to the warriors whom he gathered round him in his famous Fellowship of the Silver Stallion,–and among whom, Holden and courteous Anavalt and Coth the Alderman and Gonfal and Donander had the pre-eminence, where all were hardy,–that it is very difficult to understand how so brief a while could have continued so many doings. But the tale-tellers of Poictesme have been long used to say of a fine action,–not falsely, but misleadingly,–“Thus it was in Count Manuel’s time,” and the tribute by and by has been accepted as a dating. So has chronology been hacked to make loftier his fame, and the glory of Dom Manuel has been a magnet that has drawn to itself the magnanimities of other days and years.

But there is no need here to speak of these legends, about the deeds which were performed by the Fellowship of the Silver Stallion, because these stories are recorded elsewhere. Some may be true, the others are certainly not true; but it is indisputable that Count Manuel grew steadily in power and wealth and proud repute. Miramon Lluagor still served him, half-amusedly, as Dom Manuel’s seneschal; kings now were Manuel’s co-partners; and the former swineherd had somehow become the fair and trusty cousin of emperors. And Madame Niafer, the great Count’s wife, was everywhere stated, without any contradiction from her, to be daughter to the late Soldan of Barbary.

Guivric the Sage illuminated the tree which showed the glorious descent of Dame Niafer from Kaiumarth, the first of all kings, and the first to teach men to build houses: and this tree hung in the main hall of Storisende. “For even if some errors may have crept in here and there,” said Dame Niafer, “it looks very well.”

“But, my dear,” said Manuel, “your father was not the Soldan of Barbary: instead, he was the second groom at Arnaye, and all this lineage is a preposterous fabrication.”

“I said just now that some errors may have crept in here and there,” assented Dame Niafer, composedly, “but the point is, that the thing really looks very well, and I do not suppose that even you deny that.”

“No, I do not deny that this glowing mendacity adds to the hall’s appearance.”

“So now, you see for yourself!” said Niafer, triumphantly. And after that her new ancestry was never questioned.

And in the meanwhile Dom Manuel had sent messengers over land and sea to his half-sister Math at Rathgor, bidding her sell the mill for what it would fetch. She obeyed, and brought to Manuel’s court her husband and their two boys, the younger of whom rose later to be Pope of Rome. Manuel gave the miller the vacant fief of Montors; and thereafter you could nowhere have found a statelier fine lady than the Countess Matthiette de Montors. She was still used to speak continually of what was becoming to people of our station in life, but it was with a large difference; and she got on with Niafer as well as could be expected, but no better.

And early in the summer of the first year of Manuel’s reign (just after Dom Manuel fetched to Storisende the Sigel of Scoteia, as the spoils of his famous fight with Oriander the Swimmer), the stork brought to Niafer the first of the promised boys. For the looks of the thing, this child was named, not after the father whom Manuel had just killed, but after the Emmerick who was Manuel’s nominal father: and it was this Emmerick that afterward reigned long and notably in Poictesme.

So matters went prosperously with Dom Manuel, and there was nothing to trouble his peace of mind, unless it were some feeling of responsibility for the cult of Sesphra, whose worship was now increasing everywhere among the nations. In Philistia, in particular, Sesphra was now worshipped openly in the legislative halls and churches, and all other religion, and all decency, was smothered under the rituals of Sesphra. Everywhere to the west and north his followers were delivering windy discourses and performing mad antics, and great hurt came of it all by and by. But if this secretly troubled Dom Manuel; the Count, here as elsewhere, exercised to good effect his invaluable gift for holding his tongue.

Nor did he ever speak of Freydis either, though it is recorded that when news came of the end which she had made in Teamhair under the oppression of the Druids and the satirists, Dom Manuel went silently into the Room of Ageus, and was not seen any more that day. That in such solitude he wept is improbable, for his hard vivid eyes had forgotten this way of exercise, but it is highly probable that he remembered many things, and found not all of them to his credit.

So matters went prosperously with gray Manuel; he had lofty palaces and fair woods and pastures and ease and content, and whensoever he went into battle attended by his nine lords of the Silver Stallion, his adversaries perished; he was esteemed everywhere the most lucky and the least scrupulous rogue alive: to crown all which the stork brought by and by to Storisende the second girl, whom they named Dorothy, for Manuel’s mother. And about this time too, came a young poet from England (Ribaut they called him, and he met an evil end at Coventry not long thereafter), bringing to Dom Manuel, where the high Count sat at supper, a goose-feather.

The Count smiled, and he twirled the thing between his fingers, and he meditated. He shrugged, and said: “Needs must. But for her ready wit, my head would have been set to dry on a silver pike. I cannot well ignore that obligation, if she, as it now seems, does not intend to ignore it.”

Then he told Niafer he must go into England.

Niafer looked up from the marmalade with which she was finishing off her supper, to ask placidly, “And what does that dear yellow-haired friend of yours want with you now?”

“My dear, if I knew the answer to that question it would not be necessary for me to travel oversea.”

“It is easy enough to guess, though,” Dame Niafer said darkly, although, in point of fact, she too was wondering why Alianora should have sent for Manuel; “and I can quite understand how in your sandals you prefer not to have people know about such doings, and laughing at you everywhere, again.”

Dom Manuel did not reply; but he sighed.

“–And if any importance whatever were attached to my opinion in this house I might be saying a few things; but, as it is, it is much more agreeable, all around, to let you go your own hard-headed way and find out by experience that what I say is true. So now, Manuel, if you do not mind, I think we had better be talking about something else a little more pleasant.”

Dom Manuel still did not say anything. The time, as has been noted, was just after supper, and as the high Count and his wife sat over the remnants of this meal, a minstrel was making music for them.

“You are not very cheerful company, I must say,” Niafer observed, in a while, “although I do not for a moment doubt your yellow-haired friend will find you gay enough–“

“No, Niafer, I am not happy to-night.”

“Yes, and whose fault is it? I told you not to take two helpings of that beef.”

“No, no, dear snip, it is not indigestion, but rather it is that music, which is plaguing me.”

“Now, Manuel, how can music bother anybody! I am sure the boy plays his violin very nicely indeed, especially when you consider his age.”

Said Manuel:

“Yes, but the long low sobbing of the violin, troubling as the vague thoughts begotten by that season wherein summer is not yet perished from the earth, but lingers wanly in the tattered shrines of summer, speaks of what was and of what might have been. A blind desire, the same which on warm moonlit nights was used to shake like fever in the veins of a boy whom I remember, is futilely plaguing a gray fellow with the gray wraiths of innumerable old griefs and with small stinging memories of long-dead delights. Such thirsting breeds no good for staid and aging men, but my lips are athirst for lips whose loveliness no longer exists in flesh, and I thirst for a dead time and its dead fervors to be reviving, so that young Manuel may love again.

“To-night now surely somewhere, while this music sets uncertain and probing fingers to healed wounds, an aging woman, in everything a stranger to me, is troubled just thus futilely, and she too remembers what she half forgets. ‘We that of old were one, and shuddered heart to heart, with our young lips and our souls too made indivisible,’–thus she is thinking, as I think–‘has life dealt candidly in leaving us to potter with half measures and to make nothing of severed lives that shrivel far apart?’ Yes, she to-night is sad as I, it well may be; but I cannot rest certain of this, because there is in young love a glory so bedazzling as to prevent the lover from seeing clearly his co-worshipper, and therefore in that dear time when we served love together I learned no more of her than she of me.

“Of all my failures this is bitterest to bear, that out of so much grieving and aspiring I have gained no assured knowledge of the woman herself, but must perforce become lachrymose over such perished tinsels as her quivering red lips and shining hair! Of youth and love is there no more, then, to be won than virginal breasts and a small white belly yielded to the will of the lover, and brief drunkenness, and afterward such puzzled yearning as now dies into acquiescence, very much as the long low sobbing of that violin yonder dies into stillness now the song is done?”

So it was that gray Manuel talked in a half voice, sitting there resplendently robed in gold and crimson, and twiddling between his fingers a goose-feather.

“Yes,” Niafer said, presently, “but, for my part, I think he plays very nicely indeed.”

Manuel gave an abrupt slight jerking of the head. Dom Manuel laughed. “Dear snip,” said he, “come, honestly now, what have you been meditating about while I talked nonsense?”

“Why, I was thinking I must remember to look over your flannels the first thing to-morrow, Manuel, for everybody knows what that damp English climate is in autumn–“

“My dearest,” Manuel said, with grave conviction, “you are the archetype and flawless model of all wives.”

[Illustration]

XXXIV

Farewell to Alianora

Now Dom Manuel takes ship and goes into England: and for what happened there we have no authority save the account which Dom Manuel rendered on his return to his wife.

Thus said Dom Manuel:

He went straight to Woodstock, where the King and Queen then were. At Woodstock Dom Manuel was handsomely received, and there he passed the month of September–

(_”Why need you stay so long, though?” Dame Niafer inquired.

“Well,” Manuel explained, “one thing led to another, as it were.”

“H’m!” Niafer remarked._)

He had presently a private talk with the Queen. How was she dressed? As near as Manuel recalled, she wore a green mantle fastened in front with a square fermoir of gems and wrought gold; under it, a close fitting gown of gold-diapered brocade, with tight sleeves so long that they half covered her hands, something like mitts. Her crown was of floriated trefoils surmounting a band of rubies. Of course, though, they might have been only garnets–

(_”And where was it that she dressed up in all this finery to talk with you in private?”

“Why, at Woodstock, naturally.”

“I know it was at Woodstock, but whereabouts at Woodstock?”

“It was by a window, my dear, by a window with panes of white glass and wooden lattices and a pent covered with lead.”

“Your account is very circumstantial, but where was the window?”

“Oh, now I understand you! It was in a room.”

“What sort of room?”

“Well, the walls were covered with gay frescoes from Saxon history; the fireplace was covered with very handsomely carved stone dragons; and the floor was covered with new rushes. Indeed, the Queen has one of the neatest bedrooms I have ever seen.”

“Ah, yes,” said Niafer: “and what did you talk about during the time that you spent in your dear friend’s bedroom?”_)

Well, he found all going well with Queen Alianora (Dom Manuel continued) except that she had not yet provided an heir for the English throne, and it was this alone which was troubling her. It was on account of this that she had sent for Count Manuel.

“It is considered not to look at all well, after three years of marriage,” the Queen told him, “and people are beginning to say a number of unkind things.”

“It is the common fate of queens,” Dom Manuel replies, “to be exposed to the criticism of envious persons.”

“No, do not be brilliant and aphoristic, Manuel, for I want you to help me more practically in this matter.”

“Very willingly will I help you if I can. But how can I?”

“Why, you must assist me in getting a baby,–a boy baby, of course.”

“I am willing to do all that I can, because certainly it does not look well for you to have no son to be King of England. But how can I, of all persons, help you in this affair?”

“Now, Manuel, after getting three children you surely ought to know what is necessary!”

Dom Manuel shook a gray head. “My children came from a source which is exhausted.”

“That would be deplorable news if I believed it, but I am sure that if you will let me take matters in hand I can convince you to the contrary–“

“Well, I am open to conviction.”

“–Although I scarcely know how to begin, because I know that you will think this hard on you–“

He took her hand. Dom Manuel admitted to Niafer without reserve that here he took the Queen’s hand, saying: “Do not play with me any longer, Alianora, for you must see plainly that I am now eager to serve you. So do not be embarrassed, but come to the point, and I will do what I can.”

“Why, Manuel, both you and I know perfectly well that, even with your Dorothy ordered, you still hold the stork’s note for another girl and another boy, to be supplied upon demand, after the manner of the Philistines.”

“No, not upon demand, for the first note has nine months to run, and the other falls due even later. But what has that to do with it?”

“Now, Manuel, truly I hate to ask this of you, but my need is desperate, with all this criticizing and gossip. So for old time’s sake, and for the sake of the life I gave you as a Christmas present, through telling my dear father an out-and-out story, you must let me have that first promissory note, and you must direct the stork to bring the boy baby to me in England, and not to your wife in Poictesme.”

So that was what Dame Alianora had wanted.

(_”I knew that all along” observed Dame Niafer,–untruthfully, but adhering to her general theory that it was better to appear omniscient in dealing with one’s husband._)

Well, Dom Manuel was grieved by the notion of being parted from his child prior to its birth, but he was moved alike by his former fondness for Alianora, and by his indebtedness to her, and by the obligation that was on him to provide as handsomely as possible for his son. Nobody could dispute that as King of England, the boy’s station in life would be immeasurably above the rank of the Count of Poictesme’s younger brother. So Manuel made a complaint as to his grief and as to Niafer’s grief at thus prematurely losing their loved son–

(_”Shall I repeat what I said, my dear?”

“No, Manuel, I never understand you when you are trying to be highflown and impressive.”_)

Well, then, Dom Manuel made a very beautiful complaint, but in the outcome Dom Manuel consented to this sacrifice.

He would not consent, though, to remain in England, as Alianora wanted him to do.

“No,” he said, nobly, “it would not look at all well for you to be taking me as your lover, and breaking your marriage-vows to love nobody but the King. No, Alianora, I will help you to get the baby you need, inasmuch as I am indebted to you for my life and have two babies to spare, but I am not willing to have anything to do with the breaking of your marriage-vows, because it is a crime which is forbidden by the Holy Scriptures, and of which Niafer would certainly hear sooner or later.”

(_”Oh, Manuel, you did not say that!”

“My dear, those were my exact words. And why not?”

“That was putting it sensibly of course, but it would have sounded much better if you had expressed yourself entirely upon moral grounds. It is most important, Manuel, as I am sure I have told you over and over again, for people in our position to show a proper respect for morality and religion and things of that sort whenever they come up in the conversation; but there is no teaching you anything except by bitter experience, which I sincerely hope may be spared you, and one might as well be arguing with a brick wall, and so you may go on”_)

Well, the Queen wept and coaxed, but Manuel was firm. So Manuel spent that night in the Queen’s room, performing the needful incantations, and arranging matters with the stork, and then Dom Manuel returned home. And that–well, really that was all.

Such was the account which Dom Manuel rendered his wife. “And upon the whole, Niafer, I consider it a very creditable stroke of business, for as King of England the child will enjoy advantages which we could never have afforded him.”

“Yes,” said Niafer, “and what does that dear friend of yours look like nowadays?”

“–Besides, should the boy turn out badly our grief will be considerably lessened by the circumstance that, through never seeing this son of ours, our affection for him will never be inconveniently great.”

“There is something in that, for already I can see that Emmerick inherits his father’s obstinacy, and it naturally worries me, but what does the woman look like nowadays?”

“–Then, even more important than these considerations–.”

“Nothing is more important, Manuel, in this very curious sounding affair, than the way that woman looks nowadays.”

“Ah, my dear,” says Manuel, diplomatically, “I did not like to speak of that, I confess, for you know these blondes go off in their appearance so quickly–“

“Of course they do, but still–“

“–And it not being her fault, after all, I did not like to tell you about Dame Alianora’s looking so many years older than you do, since your being a brunette gives you an unfair advantage to begin with.”

“Ah, it is not that,” said Niafer, still rather grim-visaged, but obviously mollified. “It is the life she is leading, with her witchcraft and her familiar spirits and that continual entertaining and excitement, and everybody tells me she has already taken to dyeing her hair.”

“Oh, it had plainly had something done to it,” says Manuel, lightly. “But it is a queen’s duty to preserve such remnants of good looks as she possesses.”

“So there, you see!” said Niafer, quite comfortable again in her mind when she noted the careless way in which Dom Manuel spoke of the Queen.

A year or two earlier Dame Niafer would perhaps have been moved to jealousy: now her only concern was that Manuel might possibly be led to make a fool of himself and to upset their manner of living. With every contented wife her husband’s general foolishness is an axiom, and prudent philosophers do not distinguish here between cause and effect.

As for Alianora’s wanting to take Manuel as a lover, Dame Niafer found the idea mildly amusing, and very nicely indicative of those washed-out, yellow-haired women’s intelligence. To be harboring romantic notions about Manuel seemed to Manuel’s wife so fantastically out of reason that she half wished the poor creature could without scandal be afforded a chance to find out for herself all about Manuel’s thousand and one finicky ways and what he was in general to live with.

That being impossible, Niafer put the crazy woman out of mind, and began to tell Manuel about what had happened, and not for the first time either, while he was away, and about just how much more she was going to stand from Sister Math, and about the advantages of a perfectly plain understanding for everybody concerned. And with Niafer that was the end of Count Manuel’s discharging of his obligation to Alianora.

Of course there were gossips who said this, that and the other. Some asserted that Manuel’s tale in itself contained elements of improbability: others declared that Queen Alianora, who was far deeplier versed in the magic of the Apsarasas than was Dom Manuel, could just as well have summoned the stork without his assistance. It was true the stork was under no especial obligations to Alianora: even so, said these gossips, it would have looked far better, and a queen could not be too particular, and it simply showed you about these foreign Southern women; and although they of course wished to misjudge no one, there was no sense in pretending to ignore what everybody practically knew to be a fact, and was talking about everywhere, and some day you would see for yourself.

But after all, Dom Manuel and the Queen were the only persons qualified to speak of these matters with authority, and this was Dom Manuel’s account of them. For the rest, he was sustained against tittle-tattle by the knowledge that he had performed a charitable deed in England, for the Queen’s popularity was enhanced, and all the English, but particularly their King, were delighted, by the fine son which the stork duly brought to Alianora the following June.

Manuel never saw this boy, who afterward ruled over England and was a highly thought-of warrior, nor did Dom Manuel ever see Queen Alianora any more. So Alianora goes out of the story, to bring long years of misery and ruining wars upon the English, and to Dom Manuel no more beguilements. For they say Dom Manuel could never resist her, because of that underlying poverty in the correct emotions which, as some say, Dom Manuel shared with her, and which they hid from all the world except each other.

[Illustration]

XXXV

The Troubling Window

It seemed, in a word, that trouble had forgotten Count Manuel. None the less, Dom Manuel opened a window, at his fine home at Storisende, on a fine, sunlit, warmish morning (for this was the last day of April) to confront an outlook more perturbing than his hard vivid eyes had yet lighted on.

So he regarded it for a while. Considerately Dom Manuel now made experiments with three windows in this Room of Ageus, and found how, in so far as one’s senses could be trusted, the matter stood. Thereafter, as became an intelligent person, he went back to his writing-table, and set about signing the requisitions and warrants and other papers which Ruric the clerk had left there.

Yet all the while Dom Manuel’s gaze kept lifting to the windows. There were three of them, set side by side, each facing south. They were of thick clear glass, of a sort whose manufacture is a lost art, for these windows had been among the spoils brought back by Duke Asmund from nefarious raidings of Philistia, in which country these windows had once been a part of the temple of Ageus, an immemorial god of the Philistines. For this reason the room was called the Room of Ageus.

Through these windows Count Manuel could see familiar fields, the long avenue of poplars and the rising hills beyond. All was as it had been yesterday, and as all had been since, nearly three years ago, Count Manuel first entered Storisende. All was precisely as it had been, except, to be sure, that until yesterday Dom Manuel’s table had stood by the farthest window. He could not remember that until to-day this window had ever been opened, because since his youth had gone out of him Count Manuel was becoming more and more susceptible to draughts.

“It is certainly very curious,” Dom Manuel said, aloud, when he had finished with his papers.

He was again approaching the very curious window when his daughter Melicent, now nearly three years old, came noisily, and in an appallingly soiled condition, to molest him. She had bright beauty later, but at three she was one of those children whom human powers cannot keep clean for longer than three minutes.

Dom Manuel kept for her especial delectation a small flat paddle on his writing-table, and this he now caught up.

“Out of the room with you, little pest!” he blustered, “for I am busy.”

So the child, as was her custom, ran back into the hallway, and stood there, no longer in the room, but with one small foot thrust beyond the doorsill, while she laughed up at her big father, and derisively stuck out a tiny curved red tongue at the famed overlord of Poictesme. Then Dom Manuel, as was his custom, got down upon the floor to slap with his paddle at the intruding foot, and Melicent squealed with delight, and pulled back her foot in time to dodge the paddle, and thrust out her other foot beyond the sill, and tried to withdraw that too before it was spanked.

So it was they gave over a quarter of an hour to rioting, and so it was that grave young Ruric found them. Count Manuel rather sheepishly arose from the floor, and dusted himself, and sent Melicent into the buttery for some sugar cakes. He told Ruric what were the most favorable terms he could offer the burgesses of Narenta, and he gave Ruric the signed requisitions.

Presently, when Ruric had gone, Dom Manuel went again to the farthest window, opened it, and looked out once more. He shook his head, as one who gives up a riddle. He armed himself, and rode over to Perdigon, whither sainted King Ferdinand had come to consult with Manuel about contriving the assassination of the Moorish general, Al-Mota-wakkil. This matter Dom Manuel deputed to Guivric the Sage; and so was rid of it.

In addition, Count Manuel had on hand that afternoon an appeal to the judgment of God, over some rather valuable farming lands; but it was remarked by the spectators that he botched the unhorsing and severe wounding of Earl Ladinas, and conducted it rather as though Dom Manuel’s heart were not in the day’s business. Indeed, he had reason, for while supernal mysteries were well enough if one were still a hare-brained lad, or even if one set out in due form to seek them, to find such mysteries obtruding themselves unsought into the home-life of a well-thought-of nobleman was discomposing, and to have the windows of his own house playing tricks on him seemed hardly respectable.

All that month, too, some memory appeared to trouble Dom Manuel, in the back of his mind, while the lords of the Silver Stallion were busied in the pursuit of Othmar and Othmar’s brigands in the Taunenfels: and as soon as Dom Manuel had captured and hanged the last squad of these knaves, Dom Manuel rode home and looked out of the window, to find matters unchanged.

Dom Manuel meditated. He sounded the gong for Ruric. Dom Manuel talked with the clerk about this and that. Presently Dom Manuel said: “But one stifles here. Open that window.”

The clerk obeyed. Manuel at the writing-table watched him intently. But in opening the window the clerk had of necessity stood with his back toward Count Manuel, and when Ruric turned, the dark young face of Ruric was impassive.

Dom Manuel, playing with the jeweled chain of office about his neck, considered Ruric’s face. Then Manuel said: “That is all. You may go.”

But Count Manuel’s face was troubled, and for the rest of this day he kept an eye on Ruric the young clerk. In the afternoon it was noticeable that this Ruric went often, on one pretext and another, into the Room of Ageus when nobody else was there. The next afternoon, in broad daylight, Manuel detected Ruric carrying into the Room of Ageus, of all things, a lantern. The Count waited a while, then went into the room through its one door. The room was empty. Count Manuel sat down and drummed with his fingers upon the top of his writing-table.

After a while the third window was opened. Ruric the clerk climbed over the sill. He blew out his lantern.

“You are braver than I,” Count Manuel said, “it may be. It is certain you are younger. Once, Ruric, I would not have lured any dark and prim-voiced young fellow into attempting this adventure, but would have essayed it myself post-haste. Well, but I have other duties now, and appearances to keep up: and people would talk if they saw a well-thought-of nobleman well settled in life climbing out of his own windows, and there is simply no telling what my wife would think of it”

The clerk had turned, startled, dropping his lantern with a small crash. His hands went jerkily to his smooth chin, clutching it. His face was white as a leper’s face, and his eyes now were wild and glittering, and his head was drawn low between his black-clad shoulders, so that he seemed a hunchback as he confronted his master. Another queer thing Manuel could notice, and it was that a great lock had been sheared away from the left side of Ruric’s black hair.

“What have you learned,” says Manuel, “out yonder?”

“I cannot tell you,” replied Ruric, laughing sillily, “but in place of it, I will tell you a tale. Yes, yes, Count Manuel, I will tell you a merry story of how a great while ago our common grandmother Eve was washing her children one day near Eden when God called to her. She hid away the children that she had not finished washing: and when the good God asked her if all her children were there, with their meek little heads against His knees, to say their prayers to Him, she answered, Yes. So God told her that what she had tried to hide from God should be hidden from men: and He took away the unwashed children, and made a place for them where everything stays young, and where there is neither good nor evil, because these children are unstained by human sin and unredeemed by Christ’s dear blood.”

The Count said, frowning: “What drunken nonsense are you talking at broad noon? It is not any foolish tatter of legend that I am requiring of you, my boy, but civil information as to what is to be encountered out yonder.”

“All freedom and all delight,” young Ruric told him wildly, “and all horror and all rebellion.”

Then he talked for a while. When Ruric had ended this talking, Count Manuel laughed scornfully, and spoke as became a well-thought-of nobleman.

Ruric whipped out a knife, and attacked his master, crying, “I follow after my own thinking and my own desires, you old, smug, squinting hypocrite!”

So Count Manuel caught Ruric by the throat, and with naked hands Dom Manuel strangled the young clerk.

“Now I have ridded the world of much poison, I think,” Dom Manuel said, aloud, when Ruric lay dead at Manuel’s feet. “In any event, I cannot have that sort of talking about my house. Yet I wish I had not trapped the boy into attempting this adventure, which by rights was my adventure. I did not always avoid adventures.”

He summoned two to take away the body, and then Manuel went to his bedroom, and was clothed by his lackeys in a tunic of purple silk, and a coronet was placed on his gray head, and the trumpets sounded as Count Manuel sat down to supper. Pages in ermine served him, bringing Manuel’s food upon gold dishes, and pouring red wine and white from golden beakers into Manuel’s gold cup. Skilled music-men played upon viols and harps and flutes while the high Count of Poictesme ate richly seasoned food and talked sedately with his wife.

They had not fared thus when Manuel had just come from herding swine, and Niafer was a servant trudging on her mistress’ errands, and when these two had eaten very gratefully the Portune’s bread and cheese. They had not any need to be heartened with rare wines when they endured so many perils upon Vraidex and in Dun Vlechlan because of their love for each other. For these two had once loved marvelously. Now minstrels everywhere made songs about their all-conquering love, which had derided death; and nobody denied that, even now, these two got on together amicably.

But to-night Dame Niafer was fretted, because the pastry-cook was young Ruric’s cousin, and was, she feared, as likely as not to fling off in a huff on account of Dom Manuel’s having strangled the clerk.

“Well, then do you raise the fellow’s wages,” said Count Manuel.

“That is easily said, and is exactly like a man. Why, Manuel, you surely know that then the meat-cook, and the butler, too, would be demanding more, and that there would be no end to it.”

“But, my dear, the boy was talking mad blasphemy, and was for cutting my throat with a great horn-handled knife.”

“Of course that was very wrong of him,” said Dame Niafer, comfortably, “and not for an instant, Manuel, am I defending his conduct, as I trust you quite understand. But even so, if you had stopped for a moment to think how hard it is to replace a servant nowadays, and how unreliable is the best of them, I believe you would have seen how completely we are at their mercy.”

Then she told him all about her second waiting-woman, while Manuel said, “Yes,” and “I never heard the like,” and “You were perfectly right, my dear,” and so on, and all the while appeared to be thinking about something else in the back of his mind.

XXXVI

Excursions from Content

Thereafter Count Manuel could not long remain away from the window through which Ruric had climbed with a lantern, and through which Ruric had returned insanely blaspheming against law and order.

The outlook from this window was somewhat curious. Through the two other windows of Ageus, set side by side with this one, and in appearance similar to it in all respects, the view remained always unchanged, and just such as it was from the third window so long as you looked through the thick clear glass. But when the third window of Ageus was opened, all the sunlit summer world that you had seen through the thick clear glass was gone quite away, and you looked out into a limitless gray twilight wherein not anything was certainly discernible, and the air smelt of spring. It was a curious experience for Count Manuel, thus to regard through the clear glass his prospering domains and all the