Figures of Earth
James Branch Cabell
Part 4 out of 5
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"Yes," Manuel said, with grave conviction, "that is exactly the
"--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
"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."
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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,
"--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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.
"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
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.
THE BOOK OF SETTLEMENT
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
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
"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
"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
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
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,
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
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
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
"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."
"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
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
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."
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
Dom Manuel shook a gray head. "My children came from a source which is
"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
"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
"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
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
"--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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Ruric whipped out a knife, and attacked his master, crying, "I follow
after my own thinking and my own desires, you old, smug, squinting
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
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.
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
Back to Full Books