Figures of Earth
James Branch Cabell
Part 5 out of 5
rewards of his famous endeavors, and then find them vanished as soon as
the third window was opened. It was curious, and very interesting; but
such occurrences make people dubious about things in which, as everybody
knows, it is wisdom's part to believe implicitly.
Now the second day
after Ruric had died, the season now being June, Count Manuel stood at
the three windows, and saw in the avenue of poplars his wife, Dame
Niafer, walking hand in hand with little Melicent. Niafer, despite her
lameness, was a fine figure of a woman, so long as he viewed Niafer
through the closed window of Ageus. Dom Manuel looked contentedly enough
upon the wife who was the reward of his toil and suffering in Dun
Vlechlan, and the child who was the reward of his amiability and
shrewdness in dealing with the stork, all seemed well so long as he
regarded them through the closed third window.
His hand trembled somewhat as he now opened this window, to face gray
sweetly-scented nothingness. But in the window glass, you saw, the
appearance of his flourishing gardens remained unchanged: and in the
half of the window to the right hand were quivering poplars, and Niafer
and little Melicent were smiling at him, and the child was kissing her
hand to him. All about this swinging half of the window was nothingness;
he, leaning out, and partly closing this half of the window, could see
that behind the amiable picture was nothingness: it was only in the old
glass of Ageus that his wife and child appeared to live and move.
Dom Manuel laughed, shortly. "Hah, then," says he, "that tedious dear
nagging woman and that priceless snub-nosed brat may not be real. They
may be merely happy and prosaic imaginings, hiding the night which alone
is real. To consider this possibility is troubling. It makes for even
greater loneliness. None the less, I know that I am real, and certainly
the grayness before me is real. Well, no matter what befell Ruric
yonder, it must be that in this grayness there is some other being who
is real and dissatisfied. I must go to seek this being, for here I
become as a drugged person among sedate and comfortable dreams which are
made doubly weariful by my old master's whispering of that knowledge
which was my father's father's."
Then in the gray dusk was revealed a face that was not human, and the
round toothless mouth of it spoke feebly, saying, "I am Lubrican, and I
come to guide you if you dare follow."
"I have always thought that 'dare' was a quaint word," says Manuel, with
the lordly swagger which he kept for company.
So he climbed out of the third window of Ageus. When later he climbed
back, a lock had been sheared from the side of his gray head.
Now the tale tells that thereafter Dom Manuel was changed, and his
attendants gossiped about it. Dame Niafer also was moved to mild
wonderment over the change in him, but did not think it very important,
because there is never any accounting for what a husband will do.
Besides, there were other matters to consider, for at this time
Easterlings came up from Piaja (which they had sacked) into the
territories of King Theodoret, and besieged Megaris, and the harried
King had sent messengers to Dom Manuel.
"But this is none of my affair," said Manuel, "and I begin to tire of
warfare, and of catching cold by sleeping on hard-won battle-fields."
"You would not take cold, as I have told you any number of times,"
declared Niafer, "if you would eat more green vegetables instead of
stuffing yourself with meat, and did not insist on overheating yourself
at the fighting. Still, you had better go."
"My dear, I shall do nothing of the sort."
"Yes, you had better go, for these Easterlings are notorious pagans--"
"Now other persons have been pagans once upon a time, dear snip--"
"A great many things are much worse, Manuel," says Niafer, with that
dark implication before which Dom Manuel always fidgeted, because there
was no telling what it might mean. "Yes, these Easterlings are quite
notorious pagans, and King Theodoret has at least the grace to call
himself a Christian, and, besides, it will give me a chance to get your
rooms turned out and thoroughly cleaned."
So Manuel, as was his custom, did what Niafer thought best. Manuel
summoned his vassals, and brought together his nine lords of the
Fellowship of the Silver Stallion, and, without making any stir with
horns and clarions, came so swiftly and secretly under cover of night
upon the heathen Easterlings that never was seen such slaughter and
sorrow and destruction as Dom Manuel wrought upon those tall pagans
before he sat down to breakfast.
He attacked from Sannazaro. The survivors therefore fled, having no
choice, through the fields east of Megaris. Manuel followed, and slew
them in the open.
The realm was thus rescued from dire peril, and Manuel was detained for
a while in Megaris, by the ensuing banquets and religious services and
the executions of the prisoners and the nonsense of the King's sister.
For this romantic and very pretty girl had set King Theodoret to
pestering Manuel with magniloquent offers of what Theodoret would do and
give if only the rescuer of Megaris would put aside his ugly crippled
wife and marry the King's lovely sister.
Manuel laughed at him. Some say that Manuel and the King's sister
dispensed with marriage: others accuse Dom Manuel of exhibiting a
continence not very well suited to his exalted estate. It is certain, in
any event, that he by and by returned into Poictesme, with a cold in his
head to be sure, but with fresh glory and much plunder and two new fiefs
to his credit: and at Storisende Dom Manuel found that his rooms had
been thoroughly cleaned and set in such perfect order that he could lay
hands upon none of his belongings, and that the pastry-cook had left.
"It simply shows you!" says Dame Niafer, "and all I have to say is that
now I hope you are satisfied."
Manuel laughed without merriment. "Everything is in a conspiracy to
satisfy me in these sleek times, and it is that which chiefly plagues
He chucked Niafer under the chin, and told her she should be thinking of
what a famous husband she had nowadays, instead of bothering about
pastry-cooks. Then he fell to asking little Melicent about how much she
had missed Father while Father was away, and he dutifully kissed the two
other children, and he duly admired the additions to Emmerick's
vocabulary during Father's absence. And afterward he went alone into the
Room of Ageus.
Thereafter he was used to spend more and more hours in the Room of
Ageus, and the change in Count Manuel was more and more talked about.
And the summer passed: and whether or no Count Manuel had, as some
declared, contracted unholy alliances, there was no denying that all
prospered with Count Manuel, and he was everywhere esteemed the most
lucky and the least scrupulous rogue alive. But, very certainly, he was
Opinions of Hinzelmann
Now the tale tells that on Michaelmas morning little Melicent, being in
a quiet mood that time, sat with her doll in the tall chair by the third
window of Ageus while her father wrote at his big table. He was pausing
between phrases to think and to bite at his thumb-nail, and he was so
intent upon this letter to Pope Innocent that he did not notice the slow
opening of the third window: and Melicent had been in conference with
the queer small boy for some while before Dom Manuel looked up
abstractedly toward them. Then Manuel seemed perturbed, and he called
Melicent to him, and she obediently scrambled into her father's lap.
There was silence in the Room of Ageus. The queer small boy sat leaning
back in the chair which little Melicent had just left. He sat with his
legs crossed, and with his gloved hands clasping his right knee, as he
looked appraisingly at Melicent. He displayed a beautiful sad face, with
curled yellow hair hanging about his shoulders, and he was dressed in a
vermilion silk coat: at his left side, worn like a sword, was a vast
pair of shears. He wore also a pointed hat of four interblended colors,
and his leather gloves were figured with pearls.
"She will be a woman by and by," the strange boy said, with a soft and
delicate voice, "and then she too will be coming to us, and we will
provide fine sorrows for her."
"No, Hinzelmann," Count Manuel replied, as he stroked the round
straw-colored head of little Melicent. "This is the child of Niafer. She
comes of a race that has no time to be peering out of dubious windows."
"It is your child too, Count Manuel. Therefore she too, between now and
her burial, will be wanting to be made free of my sister Suskind's
kingdom, as you have been made free of it, at a price. Oh, very
certainly you have paid little as yet save the one lock of your gray
hair, but in time you will pay the other price which Suskind demands. I
know, for it is I who collect my sister Suskind's revenues, and when the
proper hour arrives, believe me, Count Manuel, I shall not be asking
your leave, nor is there any price which you, I think, will not be
"That is probable. For Suskind is wise and strange, and the grave beauty
of her youth is the fulfilment of an old hope. Life had become a tedious
matter of much money and much bloodshed, but she has restored to me the
gold and crimson of dawn."
"So, do you very greatly love my sister Suskind?" says Hinzelmann,
smiling rather sadly.
"She is my heart's delight, and the desire of my desire. It was she for
whom, unwittingly, I had been longing always, since I first went away
from Suskind, to climb upon the gray heights of Vraidex in my long
pursuit of much wealth and fame. I had seen my wishes fulfilled, and my
dreams accomplished; all the godlike discontents which ennobled my youth
had died painlessly in cushioned places. And living had come to be a
habit of doing what little persons expected, and youth was gone out of
me, and I, that used to follow with a high head after my own thinking
and my own desires, could not any longer very greatly care for anything.
Now I am changed: for Suskind has made me free once more of the Country
of the Young and of the ageless self-tormenting youth of the gray depths
which maddened Ruric, but did not madden me."
"Look you, Count Manuel, but that penniless young nobody, Ruric the
clerk, was not trapped as you are trapped. For from the faith of others
there is no escape upon this side of the window. World-famous Manuel the
Redeemer has in this place his luck and prosperity to maintain until the
orderings of unimaginative gods have quite destroyed the Manuel that
once followed after his own thinking. For even the high gods here note
with approval that you have become the sort of person in whom the gods
put confidence, and so they favor you unscrupulously. Here all is
pre-arranged for you by the thinking of others. Here there is no escape
for you from acquiring a little more wealth to-day, a little more
meadowland to-morrow, with daily a little more applause and honor and
envy from your fellows, along with always slowly increasing wrinkles and
dulling wits and an augmenting paunch, and with the smug approval of
everybody upon earth and in heaven. That is the reward of those persons
whom you humorously call successful persons."
Dom Manuel answered very slowly, and to little Melicent it seemed that
Father's voice was sad.
Said Manuel: "Certainly, I think there is no escape for me upon this
side of the window of Ageus. A bond was put upon me to make a figure in
this world, and I discharged that obligation. Then came another and yet
another obligation to be discharged. And now has come upon me a geas
which is not to be lifted either by toils or by miracles. It is the geas
which is laid on every person, and the life of every man is as my life,
with no moment free from some bond or another. Heh, youth vaunts
windily, but in the end nobody can follow after his own thinking and his
own desire. At every turn he is confronted by that which is expected,
and obligation follows obligation, and in the long run no champion can
be stronger than everybody. So we succumb to this world's terrible
unreason, willy-nilly, and Helmas has been made wise, and Ferdinand has
been made saintly, and I have been made successful, by that which was
expected of us, and by that which none of us had ever any real chance to
resist in a world wherein all men are nourished by their beliefs."
"And does not success content you?"
"Ah, but," asked Manuel slowly, just as he had once asked Horvendile in
Manuel's lost youth, "what is success? They tell me I have succeeded
marvelously in all things, rising from low beginnings, to become the
most lucky and the least scrupulous rogue alive: yet, hearing men's
applause, I sometimes wonder, for I know that a smaller-hearted creature
and a creature poorer in spirit is posturing in Count Manuel's high
cushioned places than used to go afield with the miller's pigs."
"Why, yes, Count Manuel, you have made endurable terms with this world
by succumbing to its foolishness: but do you take comfort, for that is
the one way open to anybody who has not rightly seen and judged the ends
of this world. At worst, you have had all your desires, and you have
made a very notable figure in Count Manuel's envied station."
"But I starve there, Hinzelmann, I dry away into stone, and this envied
living is reshaping me into a complacent idol for fools to honor, and
the approval of fools is converting the heart and wits of me into the
stony heart and wits of an idol. And I look back upon my breathless old
endeavors, and I wonder drearily, 'Was it for this?'"
"Yes," Hinzelmann said: and he shrugged, without ever putting off that
sad smile of his. "Yes, yes, all this is only another way of saying that
Beda has kept his word. But no man gets rid of Misery, Count Manuel,
except at a price."
They stayed silent for a while. Count Manuel stroked the round
straw-colored head of little Melicent. Hinzelmann played with the small
cross which hung at Hinzelmann's neck. This cross appeared to be woven
of plaited strings, but when Hinzelmann shook the cross it jingled like
"Yet, none the less," says Hinzelmann, "here you remain. No, certainly,
I cannot understand you, Count Manuel. As a drunkard goes back to the
destroying cask, so do you continue to return to your fine home at
Storisende and to the incessant whispering of your father's father, for
all that you have but to remain in Suskind's low red-pillared palace to
be forever rid of that whisper and of this dreary satiating of human
"I shall of course make my permanent quarters there by and by," Count
Manuel said, "but not just yet. It would not be quite fair to my wife
for me to be leaving Storisende just now, when we are getting in the
crops, and when everything is more or less upset already--"
"I perceive you are still inventing excuses, Count Manuel, to put off
yielding entire allegiance to my sister."
"No, it is not that, not that at all! It is only the upset condition of
things, just now, and, besides, Hinzelmann, the stork is to bring us the
last girl child the latter part of next week. We are to call her
Ettarre, and I would like to have a sight of her, of course--In fact, I
am compelled to stay through mere civility, inasmuch as the Queen of
Philistia is sending the very famous St. Holmendis especially to
christen this baby. And it would be, Hinzelmann, the height of rudeness
for me to be leaving home, just now, as though I wanted to avoid his
Hinzelmann still smiled rather sadly. "Last month you could not come to
us because your wife was just then outworn with standing in the hot
kitchen and stewing jams and marmalades. Dom Manuel, will you come when
the baby is delivered and this Saint has been attended to and all the
crops are in?"
"Well, but Hinzelmann, within a week or two we shall be brewing this
year's ale, and I have always more or less seen to that--"
Still Hinzelmann smiled sadly. He pointed with his small gloved hand
toward Melicent. "And what about your other enslavement, to this child
"Why, certainly, Hinzelmann, the brat does need a father to look out for
her, so long as she is the merest baby. And naturally, I have been
thinking about that of late, rather seriously--"
Hinzelmann spoke with deliberation. "She is very nearly the most stupid
and the most unattractive child I have ever seen. And I, you must
remember, am blood brother to Cain and Seth as well as to Suskind."
But Dom Manuel was not provoked. "As if I did not know the child is in
no way remarkable! No, my good Hinzelmann, you that serve Suskind have
shown me strange dear things, but nothing more strange and dear than a
thing which I discovered for myself. For I am that Manuel whom men call
the Redeemer of Poictesme, and my deeds will be the themes of harpers
whose grandparents are not yet born; I have known love and war and all
manner of adventure: but all the sighings and hushed laughter of
yesterday, and all the trumpet-blowing and shouting, and all that I have
witnessed of the unreticent fond human ways of great persons who for the
while have put aside their state, and all the good that in my day I may
have done, and all the evil that I have certainly destroyed,--all this
seems trivial as set against the producing of this tousled brat. No, to
be sure, she is backward as compared with Emmerick, or even Dorothy, and
she is not, as you say, an at all remarkable child, though very often, I
can assure you, she does things that would astonish you. Now, for
"Spare me!" said Hinzelmann.
"Well, but it really was very clever of her," Dom Manuel stipulated,
with disappointment. "However, I was going to say that I, who have
harried pagandom, and capped jests with kings, and am now setting terms
for the Holy Father, have come to regard the doings of this ill-bred,
selfish, ugly, little imp as more important than my doings. And I cannot
resolve to leave her, just yet. So, Hinzelmann, my friend, I think I
will not thoroughly commit myself, just yet. But after Christmas we will
see about it."
"And I will tell you the two reasons of this shilly-shallying, Count
Manuel. One reason is that you are human, and the other reason is that
in your head there are gray hairs."
"What, can it be," said the big warrior, forlornly, "that I who have not
yet had twenty-six years of living am past my prime, and that already
life is going out of me?"
"You must remember the price you paid to win back Dame Niafer from
paradise. As truth, and not the almanac, must estimate these things you
are now nearer fifty-six."
"Well," Manuel said, stoutly, "I do not regret it, and for Niafer's sake
I am willing to become a hundred and six. But certainly it is hard to
think of myself as an old fellow on the brink of the scrap-pile."
"Oho, you are not yet so old, Count Manuel, but that Suskind's power is
greater than the power of the child: and besides, there is a way to
break the power of the child. Death has merely scratched small wrinkles,
very lightly, with one talon, to mark you as his by and by. That is all
as yet: and so the power of my high sister Suskind endures over you, who
were once used to follow after your own thinking and your own desire,
for there remains in you a leaven even to-day. Yes, yes, though you deny
her to-day, you will be entreating her to-morrow, and then it may be she
will punish you. Either way, I must be going now, since you are
obstinate, for it is at this time I run about the September world
collecting my sister's revenues, and her debtors are very numerous."
And with that the boy, still smiling gravely, slipped out of the third
window into the gray sweet-smelling dusk, and little Melicent said,
"But, Father, why did that queer sad boy want me to be climbing out of
the window with him?"
"So that he might be kind to you, my dear, as he estimates kindness."
"But why did the sad boy want a piece of my hair?" asked Melicent; "and
why did he cut it off with his big shiny shears, while you were writing,
and he was playing with me?"
"It was to pay a price," says Manuel.
He knew now that the Alf charm was laid on his loved child, and that
this was the price of his junketings. He knew also that Suskind would
never remit this price.
Then Melicent demanded, "And what makes your face so white?"
"It must be pale with hunger, child: so I think that you and I had
better be getting to our dinner."
Farewell to Suskind
But after dinner Dom Manuel came alone into the Room of Ageus, and
equipped himself as the need was, and he climbed out of the charmed
window for the last time. His final visit to the depths was horrible,
they say, and they relate that of all the deeds of Dom Manuel's crowded
lifetime the thing that he did on this day was the most grim. But he won
through all, by virtue of his equipment and his fixed heart. So when Dom
Manuel returned he clasped in his left hand a lock of fine straw-colored
hair, and on both his hands was blood let from no human veins.
He looked back for the last time into the gray depths. A crowned girl
rose beside him noiselessly, all white and red, and she clasped her
bloodied lovely arms about him, and she drew him to her hacked young
breasts, and she kissed him for the last time. Then her arms were loosed
from about Dom Manuel, and she fell away from him, and was swallowed by
the gray sweet-scented depths.
"And so farewell to you, Queen Suskind," says Count Manuel. "You who
were not human, but knew only the truth of things, could never
understand our foolish human notions. Otherwise you would never have
demanded the one price I may not pay."
"Weep, weep for Suskind!" then said Lubrican, wailing feebly in the gray
and April-scented dusk; "for it was she alone who knew the secret of
preserving that dissatisfaction which is divine where all else falls
away with age into the acquiescence of beasts."
"Why, yes, but unhappiness is not the true desire of man," says Manuel.
"I know, for I have had both happiness and unhappiness, and neither
"Weep, weep for Suskind!" then cried the soft and delicate voice of
Hinzelmann: "for it was she that would have loved you, Manuel, with that
love of which youth dreams, and which exists nowhere upon your side of
the window, where all kissed women turn to stupid figures of warm earth,
and all love falls away with age into the acquiescence of beasts."
"Oh, it is very true," says Manuel, "that all my life henceforward will
be a wearying business because of long desires for Suskind's love and
Suskind's lips and the grave beauty of her youth, and for all the
high-hearted dissatisfactions of youth. But the Alf charm is lifted from
the head of my child, and Melicent will live as Niafer lives, and it
will be better for all of us, and I am content."
From below came many voices wailing confusedly. "We weep for Suskind.
Suskind is slain with the one weapon that might slay her: and all we
weep for Suskind, who was the fairest and the wisest and the most
unreasonable of queens. Let all the Hidden Children weep for Suskind,
whose heart and life was April, and who plotted courageously against the
orderings of unimaginative gods, and who has been butchered to preserve
the hair of a quite ordinary child."
Then said the Count of Poictesme: "And that young Manuel who was in his
day a wilful champion, and who fretted under ordered wrongs, and who
went everywhither with a high head a-boasting that he followed after his
own thinking and his own desire,--why, that young fellow also is now
silenced and dead. For the well-thought-of Count of Poictesme must be as
the will and the faith and as the need of others may dictate: and there
is no help for it, and no escape, and our old appearances must be
preserved upon this side of the window in order that we may all stay
"We weep, and with long weeping raise the dirge for Suskind--!"
"But I, who do not weep,--I raise the dirge for Manuel. For I must
henceforward be reasonable in all things, and I shall never be quite
discontented any more: and I must feed and sleep as the beasts do, and
it may be that I shall even fall to thinking complacently about my death
and glorious resurrection. Yes, yes, all this is certain, and I may not
ever go a-traveling everywhither to see the ends of this world and judge
them: and the desire to do so no longer moves in me, for there is a
cloud about my goings, and there is a whispering which follows me, and I
too fall away into the acquiescence of beasts. Meanwhile no hair of the
child's head has been injured, and I am content."
"Let all the Hidden Children, and all else that lives except the tall
gray son of Oriander, whose blood is harsh sea-water, weep for Suskind!
Suskind is dead, that was unstained by human sin and unredeemed by
Christ's dear blood, and youth has perished from the world. Oh, let us
weep, for all the world grows chill and gray as Oriander's son."
"And Oriander too is dead, as I well know that slew him in my hour. Now
my hour passes; and I pass with it, to make way for the needs of my
children, as he perforce made way for me. And in time these children,
and their children after them, pass thus, and always age must be in one
mode or another slain by youth. Now why this should be so, I cannot
guess, nor do I see that much good comes of it, nor do I find that in
myself which warrants any confidences from the most high controlling
gods. But I am certain that no hair of the child's head has been
injured; and I am certain that I am content."
Thus speaking, the old fellow closed the window.
And within the moment little Melicent came to molest him, and she was
unusually dirty and disheveled, for she had been rolling on the terrace
pavement, and had broken half the fastenings from her clothing: and Dom
Manuel wiped her nose rather forlornly. Of a sudden he laughed and
kissed her. And Count Manuel said he must send for masons to wall up the
third window of Ageus, so that it might not ever be opened any more in
Count Manuel's day for him to breathe through it the dim sweet-scented
air of spring.
The Passing of Manuel
Then as Dom Manuel turned from the window of Ageus, it seemed that young
Horvendile had opened the door yonder, and after an instant's pensive
staring at Dom Manuel, had gone away. This happened, if it happened at
all, so furtively and quickly that Count Manuel could not be sure of it:
but he could entertain no doubt as to the other person who was
confronting him. There was not any telling how this lean stranger had
come into the private apartments of the Count of Poictesme, nor was
there any need for Manuel to wonder over the management of this
intrusion, for the new arrival was not, after all, an entire stranger to
So Manuel said nothing, as he stood there stroking the round
straw-colored head of little Melicent. The stranger waited, equally
silent. There was no noise at all in the room until afar off a dog began
"Yes, certainly," Dom Manuel said, "I might have known that my life was
bound up with the life of Suskind, since my desire of her is the one
desire which I have put aside unsatisfied. O rider of the white horse,
you are very welcome."
The other replied: "Why should you think that I know anything about this
Suskind or that we of the Leshy keep any account of your doings? No
matter what you may elect to think, however, it was decreed that the
first person I found here should ride hence on my black horse. But you
and the child stand abreast. So you must choose again, Dom Manuel,
whether it be you or another who rides on my black horse."
Then Manuel bent down, and he kissed little Melicent. "Go to your
mother, dear, and tell her--" He paused here. He queerly moved his
mouth, as though it were stiff and he were trying to make it more
Says Melicent, "But what am I to tell her, Father?"
"Oh, a very funny thing, my darling. You are to tell Mother that Father
has always loved her over and above all else, and that she is always to
remember that and--why, that in consequence she is to give you some
ginger cakes," says Manuel, smiling.
So the child ran happily away, without once looking back, and Manuel
closed the door behind her, and he was now quite alone with his lean
"Come," says the stranger, "so you have plucked up some heart after all!
Yet it is of no avail to posture with me, who know you to be spurred to
this by vanity rather than by devotion. Oh, very probably you are as
fond of the child as is requisite, and of your other children too, but
you must admit that after you have played with any one of them for a
quarter of an hour you become most heartily tired of the small squirming
Manuel intently regarded him, and squinting Manuel smiled sleepily. "No;
I love all my children with the customary paternal infatuation."
"Also you must have your gesture by sending at the last a lying message
to your wife, to comfort the poor soul against to-morrow and the day
after. You are--magnanimously, you like to think,--according her this
parting falsehood, half in contemptuous kindness and half in relief,
because at last you are now getting rid of a complacent and
muddle-headed fool of whom, also, you are most heartily tired."
"No, no," says Manuel, still smiling; "to my partial eyes dear Niafer
remains the most clever and beautiful of women, and my delight in her
has not ever wavered. But wherever do you get these curious notions?"
"Ah, I have been with so many husbands at the last, Count Manuel."
And Manuel shrugged. "What fearful indiscretions you suggest! No,
friend, that sort of thing has an ill sound, and they should have
remembered that even at the last there is the bond of silence."
"Come, come, Count Manuel, you are a queer cool fellow, and you have
worn these masks and attitudes with tolerable success, as your world
goes. But you are now bound for a diversely ordered world, a world in
which your handsome wrappings are not to the purpose."
"Well, I do not know how that may be," replies Count Manuel, "but at all
events there is a decency in these things and an indecency, and I shall
never of my own free will expose the naked soul of Manuel to anybody.
No, it would be no pleasant spectacle, I think: certainly, I have never
looked at it, nor did I mean to. Perhaps, as you assert, some power
which is stronger than I may some day tear all masks aside: but this
will not be my fault, and I shall even then reserve the right to
consider that stripping as a rather vulgar bit of tyranny. Meanwhile I
must, of necessity, adhere to my own sense of decorum, and not to that
of anybody else, not even to the wide experience of one"--Count Manuel
bowed,--"who is, in a manner of speaking, my guest."
"Oh, as always, you posture very tolerably, and men in general will
acclaim you as successful in your life. But do you look back! For the
hour has come, Count Manuel, for you to confess, as all persons confess
at my arrival, that you have faltered between one desire and another,
not ever knowing truly what you desired, and not ever being content with
any desire when it was accomplished."
"Softly, friend! For I am forced to gather from your wild way of talking
that you of the Leshy indeed do not keep any record of our human
The stranger raised what he had of eyebrows. "But how can we," he
inquired, "when we have so many matters of real importance to look
Candid blunt Dom Manuel answered without any anger, speaking even
jovially, but in all maintaining the dignity of a high prince assured of
his own worth.
"That excuses, then, your nonsensical remarks. I must make bold to
inform you that everybody tells me I have very positive achievements to
look back upon. I do not care to boast, you understand, and to be forced
into self-praise is abhorrent to me. Yet truthfulness is all important
at this solemn hour, and anyone hereabouts can tell you it was I who
climbed gray Vraidex, and dealt so hardily with the serpents and other
horrific protectors of Miramon Lluagor that I destroyed most of them and
put the others to flight. Thereafter men narrate how I made my own terms
with the terrified magician, according him his forfeited life in
exchange for a promise to live henceforward more respectfully and to
serve under me in the war which I was already planning against the
Northmen. Yes, and men praise me, too, because I managed to accomplish
all these things while I was hampered by having to look out for and
protect a woman."
"I know," said the lean stranger, "I know you somehow got the better of
that romantic visionary half-brother of mine, and made a warrior out of
him: and I admit this was rather remarkable. But what does it matter
"Then they will tell you it was I that wisely reasoned with King Helmas
until I turned him from folly, and I that with holy arguments converted
King Ferdinand from his wickedness. I restored the magic to the robe of
the Apsarasas when but for me its magic would have been lost
irrevocably. I conquered Freydis, that woman of strange deeds, and
single-handed I fought against her spoorns and calcars and other terrors
of antiquity, slaying, to be accurate, seven hundred and eighty-two of
them. I also conquered the Misery of earth, whom some called Beda, and
others Kruchina, and yet others Mimir, after a very notable battle which
we fought with enchanted swords for a whole month without ever pausing
for rest. I went intrepidly into the paradise of the heathen, and routed
all its terrific warders, and so fetched hence the woman whom I desired.
Thus, friend, did I repurchase that heroic and unchanging love which
exists between my wife and me."
"Yes," said the stranger, "Why, that too is very remarkable. But what
does it matter now?"
"--For it is of common report among men that nothing has ever been able
to withstand Dom Manuel. Thus it was natural enough, men say, that, when
the lewd and evil god whom nowadays so many adore as Sesphra of the
Dreams was for establishing his power by making an alliance with me, I
should have driven him howling and terrified into the heart of a great
fire. For myself, I say nothing; but when the very gods run away from a
champion there is some adequate reason: and of this exploit, and of all
these exploits, and of many other exploits, equally incredible and
equally well vouched for, all person hereabouts will tell you. As to the
prodigies of valor which I performed in redeeming Poictesme from the
oppression of the Northmen, you will find documentary evidence in those
three epic poems, just to your left there, which commemorate my feats in
"Nobody disputes this campaign also may have been remarkable, and
certainly I do not dispute it: for I cannot see that these doings matter
a button's worth in my business with you, and, besides, I never argue."
"And no more do I! because I abhor vainglory, and I know these affairs
are now a part of established history. No, friend, you cannot destroy my
credit in this world, whereas in the world for which I am bound, you
tell me, they make no account of our doings. So, whether or not I did
these things, I shall always retain, in this world and in the next, the
credit for them, without any need to resort to distasteful boasting. And
that, as I was going on to explain, is precisely why I do not find it
necessary to tell you about these matters, or even to allude to them."
"Oh, doubtless, it is something to have excelled all your fellows in so
many ways," the stranger conceded, with a sort of grudging respect:
"but, I repeat, what does it matter now?"
"And, if you will pardon my habitual frankness, friend, that query with
so constant repetition becomes a trifle monotonous. No, it does not
dishearten me, I am past that. No, I once opened a window, the more
clearly to appraise the most dear rewards of my endeavors--That moment
was my life, that single quiet moment summed up all my living,
and"--here Manuel smiled gravely,--"still without boasting, friend, I
must tell you that in this moment all doubt as to my attested worth went
out of me, who had redeemed a kingdom, and begotten a king, and created
a god. So you waste time, my friend, in trying to convince me of all
human life's failure and unimportance, for I am not in sympathy with
this modern morbid pessimistic way of talking. It has a very ill sound,
and nothing whatever is to be gained by it."
The other answered shrewdly: "Yes, you speak well, and you posture
handsomely, in every respect save one. For you call me 'friend.' Hah,
Manuel, from behind the squinting mask a sick and satiated and
disappointed being spoke there, howsoever resolutely you keep up
"There spoke mere courtesy, Grandfather Death," says Manuel, now openly
laughing, "and for the rest, if you again will pardon frankness, it is
less with the contents of my heart than with its continued motion that
you have any proper concern."
"Truly it is no affair of mine, Count Manuel, nor do any of your doings
matter to me. Therefore let us be going now, unless--O most unusual man,
who at the last assert your life to have been a successful and important
business,--unless you now desire some time wherein to bid farewell to
your loved wife and worshipped children and to all your other fine
Dom Manuel shrugged broad shoulders. "And to what end? No, I am Manuel.
I have lived in the loneliness which is common to all men, but the
difference is that I have known it. Now it is necessary for me, as it is
necessary for all men, to die in this same loneliness, and I know that
there is no help for it."
"Once, Manuel, you feared to travel with me, and you bid Niafer mount in
your stead on my black horse, saying, 'Better she than I.'"
"Yes, yes, what curious things we do when we are boys! Well, I am wiser
now, for since then I have achieved all that I desired, save only to see
the ends of this world and to judge them, and I would have achieved that
too, perhaps, if only I had desired it a little more heartily. Yes, yes,
I tell you frankly, I have grown so used to getting my desire that I
believe, even now, if I desired you to go hence alone you also would
Grandfather Death smiled thinly. "I reserve my own opinion. But take it
what you say is true,--and do you desire me to go hence alone?"
"No," says Manuel, very quietly.
Thereupon Dom Manuel passed to the western window, and he stood there,
looking out over broad rolling uplands. He viewed a noble country, good
to live in, rich with grain and metal, embowered with tall forests, and
watered by pleasant streams. Walled cities it had, and castles crowned
its eminences. Very far beneath Dom Manuel the leaded roofs of his
fortresses glittered in the sunset, for Storisende guarded the loftiest
part of all inhabited Poictesme. He overlooked, directly, the turrets or
Ranec and of Asch; to the south was Nerac; northward showed Perdigon:
and the prince of no country owned any finer castles than were these
four, in which lived Manuel's servants.
"It is strange," says Dom Manuel, "to think that everything I am seeing
was mine a moment since, and it is queer too to think of what a famous
fellow was this Manuel the Redeemer, and of the fine things he did, and
it is appalling to wonder if all the other applauded heroes of mankind
are like him. Oh, certainly, Count Manuel's achievements were notable
and such as were not known anywhere before, and men will talk of them
for a long while. Yet, looking back,--now that this famed Count of
Poictesme means less to me,--why, I seem to see only the strivings of an
ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who has reeled
blunderingly from mystery to mystery, with pathetic makeshifts, not
understanding anything, greedy in all desires, and always honeycombed
with poltroonery. So in a secret place his youth was put away in
exchange for a prize that was hardly worth the having; and the fine geas
which his mother laid upon him was exchanged for the common geas of what
"Such notions," replied Grandfather Death, "are entertained by many of
you humans in the light-headed time of youth. Then common-sense arises
like a light formless cloud about your goings, and you half forget these
notions. Then I bring darkness."
"In that quiet dark, my friend, it may be I shall again become the
Manuel whom I remember, and I may get back again my own undemonstrable
ideas, in place of the ideas of other persons, to entertain me in that
darkness. So let us be going thither."
"Very willingly," said Grandfather Death; and he started toward the
"Now, pardon me," says Manuel, "but in Poictesme the Count of Poictesme
goes first in any company. It may seem to you an affair of no
importance, but nowadays I concede the strength as well as the
foolishness of my accustomed habits, and all my life long I have gone
first. So do you ride a little way behind me, friend, and carry this
shroud and napkin, till I have need of them."
Then the Count armed and departed from Storisende, riding on the black
horse, in jeweled armor, and carrying before him his black shield upon
which was emblazoned the silver stallion of Poictesme and the motto
_Mundus vult decipi._ Behind him was Grandfather Death on the white
horse, carrying the Count's grave-clothes in a neat bundle. They rode
toward the sunset, and against the yellow sunset each figure showed jet
And thereafter Count Manuel was seen no more in Poictesme, nor did
anyone ever know certainly whither he journeyed. There was a lad called
Jurgen, the son of Coth of the Rocks, who came to Storisende in a frenzy
of terror, very early the next morning, with a horrific tale of
incredible events witnessed upon Upper Morven: but the child's tale was
not heeded, because everybody knew that Count Manuel was unconquerable,
and--having everything which men desire,--would never be leaving all
these amenities of his own will, and certainly would never be taking
part in any such dubious doings. Therefore little Jurgen was spanked,
alike for staying out all night and for his wild lying: and they of
Poictesme awaited the return of their great Dom Manuel; and not for a
long while did they suspect that Manuel had departed homeward, after
having succeeded in everything. Nor for a long while was the whole of
little Jurgen's story made public.
Colophon: Da Capo
Now Some of Poictesme--but not all they of Poictesme, because the pious
deny this portion of the tale, and speak of an ascension,--some narrate
that after the appalling eucharist which young Jurgen witnessed upon
Upper Morven, the Redeemer of Poictesme rode on a far and troubling
journey with Grandfather Death, until the two had passed the sunset, and
had come to the dark stream of Lethe.
"Now we must ford these shadowy waters," said Grandfather Death, "in
part because your destiny is on the other side, and in part because by
the contact of these waters all your memories will be washed away from
you. And that is requisite to your destiny."
"But what is my destiny?"
"It is that of all loving creatures, Count Manuel. If you have been
yourself you cannot reasonably be punished, but if you have been
somebody else you will find that this is not permitted."
"That is a dark saying, only too well suited to this doubtful place, and
I do not understand you."
"No," replied Grandfather Death, "but that does not matter."
Then the black horse and the white horse entered the water: and they
passed over, and the swine of Eubouleus were waiting for them, but these
were not yet untethered.
So in the moment which remained Dom Manuel looked backward and downward,
and he saw that Grandfather Death had spoken truly. For all the memories
of Manuel's life had been washed away from him, so that these memories
were left adrift and submerged in the shadowy waters of Lethe. Drowned
there was the wise countenance of Helmas, and the face of St. Ferdinand
with a tarnished halo about it, and the puzzled features of Horvendile;
and glowing birds and glistening images and the shimmering designs of
Miramon thronged there confusedly, and among them went with moving jaws
a head of sleek white clay. The golden loveliness of Alianora, and the
dark splendor of Freydis and, derisively, the immortal young smile of
Sesphra, showed each for a moment, and was gone. Then Niafer's eyes
displayed their mildly wondering disapproval for the last time, and the
small faces of children that in the end were hers and not Manuel's
passed with her: and the shine of armor, and a tossing heave of jaunty
banners, and gleaming castle turrets, and all the brilliancies and
colors that Manuel had known and loved anywhere, save only the clear red
and white of Suskind's face, seemed to be passing incoherently through
the still waters, like bright broken wreckage which an undercurrent was
And Manuel sighed, almost as if in relief. "So this," he said, "this is
the preposterous end of him who was everywhere esteemed the most lucky
and the least scrupulous rogue of his day!"
"Yes, yes," replied Grandfather Death, as slowly he untethered one by
one the swine of Eubouleus. "Yes, it is indeed the end, since all your
life is passing away there, to be beheld by your old eyes alone, for the
last time. Thus I see nothing there but ordinary water, and I wonder
what it is you find in that dark pool to keep you staring so."
"I do not very certainly know," said Manuel, "but, a little more and
more mistily now, I seem to see drowned there all the loves and the
desires and the adventures I had when I wore another body than this
dilapidated gray body I now wear. And yet it is a deceiving water, for
there, where it should reflect the remnants of the old fellow that is I,
it shows, instead, the face of a young boy who is used to following
after his own thinking and his own desires."
"Certainly it is queer you should be saying that; for that, as everybody
knows, was the favorite by-word of your namesake the famous Count Manuel
who is so newly dead in Poictesme yonder.... But what is that thing?"
Manuel raised from looking at the water just the handsome and florid
young face which Manuel had seen reflected in the water. As his memories
vanished, the tall boy incuriously wondered who might be the snub-nosed
stranger that was waiting there with the miller's pigs, and was
pointing, as if in mild surprise, toward the two stones overgrown with
moss and supporting a cross of old worm-eaten wood. For the stranger
pointed at the unfinished, unsatisfying image which stood beside the
pool of Haranton, wherein, they say, strange dreams engender....
"What is that thing?" the stranger was asking, yet again....
"It is the figure of a man," said Manuel, "which I have modeled and
remodeled, and cannot get exactly to my liking. So it is necessary that
I keep laboring at it, until the figure is to my thinking and my
desire." Thus it was in the old days.
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