Chapter 28

CHAPTER XXIX

CONCERNING HORVENDILE'S NONSENSE

T was on a bright and tranquil day in November, at the period which the People of the Field called the summer of Alcyone, that Jurgen went down from the forest; a nd after skirting the moats of Pseudopolis, and avoiding a meeting with any of the town's dispiritingly glorious inhabitants, Jurgen came to the seashore.

Chloris had suggested his doing this, in order that she could have a chance to straighten things in his cabin while she was tidying her tree for the winter, and could so make one day's work serve for two. For the dryad of an oak-tree has large responsi bilities, what with the care of so many dead leaves all winter, and the acorns being blown from their places and littering up the ground everywhere, and the bark cracking until it looks positively disreputable: and Jurgen was at any such work less a help than a hindrance. So Chloris gave him a parcel of lunch and a perfunctory kiss, and told him to go down to the seashore and get inspired and make up a pretty poem about her. "And do You be back in time for an early supper, Jurgen," says she, &qu ot;but not a minute before."

Thus it befell that Jurgen reflectively ate his lunch in solitude, and regarded the Euxine. The sun was high, and the queer shadow that followed Jurgen was huddled into shapelessness.

"This is indeed an inspiring spectacle," Jurgen reflected. "How puny seems the race of man, in contrast with this mighty sea, which now spreads before me like, as So-and-so has very strikingly observed, a something or other under such and such conditions !"Then Jurgen shrugged. "Really, now I think of it, though, there is no call for me to be suffused with the traditional emotions. It looks like a great deal of water, and like nothing else in particular. And I cannot but consider the water is behaving rather futilely."

So he sat in drowsy contemplation of the sea. Far out a shadow would form on the water, like the shadow of a broadish plank, scudding shoreward, and lengthening and darkening as it approached. Presently it would be some hundred feet in length, and woul d assume a hard smooth darkness, like that of green stone: this was the underside of the wave. Then the top of it would curdle, the southern end of the wave would collapse, and with exceeding swiftness this white feathery falling would plunge and scamper and bluster northward, the full length of the wave. It would be neater and more workmanlike to have each wave tumble down as a whole. From the smacking and the splashing, what looked like boiling milk would thrust out over the brown sleek sands: and as th e mess spread it would thin to a reticulated whiteness, like lace, and then to the appearance of smoke sprays clinging to the sands. Plainly the tide was coming in.

Or perhaps it was going out. Jurgen's notions as to such phenomena were vague. But, either way, the sea was stirring up a large commotion and a rather pleasant and invigorating odour.

And then all this would happen once more: and then it would happen yet again. It had happened a number of hundred of times since Jurgen first sat down to eat his lunch: and what was gained by it? The sea was behaving stupidly. There was no sense in thi s continual sloshing and spanking and scrabbling and spluttering.

Thus Jurgen, as he nodded over the remnants of his lunch.

"Sheer waste of energy, I am compelled to call it," said Jurgen, aloud, just as he noticed there were two other men on this long beach.

One came from the north, one from the south, so that they met not far from where Jurgen was sitting: and by an incredible coincidence Jurgen had known both of these men in his first youth. So he hailed them, and they recognised him at once. One of thes e travellers was the Horvendile who had been secretary to Count Emmerick when Jurgen was a lad: and the other was Perion de la Foret, that outlaw who had come to Bellegarde very long ago disguised as the Vicomte de Puysange. And all three of these old acq uaintances had kept their youth surprisingly.

Now Horvendile and Perion marvelled at the fine shirt which Jurgen was wearing.

"Why, you must know," he said, modestly, "that I have lately become King of Eubonia, and must dress according to my station."

So they said they had always expected some such high honour to befall him, and then the three of them fell to talking. And Perion told how he had come through Pseudopolis, on his way to King Theodoret at Lacre Kai, and how in the market-place at Pseudo polis he had seen Queen Helen. "She is a very lovely lady," said Perion, "and I marvelled over her resemblance to Count Emmerick's fair sister, whom we all remember."

"I noticed that at once," said Horvendile, and he smiled strangely, "when I, too, passed through the city."

"Why, but nobody could fail to notice it," said Jurgen.

"It is not, of course, that I consider her to be as lovely as Dame Melicent," continued Perion, "since, as I have contended in all quarters of the world, there has never lived, and will never live, any woman so beautiful as Melicent. But you gentlemen appear surprised by what seems to me a very simple statement. Your air, in fine, is one that forces me to point out it is a statement I can permit nobody to deny." And Perion's honest eyes had narrowed unpleasantly, and his sun-browned countenance was uncomfortably stern.

"Dear sir," said Jurgen, hastily, "it was merely that it appeared to me the lady whom they call Queen Helen hereabouts is quite evidently Count Emmerick's sister Dorothy la Desiree."

"Whereas I recognised her at once," says Horvendile, "as Count Emmerick's third sister, La Beale Ettarre."

And now they stared at one another, for it was certain that these three sisters were not particularly alike.

"Putting aside any question of eyesight," observes Perion, "it is indisputable that the language of both of you is distorted. For one of you says this is Madame Dorothy, and the other says this is Madame Ettarre: whereas everybody knows that this Queen Helen, whomever she may resemble, cannot possibly be anybody else save Queen Helen."

"To you, who are always the same person," replied Jurgen, "that may sound reasonable. For my part, I am several people: and I detect no incongruity in other persons resembling me."

"There would be no incongruity any-where," suggested Horvendile, "if Queen Helen were the woman whom we had loved in vain. For the woman whom when we were young we loved in vain is the one woman that we can never see quite dearly, whatev er happens. So we might easily, I suppose, confuse her with some other woman."

"But Melicent is the lady whom I have loved in vain ," said Perion, "and I care nothing whatever about Queen Helen. Why should I? What do you mean now, Horvendile, by your hints that I have faltered in my constancy to Dame Melicent since I saw Queen Helen? I do not like such hints."

"No less, it is Ettarre whom I love, and have loved not quite in vain, and have loved unfalteringly," says Horvendile, with his quiet smile: "and I am certain that it was Ettarre whom I beheld when I looked upon Queen Helen."

"I may confess," says Jurgen, clearing his throat, "that I have always regarded Madame Dorothy with peculiar respect and admiration. For the rest, I am married. Even so, I think that Madame Dorothy is Queen Helen."

Then they fell to debating this mystery. And presently Perion said the one way out was to leave the matter to Queen Helen. "She at all events must know who she is. So do one of you go back into the city, and embrace her knees as is the custom of t his country when one implores a favour of the King or the Queen: and do you then ask her fairly."

"Not I," says Jurgen. "I am upon terms of some intimacy with a hamadryad just at present. I am content with my Hamadryad. And I intend never to venture into the presence of Queen Helen any more, in order to preserve my contentment."

"Why, but I cannot go," says Perion, "because Dame Melicent has a little mole upon her left check. And Queen Helen's cheek is flawless. You understand, of course, that I am certain this mole immeasurably enhances the beauty of Dame Melic ent," he added, loyally. "None the less, I mean to hold no further traffic with Queen Helen."

"Now, my reason for not going is this," said Horvendile: --"that if I attempted to embrace the knees of Ettarre, whom People hereabouts call Helen, she would instantly vanish. Other matters apart, I do not wish to bring any such misfortu ne upon the Island of Leuke."

"But that," said Perion, "is nonsense."

"Of course it is," said Horvendile. "That is probably why it happens."

So none of them would go. And each of them clung, none the less, to his own opinion about Queen Helen. And presently Perion said they were wasting both time and words. Then Perion bade the two farewell, and Perion continued southward, toward Lacre Kai. And as he went he sang a song in honour of Dame Melicent, whom he celebrated as Heart o' My Heart: and the two who heard him agreed that Perion de la Foret was probably the worst poet in the world.

"Nevertheless, there goes a very chivalrous and worthy gentleman," said Horvendile, "intent to play out the remainder of his romance. I wonder if the Author gets much pleasure from these simple characters? At least, they must be easy to handle."

"I cultivate a judicious amount of gallantry," says Jurgen: "I do not any longer aspire to be chivalrous. And indeed, Horvendile, it seems to me indisputable that each one of us is the hero in his own romance, and cannot understand any o ther person's romance, but misinterprets everything therein, very much as we three have fallen out in the simple matter of a woman's face."

Now young Horvendile meditatively stroked his own curly and reddish hair, brushing it away from his ears with his left hand, as he sat there staring meditatively at nothing in particular.

"I would put it, Jurgen, that we three have met like characters out of three separate romances which the Author has composed in different styles."

"That also," Jurgen submitted, "would be nonsense."

"Ali, but perhaps the Author very often perpetrates nonsense. Come, Jurgen, you who are King of Eubonia!" says Horvendile, with his wide-set eyes a-twinkle; "what is there in you or me to attest that our Author has not composed our roman ces with his tongue in his cheek?"

"Messire Horvendile, if you are attempting to joke about Koshchei who made all things as they are, I warn you I do not consider that sort of humour very wholesome. Without being prudish, I believe in common sense: and I would vastly prefer to have you talk about something else."

Horvendile was still smiling. "You look some day to come to Koshchei, as you call the Author. That is easily said, and sounds excellently. Ali, but how will you recognise Koshchei? and how do you know you have not already passed by Koshchei in som e street or meadow? Come now, King Jurgen," said Horvendile, and still his young face wore an impish smile; "come, tell me, how do you know that I am not Koshchei, who made all things as they are?"

"Be off with you!" says Jurgen; "you would never have had the wit to invent a Jurgen. Something else is troubling me: I have just recollected that the young Perion, who left us only a moment since, grew to be rich and grey-headed and fam ous, and took Dame Melicent from her pagan husband, and married her himself: and that all this happened long years ago. So our recent talk with young Perion seems very improbable."

"Why, but do you not remember, too, that I ran away in the night when Maugis d'Aigremont stormed Storisende, and was never heard of any more, and that all this, too, took place a long, long while ago? Yet we have met as three fine young fellows, h ere on the beach of fabulous Leuke. I put it to you fairly, King Jurgen: now, how could this conceivably have come about unless the Author sometimes composes nonsense?"

"Truly the way that - you express it, Horvendile, the thing does seem a little strange; and I can think of no explanation rendering it plausible."

"Again, see now, King Jurgen of Eubonia, how you underrate the Author's ability. This is one of the romancer's most venerable devices that is being practised. See for yourself!" And suddenly Horvendile pushed Jurgen so that Jurgen tumb led over in the warm sand.

Then Jurgen arose, gaping and stretching himself.

"That was a very foolish dream I had, napping here in the sun. For it was certainly a dream. Otherwise, they would have left footprints, these young fellows who have gone the way of youth so long ago. And it was a dream that had no sense in it. Bu t indeed it would be strange if that were the whole point of it, and if living, too, were such a dream, as that queer Horvendile would have me think."

Jurgen snapped his fingers.

"Well, and what in common fairness could he or anyone else expect me to do about it? That is the answer I fling at you, you, Horvendile, whom I made up in a dream. And I disown you as the most futile of my inventions. So be off with you I and a go od riddance, too, for I never held with upsetting people."

Then Jurgen dusted himself, and trudged home to an early supper with the Hamadryad who contented him.

Chapter 30