Chapter 33

CHAPTER XXXIV

HOW EMPEROR JURGEN FARED INFERNALLY

OW the tale tells how the devils of Hell were in one of their churches celebrating Christmas in such manner as the devils observe that day; and how Jurgen came th rough the trapdoor in the vestry-room and how he saw and wondered over the creatures which inhabited this place. For to him after the Christmas services came all such devils as his fathers had foretold, and in not a hair or scale or talon did they differ from the worst that anybody had been able to imagine.

"Anatomy is hereabouts even more inconsequent than in Cocaigne," was Jurgen's first reflection. But the first thing the devils did was to search Jurgen very carefully, in order to make sure he was not bringing any water into Hell.

"Now, who may you be, that come to us alive, in a fine shirt of which we never saw the like before?" asked Dithican. He had the head of a tiger, but otherwise the appearance of a large bird, with shining feathers and four feet: his neck was y ellow, his body green, and his feet black.

"It would not be treating honestly with you to deny that I am the Emperor of Noumaria," said Jurgen, somewhat advancing his estate.

Now spoke Amaimon, in the form of a thick suet-coloured worm going upright upon his tail, which shone like the tail of a glowworm. He had no feet, but under his chops were two short hands, and upon his back were bristles such as grow upon hedgehogs.

"But we are rather overrun with emperors," said Amaimon, doubtfully, "and their crimes are a great trouble to us. Were you a very wicked ruler?"

"Never since I became an emperor," replied Jurgen, "have any of my subjects uttered one word of complaint against me. So it stands to reason I have nothing very serious with which to reproach myself."

"Your conscience, then, does not demand that you be punished?"

"My conscience, gentlemen, is too well-bred to insist on anything."

"You do not even wish to be tortured?"

"Well, I admit I had expected something of the sort. But none the less, I will not make a point of it," said Jurgen, handsomely. "No, I shall be quite satisfied even though you do not torture me at all."

And then the mob of devils made a great to-do over Jurgen.

"For it is exceedingly good to have at least one unpretentious and undictatorial human being in Hell. Nobody as a rule drops in on us save inordinately proud and conscientious ghosts, whose self-conceit is intolerable, and whose demands are outrag eous."

"'How can that be?"

"Why, we have to punish them. Of course they are not properly punished until they are convinced that what is happening to them is just and adequate. And You have no notion what elaborate tortures they insist their exceeding wickedness has merited, as though that which they did or left undone could possibly matter to anybody. And to contrive these torments quite tires us out."

"But wherefore is this place called the Hell of my fathers?"

"Because your forefathers builded it in dreams," they told him, "out of the pride which led them to believe that what they did was of sufficient importance to merit punishment. Or so at least we have heard: but if you want the truth of t he matter you must go to our Grandfather at Barathum."

"I shall go to him, then. And do my own grandfathers, and all the forefathers that I had in the old time, inhabit this grey place?"

"All such as are born with what they call a conscience come hither," the devils said. Do you think you could persuade them to go elsewhere For in that event, we would be deeply obliged to you. Their self-conceit is pitiful: but it is also a n uisance, because it prevents our getting any rest."

"Perhaps I can help you to obtain justice, and certainly to attempt to secure justice for you is my imperial duty. But who governs this country?"

They told him how Hell was divided into principalities that had for governors Lucifer and Beelzebub and Belial and Ascheroth and Phlegeton: but that over all these was Grandfather Satan, who lived in the Black House at Barathum.

"Well, I prefer," says Jurgen, "to deal directly with your principal, especially if he can explain the polity of this insane and murky country. Do some of you conduct me to him in such state as becomes an emperor!"

So Cannagosta fetched a wheelbarrow, and Jurgen got into it, and Cannagosta trundled him away. Cannagosta was something like an ox, but rather more like a cat, and his hair was curly.

And as they came through Chorasma, a very uncomfortable place where the damned abide in torment, whom should Jurgen see but his own father, Coth, the son of Smoit and Steinvor, standing there chewing his long moustaches in the midst of an especially ta ll flame.

"Do you stop now for a moment. says Jurgen, to his escort.

"Oh, but this is the most vexatious person in all Hell!" cried Cannagosta; "and a person whom there is absolutely no pleasing!"

"Nobody knows that better than I," says Jurgen.

And Jurgen civilly bade his father good-day, but Coth did not recognise this spruce young Emperor of Noumaria, who went about Hell in a wheelbarrow.

"You do not know me, then?" says Jurgen.

"How should I know you when I never saw you before?" replied Coth, irritably.

And Jurgen did not argue the point: for he knew that he and his father could never agree about anything. So Jurgen kept silent for that time, and Cannagosta wheeled him through the grey twilight, descending always deeper and yet deeper into the lowland s of Hell, until they had come to Barathum.

Chapter 35