Chapter 29



OW Jurgen's curious dream put notions into the restless head of Jurgen. So mighty became his curiosity that he went shuddering into the abhorred Woods, and passed over Coalisnacoan (which is the Ferry of Dogs), and did all such detestable things as were necessary to placate Phobetor. Then Jurgen tricked Phobetor by an indescribable device, wherein surprising use was made of a cheese and three beetles and a gimlet, and so cheated Phobetor out of a grey magic. And that night while Pseudopolis slept King Jurgen came down into this city of gold and ivory.

Jurgen went with distaste among the broad-browed and great-limbed monarchs of Pseudopolis, for they reminded him of things that he had long ago put aside, and they made him feel unpleasantly ignoble and insignificant. That was his real reason for avoid ing the city.

Now he passed between unlighted and silent palaces, walking in deserted streets where the moon made ominous shadows. Here was the house of Ajax Telamon who reigned in sea-girt Salamis, here that of god-like Philoctetes: much-counselling Odysseus dwelt just across the way, and the corner residence was fair-haired Agamemnon's: in the moonlight Jurgen easily made out these names engraved upon the bronze shield that hung beside each doorway. To every side of him slept the heroes of old song while Jurgen sk ulked under their windows.

He remembered how incuriously -- not even scornfully -these people had overlooked him on that disastrous afternoon when he had ventured into Pseudopolis by daylight. And a spiteful little gust of rage possessed him, and Jurgen shook his fist at the big silent palaces.

"Yah!" he snarled: for he did not know at all what it was that he desired to say to those great stupid heroes who did not care what he said, but he knew that he hated them. Then Jurgen became aware of himself growling there like a kicked cur who is afraid to bite, and he began to laugh at this Jurgen.

"Your pardon, gentlemen of Greece," says he, with a wide ceremonious bow, "and I think the information I wished to convey was that I am a monstrous clever fellow."

Jurgen went into the largest palace, and crept stealthily by the bedroom of Achilles, King of Men, treading a-tip-toe; and so came at last into a little room panelled with cedar-wood where slept Queen Helen. She was smiling in her sleep when he had lig hted his lamp, with due observance of the grey magic. She was infinitely beautiful, this young Dorothy whom people hereabouts through some odd error called Helen.

For Jurgen saw very well that this was Count Emmerick's sister Dorothy la Desiree, whom Jurgen had vainly loved in the days when Jurgen was young alike in body and heart. just once he had won back to her, in the garden between dawn and sunrise: but he was then a time-battered burgher whom Dorothy did not recognise. Now he returned to her a king, less admirable it might be than some of the many other kings without realms who slept now in Pseudopolis, but still very fine in his borrowed youth, and above all, armoured by a grey magic: so that improbabilities were possible. And Jurgen's eyes were furtive, and he passed his tongue across his upper lip from one corner to the other, and, his hand went out toward the robe of violet-coloured wool which covered the sleeping girl, for he stood ready to awaken Dorothy la Desiree in the way he often awoke Chloris.

But a queer thought held him. Nothing, he recollected, had shown the power to hurt him very deeply since he had lost this young Dorothy. And to affairs which threatened to result unpleasantly, he had always managed to impart an agreeable turn, since th en, by virtue of preserving a cool heart. What if by some misfortune he were to get back his real youth, and were to become again the flustered boy who blundered from stammering rapture to wild misery, and back again, at the least word or gesture of a gol d-haired girl?

"Thank you, no!" says Jurgen. "The boy was more admirable than I, who am by way of being not wholly admirable. But then he had a wretched time of it, by and large. Thus it may be that my real youth lies sleeping here: and for no consider ation would I re-awaken it."

And yet tears came into his eyes, for no reason at all. And it seemed to him that the sleeping woman, here at his disposal, was not the young Dorothy whom he had seen in the garden between dawn and sunrise, although the two were curiously alike; and th at of the two this woman here was, somehow, infinitely the lovelier. And -- "Lady, if you indeed be the Swan's daughter, long and long ago there was a child that was ill. And his illness turned to a fever, and in his fever he arose from his bed one n ight, saying that he must set out for Troy, because of his love for Queen Helen. I was once that child. I remember how strange it seemed to me I should be talking such nonsense: I remember how the warm room smelt of drugs: and I remember how I pitied the trouble in my nurse's face, drawn and old in the yellow lamplight. For she loved me, and she did not understand: and she pleaded with me to be a good boy and not to worry my sleeping parents. But I perceive now that I was not talking nonsense."

He paused, considering the riddle: and his fingers fretted with the robe of violet-coloured wool beneath which lay Queen Helen.

"Yours is that beauty of which men know by fabulous report alone, and which they may not ever find, nor ever win to, quite. And for that beauty I have hungered always, even in childhood. Toward that beauty I have struggled always, but not quite wh ole-heartedly. That night forecast my life. I have hungered for you: and" -- Jurgen smiled here -- "and I have always stayed a passably good boy, lest I should beyond reason disturb my family. For to do that, I thought, would not be fair: and st ill I believe for me to have done that would have been unfair."

He grimaced at this point: for Jurgen was finding his scruples inconveniently numerous.

"And now I think that what I do to-night is not quite fair to Chloris. And I do not know what thing it is that I desire, and the will of Jurgen is a feather in the wind. But I know that I would like to love somebody as Chloris loves me, and as so many women have loved me. And I know that it is you who have prevented this, Queen Helen, at every moment of my life since the disastrous moment when I first seemed to find your loveliness in the face of Madame Dorothy. It is the memory of your beauty, as I then saw it mirrored in the face of a jill-flirt, which has enfeebled me for such honest love as other men give women: and I envy these other men. For Jurgen has loved nothing-not even you, not even Jurgen!-- quite whole-heartedly. Well, what if I took vengeance now upon this thieving comeliness, upon this robber that strips life of joy and sorrow?"

Jurgen stood at Queen Helen's bedside, watching her, for a long while. He had shifted into a less fanciful mood: and the shadow that followed him was ugly and hulking and wavering upon the cedarn wall of Queen Helen's sleeping-chamber.

"Mine is a magic which does not fail," old Phobetor had said, while his attendants raised his eyelids so that he could see King Jurgen.

Now Jurgen remembered this. And reflectively he drew back the robe of violet-coloured wool, a little way. The breast of Queen Helen lay bare. And she did not move at all, but she smiled in her sleep.

Never had Jurgen imagined that any woman could be so beautiful nor so desirable as this woman, or that he could ever know such rapture. So Jurgen paused.

"Because," said Jurgen now, "it may be this woman has some fault: it may be there is some fleck in her beauty somewhere. And sooner than know that, I would prefer to retain my unreasonable dreams, and this longing which is unfed and hope less, and the memory of to-night. Besides, if she were perfect in everything, how could I live any longer, who would have no more to desire? No, I would be betraying my own interests, either way; and injustice is always despicable."

So Jurgen sighed and gently replaced the robe of violet-coloured wool, and he returned to his Hamadryad.

"And now that I think of it, too," reflected Jurgen, "I am behaving rather nobly. Yes, it is questionless that I have to-night evinced a certain delicacy of feeling which merits appreciation at all events by King, Achilles."

Chapter 31