|Chapter 14||CHAPTER XV||Chapter 16|
OF COMPROMISES IN GLATHION
HE tale records that it was not a great while before, in simple justice to Guenevere, Duke Jurgen had afforded her the advantage of frank conversation in actual privacy. For conventions have to be regarded, of course. Thus the time of a princess is not her own, and at any hour of day all sorts of people are apt to request an audience just when some most improving conversation is progressing famously: but the Hall of judgment stood vacant and unguarded at night.
"But I would never consider doing such a thing," said Guenevere: "and whatever must you think of me, to make such a proposal!"
"That too, my dearest, is a matter which I can only explain in private."
"And if I were to report your insolence to my father-?"
"You would annoy him exceedingly: and from such griefs it is our duty to shield the aged."
"And besides, I am afraid."
"Oh, my dearest," says Jurgen, and his voice quavered, because his love and his sorrow seemed very great to him: "but, oh, my dearest, can it be that you have not faith in me! For with all my body and soul I love you, as I have loved you ever since I first raised your face between my hands, and understood that I had never before known beauty. Indeed, I love you as, I think, no man has ever loved any woman that lived in the long time that is gone, for my love is worship, and no less. The touch of your hand sets me to trembling, dear; and the look of your grey eyes makes me forget there is anything of pain or grief or evil anywhere: for you are the loveliest thing God ever made, with joy in the new skill that had come to His fingers. And you have not faith in me!"
Then the Princess gave a little sobbing laugh of content and repentance, and she clasped the hand of her grief-stricken lover. "Forgive me, Jurgen, for I cannot bear to see you so unhappy!"
"Ah, and what is my grief to you?" he asks of her, bitterly.
"Much, oh, very much, my dear!" she whispered.
So in the upshot Jurgen was never to forget that moment wherein he waited behind the door, and through the crack between the half-open door and the door-frame saw Guenevere approach irresolutely, a wavering white blur in the dark corridor. She came to talk with him where they would not be bothered with interruptions: but she came delightfully perfumed, in her night-shift, and in nothing else. Jurgen wondered at the way of these women even as his arms went about her in the gloom. He remembered always the feel of that warm and slender and yielding body, naked under the thin fabric of the shift, as his arms first went about her: of all their moments together that last breathless minute before either of them had spoken stayed in his memory as the most perfect.
And yet what followed was pleasant enough, for now it was to the wide and softly cushioned throne of a king, no less, that Guenevere and Jurgen resorted, so as to talk where they would not be bothered with interruptions. The throne of Gogyrvan was perfectly dark, under its canopy, in the unlighted hall, and in the dark nobody can see what happens.
Thereafter these two contrived to talk together nightly upon the throne of Glathion: but what remained in Jurgen's memory was that last moment behind the door, and the six tall windows upon the east side of the hall, those windows which were of commingled blue and silver, but were all an opulent glitter, throughout that time in the night when the moon was clear of the tree-tops and had not yet risen high enough to be shut off by the eaves. For that was all which Jurgen really saw in the Hall of judgment. There would be a brief period wherein upon the floor beneath each window would show a narrow quadrangle of moonlight: but the windows were set in a wall so deep that this soon passed. On the west side were six windows also, but about these was a porch; so no light ever came from the west.
Thus in the dark they would laugh and talk with lowered voices. Jurgen came to these encounters well primed with wine, and in consequence, as he quite comprehended, talked like an angel, without confining himself exclusively to celestial topics. He was often delighted by his own brilliance, and it seemed to him a pity there was no one handy to take it down: so much of his talking was necessarily just a little over the head of any girl, however beautiful and adorable.
And Guenevere, he found, talked infinitely better at night. It was not altogether the wine which made him think that, either: the girl displayed a side she veiled in the daytime. A girl, far less a princess, is not supposed to know more than agrees with a man's notion of maidenly ignorance, she contended.
"Nobody ever told me anything about so many interesting matters. Why, I remember-" And Guenevere narrated a quaintly pathetic little story, here irrelevant, of what had befallen her some three or four years earlier. "My mother was living then: but she had never said a word about such things, and frightened as I was, I did not go to her."
Jurgen asked questions.
"Why, yes. There was nothing else to do. I cannot talk freely with my maids and ladies even now. I cannot question them, that is: of course I can listen as they talk among themselves. For me to do more would be unbecoming in a princess. And I wonder quietly about so many things!" She educed instances. "After that I used to notice the animals and the poultry. So I worked out problems for myself, after a fashion. But nobody ever told me anything directly."
"Yet I dare say that Thragnar -- well, the Troll King, being very wise, must have made zoology much clearer."
"Thragnar was a skilled enchanter," says a demure voice in the dark; "and through the potency of his abominable arts I can remember nothing whatever about Thragnar."
Jurgen laughed, ruefully. Still, he was tolerably sure about Thragnar now.
So they talked: and Jurgen marvelled, as millions of men had done aforetime, and have done since, at the girl's eagerness, now that barriers were down, to discuss in considerable detail all such matters as etiquette had previously compelled them to ignore. About her ladies in waiting, for example, she afforded him some very curious data: and concerning men in general she asked innumerable questions that Jurgen found delicious.
Such innocence combined-upon the whole-with a certain moral obtuseness, seemed inconceivable. For to Jurgen it now appeared that Guenevere was behaving with not quite the decorum which might fairly be expected of a princess. Contrition, at least, one might have looked for, over this hole and corner business: whereas it worried him to note that Guenevere was coming to accept affairs almost as a matter of course. Certainly she did not seem to think at all of any wickedness anywhere: the utmost she suggested was the necessity of being very careful. And while she never contradicted him in these private conversations, and submitted in everything to his judgment, her motive now appeared to be hardly more than a wish to please him. It was almost as though she were humouring him in his foolishness. And all this within six weeks! reflected Jurgen: and he nibbled his finger-nails, with a mental side-glance toward the opinions of King Gogyrvan Gawr.
But in daylight the Princess remained unchanged. In daylight Jurgen adored her, but with no feeling of intimacy. Very rarely did occasion serve for them to be actually alone in the daytime. Once or twice, though, he kissed her in open sunlight: and then her eyes were melting but wary, and the whole affair was rather flat. She did not repulse him: but she stayed a princess, appreciative of her station, and seemed not at all the invisible person who talked with him at night in the Hall of judgment.
Presently, by common consent, they began to avoid each other by daylight. Indeed, the time of the Princess was now pre-occupied: for now had come into Glathion a ship with saffron-coloured sails, and having for its figurehead a dragon that was painted with thirty colours. Such was the ship which brought Messire Merlin Ambrosius and Dame Anaitis, the Lady of the Lake, with a great retinue, to fetch young Guenevere to London, where she was to be married to King Arthur.
First there was a week of feasting and tourneys and high mirth of every kind. Now the trumpets blared, and upon a scaffolding that was gay with pennons and smart tapestries King Gogyrvan sat nodding and blinking in his brightest raiment, to judge who did the best: and into the field came joyously a press of dukes and earls and barons and many famous knights, to contend for honour and a trumpery chaplet of pearls.
Jurgen shrugged, and honoured custom. The Duke of Logreus acquitted himself with credit in the opening tournament, unhorsing Sir Dodinas le Sauvage, Earl Roth of Meliot, Sir Epinogris, and Sir Hector de Maris: then Earl Damas of Listenise smote like a whirlwind, and Jurgen slid contentedly down the tail of his fine horse. His part in the tournament was ended, and he was heartily glad of it. He preferred to contemplate rather than share in such festivities: and he now followed his bent with a most exquisite misery, because he considered that never had any other poet occupied a situation more picturesque.
By day he was the Duke of Logreus, which in itself was a notable advance upon pawnbroking: after nightfall he discounted the peculiar privileges of a king. It was the secrecy, the deluding of everybody, which he especially enjoyed: and in the thought of what a monstrous clever fellow was Jurgen, he almost lost sight of the fact that he was miserable over the impending marriage of the lady he loved.
Once or twice he caught the tail-end of a glance from Gogyrvan's bright old eye. Jurgen by this time abhorred Gogyrvan, as a person of abominably unjust dealings.
"To take no better care of his own daughter," Jurgen considered, "is infamous. The man is neglecting his duties as a father, and to do that is not fair."