|Chapter 15||CHAPTER XVI||Chapter 17|
DIVERS IMBROGLIOS OF KING SMOIT
OW it befell that for three nights in succession the Princess Guenevere was unable to converse with Jurgen in the Hall of judgment. So upon one of these disengaged evenings Duke Jurgen held a carouse with Aribert and Orien, two of Gogyrvan's barons, who had just returned from Pengwaed-Gir, and had queer tales to narrate of the Trooping Fairies who garrison that place.
All three were seasoned topers, so Jurgen went to bed prepared for anything. Later he sat up in bed, and found it was much as he had suspected. The room was haunted, and at the foot of his couch were two ghosts : one an impudent-looking leering phantom, in a suit of old-fashioned armour, and the other a beautiful pale lady, in the customary flowing white draperies.
"Good-morning to you both," says Jurgen, "and sorry am I that I cannot truthfully observe I am glad to see you. Though you are welcome enough if you can manage to -haunt the room quietly." Then, seeing that both phantoms looked puzzled, Jurgen proceeded to explain." Last year, when I was travelling upon business in Westphalia, it was my grief to spend a night in the haunted castle of Neuedesberg, for I could not get any sleep at all in that place. There was a ghost in charge who persisted in rattling very large iron chains and in groaning dismally throughout the night. Then toward morning he took the form of a monstrous cat, and climbed upon the foot of my bed: and there he squatted yowling until daybreak. And as I am ignorant of German, I was not able to convey to him any idea of my disapproval of his conduct. Now I trust that as compatriots, or as I might say with more exactness, as former compatriots, you will appreciate that such behaviour is out of all reason."
"Messire," says the male ghost, and he oozed to his full height, "you are guilty of impertinence in harbouring such a suspicion. I can only hope it proceeds from ignorance."
"For I am sure," put in the lady, "that I always disliked cats, and we never had them about the castle."
"And you must pardon my frankness, messire," continued the male ghost, "but you cannot have moved widely in noble company if you are indeed unable to distinguish between members of the feline species and of the reigning family of Glathion."
"Well, I have seen dowager queens who justified some such confusion," observed Jurgen. "Still, I entreat the forgiveness of both of you, for I had no idea that I was addressing royalty."
"I was King Smoit," explained the male phantom, "and this was my ninth wife, Queen Sylvia Tereu."
Jurgen bowed as gracefully, he flattered himself, as was possible in his circumstances. It is not easy to bow gracefully while sitting erect in bed.
"Often and over again have I heard of you, King Smoit," says Jurgen. "You were the grandfather of Gogyrvan Gawr, and you murdered your ninth wife, and your eighth wife, and your fifth wife, and your third wife too : and you went under the title of the Black King, for you were reputed the wickedest monarch that ever reigned in Glathion and the Red Islands."
It seemed to Jurgen that King Smoit evinced embarrassment, but it is hard to be quite certain when a ghost is blushing. "Perhaps I was spoken of in some such terms," says Smoit, "for the neighbours were censorious gossips, and I was not lucky in my marriages. And I regret, I bitterly regret, to confess that, in a moment of extreme yet not quite unprovoked excitement, I assassinated the lady whom you now behold."
"And I am sure, through no fault of mine," says Sylvia Tereu.
"Certainly, my dear, you resisted with all your might. I only wish that you had been a larger and a brawnier woman. But you, messire, can now perceive, I suppose, the folly of expecting a high King of Glathion, and the queen that he took delight in, to sit upon your bed and howl ?"
So then, upon reflection, Jurgen admitted he had never had that experience; nor, he handsomely added, could he recall any similar incident among his friends.
"The notion is certainly preposterous," went on King Smoit, and very grimly he smiled. "We are drawn hither by quite other intentions. In fact, we wish to ask of you, as a member of the family, your assistance in a delicate affair."
"I would be delighted," Jurgen stated, "to aid you in any possible way. But why do you call me a member of the family?"
"Now, to deal frankly," says Smoit, with a grin, "I am not claiming any alliance with the Duke of Logreus--"
"Sometimes," says Jurgen, "one prefers to travel incognito. As a king, you ought to understand that."
"--My interest is rather in the grandson of Steinvor. Now you will remember your grandmother Steinvor as, I do not doubt, a charming old lady. But I remember Steinvor, the wife of Ludwig, as one of the loveliest girls that a king's eyes ever lighted on."
"Oh, sir," says Jurgen, horrified, "and what is this you are telling me?"
"Merely that I had always an affectionate nature," replied King Smoit, "and that I was a fine upstanding young king in those days. And one of the results of my being these things was your father, whom men called Coth the son of Ludwig. But I can assure you Ludwig had done nothing to deserve it."
"Well, well!" said Jurgen : "all this is very scandalous: and very upsetting, too, it is to have a brand-new grandfather foisted upon you at this hour of the morning. Still, it happened a great while ago : and if Ludwig did not fret over it, I see no reason why I should do so. And besides, King Smoit, it may be that you are not telling me the truth."
"If you doubt my confession, messire my grandson, you have only to look into the next mirror. It is precisely on this account that we have ventured to dispel your slumbers. For to me you bear a striking resemblance. You have the family face."
Now Jurgen considered the lineaments of King Smoit of Glathion. "Really," said Jurgen, "of course it is very flattering to be told that your appearance is regal. I do not at all know what to say in reply to the implied compliment, without seeming uncivil. I would never for a moment question that you were much admired in your day, sir, and no doubt very justly so. None the less well, my nose, now, from such glimpses of it as mirrors have hitherto afforded, does not appear to be a snubnose."
"Ah, but appearances are proverbially deceitful," observed King Smoit.
"And about the left-hand corner," protested Queen Sylvia Tereu, "I detect a distinct resemblance."
"Now I may seem unduly obtuse," said Jurgen, "for I am a little obtuse. It is a habit with me, a very bad habit formed in early infancy, and I have never been able to break myself of it. And so I have not any notion at what you two are aiming."
Replied the ghost of King Smoit: "I will explain. Just sixty-three years ago to-night I murdered my ninth wife in circumstances of peculiar brutality, as you with rather questionable taste have mentioned."
Then Jurgen was somewhat abashed, and felt that it did not become him, who had so recently cut off the head of his own wife, to assume the airs of a precisian. "Of course," says Jurgen, more broad-mindedly, "these little family differences are always apt to occur in married life."
"So be it! Though, by the so-and-sos of Ursula's eleven thousand travelling companions, there was a time wherein I would not have brooked such criticism. Ah, well, that time is overpast, and I am a bloodless thing that the wind sweeps at the wind's will through lands in which but yesterday King Smoit was dreaded. So I let that which has been be."
"Well, that seems reasonable," said Jurgen, "and to be a trifle rhetorical is the privilege of grandfathers. Therefore I entreat you, sir, to continue."
"Two years afterward I followed the Emperor Locrine in his expedition against the Suevetii, an evil and luxurious people who worship Gozarin peculiarly, by means of little boats. I must tell you, grandson, that was a goodly raid, conducted by a band of tidy fighters in a land of wealth and of fine women. But alack, as the saying is, in our return from Osnach my loved general Locrine was captured by that arch-fiend Duke Corineus of Cornwall: and I, among many others who had followed the Emperor, paid for our merry larcenies and throat-cuttings a very bitter price. Corineus was not at all broadminded, not what you would call a man of the world. So it was in a noisome dungeon that I was incarcerated, -I, Smoit of Glathion, who conquered Enisgarth and Sargyll in open battle and fearlessly married the heiress of Camwy! But I spare you the unpleasant details. It suffices to say that I was dissatisfied with my quarters. Yet fain to leave them as I became, there was but one way. It involved the slaying of my gaoler, a step which was, I confess, to me distasteful. I was getting on in life, and had grown tired of killing people. Yet, to mature deliberation, the life of a graceless varlet, void of all gentleness and with no bowels of compassion, and deaf to suggestions of bribery, appeared of no overwhelming importance."
"I can readily imagine, grandfather, that you were not deeply interested in either the nature or the anatomy of your gaoler. So you did what was unavoidable."
"Yes, I treacherously slew him, and escaped in an impenetrable disguise to Glathion, where not long afterward I died. My dying just then was most annoying, for 1 was on the point of being married, and she was a remarkably attractive girl,-King Tyrnog's daughter, from Craintnor way. She would have been my thirteenth wife. And not a week before the ceremony 1 tripped and fell down my own castle steps, and broke my neck. It was an humiliating end for one who had been a warrior of considerable repute. Upon my word, it made me think there might be something, after all, in those old superstitions about thirteen being an unlucky number. But what was I saying ?-oh, yes ! It is also unlucky to be careless about one's murders. You will readily understand that for one or two such affairs I am condemned yearly to haunt the scene of my crime on its anniversary : such an arrangement is fair enough, and I make no complaint, though of course it does rather break into the evening. But it happened that I treacherously slew my gaoler with a large cobble-stone on the fifteenth of June. Now the unfortunate Part, the really awkward feature, was that this was to an hour the anniversary of the death of my ninth wife."
"And you murdering insignificant strangers on such a day!" said Queen Sylvia. "You climbing out of gaol windows figged out as a lady abbess, on an anniversary you ought to have kept on your knees in unavailing repentance! But you were a hard man, Smoit, and it was little loving courtesy you showed your wife at a time when she might reasonably look to be remembered, and that is a fact."
"My dear, I admit it was heedless of me. I could not possibly say more. At any rate, grandson, I discovered after my decease that such heedlessness entailed my haunting on every fifteenth of June at three in the morning two separate places."
"Well, but that was justice," says Jurgen.
"It may have been justice," Smoit admitted: "but my point is that it happened to be impossible. However, I was aided by my great-great-grandfather Penpingon Vreichvras ap Mylwald Glasanief. He too had the family face; and in every way resembled me so closely that he impersonated me to everyone's entire satisfaction ; and with my wife's assistance re-enacted my disastrous crime upon the scene of its occurrence, June after June."
"Indeed," said Queen Sylvia, "he handled his sword infinitely better than you, my dear. It was a thrilling pleasure to be murdered by Penpingon Vreichvras ap Mylwald Glasanief, and I shall always regret him."
"For you must understand, grandson, that the term of King Penpingon Vreichvras ap Mylwald Glasanief's stay in Purgatory has now run out, and he has recently gone to Heaven. That was pleasant for him, I dare say, so I do not complain. Still, it leaves me with no one to take my place. Angels, as you will readily understand, are not permitted to perpetrate murders, even in the way of kindness. It might be thought to establish a dangerous precedent."
"All this," said Jurgen, "seems regrettable, but not strikingly explicit. I have a heart and a half to serve you, sir, with not seven-eighths of a notion as to what you want of me. Come, put a name to it!"
"You have, as I have said, the family face. You are, in fact, the living counterpart of Smoit of Glathion. So I beseech you, messire my grandson, for this one night to impersonate my ghost, and with the assistance of Queen Sylvia Tereu to see that at three o'clock the White Turret is haunted to everyone's satisfaction. Otherwise," said Smoit, gloomily, "the consequences will be deplorable."
"But I have had no experience at haunting," Jurgen confessed. "It is a pursuit in which I do not pretend to competence: and I do not even know just how one goes about it."
"That matter is simple, although mysterious preliminaries will be, of course, necessitated, in order to convert a living person into a ghost--"
"The usual preliminaries, sir, are out of the question: and I must positively decline to be stabbed or poisoned or anything of that kind, even to humour my grandfather."
Both Smoit and Sylvia protested that any such radical step would be superfluous, since Jurgen's ghostship was to be transient. In fact, all Jurgen would have to do would be to drain the embossed goblet which Sylvia Tereu held out to him, with Druidical invocations.
And for a moment Jurgen hesitated. The whole business seemed rather improbable. Still, the ties of kin are strong, and it is not often one gets the chance to aid, however slightly, one's long-dead grandfather: besides, the potion smelt very invitingly.
"Well," says Jurgen, "I am willing to taste any drink once." Then Jurgen drank.
The flavour was excellent. Yet the drink seemed not to affect Jurgen, at first. Then he began to feel a trifle light-headed. Next he looked downward, and was surprised to notice there was nobody in his bed. Closer investigation revealed the shadowy outline of a human figure, through which the bedclothing had collapsed. This, he decided, was all that was left of Jurgen. And it gave him a queer sensation. Jurgen jumped like a startled horse, and so violently that he flew out of bed, and found himself floating imponderably about the room.
Now Jurgen recognised the feeling perfectly. He had often had it in his sleep, in dreams wherein he would bend his legs at the knees so that his feet came up behind him, and he would pass through the air without any effort. Then it seemed ridiculously simple, and he would wonder why he never thought of it before. And then he would reflect:
"This is an excellent way of getting around. I will come to breakfast this way in the morning, and show Lisa how simple it is. How it will astonish her, to be sure, and how clever she will think me!"And then Jurgen would wake up, and find that somehow he had forgotten the trick of it.
But just now this manner of locomotion was undeniably easy. So Jurgen floated around his bed once or twice, then to the ceiling, for practice. Through inexperience, he miscalculated the necessary force, and popped through into the room above, where he found himself hovering immediately over the Bishop of Merion. His eminence was not alone, but as both occupants of the apartment were asleep, Jurgen witnessed nothing unepiscopal. Now Jurgen rejoined his grandfather, and girded on charmed Caliburn, and demanded
"What must next be done."
"The assassination will take place in the White Turret, as usual. Queen Sylvia will instruct you in the details. You can invent most of the affair, however, as the Lady of the Lake, who occupies this room to-night, is very probably unacquainted with our terrible history."
Then King Smoit observed that it was high time he kept his appointment in Cornwall, and he melted into air, with an easy confidence that bespoke long practice; and Jurgen followed Queen Sylvia Tereu.