|Chapter 16||CHAPTER XVII||Chapter 18|
ABOUT A COCK THAT CROWED TOO SOON
EXT the tale tells of how Jurgen and the ghost of Queen Sylvia Tereu came into the White Turret. The Lady of the Lake was in bed: she slept unaccompanied, as Jurgen noted with approval, for he wished to intrude upon no more tete-a-tetes. And Dame Anaïtis did not at first awake.
Now this was a gloomy and high-panelled apartment, with exactly the traditional amount of moonlight streaming through two windows. Any ghost, even an apprentice, could have acquitted himself with credit in such surroundings, and Jurgen thought he did extremely well. He was atavistically brutal, and to improvise the accompanying dialogue he did not find difficult. So everything went smoothly, and with such spirit that Anaïtis was presently wakened by Queen Sylvia's very moving wails for mercy, and sat erect in bed, as though a little startled. Then the Lady of the Lake leaned back among the pillows, and witnessed the remainder of the terrible scene with remarkable self-possession.
So it was that the tragedy swelled to its appalling climax, and subsided handsomely. With the aid of Caliburn, Jurgen had murdered his temporary wife. He had dragged her insensate body across the floor, by the hair of her head, and had carefully remembered first to put her comb in his pocket, as Queen Sylvia had requested, so that it would not be lost. He had given vent to several fiendish "Ha-ha's" and all the old high imprecations he remembered: and in short, everything had gone splendidly when he left the White Turret with a sense of self-approval and Queen Sylvia Tereu.
The two of them paused in the winding stairway; and in the darkness, after he had restored her comb, the Queen was telling Jurgen how sorry she was to part with him.
"For it is back to the cold grave I must be going now, Messire Jurgen, and to the tall flames of Purgatory: and it may be that I shall not ever see you any more."
"I shall regret the circumstance, madame," says Jurgen, "for you are the loveliest person I have ever seen."
The Queen was pleased. "That is a delightfully boyish speech, and one can see it comes from the heart. I only wish that I could meet with such unsophisticated persons in my present abode. Instead, I am herded with battered sinners who have no heart, who are not frank and outspoken about anything, and I detest their affectations."
"Ah, then you are not happy with your husband, Sylvia? I suspected as much."
"I see very little of Smoit. It is true he has eight other wives all resident in the same flame, and cannot well show any partiality. Two of his Queens, though, went straight to Heaven: and his eighth wife, Gudrun, we are compelled to fear, must have been an unrepentant sinner, for she has never reached Purgatory. But I always distrusted Gudrun, myself: otherwise I would never have suggested to Smoit that he have her strangled in order to make me his queen. You see, I thought it a fine thing to be a queen, in those days, Jurgen, when I was an artless slip of a girl. And Smoit was all honey and perfume and velvet in those days, Jurgen, and little did I suspect the cruel fate that was to befall me."
"Indeed, it is a sad thing, Sylvia, to be murdered by the hand which, so to speak, is sworn to keep an eye on your welfare, and which rightfully should serve you on its knees."
"It was not that I minded. Smoit killed me in a fit jealousy, and jealousy is in its blundering way a compliment. No, a worse thing than that befell me, Jurgen, and embittered all my life in the flesh." And Sylvia began to weep.
"And what was that thing, Sylvia?"
Queen Sylvia whispered the terrible truth. "My husband did not understand me."
"Now, by Heaven," says Jurgen, "when a woman tells me that, even though the woman be dead, I know what it is she expects of me."
So Jurgen put his arm about the ghost of Queen Sylvia Tereu, and comforted her. Then, finding her quite willing to be comforted, Jurgen sat for a while upon the dark steps, with one arm still about Queen Sylvia. The effect of the potion had evidently worn off, because Jurgen found himself to be composed no longer of cool imponderable vapour, but of the warmest and hardest sort of flesh everywhere. But probably the effect of the wine which Jurgen had drunk earlier in the evening had not worn off: for now Jurgen began to talk wildishly in the dark, about the necessity of his, in some way, avenging the injury inflicted upon his nominal grandfather, Ludwig, and Jurgen drew his sword, charmed Caliburn.
"For, as you perceive," said Jurgen, "I carry such weapons as are sufficient for all ordinary encounters. And am I not to use them, to requite King Smoit for the injustice he did poor Ludwig? Why, certainly I must. It is my duty."
"Ah, but Smoit by this is back in Purgatory," Queen Sylvia protested. "And to draw your sword against a woman is cowardly."
"The avenging sword of Jurgen, my charming Sylvia, is the terror of envious men, but it is the comfort of all pretty women."
"It is undoubtedly a very large sword," said she: "oh, a magnificent sword, as I can perceive even in the dark. But Smoit, I repeat, is not here to measure weapons with you."
"Now your arguments irritate me, whereas an honest woman would see to it that all the legacies of her dead husband were duly satisfied-"
"Oh, oh! and what do you mean-?"
"Well, but certainly a grandson is-at one remove, I grant you -- a sort of legacy."
"There is something in what you advance-"
"There is a great deal in what I advance, I can assure you. It is the most natural and most penetrating kind of logic; and I wish merely to discharge a duty--"
"But you upset me with that big sword of yours; you make me nervous, and I cannot argue so long as you are flourishing it about. Come now, put up your sword! Oh, what is anybody to do with you? Here is the sheath for your sword," says she.
At this point they were interrupted.
"Duke of Logreus," says the voice of Dame Anaïtis, do you not think it would be better to retire, before such antics at the door of my bedroom give rise to a scandal?"
For Anaïtis had half-opened the door of her bedroom, and with a lamp in her hand, was peering out into the narrow stairway. Jurgen was a little embarrassed, for his apparent intimacy with a lady who had been dead for sixty-three years would be, he felt, a matter difficult to explain. So Jurgen rose to his feet, and hastily put up the weapon he had exhibited to Queen Sylvia, and decided to pass airily over the whole affair. And outside, a cock crowed, for it was now dawn.
"I bid you a good morning, Dame Anaïtis," said Jurgen. "But the stairways hereabouts are confusing, and I must have lost my way. I was going for a stroll. This is my distant relative Queen Sylvia Tereu, who kindly offered to accompany me. We were going out to gather mushrooms and to watch the sunrise, you conceive."
"Messire de Logreus, I think you had far better go back to bed."
"To the contrary, madame, it is my manifest duty to serve as Queen Sylvia's escort-"
"For all that, messire, I do not see any Queen Sylvia."
Jurgen looked about him. And certainly his grandfather's ninth wife was no longer visible. "Yes, she has vanished. But that was to be expected at cockcrow. Still, that cock crew just at the wrong moment," said Jurgen, ruefully." It was not fair."
And Dame Anaïtis said: "Gogyrvan's cellar is well stocked: and you sat late with Urien and Aribert: and doubtless they also were lucky enough to discover a queen or two in Gogyrvan's cellar.. No less, I think you are still a little drunk."
"Now answer me this, Dame Anaïtis: were you not visited by two ghosts to-night?"
"Why, that is as it may be," she replied: "but the White Turret is notoriously haunted, and it is few quiet nights I have passed there-, for Gogyrvan's people were a bad lot."
"Upon my word," wonders Jurgen, "what manner of person is this Dame Anaïtis, who remains unstirred, by such a brutal murder as I have committed, and makes no more of ghosts than I would of moths? I have heard she is an enchantress; I am sure she is a fine figure of a woman: and in short, here is a matter which would repay looking into, were not young Guenevere the mistress of my heart."
Aloud he said: "Perhaps then I am drunk, madame. None the less, I still think the cock crew just at the wrong moment."
"Some day you must explain the meaning of that," says she. " Meanwhile I am going back to bed, and I again advise you to do the same."
Then the door closed, the bolt fell, and Jurgen went away, still in considerable excitement.
"This Dame Anaïtis is an interesting personality," he reflected, "and it would be a pleasure, now, to demonstrate to her my grievance against the cock, did occasion serve. Well, things less likely than that have happened. Then, too, she came upon me when my sword was out, and in consequence knows I wield a respectable weapon. She may feel the need of a good swordsman some day, this handsome Lady of the Lake who has no husband. So let us cultivate patience. Meanwhile, it appears that I am of royal blood. Well, I fancy there is something in the scandal, for I detect in me a deal in common with this King Smoit. Twelve wives, though! no, that is too many. I would limit no man's liaisons, but twelve wives in lawful matrimony bespeaks an optimism unknown to me. No, I do not think I am drunk: but it is unquestionable that I am not walking very straight. Certainly, too, we did drink a great deal. So I had best go quietly back to bed, and say nothing more about to-night's doings."
As much he did. And this was the first time that Jurgen, who had been a pawnbroker, held any discourse with Dame Anaïtis, whom men called the Lady of the Lake.