|Chapter 22||CHAPTER XXIII||Chapter 24|
SHORTCOMINGS OF PRINCE JURGEN
OW the happenings just recorded befell on the eve of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist: and thereafter Jurgen abode in Cocaigne, and complied with the customs of that country.
In the palace of Queen Anaïtis, all manner of pastimes were practised without any cessation. Jurgen, who considered himself to be somewhat of an authority upon such contrivances, was soon astounded by his own innocence. For Anaïtis showed him whatever was being done in Cocaigne, to this side and to that side, under the direction of Anaïtis, whom Jurgen found to be a nature myth of doubtful origin connected with the Moon; and who, in consequence, ruled not merely in Cocaigne but furtively swayed the tides of life everywhere the Moon keeps any power over tides. It was the mission of Anaïtis to divert and turn aside and deflect: in this the jealous Moon abetted her because sunlight makes for straightforwardness. So Anaïtis and the Moon were staunch allies. These mysteries of their private relations, however, as revealed to Jurgen, are not very nicely repeatable.
"But you dishonoured the Moon, Prince Jurgen, denying praise to the day of the Moon. Or so, at least, I have heard."
"I remember doing nothing of the sort. But I remember considering it unjust to devote one paltry day to the Moon's majesty. For night is sacred to the Moon, each night that ever was the friend of lovers, night, the renewer and begetter of all life ."
"Why, indeed, there is something in that argument," says Anaïtis, dubiously.
"'Something,' do you say? Why, but to my way of thinking it proves the Moon is precisely seven times more honourable than any of the Leshy. It is merely, my dear, a question of arithmetic."
"Was it for that reason you did not praise Pandelis and her Mondays with the other Leshy?"
"Why, to be sure," said Jurgen, glibly. "I did not find it at all praiseworthy that such an insignificant Leshy as Pandelis should name her day after the Moon: to me it seemed blasphemy." Then Jurgen coughed, and looked sidewise at his shadow. "Had it been Sereda, now, the case would have been different, and the Moon might well have appreciated the delicate compliment."
Anaïtis appeared relieved. "I shall report your explanation. Candidly, there were ill things in store for you, Prince Jurgen, because your language was misunderstood. But that which you now say puts quite a different complexion upon matters."
Jurgen laughed, not understanding the mystery, but confident he could always say whatever was required of him.
"Now let us see a little more of Cocaigne cries Jurgen."
For Jurgen was greatly interested by the pursuits of Cocaigne, and for a week or ten days participated therein industriously. Anaïtis, who reported the Moon's honour to be satisfied, now spared no effort to divert him, and they investigated innumerable pastimes together.
"For all men that live have but a little while to live," said Anaïtis, "and none knows his fate thereafter. So that a man possesses nothing certainly save a brief loan of his body: and yet the body of man is capable of much curious pleasure. As thus and thus," says Anaïtis. And she revealed devices to her Prince Consort.
For Jurgen found that unknowing and proper form espoused Queen Anaïtis, by participating in the Breaking of the Veil, which is the marriage ceremony of Cocaigne. His earlier relations with Dame Lisa had, of course, no legal standing in Cocaigne, where the Church is not Christian and the Law is, Do that which seems good to you.
"Well, when in Rome," said Jurgen, "one must be romantic. But certainly this proves that nobody ever knows when he is being entrapped into respectability: and never did a fine young fellow marry a high queen with less premeditation."
"Ah, my dear," says Anaïtis, "you were controlled by the finger of Fate."
"I do not altogether like that figure of speech. It makes one seem too trivial, to be controlled by a mere finger. No, it is not quite complimentary to call what prompted me a finger."
"By the long arm of coincidence, then."
"Much more appropriate, my love," says Jurgen, complacently: it sounds more dignified, and does not wound my self-esteem."
Now this Anaïtis who was Queen of Cocaigne was a delicious tall dark woman, thinnish, and lovely, and very restless. From the first her new Prince Consort was puzzled by her fervours, and presently was fretted by them. He humbly failed to understand how anyone could be so frantic over Jurgen. It seemed unreasonable. And in her more affectionate moments this nature myth positively frightened him: for transports such as these could not but rouse discomfortable reminiscences of the female spider, who ends such recreations by devouring her partner.
"Thus to be loved is very flattering," he would reflect, "and I again am Jurgen, asking odds of none. But even so, I am mortal. She ought to remember that, in common fairness."
Then the jealousy of Anaïtis, while equally flattering, was equally out of reason. She suspected everybody, seemed assured that every bosom cherished a mad passion for Jurgen, and that not for a moment could he be trusted. Well, as Jurgen frankly conceded, his conduct toward Stella, that ill-starred yogini of Indawadi, had in point of fact displayed, when viewed from an especial and quite unconscionable point of view, an aspect which, when isolated by persons judging hastily, might, just possibly, appear to approach remotely, in one or two respects, to temporary forgetfulness of Anaïtis, if indeed there were people anywhere so mentally deficient as to find such forgetfulness conceivable.
But the main thing, the really important feature, which Anaïtis could not be made to understand, was that she had interrupted her consort in what was, in effect, a philosophical experiment, necessarily attempted in the dark The muntrus requisite to the sacti sodhana were always performed in darkness: everybody knew that. For the rest, this Stella had asserted so-and-so; in simple equity she was entitled to a chance to prove her allegations if she could: so Jurgen had proceeded to deal fairly with her. Besides, why keep talking about this Stella, after a vengeance so spectacular and thorough as that to which Anaïtis had out of hand resorted? Why keep reverting to a topic which was repugnant to Jurgen and visibly upset the dearest nature myth in all legend? Was it quite fair to anyone concerned? That was the sensible way in which Jurgen put it.
Still, he became honestly fond of Anaïtis. Barring her eccentricities when roused to passion, she was a generous and kindly creature, although in Jurgen's opinion somewhat narrow-minded.
"My love," he would say to her, "you appear positively unable to keep away from virtuous persons! You are always seeking out the people who endeavour to be upright and straightforward, and you are perpetually laying plans to divert these people. Ah, but why bother about them? What need have you to wear yourself out, and to devote your entire time to such proselytising, when you might be so much more agreeably employed? You should learn, in justice to yourself as well as to others, to be tolerant of all things, and to acknowledge that in a being of man's mingled nature a strain of - respectability is apt to develop every now and then, whatever you might prefer."
But Anaïtis had high notions as to her mission, and merely told him that he ought not to speak with levity of such matters. "I would be much happier staying at home with you and the children," she would say, "but I feel that it is my duty--"
"And your duty to whom, in heaven's name?"
"Please do not employ such distasteful expressions, Jurgen. It is my duty to the power I serve, my very manifest duty to my creator. But you have no sense of religion, I am afraid; and the reflection is often a considerable grief to me."
"Ah, but, my dear, you are quite certain as to who made you, and for what purpose you were made. You nature myths were created in the Mythopoeic age by the perversity of old heathen nations: and you serve your creator religiously. That is quite as it should be. But I have no such authentic information as to my origin and mission in life, I appear at all events to have no natural talent for being diverted, I do not take to it wholeheartedly, and these are facts we have to face." Now Jurgen put his arm around her. "My dear Anaïtis, you must not think it mere selfishness on my part. I was born with a something lacking that is requisite for anyone who aspires to be as thoroughly misled as most people: and you will have to love me in spite of it."
"I almost wish I had never seen you as I saw you in that corridor, Jurgen. For I felt drawn toward you the and there. I almost wish I had never seen you at all I cannot help being fond of you: and yet you laugh at the things I know to be required of me, and sometime you make me laugh, too."
"But, darling, are you not just the least, littlest tiniest, very weest trifle bigoted? For instance, I can see that you think I ought to evince more interest in your striking dances, and your strange pleasures, and your surprising caresses, and all your other elaborate diversions. And I do think they do you credit, great credit, and I admire your inventiveness no less than your industry-"
"You have no sense of reverence, Jurgen; you seem to have no sense at all of what is due to one's creator. I suppose you cannot help that: but you might at least remember it troubles me to hear you talk so flippantly of my religion."
"But I do not talk flippantly-"
"Indeed you do, though. And it does not sound at all well, let me tell you."
"-Instead, I but point out that your creed necessitates, upon the whole, an ardour I lack. You, my pet, were created by perversity: and everyone knows it is the part of piety to worship one's creator in fashions acceptable to that creator. So, I do not criticise your religious connections, dear, and nobody admires these ceremonials of your faith more heartily than I do. I merely confess that to celebrate these rites so frequently requires a sustention of enthusiasm which is beyond me. In fine, I have not your fervent temperament, I am more sceptical. You may be right; and certainly I cannot go so far as to say you are wrong: but still, at the same time- ! That is how I feel about it, my precious, and that is why I find, with constant repetition of these ceremonials, a certain lack of firmness developing in my responses: and finally, darling, that is all there is to it."
"I never in my whole incarnation had such a Prince Consort! Sometimes I think you do not care a bit about me one way or the other, Jurgen."
"Ah, but I do care for you very much. And to prove it, come now, let us try some brand-new diversion, at sight of which the skies will be blackened and the earth will shudder or something of that sort, and then I will take the children fishing, as I promised."
"No, Jurgen, I do not feel like diverting you just now. You take all the solemnity out of it with your jeering. Besides, you are always with the children. Jurgen, I believe you are fonder of the children than you are of me. And when you are not with them you are locked up in the Library."
"Well, and was there ever such a treasury as the Library of Cocaigne? All the diversions that you nature myths have practised I find recorded there: and to read of your ingenious devices delights and maddens me. For it is eminently interesting to meditate upon strange pleasures, and to make verses about them is the most amiable of avocations: it is merely the pursuit of them that I would discourage, as disappointing and mussy. Besides, the Library is the only spot I have to myself in the palace, what with your fellow nature myths making the most of life all over the place."
"It is necessary, Jurgen, for one in my position to entertain more or less. And certainly I cannot close the doors against my own relatives."
"Such riffraff, though, my darling! Such odds and ends! I cannot congratulate you upon your kindred, for I do not get on at all with these patchwork combinations, that are one-third man and the other two-thirds a vulgar fraction of bull or hawk or goat or serpent or ape or jackal or what not. Priapos is the only male myth who comes here in anything like the semblance of a complete human being: and I had infinitely rather he stayed away, because even I who am Jurgen cannot but be envious of him."
"And why, pray?"
"Well, where I go reasonably equipped with Caliburn, Priapos carries a lance I envy-"
"Like all the Bacchic myths he usually carries a thyrsos, and it is a showy weapon, certainly; but it is not of much use in actual conflict."
"My darling! and how do you know?"
"Why, Jurgen, how do women always know these things ?-by intuition, I suppose."
"You mean that you judge all affairs by feeling rather than reason? Indeed, I dare say that is true of most women, and men are daily chafed and delighted, about equally, by your illogical method of putting things together. But to get back to the congenial task of criticising your kindred, your cousin Apis, for example, may be a very good sort of fellow: but, say what you will, it is ill-advised of him to be going about in public with a bull's head. It makes him needlessly conspicuous, if not actually ridiculous: and it puts me out when I try to talk to him."
"Now, Jurgen, pray remember that you speak of a very generally respected myth, and that you are being irreverent-"
"-And moreover, I take the liberty of repeating, my darling, that even though this Ba of Mendes is your cousin, it honestly does embarrass me to have to meet three-quarters of a goat socially-"
"But, Jurgen, I must as a matter of course invite prolific Ba to my feasts of the Sacae-"
"Even so, my dear, in issuing invitations a hostess may fairly presuppose that her guests will not make beasts of themselves. I often wish that this mere bit, of ordinary civility were more rigorously observed by Ba and Hortanes and Fricco and Vul and Baal-Peor, and by all your other cousins who come to visit you in such a zoologically muddled condition. It shows a certain lack of respect for you, my darling."
"Oh, but it is all in the family, Jurgen-"
Besides, they have no conversation. They merely bellow -- or twitter or bleat or low or gibber or purr, according to their respective incarnations,-about unspeakable mysteries and monstrous pleasures until I am driven to the verge of virtue by their imbecility."
"If you were more practical, Jurgen, you would realise that it speaks splendidly for anyone to be really interested in his vocation--"
"And your female relatives are just as annoying, with their eternal whispered enigmas, and their crescent, moons, and their mystic roses that change colour and require continual gardening, and their pathetic belief that I have time to fool with them. And the entire pack practises symbolism until the house is positively littered with asherahs and combs and phalloses and linghams and yonis and arghas and pulleiars and talys, and I do not know what other idiotic toys that I am continually stepping on !"
"Which of those minxes has been making up to you?" says Anaïtis, her eyes snapping.
"Ah, ah! now many of your female cousins are enticing enough--"
"I knew it! Oh, but you need not think you deluded me--!"
"My darling, pray consider! be reasonable about it! Your feminine guests at present are Sekhmet in the form of a lioness, Io incarnated as a cow, Hekt, as a frog, Derceto as a sturgeon, and --ah, yes! --Thoucris as a hippopotamus. I leave it to your sense of justice, dear Anaïtis, if of ladies with such tastes in dress a lovely myth like you can reasonably be jealous."
"And I know perfectly well who it is! It is that Ephesian hussy, and I had several times noticed her behaviour. Very well, oh, very Well, indeed! nevertheless, I shall have a plain word or two with her at once, and the sooner she gets out of my house the better, as I shall tell her quite frankly. And as for you, Jurgen -- !"
"But, my dear Lisa--!"
"What do you call me? Lisa was never an epithet of mine. Why do you call me Lisa?"
"It was a slip of the tongue, my pet, an involuntary but not unnatural association of ideas. As for the Ephesian Diana, she reminds me of an animated pinecone, with that eruption of breasts all over her, and I can assure you of your having no particular reason to be jealous of her. It was merely of the female myths in general I spoke. Of course they all make eyes at me: I cannot well help that, and you should have anticipated as much when you selected such an attractive Prince Consort. What do these poor enamoured creatures matter when to you my heart is ever faithful?"
"It is not your heart I am worrying over, Jurgen, for I believe you have none. Yes, you have quite succeeded in worrying me to distraction, if that is any comfort to you. However, let us not talk about it. For it is now necessary, absolutely imperative, that I go into Armenia to take part in the mourning for Tammouz: people would not understand it at all if I stayed away from such important orgies. And I shall get no benefit whatever from the trip, much as I need the change, because, without speaking of that famous heart of yours, you are always up to some double-dealing, and I shall not know into what mischief you may be thrusting yourself."
Jurgen laughed, and kissed her. "Be off, and attend to your religious duties, dear, by all means. And I promise you I will stay safe locked in the Library till you come back."
Thus Jurgen abode among the offspring of heathen perversity, and conformed to their customs. Death ends all things for all, they contended, and life is brief: for how few years do men endure, and how quickly is the most subtle and appalling nature myth explained away by the Philologists! So the wise person, and equally the foreseeing nature myth, will take his glut of pleasure while there is yet time to take anything, and will waste none of his short lien upon desire and vigour by asking questions.
"Oh, but by all means said Jurgen, and he docilely crowned himself with a rose garland, and drank his wine, and kissed his Anaïtis. Then, when the feast of the Sacae was at full-tide, he would whisper to Anaïtis, "I will be back in a moment, darling," and she would frown fondly at him as he very quietly slipped from his ivory dining couch, and went, with the merest suspicion of a reel, into the Library. She knew that Jurgen had no intention of coming back: and she despaired of his ever taking the position in the social life of Cocaigne to which he was entitled no less by his rank as Prince Consort than by his personal abilities. For Anaïtis did not really think that, as went natural endowments, her Jurgen had much reason to envy even such a general favourite as Priapos, say, from what she knew of both.
So it was that Jurgen honoured custom. "Because these beastly nature myths may be right," said Jurgen; "and certainly I cannot go so far as to say they are wrong: but still, at the same time--!"
For Jurgen was content to dismiss no riddle with a mere "I do not know." Jurgen was no more able to give up questioning the meaning of life than could a trout relinquish swimming: indeed, he lived submerged in a flood of curiosity and doubt, as his native element. That death ended all things might very well be the case: yet if the outcome proved otherwise, how much more pleasant it would be, for everyone concerned, to have aforetime established amicable relations with the overlords of his second life, by having done whatever it was they expected of him here.
"Yes, I feel that something is expected of me," says Jurgen: "and without knowing what it is, I am tolerably sure, somehow, that it is not an indulgence in endless pleasure. Besides, I do not think death is going to end all for me. If only I could be quite certain my encounter with King Smoit, and with that charming little Sylvia Tereu, was not a dream! As it is, plain reasoning assures me I am not indispensable to the universe: but with this reasoning, somehow, does not travel my belief. No, it is only fair to my own interests to go graveward a little more open-mindedly than do these nature myths, since I lack the requisite credulity to become a free-thinking materialist. To believe that we know nothing assuredly, and cannot ever know anything assuredly, is to take too much on faith."
And Jurgen paused to shake his sleek black head two or three times, very sagely.
"No, I cannot believe in nothingness being the destined end of all: that would be too futile a climax to content a dramatist clever enough to have invented Jurgen. No, it is just as I said to the brown man: I cannot believe in the annihilation of Jurgen by any really thrifty overlords; so I shall see to it that Jurgen does nothing which he cannot more or less plausibly excuse, in case of supernal inquiries. That is far safer."
Now Jurgen was shaking his head again: and he sighed.
"For the pleasures of Cocaigne do not satisfy me. They are all well enough in their way; and I admit the truism that in seeking bed and board two heads are better than one. Yes, Anaïtis makes me an excellent wife. Nevertheless, her diversions do not satisfy me, and gallantly to make the most of life is not enough. No, it is something else that I desire: and Anaïtis does not quite understand me."