|Chapter 23||CHAPTER XXIV||Chapter 25|
OF COMPROMISES IN COCAIGNE
HUS Jurgen abode for a little over two months in Cocaigne, and complied with the customs of that country. Nothing altered in Cocaigne: but in the world wherein Jurgen was reared, he knew, it would by this time be September, with the leaves flaring gloriously, and the birds flocking southward, and the hearts of Jurgen's fellows turning to not unpleasant regrets. But in Cocaigne there was no regret and no variability, but only an interminable flow of curious pleasures, illumined by the wandering star of Venus Mechanitis.
"Why is it, then, that I am not content?" said Jurgen. "And what thing is this which I desire? It seems to me there is some injustice being perpetrated upon Jurgen, somewhere."
Meanwhile he lived with Anaïtis the Sun's daughter very much as he had lived with Lisa, who was daughter to a pawnbroker. Anaïtis displayed upon the whole a milder temper: in part because she could confidently look forward to several centuries more of life before being explained away by the Philologists, and so had less need than Dame Lisa to worry over temporal matters; and in part because there was less to ruin one's disposition in two months than in ten years of Jurgen's company. Anaïtis nagged and sulked for a while when her Prince Consort slackened in the pursuit of strange delights, as he did very soon, with frank confession that his tastes were simple and that these outlandish refinements bored him. Later Anaïtis seemed to despair of his ever becoming proficient in curious pleasures, and she permitted Jurgen to lead a comparatively normal life, with only an occasional and half -hearted remonstrance.
What puzzled Jurgen was that she did not seem to tire of him: and he would often wonder what this lovely myth, so skilled and potent in arts wherein he was the merest bungler, could find to care for in Jurgen. For now they lived together like any other humdrum married couple, and their occasional exchange of endearments was as much a matter of course as their meals, and hardly more exciting.
"Poor dear, I believe it is simply because I am a monstrous clever fellow. She distrusts my cleverness, she very often disapproves of it, and yet she values it as queer, as a sort of curiosity. Well, but who can deny that cleverness is truly a curiosity in Cocaigne?"
So Anaïtis petted and pampered her Prince Consort, and took such open pride in his queerness as very nearly embarrassed him sometimes. She could not understand his attitude of polite amusement toward his associates and the events which befell him, and even toward his own doings and traits. Whatever happened, Jurgen shrugged, and, delicately avoiding actual laughter, evinced amusement. Anaïtis could not understand this at all, of course, since Asian myths are remarkably destitute of humour. To Jurgen in private she protested that he ought to be ashamed of his levity: but none the less, she would draw him out, when among the bestial and grim nature myths, and she would glow visibly with fond pride in Jurgen's queerness.
"She mothers me," reflected Jurgen. "Upon my word, I believe that in the end this is the only way in which females are capable of loving. And she is a dear and lovely creature, of whom I am sincerely fond. What is this thing, then, that I desire? Why do I feel life is not treating me quite justly?"
So the summer had passed; and Anaïtis travelled a great deal, being a popular myth in every land. Her sense of duty was so strong that she endeavoured to grace in person all the peculiar festivals held in her honour, and this, now the harvest season was at hand, left her with hardly a moment disengaged. Then, too, the mission of Anaïtis was to divert; and there were so many people whom she had personally to visit-so many notable ascetics who were advancing straight toward canonisation, and whom her underlings were unable to divert, --that Anaïtis was compelled to pass night after night in unwholesomely comfortless surroundings, in monasteries and in the cells and caves of hermits.
"You are wearing yourself out, my darling," Jurgen would say: "and does it not seem, after all, a game that is hardly worth the candle? I know that, for my part, before I would travel so many miles into a desert, and then climb a hundred-foot pillar, just to whisper diverting notions into an anchorite's very dirty ear, I would let the gaunt rascal go to Heaven. But you associate so much with saintly persons that you have contracted their incapacity for seeing the humorous side of things. Well, you are a dear, even so. Here is a kiss for you: and do you come back to your adoring husband as soon as you conveniently can without neglecting your duty."
"They report that this Stylites is very far gone in rectitude," said Anaïtis, absent-mindedly, as she prepared for the journey, "but I have hopes for him."
Then Anaïtis put purple powder on her hair, and hastily got together a few beguiling devices, and went into the Thebaid. Jurgen went back to the Library, and the System of Worshipping a Girl, and the unique manuscripts of Astyanassa and Elephantis and Sotades, and the Dionysiac Formulae, and the Chart of Postures, and the Litany of the Centre of Delight, and the Spintrian Treatises, an the Thirty-two Gratifications, and innumerable other volumes which he found instructive.
The Library was a vaulted chamber, having its walls painted with the twelve Asan of Cyrene; the ceiling was frescoed with the arched body of a woman, whose toes rested upon the cornice of the east wall, and whose outstretched finger-tips touched the cornice of the western wall. The clothing of this painted woman was remarkable: and to Jurgen her face was not unfamiliar.
"Who is that?" he inquired, of Anaïtis.
Looking a little troubled, Anaïtis told him this was Aesred.
"Well, I have heard her called otherwise: and I have seen her in quite other clothing."
"You have seen Aesred?"
"Yes, with a kitchen towel about her head, and otherwise unostentatiously apparelled-but very becomingly, I can assure you!" Here Jurgen glanced sidewise at his shadow, and he cleared his throat. "Oh, and a most charming and a most estimable old lady I found this Aesred to be, I can assure you also."
"I would prefer to know nothing about it," said Anaïtis, hastily, "I would prefer, for both our sakes, that You say no more of Aesred."
Now in the Library of Cocaigne was garnered a record of all that the nature myths had invented in the way of pleasure. And here, with no companion save his queer shadow, and with Aesred arched above and bleakly regarding him, Jurgen spent most of his time, rather agreeably, in investigating and meditating upon the more curious of these recreations. The painted Asan were, in all conscience, food for wonder: but over and above these dozen surprising pastimes, the books of Anaïtis revealed to Jurgen, with out disguise or reticence, every other far-fetched frolic of heathenry. Hitherto unheard-of forms of diversion were unveiled to him, and every recreation which ingenuity had been able to contrive, for the gratifying of the most subtle and the most strong- stomached tastes. No possible sort of amusement would seem to have been omitted, in running the quaint gamut of refinements upon nature which Anaïtis and her cousins had at odd moments invented, to satiate their desire for some more suave or more strange or more sanguinary pleasure. Yet the deeper Jurgen investigated, and the longer he meditated, the more certain it seemed to him that all such employment was a peculiarly unimaginative pursuit of happiness.
"I am willing to taste any drink once. So I must give diversion a fair trial. But I am afraid these are the games of mental childhood. Well, that reminds me I promised the children to play with them for a while before supper."
So he came out, and presently, brave in the shirt of Nessus, and mimicked in every action by that incongruous shadow, Prince Jurgen was playing tag with the three little Eumenides, the daughters of Anaïtis by her former marriage with Acheron, the King of Midnight.
Anaïtis and the dark potentate had parted by mutual consent. "Acheron meant well," she would say, with a forgiving sigh, "and that in the Moon's absence he occasionally diverted travellers, I do not deny. But he did not understand me."
And Jurgen agreed that this tragedy sometimes befell even the unapproachably diverting.
The three Eumenides at this period were half-grown girls, whom their mother was carefully tutoring to drive guilty persons mad by the stings of conscience: and very quaint it was to see the young Furies at practice in the schoolroom, black-robed, and waving lighted torches, and crowned each with her garland of pet serpents. They became attached to Jurgen, who was always fond of children, and who had frequently regretted that Dame Lisa had borne him none.
"It is enough to get the poor dear a name for eccentricity," he had been used to say.
So Jurgen now made much of his step-children: and indeed he found their innocent prattle quite as intelligent, in essentials, as the talk of the full-grown nature myths who infested the palace of Anaïtis. And the four of them -- Jurgen, and critical Alecto, and grave Tisiphone, and fairy-like little Megaera, -would take long walks, and play with their dolls (though Alecto was a trifle condescending toward dolls), and romp together in the eternal evening of Cocaigne; and discuss what sort of dresses and trinkets Mother would probably bring them when she came back from Ecbatana or Lesbos, and would generally enjoy themselves.
Rather pathetically earnest and unimaginative little lasses, Jurgen found the young Eumenides: they inherited much of their mother's narrow-mindedness, if not their father's brooding and gloomy tendencies; but in them narrow-mindedness showed merely as amusing. And Jurgen loved them, and would often reflect what a pity it was that these dear little girls were destined, when they reached maturity, to spend the rest of their lives in haunting criminals and adulterers and parricides and, generally, such persons as must inevitably tarnish the girls' outlook upon life, and lead them to see too much of the worst side of human nature.
So Jurgen was content enough. But still he was not actually happy, not even among the endless pleasures of Cocaigne.
"And what is this thing that I desire?" he would ask himself, again and again.
And still he did not know: he merely felt he was not getting justice: and a dim sense of this would trouble him even while he was playing with the Eumenides.