Chapter 36


EXT the tale tells how three inferior devils made a loud music with bagpipes as Jurgen went into the Black House of Barathum, to talk with Grandfather Satan.

Satan was like a man of sixty, or it -might be sixty-two, in all things save that he was covered with grey fur, and had horns like those of a stag. He wore a breech-clout of very dark grey, and he sat in a chair of black marble, on a dais: his bushy tail, which was like that of a squirrel, waved restlessly over his head as he looked at Jurgen, without speaking, and without turning his mind from an ancient thought. And his eyes were like light shining upon little pools of ink, for they had no whites to them.

"What is the meaning of this insane country?" says Jurgen, plunging at the heart of things. "There is no sense in it and no fairness at all."

"Ah"' replied Satan, in his curious hoarse voice, you may well say that: and it is what I was telling my wife only last night."

"You have a wife, then!" says Jurgen, who was always interested in such matters. "Why, but to be sure! either as a Christian or as a married man, I should have comprehended this was Satan's due. And how do you get on with her?"

"Pretty well," says Grandfather Satan "but she does not understand me."

"Et tu, Brute!" says Jurgen.

"And what does that mean?"

"It is an expression connotating astonishment over an event without parallel. But everything in Hell seems rather strange, and the place is not at all as it was rumoured to be by the priests and the bishops and the cardinals that used to be exhorting me in my fine palace at Breschau."

"And where, did you say, is this palace?"

"In Noumaria, where I am the Emperor Jurgen. And I need not insult you by explaining Breschau is my capital city, and is noted for its manufacture of linen and woollen cloth and gloves and cameos and brandy, though the majority of my subjects are engaged in cattle-breeding and agricultural pursuits."

"Of course not: for I have studied geography. And, Jurgen, it is often I have heard of you, though never of your being an emperor."

"Did I not say this place was not in touch with new ideas?"

"Ah, but you must remember that thoughtful persons keep out of Hell. Besides, the war with Heaven prevents us from thinking of other matters. In any event, you, Emperor Jurgen, by what authority do you question Satan, in Satan's home?"

"I have heard that word which the ass spoke with the cat," replied Jurgen; for he recollected upon a sudden what Merlin had shown him.

Grandfather Satan nodded comprehendingly. "All honour be to Set and Bast! and may their power increase. This, Emperor, is how my kingdom came about."

Then Satan, sitting erect and bleak in his tall marble chair, explained how he, and all the domain and all the infernal hierarchies he ruled, had been created extempore by Koshchei, to humour the pride of Jurgen's forefathers. "For they were exceedingly proud of their sins. And Koshchei happened to notice Earth once upon a time, with your forefathers walking about it exultant in the enormity of their sins and in the terrible punishments they expected in requital. Now Koshchei will do almost anything to humour pride, because to be proud is one of the two things that are impossible to Koshchei. So he was pleased, oh, very much pleased: and after he had had his laugh out, he created Hell extempore, and made it just such a place as your forefathers imagined it ought to be, in order to humour the pride of your forefathers."

"And why is pride impossible to Koshchei?"

"Because he made things as they are; and day and night he contemplates things as they are, having nothing else to look at. How, then, can Koshchei be proud?"

"I see. It is as if I were imprisoned in a cell wherein there was nothing, absolutely nothing, except my verses. I shudder to think of it! But what is this other thing which is impossible to -Koshchei?"

"I do not know. It is something that does not enter into Hell."

"Well, I wish I too had never entered here, and now you must assist me to get out of this murky place."

"And why must I assist you?"

"Because," said Jurgen, and he drew out the cantrap of the Master Philologist, "because at the death of Adrian the Fifth, Pedro Juliani, who should be named John the Twentieth, was through an error in the reckoning elevated to the papal chair as John the Twenty-first. Do you not find my reason sufficient?"

"No," said Grandfather Satan, after thinking it over, "I cannot say that I do. But, then, popes go to Heaven. It is considered to look better, all around, and particularly by my countrymen, inasmuch as many popes have been suspected of pro-Celestialism. So we admit none of them into Hell, in order to be on the safe side, now that we are at war. In consequence, I am no judge of popes and their affairs, nor do I pretend to be."

And Jurgen perceived that again he had employed his cantrap incorrectly or else that it was impotent to rescue people from Satan. "But who would have thought," he reflected, "that Grandfather Satan was such a simple old creature?"

"How long, then, must I remain here?" asks Jurgen, after a dejected pause.

"I do not know," replied Satan. It must depend entirely upon what your father thinks about it

"But what has he to do with it?"

"--Since I and all else that is here are your father's absurd notions, as you have so frequently proved by logic. And it is hardly possible that such a clever fellow as you can be mistaken."

"Why, of course, that is not possible," says Jurgen.

Well, the matter is rather complicated. But I am willing to taste any drink once: and I shall manage to get justice somehow, even in this unreasonable place where my father's absurd notions are the truth."

So Jurgen left the Black House of Barathum: and Jurgen also left Grandfather Satan, erect and bleak in his tall marble chair, and with his eyes gleaming in the dim light, as he sat there restively swishing his soft bushy tail, and not ever turning his mind from an ancient thought.

Contents Chapter 36