James Branch Cabell.

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"Oh, no, sir, this is a tenet held by the wisest and most admirable of
men."

"I see: it was some other man who told you all these drolleries about
the eternal importance of mankind," the head observed, with an
unaccountable slackening of interest. "I see: and again, you may notice
that the cows and the sheep and the chickens, also, resent extinction
strenuously."

"But these are creatures of the earth, sir, whereas there is about at
any rate some persons a whiff of divinity. Come now, do you not find it
so?"

The head looked graver. "Yes, Manuel, most young people have in them a
spark which is divine, but it is living that snuffs this out of all of
you, by and large, without bothering Grandfather Death to unpeel spirits
like bananas. No, the most of you go with very little spirit, if any,
into the grave, and assuredly with not enough spirit to last you
forever. No, Manuel, no, I never quarrel with religion, because it is
almost the strongest ally I have, but these religious notions rather
disgust me sometimes, for if men were immortal then Misery would be
immortal, and I could never survive that."

"Now you are talking nonsense, sir," said Manuel, stoutly, "and of all
sorts of nonsense cynical nonsense is the worst."

"By no means," replied the head, "since, plainly, it is far worse
nonsense to assert that omnipotence would insanely elect to pass
eternity with you humans. No, Manuel, I am afraid that your queer
theory, about your being stuffed inside with permanent material and so
on, does not very plausibly account for either your existence or mine,
and that we both stay riddles without answers."

"Still, sir," said Manuel, "inasmuch as there is one thing only which
all death's ravishings have never taken from life, and that thing is the
Misery of earth - "

"Your premiss is indisputable, but what do you deduce from this?"

Manuel smiled slowly and sleepily. "I deduce, sir, that you, also, who
have not ever been dead, cannot possibly be certain as to what happens
when one is dead. And so I shall stick to my own opinion about the life
to come."

"But your opinion is absurd, on the face of it."

"That may very well be, sir, but it is much more comfortable to live
with than is your opinion, and living is my occupation just now. Dying I
shall attend to in its due turn, and, of the two, my opinion is the more
pleasant to die with. Thereafter, if your opinion be right, I shall
never even know that my opinion was wrong: so that I have everything to
gain, in the way of pleasurable anticipations anyhow, and I have nothing
whatever to lose, by clinging to the foolish fond old faith which my
fathers had before me," said Manuel, as sturdily as ever.

"Yes, but how in this world - ?"

"Ah, sir," says Manuel, still smiling, "in this world men are nourished
by their beliefs; and it well may be that, yonder also, their sustenance
is the same."

But at this moment came Reeri (a little crimson naked man, having the
head of a monkey) with his cock in one hand and his gnarled club in the
other. Necessarily the Blood Demon's arrival put an end to their
talking, for that turn.

[Illustration]




XXI


Touching Repayment


So Count Manuel's youth went out of him as he became more and more
intimate with Misery, and an attachment sprang up between them, and the
two took counsel as to all Manuel's affairs. They often talked of the
royal ladies whom Manuel had loved and loved no longer.

"For at one time," Manuel admitted, "I certainly fancied myself in love
with the Princess Alianora, and at another time I was in love with Queen
Freydis. And even now I like them well enough, but neither of these
royal ladies could make me forget the slave girl Niafer whom I loved on
Vraidex. Besides, the Princess and the Queen were fond of having their
own way about everything, and they were bent on hampering me with power
and wealth and lofty station and such other obstacles to the following
of my own thinking and my own desires. I could not endure the eternal
arguing this led to, which was always reminding me, by contrast, of the
quiet dear ways of Niafer and of the delight I had in the ways of
Niafer. So it seemed best for everyone concerned for me to break off
with Freydis and Alianora."

"As for these women," the head estimated, "you may be for some reasons
well rid of them. Yet this Alianora has fine eyes and certain powers."

"She is a princess of the Apsarasas," Manuel replied, "and therefore she
has power over the butterflies and the birds and the bats, and over all
creatures of the air. I know, because she has disclosed to me some of
the secrets of the Apsarasas. But over her own tongue and temper the
Princess Alianora has no power and no control whatever, and if I had
married her she would have eventually pestered me into being a king, and
giving my life over to politics and the dominion of men."

"This Freydis, too, has beautiful black hair - and certain powers - "

"She was once Queen of Audela, and therefore she retains power over all
figures of earth. I know, because she has disclosed to me some of the
secrets of Audela. But the worst enemy of Freydis also goes in red, and
is housed by the little white teeth of Freydis, for it was this enemy
that betrayed her: and if I had married her she would have coaxed me, by
and by, into becoming a great maker of images, and giving my life over
to such arts."

Misery said: "You have had love from these women, you have gained power
and knowledge from these women. Therefore you leave them, to run after
some other woman who can give you no power and knowledge, but only a
vast deal of trouble. It is not heroic, Manuel, but it is human, and
your reasoning is well fitted to your time of life."

"It is true that I am young as yet, sir - "

"No, not so very young, for my society is maturing you, and already you
are foreplanning and talking the follies of a man in middle life."

"No matter what my age may come to be, sir, I shall always remember that
when I first set up as a champion, and was newly come from living
modestly in attendance upon the miller's pigs, I loved the slave girl
Niafer. She died. I did not die. Instead, I relinquished Niafer to
Grandfather Death, and at that price I preserved my own life and
procured a recipe through which I have prospered unbelievably, so that I
am today a nobleman with fine clothes and lackeys, and with meadow-lands
and castles of my own, if only I could obtain them. So I no longer go
ragged at the elbows, and royal ladies look upon me favorably, and I
find them well enough. But the joy I took in Niafer is not to be found
in any of these things."

"That too is an old human story," the head said, "and yours is a
delusion that comes to most men in middle life. However, for a month of
years you have served me faithfully, except for twice having failed to
put enough venom in my soup, and for having forgotten to fetch in any
ice that evening the Old Black One was here. Still, nobody is perfect;
your time of service is out; and I must repay you as need is. Will you
have happiness, then, and an eternal severance between you and me?"

"I have seen but one happy person," Manuel replied. "He sat in a dry
ditch, displaying vacant glittering eyes, and straws were tangled in his
hair, but Tom o' Bedlam was quite happy. No, it is not happiness I
desire."

The head repeated: "You have served me. I repay, as need is, with the
payment you demand. What is it you demand?"

Dom Manuel said, "I demand that Niafer who was a slave girl, and is now
a ghost in her pagan paradise."

"Do you think, then, that to recall the dead is possible?"

"You are cunning, sir, but I remember what Freydis told me. Will you
swear that Misery cannot bring back the dead?"

"Very willingly I will swear to it, upon all the most authentic relics
in Christendom."

"Ah, yes, but will you rest one of your cold hard pointed ears
against" - here Manuel whispered what he did not care to name
aloud, - "the while that you swear to it."

"Of course not," Misery answered, sullenly: "since every troubled ghost
that ever gibbered and clanked chains would rise confronting me if I
made such an oath. Yes, Manuel, I am able to bring back the dead, but
prudence forces me to lie about my power, because to exercise that power
to the full would be well-nigh as ruinous as the breaking of that
pumpkin. For there is only one way to bring back the dead in flesh, and
if I follow that way I shall lose my head as all the others have done."

"What is that to a lover?" says Manuel.

The head sighed, and bit at its white lips. "An oath is an oath to the
Léshy. Therefore do you, who are human, now make profitable use of the
knowledge and of the power you get from those other women by breaking
oaths! And as you have served me, so will I serve you."

Manuel called black eagles to him, in the manner the Princess Alianora
had taught, and he sent them into all parts of the world for every sort
of white earth. They obeyed the magic of the Apsarasas, and from Britain
they brought Dom Manuel the earth called leucargillon, and they brought
glisomarga from Enisgarth, and eglecopala from the Gallic provinces, and
argentaria from Lacre Kai, and white earth of every description from all
parts of the world.

Manuel made from this earth, as Queen Freydis had taught him how to do,
the body of a woman. He fashioned the body peculiarly, in accordance
with the old Tuyla mystery, and the body was as perfect as Manuel could
make it, in all ways save that it had no head.

Then Manuel sent a gold-crested wren into Provence: it entered through
an upper window of the King's marmoreal palace, and went into the
Princess Alianora's chamber, and fetched hence a handkerchief figured
with yellow mulberries and wet with the tears which Alianora had shed in
her grieving for Manuel. And Dom Manuel sent also a falcon, which
returned to him with Queen Freydis' handkerchief. That was figured with
white fleurs-de-lis, and that too was drenched with tears.

Whereupon, all being in readiness, Misery smiled craftily, and said:

"In the time that is passed I have overthrown high kings and prophets,
and sorcerers also, as when Misery half carelessly made sport of
Mithridates and of Merlin and of Moses, in ways that ballad-singers
still delight to tell of. But with you, Dom Manuel, I shall deal
otherwise, and I shall disconcert you by and by in a more quiet fashion.
Hoh, I must grapple carefully with your love for Niafer, as with an
antagonist who is not scrupulous, nor very sensible, but who is
exceedingly strong. For observe: you obstinately desire this perished
heathen woman, who in life, it well may be, was nothing remarkable.
Therefore you have sought Misery, you have dwelt for a month of years
with terror, you have surrendered youth, you are planning to defy death,
you are intent to rob the deep grave and to despoil paradise. Truly your
love is great."

Manuel said only, "An obligation is upon me, for the life of Niafer was
given to preserve my life."

"Now I, whom some call Béda, and others Kruchina, and whom for the
present your love has conquered - I it is, alone, who can obtain for you
this woman, because in the long run I overcome all things and persons.
Life is my province, and the birth cry of every infant is an oath of
allegiance to me. Thus I am overlord where all serve willy-nilly except
you, who have served of your own will. And as you have served me, so
must I serve you."

Manuel said, "That is well"

"It is not so well as you think, for when you have this Niafer I shall
return to you in the appearance of a light formless cloud, and I shall
rise about you, not suddenly but a little by a little. So shall you see
through me the woman for love of whom your living was once made
high-hearted and fearless, and for whose sake death was derided, and
paradise was ransacked: and you will ask forlornly, 'Was it for this?'
Throughout the orderly, busied, unimportant hours that stretch between
your dressing for the day and your undressing for the night, you will be
asking this question secretly in your heart, while I pass everywhither
with you in the appearance of a light formless cloud, and whisper to you
secretly."

"And what will you whisper to me?"

"Not anything which you will care to repeat to anybody anywhere. Oh, you
will be able to endure it, and you will be content, as human contentment
goes, and my triumph will not be public. But, none the less, I shall
have overthrown my present conqueror, and I shall have brought low the
love which terror and death did not affright, and which the laws of
earth could not control; and I, whom some call Béda, and others
Kruchina, will very terribly attest that the ghost of outlived and
conquered misery is common-sense."

"That is to-morrow's affair," replied Dom Manuel "To-day there is an
obligation upon me, and my dealings are with to-day."

Then Manuel bound the clay head of Misery in the two handkerchiefs which
were wet with the tears of Alianora and of Freydis. When the cock had
crowed three times, Dom Manuel unbound the head, and it was only a
shapeless mass of white clay, because of the tears of Freydis and
Alianora.

Manuel modeled in this clay, to the best of his ability, the head of
Niafer, as he remembered her when they had loved each other upon
Vraidex: and after the white head was finished he fitted it to the body
which he had made from the other kinds of white earth. Dom Manuel robed
this body in brown drugget such as Niafer had been used to wear in and
about the kitchen at Arnaye, and he did the other things that were
requisite, for this was the day of All Saints when nothing sacred ought
to be neglected.

[Illustration]



XXII


Return of Niafer


Now the tale tells how Dom Manuel sat at the feet of the image and
played upon a flageolet. There was wizardry in the music, Dom Manuel
said afterward, for he declared that it evoked in him a vision and a
restless dreaming that followed after Misery.

So this dreaming showed that when Misery was dispossessed of the earth
he entered (because Misery is unchristian) into the paradise of the
pagans, where Niafer, dead now for something over a year, went
restlessly in bliss: and Misery came shortly afterward to Niafer, and
talked with her in a thin little voice. She listened willingly to this
talk of Manuel and of the adventures which Niafer had shared with
Manuel: and now that she remembered Manuel, and his clear young face and
bright unequal eyes and his strong arms, she could no longer be even
moderately content in the paradise of the pagans.

Thereafter Misery went about the heathens' paradise in the appearance of
a light formless cloud. And the fields of this paradise seemed less
green, the air became less pure and balmy, and the sky less radiant, and
the waters of the paradisal river Eridanus grew muddy. The poets became
tired of hearing one another recite, the heroes lost delight in their
wrestling and chariot racing and in their exercises with the spear and
the bow. "How can anybody expect us to waste eternity with recreations
which are only fitted to waste time?" they demanded.

And the lovely ladies began to find the handsome lovers with whom they
wandered hand in hand through never-fading groves of myrtle, and with
whom they were forever reunited, rather tedious companions.

"I love you," said the lovers.

"You have been telling me that for twelve centuries," replied the
ladies, yawning, "and too much of anything is enough."

"Upon my body, I think so too," declared the lovers. "I said it only out
of politeness and force of habit, and I can assure you I am as tired of
this lackadaisical idiocy as you are."

So everything was at sixes and sevens in this paradise: and when the
mischief-maker was detected, the blessed held a meeting, for it was now
the day of All Souls, on which the dead have privilege.

"We must preserve appearances," said these dead pagans, "and can have
only happy-looking persons hereabouts, for otherwise our paradise will
get a poor name, and the religion of our fathers will fall into
disrepute."

Then they thrust Misery, and Niafer also, out of the pagan paradise,
because Misery clung to Niafer in the appearance of a light formless
cloud, and there was no separating the two.

These two turned earthward together, and came to the river of sweat
called Rigjon. Niafer said to the fiery angel Sandalfon that guards the
bridge there, "The Misery of earth is with me."

Sandalfon saw that this was so, and answered, "My fires cannot consume
the Misery of earth."

They came to Hadarniel, the noisy angel whose, whispering is the
thunder. Niafer said, "The Misery of earth is with me."

Hadarniel replied, "Before the Misery of earth I am silent."

They came to Kemuel and his twelve thousand angels of destruction that
guard the outermost gateway. Niafer said, "The Misery of earth is with
me."

Kemuel answered, "I ruin and make an end of all things else, but for the
Misery of earth I have contrived no ending."

So Misery and Niafer passed all the warders of this paradise: and in a
dim country on the world's rim the blended spirit of Misery and the
ghost of Niafer rose through a hole in the ground, like an imponderable
vapor. They dissevered each from the other in a gray place overgrown
with poplars, and Misery cried farewell to Niafer.

"And very heartily do I thank you for your kindness, now that we part,
and now that, it may be, I shall not ever see you again," said Niafer,
politely.

Misery replied:

"Take no fear for not seeing me again, now that you are about once more
to become human. Certainly, Niafer, I must leave you for a little while,
but certainly I shall return. There will first be for you much kissing
and soft laughter, and the quiet happy ordering of your home, and the
heart-shaking wonder of the child who is neither you nor Manuel, but
both of you, and whose life was not ever seen before on earth: and life
will burgeon with white miracles, and every blossom you will take to be
eternal. Laughing, you will say of sorrow, 'What is it?' And I, whom
some call Béda, and others call Kruchina, shall be monstrously amused by
this.

"Then your seeing will have my help, and you will observe that Manuel is
very much like other persons. He will be used to having you about, and
you him, and that will be the sorry bond between you. The children that
have reft their flesh from your flesh ruthlessly, and that have derived
their living from your glad anguish, each day will, be appearing a
little less intimately yours, until these children find their mates.
Thereafter you will be a tolerated intruder into these children's daily
living, and nobody anywhere will do more than condone your coming: you
will weep secretly: and I, whom some call Béda, and others call
Kruchina, shall be monstrously amused by this.

"Then I shall certainly return to you, when your tears are dried, and
when you no longer believe what young Niafer once believed; and when,
remembering young Niafer's desires and her intentions as to the disposal
of her life, you will shrug withered shoulders. To go on living will
remain desirable. The dilapidations of life will no longer move you
deeply. Shrugging, you will say of sorrow, 'What is it?' for you will
know grief also to be impermanent. And your inability to be quite
miserable any more will assure you that your goings are attended by the
ghost of outlived and conquered misery: and I, whom some call Béda, and
others call Kruchina, shall be monstrously amused by this."

Said Niafer, impatiently, "Do you intend to keep me here forever under
these dark twinkling trees, with your thin little talking, while Manuel
stays unhappy through his want of me?"

And Misery answered nothing as he departed from Niafer, for a season.

Such were the happenings in the vision witnessed by Dom Manuel (as Dom
Manuel afterward declared) while he sat playing upon the flageolet.

[Illustration]



XXIII

Manuel Gets His Desire


Now the tale tells that all this while, near the gray hut in Dun
Vlechlan, the earthen image of Niafer lay drying out in the November
sun; and that gray Dom Manuel - no longer the florid boy who had come
into Dun Vlechlan, - sat at the feet of the image, and played upon a
flageolet the air which Suskind had taught him, and with which he had
been used to call young Suskind from her twilit places when Manuel was a
peasant tending swine. Now Manuel was an aging nobleman, and Niafer was
now a homeless ghost, but the tune had power over them, none the less,
for its burden was young love and the high-hearted time of youth; so
that the melody which once had summoned Suskind from her low
red-pillared palace in the doubtful twilight, now summoned Niafer
resistlessly from paradise, as Manuel thriftily made use of the odds and
ends which he had learned from three women to win him a fourth woman.

The spirit of Niafer entered at the mouth of the image. Instantly the
head sneezed, and said, "I am unhappy." But Manuel kept on playing. The
spirit descended further, bringing life to the lungs and the belly, so
that the image then cried, "I am hungry." But Manuel kept on playing. So
the soul was drawn further and further, until Manuel saw that the white
image had taken on the colors of flesh, and was moving its toes in time
to his playing; and so knew that the entire body was informed with life.

He cast down the flageolet, and touched the breast of the image with the
ancient formal gestures of the old Tuyla mystery, and he sealed the
mouth of the image with a kiss, so that the spirit of Niafer was
imprisoned in the image which Manuel had made. Under his lips the lips
which had been Misery's cried, "I love." And Niafer rose, a living girl
just such as Manuel had remembered for more than a whole year: but with
that kiss all memories of paradise and all the traits of angelhood
departed from her.

"Well, well, dear snip," said Manuel, the first thing of all, "now it is
certainly a comfort to have you back again."

Niafer, even in the rapture of her happiness, found this an
unimpassioned greeting from one who had gone to unusual lengths to
recover her companionship. Staring, she saw that Manuel had all the
marks of a man in middle life, and spoke as became appearances. For it
was at the price of his youth that Manuel had recovered the woman whom
his youth desired: and Misery had subtly evened matters by awarding an
aging man the woman for whose sake a lad had fearlessly served Misery.
There was no longer any such lad, for the conquered had destroyed the
conqueror.

Then, after a moment's consideration of this tall gray stranger, Niafer
also looked graver and older. Niafer asked for a mirror: and Manuel had
none.

"Now but certainly I must know at once just how faithfully you have
remembered me," says Niafer.

He led the way into the naked and desolate November forest, and they
came to the steel-colored Wolflake hard by the gray hut: and Niafer
found she was limping, for Manuel had not got her legs quite right, so
that for the rest of her second life she was lame. Then Niafer gazed for
a minute, or it might be for two minutes, at her reflection in the deep
cold waters of the Wolflake.

"Is this as near as you have come to remembering me, my dearest!" she
said, dejectedly, as she looked down at Manuel's notion of her face. For
the appearance which Niafer now wore she found to be very little like
that which Niafer remembered as having been hers, in days wherein she
had been tolerably familiar with the Lady Gisèle's mirrors; and it was a
grief to Niafer to see how utterly the dearest dead go out of mind in no
long while.

"I have forgotten not one line or curve of your features," says Manuel,
stoutly, "in all these months, nor in any of these last days that have
passed as years. And when my love spurred me to make your image, Niafer,
my love loaned me unwonted cunning. Even by ordinary, they tell me, I
have some skill at making images: and while not for a moment would I
seem to boast of that skill, and not for worlds would I annoy you by
repeating any of the complimentary things which have been said about my
images, - by persons somewhat more appreciative, my dear, of the toil and
care that goes to work of this sort, - I certainly think that in this
instance nobody has fair reason to complain."

She looked at his face now: and she noted what the month of living with
Béda, with whom a day is as a year, had done to the boy's face which she
remembered. Count Manuel's face was of remodeled stuff: youth had gone


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