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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJurgen: A Comedy Of Justice - Chapter 5. Requirements of Bread and Butter
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Jurgen: A Comedy Of Justice - Chapter 5. Requirements of Bread and Butter Post by :sumit Category :Long Stories Author :James Branch Cabell Date :May 2012 Read :1038

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Jurgen: A Comedy Of Justice - Chapter 5. Requirements of Bread and Butter

"Nessus," says Jurgen, "and am I so changed? For that Dorothy whom I loved in youth did not know me."

"Good and evil keep very exact accounts," replied the Centaur, "and the face of every man is their ledger. Meanwhile the sun rises, it is already another workday: and when the shadows of those two who come to take possession fall full upon the garden, I warn you, there will be astounding changes brought about by the requirements of bread and butter. You have not time to revive old memories by chatting with the others to whom you babbled aforetime in this garden."

"Ah, Centaur, in the garden between dawn and sunrise there was never any other save Dorothy la Desiree."

The Centaur shrugged. "It may be you forget; it is certain that you underestimate the local population. Some of the transient visitors you have seen, and in addition hereabouts dwell the year round all manner of imaginary creatures. The fairies live just southward, and the gnomes too. To your right is the realm of the Valkyries: the Amazons and the Cynocephali are their allies: all three of these nations are continually at loggerheads with their neighbors, the Baba-Yagas, whom Morfei cooks for, and whose monarch is Oh, a person very dangerous to name. Northward dwell the Lepracauns and the Men of Hunger, whose king is Clobhair. My people, who are ruled by Chiron, live even further to the north. The Sphinx pastures on yonder mountain; and now the Chimaera is old and generally derided, they say that Cerberus visits the Sphinx at twilight, although I was never the person to disseminate scandal--"

"Centaur," said Jurgen, "and what is Dorothy doing here?"

"Why, all the women that any man has ever loved live here," replied the Centaur, "for very obvious reasons."

"That is a hard saying, friend."

Nessus tapped with his forefinger upon the back of Jurgen's hand. "Worm's-meat! this is the destined food, do what you will, of small white worms. This by and by will be a struggling pale corruption, like seething milk. That too is a hard saying, Jurgen. But it is a true saying."

"And was that Dorothy whom I loved in youth an imaginary creature?"

"My poor Jurgen, you who were once a poet! she was your masterpiece. For there was only a shallow, stupid and airy, high-nosed and light-haired miss, with no remarkable good looks,--and consider what your ingenuity made from such poor material! You should be proud of yourself."

"No, Centaur, I cannot very well be proud of my folly: yet I do not regret it. I have been befooled by a bright shadow of my own raising, you tell me, and I concede it to be probable. No less, I served a lovely shadow; and my heart will keep the memory of that loveliness until life ends, in a world where other men follow pantingly after shadows which are not even pretty."

"There is something in that, Jurgen: there is also something in an old tale we used to tell in Thessaly, about a fox and certain grapes."

"Well, but look you, Nessus, there is an emperor that reigns now in Constantinople and occasionally does business with me. Yes, and I could tell you tales of by what shifts he came to the throne--"

"Men's hands are by ordinary soiled in climbing," quoth the Centaur.

"And 'Jurgen,' this emperor says to me, not many months ago, as he sat in his palace, crowned and dreary and trying to cheat me out of my fair profit on some emeralds,--'Jurgen, I cannot sleep of nights, because of that fool Alexius, who comes into my room with staring eyes and the bowstring still about his neck. And my Varangians must be in league with that silly ghost, because I constantly order them to keep Alexius out of my bedchamber, and they do not obey me, Jurgen. To be King of the East is not to the purpose, Jurgen, when one must submit to such vexations.' Yes, it was Caesar Pharamond himself said this to me: and I deduce the shadow of a crown has led him into an ugly pickle, for all that he is the mightiest monarch in the world. And I would not change with Caesar Pharamond, not I who am a respectable pawnbroker, with my home in fee and my bit of tilled land. Well, this is a queer world, to be sure: and this garden is visited by no stranger things than pop into a man's mind sometimes, without his knowing how."

"Ah, but you must understand that the garden is speedily to be remodeled. Yonder you may observe the two whose requirements are to rid the place of all fantastic unremunerative notions; and who will develop the natural resources of this garden according to generally approved methods."

And from afar Jurgen could see two figures coming out of the east, so tall that their heads rose above the encircling hills and glistened in the rays of a sun which was not yet visible. One was a white pasty-looking giant, with a crusty expression: he walked with the aid of a cane. The other was of a pale yellow color: his face was oily, and he rode on a vast cow that was called AEdhumla.

"Make way there, brother, with your staff of life," says the yellow giant, "for there is much to do hereabouts."

"Ay, brother, this place must be altered a deal before it meets with our requirements," the other grumbled. "May I be toasted if I know where to begin!"

Then as the giants turned dull and harsh faces toward the garden, the sun came above the circle of blue hills, so that the mingled shadows of these two giants fell across the garden. For an instant Jurgen saw the place oppressed by that attenuated mile-long shadow, as in heraldry you may see a black bar painted sheer across some brightly emblazoned shield. Then the radiancy of everything twitched and vanished, as a bubble bursts.

And Jurgen was standing in the midst of a field, very neatly plowed, but with nothing as yet growing in it. And the Centaur was with him still, it seemed, for there were the creature's hoofs, but all the gold had been washed or rubbed away from them in traveling with Jurgen.

"See, Nessus!" Jurgen cried, "the garden is made desolate. Oh, Nessus, was it fair that so much loveliness should be thus wasted!"

"Nay," said the Centaur, "nay!" Long and wailingly he whinneyed, "Nay!"

And when Jurgen raised his eyes he saw that his companion was not a centaur, but only a strayed riding-horse.

"Were you the animal, then," says Jurgen, "and was it a quite ordinary animal, that conveyed me to the garden between dawn and sunrise?" And Jurgen laughed disconsolately. "At all events, you have clothed me in a curious fine shirt. And, now I look, your bridle is marked with a coronet. So I will return you to the castle at Bellegarde, and it may be that Heitman Michael will reward me."

Then Jurgen mounted this horse and rode away from the plowed field wherein nothing grew as yet. As they left the furrows they came to a signboard with writing on it, in a peculiar red and yellow lettering.

Jurgen paused to decipher this.

"Read me!" was written on the signboard: "read me, and judge if you understand! So you stopped in your journey because I called, scenting something unusual, something droll. Thus, although I am nothing, and even less, there is no one that sees me but lingers here. Stranger, I am a law of the universe. Stranger, render the law what is due the law!"

Jurgen felt cheated. "A very foolish signboard, indeed! for how can it be 'a law of the universe', when there is no meaning to it!" says Jurgen. "Why, for any law to be meaningless would not be fair."

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For now had come to Jurgen and the Centaur a gold-haired woman, clothed all in white, and walking alone. She was tall, and lovely and tender to regard: and hers was not the red and white comeliness of many ladies that were famed for beauty, but rather it had the even glow of ivory. Her nose was large and high in the bridge, her flexible mouth was not of the smallest: and yet whatever other persons might have said, to Jurgen this woman's countenance was in all things perfect. Perhaps this was because he never saw her as she was. For
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