Don Rodriguez, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE THIRD CHRONICLE
HOW HE CAME TO THE HOUSE OF WONDER
It was the gross Morano. Here he had tracked Rodriguez, for where la Garda goes is always known, and rumour of it remains long behind them, like the scent of a fox. He told no tale of his escape more than a dog does who comes home some hours late; a dog comes back to his master, that is all, panting a little perhaps; someone perhaps had caught him and he escaped and came home, a thing too natural to attempt to speak of by any of the signs that a dog knows.
Part of Morano's method seems to have resembled Rodriguez', for just as Rodriguez spoke Latin, so Morano fell back upon his own natural speech, that he as it were unbridled and allowed to run free, the coarseness of which had at first astounded, and then delighted, la Garda.
"And did they not suspect that you were yourself?" said Rodriguez.
"No, master," Morano answered, "for I said that I was the brother of the King of Aragon."
"The King of Aragon!" Rodriguez said, going to the length of showing surprise. "Yes, indeed, master." said Morano, "and they recognised me."
"Recognised you!" exclaimed the Priest.
"Indeed so," said Morano, "for they said that they were themselves the Kings of Aragon; and so, father, they recognised me for their brother."
"That you should not have said," the Priest told Morano.
"Reverend father," replied Morano, "as Heaven shines, I believed that what I said was true." And Morano sighed deeply. "And now," he said, "I know it is true no more."
Whether he sighed for the loss of his belief in that exalted relationship, or whether for the loss of that state of mind in which such beliefs come easily, there was nothing in his sigh to show. They questioned him further, but he said no more: he was here, there was no more to say: he was here and la Garda was gone.
And then the reverend man brought for them a great supper, even at that late hour, for many an hour had slipped softly by as he heard the sins of the sword; and wine he set out, too, of a certain golden vintage, long lost—I fear—my reader: but this he gave not to Morano lest he should be once more, what the reverend father feared to entertain, that dread hidalgo, the King of Aragon's brother. And after that, the stars having then gone far on their ways, the old Priest rose and offered a bed to Rodriguez; and even as he eyed Morano, wondering where to put him, and was about to speak, for he had no other bed, Morano went to a corner of the room and curled up and lay down. And by the time his host had walked over to him and spoken, asking anxiously if he needed nothing more, he was almost already asleep, and muttered in answer, after having been spoken to twice, no more than "Straw, reverend father, straw."
An armful of this the good man brought him, and then showed Rodriguez to his room; and they can scarcely have reached it before Morano was back in Aragon again, walking on golden shoes (which were sometimes wings), proud among lesser princes.
As precaution for the night Rodriguez took one more glance at his host's kind face; and then, with sword out of reach and an unlocked door, he slept till the songs of birds out of the deeps of the ilices made sleep any longer impossible.
The third morning of Rodriguez' wandering blazed over Spain like brass; flowers and grass and sky were twinkling all together.
When Rodriguez greeted his host Morano was long astir, having awakened with dawn, for the simpler and humbler the creature the nearer it is akin to the earth and the sun. The forces that woke the birds and opened the flowers stirred the gross lump of Morano, ending his sleep as they ended the nightingale's song.
They breakfasted hurriedly and Rodriguez rose to depart, feeling that he had taken hospitality that had not been offered. But against his departure was the barrier of all the politeness of Spain. The house was his, said his host, and even the small grove of ilices.
If I told you half of the things that the reverend man said, you would say: "This writer is affected. I do not like all this flowery mush." I think it safer, my reader, not to tell you any of it. Let us suppose that he merely said, "Quite all right," and that when Rodriguez thanked him on one knee he answered, "Not at all;" and that so Rodriguez and Morano left. If here it miss some flash of the fair form of Truth it is the fault of the age I write for.
The road again, dust again, birds and the blaze of leaves, these were the background of my wanderers, until the eye had gone as far as the eye can roam, and there were the tips of some far pale-blue mountains that now came into view.
They were still in each other's clothes; but the village was not behind them very far when Morano explained, for he knew the ways of la Garda, that having arrested two men upon this road, they would now arrest two men each on all the other roads, in order to show the impartiality of the Law, which constantly needs to be exhibited; and that therefore all men were safe on the road they were on for a long while to come.
Now there seemed to Rodriguez to be much good sense in what Morano had said; and so indeed there was for they had good laws in Spain, and they differed little, though so long ago, from our own excellent system. Therefore they changed once more, giving back to each other everything but, alas, those delicate black moustachios; and these to Rodriguez seemed gone for ever, for the growth of new ones seemed so far ahead to the long days of youth that his hopes could scarce reach to them.
When Morano found himself once more in those clothes that had been with him night and day for so many years he seemed to expand; I mean no metaphor here; he grew visibly fatter.
"Ah," said Morano after a huge breath, "last night I dreamed, in your illustrious clothes, that I was in lofty station. And now, master, I am comfortable."
"Which were best, think you," said Rodriguez, "if you could have but one, a lofty place or comfort?" Even in those days such a question was trite, but Rodriguez uttered it only thinking to dip in the store of Morano's simple wisdom, as one may throw a mere worm to catch a worthy fish. But in this he was disappointed; for Morano made no neat comparison nor even gave an opinion, saying only, "Master, while I have comfort how shall I judge the case of any who have not?" And no more would he say. His new found comfort, lost for a day and night, seemed so to have soothed his body that it closed the gates of the mind, as too much luxury may, even with poets.
And now Rodriguez thought of his quest again, and the two of them pushed on briskly to find the wars.
For an hour they walked in silence an empty road. And then they came upon a row of donkeys; piled high with the bark of the cork- tree, that men were bringing slowly from far woods. Some of the men were singing as they went. They passed slow in the sunshine.
"Oh, master," said Morano when they were gone, "I like not that lascivious loitering."
"Why, Morano?" said Rodriguez. "It was not God that made hurry."
"Master," answered Morano, "I know well who made hurry. And may he not overtake my soul at the last. Yet it is bad for our fortunes that these men should loiter thus. You want your castle, master; and I, I want not always to wander roads, with la Garda perhaps behind and no certain place to curl up and sleep in front. I look for a heap of straw in the cellar of your great castle."
"Yes, yes, you shall have it," his master said, "but how do these folks hinder you?" For Morano was scowling at them over his shoulder in a way that was somehow spoiling the gladness of Spring.
"The air is full of their singing," Morano said. "It is as though their souls were already flying to Hell, and cawing hoarse with sin all the way as they go. And they loiter, and they linger..." Oh, but Morano was angry.
"But," said Rodriguez, "how does their lingering harm you?"
"Where are the wars, master? Where are the wars?" blurted Morano, his round face turning redder. "The donkeys would be dead, the men would be running, there would be shouts, cries, and confusion, if the wars were anywhere near. There would be all things but this."
The men strolled on singing and so passed slow into distance. Morano was right, though I know not how he knew.
And now the men and the donkeys were nearly out of sight, but had not yet at all emerged from the wrath of Morano. "Lascivious knaves," muttered that disappointed man. And whenever he faintly heard dim snatches of their far song that a breeze here, and another there, brought over the plain as it ran on the errands of Spring, he cursed their sins under his breath. Though it seemed not so much their sins that moved his wrath as the leisure they had for committing them.
"Peace, peace, Morano," said Rodriguez.
"It is that," said Morano, "that is troubling me."
"This same peace."
"Morano," said Rodriguez, "I had when young to study the affairs of men; and this is put into books, and so they make history. Now I learned that there is no thing in which men have taken delight, that is ever put away from them; for it seems that time, which altereth every custom, hath altered none of our likings: and in every chapter they taught me there were these wars to be found."
"Master, the times are altered," said Morano sadly. "It is not now as in old days."
And this was not the wisdom of Morano, for anger had clouded his judgment. And a faint song came yet from the donkey-drivers, wavering over the flowers.
"Master," Morano said, "there are men like those vile sin-mongers, who have taken delight in peace. It may be that peace has been brought upon the world by one of these lousy likings."
"The delight of peace," said Rodriguez, "is in its contrast to war. If war were banished this delight were gone. And man lost none of his delights in any chapter I read."
The word and the meaning of CONTRAST were such as is understood by reflective minds, the product of education. Morano felt rather than reflected; and the word CONTRAST meant nothing to him. This ended their conversation. And the songs of the donkey-drivers, light though they were, being too heavy to be carried farther by the idle air of Spring, Morano ceased cursing their sins.
And now the mountains rose up taller, seeming to stretch themselves and raise their heads. In a while they seemed to be peering over the plain. They that were as pale ghosts, far off, dim like Fate, in the early part of the morning, now appeared darker, more furrowed, more sinister, more careworn; more immediately concerned with the affairs of Earth, and so more menacing to earthly things. Still they went on and still the mountains grew. And noon came, when Spain sleeps.
And now the plain was altering, as though cool winds from the mountains brought other growths to birth, so that they met with bushes straggling wild; free, careless and mysterious, as they do, where there is none to teach great Nature how to be tidy.
The wanderers chose a clump of these that were gathered near the way, like gypsies camped awhile midway on a wonderful journey, who at dawn will rise and go, leaving but a bare trace of their resting and no guess of their destiny; so fairy-like, so free, so phantasmal those dark shrubs seemed.
Morano lay down on the very edge of the shade of one, and Rodriguez lay fair in the midst of the shade of another, whereby anyone passing that way would have known which was the older traveller. Morano, according to his custom, was asleep almost immediately; but Rodriguez, with wonder and speculation each toying with novelty and pulling it different ways between them, stayed awhile wakeful. Then he too slept, and a bird thought it safe to return to an azalea of its own; which it lately fled from troubled by the arrival of these two.
And Rodriguez the last to sleep was the first awake, for the shade of the shrub left him, and he awoke in the blaze of the sun to see Morano still sheltered, well in the middle now of the shadow he chose. The gross sleep of Morano I will not describe to you, reader. I have chosen a pleasant tale for you in a happy land, in the fairest time of year, in a golden age: I have youth to show you and an ancient sword, birds, flowers and sunlight, in a plain unharmed by any dream of commerce: why should I show you the sleep of that inelegant man whose bulk lay cumbering the earth like a low, unseemly mountain?
Rodriguez overtook the shade he had lost and lay there resting until Morano awoke, driven all at once from sleep by a dream or by mere choking. Then from the intricacies of his clothing, which to him after those two days was what home is to some far wanderer, Morano drew out once more a lump of bacon. Then came the fry-pan and then a fire: it was the Wanderers' Mess. That mess-room has stood in many lands and has only one roof. We are proud of that roof, all we who belong to that Mess. We boast of it when we show it to our friends when it is all set out at night. It has Aldebaran in it, the Bear and Orion, and at the other end the Southern Cross. Yes we are proud of our roof when it is at its best.
What am I saying? I should be talking of bacon. Yes, but there is a way of cooking it in our Mess that I want to tell you and cannot. I've tasted bacon there that isn't the same as what you get at the Ritz. And I want to tell you how that bacon tastes; and I can't so I talk about stars. But perhaps you are one of us, reader, and then you will understand. Only why the hell don't we get back there again where the Evening Star swings low on the wall of the Mess?
When they rose from table, when they got up from the earth, and the frying-pan was slung on Morano's back, adding grease to the mere surface of his coat whose texture could hold no more, they pushed on briskly for they saw no sign of houses, unless what Rodriguez saw now dimly above a ravine were indeed a house in the mountains.
They had walked from eight till noon without any loitering. They must have done fifteen miles since the mountains were pale blue. And now, every mile they went, on the most awful of the dark ridges the object Rodriguez saw seemed more and more like a house. Yet neither then, nor as they drew still nearer, nor when they saw it close, nor looking back on it after years, did it somehow seem quite right. And Morano sometimes crossed himself as he looked at it, and said nothing.
Rodriguez, as they walked ceaselessly through the afternoon, seeing his servant show some sign of weariness, which comes not to youth, pointed out the house looking nearer than it really was on the mountain, and told him that he should find there straw, and they would sup and stay the night. Afterwards, when the strange appearance of the house, varying with different angles, filled him with curious forebodings, Rodriguez would make no admission to his servant, but held to the plan he had announced, and so approached the queer roofs, neglecting the friendly stars.
Through the afternoon the two travellers pushed on mostly in silence, for the glances that house seemed to give him from the edge of its perilous ridge, had driven the mirth from Rodriguez and had even checked the garrulity on the lips of the tougher Morano, if garrulity can be ascribed to him whose words seldom welled up unless some simple philosophy troubled his deeps. The house seemed indeed to glance at him, for as their road wound on, the house showed different aspects, different walls and edges of walls, and different curious roofs; all these walls seemed to peer at him. One after another they peered, new ones glided imperceptibly into sight as though to say, We see too.
The mountains were not before them but a little to the right of their path, until new ones appeared ahead of them like giants arising from sleep, and then their path seemed blocked as though by a mighty wall against which its feeble wanderings went in vain. In the end it turned a bit to its right and went straight for a dark mountain, where a wild track seemed to come down out of the rocks to meet it, and upon this track looked down that sinister house. Had you been there, my reader, you would have said, any of us had said, Why not choose some other house? There were no other houses. He who dwelt on the edge of the ravine that ran into that dark mountain was wholly without neighbours.
And evening came, and still they were far from the mountain.
The sun set on their left. But it was in the eastern sky that the greater splendour was; for the low rays streaming across lit up some stormy clouds that were brooding behind the mountain and turned their gloomy forms to an astounding purple.
And after this their road began to rise toward the ridges. The mountains darkened and the sinister house was about to emerge with their shadows, when he who dwelt there lit candles.
The act astonished the wayfarers. All through half the day they had seen the house, until it seemed part of the mountains; evil it seemed like their ridges, that were black and bleak and forbidding, and strange it seemed with a strangeness that moved no fears they could name, yet it seemed inactive as night.
Now lights appeared showing that someone moved. Window after window showed to the bare dark mountain its gleaming yellow glare; there in the night the house forsook the dark rocks that seemed kin to it, by glowing as they could never glow, by doing what the beasts that haunted them could not do: this was the lair of man. Here was the light of flame but the rocks remained dark and cold as the wind of night that went over them, he who dwelt now with the lights had forsaken the rocks, his neighbours.
And, when all were lit, one light high in a tower shone green. These lights appearing out of the mountain thus seemed to speak to Rodriguez and to tell him nothing. And Morano wondered, as he seldom troubled to do.
They pushed on up the steepening path.
"Like you the looks of it?" said Rodriguez once.
"Aye, master," answered Morano, "so there be straw."
"You see nothing strange there, then?" Rodriguez said.
"Master," Morano said, "there be saints for all requirements."
Any fears he had felt about that house before, now as he neared it were gone; it was time to put away fears and face the event; thus worked Morano's philosophy. And he turned his thoughts to the achievements upon earth of a certain Saint who met Satan, and showed to the sovereign of Hell a discourtesy alien to the ways of the Church.
It was dark now, and the yellow lights got larger as they drew nearer the windows, till they saw large shadows obscurely passing from room to room. The ascent was steep now and the pathway stopped. No track of any kind approached the house. It stood on a precipice-edge as though one of the rocks of the mountain: they climbed over rocks to reach it. The windows flickered and blinked at them.
Nothing invited them there in the look of that house, but they were now in such a forbidding waste that shelter had to be found; they were all among edges of rock as black as the night and hard as the material of which Cosmos was formed, at first upon Chaos' brink. The sound of their climbing ran noisily up the mountain but no sound came from the house: only the shadows moved more swiftly across a room, passed into other rooms and came hurrying back. Sometimes the shadows stayed and seemed to peer; and when the travellers stood and watched to see what they were they would disappear and there were no shadows at all, and the rooms were filled instead with their wondering speculation. Then they pushed on over rocks that seemed never trodden by man, so sharp were they and slanting, all piled together: it seemed the last waste, to which all shapeless rocks had been thrown.
Morano and these black rocks seemed shaped by a different scheme; indeed the rocks had never been shaped at all, they were just raw pieces of Chaos. Morano climbed over their edges with moans and discomfort. Rodriguez heard him behind him and knew by his moans when he came to the top of each sharp rock.
The rocks became savager, huger, even more sharp and more angular. They were there in the dark in multitudes. Over these Rodriguez staggered, and Morano clambered and tumbled; and so they came, breathing hard, to the lonely house.
In the wall that their hands had reached there was no door, so they felt along it till they came to the corner, and beyond the corner was the front wall of the house. In it was the front door. But so nearly did this door open upon the abyss that the bats that fled from their coming, from where they hung above the door of oak, had little more to do than fall from their crannies, slanting ever so slightly, to find themselves safe from man in the velvet darkness, that lay between cliffs so lonely they were almost strangers to Echo. And here they floated upon errands far from our knowledge; while the travellers coming along the rocky ledge between destruction and shelter, knocked on the oaken door.
The sound of their knocking boomed huge and slow through the house as though they had struck the door of the very mountain. And no one came. And then Rodriguez saw dimly in the darkness the great handle of a bell, carved like a dragon running down the wall: he pulled it and a cry of pain arose from the basement of the house.
Even Morano wondered. It was like a terrible spirit in distress. It was long before Rodriguez dare touch the handle again. Could it have been the bell? He felt the iron handle and the iron chain that went up from it. How could it have been the bell! The bell had not sounded: he had not pulled hard enough: that scream was fortuitous. The night on that rocky ledge had jangled his nerves. He pulled again and more firmly. The answering scream was more terrible. Rodriguez could doubt no longer, as he sprang back from the bell-handle, that with the chain he had pulled he inflicted some unknown agony.
The scream had awakened slow steps that now came towards the travellers, down corridors, as it sounded, of stone. And then chains fell on stone and the door of oak was opened by some one older than what man hopes to come to, with small, peaked lips as those of some woodland thing.
"Senores," the old one said, "the Professor welcomes you."
They stood and stared at his age, and Morano blurted uncouthly what both of them felt. "You are old, grandfather," he said.
"Ah, Senores," the old man sighed, "the Professor does not allow me to be young. I have been here years and years but he never allowed it. I have served him well but it is still the same. I say to him, 'Master, I have served you long ...' but he interrupts me for he will have none of youth. Young servants go among the villages, he says. And so, and so ..."
"You do not think your master can give you youth!" said Rodriguez.
The old man knew that he had talked too much, voicing that grievance again of which even the rocks were weary. "Yes," he said briefly, and bowed and led the way into the house. In one of the corridors running out of the hall down which he was leading silently, Rodriguez overtook that old man and questioned him to his face.
"Who is this professor?" he said.
By the light of a torch that spluttered in an iron clamp on the wall Rodriguez questioned him with these words, and Morano with his wondering, wistful eyes. The old man halted and turned half round, and lifted his head and answered. "In the University of Saragossa," he said with pride, "he holds the Chair of Magic."
Even the names of Oxford or Cambridge, Harvard or Yale or Princeton, move some respect, and even yet in these unlearned days. What wonder then that the name of Saragossa heard on that lonely mountain awoke in Rodriguez some emotion of reverence and even awed Morano. As for the Chair of Magic, it was of all the royal endowments of that illustrious University the most honoured and dreaded.
"At Saragossa!" Rodriguez muttered.
"At Saragossa," the old man affirmed.
Between that ancient citadel of learning and this most savage mountain appeared a gulf scarce to be bridged by thought.
"The Professor rests in his mountain," the old man said, "because of a conjunction of the stars unfavourable to study, and his class have gone to their homes for many weeks." He bowed again and led on along that corridor of dismal stone. The others followed, and still as Rodriguez went that famous name Saragossa echoed within his mind.
And then they came to a door set deep in the stone, and their guide opened it and they went in; and there was the Professor in a mystical hat and a robe of dim purple, seated with his back to them at a table, studying the ways of the stars. "Welcome, Don Rodriguez," said the Professor before he turned round; and then he rose, and with small steps backwards and sideways and many bows, he displayed all those formulae of politeness that Saragossa knew in the golden age and which her professors loved to execute. In later years they became more elaborate still, and afterwards were lost.
Rodriguez replied rather by instinct than knowledge; he came of a house whose bows had never missed graceful ease and which had in some generations been a joy to the Court of Spain. Morano followed behind him; but his servile presence intruded upon that elaborate ceremony, and the Professor held up his hand, and Morano was held in mid stride as though the air had gripped him. There he stood motionless, having never felt magic before. And when the Professor had welcomed Rodriguez in a manner worthy of the dignity of the Chair that he held at Saragossa, he made an easy gesture and Morano was free again.
"Master," said Morano to the Professor, as soon as he found he could move, "master, it looks like magic." Picture to yourself some yokel shown into the library of a professor of Greek at Oxford, taking down from a shelf one of the books of the Odyssey, and saying to the Professor, "It looks like Greek"!
Rodriguez felt grieved by Morano's boorish ignorance. Neither he nor his host answered him.
The Professor explained that he followed the mysteries dimly, owing to a certain aspect of Orion, and that therefore his class were gone to their homes and were hunting; and so he studied alone under unfavourable auspices. And once more he welcomed Rodriguez to his roof, and would command straw to be laid down for the man that Rodriguez had brought from the Inn of the Dragon and Knight; for he, the Professor, saw all things, though certain stars would hide everything.
And when Rodriguez had appropriately uttered his thanks, he added with all humility and delicate choice of phrase a petition that he might be shown some mere rudiment of the studies for which that illustrious chair in Saragossa was famous. The Professor bowed again and, in accepting the well-rounded compliments that Rodriguez paid to the honoured post he occupied, he introduced himself by name. He had been once, he said, the Count of the Mountain, but when his astral studies had made him eminent and he had mastered the ways of the planet nearest the sun he took the title Magister Mercurii, and by this had long been known; but had now forsaken this title, great as it was, for a more glorious nomenclature, and was called in the Arabic language the Slave of Orion. When Rodriguez heard this he bowed very low.
And now the Professor asked Rodriguez in which of the activities of life his interest lay; for the Chair of Magic at Saragossa, he said, was concerned with them all.
"In war," said Rodriguez.
And Morano unostentatiously rubbed his hands; for here was one, he thought, who would soon put his master on the right way, and matters would come to a head and they would find the wars. But far from concerning himself with the wars of that age, the Slave of Orion explained that as events came nearer they became grosser or more material, and that their grossness did not leave them until they were some while passed away; so that to one whose studies were with aetherial things, near events were opaque and dim. He had a window, he explained, through which Rodriguez should see clearly the ancient wars, while another window beside it looked on all wars of the future except those which were planned already or were coming soon to earth, and which were either invisible or seen dim as through mist.
Rodriguez said that to be privileged to see so classical an example of magic would be to him both a delight and honour. Yet, as is the way of youth, he more desired to have a sight of the wars than he cared for all the learning of the Professor.
And to him who held the Chair of Magic at Saragossa it was a precious thing that his windows could be made to show these marvels, while the guest to whom he was about to display these two gems of his learning was thinking of little but what he should see through the windows, and not at all of what spells, what midnight oil, what incantations, what witchcrafts, what lonely hours among bats, had gone to the gratification of his young curiosity. It is usually thus.
The Professor rose: his cloak floated out from him as he left the chamber, and Rodriguez following where he guided saw, by the torchlight in the corridors, upon the dim purple border signs that, to his untutored ignorance of magic, were no more than hints of the affairs of the Zodiac. And if these signs were obscure it were better they were obscurer, for they dealt with powers that man needs not to possess, who has the whole earth to regulate and control; why then should he seek to govern the course of any star?
And Morano followed behind them, hoping to be allowed to get a sight of the wars.
They came to a room where two round windows were; each of them larger than the very largest plate, and of very thick glass indeed, and of a wonderful blue. The blue was like the blue of the Mediterranean at evening, when lights are in it both of ships and of sunset, and lights of harbours being lit one by one, and the light of Venus perhaps and about two other stars, so deeply did it stare and so twinkled, near its edges, with lights that were strange to that room, and so triumphed with its clear beauty over the night outside. No, it was more magical than the Mediterranean at evening, even though the peaks of the Esterels be purple and their bases melting in gold and the blue sea lying below them smiling at early stars: these windows were more mysterious than that; it was a more triumphant blue; it was like the Mediterranean seen with the eyes of Shelley, on a happy day in his youth, or like the sea round Western islands of fable seen by the fancy of Keats. They were no windows for any need of ours, unless our dreams be needs, unless our cries for the moon be urged by the same Necessity as makes us cry for bread. They were clearly concerned only with magic or poetry; though the Professor claimed that poetry was but a branch of his subject; and it was so regarded at Saragossa, where it was taught by the name of theoretical magic, while by the name of practical magic they taught dooms, brews, hauntings, and spells.
The Professor stood before the left-hand window and pointed to its deep-blue centre. "Through this," he said, "we see the wars that were."
Rodriguez looked into the deep-blue centre where the great bulge of the glass came out towards him; it was near to the edges where the glass seemed thinner that the little strange lights were dancing; Morano dared to tiptoe a little nearer. Rodriguez looked and saw no night outside. Just below and near to the window was white mist, and the dim lines and smoke of what may have been recent wars; but farther away on a plain of strangely vast dimensions he saw old wars that were. War after war he saw. Battles that long ago had passed into history and had been for many ages skilled, glorious and pleasant encounters he saw even now tumbling before him in their savage confusion and dirt. He saw a leader, long glorious in histories he had read, looking round puzzled, to see what was happening, and in a very famous fight that he had planned very well. He saw retreats that History called routs, and routs that he had seen History calling retreats. He saw men winning victories without knowing they had won. Never had man pried before so shamelessly upon History, or found her such a liar. With his eyes on the great blue glass Rodriguez forgot the room, forgot time, forgot his host and poor excited Morano, as he watched those famous fights.
And now my reader wishes to know what he saw and how it was that he was able to see it.
As regards the second, my reader will readily understand that the secrets of magic are very carefully guarded, and any smatterings of it that I may ever have come by I possess, for what they are worth, subjects to oaths and penalties at which even bad men shudder. My reader will be satisfied that even those intimate bonds between reader and writer are of no use to him here. I say him as though I had only male readers, but if my reader be a lady I leave the situation confidently to her intuition. As for the things he saw, of all of these I am at full liberty to write, and yet, my reader, they would differ from History's version: never a battle that Rodriguez saw on all the plain that swept away from that circular window, but History wrote differently. And now, my reader, the situation is this: who am I? History was a goddess among the Greeks, or is at least a distinguished personage, perhaps with a well-earned knighthood, and certainly with widespread recognition amongst the Right Kind of People. I have none of these things. Whom, then, would you believe?
Yet I would lay my story confidently before you, my reader, trusting in the justice of my case and in your judicial discernment, but for one other thing. What will the Goddess Clio say, or the well-deserving knight, if I offend History? She has stated her case, Sir Bartimeus has written it, and then so late in the day I come with a different story, a truer but different story. What will they do? Reader, the future is dark, uncertain and long; I dare not trust myself to it if I offend History. Clio and Sir Bartimeus will make hay of my reputation; an innuendo here, a foolish fact there, they know how to do it, and not a soul will suspect the goddess of personal malice or the great historian of pique. Rodriguez gazed then through the deep blue window, forgetful of all around, on battles that had not all the elegance or neatness of which our histories so tidily tell. And as he gazed upon a merry encounter between two men on the fringe of an ancient fight he felt a touch on his shoulder and then almost a tug, and turning round beheld the room he was in. How long he had been absent from it in thought he did not know, but the Professor was still standing with folded arms where he had left him, probably well satisfied with the wonder that his most secret art had awakened in his guest. It was Morano who touched his shoulder, unable to hold back any longer his impatience to see the wars; his eyes as Rodriguez turned round were gazing at his master with dog- like wistfulness.
The absurd eagerness of Morano, his uncouth touch on his shoulder, seemed only pathetic to Rodriguez. He looked at the Professor's face, the nose like a hawk's beak, the small eyes deep down beside it, dark of hue and dreadfully bright, the silent lips. He stood there uttering no actual prohibition, concerning which Rodriguez's eyes had sought; so, stepping aside from his window, Rodriguez beckoned Morano, who at once ran forward delighted to see those ancient wars.
A slight look of scorn showed faint upon the Professor's face such as you may see anywhere when a master-craftsman perceives the gaze of the ignorant turned towards his particular subject. But he said no word, and soon speech would have been difficult, for the loud clamour of Morano filled the room: he had seen the wars and his ecstasies were ungoverned. As soon as he saw those fights he looked for the Infidels, for his religious mind most loved to see the Infidel slain. And if my reader discern or suppose some gulf between religion and the recent business of the Inn of the Dragon and Knight, Morano, if driven to admit any connection between murder and his daily bread, would have said, "All the more need then for God's mercy through the intercession of His most blessed Saints." But these words had never passed Morano's lips, for shrewd as he was in enquiry into any matter that he desired to know, his shrewdness was no less in avoiding enquiry where there might be something that he desired not to know, such as the origin of his wages as servant of the Inn of the Dragon and Knight, those delicate gold rings with settings empty of jewels.
Morano soon recognized the Infidel by his dress, and after that no other wars concerned him. He slapped his thigh, he shouted encouragement, he howled vile words of abuse, partly because he believed that this foul abuse was rightly the due of the Infidel, and partly because he believed it delighted God.
Rodriguez stood and watched, pleased at the huge joy of the simple man. The Slave of Orion stood watching in silence too, but who knows if he felt pleasure or any other emotion? Perhaps his mind was simply like ours; perhaps, as has been claimed by learned men of the best-informed period, that mind had some control upon the comet, even when farthest out from the paths we know. Morano turned round for a moment to Rodriguez:
"Good wars, master, good wars," he said with a vast zest, and at once his head was back again at that calm blue window. In that flash of the head Rodriguez had seen his eyes, blue, round and bulging; the round man was like a boy who in some shop window has seen, unexpected, huge forbidden sweets. Clearly, in the war he watched things were going well for the Cross, for such cries came from Morano as "A pretty stroke," "There now, the dirty Infidel," "Now see God's power shown," "Spare him not, good knight; spare him not," and many more, till, uttered faster and faster, they merged into mere clamorous rejoicing.
But the battles beyond the blue window seemed to move fast, and now a change was passing across Morano's rejoicings. It was not that he swore more for the cause of the Cross, but brief, impatient, meaningless oaths slipped from him now; he was becoming irritable; a puzzled look, so far as Rodriguez could see, was settling down on his features. For a while he was silent except for the little, meaningless oaths. Then he turned round from the glass, his hands stretched out, his face full of urgent appeal.
"Masters," he said, "God's enemy wins!"
In answer to Morano's pitiful look Rodriguez' hand went to his sword-hilt; the Slave of Orion merely smiled with his lips; Morano stood there with his hands still stretched out, his face still all appeal, and something more for there was reproach in his eyes that men could tarry while the Cross was in danger and the Infidel lived. He did not know that it was all finished and over hundreds of years ago, a page of history upon which many pages were turned, and which lay as unalterable as the fate of some warm swift creature of early Eocene days over whose fossil today the strata lie long and silent.
"But can nothing be done, master?" he said when Rodriguez told him this. And when Rodriguez failed him here, he turned away from the window. To him the Infidel were game, but to see them defeating Christian knights violated the deeps of his feelings.
Morano sulky excited little more notice from his host and his master who had watched his rejoicings, and they seem to have forgotten this humble champion of Christendom. The Professor slightly bowed to Rodriguez and extended a graceful hand. He pointed to the other window.
Reader, your friend shows you his collection of stamps, his fossils, his poems, or his luggage labels. One of them interests you, you look at it awhile, you are ready to go away: then your friend shows you another. This also must be seen; for your friend's collection is a precious thing; it is that point upon huge Earth on which his spirit has lit, on which it rests, on which it shelters even (who knows from what storms?). To slight it were to weaken such hold as his spirit has, in its allotted time, upon this sphere. It were like breaking the twig of a plant upon which a butterfly rests, and on some stormy day and late in the year.
Rodriguez felt all this dimly, but no less surely; and went to the other window.
Below the window were those wars that were soon coming to Spain, hooded in mist and invisible. In the centre of the window swam as profound a blue, dwindling to paler splendour at the edge, the wandering lights were as lovely, as in the other window just to the left; but in the view from the right-hand window how sombre a difference. A bare yard separated the two. Through the window to the left was colour, courtesy, splendour; there was Death as least disguising himself, well cloaked, taking mincing steps, bowing, wearing a plume in his hat and a decent mask. In the right-hand window all the colours were fading, war after war they grew dimmer; and as the colours paled Death's sole purpose showed clearer. Through the beautiful left-hand window were killings to be seen, and less mercy than History supposes, yet some of the fighters were merciful, and mercy was sometimes a part of Death's courtly pose, which went with the cloak and the plume. But in the other window through that deep, beautiful blue Rodriguez saw Man make a new ally, an ally who was only cruel and strong and had no purpose but killing, who had no pretences or pose, no mask and no manner, but was only the slave of Death and had no care but for his business. He saw it grow bigger and stronger. Heart it had none, but he saw its cold steel core scheming methodical plans and dreaming always destruction. Before it faded men and their fields and their houses. Rodriguez saw the machine.
Many a proud invention of ours that Rodriguez saw raging on that ruinous plain he might have anticipated, but not for all Spain would he have done so: it was for the sake of Spain that he was silent about much that he saw through that window. As he looked from war to war he saw almost the same men fighting, men with always the same attitude to the moment and with similar dim conception of larger, vaguer things; grandson differed imperceptibly from grandfather; he saw them fight sometimes mercifully, sometimes murderously, but in all the wars beyond that twinkling window he saw the machine spare nothing.
Then he looked farther, for the wars that were farthest from him in time were farther away from the window. He looked farther and saw the ruins of Peronne. He saw them all alone with their doom at night, all drenched in white moonlight, sheltering huge darkness in their stricken hollows. Down the white street, past darkness after darkness as he went by the gaping rooms that the moon left mourning alone, Rodriguez saw a captain going back to the wars in that far-future time, who turned his head a moment as he passed, looking Rodriguez in the face, and so went on through the ruins to find a floor on which to lie down for the night. When he was gone the street was all alone with disaster, and moonlight pouring down, and the black gloom in the houses.
Rodriguez lifted his eyes and glanced from city to city, to Albert, Bapaume, and Arras, his gaze moved over a plain with its harvest of desolation lying forlorn and ungathered, lit by the flashing clouds and the moon and peering rockets. He turned from the window and wept.
The deep round window glowed with serene blue glory. It seemed a foolish thing to weep by that beautiful glass. Morano tried to comfort him. That calm, deep blue, he felt, and those little lights, surely, could hurt no one.
What had Rodriguez seen? Morano asked. But that Rodriguez would not answer, and told no man ever after what he had seen through that window.
The Professor stood silent still: he had no comfort to offer; indeed his magical wisdom had found none for the world.
You wonder perhaps why the Professor did not give long ago to the world some of these marvels that are the pride of our age. Reader, let us put aside my tale for a moment to answer this. For all the darkness of his sinister art there may well have been some good in the Slave of Orion; and any good there was, and mere particle even, would surely have spared the world many of those inventions that our age has not spared it. Blame not the age, it is now too late to stop; it is in the grip of inventions now, and has to go on; we cannot stop content with mustard-gas; it is the age of Progress, and our motto is Onwards. And if there was no good in this magical man, then may it not have been he who in due course, long after he himself was safe from life, caused our inventions to be so deadly divulged? Some evil spirit has done it, then why not he?
He stood there silent: let us return to our story.
Perhaps the efforts of poor clumsy Morano to comfort him cheered Rodriguez and sent him back to the window, perhaps he turned from them to find comfort of his own; but, however he came by it, he had a hope that this was a passing curse that had come on the world, whose welfare he cared for whether he lived or died, and that looking a little farther into the future he would see Mother Earth smiling and her children happy again. So he looked through the deep-blue luminous window once more, beyond the battles we know. From this he turned back shuddering.
Again he saw the Professor smile with his lips, though whether at his own weakness, or whether with cynical mirth at the fate of the world, Rodriguez could not say.