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The CENTURY MAGAZINE

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HEY of Poictesme narrate that on the day Count Emmerick married the high Queen Radegonde was such a drinking of healths and toasts as never before was known at Bellegarde. They tell of a most notable banquet from which Sir Ninzian went homeward hiccoughing and even more than usually benevolent, and without any consciousness of that misstep which had imperilled his continued stay upon earth.

For Sir Ninzian of Yair and Upper Ardra had not wholly broken with the heroic elder ways of those years wherein Dom Manuel ruled Poictesme. Now Manuel was gone, the times were changing. These days seemed to Sir Ninzian to breed littler men, who, to be sure, lived far more decorously than had lived their fathers, now that St. Holmendis had come to them out of Philistia with his miracles: for this sacrosanct person would put up with no irregularity anywhere, and would hardly so much as tolerate the mildest forms of thaumaturgy by anybody else. You could go for days now without encountering a warlock or a fairy; the people of Audela but rarely came out of the fire to make sport for and with

mankind; and while many persons furtively brewed spells at home, all traffic with spirits had to be conducted secretly. In fine, Poictesme was everywhere upon its very best behavior, because there was no telling when holy Holmendis might be dealing with you for your own good.

And while Sir Ninzian had become appropriately staid with age, and in theory approved of these reforms, and was in practice a stanch supporter of holy Holmendis in all the saint's crusades against moral laxity and free-thinking and in his hunting down and torturing and burning of heretics and in all other pious works, there is no disputing that the stalwart, frank old knight had kept a taint of the freer social customs of Count Manuel's time. So that Sir Ninzian, be it repeated, went home from Count Emmerick's wedding-feast with a pleasurable at-randomness for which, in a so liberal contributor to every deserving cause, appropriate allowances were made by St. Holmendis and everybody else except one person only. Ninzian was married.

The next evening Ninzian and his wife were walking in the garden. They

Copyright, 1922, by THE CENTURY Co. All rights reserved.

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were a handsome couple, and the highhearted love that had been between them in their youth was a tale which many poets had embroidered. Now they who were in the mellow evening of life were lighted by a golden sunset as they went upon a flagged walkway made of white and blue stones; and to each side were the small glossy leaves and the crimson flowering of well tended rose-bushes. And Balthis (for that was the name of Ninzian's dearly beloved

wife, the heiress of Upper Ardra) said: "Look, my dear; and tell me, what is that?"

Ninzian inspected the flower-bed by the side of the walkway, and he replied:

But Balthis, he saw now, was determined not to go on in talk about the latest church that Sir Ninzian had builded and was stocking with very holy relics. Instead, she asserted with deliberation:

"Ninzian, I think it is fully as big as a man's foot."

"Well, be it as you like, my pet."

"No, but I will not be put off in that way. Do you tread beside it in the flower-bed there, and, by comparing the print of your foot with the bird-track, we shall easily see which is the larger."

Ninzian was not so ruddy as he had been, yet he said with dignity and lightly enough:

"Balthis, you are unreasonable. I

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"My darling, it appears to be the do not intend to get my sandals all track of a bird." over mud to settle any such foolish

"But surely there is no fowl in all point. The track is just the size of a Poictesme with a foot so huge!"

"No; but many migratory monsters pass by in the night, on their way north, at this time of year; and, clearly, one of some rare species has paused here to rest. However, as I was telling you, my pet, we have now in hand-"

"Why, but think of it, Ninzian! The print is as big as a man's foot!"

"Come, precious, you exaggerate. It is the track of a largish bird-an eagle, or perhaps a phoenix, or it may be the Zhar-Ptitza paused here but it is nothing remarkable. Besides, as I was telling you, we have already in hand for the edifying of the faithful a bit of Mary Magdalene's haircloth, the left ring-finger of John the Baptist, and one of the smaller stones with which St. Stephen was martyred-"

man's foot, or it is much larger than a man's foot, or it is smaller than a man's foot-it is, in fine, of any size which you prefer. And we will let that be the end of it."

"So, Ninzian, you will not tread in that new-digged earth?" said Balthis, queerly.

"Of course I will not ruin my second-best sandals for any such foolish reason."

"You trod there yesterday in your very best sandals, Ninzian, for the reason that you were tipsy. I saw the print you made there, in broad daylight, Ninzian, when you had just come from drinking with a blessed saint himself, and were reeling all over the neat ways of my garden. Ninzian, it is a fearful thing to know that when your husband

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Balthis replied, with the cold non-committalness of wives:

"Pity or no, you will now have to tell me the truth about it."

"Well, my darling, you must know that when I first came into Poictesme, I came rather unwillingly. Our friend St. Holmendis, I need not tell you, was even then setting such a very high moral tone hereabouts, the holy man is so impetuous with his miracles when anybody differs with him on religious matters, that the prospect was not alluring. But it was necessary that my prince should have some representative here, as in all other places. So I came from down yonder "

"I know you came from the South, Ninzian. Everybody knows that. But that appears to me no excuse whatever for walking like a bird."

"As if, my dearest, it could give me any pleasure to walk like a bird or like a whole covey of birds! To the contrary, I have always found this small accomplishment in doubtful taste; it exposes one to continual comment. But, alas! it is the geas which in the old time was put upon all those who serve my prince, so that our adversaries in the great game might be detecting us." Now Balthis fixed on him wide, scornful, terrible eyes.

"Ninzian, I understand. You are an evil spirit, and you came out of hell in the appearance of a man to work wickedness in Poictesme!"

And his Balthis, as he saw with a pang of wild regret, was horribly upset and grieved to know the thing which her husband had so long hid away from her; and Ninzian began to feel rather ashamed of not having trusted her with this secret, now it was discovered. At all events, he would try what be

ing reasonable might do.

"Darling," said he, with patient rationality, "no sensible wife will ever pry into what her husband may have been or done before she married him. Her concern is merely with his misdemeanors after that ceremony; and, I think, you have had no heavy reason to complain. Nobody can for one moment assert that in Poictesme I have not led a scrupulously upright and immaculate existence."

She said indignantly:

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"You had fear of Holmendis! came all this long way to do your devil work, and then had not the pluck to face him!"

Ninzian found this just near enough the truth to be irritating. So he spoke now with airy condescension.

"Precious, it is true the lean man can work miracles, but, then, without desiring to appear boastful, I must tell you that I have mastery of a more venerable and blacker magic. Oh, I assure you, he could not have exorcised or excommunicated or tried any other of his sacerdotal trick-work upon me without sweating for it. Still, it

seemed better to avoid such painful scenes; for when one has trouble with these saints, the supporters of both sides are apt to intervene: the skies are blackened, and the earth shakes, and whirlwinds and meteors and thunderbolts and seraphim upset things generally, and it all seems rather boisterous and old-fashioned. So it really did appear more sensible and in better taste to respect, at all events during his lifetime, the well-meaning creature's religious convictions, in which you share, I know, my pet, and-well," said Ninzian, with a shrug, "to temporize; to keep matters more comfortable all around, you understand, my darling, by evincing a suitable interest in church work and in whatever else appeared expected of the reputable in my surroundings."

But Balthis was not to be soothed. "O Ninzian, this is a terrible thing for me to be learning! There was never a husband who better knew his place, and holy church has not ever had a more loyal servitor—"

"No," Ninzian said quietly.

"But you have been a hideous demon in deep hell, and the man that I have loved is a false seeming, and the moment St. Holmendis ascends to bliss you mean to go on with your foul iniquities. That is foolish of you, because of course I would never permit it. But even so— O Ninzian, my faith and my happiness are buried now in the one grave, now that all ends between us!"

Ninzian asked, still very quietly: "And do you think I will leave you, Balthis, because of some disarranged fresh earth? Could any handful of dirt have parted us when, because of my love of you, I fought the seven knights at Evre, and overthrew Duke

Oribert and his bad custom of the cat and the serpent, and cast the Spotted Dun of Lorcha down from a high hill?” She answered without pity:

"You will have no choice, for it is on this evening of the month that St. Holmendis hears my confession, and I must confess everything, and you know as well as I do of his devastating miracles."

"Balthis, my sweet, now, after all, what complaint have you against me? You cannot help feeling that the no doubt ill-advised rebellion in which I was concerned in youth-unarithmeticable eons before this earth was thought of took place quite long enough ago to be forgotten. Besides, you know by experience that I am only too easily guided by others, that I have never learned, as you so eloquently phrase it, to have any backbone. And I do not quite see, either, how you can want to punish me to-day for iniquities which, you grant, I have not ever committed, but-so you assume, without any warrant known to me have just vaguely thought of committing by and by, and, it may be, not for years to come, for this stringy Holmendis seems tough as whitleather-"

His stammered talking died away. He saw there was no moving her.

"No, Ninzian, I simply cannot stand having a husband who walks like a bird and is liable to be detected the next time it rains. It would be on my mind day and night, and people would say all sorts of things. No, Ninzian, it is quite out of the question, and you must go back to hell. I will get your things together at once, and I leave it to your conscience if, after the way I have worked and slaved for you, you had the right to play this wrong and treachery upon me."

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