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And Balthis said also: "For it is a great wrong and treachery which you have played upon me, Ninzian of Yair, getting from me such love as men will not find the equal of in any of the noble places of this world until the end of life and time. This is a deep wound that you have given me. Upon your lips were wisdom and pleasant talking; there was kindliness in the gray eyes of Ninzian of Yair; your hands were noble at sword-play. These things I delighted in, these things I regarded; I did not think of the low mire, I could not see what horrible markings your feet had left to this side and to that side. Let all women weep with me, for I now know that to every woman's loving is this end appointed. There is no woman that gives all to any man, but that woman is wasting her substance at bed and board with a greedy stranger, and there is no wife who escapes the bitter hour wherein that knowledge smites her. So now let us touch hands, and now let our lips, too, part friendlily, because our bodies have so long been friends, the while that we knew nothing of each other, Ninzian of Yair, on account of the great wrong and treachery which you have played upon me.'

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Thus speaking, Bal

this kissed him. Then she went into Then she went into the house that was no longer Ninzian's home.

Ninzian sat on a stone bench that was carved at each end with a crouching sphinx, and he waited there while the sunlight died away behind the poplars. The moment, he knew, was pregnant with all danger: Holmendis was coming, and you could never tell

about these saints. But Ninzian loved his wife so greatly that prolonged existence without her did not tempt him. His wife, whoever she might be, had always seemed peculiarly dear to Ninzian. And now, as he looked back upon the exceeding love which he had borne his wife, in Nineveh and Thebes and Tyre and Babylon and Rome and Byzantium and in all other cities that bred fine women, and as he weighed the evanescence of this love, which was evading him after these few thousand years, it seemed to Ninzian indeed a pitiable thing that his season of earthly contentment should thus be cut off in its flower and withered untimelily.

And his conscience troubled him, too. For the fiend had not been entirely candid with his Balthis, and Poictesme was not by any means the stage of the poor easy-going fellow's primal failure. So he now forlornly thought of how utterly he had failed in his mission upon earth ever since he first came to Mount Kaf to work evil among men in the time of King Tcha

ghi, a great while before the Deluge; and he considered with dismay the appalling catalogue of virtuous actions into which these women had betrayed him. For always the cause of Ninzian's downfall had been the same: he would get to talking indiscretion to some lovely girl or another just through his desire to be agreeable to everybody, and the girl would invariably marry him and set about making her husband a well-thought-of citizen. Nor did it avail him to argue. Women nowhere appeared to have any sympathy with Ninzian's appointed labor upon earth: they seemed to have


an instinctive bent toward heaven and the public profession of every virtue. Then Ninzian, on a sudden, recollected the cause of the disturbance that had been put upon his living. He drew his dagger, and squatting on the paved walkway, he scratched out that incriminating footprint. It was none too soon, for Sir Ninzian rose from this erasement just in time to bump into none other than the emaciate flesh of holy Holmendis, bishop and saint of the calendar, who in the cool of the evening was coming up the walkway; and indeed, in rising, Ninzian jostled against the saint rather roughly. So So Ninzian apologized for his clumsiness, and explained that he was going fishing the next day, and was digging for worms. And Ninzian was in a bad taking, for he could not know how much this dreadful saint from out of Philistia had seen or suspected.

But holy Holmendis said friendlily that no bones were broken, and he went on, with the soul-chilling joviality of the clergy, to make some depressing joke about fishers of men.

"And that is why I am here," said the saint, "for this evening Dame Balthis is to confess to me whatever matters may be on her conscience."

"Yes, yes," says Nin

zian, fondly, "but we both know, my dear and honored friend, that Balthis has a particularly tender conscience a conscience which is as sensitive to the missteps of others as a sore toe."

"That is how everybody's conscience ought to be," returned the saint, and he went on to speak of the virtuous woman who is a crown to her husband. And he made a contrast between the

fine high worth of Balthis and the shamelessness of that bad beggarwoman upon whom, just outside the gate, the saint had put apoplexy for speaking lightly of the Government of Poictesme.

Ninzian fidgeted. He did not like the hard, pinched little mouth and the glittering, very pale blue eyes of this gaunt saint, and the nimbus about the white hair of holy Holmendis was beginning to shine brighter and brighter as the dusk of evening thickened. Ninzian found it uncomfortable to be alone with this worker of miracles; piety is in all things so unpredictable: and Ninzian was unfeignedly glad when Balthis came out of the loved house that was no longer Ninzian's home, and held open the door for Holmendis to enter, where Ninzian might not come any more.

As Holmendis went in, Dame Balthis tried for the last time to speak sensibly and kindly with her husband.

"Pig with the head of a mule,' she said in a low tone, "do you stop looking at me like a sick calf and go away. For I must confess in what a state of sin I have been living as a devil's wife, and I have little faith in your black magic, and you know as well as I do that there is no telling

what blasted tree-trunk or holy bottle or something of that sort he may not seal you up in until the day of judgment, precisely as he has done all those other evil spirits."


Ninzian replied:

"I shall not ever leave you of my free will."

"But, Ninzian, it is as if I were putting you into the bottle myself! For

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if I do not tell that spiteful old bag of bones," she crossed herself, "I mean that beloved and blessed saint, why, he would never have the sense, or, rather, I intended to say that his faith in his fellow-creatures is too great and admirable for him ever to suspect you." "Yes, yes, my darling," Ninzian said, "it is rather as if you yourself were thrusting me into a brazen bottle, and setting to it the unbreakable seal of Sulieman-ben

Daoud with your own dear hands. But, nevertheless-" He took her hand, and gallantly he kissed her finger-tips.

At that she boxed his jaws.

"You need not think to make a fool of me! No, not again, not after all these years! Oh, but I will show Oh, but I will show you!"

Then Balthis also went into the house, where the gaunt saint waited to hear her mensual confession. And poor easy-going Ninzian sat like an outcast on the stone bench, and thought forlornly about the ruthless miracles with which this Holmendis had harried the fairies and the fauns and all the other amiable iniquities of Poictesme, and about the saint's devastating crusades against moral laxity and freethinking, and his torturing and burning of mere heretics. It seemed uncomfortably likely that in dealing with a devil the man would go to even greater lengths, would cast off all compunction, if somehow Ninzian could not get the better of him.

So Ninzian tried a bit of magic to see if his hand was in, and his magicking went so utterly awry that in place of the small basilisk he had intended to evoke, there came to him, from among

the sweet-smelling rose-bushes, the appearance of a proud gentleman in gold and sable: and Ninzian bowed very low before his liege-lord.

Now, the new-comer paused for an instant as if he were reading what was in the troubled mind of Ninzian, and then he said:

"I see. Surkrag, whom mortals hereabouts call Ninzian! O unfaithful servant, now must you be punished for betraying the faith I put in

you. Now is your requital coming swiftly from this ravening saint who will dispose of you without mercy. For you have forgotten long ago what magic you ever knew, and when Holmendis gets hold of you with one hand and exorcises you with the other, there will be hardly a cinder left."

So did Ninzian know himself to stand friendlessly between the wrath of evil and the malignity of holiness, both bent upon his ruin. He said:

"Have patience, my Prince!"

But Satan answered sternly: "My patience is outworn. No, Surkrag, there is no hope for you, and you become shameless in perfidy as steadily you go from good to better. Once you would have scorned the least deviation from the faith you owe me; but a little by a little you have made compromises with virtue through your weak desire to live comfortably with your wives, and this continuous indulgence of women's notions is draining from you the last drop of wickedness. Not fifty centuries ago you would have been shocked by a kindly thought. Twenty centuries back, and you at least retained a proper feeling toward the decalogue. Now you assist in all


reforms, and build churches without a blush. For is there nowadays, my poor Surkrag, in candor, is there any virtue, however exalted, is there a single revolting decency or any form of godliness before which your gorge rises? No, my poor friend: you came hither to corrupt mankind, and instead they have made you little worse than human."

The Angel of Darkness paused. He had spoken, as became such a famous gentle

man, very temperately, without rage, but also without any concealing of his sorrow and disappointment. And Ninzian answered contritely:

"My Prince, I have not wholly kept faith, I know. But always the woman tempted me, always I wanted to have happy faces about me, and so I have been now and then seduced into marriage. And my wife, no matter what eyes and hair and tint of flesh she might be wearing at the time, has always been bent upon having her husband looked up to by the neighbors; and in such circumstances a poor devil has no chance."

"So that these women have been your ruin, and even now the latest of them is betraying your secret to that implacable saint! Well, it serves you rightly, for since the time of Kaiumarth you have gained me not one follower in this place, and have lived openly in all manner of virtue when you should have been furthering my power upon earth."

Thus speaking, Satan took his seat upon the bench. Then Ninzian, too, sat down, and Ninzian leaned forward toward this other immortal in the ever-thickening dusk, and Ninzian's honest face was sad.

"My Prince, what does it matter? From the first I have let my fond wife have her will with me, because it pleased her and did no real harm. What do these human notions matter even in so dear a form? A little while, and Balthis will be dead. A little while, and there will be no Bellegarde yonder, and all Poictesme will be forgotten from the face of this earth. A little while, and this earth itself will be an ice-cold cinder. But

you and I shall still be about our work, still playing for the universe, with stars and suns for counters. Does it really matter to you that, for the little while this tiny trundling earth exists and has women on it, I pause from playing at the great game to entertain myself with these happy accidents of nature?"

Satan replied: "It is not only your waste of time that troubles me. It is your shirking of every infernal duty, it is your cherubic lack of seriousness. Why, do you but think of how many thousand women have passed through your fingers!"

"Yes, like a string of pearls, my Prince," said Ninzian, fondly.

"Is that not childish sport for you that used to play so mightily at the great game?"

But Ninzian now was plucking up heart, as the saying is, hand over fist.

"Recall the old days, my Prince," he said, with feeling, "when we two were only cherubim, and played so lovingly together in the fields of heaven; and let the memory move you even to unmerited indulgence. I have contracted an odd fancy for this inconspicuous sphere of rock and mud, I like the women that walk glowingly about it.


Oh, I concede my taste is disputable; and yet what does it matter what I do on earth? Frankly, I think you take the place too seriously. For centuries I have watched those who serve you going about earth in all manner of quaint guises, in curious masks, which are impenetrable by any one who does not know your servants are decreed to leave the tracks of a bird wherever they pass upon your errands. For ages I have seen your emissaries devote much time and cunning to the tempting of men to do evil, and to what end? Man rises from the dust; he struts and postures; he falls back into the dust. That is all. How can this midge work good or evil? His virtue passes in a thin scolding; the utmost reach of his wickedness is to indulge in the misdemeanor of supererogation, by destroying a man or two men, whom time will very soon destroy in any event. Meanwhile his sympathies incline-I know -by a hairbreadth or so toward heaven. Yes, but what does it matter? Is it even a compliment? Ah, Prince, had I the say, I would leave men to perish in their unimportant starveling virtues without raising all this pother over trifles."

Ninzian could see that he had made a certain impression, but still dark Satan shook his head.

"Surkrag, in abstract reason you may be right; but warfare is not conducted by reason, and to surrender anything to the Adversary, though it be only earth and its inhabitants, would be a dangerous example."

"Come, Prince, do you think how many fine stars there are to strive for -stars that are really worth the having; and do you let me have this earth to amuse me for a little while!"

Now, Satan did not answer at once.

The bats were out by this time, zigzagging about the garden; the air was magical with the scent of dew-drenched roses; and somewhere in the dusk a nightingale now tentatively raised its thrilling, long-drawn, plaintive voicing of ineffable desire. All everywhere about the two fiends was most soothing. And the Angel of Darkness laughed without a trace of ill humor.

"No, no, old wheedler, one cannot neglect the tiniest chance in the great game. Besides, I have my pride, I confess it, and to behold earth given over entirely to good would vex me. Yet, after all, I can see no great hurt in your continuing to live virtuously here with your seraglio while the planet lasts. So, if you like, I will summon Sclaug and Baalzebub, or even old Phobetor, and they will dispose of this saint."

"My Prince, I am afraid that some of those officious archangels would be coming, too, and one thing might lead to another, and my wife would not at all like having any supernal battlings in her own garden among her favorite rose-bushes. No, as I always say, it is much better to avoid these painful scenes."

"Why," Satan said, in high astonishment-"why, but your wife has repudiated you, and has betrayed you to that flint-hearted old saint!"

Ninzian in the dusk made bold to smile. But Ninzian did not need to say anything, for at this moment Balthis came to the door, and not being able to see Satan in the twilight, called out that supper was getting stone-cold on the table, and that she really wished Ninzian would try to be a little more considerate, especially when they had company.

And Ninzian, rising, chuckled.
"My wife has been like that since

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