Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Encounter With The Brown Man
"Not that I for a moment believe in such nonsense," said Jurgen: "but it will be amusing to see what comes of this business, and it is unjust to deny even nonsense a fair trial."
So he presently observed a sun-browned brawny fellow, who sat upon the bank of a stream, dabbling his feet in the water, and making music with a pipe constructed of seven reeds of irregular lengths. To him Jurgen displayed, in such a manner as Merlin had prescribed, the token which Merlin had given. The man made a peculiar sign, and rose. Jurgen saw that this man's feet were unusual.
Jurgen bowed low, and he said, as Merlin had bidden: "Now praise be to thee, thou lord of the two truths! I have come to thee, O most wise, that I may learn thy secret. I would know thee, [...] I would know thee for what thou art."
The brown man answered: "I am everything that was and that is to be. Never has any mortal been able to discover what I am."
Then this brown man conducted Jurgen to an open glen, at the heart of the forest.
"Merlin dared not come himself, because," observed the brown man, "Merlin is wise. But you are a poet. So you will presently forget that which you are about to see, or at worst you will tell pleasant lies about it, particularly to yourself."
"I do not know about that," says Jurgen, "but I am willing to taste any drink once. What are you about to show me?"
The brown man answered: "All."
So it was near evening when they came out of the glen. It was dark now, for a storm had risen. The brown man was smiling, and Jurgen was in a flutter.
"It is not true," Jurgen protested. "What you have shown me is a pack of nonsense. It is the degraded lunacy of a so-called Realist. It is sorcery and pure childishness and abominable blasphemy. It is, in a word, something I do not choose to believe. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"Even so, you do believe me, Jurgen."
"I believe that you are an honest man and that I am your cousin: so there are two more lies for you."
The brown man said, still smiling: "Yes, you are certainly a poet, you who have borrowed the apparel of my cousin. For you come out of my glen, and from my candor, as sane as when you entered. That is not saying much, to be sure, in praise of a poet's sanity at any time. But Merlin would have died, and Merlin would have died without regret, if Merlin had seen what you have seen, because Merlin receives facts reasonably."
"Facts! sanity! and reason!" Jurgen raged: "why, but what nonsense you are talking! Were there a bit of truth in your silly puppetry this world of time and space and consciousness would be a bubble, a bubble which contained the sun and moon and the high stars, and still was but a bubble in fermenting swill! I must go cleanse my mind of all this foulness. You would have me believe that men, that all men who have ever lived or shall ever live hereafter, that even I am of no importance! Why, there would be no justice in any such arrangement, no justice anywhere!"
"Make answer, you who chatter about justice! how if I slew you now," says the brown man,--"I being what I am?"
"Slay me, then!" says Jurgen, with shut eyes, for he did not at all like the appearance of things. "Yes, you can kill me if you choose, but it is beyond your power to make me believe that there is no justice anywhere, and that I am unimportant. For I would have you know I am a monstrous clever fellow. As for you, you are either a delusion or a god or a degraded Realist. But whatever you are, you have lied to me, and I know that you have lied, and I will not believe in the insignificance of Jurgen."
Chillingly came the whisper of the brown man: "Poor fool! O shuddering, stiff-necked fool! and have you not just seen that which you may not ever quite forget?"
"None the less, I think there is something in me which will endure. I am fettered by cowardice, I am enfeebled by disastrous memories; and I am maimed by old follies. Still, I seem to detect in myself something which is permanent and rather fine. Underneath everything, and in spite of everything, I really do seem to detect that something. What role that something is to enact after the death of my body, and upon what stage, I cannot guess. When fortune knocks I shall open the door. Meanwhile I tell you candidly, you brown man, there is something in Jurgen far too admirable for any intelligent arbiter ever to fling into the dustheap. I am, if nothing else, a monstrous clever fellow: and I think I shall endure, somehow. Yes, cap in hand goes through the land, as the saying is, and I believe I can contrive some trick to cheat oblivion when the need arises," says Jurgen, trembling, and gulping, and with his eyes shut tight, but even so, with his mind quite made up about it. "Of course you may be right; and certainly I cannot go so far as to say you are wrong: but still, at the same time--"
"Now but before a fool's opinion of himself," the brown man cried, "the Gods are powerless. Oh, yes, and envious, too!"
Jurgen went in a tremble to the Cathedral of the Sacred Thorn in Cameliard. All night Jurgen prayed there, not in repentance, but in terror. For his dead he prayed, that they should not have been blotted out in nothingness, for the dead among his kindred whom he had loved in boyhood, and for these only.
--from Jurgen, by James Branch Cabell.