So Kennaston seemed to have got only disappointment and vexation and gainless vague regret from his love-affairs in the flesh; and all fleshly passion seemed to flicker out inevitably, however splendid the brief blaze. For you loved and lost; or else you loved and won: there was quick ending either way. And afterward unaccountable women haunted you, and worried you into unreasonable contrition, in defiance of common-sense....

But for Ettarre, who embodied all Kennaston was ever able to conceive of beauty and fearlessness and strange purity, all perfections, all the attributes of divinity, in a word, such as his slender human faculties were competent to understand, he must hung er always in vain. Whatever happened, Ettarre stayed inaccessible, even in dreams: her beauty was his to look on only; and always when he came too near that radiant loveliness which was Ettarre's--that perfect beauty which was so full of troubling retic ences, and so, was touched with something sinister--the dream would end, and the universe would seem to fold about him, just as a hand closes. Such was the law, the kindly law, as Kennaston now believed, through which love might thrive even in the arid h eart of a poet.

Sometimes, however, this law would lead to odd results, and left the dream an enigma. For instance, he had a quaint experience upon the night of that day during which he had talked with Muriel Allardyce....

"You are in all things a fortunate man, Master--ah--whatever your true name may be," said the boy, pettishly flinging down the cards.

"Ods life, and have we done?" says Kennaston....

The two sat in a comfortable paneled room. There was a big open fire behind Kennaston; he could see its reflections flicker about the wood-work. The boy facing him was glowingly attired in green and gold, an ardent comely urchin, who (as Kennaston estim ated) might perhaps be a page to Queen Elizabeth, or possibly was one of King James's spoilt striplings. Between them was a rough deal table, littered with playing-cards; and upon it sat a tallish blue pitcher half-full of wine, four lighted candles stuc k like corks in as many emptied bottles, and two coarse yellow mugs....

"Yes, we have done," the boy answered; and, rising, smiled cherubically. "May I ask what is the object that you conceal with such care in your lift hand?"

"To be candid," Kennaston returned, "it is the King of Diamonds, that swarthy bearded Spaniard. I had intended it should serve as a corrective and encourager of Lady Fortune, when I turned it, my next deal, as the trump card. I'faith, I thank God I have found the jade is to be influenced by such feats of manual activity. Oh, ay, sir, I may say it without conceit that my fingers have in these matters tolerable compass and variety."

"A card-sharp!" sneers the boy. "La, half of us suspected it already; but it will be rare news to the town that Master Lionel Branch--as I must continue to call you--stands detected in such Greek Knaveries."

"Nay, but you will hardly live to moralize of it, sir. Oh, no, sir, indeed my poor arts must not be made public: for I would not seem to boast of my accomplishments. Harkee, sir, I abhor vain-glory. I name no man sir; but I know very well there are sn otty-nosed people who accord these expedients to amend the quirks of fate their puritan disfavor. Hah, but, signior, what is that to us knights of the moon, to us gallants of generous spirit?--Oh, Lord, sir, I protest I look upon such talents much as I d o upon my breeches. I do consider them as possessions, not certainly to be vaunted, but indispensable to any gentleman who hopes to make a pleasing figure in the world's eye."

"All this bluster is wordy foolery, Master Branch. What I have seen, I have seen; and you will readily guess how I mean to use my knowledge."

"I would give a great deal to find out what he is talking about," was Kennaston's reflection. "I have discovered, at least, that my present alias is Branch, but that I am in reality somebody else." Aloud he said: "Fore God, your eyesight is of the bes t Master Skirlaw--(How the deuce did I know his name, now?)--Hah, I trust forthwith to prove if your sword be equally keen."

"I will fight with no cheats--"

"I'faith, sir, but I have heard that wine is a famed provoker of courage. Let us try the byword." So saying Kennaston picked up one mug, and flung its contents full in the boy's face. It was white wine, Kennaston noted, for it did not stain Master Skir law's handsome countenance at all.

"The insuly is sufficient. Draw, and have done!" the lad said quietly. His sword gleamed in the restive reflections of that unseen fire behind Kennaston.

"Na, na! but, my most expeditious cockerel, surely this place is a thought too public? Now yonder is a noble courtyard. Oh, ay, favored by to-night's moon, we may settle our matter without any hindrance of intolerable scandle. So, I will call my host, that we may have the key. Yet, upon my gentility, Master Skirlaw, I greatly fear I shall be forced to kill you. Therefore I cry you mercy, sir, but is there on your mind no business which you would not willingly leave undischarged? Save you, friend, bu t we are all mortal. Hah, to a lady whom I need not name, it is an affair of considerable import what dispositon a bold man might make of this ring--"

Leering, Kennaston touched the great signet-ring on the lad's thumb; and forthwith the universe seemed to fold about him, just as a hand colses. In this brief moment of inexplicable yearning and selfloathing he conprehended that the boy's face was the fa ce of Ettarre.

And Kennaston, awake, was pleading, with meaningless words: "Valentia! forgive me, Valentia!...."

And that was all. This dream remained an enigma. Kennaston could never know what events had preceded this equivocal instant, or how Ettarre came to be disguised as a man, or what were their relations in this dream, nor, above all, why he should have awakened crying upon the name of Valentia. It was simply a law that a lways when he was about to touch Ettarre--even unconsciously--everything must vanish; and through the workings of that law this dream, with many others, came to be just a treasured moment of unexplainable but poignant emotion.

Chapter Thirty-One