Of the Combat Between Sir Roger Bloxam and Cardinal Mentula



I told you the lad was devilish annoyed. But it did not stop there; oh no, by the bones of Saint Bacchus, and the virginity of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, and the Holy Island of Iona! To be butted in the belly by a damned dwarf! The Bloxam blood boiled. Sir Roger was bored; he was fed up; he was peeved; he lost his shirt; he could not keep his hair on; he was wroth.

So he chased the poor Cardinal all round the town, as you never saw the Lion chase the Unicorn. Presently the dwarf spies a valley, and runs up it. There's a forest at the top, just where the great hill rises; so he tries to hide there. Lucky for him, there's a cleft in the mountain- side, so small that Sir Roger cannot follow him. (God knows he strove like a brave lad and good knight as he was!). But you cannot put a quart into a pint pot, or a bull into a calf skin. 'Tis one story how the Seventy-Two Jinn came from the bottle; another how King Solomon put them back again. Nulla vestigia retrorsum, by the shade of the lady that invented Caesarean section! Let's get on with the story! He pushed, he pulled, he wriggled, he heaved, he thrust, he lunged, he writhed, he twisted – oh the Devil in the Belfry! he rocked, he charged, he did everything he could, God bless him! but the Cardinal was safely housed; 'twas a tight squeeze even for him. So presently the lad stopped struggling; he was too exhausted to be angry any more. Whew! what a hunt it had been! I sweat to think of it. So now the Cardinal comes forth; and he abated in his pride by the humiliation of having been forced to hide.

Confound all writing, and most of all the writing of novels. I never finished the story about the girl; better do it now, while I remember. She woke up. (There may be more than that, but by Buddha and Harpocrates and by their lotus-flowers, I know not of it.)

These chapters are infernally drawn-out; the style is laboured, the matter dull. Well, damn everything, I'm tired. Can't you let a man alone? I wish to Saint Geneviève I were in Paris on the Terrace of the Closerie des Lilas – if there be absinthe available – with Ida Nelidoff. No, I would rather be in Montigny (Saint Hubert hear me!) with my One Love, ruining the morals of the ducks at the Vanne Rouge with mustard, or lying on the top of the Long Rocher teaching the girl arithmetic – three times twenty-one is sixty-three, three times twenty-two is –

Oh but what happened to brave Coglio and gay Cojone? They could not follow their master; they came nigh to be crushed between the ridges of the mountains. Says one “I am more an ancient Roman than a Dane: there's yet some liquor left”; and the other “Fill, fill the cup; what boots it to repeat?” So Don Cojone damns him for a coward. Twas fortunate Porphyria Poppoea brake out laughing wildly, a fanfare of folly. So Sir Roger Bloxam took his tablets, wishing to write a poem to her beauty; for she was a dusk rose of glory, no fault but this perversity of speech – oh no more o' that, pray! And he wrote:

Her cheeks are pinks; what dastard pinked her?

Her soul's a Sphinx; God mend her ….

He could never get any further, for he could not find a rime. No poet, Sir Roger Bloxam, I'm afraid.

Suppose we get on to the pageant of the skating in Sweden. That is the real beginning of the story of Porphyria Poppoea; I simply invented the 'incident of boyhood' because all the other fool novelists do; and one must be conventional, mustn't one?

I think I'll have a last pipe of Lattakiah, the kind that Novotny sells – four dollars a pound, worse luck! in the cubical packets of lead paper, with the pale grey-blue labels – oh their arabic inscriptions! I wish that some Afrit would bear me on the horse of brass to a city in the desert, that I might recite 'The Great Word to become mad and go about naked' until I did.

Well, a pipe's the next best thing.

(No, Nan!)

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