From Popanilla and Other Tales, Volume III of the Bradenham Edition of the Novels and Tales of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield; Peter Davies, London; 1926; p. 145-164.
IT was clearly a runaway match — never indeed was such a sublime elopement. The four horses were coal-black, with blood-red manes and tails; and they were shod with rubies. They were harnessed to a basaltic car by a single rein of flame. Waving his double-pronged trident in the air, the God struck the blue breast of Cyane, and the waters instantly parted. In rushed the wild chariot, the pale and insensible Proserpine clinging to the breast of her grim lover.
Through the depths of the hitherto unfathomed lake the infernal steeds held their breathless course. The car jolted against its bed. ‘Save me!’ exclaimed the future Queen of Hades, and she clung with renewed energy to the bosom of the dark bridegroom. The earth opened; they entered the kingdom of the Gnomes. Here Pluto was popular. The lurid populace gave him a loud shout. The chariot whirled along through shadowy cities and by dim highways, swarming with a busy race of shades.
‘Ye flowery meads of Enna!’ exclaimed the terrified Proserpine, ‘shall I never view you again? What an execrable climate!’
‘Here, however, in-door nature is charming,’ responded 146 Pluto. ‘’Tis a great nation of manufacturers. You are better, I hope, my Proserpine. The passage of the water is never very agreeable, especially to ladies.’
‘And which is our next stage?’ inquired Proserpine.
‘The centre of Earth,’ replied Pluto. ‘Travelling is so much improved that at this rate we shall reach Hades before night.’
‘Alas!’ exclaimed Proserpine, ‘is not this night?’
‘You are not unhappy, my Proserpine?’
‘Beloved of my heart, I have given up everything for you! I do not repent, but I am thinking of my mother.’
‘Time will pacify the Lady Ceres. What is done cannot be undone. In the winter, when a residence among us is even desirable, I should not be surprised were she to pay us a visit.’
‘Her prejudices are so strong,’ murmured the bride. ‘O! my Pluto, I hope your family will be kind to me.’
‘Who could be unkind to Proserpine? Ours is a very domestic circle. I can assure you that everything is so well ordered among us that I have no recollection of a domestic broil.’
‘But marriage is such a revolution in a bachelor’s establishment,’ replied Proserpine, despondingly. ‘To tell the truth, too, I am half frightened at the thought of the Furies. I have heard that their tempers are so violent.’
‘They mean well; their feelings are strong, but their hearts are in the right place. I flatter myself you will like my nieces, the Parcæ. They are accomplished, and favourites among the men.’
‘Oh! quite irresistible.’
‘My heart misgives me. I wish you had at least paid them the compliment of apprising them of our marriage.’
‘Cheer up. For myself, I have none but pleasant 147 anticipations. I long to be at home once more by my own fireside, and patting my faithful Cerberus.’
‘I think I shall like Cerberus; I am fond of dogs.’
‘I am sure you will. He is the most faithful creature in the world.’
‘Is he very fierce?’
‘Not if he takes a fancy to you; and who can help taking a fancy to Proserpine?’
‘Ah! my Pluto, you are in love!’
‘Is this Hades?’ inquired Proserpine.
An avenue of colossal bulls, sculptured in basalt and breathing living flame, led to gates of brass, adorned with friezes of rubies, representing the wars and discomfiture of the Titans. A crimson cloud concealed the height of the immense portal, and on either side hovered o’er the extending walls of the city; a watch-tower or a battlement occasionally flashing forth, and forcing their forms through the lurid obscurity.
‘Queen of Hades! welcome to your capital!’ exclaimed Pluto.
The monarch rose in his car and whirled a javelin at the gates. There was an awful clang, and then a still more terrible growl.
‘My faithful Cerberus!’ exclaimed the King.
The portals flew open, and revealed the gigantic form of the celebrated watch-dog of Hell. It completely filled their wide expanse. Who but Pluto could have viewed without horror that enormous body covered with shaggy spikes, those frightful paws clothed with claws of steel, that tail like a boa constrictor, those fiery eyes that blazed like the blood-red lamps in a pharos, and those three forky tongues, round each of which were entwined a vigorous family of green rattlesnakes!148
‘Ah! Cerby! Cerby!’ exclaimed Pluto; ‘my fond and faithful Cerby!’
Proserpine screamed as the animal gambolled up to the side of the chariot and held out its paw to its master. Then, licking the royal palm with its three tongues at once, it renewed its station with a wag of its tail which raised such a cloud of dust that for a few minutes nothing was perceptible.
‘The monster!’ exclaimed Proserpine.
‘My love,’ exclaimed Pluto, with astonishment.
‘The hideous brute!’
‘My dear!’ exclaimed Pluto.
‘He shall never touch me.’
‘Don’t touch me with that hand. You never shall touch me, if you allow that disgusting animal to lick your hand.’
‘I beg to inform you that there are few beings of any kind for whom I have a greater esteem than that faithful and affectionate beast.’
‘Oh! if you like Cerberus better than me, I have no more to say,’ exclaimed the bride, bridling up with indignation.
‘My Proserpine is perverse,’ replied Pluto; ‘her memory has scarcely done me justice.’
‘I am sure you said you liked Cerberus better than anything in the world,’ continued the Goddess, with a voice trembling with passion.
‘I said no such thing,’ replied Pluto, somewhat sternly.
‘I see how it is,’ replied Proserpine, with a sob; ‘you are tired of me.’
‘I never expected this.’
‘Was it for this I left my mother?’
‘Powers of Hades! How can you say such things!’
‘Broke her heart?’149
‘Gave up daylight?’
‘For the sake of Heaven, then, calm yourself!’
‘My love! my life! my angel! what is all this?’
‘And then to be abused for the sake of a dog!’
‘By all the shades of Hell, but this is enough to provoke even immortals. What have I done, said, or thought, to justify such treatment?’
‘So soon is the veil withdrawn!’
‘Dearest, you must be unwell. This journey has been too much for you.’
‘On our very bridal day to be so treated!’
‘Soul of my existence, don’t make me mad. I love you, I adore you; I have no hope, no wish, no thought but you. I swear it; I swear it by my sceptre and my throne. Speak, speak to your Pluto: tell him all your wish, all your desire. What would you have me do?’
‘Shoot that horrid beast.’
‘What, you will not! I thought how it would be. I am Proserpine, your beloved, adored Proserpine. You have no wish, no hope, no thought but for me! I have only to speak, and what I desire will be instantly done! And I do speak, I tell you my wish, I express to you my desire, and I am instantly refused! And what have I requested? Is it such a mighty favour? Is it anything unreasonable? Is there, indeed, in my entreaty anything so vastly out of the way? The death of a dog, a disgusting animal, which has already shaken my nerves to pieces; and if ever (here she hid her face in his breast), if ever that event should occur which both must desire, my Pluto, I am sure the 150 very sight of that horrible beast will, I dare not say what it will do.
Pluto looked puzzled.
‘Indeed, my Proserpine, it is not in my power to grant your request; for Cerberus is immortal, like ourselves.’
‘Some arrangement, however, may be made to keep him out of your sight and hearing. I can banish him.’
‘Can you indeed? Oh! banish him, my Pluto! pray banish him! I never shall be happy until Cerberus is banished.’
‘I will do anything you desire; but I confess to you I have some misgivings. He is an invaluable watch-dog; and I fear, without his superintendence, the guardians of the gate will scarcely do their duty.’
‘Oh! yes: I am sure they will, my Pluto! I will ask them to, I will ask them myself, I will request them, as a particular and personal favour to myself, to be very careful indeed. And if they do their duty, and I am sure they will, they shall be styled, as a reward, “Proserpine’s Own Guards.”’
‘A reward, indeed!’ said the enamoured monarch, as, with a sigh, he signed the order for the banishment of Cerberus in the form of his promotion to the office of Master of the royal and imperial blood-hounds.
The burning waves of Phlegethon assumed a lighter hue. It was morning. It was the morning after the arrival of Pluto and his unexpected bride. In one of the principal rooms of the palace three beautiful females, clothed in cerulean robes spangled with stars, and their heads adorned with golden crowns, were at work together. One held a distaff, from which the second spun; and the third wielded an enormous pair of adamantine shears, with which she 151 perpetually severed the labours of her sisters. Tall were they in stature and beautiful in form. Very fair; an expression of haughty serenity pervaded their majestic countenances. Their three companions, however, though apparently of the same sex, were of a different character. If women can ever by ugly, certainly these three ladies might put in a valid claim to that epithet. Their complexions were dark and withered, and their eyes, though bright, were bloodshot. Scantily clothed in black garments, not unstained with gore, their wan and offensive forms were but slightly veiled. Their hands were talons; their feet cloven; and serpents were wreathed round their bows instead of hair. Their restless and agitated carriage afforded also not less striking contrast to the polished and aristocratic demeanour of their companions. They paced the chamber with hurried and unequal steps, and wild and uncouth gestures; waving, with a reckless ferocity, burning torches and whips of scorpions. It is hardly necessary to add that these were the Furies, and that the conversation which I am about to report, was carried on with the Fates.
‘A thousand serpents!’ shrieked Tisiphone. ‘I will never believe it.’
‘Racks and flames!’ squeaked Megæra. ‘It is impossible.’
‘Eternal torture!’ moaned Alecto. ‘’Tis a lie.’
‘Not Jupiter himself should convince us!’ the Furies joined in infernal chorus.
‘’Tis nevertheless true,’ calmly observed the beautiful Clotho.
‘You will soon have the honour of being presented to her,’ added the serene Lachesis.
‘And whatever we may feel,’ observed the considerate Atropos, ‘I think, my dear girls, you had better restrain yourselves.’
‘And what sort of thing is she?’ inquired Tisiphone, with a shriek.152
‘I have heard that she is lovely,’ answered Clotho. ‘Indeed, it is impossible to account for the affair in any other way.’
‘’Tis neither possible to account for nor to justify it,’ squeaked Megæra.
‘Is there, indeed, a Queen in Hell?’ moaned Alecto.
‘We shall hold no more drawing-rooms,’ said Lachesis.
‘We will never attend hers,’ said the Furies.
‘You must,’ replied the Fates.
‘I have no doubt she will give herself airs,’ shrieked Tisiphone.
‘We must remember where she has been brought up, and be considerate,’ replied Lachesis.
‘I dare say you three will get on very well with her,’ squeaked Megæra. ‘You always get on well with people.’
‘We must remember how very strange things here must appear to her,’ observed Atropos.
‘No one can deny that there are some very disagreeable sights,’ said Clotho.
‘There is something in that,’ replied Tisiphone, looking in the glass, and arranging her serpents; ‘and for my part, poor girl, I almost pity her, when I think she will have to visit the Harpies.’
At this moment four little pages entered the room, who, without exception, were the most hideous dwarfs that ever attended upon a monarch. They were clothed only in parti-coloured tunics, and their breast and legs were quite bare. From the countenance of the first you would have supposed he was in a convulsion; his hands were clenched and his hair stood on end: this was Terror! The protruded veins of the second seemed to burst, and his rubicund visage decidedly proved that he had blood in his head; this was Rage! The third was of an ashen colour throughout: this was Paleness! And the fourth, with a countenance 153 not without traces of beauty, was even more disgusting than his companions from the quantity of horrible flies, centipedes, snails, and other noisome, slimy, and indescribable monstrosities that were crawling all about his body and feeding on his decaying features. The name of this fourth page was Death!
‘The King and Queen!’ announced the Pages.
Pluto, during the night, had prepared Proserpine for the worst, and had endeavoured to persuade her that his love would ever compensate for all annoyances. She was in excellent spirits and in very good humour; therefore, though she could with difficulty stifle a scream when she recognised the Furies, she received the congratulations of the Parcæ with much cordiality.
‘I have the pleasure, Proserpine, of presenting you to my family,’ said Pluto.
‘Who, I am sure, hope to make Hades agreeable to your Majesty,’ rejoined Clotho. The Furies uttered a suppressed sound between a murmur and a growl.
‘I have ordered the chariot,’ said Pluto. ‘I propose to take the Queen for a ride, and show her some of our lions.’
‘She will, I am sure, be delighted,’ said Lachesis.
‘I long to see Ixion,’ said Proserpine.
‘The wretch!’ shrieked Tisiphone.
‘I cannot help thinking that he has been very unfairly treated,’ said Proserpine.
‘What!’ squeaked Megæra. ‘The ravisher!’
‘Ay! it is all very well,’ replied Proserpine; ‘but, for my part, if we knew the truth of that affair ——’
‘Is it possible that your Majesty can speak in such a tone of levity of such an offender?’ shrieked Tisiphone.
‘Is it possible?’ moaned Alecto.
‘Ah! you have heard only one side of the question; but for my part, knowing as much of Juno as I do ——’
‘The Queen of Heaven!’ observed Atropos, with an intimidating glance.154
‘The Queen of Fiddlestick!’ said Proserpine; ‘as great a flirt as ever existed, with all her prudish looks.’
The Fates and the Furies exchanged glances of astonishment and horror.
‘For my part,’ continued Proserpine, ‘I make it a rule to support the weaker side, and nothing will ever persuade me that Ixion is not a victim, and a pitiable one.’
‘Well! men generally have the best of it in these affairs,’ said Lachesis, with a forced smile.
‘Juno ought to be ashamed of herself,’ said Proserpine. ‘Had I been in her situation, they should have tied me to a wheel first. At any rate, they ought to have punished him in Heaven. I have no idea of those people sending every mauvais sujet to Hell.’
‘But what shall we do?’ inquired Pluto, who wished to turn the conversation.
‘Shall we turn out a sinner and hunt him for her Majesty’s diversion?’ suggested Tisiphone, flanking her serpents.
‘Nothing of the kind will ever divert me,’ said Proserpine; ‘for I have no hesitation in saying that I do not at all approve of these eternal punishments, or, indeed, of any punishment whatever.’
‘The heretic!’ whispered Tisiphone to Megæra. Alecto moaned.
‘It might be more interesting to her Majesty,’ said Atropos, ‘to witness some of those extraordinary instances of predestined misery with which Hades abounds. Shall we visit Œdipus?’
‘Poor fellow!’ exclaimed Proserpine. ‘For myself, I willingly confess that Torture disgusts and Destiny puzzles me.’
The Fates and the Furies all alike started.
‘I do not understand this riddle of Destiny,’ continued the young Queen. ‘If you, Parcæ, have predestined that 155 a man should commit a crime, it appears to me very unjust that you should afterwards call upon the Furies to punish him for its commission.’
‘But man is a free agent,’ observed Lachesis, in as mild a tone as she could command.
‘Then what becomes of Destiny?’ replied Proserpine.
‘Destiny is eternal and irresistible,’ replied Clotho. ‘All is ordained; but man is, nevertheless, master of his own actions.’
‘I do not understand that,’ said Proserpine.
‘It is not meant to be understood,’ said Atropos; ‘but you must nevertheless believe it.’
‘I make it a rule only to believe what I understand,’ replied Proserpine.
‘It appears,’ said Lachesis, with a blended glance of contempt and vengeance, ‘that your Majesty, though a Goddess, is an Atheist.’
‘As for that, anybody may call me just what they please, provided they do nothing else. So long as I am not tied to a wheel or whipped with scorpions for speaking my mind, I shall be as tolerant of the speech and acts of others as I expect them to be tolerant of mine. Come, Pluto, I am sure that the chariot must be ready!’
So saying, her Majesty took the arm of her spouse, and with a haughty curtsey left the apartment.
‘Did you ever!’ shrieked Tisiphone, as the door closed.
‘No! never!’ squeaked Megæra.
‘Never! never!’ moaned Alecto.
‘She must understand what she believes, must she?’ said Lachesis, scarcely less irritated.
‘I never heard such nonsense,’ said Clotho.
‘What next!’ said Atropos.
‘Disgusted with Torture!’ exclaimed the Furies.
‘Puzzled with Destiny!’ said the Fates.
It was the third morning after the Infernal Marriage; the slumbering Proserpine reposed in the arms of the snoring Pluto. There was a loud knocking at the chamber-door. Pluto jumped up in the middle of a dream.
‘My life, what is the matter?’ exclaimed Proserpine.
The knocking was repeated and increased. There was also a shot of ‘treason, murder, and fire!’
‘What is the matter?’ exclaimed the God, jumping out of bed and seizing his trident. ‘Who is there?’
‘Your pages, your faithful pages! Treason! treason! For the sake of Hell, open the door. Murder, fire, treason!’
‘Enter!’ said Pluto, as the door was unlocked.
And Terror and Rage entered.
‘You frightful things, get out of the room!’ cried Proserpine.
‘A moment, my angel!’ said Pluto, ‘a single moment. Be not alarmed, my best love; I pray you be not alarmed. Well, imps, why am I disturbed?’
‘Oh!’ said Terror. Rage could not speak, but gnashed his teeth and stamped his feet.
‘O-o-o-h!’ repeated Terror.
‘Speak, cursed imps!’ cried the enraged Pluto; and he raised his arm.
‘A man! a man!’ cried Terror. ‘Treason, treason! a man! a man!’
‘What man?’ said Pluto, in a rage.
‘A man, a live man, has entered Hell!’
‘You don’t say so?’ said Proserpine; ‘a man, a live man. Let me see him immediately.’
‘Where is he?’ said Pluto; ‘what is he doing?’
‘He is here, there, and everywhere!’ asking for your wife, and singing like anything.’
‘Proserpine!’ said Pluto, reproachfully; but, to do the God justice, he was more astounded than jealous.157
‘I am sure I shall be delighted to see him; it is so long since I have seen a live man,’ said Proserpine. ‘Who can he be? A man, and a live man! How delightful! It must be a messenger from my mother.’
‘But how came he here?’
‘Ah! how came he here?’ echoed Terror.
‘No time must be lost!’ exclaimed Pluto, scrambling on his robe. ‘Seize him, and bring him into the council chamber. My charming Proserpine, excuse me for a moment.’
‘Not at all; I will accompany you.’
‘But, my love, my sweetest, my own, this is business; these are affairs of state. The council chamber is not a place for you.’
‘And why not?’ said Proserpine. ‘I have no idea of ever leaving you for a moment. Why not for me was well as for the Fates and the Furies? Am I not Queen? I have no idea of such nonsense!’
‘My love!’ said the deprecating husband.
‘You don’t go without me,’ said the imperious wife, seizing his robe.
‘I must,’ said Pluto.
‘Then you shall never return,’ said Proserpine.
‘Enchantress! be reasonable.’
‘I never was, and I never will be,’ replied the Goddess.
‘Treason! treason!’ screamed Terror.
‘My love, I must go!’
‘Pluto,’ said Proserpine, ‘understand me once for all, I will not be contradicted.’
Rage stamped his foot.
‘Proserpine, understand me once for all, it is impossible,’ said the God, frowning.
‘My Pluto!’ said the Queen. ‘Is it my Pluto who speaks thus sternly to me? It is he who, but an hour ago, a short hour ago, died upon my bosom in transports and stifled me with kisses! Unhappy woman! wretched, 158 miserable Proserpine! Oh! my mother! my kind, my affectionate mother! Have I disobeyed you for this! For this have I deserted you! For this have I broken your beloved heart!’ She buried her face in the crimson counterpane, and bedewed its gorgeous embroidery with her fast-flowing tears.
‘Treason!’ shouted Terror.
‘Ha! ha! ha!’ exclaimed the hysterical Proserpine.
‘What am I to do?’ cried Pluto. ‘Proserpine, my adored, my beloved, my enchanting Proserpine, compose yourself; for my sake, compose yourself. I love you! I adore you! You know it! oh! indeed you know it!’
The hysterics increased.
‘Treason! treason!’ shouted Terror.
‘Hold your infernal tongue,’ said Pluto. ‘What do I care for treason when the Queen is in this state?’ He knelt by the bedside, and tried to stop her mouth with kisses, and ever and soon whispered his passion. ‘My Proserpine, I beseech you to be calm; I will do anything you like. Come, come, then, to the council!’
The hysterics ceased; the Queen clasped him in her arms and rewarded him with a thousand embraces. Then, jumping up, she bathed her swollen eyes with a beautiful cosmetic that she and her maidens had distilled from the flowers of Enna; and, wrapping herself up in her shawl, descended with his Majesty, who was quite as much puzzled about the cause of this disturbance as when he was first roused.
Crossing an immense covered bridge, the origin of the Bridge of Sighs at Venice, over the royal gardens, which consisted entirely of cypress, the royal pair, preceded by the pages in waiting, entered the council chamber. The council was already assembled. On either side of a throne of sulphur, from which issued the four infernal rivers of 159 Lethe, Phlegethon, Cocytus, and Acheron, were ranged the Eumenides and the Parcæ. Lachesis and her sisters turned up their noses when they observed Proserpine; but the Eumenides could not stifle their fury, in spite of the hints of their more subdued but not less malignant companions.
‘What is all this?’ inquired Pluto.
‘The constitution is in danger,’ said the Parcæ in chorus.
‘Both in church and state,’ added the Furies. ‘’Tis a case of treason and blasphemy’’; and they waved their torches and shook their whips with delighted anticipation of their use.
‘Detail the circumstances,’ said Pluto, waving his hand majestically to Lachesis, in whose good sense he had great confidence.
‘A man, a living man, has entered your kingdom, unknown and unnoticed,’ said Lachesis.
‘By my sceptre, is it true?’ said the astonished King. ‘Is he seized?’
‘The extraordinary mortal baffles our efforts,’ said Lachesis. ‘He bears with him a lyre, the charmed gift of Apollo, and so seducing are his strains that in vain our guards advance to arrest his course; they immediately begin dancing, and he easily eludes their efforts. The general confusion is indescribable. All business is at a standstill: Ixion rests upon his wheel; old Sisyphus sits down on his mountain, and his stone has fallen with a terrible plash into Acheron. In short, unless we are energetic, we are on the eve of a revolution.’
‘He seeks yourself and — her Majesty,’ added Lachesis, with a sneer.
‘Immediately announce that we will receive him.’
The unexpected guest was not slow in acknowledging the royal summons. A hasty treaty was drawn up; he was to enter the palace unmolested, on condition that he ceased 160 playing his lyre. The Fates and the Furies exchanged significant glances as his approach was announced.
The man, the live man, who had committed the unprecedented crime of entering Hell without a licence, and after the previous deposit of his soul as security for the good behaviour of his body, stood before the surprised and indignant Court of Hades. Tall and graceful in stature, and crowned with laurels, Proserpine was glad to observe that the man, who was evidently famous, was also good-looking.
‘Thy purpose, mortal?’ inquired Pluto, with awful majesty.
‘Mercy!’ answered the stranger in a voice of exquisite melody, and sufficiently embarrassed to render him interesting.
‘What is mercy?’ inquired the Fates and the Furies.
‘Speak, stranger, without fear,’ said Proserpine. ‘Thy name?’
‘Is Orpheus; but a few days back the too happy husband of the enchanting Eurydice. Alas! dread king, and thou too, beautiful and benignant partner of his throne, I was won her by my lyre, and by my lyre I would redeem her. Know, then, that in the very glow of our gratified passion a serpent crept under the flowers on which we reposed, and by a fatal sting summoned my adored to the shades. Why did it not also summon me? I will not say why should I not have been the victim in her stead; for I feel too keenly that the doom of Eurydice would not have been less forlorn, had she been the wretched being who had been spared to life. O King! they whispered on earth that thou too hadst yielded thy heart to the charms of love. Pluto, they whispered, is no longer stern: Pluto also feels the all-subduing influence of beauty. Dread monarch, by the self-same passion that rages in our breasts alike, I implore thy mercy. Thou hast risen from the couch of love, the arm of thy adored has pressed upon they heart, her honied lips have clung with rapture to thine, still echo in thy ears 161 all the enchanting phrases of her idolatry. Then, by the memory of these, by all the higher and ineffable joys to which these lead, King of Hades, spare me, oh! spare me, Eurydice!’
Proserpine threw her arms round the neck of her husband, and, hiding her face in his breast, wept.
‘Rash mortal, you demand that which is not in the power of Pluto to concede,’ said Lachesis.
‘I have heard much of treason since my entrance into Hades,’ replied Orpheus, ‘and this sounds like it.’
‘Mortal!’ exclaimed Clotho, with contempt.
‘Nor is it in your power to return, sir,’ said Tisiphone, shaking her whip.
‘We have accounts to settle with you,’ said Megæra.
‘Spare her, spare her,’ murmured Proserpine to her lover.
‘King of Hades,’ said Lachesis, with much dignity, ‘I hold a responsible office in your realm, and I claim the constitutional privilege of your attention. I protest against the undue influence of the Queen. She is a power unknown in our constitution, and an irresponsible agent that I will not recognise. Let her go back to the drawing-room, where all will bow to her.’
‘Hag!’ exclaimed Proserpine. ‘King of Hades, I, too, can appeal to you. Have I accepted your crown to be insulted by your subjects?’
‘A subject, may it please your Majesty, who has duties as strictly defined by our infernal constitution as those of your royal spouse; duties, too, which, let me tell you, Madam, I and my order are resolved to perform.’
‘Gods of Olympus!’ cried Proserpine. ‘Is this to be a Queen?’
‘Before we proceed further in this discussion,’ said Lachesis, ‘I must move an inquiry into the conduct of his Excellency the Governor of the Gates. I move, then, that Cerberus be summoned.’162
Pluto started, and the blood rose to his dark cheek. ‘I have not yet had an opportunity of mentioning,’ said his Majesty, in a low tone, and with an air of considerable confusion, ‘that I have thought fit, as a reward for his past services, to promote Cerberus to the office of the Master of the Hounds. He therefore is no longer responsible.’
‘O-h!’ shrieked the Furies, as they elevated their hideous eyes.
‘The constitution has invested your Majesty with a power in the appointment of your Officers of State, which your Majesty has undoubtedly a right to exercise,’ said Lachesis. ‘What degree of discretion it anticipated in the exercise, it is now unnecessary, and would be extremely disagreeable, to discuss. I shall not venture to inquire by what new influence your Majesty has been guided in the present instance. The consequence of your Majesty’s conduct is obvious, in the very difficult situation in which your realm is now placed. For myself and my colleagues, I have only to observe that we decline, under this crisis, any further responsibility; and the distaff and the shears are at your Majesty’s service the moment your Majesty may find convenient successors to the present holders. As a last favour, in addition to the many we are proud to remember we have received from your Majesty, we entreat that we may be relieved from their burthen as quickly as possible.’ (Loud cheers from the Eumenides.)
‘We had better recall Cerberus,’ said Pluto, alarmed, ‘and send this mortal about his business.’
‘Not without Eurydice. Oh! not without Eurydice,’ said the Queen.
‘Silence, Proserpine,’ said Pluto.
‘May it please your Majesty,’ said Lachesis, ‘I am doubtful whether we have the power of expelling any one from Hades. It is not less the law that a mortal cannot remain here; and it is too notorious for me to mention that fact that none here have the power of inflicting death.’163
‘Of what use are all your laws,’ exclaimed Proserpine, ‘if they are only to perplex us? As there are no statutes to guide us, it is obvious that the King’s will is supreme. Let Orpheus depart, then, with his bride.’
‘The latter suggestions is clearly illegal,’ said Lachesis.
‘Lachesis, and ye, her sisters,’ said Proserpine, ‘forget, I beseech you, any warm words that my have passed between us, and, as a personal favour to one who would willingly be your friend, release Eurydice. What! you shake your heads! Nay; of what importance can be a single miserable shade, and one, too, summoned so cruelly before her time, in these thickly-peopled regions?’
‘’Tis the principle,’ said Lachesis; ‘’tis the principle. Concession is ever fatal, however slight. Grant this demand; others, and greater, will quickly follow. Mercy becomes a precedent, and the realm is ruined.’
‘Ruined!’ echoed the Furies.
‘And I say preserved !’ exclaimed Proserpine with energy. ‘The State is in confusion, and you yourselves confess that you know not how to remedy it. Unable to suggest a course, follow mine. I am the advocate of Mercy; I am the advocate of Concession; and, as you despise all higher impulses, I meet you on your own grounds. I am their advocate for the sake of policy, of expediency.’
‘Never!’ said the Fates.
‘Never!’ shrieked the Furies.
‘What, then, will you do with Orpheus?’
The Parcæ shook their heads; even the Eumenides were silent.
‘Then you are unable to carry on the King’s government; for Orpheus must be disposed of; all agree to that. Pluto, reject these counsellors, at once insulting and incapable. Give me the distaff and the fatal shears. At once form a new Cabinet; and let the release of Orpheus and Eurydice be the basis of their policy.’ She threw her arms round his neck and whispered in his ear.164
Pluto was perplexed; his confidence in the Parcæs was shaken. A difficulty had occurred with which they could not cope. It was true that the difficulty had been occasioned by a departure from their own exclusive and restrictive policy. It was clear that the gates of Hell ought never to have been opened to the stranger; but opened they had been. Forced to decide, he decided on the side of expediency, and signed a decree for the departure of Orpheus and Eurydice. The Parcæ immediately resigned their posts, and the Furies walked off in a huff. Thus, on the third day of the Infernal Marriage, Pluto found that he had quarrelled with all his family, and that his ancient administration was broken up. The King was without a friend, and Hell was without a Government!