The Blue Star
Chapter 12: Netznegon City; a Zigraner Festival
After he had gone, Lalette cried a little, but the widow pretended not to notice, busying herself with sewing on one of the festival masks, a task at which the girl was presently helping, so far as she could, for she was no great artist with the needle, nor wished to be. When they began talking again it was about the robe they were working on, grey silk velvet which had been artfully torn here and there to a pretense of raggedness, through which the slashes were being backed with flame-color. Lalette passed her hands across the lovely fabric (longing to be gay and courted in such a gown, though it left so much of the leg bare that she would have felt a little shame to wear it). Who was it made for?
“The Countess Aiella of Arjen, for the festival ball at Sedad Vix. The younger Countess, that is, the unmarried one. I designed it especially for her. The mask is there.” She nodded.
It hung on one of the standards, empty of eye and mouth, but no one could mistake the provenance of the high-bridged nose and the cheekbones from which the full rumpled beard flowed down. “Why,” said Lalette, “it is Prince Pavinius when he was Prophet of Mancherei; I thought you were—” and stopped.
“Amorosians?” The widow Domijaiek smiled. “I am a follower of that doctrine, though not yet perfected in it. But in spite of what you have been told, it is not one of gloomy reverence. It does not prohibit joy, nor even keep us away from the world, only declares that the joys of the world are false beside those that come to us when we learn how we have been deceived by the flesh. You, who are newly married, have the other kind of love now, and will not know what I mean, but in the end you will come to see that kind of love as sin.”
“I am not married,” said Lalette, letting her needle fall (but doubting that her feeling toward Rodvard were indeed the love the poets carolled, and of which Dame Domijaiek spoke), “except in what we who have the Art call the great marriage.”
“I would as soon not speak as to that,” said the widow, “but in our church we are taught that to love a person is to love the world, which is a deception due to the God of evil.”
Rodvard did not come back that evening, nor the next, and no word from him of any kind. Lalette felt unhappy and listless after so long indoors; above her she could hear from time to time Mme. Kaja’s footsteps come and go, and when the door was opened, often one of her pupils in song, flatted usually and more frequently than not, off key. The boy Laduis soon held little more for her, and in any case with the spring festival now rushing on so fast, had to be taken from his academy to run errands for his mother, who now worked late every night. The widow said the court had gone down to Sedad Vix, the doubled guards at the city gates were withdrawn, and the provosts somewhat relaxing in vigilance as to their search for the girl.
It might be safe to leave her refuge, if she had any place to go. Surely, not to her mother’s, who would still be watched by Uncle Bontembi the priest if by no other, and it seemed to Lalette there was no friend of her own age near enough to be trusted, now that all the world knew her for a witch. It was a box. For the present, one was able to pay in some sort for food and shelter by labor on the festival costumes, but that would soon be done. Ah, Rodvard, are you detained or faithless—which? She wished him there before her for an explanation that would also be the clue to her new life; and asked herself why a partnership of half an hour and not altogether of her own will, should bind her for life. Hold him she thought she could, and though hating the dependency into which she was thrown, hating the bond that made dependency her only resort, there was nothing to do but go see Dr. Remigorius, knowing that man hated her, and through him, try to find her lover. Oh, if I could ever be my own, not my mother’s nor any his, she wished desperately, and though not a word of this was put into voice, the widow seemed to know her whole mind when Lalette said she thought it might be worth going forth on festival eve to seek tidings.
“Of course. You will want the mask of the Kjermanash princess, the one that Laduis calls Sunimaa. I will let you take it.”
Nothing more was said at this time, nor until the afternoon of the festival eve itself, with horns and whistles already blowing in the street, though the sun had not yet touched the arm of spring, when the widow helped her into the fur-tipped robe, surveyed her all round, and bade farewell with a smile (which Lalette thought a trifle sad). “If all does not go as you would wish, return here. You may at all times come in the name of the God of love.”
It was just falling twilight when Lalette felt stones under her feet again and breathed deep the fine air of spring. Someone had hung a pair of colored lanterns at the gate of the Street Cossao, one of them with a broken pane in its side, through which the candle within shed its beam on a group of three or four premature revellers gathered round a bottle. They hallooed to Lalette and began to follow her along the boulevard on uneasy legs, but gave it up when she saw a hired carriage come past empty and hailed it as if to mount. When she did not after all enter his vehicle, the carriage-master swore at her, but want of money to pay left her without choice.
At the market-place tables had been set out and musicians on a stand surrounded with flowers and green branches were already intoning the volalelle, but only three or four couples were dancing. There were some murmurs of appreciation for her costume from those sitting; none called nor gave her any sign. It was a poor district; she knew she must look by the half too lordly, and that was as well.
Some way farther along, a group all masked was holding a procession from a side-street behind a hand-drum, and laughingly begged her to join, but she pulled loose. The sound of bells began to hang over the gay din that rose from the city, and Lalette hurried, feeling more than ever out of protection and alone. The street where Remigorius had his shop was wider than her memory of it. Someone had affixed an absurd green paper ribbon to the neck of the stuffed lizard over the door, but all seemed dark within.
There was no answer when Lalette pulled at the bell. Her heart plunged down into dreadful syncope—Oh, what will I do without money if he is not there nor anyone? Not go back to that woman of strange gods, no. She rang again, twice, to make her insistence clear, and as someone down the street greeted guests with a glad shout of welcome, the door cracked open and a voice said that the doctor was abroad, not even in Netznegon City, but there was another medic around the corner and two stories aloft.
“Oh,” said Lalette, “it is not for the curative that I wished him. I desire to find a friend of his and mine—Rodvard Bergelin.”
Door came fully open. In the rapidly fading light the girl found herself looking at a young man whose chin and slanting eyes betrayed Zigraner origin. As always with that race, the smile was an effort to ingratiate, but there was something unpleasant about it. “Are you—?”
“Lalette Asterhax. Yes.”
“Demoiselle, will you come in? The doctor has left me to keep his place for all that concerns the Sons of the New Day, since matters have reached such a crisis with what has been discovered at the conference of court.”
Lalette followed him (with dreadful certainty clutching at her heart that this was the key, then, of so much she had failed to understand; Rodvard was an intimate of that gang of murderous conspirators and so must these others be.) The Zigraner indicated a stool in the shop and struck a light. “You permit that I introduce myself? I am Gaidu Pyax. Of Rodvard you should not be concerned. He is doing good work, and the High Center has forwarded to ours its praise of him.”
(I am planets and centuries away from the man who has chosen me, she thought. How can I say it? What shall I ask?) “There was no word.”
The Zigraner frowned. “The sub-leader of your center doubtless told you of the plot against Baron Brunivar, the regent prospective? It was Rodvard who uncovered it.”
“Oh.” (The conversation was going to stop.) She cried desperately; “I thought he would be back with me for the festival.”
“And you have so lovely a costume, demoiselle. Duty bears hard on us.” His smile changed to a little bark of a laugh. “But be tranquil for him; he will sport high with the court at Sedad Vix.” The tongue of Gaidu Pyax came out and made a circle round his lips; he glanced where the clock ticked against the wall and darted his eye around quickly. “I will see you home, or if you will—it is only—that is—would you care to see how we Zigraners keep festival?”
Outside the dark was almost full; the bells were all chiming in chorus and Rodvard at Sedad Vix. (I have no home, she thought, and he has sent no word.) “It would be pleasant.” (For one must do something.)
Pyax leaped to his feet, his mouth all twisted with joy. “Come, let us go at once. I do not wish to be late for the light.” He ran into the rear room with blundering, skipping steps, tripping at the doorsill. Lalette heard him stumble and then, in a break of the street-noises, how a voice in that rear room growled at him heavily. (Remigorius is there after all, she thought, and maybe Rodvard; they are lying to me.) Pyax’ high-pitched voice said; “I don’t care if she is a witch. She’s going to—” and was cut off by the long bellow of a horn blown nearby, and he was back, his face somewhat abashed.
He did not lock the door. In the street the festival was now full-met, with lights tossing along and the horns blown from every window under the steady bells. Gaidu Pyax wore only a simple eye-mask and his voice had a lilt of excitement. Lalette (knew it was because how all his family would boast of having a true Dossolan girl to keep festival with, but she) said;
“I thought you told me that Doctor Remigorius was abroad.”
In the flickering light, his eyes were sidelong. “He is; he truly is, demoiselle.”