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Branch Cabell James Branch Cabell
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The Silver Stallion

The Silver Stallion - James Branch Cabell as my compulsive consumption of cabell continues (this has been in my purse a month now and this is my third re-read), i have been alerted to the fact that i am reading these books "out of order" though it hardly seems to matter. i will say that it seems the more you read cabell, the more intertextualities you recognize as you come upon them. i discovered the paternity of dame lisa, jurgen's wife in reading the silver stallion, which added a certain piquancy. my beloved jurgen also make appearances here: as a child, then a youth, then the jurgen that bewitched me but he is by no means a main character. this book is about heroes not poet/pawnbrokers. these include jurgen's father coth of the rocks, and the other eight heroes who made up the fellowship of the silver stallion under their tenth member and leader, the count dom manuel, redeemer of poictesme (cabell's fictionalized medieval french demesne) who saved it from the pagan north men.

the action of this pseudo-history novel occurs when, one fine day, dom manuel disappears and nobody knows where or how he left. the only two that claim to have seen him go are children, and each relate incredible stories of a supernatural departure. dom manuel's wife and her counselors (among them horvendile, the author's interlocutor) call the silver stallion together, only to disband the fellowship and set about fashioning a puritanical christian cult around the lost hero, to smooth out and reinvent his reputation, to make him now a spiritual redeemer that will return a la king arthur, in the hour of poictesme's need. cabell's interest in the autumn years rears its head again here, in choosing to tell the tales of the last adventures of these heroes' careers, these men who knew a different version of the man who disappeared, while he examines what makes a hero, and reminds us how easy it is to put pretty words around previously inappropriate deeds. everyone can be redeemed, in time. and so too, can they be forgotten with just a few more grains of sand.

the silver stallion is perhaps not quite as ribald as jurgen but there are romantical shenanigans aplenty. these heroes really know how to woo a dame. but seeing as there are so many of them and just one jurgen, the effect is rather less concentrated. the quotes i've selected to showcase here highlight cabell's interest in love. he embraces it while he denounces it and he seems to recognize it in all its incarnations. the first comes from the story ninzian, the most devoutly rigorous of all dom manuel's former allies after his wife founds out his terrible secret. and the other is one of the cantankerous coth of the rocks softer moments (i can think of only one other, actually, just after this) these are poignant moments but mostly cabell is fun and cabell is witty even if cabell is wise. i wish i could have taken a turn around the maypole with him. :)

***

"No, Ninzian, I simply cannot stand having a husband who walks like a bird and is liable to be detected the next time it rains. It would be on my mind day and night, and people would say all sorts of things. No, Ninzian, it is quite out of the question, and you must go back to hell. I will get your things together at once, and I leave it to your conscience if, after the way I have worked and slaved for you, you had the right to play this wrong and treachery upon me."

And Balthis said also: "For it is a great wrong and treachery which you have played upon me, Ninzian of Yair, getting from me such love as men will not find the equal of in any of the noble places of this world until the end of life and time. This is a deep wound that you have given me. Upon your lips were wisdom and pleasant talking; there was kindliness in the gray eyes of Ninzian of Yair; your hands were noble at sword-play. These things I delighted in, these things I regarded; I did not think of the low mire, I could not see what horrible markings your feet had left to this side and to that Bide. Let all women weep with me, for I now know that to every woman's loving is this end appointed. There is no woman that gives all to any man, but that woman is wasting her substance at bed and board with a greedy stranger, and there is no wife who escapes the bitter hour wherein that knowledge smites her. So now let us touch hands, and now let our lips, too, part friendlily, because our bodies have so long been friends, the while that we knew nothing of each other, Ninzian of Yair, on account of the great wrong and treachery which you have played upon me."

Thus speaking, Balthis kissed him. Then she went into the house that was no longer Ninzian's home.


***

And very often, too, Coth would look at his wife, Azra, and would remember the girl that she had been in the times when Coth had not yet given over loving anybody. He rather liked her now. It was a felt loss that she no longer had the spirit to quarrel with anything like the fervor of their happier days; not for two years or more had Azra flung a really rousing taunt or even a dinner plate in his direction: and Coth pitied the poor woman's folly in for an instant bothering about that young scoundrel of a Jurgen, who had set up as a poet, they said and--in the company, one heard, of a grand duchess,--was rampaging every-whither about Italy, with never a word for his parents. Coth, now, did not worry over such ingratitude at all: not less than twenty times a day he pointed out to his wife that he, for one, never wasted a thought upon the lecherous runagate.

His wife would smile at him, sadly: and after old Coth had been particularly abusive of Jurgen, she would, without speaking, stroke her husband's knotted, stubby, splotched hand, or his tense and just not withdrawing cheek, or she would tender one or another utterly uncalled-for caress, quite as though this illogical and broken-spirited creature thought Coth to be in some sort of trouble. The woman though, had never understood him...

Then Azra died. Coth was thus left alone. It seemed to him a strange thing that the Coth who had once been a fearless champion and a crowned emperor and a contender upon equal terms with the High Gods, should be locked up in this quiet room, weeping like a small, punished, frightened child.