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Title: Tales of Wonder
Author: Dunsany, Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Baron, 1878-1957
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tales of Wonder" ***

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TALES OF WONDER

by Lord Dunsany



Preface

                                                   Ebrington Barracks

                                                      Aug. 16th 1916.

I do not know where I may be when this preface is read. As I write it
in August 1916, I am at Ebrington Barracks, Londonderry, recovering
from a slight wound. But it does not greatly matter where I am; my
dreams are here before you amongst the following pages; and writing in
a day when life is cheap, dreams seem to me all the dearer, the only
things that survive.

Just now the civilization of Europe seems almost to have ceased, and
nothing seems to grow in her torn fields but death, yet this is only
for a while and dreams will come back again and bloom as of old, all
the more radiantly for this terrible ploughing, as the flowers will
bloom again where the trenches are and the primroses shelter in
shell-holes for many seasons, when weeping Liberty has come home to
Flanders.

To some of you in America this may seem an unnecessary and wasteful
quarrel, as other people's quarrels often are; but it comes to this
that though we are all killed there will be songs again, but if we
were to submit and so survive there could be neither songs nor dreams,
nor any joyous free things any more.

And do not regret the lives that are wasted amongst us, or the work
that the dead would have done, for war is no accident that man's care
could have averted, but is as natural, though not as regular, as the
tides; as well regret the things that the tide has washed away, which
destroys and cleanses and crumbles, and spares the minutest shells.

And now I will write nothing further about our war, but offer you
these books of dreams from Europe as one throws things of value, if
only to oneself, at the last moment out of a burning house.

                                                             DUNSANY.



A Tale of London

"Come," said the Sultan to his hasheesh-eater in the very furthest
lands that know Bagdad, "dream to me now of London."

And the hasheesh-eater made a low obeisance and seated himself
cross-legged upon a purple cushion broidered with golden poppies, on
the floor, beside an ivory bowl where the hasheesh was, and having
eaten liberally of the hasheesh blinked seven times and spoke thus:

"O Friend of God, know then that London is the desiderate town even of
all Earth's cities. Its houses are of ebony and cedar which they roof
with thin copper plates that the hand of Time turns green. They have
golden balconies in which amethysts are where they sit and watch the
sunset. Musicians in the gloaming steal softly along the ways; unheard
their feet fall on the white sea-sand with which those ways are
strewn, and in the darkness suddenly they play on dulcimers and
instruments with strings. Then are there murmurs in the balconies
praising their skill, then are there bracelets cast down to them for
reward and golden necklaces and even pearls.

"Indeed but the city is fair; there is by the sandy ways a paving all
alabaster, and the lanterns along it are of chrysoprase, all night
long they shine green, but of amethyst are the lanterns of the
balconies.

"As the musicians go along the ways dancers gather about them and
dance upon the alabaster pavings, for joy and not for hire. Sometimes
a window opens far up in an ebony palace and a wreath is cast down to
a dancer or orchids showered upon them.

"Indeed of many cities have I dreamt but of none fairer, through many
marble metropolitan gates hasheesh has led me, but London is its
secret, the last gate of all; the ivory bowl has nothing more to show.
And indeed even now the imps that crawl behind me and that will not
let me be are plucking me by the elbow and bidding my spirit return,
for well they know that I have seen too much. 'No, not London,' they
say; and therefore I will speak of some other city, a city of some
less mysterious land, and anger not the imps with forbidden things. I
will speak of Persepolis or famous Thebes."

A shade of annoyance crossed the Sultan's face, a look of thunder that
you had scarcely seen, but in those lands they watched his visage
well, and though his spirit was wandering far away and his eyes were
bleared with hasheesh yet that storyteller there and then perceived
the look that was death, and sent his spirit back at once to London as
a man runs into his house when the thunder comes.

"And therefore," he continued, "in the desiderate city, in London, all
their camels are pure white. Remarkable is the swiftness of their
horses, that draw their chariots that are of ivory along those sandy
ways and that are of surpassing lightness, they have little bells of
silver upon their horses' heads. O Friend of God, if you perceived
their merchants! The glory of their dresses in the noonday! They are
no less gorgeous than those butterflies that float about their
streets. They have overcloaks of green and vestments of azure, huge
purple flowers blaze on their overcloaks, the work of cunning needles,
the centres of the flowers are of gold and the petals of purple. All
their hats are black--" ("No, no," said the Sultan)--"but irises are
set about the brims, and green plumes float above the crowns of them.

"They have a river that is named the Thames, on it their ships go up
with violet sails bringing incense for the braziers that perfume the
streets, new songs exchanged for gold with alien tribes, raw silver
for the statues of their heroes, gold to make balconies where the
women sit, great sapphires to reward their poets with, the secrets of
old cities and strange lands, the earning of the dwellers in far
isles, emeralds, diamonds, and the hoards of the sea. And whenever a
ship comes into port and furls its violet sails and the news spreads
through London that she has come, then all the merchants go down to
the river to barter, and all day long the chariots whirl through the
streets, and the sound of their going is a mighty roar all day until
evening, their roar is even like--"

"Not so," said the Sultan.

"Truth is not hidden from the Friend of God," replied the
hasheesh-eater, "I have erred being drunken with the hasheesh, for in
the desiderate city, even in London, so thick upon the ways is the
white sea-sand with which the city glimmers that no sound comes from
the path of the charioteers, but they go softly like a light
sea-wind." ("It is well," said the Sultan.) "They go softly down to
the port where the vessels are, and the merchandise in from the sea,
amongst the wonders that the sailors show, on land by the high ships,
and softly they go though swiftly at evening back to their homes.

"O would that the Munificent, the Illustrious, the Friend of God, had
even seen these things, had seen the jewellers with their empty
baskets, bargaining there by the ships, when the barrels of emeralds
came up from the hold. Or would that he had seen the fountains there
in silver basins in the midst of the ways. I have seen small spires
upon their ebony houses and the spires were all of gold, birds
strutted there upon the copper roofs from golden spire to spire that
have no equal for splendour in all the woods of the world. And over
London the desiderate city the sky is so deep a blue that by this
alone the traveller may know where he has come, and may end his
fortunate journey. Nor yet for any colour of the sky is there too
great heat in London, for along its ways a wind blows always from the
South gently and cools the city.

"Such, O Friend of God, is indeed the city of London, lying very far
off on the yonder side of Bagdad, without a peer for beauty or
excellence of its ways among the towns of the earth or cities of song;
and even so, as I have told, its fortunate citizens dwell, with their
hearts ever devising beautiful things and from the beauty of their own
fair work that is more abundant around them every year, receiving new
inspirations to work things more beautiful yet."

"And is their government good?" the Sultan said.

"It is most good," said the hasheesh-eater, and fell backwards upon
the floor.

He lay thus and was silent. And when the Sultan perceived he would
speak no more that night he smiled and lightly applauded.

And there was envy in that palace, in lands beyond Bagdad, of all that
dwell in London.



Thirteen at Table

In front of a spacious fireplace of the old kind, when the logs were
well alight, and men with pipes and glasses were gathered before it in
great easeful chairs, and the wild weather outside and the comfort
that was within, and the season of the year--for it was Christmas--and
the hour of the night, all called for the weird or uncanny, then out
spoke the ex-master of foxhounds and told this tale.

I once had an odd experience too. It was when I had the Bromley and
Sydenham, the year I gave them up--as a matter of fact it was the last
day of the season. It was no use going on because there were no foxes
left in the county, and London was sweeping down on us. You could see
it from the kennels all along the skyline like a terrible army in
grey, and masses of villas every year came skirmishing down our
valleys. Our coverts were mostly on the hills, and as the town came
down upon the valleys the foxes used to leave them and go right away
out of the county and they never returned. I think they went by night
and moved great distances. Well it was early April and we had drawn
blank all day, and at the last draw of all, the very last of the
season, we found a fox. He left the covert with his back to London and
its railways and villas and wire and slipped away towards the chalk
country and open Kent. I felt as I once felt as a child on one
summer's day when I found a door in a garden where I played left
luckily ajar, and I pushed it open and the wide lands were before me
and waving fields of corn.

We settled down into a steady gallop and the fields began to drift by
under us, and a great wind arose full of fresh breath. We left the
clay lands where the bracken grows and came to a valley at the edge of
the chalk. As we went down into it we saw the fox go up the other side
like a shadow that crosses the evening, and glide into a wood that
stood on the top. We saw a flash of primroses in the wood and we were
out the other side, hounds hunting perfectly and the fox still going
absolutely straight. It began to dawn on me then that we were in for a
great hunt, I took a deep breath when I thought of it; the taste of
the air of that perfect Spring afternoon as it came to one galloping,
and the thought of a great run, were together like some old rare wine.
Our faces now were to another valley, large fields led down to it,
with easy hedges, at the bottom of it a bright blue stream went
singing and a rambling village smoked, the sunlight on the opposite
slopes danced like a fairy; and all along the top old woods were
frowning, but they dreamed of Spring. The "field" had fallen of and
were far behind and my only human companion was James, my old first
whip, who had a hound's instinct, and a personal animosity against a
fox that even embittered his speech.

Across the valley the fox went as straight as a railway line, and
again we went without a check straight through the woods at the top. I
remember hearing men sing or shout as they walked home from work, and
sometimes children whistled; the sounds came up from the village to
the woods at the top of the valley. After that we saw no more
villages, but valley after valley arose and fell before us as though
we were voyaging some strange and stormy sea, and all the way before
us the fox went dead up-wind like the fabulous Flying Dutchman. There
was no one in sight now but my first whip and me, we had both of us
got on to our second horses as we drew the last covert.

Two or three times we checked in those great lonely valleys beyond the
village, but I began to have inspirations, I felt a strange certainty
within me that this fox was going on straight up-wind till he died or
until night came and we could hunt no longer, so I reversed ordinary
methods and only cast straight ahead and always we picked up the scent
again at once. I believe that this fox was the last one left in the
villa-haunted lands and that he was prepared to leave them for remote
uplands far from men, that if we had come the following day he would
not have been there, and that we just happened to hit off his journey.

Evening began to descend upon the valleys, still the hounds drifted
on, like the lazy but unresting shadows of clouds upon a summer's day,
we heard a shepherd calling to his dog, we saw two maidens move
towards a hidden farm, one of them singing softly; no other sounds,
but ours, disturbed the leisure and the loneliness of haunts that
seemed not yet to have known the inventions of steam and gun-powder
(even as China, they say, in some of her further mountains does not
yet know that she has fought Japan).

And now the day and our horses were wearing out, but that resolute fox
held on. I began to work out the run and to wonder where we were. The
last landmark I had ever seen before must have been over five miles
back and from there to the start was at least ten miles more. If only
we could kill! Then the sun set. I wondered what chance we had of
killing our fox. I looked at James' face as he rode beside me. He did
not seem to have lost any confidence yet his horse was as tired as
mine. It was a good clear twilight and the scent was as strong as
ever, and the fences were easy enough, but those valleys were terribly
trying and they still rolled on and on. It looked as if the light
would outlast all possible endurance both of the fox and the horses,
if the scent held good and he did not go to ground, otherwise night
would end it. For long we had seen no houses and no roads, only chalk
slopes with the twilight on them, and here and there some sheep, and
scattered copses darkening in the evening. At some moment I seemed to
realise all at once that the light was spent and that darkness was
hovering, I looked at James, he was solemnly shaking his head.
Suddenly in a little wooded valley we saw climb over the oaks the
red-brown gables of a queer old house, at that instant I saw the fox
scarcely heading by fifty yards. We blundered through a wood into full
sight of the house, but no avenue led up to it or even a path nor were
there any signs of wheel-marks anywhere. Already lights shone here and
there in windows. We were in a park, and a fine park, but unkempt
beyond credibility; brambles grew everywhere. It was too dark to see
the fox any more but we knew he was dead beat, the hounds were just
before us,--and a four-foot railing of oak. I shouldn't have tried it
on a fresh horse the beginning of a run, and here was a horse near his
last gasp. But what a run! an event standing out in a lifetime, and
the hounds close up on their fox, slipping into the darkness as I
hesitated. I decided to try it. My horse rose about eight inches and
took it fair with his breast, and the oak log flew into handfuls of
wet decay--it rotten with years. And then we were on a lawn and at the
far end of it the hounds were tumbling over their fox. Fox, hounds and
light were all done together at the of a twenty-mile point. We made
some noise then, but nobody came out of the queer old house.

I felt pretty stiff as I walked round to the hall door with the mask
and the brush while James went with the hounds and the two horses to
look for the stables. I rang a bell marvellously encrusted with rust,
and after a long while the door opened a little way revealing a hall
with much old armour in it and the shabbiest butler that I have ever
known.

I asked him who lived there. Sir Richard Arlen. I explained that my
horse could go no further that night and that I wished to ask Sir
Richard Arlen for a bed for the night.

"O, no one ever comes here, sir," said the butler.

I pointed out that I had come.

"I don't think it would be possible, sir," he said.

This annoyed me and I asked to see Sir Richard, and insisted until he
came. Then I apologised and explained the situation. He looked only
fifty, but a 'Varsity oar on the wall with the date of the early
seventies, made him older than that; his face had something of the shy
look of the hermit; he regretted that he had not room to put me up. I
was sure that this was untrue, also I had to be put up there, there
was nowhere else within miles, so I almost insisted. Then to my
astonishment he turned to the butler and they talked it over in an
undertone. At last they seemed to think that they could manage it,
though clearly with reluctance. It was by now seven o' clock and Sir
Richard told me he dined at half past seven. There was no question of
clothes for me other than those I stood in, as my host was shorter and
broader. He showed me presently to the drawing-room and there he
reappeared before half past seven in evening dress and a white
waistcoat. The drawing-room was large and contained old furniture but
it was rather worn than venerable, an Aubusson carpet flapped about
the floor, the wind seemed momently to enter the room, and old
draughts haunted corners; the stealthy feet of rats that were never at
rest indicated the extent of the ruin that time had wrought in the
wainscot; somewhere far off a shutter flapped to and fro, the
guttering candles were insufficient to light so large a room. The
gloom that these things suggested was quite in keeping with Sir
Richard's first remark to me after he entered the room: "I must tell
you, sir, that I have led a wicked life. O, a very wicked life."

Such confidences from a man much older than oneself after one has
known him for half an hour are so rare that any possible answer merely
does not suggest itself. I said rather slowly, "O, really," and
chiefly to forestall another such remark I said "What a charming house
you have."

"Yes," he said, "I have not left it for nearly forty years. Since I
left the 'Varsity. One is young there, you know, and one has
opportunities; but I make no excuses, no excuses." And the door
slipping its rusty latch, came drifting on the draught into the room,
and the long carpet flapped and the hangings upon the walls, then the
draught fell rustling away and the door slammed to again.

"Ah, Marianne," he said, "we have a guest to-night. Mr. Linton. This
is Marianne Gib." And everything became clear to me. "Mad," I said to
myself, for no one had entered the room.

The rats ran up the length of the room behind the wainscot
ceaselessly, and the wind unlatched the door again and the folds of
the carpet fluttered up to our feet and stopped there, for our weight
held it down.

"Let me introduce Mr. Linton," said my host--"Lady Mary Errinjer."

The door slammed back again. I bowed politely. Even had I been invited
I should have humoured him, but it was the very least that an
uninvited guest could do.

This kind of thing happened eleven times, the rustling, and the
fluttering of the carpet and the footsteps of the rats, and the
restless door, and then the sad voice of my host introducing me to
phantoms. Then for some while we waited while I struggled with the
situation; conversation flowed slowly. And again the draught came
trailing up the room, while the flaring candles filled it with
hurrying shadows. "Ah, late again, Cicely," said my host in his soft,
mournful way. "Always late, Cicely." Then I went down to dinner with
that man and his mind and the twelve phantoms that haunted it. I found
a long table with fine old silver on it and places laid for fourteen.
The butler was now in evening dress, there were fewer draughts in the
dining-room, the scene was less gloomy there. "Will you sit next to
Rosalind at the other end," Richard said to me. "She always takes the
head of the table, I wronged her most of all." I said, "I shall be
delighted."

I looked at the butler closely, but never did I see by any expression
of his face or by anything that he did any suggestion that he waited
upon less than fourteen people in the complete possession of all their
faculties. Perhaps a dish appeared to be refused more often than taken
but every glass was equally filled with champagne. At first I found
little to say, but when Sir Richard speaking from the far end of the
table said, "You are tired, Mr. Linton," I was reminded that I owed
something to a host upon whom I had forced myself. It was excellent
champagne and with the help of a second glass I made the effort to
begin a conversation with a Miss Helen Errold for whom the place upon
one side of me was laid. It came more easy to me very soon, I
frequently paused in my monologue, like Mark Anthony, for a reply, and
sometimes I turned and spoke to Miss Rosalind Smith. Sir Richard at
the other end talked sorrowfully on, he spoke as a condemned man might
speak to his judge, and yet somewhat as a judge might speak to one
that he once condemned wrongly. My own mind began to turn to mournful
things. I drank another glass of champagne, but I was still thirsty. I
felt as if all the moisture in my body had been blown away over the
downs of Kent by the wind up which we had galloped. Still I was not
talking enough; my host was looking at me. I made another effort,
after all I had something to talk about, a twenty-mile point is not
often seen in a lifetime, especially south of the Thames. I began to
describe the run to Rosalind Smith. I could see then that my host was
pleased, the sad look in his face gave a kind of a flicker, like mist
upon the mountains on a miserable day when a faint puff comes from the
sea and the mist would lift if it could. And the butler refilled my
glass very attentively. I asked her first if she hunted, and paused
and began my story. I told her where we had found the fox and how fast
and straight he had gone, and how I had got through the village by
keeping to the road, while the little gardens and wire, and then the
river, had stopped the rest of the field. I told her the kind of
country that we crossed and how splendid it looked in the Spring, and
how mysterious the valleys were as soon as the twilight came, and what
a glorious horse I had and how wonderfully he went. I was so fearfully
thirsty after the great hunt that I had to stop for a moment now and
then, but I went on with my description of that famous run, for I had
warmed to the subject, and after all there was nobody to tell of it
but me except my old whipper-in, and "the old fellow's probably drunk
by now," I thought. I described to her minutely the exact spot in the
run at which it had come to me clearly that this was going to be the
greatest hunt in the whole history of Kent. Sometimes I forgot
incidents that had happened as one well may in a run of twenty miles,
and then I had to fill in the gaps by inventing. I was pleased to be
able to make the party go off well by means of my conversation, and
besides that the lady to whom I was speaking was extremely pretty: I
do not mean in a flesh and blood kind of way but there were little
shadowy lines about the chair beside me that hinted at an unusually
graceful figure when Miss Rosalind Smith was alive; and I began to
perceive that what I first mistook for the smoke of guttering candles
and a table-cloth waving in the draught was in reality an extremely
animated company who listened, and not without interest, to my story
of by far the greatest hunt that the world had ever known: indeed I
told them that I would confidently go further and predict that never
in the history of the world would there be such a run again. Only my
throat was terribly dry. And then as it seemed they wanted to hear
more about my horse. I had forgotten that I had come there on a horse,
but when they reminded me it all came back; they looked so charming
leaning over the table intent upon what I said, that I told them
everything they wanted to know. Everything was going so pleasantly if
only Sir Richard would cheer up. I heard his mournful voice every now
and then--these were very pleasant people if only he would take them
the right way. I could understand that he regretted his past, but the
early seventies seemed centuries away and I felt sure that he
misunderstood these ladies, they were not revengeful as he seemed to
suppose. I wanted to show him how cheerful they really were, and so I
made a joke and they an laughed at it, and then I chaffed them a bit,
especially Rosalind, and nobody resented it in the very least. And
still Sir Richard sat there with that unhappy look, like one that has
ended weeping because it is vain and has not the consolation even of
tears.

We had been a long time there and many of the candles had burned out,
but there was light enough. I was glad to have an audience for my
exploit, and being happy myself I was determined Sir Richard should
be. I made more jokes and they still laughed good-naturedly; some of
the jokes were a little broad perhaps but no harm was meant. And
then--I do not wish to excuse myself--but I had had a harder day than
I ever had had before and without knowing it I must have been
completely exhausted; in this state the champagne had found me, and
what would have been harmless at any other time must somehow have got
the better of me when quite tired out--anyhow I went too far, I made
some joke--I cannot in the least remember what--that suddenly seemed
to offend them. I felt all at once a commotion in the air, I looked up
and saw that they had all arisen from the table and were sweeping
towards the door: I had not time to open it but it blew open on a
wind, I could scarcely see what Sir Richard was doing because only two
candles were left, I think the rest blew out when the ladies suddenly
rose. I sprang up to apologise, to assure them--and then fatigue
overcame me as it had overcome my horse at the last fence, I clutched
at the table but the cloth came away and then I fell. The fall, and
the darkness on the floor and the pent up fatigue of the day overcame
me all three together.

The sun shone over glittering fields and in at a bedroom window and
thousands of birds were chanting to the Spring, and there I was in an
old four-poster bed in a quaint old panelled bedroom, fully dressed
and wearing long muddy boots; someone had taken my spurs and that was
all. For a moment I failed to realise and then it all came back, my
enormity and the pressing need of an abject apology to Sir Richard. I
pulled an embroidered bell rope until the butler came. He came in
perfectly cheerful and indescribably shabby. I asked him if Sir
Richard was up, and he said he had just gone down, and told me to my
amazement that it was twelve o'clock. I asked to be shown in to Sir
Richard at once. He was in his smoking-room. "Good morning," he said
cheerfully the moment I went in. I went directly to the matter in
hand. "I fear that I insulted some ladies in your house--" I began.

"You did indeed," he said, "You did indeed." And then he burst into
tears and took me by the hand. "How can I ever thank you?" he said to
me then. "We have been thirteen at table for thirty years and I never
dared to insult them because I had wronged them all, and now you have
done it and I know they will never dine here again." And for a long
time he still held my hand, and then he gave it a grip and a kind of a
shake which I took to mean "Goodbye" and I drew my hand away then and
left the house. And I found James in the stables with the hounds and
asked him how he had fared, and James, who is a man of very few words,
said he could not rightly remember, and I got my spurs from the butler
and climbed on to my horse and slowly we rode away from that queer old
house, and slowly we wended home, for the hounds were footsore but
happy and the horses were tired still. And when we recalled that the
hunting season was ended we turned our faces to Spring and thought of
the new things that try to replace the old. And that very year I
heard, and have often heard since, of dances and happier dinners at
Sir Richard Arlen's house.



The City on Mallington Moor

Besides the old shepherd at Lingwold whose habits render him
unreliable I am probably the only person that has ever seen the city
on Mallington Moor.

I had decided one year to do no London season; partly because of the
ugliness of the things in the shops, partly because of the unresisted
invasions of German bands, partly perhaps because some pet parrots in
the oblong where I lived had learned to imitate cab-whistles; but
chiefly because of late there had seized me in London a quite
unreasonable longing for large woods and waste spaces, while the very
thought of little valleys underneath copses full of bracken and
foxgloves was a torment to me and every summer in London the longing
grew worse till the thing was becoming intolerable. So I took a stick
and a knapsack and began walking northwards, starting at Tetherington
and sleeping at inns, where one could get real salt, and the waiter
spoke English and where one had a name instead of a number; and though
the tablecloth might be dirty the windows opened so that the air was
clean, where one had the excellent company of farmers and men of the
wold, who could not be thoroughly vulgar, because they had not the
money to be so even if they had wished it. At first the novelty was
delightful, and then one day in a queer old inn up Uthering way,
beyond Lingwold, I heard for the first time the rumour of the city
said to be on Mallington Moor. They spoke of it quite casually over
their glasses of beer, two farmers at the inn. "They say the queer
folk be at Mallington with their city," one farmer said. "Travelling
they seem to be," said the other. And more came in then and the rumour
spread. And then, such are the contradictions of our little likes and
dislikes and all the whims that drive us, that I, who had come so far
to avoid cities, had a great longing all of a sudden for throngs again
and the great hives of Man, and then and there determined on that
bright Sunday morning to come to Mallington and there search for the
city that rumour spoke of so strangely.

Mallington Moor, from all that they said of it, was hardly a likely
place to find a thing by searching. It was a huge high moor, very
bleak and desolate and altogether trackless. It seemed a lonely place
from what they said. The Normans when they came had called it Mal Lieu
and afterwards Mallintown and so it changed to Mallington. Though what
a town can ever have had to do with a place so utterly desolate I do
not know. And before that some say that the Saxons called it Baplas,
which I believe to be a corruption of Bad Place.

And beyond the mere rumour of a beautiful city all of white marble and
with a foreign look up on Mallington Moor, beyond this I could not
get. None of them had seen it himself, "only heard of it like," and my
questions, rather than stimulating conversation, would always stop it
abruptly. I was no more fortunate on the road to Mallington until the
Tuesday, when I was quite near it; I had been walking two days from
the inn where I had heard the rumour and could see the great hill
steep as a headland on which Mallington lay, standing up on the
skyline: the hill was covered with grass, where anything grew at all,
but Mallington Moor is all heather; it is just marked Moor on the map;
nobody goes there and they do not trouble to name it. It was there
where the gaunt hill first came into sight, by the roadside as I
enquired for the marble city of some labourers by the way, that I was
directed, partly I think in derision, to the old shepherd of Lingwold.
It appeared that he, following sometimes sheep that had strayed, and
wandering far from Lingwold, came sometimes up to the edge of
Mallington Moor, and that he would come back from these excursions and
shout through the villages, raving of a city of white marble and
gold-tipped minarets. And hearing me asking questions of this city
they had laughed and directed me to the shepherd of Lingwold. One
well-meant warning they gave me as I went--the old man was not
reliable.

And late that evening I saw the thatches of Lingwold sheltering under
the edge of that huge hill that Atlas-like held up those miles of moor
to the great winds and heaven.

They knew less of the city in Lingwold than elsewhere but they knew
the whereabouts of the man I wanted, though they seemed a little
ashamed of him. There was an inn in Lingwold that gave me shelter,
whence in the morning, equipped with purchases, I set out to find
their shepherd. And there he was on the edge of Mallington Moor
standing motionless, gazing stupidly at his sheep; his hands trembled
continually and his eyes had a blear look, but he was quite sober,
wherein all Lingwold had wronged him.

And then and there I asked him of the city and he said he had never
heard tell of any such place. And I said, "Come, come, you must pull
yourself together." And he looked angrily at me; but when he saw me
draw from amongst my purchases a full bottle of whiskey and a big
glass he became more friendly. As I poured out the whiskey I asked him
again about the marble city on Mallington Moor but he seemed quite
honestly to know nothing about it. The amount of whiskey he drank was
quite incredible, but I seldom express surprise and once more I asked
him the way to the wonderful city. His hand was steadier now and his
eyes more intelligent and he said that he had heard something of some
such city, but his memory was evidently blurred and he was still
unable to give me useful directions. I consequently gave him another
tumbler, which he drank off like the first without any water, and
almost at once he was a different man. The trembling in his hands
stopped altogether, his eye became as quick as a younger man's, he
answered my questions readily and frankly, and, what was more
important to me still, his old memory became alert and clear for even
minutest details. His gratitude to myself I need not mention, for I
make no pretence that I bought the bottle of whiskey that the old
shepherd enjoyed so much without at least some thought of my own
advantage. Yet it was pleasant to reflect that it was due to me that
he had pulled himself together and steadied his shaking hand and
cleared his mind, recovered his memory and his self-respect. He spoke
to me quite clearly, no longer slurring his words; he had seen the
city first one moonlight night when he was lost in the mist on the big
moor, he had wandered far in the mist, and when it lifted he saw the
city by moonlight. He had no food, but luckily had his flask. There
never was such a city, not even in books. Travellers talked sometimes
of Venice seen from the sea, there might be such a place or there
might not, but, whether or no, it was nothing to the city on
Mallington Moor. Men who read books had talked to him in his time,
hundreds of books, but they never could tell of any city like this.
Why, the place was all of marble, roads, walls and palaces, all pure
white marble, and the tops of the tall thin spires were entirely of
gold. And they were queer folk in the city even for foreigners. And
there were camels, but I cut him short for I thought I could judge for
myself, if there was such a place, and, if not, I was wasting my time
as well as a pint of good whiskey. So I got him to speak of the way,
and after more circumlocution than I needed and more talk of the city
he pointed to a tiny track on the black earth just beside us, a little
twisty way you could hardly see.

I said the moor was trackless; untrodden of man or dog it certainly
was and seemed to have less to do with the ways of man than any waste
I have seen, but the track the old shepherd showed me, if track it
was, was no more than the track of a hare--an elf-path the old man
called it, Heaven knows what he meant. And then before I left him he
insisted on giving me his flask with the queer strong rum it
contained. Whiskey brings out in some men melancholy, in some
rejoicing, with him it was clearly generosity and he insisted until I
took his rum, though I did not mean to drink it. It was lonely up
there, he said, and bitter cold and the city hard to find, being set
in a hollow, and I should need the rum, and he had never seen the
marble city except on days when he had had his flask: he seemed to
regard that rusted iron flask as a sort of mascot, and in the end I
took it.

I followed that odd, faint track on the black earth under the heather
till I came to the big grey stone beyond the horizon, where the track
divides into two, and I took the one to the left as the old man told
me. I knew by another stone that I saw far off that I had not lost my
way, nor the old man lied.

And just as I hoped to see the city's ramparts before the gloaming
fell on that desolate place, I suddenly saw a long high wall of
whiteness with pinnacles here and there thrown up above it, floating
towards me silent and grim as a secret, and knew it for that evil
thing the mist. The sun, though low, was shining on every sprig of
heather, the green and scarlet mosses were shining with it too, it
seemed incredible that in three minutes' time all those colours would
be gone and nothing left all round but a grey darkness. I gave up hope
of finding the city that day, a broader path than mine could have been
quite easily lost. I hastily chose for my bed a thick patch of
heather, wrapped myself in a waterproof cloak, and lay down and made
myself comfortable. And then the mist came. It came like the careful
pulling of lace curtains, then like the drawing of grey blinds; it
shut out the horizon to the north, then to the east and west; it
turned the whole sky white and hid the moor; it came down on it like a
metropolis, only utterly silent, silent and white as tombstones.

And then I was glad of that strange strong rum, or whatever it was in
the flask that the shepherd gave me, for I did not think that the mist
would clear till night, and I feared the night would be cold. So I
nearly emptied the flask; and, sooner than I expected, I fell asleep,
for the first night out as a rule one does not sleep at once but is
kept awake some while by the little winds and the unfamiliar sound of
the things that wander at night, and that cry to one another far-off
with their queer, faint voices; one misses them afterwards when one
gets to houses again. But I heard none of these sounds in the mist
that evening.

And then I woke and found that the mist was gone and the sun was just
disappearing under the moor, and I knew that I had not slept for as
long as I thought. And I decided to go on while I could, for I thought
that I was not very far from the city.

I went on and on along the twisty track, bits of the mist came down
and filled the hollows but lifted again at once so that I saw my way.
The twilight faded as I went, a star appeared, and I was able to see
the track no longer. I could go no further that night, yet before I
lay down to sleep I decided to go and look over the edge of a wide
depression in the moor that I saw a little way off. So I left the
track and walked a few hundred yards, and when I got to the edge the
hollow was full of mist all white underneath me. Another star appeared
and a cold wind arose, and with the wind the mist flapped away like a
curtain. And there was the city.

Nothing the shepherd had said was the least untrue or even
exaggerated. The poor old man had told the simple truth, there is not
a city like it in the world. What he had called thin spires were
minarets, but the little domes on the top were clearly pure gold as he
said. There were the marble terraces he described and the pure white
palaces covered with carving and hundreds of minarets. The city was
obviously of the East and yet where there should have been crescents
on the domes of the minarets there were golden suns with rays, and
wherever one looked one saw things that obscured its origin. I walked
down to it, and, passing through a wicket gate of gold in a low wall
of white marble, I entered the city. The heather went right up to the
city's edge and beat against the marble wall whenever the wind blew
it. Lights began to twinkle from high windows of blue glass as I
walked up the white street, beautiful copper lanterns were lit up and
let down from balconies by silver chains, from doors ajar came the
sound of voices singing, and then I saw the men. Their faces were
rather grey than black, and they wore beautiful robes of coloured silk
with hems embroidered with gold and some with copper, and sometimes
pacing down the marble ways with golden baskets hung on each side of
them I saw the camels of which the old shepherd spoke.

The people had kindly faces, but, though they were evidently friendly
to strangers, I could not speak with them being ignorant of their
language, nor were the sounds of the syllables they used like any
language I had ever heard: they sounded more like grouse.

When I tried to ask them by signs whence they had come with their city
they would only point to the moon, which was bright and full and was
shining fiercely on those marble ways till the city danced in light.
And now there began appearing one by one, slipping softly out through
windows, men with stringed instruments in the balconies. They were
strange instruments with huge bulbs of wood, and they played softly on
them and very beautifully, and their queer voices softly sang to the
music weird dirges of the griefs of their native land wherever that
may be. And far off in the heart of the city others were singing too,
the sound of it came to me wherever I roamed, not loud enough to
disturb my thoughts, but gently turning the mind to pleasant things.
Slender carved arches of marble, as delicate almost as lace, crossed
and re-crossed the ways wherever I went. There was none of that hurry
of which foolish cities boast, nothing ugly or sordid so far as I
could see. I saw that it was a city of beauty and song. I wondered how
they had travelled with all that marble, how they had laid it down on
Mallington Moor, whence they had come and what their resources were,
and determined to investigate closely next morning, for the old
shepherd had not troubled his head to think how the city came, he had
only noted that the city was there (and of course no one believed him,
though that is partly his fault for his dissolute ways). But at night
one can see little and I had walked all day, so I determined to find a
place to rest in. And just as I was wondering whether to ask for
shelter of those silk-robed men by signs or whether to sleep outside
the walls and enter again in the morning, I came to a great archway in
one of the marble houses with two black curtains, embroidered below
with gold, hanging across it. Over the archway were carved apparently
in many tongues the words: "Here strangers rest." In Greek, Latin and
Spanish the sentence was repeated and there was writing also in the
language that you see on the walls of the great temples of Egypt, and
Arabic and what I took to be early Assyrian and one or two languages I
had never seen. I entered through the curtains and found a tesselated
marble court with golden braziers burning sleepy incense swinging by
chains from the roof, all round the walls were comfortable mattresses
lying upon the floor covered with cloths and silks. It must have been
ten o'clock and I was tired. Outside the music still softly filled the
streets, a man had set a lantern down on the marble way, five or six
sat down round him, and he was sonorously telling them a story. Inside
there were some already asleep on the beds, in the middle of the wide
court under the braziers a woman dressed in blue was singing very
gently, she did not move, but sung on and on, I never heard a song
that was so soothing. I lay down on one of the mattresses by the wall,
which was all inlaid with mosaics, and pulled over me some of the
cloths with their beautiful alien work, and almost immediately my
thoughts seemed part of the song that the woman was singing in the
midst of the court under the golden braziers that hung from the high
roof, and the song turned them to dreams, and so I fell asleep.

A small wind having arisen, I was awakened by a sprig of heather that
beat continually against my face. It was morning on Mallington Moor,
and the city was quite gone.



Why the Milkman Shudders When He Perceives the Dawn

In the Hall of the Ancient Company of Milkmen round the great
fireplace at the end, when the winter logs are burning and all the
craft are assembled they tell to-day, as their grandfathers told
before them, why the milkman shudders when he perceives the dawn.

When dawn comes creeping over the edges of hills, peers through the
tree-trunks making wonderful shadows, touches the tops of tall columns
of smoke going up from awakening cottages in the valleys, and breaks
all golden over Kentish fields, when going on tip-toe thence it comes
to the walls of London and slips all shyly up those gloomy streets the
milkman perceives it and shudders.

A man may be a Milkman's Working Apprentice, may know what borax is
and how to mix it, yet not for that is the story told to him. There
are five men alone that tell that story, five men appointed by the
Master of the Company, by whom each place is filled as it falls
vacant, and if you do not hear it from one of them you hear the story
from no one and so can never know why the milkman shudders when he
perceives the dawn.

It is the way of one of these five men, greybeards all and milkmen
from infancy, to rub his hands by the fire when the great logs burn,
and to settle himself more easily in his chair, perhaps to sip some
drink far other than milk, then to look round to see that none are
there to whom it would not be fitting the tale should be told and,
looking from face to face and seeing none but the men of the Ancient
Company, and questioning mutely the rest of the five with his eyes, if
some of the five be there, and receiving their permission, to cough
and to tell the tale. And a great hush falls in the Hall of the
Ancient Company, and something about the shape of the roof and the
rafters makes the tale resonant all down the hall so that the youngest
hears it far away from the fire and knows, and dreams of the day when
perhaps he will tell himself why the milkman shudders when he
perceives the dawn.

Not as one tells some casual fact is it told, nor is it commented on
from man to man, but it is told by that great fire only and when the
occasion and the stillness of the room and the merit of the wine and
the profit of all seem to warrant it in the opinion of the five
deputed men: then does one of them tell it, as I have said, not
heralded by any master of ceremonies but as though it arose out of the
warmth of the fire before which his knotted hands would chance to be;
not a thing learned by rote, but told differently by each teller, and
differently according to his mood, yet never has one of them dared to
alter its salient points, there is none so base among the Company of
Milkmen. The Company of Powderers for the Face know of this story and
have envied it, the Worthy Company of Chin-Barbers, and the Company of
Whiskerers; but none have heard it in the Milkmen's Hall, through
whose wall no rumour of the secret goes, and though they have invented
tales of their own Antiquity mocks them.

This mellow story was ripe with honourable years when milkmen wore
beaver hats, its origin was still mysterious when smocks were the
vogue, men asked one another when Stuarts were on the throne (and only
the Ancient Company knew the answer) why the milkman shudders when he
perceives the dawn. It is all for envy of this tale's reputation that
the Company of Powderers for the Face have invented the tale that they
too tell of an evening, "Why the Dog Barks when he hears the step of
the Baker"; and because probably all men know that tale the Company of
the Powderers for the Face have dared to consider it famous. Yet it
lacks mystery and is not ancient, is not fortified with classical
allusion, has no secret lore, is common to all who care for an idle
tale, and shares with "The Wars of the Elves," the Calf-butcher's
tale, and "The Story of the Unicorn and the Rose," which is the tale
of the Company of Horse-drivers, their obvious inferiority.

But unlike all these tales so new to time, and many another that the
last two centuries tell, the tale that the milkmen tell ripples wisely
on, so full of quotation from the profoundest writers, so full of
recondite allusion, so deeply tinged with all the wisdom of man and
instructive with the experience of all times that they that hear it in
the Milkmen's Hall as they interpret allusion after allusion and trace
obscure quotation lose idle curiosity and forget to question why the
milkman shudders when he perceives the dawn.

You also, O my reader, give not yourself up to curiosity. Consider of
how many it is the bane. Would you to gratify this tear away the
mystery from the Milkmen's Hall and wrong the Ancient Company of
Milkmen? Would they if all the world knew it and it became a common
thing to tell that tale any more that they have told for the last four
hundred years? Rather a silence would settle upon their hall and a
universal regret for the ancient tale and the ancient winter evenings.
And though curiosity were a proper consideration yet even then this is
not the proper place nor this the proper occasion for the Tale. For
the proper place is only the Milkmen's Hall and the proper occasion
only when logs burn well and when wine has been deeply drunken, then
when the candles were burning well in long rows down to the dimness,
down to the darkness and mystery that lie at the end of the hall, then
were you one of the Company, and were I one of the five, would I rise
from my seat by the fireside and tell you with all the embellishments
that it has gleaned from the ages that story that is the heirloom of
the milkmen. And the long candles would burn lower and lower and
gutter and gutter away till they liquefied in their sockets, and
draughts would blow from the shadowy end of the hall stronger and
stronger till the shadows came after them, and still I would hold you
with that treasured story, not by any wit of mine but all for the sake
of its glamour and the times out of which it came; one by one the
candles would flare and die and, when all were gone, by the light of
ominous sparks when each milkman's face looks fearful to his fellow,
you would know, as now you cannot, why the milkman shudders when he
perceives the dawn.



The Bad Old Woman in Black

The bad old woman in black ran down the street of the ox-butchers.

Windows at once were opened high up in those crazy gables; heads were
thrust out: it was she. Then there arose the counsel of anxious
voices, calling sideways from window to window or across to opposite
houses. Why was she there with her sequins and bugles and old black
gown? Why had she left her dreaded house? On what fell errand she
hasted?

They watched her lean, lithe figure, and the wind in that old black
dress, and soon she was gone from the cobbled street and under the
town's high gateway. She turned at once to her right and was hid from
the view of the houses. Then they all ran down to their doors, and
small groups formed on the pavement; there they took counsel together,
the eldest speaking first. Of what they had seen they said nothing,
for there was no doubt it was she; it was of the future they spoke,
and the future only.

In what notorious thing would her errand end? What gains had tempted
her out from her fearful home? What brilliant but sinful scheme had
her genius planned? Above all, what future evil did this portend? Thus
at first it was only questions. And then the old grey-beards spoke,
each one to a little group; they had seen her out before, had known
her when she was younger, and had noted the evil things that had
followed her goings: the small groups listened well to their low and
earnest voices. No one asked questions now or guessed at her infamous
errand, but listened only to the wise old men who knew the things that
had been, and who told the younger men of the dooms that had come
before.

Nobody knew how many times she had left her dreaded house; but the
oldest recounted all the times that they knew, and the way she had
gone each time, and the doom that had followed her going; and two
could remember the earthquake that there was in the street of the
shearers.

So were there many tales of the times that were, told on the pavement
near the old green doors by the edge of the cobbled street, and the
experience that the aged men had bought with their white hairs might
be had cheap by the young. But from all their experience only this was
clear, that never twice in their lives had she done the same infamous
thing, and that the same calamity twice had never followed her goings.
Therefore it seemed that means were doubtful and few for finding out
what thing was about to befall; and an ominous feeling of gloom came
down on the street of the ox-butchers. And in the gloom grew fears of
the very worst. This comfort they only had when they put their fear
into words--that the doom that followed her goings had never yet been
anticipated. One feared that with magic she meant to move the moon;
and he would have dammed the high tide on the neighbouring coast,
knowing that as the moon attracted the sea the sea must attract the
moon, and hoping by his device to humble her spells. Another would
have fetched iron bars and clamped them across the street, remembering
the earthquake there was in the street of the shearers. Another would
have honoured his household gods, the little cat-faced idols seated
above his hearth, gods to whom magic was no unusual thing, and, having
paid their fees and honoured them well, would have put the whole case
before them. His scheme found favour with many, and yet at last was
rejected, for others ran indoors and brought out their gods, too, to
be honoured, till there was a herd of gods all seated there on the
pavement; yet would they have honoured them and put their case before
them but that a fat man ran up last of all, carefully holding under a
reverent arm his own two hound-faced gods, though he knew well--as,
indeed, all men must--that they were notoriously at war with the
little cat-faced idols. And although the animosities natural to faith
had all been lulled by the crisis, yet a look of anger had come into
the cat-like faces that no one dared disregard, and all perceived that
if they stayed a moment longer there would be flaming around them the
jealousy of the gods; so each man hastily took his idols home, leaving
the fat man insisting that his hound-faced gods should be honoured.

Then there were schemes again and voices raised in debate, and many
new dangers feared and new plans made.

But in the end they made no defence against danger, for they knew not
what it would be, but wrote upon parchment as a warning, and in order
that all might know: "_The bad old woman in black ran down the street
of the ox-butchers._"



The Bird of the Difficult Eye

Observant men and women that know their Bond Street well will
appreciate my astonishment when in a jewellers' shop I perceived that
nobody was furtively watching me. Not only this but when I even picked
up a little carved crystal to examine it no shop-assistants crowded
round me. I walked the whole length of the shop, still no one politely
followed.

Seeing from this that some extraordinary revolution had occurred in
the jewelry business I went with my curiosity well aroused to a queer
old person half demon and half man who has an idol-shop in a byway of
the City and who keeps me informed of affairs at the Edge of the
World. And briefly over a pinch of heather incense that he takes by
way of snuff he gave me this tremendous information: that Mr. Neepy
Thang the son of Thangobrind had returned from the Edge of the World
and was even now in London.

The information may not appear tremendous to those unacquainted with
the source of jewelry; but when I say that the only thief employed by
any West-end jeweller since famous Thangobrind's distressing doom is
this same Neepy Thang, and that for lightness of fingers and swiftness
of stockinged foot they have none better in Paris, it will be
understood why the Bond Street jewellers no longer cared what became
of their old stock.

There were big diamonds in London that summer and a few considerable
sapphires. In certain astounding kingdoms behind the East strange
sovereigns missed from their turbans the heirlooms of ancient wars,
and here and there the keepers of crown jewels who had not heard the
stockinged feet of Thang, were questioned and died slowly.

And the jewellers gave a little dinner to Thang at the Hotel Great
Magnificent; the windows had not been opened for five years and there
was wine at a guinea a bottle that you could not tell from champagne
and cigars at half a crown with a Havana label. Altogether it was a
splendid evening for Thang.

But I have to tell of a far sadder thing than a dinner at a hotel. The
public require jewelry and jewelry must be obtained. I have to tell of
Neepy Thang's last journey.

That year the fashion was emeralds. A man named Green had recently
crossed the Channel on a bicycle and the jewellers said that a green
stone would be particularly appropriate to commemorate the event and
recommended emeralds.

Now a certain money-lender of Cheapside who had just been made a peer
had divided his gains into three equal parts; one for the purchase of
the peerage, country house and park, and the twenty thousand pheasants
that are absolutely essential, and one for the upkeep of the position,
while the third he banked abroad, partly to cheat the native
tax-gatherer and partly because it seemed to him that the days of the
Peerage were few and that he might at any moment be called upon to
start afresh elsewhere. In the upkeep of the position he included
jewelry for his wife and so it came about that Lord Castlenorman
placed an order with two well-known Bond-street jewellers named
Messrs. Grosvenor and Campbell to the extent of £100,000 for a few
reliable emeralds.

But the emeralds in stock were mostly small and shop-soiled and Neepy
Thang had to set out at once before he had had as much as a week in
London. I will briefly sketch his project. Not many knew it, for where
the form of business is blackmail the fewer creditors you have the
better (which of course in various degrees applies at all times).

On the shores of the risky seas of Shiroora Shan grows one tree only
so that upon its branches if anywhere in the world there must build
its nest the Bird of the Difficult Eye. Neepy Thang had come by this
information, which was indeed the truth, that if the bird migrated to
Fairyland before the three eggs hatched out they would undoubtedly all
turn into emeralds, while if they hatched out first it would be a bad
business.

When he had mentioned these eggs to Messrs. Grosvenor and Campbell
they had said, "The very thing": they were men of few words, in
English, for it was not their native tongue.

So Neepy Thang set out. He bought the purple ticket at Victoria
Station. He went by Herne Hill, Bromley and Bickley and passed St.
Mary Cray. At Eynsford he changed and taking a footpath along a
winding valley went wandering into the hills. And at the top of a hill
in a little wood, where all the anemones long since were over and the
perfume of mint and thyme from outside came drifting in with Thang, he
found once more the familiar path, age-old and fair as wonder, that
leads to the Edge of the World. Little to him were its sacred memories
that are one with the secret of earth, for he was on business, and
little would they be to me if I ever put them on paper. Let it suffice
that he went down that path going further and further from the fields
we know, and all the way he muttered to himself, "What if the eggs
hatch out and it be a bad business!" The glamour that is at all times
upon those lonely lands that lie at the back of the chalky hills of
Kent intensified as he went upon his journeys. Queerer and queerer
grew the things that he saw by little World-End Path. Many a twilight
descended upon that journey with all their mysteries, many a blaze of
stars; many a morning came flaming up to a tinkle of silvern horns;
till the outpost elves of Fairyland came in sight and the glittering
crests of Fairyland's three mountains betokened the journey's end. And
so with painful steps (for the shores of the world are covered with
huge crystals) he came to the risky seas of Shiroora Shan and saw them
pounding to gravel the wreckage of fallen stars, saw them and heard
their roar, those shipless seas that between earth and the fairies'
homes heave beneath some huge wind that is none of our four. And there
in the darkness on the grizzly coast, for darkness was swooping
slantwise down the sky as though with some evil purpose, there stood
that lonely, gnarled and deciduous tree. It was a bad place to be
found in after dark, and night descended with multitudes of stars,
beasts prowling in the blackness gluttered [See any dictionary, but in
vain.] at Neepy Thang. And there on a lower branch within easy reach
he clearly saw the Bird of the Difficult Eye sitting upon the nest for
which she is famous. Her face was towards those three inscrutable
mountains, far-off on the other side of the risky seas, whose hidden
valleys are Fairyland. Though not yet autumn in the fields we know, it
was close on midwinter here, the moment as Thang knew when those eggs
hatch out. Had he miscalculated and arrived a minute too late? Yet the
bird was even now about to migrate, her pinions fluttered and her gaze
was toward Fairyland. Thang hoped and muttered a prayer to those pagan
gods whose spite and vengeance he had most reason to fear. It seems
that it was too late or a prayer too small to placate them, for there
and then the stroke of midwinter came and the eggs hatched out in the
roar of Shiroora Shan or ever the bird was gone with her difficult eye
and it was a bad business indeed for Neepy Thang; I haven't the heart
to tell you any more.

"'Ere," said Lord Castlenorman some few weeks later to Messrs.
Grosvenor and Campbell, "you aren't 'arf taking your time about those
emeralds."



The Long Porter's Tale

There are things that are known only to the long porter of Tong Tong
Tarrup as he sits and mumbles memories to himself in the little
bastion gateway.

He remembers the war there was in the halls of the gnomes; and how the
fairies came for the opals once, which Tong Tong Tarrup has; and the
way that the giants went through the fields below, he watching from
his gateway: he remembers quests that are even yet a wonder to the
gods. Who dwells in those frozen houses on the high bare brink of the
world not even he has told me, and he is held to be garrulous. Among
the elves, the only living things ever seen moving at that awful
altitude where they quarry turquoise on Earth's highest crag, his name
is a byword for loquacity wherewith they mock the talkative.

His favourite story if you offer him bash--the drug of which he is
fondest, and for which he will give his service in war to the elves
against the goblins, or vice-versa if the goblins bring him more--his
favourite story, when bodily soothed by the drug and mentally fiercely
excited, tells of a quest undertaken ever so long ago for nothing more
marketable than an old woman's song.

Picture him telling it. An old man, lean and bearded, and almost
monstrously long, that lolled in a city's gateway on a crag perhaps
ten miles high; the houses for the most part facing eastward, lit by
the sun and moon and the constellations we know, but one house on the
pinnacle looking over the edge of the world and lit by the glimmer of
those unearthly spaces where one long evening wears away the stars: my
little offering of bash; a long forefinger that nipped it at once on a
stained and greedy thumb--all these are in the foreground of the
picture. In the background, the mystery of those silent houses and of
not knowing who their denizens were, or what service they had at the
hands of the long porter and what payment he had in return, and
whether he was mortal.

Picture him in the gateway of this incredible town, having swallowed
my bash in silence, stretch his great length, lean back, and begin to
speak.

It seems that one clear morning a hundred years ago, a visitor to Tong
Tong Tarrup was climbing up from the world. He had already passed
above the snow and had set his foot on a step of the earthward
stairway that goes down from Tong Tong Tarrup on to the rocks, when
the long porter saw him. And so painfully did he climb those easy
steps that the grizzled man on watch had long to wonder whether or not
the stranger brought him bash, the drug that gives a meaning to the
stars and seems to explain the twilight. And in the end there was not
a scrap of bash, and the stranger had nothing better to offer that
grizzled man than his mere story only.

It seems that the stranger's name was Gerald Jones, and he always
lived in London; but once as a child he had been on a Northern moor.
It was so long ago that he did not remember how, only somehow or other
he walked alone on the moor, and all the ling was in flower. There was
nothing in sight but ling and heather and bracken, except, far off
near the sunset, on indistinct hills, there were little vague patches
that looked like the fields of men. With evening a mist crept up and
hid the hills, and still he went walking on over the moor. And then he
came to the valley, a tiny valley in the midst of the moor, whose
sides were incredibly steep. He lay down and looked at it through the
roots of the ling. And a long, long way below him, in a garden by a
cottage, with hollyhocks all round her that were taller than herself,
there sat an old woman on a wooden chair, singing in the evening. And
the man had taken a fancy to the song and remembered it after in
London, and whenever it came to his mind it made him think of
evenings--the kind you don't get in London--and he heard a soft wind
going idly over the moor and the bumble-bees in a hurry, and forgot
the noise of the traffic. And always, whenever he heard men speak of
Time, he grudged to Time most this song. Once afterwards he went to
that Northern moor again and found the tiny valley, but there was no
old woman in the garden, and no one was singing a song. And either
regret for the song that the old woman had sung, on a summer evening
twenty years away and daily receding, troubled his mind, or else the
wearisome work that he did in London, for he worked for a great firm
that was perfectly useless; and he grew old early, as men do in
cities. And at last, when melancholy brought only regret and the
uselessness of his work gained round him with age, he decided to
consult a magician. So to a magician he went and told him his
troubles, and particularly he told him how he had heard the song. "And
now," he said, "it is nowhere in the world."

"Of course it is not in the world," the magician said, "but over the
Edge of the World you may easily find it." And he told the man that he
was suffering from flux of time and recommended a day at the Edge of
the World. Jones asked what part of the Edge of the World he should go
to, and the magician had heard Tong Tong Tarrup well spoken of; so he
paid him, as is usual, in opals, and started at once on the journey.
The ways to that town are winding; he took the ticket at Victoria
Station that they only give if they know you: he went past Bleth: he
went along the Hills of Neol-Hungar and came to the Gap of Poy. All
these are in that part of the world that pertains to the fields we
know; but beyond the Gap of Poy on those ordinary plains, that so
closely resemble Sussex, one first meets the unlikely. A line of
common grey hills, the Hills of Sneg, may be seen at the edge of the
plain from the Gap of Poy; it is there that the incredible begins,
infrequently at first, but happening more and more as you go up the
hills. For instance, descending once into Poy Plains, the first thing
that I saw was an ordinary shepherd watching a flock of ordinary
sheep. I looked at them for some time and nothing happened, when,
without a word, one of the sheep walked up to the shepherd and
borrowed his pipe and smoked it--an incident that struck me as
unlikely; but in the Hills of Sneg I met an honest politician. Over
these plains went Jones and over the Hills of Sneg, meeting at first
unlikely things, and then incredible things, till he came to the long
slope beyond the hills that leads up to the Edge of the World, and
where, as all guidebooks tell, anything may happen. You might at the
foot of this slope see here and there things that could conceivably
occur in the fields we know; but soon these disappeared, and the
traveller saw nothing but fabulous beasts, browsing on flowers as
astounding as themselves, and rocks so distorted that their shapes had
clearly a meaning, being too startling to be accidental. Even the
trees were shockingly unfamiliar, they had so much to say, and they
leant over to one another whenever they spoke and struck grotesque
attitudes and leered. Jones saw two fir-trees fighting. The effect of
these scenes on his nerves was very severe; still he climbed on, and
was much cheered at last by the sight of a primrose, the only familiar
thing he had seen for hours, but it whistled and skipped away. He saw
the unicorns in their secret valley. Then night in a sinister way
slipped over the sky, and there shone not only the stars, but lesser
and greater moons, and he heard dragons rattling in the dark.

With dawn there appeared above him among its amazing crags the town of
Tong Tong Tarrup, with the light on its frozen stairs, a tiny cluster
of houses far up in the sky. He was on the steep mountain now: great
mists were leaving it slowly, and revealing, as they trailed away,
more and more astonishing things. Before the mist had all gone he
heard quite near him, on what he had thought was bare mountain, the
sound of a heavy galloping on turf. He had come to the plateau of the
centaurs. And all at once he saw them in the mist: there they were,
the children of fable, five enormous centaurs. Had he paused on
account of any astonishment he had not come so far: he strode on over
the plateau, and came quite near to the centaurs. It is never the
centaurs' wont to notice men; they pawed the ground and shouted to one
another in Greek, but they said no word to him. Nevertheless they
turned and stared at him when he left them, and when he had crossed
the plateau and still went on, all five of them cantered after to the
edge of their green land; for above the high green plateau of the
centaurs is nothing but naked mountains, and the last green thing that
is seen by the mountaineer as he travels to Tong Tong Tarrup is the
grass that the centaurs trample. He came into the snow fields that the
mountain wears like a cape, its head being bare above it, and still
climbed on. The centaurs watched him with increasing wonder.

Not even fabulous beasts were near him now, nor strange demoniac
trees--nothing but snow and the clean bare crag above it on which was
Tong Tong Tarrup. All day he climbed and evening found him above the
snow-line; and soon he came to the stairway cut in the rock and in
sight of that grizzled man, the long porter of Tong Tong Tarrup,
sitting mumbling amazing memories to himself and expecting in vain
from the stranger a gift of bash.

It seems that as soon as the stranger arrived at the bastion gateway,
tired though he was, he demanded lodgings at once that commanded a
good view of the Edge of the World. But the long porter, that grizzled
man, disappointed of his bash, demanded the stranger's story to add to
his memories before he would show him the way. And this is the story,
if the long porter has told me the truth and if his memory is still
what it was. And when the story was told, the grizzled man arose, and,
dangling his musical keys, went up through door after door and by many
stairs and led the stranger to the top-most house, the highest roof in
the world, and in its parlour showed him the parlour window. There the
tired stranger sat down in a chair and gazed out of the window sheer
over the Edge of the World. The window was shut, and in its glittering
panes the twilight of the World's Edge blazed and danced, partly like
glow-worms' lamps and partly like the sea; it went by rippling, full
of wonderful moons. But the traveller did not look at the wonderful
moons. For from the abyss there grew with their roots in far
constellations a row of hollyhocks, and amongst them a small green
garden quivered and trembled as scenes tremble in water; higher up,
ling in bloom was floating upon the twilight, more and more floated up
till all the twilight was purple; the little green garden low down was
hung in the midst of it. And the garden down below, and the ling all
round it, seemed all to be trembling and drifting on a song. For the
twilight was full of a song that sang and rang along the edges of the
World, and the green garden and the ling seemed to flicker and ripple
with it as the song rose and fell, and an old woman was singing it
down in the garden. A bumble-bee sailed across from over the Edge of
the World. And the song that was lapping there against the coasts of
the World, and to which the stars were dancing, was the same that he
had heard the old woman sing long since down in the valley in the
midst of the Northern moor.

But that grizzled man, the long porter, would not let the stranger
stay, because he brought him no bash, and impatiently he shouldered
him away, himself not troubling to glance through the World's
outermost window, for the lands that Time afflicts and the spaces that
Time knows not are all one to that grizzled man, and the bash that he
eats more profoundly astounds his mind than anything man can show him
either in the World we know or over the Edge. And, bitterly
protesting, the traveller went back and down again to the World.

                      .     .     .     .     .

Accustomed as I am to the incredible from knowing the Edge of the
World, the story presents difficulties to me. Yet it may be that the
devastation wrought by Time is merely local, and that outside the
scope of his destruction old songs are still being sung by those that
we deem dead. I try to hope so. And yet the more I investigate the
story that the long porter told me in the town of Tong Tong Tarrup the
more plausible the alternative theory appears--that that grizzled man
is a liar.



The Loot of Loma

Coming back laden with the loot of Loma, the four tall men looked
earnestly to the right; to the left they durst not, for the precipice
there that had been with them so long went sickly down on to a bank of
clouds, and how much further below that only their fears could say.

Loma lay smoking, a city of ruin, behind them, all its defenders dead;
there was no one left to pursue them, and yet their Indian instincts
told them that all was scarcely well. They had gone three days along
that narrow ledge: mountain quite smooth, incredible, above them, and
precipice as smooth and as far below. It was chilly there in the
mountains; at night a stream or a wind in the gloom of the chasm below
them went like a whisper; the stillness of all things else began to
wear the nerve--an enemy's howl would have braced them; they began to
wish their perilous path were wider, they began to wish that they had
not sacked Loma.

Had that path been any wider the sacking of Loma must indeed have been
harder for them, for the citizens must have fortified the city but
that the awful narrowness of that ten-league pass of the hills had
made their crag-surrounded city secure. And at last an Indian had
said, "Come, let us sack it." Grimly they laughed in the wigwams. Only
the eagles, they said, had ever seen it, its hoard of emeralds and its
golden gods; and one had said he would reach it, and they answered,
"Only the eagles."

It was Laughing Face who said it, and who gathered thirty braves and
led them into Loma with their tomahawks and their bows; there were
only four left now, but they had the loot of Loma on a mule. They had
four golden gods, a hundred emeralds, fifty-two rubies, a large silver
gong, two sticks of malachite with amethyst handles for holding
incense at religious feasts, four beakers one foot high, each carved
from a rose-quartz crystal; a little coffer carved out of two
diamonds, and (had they but known it) the written curse of a priest.
It was written on parchment in an unknown tongue, and had been slipped
in with the loot by a dying hand.

From either end of that narrow, terrible ledge the third night was
closing in; it was dropping down on them from the heights of the
mountain and slipping up to them out of the abyss, the third night
since Loma blazed and they had left it. Three more days of tramping
should bring them in triumph home, and yet their instincts said that
all was scarcely well. We who sit at home and draw the blinds and shut
the shutters as soon as night appears, who gather round the fire when
the wind is wild, who pray at regular seasons and in familiar shrines,
know little of the demoniac look of night when it is filled with
curses of false, infuriated gods. Such a night was this. Though in the
heights the fleecy clouds were idle, yet the wind was stirring
mournfully in the abyss and moaning as it stirred, unhappily at first
and full of sorrow; but as day turned away from that awful path a very
definite menace entered its voice which fast grew louder and louder,
and night came on with a long howl. Shadows repeatedly passed over the
stars, and then a mist fell swiftly, as though there were something
suddenly to be done and utterly to be hidden, as in very truth there
was.

And in the chill of that mist the four tall men prayed to their
totems, the whimsical wooden figures that stood so far away, watching
the pleasant wigwams; the firelight even now would be dancing over
their faces, while there would come to their ears delectable tales of
war. They halted upon the pass and prayed, and waited for any sign.
For a man's totem may be in the likeness perhaps of an otter, and a
man may pray, and if his totem be placable and watching over his man a
noise may be heard at once like the noise that the otter makes, though
it be but a stone that falls on another stone; and the noise is a
sign. The four men's totems that stood so far away were in the
likeness of the coney, the bear, the heron, and the lizard. They
waited, and no sign came. With all the noises of the wind in the
abyss, no noise was like the thump that the coney makes, nor the
bear's growl, nor the heron's screech, nor the rustle of the lizard in
the reeds.

It seemed that the wind was saying something over and over again, and
that that thing was evil. They prayed again to their totems, and no
sign came. And then they knew that there was some power that night
that was prevailing against the pleasant carvings on painted poles of
wood with the firelight on their faces so far away. Now it was clear
that the wind was saying something, some very, very dreadful thing in
a tongue that they did not know. They listened, but they could not
tell what it said. Nobody could have said from seeing their faces how
much the four tall men desired the wigwams again, desired the
camp-fire and the tales of war and the benignant totems that listened
and smiled in the dusk: nobody could have seen how well they knew that
this was no common night or wholesome mist.

When at last no answer came nor any sign from their totems, they
pulled out of the bag those golden gods that Loma gave not up except
in flames and when all her men were dead. They had large ruby eyes and
emerald tongues. They set them down upon that mountain pass, the
cross-legged idols with their emerald tongues; and having placed
between them a few decent yards, as it seemed meet there should be
between gods and men, they bowed them down and prayed in their
desperate straits in that dank, ominous night to the gods they had
wronged, for it seemed that there was a vengeance upon the hills and
that they would scarce escape, as the wind knew well. And the gods
laughed, all four, and wagged their emerald tongues; the Indians saw
them, though the night had fallen and though the mist was low. The
four tall men leaped up at once from their knees and would have left
the gods upon the pass but that they feared some hunter of their tribe
might one day find them and say of Laughing Face, "He fled and left
behind his golden gods," and sell the gold and come with his wealth to
the wigwams and be greater than Laughing Face and his three men. And
then they would have cast the gods away, down the abyss, with their
eyes and their emerald tongues, but they knew that enough already they
had wronged Loma's gods, and feared that vengeance enough was waiting
them on the hills. So they packed them back in the bag on the
frightened mule, the bag that held the curse they knew nothing of, and
so pushed on into the menacing night. Till midnight they plodded on
and would not sleep; grimmer and grimmer grew the look of the night,
and the wind more full of meaning, and the mule knew and trembled, and
it seemed that the wind knew, too, as did the instincts of those four
tall men, though they could not reason it out, try how they would.

And though the squaws waited long where the pass winds out of the
mountains, near where the wigwams are upon the plains, the wigwams and
the totems and the fire, and though they watched by day, and for many
nights uttered familiar calls, still did they never see those four
tall men emerge out of the mountains any more, even though they prayed
to their totems upon their painted poles; but the curse in the
mystical writing that they had unknown in their bag worked there on
that lonely pass six leagues from the ruins of Loma, and nobody can
tell us what it was.



The Secret of the Sea

In an ill-lit ancient tavern that I know, are many tales of the sea;
but not without the wine of Gorgondy, that I had of a private bargain
from the gnomes, was the tale laid bare for which I had waited of an
evening for the greater part of a year.

I knew my man and listened to his stories, sitting amid the bluster of
his oaths; I plied him with rum and whiskey and mixed drinks, but
there never came the tale for which I sought, and as a last resort I
went to the Huthneth Mountains and bargained there all night with the
chiefs of the gnomes.

When I came to the ancient tavern and entered the low-roofed room,
bringing the hoard of the gnomes in a bottle of hammered iron, my man
had not yet arrived. The sailors laughed at my old iron bottle, but I
sat down and waited; had I opened it then they would have wept and
sung. I was well content to wait, for I knew my man had the story, and
it was such a one as had profoundly stirred the incredulity of the
faithless.

He entered and greeted me, and sat down and called for brandy. He was
a hard man to turn from his purpose, and, uncorking my iron bottle, I
sought to dissuade him from brandy for fear that when the brandy, bit
his throat he should refuse to leave it for any other wine. He lifted
his head and said deep and dreadful things of any man that should dare
to speak against brandy.

I swore that I said nothing against brandy but added that it was often
given to children, while Gorgondy was only drunk by men of such
depravity that they had abandoned sin because all the usual vices had
come to seem genteel. When he asked if Gorgondy was a bad wine to
drink I said that it was so bad that if a man sipped it that was the
one touch that made damnation certain. Then he asked me what I had in
the iron bottle, and I said it was Gorgondy; and then he shouted for
the largest tumbler in that ill-lit ancient tavern, and stood up and
shook his fist at me when it came, and swore, and told me to fill it
with the wine that I got on that bitter night from the treasure house
of the gnomes.

As he drank it he told me that he had met men who had spoken against
wine, and that they had mentioned Heaven; and therefore he would not
go there--no, not he; and that once he had sent one of them to Hell,
but when he got there he would turn him out, and he had no use for
milksops.

Over the second tumbler he was thoughtful, but still he said no word
of the tale he knew, until I feared that it would never be heard. But
when the third glass of that terrific wine had burned its way down his
gullet, and vindicated the wickedness of the gnomes, his reticence
withered like a leaf in the fire, and he bellowed out the secret.

I had long known that there is in ships a will or way of their own,
and had even suspected that when sailors die or abandon their ships at
sea, a derelict, being left to her own devices, may seek her own ends;
but I had never dreamed by night, or fancied during the day, that the
ships had a god that they worshipped, or that they secretly slipped
away to a temple in the sea.

Over the fourth glass of the wine that the gnomes so sinfully brew but
have kept so wisely from man, until the bargain that I had with their
elders all through that autumn night, the sailor told me the story. I
do not tell it as he told it to me because of the oaths that were in
it; nor is it from delicacy that I refrain from writing these oaths
verbatim, but merely because the horror they caused in me at the time
troubles me still whenever I put them on paper, and I continue to
shudder until I have blotted them out. Therefore, I tell the story in
my own words, which, if they possess a certain decency that was not in
the mouth of that sailor, unfortunately do not smack, as his did, of
rum and blood and the sea.

You would take a ship to be a dead thing like a table, as dead as bits
of iron and canvas and wood. That is because you always live on shore,
and have never seen the sea, and drink milk. Milk is a more accursed
drink than water.

What with the captain and what with the man at the wheel, and what
with the crew, a ship has no fair chance of showing a will of her own.

There is only one moment in the history of ships, that carry crews on
board, when they act by their own free will. This moment comes when
all the crew are drunk. As the last man falls drunk on to the deck,
the ship is free of man, and immediately slips away. She slips away at
once on a new course and is never one yard out in a hundred miles.

It was like this one night with the Sea-Fancy. Bill Smiles was there
himself, and can vouch for it. Bill Smiles has never told this tale
before for fear that anyone should call him a liar. Nobody dislikes
being hung as much as Bill Smiles would, but he won't be called a
liar. I tell the tale as I heard it, relevancies and irrelevancies,
though in my more decent words; and as I made no doubts of the truth
of it then, I hardly like to now; others can please themselves.

It is not often that the whole of a crew is drunk. The crew of the
Sea-Fancy was no drunkener than others. It happened like this.

The captain was always drunk. One day a fancy he had that some spiders
were plotting against him, or a sudden bleeding he had from both his
ears, made him think that drinking might be bad for his health. Next
day he signed the pledge. He was sober all that morning and all the
afternoon, but at evening he saw a sailor drinking a a glass of beer,
and a fit of madness seized him, and he said things that seemed bad to
Bill Smiles. And next morning he made all of them take the pledge.

For two days nobody had a drop to drink, unless you count water, and
on the third morning the captain was quite drunk It stood to reason
they all had a glass or two then, except the man at the wheel; and
towards evening the man at the wheel could bear it no longer, and
seems to have had his glass like all the rest, for the ship's course
wobbled a bit and made a circle or two. Then all of a sudden she went
off south by east under full canvas till midnight, and never altered
her course. And at midnight she came to the wide wet courts of the
Temple in the Sea.

People who think that Mr. Smiles is drunk often make a great mistake.
And people are not the only ones that have made that mistake. Once a
ship made it, and a lot of ships. It's a mistake to think that old
Bill Smiles is drunk just because he can't move.

Midnight and moonlight and the Temple in the Sea Bill Smiles clearly
remembers, and all the derelicts in the world were there, the old
abandoned ships. The figureheads were nodding to themselves and
blinking at the image. The image was a woman of white marble on a
pedestal in the outer court of the Temple of the Sea: she was clearly
the love of all the man-deserted ships, or the goddess to whom they
prayed their heathen prayers. And as Bill Smiles was watching them,
the lips of the figureheads moved; they all began to pray. But all at
once their lips were closed with a snap when they saw that there were
men on the Sea-Fancy. They all came crowding up and nodded and nodded
and nodded to see if all were drunk, and that's when they made their
mistake about old Bill Smiles, although he couldn't move. They would
have given up the treasuries of the gulfs sooner than let men hear the
prayers they said or guess their love for the goddess. It is the
intimate secret of the sea.

The sailor paused. And, in my eagerness to hear what lyrical or
blasphemous thing those figureheads prayed by moonlight at midnight in
the sea to the woman of marble who was a goddess to ships, I pressed
on the sailor more of my Gorgondy wine that the gnomes so wickedly
brew.

I should never have done it; but there he was sitting silent while the
secret was almost mine. He took it moodily and drank a glass; and with
the other glasses that he had had he fell a prey to the villainy of
the gnomes who brew this unbridled wine to no good end. His body
leaned forward slowly, then fell on to the table, his face being
sideways and full of a wicked smile, and, saying very clearly the one
word, "Hell," he became silent for ever with the secret he had from
the sea.



How Ali Came to the Black Country

Shooshan the barber went to Shep the maker of teeth to discuss the
state of England. They agreed that it was time to send for Ali.

So Shooshan stepped late that night from the little shop near Fleet
Street and made his way back again to his house in the ends of London
and sent at once the message that brought Ali.

And Ali came, mostly on foot, from the country of Persia, and it took
him a year to come; but when he came he was welcome.

And Shep told Ali what was the matter with England and Shooshan swore
that it was so, and Ali looking out of the window of the little shop
near Fleet Street beheld the ways of London and audibly blessed King
Solomon and his seal.

When Shep and Shooshan heard the names of King Solomon and his seal
both asked, as they had scarcely dared before, if Ali had it. Ali
patted a little bundle of silks that he drew from his inner raiment.
It was there.

Now concerning the movements and courses of the stars and the
influence on them of spirits of Earth and devils this age has been
rightly named by some The Second Age of Ignorance. But Ali knew. And
by watching nightly, for seven nights in Bagdad, the way of certain
stars he had found out the dwelling place of Him they Needed.

Guided by Ali all three set forth for the Midlands. And by the
reverence that was manifest in the faces of Shep and Shooshan towards
the person of Ali, some knew what Ali carried, while others said that
it was the tablets of the Law, others the name of God, and others that
he must have a lot of money about him. So they passed Slod and Apton.

And at last they came to the town for which Ali sought, that spot over
which he had seen the shy stars wheel and swerve away from their
orbits, being troubled. Verily when they came there were no stars,
though it was midnight. And Ali said that it was the appointed place.
In harems in Persia in the evening when the tales go round it is still
told how Ali and Shep and Shooshan came to the Black country.

When it was dawn they looked upon the country and saw how it was
without doubt the appointed place, even as Ali had said, for the earth
had been taken out of pits and burned and left lying in heaps, and
there were many factories, and they stood over the town and as it were
rejoiced. And with one voice Shep and Shooshan gave praise to Ali.

And Ali said that the great ones of the place must needs be gathered
together, and to this end Shep and Shooshan went into the town and
there spoke craftily. For they said that Ali had of his wisdom
contrived as it were a patent and a novelty which should greatly
benefit England. And when they heard how he sought nothing for his
novelty save only to benefit mankind they consented to speak with Ali
and see his novelty. And they came forth and met Ali.

And Ali spake and said unto them: "O lords of this place; in the book
that all men know it is written how that a fisherman casting his net
into the sea drew up a bottle of brass, and when he took the stopper
from the bottle a dreadful genie of horrible aspect rose from the
bottle, as it were like a smoke, even to darkening the sky, whereat
the fisherman..." And the great ones of that place said: "We have
heard the story." And Ali said: "What became of that genie after he
was safely thrown back into the sea is not properly spoken of by any
save those that pursue the study of demons and not with certainty by
any man, but that the stopper that bore the ineffable seal and bears
it to this day became separate from the bottle is among those things
that man may know." And when there was doubt among the great ones Ali
drew forth his bundle and one by one removed those many silks till the
seal stood revealed; and some of them knew it for the seal and others
knew it not.

And they looked curiously at it and listened to Ali, and Ali said:

"Having heard how evil is the case of England, how a smoke has
darkened the country, and in places (as men say) the grass is black,
and how even yet your factories multiply, and haste and noise have
become such that men have no time for song, I have therefore come at
the bidding of my good friend Shooshan, barber of London, and of Shep,
a maker of teeth, to make things well with you."

And they said: "But where is your patent and your novelty?"

And Ali said: "Have I not here the stopper and on it, as good men
know, the ineffable seal? Now I have learned in Persia how that your
trains that make the haste, and hurry men to and fro, and your
factories and the digging of your pits and all the things that are
evil are everyone of them caused and brought about by steam."

"Is it not so?" said Shooshan.

"It is even so," said Shep.

"Now it is clear," said Ali, "that the chief devil that vexes England
and has done all this harm, who herds men into cities and will not let
them rest, is even the devil Steam."

Then the great ones would have rebuked him but one said: "No, let us
hear him, perhaps his patent may improve on steam."

And to them hearkening Ali went on thus: "O Lords of this place, let
there be made a bottle of strong steel, for I have no bottle with my
stopper, and this being done let all the factories, trains, digging of
pits, and all evil things soever that may be done by steam be stopped
for seven days, and the men that tend them shall go free, but the
steel bottle for my stopper I will leave open in a likely place. Now
that chief devil, Steam, finding no factories to enter into, nor no
trains, sirens nor pits prepared for him, and being curious and
accustomed to steel pots, will verily enter one night into the bottle
that you shall make for my stopper, and I shall spring forth from my
hiding with my stopper and fasten him down with the ineffable seal
which is the seal of King Solomon and deliver him up to you that you
cast him into the sea."

And the great ones answered Ali and they said: "But what should we
gain if we lose our prosperity and be no longer rich?"

And Ali said: "When we have cast this devil into the sea there will
come back again the woods and ferns and all the beautiful things that
the world hath, the little leaping hares shall be seen at play, there
shall be music on the hills again, and at twilight ease and quiet and
after the twilight stars."

And "Verily," said Shooshan, "there shall be the dance again."

"Aye," said Shep, "there shall be the country dance."

But the great ones spake and said, denying Ali: "We will make no such
bottle for your stopper nor stop our healthy factories or good trains,
nor cease from our digging of pits nor do anything that you desire,
for an interference with steam would strike at the roots of that
prosperity that you see so plentifully all around us."

Thus they dismissed Ali there and then from that place where the earth
was torn up and burnt, being taken out of pits, and where factories
blazed all night with a demoniac glare; and they dismissed with him
both Shooshan, the barber, and Shep, the maker of teeth: so that a
week later Ali started from Calais on his long walk back to Persia.

And all this happened thirty years ago, and Shep is an old man now and
Shooshan older, and many mouths have bit with the teeth of Shep (for
he has a knack of getting them back whenever his customers die), and
they have written again to Ali away in the country of Persia with
these words, saying:

"O Ali. The devil has indeed begotten a devil, even that spirit
Petrol. And the young devil waxeth, and increaseth in lustihood and is
ten years old and becoming like to his father. Come therefore and help
us with the ineffable seal. For there is none like Ali."

And Ali turns where his slaves scatter rose-leaves, letting the letter
fall, and deeply draws from his hookah a puff of the scented smoke,
right down into his lungs, and sighs it forth and smiles, and lolling
round on to his other elbow speaks comfortably and says, "And shall a
man go twice to the help of a dog?"

And with these words he thinks no more of England but ponders again
the inscrutable ways of God.



The Bureau d'Echange de Maux

I often think of the Bureau d'Echange de Maux and the wondrously evil
old man that sate therein. It stood in a little street that there is
in Paris, its doorway made of three brown beams of wood, the top one
overlapping the others like the Greek letter _pi_, all the rest
painted green, a house far lower and narrower than its neighbours and
infinitely stranger, a thing to take one's fancy. And over the doorway
on the old brown beam in faded yellow letters this legend ran, Bureau
Universel d'Echanges de Maux.

I entered at once and accosted the listless man that lolled on a stool
by his counter. I demanded the wherefore of his wonderful house, what
evil wares he exchanged, with many other things that I wished to know,
for curiosity led me; and indeed had it not I had gone at once from
that shop, for there was so evil a look in that fattened man, in the
hang of his fallen cheeks and his sinful eye, that you would have said
he had had dealings with Hell and won the advantage by sheer
wickedness.

Such a man was mine host; but above all the evil of him lay in his
eyes, which lay so still, so apathetic, that you would have sworn that
he was drugged or dead; like lizards motionless on a wall they lay,
then suddenly they darted, and all his cunning flamed up and revealed
itself in what one moment before seemed no more than a sleepy and
ordinary wicked old man. And this was the object and trade of that
peculiar shop, the Bureau Universel d'Echange de Maux: you paid twenty
francs, which the old man proceeded to take from me, for admission to
the bureau and then had the right to exchange any evil or misfortune
with anyone on the premises for some evil or misfortune that he "could
afford," as the old man put it.

There were four or five men in the dingy ends of that low-ceilinged
room who gesticulated and muttered softly in twos as men who make a
bargain, and now and then more came in, and the eyes of the flabby
owner of the house leaped up at them as they entered, seemed to know
their errands at once and each one's peculiar need, and fell back
again into somnolence, receiving his twenty francs in an almost
lifeless hand and biting the coin as though in pure absence of mind.

"Some of my clients," he told me. So amazing to me was the trade of
this extraordinary shop that I engaged the old man in conversation,
repulsive though he was, and from his garrulity I gathered these
facts. He spoke in perfect English though his utterance was somewhat
thick and heavy; no language seemed to come amiss to him. He had been
in business a great many years, how many he would not say, and was far
older than he looked. All kinds of people did business in his shop.
What they exchanged with each other he did not care except that it had
to be evils, he was not empowered to carry on any other kind of
business.

There was no evil, he told me, that was not negotiable there; no evil
the old man knew had ever been taken away in despair from his shop. A
man might have to wait and come back again next day, and next day and
the day after, paying twenty francs each time, but the old man had the
addresses of all his clients and shrewdly knew their needs, and soon
the right two met and eagerly exchanged their commodities.
"Commodities" was the old man's terrible word, said with a gruesome
smack of his heavy lips, for he took a pride in his business and evils
to him were goods.

I learned from him in ten minutes very much of human nature, more than
I have ever learned from any other man; I learned from him that a
man's own evil is to him the worst thing there is or ever could be,
and that an evil so unbalances all men's minds that they always seek
for extremes in that small grim shop. A woman that had no children had
exchanged with an impoverished half-maddened creature with twelve. On
one occasion a man had exchanged wisdom for folly.

"Why on earth did he do that?" I said.

"None of my business," the old man answered in his heavy indolent way.
He merely took his twenty francs from each and ratified the agreement
in the little room at the back opening out of the shop where his
clients do business. Apparently the man that had parted with wisdom
had left the shop upon the tips of his toes with a happy though
foolish expression all over his face, but the other went thoughtfully
away wearing a troubled and very puzzled look. Almost always it seemed
they did business in opposite evils.

But the thing that puzzled me most in all my talks with that unwieldy
man, the thing that puzzles me still, is that none that had once done
business in that shop ever returned again; a man might come day after
day for many weeks, but once do business and he never returned; so
much the old man told me, but when I asked him why, he only muttered
that he did not know.

It was to discover the wherefore of this strange thing and for no
other reason at all that I determined myself to do business sooner or
later in the little room at the back of that mysterious shop. I
determined to exchange some very trivial evil for some evil equally
slight, to seek for myself an advantage so very small as scarcely to
give Fate as it were a grip, for I deeply distrusted these bargains,
knowing well that man has never yet benefited by the marvellous and
that the more miraculous his advantage appears to be the more securely
and tightly do the gods or the witches catch him. In a few days more I
was going back to England and I was beginning to fear that I should be
sea-sick: this fear of sea-sickness, not the actual malady but only
the mere fear of it, I decided to exchange for a suitably little evil.
I did not know with whom I should be dealing, who in reality was the
head of the firm (one never does when shopping) but I decided that
neither Jew nor Devil could make very much on so small a bargain as
that.

I told the old man my project, and he scoffed at the smallness of my
commodity trying to urge me to some darker bargain, but could not move
me from my purpose. And then he told me tales with a somewhat boastful
air of the big business, the great bargains that had passed through
his hands. A man had once run in there to try and exchange death, he
had swallowed poison by accident and had only twelve hours to live.
That sinister old man had been able to oblige him. A client was
willing to exchange the commodity.

"But what did he give in exchange for death?" I said.

"Life," said that grim old man with a furtive chuckle.

"It must have been a horrible life," I said.

"That was not my affair," the proprietor said, lazily rattling
together as he spoke a little pocketful of twenty-franc pieces.

Strange business I watched in that shop for the next few days, the
exchange of odd commodities, and heard strange mutterings in corners
amongst couples who presently rose and went to the back room, the old
man following to ratify.

Twice a day for a week I paid my twenty francs, watching life with its
great needs and its little needs morning and afternoon spread out
before me in all its wonderful variety.

And one day I met a comfortable man with only a little need, he seemed
to have the very evil I wanted. He always feared the lift was going to
break. I knew too much of hydraulics to fear things as silly as that,
but it was not my business to cure his ridiculous fear. Very few words
were needed to convince him that mine was the evil for him, he never
crossed the sea, and I on the other hand could always walk upstairs,
and I also felt at the time, as many must feel in that shop, that so
absurd a fear could never trouble me. And yet at times it is almost
the curse of my life. When we both had signed the parchment in the
spidery back room and the old man had signed and ratified (for which
we had to pay him fifty francs each) I went back to my hotel, and
there I saw the deadly thing in the basement. They asked me if I would
go upstairs in the lift, from force of habit I risked it, and I held
my breath all the way and clenched my hands. Nothing will induce me to
try such a journey again. I would sooner go up to my room in a
balloon. And why? Because if a balloon goes wrong you have a chance,
it may spread out into a parachute after it has burst, it may catch in
a tree, a hundred and one things may happen, but if the lift falls
down its shaft you are done. As for sea-sickness I shall never be sick
again, I cannot tell you why except that I know that it is so.

And the shop in which I made this remarkable bargain, the shop to
which none return when their business is done: I set out for it next
day. Blindfold I could have found my way to the unfashionable quarter
out of which a mean street runs, where you take the alley at the end,
whence runs the cul de sac where the queer shop stood. A shop with
pillars, fluted and painted red, stands on its near side, its other
neighbour is a low-class jeweller's with little silver brooches in the
window. In such incongruous company stood the shop with beams with its
walls painted green.

In half an hour I found the cul de sac to which I had gone twice a day
for the last week, I found the shop with the ugly painted pillars and
the jeweller that sold brooches, but the green house with the three
beams was gone.

Pulled down, you will say, although in a single night. That can never
be the answer to the mystery, for the house of the fluted pillars
painted on plaster and the low-class jeweller's shop with its silver
brooches (all of which I could identify one by one) were standing side
by side.



A Story of Land and Sea

It is written in the first Book of Wonder how Captain Shard of the bad
ship Desperate Lark, having looted the sea-coast city Bombasharna,
retired from active life; and resigning piracy to younger men, with
the good will of the North and South Atlantic, settled down with a
captured queen on his floating island.

Sometimes he sank a ship for the sake of old times but he no longer
hovered along the trade-routes; and timid merchants watched for other
men.

It was not age that caused him to leave his romantic profession; nor
unworthiness of its traditions, nor gun-shot wound, nor drink; but
grim necessity and force majeure. Five navies were after him. How he
gave them the slip one day in the Mediterranean, how he fought with
the Arabs, how a ship's broadside was heard in Lat. 23 N. Long. 4 E.
for the first time and the last, with other things unknown to
Admiralties, I shall proceed to tell.

He had had his fling, had Shard, captain of pirates, and all his merry
men wore pearls in their ear-rings; and now the English fleet was
after him under full sail along the coast of Spain with a good North
wind behind them. They were not gaining much on Shard's rakish craft,
the bad ship Desperate Lark, yet they were closer than was to his
liking, and they interfered with business.

For a day and a night they had chased him, when off Cape St. Vincent
at about six a.m. Shard took that step that decided his retirement
from active life, he turned for the Mediterranean. Had he held on
Southwards down the African coast it is doubtful whether in face of
the interference of England, Russia, France, Denmark and Spain, he
could have made piracy pay; but in turning for the Mediterranean he
took what we may call the penultimate step of his life which meant for
him settling down. There were three great courses of action invented
by Shard in his youth, upon which he pondered by day and brooded by
night, consolations in all his dangers, secret even from his men,
three means of escape as he hoped from any peril that might meet him
on the sea. One of these was the floating island that the Book of
Wonder tells of, another was so fantastic that we may doubt if even
the brilliant audacity of Shard could ever have found it practicable,
at least he never tried it so far as is known in that tavern by the
sea in which I glean my news, and the third he determined on carrying
out as he turned that morning for the Mediterranean. True he might yet
have practised piracy in spite of the step that he took, a little
later when the seas grew quiet, but that penultimate step was like
that small house in the country that the business man has his eye on,
like some snug investment put away for old age, there are certain
final courses in men's lives which after taking they never go back to
business.

He turned then for the Mediterranean with the English fleet behind
him, and his men wondered.

What madness was this,--muttered Bill the Boatswain in Old Frank's
only ear, with the French fleet waiting in the Gulf of Lyons and the
Spaniards all the way between Sardinia and Tunis: for they knew the
Spaniards' ways. And they made a deputation and waited upon Captain
Shard, all of them sober and wearing their costly clothes, and they
said that the Mediterranean was a trap, and all he said was that the
North wind should hold. And the crew said they were done.

So they entered the Mediterranean and the English fleet came up and
closed the straits. And Shard went tacking along the Moroccan coast
with a dozen frigates behind him. And the North wind grew in strength.
And not till evening did he speak to his crew, and then he gathered
them all together except the man at the helm, and politely asked them
to come down to the hold. And there he showed them six immense steel
axles and a dozen low iron wheels of enormous width which none had
seen before; and he told his crew how all unknown to the world his
keel had been specially fitted for these same axles and wheels, and
how he meant soon to sail to the wide Atlantic again, though not by
the way of the straits. And when they heard the name of the Atlantic
all his merry men cheered, for they looked on the Atlantic as a wide
safe sea.

And night came down and Captain Shard sent for his diver. With the sea
getting up it was hard work for the diver, but by midnight things were
done to Shard's satisfaction, and the diver said that of all the jobs
he had done--but finding no apt comparison, and being in need of a
drink, silence fell on him and soon sleep, and his comrades carried
him away to his hammock. All the next day the chase went on with the
English well in sight, for Shard had lost time overnight with his
wheels and axles, and the danger of meeting the Spaniards increased
every hour; and evening came when every minute seemed dangerous, yet
they still went tacking on towards the East where they knew the
Spaniards must be.

And at last they sighted their topsails right ahead, and still Shard
went on. It was a close thing, but night was coming on, and the Union
Jack which he hoisted helped Shard with the Spaniards for the last few
anxious minutes, though it seemed to anger the English, but as Shard
said, "There's no pleasing everyone," and then the twilight shivered
into darkness.

"Hard to starboard," said Captain Shard.

The North wind which had risen all day was now blowing a gale. I do
not know what part of the coast Shard steered for, but Shard knew, for
the coasts of the world were to him what Margate is to some of us.

At a place where the desert rolling up from mystery and from death,
yea, from the heart of Africa, emerges upon the sea, no less grand
than her, no less terrible, even there they sighted the land quite
close, almost in darkness. Shard ordered every man to the hinder part
of the ship and all the ballast too; and soon the Desperate Lark, her
prow a little high out of the water, doing her eighteen knots before
the wind, struck a sandy beach and shuddered, she heeled over a
little, then righted herself, and slowly headed into the interior of
Africa.

The men would have given three cheers, but after the first Shard
silenced them and, steering the ship himself, he made them a short
speech while the broad wheels pounded slowly over the African sand,
doing barely five knots in a gale. The perils of the sea he said had
been greatly exaggerated. Ships had been sailing the sea for hundreds
of years and at sea you knew what to do, but on land this was
different. They were on land now and they were not to forget it. At
sea you might make as much noise as you pleased and no harm was done,
but on land anything might happen. One of the perils of the land that
he instanced was that of hanging. For every hundred men that they hung
on land, he said, not more than twenty would be hung at sea. The men
were to sleep at their guns. They would not go far that night; for the
risk of being wrecked at night was another danger peculiar to the
land, while at sea you might sail from set of sun till dawn: yet it
was essential to get out of sight of the sea for if anyone knew they
were there they'd have cavalry after them. And he had sent back
Smerdrak (a young lieutenant of pirates) to cover their tracks where
they came up from the sea. And the merry men vigorously nodded their
heads though they did not dare to cheer, and presently Smerdrak came
running up and they threw him a rope by the stern. And when they had
done fifteen knots they anchored, and Captain Shard gathered his men
about him and, standing by the land-wheel in the bows, under the large
and clear Algerian stars, he explained his system of steering. There
was not much to be said for it, he had with considerable ingenuity
detached and pivoted the portion of the keel that held the leading
axle and could move it by chains which were controlled from the
land-wheel, thus the front pair of wheels could be deflected at will,
but only very slightly, and they afterwards found that in a hundred
yards they could only turn their ship four yards from her course. But
let not captains of comfortable battleships, or owners even of yachts,
criticise too harshly a man who was not of their time and who knew not
modern contrivances; it should be remembered also that Shard was no
longer at sea. His steering may have been clumsy but he did what he
could.

When the use and limitations of his land-wheel had been made clear to
his men, Shard bade them all turn in except those on watch. Long
before dawn he woke them and by the very first gleam of light they got
their ship under way, so that when those two fleets that had made so
sure of Shard closed in like a great crescent on the Algerian coast
there was no sign to see of the Desperate Lark either on sea or land;
and the flags of the Admiral's ship broke out into a hearty English
oath.

The gale blew for three days and, Shard using more sail by daylight,
they scudded over the sands at little less than ten knots, though on
the report of rough water ahead (as the lookout man called rocks, low
hills or uneven surface before he adapted himself to his new
surroundings) the rate was much decreased. Those were long summer days
and Shard who was anxious while the wind held good to outpace the
rumour of his own appearance sailed for nineteen hours a day, lying to
at ten in the evening and hoisting sail again at three a.m. when it
first began to be light.

In those three days he did five hundred miles; then the wind dropped
to a breeze though it still blew from the North, and for a week they
did no more than two knots an hour. The merry men began to murmur
then. Luck had distinctly favoured Shard at first for it sent him at
ten knots through the only populous districts well ahead of crowds
except those who chose to run, and the cavalry were away on a local
raid. As for the runners they soon dropped off when Shard pointed his
cannon though he did not dare to fire, up there near the coast; for
much as he jeered at the intelligence of the English and Spanish
Admirals in not suspecting his manoeuvre, the only one as he said that
was possible in the circumstances, yet he knew that cannon had an
obvious sound which would give his secret away to the weakest mind.
Certainly luck had befriended him, and when it did so no longer he
made out of the occasion all that could be made; for instance while
the wind held good he had never missed opportunities to revictual, if
he passed by a village its pigs and poultry were his, and whenever he
passed by water he filled his tanks to the brim, and now that he could
only do two knots he sailed all night with a man and a lantern before
him: thus in that week he did close on four hundred miles while
another man would have anchored at night and have missed five or six
hours out of the twenty-four. Yet his men murmured. Did he think the
wind would last for ever, they said. And Shard only smoked. It was
clear that he was thinking, and thinking hard. "But what is he
thinking about?" said Bill to Bad Jack. And Bad Jack answered: "He may
think as hard as he likes but thinking won't get us out of the Sahara
if this wind were to drop."

And towards the end of that week Shard went to his chart-room and laid
a new course for his ship a little to the East and towards
cultivation. And one day towards evening they sighted a village, and
twilight came and the wind dropped altogether. Then the murmurs of the
merry men grew to oaths and nearly to mutiny. "Where were they now?"
they asked, and were they being treated like poor honest men?

Shard quieted them by asking what they wished to do themselves and
when no one had any better plan than going to the villagers and saying
that they had been blown out of their course by a storm, Shard
unfolded his scheme to them. Long ago he had heard how they drove
carts with oxen in Africa, oxen were very numerous in these parts
wherever there was any cultivation, and for this reason when the wind
had begun to drop he had laid his course for the village: that night
the moment it was dark they were to drive off fifty yoke of oxen; by
midnight they must all be yoked to the bows and then away they would
go at a good round gallop.

So fine a plan as this astonished the men and they all apologised for
their want of faith in Shard, shaking hands with him every one and
spitting on their hands before they did so in token of good will.

The raid that night succeeded admirably, but ingenious as Shard was on
land, and a past-master at sea, yet it must be admitted that lack of
experience in this class of seamanship led him to make a mistake, a
slight one it is true, and one that a little practice would have
prevented altogether: the oxen could not gallop. Shard swore at them,
threatened them with his pistol, said they should have no food, and
all to no avail: that night and as long as they pulled the bad ship
Desperate Lark they did one knot an hour and no more. Shard's failures
like everything that came his way were used as stones in the edifice
of his future success, he went at once to his chart-room and worked
out all his calculations anew.

The matter of the oxen's pace made pursuit impossible to avoid. Shard
therefore countermanded his order to his lieutenant to cover the
tracks in the sand, and the Desperate Lark plodded on into the Sahara
on her new course trusting to her guns.

The village was not a large one and the little crowd that was sighted
astern next morning disappeared after the first shot from the cannon
in the stern. At first Shard made the oxen wear rough iron bits,
another of his mistakes, and strong bits too. "For if they run away,"
he had said, "we might as well be driving before a gale and there's no
saying where we'd find ourselves," but after a day or two he found
that the bits were no good and, like the practical man he was,
immediately corrected his mistake.

And now the crew sang merry songs all day bringing out mandolins and
clarionets and cheering Captain Shard. All were jolly except the
captain himself whose face was moody and perplexed; he alone expected
to hear more of those villagers; and the oxen were drinking up the
water every day, he alone feared that there was no more to be had, and
a very unpleasant fear that is when your ship is becalmed in a desert.
For over a week they went on like this doing ten knots a day and the
music and singing got on the captain's nerves, but he dared not tell
his men what the trouble was. And then one day the oxen drank up the
last of the water. And Lieutenant Smerdrak came and reported the fact.

"Give them rum," said Shard, and he cursed the oxen. "What is good
enough for me," he said, "should be good enough for them," and he
swore that they should have rum.

"Aye, aye, sir," said the young lieutenant of pirates.

Shard should not be judged by the orders he gave that day, for nearly
a fortnight he had watched the doom that was coming slowly towards
him, discipline cut him off from anyone that might have shared his
fear and discussed it, and all the while he had had to navigate his
ship, which even at sea is an arduous responsibility. These things had
fretted the calm of that clear judgment that had once baffled five
navies. Therefore he cursed the oxen and ordered them rum, and
Smerdrak had said "Aye, aye, sir," and gone below.

Towards sunset Shard was standing on the poop, thinking of death; it
would not come to him by thirst; mutiny first, he thought. The oxen
were refusing rum for the last time, and the men were beginning to eye
Captain Shard in a very ominous way, not muttering, but each man
looking at him with a sidelong look of the eye as though there were
only one thought among them all that had no need of words. A score of
geese like a long letter "V" were crossing the evening sky, they
slanted their necks and all went twisting downwards somewhere about
the horizon. Captain Shard rushed to his chart-room, and presently the
men came in at the door with Old Frank in front looking awkward and
twisting his cap in his hand.

"What is it?" said Shard as though nothing were wrong.

Then Old Frank said what he had come to say: "We want to know what you
be going to do."

And the men nodded grimly.

"Get water for the oxen," said Captain Shard, "as the swine won't have
rum, and they'll have to work for it, the lazy beasts. Up anchor!"

And at the word water a look came into their faces like when some
wanderer suddenly thinks of home.

"Water!" they said.

"Why not?" said Captain Shard. And none of them ever knew that but for
those geese, that slanted their necks and suddenly twisted downwards,
they would have found no water that night nor ever after, and the
Sahara would have taken them as she has taken so many and shall take
so many more. All that night they followed their new course: at dawn
they found an oasis and the oxen drank.

And here, on this green acre or so with its palm-trees and its well,
beleaguered by thousands of miles of desert and holding out through
the ages, here they decided to stay: for those who have been without
water for a while in one of Africa's deserts come to have for that
simple fluid such a regard as you, O reader, might not easily credit.
And here each man chose a site where he would build his hut, and
settle down, and marry perhaps, and even forget the sea; when Captain
Shard having filled his tanks and barrels peremptorily ordered them to
weigh anchor. There was much dissatisfaction, even some grumbling, but
when a man has twice saved his fellows from death by the sheer
freshness of his mind they come to have a respect for his judgment
that is not shaken by trifles. It must be remembered that in the
affair of the dropping of the wind and again when they ran out of
water these men were at their wits' end: so was Shard on the last
occasion, but that they did not know. All this Shard knew, and he
chose this occasion to strengthen the reputation that he had in the
minds of the men of that bad ship by explaining to them his motives,
which usually he kept secret. The oasis he said must be a port of call
for all the travellers within hundreds of miles: how many men did you
see gathered together in any part of the world where there was a drop
of whiskey to be had! And water here was rarer than whiskey in decent
countries and, such was the peculiarity of the Arabs, even more
precious. Another thing he pointed out to them, the Arabs were a
singularly inquisitive people and if they came upon a ship in the
desert they would probably talk about it; and the world having a
wickedly malicious tongue would never construe in its proper light
their difference with the English and Spanish fleets, but would merely
side with the strong against the weak.

And the men sighed, and sang the capstan song and hoisted the anchor
and yoked the oxen up, and away they went doing their steady knot,
which nothing could increase. It may be thought strange that with all
sail furled in dead calm and while the oxen rested they should have
cast anchor at all. But custom is not easily overcome and long
survives its use. Rather enquire how many such useless customs we
ourselves preserve: the flaps for instance to pull up the tops of
hunting-boots though the tops no longer pull up, the bows on our
evening shoes that neither tie nor untie. They said they felt safer
that way and there was an end of it.

Shard lay a course of South by West and they did ten knots that day,
the next day they did seven or eight and Shard hove to. Here he
intended to stop, they had huge supplies of fodder on board for the
oxen, for his men he had a pig or so, plenty of poultry, several sacks
of biscuits and ninety-eight oxen (for two were already eaten), and
they were only twenty miles from water. Here he said they would stay
till folks forgot their past, someone would invent something or some
new thing would turn up to take folks' minds off them and the ships he
had sunk: he forgot that there are men who are well paid to remember.

Half way between him and the oasis he established a little depot where
he buried his water-barrels. As soon as a barrel was empty he sent
half a dozen men to roll it by turns to the depot. This they would do
at night, keeping hid by day, and next night they would push on to the
oasis, fill the barrel and roll it back. Thus only ten miles away he
soon had a store of water, unknown to the thirstiest native of Africa,
from which he could safely replenish his tanks at will. He allowed his
men to sing and even within reason to light fires. Those were jolly
nights while the rum held out; sometimes they saw gazelles watching
them curiously, sometimes a lion went by over the sand, the sound of
his roar added to their sense of the security of their ship; all round
them level, immense lay the Sahara: "This is better than an English
prison," said Captain Shard.

And still the dead calm lasted, not even the sand whispered at night
to little winds; and when the rum gave out and it looked like trouble,
Shard reminded them what little use it had been to them when it was
all they had and the oxen wouldn't look at it.

And the days wore on with singing, and even dancing at times, and at
nights round a cautious fire in a hollow of sand with only one man on
watch they told tales of the sea. It was all a relief after arduous
watches and sleeping by the guns, a rest to strained nerves and eyes;
and all agreed, for all that they missed their rum, that the best
place for a ship like theirs was the land.

This was in Latitude 23 North, Longitude 4 East, where, as I have
said, a ship's broadside was heard for the first time and the last. It
happened this way.

They had been there several weeks and had eaten perhaps ten or a dozen
oxen and all that while there had been no breath of wind and they had
seen no one: when one morning about two bells when the crew were at
breakfast the lookout man reported cavalry on the port side. Shard who
had already surrounded his ship with sharpened stakes ordered all his
men on board, the young trumpeter who prided himself on having picked
up the ways of the land, sounded "Prepare to receive cavalry". Shard
sent a few men below with pikes to the lower port-holes, two more
aloft with muskets, the rest to the guns, he changed the "grape" or
"canister" with which the guns were loaded in case of surprise, for
shot, cleared the decks, drew in ladders, and before the cavalry came
within range everything was ready for them. The oxen were always yoked
in order that Shard could manoeuvre his ship at a moment's notice.

When first sighted the cavalry were trotting but they were coming on
now at a slow canter. Arabs in white robes on good horses. Shard
estimated that there were two or three hundred of them. At sixty yards
Shard opened with one gun, he had had the distance measured, but had
never practised for fear of being heard at the oasis: the shot went
high. The next one fell short and ricochetted over the Arabs' heads.
Shard had the range then and by the time the ten remaining guns of his
broadside were given the same elevation as that of his second gun the
Arabs had come to the spot where the last shot pitched. The broadside
hit the horses, mostly low, and ricochetted on amongst them; one
cannon-ball striking a rock at the horses' feet shattered it and sent
fragments flying amongst the Arabs with the peculiar scream of things
set free by projectiles from their motionless harmless state, and the
cannon-ball went on with them with a great howl, this shot alone
killed three men.

"Very satisfactory," said Shard rubbing his chin. "Load with grape,"
he added sharply.

The broadside did not stop the Arabs nor even reduce their speed but
they crowded in closer together as though for company in their time of
danger, which they should not have done. They were four hundred yards
off now, three hundred and fifty; and then the muskets began, for the
two men in the crow's-nest had thirty loaded muskets besides a few
pistols, the muskets all stood round them leaning against the rail;
they picked them up and fired them one by one. Every shot told, but
still the Arabs came on. They were galloping now. It took some time to
load the guns in those days. Three hundred yards, two hundred and
fifty, men dropping all the way, two hundred yards; Old Frank for all
his one ear had terrible eyes; it was pistols now, they had fired all
their muskets; a hundred and fifty; Shard had marked the fifties with
little white stones. Old Frank and Bad Jack up aloft felt pretty
uneasy when they saw the Arabs had come to that little white stone,
they both missed their shots.

"All ready?" said Captain Shard.

"Aye, aye, sir," said Smerdrak.

"Right," said Captain Shard raising a finger.

A hundred and fifty yards is a bad range at which to be caught by
grape (or "case" as we call it now), the gunners can hardly miss and
the charge has time to spread. Shard estimated afterwards that he got
thirty Arabs by that broadside alone and as many horses.

There were close on two hundred of them still on their horses, yet the
broadside of grape had unsettled them, they surged round the ship but
seemed doubtful what to do. They carried swords and scimitars in their
hands, though most had strange long muskets slung behind them, a few
unslung them and began firing wildly. They could not reach Shard's
merry men with their swords. Had it not been for that broadside that
took them when it did they might have climbed up from their horses and
carried the bad ship by sheer force of numbers, but they would have
had to have been very steady, and the broadside spoiled all that.
Their best course was to have concentrated all their efforts in
setting fire to the ship but this they did not attempt. Part of them
swarmed all round the ship brandishing their swords and looking vainly
for an easy entrance; perhaps they expected a door, they were not
sea-faring people; but their leaders were evidently set on driving off
the oxen not dreaming that the Desperate Lark had other means of
travelling. And this to some extent they succeeded in doing. Thirty
they drove off, cutting the traces, twenty they killed on the spot
with their scimitars though the bow gun caught them twice as they did
their work, and ten more were unluckily killed by Shard's bow gun.
Before they could fire a third time from the bows they all galloped
away, firing back at the oxen with their muskets and killing three
more, and what troubled Shard more than the loss of his oxen was the
way that they manoeuvred, galloping off just when the bow gun was
ready and riding off by the port bow where the broadside could not get
them, which seemed to him to show more knowledge of guns than they
could have learned on that bright morning. What, thought Shard to
himself, if they should bring big guns against the Desperate Lark! And
the mere thought of it made him rail at Fate. But the merry men all
cheered when they rode away. Shard had only twenty-two oxen left, and
then a score or so of the Arabs dismounted while the rest rode further
on leading their horses. And the dismounted men lay down on the port
bow behind some rocks two hundred yards away and began to shoot at the
oxen. Shard had just enough of them left to manoeuvre his ship with an
effort and he turned his ship a few points to the starboard so as to
get a broadside at the rocks. But grape was of no use here as the only
way he could get an Arab was by hitting one of the rocks with shot
behind which an Arab was lying, and the rocks were not easy to hit
except by chance, and as often as he manoeuvred his ship the Arabs
changed their ground. This went on all day while the mounted Arabs
hovered out of range watching what Shard would do; and all the while
the oxen were growing fewer, so good a mark were they, until only ten
were left, and the ship could manoeuvre no longer. But then they all
rode off.

The merry men were delighted, they calculated that one way and another
they had unhorsed a hundred Arabs and on board there had been no more
than one man wounded: Bad Jack had been hit in the wrist; probably by
a bullet meant for the men at the guns, for the Arabs were firing
high. They had captured a horse and had found quaint weapons on the
bodies of the dead Arabs and an interesting kind of tobacco. It was
evening now and they talked over the fight, made jokes about their
luckier shots, smoked their new tobacco and sang; altogether it was
the jolliest evening they'd had. But Shard alone on the quarter-deck
paced to and fro pondering, brooding and wondering. He had chopped off
Bad Jack's wounded hand and given him a hook out of store, for captain
does doctor upon these occasions and Shard, who was ready for most
things, kept half a dozen or so of neat new limbs, and of course a
chopper. Bad Jack had gone below swearing a little and said he'd lie
down for a bit, the men were smoking and singing on the sand, and
Shard was there alone. The thought that troubled Shard was: what would
the Arabs do? They did not look like men to go away for nothing. And
at back of all his thoughts was one that reiterated guns, guns, guns.
He argued with himself that they could not drag them all that way on
the sand, that the Desperate Lark was not worth it, that they had
given it up. Yet he knew in his heart that that was what they would
do. He knew there were fortified towns in Africa, and as for its being
worth it, he knew that there was no pleasant thing left now to those
defeated men except revenge, and if the Desperate Lark had come over
the sand why not guns? He knew that the ship could never hold out
against guns and cavalry, a week perhaps, two weeks, even three: what
difference did it make how long it was, and the men sang:

    Away we go, Oho, Oho, Oho,
    A drop of rum for you and me
    And the world's as round as the letter O
    And round it runs the sea.

A melancholy settled down on Shard.

About sunset Lieutenant Smerdrak came up for orders. Shard ordered a
trench to be dug along the port side of the ship. The men wanted to
sing and grumbled at having to dig, especially as Shard never
mentioned his fear of guns, but he fingered his pistols and in the end
Shard had his way. No one on board could shoot like Captain Shard.
That is often the way with captains of pirate ships, it is a difficult
position to hold. Discipline is essential to those that have the right
to fly the skull-and-cross-bones, and Shard was the man to enforce it.
It was starlight by the time the trench was dug to the captain's
satisfaction and the men that it was to protect when the worst came to
the worst swore all the time as they dug. And when it was finished
they clamoured to make a feast on some of the killed oxen, and this
Shard let them do. And they lit a huge fire for the first time,
burning abundant scrub, they thinking that Arabs daren't return, Shard
knowing that concealment was now useless. All that night they feasted
and sang, and Shard sat up in his chart-room making his plans.

When morning came they rigged up the cutter as they called the
captured horse and told off her crew. As there were only two men that
could ride at all these became the crew of the cutter. Spanish Dick
and Bill the Boatswain were the two.

Shard's orders were that turn and turn about they should take command
of the cutter and cruise about five miles off to the North East all
the day but at night they were to come in. And they fitted the horse
up with a flagstaff in front of the saddle so that they could signal
from her, and carried an anchor behind for fear she should run away.

And as soon as Spanish Dick had ridden off Shard sent some men to roll
all the barrels back from the depot where they were buried in the
sand, with orders to watch the cutter all the time and, if she
signalled, to return as fast as they could.

They buried the Arabs that day, removing their water-bottles and any
provisions they had, and that night they got all the water-barrels in,
and for days nothing happened. One event of extraordinary importance
did indeed occur, the wind got up one day, but it was due South, and
as the oasis lay to the North of them and beyond that they might pick
up the camel track Shard decided to stay where he was. If it had
looked to him like lasting Shard might have hoisted sail but it it
dropped at evening as he knew it would, and in any case it was not the
wind he wanted. And more days went by, two weeks without a breeze. The
dead oxen would not keep and they had had to kill three more, there
were only seven left now.

Never before had the men been so long without rum. And Captain Shard
had doubled the watch besides making two more men sleep at the guns.
They had tired of their simple games, and most of their songs, and
their tales that were never true were no longer new. And then one day
the monotony of the desert came down upon them.

There is a fascination in the Sahara, a day there is delightful, a
week is pleasant, a fortnight is a matter of opinion, but it was
running into months. The men were perfectly polite but the boatswain
wanted to know when Shard thought of moving on. It was an unreasonable
question to ask of the captain of any ship in a dead calm in a desert,
but Shard said he would set a course and let him know in a day or two.
And a day or two went by over the monotony of the Sahara, who for
monotony is unequalled by all the parts of the earth. Great marshes
cannot equal it, nor plains of grass nor the sea, the Sahara alone
lies unaltered by the seasons, she has no altering surface, no flowers
to fade or grow, year in year out she is changeless for hundreds and
hundreds of miles. And the boatswain came again and took off his cap
and asked Captain Shard to be so kind as to tell them about his new
course. Shard said he meant to stay until they had eaten three more of
the oxen as they could only take three of them in the hold, there were
only six left now. But what if there was no wind, the boatswain said.
And at that moment the faintest breeze from the North ruffled the
boatswain's forelock as he stood with his cap in his hand.

"Don't talk about the wind to _me_," said Captain Shard: and Bill was
a little frightened for Shard's mother had been a gipsy.

But it was only a breeze astray, a trick of the Sahara. And another
week went by and they ate two more oxen.

They obeyed Captain Shard ostentatiously now but they wore ominous
looks. Bill came again and Shard answered him in Romany.

Things were like this one hot Sahara morning when the cutter
signalled. The lookout man told Shard and Shard read the message,
"Cavalry astern" it read, and then a little later she signalled, "With
guns."

"Ah," said Captain Shard.

One ray of hope Shard had; the flags on the cutter fluttered. For the
first time for five weeks a light breeze blew from the North, very
light, you hardly felt it. Spanish Dick rode in and anchored his horse
to starboard and the cavalry came on slowly from the port.

Not till the afternoon did they come in sight, and all the while that
little breeze was blowing.

"One knot," said Shard at noon. "Two knots," he said at six bells and
still it grew and the Arabs trotted nearer. By five o'clock the merry
men of the bad ship Desperate Lark could make out twelve long
old-fashioned guns on low wheeled carts dragged by horses and what
looked like lighter guns carried on camels. The wind was blowing a
little stronger now. "Shall we hoist sail, sir?" said Bill.

"Not yet," said Shard.

By six o'clock the Arabs were just outside the range of cannon and
there they halted. Then followed an anxious hour or so, but the Arabs
came no nearer. They evidently meant to wait till dark to bring their
guns up. Probably they intended to dig a gun epaulment from which they
could safely pound away at the ship.

"We could do three knots," said Shard half to himself as he was
walking up and down his quarter-deck with very fast short paces. And
then the sun set and they heard the Arabs praying and Shard's merry
men cursed at the top of their voices to show that they were as good
men as they.

The Arabs had come no nearer, waiting for night. They did not know how
Shard was longing for it too, he was gritting his teeth and sighing
for it, he even would have prayed, but that he feared that it might
remind Heaven of him and his merry men.

Night came and the stars. "Hoist sail," said Shard. The men sprang to
their places, they had had enough of that silent lonely spot. They
took the oxen on board and let the great sails down, and like a lover
coming from over sea, long dreamed of, long expected, like a lost
friend seen again after many years, the North wind came into the
pirates' sails. And before Shard could stop it a ringing English cheer
went away to the wondering Arabs.

They started off at three knots and soon they might have done four but
Shard would not risk it at night. All night the wind held good, and
doing three knots from ten to four they were far out of sight of the
Arabs when daylight came. And then Shard hoisted more sail and they
did four knots and by eight bells they were doing four and a half. The
spirits of those volatile men rose high, and discipline became
perfect. So long as there was wind in the sails and water in the tanks
Captain Shard felt safe at least from mutiny. Great men can only be
overthrown while their fortunes are at their lowest. Having failed to
depose Shard when his plans were open to criticism and he himself
scarce knew what to do next it was hardly likely they could do it now;
and whatever we think of his past and his way of living we cannot deny
that Shard was among the great men of the world.

Of defeat by the Arabs he did not feel so sure. It was useless to try
to cover his tracks even if he had had time, the Arab cavalry could
have picked them up anywhere. And he was afraid of their camels with
those light guns on board, he had heard they could do seven knots and
keep it up most of the day and if as much as one shot struck the
mainmast... and Shard taking his mind off useless fears worked out on
his chart when the Arabs were likely to overtake them. He told his men
that the wind would hold good for a week, and, gipsy or no, he
certainly knew as much about the wind as is good for a sailor to know.

Alone in his chart-room he worked it out like this, mark two hours to
the good for surprise and finding the tracks and delay in starting,
say three hours if the guns were mounted in their epaulments, then the
Arabs should start at seven. Supposing the camels go twelve hours a
day at seven knots they would do eighty-four knots a day, while Shard
doing three knots from ten to four, and four knots the rest of the
time, was doing ninety and actually gaining. But when it came to it he
wouldn't risk more than two knots at night while the enemy were out of
sight, for he rightly regarded anything more than that as dangerous
when sailing on land at night, so he too did eighty-four knots a day.
It was a pretty race. I have not troubled to see if Shard added up his
figures wrongly or if he under-rated the pace of camels, but whatever
it was the Arabs gained slightly, for on the fourth day Spanish Jack,
five knots astern on what they called the cutter, sighted the camels a
very long way off and signalled the fact to Shard. They had left their
cavalry behind as Shard supposed they would. The wind held good, they
had still two oxen left and could always eat their "cutter", and they
had a fair, though not ample, supply of water, but the appearance of
the Arabs was a blow to Shard for it showed him that there was no
getting away from them, and of all things he dreaded guns. He made
light of it to the men: said they would sink the lot before they had
been in action half an hour: yet he feared that once the guns came up
it was only a question of time before his rigging was cut or his
steering gear disabled.

One point the Desperate Lark scored over the Arabs and a very good one
too, darkness fell just before they could have sighted her and now
Shard used the lantern ahead as he dared not do on the first night
when the Arabs were close, and with the help of it managed to do three
knots. The Arabs encamped in the evening and the Desperate Lark gained
twenty knots. But the next evening they appeared again and this time
they saw the sails of the Desperate Lark.

On the sixth day they were close. On the seventh they were closer. And
then, a line of verdure across their bows, Shard saw the Niger River.

Whether he knew that for a thousand miles it rolled its course through
forest, whether he even knew that it was there at all; what his plans
were, or whether he lived from day to day like a man whose days are
numbered he never told his men. Nor can I get an indication on this
point from the talk that I hear from sailors in their cups in a
certain tavern I know of. His face was expressionless, his mouth shut,
and he held his ship to her course. That evening they were up to the
edge of the tree trunks and the Arabs camped and waited ten knots
astern and the wind had sunk a little.

There Shard anchored a little before sunset and landed at once. At
first he explored the forest a little on foot. Then he sent for
Spanish Dick. They had slung the cutter on board some days ago when
they found she could not keep up. Shard could not ride but he sent for
Spanish Dick and told him he must take him as a passenger. So Spanish
Dick slung him in front of the saddle "before the mast" as Shard
called it, for they still carried a mast on the front of the saddle,
and away they galloped together. "Rough weather," said Shard, but he
surveyed the forest as he went and the long and short of it was he
found a place where the forest was less than half a mile thick and the
Desperate Lark might get through: but twenty trees must be cut. Shard
marked the trees himself, sent Spanish Dick right back to watch the
Arabs and turned the whole of his crew on to those twenty trees. It
was a frightful risk, the Desperate Lark was empty, with an enemy no
more than ten knots astern, but it was a moment for bold measures and
Shard took the chance of being left without his ship in the heart of
Africa in the hope of being repaid by escaping altogether.

The men worked all night on those twenty trees, those that had no axes
bored with bradawls and blasted, and then relieved those that had.

Shard was indefatigable, he went from tree to tree showing exactly
what way every one was to fall, and what was to be done with them when
they were down. Some had to be cut down because their branches would
get in the way of the masts, others because their trunks would be in
the way of the wheels; in the case of the last the stumps had to be
made smooth and low with saws and perhaps a bit of the trunk sawn off
and rolled away. This was the hardest work they had. And they were all
large trees, on the other hand had they been small there would have
been many more of them and they could not have sailed in and out,
sometimes for hundreds of yards, without cutting any at all: and all
this Shard calculated on doing if only there was time.

The light before dawn came and it looked as if they would never do it
at all. And then dawn came and it was all done but one tree, the hard
part of the work had all been done in the night and a sort of final
rush cleared everything up except that one huge tree. And then the
cutter signalled the Arabs were moving. At dawn they had prayed, and
now they had struck their camp. Shard at once ordered all his men to
the ship except ten whom he left at the tree, they had some way to go
and the Arabs had been moving some ten minutes before they got there.
Shard took in the cutter which wasted five minutes, hoisted sail
short-handed and that took five minutes more, and slowly got under
way.

The wind was dropping still and by the time the Desperate Lark had
come to the edge of that part of the forest through which Shard had
laid his course the Arabs were no more than five knots away. He had
sailed East half a mile, which he ought to have done overnight so as
to be ready, but he could not spare time or thought or men away from
those twenty trees. Then Shard turned into the forest and the Arabs
were dead astern. They hurried when they saw the Desperate Lark enter
the forest.

"Doing ten knots," said Shard as he watched them from the deck. The
Desperate Lark was doing no more than a knot and a half for the wind
was weak under the lee of the trees. Yet all went well for a while.
The big tree had just come down some way ahead, and the ten men were
sawing bits off the trunk.

And then Shard saw a branch that he had not marked on the chart, it
would just catch the top of the mainmast. He anchored at once and sent
a hand aloft who sawed it half way through and did the rest with a
pistol, and now the Arabs were only three knots astern. For a quarter
of a mile Shard steered them through the forest till they came to the
ten men and that bad big tree, another foot had yet to come off one
corner of the stump for the wheels had to pass over it. Shard turned
all hands on to the stump and it was then that the Arabs came within
shot. But they had to unpack their gun. And before they had it mounted
Shard was away. If they had charged things might have been different.
When they saw the Desperate Lark under way again the Arabs came on to
within three hundred yards and there they mounted two guns. Shard
watched them along his stern gun but would not fire. They were six
hundred yards away before the Arabs could fire and then they fired too
soon and both guns missed. And Shard and his merry men saw clear water
only ten fathoms ahead. Then Shard loaded his stern gun with canister
instead of shot and at the same moment the Arabs charged on their
camels; they came galloping down through the forest waving long
lances. Shard left the steering to Smerdrak and stood by the stern
gun, the Arabs were within fifty yards and still Shard did not fire;
he had most of his men in the stern with muskets beside him. Those
lances carried on camels were altogether different from swords in the
hands of horsemen, they could reach the men on deck. The men could see
the horrible barbs on the lanceheads, they were almost at their faces
when Shard fired, and at the same moment the Desperate Lark with her
dry and suncracked keel in air on the high bank of the Niger fell
forward like a diver. The gun went off through the tree-tops, a wave
came over the bows and swept the stern, the Desperate Lark wriggled
and righted herself, she was back in her element.

The merry men looked at the wet decks and at their dripping clothes.
"Water," they said almost wonderingly.

The Arabs followed a little way through the forest but when they saw
that they had to face a broadside instead of one stern gun and
perceived that a ship afloat is less vulnerable to cavalry even than
when on shore, they abandoned ideas of revenge, and comforted
themselves with a text out of their sacred book which tells how in
other days and other places our enemies shall suffer even as we
desire.

For a thousand miles with the flow of the Niger and the help of
occasional winds, the Desperate Lark moved seawards. At first he
sweeps East a little and then Southwards, till you come to Akassa and
the open sea.

I will not tell you how they caught fish and ducks, raided a village
here and there and at last came to Akassa, for I have said much
already of Captain Shard. Imagine them drawing nearer and nearer the
sea, bad men all, and yet with a feeling for something where we feel
for our king, our country or our home, a feeling for something that
burned in them not less ardently than our feelings in us, and that
something the sea. Imagine them nearing it till sea birds appeared and
they fancied they felt sea breezes and all sang songs again that they
had not sung for weeks. Imagine them heaving at last on the salt
Atlantic again.

I have said much already of Captain Shard and I fear lest I shall
weary you, O my reader, if I tell you any more of so bad a man. I too
at the top of a tower all alone am weary.

And yet it is right that such a tale should be told. A journey almost
due South from near Algiers to Akassa in a ship that we should call no
more than a yacht. Let it be a stimulus to younger men.


                       Guarantee To The Reader

Since writing down for your benefit, O my reader, all this long tale
that I heard in the tavern by the sea I have travelled in Algeria and
Tunisia as well as in the Desert. Much that I saw in those countries
seems to throw doubt on the tale that the sailor told me. To begin
with the Desert does not come within hundreds of miles of the coast
and there are more mountains to cross than you would suppose, the
Atlas mountains in particular. It is just possible Shard might have
got through by El Cantara, following the camel road which is many
centuries old; or he may have gone by Algiers and Bou Saada and
through the mountain pass El Finita Dem, though that is a bad enough
way for camels to go (let alone bullocks with a ship) for which reason
the Arabs call it Finita Dem--the Path of Blood.

I should not have ventured to give this story the publicity of print
had the sailor been sober when he told it, for fear that he I should
have deceived you, O my reader; but this was never the case with him
as I took good care to ensure: "in vino veritas" is a sound old
proverb, and I never had cause to doubt his word unless that proverb
lies.

If it should prove that he has deceived me, let it pass; but if he has
been the means of deceiving you there are little things about him that
I know, the common gossip of that ancient tavern whose leaded
bottle-glass windows watch the sea, which I will tell at once to every
judge of my acquaintance, and it will be a pretty race to see which of
them will hang him.

Meanwhile, O my reader, believe the story, resting assured that if you
are taken in the thing shall be a matter for the hangman.



A Tale of the Equator

He who is Sultan so remote to the East that his dominions were deemed
fabulous in Babylon, whose name is a by-word for distance today in the
streets of Bagdad, whose capital bearded travellers invoke by name in
the gate at evening to gather hearers to their tales when the smoke of
tobacco arises, dice rattle and taverns shine; even he in that very
city made mandate, and said: "Let there be brought hither all my
learned men that they may come before me and rejoice my heart with
learning."

Men ran and clarions sounded, and it was so that there came before the
Sultan all of his learned men. And many were found wanting. But of
those that were able to say acceptable things, ever after to be named
The Fortunate, one said that to the South of the Earth lay a Land--
said Land was crowned with lotus--where it was summer in our winter
days and where it was winter in summer.

And when the Sultan of those most distant lands knew that the Creator
of All had contrived a device so vastly to his delight his merriment
knew no bounds. On a sudden he spake and said, and this was the gist
of his saying, that upon that line of boundary or limit that divided
the North from the South a palace be made, where in the Northern
courts should summer be, while in the South was winter; so should he
move from court to court according to his mood, and dally with the
summer in the morning and spend the noon with snow. So the Sultan's
poets were sent for and bade to tell of that city, foreseeing its
splendour far away to the South and in the future of time; and some
were found fortunate. And of those that were found fortunate and were
crowned with flowers none earned more easily the Sultan's smile (on
which long days depended) than he that foreseeing the city spake of it
thus:

"In seven years and seven days, O Prop of Heaven, shall thy builders
build it, thy palace that is neither North nor South, where neither
summer nor winter is sole lord of the hours. White I see it, very
vast, as a city, very fair, as a woman, Earth's wonder, with many
windows, with thy princesses peering out at twilight; yea, I behold
the bliss of the gold balconies, and hear a rustling down long
galleries and the doves' coo upon its sculptured eaves. O Prop of
Heaven, would that so fair a city were built by thine ancient sires,
the children of the sun, that so might all men see it even today, and
not the poets only, whose vision sees it so far away to the South and
in the future of time.

"O King of the Years, it shall stand midmost on that line that
divideth equally the North from the South and that parteth the seasons
asunder as with a screen. On the Northern side when summer is in the
North thy silken guards shall pace by dazzling walls while thy
spearsmen clad in furs go round the South. But at the hour of noon in
the midmost day of the year thy chamberlain shall go down from his
high place and into the midmost court, and men with trumpets shall go
down behind him, and he shall utter a great cry at noon, and the men
with trumpets shall cause their trumpets to blare, and the spearsmen
clad in furs shall march to the North and thy silken guard shall take
their place in the South, and summer shall leave the North and go to
the South, and all the swallows shall rise and follow after. And alone
in thine inner courts shall no change be, for they shall lie narrowly
along that line that parteth the seasons in sunder and divideth the
North from the South, and thy long gardens shall lie under them.

"And in thy gardens shall spring always be, for spring lies ever at
the marge of summer; and autumn also shall always tint thy gardens,
for autumn always flares at winter's edge, and those gardens shall lie
apart between winter and summer. And there shall be orchards in thy
garden, too, with all the burden of autumn on their boughs and all the
blossom of spring.

"Yea, I behold this palace, for we see future things; I see its white
wall shine in the huge glare of midsummer, and the lizards lying along
it motionless in the sun, and men asleep in the noonday, and the
butterflies floating by, and birds of radiant plumage chasing
marvellous moths; far off the forest and great orchids glorying there,
and iridescent insects dancing round in the light. I see the wall upon
the other side; the snow has come upon the battlements, the icicles
have fringed them like frozen beards, a wild wind blowing out of
lonely places and crying to the cold fields as it blows has sent the
snowdrifts higher than the buttresses; they that look out through
windows on that side of thy palace see the wild geese flying low and
all the birds of the winter, going by swift in packs beat low by the
bitter wind, and the clouds above them are black, for it is midwinter
there; while in thine other courts the fountains tinkle, falling on
marble warmed by the fire of the summer sun.

"Such, O King of the Years, shall thy palace be, and its name shall be
Erlathdronion, Earth's Wonder; and thy wisdom shall bid thine
architects build at once, that all may see what as yet the poets see
only, and that prophecy be fulfilled."

And when the poet ceased the Sultan spake, and said, as all men
hearkened with bent heads:

"It will be unnecessary for my builders to build this palace,
Erlathdronion, Earth's Wonder, for in hearing thee we have drunk
already its pleasures."

And the poet went forth from the Presence and dreamed a new thing.

                      .     .     .     .     .



A Narrow Escape

It was underground.

In that dank cavern down below Belgrave Square the walls were
dripping. But what was that to the magician? It was secrecy that he
needed, not dryness. There he pondered upon the trend of events,
shaped destinies and concocted magical brews.

For the last few years the serenity of his ponderings had been
disturbed by the noise of the motor-bus; while to his keen ears there
came the earthquake-rumble, far off, of the train in the tube, going
down Sloane Street; and when he heard of the world above his head was
not to its credit.

He decided one evening over his evil pipe, down there in his dank
chamber, that London had lived long enough, had abused its
opportunities, had gone too far, in fine, with its civilisation. And
so he decided to wreck it.

Therefore he beckoned up his acolyte from the weedy end of the cavern,
and, "Bring me," he said, "the heart of the toad that dwelleth in
Arabia and by the mountains of Bethany." The acolyte slipped away by
the hidden door, leaving that grim old man with his frightful pipe,
and whither he went who knows but the gipsy people, or by what path he
returned; but within a year he stood in the cavern again, slipping
secretly in by the trap while the old man smoked, and he brought with
him a little fleshy thing that rotted in a casket of pure gold.

"What is it?" the old man croaked.

"It is," said the acolyte, "the heart of the toad that dwelt once in
Arabia and by the mountains of Bethany."

The old man's crooked fingers closed on it, and he blessed the acolyte
with his rasping voice and claw-like hand uplifted; the motor-bus
rumbled above on its endless journey; far off the train shook Sloane
Street.

"Come," said the old magician, "it is time." And there and then they
left the weedy cavern, the acolyte carrying cauldron, gold poker and
all things needful, and went abroad in the light. And very wonderful
the old man looked in his silks.

Their goal was the outskirts of London; the old man strode in front
and the acolyte ran behind him, and there was something magical in the
old man's stride alone, without his wonderful dress, the cauldron and
wand, the hurrying acolyte and the small gold poker.

Little boys jeered till they caught the old man's eye. So there went
on through London this strange procession of two, too swift for any to
follow. Things seemed worse up there than they did in the cavern, and
the further they got on their way towards London's outskirts the worse
London got. "It is time," said the old man, "surely."

And so they came at last to London's edge and a small hill watching it
with a mournful look. It was so mean that the acolyte longed for the
cavern, dank though it was and full of terrible sayings that the old
man said when he slept.

They climbed the hill and put the cauldron down, and put there in the
necessary things, and lit a fire of herbs that no chemist will sell
nor decent gardener grow, and stirred the cauldron with the golden
poker. The magician retired a little apart and muttered, then he
strode back to the cauldron and, all being ready, suddenly opened the
casket and let the fleshy thing fall in to boil.

Then he made spells, then he flung up his arms; the fumes from the
cauldron entering in at his mind he said raging things that he had not
known before and runes that were dreadful (the acolyte screamed);
there he cursed London from fog to loam-pit, from zenith to the abyss,
motor-bus, factory, shop, parliament, people. "Let them all perish,"
he said, "and London pass away, tram lines and bricks and pavement,
the usurpers too long of the fields, let them all pass away and the
wild hares come back, blackberry and briar-rose."

"Let it pass," he said, "pass now, pass utterly."

In the momentary silence the old man coughed, then waited with eager
eyes; and the long long hum of London hummed as it always has since
first the reed-huts were set up by the river, changing its note at
times but always humming, louder now than it was in years gone by, but
humming night and day though its voice be cracked with age; so it
hummed on.

And the old man turned him round to his trembling acolyte and terribly
said as he sank into the earth: "YOU HAVE NOT BROUGHT ME THE HEART
OF THE TOAD THAT DWELLETH IN ARABIA NOR BY THE MOUNTAINS OF
BETHANY!"



The Watch-tower

I sat one April in Provence on a small hill above an ancient town that
Goth and Vandal as yet have forborne to "bring up to date."

On the hill was an old worn castle with a watch-tower, and a well with
narrow steps and water in it still.

The watch-tower, staring South with neglected windows, faced a broad
valley full of the pleasant twilight and the hum of evening things: it
saw the fires of wanderers blink from the hills, beyond them the long
forest black with pines, one star appearing, and darkness settling
slowly down on Var.

Sitting there listening to the green frogs croaking, hearing far
voices clearly but all transmuted by evening, watching the windows in
the little town glimmering one by one, and seeing the gloaming dwindle
solemnly into night, a great many things fell from mind that seem
important by day, and evening in their place planted strange fancies.

Little winds had arisen and were whispering to and fro, it grew cold,
and I was about to descend the hill, when I heard a voice behind me
saying, "Beware, beware."

So much the voice appeared a part of the evening that I did not turn
round at first; it was like voices that one hears in sleep and thinks
to be of one's dream. And the word was monotonously repeated, in
French.

When I turned round I saw an old man with a horn. He had a white beard
marvellously long, and still went on saying slowly, "Beware, beware."
He had clearly just come from the tower by which he stood, though I
had heard no footfall. Had a man come stealthily upon me at such an
hour and in so lonesome a place I had certainly felt surprised; but I
saw almost at once that he was a spirit, and he seemed with his
uncouth horn and his long white beard and that noiseless step of his
to be so native to that time and place that I spoke to him as one does
to some fellow-traveller who asks you if you mind having the window
up.

I asked him what there was to beware of.

"Of what should a town beware," he said, "but the Saracens?"

"Saracens?" I said.

"Yes, Saracens, Saracens," he answered and brandished his horn.

"And who are you?" I said.

"I, I am the spirit of the tower," he said.

When I asked him how he came by so human an aspect and was so unlike
the material tower beside him he told me that the lives of all the
watchers who had ever held the horn in the tower there had gone to
make the spirit of the tower. "It takes a hundred lives," he said.
"None hold the horn of late and men neglect the tower. When the walls
are in ill repair the Saracens come: it was ever so."

"The Saracens don't come nowadays," I said.

But he was gazing past me watching, and did not seem to heed me.

"They will run down those hills," he said, pointing away to the South,
"out of the woods about nightfall, and I shall blow my horn. The
people will all come up from the town to the tower again; but the
loopholes are in very ill repair."

"We never hear of the Saracens now," I said.

"Hear of the Saracens!" the old spirit said. "Hear of the Saracens!
They slip one evening out of that forest, in the long white robes that
they wear, and I blow my horn. That is the first that anyone ever
hears of the Saracens."

"I mean," I said, "that they never come at all. They cannot come and
men fear other things." For I thought the old spirit might rest if he
knew that the Saracens can never come again. But he said, "There is
nothing in the world to fear but the Saracens. Nothing else matters.
How can men fear other things?"

Then I explained, so that he might have rest, and told him how all
Europe, and in particular France, had terrible engines of war, both on
land and sea; and how the Saracens had not these terrible engines
either on sea or land, and so could by no means cross the
Mediterranean or escape destruction on shore even though they should
come there. I alluded to the European railways that could move armies
night and day faster than horses could gallop. And when as well as I
could I had explained all, he answered, "In time all these things pass
away and then there will still be the Saracens."

And then I said, "There has not been a Saracen either in France or
Spain for over four hundred years."

And he said, "The Saracens! You do not know their cunning. That was
ever the way of the Saracens. They do not come for a while, no not
they, for a long while, and then one day they come."

And peering southwards, but not seeing clearly because of the rising
mist, he silently moved to his tower and up its broken steps.



How Plash-Goo Came to the Land of None's Desire

In a thatched cottage of enormous size, so vast that we might consider
it a palace, but only a cottage in the style of its building, its
timbers and the nature of its interior, there lived Plash-Goo.

Plash-Goo was of the children of the giants, whose sire was Uph. And
the lineage of Uph had dwindled in bulk for the last five hundred
years, till the giants were now no more than fifteen foot high; but
Uph ate elephants which he caught with his hands.

Now on the tops of the mountains above the house of Plash-Goo, for
Plash-Goo lived in the plains, there dwelt the dwarf whose name was
Lrippity-Kang. And the dwarf used to walk at evening on the edge of
the tops of the mountains, and would walk up and down along it, and
was squat and ugly and hairy, and was plainly seen of Plash-Goo.

And for many weeks the giant had suffered the sight of him, but at
length grew irked at the sight (as men are by little things), and
could not sleep of a night and lost his taste for pigs. And at last
there came the day, as anyone might have known, when Plash-Goo
shouldered his club and went up to look for the dwarf.

And the dwarf though briefly squat was broader than may be dreamed,
beyond all breadth of man, and stronger than men may know; strength in
its very essence dwelt in that little frame, as a spark in the heart
of a flint: but to Plash-Goo he was no more than mis-shapen, bearded
and squat, a thing that dared to defy all natural laws by being more
broad than long.

When Plash-Goo came to the mountain he cast his chimahalk down (for so
he named the club of his heart's desire) lest the dwarf should defy
him with nimbleness; and stepped towards Lrippity-Kang with gripping
hands, who stopped in his mountainous walk without a word, and swung
round his hideous breadth to confront Plash-Goo. Already then
Plash-Goo in the deeps of his mind had seen himself seize the dwarf in
one large hand and hurl him with his beard and his hated breadth sheer
down the precipice that dropped away from that very place to the land
of None's Desire. Yet it was otherwise that Fate would have it. For
the dwarf parried with his little arms the grip of those monstrous
hands, and gradually working along the enormous limbs came at length
to the giant's body where by dwarfish cunning he obtained a grip; and
turning Plash-Goo about, as a spider does some great fly, till his
little grip was suitable to his purpose, he suddenly lifted the giant
over his head. Slowly at first, by the edge of that precipice whose
base sheer distance hid, he swung his giant victim round his head, but
soon faster and faster; and at last when Plash-Goo was streaming round
the hated breadth of the dwarf and the no less hated beard was
flapping in the wind, Lrippity-Kang let go. Plash-Goo shot over the
edge and for some way further, out towards Space, like a stone; then
he began to fall. It was long before he believed and truly knew that
this was really he that fell from this mountain, for we do not
associate such dooms with ourselves; but when he had fallen for some
while through the evening and saw below him, where there had been
nothing to see, or began to see, the glimmer of tiny fields, then his
optimism departed; till later on when the fields were greener and
larger he saw that this was indeed (and growing now terribly nearer)
that very land to which he had destined the dwarf.

At last he saw it unmistakable, close, with its grim houses and its
dreadful ways, and its green fields shining in the light of the
evening. His cloak was streaming from him in whistling shreds.

So Plash-Goo came to the Land of None's Desire.



The Three Sailors' Gambit

Sitting some years ago in the ancient tavern at Over, one afternoon in
Spring, I was waiting, as was my custom, for something strange to
happen. In this I was not always disappointed for the very curious
leaded panes of that tavern, facing the sea, let a light into the
low-ceilinged room so mysterious, particularly at evening, that it
somehow seemed to affect the events within. Be that as it may, I have
seen strange things in that tavern and heard stranger things told.

And as I sat there three sailors entered the tavern, just back, as
they said, from sea, and come with sunburned skins from a very long
voyage to the South; and one of them had a board and chessmen under
his arm, and they were complaining that they could find no one who
knew how to play chess. This was the year that the Tournament was in
England. And a little dark man at a table in a corner of the room,
drinking sugar and water, asked them why they wished to play chess;
and they said they would play any man for a pound. They opened their
box of chessmen then, a cheap and nasty set, and the man refused to
play with such uncouth pieces, and the sailors suggested that perhaps
he could find better ones; and in the end he went round to his
lodgings near by and brought his own, and then they sat down to play
for a pound a side. It was a consultation game on the part of the
sailors, they said that all three must play.

Well, the little dark man turned out to be Stavlokratz.

Of course he was fabulously poor, and the sovereign meant more to him
than it did to the sailors, but he didn't seem keen to play, it was
the sailors that insisted; he had made the badness of the sailors'
chessmen an excuse for not playing at all, but the sailors had
overruled that, and then he told them straight out who he was, and the
sailors had never heard of Stavlokratz.

Well, no more was said after that. Stavlokratz said no more, either
because he did not wish to boast or because he was huffed that they
did not know who he was. And I saw no reason to enlighten the sailors
about him; if he took their pound they had brought it upon themselves,
and my boundless admiration for his genius made me feel that he
deserved whatever might come his way. He had not asked to play, they
had named the stakes, he had warned them, and gave them the first
move; there was nothing unfair about Stavlokratz.

I had never seen Stavlokratz before, but I had played over nearly
every one of his games in the World Championship for the last three or
four years; he was always of course the model chosen by students. Only
young chess-players can appreciate my delight at seeing him play first
hand.

Well, the sailors used to lower their heads almost as low as the table
and mutter together before every move, but they muttered so low that
you could not hear what they planned.

They lost three pawns almost straight off, then a knight, and shortly
after a bishop; they were playing in fact the famous Three Sailors'
Gambit.

Stavlokratz was playing with the easy confidence that they say was
usual with him, when suddenly at about the thirteenth move I saw him
look surprised; he leaned forward and looked at the board and then at
the sailors, but he learned nothing from their vacant faces; he looked
back at the board again.

He moved more deliberately after that; the sailors lost two more
pawns, Stavlokratz had lost nothing as yet. He looked at me I thought
almost irritably, as though something would happen that he wished I
was not there to see. I believed at first that he had qualms about
taking the sailors' pound, until it dawned on me that he might lose
the game; I saw that possibility in his face, not on the board, for
the game had become almost incomprehensible to me. I cannot describe
my astonishment. And a few moves later Stavlokratz resigned.

The sailors showed no more elation than if they had won some game with
greasy cards, playing amongst themselves.

Stavlokratz asked them where they got their opening. "We kind of
thought of it," said one. "It just come into our heads like," said
another. He asked them questions about the ports they had touched at.
He evidently thought as I did myself that they had learned their
extraordinary gambit, perhaps in some old dependancy of Spain, from
some young master of chess whose fame had not reached Europe. He was
very eager to find out who this man could be, for neither of us
imagined that those sailors had invented it, nor would anyone who had
seen them. But he got no information from the sailors.

Stavlokratz could very ill afford the loss of a pound. He offered to
play them again for the same stakes. The sailors began to set up the
white pieces. Stavlokratz pointed out that it was his turn for the
first move. The sailors agreed but continued to set up the white
pieces and sat with the white before them waiting for him to move. It
was a trivial incident, but it revealed to Stavlokratz and myself that
none of these sailors was aware that white always moves first.

Stavlokratz played them on his own opening, reasoning of course that
as they had never heard of Stavlokratz they would not know of his
opening; and with probably a very good hope of getting back his pound
he played the fifth variation with its tricky seventh move, at least
so he intended, but it turned to a variation unknown to the students
of Stavlokratz.

Throughout this game I watched the sailors closely, and I became sure,
as only an attentive watcher can be, that the one on their left, Jim
Bunion, did not even know the moves.

When I had made up my mind about this I watched only the other two,
Adam Bailey and Bill Sloggs, trying to make out which was the master
mind; and for a long while I could not. And then I heard Adam Bailey
mutter six words, the only words I heard throughout the game, of all
their consultations, "No, him with the horse's head." And I decided
that Adam Bailey did not know what a knight was, though of course he
might have been explaining things to Bill Sloggs, but it did not sound
like that; so that left Bill Sloggs. I watched Bill Sloggs after that
with a certain wonder; he was no more intellectual than the others to
look at, though rather more forceful perhaps. Poor old Stavlokratz was
beaten again.

Well, in the end I paid for Stavlokratz, and tried to get a game with
Bill Sloggs alone, but this he would not agree to, it must be all
three or none: and then I went back with Stavlokratz to his lodgings.
He very kindly gave me a game: of course it did not last long but I am
prouder of having been beaten by Stavlokratz than of any game that I
have ever won. And then we talked for an hour about the sailors, and
neither of us could make head or tail of them. I told him what I had
noticed about Jim Bunion and Adam Bailey, and he agreed with me that
Bill Sloggs was the man, though as to how he had come by that gambit
or that variation of Stavlokratz's own opening he had no theory.

I had the sailors' address which was that tavern as much as anywhere,
and they were to be there all evening. As evening drew in I went back
to the tavern, and found there still the three sailors. And I offered
Bill Sloggs two pounds for a game with him alone and he refused, but
in the end he played me for a drink. And then I found that he had not
heard of the "en passant" rule, and believed that the fact of checking
the king prevented him from castling, and did not know that a player
can have two or more queens on the board at the same time if he queens
his pawns, or that a pawn could ever become a knight; and he made as
many of the stock mistakes as he had time for in a short game, which I
won. I thought that I should have got at the secret then, but his
mates who had sat scowling all the while in the corner came up and
interfered. It was a breach of their compact apparently for one to
play by himself, at any rate they seemed angry. So I left the tavern
then and came back again next day, and the next day and the day after,
and often saw the sailors, but none were in a communicative mood. I
had got Stavlokratz to keep away, and they could get no one to play
chess with at a pound a side, and I would not play with them unless
they told me the secret.

And then one evening I found Jim Bunion drunk, yet not so drunk as he
wished, for the two pounds were spent; and I gave him very nearly a
tumbler of whiskey, or what passed for whiskey in that tavern at Over,
and he told me the secret at once. I had given the others some whiskey
to keep them quiet, and later on in the evening they must have gone
out, but Jim Bunion stayed with me by a little table leaning across it
and talking low, right into my face, his breath smelling all the while
of what passed for whiskey.

The wind was blowing outside as it does on bad nights in November,
coming up with moans from the South, towards which the tavern faced
with all its leaded panes, so that none but I was able to hear his
voice as Jim Bunion gave up his secret. They had sailed for years, he
told me, with Bill Snyth; and on their last voyage home Bill Snyth had
died. And he was buried at sea. Just the other side of the line they
buried him, and his pals divided his kit, and these three got his
crystal that only they knew he had, which Bill got one night in Cuba.
They played chess with the crystal.

And he was going on to tell me about that night in Cuba when Bill had
bought the crystal from the stranger, how some folks might think they
had seen thunderstorms, but let them go and listen to that one that
thundered in Cuba when Bill was buying his crystal and they'd find
that they didn't know what thunder was. But then I interrupted him,
unfortunately perhaps, for it broke the thread of his tale and set him
rambling a while, and cursing other people and talking of other lands,
China, Port Said and Spain: but I brought him back to Cuba again in
the end. I asked him how they could play chess with a crystal; and he
said that you looked at the board and looked at the crystal, and there
was the game in the crystal the same as it was on the board, with all
the odd little pieces looking just the same though smaller, horses'
heads and whatnots; and as soon as the other man moved the move came
out in the crystal, and then your move appeared after it, and all you
had to do was to make it on the board. If you didn't make the move
that you saw in the crystal things got very bad in it, everything
horribly mixed and moving about rapidly, and scowling and making the
same move over and over again, and the crystal getting cloudier and
cloudier; it was best to take one's eyes away from it then, or one
dreamt about it afterwards, and the foul little pieces came and cursed
you in your sleep and moved about all night with their crooked moves.

I thought then that, drunk though he was, he was not telling the
truth, and I promised to show him to people who played chess all their
lives so that he and his mates could get a pound whenever they liked,
and I promised not to reveal his secret even to Stavlokratz, if only
he would tell me all the truth; and this promise I have kept till long
after the three sailors have lost their secret. I told him straight
out that I did not believe in the crystal. Well, Jim Bunion leaned
forward then, even further across the table, and swore he had seen the
man from whom Bill had bought the crystal and that he was one to whom
anything was possible. To begin with his hair was villainously dark,
and his features were unmistakable even down there in the South, and
he could play chess with his eyes shut, and even then he could beat
anyone in Cuba. But there was more than this, there was the bargain he
made with Bill that told one who he was. He sold that crystal for Bill
Snyth's soul.

Jim Bunion leaning over the table with his breath in my face nodded
his head several times and was silent.

I began to question him then. Did they play chess as far away as Cuba?
He said they all did. Was it conceivable that any man would make such
a bargain as Snyth made? Wasn't the trick well known? Wasn't it in
hundreds of books? And if he couldn't read books mustn't he have heard
from sailors that it is the Devil's commonest dodge to get souls from
silly people?

Jim Bunion had leant back in his own chair quietly smiling at my
questions but when I mentioned silly people he leaned forward again,
and thrust his face close to mine and asked me several times if I
called Bill Snyth silly. It seemed that these three sailors thought a
great deal of Bill Snyth and it made Jim Bunion angry to hear anything
said against him. I hastened to say that the bargain seemed silly
though not of course the man who made it; for the sailor was almost
threatening, and no wonder for the whiskey in that dim tavern would
madden a nun.

When I said that the bargain seemed silly he smiled again, and then he
thundered his fist down on the table and said that no one had ever yet
got the best of Bill Snyth and that that was the worst bargain for
himself that the Devil ever made, and that from all he had read or
heard of the Devil he had never been so badly had before as the night
when he met Bill Snyth at the inn in the thunderstorm in Cuba, for
Bill Snyth already had the damndest soul at sea; Bill was a good
fellow, but his soul was damned right enough, so he got the crystal
for nothing.

Yes, he was there and saw it all himself, Bill Snyth in the Spanish
inn and the candles flaring, and the Devil walking in and out of the
rain, and then the bargain between those two old hands, and the Devil
going out into the lightning, and the thunderstorm raging on, and Bill
Snyth sitting chuckling to himself between the bursts of the thunder.

But I had more questions to ask and interrupted this reminiscence. Why
did they all three always play together? And a look of something like
fear came over Jim Bunion's face; and at first he would not speak. And
then he said to me that it was like this; they had not paid for that
crystal, but got it as their share of Bill Snyth's kit. If they had
paid for it or given something in exchange to Bill Snyth that would
have been all right, but they couldn't do that now because Bill was
dead, and they were not sure if the old bargain might not hold good.
And Hell must be a large and lonely place, and to go there alone must
be bad, and so the three agreed that they would all stick together,
and use the crystal all three or not at all, unless one died, and then
the two would use it and the one that was gone would wait for them.
And the last of the three to go would take the crystal with him, or
maybe the crystal would bring him. They didn't think, they said, they
were the kind of men for Heaven, and he hoped they knew their place
better than that, but they didn't fancy the notion of Hell alone, if
Hell it had to be. It was all right for Bill Snyth, he was afraid of
nothing. He had known perhaps five men that were not afraid of death,
but Bill Snyth was not afraid of Hell. He died with a smile on his
face like a child in its sleep; it was drink killed poor Bill Snyth.

This was why I had beaten Bill Sloggs; Sloggs had the crystal on him
while we played, but would not use it; these sailors seemed to fear
loneliness as some people fear being hurt; he was the only one of the
three who could play chess at all, he had learnt it in order to be
able to answer questions and keep up their pretence, but he had learnt
it badly, as I found. I never saw the crystal, they never showed it to
anyone; but Jim Bunion told me that night that it was about the size
that the thick end of a hen's egg would be if it were round. And then
he fell asleep.

There were many more questions that I would have asked him but I could
not wake him up. I even pulled the table away so that he fell to the
floor, but he slept on, and all the tavern was dark but for one candle
burning; and it was then that I noticed for the first time that the
other two sailors had gone, no one remained at all but Jim Bunion and
I and the sinister barman of that curious inn, and he too was asleep.

When I saw that it was impossible to wake the sailor I went out into
the night. Next day Jim Bunion would talk of it no more; and when I
went back to Stavlokratz I found him already putting on paper his
theory about the sailors, which became accepted by chess-players, that
one of them had been taught their curious gambit and that the other
two between them had learnt all the defensive openings as well as
general play. Though who taught them no one could say, in spite of
enquiries made afterwards all along the Southern Pacific.

I never learnt any more details from any of the three sailors, they
were always too drunk to speak or else not drunk enough to be
communicative. I seem just to have taken Jim Bunion at the flood. But
I kept my promise, it was I that introduced them to the Tournament,
and a pretty mess they made of established reputations. And so they
kept on for months, never losing a game and always playing for their
pound a side. I used to follow them wherever they went merely to watch
their play. They were more marvellous than Stavlokratz even in his
youth.

But then they took to liberties such as giving their queen when
playing first-class players. And in the end one day when all three
were drunk they played the best player in England with only a row of
pawns. They won the game all right. But the ball broke to pieces. I
never smelt such a stench in all my life.

The three sailors took it stoically enough, they signed on to
different ships and went back again to the sea, and the world of chess
lost sight, for ever I trust, of the most remarkable players it ever
knew, who would have altogether spoiled the game.



The Exiles Club

It was an evening party; and something someone had said to me had
started me talking about a subject that to me is full of fascination,
the subject of old religions, forsaken gods. The truth (for all
religions have some of it), the wisdom, the beauty, of the religions
of countries to which I travel have not the same appeal for me; for
one only notices in them their tyranny and intolerance and the abject
servitude that they claim from thought; but when a dynasty has been
dethroned in heaven and goes forgotten and outcast even among men,
one's eyes no longer dazzled by its power find something very wistful
in the faces of fallen gods suppliant to be remembered, something
almost tearfully beautiful, like a long warm summer twilight fading
gently away after some day memorable in the story of earthly wars.
Between what Zeus, for instance, has been once and the half-remembered
tale he is today there lies a space so great that there is no change
of fortune known to man whereby we may measure the height down which
he has fallen. And it is the same with many another god at whom once
the ages trembled and the twentieth century treats as an old wives'
tale. The fortitude that such a fall demands is surely more than
human.

Some such things as these I was saying, and being upon a subject that
much attracts me I possibly spoke too loudly, certainly I was not
aware that standing close behind me was no less a person than the
ex-King of Eritivaria, the thirty islands of the East, or I would have
moderated my voice and moved away a little to give him more room. I
was not aware of his presence until his satellite, one who had fallen
with him into exile but still revolved about him, told me that his
master desired to know me; and so to my surprise I was presented
though neither of them even knew my name. And that was how I came to
be invited by the ex-King to dine at his club.

At the time I could only account for his wishing to know me by
supposing that he found in his own exiled condition some likeness to
the fallen fortunes of the gods of whom I talked unwitting of his
presence; but now I know that it was not of himself he was thinking
when he asked me to dine at that club.

The club would have been the most imposing building in any street in
London, but in that obscure mean quarter of London in which they had
built it it appeared unduly enormous. Lifting right up above those
grotesque houses and built in that Greek style that we call Georgian,
there was something Olympian about it. To my host an unfashionable
street could have meant nothing, through all his youth wherever he had
gone had become fashionable the moment he went there; words like the
East End could have had no meaning to him.

Whoever built that house had enormous wealth and cared nothing for
fashion, perhaps despised it. As I stood gazing at the magnificent
upper windows draped with great curtains, indistinct in the evening,
on which huge shadows flickered my host attracted my attention from
the doorway, and so I went in and met for the second time the ex-King
of Eritivaria.

In front of us a stairway of rare marble led upwards, he took me
through a side-door and downstairs and we came to a banqueting-hall of
great magnificence. A long table ran up the middle of it, laid for
quite twenty people, and I noticed the peculiarity that instead of
chairs there were thrones for everyone except me, who was the only
guest and for whom there was an ordinary chair. My host explained to
me when we all sat down that everyone who belonged to that club was by
rights a king.

In fact none was permitted, he told me, to belong to the club until
his claim to a kingdom made out in writing had been examined and
allowed by those whose duty it was. The whim of a populace or the
candidate's own misrule were never considered by the investigators,
nothing counted with them but heredity and lawful descent from kings,
all else was ignored. At that table there were those who had once
reigned themselves, others lawfully claimed descent from kings that
the world had forgotten, the kingdoms claimed by some had even changed
their names. Hatzgurh, the mountain kingdom, is almost regarded as
mythical.

I have seldom seen greater splendour than that long hall provided
below the level of the street. No doubt by day it was a little sombre,
as all basements are, but at night with its great crystal chandeliers,
and the glitter of heirlooms that had gone into exile, it surpassed
the splendour of palaces that have only one king. They had come to
London suddenly most of those kings, or their fathers before them, or
forefathers; some had come away from their kingdoms by night, in a
light sleigh, flogging the horses, or had galloped clear with morning
over the border, some had trudged roads for days from their capital in
disguise, yet many had had time just as they left to snatch up some
small thing without price in markets, for the sake of old times as
they said, but quite as much, I thought, with an eye to the future.
And there these treasures glittered on that long table in the
banqueting-hall of the basement of that strange club. Merely to see
them was much, but to hear their story that their owners told was to
go back in fancy to epic times on the romantic border of fable and
fact, where the heroes of history fought with the gods of myth. The
famous silver horses of Gilgianza were there climbing their sheer
mountain, which they did by miraculous means before the time of the
Goths. It was not a large piece of silver but its workmanship
outrivalled the skill of the bees.

A yellow Emperor had brought out of the East a piece of that
incomparable porcelain that had made his dynasty famous though all
their deeds are forgotten, it had the exact shade of the right purple.

And there was a little golden statuette of a dragon stealing a diamond
from a lady, the dragon had the diamond in his claws, large and of the
first water. There had been a kingdom whose whole constitution and
history were founded on the legend, from which alone its kings had
claimed their right to the scepter, that a dragon stole a diamond from
a lady. When its last king left that country, because his favorite
general used a peculiar formation under the fire of artillery, he
brought with him the little ancient image that no longer proved him a
king outside that singular club.

There was the pair of amethyst cups of the turbaned King of Foo, the
one that he drank from himself, and the one that he gave to his
enemies, eye could not tell which was which.

All these things the ex-King of Eritivaria showed me, telling me a
marvelous tale of each; of his own he had brought nothing, except the
mascot that used once to sit on the top of the water tube of his
favorite motor.

I have not outlined a tenth of the splendour of that table, I had
meant to come again and examine each piece of plate and make notes of
its history; had I known that this was the last time I should wish to
enter that club I should have looked at its treasures more
attentively, but now as the wine went round and the exiles began to
talk I took my eyes from the table and listened to strange tales of
their former state.

He that has seen better times has usually a poor tale to tell, some
mean and trivial thing has been his undoing, but they that dined in
that basement had mostly fallen like oaks on nights of abnormal
tempest, had fallen mightily and shaken a nation. Those who had not
been kings themselves, but claimed through an exiled ancestor, had
stories to tell of even grander disaster, history seeming to have
mellowed their dynasty's fate as moss grows over an oak a great while
fallen. There were no jealousies there as so often there are among
kings, rivalry must have ceased with the loss of their navies and
armies, and they showed no bitterness against those that had turned
them out, one speaking of the error of his Prime Minister by which he
had lost his throne as "poor old Friedrich's Heaven-sent gift of
tactlessness."

They gossiped pleasantly of many things, the tittle-tattle we all had
to know when we were learning history, and many a wonderful story I
might have heard, many a side light on mysterious wars had I not made
use of one unfortunate word. That word was "upstairs."

The ex-King of Eritivaria having pointed out to me those unparalleled
heirlooms to which I have alluded, and many more besides, hospitably
asked me if there was anything else that I would care to see, he meant
the pieces of plate that they had in the cupboards, the curiously
graven swords of other princes, historic jewels, legendary seals, but
I who had had a glimpse of their marvelous staircase, whose balustrade
I believed to be solid gold and wondering why in such a stately house
they chose to dine in the basement, mentioned the word "upstairs." A
profound hush came down on the whole assembly, the hush that might
greet levity in a cathedral.

"Upstairs!" he gasped. "We cannot go upstairs."

I perceived that what I had said was an ill-chosen thing. I tried to
excuse myself but knew not how.

"Of course," I muttered, "members may not take guests upstairs."

"Members!" he said to me. "We are not the members!"

There was such reproof in his voice that I said no more, I looked at
him questioningly, perhaps my lips moved, I may have said "What are
you?" A great surprise had come on me at their attitude.

"We are the waiters," he said.

That I could not have known, here at last was honest ignorance that I
had no need to be ashamed of, the very opulence of their table denied
it.

"Then who are the members?" I asked.

Such a hush fell at that question, such a hush of genuine awe, that
all of a sudden a wild thought entered my head, a thought strange and
fantastic and terrible. I gripped my host by the wrist and hushed my
voice.

"Are they too exiles?" I asked.

Twice as he looked in my face he gravely nodded his head.

I left that club very swiftly indeed, never to see it again, scarcely
pausing to say farewell to those menial kings, and as I left the door
a great window opened far up at the top of the house and a flash of
lightning streamed from it and killed a dog.



The Three Infernal Jokes

This is the story that the desolate man told to me on the lonely
Highland road one autumn evening with winter coming on and the stags
roaring.

The saddening twilight, the mountain already black, the dreadful
melancholy of the stags' voices, his friendless mournful face, all
seemed to be of some most sorrowful play staged in that valley by an
outcast god, a lonely play of which the hills were part and he the
only actor.

For long we watched each other drawing out of the solitudes of those
forsaken spaces. Then when we met he spoke.

"I will tell you a thing that will make you die of laughter. I will
keep it to myself no longer. But first I must tell you how I came by
it."

I do not give the story in his words with all his woeful interjections
and the misery of his frantic self-reproaches for I would not convey
unnecessarily to my readers that atmosphere of sadness that was about
all he said and that seemed to go with him where-ever he moved.

It seems that he had been a member of a club, a West-end club he
called it, a respectable but quite inferior affair, probably in the
City: agents belonged to it, fire insurance mostly, but life insurance
and motor-agents too, it was in fact a touts' club. It seems that a
few of them one evening, forgetting for a moment their encyclopedias
and non-stop tyres, were talking loudly over a card-table when the
game had ended about their personal virtues, and a very little man
with waxed moustaches who disliked the taste of wine was boasting
heartily of his temperance. It was then that he who told this mournful
story, drawn on by the boasts of others, leaned forward a little over
the green baize into the light of the two guttering candles and
revealed, no doubt a little shyly, his own extraordinary virtue. One
woman was to him as ugly as another.

And the silenced boasters rose and went home to bed leaving him all
alone, as he supposed, with his unequalled virtue. And yet he was not
alone, for when the rest had gone there arose a member out of a deep
arm-chair at the dark end of the room and walked across to him, a man
whose occupation he did not know and only now suspects.

"You have," said the stranger, "a surpassing virtue."

"I have no possible use for it," my poor friend replied.

"Then doubtless you would sell it cheap," said the stranger.

Something in the man's manner or appearance made the desolate teller
of this mournful tale feel his own inferiority, which probably made
him feel acutely shy, so that his mind abased itself as an Oriental
does his body in the presence of a superior, or perhaps he was sleepy,
or merely a little drunk. Whatever it was he only mumbled, "O yes,"
instead of contradicting so mad a remark. And the stranger led the way
to the room where the telephone was.

"I think you will find my firm will give a good price for it," he
said: and without more ado he began with a pair of pincers to cut the
wire of the telephone and the receiver. The old waiter who looked
after the club they had left shuffling round the other room putting
things away for the night.

"Whatever are you doing of?" said my friend.

"This way," said the stranger. Along a passage they went and away to
the back of the club and there the stranger leaned out of a window and
fastened the severed wires to the lightning conductor. My friend has
no doubt of that, a broad ribbon of copper, half an inch wide, perhaps
wider, running down from the roof to the earth.

"Hell," said the stranger with his mouth to the telephone; then
silence for a while with his ear to the receiver, leaning out of the
window. And then my friend heard his poor virtue being several times
repeated, and then words like Yes and No.

"They offer you three jokes," said the stranger, "which shall make all
who hear them simply die of laughter."

I think my friend was reluctant then to have anything more to do with
it, he wanted to go home; he said he didn't want jokes.

"They think very highly of your virtue," I said the stranger. And at
that, odd as it seems, my friend wavered, for logically if they
thought highly of the goods they should have paid a higher price.

"O all right," he said. The extraordinary document that the agent drew
from his pocket ran something like this:

"I . . . . . in consideration of three new jokes received from Mr.
Montagu-Montague, hereinafter to be called the agent, and warranted to
be as by him stated and described, do assign to him, yield, abrogate
and give up all recognitions, emoluments, perquisites or rewards due
to me Here or Elsewhere on account of the following virtue, to wit and
that is to say . . . . . that all women are to me equally ugly." The
last eight words being filled in in ink by Mr. Montagu-Montague.

My poor friend duly signed it. "These are the jokes," said the agent.
They were boldly written on three slips of paper. "They don't seem
very funny," said the other when he had read them. "You are immune,"
said Mr. Montagu-Montague, "but anyone else who hears them will simply
die of laughter: that we guarantee."

An American firm had bought at the price of waste paper a hundred
thousand copies of The Dictionary of Electricity written when
electricity was new,--and it had turned out that even at the time its
author had not rightly grasped his subject,--the firm had paid
£10,000 to a respectable English paper (no other in fact than
the Briton) for the use of its name, and to obtain orders for The
Briton Dictionary of Electricity was the occupation of my unfortunate
friend. He seems to have had a way with him. Apparently he knew by a
glance at a man, or a look round at his garden, whether to recommend
the book as "an absolutely up-to-date achievement, the finest thing of
its kind in the world of modern science" or as "at once quaint and
imperfect, a thing to buy and to keep as a tribute to those dear old
times that are gone." So he went on with this quaint though usual
business, putting aside the memory of that night as an occasion on
which he had "somewhat exceeded" as they say in circles where a spade
is called neither a spade nor an agricultural implement but is never
mentioned at all, being altogether too vulgar. And then one night he
put on his suit of dress clothes and found the three jokes in the
pocket. That was perhaps a shock. He seems to have thought it over
carefully then, and the end of it was he gave a dinner at the club to
twenty of the members. The dinner would do no harm he thought--might
even help the business, and if the joke came off he would be a witty
fellow, and two jokes still up his sleeve.

Whom he invited or how the dinner went I do not know for he began to
speak rapidly and came straight to the point, as a stick that nears a
cataract suddenly goes faster and faster. The dinner was duly served,
the port went round, the twenty men were smoking, two waiters
loitered, when he after carefully reading the best of the jokes told
it down the table. They laughed. One man accidentally inhaled his
cigar smoke and spluttered, the two waiters overheard and tittered
behind their hands, one man, a bit of a raconteur himself, quite
clearly wished not to laugh, but his veins swelled dangerously in
trying to keep it back, and in the end he laughed too. The joke had
succeeded; my friend smiled at the thought; he wished to say little
deprecating things to the man on his right; but the laughter did not
stop and the waiters would not be silent. He waited, and waited
wondering; the laughter went roaring on, distinctly louder now, and
the waiters as loud as any. It had gone on for three or four minutes
when this frightful thought leaped up all at once in his mind: _it was
forced laughter!_ However could anything have induced him to tell so
foolish a joke? He saw its absurdity as in revelation; and the more he
thought of it as these people laughed at him, even the waiters too,
the more he felt that he could never lift up his head with his brother
touts again. And still the laughter went roaring and choking on. He
was very angry. There was not much use in having a friend, he thought,
if one silly joke could not be overlooked; he had fed them too. And
then he felt that he had no friends at all, and his anger faded away,
and a great unhappiness came down on him, and he got quietly up and
slunk from the room and slipped away from the club. Poor man, he
scarcely had the heart next morning even to glance at the papers, but
you did not need to glance at them, big type was bandied about that
day as though it were common type, the words of the headlines stared
at you; and the headlines said:--Twenty-Two Dead Men at a Club.

Yes, he saw it then: the laughter had not stopped, some had probably
burst blood vessels, some must have choked, some succumbed to nausea,
heart-failure must have mercifully taken some, and they were his
friends after all, and none had escaped, not I even the waiters. It
was that infernal joke.

He thought out swiftly, and remembers clear as a nightmare, the drive
to Victoria Station, the boat-train to Dover and going disguised to
the boat: and on the boat pleasantly smiling, almost obsequious, two
constables that wished to speak for a moment with Mr. Watkyn-Jones.
That was his name.

In a third-class carriage with handcuffs on his wrists, with forced
conversation when any, he returned between his captors to Victoria to
be tried for murder at the High Court of Bow.

At the trial he was defended by a young barrister of considerable
ability who had gone into the Cabinet in order to enhance his forensic
reputation. And he was ably defended. It is no exaggeration to say
that the speech for the defence showed it to be usual, even natural
and right, to give a dinner to twenty men and to slip away without
ever saying a word, leaving all, with the waiters, dead. That was the
impression left in the minds of the jury. And Mr. Watkyn-Jones felt
himself practically free, with all the advantages of his awful
experience, and his two jokes intact. But lawyers are still
experimenting with the new act which allows a prisoner to give
evidence. They do not like to make no use of it for fear they may be
thought not to know of the act, and a lawyer who is not in touch with
the very latest laws is soon regarded as not being up to date and he
may drop as much as £50,000 a year in fees. And therefore though
it always hangs their clients they hardly like to neglect it.

Mr. Watkyn-Jones was put in the witness box. There he told the simple
truth, and a very poor affair it seemed after the impassioned and
beautiful things that were uttered by the counsel for the defence. Men
and women had wept when they heard that. They did not weep when they
heard Watkyn-Jones. Some tittered. It no longer seemed a right and
natural thing to leave one's guests all dead and to fly the country.
Where was Justice, they asked, if anyone could do that? And when his
story was told the judge rather happily asked if he could make him die
of laughter too. And what was the joke? For in so grave a place as a
Court of Justice no fatal effects need be feared. And hesitatingly the
prisoner pulled from his pocket the three slips of paper: and
perceived for the first time that the one on which the first and best
joke had been written had become quite blank. Yet he could remember
it, and only too clearly. And he told it from memory to the Court.

"An Irishman once on being asked by his master to buy a morning paper
said in his usual witty way, 'Arrah and begorrah and I will be after
wishing you the top of the morning.'"

No joke sounds quite so good the second time it is told, it seems to
lose something of its essence, but Watkyn-Jones was not prepared for
the awful stillness with which this one was received; nobody smiled;
and it had killed twenty-two men. The joke was bad, devilish bad;
counsel for the defence was frowning, and an usher was looking in a
little bag for something the judge wanted. And at this moment, as
though from far away, without his wishing it, there entered the
prisoner's head, and shone there and would not go, this old bad
proverb: "As well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb." The jury seemed
to be just about to retire. "I have another joke," said Watkyn-Jones,
and then and there he read from the second slip of paper. He watched
the paper curiously to see if it would go blank, occupying his mind
with so slight a thing as men in dire distress very often do, and the
words were almost immediately expunged, swept swiftly as if by a hand,
and he saw the paper before him as blank as the first. And they were
laughing this time, judge, jury, counsel for the prosecution, audience
and all, and the grim men that watched him upon either side. There was
no mistake about this joke.

He did not stay to see the end, and walked out with his eyes fixed on
the ground, unable to bear a glance to the right or left. And since
then he has wandered, avoiding ports and roaming lonely places. Two
years have known him on the Highland roads, often hungry, always
friendless, always changing his district, wandering lonely on with his
deadly joke.

Sometimes for a moment he will enter inns, driven by cold and hunger,
and hear men in the evening telling jokes and even challenging him;
but he sits desolate and silent, lest his only weapon should escape
from him and his last joke spread mourning in a hundred cots. His
beard has grown and turned grey and is mixed with moss and weeds, so
that no one, I think, not even the police, would recognise him now for
that dapper tout that sold The Briton Dictionary of Electricity in
such a different land.

He paused, his story told, and then his lip quivered as though he
would say more, and I believe he intended then and there to yield up
his deadly joke on that Highland road and to go forth then with his
three blank slips of paper, perhaps to a felon's cell, with one more
murder added to his crimes, but harmless at last to man. I therefore
hurried on, and only heard him mumbling sadly behind me, standing
bowed and broken, all alone in the twilight, perhaps telling over and
over even then the last infernal joke.


                               THE END





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