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´╗┐Title: Messer Marco Polo
Author: Byrne, Donn, 1889-1928
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 "Messer Marco Polo" ***

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Messer Marco Polo






So Celtic in feeling and atmosphere are the stories of Donn Byrne that
many of his devotees have come to believe that he never lived anywhere
but in Ireland.  Actually, Donn Byrne was born in New York City.
Shortly after his birth, however, his parents took him back to the land
of his forefathers.  There he was educated and came to know the people
of whom he wrote so magically.  At Dublin University his love for the
Irish language and for a good fight won him many prizes, first as a
writer in Gaelic and second as the University's lightweight boxing
champion.  After continuing his studies at the Sorbonne and the
University of Leipzig, he returned to the United States, where, in
1911, he married and established a home in Brooklyn Heights.  He earned
his living, while trying to write short stories, as an editor of
dictionaries. Soon his tales began to attract attention and he added to
his collection of boxing prizes many others won in short-story
contests.  When MESSER MARCO POLO appeared in 1921 his reputation in
the literary world was firmly established.  Thereafter, whatever he
wrote was hailed enthusiastically by his ever-growing public, until
1928, when his tragic death in an automobile accident cut short the
career of one of America's best-loved story-tellers.

JTABLE 4 23 1


The message came to me, at the second check of the hunt, that a
countryman and a clansman needed me.  The ground was heavy, the day
raw, and it was a drag, too fast for fun and too tame for sport. So I
blessed the countryman and the clansman, and turned my back on the

But when they told me his name, I all but fell from the saddle.

"But that man's dead!"

But he wasn't dead.  He was in New York.  He was traveling from the
craigs of Ulster to his grandson, who had an orange-grove on the Indian
River, in Florida.  He wasn't dead.  And I said to myself with
impatience, "Must every man born ninety years ago be dead?"

"But this is a damned thing," I thought, "to be saddled with a man over
ninety years old.  To have to act as GARDE-MALADE at my age! Why
couldn't he have stayed and died at home?  Sure, one of these days he
will die, as we all die, and the ghost of him will never be content on
the sluggish river, by the mossy trees, where the blue herons and the
white cranes and the great gray pelicans fly.  It will be going back, I
know, to the booming surf and the red-berried rowan-trees and the
barking eagles of Antrim.  To die out of Ulster, when one can die in
Ulster, there is a gey foolish thing..."

But the harsh logic of Ulster left me, and the soft mood of Ulster came
on me as I remembered him, and I going into the town on the train. And
the late winter grass, of Westchester, spare, scrofulous; the
jerry-built bungalows; the lines of uncomely linen; the blatant
advertising boards--all the unbeauty of it passed away, and I was again
in the Antrim glens.  There was the soft purple of the Irish Channel,
and there the soft, dim outline of Scotland.  There was the herring
school silver in the sun, and I could see it from the crags where the
surf boomed like a drum.  And underfoot was the springy heather, the
belled and purple heather...

And there came to me again the vision of the old man's thatched
farmhouse when the moon was up and the bats were out, and the winds of
the County Antrim came bellying down the glens...  The turf fire burned
on the hearth, now red, now yellow, and there was the golden light of
lamps, and Malachi of the Long Glen was reciting some poem of Blind
Raftery's, or the lament of Pierre Ronsard for Mary, Queen of Scots:

   Ta ribin o mo cheadshearc ann mo phocs sios.
   Agas mna Eirip ni leigheasfadaois mo bhron, faraor!
   Ta me reidh leat go ndeantar comhra caol!
   Agas gobhfasfaidh an fear no dhiaidh sin thrid mo lar anios!

   There is a ribbon from my only love in my pocket deep,
   And the women of Europe they could not cure my grief, alas!
   I am done with you until a narrow coffin be made for me.
   And until the grass shall grow after that up through my heart!

And I suddenly discovered on the rumbling train that apart from the
hurling and the foot-ball and the jumping of horses, what life I
remembered of Ulster was bound up in Malachi Campbell of the Long

A very strange old man, hardy as a blackthorn, immense, bowed
shoulders, the face of some old hawk of the mountains, hair white and
plentiful as some old cardinal's.  All his kinsfolk were dead except
for one granddaughter... And he had become a tradition in the glens...
It was said he had been an ecclesiastical student abroad, in
Valladolid...and that he had forsaken that life.  And in France he had
been a tutor in the family of MacMahon, roi d' Irlande...and somewhere
he had married, and his wife had died and left him money...and he had
come back to Antrim... He had been in the Papal Zouaves, and fought
also in the American Civil War... A strange old figure who knew Greek
and Latin as well as most professors, and who had never forgotten his

Antrim will ever color my own writing.  My Fifth Avenue will have
something in it of the heather glen.  My people will have always a
phrase, a thought, a flash of Scots-Irish mysticism, and for that I
must either thank or blame Malachi Campbell of the Long Glen. The
stories I heard, and I young, were not of Little Rollo and Sir Walter
Scott's, but the horrible tale of the Naked Hangman, who goes through
the Valleys on Midsummer's Eve; of Dermot, and Granye of the Bright
Breasts; of the Cattle Raid of Maeve, Queen of Connacht; of the old age
of Cuchulain in the Island of Skye; grisly, homely stories, such as yon
of the ghostly foot-ballers of Cushendun, whose ball is a skull, and
whose goal is the portals of a ruined graveyard; strange religious
poems, like the Dialogue of Death and the Sinner:

   Do thugainn loistin do gach deoraidh treith-lag--
   I used to give lodging to every poor wanderer;
   Food and drink to him I would see in want,
   His proper payment to the man requesting reckoning,
   Och!  Is not Jesus hard if he condemns me!

All these stories, of all these people he told, had the unreal,
shimmering quality of that mirage that is seen from Portrush cliffs, a
glittering city in a golden desert, surrounded by a strange sea mist.
All these songs, all these words he spoke, were native, had the same
tang as the turf smoke, the Gaelic quality that is in dark lakes on
mountains summits, in plovers nests amid the heather...  And to
remember them now in New York, to see him...

Fifteen years had changed him but little: little more tremor and
slowness in the walk, a bow to the great shoulders, an eye that flashed
like a knife.

"And what do you think of New York, Malachi?"

"I was here before, your honor will remember.  I fought at the

I forbore asking him what change he had found.  I saw his quivering

In a few days he would proceed south, when he had orientated himself
after the days of shipboard.

That night it seemed every one chose to come in and cluster around the
fire.  Randall, the poet; and the two blond Danish girls, with their
hair like flax; Fraser, the golfer, just over from Prestwick; and a
young writer, with his spurs yet to win; and this one...and that one.

They all kept silence as old Malach spoke, sportsmen, artists, men and
women of the world; a hush came on them and their eyes showed they were
not before the crackling fire in the long rooms but amazed in the
Antrim glens.

Yes, old Malachi said, things were changed over there, and a greater
change was liable... People whispered that in the Valley of the Black
Pig the Boar without Bristles had been seen at the close of the day,
and in Templemore there was a bleeding image, and these were ominous
portents... Some folks believed and some didn't... And the great Irish
hunter that had won the Grand National, the greatest horse in the
world... But our Man of War, Malachi?.. Oh, sure, all he could do was
run, and a hare or a greyhound could beat him at that; but Shawn
Spadah, a great jumper him, as well as a runner; in fine, a horse...
And did I know that Red Simon McEwer of Cushundall had gone around
Portrush in eighteen consecutive fours?... A Rathlin Islander had tried
the swim across to Scotland, but didn't make it, and there was great
arguing as to whether it was because of the currents or of lack of
strength... There were rumblings in the Giants' Causeway...very
strange... A woman in Oran had the second sight, the most powerful gift
of second sight in generations...  There was a new piper in Islay, and
it was said he was a second McCrimmon... And a new poet had arisen in
Uist, and all over the Highlands they were reciting his songs and his
"Lament for the Bruce"... Was I still as keen for, did I still remember
the poems, and the great stories?...

"'Behold, the night is of great length,'" I quoted, "'Unbearable. Tell
us, therefore, of those wondrous deeds.'"

"If you've remembered your Gaidhlig as you've remembered your Greek!"

"It's a long time since you've had a story of me, twelve long years,
and it's a long time before you'll have another, and I going away
tomorrow.  Old Sergeant Death has his warrant out for me this many a
day, and it's only the wisdom of an old dog fox that eludes him; but
he'll lay me by the heels one of these days...then there'll be an end
to the grand stories...  So after this, if you're wanting a story, you
must be writing it yourself...

"But before I die, I'll leave you the story of Marco Polo.  There's
been a power of books written about Marco Polo.  The scholars have
pushed up their spectacles and brushed the cobwebs from their ears, and
they've said, 'There's all there is about Marco Polo.'

"But the scholars are a queer and blind people, Brian Oge.  I've heard
tell there's a doctor in Spain can weigh the earth.  But he can't plow
a furrow that is needful, for planting corn.  The scholars can tell how
many are the feathers in a bird's wing, but it takes me to inform the
doctors why the call comes to them, and they fly over oceans without
compass or sextant or sight of land.

"Did you ever see a scholar standing in front of a slip of a girl? In
all his learning he can find nothing to say to her.  And every penny
poet in the country knows.

"Let you be listening now, Brian Oge, and let also the scholars be
listening.  But whether the scholars do or not, I'm not caring. A pope
once listened to me with great respect, and a marshal of France and
poets without number.  But the scholars do be turning up their noses.
And, mind you, I've got as much scholarship as the next man, as you'll
see from my story.

"Barring myself, is there no one in this house that takes snuff? No!
Ah, well, times do be changing."


Now it's nearing night on the first day of spring, and you could see
how loath day was to be going for even the short time until the rising
of the sun again.  And though there was a chill on the canals, yet
there was great color to the sunset, the red of it on the water ebbing
into orange, and then to purple, and losing itself in the olive pools
near the mooring-ties.  And a little wind came up from the Greek
islands, and now surged and fluttered, the way you'd think a harper
might be playing.  You'd hear no sound, but the melody was there.  It
was the rhythm of spring, that the old people recognize.

But the young people would know it was spring, too, by token of the
gaiety that was in the air.  For nothing brings joy to the heart like
the coming of spring.  The folk who do be blind all the rest of the
year, their eyes do open then, and a sunset takes them, and the wee
virgin flowers coming up between the stones, or the twitter of a bird
upon the bough...  And young women do be preening themselves, and young
men do be singing, even they that have the voices of rooks. There is
something stirring in them that is stirring, in the ground, with the
bursting of the seeds...

And young Marco Polo threw down the quill in the counting house where
he was learning his trade.  The night was coming on.  He was only a
strip of a lad, and to lads the night is not rest from work, and the
quietness of sleeping, but gaming, and drinking, and courting young
women.  Now, there were two women he might have gone to, and one was a
great Venetian lady, with hair the red of a queen's cloak, and a great
noble shape to her and great dignity.  But with her he would only be
reciting verses or making grand, stilted compliments, the like of those
you would hear in a play.  And while that seemed to fit in with winter
and candlelight, it was poor sport for spring. The other one was a
black, plump little gown-maker, a pleasant, singing little woman, very
affectionate, and very proud to have one of the great Polos loving her.
She was eager for kissing, and always asking the lad to be careful of
himself, to be putting his cloak on, or to be sure and drink something
warm when he got home that night, for the air from the canals was
chill.  The great lady was too much of the mind, and the little
gown-maker was too much of the body, either of them, to be pleasing
young Marco on the first night of spring.

Now, it is a queer thing will be pleasing a young man on the first
night of spring.  The wandering foot itches, and the mind and body are
keen to follow.  There is that inside a young man that makes the
hunting dog rise from the hearth on a moonlit night: "Begor! it's
myself'll take a turn through the fields on the chance of a bit of
coursing.  A weasel, maybe, or an otter, would be out the night. Or a
hare itself.  Ay, there would be sport for you!  The hare running
hell-for-leather, and me after him over brake and dell. Ay!  Ay!  Ay!
A good hunt's a jewel!  I'll take a stretch along the road."

Or there is in him what does be troubling the birds, and they on tropic
islands.  "Tweet-tweet," they grumble.  "A grand place this surely, and
very comfortable for the winter.  The palm-trees are green, but I'd
rather have the green of young grass.  And the sea, you ken, it becomes
monotonous.  Do you remember the peaches of Champagne, wife, and the
cherry-trees of Antrim?  Do you remember the farmer who was such a bad
shot, and his wife with the red petticoat?  I'm feeling fine and strong
in the wings, AVOURNEEN. What do you say?  Let's bundle and go!"

He wandered out with the discontent of the season on him.  The sun had
dropped at last, and everywhere you'd see torches, and the image of
torches in the water.  On the canals of the town great barges moved.
Everywhere were fine, noble shadows and the splashing of oars. There
was a great admiral's galley, ready to put to sea against Genoa. There
a big merchantman back from Africa.  And along the canals went all the
people in the world, you'd think.  Now it was a Frenchman, all silks
and satins and 'la-di-da, monsieur!'  Or a Spaniard with a pointed
beard and long, lean legs and a long, lean sword.  And now it was a
Greek courtesan, white as milk, sitting in her gondola as on a throne.
Here was a Muscovite, hairy, dirty, with fine fur and fine jewels and
teeth sharp as a dog's.  And now an effeminate Greek nobleman, languid
as a bride.  And here were Moorish captains, Othello's men, great
giants of black marble; and swarthy, hook-nosed merchants of Palestine;
and the squires of Crusaders--pretty, ringleted boys, swearing like
demons.  And here and there were Scots and Irish mercenaries, kilted,
sensitive folk, one moment smiling at you and the next a knife in your

And as he went through the courts there were whispers and laughter, and
occasionally a soft voice invited him to enter; but he smiled and shook
his head.  Near the Canal de Mestre, which is close by the Ghetto, he
stopped by the wine-shop called The Prince of Bulgaria, and he could
hear great disputation.  And some were speaking of Baldwin II, and how
he had no guts to have let Palaeologus take Constantinople from him.
And others were murmuring about Genoa.

"Mark us, they mean trouble, those dogs.  Better wipe them off the face
of the earth now."  And a group were discussing the chances of raiding
the Jewish Kingdom of the Yemen.  "They've got temples there roofed
with gold."...  And an Irish piper was playing on a little silver set
of pipes, and an Indian magician was doing great sleight of hand...

"I'll go in and talk to the strange foreign people," said Marco Polo.


Now, you might be thinking that the picture I'm drawing is out of my
own head.  Let you not be thinking of it as it is now, a city of
shadows and ghosts, with a few scant visitors mooning in the canals.
The Pride of the West she was, the Jewel of the East. Constantinople
was her courtyard.  Greece, Egypt, Abyssinia, Bulgaria, and Muscovy,
her ten-acre fields.  The Crusaders on their way to fight the Saracen
stopped to plead for her help and generosity. There were no soldiers
more chivalrous, not even the French.  There were no better fighters,
not even the Highland clans.  Sailors? You'd think those fellows had
invented the sea.  And as for riches and treasures, oh! the wonder of
the world she was!  Tribute she had from everywhere; the four great
horses of Saint Mark they came from Constantinople.  The two great
marble columns facing the Piazetta, sure, they came from Acre.  When
foreign powers wanted the loan of money, it was to Venice they came.
Consider the probity of Venetian men.  They once held as pledge the
Crown of Thorns itself. King Louis IX of France redeemed it.

The processions of the tradespeople were like a king's retinue, and
they marching in state on the election of a doge.  Each in their
separate order they'd come, the master smiths first, as is right, every
one garlanded like a conqueror, with their banner and their buglers.
The furriers next in ermine and taffeta; the tanners, with silver cups
filled with wine; the tailors in white, with vermilion stars; the
wool-workers, with olive branches; the quilt-makers in cloaks trimmed
with fleur-de-lis; the cloth-of-gold weavers, with golden crowns set
with pearls; the shoemakers in fine silk, while the silk-workers were
in fustian; the cheese-dealers and pork-butchers in scarlet and purple;
the fish-mongers and poulterers, armed like men-of-war; the
glass-makers, with elegant specimens of their art; the comb-makers,
with little birds in cages; the barber-surgeons on horseback, very
dignified, very learned, and with that you'd think there'd be an end to
them, but cast your eye back on that procession and you'd find guilds
as far as your sight would reach...

Let you be going down the markets, and what would you see for sale?
Boots, clothes, bread?  No, they were out of sight; but scattered on
the booths, the like of farls of bread on a fair-day, you'd find cloves
and nutmegs, mace and ebony from Moluccas, that had come by way of
Alexandria and the Syrian ports; sandalwood from Timor, in Asia;
camphor from Borneo.  Sumatra and Java sent benzoin to her markets.
Cochin China sent bitter aloes-wood.  From China and Japan and from
Siam came gum, spices, silks, chessmen, and curiosities for the parlor.
Rubies from Peru, fine cloths from Coromandel, and finer still from
Bengal.  They got spikenard from Nepaul and Bhutan. Their diamonds were
from Golconda.  From Nirmul they purchased Damascus steel for their
swords.  Nor is that all you'd see, and you'd be going down by the
markets on a sunny morning, and a fine-thinking, low-voiced woman on
your arm.  You'd see pearls and sapphires, topaz and cinnamon from
Ceylon; lac and agates, brocades and coral from Cambay; hammered
vessels and inlaid weapons and embroidered shawls from Cashmere.  As
for spices, never would your nostrils meet such an odor: bdellium from
Scinde, musk from Tibet, galbanum from Khorasan; from Afghanistan,
asafetida; from Persia, sagapenum; ambergris and civet from Zanzibar,
and from Zanzibar came ivory, too.  And from Zeila, Berbera, and Shehri
came balsam and frankincense...

And that was Venice, and Marco Polo a young man.  And now it's only a
town like any other town but for its churches and canals.  There's many
a town has ghosts, but none the ghosts that Venice has; not Rome
itself, or Tara of the kings.

   "Once did she hold," Randall quoted, "the gorgeous East in fee;
   And was the safeguard of the West; the worth
   Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
   Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
   She was a maiden city, bright and free;
   No guile seduced, no force could violate;
   And, when she took unto herself a mate,
   She must espouse the everlasting Sea!"

Time is the greatest rogue of all.  Not all the arrows of Attila can do
the damage of a trickle of sand in an hour-glass!  Tyre and Sidon,
Carthage, ancient Babylon, and Venice, queen of them all.

I am describing Venice to you for this reason.  You might now stand
where Troy's walls once were and say to yourself:  "Was this where
Helen walked with her little son?  Was this where the loveliest face of
ages wept?"  And a chill of doubt would come on you, and you would
think, "I've been wasting my sorrow and wasting my love, for it was all
nothing but an old tale made up in a minstrel's head."

And sometime in Venice, after your dinner in a hotel, you'd go out for
a while in a BARCA, that would have no more romance to it nor the bark
a gillie would row, and you salmon-fishing on a cold, blustery day, and
you would feel disappointed, you having come so far, and you'd say: "It
was a grand story surely, and bravely did it pass the winter evening;
but wasn't old Malachi of the Long Glen the liar of the world!"

I wouldn't have you saying that, and I dead.  In all I'm telling you,
I'd have you to know there's not a ha'porth of lie.


And so Marco Polo went into the wine-shop to see and hear the strange
foreign people.

It was a dark, long room, very high, full of shadows between the
flaming torches on the wall.  At one side of it was a great fire
burning, for all it was the first night of spring.  At one end of it
were the great barrels of liquor for the thirsty customers; black beer
for the English and the Irish, grand, hairy stuff with great foam to
it, and brown beer for the Germans; and there was white wine there for
the French people, and red wine for the Italians, asquebaugh for the
Scots, and rum from the sugar cane for such as had cold in their bones.
There was all kind of drink there in the brass-bound barrels--drink
would make you mad and drink would make you merry, drink would put
heart in a timid man and drink would make fighting men peaceful as
pigeons; and drink that would make you forget trouble--all in the
brass-bound barrels at the end of the room. And pleasant, fat little
men were roaming around serving the varied liquor in little silver
cups, and fine Venetian glasses for the wine, and in broad-bellied
drinking-pots that would hold more than a quart.

And there was such a babel of language as was never heard but in one
place before.

Some of the drinkers were dicing and shouting as they won, and
grumbling and cursing when they lost.  And some were singing. And some
were dancing to the Irish pipes.  And there was a knot around the
Indian conjurer.

But there was one man by himself at a table.  And him being so silent,
you'd think he was shouting for attention.  He was so restful against
the great commotion, you'd know he was a great man.  You might turn
your back on him, and you'd know he was there, though he never even
whispered nor put out a finger.  A fat, pleasant, close-coupled man he
was, in loose, green clothes, with gold brocade on them.  And there
were two big gold ear-rings in his lobes.  He smoked a wee pipe with
the bowl half-ways up it.  The pipe was silver and all stem, and the
bowl no bigger than a ten-cent piece.  His shoulders were very
powerful, so you'd know he was a man you should be polite to, and out
of that chest of his a great shout could come.  He might have been a
working-man, only, when he fingered his pipe, you'd see his hands were
as well kept as a lord's lady's, fine as silk and polished to a degree.
And you'd think maybe a pleasant poet, which is a scarce thing, until
you looked at the brown face of him and big gold ear-rings. And then
you'd know what he was: he was a great sea-captain.

But where did he come from?  You might know from the high cheek bones
and the eyes that were on a slant, as it were, that it was an Eastern
man was in it.  It might be Java and it might be Borneo, or it might be
the strange country of Japan.

And there were a couple of strange occurrences in the wine-shop. The
Indian juggler was being baited by the fighting men, as people will be
after poking coarse fun at a foreigner.  The slim Hindu fellow wasn't
taking it at all well.  He was looking with eyes like gimlets at a big
bullock of a soldier that was leading the tormenters.

"Show me something would surprise me," he was ordering.  "Be damned to
this old woman's entertainment!" says he.  "As a magician," says he,
"you're the worst I ever saw.  If you're a magician," says he, "I'm a

And there was a roar at that, because he was known to be a very brave

"Show me a magic trick," says he.

Says the Hindu:

"Maybe you'd wish you hadn't seen it."

"Be damned to that!" says the big fellow.

"Look at this man well," the Hindu told the room.  "Look at him well."
He throws a handful of powder in the fire and chants in his foreign
language.  A cloud of white smoke arises from the fire.  He makes a
pass before it, and, lo and behold ye! it's a screen against the wall.
And there's a great commotion of shadows on the screen, and suddenly
you see what it's all about.  It's a platform, and a man kneeling, with
his head on the block.  You don't see who it is, but you get chilled.
And suddenly there's a headsman in a red cloak and a red mask, and the
ax swings and falls.  The head pops off, and the body falls limp.  And
the head rolls down the platform and stops, and you see it's the head
of the fellow who wanted to see something, and it's in the grisly grin
of death...

"There's your latter end for you," says the conjurer.  "You wanted to
see something.  I hope you're content."

The big fellow turns white, gulps, gives a bellow, and makes a rush;
but the conjurer isn't there, nor his screen nor anything.

Everybody in the room was white and shaken--all but the sea-captain. He
just tamps his pipe as if nothing had happened, and smokes on. He
doesn't even take a drink from his glass.

And a little while later an Irish chieftain walks in.  He's poor and
ragged and very thin.  You might know he'd been fighting the heathen
for the Holy sepulchre, and so entitled to respect, no matter what his
condition.  And behind him are five clansmen as ragged as he.  But a
big German trooper rolls up.

"And what are you?" says the big, burly fellow.

"A gentleman, I hope," says the ragged chief.

"'Tis yourself that says it," laughs the German trooper.  The chieftain
snicks the knife from his armpit, and sticks him in the jugular as neat
as be damned.

"You'd might take that out, Kevin Beg"--the Irish chief points to the
killed man--"and throw it in the canal.  Somebody might stumble over it
and bark their shins."

Now this, as you can conceive, roused a powerful commotion in the room.
They were all on their feet, captains and mariners and men-at-arms,
cheering or grumbling, and arguing the rights and wrongs of the matter.
All but the sea-captain, who saw it all, and he never blinked an
eyelid, never even missed a draw of the pipe.

And then Marco Polo knew him to be a Chinaman, because, as all the
world knows, Chinamen are never surprised at anything.


So Marco Polo goes over and salutes him politely.

"I wonder if you mind my sitting down by you for a while," he says. "I
perceive you're from China."

The sea-captain waves him politely to his place.

"I'm from China."  He smiles.  "You guessed right."

"Is it long since you've been in China?"

"Well, that depends upon what you call long," says the captain. "If you
mean time, it's one thing.  If you mean voyage, it's another. For
you've got to take into account," says he, "adverse winds, roundabout
turns to avoid currents, possible delays to have the ship scraped free
from the parasite life that does be attaching itself to the strakes,
time spent in barter and trade.  Other matters, too; the attacks of
pirates; cross-grained princes who don't want you to be leaving their
ports with a good cargo in your hold; sickness; loss of sails and
masts; repairs to the ship.  It wasn't a short journey and it wasn't a
long one."

"It will be a long ways to China, I'm thinking."

"I can tell you how long it is from China to here, and you can reverse
that, and you will get a fair idea of how long it is from here to
China.  I left Zeitoon with a cargo of porcelain for Japan, and traded
it for gold-dust, and from Japan I went to Chamba to lay in a store of
chessmen and pen-cases.  And from Chamba I sailed to Java, which is the
greatest island in the world.  Java is fifteen hundred miles from
Chamba, south and southeast, and it took me four months sailing, but a
sea-captain cannot pass Java by, for it is the chief place for black
pepper, nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs, doves, and all the
spices that grow.

"And I stopped at various small islands from there, until I came to
Basma, which is the island of the unicorns.  And there we trade in
pygmies, which ignorant people think are human folk.  They are just a
wee monkey, with all the hair plucked out except the hair of the beard.
There is great money in them.

"I stopped at Sumatra for cocoanuts and toddy, and just for water at
Dragoian.  Dragoian is not a good city.  It is filled with sorcerers
who have tattooed faces.  At Lambri I put in for the sago you buy from
the hairy men with tails.

"Son, never stop at the isle of Andaman.  The men there have faces like
dogs.  They are a cruel generation, and eat every one they can catch.
I could tell you a story, but I would not spoil this fine spring night.
Go rather to the island of Ceylon, and see the King's Ruby, which is
the greatest jewel in the world.  I stopped there and at Coromandel for
the pearls the divers go down in the sea for, and there are no clothes
on that island, so that every one goes naked as a fish.  And there is
the shrine of Saint Thomas.  I was there.

"Gujarat, Tana, I stopped there.  The Male and Female Islands I put
into for ambergris.  Svestra, which is full of magicians--I was there,
too.  Madagascar and Zanzibar, where they live on camel flesh, I was
there.  And from Zanzibar I came north to Abyssinia, because I had to
get an ostrich there for the King of Siam.  And there was a letter and
a parcel for the Sultan of Egypt.  So I went to Cairo.  I had a month
on my hands, so I thought I'd run over and see Venice, because it's a
hobby of mine, you might say, to see the world.

"Now let me reckon.  Four and three makes seven, and four more are
eleven, and six are seventeen, and let us say nine with that, and you
have twenty-six.  And the month I'm forgetting on the rocks of Aden is
twenty-seven, and a week here and a week there for bad winds and such
like.  It would be safe to put that at three months.  So it's two years
and a half since I left China."

"You never," says young Marco, "met anybody in China by the name of

"Poh-lo?  Poh-lo?  China's a bigger place nor you would imagine,
laddie.  There's half a hundred million people there."

"These were foreigners," Marco explained, "traders.  They were at the
court of the great Khan."

"Polo?  Polo?  Well, now, I think I've heard of them.  Was one of them
a big red-bearded man with a great eye for a horse and a great eye for
a woman?"

"That would be my Uncle Matthew."

"For God's sake!  And was the other a cold, dark man, a good judge of a
jewel and a grand judge of a sword?"

"My father, Nicholas Polo."

"For God's sake!  You're the son of one and the nephew of the other?"

"Did you know them?"

"Ah, laddie, how would I be knowing people like that!  Sure, they're
great folks, high in the esteem of the grand Khan, and I'm only a poor

"But you heard of them."

"I heard of them.  They were in good health.  And I heard they were on
their way home, though they would travel overland and not risk the
great dangers of the sea.  I suppose, if they go back to China, you'll
be going with them?"

"I don't know," says Marco Polo.

"You ought to see China.  It's a great country, a beautiful country."

"It would have to be very great and beautiful," says Marco Polo, "to
out-weigh the greatness and the beauty that are here.  You mustn't
think I'm running down your country, mister," says he; "but for
greatness, where is the beating of Venice in this day?  What struck
Constantinople like a thunderbolt but the mailed hand of Venice? When
the Barbary corsairs roamed the seven seas, so that it was no more safe
for a merchant vessel to be sailing than for a babe to be walking
through a wild jungle, it was Venice who accepted the challenge and
made the great sea as peaceful as the Grand Canal.  Who humbled proud
Genoa?  And hurled the Saracen from Saint John of Acre's walls? Venice.
And as for magnificence, the retinue of our doge when he goes to marry
the sea with a ring it makes the court of Lorenzo seem like a
huckster's train."

"It is a crowning city."

"And as for beauty, sir," went on Marco Polo, "there is nothing in the
world like San Marco's, and it ablaze in the setting sun, and the great
pillars before it rising in tongues of flame.  And was there ever in
all time anything like the Grand Canal at the dusk of day, and the
torches beginning to show like fireflies, and the lap of the water, and
stringed music, and the great barges going by like swans, now a
battle-hacked captain of war, now a great gracious lady?  And the moon
does be rising...

"You've sailed all the way from China and seen strange and beautiful
things, but I remember one summer's day, when I took out my little
sailing-boat and went out on the water to compose a poem for a lady,
and the water was blue--oh, as blue as the sky's self, and the sands of
the Lido were silver, and the water shuffled gently over them, as
gently as a child's little feet.  And there was a clump of olive-trees
there so green as to be black, and there alighted before it a great
scarlet Egyptian bird.  And the beauty of that brought the tears to my
eyes, so that I thought of nuns in their cells and barefoot friars in
the hollow lands, and they striving for paradise.  What did I care
about paradise?  A Venetian I.  So why should I want to go to China?"

"You have made a great case for the grandeur and beauty of Venice,"
says the sea-captain.  "It is lovely, surely," says he, filling his
pipe; "but finer poets nor you, my lad," says he, lighting it, "have
tried to describe the grace and beauty of Tao-Tuen, and," says he
taking a draw, "have failed."

"Tao-Tuen is a beautiful name.  It is like two notes plucked on a harp.
And it must be a wonderful place, surely, if great poets cannot
describe it."

"It is not a place," said the captain, "it's a girl."

"As for women, Venice--"

"Venice be damned!" said the sea-captain.  "Not in Venice, not in all
the world, is there the like for grace or beauty of Tao-Tuen. They call
her Golden Bells," he says.

"Is she a dancing-girl?" Marco asked.

"She is not a dancing-girl," says the sea-captain, "she is the daughter
of Kubla, the great Khan."

"A cold and beautiful princess," says Marco Polo.

"She is not a cold and beautiful princess," says the sea-captain. "She
is warm as the sun in early June, and she may be beautiful and a
princess, but we all think of her as Golden Bells, the little girl in
the Chinese garden."

"Did you ever see her?" says Marco, eagerly.  "Tell me."

"I saw her before I left," says the sea-captain.  "I was at the Khan's
palace of Chagannor," says he, "seeing of the chief of the stewards was
there anything I could get for him, and I in foreign parts.  And as I
was being rowed back along the river by my ten brawny sailormen, what
did I pass but the garden of Golden Bells.

"And there she was by the river-side, a little brown slip of a girl in
green coat and trousers, with a flower in her dark hair.

"And I lower my head in reverence as we pass by.  But I hear her low,
merry voice, by reason of which they call her Golden Bells.

"'Ho, master of the vessel.' she calls.  'Where do you go?'

"And the sailors back water with a swish, and I stand up respectfully,
for all she is only a slip of a girl.

"'I go to foreign parts, Golden Bells,' I tell her; 'to far and
dangerous places, into the Indian Ocean.  To the Island of Unicorns and
to the land where men eat men.'

"'I hope you come back safe, master of the vessel,' she says.  'I hope
you have a good voyage and come back safe.  It must be a dreadful
strain on your people to think of you so far away.'

"'In all this wide land,' I tell her, 'there is none to worry about me.
I have neither chick nor child.'

"'Golden Bells will worry about you, then,' she said, 'and you in the
hazards of the sea.  And take this flower for luck.'  And she gave me
the flower from her hair.  'And let it bring you luck against the anger
of the ocean and the enemies all men have.  And let me know when you
are back, because I'll be worried about a man of China and him in
danger on the open sea.'

"And wasn't that a wonderful thing from a daughter of Kubla to me, a
poor sailor-man?

"The son of the King of Siam came to woo her with a hundred princes on
a hundred elephants, but she wouldn't have him.  'I don't wish to be a
queen,' she told her father.  'How could I be a queen?  I am only
Golden Bells.'  Nor would she have anything to say to the Prince of the
Land of Darkness, who came to her with sea ivory and pale Arctic gold.
'The sun of China is in my heart, and you wouldn't have me go up into
the great coldness to shiver and die?'

"So she remains in her garden by the lake of Cranes with Li Po, the
great poet, him they call the Drinker of Wine, to make songs for her;
and the SANANG Tung Chih, the great magician, to perform wonders for
her when she is wearied; and Bulagan, her nurse, to take her to her
heart when she is sad.

"And sad she is a lot of the time, they tell me.  She sits in her
garden in the dusk, playing her lute, and singing the song of the
Willow branches, which is the saddest love-song in the world...

"And why she should be singing a sad love-song, is a mystery, for her
soft, brown beauty is the flower of the world.  For there would be no
lack of suitors for her, nor is she the one to refuse love. The only
thing I make of it is that the right hour hasn't come.

"The beauty of Venice jumps to your eyes, but the beauty of this pulls
at your heart.  Little brown Golden Bells, in her Chinese garden,
singing the song of the Willow Branches at the close of day... Is that
not better nor Venice?"

But he got no word out of Marco Polo, sitting with his chin cupped in
his hands.  And that was the finest answer at all, at all...


The times went by, and Marco Polo busied himself with his daily
affairs, keeping track of the galleasses with merchandise to strange
far-away ports, buying presents for refractory governors who didn't
care for foreign trade in their domains, getting wisdom from the old
clerks, and knowledge from the mariners; in the main, acting as the son
of a great house while the heads of it were away.

You would think that he would have forgotten what the sea-captain of
China told him about Golden Bells, what with work and sport and other
women near him.  You would think that would drop out of his memory like
an old rime.  But it stuck there, as an old rime sometimes sticks, and
by dint of thinking he had her fast now in his mind--so fast, so clear,
so full of life, that she might be some one he had seen an hour ago or
was going to see an hour from now.  He would think of the now merry,
now sad eyes of her, and the soft, sweet voice of her by reason of
which they called her Golden Bells, and the dusky little face, and the
hair like black silk, and the splotch of the red flower in it.  She was
as distinct to him as the five fingers on his hand.  It wasn't only she
was clear in his mind's eye, but she was inside of him, closer than his
heart.  She was there when the sun rose, so he would be saying, "It's a
grand day is in it surely, Golden Bells."  She was there in the dim
counting house and he going over in the great intricate ledgers the
clerks do be posting carefully with quills of the gray goose, so that
he would be saying: "I wonder where this is and that is.  Sure I had my
finger on it only a moment ago, Golden Bells."  And when the dusk was
falling, and the bats came out, and the quiet of Christ was over
everything, and the swallows flew low on the great canals, she would be
beside him, and never a word would he say to her, so near to him would
she be.

And she wrought strangeness between him and the women he knew, the
great grave lady with the large, pale mouth, her that was of his mind,
and the little black cloak-maker with the eager, red mouth, her that
was closer than mind or heart to him.  So that the first found fault
with his poetry.

"I don't know what's come over you, Marco Polo,"--and there was a touch
of temper in her voice,--"but these poems of yours show me you haven't
your mind on your subject.  Would you mind telling me when I had bound
black hair?" she says.  "And you say my bosom is like two little russet
apples.  Now, a regular poet once compared it to two great silver cups,
and that was a good comparison, though in truth," she says, "he knew as
little about it as you.  And my hands are not like soft Eastern
flowers.  They're like lilies.  I don't know where you do be getting
these Eastern comparisons," she says. "But I don't like them.  Tell me,
pretty boy,"--she looks suspicious,--"you haven't been taking any of
the strange Egyptian drugs the dark people do be selling in the dim
shops on the quiet canals?  Look out, pretty boy!  Look out!"

And the little cloak-maker grumbled when he was gone.  "I don't know
what's wrong with him," says she.  "Or maybe it's something that's
wrong with myself, but this delicate love isn't all it's cracked up to
be.  It's all right in books," she says, "and it's a grand sight, and
the players doing it; but I like a hug," she says, "would put the
breath out of you, and a kiss," she says, "you could feel in the soles
of your feet."  And she lay awake and grumbled. "Let him be taking his
la-di-da courting to those as favor it," says she.  "It's not my kind,"
and she grumbled through the lonely night.  "I wonder where my husband
is now," she said.  "And wasn't I the foolish girl to be sending him
off!  Sure, he drank like a fish and beat me something cruel, but he
was a rare lover, and the mood on him.  Sure, a woman never knows when
she's well off," says she.

And Marco Polo didn't miss them any more nor you'd miss an old overcoat
and the winter past.  All his mind was on was the Golden Bells of
China.  And he thought long until his uncle and father came, so that he
could be off with them to the strange Chinese land.

"But there's no use to me going there," says he.  "I couldn't marry
her.  She would laugh at me," he says.  "She, who refused the son of
the King of Siam, with his hundred princes on a hundred elephants, what
use would she have for me, who's no better nor a peddler with his pack?
But it would be worth walking the world barefoot for to see that little
golden face, to hear the low, sweet voice they call Golden Bells."

They came back in due time, his uncle Matthew, the red, hairy man, and
his father, the thin, dark man, who knew precious stones. And he told
them he wanted to go with them when they made their next expedition to

"We could be using you, after your training in trade," says the father.
But Marco Polo would take no interest in barter.  "Sure, you'd better
come along," says his uncle Matthew.  "There's great sport to be had on
the road, kissing and courting the foreign women and not a word of
language between you, barring a smile and a laugh."

"I have no interest in the foreign women, Uncle Matthew."

"Then it's the horses you've been hearing about, the fine Arab horses
faster nor the wind, and the little Persian ponies they do be playing
polo on, and the grand Tatar hunters that can jump the heighth of a
man, and they sure-footed as a goat.  Ah, the horses, the bonny horses!"

"Ah, sure, Uncle Matthew, 'tis little I know of horses.  Sure, I know
all about boats, racing and trade and war boats, but a horse is not kin
to me."

"Then what the hell's the use of your going to China?"

"Ah, sure, that's the question I'm asking myself, Uncle Matthew. But I
have to go.  I do so.  There is something calling me, Uncle Matthew--a
bell in my ear, father's brother, and there's a ringing bell in my


I shall now tell you how it came about that Marco Polo went to China
with his uncle and father, though he had no eye for a bargain, or
interest in courting foreign women, or sense of horses.

Now, as you may know, this was a great religious time.  The Crusaders,
feeling shame that the Sepulchre of the Lord Jesus should be in Saracen
hands, had come with horse, foot and artillery to Palestine to give
tribute of arms to Him who had died for them on the Bitter Tree. And
great feats were performed and grand battles won.  And kings became
saints, like Louis of France, and saints became kings, like Baldwin of
Constantinople.  Mighty wonders were seen and miracles performed, so
that people said, "Now will be the second coming of Christ and the end
of the world."

And a great desire came on the Christian people to tell the truth of
Christ to the strange and foreign peoples of the world.  So that every
day out of Jerusalem you would see friars hitting the road, some of
them to confront the wizards of the Land of Darkness, and some to argue
theology with the old lamas of Tibet, and some to convert the sunny
Southern islands, where the young women do be letting down their hair
and the men do be forgetting God for them. And all over the world there
was spreading a great rumor that the truth of all things was at last

Even Kubla Khan had heard of it far off in China, and he had charged
the uncle and father of Marco with a message to the Pope of Rome. Let
the pope be sending some theologians to his court, and they'd argue the
matter out; and if he was satisfied that this new religion was the True
Religion, then he'd turn Christian and tell his people to turn
Christian, too.  And let them be bringing back some of the Oil of the
Lamp which burns in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and is a cure for
all the ills in the world.

And when they came to the City of Acre, sure the pope was dead. And
they waited a long time, but no new pope was chosen, so they decided to
go back, because they had a good business there, and they didn't want
to lose it.  And yet they knew there'd be trouble with the Grand Khan,
if they didn't bring back the news of the True Religion and people to
argue it.

"I've been a long time trading," says Nicolo, "and it's a queer thing,
but the more trading you do, the less religion you have.  The arguing
of religion would not come easy to me.  And I'd be up against experts.
I'm not the man for it," says he.  "How about you, Matthew?"

"Oh, sure, they'd never listen to me," Matthew laughs--"me that's drank
with them, and deludhered their women, and gambled until I left them
nothing but the sweat of their brows.  I'd be a great one to preach
religion to them.  Why, man, they'd laugh at me.  But I tell you what,
Nicolas.  There's a bishop in Negropont, and I know where he lives, and
I know his house and everything.  What do you say, Nicolas?  We'll just
throw a bag over his head and tie him on a horse.  Oh, sure, he'd give
grand discourses to the Great Khan!"

"Have sense, Matthew; have sense.  You're always too rough; always
ready to end an argument with a knife, or just lift what you want. Have
sense, man; you can't kidnap a bishop like you'd kidnap a woman.

"Well, I don't see why not," says Matthew.  "It would be easier, too,
because a woman will scratch like a wildcat.  But if you're set against
it, I won't do it," he says.  "Well, then, how about young Marco?"

"My sound man Matthew!  My bully fellow!  Sure you were never at a loss
yet!  Young Marco it is; sure, 'tis the elegant idea.  There's not a
man born of woman better for the job."

Now, all the Christian world had gone religious, and young Marco was no
exception; for't is not only the old that are religious. The young are,
too; but there's a difference.  The religion of old men is reason and
translation; the religion of the young is just a burning cloud.  The
Tragedy of the Bitter Tree is not a symbol to them, but a reality, and
their tears are not of the spirit, but of the body, too.

And there are no half-way houses, no compromises, in a young man's
creed.  It's swallow all, or be damned to you.  It's believe or be lost.

And thinking over the little girl in the Chinese garden, there had come
into Marco's heart, a thought past enduring.  If little Golden Bells
did not believe, then little Golden Bells was lost.  She might have
everything in this world, in this life, an emperor for a father, kings
for suitors, a great poet for a minstrel, a wizard for an entertainer;
but once the little blue shadow left her body, she was lost forever.
And the sight came to him of little Golden Bells going down the dim and
lonely alleys of death, and weeping, weeping, weeping...  Her eyes
would be shot with panic, and the little mouth twisted, and the little
flowery hands twitching at each other.  And it would be cold there for
her who was so warm, and it would be dark there for her who loved
light, and the Golden Bells of her voice would be lost in the whistling
and clanging of the stars as they swung by in their orbits.  He to be
in the great delight of paradise, and she to be in the blue-gray maze
between the worlds--what tragedy!

Kings might bring her presents, a husband might bring her happiness;
but if he could only bring her salvation!  If he could only tell her of
the Bitter Tree!

The body, when you came to think of it, mattered little.  All the
beauty in the world could not endure more than its appointed span.
Helen was dust now, and Deirdre nothing.  What had become of the beauty
of Semiramis, Alexander's darling; and Cleopatra, who loved the great
proconsul; and Bathsheba, for whom David of the Psalms fell from grace?
And Balkis, queen of Sheba, with her apes, ivory, and peacocks?  Dust
and ashes, dust and ashes!  And Scheherazade was but a strange, sad
sound.  Beauty increased and waned like the moon. A little shadow
around the eyes, a little crinkle in the neck, the backs of the hands
stiffening like parchment.  Dust and ashes, dust and ashes!

But the little blue shadow would glow like an Easter morning.

Or it would be a poor, lonely, unlit shadow in the cold gloom of the
clanging worlds.

Poor Golden Bells!  Poor little weeping Golden Bells!  If he could only
tell her about the Bitter Tree!

And then what happens but his uncle Matthew claps him on the back,

"How would you like to go to China, Marco Markeen," says he, "and
preach religion to the benighted people!"

"How did you know, Uncle Matthew?"

"How did I know what?"

"That I wanted to go to China and preach religion to the--the people!"

"Well, if that doesn't beat Banagher," says Matthew Polo, "and Banagher
beats the devil!  Tell me, did you ever hear an old tune called 'Bundle
and Go!'?"

And so the three of them leave upon their journey, but at Layas, where
the King of Armenia had his castle, they heard of the election of a new
pope, so they came back to Acre to get his instructions and blessing.


The pope said a grand mass for them, and at the gospel he enters the
pulpit, a burly figure of a man with sad eyes.

"The blessing of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost be with you
and about you, Amen.

"It is not to you, Nicolo Polo, that I wish to speak, nor to you,
Matthew Polo, for neither of you are my ambassadors to the Great Khan.
Merchant and sportsmen, I honor you, and you have my blessing, but you
have no hopes of mine.  The dirty diversions of the world are between
your eyes and glory," said he.  "It's only myself, an old and sorrowful
man, and this child, a young and hopeful one, can understand; old men
having sight of visions, and young men dreaming dreams...

"Now in the matter of converting the Great Khan and his numerous
millions, first let wisdom speak.  I have little hopes.  He wants to be
argued into it, you see.  Religion is not a matter of argument. It is a
wisdom that surpasses wisdom.  It drifts in men's souls as the foggy
dew comes unbidden to the trees.  It is born before our soul, as the
horned moon is born before our eyes.

"And now, my child, you might say, 'What is the use of sending me to
China if he knows I cannot bring these millions into the fold? My dear
son, there is the wisdom surpassing wisdom.  A great and noble thought
must not die.  Things of the spirit we cannot reckon as a husband-man
reckons his crops.  There is a folk on the marches of Europe, and they
are ever going into battle, and they always fall. Their results are
nothing.  But their name and their glory will endure forever...

"My dear son, God has put wisdom in my head and beauty into yours.
Wisdom is needed for the governance of this world, but beauty is needed
for its existence.  In arid deserts there is no life.  Birds do not
sing in the dark of night.  Show me a waste country, and I'll show you
a brutal people.  No faith can live that is not beautiful...

"The beauty God has put in your heart, child, you must always keep...
How much I think of it I'll tell you.  I'm an old man now, an old and
broken man, and in a few years I'll stand before my Master.

"'What have you seen on my earth,' He'll ask me, 'you who followed St.

"'Lord!  Lord!' I'll tell Him, 'I've seen mighty things.  I've seen the
bridegroom leave his bride and the king his kingdom, the huckster leave
his booth, and the reaper drop his hook, that they might rescue Your
Holy Sepulchre from pagan hands.'

"'And anything else?'  He'll ask.

"'And I've seen a young man go out into the desert and over his head
was a star...'

"You may think you have failed, child, but remember that in the coming
times your name and fame will awaken beauty, and many's the traveler on
the hard road will find his courage again, and he thinking of Marco
Polo.  And many's the young man will dream dreams, and many's the old
man will see visions, and they reading the book by the golden
candle-light; and many's the young girl will give you love, and you
dead for centuries.  But for this you must keep your dream.

"Now you'll think it's the queer pope I am to be telling you things
like this instead of demanding converts.  But the wisdom that surpasses
wisdom comes to you with the Annointing of the Oil.  'I knew a man in
Christ above fourteen years ago,' writes Saint Paul, '(whether in the
body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell.  God

"'How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words,
which is not lawful for a man to utter.'

"Now you see there is a wisdom surpassing wisdom, and it is out of this
fount of wisdom I am drawing when I speak to you these words.

"Child, I will not keep you any longer.  Only to say this, and this is
the chiefest thing: never let your dream be taken from you. Keep it
unspotted from the world.  In darkness and in tribulation it will go
with you as a friend; but in wealth and power hold fast to it, for then
is danger.  Let not the mists of the world, the gay diversions, the
little trifles, draw you from glory.


"Si oblitus fuero tui Jerusalem,--If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,--

"Oblivioni detur dextera mea,--let my right hand forget her cunning--

"Adhaereat lingua mea faucibus meis, si non meminero tui,--if I do not
remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth--

"Si non proposuero Jerusalem, in principis laetitiae meae,--If I prefer
not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

"I shall now send a prayer to Heaven," he said, "to keep you safe in
the strange foreign ways, to protect you against wind and tempest,
against pestilence and sudden death, against the powers of darkness,
and Him who goes up and down the world for the ruin of souls."

And he turned to the high altar again, and now you'd hear his voice
loud and powerful, and now low and secret, and the bell struck, and the
acolyte intoned the responses, and all of a sudden he turned and spread
forth his hands.

"Ite!  Let you go now.  Missa est."


And so they set forth with their great train of red, snarling camels
and little patient donkeys and slender, nervous horses toward the
rising sun.  Behind them the green hills of Palestine died out as a
rainbow dies out, and now there was sand before them and now bleak
mountains, and by day the wind was swift and hot and by night it was
black and cold.  And moons were born and died...

And they passed through the land of the King of Armenia, and they
passed Ararat, the mountain where Noah brought his ark to anchor, and
where it still is, and where it can be seen still, but cannot be
reached, so cold and high and terrible is that mountain.

And they passed ruined Babel, that was built of Nimrod, the first king
of the world, and now is desolation.  They passed it on a waning moon.
And out of the ruins the dragons came and hissed at them, and strange,
obscene birds flapped their wings in the air and cawed and pecked at
them, and over the desert the satyr called unto her mate...

And they passed through the Kingdom of Georgia, whose kings are born
with the mark of an eagle on their right shoulder.  They passed through
Persia, where the magicians worship fire.  And they passed through the
city of Saba, where sleep the three magi who came to worship at
Bethlehem, and their names were Kaspar, Balthlasar, and Melchior.

And they passed through Camadi, where great ruins are and robbers roam
through the magical darkness.  And they passed northward of the
Perilous Valley, where the Devil's Head is in black stone, and that is
one of the nine entrances to hell; and passed the Valley of the
Cockadrills, where there are serpents five fathoms in length; and
passed the Valley of Cruel Women, who have precious stones in place of

And they went through the Dismal Desert, where no stream sang...

And in the desert they passed the Trees of the Sun and Moon, which
speak with the voices of men.  And it was from the Speaking Tree that
Alexander heard of his death.  And it was near there that he and Darius
fought.  And they passed the Arbre Sec, the Dry Tree, which has a green
bark on one side and white on the other, and there are no trees within
a hundred miles of that tree, and it is sprung from the staff of Adam.

And they passed through Balkh, the Mother of Cities.  And they passed
through Tailian, where the great salt mountains are.  And they passed
through Badashan, where the mountains of the rubies are. And they
passed through Kashmir, whose women are very beautiful, and whose
magicians weave the strongest spells in the world...

And moons were born and died...

And they came to Alamoot, the fortess of Senex de Monte, the Old Man of
the Mountain, the King of the Assassins, the greatest wizard of all

Now this is the tale of the Old Man the Mountain.

Whenever within his dominions there was a fine young horseman, the Old
Man would put a spell on him and draw him to the Castle of Alamoot, and
outside of the castle sleep would come on him.  And when he woke up, he
would be inside the castle, in the wonderful gardens.  And they'd tell
him he was dead and in paradise.  And paradise it would be for him what
with the lovely women and the great playing on the flutes, the birds
singing, and the sun shining, the crystal rivers and the flowers of the
world.  And after a while the Old Man of the Mountain would call for
him, and tell him he was sending him back on earth again on a mission
to punish Such-and-Such.  And the Old Man would put sleep on him and a
knife in his hand, and when he woke he would be outside the Castle of
Alamoot.  And he would start on his mission.  And when he came back he
would be readmitted to paradise.  And if he didn't come back, there
were others to take his place.

The Old Man of the Mountain always kept one hundred and one assassins
and four hundred and four women to tend them.

Now when the caravan of the Polos had come to rest for the day, the Old
Man of the Mountain put out white, not black magic, and he drew Marco
Polo to the castle as a magnet draws a needle.  And Marco Polo galloped
up to the Castle in the waning moon, and the Old Man looked down on him
from the battlements and stroked his long white beard.

"Do you know me, Marco Polo?"

"I know you and I have no fear of you, Old Man of the Mountain."

"And why have you no fear of me, Marco Polo?"

"Because the cross of the Lord Jesus is between me and harm. Because it
protects me night and day."

"I know Eesa ben-Miriam," said the Old Man.  "He was a great prophet.
But whether he would have protected you from me, we will differ about
that.  I've often thought of you, Marco Polo, and you coming this way.
I could have used you in my work of keeping the kings and chieftains of
the world in fear and subjection."

"Then why am n't I in your garden, Old Man of the Mountain?"

"The four most beautiful women in the world are in my garden. There is
a tall, black-haired woman, and she is fairer and more adroit than
Lilith, who was before Eve; and there is a tall, blond woman, and she
is like a queen; and there is a slim, copper-colored woman, and she is
like an idol in a shrine; and there is a little brown-haired woman, and
she is like a child.  But none of those women could make you believe
you were in paradise while there's a face in your heart.  Not the cross
of the Lord Jesus is between you and me, but the face of little Golden
Bells of China."

"But I am not going to China to woo Golden Bells, Old Man of the
Mountain.  I am going to convert the men of Cathay."

The Old Man of the Mountain laughed and stroked his beard.

"You had a sermon from Gregory before you came away.  Did he tell you
you were to convert the men of Cathay?"

"He did not."

"Ali, Gregory's a sound man.  He knew you can't make saints in a day.
Why, child, I've seen the beginning of the world, and I've seen the end
of it.  I've seen the beginning in a crystal glass, and I've seen the
end in a pool of ink in a slave's hand.  I've seen mankind begin lower
nor the gibbering ape, and I've seen them end the shining sons of God.
Millions on millions on millions of years, multiplied unto dizziness,
crawling, infinitesimal work overcoming nature, overcoming themselves,
overcoming the princes of the powers of darkness, one of whom I am.
But this is too deep for you, Marco Polo.

"Now you can go on your way without hindrance from me, Marco Polo,
because of the memory of an old time, when the courting of a woman was
more to me than the killing of a man, when beauty meant more nor power.

"Let you be on your way, Marco Polo, while I sit here a lonely old man,
with wee, soft ghosts whispering to him.  Let you be hastening on your
way before I remember I am a prince of the powers of darkness and
should do you harm..."


And so they went on eastward, ever eastward, and the moons were born,
grew, waned, and died...

They passed through Khotan, where the divers bring up jade from the
rivers, white jade and black jade, and green jade veined with gold.
They passed through Carnal, the shameful city, whose women are fair and
wanton, whose men are cuckolds.  And they passed through the province
of Chitingolos, where are the mountains of the Salamanders. They passed
through the city of Campicha, where there are more idols than men.  And
they passed through the great city of Samarkand, where the Green Stone
is on which Timur's throne was set... And were born and died...

They passed through Tangut, where the men will not carry the dead out
through the door of a house, but must break a hole in the wall. And
they passed through Kialehta, where there are snow-white camels. And
they passed through the lands of Prester John.

And now they were in the Tatar lands.  There passed them lowing musk
oxen.  There passed them the wild asses of Mongolia.  There passed them
the barbarians, with their great tents on wheels.  There passed them
the black-jowled, savage, idolaters.  There passed them the pretty
white-faced women.  There passed them huge, abominable dogs.

And they came to the town of Lob, and a new moon arose, and they
entered the Desert of the Singing Sands.


Wherever they went now was sand, and a dull haze that made the sun look
like a copper coin.  And a great silence fell on the caravan, and
nothing was heard but the crunch of the camels' pads and the tinkle of
the camels' bells.  And no green thing was seen.

And a great terror fell on the caravan, so that one night a third of
the caravan deserted.  The rest went on in silence under the dull sun.
And now they came across a village of white skeletons grinning in the
silent sand.  And at night there was nothing heard, not even the
barking of a dog.  And others of the caravan deserted, and others were

And now they had come so far into the desert that they could not
return, but must keep on their way, and on the fifth day they came to
the Hill of the Drum.  And all through the night they could not sleep
for the booming of the Drum.  And some of the caravan went mad there,
and fled screaming into the waste.

And now there was only a great haze about them, and they looked at one
another with terror, saying: "Were we ever any place where green was,
where birds sang, or there was sweet water?  Or maybe we are dead. Or
maybe this was all our life, and the pleasant towns, and the lamplight
in the villages, and the apricots in the garden, and our wives and
children, maybe they were all a dream that we woke in the middle of.
Let us lie down and sleep that we may dream again."

But Marco Polo would not let them lie down, for to lie down was death.
But he drove them onward.  And again they complained: "Surely God never
saw this place that He left it so terrible.  Surely He was never here.
He was never here."

And now that their minds were pitched to the height of madness, the
warlocks of the desert took shape and jeered at them, and the
white-sheeted ghosts flitted alongside of them, and the goblins of the
Gobi harried them from behind.  And the sun was like dull copper
through the haze, and the moon like a guttering candle, and stars there
were none.

And when the moon was at its full, they came to the Hill of the Bell.
And through the night the Bell went GONGH, GONGH, GONGH, until they
could feel it in every fiber of their bodies, and their skin itched
with it.  They would stop their ears.  But they would hear it in the
palms of their hands and the soles of their feet.  GONGH, GONGH, GONGH.

And when they left the Hill of the Bell there were only six of the
caravan left, and a multitude of white-sheeted ghosts.  And the caravan
plodded onward dully.  And now the warlocks of the desert played
another cruelty.  Afar off they would put a seeming of a lake, and the
travelers would press on gladly, crying, "There is water! Water!  God
lives!  God lives!"  But there was only sand.  And now it would be a
green vision, and they would cry: "We have come to the edge of the
desert.  After the long night, dawn.  God lives! God lives!"  But there
would be only sand, sand.  And now it would be a city of shining domes
in the distance.  And they would nudge one another and croak, "There
are men there, brother, secure streets, and merchants in their booths;
people to talk with, and water for our poor throats."  But there would
be only sand, sand, sand... And they would cry like children.  "God is
dead!  Haven't you heard? Don't you know?  God is dead in His heaven,
and the warlocks are loosed on the land!"

And on the last day of the moon they were all but in sight of the
desert's edge, though they didn't know.  And the goblins and the
warlocks took counsel, for they were now afraid Marco and his few
people would escape.  They gathered together and they read the runes of
the Flowing Sand.

And suddenly the camels rushed screaming into the desert with sudden
panic, and a burning wind came, and the sands rose, and the desert
heeled like a ship, and the day became night.

And young Marco Polo could stand no more.  That was the end, the end of
him, the end of the world, the end of everything.  There was red
darkness every where, and he could see nobody.  "O my Lord Jesus!" he
cried.  "O little Golden Bells!"  The wind boomed like an organ. The
sand screamed.  "O my Lord Jesus!  O little Golden Bells!"  And the
voices of his father and uncle were like the tweeting birds. "Where's
the lad, Matthew?  Where's our lad?"  "Mark, Mark, where have you got
to?  Lad of our heart, where are you?"  But they couldn't find each
other.  The sand buffeted them like shuttlecocks.  "Boy Mark!" The sand
snarled like a dog; the wind hammered like drums.  "Oh, Golden Bells!
O, little Golden Bells!  O, my Lord Jesus, must it end here?"

And the fight went out of him, and a big sob broke in him, and he lay
down to die...


I shall now tell you of Golden Bells, and her in the Chinese Garden.


I would have you now see her as I see her, standing before Li Po, the
great poet, in her green costume.  And Li Po, big, fat, with sad eyes
and a twisted mouth, uncomfortable as be damned.  The sun shone in the
garden, the butterflies, the red and black and golden butterflies,
flitted from blossom to blossom.  And the bees droned. And on the banks
of the green lake the kingfisher tunneled his wee house, and the wind
shook the blossoms of the apple-trees.  And Li Po sat on the marble
slab and was very uncomfortable.  And in a dark bower was Sanany, the
magician, brooding like an owl.  And Golden Bells stood before Li Po,
and there were hurt tears in her eyes.

"Did my father or I ever do anything to you, Li Po, that you should
make a song such as they sing in the market-place?"

"What song?"

"The Song of the Cockatoo."

"I don't remember."

"I'll remind you, Li Po.  'There alighted on the balcony of the King of
Annam,' the song goes, 'a red cockatoo.  It was colored as a
peach-tree-blossom and it spoke the tongue of men.  And the King of
Annam did to it what is always done to the learned and eloquent. He
took a cage with stout bars, and shut up inside.'  And wasn't that the
cruel thing to write!  And are you so imprisoned here, Li Po?  Ah, Li
Po, I'm thinking hard of you, I'm thinking hard."

"Well, now, Golden Bells, to tell you the truth there was no excuse for
it.  But often times I do be feeling sad, and thinking of the friends
of my youth who are gone.  Yuan Chen, who might have been a better poet
nor me, if he had been spared; and H'sieng-yang and Li Chien, too.  Ah,
they were great poets, Golden Bells.  They never sang a poor song,
Golden Bells, that they might wear a fine coat. And they'd write what
was true, wee mistress, were all the world to turn from them.  And I'm
the laureate now, the court singer, living in my glory, and they're
dead with their dreams.  I'm the last of the seven minstrels.  And, wee
Golden Bells, I do be thinking long.

"And sometimes an old woman in the street or a man with gray in his
hair will lift a song, and before the words come to me, there's a pain
in my heart.

"And I go down to the drinking booths, and the passion of drinking
comes on me--a fury against myself and a fury against the world. And
the folk do be following me to see will I let drop one gem of verse
that they can tell their grandchildren they heard from the lips of Li
Po.  And when my heart is high with the drinking, I take a lute from a
traveling poet, and not knowing what I'm saying, I compose the song.
Out of fallow sorrow bloom the little songs. You mustn't be hard on an
old man, wee Golden Bells, and he thinking long for his dead friends."

"Ah, poor Li Po," she said, and she had grown all soft again. "Is it so
terrible to be old?"

"Now you ask me a question, Golden Bells, and I'll give you an answer.
Besides, it's part of my duties to teach you wisdom.  Now, it is not a
terrible thing, at all, at all, to be old.  I see the young folk start
out in life, and before them, there's the showers of April, there's
wind and heat and thunder and lightning.  But I'm in warm, brown
October, and all of it's gone by me.  And in a little while I'll sleep,
and 'tis I need it, God help me!  The old don't sleep much, wee Golden
Bells, so 'tis a comfort to look forward to one's rest after the
hardness of the world.  In a hundred or more years or five hundred,
just as the fancy takes me, I'll wake up for a while and wander down
the world to hear the people sing my songs, and then I'll go back to my

And she was going to ask him another question when the Sanang came up.
The magician was a thick man with merry eyes and a cruel mouth.

"Golden Bells," he says, "there's rare entertainment in the crystal

"What is it, Sanang!"

"The warlocks of the Gobi have a young lad down, and they're waiting
until the soul comes out of his body.  Come, I'll show you."

And in the crystal glass he showed her Marco Polo, and the knees going
from under him in the roaring sands.  She gave a quick cry of pity.

"Oh, the poor lad!"

Sanang chuckled.  "He started out with a big caravan to preach what he
thought was a truth to China.  I've been watching him all along, and
it's been rare sport.  I knew it would come to this."

"Couldn't you save him, Sanang?" she cried.  "O, Sanang, he's so young,
and he set out to come to us.  Couldn't you save him?"

"Well, I might."  Sanang was not pleased.  "It'll be a while before the
shadow comes out of him.  But it would be rare sport to watch and see
the warlocks and the ghouls and the goblins set on it the way terriers
do be setting on an otter."

"Oh, save him, Sanang! Save him!"

"Now, Golden Bells, I might be able to save him, and again I mightn't."

"Save him, Sanang!"  Li Po broke in.  "Save him the way the wee one
wants.  For if you don't, Sanang, I'll write a song about you that'll
be remembered for generations, and they'll point out your grandchildren
and your grandchildren's grandchildren, and they'll laugh and sing Li
Po's song:

"'There was a fat worm who considered himself a serpent--'"

"Oh, now, Li Po, for God's sake, let you not be composing poems on me,
for 'tis you have the bitter tongue.  Promise me now, and I'll save
him.  We'll send for the keeper of the khan's drums."

And they sent for the keeper, and Sanang gave a message to be put on
the Speaking Drums.

"Let you now," he told his helper, "get me the Distant Ears."

And the helper brought him the Golden Ears, which were the like of a
great bird's wings, and he put them on his head and he listened.

"I hear the drums of the battlements," he said, "...and I hear the
Drums of the Hill of Graves..."

And he listened a while, and Golden Bells was white.

"I hear the Drums of the Dim Mountain,"...and for a while he said

"Those would be the drums of Yung Chang..."

"I hear the Drums of Kai Yu Kwan," he said.

"Yes, Sanang, yes."  Little Golden Bells was one quiver of fear.

"I hear the Drums of the Convent of the Red Monks," said Sanang. "I
hear drums calling the Tatar tribes...  I hear the slap of saddles. I
hear the jingle of bits...  I hear galloping ponies..."

"Yes, Sanang, Oh, hurry, Sanang!  hurry!"

He listened a little while longer, and then he took off the Distant

"Your man's saved," he said.

Then little Golden Bells laughed and then she cried.  She caught Li
Po's hand and laughed again and again she cried.  Sanang shook his head
to get out of his ears the deafening noises of the world. And Li Po
smiled out of his sad eyes.

"I think I'll go and write a marriage-song, Golden Bells.

"Whom will you write the marriage-song for, Li Po?"

"I'll write it for you, Golden Bells."

"But I'm not going to be married, Li Po.  There is no one.  I love no
one, Li Po.  I do not.  I do not, indeed."

"Then take your lute and sing me the 'Song of the Willow Branches,'
which is the saddest song in the world."

She shook her head, and blushed.  "I cannot sing that song, Li Po. I
don't feel like singing that song."

"Then I must write you another song, Little Golden Bells..."


And now when Marco Polo was rested and had recovered, they brought him
from the Convent of the Red Monks to where the khan was in the city of
Chandu.  Now, there were two palaces in Chandu; there was the winter
palace, which was of marble, and the summer palace, which was of gilt
cane.  Around these palaces there was built a wall sixteen miles in
compass, and inside of it was a park of fountains, and rivers and
brooks with the speckled trout in them, and meadows with the lark at
her ease in the grass, and trees of all varieties where the little
birds do be building and none to grudge them a home.  And all the wild
animals were abundant, the timid hare and the wild deer and the wee
croaking frogs, long-legged colts by their white mothers, and little
dogs tumbling over themselves with the sport of spring.  Brown bees
among the clover, strawberries in profusion, trees would delight your
eyes, and brown cows and black cows, and dappled moilies under the
great leaves of them, and lambs would be snowy of fleece.  All the
flowers of the world were there; the paradise of wild things it was,
the park of Kubla Khan.

   "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan," quoted young Randall,
   "A stately pleasure dome decree,
   Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
   Through caverns measureless to man,
   Down to a sunless sea.
   So twice five miles of fertile ground
   With walls and towers were girdled round:
   And there were gardens, bright with sinuous rills,
   Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
   And here were forests ancient as the hills,
   Enfolding sunny spots of greenery."

"Whose poem is that poem, Brian Oge?"

"It is a poem of Coleridge's, Malachi."

"I though it was maybe a poem of Colquitto Dall McCracken of Skye, that
one of you lads had put English on.  It is a poem of the head, you ken,
and Colquitto, being a dark man, could only see with the eye's ghost.
But it hasn't the warmth, the life of the work of Blind Colquitto,
Brian Oge, do you mind the poem Angus More Campbell of Rathlin wrote to
Colquitto Dall?"

"'Is aoibhinn duid, Colquitto Dall,'"  I remembered: "It is happy for
thee, blind Colquitto, who dost not see much of women.  If thou wert to
see what we see, thou wouldst be tormented even as I am. My sorrow, O
God, that I was not stricken blind before I saw her amber, twisted

"That's it, that's it, Brian Oge.  But this is not the place to be
talking of poetry.  There is no poetry in this story.

"I will now tell you of Marco Polo and him entering the presence of the
great khan..."


And Marco Polo was brought into the presence.  And among all assembled
there you could hear a pin drop.

At the north end of the great hall sat the Khan himself, and Marco Polo
nearly dropped with surprise; for where he expected a great,
magnificent figure of a man, with majesty shining from his eyes, he saw
only a pleasant, bearded man, not quarter so well dressed as the
meanest servant on the room, and a fine, welcoming smile in his face.
His throne was elevated so that his feet were on the level of the heads
of the kinsmen of the Blood Royal beneath him, and they in silk and
ermine and fine brocades and jewels.  And beneath these were the barons
and dukes and knights.  And beneath these were the captains of the
fighting men, three thousand and three. And beneath these were the
musicians and the sorcerers.  And behind Kubla Khan, very big, very
erect, stood his three great servants, the Keeper of the Hunting
Leopards, the Keeper of the Speaking Drums, and the Keeper of the
Khan's Swords.

And beside Kubla Khan, on a little throne, sat Golden Bells... And it
was the sight of her more than the sight of the great assembly that
dumbed the words in his mouth.  And Kubla was smiling at him, and she
was smiling, too.

And Kubla saw there was something wrong with him, that there was
embarrassment on him and he rose from his: throne.

"There is welcome for you here, Marco Polo, and no enmity.  There is
interest, in and eagerness for your message.  There is none here will
criticize you or make it hard for you.  Let there be no shame on you in
speaking before so many people.  Say what you have to say as if there
were nobody here, if that will help you, barring myself and the little
daughter beside me..."

"O Emperor," the words came back to Marco Polo, "and ye, great princes,
dukes, and marquises, counts, knights, and burgesses, and people of all
degrees who desire the light of the world, grace be to you and peace,
from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ!

"The message I have to give you, I shall give in the words of Him,
Whose perfect message it is:

"'Beati pauperes spiritu,--Blessed are the poor in spirit.

"'Quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum,--for theirs is the kingdom of

"'Beati mites,--Blessed are the meek...'"

And Marco Polo went on and quoted for them the words that were spoken
on the Mount in Galilee.  And they listened to him with great civility
and attention.  And little Golden Bells leaned forward, with her chin
on her hands, and Kubla leaned back in his throne, with his eyes half

"'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil, but whoever shall smite
thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'"  And at this the
great Khan looked up puzzled, and a movement went through the fighting
men in the hall.  But wee Golden Bells never budged a minute, and Marco
Polo went on:

"'Et factum est; cum consummasset Jesus verba haec,--And it came to
pass when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at
his doctrine.'

"I shall now tell you of the life and death of the Lord Jesus..."

He told them of the birth in Bethlehem, and of the teaching on the
hills, and the poets nodded their heads; and he told them of the
cleansing of the lepers and of the casting out of devils and the
raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the magicians wondered; and he
told them of the betrayal by Judas with a kiss, and the
captains-at-arms shuffled in their seats; and he told them of the
scourging, and of the crowning with thorns, and the great Khan snicked
his dagger in and out of the sheath.  And a mist of tears came into the
eyes of Golden Bells.

And he told them of the crucifixion between two thieves, and a great
oath ripped from the beard of Kubla Khan, and the silver tears ran from
the eyes of Golden Bells.

"'And on the third day He arose from the dead...'"

And a great shout came from the throat of Kubla Khan, and he stood up.

"He arose from among the dead men, I'll warrant; He showed himself to
the Roman Pilate in all His power and majesty--"

"No," said Marco Palo.

"Then He showed himself to the thousands who had seen him die upon the
gallows tree!"

"No," said Marco Polo.

"Who saw Him, then?"

"His twelve Apostles and they in a little room!"

And Kubla Khan sat down suddenly and said no more.  There was a
moment's murmur of wonder among the assembly, and then silence. And
Marco's heart fell.  And he was aware of two things, of the great
politeness of the Chinese people and of Golden Bell's pitying eyes...


When Kubla Khan dismissed the assembly, and he took Marco Polo into a
sitting-room, and Golden Bells came with them.

"And what did you think, sir, of what I said?  And can you not see,
sir, the truth that's in me?"

"Well, now, laddie," said the great Khan, "when we come to examine this
sermon you quoted to us, what is there in it but the rule of the
righteous man?  We've had a great thinker and pious man of our own,
Confucius.  I'm not a reading man," says he, "but I've got an idea,"
says he, "that there isn't a thing you said but is embraced in the
Analects.  And if it isn't it'll be in the teachings of the Lord

"Ah, but, sir," Marco Polo said, "You'll have to admit that He of Whom
I speak was the true God made man."

"Now, laddie, remember I'm an old man, set in my head and my ways, and
I've been used to one belief so long it would be hard changing. So
don't press me now; don't press me, I ask you."

"Ah, sir," pleaded Marco Polo, "it's terrible to think of, as great a
prince as you to be in the black spaces outside of heaven because you
wouldn't accept the truth."

"Well, maybe they won't be so hard on one, my dear lad.  When my time
comes and I rap on the gate of your heaven, maybe they'll say: 'It's
only old Kubla, the soldier, is in it.  He knows devil and all about
religion, but his fights were fair fights, and he never hit a man when
he was down.  He had a soft heart for wee children and he was easy on
horses.  Sure, what's the difference?  Let him in!'  And if they say
no, I'll tuck the old nicked claymore under my arm, and be off to where
the other old fighters are."

"I see, sir, that there was little success to my message."

"I wouldn't say that," said Kubla Khan.  "Wait a little until you
perform miracles before the people to prove your truth.  You'll know
better then."

"Ah, sir," said Marco Polo, "I can perform no miracles.  'Tis only a
saint can perform miracles, and I couldn't lace a saint's shoes. I have
no miracles."

"Oh, well, now, my dear boy," said Kubla Khan, "I hate to tell you, but
there's no use going further.  Sure you'd be up against the sorcerers
of the world.  They'd ask you for a sign, and you'd have no sign, and
they'd have signs in abundance.  I wouldn't think of letting you go
against them.  Fair play's a jewel, and you wouldn't have a chance.
There's the Red Pope from Tibet and there's the Black Magician from
Korea and a hundred minor ones, and the Warlock of the North, from the
Islands of Ice, who governs the hail and the snow.  Child, I wouldn't
let you get into the same ring with them. They'd ruin you."

"But, sir, wasn't it a great miracle of the Lord's, my rescue in the
Gobi Desert?"

"A miracle of the Lord's!  A miracle of Golden Bells here.  It was her
magician saw you, and she had the message put on the drums, and the
desert patrols went to seek you.  It was herself here, wee Golden
Bells."  And Golden Bells' mouth gave a smile of shame that his thought
should be broken in his mind.

"A long way I'm after coming," said Marco Polo, "and when I set out my
heart was high."

"Now, don't be taking it too hard," says the khan, kindly.  "Sure,
there's a power of good you can be doing here.  Maybe you can do
something with Li Po," says he.  "I'd like fine for you to try. The man
is worrying the life out of me with his drinking.  I never know when he
goes out whether he'll come back all right or feet foremost on a door.
For he's got the bitter tongue when the drink's in him, and China could
ill afford to lose him.  And there are some of my captains, and the
tune they're always piping is 'War!  War! War!  And let's show up this
Alexander who said he conquered the world.'  And I'm past the age when
you make war for devilment. So let you be helping me out with them,
Marco Polo."

But Marco Polo knew this was only meant in kindness, and his heart was

"Ah, wee lady,"--he turned to Golden Bells,--"wee lady, wee lady, why
didn't you let me die in the desert?  Why didn't I die?"

"And why should you die, Marco Polo?"  Her low, sweet voice rang in the
heart of him.  "Didn't you come here to give your message? And to make
converts?  And didn't I hear your message?  And am n't I your convert,
Marco Polo?"


And now the place of Li Po was usurped, and gone Sanang with his magic
glass, and in the jasmine garden by the Lake of Cranes Marco Polo sat
and instructed Golden Bells...


And he told of the flight into Egypt when savage Herod reigned, and of
the Jewish maid and her child sleeping beneath the shadow of the great
Sphinx, while the shades of the old Afric gods looked on in reverence,
Amenalk and Thoth and the moon-horned Io, Isis, and Osiris.  And the
painted kings knelt in their pyramids, and out of the sluggish Nile
came the strange aquatic population, the torpid crocodiles and
monstrous water lizards, and the great hippopotami lumbered to bow
before the little Lord of all things...

And he told her how Satan had tempted Him on the lonely, black craigs...

"But you are not listening, little Golden Bells--"

"Indeed I am listening, Marco Polo.  Yes, indeed I am.  I love to hear
your voice, Marco Polo.  You are so earnest, Marco Polo; there is such
a light in your eyes.  Listen, Marco Polo, Li Po once wrote a poem,
'White Gleam the Gulls,' and it is the poem by which he is best known,
and every time I hear it there is an echo in my heart. But, Marco Polo,
I never listened to Li Po's song so eagerly as I am listening to your

"But you are not taking it in, little Golden Bells."

"It is very hard to take in, Marco Polo.  It happened so long ago. It
is hard to think of a tragedy in a strange country, and we in this
garden on the second moon of spring.  And it was so very long ago.  Do
you hear the bees, Marco Polo--the bees among the almond-blossoms?  And
see the blue heron by the lotus flowers? And do you see the little
tortoise, Marco Polo, and he sunning himself on a leaf?  If I throw a
pebble, Marco Polo, he will dive, and he is such a clumsy diver, Marco

"But you must listen, Golden Bells, and believe me."

"I do believe, Marco Polo; I honestly do.  Don't you know I believe
you?  Anything you say, Marco Polo, I believe.  You wouldn't be coming
all the way over the world to be telling me a lie.  Of course I

"And doesn't it make you happy, Golden Bells?"

"Once I was unhappy, Marco Polo.  I used sit here, and on my lute I
used play the 'Song of the Willow Branches,' which is the saddest song
in the world.  Under the moon I used be lonely, and the droning of the
bees meant nothing to me, and now it is a sweet brave song. I cannot
play 'Willow Branches' any more, so alien is sadness to me. And the
moon smiles.  I am very happy, Marco Polo."

"It is the True Religion, little Golden Bells, that makes you happy."

"Is it, Marco Polo?  Is it?  It must be, I suppose.  I don't know what
it is, but I am very happy."


And he told her of Paul, who had seen a vision and gone preaching
through, the world, who was persecuted, who was shipwrecked, who was
bitten by a viper, and who survived everything that he might preach the
Lord Jesus.  He was a fierce, ragged man with burning eyes... And he
told her of Paul's instructions to women...

"You do not look at me when you speak, Marco Polo.  Only your voice
comes to me, not your eyes.  Is it because of Paul?"

And Marco Polo felt great trouble on him, because he could not explain.
But Golden Bells went on:

"There is little in your faith about women, Marco Polo.  Is it a faith
only for men, then?  Is it against women?  Must the young men not look
at the young women?"

"No, Golden Bells; the young men must not look too much on the young

"But that is very foolish, Marco Polo.  Is it wrong to see the beauty
of the almond blossoms, wrong to taste the scented wind? Is it wrong to
watch the kingfisher seeking his nest?  Is it wrong to watch the moon,
the stars?  All these are very beautiful, Marco Polo, so beautiful as
to make me cry.  Is it wrong to watch them?"

"It is not wrong, Golden Bells.  The glory of God is in the beauty of
his handicraft."

"Li Po is old and wise and a great poet, Marco Polo, and Li Po says
there is beauty in a running horse and beauty in a running stream; but
there is no beauty like the beauty of a young woman, and she letting
down her hair.  God made the beauty of women, too, Marco Polo, as well
as the beauty of the stars.  Won't you please explain to me, Marco
Polo?  Why should Li Po say one thing and Saint Paul another?"

"But Golden Bells, Saint Paul is inspired of God."

"But Li Po is inspired of God, too, Marco Polo.  You mustn't be
thinking little of Li Po.  He is fat and old and drunken, but when he
sings, Marco Polo, it is the song of the wandering stars.  But why must
not the young men look at the young women, Marco Polo? Why must they
not look with their eyes?"

"It will be hard for me to tell you, Golden Bells--"

"Look at me now, Marco Polo.  Lift up your eyes and look into my eyes.
Is there evil in me, Marco Polo, that your eyes should avoid me as the
fox avoids the dog?  Or maybe I am not beautiful.  Maybe they told me
wrong because I was a king's daughter, and they would not have me think
little of myself.  Maybe I am not beautiful, Marco Polo, maybe I hurt
your eyes--"

"Ah, Golden Bells, the little horned moon is not more beautiful."

"Then why must not the young men look at the young women, Marco Polo?
You are here to instruct me.  Won't you tell me why?"

"Maybe--maybe--maybe it is for fear of sin, Golden Bells."

"Sin?  Sin!  Why should there be sin?  I know sin, Marco Polo. They
have warned me against it since I crept upon the floor. There are two
sins.  There is meanness, Marco Polo, and there is cruelty; and those
are the only sins.  I know your heart, Marco Polo; there is no meanness
there.  You would not have come here were you mean.  The mean do not
travel afar for other people.  And cruelty! Surely you would not be
cruel to me, Marco Polo.  You would not be cruel to anybody, dear Marco
Polo.  You would not be cruel to me?"

"Cruel to you, little Golden Bells!  How could I be cruel to you?"

"But the sin, Marco Polo?"

"I don't know, Golden Bells.  I don't know."


And one dusk the moon rose over the Chinese garden, and Marco Polo
finished telling her of what John saw on Patmos and he an old man...

"'Veni, Domine Jesu.

"'Gratia Domini nostri Jesu Christi cum omnibus vobis.  Amen!'"

"It is very difficult, Marco Polo.  I don't quite understand."

"I don't quite understand myself, Golden Bells.  But that is all I can
tell you.  But you will understand more," he said.  "My mission is
finished now, and I will go back.  I will stop at the court of Prester
John, and he will send a bishop surely or some great cardinal to
baptize you and to teach you the rest."

"You will go back?"  A great pain stabbed her.  "I never thought, some
how, of you as going back."

"I have come on a mission, Golden Bells, and I must go back."

"There is a woman, maybe, in Venice--"  And she turned her head away
from him and from the moon.

"I would not have you thinking that, Golden Bells.  There is none in
Venice has duty from me.  And if the queen of the world were there, and
she pledged me, I could never look at her, and I after knowing you,
Golden Bells!"

"Is it money, Marco Polo?" she whispered in the dusk.  "It is maybe
your uncle and your father are pressing you to return.  Let you not
worry then, for my father the great Khan will settle with them, too.
There is not a horse in all Tartary that your uncle cannot have, nor a
woman, either.  And your father can have all the jewels of the
treasury, and all the swords, too, even the sword with which my father
conquered China.  My father will give him that if I ask. Only let you
not be leaving this moonlit garden."

"Dear Golden Bells, it isn't that; but I came here for converts--"

"Oh, Marco Polo, listen!  There is a folk at Kai-fung-fu, and they are
an evil folk and a cowardly folk, and my father abhors them. I shall
ask my father to send captains of war and fighting men to convert them
to your faith, Marco Polo, or lop off their heads. And we can send a
few hundreds to the Pope at Rome, and he will never know how they were
converted, and he will be satisfied. Only let you not be going away
from me in my moonlit garden. You will only be turning to trade, Marco
Polo, and marrying a woman.  Let you stay here in the moonlit garden!"

"Ah, little Golden Bells, there is no place in the world like your
moonlit garden.  There is no place I'd be liefer than in the moonlit
garden.  But little Golden Bells, I set out in life to preach the Lord
Jesus crucified.  It was for that I came China."

"Let you not be fooling yourself, young Marco Polo.  Let you not always
be ascribing to God the things that are mine.  You did not come to
preach to China, you came to see me, and your mind stirred up with the
story the sea-captain told, of me playing 'Willow Branches' at the Lake
of Cranes.  O Marco Polo, before you came there were the moon and the
sun and the stars, and I was lonely.  O Marco Polo," she cried, "you
wouldn't go, you couldn't go!  What would you be doing in cold Venice,
far from the warm moonlit garden."

"Sure, I'll be lonely, too, little Golden Bells, a white monk in a
monastery, praying for you."

"But I don't want to be prayed for, Marco Polo."  She stamped her foot.
"I want to be loved.  And there you have it out of me, and a great
shame to you that you made me say it, me that was desired of many, and
would have no man until you came.  And surely it is the harsh God you
have made out of The Kindly Person you spoke of.  And 'tis not He would
have my heart broken, and you turning yourself into a crabbed monk.
And how do you know your preaching will convert any? 'Tis few you
converted here.  Ah, I'm sorry, dear Marco Polo; I shouldn't have said
it, but there is despair on me, and I afraid of losing you."

"'Tis true, though.  I have nothing, nobody to show."

"You have me.  Am n't I converted?  Am n't I a Christian?  Marco Polo,
let me tell you something.  I said to my father I wanted to marry you,
and I asked him if he would give you a province to govern, and he said,
'Sure and welcome.'  And I asked him for Yangchan, the pleasantest city
in all China.  And he said, 'Sure and welcome, Golden Bells.'  And I
told him we would be married, and go there and govern his people
kindly. And you wouldn't shame me before my own father, and all the
people of China.  You couldn't do that, Marco Polo.  Marco Polo,"--she
came toward him, her eye shining,--"let you stay!"

"Christ protect me!  Christ guide me!  Christ before me!"

"Marco Polo!"

"Christ behind me!"

"The moon, Marco Polo, and me, Golden Bells, and the nightingale in the

"Christ on my right hand!  Christ my left!  Christ below me!"

Her arms were around his neck, cheek came close to his.

"Marco Polo!  Marco Polo!"

"Christ above me!"

"My Marco Polo!"

"O, God!  Golden Bells!"

And he put his arms around her, and his cheek to hers, and all the
battle and the disappointment and the fear and the strangeness went out
of him.  And down by the lake the wee frogs chirruped, and in the
apple-tree the nightingale never ceased from singing.  And they stayed
there shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek.  And the moon rose
higher.  And it seemed only a moment they were there, until they heard
the voice of Li Po in the garden.

"Are you there, Golden Bells?  Are you there at all, at all? For two
hours I've been hunting and couldn't get sight or sign of you. I have
the new song, Golden Bells.  For a long time I was dumb, but a little
while ago the power came to me, and I have the new song, Golden Bells,
the marrying song..."


"Thus far," said Malachi of the Long Glen, "the story of Marco Polo."

"That is a warm story, Malachi of the Glen, a warm and colored story,
and great life to it, and Golden Bells is as alive to me as herself
there by the fire, and I can see Marco Polo as plain as I can see my
cousin Randall, and he playing with dogs..."

"If they weren't real and live and warm, what would a story be, Brian
Oge, but a jumble of dead words?  A house with nobody in it, the
poorest thing in the world."

"But Marco Polo came back to Venice, Malachi, and fought in the

"There's more to tell, Brian Oge.  But sometimes I wonder shouldn't the
best part of the story be kept to yourself.  The people aren't as wise
as they used to be, brown lad.  The end of a story now is a bit of
kissing and courting and the kettle boiling to be making tea.

"But the older ones were wiser, Brian Donn.  They knew that the rhythm
of life is long and swinging, and that time doesn't stop short as a
clock.  Sure, what is a kiss from the finest of women but a pleasant
thing, like a long putt sunk, or the first salmon of the year caught
like a trout, or the ball through the goal before the whistle blows?
And there's many a well-filled belly over a hungry soul.

"But a story is how destiny is interwoven, the fine and gallant and the
tragic points of life.  And you mustn't look at them with the eyes of
the body, but you must feel with the antennae of your being. Now, if
you were to look at the Lord Jesus with physical eyes, what would it be
but a kindly, crazy man and He coming to a hard and bitter end?  Look
at it simply, and what was the story of Troy but a dirty row over a

"But often times the stories with endings that grocer's daughters do
not be liking are the stories that are worth while.  And the worth
while stories do be lasting.  Never clip a story half-ways because
Widow Robinson doesn't like to have her mind disturbed, and she warming
her breadth at the fire.  The Widow Robinson may have a white coin to
buy a book with, and think you're the grand author entirely and you
pleasing her.  But Lord God, who gave you the stories, know you for a

"I call to your mind the stories of great English writer--the plays of
the Prince of Denmark, and the poor blind king on the cliff, and the
Scottish chieftain and his terrible wife.  The Widow Robinson will not
like those stories, and she will be keeping her white coin... But those
stories will endure forever...

"I will now tell you of Marco Polo, and him leaving China..."


You must see him now as he was seventeen years after he had come to
China, and fourteen years after his wife, little Golden Bells, had
died, a lean figure of a man, with his hair streaked with gray, a lean,
hard face on him and savage eyes, and all the body of him steel and
whale-bone from riding on the great Khan's business, and riding fast
and furious, so that he might sleep and forget; but forgetting never
came to him...  You might think he was a harsh man from his face and
eyes, but he was the straight man in administering justice, and he had
the soft heart for the poor--the heart of Golden Bells. He was easily
moved to anger, but the fine Chinese people never minded him, knowing
he was a suffering man.  Though never a word of Golden Bells came from
his mouth, barring maybe that line of Dante's, the saddest line in the
world, and that he used to repeat to himself and no one there:

   ..."'la bella persona
   Che mi fu tolta...che mi fu tolta'; who was
   taken from me; Taken!  Taken from me!"

And oftentimes a look would come over his face as if he were listening
for a voice to speak--listening, listening, and then a wee harsh laugh
would come from him, very heartbreaking to hear, and whatever was in
his hand, papers or a riding-whip, he would pitch down and walk away...

He had just come in from the borders of the Arctic lands, from giving
the khan's orders to the squat, hairy tribes who live by the icy
shores, and had come to the garden by the Lake of Cranes, the garden
where the Golden Bells of singing and laughter were dumb this armful of
years, and he was alone, and the listening look was on his face, when
there came Kubla and Li Po and the old magician...

Now Kubla was very old, so old he could hardly walk, and very frail,
and Li Po was very old, too, and gray in the face, and sadder in the
eyes than ever, and the magician's white beard had grown to his knees,
but there was no more humor in his eyes...  And Marco Polo helped the
old khan to sit down.

"Oh, sir, why did you come to me?  Sure I was going to you the moment I
had changed my riding-clothes...  Sir, you should have stayed in your

"There was something on my mind, Marco, and the old do be thinking long
to get things off their mind."

"What can I do sir?"

"Marco, my child, you mustn't take what I say amiss.  But I want you to
be going back, to be going back to Venice."

"Sir, what have I done to dissatisfy you?  In all my embassies have I
been weak to the strong or bullying toward the weak?  Does an oppressed
man complain of injustice, does a merchant complain of being cheated,
or a woman say she was wronged?"

"Now, Marco of my heart, didn't I say not to be taking it amiss? Is
there any one closer to me nor you, or is it likely I'd be listening to
stories brought against you?  It's just this.  I'm an old and tired
man, Marco Beag, and in a week or a moon at most I'm due to die, so the
Sanang tells me.  Don't be sorry, son.  Be glad for me.  Life has been
a wee bit too long.

"And now, son dear, I want to tell you.  You've been closer to me than
my own sons, and you've been the dear lad.  And there's not one man in
all China can say you did a harsh or an unjust thing; but, my dear son,
'tis just the way of people; there's a power of hard feeling against
you in this land, you being a stranger and having stood so high.

"So when I'm dead, dear son, there's many would do you an injury, and
treat you badly; aye, in our family itself, though they smile on you
now.  Let you be going now, Marco.  I'll miss you to close my eyes for
me, but my heart will be lighter.  It will so.  I couldn't sleep easy,
and you ill treated in this land of mine.  You ask him, too, Li Po."

"Ah, sir," Marco laughed,--"and, Li Po, what is ill treatment to me?
Sorrow's my blood brother.  What I've suffered!  Do you think I could
suffer more?"

"I know, Marco, I know."

"Don't you think I suffer now, sir?  Fourteen years she's dead now, the
wee one who lay by my side in sleep.  And never a word and never a
sign.  In the house where we were married I can see the pool and the
willows and the hibiscus, but there is never a token of her," he broke
out.  "The leaves of trees cover the pavilion, the hair of the
musicians is silver, and dust is on the blue and white tiles. And she
never comes to comfort pie.  I can't sleep with waiting. The stars
never seem to wane, and the hoar frost comes on the grass, and I'm
always waiting.  Christ!  Why should I go back?  I've forgotten Venice.
I've even forgotten my God for her!"

"Sanang," says Kubla Khan to the magician, "couldn't you do something
for this poor lad?"

It was now dusk in the garden by the Lake of Cranes...

"I don't need any damned wizard to bring my wife to me," raged Marco
Polo.  "If she were to come, she would come, and I in the dark of the
moon and the moorfowl calling.  She would have come because my heart
needed her."  And he raged through the dusk by the Lake of Cranes...

"Now, Marco, dear lad, don't be flying off again, but remember that
there is science needed to all things.  And think, too, that maybe she
was not permitted.  The older we get, the more we understand the
destiny that rules all things, with now a nudge, with now a leading
finger, with now a terrible blow over the heart, and what we think at
twenty-five was a trifling accident, at seventy-five we know to have
been the enormous gesture of God.  We are not asked when we like to be
born, Marco, nor is it up to us when to die.

"And again, Marco, consider.  If she were to have come to you in the
dark of the moon-time, in the strange mystic hours when you can hear
eternity tick like a clock, your eyes would have been not on this
world, but the next.  Your look would have been vacant that's now keen
to discover injustice.  Your body would have been flabby that's now
whalebone and steel.  And there would have been no memory of you in
China, that's now like sweet honey in the mouth.

"Would a wee dead spirit be proud of a man, Marco, and he just crying,
crying, crying, and letting the days go by while even the brown bee
works, and even the grass grows that cattle may fatten and men eat? She
might be sorry, but would there be pride on her?  Even a dead woman
wants a strong man.

"Now, I'm not saying that the silent dead should not have a voice in
our affairs when we need them.  But they have wisdom, else what is the
use of having died?  And if the Sanang can bring her, she'll come now
and join with us in asking you, now being the time she's needed.

"Child, be guided by us three ancient men.  I have lived long and have
knowledge of the world.  Li Po has lived long and has knowledge of the
heart.  The Sanang has lived long, and knows the secrets of the dead.
If to our three voices, who love you, there is added a sign from Golden
Bells, will you leave China?"

"If there is a sign from her I'll leave China," said Marco Polo.

And it was dusk in the Garden by the Lake of Cranes.


The Sanang came over to Marco Polo.

"Give me the black tress that's over your heart."

And Marco Polo undid his coat and his undercoat and his fine sark and
took out the perfumed hair, and gave it to the Sanang.

"Let you sing a little song, Li Po," the magician said, "the way she'll
be hearing and come.  I have part of her here, and let you put in the
garden the atmosphere she loved."  And Li Po took his lute and plucked
gently at the strings.

   "The swish of your silken skirt is discontinued,"

he sang,

   "And the grass grows through the broken hearth stone,
   And your room that was so warm and swept is cold and mouldy.
   But he, the beloved of your heart, clings on,
   A fallen leaf in the chink of a door,
   In the chink of a closed door!"

And it was dusk in the garden, and the voice of Li Po broke, and his
lute stilled, and the old Emperor breathed his aged gentle breathing,
and the Sanang said his secret terrible formulae, and Marco Polo was
tense as a hunting dog.

And suddenly at the end of the garden, in the perfumed Asian dusk,
there was a beam like moonlight, and into the soft ray of it trod
little Golden Bells, with her wee warm face, and her wee warm hands,
and her hair dark as a cloud, and her eyes pleading, pleading...

"Go now, Marco Polo, please go!"  Her lips made the words, but no sound
came to him.

"Oh, Golden Bells, Golden Bells!" he rushed forward, but the moonlight
of no moon faded, and there was nothing, and he dropped on his knees
sobbing in the dusk by the Lake of Cranes...


And after a while he got up from his knees and set his teeth on his
sobbing and threw his head back and squared his shoulders and notched
his belt and faced the three ancient men.

"Well," he said, "that's that."

He went over and knelt and kissed the Khan's hand.

"You'll be seeing her soon, sir, you'll be telling her... everything..."

"Yes, son, I'll tell her."

Then he patted the Sanang on the shoulder, and "Thanks!" said he,
simply, and he took Li Po's hand in both his, and they looked at each
other for a moment and no words came to either.

"Well," he says at length, "I'll be hitting the road then.  I'll not
say good-by to any of you.  I'll be seeing you all pretty soon again.
There's a war on between Venice and the Genoese, and where that's
hottest you'll find me, and the quicker my end, the better I'll be
pleased.  But it would be like my luck," he said bitterly, "not to be
killed, but to be taken prisoner and to end my life in some lousy jail.
Oh, well, we'll hope for the best."  He laughed. "So--so long!"

And the four of them looked at one another, trying to smile, and great
grief on them.

"China will miss you, my son," said old Kubla.

"It's nothing to how I'll be missing China," said Marco Polo. "Venice!
It's only a sound to me.  I'll be an exile in the city of my birth.
But what's the use of complaining?  If it's go, it's go. But it'll be
funny," said he.  "My body will be there, but my heart and mind will be
in China.  There'll be a gray eye always turning to China, and it will
never see China...  Queer!...  All the voices and all the instruments
in Saint Mark's, and in my ears the little drums of China...  All the
sunlight will be glinting on the Grand Canal, but the little rain of
China--the little rain of China will be falling in my heart...

"Ah, well, if it's go, it's go.  I'd better be hitting the road. So...
I'll say good-by for the present...and...

"Oh, my God Almighty!..."

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