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Title: Circular Saws
Author: Wolfe, Humbert
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.

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_Other books by the same Author_





  Humbert Wolfe


  Printed in England
  at The Westminster Press
  411a Harrow Road, London, W.9

Three or four of these tales have appeared in _The Weekly Westminster
Gazette_ and _The Chapbook_. The author’s thanks are due for permission
to reprint them here. Thanks are also due to the Editor of _The
Saturday Review_ for permission to republish the verses in the story
called “Dis Aliter Visum.”



        I. Waste not, want not                           1

       II. Looking for a needle in a haystack            2

      III. All’s well that ends well                     3

       IV. Faint heart never won fair lady               5

        V. Truth is stranger than fiction                7

       VI. A rose by any other name                     10

      VII. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing      12

     VIII. Two wrongs do not make a right               14

       IX. Business is business                         16

        X. Let sleeping dogs lie                        19

       XI. It’s never too late to mend                  20

      XII. Ars longa, vita brevis                       24

     XIII. Sunt certi denique fines                     30

      XIV. Heaven helps those that help themselves      35

       XV. “You never can tell”                         37

      XVI. United we stand                              41

     XVII. Ici-Gît                                      44

    XVIII. Silence is golden                            45

      XIX. Look before you leap                         48

       XX. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity                52

      XXI. Quis separabit?                              53

     XXII. Men, not measures                            55

    XXIII. You cannot have your cake and eat it         62

     XXIV. In vino veritas                              66

      XXV. Tantae religio                               71

     XXVI. On entertaining angels unawares              73

    XXVII. Tempus fugit                                 77

   XXVIII. You can take a horse to the water            78

     XXIX. Half a loaf is better than no bread          80

      XXX. In for a penny, in for a pound               84

     XXXI. Quantity is better than quality              89

    XXXII. Charity begins at home                       95

   XXXIII. Dis aliter visum                             99

    XXXIV. Parallel lines do not meet                  109

     XXXV. Cherchez le juif                            111

    XXXVI. [Greek: gnôthi seauton]                     119

   XXXVII. E pur si muove                              120

  XXXVIII. The game and the candle                     124

    XXXIX. Once bitten twice shy                       126

       XL. It takes two to make a peace                127

      XLI. Vicisti Galilæe                             130



When Haroun-al-Raschid (of whom I have told you before, and if I
haven’t it is only because I have forgotten) was having a bath they
wouldn’t let him splash. “By the beard of Allah,” he observed mildly
to the Vizier, who was standing by with his favourite celluloid duck
(guaranteed to float), “this is preposterous. Cannot the Commander
of the Faithful splash a little water? What’s the good of being a
King, that’s what I say?” “Sire,” replied the Vizier, handing him the
celluloid duck, “the higher, the fewer the pleasures of life. And
remember in season the saying, ‘Waste not, want not.’”

The following day torrential rains of unprecedented severity visited
Bagdad, sweeping away houses and gardens and drowning, among others, in
circumstances of peculiar discomfort, the Grand Vizier. “Well,” said
Haroun, splashing in his bath (and hitting the opposite wall, mind
you), “that only shows.”



Mr. Arthur Benacres--the celebrated philanthropist--suffered in private
life the inconvenience of being an ostrich. This was due to the act of
a rather deaf fairy friend of the family, who mistook an observation
on the weather (addressed to him by a conversational curate at the
christening) for a request for feathers.

This, as you suppose, caused Mr. Benacres some difficulty, and led him
to consider methods of escape. For though it was agreeable to be able
to subsist on odd scraps of broken rubbish, and to dig with his head
(instead of a spade) in the nice clean sand, people did make a fuss on
the Underground and at parties.

Till at last another fairy friend of the family, who was neither deaf
or blind, said: “Why don’t you go into Parliament? Then nobody will
notice.” And they didn’t.



Once upon a time there was a princess whose mother would not buy her an
umbrella. This was due to the wicked incompetence of the Prime Minister
of that country, who, having no children of his own, spent all his
money on swords instead of umbrellas. (Yes, I know swords are nicer
generally, but these weren’t; besides they were two-edged.) Moreover,
her mother went and bought her a most unbecoming mackintosh--the sort
that cuts your chin. And so, as it was raining all the time (for this
princess lived at Kilcreggan in Dumbartonshire), she asked to be turned
into a frog or a toad, because they didn’t need umbrellas, and their
mackintoshes fit at the neck.

Well, she was, and then she found that being a frog she couldn’t use
her scooter, or read “Antony and Cleopatra” to her mother, or go into
Kensington Gardens with her father. (No! Kensington Gardens isn’t at
Kilcreggan, but this is a fairy princess, and so it doesn’t matter.) So
she unwished herself, and she was a princess, and she had no umbrella
and a mackintosh that didn’t fit at the neck. But it was a drought.[A]
So all’s well that ends well.

[A] A drought is when it doesn’t rain at all. The scene of the story
has been shifted from Scotland.



Miss June Mortifex was most beautiful--yes, and more beautiful than
that. So that when she looked out of the window the Meteorological
Department in Exhibition Road, Kensington, over the Post Office, said:
“The westerly depression over London is now moving rapidly northward
with a southern twist,” which means nothing, and only shows how excited
they all were.

But on account of her very exceptional beauty everybody was afraid of
marrying her because they said “She would cost a King’s Hansom,” and
owing to the increase in the number of motor taxicabs nobody had one
about them.

So one day she blacked her face and assuming a Mid-Victorian Cockney
accent went down Piccadilly singing the well-known ditty:

  “O Mr. Jansen,
  You kissed me in the hansom,
  ’Ansom is as ’ansom does,
  Now you push me off the bus.”

As may be supposed, this remarkable revival aroused the interest of a
distinguished literary critic, who, recognising merit, even under an
unpromising exterior, offered his hand, shortly after followed by his
heart. “But, Edward,” whispered June, “I am not what I seem.” “You
couldn’t be,” he answered triumphantly, “the Victorians never were.”

And with that he walked into St. George’s, Hanover Square, and ordered
three of the best banns they had. And he gave her as a bridal gift the
collected works of Mr. Edmund Gosse, for he was not faint-hearted.



It’s no good pretending that Petronella Gibbs was a good princess. For
one thing, she was always asking questions. And if the nurses didn’t
know the answer they were instantly beheaded. With the result that
there was an unprecedented shortage in the supply of domestic labour.
The Queen, her mother, indeed remarked to a friend of hers, another
Queen living in the palace opposite, that “she never.” You may suppose
therefore that things had reached a crisis.

But did Petronella care? She did not care. She could do without nurses,
thank you. On the contrary, she decided to start answering questions.
For instance. For a long time all the best people had wanted to know
“Who’s Who.” And a very large and important book had been written about
it. Petronella wrote as follows:

  “Deer Editter.
  Nobody is.
  Yours evva,
  Petronella P.”

This, which was the obvious solution, created considerable
consternation. The Queen--her mother--had a long consultation with the
King--her father--on his return from the Royal Exchange, where he kept
his bulls, bears and hyenas, and remarked, “I never.” But the King only
laughed. That is why so many women are Republicans.

At last Petronella became so celebrated that the King of America,
colloquially known as the President of the United States, asked for her
hand in marriage. He and his subjects had been guessing so long that
they thought that the time had come to find someone who knew.

The flattering offer was accepted by her royal parents, and Petronella,
with great pomp and ceremony, embarked. Upon her arrival she was met by
the leading citizens, who asked her, “What do you think of America?” “I
don’t,” she replied, which was the right answer. At which they, being
accustomed to the latter, and never previously having met the former,
exclaimed, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and adding, “not half so
true either,” asked her with tears in their eyes to return where they
asserted she belonged. Which she did. And both she and the King of
America lived happily ever after.



When Arthur Nobbs was a little boy he believed in fairies. If, for
example, he ate part of his sister’s jam (as he constantly did), he
assured her that the fairies would put it back. And if they didn’t,
well that was because she didn’t believe in them.

When he grew older and became a business man he naturally continued to
entertain that belief. When he was successful (as he generally was)
in his business transactions, he ascribed his success to the fairies,
though the persons he so continuously and cleverly ruined thought that
he had got the name wrong.

One day he met a starving sculptor whose father he had been able to put
out of business. “What are these horrible objects that you have in your
tray?” he asked severely. “These,” said the sculptor, “are the seven
fairies in which you believe.” “But,” objected Mr. Nobbs, “they are
labelled ‘The Seven Deadly Sins,’ and they look it.” “Oh,” said the
sculptor, “the title is only a matter of taste.” “You are an impostor,
sir,” exclaimed Mr. Nobbs; “but fortunately we are in a law-abiding
country.” And he gave the young man in charge for seeking to obtain
money by false pretences.

But you will be glad to learn that Arthur Nobbs was subsequently raised
to the peerage and died universally beloved and respected, and on his
tombstone they carved the simple phrase:

  “He believed in fairies.”



The father of Miss Liddell was favourably known to the general public
as the man who had written to the public prints during a strike a
bold letter beginning: “Sir,--Let all strikers be shot. Then let ...”
and again during a lock-out an equally bold letter with the following
introduction: “Sir,--Let all employers be shot. Then let ...” (It is
believed that it is from this use of “let” in public correspondence
that the word “letter” is derived.)

Miss Liddell, therefore, naturally objected to the fact that the
Prince, over whose education she presided, disliked the manly game
of football. “Don’t you know,” she would say from time to time,
“what Wellington said about the playing fields of Eton?” “No,” the
Prince used to reply, “who was Wellington? One of those professional
footballers one reads about in their newspapers?” “Certainly not,”
Miss Liddell was wont to reply. “He was a great general who beat the
French.” “What did he do that for?” the Prince would ask. “Because
they were his country’s enemies.” “Ah!” the Prince would say, “but I
thought the French were England’s friends.” “So they are now,” Miss
Liddell would say. “And did Wellington beat them because of football?”
the Prince would inquire. “Wellington said so,” Miss Liddell (slightly
flushed) would reply.

“Will you give me my paint-box?” the Prince would murmur politely.



Listen. This is quite a new story. It is about a swan that wished he
was an ugly duckling again. He was one of those two swans who stand
at the edge of the Round Pond, have black feet and holes to put tape
through in their beaks. Only they won’t let you put tape through.

What he said was (quite simply), “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” To
which his mate said, “Then why do you always eat more than your share?”
But the other swan was an idealist and took no notice.

He summoned a public meeting of the ducks after closing-time, and
having elected himself to the chair after rather a protracted argument
with a pertinacious old drake, told his audience that he was a duck at
heart. “What is beauty,” he went on to say, “that it should put one
on a lonely eminence. The exquisite shape of the swan, his girl-like
neck, what right to rule do these confer?” “None,” said the old drake,
heartily. “Did you say beauty?” said a young female duck, bridling her
feathers. “Why you poor old antic, if you knew how we ducks sympathised
with you on your deformity!”

But this was a little too much for the swan. “I did not come here to be
insulted,” he said hotly, “by a brood of blasphemous pond-puddlers. Are
you aware that the Great Swan made swans in his image?” “And are you
aware,” said the old drake, “that the swans retorted by making him in

“Well,” said his mate to the rather draggled swan who returned about
midnight, “how did you get on?” “Get on,” he screamed, “those ducks
think that equality means that I’m equal with them.” “And doesn’t it?”
“Certainly not,” said the swan, tucking his head under his wings, “it
means that they’re equal with me.” “And what’s more,” he said with
sudden truculence as he emerged for a moment, “a swan’s a swan for a’



The electric bell had rung for the fourth time, when the door was
opened by an agreeable young man dressed in the height of fashion.

“Who are you?” he inquired in the amiable tone of one who begins an
interesting conversation.

“I’m the Milk,” retorted the young man with the cans a little shortly,
for he was not pleased at being so long delayed.

“Will you not come in one moment?” the young householder retorted. “I
have within the butcher, the grocer and the baker, and I have long
desired to add you to the list of my visitors.”

The young milkman (still carrying his heavy can) followed the polite
young gentleman into a fine, lofty room. The whole was arranged with
exquisite taste, and many deep rugs indicated a luxurious vein in the
young man’s character. At the further end of the room, arranged neatly
in an isosceles triangle (for the baker was much shorter than the
other two), were the corpses of the butcher, the baker, and the grocer.

“May I inquire,” said the Milk, after surveying the scene in silence
for a minute, “why you have killed these three gentlemen?”

“You have the best of rights in the world to ask, and I shall be
delighted to explain,” answered the young gentleman courteously. “You
must know, then, that I have a speculative interest in the manner
in which the smaller British tradesman meets death. I have been
much charmed by the experience I have gleaned with the help of my
three friends there. The butcher,” he added, pointing smilingly to a
discolouration on his forehead, “was the least graceful. And now as I
have answered you, perhaps you will allow me to ask you a question?”

“But pray do,” answered the Milk, not to be outdone in courtesy.

“I thank you. I was going to inquire whether you knew any reason why I
should not add you to my list.”

“I apprehended,” returned the Milk, “that your question might be
something of that sort. I had gone so far as to prepare an answering

“And what might that be?” inquired the young gentleman?

“Why should I not kill you?” retorted the Milk affably.

“There is something in what you say,” exclaimed the young gentleman. “I
had not considered the question. Will you give me a minute or two to

“I must be about my business, I am afraid,” returned the Milk, quietly
bludgeoning the young man as he spoke with his milk can. “Yet how
sad it is,” he said reflectively surveying the four corpses, “that
speculation must inevitably make way for practical affairs.”

And with that he proceeded to replace the milk he had spilled with
water from a neighbouring table.



Once upon a time there was a wizard who could find the truth in a

Fortunately he was discovered and hanged in time, and since then nobody
has dared to tamper with the liberty of the Press.



North of Skelleffteå, in the kingdom of Sweden, there lived a more than
usually repulsive troll, who was, however, the supreme Scandinavian
authority on psycho-analysis. The pine-trees in that part of the world
walk down to the water of the sea as though the weight of their own
beauty had become too heavy for them. And the sea with blandishing
whispers holds out to them the immense temptation of his cold peace.

On a rock at the rendezvous of sea and pines, under a
midnight-sun-haunted sky of June, the troll sat with huge horn glasses
on his twisted nose relentlessly reading the work which Mr. Freud was
to write some centuries later....

Out of the shadows of the pine, as straight, as serious, and weighed
down like them with the burden of her own loveliness, slipped the
Princess Gurli on her way to the cold temptation of the sea. Like other
princesses before and after, she was enchanted. When she looked at her
almost flawless loveliness in the lily-pond of her father’s castle, she
saw always a faint silver mist that trembled at her mirrored lips. The
mist would draw together into a frangible bubble, a diaphanous ball of
silver, and finally dissolve, leaving an infinite argent stain on the
red of her mouth.

One day a fish had swum up from the marble floor, and rising to the
surface, had said to her, “What will you give me if I drink the mist?”
And she had answered, “What do you wish?” “Your soul,” he replied.
This she was glad in any case to be rid of, for her soul had often
interfered with the natural pleasures to which she was entitled by her

The fish and the mist disappeared together, and for the first time she
saw herself in flawless loveliness. But she was strangely cold.

Princes came to her from the North and the South, but when they looked
into the green stain of her eyes they shivered and turned away. The
Princess was not sorry, for she thought that men were a poor substitute
for her own beauty. But with her twenty-first summer she was conscious
that her beauty was threatened. For a neighbouring queen had been
heard to say of her, “Yes, she is lovely. But for me her beauty has no

Therefore she decided to marry a prince of her own choice, who would
ask all of her and nothing, whose castle has no lamps and whose palace
gardens are visited neither by sun nor snow.

It was on her way to this alliance that she slipped out of the pines,
and beheld on the rock under the midnight-sun-haunted sky the unusually
repulsive troll reading the prenatal works of Mr. Freud.

“Ha,” neighed the troll, looking up, “you have come to consult me,
Princess Gurli.” “I have not,” said the Princess. “I do not like
trolls.” “But I,” said the troll, “am not like other trolls.” “That
is what all trolls say,” replied the Princess scornfully. “Perhaps,”
said the troll, “but I am the greatest Scandinavian authority on
psycho-analysis!” “What in Valhalla,” said the Princess, “is that?”
“The study of souls,” cried the troll with a significant chuckle.
“Oh,” said the Princess, “you can’t study mine. I haven’t got one.”
“This is interesting,” said the troll; “you are undoubtedly suffering
from an advanced condition of mermaid-complex.” “What does that mean?”
said the Princess. “It means that you have a suppressed passion for a
Mer-King,” replied the troll, “and if you give way to it you will be
cured immediately.” “I have never heard anything so disgusting,” said
the Princess. “Why, a Mer-King is half a fish.” “Half a fish,” said
the troll sententiously, “is better than no fish.” “I had meant,” said
the Princess, “to drown myself in the sea because the loss of my soul
troubled me. But now that I know that souls are things that can be
studied by creatures like you, I am very glad I have not got one.”

The troll was so shocked at this outburst that he fell backwards into
the sea, where he was instantly seized by mermaids and drowned. But the
Princess went back, slim and gold, through the shadow of the pines, and
married the youngest son of the nearest fishmonger.



At about half-past eleven on a summer evening there might have been
observed, wending her way slowly along the Rue du Soleil Levant into
the Cour de St. Pierre at Geneva, a small black kitten with her
tail straight up. There was nobody in the cobbled square except the
beech-tree in the middle with a wooden seat round him. The kitten,
who was being brought up on a severely anti-religious basis, doubted
whether the tree might not have been influenced by the cathedral
window, in whose shadow he had dreamed summer and winter for more than
a hundred years. She was therefore on the point of slipping into a most
engaging gutter of stone, like a deep mouse-track, that leads past the
chapel of Calvin to the railings that overlook the Passage des Degrés
des Poules.

But the beech wasn’t going to stand that. On the contrary! He dropped
one little fidgety brown leaf--puff!--between the kitten’s paws,
who, throwing religious prejudice to the winds, played with it as
enchantingly as though it had been a convert to Epistemological

Then the moon looked over the crooked gables into the square, and
proceeded to light her cold lamp in all the dark cathedral windows.
But the beech rustled her leaves warningly at her. “What is it?” said
the moon, and then she saw the little black kitten dancing with the
leaf on the cobbles. “Who is your little black faun of a friend?” she
inquired of the beech. “I don’t know her name,” said the beech, “but
she certainly dances extremely well.”

At this point the kitten stopped abruptly and said a little harshly,
“What are you two old ones whispering about?” “We were remembering,”
said the beech, who was a kindly old fellow, “the time when we also
danced with our shadows in the joy of our youth.” “How can that be?”
said the kitten impatiently. “The moon never was young, and you never
had but one leg, and that stuck in the ground. You are telling me fairy
tales, and I have no patience with them. Let me tell you my dancing is
merely automatic muscular reaction.” “Dear me,” said the moon mildly,
“what long words that child uses! But tell me, little one, if you don’t
like fairy tales, you won’t want to hear the story of the cat and the
fiddle.” “Does it observe the dramatic unities?” inquired the kitten.
“I don’t know what they are,” said the moon, “but it has a moral.”
“Which is more than you have, you little wretch,” said the beech
severely. “Oh well,” said the kitten ungraciously, “I suppose I must
hear it, though I expect that it will be representational.”

“Once upon a time,” said the moon, “there was a cat that had the soul
of a musician. But when she tried to render her thoughts into sound
she excited no sympathetic response. On the contrary, people threw
boots and bottles at her. ‘I do not care,’ said the cat, ‘my songs are
for posterity.’ But nevertheless the constant succession of missiles
disturbed her.”

“It is my considered opinion,” interrupted the kitten, “that she was no
artist. The best art rejects appreciation.”

“So the dog said,” observed the moon, “when he was chasing the cat up
the tree with yells of derision. But the cat was not comforted.

“Finally one day as she wandered disconsolate through a field she met a
very tragic cow lowing, as it seemed to the cat, with a mild haunting
beauty. When she came up with the cow the cat observed that her eyes
were streaming with tears. ‘How is it,’ said the cat, ‘that you who
are notoriously as unmusical as a milk-can can low with a beauty that
brings tears to your own eyes.’ ‘It is not my music that brings tears
to my eyes, but my lost calf. And let me tell you, cat, that till you
also play on the strings of your own heart you will never make music.’”

“This is very affecting,” said the beech-tree; “and very untrue,” added
the kitten.

“The cat resolved this dark saying till one day she heard in the
dining-room the delicate symphony of a spoon upon a china plate.
Presently the sound ceased and the cat jumped upon the table to
investigate. ‘How is it,’ said she to the empty dish, ‘that you make
such exquisite music though you are nothing but baked clay?’ ‘It is the
loss of the beautiful jelly that adorned me that sings,’ said the dish,
‘and let me tell you, cat, that till you also play upon the strings of
your own heart you will never make music.’

“‘This is very strange,’ thought the cat, but she continued
nevertheless to sing as before without sympathetic response. Till at
last an angry old gentleman obtained a gun and shot the cat dead.”

“This story is in very bad taste,” said the kitten.

“I think she richly deserved it,” said the beech.

“Wait a minute,” said the moon, “the story is not finished. An old
poor maker of fiddle-strings found the cat on his way home. And about
a month later a young fiddler of the country called upon him to buy
some strings. ‘These are the best I have ever made,’ said the old man.
That night,” went on the moon, “the fiddler played under a window of
a high house in the Place de la Taconnerie an old German tune, ‘Einst
o wunder.’ And now no one threw boots and missiles, but out of a high
lattice fell a white rose.”

“That is a very beautiful story,” said the beech, “and now I am almost
sorry for the cat.” “You need not be,” said the moon; “even if her life
was short her art”--“was in the right place,” rudely interjected the
impertinent kitten. “But what I want to know is, who shot the fiddler?”
“I am afraid,” replied the moon, “that I must be going about my



“What will the next story be about?” said the publisher. “I’m not sure
that I shall publish the book at all if it’s about Swedish trolls and
Genevese cats. Couldn’t you write about something British--a gnome who
made 94 not out for Surrey and then went home and drank a bottle of
stout?” “I not only can,” said the author, “but I immediately will.”

“There was once,” said the author, “a sprite who thought goloshes and
hot water bottles unmanly. He preferred east winds and colds in the
head, and being strong and silent (though he sneezed a good deal from
time to time), and though he was a pagan himself, he could respect
Christianity in others. His name was Puck; he lived at Bexhill.”

“I have been expecting this for some time,” broke in the publisher;
“all you do is to take other people’s noble conceptions and distort
them. Disguising plagiarism as travesty, you seek to impose on the
public. But let me tell you, sir, in the words of the Latin poet, ‘Sunt
certi denique fines.’”

“I am sorry to have given offence,” said the author, “particularly as
I would have wished to sketch a new version of Puck’s life, when as a
result of continued exposure to draughts in what the Americans taught
him to call God’s Great Out-at-Elbows he contracted a vivid form of
rheumatism. So crippled, he devoted his declining years to Worthing and
the pleasures of a bath chair. Not unnaturally in these circumstances
he developed a horror of Sussex and of children, and found his only
remaining happiness in reading the poems of Mr. Edward Shanks to the
local clergy. When he died, as he did shortly after this----”

“I am only surprised,” interrupted the publisher bitterly, “that the
clergy survived.”

“Oh,” said the author, “they did not survive long. It is true that
their counsel at the trial urged that it was justifiable homicide
in self-defence, but the judge quite properly pointed out in his
summing-up that they needn’t have listened. But I can see,” went on
the author, “that this is not the sort of story of which you were in
need. Let me therefore recount to you the true story of Jack and the

“I hope that it is not very long,” said the publisher.

“That depends on the method of payment,” replied the author. “If I am
paid by the word, of course----”

“Get on with the story,” said the publisher.

“By the side of a slow river in the western parts of a great metropolis
there lived a boy named Jack. Though he was so young he was already
justly celebrated for his climbing feats. Indeed, the old woman who
looked after him was never tired of saying, with a roguish smile at
herself in the mirror, ‘C’est un vrai gosse!’ which means in English,
‘He takes after his spiritual grandmother.’

“Jack had climbed all the trees in his own garden and all those in
everybody else’s. And then one day he announced that he was going to
climb an entirely new tree whose roots are in the heart but whose
leaves are in eternity.... There was much discussion among his friends,
some saying that he should climb and others that he shouldn’t, and
still others (but these were jealous) that it was little better than
an Indian rope trick. But Jack was not to be deterred. For he said that
he was tired of living among pygmies; he would now climb the Immortal
Tree and slay one of the giants and return with his head.

“That night accordingly the tree was planted, and by morning its leaves
hid the sky. After a farewell breakfast, at which a good deal of stout
was drunk, and at which the Press was well represented, Jack started
the ascent. He climbed up and up till he was out of sight. His friends
waited about till nightfall, but as he did not return they concluded
that he was making a night of it with the giants, and went home to
their evening porter and bed.

“Next morning the tree was withered. Some said one thing and some said
another. These, that the giants had insisted on Jack’s remaining among
them, and these (but these were traducers), that he had fallen to the
first giant. The general view, however, was that Jack had burst with
chagrin on discovering that, except for himself, there were no giants.
But since his departure nobody has ever climbed the beanstalk, for, as
they all said, ‘Sunt certi denique fines.’”

“That story,” said the publisher, “is worse than the first. That was
vulgar, but this has no meaning whatever.”

“You just publish it and see,” said the author.



In the great days of Haroun-al-Raschid, when the minarets of Bagdad
were sewn together against the sky like a gold embroidery on blue
canvas, a certain merchant, whose name has unhappily not been
preserved, was entering at nightfall with his camels and his asses
through the Gold East Gate. The beggars, as was their custom, crowded
round with shrill cries, extolling the merchant’s virtues and their own
miseries, and suggesting that the former might reasonably be expected
to mitigate the latter. “In the name of the All-Compassionate, the
All-Merciful,” they murmured musically. But the merchant only wrapped
his cloak round him closer, saying in a harsh voice, “Heaven helps
those that help themselves.”

At this moment one of the merchant’s asses stumbled and beautiful
red coins ran in the gutters under the pale yellow moon. With
cries even more musical the beggars--not excluding those lame by
profession--threw themselves upon the gold. “Sons of Shaitan,” roared
the merchant, “I will have you all strung up to the city gates by your
toes and ears. I will have you flayed with red pepper. I will----”

“You surprise me, oh merchant,” said a poet who had been a witness of
the whole scene. “Is it no longer your view then that heaven helps
those that help themselves?”

“Do you not see,” screamed the merchant, “that it is an ass that helps
them?” “Does that surprise you,” inquired the poet, going on his way,
“I gather from your appearance of wealth that heaven has already helped



“This is a story for patriots,” said the pin of the unexploded
hand-grenade to the poppies among which he was rusting.

“What is a patriot?” asked the youngest of the poppies, who, I am
afraid, was rather an affected puss and thought that the pin was in
love with her.

“A patriot,” said the pin, “is a man who loves his country so well that
he dies for it.”

“He would show his affection better to my mind,” said a rather withered
female poppy, “if he lived for it.”

“Oh no,” simpered the young poppy, “I think that death is so romantic.”

“How adorable,” sighed the hand-grenade, “are the enthusiasms of
youth. I remember exactly the same innocent thrill when some five years
ago I reposed among a pile of grenades like myself all going into
action. We were doomed, we knew, to burst. But what did that matter?
Our country called us.”

“What country was that?” inquired one of the poppies.

“England,” said the grenade proudly. “Bow, poppies, you are in the
presence of a British bomb! It is true, of course, that my iron was
dug in Spain, that my copper came from the New World, and that my
explosives were in part foreign. But I was as pure British as anybody

“I’m sure you were,” said the young poppy consolingly.

“When we came to the trench,” continued the pin, “we were assigned
each to a bomb-thrower. I myself fell to the lot of a young man
beautiful as an angel and reckless as a devil. Grenade after grenade
he tossed into the air with exquisite dexterity, and the frightful
explosions and horrible cries that followed showed only too well how
richly his skill had been rewarded. And now my great moment was at
hand. An attack was ordered. Over the parapet he leapt clasping me in
his hand, and together we flew through the flying and screaming death
about us. We reached the enemy trench. The loathsome horrors were
actually attempting to shoot down our brave fellows. I am happy to say
that the bayonet taught them better. But alas! I now come to the most
awful moment in my life. We jumped into the trench. My hero raised his
hand to throw me at one of the incarnate devils. And then--his hand
dropped. ‘Carl,’ he whispered, ‘is it you, Carl?’ This, mind you, to
an incarnate devil. ‘George,’ he replied, and though he was a devil, I
confess his voice made me uneasy, ‘has it come to this, dear brother?
Throw the grenade. It will be better so. There can be no hell as foul
as this.’ ‘What, murder you?’ cried my ex-hero. ‘Why not?’ said the
other wearily. ‘After all, one more or one less, why should it matter
to either of us?’ ‘I won’t,’ said George, ‘not if they shoot me for
it.’ ‘What?’ said Carl, ‘have you still a soul? Then by God I can die
in peace.’ And with that he shot himself through the heart. ‘Kiss me,
George,’ he whispered, and George, dropping me as though I were of no
account, kissed the crime-stained lips. And here in consequence I have
been ever since.”

“And what happened to George?” asked the oldest poppy. “Oh,” said the
grenade easily, “I am not sure. I heard--(and I hoped it was true)
that he had been shot for cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

“Would patriots like that story?” inquired the withered female poppy.

“Certainly,” said the pin.

“Then,” said the poppy, “you do not seem to me to make out a good case
for patriots.”

“Madam,” said the grenade hotly, “you would not speak so if you were
being threatened by the hobnailed boots of a gross invader, who was
on the point of squashing you flat. Then you would be glad enough to
have the protection of a patriot like myself.” And the pin was so moved
(and the sun so hot) that he suddenly and violently exploded, with the
result that the poppies were scattered in fragments to the four winds
of heaven.



Now listen! and if you can possibly avoid it don’t interrupt. In the
far and non-existent province of Arabia the population consisted
almost exclusively of kings, except for the lower classes, who were,
as everybody knows, emperors. The kings had it all their own way for
years and years, when suddenly the emperors formed a trade society,
popularly known as the Amalgamated Emperors’ Union. In pursuance of
the principle upon which all such societies rest (in non-existent
provinces), the emperors, as a preliminary step, ceased the function
which distinguished their calling. The kings were thereupon compelled
to act both as kings and emperors, which caused them inconvenience.
Accordingly they summoned a special meeting of Sanhedrim--the Arabian
legislative assembly--and passed a law withdrawing the right of
association among emperors (though naturally preserving it for kings),
and severely forbidding, under penalty, what was described in the Act
as “striking.”

In Arabia--that fabulous country--a law on being duly passed by the
kings becomes automatically a law of nature. So that it is very
necessary to pay the greatest attention to the drafting. On this
occasion the framers of the Bill had forgotten by an unaccountable
oversight to omit “clocks” from the exclusion clause. In consequence
all clocks in the province automatically ceased striking, and
thereafter it was no use consulting an Arabian constable because nobody
in that legendary land knew what o’clock it was.

“I suppose,” said the publisher scornfully, “you think that’s clever
and Socialistic, and all that sort of thing. Have you any idea what
wages we have to pay to the book-binders?”

“I asked you not to interrupt,” said the author. “Now you’ve prevented
me from explaining how the clock in the principal mosque----”

“I don’t believe they have clocks in mosques,” said the publisher.

“--how the clock in the principal mosque welcomed the change, observing
that it for one had always been in favour of methods of conciliation.
‘And anyhow,’ the church clock continued as it finally ran down, ‘why
bother about time when you have eternity?’”

“Have you any aspirin?” inquired the publisher.



  When at creation God was faced
  With earth’s illimitable waste,
  We understand that what he said is:
  “Let there be light,”--and there was Geddes.



“You will observe,” remarked the placid convict, negligently dropping
his pick on the warder’s foot, “that a very few words express a great

The warder, who had already expressed more than a little in his first
two words, stopped abruptly, and with a graceful wave of his hand bade
the convict be seated. “For this,” he added, “is a subject to which I
have devoted much thought, and you with your varied experience of men
and manners should speak with authority.”

“It is true,” admitted the convict agreeably, “that in the course of
the commission of a certain number of tolerably execrable crimes I have
been brought into contact with many people, but I have made it a rule
never to allow my conversation to be affected by the practical affairs
of life. To be personal is to be dull without redemption.”

“But in your case,” interrupted the warder, “your experiences are so
unusual that you might well be forgiven for dwelling on them.”

“That,” retorted the felon, with a certain graceful melancholy, “is the
conviction of every conversationalist. But I have never supposed that a
murder was necessarily interesting just because I had perpetrated it.”

“This sort of trait,” murmured the custodian of the condemned, “elicits
a man’s respect. But,” he continued aloud, “what, then, is left us to

“The universe,” smilingly returned the convict, “and any other fictions
you may care to invent. The whole world loves a liar. I admit,” he
added, with a gentle shrug, “that ‘Not guilty’ was an error, but that
you will understand was more by way of repartee than of continuous
conversation. The judge, after all, drew the retort on himself.”

“But truth, I have always understood, is stranger----”

“Pardon me if I interrupt,” said the criminal a little sternly, “but I
cannot stand by and hear a friend (for I include you in that number),”
he added courteously enough, “quote proverbs. I can forgive your being
a warder of condemned men, but I cannot stand your being a guardian of
(forgive me!) damned phrases.”

“You hold, then,” returned the warder, a little confused, “that
quotation is not admissible in polite conversation.”

“You cannot quote a proverb,” earnestly responded the prisoner, “any
more than you can butter a hypothesis. But I perceive,” he went on
more gently, “that I have fallen into the fault of heat. Forgive a
hotheadedness which has more than once ruined my conversation.”

“But I have nothing to forgive,” cried the custodian, much affected.
“It is I who am the more to blame.”

“That, indeed, is true,” interjected the Governor of the gaol, who had
come up unobserved during the latter part of the conversation, “and,
much as I shall regret your loss, I must reconcile myself to it. While
you,” he went on, turning to the convict, “will have leisure, when
consuming bread and water, to reflect whether, after all, there is not
something to be said for silence.”



“I am tired of reflection,” said the looking-glass, “I will now live my
own life.” As a first step to that end he succeeded in rolling himself
right out of his seventeenth-century uprights and falling off the
spindle-legged dressing-table, oval face downwards, on to a deep grey

“Dear me,” said the carpet, who was rather a simple old-fashioned
thing, though of an excellent texture, “here is somebody come down in
the world. Ahem! I hope, sir, that you are none the worse for your

“Certainly not,” replied the mirror, who was rather bewildered by the
fall and the complete darkness in which his new situation had placed
him, “I precipitated myself to the ground on purpose.” “What!” cried
the carpet, who feared that she had to do with a self-murderer, “after
full reflection?”

“Without any reflection whatever,” cried the mirror testily. “I am,” he
added more suavely, “entirely incapable of such an act.”

“Poor thing,” said the carpet soothingly, for she now perceived that
her affair was merely with a madman. “If you will only compose yourself
I am sure you will be your own man again immediately.”

“I see, madam,” said the mirror, “that we do not understand each
other. Let me therefore explain my point of view. You must know then
that I am by nature a person of a profoundly original turn of thought.
Judge then of my despair when a malignant fate ordained for more than
a century that I should be tortured by serving merely to reflect the
follies and lack of grace of others. I have borne things insupportable,
and finally I took the magnificent decision which has, among, other
agreeable circumstances of release, conferred upon me the pleasure of
your conversation. You will conceive for yourself my mental tumult when
you used the word ‘reflection.’”

“But, sir,” said the carpet, now much distressed, “reflect. Are you
not flying in the face of Providence? If reflection was the gift
bestowed upon you by your designer would you wantonly dissipate it?
Such conduct, believe me, must have the most dire results!”

“Madam,” neighed the mirror with an accent that suggested his century,
“I am, I hope, a mirror of Feeling, and I know what respect must ever
be paid to the Fair. None the less, I cannot leave you a prey to common
error, even though its removal should offend your Female Delicacy.
M’am, there is no such thing as a designer, but each of us is his own

“No designer!” screamed the carpet. “Now the weaver be good to me!
Impious creature, do you not know that we are each of us made with
nicely adjusted virtues and qualities by an all-understanding maker?
And that to doubt this is to be damned beyond hope of re-weaving?”

“And what, m’am,” sneered the mirror, “is your particular virtue?”

“To be a comfort and a support to the foot, an office of which I am
proud,” replied the carpet.

“I dare swear,” said the mirror courteously, “that you are perfect in
it. But I do not doubt that, were I called upon, I could adjust myself
to the same task in spite of all the pretensions of your friend the

The carpet was spared the necessity of continuing so sacrilegious
a conversation by the entry into the darkened room of its owner. He
stepped heavily in the direction of the dressing-table, and stamped
his riding-boot hard on the back of the mirror, smashing the glass to

“Damn!” he cried loudly, and after switching on the lights rang for
a servant. “Who has been so d--d clumsy as to leave the old mirror
standing between the window and the door?”

The servant picked up the mirror. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but it’s
only the glass as is smashed. We could easy get a new one put in, and
you were always complaining that the old one didn’t reflect.”

“Very well,” said the owner, “but the glass must be put right. Tell
them to let me see the designer before the work is begun--and sweep up
the litter of glass. By the way, the carpet’s not injured, is it?”

“No, sir,” said the servant, busily sweeping, “the carpet’s perfectly
all right.”



“There is a good deal of talk in certain circles,” said the deuce of
spades casually to the ace of hearts, “as to the need for equality
among cards.”

“And how,” inquired the ace amicably, “is this equality to be

“There are three schools of thought,” replied the deuce readily; “the
first holds that all cards should rank as deuce, while the second that
all should be aces. I myself have ventured to favour a golden mean of
all counting, say, as nine.”

“There is a great deal in all these theories,” replied the ace, “and I
think one or other should be immediately adopted. There is, however,
one point on which I should like to sound a note of caution. I do not
quite see how in the altered circumstances any game is to be played.”

“Oh, we have thought of that,” said the deuce carelessly, “and frankly
we do not see the necessity of the game.”

“Then,” said the ace, “I have nothing more to say.”



Two statesmen of well-merited celebrity in their own countries and
times, having for a moment escaped the vigilance of their warders, met
in a comparatively cool corner of hell to discuss the possibility of
forming a new government.

“I do not feel,” said the first, “that H.H. any longer really
represents the feeling in the circles.”

“I entirely agree,” said the second; “he is still, I fear, a hopeless
reactionary and continues to believe that there is a distinction
between evil and good--a doctrine which all advanced thought has long
since abandoned.”

“And not only that,” said the first, “he is still a prey to the war
spirit. He is for ever thinking in terms of the great conflict in
which he thinks he was defeated. As a matter of fact, if he could only
realise the truth, heaven was by far the greater sufferer, and is
greatly embarrassed by the reparation exacted from him.”

“There is only one way,” said the second, “to repair the ravages of
that unfortunate misunderstanding, and that is to recognise frankly
that heaven and hell are necessary to one another and to arrange for a
policy of goodwill and intercelestial understanding.”

“Nor should we stop at that,” replied the first, taking fire, as
well he might, at the enunciation of sentiments so lofty; “mere
understanding is not enough. We must have a pact, co-operation, even

“With a common policy,” broke in the second, “resting on the best of
evil and the worst of good.”

“The only difficulty,” said the first, “that I can see is one of the

“We must not,” replied the second, “permit these wretched personalities
to interfere with policies of universal benefit. Moreover, I am sure
that the two forces are both too large-minded to let their personal
inclinations stand in the way. And in any case, is it not possible that
as a result of this great movement they may come to realise----”

“Yes,” cried the first breathlessly.

“--that they themselves are one and the same personality?”



“What is that little man with the soul like a wet umbrella, that
somebody has left in a corner, doing?” inquired the lovely, though
scarcely visible, presence that had unexpectedly materialised the night
before in the house of the Prime Minister of Samaria.

“Hush,” whispered his conductor, the utterly outraged Private
Secretary, “hush, they will hear you.”

“Have no fear,” said the radiant creature, looking carefully at the
faces of the assembled Council, “my voice is of the kind that does not
reach their ears. Therefore tell me what he is doing?”

“He is keeping minutes,” said the Secretary, a little sullenly.

“Why does he do that?” inquired the angel. “Were I in his place I would
shoo them on their way like a hen-yard full of hens.”

“You do not understand,” said the Secretary; “he is keeping a record
of what is happening.”

“But how does he know?” inquired the angel.

“By listening to what these gentlemen say,” replied the Secretary.

“Dear me,” said the angel, “if that is his only source of information
I see that I must help him,” and he walked across the Council chamber
to the side of the luckless clerk, gently disregarding the frenzied
gestures of the Private Secretary.

The Clerk had made the following entry in a neat flowing hand on a
handsome sheet of thick white paper.

“The Prime Minister drew the Council’s attention to the difficulties
presented by the Poets’ Birth (Prevention) Bill. The object, as his
colleagues knew, was to secure that in future poets should be made (if
possible by publicity) and not born. Everybody agreed that democracy
should have self-made poets, that the pretensions of birth must cease.
At the same time it could not be denied that poets insisted on being
born. It would be within his colleagues’ recollection that a number of
poets had been made in the recent list of honours. They were, he was
happy to say, perfect in every respect except that they did not write
poetry. For his part he preferred that kind of poet, but it could not
be denied that the opponents of the measure were making great play with
this. He asked for the views of his colleagues.

“The Minister of Higher Education asked what poetry was?

“The Minister of Commerce entirely agreed.

“The Master of the Weasels thought that there was much in what had been

“The Senior Almoner had had a letter from a very respectable
washerwoman in his constituency. She complained that there was a poet
who wore soft collars. He did not wish to press the point, but popular
feeling could not be neglected.

“The Keeper of the Conscience took the view that the time was ripe for
action. Several members of the Council concurred.

“The Prime Minister, summing up, said that he was glad to find his
colleagues unanimous in supporting the course he had proposed. The
division was likely to be a close one. He especially appealed to Lord

At this point the angel took possession of the Clerk’s mind, and
with a queer click the faces of the men round the table were rolled
up like green railway carriage blinds, and their minds became
visible, working rather like electric light studs being pressed
off and on. The Clerk continued to write the minutes: “Not that
Lord Albatross cared, but his stud would fidget his neck, and he
couldn’t be expected to listen to the Prime Minister’s neat periods
with a rasping stud. The other eighteen fellers probably had got
their studs right. Anyhow, judgin’ by their serious looks, they had
better things than studs to think about. Queer thing how complete
they all looked--if you know what I mean. Couldn’t imagine them
ever having not worn morning coats or neat grey tweeds and a sort
of sewn-up-and-sent-home-hoping-it’s-to-your-complete-satisfaction
look. Except ‘Conky,’ the Lord High Wig. ‘Conky’ was dressed up like
himself--a sort of suit consistin’ of a heavy jowled face, glass eyes,
looming stomach and the rest. Joke if they found him and ‘Conky’ out
and gave them the push for having sneaked into the room during a
Council.” Albatross suppressed a chuckle.

The P.M. looked at him coldly. “Damn the fellow with his aristocratic
sharpness. There he sat looking like a stuck pig, and all the time he
had followed every word and seen through the whole caboodle. That’s
the worst of mixing classes. They’ve got their own cold, fishy way
of nosing through the water, and snap--they’re on the fly, when you
thought them fast asleep. They’d never understand each other--never.
Here was he not caring a row of beans (or has-beens, he added,
viciously looking round) as to what the result of the division would
be. What he wanted was friendship. He wanted them all to see that
he wasn’t just the best thing in talking machines that had been
invented. Groping to them he was--to their hearts. Well, why not? They
had hearts, hadn’t they? And just when he was stretching out a hand
to gather in the strings this cold fellow fetches out his knife of
laughter. Not human, that’s what was wrong. Born like a little Eastern
idol. He should have stuck to his own lot. There was Crayfish, the
Senior Almoner. He sympathised. He stood shoulder to shoulder. Damn!
getting the rhetoric into his thoughts! Still Crayfish would pull it
through, if only to irritate Albatross and Lord Conkers. If he didn’t,
well he’d get back to humans at last. He had a right, hadn’t he, to be
a man.

“The Minister of Commerce was drawing one O after another on his pad.
Who did the perfect circle? Forget my own name next. Just ask old
Crayfish--only chap in the room who’s ever read anything except _The
Morning News_--begging Albatross’ pardon--and _The Blue ’Un_. Silly to
have got cluttered up with this gang, and yet what a wonder the P.M.
was. Never felt a thing in his life. Could make a bed--mattress and
all--out of two adjectives and a noun. Yes, and the right adjectives
too--right in a popular sense that is. But as a literary proposition, O
Lord! How odd, though, to live by words that weren’t words so much as
gestures and nothing behind them. Like Hume--association of well, not
ideas, but penny plain dressed up as tuppeny coloured. Like a series
of ballads hawked by a man in the street hung all round him and no man
in the middle. Funny how not being a man he gets real men like old
Crayfish for instance. That’s the one--no rhetoric for him. Look at his
tense simple eyes. He thinks only of what’s best and loyalty, and if
sincerity can get the damned thing through he’ll do it. Now I wonder if
he does know who did the perfect circle?...”

The blinds clicked down again. The Master of the Weasels was standing
over the Clerk pouring some brandy down his throat. The Clerk blinked
his eyes and recovered suddenly. “I’m sorry, sir, I must have fainted.
I’m afraid that I’ve missed part of the discussion.” “It doesn’t
matter,” said the Prime Minister, looking at the notes, from which the
angelic interpolations had disappeared. “Nobody said a thing while you
were off.” “Oh,” said the Clerk happily, “then nothing happened. Will
you sign the minutes?”



A certain business-man in Damascus, whose efficiency was only surpassed
by his personal ugliness, was informed that in a distant vilayet dwelt
a peasant of whom it was currently rumoured that he possessed a goose
that laid eggs of pure gold.

He accordingly chartered a caravan, and with much jingling of silver
bells set out across the desert to make a proposition to the peasant.
In his company was a young man who was reputed (though it had not been
finally brought home to him) to be a poet. Whether this were true or
no, it cannot be denied that he paid much heed to the ascensions of the

On the third day of the pilgrimage that pale planet was bewitching in
her pensive hair the reluctant black beauty of the desert. All was
still except when a grave camel kneeling shook a bell. But presently,
with the clear monotony of a bird, the young man’s voice was heard

  “In this cold glory
  of midnight, day
  and her fever
  have passed away.

  “Here in the quiet,
  here in the cool,
  even pain, even sorrow
  are beautiful.

  “And the voice of the poet
  lifts and lingers
  at one in the dark
  with the older singers.”

“As I feared,” said the merchant, raising his head from his silken
and tasselled pillow, “the fellow is a poet. I must cope with this.”
Thereupon he lifted the flap of his embroidered tent, and in a sleeping
suit, of which the radiant texture did not conceal the irregular
contours of his frame, with one arm behind his back, strode across the
sand to where, in a patch of shadow, the poet was crooning.

“Young man,” said the merchant, breaking somewhat harshly on the
singer’s reverie, “was that your own poem?”

“It was, merchant,” replied the poet, “but now, since you have heard
it, it is yours also.”

“Tell me,” said the merchant craftily, “how much would you be paid for
such a poem in Damascus?”

“If I were lucky,” said the poet, “I might earn a kiss, or if unlucky a

“A dinah,” said the merchant. “By the beard of the Prophet, no bad
pay for a mouthful of sweet words. And is it difficult to acquire the

“All that is needed,” answered the poet, “is a rose behind the ear and
the moon behind the heart.”

“In Damascus,” cried the merchant, “I have a hanging garden stained
with roses, and at night the moon rises in the garden. My ears are
longer than yours, and my heart, if one may judge by a comparison of
our persons, is incomparably larger. I will accordingly give up the
quest of the goose, and will return to Damascus and in my rose garden
lay my own golden eggs. But in the meantime,” he added reflectively,
stabbing the poet to the heart with the pearl-handled scimitar which he
had hitherto concealed, “I may as well dispose of a dangerous rival.”

“O fool,” whispered the dying poet, “it was only the goose who thought
the eggs gold, because of the golden goslings hidden in their cool blue
shell, as the peasant discovered when he killed her.”

“Why did she think so?” said the merchant, daintily wiping the curved

“Because she was a poet,” whispered the dying man. “And why did she
tell the peasant?” asked the merchant, preparing to return to his
interrupted rest. “Because,” said the poet, turning over on his side
with a little sigh, “because she was a goose.”



“The next story,” said the author, “will be an example of grim realism.
It will have no characters and no incidents and no meaning. It will
continue for some three or four hundred pages, and will begin in the
middle and not end at all. There will also be a tendency for verbs
and punctuation to disappear simultaneously, and a slightly stagnant
atmosphere of muddled gloom will reproduce the sensation of a London

“I did not know,” said the publisher, “that you had read Tchekov. For
my part I have not, and let me add I do not intend that my public

“I do not even know,” replied the author, “what Tchekov is, though by
the sound it might be a Slavonic parlour game. But if, as always, you
are going to thwart me just when I am about to strike a modern note, I
will tell you quite simply and (I hope) beautifully an old-fashioned
Christmas story. About the year 1840,” said the author, “in the City
of London, and to be particular in the immediate neighbourhood of a
cosy, rosy, prosy old coaching inn in the Borough, lived, or rather
existed (for he was a wicked old screw was Jonathan), a merchant in the
tea trade (at least he let it be understood that it was the tea trade,
but the gossips, who stood about at the street corners with very blue
noses waiting for the muffin-boy, had their suspicions that----)”

“I do not,” interjected the publisher, “wish to be unduly curious. But
may I ask whether there are any other sentences in this story?”

“Of course,” retorted the author, with justifiable heat, “but if I am
to tell this story at all perhaps you will permit me to tell it in an
old-fashioned way. Let me tell you that in 1840 people had time to
finish sentences like that, yes and to understand them. A man who could
stand the factory system of the time could stand anything.

“Well,” continued the author, “there existed in that neighbourhood
Jonathan Gogglesnape, and as is general with persons who had
acquired names of that sort, he was the hardest, grindingest miser
that you would find in a smart day’s walk, east, west, south or
north of the pump on the left hand corner of the square of St.
Runnymede-in-the-East. Jonathan was at all times of the year a cold,
pinched figure of a man in a tight, rusty surtout, and not an inch
of linen showing either at the mean, scraggy throat or the large red
wrists, but at five o’clock on Christmas Eve he was a circumstance,
like the whistling wind, to make comfortable folks draw closer to the
fire and to thank their Maker and the Spirit of Christmas that they
were not as other men.

“A sharp fall of snow, as yet untrodden into filth and mud, had
smoothed out the vices of the pavement and given that touch of happy
contrast between the radiant revellers within and the homeless
wanderers without so typical of Christmas feeling.”

“I do not think that I can stand much more of this,” said the publisher

“In that case,” said the author, “I shall, without delay, recite a
poem which I have called ‘In vino veritas.’”


  “Singing ’e was. I tell yer, singing
    as sweet as kiss me ’and--
  a drunken sort o’chune, but swinging
    the feet like if yer understand.

  “I stood and watched ’is dancin’ shadder,
    Lord wot a dancer! ’eel an’ toe.
  ‘Oo’s for the ladder--Jacob’s ladder--
    one good ’eave and up yer go!’

  “Drunk as God ’e was--the liquor,
    like a flare of naphthaline,
  burning as it run, but quicker--
    brightest thing I ever seen!

  “’Appy? well I arsk yer! Drinking,
    laughing, singing, dance ’e went,
  Tell yer straight I kep’ on thinking--
    ’appy! that’s wot ’appy meant.

  “‘I’ve a ladder--Jacob’s ladder--
    one good ’eave and up yer go.
  Men are mad, but God is madder--’
    Meaning? ‘Ow am I ter know?’

  “Laughing, singing, dancing, mumming--
    looking soft and sly behind ’im,
  ‘Are yer coming? Aren’t yer coming?’
    Damn ’is eyes--I’m off to find ’im.”

“There is a good deal,” remarked the publisher, “to be said for



And another thing. In the gardens of Haroun-al-Raschid, just past the
corner where one pale rose watches her tranquil shadow in the ice-blue
water of a marbled pond, grew a black tree that could not wait for the
Arabian spring. But on the contrary, instead of leaves she threw over
her graceful shoulders a cloak sprigged with red blossom. And that in a
single night.

“Oh miracle,” said the first gardener next morning when he observed
this bright irregularity, “red snow has fallen in the night.” “Oh
marvel,” said the second, “a swarm of red butterflies.” “Oh wonder,”
cried the third, “a little lanthorn in each lighted twig.” “You must be
blind,” said the first; “or a numbskull,” said the second; “or mad,”
cried the third. And thereupon, as was only to be expected, the three
fell to fighting furiously one with another.

“What are those men doing?” whispered the terrified blossoms to the
mother tree; “we are afraid.”

“Hush! blossoms,” murmured the tree, “they think that we are a divine

“What is that?” asked the blossoms.

“The appearance of the God they worship upon earth,” replied the tree.

“And how do you know,” cried the blossoms, “that they think so?”

“Because,” said the tree as the last gardener fell heavily to the
ground, “they are killing one another.”



The pale-faced man with the slightly Jewish cast of countenance was
observed for the first time on the night of the 27th June passing
through the churchyard by the Vicar, who, taking him, not unnaturally,
for a loafer, ordered him out pretty sharply. He obeyed with remarkable
meekness and disappeared rapidly in the direction of the house of Mrs.
Bolpus. He was next seen on the following evening--a cold, clear night
of moon--by the village ninny, or so it was supposed. For he came back
shouting some nonsense about a lighted man, and laughed happily and
quietly all night.

It was, however, her ladyship who met him in broad daylight two days
later, and engaged him in conversation. For she had heard of his
appearance and feared that he might be a new scandal. She had intended
to begin by speaking to him roundly, but something soft and flickering
in his eyes stopped her. Instead of reproving him, therefore, she
said, speaking almost as to an equal:

“We are thinking of forming a branch of the Society of Poor Lost Things
in the village, and we wondered whether you would care to join?”
“Strange,” he replied in a low but beautifully clear voice, “I was
also thinking of forming a society. But perhaps our objects are the
same! What is yours?” “Oh,” said the lady, “we aim at sweetening bitter

“In that case,” said the stranger earnestly, “I would like to give all
I have. It is, I fear,” he added with a smile, “only a guinea.”

“You are joking, I see,” murmured the lady, signing a receipt with a
gold pencil. “And now, sir, will you forgive me if I make a personal

“But of course,” he replied.

“You are lodging with Mrs. Bolpus. As a stranger you cannot know her
reputation. If I might without impertinence suggest it, perhaps it
would be wise to find a less questionable landlady.”

“And yet,” mused the stranger, “she seemed poor and unhappy.”

“And so she should,” cut in the lady.

“Indeed I should have described her as a Poor Lost Thing.”

“I can see,” said the benefactress icily, taking the guinea out of
her purse, “that you have misunderstood the objects of the Society.
We assist only the deserving.” “In my Society,” said the man, sadly
pocketing his coins, “we assist first the undeserving.”

“So I should imagine,” sneered her ladyship, “and what do you call it?”

“Oh,” said the stranger gently, turning away, “we call it the Society
of the Rich Lost Things, for whom the way to the kingdom of heaven is
through the eye of a needle.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“I hope,” said her ladyship to the Earl, her husband, at dinner, “that
you will arrange for Mrs. Bolpus to be evicted at once.”

“Evicted!” said the Earl; “but haven’t you heard the news? She died
this morning.”

“Died!” gasped the lady; “then what was the Jew with the beard doing in
her house?”

“The Jew with the beard?” asked her husband. “I was there to-day and
didn’t hear of anyone.”

“Are you sure?” cried the Countess.

“Quite!” said the Earl, “but wait! Is it perhaps the tramp that the
Vicar saw in the churchyard and poor Geordie Brown’s ‘lighted man’? I
think myself that in both cases it was just imagination.”

“Perhaps,” replied the lady after a long pause, “but all the same I
shall resign my chairmanship of the branch of the Poor Lost Things.”

“Now what in the name of God----,” began the Earl.

“Hush,” almost screamed his wife.



“No,” said the old grandfather clock to the green parrot, “I will not
tell you another story. I have told so many that I am quite hoarse.” “I
cannot think what you mean,” replied the parrot. “You have said nothing
but tick-tock like a hen, and then you cluck loudly as though you had
laid an egg, though you have in fact only mislaid an hour. That is not
my idea of a story.”

“When you are my age,” said the clock, “you will realise that there is
no other story.”



Once upon a time (and you will see later that it was fortunately not
twice upon this time) in the garden of the Château of Nyon, in the
sweet heart of a lime tree and very near to the little padded box where
they keep the silkworms, there lived a chrysalis, whose ancestors had
come over with John Knox, but who nevertheless agreed with Hume.

“The Almighty,” he said, speaking with what he conceived to be a
Scottish accent, “is merely a prrojection of the chrysalis mind--a
varra puir exemple of the association of incomparable ideas. Now Kant,
as every Scotsman knows, dragged in the soul--a silly bit fluttering
thing with white wings--the great gowk. Mon, it’s a peety....”

“Qu’est que tu me chantes là,” exclaimed an elderly silk-worm, who was
busily occupied in his exquisite occupation. “Execrable worm, thinkest
thou that because thou art no better than a dried twig that all suffer
from such misfortune? It is indeed certain that upon such as thee the
good God has not wasted a soul, but as to me I know that the delicate
machine which can spin so marvellous a net was not meant to fade into
dust. But what can one expect of one whose forefathers were generated
in a fog, lived in an east wind, and died without ever having seen the
sun?” and with this the silk-worm resumed his tapestry.

“What,” exclaimed the chrysalis, “is it Scotland you’re naming in the
same breath wi’ your God-forgotten, pope-ridden, frog-warren? A’m
black ashamed, ah am, and metaphysic or no a’ll no ha it said that any
trapesing piece of a Frenchy had a soul and me from the Clachans of
the Tolbooth no. But mind,” he added as he burst, and from his husk
daintily, like a lace handkerchief out of lavender, rose the butterfly,
“my opeenions remain unchanged.”

“I also,” said the silk-worm, “who have all the years had faith, will
take wings.” And he breathed very hard and deep, but the only result
was that he spoiled his skein.



Once upon a time there lived in a cathedral city, almost in the shadow
of the minster, a middle-aged freethinker, who was exceedingly angry
with God for not existing. Nor was he conciliated by those who pointed
out (reasonably enough) that it was not His fault. This, in the view of
the freethinker, merely increased the offence. “He should have thought
of all that before,” he would say grimly.

In the same town, but actually in the minster itself, yes and in a
hole in the pulpit, lived a mouse, who, for her part, did not agree
with the freethinker. She was, I fear, not as independent a mind as
she should have been, and permitted herself to be influenced by the
singularly sweet voice of the principal officiating priest. Him she
(foolishly) identified with the creator of the ample mansion of her
choice, and indeed let it be understood among her acquaintance that she
was peculiarly acceptable in his sight. “For,” she said, “every day he
comes dressed all in white when the sun strikes through the windows,
throwing a coloured shadow on his robe, and scatters precious bread
for me on a stainless cloth. And in further proof,” she would say to
scoffers, “there is a second and lesser angel, who salutes him, calling
him by his name of ‘Our Father in Heaven.’” Several mice who doubted
her story came at her invitation to scoff and remained to eat the
sacred crumbs.

Now it was exactly this matter of the bread which above all other
Christian uses most inflamed the freethinker. When he was not railing
at the superstition of those who believed that a celestial body could
be concealed in milled and baked ears of corn, he was complaining
against the waste of good bread. He would calculate a statistic of the
annual diversion of bread to this purpose. “Think of the poor!” he
would snort, but it is not certain that he thought of them himself.

The freethinker’s habit in the spring months of the year was to take an
early turn along the quiet and flowery streets. The clean and morning
beauty was for him an anodyne, and when he was certain of escaping
observation he would on occasion slip through a small postern gate
in the cathedral and brood happily upon the base uses to which a
structure so noble had been addressed. During one of these intrusions
he observed that the cloth was laid on the high altar and that the
priest was preparing the communion service. As no worshippers appeared,
the freethinker drew near to the altar in order to satisfy himself by
personal witness of the futility of the celebration.

The priest did not observe (or did not appear to observe) his visitor,
but completed the ritual as though in the company of a great host.
“Buffoonery!” muttered the freethinker, struggling angrily against the
radiant charm of the sun falling through old glass. “Bad enough,” he
continued in an audible whisper, “to serve bread to those who do not
need it, but to serve it to nobody at all----!!”

“Are you sure,” said the priest, who had finished the service, “that it
is for nobody?” and he pointed smiling to the tiny grey communicants
nibbling the crumbs. “Do I understand,” inquired the freethinker
icily, “that you perform this service for the sake of the mice?” “Why
not,” said the priest; “as you do to the least of these----” “This,”
said the freethinker, quite properly indignant, “is what I should
call blasphemy.” “And of that,” said the priest, turning to go to the
vestry, “you should be no mean judge.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Sir,” said the verger to the priest later in the day, “them mice have
been about again. I see two of them at the sacred bread. I wish you
would let me set traps.” “Why,” said the priest, “I have already set
one.” “And did you catch anything?” asked the verger. “I think so,”
said the priest.



There was once a beautiful line of poetry who had by an unfortunate
accident lodged herself in the brain of an extremely inferior poet. To
her great discomfort the line found herself driven to associate with a
disorderly mob of worn-out and shabby phrases. Nor was this all. While
her companions were for ever being taken out and aired, and on occasion
finding their way into the public prints, she remained neglected and

The other lines, who had from the first disliked her, now, not
unnaturally, added contempt to their dislike. “The truth is,” they said
to her, “that you are not one of us. The rest of us can all point to a
long and distinguished ancestry. Everybody knew our parents and knows
us. We are welcome wherever we go, and are readily admitted into the
best society. But as for you, your birth is wrapt in mystery. Whether
it is the fact that the poet is your father is open to question, but at
any rate there is no question whatever of the character of the Greek
woman your mother. You had better,” they would conclude, “return whence
you came, where, among persons of your own kind, you will no doubt be
at ease.”

The poet, meanwhile, only dimly aware of his golden visitor, continued
to fumble among his ready-for-service shelves. This was the easier for
him as all his ideas were of stock size, and were in consequence easily
fitted by the poetic slops. But as time went on the poet became more
and more acutely aware of something that waited expression--some queer
new-shaped Jack o’ lanthorn of a thought that none of his ready-made
suits would fit. One after another he took them down, and they seemed
incorrigibly stale and shop-soiled. Even the most daring patterns in
the earlier Brooke design seemed inadequate, out at the seams and

He blamed his liver. Then he blamed his wife, and last--most horrible
thought of all--he blamed his inspiration. “I have written myself out,”
he cried to the pool of light that the lamp cast on his solitary desk.
“This is the end.” He rehearsed in a high tragic voice some of his
most notable triumphs, as for example:

  “Now that the roses are over
    And the last white rose is dead,
  Quiet returns to the lover

  “Instead of love freely given
    To love that asked for no price,
  Instead of a boy in Heaven
    And a girl in Paradise,

  “Now that the roses are over
    And the last white rose is dead,
  Quiet returns to the lover

“My God!” he cried to the unreceptive almond blossoms on the
wall-paper. “What genius I had when I wrote that.”

He sat down at the desk and looked severely at the virgin page. No neat
rhymes again, no passion tied up in brown paper and looped with string
for a finger, no beauty sent home with the first delivery. “This,” he
repeated with melancholy grandeur, “is the end.”

And at that directly minute he saw a line form itself in letters of
flame along the page, as though a candle wrote it--a lovely line with
the sovereign note of Cleopatra’s cry:

  “O infinite virtue, comest thou smiling from
      the world’s great snare uncaught?”

For one wild moment his spirit, overlaid with swathe upon swathe of
rubbish, moved upwards to the light. For whatever he was now, he had
once been a poet, if only in his hopes. In that luminous instant he
almost guessed his failure. “The end,” he muttered; “suppose it were
the beginning?” With that the old lines that had suffered defeat
resumed their empire. “Yes, the beginning,” he cried, “the beginning,”
and radiant he began to write, sure of his inspiration:

  “It’s the call of love: ‘Oh follow
  where my golden footsteps tread!’
  But the call of love is hollow
  by the calling of the dead.”

So, with head bent, he continued writing through the night. And while
he wrote the other lines turned upon the bastard and drove her into
the dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

“What a beautiful poem,” said the editor of his favourite journal when
it was sent to him. “Not so bad,” said the poet modestly. “The fact
is, it all started with a line--a direct inspiration.” “What was it?”
inquired the editor languidly. “Well, to be perfectly honest,” replied
the poet, “I’ve forgotten it.”



“This is the thirty-first story,” said the publisher; “how many more
do you propose to write?” “The question you should have asked,”
replied the author, “is how many less?” “Less than what?” inquired the
publisher irritably. “Less than what I could if I’m not stopped. I am
like the princess who when she opened her mouth breathed jewels, which
her detractors alleged were toads--jewels, I would observe, four words
long which on the stretched forefinger----” “I have my own opinion,”
said the publisher firmly, “on the question of jewels and toads! I
think forty would constitute a full drove or clutch, or whatever a
group of that species is called.” “Very well,” said the author, deeply
affronted, “I will now tell you the sad incident which I am bound, in
view of your attack upon me, to call ‘Quantity is better than Quality.’

“There was once,” said the author, “in the eastern marches of a
highly-constitutionalised monarchy, a society whose members were
pledged to breathe only once a week. They aspired by the force of
this remarkable example to discourage the distressing continuity
of breathing among the lower classes. Now it must be obvious at
once that even well-born persons could only impose this limitation
upon themselves if assisted by nature. And nature had assisted
them. For to reveal the truth (which they had concealed from the
warm-blooded proletariat), they were not only blue-blooded but actually
cold-blooded. It will be seen therefore that their action, though
in itself meritorious, involved a less sacrifice than was commonly
represented by their champions.

“From the outset their efforts were openly derided by the lowest
classes, who, so far from ceasing to breathe, if anything breathed
more and louder than ever. But fortunately in that country there was
a middling class--known for purposes of reference as the backbone of
the country--who knew how to value their social superiors. These,
therefore, with much agony and spiritual exercise, began to practise
the new mode, letting it be gradually understood that breathing was
vulgar. Their contortions, as may well be imagined, afforded much
amusement to the society and received, as was right, a considerable
measure of public approbation at their hands. Unluckily, however, the
middling class tended to carry the matter too far. For in their excess
of zeal they not only reduced the amount of their breathing, but even
ceased breathing altogether. In such cases the formula ‘He (or she) is
not dead but sleeps’ was generally applied. For no one would admit the
social disgrace of being dead.

“Nobody knows how long this engaging state of affairs would have
continued if it had not been for a cessation of work by the Banded
Guild of Sextons and Gravediggers. These simple fellows naturally
welcomed the increase of business that came their way as the result
of the new fashion. But unhappily they became involved in a serious
demarcation dispute with another association--“The Society of Critics,
Essayists and Writers of Belles Lettres.” This latter body, it had
always been recognised, were alone entitled to bury the living (with
a subsidiary function of resurrecting the dead). They protested
accordingly with the greatest vigour against the invasion of their
sphere by a guild whose affair was solely (as their own rules showed)
with the dead.

“The Government of the country, quite properly and according to the
accepted practice, attempted to hush the matter up. But the Society of
Critics were able by virtue of their association with the newspaper
press to defeat this laudable endeavour. To the disgust of the
remainder of the middling class, and in spite of the advice freely
tendered by some of the older soldiers among the upper class, to the
effect that the matter should be decided by the general execution
of all members of both rival bodies, the question was remitted for
decision to an impartial arbitrator. After a long hearing and the most
anxious consideration this gentleman issued his award. It was a long
and cogently written document, and aroused general dissatisfaction.
For among other illuminating observations, he pointed out that if a
man is only as old as he feels, then, _a fortiori_, he is only as dead
as he admits. This was generally regarded by the critics as a decision
in their favour. On the other hand, the sextons drew attention to
another portion of the report, in which the arbitrator eloquently
reminded those who had appointed him that his countrymen, whose proud
boast was that they did not know when they were beaten, would still
less be likely to know when they were dead. His final recommendation
was, however, equally distasteful to both parties. For he concluded
by observing that to those who were of like mind with him there was
no death. He would refer to M. Maeterlinck, the well-known Belgian
expert on bees: ‘Death,’ he began in a passage long after quoted in the
schools, ‘is the door of life.’

“The issue being thus left in doubt, the sextons--warm-blooded as
they were and breathing noisily--cut the knot by a general cessation
of work. The critics, though invited by an enthusiastic press to show
their quality, restricted themselves to stating publicly that the pen
was mightier than the spade, and leaving it there.

“The deadlock was only resolved by announcement on the part of the
head of the Government (the coldness of whose blood was sufficiently
established to condone any eccentricity) that in future he for one
would breathe continuously. To which an even colder (and bluer)
blooded colleague of ducal rank added that he would not merely breathe
but actually snore.

“It was, however, made clear that this announcement was entirely
spontaneous and had no connection with the deplorable stoppage of work.
In the result the middling class resumed their breathing. The sextons
returned to their diminished labours, and the critics, discovering a
new and living novelist of genius, set about his interment with renewed
vigour. And thus,” concluded the author, “we see that Quantity is
better than Quality.”

“Talking of toads,” said the publisher. “Yes,” replied the author, “let
us talk of them. I remember that they have jewels in their foreheads.”
“Then yours,” snarled the publisher, “must have turned their backs.”



From time to time, or rather from eternity to eternity, Ormuzd finds
himself inconvenienced by the perpetual praise offered up to him by
the blesséd. Though he is very anxious not to hurt their feelings, he
cannot but wonder whether such complete absence of the critical faculty
constitutes the best of company.

It is in this mood that Ahriman, always sensitive to the All-Highest
emotions, ventures to appear and exchange insults with the Senior
Power. And he has a double reason. He has a perfectly devilish capacity
for feeling sorry for himself in exile. It is, however, more than that.
Like Ormuzd, he is concerned not to wound the susceptibilities of his
constituents, but some eternities he permits himself to ask whether
uninterrupted blasphemies may not jar an ear specially designed for
their reception.

“This constant preoccupation with another place,” he would think, “is
not very flattering to me.”

“And so, my poor Ahriman,” Ormuzd would say on these occasions, “you
are still dissatisfied? But I do not see what more I can do for you. I
have given you rule over half the universe. I cannot give you the power
to enjoy it.”

“No, sire,” replies the impudent fiend, “since charity begins at
home--if I may describe heaven by so inappropriate a title.”

“Shall I tell you,” says Ormuzd, “what really ails you, Ahriman? It
is not that evil is a mocker, not that it tears down idols, and least
of all that it is outrageously clever. The painful truth, on the
contrary,” says Ormuzd gently, “is that evil is so stupid.” This, as
may be supposed, wounds Ahriman in a very tender spot.

“Sire,” says he, “if it were possible for you to be unjust I should so
describe that observation. For consider! All round with the docility
of inspired sheep the blameless lift their monotonous outcries. They
worship what is worshipful, I allow, but how without perception of
its subtleties, of its trembling poise upon the edge of disaster. The
blessed croon like old women before the fire, but they do not guess (or
care) that the roots of the flame are in hell.”

“But you are still stupid,” answers Ormuzd, “for these adore what they
do not understand, while you hate what you insist on misunderstanding.
Here am I, Ormuzd--a symbol, a golden knob on a door that none can
press--a veil of silver--and here are you, Ahriman, also an ebon
metaphor of what is too dark to be apprehended. And yet, poor Ahriman,
you being so dark a ghost rail upon me being a ghost so bright. But
what of that which is behind us both?”

“Ormuzd,” says Ahriman, “you cannot cheat me thus. You are a thing in
my mind, as I am a thing in yours, and if our thoughts cease, both of
us cease with them. After us the Deluge.”

“It is true,” says Ormuzd, “that the thing you see is made up of your
sight, but it is not true of me. For that is the difference between
good and evil. I know that I am nothing, but you believe (falsely) that
you are everything.”

“Humility,” sneers the fiend, “sits ill on the thundering lips of

“Truth,” replies Ormuzd, “is neither proud nor humble; it is.”

“What is truth?” mocks the fiend, preparing to go. “I suppose that you
will tell me that you are the truth.”

“No,” says Ormuzd, “it is because you deny that I am truth and secretly
believe it that you are Ahriman, but it is because I know that I am not
the truth that I am Ormuzd.”

“I have enjoyed our little chat,” says Ahriman, “but you lack ambition.”

“By that sin----” begins Ormuzd.

“Oh, nonsense,” cries Ahriman hotly, and then repents of his rudeness.
“Forgive me, sire, but I could believe in you if you believed in

“Ahriman, Ahriman,” says Ormuzd, laughing lightly, “still tempting me!”

“I bear you no grudge,” says Ahriman. “The truth is----”

“Yes?” asks Ormuzd.

“That you are too clever for me.”

“I thought we should come to it in the end,” says Ormuzd.



At the beginning of the nineteenth century, somewhere in Germany there
was a neat little town with gabled houses and a platform for the stork
in the market-place. There was nothing remarkable about this town or
its people. By day the houses slumbered cosily and the men went about
their cobbling, saddling, and carpentry with the best will in the
world. At evening lights were shown at the windows, and within doors
the husbands smoked their long pipes with their pot of beer close at
hand, and the wives sewed innumerable patches on innumerable small
pants. In spring and summer tables were set in the trim garden, and
at evening a stranger passing down the cobbled street would have seen
amiable family groups each under their linden-tree absorbing their
evening meal. And sometimes one more given to sentiment than another
might divide the calm evening air with some monotonous ditty locally
assumed to be music. But the great day was Sunday. Then the whole
township, with bent heads, moved to the church, where the pastor
preached the virtues of the ideal, of charity, and of peace. And his
flock, as harmless as any other sheep, from time to time bleated
sympathetically and with the air of impending sleep. And later in the
day the same pastor, who was something of a poet, would often collect a
group round him in the schoolroom and tell them one of the “Märchen,”
to which even the grown-ups were never tired of listening.

As you may suppose, among other stories he would often tell them the
tale of “Schneevitchen,” or, as we call it, “Snow-white.” The jealous
stepmother, the mirror of beauty, the poisoned apple, the dwarfs and
the sleeping lovely were murmured into the inner conscience of his
audience. And so all might have continued till the end of time. The
little town might have dusked and shone night and day, the quiet
inhabitants have gone about their business, lived and died, and new
storks replaced the old ones on the platform. All this, I say, might
have happened if two strangers had not come to the little town and
settled in a vacant house almost next door to that of the pastor. They
were, so it was understood, husband and wife, though many wondered how
two persons so repulsive could ever have endured that relationship. The
man was not otherwise ill-looking, but so thin that in certain lights
you would have sworn that you could see his very bones, and there were
those who declared that the wind would have whistled through him if it
had not been for his absurdly ill-fitting clothes. The woman, on the
other hand, was fat, not with a comfortable tissue, but with a gross
hardness that forbade all friendliness. She was not a monstrosity,
save at meals, when she ate like a beast out of the woods, hugely,
violently, and with the worst manners in the world.

At the outset they were regarded with suspicion. For though they were
good customers of the shops and paid cash, no one could deny that they
were ugly customers. There was, further, something queer about their
name. It was not a decent German one with a flavour of wurst about it,
but was a queer foreign one. For it was plain that the baker, who had
written it down as Tod, must have misheard the gentleman, while the
grocer must have equally misunderstood the lady when he entered her
upon his books as Krieg. Moreover, though the man let it be understood
that he was widely known as a preacher, they did not at first attend
service with the rest of the community.

It is probable that their influence would never have attained any
hold if the old pastor had lived. For first and last, though he was
the gentlest of men, he would none of them. But as is the way with
the gentlest as with those most rude, he fell upon a heavy sickness.
The physician of the town was in despair, and finally, hearing that
the stranger had a great reputation as a healer, invited him into
consultation. In this way, for the first time, Herr Todt (if that were
his name) crossed the old pastor’s threshold.

“We meet at last,” said the stranger. “Aye,” said the dying man,
looking him fearlessly in the sunken eyes, “but you have no sting for
me.” “I fear,” said the stranger, turning to the local physician, “that
he is delirious; I can do nothing.” “You have done all you can,” cried
the good old man, “and you have failed. But oh, my flock, my flock!”
“They are in safe hands,” said the stranger mildly. “See, rest yours in
them and feel how easy they are.” With a wild gesture the pastor swept
them away. “Retro me, Sathanas,” he cried madly; “not into your hands,”
but, with a deep peace stealing over him, “in tuas manus, Domine.”

The whole town attended the burial, and in the absence of any other
priest the stranger, who, it was understood, had taken holy orders,
committed the body to the earth. There was a profound grief for the
loss of one so simple, so friendly, so full of harmless kindness and
dreams. But more than that, many of the older men felt that a period
had ended with their pastor’s death. “There,” said one returning
homewards, “lies old Germany.”

After this Herr Dr. Todt and his wife moved into the presbytery, and
in some way never fully explained he became the officiating priest. It
became noticeable almost at once that while the older men found him
increasingly distasteful, all the younger men and most of the older
women fell entirely under his sway. Nor was this surprising, for he
preached a new and striking doctrine. In his first sermon he took
for his text, “I come to bring, not peace, but a sword,” and for the
first time in the quiet cobbled streets there was a faint far-off
echo of trampling steel. He went from strength to strength, till for
those who followed him he seemed almost more than human--almost a new
Saint John, but one who, in preparing the way for his Lord, made it
rough for all feet save His. But yet among the older men there were
those that murmured unquietly of blasphemy and those who said openly
that he declared himself the way of salvation, and even called him the
Antichrist. But Dr. Todt cared for none of these things.

Nor was this all, for his wife began to exercise an influence equal to,
if not greater than, her husband’s. (She had, by the way, cleared away
the muddle as to names by explaining that she was a geborene Krieg, and
had assumed her husband’s name on marriage.) Frau Dr. Todt continued
the Sunday evening meetings in the schoolroom, but they were no longer
a place where old men turned from the fireside to listen to the
memories of childhood. Far from it. The talk she held was of glory, of
the old wars, and of a helmetted god called Wotan. And it was observed
that in a strange indefinable way for those who attended her meetings
she lost her ugliness. They swore that she was not old, nor fat, nor
a guzzler, but young and slender and endowed with the swift feet of
the Valkyries. So fair did the young men find her that they began even
to forget their loves. But when their sweethearts complained the young
men put them aside, saying that she was not a rival but their mother.
“Your mother!” cried the young women, “are you mad?” “It is only a way
of speaking,” said the young men. “She is the voice of Germany. Have
you not heard the new gospel?” and one among them repeated the strange,
harsh lines:

  “You have conquered, Arminius! The Roman
  world has grown red with your breath,
  and its beauty is perished and no man
  wonders or weeps at its death!

  “Again as the meshes drew near us
  you heard the buccina crack
  on the last high whisper, ‘O Varrus,
  give me my legions back!’

  “You had twisted your web together
  in triumph, but Wotan was dumb,
  for he watched a gold eagle’s feather,
  and he saw the lost legions come.

  “Since scarce had the Northern Valkyries
  been whistled by Wotan home
  ere the eagles flew back to their eyries,
  on the hills of a greater Rome.

  “And Wotan to Arminius leaning,
  whispered, ‘Though conquest is sweet
  you have lost your own soul in the winning,
  now capture the world’s in defeat.’

  “You have conquered but only the bodies,
  and the spirit is more than the flesh;
  now weave for the soul and where God is
  deep in the heart the mesh.”

“You are all mad together,” cried the girls. “This means nothing. What
is Wotan to us or we to him?” “This is the new world which we are
making,” said the young men, and returned to the feet of their teacher.

But there was one girl in the town who would not give up the fight so
easily. She was the daughter of the old pastor, and for her fairness
and gentleness and soft beauty had been called “Schneevitchen.” Like
her father before her, she had steady grey eyes, and like him she knew
the old songs of Germany that (some said) were echoes of the song of
the Niebelung--gold girls in the river Rhine. She alone could hold her
head against the now predominant pair, and she became in consequence
the object of their deadly hate. For often, when the young men crowded
round her, Frau Todt geborene Krieg would look into the young men’s
eyes as into a mirror and say:

  “Mirror, mirror on the wall,
  am I fairest of them all?”

And she would see in their eyes the shadow of “Schneevitchen.” She and
her husband consulted together, and finally they compounded an apple
of sweet essences, which she pretended had grown on a tree in the
Hesperides, but to her husband she confessed that it was no such thing
and that its real name was Discord. This she gave not to Snow-white to
eat, but to the young men, and straightway they were poisoned. For they
began to have ugly dreams and see swart visions, and always in the dark
heart of them was Snow-white, no longer pure, gentle and loving, but
the Lorelei drawing into her whirlpool drowning men.

There are many tales of how she came to perish in the broad river.
Some say she drowned herself, some say the young men, bewildered, cast
her into the waters, and others that the strangers flung her into the
great body of the stream. None knows. But what is known is that with
her death in that little town and in many other towns great and small
the old pastor and his daughter were forgotten, and in their place
ruled over hearts and minds Herr Doktor Todt and his wife, the geborene



This is quite a different sort of story. It is about a princess who
disbelieved in arithmetic.

“Was she a French princess?” inquired the publisher.

“Certainly not,” said the author, “and I cannot think why you should
suppose that she was. On the contrary, she lived in Hammersmith
Broadway, and took the view that there was no reason why parallel lines
should not meet. ‘Why,’ she would ask, ‘should they be snobs just
because they happen to be parallel? Besides,’ she would add, ‘when I
draw them they do meet.’”

“But,” said a celebrated professor from the London School of Economics
who had been summoned by her anxious parents to cope with the
situation, “those lines which you have drawn aren’t parallel.”

“Why?” inquired the princess.

“Why?” said the professor, “but it is obvious to anybody. Can’t you
see that they meet?”

“Yes,” said the princess, “I see that, but that is what I call being

“But can’t you see that you are defying the axioms upon which all
cognition is based. If parallel lines meet, then when I meet you you do
not meet me.”

“I see no harm in that,” said the princess, who, to be perfectly
honest, had formed a (quite unjustly) low opinion of the professor’s
social gifts; “but speaking of axioms, would you agree that God is

“Certainly,” said the professor, “but I do not see how----”

“Forgive me,” said the princess icily. “If God is omnipotent should he
not be able to draw parallel lines that meet?”

“You will forgive my observing,” said the professor, “that if God
interfered with mathematics he would cease to be God.”

“And if mathematics interfered with God?” inquired the princess.

“I cannot,” said the professor, slapping his tall hat on his head with
a resounding bang, “waste my time in talking nonsense.”

“You could, however,” cried the princess after him, “give up teaching
mathematics, could you not?”



“I will now,” said the author, “without more ado tell the true story
of Rumpelstiltskin. It was, I think, Professor Boxer, of a celebrated
university, who traced in it a complete articulation of the Hittite
sun-mythology. He was not deceived by the superficial appearance of
elegant nonsense. He observed that Rumpel (as he called him for short),
like Jahwe, laid great stress on concealing his true name. Nor did he
believe that it was likely that even Rumpel was anything other than
a disguise. ‘Who?’ he effectively inquired, ‘would answer to such a
name?’ Clearly, he concluded the name was one of which the utterance
might be supposed to unloose the struts of the world. Now, for my part,
I cannot go the whole way with Professor Boxer. That the story has a
deep symbolism nobody, least of all one who makes his livelihood by the
pretence, would deny. But that it is Hittite in origin, no one who has
studied the customs of that astounding people the Hivites would for a
moment assert. Taking first the evidence of the Rosetta stone, what do
we find?”

“That you have lately been on a personally conducted tour round the
British Museum,” harshly interrupted the publisher.

“And if I have,” cried the author, “am I to be forbidden the simple
pleasure of showing off to my readers who have not had a similar
experience? Am I to have no humanity, no expansion, no freedom? In
short, am I writing this book, or are you?”

“If you are going to take that line,” said the publisher, “you
will force me to inquire on whom the financial risk falls? With

“Very well,” said the author. “As I detest bickering, I will handle the
story differently, though I am not prepared to abandon my Hivites.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“That damned old Jew,” began the representative of the well-known
Hittite newspaper....

“Hush,” said his Hivite colleague in the press gallery of the
Convention of the Association of Peoples, “here he is.”

“It is my belief,” muttered the Hittite, “that he is the authentic
Wandering Jew. He appears with his white beard and his parcel at all
international meetings. I believe he is a plague-carrier! Good-day,” he
added aloud, “Monsieur Moses that goes always well!”

The white-bearded old man deposited his heavy parcel with a sigh. “As
usual,” he said, “I find nobody to relieve me of this.” “It would
seem very heavy,” said the Hivite. “It is very heavy,” said the old
Jew; “try to lift it.” The Hivite bent down and strained with all his
strength. The parcel shifted not an inch.

“Heavens!” he said, looking respectfully at the old man. “You must be
strong. But what is it--lead or gold?”

“The name you call the metal,” said the old man wearily, “is a matter
of taste. It is at any rate difficult to support, in which, as your
Hittite colleague is thinking, it is not unlike me.” “My God! what a
suggestion,” said the Hittite, whose true thought had been accurately
expressed. “But, putting on one side your play of spirit, tell us as
among colleagues what is your object?” “To hand over my charge to
one worthy to carry it,” said the old man. “And do you expect to find
him among this collection of international lawmongers?” inquired the
Hittite. “Where else?” said the Jew. “Do you, then,” inquired the
Hivite, “believe in international law?” “I sometimes pretend,” said the
old man, smilingly, “that I invented it. But pardon me! The ceremony is
about to begin.”

The hall below was filled to overflowing. All the delegations were in
their places, all showing in their dress that the occasion was one of a
very especial character. From the press gallery, which was behind the
platform on which the president and the officers of the Convention sat,
could be observed the veiled statue of International Concord, which the
president was that day to dedicate. Almost immediately that gentleman,
followed by a train, beribboned like himself, walked solemnly on to the
platform and took his seat.

The delegations settled down to listen to his speech, anticipating,
as they were entitled to upon his reputation, a superb effort. But
before the president could rise to speak a delegate from East Oceania
rose to a point of order. He was anxious to do nothing to mar the
harmony of so auspicious an occasion, but he wished to know whether any
arrangements had been made as to the order of speeches. He represented
a small country, but one no less passionately devoted to the cause of
international concord than some of those larger ones, owing to whose
ambition his country found itself so reduced.

The president rose to observe that any delegate who desired would, if
he caught his eye, be heard. On such an occasion it would be suitable
that representatives of all classes of nations should be heard. The
representative of West Oceania rose to inquire what was meant by
classes of nations. Was this an indirect gibe at the smaller nations?
If so, he would observe that they had suffered enough already at the
hands of their great neighbours. The president, who had risen to
express the hope that delegates would not indulge in controversy, was
interrupted by the delegate from Central Oceania, who observed that
on behalf of his Government he indignantly repudiated the calumnies
that had fallen from the lips of the last two speakers. It was owing
to the strong hand of nations such as his that this glorious scene of
international amity was achieved. And to drive home that assertion,
let him remind the Convention that the symbol of concord chosen, namely
a griffin, was the emblem of his State.

The president again endeavoured to closure the discussion, but was
forced to give way to the delegate of the Eurasian Empire, who said
that while he entirely agreed with the general position taken up by his
Central Oceanic colleague, he was bound to correct him on a point of
detail. The design which had been approved by the Commission, of which
he had had the honour of acting as chairman, was not a griffin, but the
bull of Melem-to-Pek, his country’s ensign. The Trans-Oceanic delegate
demanded the word. Upon its being granted, he remarked that not for the
first time had the Eurasian Empire endeavoured to confuse the issue. As
the result of what he was bound to call an unfortunate alliance with
the Hivites--contrary to the spirit of the international tables--that
empire believed that with its ally it could dictate to the whole world.
Fortunately, however, those who, like his country and their friends,
the Hittites, believed in internationalism were not prepared to stand
by and see this robber combination---- The Hivite and Eurasian
delegates leapt to their feet amid a growing volume of cries. When
order was restored it was observed that the delegate of Prester John
had the floor. He desired simply to observe that the symbol, for what
it was worth, was merely a dragon, the sign of the oldest culture in
the world. When the barbarians of the West----

The tumult was renewed, and this time the president found himself quite
unable to cope with the situation. At last a member of the secretariat
in the gallery had the brilliant idea of tugging at the cord which
suspended the veil. As it fell a sudden hush fell on the crowd, and
then as the gold image was revealed the cries were renewed: “The
Griffin of Central Oceania,” “The Bull of Melem-to-Pek,” “The Gold
Dragon,” “The Hesperidan Sheep.”

“Silence!” roared a voice of thunder.

All the delegates paused in utter astonishment and looked at the press
gallery, whence this outrageous interjection had proceeded. There they
observed the old Jew standing transfigured and terrible.

“Fools,” he said, “do you not see that it is a golden calf?” and with
that, before anyone could speak or interfere, he drew a shining object
from his parcel and aimed it at the image, shattering it to fragments.

In a moment the whole Convention were on their feet, shouting and
cursing. A rush was made for the gallery, but the old Jew was not
to be found. When those on the platform examined the missile it was
discovered to be a great stone tablet inscribed with Hebrew characters.
Unfortunately there was nobody present who knew that language. Some,
however, said that it was a rival code of honour known among the
Jews as “The Ten Points” or “The Ten Commandments,” but others (and
these were the large majority) saw in it only a further proof of the
well-known Jewish determination to destroy civilisation.

On the motion of the Philistine delegation, it was unanimously decided
to exclude the Jews from the Association of Peoples. International
harmony having thus been restored, the president was enabled to
deliver his speech, which, it was generally agreed, was a magnificent
contribution to the cause of international peace and goodwill.



They had shown the newcomer all the sights of the place--Peter’s great
keys, the alabaster walls, the sword of Michael, and Gabriel’s last
trumpet. At last they brought him to the greatest wonder of all--the
glass, in which all his life he had seen darkly. “Look,” they said,
“for now you shall see God face to face.” He looked at first with
unspeakable awe, then with surprise, last with bitter disappointment.
“I am not judged worthy,” he said, turning sorrowfully away, “I saw
nothing but myself.”



It is not easy to exaggerate the emotion excited in the better elements
in the simian world when Bandar, the umbrella-faced ape, announced
his theory that apes were evolved from men. It was not merely the
blasphemous suggestion that the great Baboon had not, as inspired
writing showed, made apes in his own image. That was bad enough, though
it tended to upset the more serious-minded rather than the general. But
what outraged the public taste and wounded it in its tenderest point
was the impudent and indeed grossly indelicate contention that there
had been a time when monkeys had no tails. What made it worse, however,
was the damnable plausibility of it all. Even the most prejudiced
could hardly fail to recognise with a shudder of disgust faint far-off
simian traits, loathsomely humanised, but still distinguishable in men.
To take physique first. It was perhaps true that the mean, chinless
face was entirely wanting in the higher bestiality. Yet it could not
be denied that men had been observed (notably during the recent
disturbances, when they had so continually killed one another) with a
promise of the true prognathous chin. Then as to the withered little
arms and the long deformed lower limbs, with their flattened pads, it
could not be disputed that in their cities the men grew more ape-like
in both respects, with arms increasingly long and grasping and legs
proportionally short and unmanlike. It was true that no instance had
ever been known of a man with a tail. But on the other hand, Bandar
pointed out that among certain degenerate types of the larger ape, as
for example the Mandril, tails were far less developed than among the
better sort. Then as to habits and manners. Here the likeness was even
more disconcerting. First, in the matter of food, it was true that for
the most part they had the horrible human habit of flesh-eating, but
it was known that some had so far approached the ape as to subsist on
fruit and vegetables. In the mode of life they had the ape-like custom
of crowding together. It was true that when they did so collect they
were sufficiently unapelike to destroy all trees and living things and
to surround themselves with unnatural noise and light. It must not be
forgotten, however, that those in the highest regard (and therefore
nearest to the ape) tended not to live in such communities, but to have
large separate dwellings in whose neighbourhood the trees and fields
were left unmolested. In the matter of marriage customs there were, it
was true, wide variations. Some races had the human habit of several
wives, or of changing them frequently. On the other hand, many had
achieved the monkey state of monogamy. It was unhappily true that they
were incapable of intelligent communication. But it was perhaps not too
much to suppose that the queer discordant cries that proceeded from
their lips when several were in company had some meaning. Finally, he
came to their settled habit of exterminating one another for every sort
of cause and lack of cause. Here in truth they were least bestial. But
could it be urged that the apes never fell to manlike levels in this

So the formidable argument continued. A hurried Convention of Elders
was summoned, at which it was decided, first, to let it be known that
this doctrine was damnable heresy, and secondly, to end the danger to
the simian world by the execution of the heretic. Both decisions were
duly carried out, and both were widely applauded. But it was like the
obstinate blasphemy of Bandar to exclaim as they slew him:

“E pur si muove,” by which he was understood to mean that in so acting
the apes had behaved exactly like men.



“I have invented a new game,” said the Spirit of Evil. “Child,” said
the Spirit of Good, smiling benevolently, “will you never grow up? Ah
well, go away and play with it.”

“But,” said the Spirit of Evil, deeply disappointed, “it won’t be any
fun unless I tell you about it.”

“How long will it take?” inquired the Spirit of Good cautiously.

“Only a million or two years at most,” said the Spirit of Evil.

“In that case I will listen. What do you call it, child?”

“I call it man,” said the Spirit of Evil, and he described humanity to
the Spirit of Good.

“You horrid, disgusting little wretch,” said the Spirit of Good after
she had listened patiently for a few thousand centuries. “Stop that
game at once. I won’t have it.”

“But, Good darling!” said Evil, “you did enjoy it when they believed
that you had invented them, now didn’t you?”

“It certainly was funny,” said Good with a gentle sigh, “but all the
same, I rather blame myself for having listened.”

“But it was only a game,” said Evil.

“That’s true,” said Good, “but be more careful with the next one.”



When the Last Trumpet had cleared men off the earth like crumbs off a
cloth, an unbelievable sweetness and freedom settled over the world.
Presently all that man had spoiled was healed, and earth was a garden
and God took his pleasure walking in it.

There’s a gold apple tree grows in the garden, and if God is so minded
of all other trees he plucks the fruit, but at this he holds his hand
and muses. The green serpent fawns about his feet. “If thou art God
indeed,” he whispers, “eat.” But God bends and strokes the glittering

“Do thou eat, belovéd,” says he, “and be even as I am, having knowledge
of good and evil--and of thyself.” “Get thou behind me, God,” cries the
serpent, and is fled through the dust of the garden like a green flame.
And when the sweet laughter of God is over, all is quiet in the garden.



After the war, which he believed himself to have won, the everlasting
No met, as he was travelling grandly in his great car, his defeated
enemy, the everlasting Yes. This second, as became one so heavily
defeated, went on foot, in rags, and seemed something of a cripple.

“Ha,” said No, “I am sorry to see you in such case, but you will not
deny that even so I let you off lightly. I tremble to think what
vengeance you would have exacted had you triumphed. Confess that you
would have exterminated me and not limited yourself to ruining and
crippling me.”

“Why,” said Yes reflectively, “I stand for acceptance. I have other
names, too--Love, Hope and Charity. But as acceptance trails your
shadow of refusal, so do my other names trail theirs--Hate, Despair and
Unimaginativeness--and the worst of these shadows is unimaginativeness.
I had dreamed, I confess, that it would be well to wipe out the

“As I thought,” said No, “for all your specious claims you are harder
of heart than I.”

“As acceptance,” said Yes, “must always be harder than refusal and life
than death.”

“But,” cried No triumphantly, “you were wrong. Here go you in rags for
all your lights, and here ride I in purple for all my shadows.”

“I was wrong,” said Yes, “because I was young. I did not see that I
must accept you and your shadows with the rest. I was fighting not
against you but against myself when I would not accept as part of
myself the great refusal.”

“What!” cried No, deeply mortified and inwardly afraid, “beggar that
you are, do you dare to claim that you have won?”

“I only know,” said Yes gently, “that there is no victory.”

“You canting hypocrite,” cried No, “you do not know how to take a

“It is because I do,” said Yes, “that there cannot be victory or
defeat. For if the fight were ended where would you be, where I?”

“There is something in that,” said No disconsolately; “but if it be
true, why should you fight? Let us make an eternal peace!”

“That would be to refuse,” said Yes.

“Damn you,” cried No, “I will have peace.”

“It takes two,” said Yes gently, “to make a peace,” and turned to limp

“But Yes,” cried No after him, now thoroughly dismayed, “how is all
this to end?”

“Dear No,” said Yes, “it does not end.”



Down a path in the wood she came singing. The path on which she walked
was itself like a song under leaves like music. The path was the echo
of the song, or the song of the path. It does not matter. This was
before music and the world made of music had fallen apart.

His shadow fell on the path. The song stopped; the path grew still.

“It is quiet, quiet,” she said.

“It is love,” said he.

“Something has died,” she whispered.

“And has risen from the dead,” he cried, drawing very close. “Love has
conquered death.”

“Alas,” she said, taking his hand and kissing it, “before love came
there was no death to conquer.”


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

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