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A Tale of London by Lord Dunsany

"Come," said the Sultan to his hasheesh-eater in the very
furthest lands that know Bagdad, "dream to me now of
  And the hasheesh-eater made a low obeisance and seated
himself cross-legged upon a purple cushion broidered with
golden poppies, on the floor, beside an ivory bowl where the
hasheesh was, and having eaten liberally of the hasheesh
blinked seven times and spoke thus:
  "O Friend of God, know then that London is the desiderate
town even of all Earth's cities.  Its houses are of ebony
and cedar which they roof with thin copper plates that the
hand of Time turns green.  They have golden balconies in
which amethysts are where they sit and watch the sunset.
Musicians in the gloaming steal softly along the ways;
unheard their feet fall on the white sea-sand with which
those ways are strewn, and in the darkness suddenly they
play on dulcimers and instruments with strings.  Then are
there murmurs in the balconies praising their skill, then
are there bracelets cast down to them for reward and golden
necklaces and even pearls.
  "Indeed but the city is fair; there is by the sandy ways
a paving all alabaster, and the lanterns along it are of
chrysoprase, all night long they shine green, but of
amethyst are the lanterns of the balconies.
  "As the musicians go along the ways dancers gather about
them and dance upon the alabaster pavings, for joy and not
for hire.  Sometimes a window opens far up in an ebony
palace and a wreath is cast down to a dancer or orchids
showered upon them.
  "Indeed of many cities have I dreamt but of none fairer,
through many marble metropolitan gates hasheesh has led me,
but London is its secret, the last gate of all; the ivory
bowl has nothing more to show.  And indeed even now the imps
that crawl behind me and that will not let me be are
plucking me by the elbow and bidding my spirit return, for
well they know that I have seen too much.  `No, not London,'
they say; and therefore I will speak of some other city, a
city of some less mysterious land, and anger not the imps
with forbidden things.  I will speak of Persepolis or famous
  A shade of annoyance crossed the Sultan's face, a look of
thunder that you had scarcely seen, but in those lands they
watched his visage well, and though his spirit was wandering
far away and his eyes were bleared with hasheesh yet that
storyteller there and then perceived the look that was
death, and sent his spirit back at once to London as a man
runs into his house when the thunder comes.
  "And therefore," he continued, "in the desiderate city,
in London, all their camels are pure white.  Remarkable is
the swiftness of their horses, that draw their chariots that
are of ivory along those sandy ways and that are of
surpassing lightness, they have little bells of silver upon
their horses' heads.  O Friend of God, if you perceived
their merchants!  The glory of their dresses in the
noonday!  They are no less gorgeous than those butterflies
that float about their streets.  They have overcloaks of
green and vestments of azure, huge purple flowers blaze on
their overcloaks, the work of cunning needles, the centres
of the flowers are of gold and the petals of purple.  All
their hats are black --"  ("No, no," said the Sultan) --
"but irises are set about the brims, and green plumes float
above the crowns of them.
  "They have a river that is named the Thames, on it their
ships go up with violet sails bringing incense for the
braziers that perfume the streets, new songs exchanged for
gold with alien tribes, raw silver for the statues of their
heroes, gold to make balconies where the women sit, great
sapphires to reward their poets with, the secrets of old
cities and strange lands, the learning of the dwellers in
far isles, emeralds, diamonds, and the hoards of the sea.
And whenever a ship comes into port and furls its violet
sails and the news spreads through London that she has come,
then all the merchants go down to the river to barter, and
all day long the chariots whirl through the streets, and the
sound of their going is a mighty roar all day until evening,
their roar is even like--"
  "Not so," said the Sultan.
  "Truth is not hidden from the Friend of God," replied the
hasheesh-eater, "I have erred being drunken with the
hasheesh, for in the desiderate city, even in London, so
thick upon the ways is the white sea-sand with which the
city glimmers that no sound comes from the path of the
charioteers, but they go softly like a light sea-wind."
("It is well," said the Sultan.)  "They go softly down to
the port where the vessels are, and the merchandise in from
the sea, amongst the wonders that the sailors show, on land
by the high ships, and softly they go though swiftly at
evening back to their homes.
  "O would that the Munificent, the Illustrious, the Friend
of God, had even seen these things, had seen the jewellers
with their empty baskets, bargaining there by the ships,
when the barrels of emeralds came up from the hold.  Or
would that he had seen the fountains there in silver basins
in the midst of the ways.  I have seen small spires upon
their ebony houses and the spires were all of gold, birds
strutted there upon the copper roofs from golden spire to
spire that have no equal for splendour in all the woods of
the world.  And over London the desiderate city the sky is
so deep a blue that by this alone the traveller may know
where he has come, and may end his fortunate journey.  Nor
yet for any colour of the sky is there too great heat in
London, for along its ways a wind blows always from the
South gently and cools the city.
  "Such, O Friend of God, is indeed the city of London,
lying very far off on the yonder side of Bagdad, without a
peer for beauty or excellence of its ways among the towns of
the earth or cities of song; and even so, as I have told,
its fortunate citizens dwell, with their hearts ever
devising beautiful things and from the beauty of their own
fair work that is more abundant around them every year,
receiving new inspirations to work things more beautiful
  "And is their government good?" the Sultan said.
  "It is most good," said the hasheesh-eater, and fell
backwards upon the floor.
  He lay thus and was silent.  And when the Sultan
perceived he would speak no more that night he smiled and
lightly applauded.
  And there was envy in that palace, in lands beyond
Badgad, of all that dwell in London.


                      by Lord Dunsany

There is a faint freshness in the London night as though
some strayed reveller of a breeze had left his comrades in
the Kentish uplands and had entered the town by stealth.
The pavements are a little damp and shiny.  Upon one's ears
that at this late hour have become very acute there hits the
tap of a remote footfall.  Louder and louder grow the taps,
filling the whole night.  And a black cloaked figure passes
by, and goes tapping into the dark.  One who has danced goes
homewards.  Somewhere a ball has closed its doors and
ended.  Its yellow lights are out, its musicians are silent,
its dancers have all gone into the night air, and Time has
said of it, "Let it be past and over, and among the things
that I have put away."
  Shadows begin to detach themselves from their great
gathering places.  No less silently than those shadows that
are thin and dead move homewards the stealthy cats.  Thus
have we even in London our faint forebodings of the dawn's
approach, which the birds and the beasts and the stars are
crying aloud to the untrammelled fields.
  At what moment I know not I perceive that the night
itself is irrecoverably overthrown.  It is suddenly revealed
to me by the weary pallor of the street lamps that the
streets are silent and nocturnal still, not because there is
any strength in night, but because men have not yet arisen
from sleep to defy him.  So have I seen dejected and untidy
guards still bearing antique muskets in palatial gateways,
although the realms of the monarch that they guard have
shrunk to a single province which no enemy yet has troubled
to overrun.
  And it is now manifest from the aspect of the street
lamps, those abashed dependants of night, that already
English mountain peaks have seen the dawn, that the cliffs
of Dover are standing white to the morning, that the
sea-mist has lifted and is pouring inland.
  And now men with a hose have come and are sluicing out
the streets.
  Behold now night is dead.
  What memories, what fancies throng one's mind!  A night
but just now gathered out of London by the hostile hand of
Time.  A million common artificial things all cloaked for a
while in mystery, like beggars robed in purple, and seated
on dread thrones.  Four million people asleep, dreaming
perhaps.  What worlds have they gone into?  Whom have they
met?  But my thoughts are far off with Bethmoora in her
loneliness, whose gates swing to and fro.  To and fro they
swing, and creak and creak in the wind, but no one hears
them.  They are of green copper, very lovely, but no one
sees them now.  The desert wind pours sand into their
hinges, no watchman comes to ease them.  No guard goes round
Bethmoora's battlements, no enemy assails them.  There are
no lights in her houses, no footfall in her streets; she
stands there dead and lonely beyond the Hills of Hap, and I
would see Bethmoora once again, but dare not.
  It is many a year, as they tell me, since Bethmoora
became desolate.
  Her desolation is spoken of in taverns where sailors
meet, and certain travellers have told me of it.
  I had hoped to see Bethmoora once again.  It is many a
year ago, they say, when the vintage was last gathered in
from the vineyards that I knew, where it is all desert now.
It was a radiant day, and the people of the city were
dancing by the vineyards, while here and there one played
upon the kalipac.  The purple flowering shrubs were all in
bloom, and the snow shone upon the Hills of Hap.
  Outside the copper gates they crushed the grapes in vats
to make the syrabub.  It had been a goodly vintage.
  In little gardens at the desert's edge men beat the
tambang and the tittibuk, and blew melodiously the zootibar.
  All there was mirth and song and dance, because the
vintage had been gathered in, and there would be ample
syrabub for the winter months, and much left over to
exchange for turquoises and emeralds with the merchants who
come down from Oxuhahn.  Thus they rejoiced all day over
their vintage on the narrow strip of cultivated ground that
lay between Bethmoora and the desert which meets the sky to
the South.  And when the heat of the day began to abate, and
the sun drew near to the snows on the Hills of Hap, the note
of the zootibar still rose clear from the gardens, and the
brilliant dresses of the dancers still wound among the
flowers.  All that day three men on mules had been noticed
crossing the face of the Hills of Hap.  Backwards and
forwards they moved as the track wound lower and lower,
three little specks of black against the snow.  They were
seen first in the very early morning up near the shoulder of
Peol Jagganoth, and seemed to be coming out of Utnar Vehi.
All day they came.  And in the evening, just before lights
come out and colours change, they appeared before
Bethmoora's copper gates.  They carried staves, such as
messengers bear in those lands, and seemed sombrely clad
when the dancers all came round them with their green and
lilac dresses.  Those Europeans who were present and heard
the message given were ignorant of the language, and only
caught the name of Utnar Vehi.  But it was brief, and passed
rapidly from mouth to mouth, and almost at once the people
burnt their vineyards and began to flee away from Bethmoora,
going for the most part northwards, though some went to the
East.  They ran down out of their fair white houses, and
streamed through the copper gate; the throbbing of the
tambang and the tittibuk suddenly ceased with the note of
the zootibar, and the clinking kalipac stopped a moment
after.  The three strange travellers went back the way they
came the instant their message was given.  It was the hour
when a light would have appeared in some high tower, and
window after window would have poured into the dusk its
lion-frightening light, and the copper gates would have been
fastened up.  But no lights came out in windows there that
night and have not ever since, and those copper gates were
left wide and have never shut, and the sound arose of the
red fire crackling in the vineyards, and the pattering of
feet fleeing softly.  There were no cries, no other sounds
at all, only the rapid and determined flight.  They fled as
swiftly and quietly as a herd of wild cattle flee when they
suddenly see a man.  It was as though something had befallen
which had been feared for generations, which could only be
escaped by instant flight, which left no time for
  Then fear took the Europeans also, and they too fled.
And what the message was I have never heard.
  Many believe that it was a message from Thuba Mleen, the
mysterious emperor of those lands, who is never seen by man,
advising that Bethmoora should be left desolate.  Others say
that the message was one of warning from the gods, whether
from friendly gods or from adverse ones they know not.
  And others hold that the Plague was ravaging a line of
cities over in Utnar Vehi, following the South-west wind
which for many weeks had been blowing across them towards
  Some say that the terrible gnousar sickness was upon the
three travellers, and that their very mules were dripping
with it, and suppose that they were driven to the city by
hunger, but suggest no better reason for so terrible a
  But most believe that it was a message from the desert
himself, who owns all the Earth to the southwards, spoken
with his peculiar cry to those three who knew his voice --
men who had been out on the sand-wastes without tents by
night, who had been by day without water, men who had been
out there where the desert mutters, and had grown to know
his needs and his malevolence.  They say that the desert had
a need for Bethmoora, that he wished to come into her lovely
streets, and to send into her temples and her houses his
storm-winds draped with sand.  For he hates the sound and
the sight of men in his old evil heart, and he would have
Bethmoora silent and undisturbed, save for the weird love he
whispers at her gates.
  If I knew what that message was that the three men
brought on mules, and told in the copper gate, I think that
I should go and see Bethmoora once again.  For a great
longing comes on me here in London to see once more that
white and beautiful city; and yet I dare not, for I know not
the danger I should have to face, whether I should risk the
fury of unknown dreadful gods, or some disease unspeakable
and slow, or the desert's curse, or torture in some little
private room of the Emperor Thuba Mleen, or something that
the travellers have not told -- perhaps more fearful still.

                      by Lord Dunsany

Charon leaned forward and rowed.  All things were one with
his weariness.
  It was not with him a matter of years or of centuries,
but of wide floods of time, and an old heaviness and a pain
in the arms that had become for him part of the scheme that
the gods had made and was of a piece with Eternity.
  If the gods had even sent him a contrary wind it would
have divided all time in his memory into two equal slabs.
  So grey were all things always where he was that if any
radiance lingered a moment among the dead, on the face of
such a queen perhaps as Cleopatra, his eyes could not have
perceived it.
  It was strange that the dead nowadays were coming in such
numbers.  They were coming in thousands where they used to
come in fifties.  It was neither Charon's duty nor his wont
to ponder in his grey soul why these things might be.
Charon leaned forward and rowed.
  Then no one came for a while.  It was not unusual for the
gods to send no one down from Earth for such a space.  But
the gods knew best.
  Then one man came alone.  And the little shade sat
shivering on a lonely bench and the great boat pushed off.
Only one passenger; the gods knew best.
  And great and weary Charon rowed on and on beside the
little, silent, shivering ghost.
  And the sound of the river was like a mighty sigh that
Grief in the beginning had sighed among her sisters, and
that could not die like the echoes of human sorrow failing
on earthly hills, but was as old as time and the pain in
Charon's arms.
  Then the boat from the slow, grey river loomed up to the
coast of Dis and the little, silent shade still shivering
stepped ashore, and Charon turned the boat to go wearily
back to the world.  Then the little shadow spoke, that had
been a man.
  "I am the last," he said.
  No one had ever made Charon smile before, no one before
had ever made him weep.

                       How the Enemy
                     Came to Thlunrana
                      by Lord Dunsany

It had been prophesied of old and foreseen from the ancient
days that its enemy would come to Thlunrana.  And the date
of its doom was known and the gate by which it would enter,
yet none had prophesied of the enemy who he was save that he
was of the gods though he dwelt with men.  Meanwhile
Thlunrana, that secret lamaserai, that chief cathedral of
wizardry, was the terror of the valley in which it stood and
of all lands round about it.  So narrow and high were the
windows and so strange when lighted at night that they
seemed to regard men with the demoniac leer of something
that had a secret in the dark.  Who were the magicians and
the deputy-magicians and the great arch-wizard of that
furtive place nobody knew, for they went veiled in black and
hooded and cloaked completely in black.
  Though her doom was close upon her and the enemy of
prophecy should come that very night through the open,
southward door that was named the Gate of the Doom, yet that
rocky edifice Thlunrana remained mysterious still,
venerable, terrible, dark, and dreadfully crowned with her
doom.  It was not often that anyone dared wander near to
Thlunrana by night when the moan of the magicians invoking
we know not Whom rose faintly from inner chambers, scaring
the drifting bats: but on the last night of all the man from
the black-thatched cottage by the five pine-trees came,
because he would see Thlunrana once again before the enemy
that was divine, but dwelt with men, should come against it
and it should be no more.  Up the dark valley he went like a
bold man; but his fears were thick upon him; his bravery
bore their weight but stooped a little beneath them.  He
went in at the southward gate that is named the Gate of
Doom.  He came into a dark hall, and up a marble stairway
passed to see the last of Thlunrana.  At the top a curtain
of black velvet hung and he passed into a chamber heavily
hung with curtains, with a gloom in it that was blacker than
anything they could account for.  In a sombre chamber
beyond, seen through a vacant archway, magicians with
lighted tapers plied their wizardry and whispered
incantations.  All the rats in the place were passing away,
going whimpering down the stairway.  The man from the
black-thatched cottage passed through that second chamber:
the magicians did not look at him and did not cease to
whisper.  He passed from them through heavy curtains still
of black velvet and came into a chamber of black marble
where nothing stirred.  Only one taper burned in the third
chamber; there were no windows.  On the smooth floor and
underneath the smooth wall a silk pavilion stood with its
curtains drawn close together: this was the holy of holies
of that ominous place, its inner mystery.  One on each side
of it dark figures crouched, either of men or women or
cloaked stone, or of beasts trained to be silent.  When the
awful stillness of the mystery was more than he could bear
the man from the black-thatched cottage by the five
pine-trees went up to the silk pavilion, and with a bold and
nervous clutch of the hand drew one of the curtains aside,
and saw the inner mystery, and laughed.  And the prophecy
was fulfilled, and Thlunrana was never more a terror to the
valley, but the magicians passed away from their terrific
halls and fled through the open fields wailing and beating
their breasts, for laughter was the enemy that was doomed to
come against Thlunrana through her southward gate (that was
named the Gate of Doom), and it is of the gods but dwells
with man.

                   Idle Days on the Yann
                      by Lord Dunsany

So I came down through the wood to the bank of Yann and
found, as had been prophesied, the ship "Bird of the River"
about to loose her cable.
  The captain sate cross-legged upon the white deck with
his scimitar lying beside him in its jewelled scabbard, and
the sailors toiled to spread the nimble sails to bring the
ship into the central stream of Yann, and all the while sang
ancient soothing songs.  And the wind of the evening
descending cool from the snowfields of some mountainous
abode of distant gods came suddenly, like glad tidings to an
anxious city, into the wing-like sails.
  And so we came into the central stream, whereat the
sailors lowered the greater sails.  But I had gone to bow
before the captain, and to inquire concerning the miracles,
and appearances among men, of the most holy gods of whatever
land he had come from.  And the captain answered that he
came from fair Belzoond, and worshipped gods that were the
least and humblest, who seldom sent the famine or the
thunder, and were easily appeased with little battles.  And
I told how I came from Ireland, which is of Europe, whereat
the captain and all the sailors laughed, for they said,
"There are no such places in all the land of dreams."  When
they had ceased to mock me, I explained that my fancy mostly
dwelt in the desert of Cuppar-Nombo, about a beautiful blue
city called Golthoth the Damned, which was sentinelled all
round by wolves and their shadows, and had been utterly
desolate for years and years, because of a curse which the
gods once spoke in anger and could never since recall.  And
sometimes my dreams took me as far as Pungar Vees, the red
walled city where the fountains are, which trades with the
Isles and Thul.  When I said this they complimented me upon
the abode of my fancy, saying that, though they had never
seen these cities, such places might well be imagined.  For
the rest of that evening I bargained with the captain over
the sum that I should pay him for my fare if God and the
tide of Yann should bring us safely as far as the cliffs by
the sea, which are named Bar-Wul-Yann, the Gate of Yann.
  And now the sun had set, and all the colors of the world
and heaven had held a festival with him, and slipped one by
one away before the imminent approach of night.  The parrots
had all flown home to the jungle on either bank, the monkeys
in rows in safety on high branches of the trees were silent
and asleep, the fireflies in the deeps of the forest were
going up and down, and the great stars came gleaming out to
look on the face of Yann.  Then the sailors lighted lanterns
and hung them round the ship, and the light flashed out on a
sudden and dazzled Yann, and the ducks that fed along his
marshy banks all suddenly arose, and made wide circles in
the upper air, and saw the distant reaches of the Yann and
the white mist that softly cloaked the jungle, before they
returned again into their marshes.
  And then the sailors knelt on the decks and prayed, not
all together, but five or six at a time.  Side by side there
kneeled down together five or six, for there only prayed at
the same time men of different faiths, so that no god should
hear two men praying to him at once.  As soon as any one had
finished his prayer, another of the same faith would take
his place.  Thus knelt the row of five or six with bended
heads under the fluttering sail, while the central stream of
the River Yann took them on towards the sea, and their
prayers rose up from among the lanterns and went towards the
stars.  And behind them in the after end of the ship the
helmsman prayed aloud the helmsman's prayer, which is prayed
by all who follow his trade upon the River Yann, of whatever
faith they be.  And the captain prayed to his little lesser
gods, to the gods that bless Belzoond.
  And I too felt that I would pray.  Yet I liked not to
pray to a jealous God there where the frail affectionate
gods whom the heathen love were being humbly invoked; so I
bethought me, instead, of Sheol Nugganoth, whom the men of
the jungle have long since deserted, who is now unworshipped
and alone; and to him I prayed.
  And upon us praying the night came suddenly down, as it
comes upon all men who pray at evening and upon all men who
do not; yet our prayers comforted our own souls when we
thought of the Great Night to come.
  And so Yann bore us magnificently onwards, for he was
elate with molten snow that the Poltiades had brought him
from the Hills of Hap, and the Marn and Migris were swollen
with floods; and he bore us in his full might past Kyph and
Pir, and we saw the lights of Goolunza.
  Soon we all slept except the helmsman, who kept the ship
in the mid-stream of Yann.
  When the sun rose the helmsman ceased to sing, for by
song he cheered himself in the lonely night.  When the song
ceased we suddenly all awoke, and another took the helm, and
the helmsman slept.
  We knew that soon we should come to Mandaroon.  We made a
meal, and Mandaroon appeared.  Then the captain commanded,
and the sailors loosed again the greater sails, and the ship
turned and left the stream of Yann and came into a harbour
beneath the ruddy walls of Mandaroon.  Then while the
sailors went and gathered fruits I came alone to the gate of
Mandaroon.  A few huts were outside it, in which lived the
guard.  A sentinel with a long white beard was standing in
the gate, armed with a rusty pike.  He wore large
spectacles, which were covered with dust.  Through the gate
I saw the city.  A deathly stillness was over all of it.
The ways seemed untrodden, and moss was thick on doorsteps;
in the market-place huddled figures lay asleep.  A scent of
incense came wafted through the gateway, of incense and
burned poppies, and there was a hum of the echoes of distant
bells.  I said to the sentinel in the tongue of the region
of Yann, "Why are they all asleep in this still city?"
  He answered: "None may ask questions in this gate for
fear they will wake the people of the city.  For when the
people of this city wake the gods will die.  And when the
gods die men may dream no more."  And I began to ask him
what gods that city worshipped, but he lifted his pike
because none might ask questions there.  So I left him and
went back to the "Bird of the River."
  Certainly Mandaroon was beautiful with her white
pinnacles peering over her ruddy walls and the green of her
copper roofs.
  When I came back again to the "Bird of the River," I
found the sailors were returned to the ship.  Soon we
weighed anchor, and sailed out again, and so came once more
to the middle of the river.  And now the sun was moving
toward his heights, and there had reached us on the River
Yann the song of those countless myriads of choirs that
attend him in his progress round the world.  For the little
creatures that have many legs had spread their gauze wings
easily on the air, as a man rests his elbows on a balcony
and gave jubilant, ceremonial praises to the sun, or else
they moved together on the air in wavering dances intricate
and swift, or turned aside to avoid the onrush of some drop
of water that a breeze had shaken from a jungle orchid,
chilling the air and driving it before it, as it fell
whirring in its rush to the earth; but all the while they
sang triumphantly.  "For the day is for us," they said,
"whether our great and sacred father the Sun shall bring up
more life like us from the marshes, or whether all the world
shall end to-night."  And there sang all those whose notes
are known to human ears, as well as those whose far more
numerous notes have been never heard by man.
  To these a rainy day had been as an era of war that
should desolate continents during all the lifetime of a man.
  And there came out also from the dark and steaming jungle
to behold and rejoice in the Sun the huge and lazy
butterflies.  And they danced, but danced idly, on the ways
of the air, as some haughty queen of distant conquered lands
might in her poverty and exile dance, in some encampment of
the gipsies, for the mere bread to live by, but beyond that
would never abate her pride to dance for a fragment more.
  And the butterflies sung of strange and painted things,
of purple orchids and of lost pink cities and the monstrous
colours of the jungle's decay.  And they, too, were among
those whose voices are not discernible by human ears.  And
as they floated above the river, going from forest to
forest, their splendour was matched by the inimical beauty
of the birds who darted out to pursue them.  Or sometimes
they settled on the white and wax-like blooms of the plant
that creeps and clambers about the trees of the forest; and
their purple wings flashed out on the great blossoms as,
when the caravans go from Nurl to Thace, the gleaming silks
flash out upon the snow, where the crafty merchants spread
them one by one to astonish the mountaineers of the Hills of
  But upon men and beasts the sun sent drowsiness.  The
river monsters along the river's marge lay dormant in the
slime.  The sailors pitched a pavillion, with golden
tassels, for the captain upon the deck, and then went, all
but the helmsman, under a sail that they had hung as an
awning between two masts.  Then they told tales to one
another, each of his own city or of the miracles of his god,
until all were fallen asleep.  The captain offered me the
shade of his pavillion with the gold tassels, and there we
talked for awhile, he telling me that he was taking
merchandise to Perdondaris, and that he would take back to
fair Belzoond things appertaining to the affairs of the
sea.  Then, as I watched through the pavillion's opening the
brilliant birds and butterflies that crossed and recrossed
over the river, I fell asleep, and dreamed that I was a
monarch entering his capital underneath arches of flags, and
all the musicians of the world were there, playing
melodiously their instruments; but no one cheered.
  In the afternoon, as the day grew cooler again, I awoke
and found the captain buckling on his scimitar, which he had
taken off him while he rested.
  And now we were approaching the wide court of Astahahn,
which opens upon the river.  Strange boats of antique design
were chained there to the steps.  As we neared it we saw the
open marble court, on three sides of which stood the city
fronting on colonnades.  And in the court and along the
colonnades the people of that city walked with solemnity and
care according to the rites of ancient ceremony.  All in
that city was of ancient device; the carving on the houses,
which, when age had broken it, remained unrepaired, was of
the remotest times, and everywhere were represented in stone
beasts that have long since passed away from Earth -- the
dragon, the griffin, the hippogriffin, and the different
species of gargoyle.  Nothing was to be found, whether
material or custom, that was new in Astahahn.  Now they took
no notice at all of us as we went by, but continued their
processions and ceremonies in the ancient city, and the
sailors, knowing their custom, took no notice of them.  But
I called, as we came near, to one who stood beside the
water's edge, asking him what men did in Astahahn and what
their merchandise was, and with whom they traded.  He said,
"Here we have fettered and manacled Time, who would
otherwise slay the gods."
  I asked him what gods they worshipped in that city, and
he said, "All those gods whom Time has not yet slain."  Then
he turned from me and would say no more, but busied himself
in behaving in accordance with ancient custom.  And so,
according to the will of Yann, we drifted onwards and left
Astahahn.  The river widened below Astahahn, and we found in
greater quantities such birds as prey on fishes.  And they
were very wonderful in their plumage, and they came not out
of the jungle, but flew, with their long necks stretched out
before them, and their legs lying on the wind behind,
straight up the river over the mid-stream.
  And now the evening began to gather in.  A thick white
mist had appeared over the river, and was softly rising
higher.  It clutched at the trees with long impalpable arms,
it rose higher and higher, chilling the air; and white
shapes moved away into the jungle as though the ghosts of
shipwrecked mariners were searching stealthily in the
darkness for the spirits of evil that long ago had wrecked
them on the Yann.
  As the sun sank behind the field of orchids that grew on
the matted summit of the jungle, the river monsters came
wallowing out of the slime in which they had reclined during
the heat of the day, and the great beasts of the jungle came
down to drink.  The butterflies a while since were gone to
rest.  In little narrow tributaries that we passed night
seemed already to have fallen, though the sun which had
disappeared from us had not yet set.
  And now the birds of the jungle came flying home far over
us, with the sunlight glistening pink upon their breasts,
and lowered their pinions as soon as they saw the Yann, and
dropped into the trees.  And the widgeon began to go up the
river in great companies, all whistling, and then would
suddenly wheel and all go down again.  And there shot by us
the small and arrow-like teal; and we heard the manifold
cries of flocks of geese, which the sailors told me had
recently come in from crossing over the Lispasian ranges;
every year they come by the same way, close by the peak of
Mluna, leaving it to the left, and the mountain eagles know
the way they come and -- men say -- the very hour, and every
year they expect them by the same way as soon as the snows
have fallen upon the Northern Plains.  But soon it grew so
dark that we heard those birds no more, and only heard the
whirring of their wings, and of countless others besides,
until they all settled down along the banks of the river,
and it was the hour when the birds of the night went forth.
Then the sailors lit the lanterns for the night, and huge
moths appeared, flapping about the ship, and at moments
their gorgeous colours would be revealed by the lanterns,
then they would pass into the night again, where all was
black.  And again the sailors prayed, and thereafter we
supped and slept, and the helmsman took our lives into his
  When I awoke I found that we had indeed come to
Perdondaris, that famous city.  For there it stood upon the
left of us, a city fair and notable, and all the more
pleasant for our eyes to see after the jungle that was so
long with us.  And we were anchored by the market-place, and
the captain's merchandise was all displayed, and a merchant
of Perdondaris stood looking at it.  And the captain had his
scimitar in his hand, and was beating with it in anger upon
the deck, and the splinters were flying up from the white
planks; for the merchant had offered him a price for his
merchandise that the captain declared to be an insult to
himself and his country's gods, whom he now said to be great
and terrible gods, whose curses were to be dreaded.  But the
merchant waved his hands, which were of great fatness,
showing the pink palms, and swore that of himself he thought
not at all, but only of the poor folk in the huts beyond the
city to whom he wished to sell the merchandise for as low a
price as possible, leaving no remuneration for himself.  For
the merchandise was mostly the thick toomarund carpets that
in the winter keep the wind from the floor, and tollub which
the people smoke in pipes.  Therefore the merchant said if
he offered a piffek more the poor folk must go without their
toomarunds when the winter came, and without their tollub in
the evenings, or else he and his aged father must starve
together.  Thereat the captain lifted his scimitar to his
own throat, saying that he was now a ruined man, and that
nothing remained to him but death.  And while he was
carefully lifting his beard with his left hand, the merchant
eyed the merchandise again, and said that rather than see so
worthy a captain die, a man for whom he had conceived an
especial love when first he saw the manner in which he
handled his ship, he and his aged father should starve
together and therefore he offered fifteen piffeks more.
  When he said this the captain prostrated himself and
prayed to his gods that they might yet sweeten this
merchant's bitter heart -- to his little lesser gods, to the
gods that bless Belzoond.
  At last the merchant offered yet five piffeks more.  Then
the captain wept, for he said that he was deserted of his
gods; and the merchant also wept, for he said that he was
thinking of his aged father, and of how he soon would
starve, and he hid his weeping face with both his hands, and
eyed the tollub again between his fingers.  And so the
bargain was concluded, and the merchant took the toomarund
and tollub, paying for them out of a great clinking purse.
And these were packed up into bales again, and three of the
merchant's slaves carried them upon their heads into the
city.  And all the while the sailors had sat silent,
cross-legged in a crescent upon the deck, eagerly watching
the bargain, and now a murmur of satisfaction arose among
them, and they began to compare it among themselves with
other bargains that they had known.  And I found out from
them that there are seven merchants in Perdondaris, and that
they had all come to the captain one by one before the
bargaining began, and each had warned him privately against
the others.  And to all the merchants the captain had
offered the wine of his own country, that they make in fair
Belzoond, but could in no wise persuade them to it.  But now
that the bargain was over, and the sailors were seated at
the first meal of the day, the captain appeared among them
with a cask of that wine, and we broached it with care and
all made merry together.  And the captain was glad in his
heart because he knew that he had much honour in the eyes of
his men because of the bargain that he had made.  So the
sailors drank the wine of their native land, and soon their
thoughts were back in fair Belzoond and the little
neighbouring cities of Durl and Duz.
  But for me the captain poured into a little jar some
heavy yellow wine from a small jar which he kept apart among
his sacred things.  Thick and sweet it was, even like honey,
yet there was in its heart a mighty, ardent fire which had
authority over souls of men.  It was made, the captain told
me, with great subtlety by the secret craft of a family of
six who lived in a hut on the mountains of Hian Min.  Once
in these mountains, he said, he followed the spoor of a
bear, and he came suddenly on a man of that family who had
hunted the same bear, and he was at the end of a narrow way
with precipice all about him, and his spear was sticking in
the bear, and the wound was not fatal, and he had no other
weapon.  And the bear was walking towards the man, very
slowly because his wound irked him -- yet he was now very
close.  And what he captain did he would not say, but every
year as soon as the snows are hard, and travelling is easy
on the Hian Min, that man comes down to the market in the
plains, and always leaves for the captain in the gate of
fair Belzoond a vessel of that priceless secret wine.
  And as I sipped the wine and the captain talked, I
remembered me of stalwart noble things that I had long since
resolutely planned, and my soul seemed to grow mightier
within me and to dominate the whole tide of the Yann.  It
may be that I then slept.  Or, if I did not, I do not now
minutely recollect every detail of that morning's
occupations.  Towards evening, I awoke and wishing to see
Perdondaris before we left in the morning, and being unable
to wake the captain, I went ashore alone.  Certainly
Perdondaris was a powerful city; it was encompassed by a
wall of great strength and altitude, having in it hollow
ways for troops to walk in, and battlements along it all the
way, and fifteen strong towers on it in every mile, and
copper plaques low down where men could read them, telling
in all the languages of those parts of the earth -- one
language on each plaque -- the tale of how an army once
attacked Perdondaris and what befell that army.  Then I
entered Perdondaris and found all the people dancing, clad
in brilliant silks, and playing on the tambang as they
danced.  For a fearful thunderstorm had terrified them while
I slept, and the fires of death, they said, had danced over
Perdondaris, and now the thunder had gone leaping away large
and black and hideous, they said, over the distant hills,
and had turned round snarling at them, shoving his gleaming
teeth, and had stamped, as he went, upon the hilltops until
they rang as though they had been bronze.  And often and
again they stopped in their merry dances and prayed to the
God they knew not, saying, "O, God that we know not, we
thank Thee for sending the thunder back to his hills."  And
I went on and came to the market-place, and lying there upon
the marble pavement I saw the merchant fast asleep and
breathing heavily, with his face and the palms of his hands
towards the sky, and slaves were fanning him to keep away
the flies.  And from the market-place I came to a silver
temple and then to a palace of onyx, and there were many
wonders in Perdondaris, and I would have stayed and seen
them all, but as I came to the outer wall of the city I
suddenly saw in it a huge ivory gate.  For a while I paused
and admired it, then I came nearer and perceived the
dreadful truth.  The gate was carved out of one solid piece!
   I fled at once through the gateway and down to the ship,
and even as I ran I thought that I heard far off on the
hills behind me the tramp of the fearful beast by whom that
mass of ivory was shed, who was perhaps even then looking
for his other tusk.  When I was on the ship again I felt
safer, and I said nothing to the sailors of what I had seen.
  And now the captain was gradually awakening.  Now night
was rolling up from the East and North, and only the
pinnacles of the towers of Perdondaris still took the fallen
sunlight.  Then I went to the captain and told him quietly
of the thing I had seen.  And he questioned me at once about
the gate, in a low voice, that the sailors might not know;
and I told him how the weight of the thing was such that it
could not have been brought from afar, and the captain knew
that it had not been there a year ago.  We agreed that such
a beast could never have been killed by any assault of man,
and that the gate must have been a fallen tusk, and one
fallen near and recently.  Therefore he decided that it were
better to flee at once; so he commanded, and the sailors
went to the sails, and others raised the anchor to the deck,
and just as the highest pinnacle of marble lost the last
rays of the sun we left Perdondaris, that famous city.  And
night came down and cloaked Perdondaris and hid it from our
eyes, which as things have happened will never see it again;
for I have heard since that something swift and wonderful
has suddenly wrecked Perdondaris in a day -- towers, walls
and people.
  And the night deepened over the River Yann, a night all
white with stars.  And with the night there rose the
helmsman's song.  As soon as he had prayed he began to sing
to cheer himself all through the lonely night.  But first he
prayed, praying the helmsman's prayer.  And this is what I
remember of it, rendered into English with a very feeble
equivalent of the rhythm that seemed so resonant in those
tropic nights.
  To whatever god may hear.
  Wherever there be sailors whether of river or sea:
whether their way be dark or whether through storm: whether
their peril be of beast or of rock: or from enemy lurking on
land or pursuing on sea: wherever the tiller is cold or the
helmsman stiff: wherever sailors sleep or helmsmen watch:
guard, guide and return us to the old land, that has known
us: to the far homes that we know.
  To all the gods that are.
  To whatever god may hear.
  So he prayed, and there was silence.  And the sailors
laid them down to rest for the night.  The silence deepened,
and was only broken by the ripples of Yann that lightly
touched our prow.  Sometimes some monster of the river
  Silence and ripples, ripples and silence again.
  And then his loneliness came upon the helmsman, and he
began to sing.  And he sang the market songs of Durl and
Duz, and the old dragon-legends of Belzoond.
  Many a song he sang, telling to spacious and exotic Yann
the little tales and trifles of his city of Durl.  And the
songs welled up over the black jungle and came into the
clear cold air above, and the great bands of stars that look
on Yann began to know the affairs of Durl and Duz, and of
the shepherds that dwelt in the fields between, and the
flocks that they had, and the loves that they had loved, and
all the little things that they had hoped to do.  And as I
lay wrapped up in skins and blankets, listening to those
songs, and watching the fantastic shapes of the great trees
like to black giants stalking through the night, I suddenly
fell asleep.
  When I awoke great mists were trailing away from the
Yann.  And the flow of the river was tumbling now
tumultuously, and little waves appeared; for Yann had
scented from afar the ancient crags of Glorm, and knew that
their ravines lay cool before him wherein he should meet the
merry wild Irillion rejoicing from fields of snow.  So he
shook off from him the torpid sleep that had come upon him
in the hot and scented jungle, and forgot its orchids and
its butterflies, and swept on turbulent, expectant, strong;
and soon the snowy peaks of the Hills of Glorm came
glittering into view.  And now the sailors were waking up
from sleep.  Soon we all ate, and then the helmsman laid him
down to sleep while a comrade took his place, and they all
spread over him their choicest furs.
  And in a while we heard the sound that the Irillion made
as she came down dancing from the fields of snow.
  And then we saw the ravine in the Hills of Glorm lying
precipitous and smooth before us, into which we were carried
by the leaps of Yann.  And now we left the steamy jungle and
breathed the mountain air; the sailors stood up and took
deep breaths of it, and thought of their own far-off
Acroctian hills on which were Durl and Duz -- below them in
the plains stands fair Belzoond.
  A great shadow brooded between the cliffs of Glorm, but
the crags were shining above us like gnarled moons, and
almost lit the gloom.  Louder and louder came the Irillion's
song, and the sound of her dancing down from the fields of
snow.  And soon we saw her white and full of mists, and
wreathed with rainbows delicate and small that she had
plucked up near the mountain's summit from some celestial
garden of the Sun.  Then she went away seawards with the
huge grey Yann and the ravine widened, and opened upon the
world, and our rocking ship came through to the light of the
  And all that morning and all the afternoon we passed
through the marshes of Pondoovery; and Yann widened there,
and flowed solemnly and slowly, and the captain bade the
sailors beat on bells to overcome the dreariness of the
  At last the Irusian mountains came in sight, nursing the
villages of Pen-Kai and Blut, and the wandering streets of
Mlo, where priests propitiate the avalanche with wine and
maize.  Then night came down over the plains of Tlun, and we
saw the lights of Cappadarnia.  We heard the Pathnites
beating upon drums as we passed Imaut and Golzunda, then all
but the helmsman slept.  And villages scattered along the
banks of the Yann heard all that night in the helmsman's
unknown tongue the little songs of cities that they knew
  I awoke before dawn with a feeling that I was unhappy
before I remembered why.  Then I recalled that by the
evening of the approaching day, according to all foreseen
probabilities, we should come to Bar-Wul-Yann, and I should
part from the captain and his sailors.  And I had liked the
man because he had given me of his yellow wine that was set
apart among his sacred things, and many a story he had told
me about his fair Belzoond between the Acroctian hills and
the Hian Min.  And I had liked the ways that his sailors
had, and the prayers that they prayed at evening side by
side, grudging not one another their alien gods.  And I had
a liking too for the tender way in which they often spoke of
Durl and Duz, for it is good that men should love their
native cities and the little hills that hold those cities
  And I had come to know who would meet them when they
returned to their homes, and where they thought the meetings
would take place, some in a valley of the Acroctian hills
where the road comes up from Yann, others in the gateway of
one or another of the three cities, and others by the
fireside in the home.  And I thought of the danger that had
menaced us all alike outside Perdondaris, a danger that, as
things have happened, was very real.
  And I thought too of the helmsman's cheery song in the
cold and lonely night, and how he had held our lives in his
careful hands.  And as I thought of this the helmsman ceased
to sing, and I looked up and saw a pale light had appeared
in the sky, and the lonely night had passed; and the dawn
widened, and the sailors awoke.
  And soon we saw the tide of the Sea himself advancing
resolute between Yann's borders, and Yann sprang lithely at
him and they struggled awhile; then Yann and all that was
his were pushed back northward, so that the sailors had to
hoist the sails and, the wind being favorable, we still held
  And we passed Gondara and Narl and Haz.  And we saw
memorable, holy Golnuz, and heard the pilgrims praying.
  When we awoke after the midday rest we were coming near
to Nen, the last of the cities on the River Yann.  And the
jungle was all about us once again, and about Nen; but the
great Mloon ranges stood up over all things, and watched the
city from beyond the jungle.
  Here we anchored, and the captain and I went up into the
city and found that the Wanderers had come into Nen.
  And the Wanderers were a weird, dark, tribe, that once in
every seven years came down from the peaks of Mloon, having
crossed by a pass that is known to them from some fantastic
land that lies beyond.  And the people of Nen were all
outside their houses, and all stood wondering at their own
streets.  For the men and women of the Wanderers had crowded
all the ways, and every one was doing some strange thing.
Some danced astounding dances that they had learned from the
desert wind, rapidly curving and swirling till the eye could
follow no longer.  Others played upon instruments beautiful
wailing tunes that were full of horror, which souls had
taught them lost by night in the desert, that strange far
desert from which the Wanderers came.
  None of their instruments were such as were known in Nen
nor in any part of the region of the Yann; even the horns
out of which some were made were of beasts that none had
seen along the river, for they were barbed at the tips.  And
they sang, in the language of none, songs that seemed to be
akin to the mysteries of night and to the unreasoned fear
that haunts dark places.
  Bitterly all the dogs of Nen distrusted them.  And the
Wanderers told one another fearful tales, for though no one
in Nen knew ought of their language yet they could see the
fear on the listeners' faces, and as the tale wound on the
whites of their eyes showed vividly in terror as the eyes of
some little beast whom the hawk has seized.  Then the teller
of the tale would smile and stop, and another would tell his
story, and the teller of the first tale's lips would chatter
with fear.  And if some deadly snake chanced to appear the
Wanderers would greet him as a brother, and the snake would
seem to give his greetings to them before he passed on
again.  Once that most fierce and lethal of tropic snakes,
the giant lythra, came out of the jungle and all down the
street, the central street of Nen, and none of the Wanderers
moved away from him, but they all played sonorously on
drums, as though he had been a person of much honour; and
the snake moved through the midst of them and smote none.
  Even the Wanderers' children could do strange things, for
if any one of them met with a child of Nen the two would
stare at each other in silence with large grave eyes; then
the Wanderers' child would slowly draw from his turban a
live fish or snake.  And the children of Nen could do
nothing of that kind at all.
  Much I should have wished to stay and hear the hymn with
which they greet the night, that is answered by the wolves
on the heights of Mloon, but it was now time to raise the
anchor again that the captain might return from Bar-Wul-Yann
upon the landward tide.  So we went on board and continued
down the Yann.  And the captain and I spoke little, for we
were thinking of our parting, which should be for long, and
we watched instead the splendour of the westerning sun.  For
the sun was a ruddy gold, but a faint mist cloaked the
jungle, lying low, and into it poured the smoke of the
little jungle cities, and the smoke of them met together in
the mist and joined into one haze, which became purple, and
was lit by the sun, as the thoughts of men become hallowed
by some great and sacred thing.  Some times one column from
a lonely house would rise up higher than the cities' smoke,
and gleam by itself in the sun.
  And now as the sun's last rays were nearly level, we saw
the sight that I had come to see, for from two mountains
that stood on either shore two cliffs of pink marble came
out into the river, all glowing in the light of the low sun,
and they were quite smooth and of mountainous altitude, and
they nearly met, and Yann went tumbling between them and
found the sea.
  And this was Bar-Wul-Yann, the Gate of Yann, and in the
distance through that barrier's gap I saw the azure
indescribable sea, where little fishing-boats went gleaming
  And the sun set, and the brief twilight came, and the
exultation of the glory of Bar-Wul-Yann was gone, yet still
the pink cliffs glowed, the fairest marvel that the eye
beheld -- and this in a land of wonders.  And soon the
twilight gave place to the coming out of stars, and the
colours of Bar-Wul-Yann went dwindling away.  And the sight
of those cliffs was to me as some chord of music that a
master's hand had launched from the violin, and which
carries to Heaven or Faery the tremulous spirits of men.
  And now by the shore they anchored and went no further,
for they were sailors of the river and not of the sea, and
knew the Yann but not the tides beyond.
  And the time was come when the captain and I must part,
he to go back to his fair Belzoond in sight of the distant
peaks of the Hian Min, and I to find my way by strange means
back to those hazy fields that all poets know, wherein stand
small mysterious cottages through whose windows, looking
westwards, you may see the fields of men, and looking
eastwards see glittering elfin mountains, tipped with snow,
going range on range into the region of Myth, and beyond it
into the kingdom of Fantasy, which pertain to the Lands of
Dream.  Long we regarded one another, knowing that we should
meet no more, for my fancy is weakening as the years slip
by, and I go ever more seldom into the Lands of Dream.  Then
we clasped hands, uncouthly on his part, for it is not the
method of greeting in his country, and he commended my soul
to the care of his own gods, to his little lesser gods, the
humble ones, to the gods that bless Belzoond.

                       In Zaccarath

                      by Lord Dunsany

"Come," said the King in sacred Zaccarath, "and let our
prophets prophesy before us."
  A far-seen jewel of light was the holy palace, a wonder
to the nomads on the plains.
  There was the King with all his underlords, and the
lesser kings that did him vassalage, and there were all his
queens with all their jewels upon them.
  Who shall tell of the splendour in which they sat; of the
thousand lights and the answering emeralds; of the dangerous
beauty of that hoard of queens, or the flash of their laden
  There was a necklace there of rose-pink pearls beyond the
art of the dreamer to imagine.  Who shall tell of the
amethyst chandeliers, where torches, soaked in rare
Bhyrinian oils, burned and gave off a scent of blethany?
  (This herb marvellous, which, growing near the summit of
Mount Zaumnos, scents all the Zaumnian range, and is smelt
far out on the Kepuscran plains, and even, when the wind is
from the mountains, in the streets of the city of Ognoth.
At night it closes its petals and is heard to breathe, and
its breath is a swift poison.  This it does even by day if
the snows are disturbed about it.  No plant of this has ever
been captured alive by a hunter.)
  Enough to say that when the dawn came up it appeared by
contrast pallid and unlovely and stripped bare of all its
glory, so that it hid itself with rolling clouds.
  "Come," said the King, "let our prophets prophesy."
  Then the heralds stepped through the ranks of the King's
silk-clad warriors who lay oiled and scented upon velvet
cloaks, with a pleasant breeze among them caused by the fans
of slaves; even their casting-spears were set with jewels;
through their ranks the heralds went with mincing steps, and
came to the prophets, clad in brown and black, and one of
them they brought and set him before the King.  And the King
looked at him and said, "Prophesy unto us."
  And the prophet lifted his head, so that his beard came
clear from his brown cloak, and the fans of the slaves that
fanned the warriors wafted the tip of it a little awry.  And
he spake to the King, and spake thus:
  "Woe unto thee, King, and woe unto Zaccarath.  Woe unto
thee, and woe unto thy women, for your fall shall be sore
and soon.  Already in Heaven the gods shun thy god: they
know his doom and what is written of him: he sees oblivion
before him like a mist.  Thou hast aroused the hate of the
mountaineers.  They hate thee all along the crags of Droom.
The evilness of thy days shall bring down the Zeedians on
thee as the suns of springtide bring the avalanche down.
They shall do unto Zaccarath as the avalanche doth unto the
hamlets of the valley."  When the queens chattered or
tittered among themselves, he merely raised his voice and
still spake on: "Woe to these walls and the carven things
upon them.  The hunter shall know the camping-places of the
nomads by the marks of the camp-fires on the plain, but he
shall not know the place of Zaccarath."
  A few of the recumbent warriors turned their heads to
glance at the prophet when he ceased.  Far overhead the
echoes of his voice hummed on awhile among the cedarn
  "Is he not splendid?" said the King.  And many of that
assembly beat with their palms upon the polished floor in
token of applause.  Then the prophet was conducted back to
his place at the far end of that mighty hall, and for a
while musicians played on marvellous curved horns, while
drums throbbed behind them hidden in a recess.  The
musicians were sitting cross-legged on the floor, all
blowing their huge horns in the brilliant torchlight, but as
the drums throbbed louder in the dark they arose and moved
slowly nearer to the King.  Louder and louder drummed the
drums in the dark, and nearer and nearer moved the men with
the horns, so that their music should not be drowned by the
drums before it reached the King.
  A marvellous scene it was when the tempestuous horns were
halted before the King, and the drums in the dark were like
the thunder of God; and the queens were nodding their heads
in time to the music, with their diadems flashing like
heavens of falling stars; and the warriors lifted their
heads and shook, as they lifted them, the plumes of those
golden birds which hunters wait for by the Liddian lakes, in
a whole lifetime killing scarcely six, to make the crests
that the warriors wore when they feasted in Zaccarath.  Then
the King shouted and the warriors sang -- almost they
remembered then old battle-chants.  And, as they sang, the
sound of the drums dwindled, and the musicians walked away
backwards, and the drumming became fainter and fainter as
they walked, and altogether ceased, and they blew no more on
their fantastic horns.  Then the assemblage beat on the
floor with their palms.  And afterwards the queens besought
the King to send for another prophet.  And the heralds
brought a singer, and placed him before the King; and the
singer was a young man with a harp.  And he swept the
strings of it, and when there was silence he sang of the
iniquity of the King.  And he foretold the onrush of the
Zeedians, and the fall and the forgetting of Zaccarath, and
the coming again of the desert to its own, and the playing
about of little lion cubs where the courts of the palace had
  "Of what is he singing?" said a queen to a queen.
  "He is singing of everlasting Zaccarath."
  As the singer ceased the assemblage beat listlessly on
the floor, and the King nodded to him, and he departed.
  When all the prophets had prophesied to them and all the
singers sung, that royal company arose and went to other
chambers, leaving the hall of festival to the pale and
lonely dawn.  And alone were left the lion-headed gods that
were carven out of the walls; silent they stood, and their
rocky arms were folded.  And shadows over their faces moved
like curious thoughts as the torches flickered and the dull
dawn crossed the fields.  And the colours began to change in
the chandeliers.
  When the last lutanist fell asleep the birds began to
  Never was greater splendour or a more famous hall.  When
the queens went away through the curtained door with all
their diadems, it was as though the stars should arise in
their stations and troop together to the West at sunrise.
  And only the other day I found a stone that had
undoubtedly been a part of Zaccarath, it was three inches
long and an inch broad; I saw the edge of it uncovered by
the sand.  I believe that only three other pieces have been
found like it.

                  Poltarnees, Beholder of

                      by Lord Dunsany

Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the
lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the
sea.  Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, for ever
untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with
shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying
in the sun.  To the south they are bounded by magic, to the
west by a mountain, and to the north by the voice and anger
of the Polar wind.  Like a great wall is the mountain to the
west.  It comes up out of the distance and goes down into
the distance again, and it is named Poltarnees, Beholder of
Ocean.  To the northward red rocks, smooth and bare of soil,
and without any speck of moss or herbage, slope up to the
very lips of the Polar wind, and there is nothing else there
but the noise of his anger.  Very peaceful are the Inner
Lands, and very fair are their cities, and there is no war
among them, but quiet and ease.  And they have no enemy but
age, for thirst and fever lie sunning themselves out in the
mid-desert, and never prowl into the Inner Lands.  And the
ghouls and ghosts, whose highway is the night, are kept in
the south by the boundary of magic.  And very small are
their pleasant cities, and all men are known to one another
therein, and bless one another by name as they meet in the
streets.  And they have a broad, green way in every city
that comes in out of some vale or wood or downland, and
wanders in and out about the city between the houses and
across the streets; and the people walk along it never at
all, but every year at her appointed time Spring walks along
it from the flowery lands, causing the anemone to bloom on
the green way and all the early joys of hidden woods, or
deep, secluded vales, or triumphant downlands, whose heads
lift up so proudly, far up aloof from cities.
  Sometimes waggoners or shepherds walk along this way,
they that have come into the city from over cloudy ridges,
and the townsmen hinder them not, for there is a tread that
troubleth the grass and a tread that troubleth it not, and
each man in his own heart knoweth which tread he hath.  And
in the sunlit spaces of the weald and in the wold's dark
places, afar from the music of cities and from the dance of
the cities afar, they make there the music of the country
places and dance the country dance.  Amiable, near and
friendly appears to these men the sun, and as he is genial
to them and tends their younger vines, so they are kind to
the little woodland things and any rumour of the fairies or
old legend.  And when the light of some little distant city
makes a slight flush upon the edge of the sky, and the happy
golden windows of the homesteads stare gleaming into the
dark, then the old and holy figure of Romance, cloaked even
to the face, comes down out of hilly woodlands and bids dark
shadows to rise and dance, and sends the forest creatures
forth to prowl, and lights in a moment in her bower of grass
the little glowworm's lamp, and brings a hush down over the
grey lands, and out of it rises faintly on far-off hills the
voice of a lute.  There are not in the world lands more
prosperous and happy than Toldees, Mondath, Arizim.
  From these three little kingdoms that are named the Inner
Lands the young men stole constantly away.  One by one they
went, and no one knew why they went save that they had a
longing to behold the Sea.  Of this longing they spoke
little, but a young man would become silent for a few days,
and then, one morning very early, he would slip away and
slowly climb Poltarnees's difficult slope, and having
attained the top pass over and never return.  A few stayed
behind in the Inner Lands and became old men, but none that
had ever climbed Poltarnees from the very earliest times had
ever come back again.  Many had gone up Poltarnees sworn to
return.  Once a king sent all his courtiers, one by one, to
report the mystery to him, and then went himself; none ever
  Now, it was the wont of the folk of the Inner Lands to
worship rumours and legends of the Sea, and all that their
prophets discovered of the Sea was writ in a sacred book,
and with deep devotion on days of festival or mourning read
in the temples by the priests.  Now, all their temples lay
open to the west, resting upon pillars, that the breeze from
the Sea might enter them, and they lay open on pillars to
the east that the breezes of the Sea might not be hindered
but pass onward wherever the Sea list.  And this is the
legend they had of the sea, whom none in the Inner Lands had
ever beholden.  They say that the Sea is a river heading
towards Hercules, and they say that he touches against the
edge of the world, and that Poltarnees looks upon him.  They
say that all the worlds of heaven go bobbing on this river
and are swept down with the stream, and that Infinity is
thick and furry with forests through which the river in his
course sweeps on with all the worlds of heaven.  Among the
colossal trunks of those dark trees, the smallest fronds of
whose branches are many nights, there walk the gods.  And
whenever its thirst, glowing in space like a great sun,
comes upon the beast, the tiger of the gods creeps down to
the river to drink.  And the tiger of the gods his fill
loudly, whelming worlds the while, and the level of the
river sinks between its banks ere the beast's thirst is
quenched and ceases to glow like a sun.  And many worlds
thereby are heaped up dry and stranded, and the gods walk
not among them evermore, because they are hard to their
feet.  These are the worlds that have no destiny, whose
people know no god.  And the river sweeps onwards ever.  And
the name of the river is Oriathon, but men call it Ocean.
This is the Lower Faith of the Inner lands.  And there is a
Higher Faith which is not told to all.  According to the
Higher Faith of the Inner Lands the river Oriathon sweeps on
through the forests of Infinity and all at once falls
roaring over an Edge, whence Time has long ago recalled his
hours to fight in his war with the gods; and falls unlit by
the flash of nights and days, with his flood unmeasured by
miles, into the deeps of nothing.
  Now as the centuries went by and the one way by which a
man could climb Poltarnees became worn with feet, more and
more men surmounted it, not to return.  And still they knew
not in the Inner Lands upon what mystery Poltarnees looked.
For on a still day and windless, while men walked happily
about their beautiful streets or tended flocks in the
country, suddenly the west wind would bestir himself and
come in from the Sea.  And he would come cloaked and grey
and mournful and carry to someone the hungry cry of the Sea
calling out for bones of men.  And he that heard it would
move restlessly for some hours, and at last would rise
suddenly, irresistibly up, setting his face to Poltarnees,
and would say, as is the custom of those lands when men part
briefly, "Till a man's heart remembereth," which means,
"Farewell for a while;" but those that loved him, seeing his
eyes on Poltarnees, would answer sadly, "Till the gods
forget," which means "Farewell."
  Now the King of Arizim had a daughter who played with the
wild wood flowers, and with the fountains in her father's
court, and with the little blue heaven-birds that came to
her doorway in the winter to shelter from the snow.  And she
was more beautiful than the wild wood flowers, or than all
the fountains in her father's court, or than the blue
heaven-birds in their full winter plumage when they shelter
from the snow.  The old wise kings of Mondath and of Toldees
saw her once as she went lightly down the little paths of
her garden, and, turning their gaze into the mists of
thought, pondered the destiny of their Inner Lands.  And
they watched her closely by the stately flowers, and
standing alone in the sunlight, and passing and repassing
the strutting purple birds that the king's fowlers had
brought from Asagehon.  When she was of the age of fifteen
years the King of Mondath called a council of kings.  And
there met with him the kings of Toldees and Arizim.  And the
King of Mondath in his Council said:
  "The call of the unappeased and hungry Sea" (and at the
word `Sea' the three kings bowed their heads) "lures every
year out of our happy kingdoms more and more of our men, and
still we know not the mystery of the Sea, and no devised
oath has brought one man back.  Now thy daughter, Arizim, is
lovelier than the sunlight, and lovelier than those stately
flowers of thine that stand so tall in her garden, and hath
more grace and beauty than those strange birds that the
venturous fowlers bring in creaking waggons out of Asagehon,
whose feathers are alternate purple and white.  Now, he that
shall love thy daughter, Hilnaric, whoever he shall be, is
the man to climb Poltarnees and return, as none hath ever
before, and tell us upon what Poltarnees looks; for it may
be that thy daughter is more beautiful than the Sea."
  Then from his Seat of Council arose the King of Arizim.
He said: "I fear that thou hast spoken blasphemy against the
Sea, and I have a dread that ill will come of it.  Indeed I
had not thought she was so fair.  It is such a short while
ago that she was quite a small child with her hair still
unkempt and not yet attired in the manner of princesses, and
she would go up into the wild woods unattended and come back
with her robes unseemly and all torn, and would not take
reproof with humble spirit, but made grimaces even in my
marble court all set about with fountains."
  Then said the King of Toldees:
  "Let us watch more closely and let us see the Princess
Hilnaric in the season of the orchard-bloom when the great
birds go by that know the Sea, to rest in our inland places;
and if she be more beautiful than the sunrise over our
folded kingdoms when all the orchards bloom, it may be that
she is more beautiful than the Sea."
  And the King of Arizim said:
  "I fear this is terrible blasphemy, yet I will do as you
have decided in council."
  And the season of the orchard-bloom appeared.  One night
the King of Arizim called his daughter forth on to his outer
balcony of marble.  And the moon was rising huge and round
and holy over dark woods, and all the fountains were singing
to the night.  And the moon touched the marble palace
gables, and they glowed in the land.  And the moon touched
the heads of all the fountains, and the grey columns broke
into fairy lights.  And the moon left the dark ways of the
forest and lit the whole white palace and its fountains and
shone on the forehead of the Princess, and the palace of
Arizim glowed afar, and the fountains became columns of
gleaming jewels and song.  And the moon made a music at his
rising, but it fell a little short of mortal ears.  And
Hilnaric stood there wondering, clad in white, with the
moonlight shining on her forehead; and watching her from the
shadows on the terrace stood the kings of Mondath and
Toldees.  They said:
  "She is more beautiful than the moonrise."
  And on another day the King of Arizim bade his daughter
forth at dawn, and they stood again upon the balcony.  And
the sun came up over a world of orchards, and the sea-mists
went back over Poltarnees to the Sea; little wild voices
arose in all the thickets, the voices of the fountains began
to die, and the song arose, in all the marble temples, of
the birds that are sacred to the Sea.  And Hilnaric stood
there, still glowing with dreams of heaven.
  "She is more beautiful," said the kings, "than morning."
  Yet one more trial they made of Hilnaric's beauty, for
they watched her on the terraces at sunset ere the petals of
the orchards had fallen, and all along the edge of
neighbouring woods the rhododendron was blooming with the
azalea.  And the sun went down under craggy Poltarnees, and
the sea-mist poured over his summit inland.  And the marble
temples stood up clear in the evening, but films of twilight
were drawn between the mountain and the city.  Then from the
Temple ledges and eaves of palaces the bats fell headlong
downwards, then spread their wings and floated up and down
through darkening ways; lights came blinking out in golden
windows, men cloaked themselves against the grey sea-mist,
the sound of small songs arose, and the face of Hilnaric
became a resting-place for mysteries and dreams.
  "Than all these things," said the kings, "she is more
lovely: but who can say whether she is lovelier than the
  Prone in a rhododendron thicket at the edge of the palace
lawns a hunter had waited since the sun went down.  Near to
him was a deep pool in where the hyacinths grew and strange
flowers floated upon it with broad leaves, and there the
great bull gariachs came down to drink by starlight, and,
waiting there for the gariachs to come, he saw the white
form of the Princess leaning on her balcony.  Before the
stars shone out or the bulls came down to drink he left his
lurking-place and moved closer to the palace to see more
nearly the Princess.  The palace lawns were full of
untrodden dew, and everything was still when he came across
them, holding his great spear.  In the farthest corner of
the terraces the three old kings were discussing the beauty
of Hilnaric and the destiny of the Inner Lands.  Moving
lightly, with a hunter's tread, the watcher by the pool came
very near, even in the still evening, before the Princess
saw him.  When he saw her closely he exclaimed suddenly:
  "She must be more beautiful than the Sea."
  When the Princess turned and saw his garb and his great
spear she knew that he was a hunter of gariachs.
  When the three kings heard the young man exclaim they
said softly to one another:
  "This must be the man."
  Then they revealed themselves to him, and spoke to try
him.  They said:
  "Sir, you have spoken blasphemy against the Sea."
  And the young man muttered:
  "She is more beautiful than the Sea."
  And the kings said:
  "We are older than you and wiser, and know that nothing
is more beautiful than the Sea."
  And the young man took off the gear of his head, and
became downcast, and knew that he spake with kings, yet he
  "By this spear, she is more beautiful than the Sea."
  And all the while the Princess stared at him, knowing him
to be a hunter of gariachs.
  Then the King of Arizim said to the watcher by the pool:
  "If thou wilt go up Poltarnees and come back, as none
have come, and report to us what lure or magic is in the
Sea, we will pardon thy blasphemy, and thou shalt have the
Princess to wife and sit among the Council of the Kings."
  And gladly thereunto the young man consented.  And the
Princess spoke to him, and asked him his name.  And he told
her that his name was Athelvok, and great joy arose in him
at the sound of her voice.  And to the three kings he
promised to set out on the third day to scale the slope of
Poltarnees and to return again, and this was the oath by
which they bound him to return:
  "I swear by the Sea that bears the worlds away, by the
river of Oriathon, which men call Ocean, and by the gods and
their tiger, and by the doom of the worlds, that I will
return again to the Inner Lands, having beheld the Sea."
  And that oath he swore with solemnity that very night in
one of the temples of the Sea, but the three kings trusted
more to the beauty of Hilnaric even than to the power of the
  The next day Athelvok came to the palace of Arizim with
the morning, over the fields to the East and out of the
country of Toldees, and Hilnaric came out along her balcony
and met him on the terraces.  And she asked him if he had
ever slain a gariach, and he said that he had slain three,
and then he told her how he had killed his first down by the
pool in the wood.  For he had taken his father's spear and
gone down to the edge of the pool, and had lain under the
azaleas there waiting for the stars to shine, by whose first
light the gariachs go to the pools to drink; and he had gone
too early and had had long to wait, and the passing hours
seemed longer than they were.  And all the birds came in
that home at night, and the bat was abroad, and the hour of
the duck went by, and still no gariach came down to the
pool; and Athelvok felt sure that none would come.  And just
as this grew to a certainty in his mind the thicket parted
noiselessly and a huge bull gariach stood facing him on the
edge of the water, and his great horns swept out sideways
from his head, and at the ends curved upwards, and were four
strides in width from tip to tip.  And he had not seen
Athelvok, for the great bull was on the far side of the
little pool, and Athelvok could not creep round to him for
fear of meeting the wind (for the gariachs, who can see
little in the dark forests, rely on hearing and smell).  But
he devised swiftly in his mind while the bull stood there
with head erect just twenty strides from him across the
water.  And the bull sniffed the wind cautiously and
listened, then lowered its great head down to the pool and
drank.  At that instant Athelvok leapt into the water and
shot forward through its weedy depths among the stems of the
strange flowers that floated upon broad leaves on the
surface.  And Athelvok kept his spear out straight before
him, and the fingers of his left hand he held rigid and
straight, not pointing upwards, and so did not come to the
surface, but was carried onward by the strength of his
spring and passed unentangled through the stems of the
flowers.  When Athelvok jumped into the water the bull must
have thrown his head up, startled at the splash, then he
would have listened and have sniffed the air, and neither
hearing nor scenting any danger he must have remained rigid
for some moments, for it was in that attitude that Athelvok
found him as he emerged breathless at his feet.  And,
striking at once, Athelvok drove the spear into his throat
before the head and the terrible horns came down.  But
Athelvok had clung to one of the great horns, and had been
carried at terrible speed through the rhododendron bushes
until the gariach fell, but rose at once again, and died
standing up, still struggling, drowned in its own blood.
  But to Hilnaric listening it was as though one of the
heroes of old time had come back again in the full glory of
his legendary youth.
  And long time they went up and down the terraces, saying
those things which were said before and since, and which
lips shall be made to say again.  And above them stood
Poltarnees beholding the Sea.
  And the day came when Athelvok should go.  And Hilnaric
said to him:
  "Will you not indeed most surely come back again, having
just looked over the summit of Poltarnees?"
  Athelvok answered: "I will indeed come back, for thy
voice is more beautiful than the hymn of the priests when
they chant and praise the Sea, and though many tributary
seas ran down into Oriathon and he and all the others poured
their beauty into one pool below me, yet would I return
swearing that thou wert fairer than they."
  And Hilnaric answered:
  "The wisdom of my heart tells me, or old knowledge or
prophecy, or some strange lore, that I shall never hear thy
voice again.  And for this I give thee my forgiveness."
  But he, repeating the oath that he had sworn, set out,
looking often backwards until the slope became too steep and
his face was set to the rock.  It was in the morning that he
started, and he climbed all the day with little rest, where
every foothole was smooth with many feet.  Before he reached
the top the sun disappeared from him, and darker and darker
grew the Inner Lands.  Then he pushed on so as to see before
dark whatever thing Poltarnees had to show.  The dusk was
deep over the Inner Lands, and the lights of cities twinkled
through the sea-mist when he came to Poltarnees's summit,
and the sun before him was not yet gone from the sky.
  And there below him was the old wrinkled Sea, smiling and
murmuring song.  And he nursed little ships with gleaming
sails, and in his hands were old regretted wrecks, and masts
all studded over with golden nails that he had rent in anger
out of beautiful galleons.  And the glory of the sun was
among the surges as they brought driftwood out of isles of
spice, tossing their golden heads.  And the grey currents
crept away to the south like companionless serpents that
love something afar with a restless, deadly love.  And the
whole plain of water glittering with late sunlight, and the
surges and the currents and the white sails of ships were
all together like the face of a strange new god that has
looked a man for the first time in the eyes at the moment of
his death; and Athelvok, looking on the wonderful Sea, knew
why it was that the dead never return, for there is
something that the dead feel and know, and the living would
never understanding even though the dead should come and
speak to them about it.  And there was the Sea smiling at
him, glad with the glory of the sun.  And there was a haven
there for homing ships, and a sunlit city stood upon its
marge, and people walked about the streets of it clad in the
unimagined merchandise of far sea-bordering lands.
  An easy slope of loose crumbled rock went from the top of
Poltarnees to the shore of the Sea.
  For a long while Athelvok stood there regretfully,
knowing that there had come something into his soul that no
one in the Inner Lands could understand, where the thoughts
of their minds had gone no farther than the three little
kingdoms.  Then, looking long upon the wandering ships, and
the marvellous merchandise from alien lands, and the unknown
colour that wreathed the brows of the Sea, he turned his
face to the darkness and the Inner Lands.
  At that moment the Sea rang a dirge at sunset for all the
harm that he had done in anger and all the ruin wrought on
adventurous ships; and there were tears in the voice of the
tyrannous Sea, for he had loved the galleons that he had
overwhelmed, and he called all men to him and all living
things that he might make amends, because he had loved the
bones that he had strewn afar.  And Athelvok turned and set
one foot upon the crumbled slope, and then another, and
walked a little way to be nearer to the Sea, and then a
dream came upon him and he felt that men had wronged the
lovely Sea because he had been angry a little, because he
had been sometimes cruel; he felt that there was trouble
among the tides of the Sea because he had loved the galleons
who were dead.  Still he walked on, and the crumbled stones
rolled with him, and just as the twilight faded and a star
appeared he came to the golden shore, and walked on till the
surges were about his knees, and he heard the prayer-like
blessings of the Sea.  Long he stood thus, while the stars
came out above him and shone again in the surges; more stars
came wheeling in their courses up from the Sea, lights
twinkled out through all the haven city, lanterns were slung
from the ships, the purple night burned on; and Earth, to
the eyes of the gods as they sat afar, glowed as with one
flame.  Then Athelvok went into the haven city; there he met
many who had left the Inner Lands before him; none of them
wished to return to the people who had not seen the Sea;
many of them had forgotten the three little kingdoms, and it
was rumoured that one man, who had once tried to return, had
found the shifting, crumbled slope impossible to climb.
  Hilnaric never married.  But her dowry was set aside to
build a temple wherein men curse the ocean.
  Once a year, with solemn rite and ceremony, they curse
the tides of the Sea; and the moon looks in and hates them.

                  The Long Porter's Tale

                      by Lord Dunsany

There are things that are known only to the long porter of
Tong Tong Tarrup as he sits and mumbles memories to himself
in the little bastion gateway.
  He remembers the war there was in the halls of the
gnomes; and how the fairies came for the opals once, which
Tong Tong Tarrup has; and the way that the giants went
through the fields below, he watching from his gateway: he
remembers quests that are even yet a wonder to the gods.
Who dwells in those frozen houses on the high bare brink of
the world not even he has told me, and he is held to be
garrulous.  Among the elves, the only living things ever
seen moving at that awful altitude where they quarry
turquoise on Earth's highest crag, his name is a byword for
loquacity wherewith they mock the talkative.
  His favourite story if you offer him bash -- the drug of
which he is fondest, and for which he will give his service
in war to the elves against the goblins, or vice-versa if
the goblins bring him more -- his favourite story, when
bodily soothed by the drug and mentally fiercely excited,
tells of a quest undertaken ever so long ago for nothing
more marketable than an old woman's song.
  Picture him telling it.  An old man, lean and bearded,
and almost monstrously long, that lolled in a city's gateway
on a crag perhaps ten miles high; the houses for the most
part facing eastward, lit by the sun and moon and the
constellations we know, but one house on the pinnacle
looking over the edge of the world and lit by the glimmer of
those unearthly spaces where one long evening wears away the
stars: my little offering of bash; a long forefinger that
nipped it at once on a stained and greedy thumb -- all these
are in the foreground of the picture.  In the background,
the mystery of those silent houses and of not knowing who
their denizens were, or what service they had at the hands
of the long porter and what payment he had in return, and
whether he was mortal.
  Picture him in the gateway of this incredible town,
having swallowed my bash in silence, stretch his great
length, lean back, and begin to speak.
  It seems that one clear morning a hundred years ago, a
visitor to Tong Tong Tarrup was climbing up from the world.
He had already passed above the snow and had set his foot on
a step of the earthward stairway that goes down from Tong
Tong Tarrup on to the rocks, when the long porter saw him.
And so painfully did he climb those easy steps that the
grizzled man on watch had long to wonder whether or not the
stranger brought him bash, the drug that gives a meaning to
the stars and seems to explain the twilight.  And in the end
there was not a scrap of bash, and the stranger had nothing
better to offer that grizzled man than his mere story only.
  It seems that the stranger's name was Gerald Jones, and
he always lived in London; but once as a child he had been
on a Northern moor.  It was so long ago that he did not
remember how, only somehow or other he walked alone on the
moor, and all the ling was in flower.  There was nothing in
sight but ling and heather and bracken, except, far off near
the sunset, on indistinct hills, there were little vague
patches that looked like the fields of men.  With evening a
mist crept up and hid the hills, and still he went walking
on over the moor.  And then he came to the valley, a tiny
valley in the midst of the moor, whose sides were incredibly
steep.  He lay down and looked at it through the roots of
the ling.  And a long, long way below him, in a garden by a
cottage, with hollyhocks all round her that were taller than
herself, there sat an old woman on a wooden chair, singing
in the evening.  And the man had taken a fancy to the song
and remembered it after in London, and whenever it came to
his mind it made him think of evenings -- the kind you don't
get in London -- and he heard a soft wind going idly over
the moor and the bumble-bees in a hurry, and forgot the
noise of the traffic.  And always, whenever he heard men
speak of Time, he grudged to Time most this song.  Once
afterwards he went to that Northern moor again and found the
tiny valley, but there was no old woman in the garden, and
no one was singing a song.  And either regret for the song
that the old woman had sung, on a summer evening twenty
years away and daily receding, troubled his mind, or else
the wearisome work that he did in London, for he worked for
a great firm that was perfectly useless; and he grew old
early, as men do in cities.  And at last, when melancholy
brought only regret and the uselessness of his work gained
round him with age, he decided to consult a magician.  So to
a magician he went and told him his troubles, and
particularly he told him how he had heard the song.  "And
now," he said, "it is nowhere in the world."
  "Of course it is not in the world," the magician said,
"but over the Edge of the World you may easily find it."
And he told the man that he was suffering from flux of time
and recommended a day at the Edge of the World.  Jones asked
what part of the Edge of the World he should go to, and the
magician had heard Tong Tong Tarrup well spoken of; so he
paid him, as is usual, in opals, and started at once on the
journey.  The ways to that town are winding; he took the
ticket at Victoria Station that they only give if they know
you: he went past Bleth: he went along the Hills of
Neol-Hungar and came to the Gap of Poy.  All these are in
that part of the world that pertains to the fields we know;
but beyond the Gap of Poy on those ordinary plains, that so
closely resemble Sussex, one first meets the unlikely.  A
line of common grey hills, the Hills of Sneg, may be seen at
the edge of the plain from the Gap of Poy; it is there that
the incredible begins, infrequently at first, but happening
more and more as you go up the hills.  For instance,
descending once into Poy Plains, the first thing that I saw
was an ordinary shepherd watching a flock of ordinary
sheep.  I looked at them for some time and nothing happened,
when, without a word, one of the sheep walked up to the
shepherd and borrowed his pipe and smoked it -- an incident
that struck me as unlikely; but in the Hills of Sneg I met
an honest politician.  Over these plains went Jones and over
the Hills of Sneg, meeting at first unlikely things, and
then incredible things, till he came to the long slope
beyond the hills that leads up to the Edge of the World, and
where, as all guide-books tell, anything may happen.  You
might at the foot of this slope see here and there things
that could conceivably occur in the fields we know; but soon
these disappeared, and the traveller saw nothing but
fabulous beasts, browsing on flowers as astounding as
themselves, and rocks so distorted that their shapes had
clearly a meaning, being too startling to be accidental.
Even the trees were shockingly unfamiliar, they had so much
to say, and they leant over to one another whenever they
spoke and struck grotesque attitudes and leered.  Jones saw
two fir-trees fighting.  The effect of these scenes on his
nerves was very severe; still he climbed on, and was much
cheered at last by the sight of a primrose, the only
familiar thing he had seen for hours, but it whistled and
skipped away.  He saw the unicorns in their secret valley.
Then night in a sinister way slipped over the sky, and there
shone not only the stars, but lesser and greater moons, and
he heard dragons rattling in the dark.
  With dawn there appeared above him among its amazing
crags the town of Tong Tong Tarrup, with the light on its
frozen stairs, a tiny cluster of houses far up in the sky.
He was on the steep mountain now: great mists were leaving
it slowly, and revealing, as they trailed away, more and
more astonishing things.  Before the mist had all gone he
heard quite near him, on what he had thought was bare
mountain, the sound of a heavy galloping on turf.  He had
come to the plateau of the centaurs.  And all at once he saw
them in the mist: there they were, the children of fable,
five enormous centaurs.  Had he paused on account of any
astonishment he had not come so far: he strode on over the
plateau, and came quite near to the centaurs.  It is never
the centaurs' wont to notice men; they pawed the ground and
shouted to one another in Greek, but they said no word to
him.  Nevertheless they turned and stared at him when he
left them, and when he had crossed the plateau and still
went on, all five of them cantered after to the edge of
their green land; for above the high green plateau of the
centaurs is nothing but naked mountains, and the last green
thing that is seen by the mountaineer as he travels to Tong
Tong Tarrup is the grass that the centaurs trample.  He came
into the snow fields that the mountain wears like a cape,
its head being bare above it, and still climbed on.  The
centaurs watched him with increasing wonder.
  Not even fabulous beasts were near him now, nor strange
demoniac trees -- nothing but snow and the clean bare crag
above it on which was Tong Tong Tarrup.  All day he climbed
and evening found him above the snow-line; and soon he came
to the stairway cut in the rock and in sight of that
grizzled man, the long porter of Tong Tong Tarrup, sitting
mumbling amazing memories to himself and expecting in vain
from the stranger a gift of bash.
  It seems that as soon as the stranger arrived at the
bastion gateway, tired though he was, he demanded lodgings
at once that commanded a good view of the Edge of the
World.  But the long porter, that grizzled man, disappointed
of his bash, demanded the stranger's story to add to his
memories before he would show him the way.  And this is the
story, if the long porter has told me the truth and if his
memory is still what it was.  And when the story was told,
the grizzled man arose, and, dangling his musical keys, went
up through door after door and by many stairs and led the
stranger to the top-most house, the highest roof in the
world, and in its parlour showed him the parlour window.
There the tired stranger sat down in a chair and gazed out
of the window sheer over the Edge of the World.  The window
was shut, and in its glittering panes the twilight of the
World's Edge blazed and danced, partly like glow-worms'
lamps and partly like the sea; it went by rippling, full of
wonderful moons.  But the traveller did not look at the
wonderful moons.  For from the abyss there grew with their
roots in far constellations a row of hollyhocks, and amongst
them a small green garden quivered and trembled as scenes
tremble in water; higher up, ling in bloom was floating upon
the twilight, more and more floated up till all the twilight
was purple; the little green garden low down was hung in the
midst of it.  And the garden down below, and the ling all
round it, seemed all to be trembling and drifting on a
song.  For the twilight was full of a song that sang and
rang along the edges of the World, and the green garden and
the ling seemed to flicker and ripple with it as the song
rose and fell, and an old woman was singing it down in the
garden.  A bumble-bee sailed across from over the Edge of
the World.  And the song that was lapping there against the
coasts of the World, and to which the stars were dancing,
was the same that he had heard the old woman sing long since
down in the valley in the midst of the Northern moor.
  But that grizzled man, the long porter, would not let the
stranger stay, because he brought him no bash, and
impatiently he shouldered him away, himself not troubling to
glance through the World's outermost window, for the lands
that Time afflicts and the spaces that Time knows not are
all one to that grizzled man, and the bash that he eats more
profoundly astounds his mind than anything man can show him
either in the World we know or over the Edge.  And, bitterly
protesting, the traveller went back and down again to the
  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
  Accustomed as I am to the incredible from knowing the
Edge of the World, the story presents difficulties to me.
Yet it may be that the devastation wrought by Time is merely
local, and that outside the scope of his destruction old
songs are still being sung by those that we deem dead.  I
try to hope so.  And yet the more I investigate the story
that the long porter told me in the town of Tong Tong Tarrup
the more plausible the alternative theory appears -- that
that grizzled man is a liar.

                The Bad Old Woman in Black

                      by Lord Dunsany

The bad old woman in black ran down the street of the
  Windows at once were opened high up in those crazy
gables; heads were thrust out: it was she.  Then there arose
the counsel of anxious voices, calling sideways from window
to window or across to opposite houses.  Why was she there
with her sequins and bugles and old black gown?  Why had she
left her dreaded house?  On what fell errand she hasted?
  They watched her lean, lithe figure, and the wind in that
old black dress, and soon she was gone from the cobbled
street and under the town's high gateway.  She turned at
once to her right and was hid from the view of the houses.
Then they all ran down to their doors, and small groups
formed on the pavement; there they took counsel together,
the eldest speaking first.  Of what they had seen they said
nothing, for there was no doubt it was she; it was of the
future they spoke, and the future only.
  In what notorious thing would her errand end?  What gains
had tempted her out from her fearful home?  What brilliant
but sinful scheme had her genius planned?  Above all, what
future evil did this portend?  Thus at first it was only
questions.  And then the old grey-beards spoke, each one to
a little group; they had seen her out before, had known her
when she was younger, and had noted the evil things that had
followed her goings: the small groups listened well to their
low and earnest voices.  No one asked questions now or
guessed at her infamous errand, but listened only to the
wise old men who knew the things that had been, and who told
the younger men of the dooms that had come before.
  Nobody knew how many times she had left her dreaded
house; but the oldest recounted all the times that they
knew, and the way she had gone each time, and the doom that
had followed her going; and two could remember the
earthquake that there was in the street of the shearers.
  So were there many tales of the times that were, told on
the pavement near the old green doors by the edge of the
cobbled street, and the experience that the aged men had
bought with their white hairs might be had cheap by the
young.  But from all their experience only this was clear,
that never twice in their lives had she done the same
infamous thing, and that the same calamity twice had never
followed her goings.  Therefore it seemed that means were
doubtful and few for finding out what thing was about to
befall; and an ominous feeling of gloom came down on the
street of the ox-butchers.  And in the gloom grew fears of
the very worst.  This comfort they only had when they put
their fear into words -- that the doom that followed her
goings had never yet been anticipated.  One feared that with
magic she meant to move the moon; and he would have dammed
the high tide on the neighbouring coast, knowing that as the
moon attracted the sea the sea must attract the moon, and
hoping by his device to humble her spells.  Another would
have fetched iron bars and clamped them across the street,
remembering the earthquake there was in the street of the
shearers.  Another would have honoured his household gods,
the little cat-faced idols seated above his hearth, gods to
whom magic was no unusual thing, and, having paid their fees
and honoured them well, would have put the whole case before
them.  His scheme found favour with many, and yet at last
was rejected, for others ran indoors and brought out their
gods too, to be honoured, till there was a herd of gods all
seated there on the pavement; yet would they have honoured
them and put their case before them but that a fat man ran
up last of all, carefully holding under a reverent arm his
own two hound-faced gods, though he knew well -- as, indeed,
all men must -- that they were notoriously at war with the
little cat-faced idols.  And although the animosities
natural to faith had all been lulled by the crisis, yet a
look of anger had come into the cat-like faces that no one
dared disregard, and all perceived that if they stayed a
moment longer there would be flaming around them the
jealousy of the gods; so each man hastily took his idols
home, leaving the fat man insisting that his hound-faced
gods should be honoured.
  Then there were schemes again and voices raised in
debate, and many new dangers feared and new plans made.
  But in the end they made no defence against danger, for
they knew not what it would be, but wrote upon parchment as
a warning, and in order that all might know: "*The bad old
woman in black ran down the street of the ox-butchers.*"

               The Bird of the Difficult Eye

                      by Lord Dunsany

Observant men and women that know their Bond Street well
will appreciate my astonishment when in a jewellers' shop I
perceived that nobody was furtively watching me.  Not only
this but when I even picked up a little carved crystal to
examine it no shop-assistants crowded round me.  I walked
the whole length of the shop, still no one politely
  Seeing from this that some extraordinary revolution had
occurred in the jewelry business I went with my curiosity
well aroused to a queer old person half demon and half man
who has an idol-shop in a byway of the City and who keeps me
informed of affairs at the Edge of the World.  And briefly
over a pinch of heather incense that he takes by way of
snuff he gave me this tremendous information: that Mr. Neepy
Thang the son of Thangobrind had returned from the Edge of
the World and was even now in London.
  The information may not appear tremendous to those
unacquainted with the source of jewelry; but when I say that
the only thief employed by any West-end jeweller since
famous Thangobrind's distressing doom is this same Neepy
Thang, and that for lightness of fingers and swiftness of
stockinged foot they have none better in Paris, it will be
understood why the Bond-street jewellers no longer cared
what became of their old stock.
  There were big diamonds in London that summer and a few
considerable sapphires.  In certain astounding kingdoms
behind the East strange sovereigns missed from their turbans
the heirlooms of ancient wars, and here and there the
keepers of crown jewels who had not heard the stockinged
feet of Thang, were questioned and died slowly.
  And the jewellers gave a little dinner to Thang at the
Hotel Great Magnificent; the windows had not been opened for
five years and there was wine at a guinea a bottle that you
could not tell from champagne and cigars at half a crown
with a Havana label.  Altogether it was a splendid evening
for Thang.
  But I have to tell of a far sadder thing than a dinner at
a hotel.  The public require jewelry and jewelry must be
obtained.  I have to tell of Neepy Thang's last journey.
  That year the fashion was emeralds.  A man named Green
had recently crossed the Channel on a bicycle and the
jewellers said that a green stone would be particularly
appropriate to commemorate the event and recommended
  Now a certain money-lender of Cheapside who had just been
made a peer had divided his gains into three equal parts;
one for the purchase of the peerage, country-house and park,
and the twenty thousand pheasants that are absolutely
essential, and one for the upkeep of the position, while the
third he banked abroad, partly to cheat the native
tax-gatherer and partly because it seemed to him that the
days of the Peerage were few and that he might at any moment
be called upon to start afresh elsewhere.  In the upkeep of
the position he included jewelry for his wife and so it came
about that Lord Castlenorman placed an order with two
well-known Bond-street jewellers named Messrs. Grosvenor and
Campbell to the extent of 100,000 pounds for a few reliable
  But the emeralds in stock were mostly small and
shop-soiled and Neepy Thang had to set out at once before he
had had as much as a week in London.  I will briefly sketch
his project.  Not many knew it, for where the form of
business is blackmail the fewer creditors you have the
better (which of course in various degrees applies at all
  On the shores of the risky seas of Shiroora Shan grows
one tree only so that upon its branches if anywhere in the
world there must build its nest the Bird of the Difficult
Eye.  Neepy Thang had come by this information, which was
indeed the truth, that if the bird migrated to Fairyland
before the three eggs hatched out they would undoubtedly all
turn into emeralds, while if they hatched out first it would
be a bad business.
  When he had mentioned these eggs to Messrs. Grosvenor and
Campbell they had said, "The very thing": they were men of
few words, in English, for it was not their native tongue.
  So Neepy Thang set out.  He bought the purple ticket at
Victoria Station.  He went by Herne Hill, Bromley and
Bickley and passed St. Mary Cray.  At Eynsford he changed
and taking a footpath along a winding valley went wandering
into the hills.  And at the top of a hill in a little wood,
where all the anemones long since were over and the perfume
of mint and thyme from outside came drifting in with Thang,
he found once more the familiar path, age-old and fair as
wonder, that leads to the Edge of the World.  Little to him
were its sacred memories that are one with the secret of
earth, for he was on business, and little would they be to
me if I ever put them on paper.  Let it suffice that he went
down that path going further and further from the fields we
know, and all the way he muttered to himself, "What if the
eggs hatch out and it be a bad business!"  The glamour that
is at all times upon those lonely lands that lie at the back
of the chalky hills of Kent intensified as he went upon his
journeys.  Queerer and queerer grew the things that he saw
by little World-End Path.  Many a twilight descended upon
that journey with all their mysteries, many a blaze of
stars; many a morning came flaming up to a tinkle of silver
horns; till the outpost elves of Fairyland came in sight and
the glittering crests of Fairyland's three mountains
betokened the journey's end.  And so with painful steps (for
the shores of the world are covered with huge crystals) he
came to the risky seas of Shiroora Shan and saw them
pounding to gravel the wreckage of fallen stars, saw them
and heard their roar, those shipless seas that between earth
and the fairies' homes heave beneath some huge wind that is
none of our four.  And there in the darkness on the grizzly
coast, for darkness was swooping slantwise down the sky as
though with some evil purpose, there stood that lonely,
gnarled and deciduous tree.  It was a bad place to be found
in after dark, and night descended with multitudes of stars,
beasts prowling in the blackness gluttered at Neepy Thang.
(See any dictionary, but in vain.)  And there on a lower
branch within easy reach he clearly saw the Bird of the
Difficult Eye sitting upon the nest for which she is
famous.  Her face was towards those three inscrutable
mountains, far-off on the other side of the risky seas,
whose hidden valleys are Fairyland.  Though not yet autumn
in the fields we know, it was close on mid-winter here, the
moment as Thang knew when those eggs hatch out.  Had he
miscalculated and arrived a minute too late?  Yet the bird
was even now about to migrate, her pinions fluttered and her
gaze was toward Fairyland.  Thang hoped and muttered a
prayer to those pagan gods whose spite and vengeance he had
most reason to fear.  It seems that it was too late or a
prayer too small to placate them, for there and then the
stroke of mid-winter came and the eggs hatched out in the
roar of Shiroora Shan or ever the bird was gone with her
difficult eye and it was a bad business indeed for Neepy
Thang; I haven't the heart to tell you any more.
  "'Ere," said Lord Castlenorman some few weeks later to
Messrs. Grosvenor and Campbell, "you aren't 'arf taking your
time about those emeralds."

               The Bureau d'Exchange de Maux
                      by Lord Dunsany

I often think of the Bureau d'Exchange de Maux and the
wondrously evil old man that sate therein.  It stood in a
little street that there is in Paris, its doorway made of
three brown beams of wood, the top one overlapping the
others like the Greek letter pi, all the rest painted green,
a house far lower and narrower than its neighbours and
infinitely stranger, a thing to take one's fancy.  And over
the doorway on the old brown beam in faded yellow letters
this legend ran, Bureau Universel d'Exchanges de Maux.
  I entered at once and accosted the listless man that
lolled on a stool by his counter.  I demanded the wherefore
of his wonderful house, what evil wares he exchanged, with
many other things that I wished to know, for curiosity led
me; and indeed had it not I had gone at once from that shop,
for there was so evil a look in that fattened man, in the
hang of his fallen cheeks and his sinful eye, that you would
have said he had had dealings with Hell and won the
advantage by sheer wickedness.
  Such a man was mine host; but above all the evil of him
lay in his eyes, which lay so still, so apathetic, that you
would have sworn that he was drugged or dead; like lizards
motionless on a wall they lay, then suddenly they darted,
and all his cunning flamed up and revealed itself in what
one moment before seemed no more than a sleepy and ordinary
wicked old man.  And this was the object and trade of that
peculiar shop, the Bureau Universel d'Exchange de Maux: you
paid twenty francs, which the old man proceeded to take from
me, for admission to the bureau and then had the right to
exchange any evil or misfortune with anyone on the premises
for some evil or misfortune that he "could afford," as the
old man put it.
  There were four or five men in the dingy ends of that
low-ceilinged room who gesticulated and muttered softly in
twos as men who make a bargain, and now and then more came
in, and the eyes of the flabby owner of the house leaped up
at them as they entered, seemed to know their errands at
once and each one's particular need, and fell back again
into somnolence, receiving his twenty francs in an almost
lifeless hand and biting the coin as though in pure absence
of mind.
  "Some of my clients," he told me.  So amazing to me was
the trade of this extraordinary shop that I engaged the old
man in conversation, repulsive though he was, and from his
garrulity I gathered these facts.  He spoke in perfect
English though his utterance was somewhat thick and heavy;
no language seemed to come amiss to him.  He had been in
business a great many years, how many he would not say, and
was far older than he looked.  All kinds of people did
business in his shop.  What they exchanged with each other
he did not care except that it had to be evils, he was not
empowered to carry on any other kind of business.
  There was no evil, he told me, that was not negotiable
there; no evil the old man knew had ever been taken away in
despair from his shop.  A man might have to wait and come
back again next day, and next day and the day after, paying
twenty francs each time, but the old man had the addresses
of all his clients and shrewdly knew their needs, and soon
the right two met and eagerly exchanged their commodities.
"Commodities" was the old man's terrible word, said with a
gruesome smack of his heavy lips, for he took a pride in his
business and evils to him were goods.
  I learned from him in ten minutes very much of human
nature, more than I have ever learned from any other man; I
learned from him that a man's own evil is to him the worst
thing there is or ever could be, and that an evil so
unbalances all men's minds that they always seek for
extremes in that small grim shop.  A woman that had no
children had exchanged with an impoverished half-maddened
creature with twelve.  On one occasion a man had exchanged
wisdom for folly.
  "Why on earth did he do that?" I said.
  "None of my business," the old man answered in his heavy
indolent way.  He merely took his twenty francs from each
and ratified the agreement in the little room at the back
opening out of the shop where his clients do business.
Apparently the man that had parted with wisdom had left the
shop upon the tips of his toes with a happy though foolish
expression all over his face, but the other went
thoughtfully away wearing a troubled and very puzzled look.
Almost always it seemed they did business in opposite evils.
  But the thing that puzzled me most in all my talks with
that unwieldy man, the thing that puzzles me still, is that
none that had once done business in that shop ever returned
again; a man might come day after day for many weeks, but
once do business and he never returned; so much the old man
told me, but when I asked him why, he only muttered that he
did not know.
  It was to discover the wherefore of this strange thing
and for no other reason at all that I determined myself to
do business sooner or later in the little room at the back
of that mysterious shop.  I determined to exchange some very
trivial evil for some evil equally slight, to seek for
myself an advantage so very small as scarcely to give Fate
as it were a grip, for I deeply distrusted these bargains,
knowing well that man has never yet benefited by the
marvellous and that the more miraculous his advantage
appears to be the more securely and tightly do the gods or
the witches catch him.  In a few days more I was going back
to England and I was beginning to fear that I should be
sea-sick: this fear of sea-sickness, not the actual malady
but only the mere fear of it, I decided to exchange for a
suitably little evil.  I did not know with whom I should be
dealing, who in reality was the head of the firm (one never
does when shopping) but I decided that neither Jew nor Devil
could make very much on so small a bargain as that.
  I told the old man my project, and he scoffed at the
smallness of my commodity trying to urge me to some darker
bargain, but could not move me from my purpose.  And then he
told me tales with a somewhat boastful air of the big
business, the great bargains that had passed through his
hands.  A man had once run in there to try and exchange
death, he had swallowed poison by accident and had only
twelve hours to live.  That sinister old man had been able
to oblige him.  A client was willing to exchange the
  "But what did he give in exchange for death?" I said.
  "Life," said that grim old man with a furtive chuckle.
  "It must have been a horrible life," I said.
  "That was not my affair," the proprietor said, lazily
rattling together as he spoke a little pocketful of
twenty-franc pieces.
  Strange business I watched in that shop for the next few
days, the exchange of odd commodities, and heard strange
mutterings in corners amongst couples who presently rose and
went to the back room, the old man following to ratify.
  Twice a day for a week I paid my twenty francs, watching
life with its great needs and its little needs morning and
afternoon spread out before me in all its wonderful variety.
  And one day I met a comfortable man with only a little
need, he seemed to have the very evil I wanted.  He always
feared the lift was going to break.  I knew too much of
hydraulics to fear things as silly as that, but it was not
my business to cure his ridiculous fear.  Very few words
were needed to convince him that mine was the evil for him,
he never crossed the sea, and I on the other hand could
always walk upstairs, and I also felt at the time, as many
must feel in that shop, that so absurd a fear could never
trouble me.  And yet at times it is almost the curse of my
life.  When we both had signed the parchment in the spidery
back room and the old man had signed and ratified (for which
we had to pay him fifty francs each) I went back to my
hotel, and there I saw the deadly thing in the basement.
They asked me if I would go upstairs in the lift, from force
of habit I risked it, and I held my breath all the way and
clenched my hands.  Nothing will induce me to try such a
journey again.  I would sooner go up to my room in a
balloon.  And why?  Because if a balloon goes wrong you have
a chance, it may spread out into a parachute after it has
burst, it may catch in a tree, a hundred and one things may
happen, but if the lift falls down its shaft you are done.
As for sea-sickness I shall never be sick again, I cannot
tell you why except that I know that it is so.
  And the shop in which I made this remarkable bargain, the
shop to which none return when their business is done: I set
out for it next day.  Blindfold I could have found my way to
the unfashionable quarter out of which a mean street runs,
where you take the alley at the end, whence runs the cul de
sac where the queer shop stood.  A shop with pillars, fluted
and painted red, stands on its near side, its other
neighbour is a low-class jeweller's with little silver
brooches in the window.  In such incongruous company stood
the shop with beams with its walls painted green.
  In half an hour I found the cul de sac to which I had
gone twice a day for the last week, I found the shop with
the ugly painted pillars and the jeweller that sold
brooches, but the green house with the three beams was gone.
  Pulled down, you will say, although in a single night.
That can never be the answer to the mystery, for the house
of the fluted pillars painted on plaster and the low-class
jeweller's shop with its silver brooches (all of which I
could identify one by one) were standing side by side.

                      The Exiles Club
                      by Lord Dunsany

It was an evening party; and something someone had said to
me had started me talking about a subject that to me is full
of fascination, the subject of old religions, forsaken
gods.  The truth (for all religions have some of it), the
wisdom, the beauty, of the religions of countries to which I
travel have not the same appeal to me; for one only notices
in them their tyranny and intolerance and the abject
servitude that they claim from thought; but when a dynasty
has been dethroned in heaven and goes forgotten and outcast
even among men, one's eyes no longer dazzled by its power
find something very wistful in the faces of fallen gods
suppliant to be remembered, something almost tearfully
beautiful, like a long warm summer twilight fading gently
away after some day memorable in the story of earthly wars.
Between what Zeus, for instance, has been once and the
half-remembered tale he is to-day there lies a space so
great that there is no change of fortune known to man
whereby we may measure the height down which he has fallen.
And it is the same with many another god at whom once the
ages trembled and the twentieth century treats as an old
wives' tale.  The fortitude that such a fall demands is
surely more than human.
  Some such things as these I was saying, and being upon a
subject that much attracts me I possibly spoke too loudly,
certainly I was not aware that standing close behind me was
no less a person than the ex-King of Eritivaria, the thirty
islands of the East, or I would have moderated my voice and
moved away a little to give him more room.  I was not aware
of his presence until his satellite, one who had fallen with
him into exile but still revolved about him, told me that
his master desired to know me; and so to my surprise I was
presented though neither of them even knew my name.  And
that was how I came to be invited by the ex-King to dine at
his club.
  At the time I could only account for his wishing to know
me by supposing that he found in his own exiled condition
some likeness to the fallen fortunes of the gods of whom I
talked unwitting of his presence; but now I know that it was
not of himself he was thinking when he asked me to dine at
that club.
  The club would have been the most imposing building in
any street in London, but in that obscure mean quarter of
London in which they had built it it appeared unduly
enormous.  Lifting right up above those grotesque houses and
built in that Greek style that we call Georgian, there was
something Olympian about it.  To my host an unfashionable
street could have meant nothing, through all his youth
wherever he had gone had become fashionable the moment he
went there; words like the East End could have had no
meaning to him.
  Whoever built that house had enormous wealth and cared
nothing for fashion, perhaps despised it.  As I stood gazing
at the magnificent upper windows draped with great curtains,
indistinct in the evening, on which huge shadows flickered
my host attracted my attention from the doorway, and so I
went in and met for the second time the ex-King of
  In front of us a stairway of rare marble led upwards, he
took me through a side-door and downstairs and we came to a
banqueting-hall of great magnificence.  A long table ran up
the middle of it, laid for quite twenty people, and I
noticed the peculiarity that instead of chairs there were
thrones for everyone except me, who was the only guest and
for whom there was an ordinary chair.  My host explained to
me when we all sat down that everyone who belonged to that
club was by rights a king.
  In fact none was permitted, he told me, to belong to the
club unless his claim to a kingdom made out in writing had
been examined and allowed by those whose duty it was.  The
whim of a populace or the candidate's own misrule were never
considered by the investigators, nothing counted with them
but heredity and lawful descent from kings, all else was
ignored.  At that table there were those who had once
reigned themselves, others lawfully claimed descent from
kings that the world had forgotten, the kingdoms claimed by
some had even changed their names.  Hatzgurh, the mountain
kingdom, is almost regarded as mythical.
  I have seldom seen greater splendour than that long hall
provided below the level of the street.  No doubt by day it
was a little sombre, as all basements are, but at night with
its great crystal chandeliers, and the glitter of heirlooms
that had gone into exile, it surpassed the splendour of
palaces that have only one king.  They had come to London
suddenly most of those kings, or their fathers before them,
or forefathers; some had come away from their kingdoms by
night, in a light sleigh, flogging the horses, or had
galloped clear with morning over the border, some had
trudged roads for days from their capital in disguise, yet
many had had time just as they left to snatch up some small
thing without price in markets, for the sake of old times as
they said, but quite as much, I thought, with an eye to the
future.  And there these treasures glittered on that long
table in the banqueting-hall of the basement of that strange
club.  Merely to see them was much, but to hear their story
that their owners told was to go back in fancy to epic times
on the romantic border of fable and fact, where the heroes
of history fought with the gods of myth.  The famous silver
horses of Gilgianza were there climbing their sheer
mountain, which they did by miraculous means before the time
of the Goths.  It was not a large piece of silver but its
workmanship outrivaled the skill of the bees.
  A yellow Emperor had brought out of the East a piece of
that incomparable porcelain that had made his dynasty famous
though all their deeds are forgotten, it had the exact shade
of the right purple.
  And there was a little golden statuette of a dragon
stealing a diamond from a lady, the dragon had the diamond
in his claws, large and of the first water.  There had been
a kingdom whose whole constitution and history were founded
on the legend, from which alone its kings had claimed their
right to the sceptre, that a dragon stole a diamond from a
lady.  When its last king left that country, because his
favourite general used a peculiar formation under the fire
of artillery, he brought with him the little ancient image
that no longer proved him a king outside that singular club.
  There was the pair of amethyst cups of the turbaned King
of Foo, the one that he drank from himself, and the one that
he gave to his enemies, eye could not tell which was which.
  All these things the ex-King of Eritivaria showed me,
telling me a marvellous tale of each; of his own he had
brought nothing, except the mascot that used once to sit on
the top of the water tube of his favourite motor.
  I have not outlined a tenth of the splendour of that
table, I had meant to come again and examine each piece of
plate and make notes of its history; had I known that this
was the last time I should wish to enter that club I should
have looked at its treasures more attentively, but now as
the wine went round and the exiles began to talk I took my
eyes from the table and listened to strange tales of their
former state.
  He that has seen better times was usually a poor tale to
tell, some mean and trivial thing that has been his undoing,
but they that dined in that basement had mostly fallen like
oaks on nights of abnormal tempest, had fallen mightily and
shaken a nation.  Those who had not been kings themselves,
but claimed through an exiled ancestor, had stories to tell
of even grander disaster, history seeming to have mellowed
their dynasty's fate as moss grows over an oak a great while
fallen.  There were no jealousies there as so often there
are among kings, rivalry must have ceased with the loss of
their navies and armies, and they showed no bitterness
against those that had turned them out, one speaking of the
error of his Prime Minister by which he had lost his throne
as "poor old Friedrich's Heaven-sent gift of tactlessness."
  They gossiped pleasantly of many things, the
tittle-tattle we all had to know when we were learning
history, and many a wonderful story I might have heard, many
a side-light on mysterious wars had I not made use of one
unfortunate word.  That word was "upstairs."
  The ex-King of Eritivaria having pointed out to me those
unparalleled heirlooms to which I have alluded, and many
more besides, hospitably asked me if there was anything else
that I would care to see, he meant the pieces of plate that
they had in the cupboards, the curiously graven swords of
other princes, historic jewels, legendary seals, but I who
had had a glimpse of their marvelous staircase, whose
balustrade I believed to be solid gold and wondering why in
such a stately house they chose to dine in the basement,
mentioned the word "upstairs."  A profound hush came down on
the whole assembly, the hush that might greet levity in a
  "Upstairs!" he gasped, "We cannot go upstairs."
  I perceived that what I had said was an ill-chosen
thing.  I tried to excuse myself but knew not how.
  "Of course," I muttered, "members may not take guests
  "Members!" he said to me, "We are not the members!"
  There was such reproof in his voice that I said no more,
I looked at him questioningly, perhaps my lips moved, I may
have said, "What are you?"  A great surprise had come on me
at their attitude.
  "We are the waiters," he said.
  That I could not have known, here at least was honest
ignorance that I had no need to be ashamed of, the very
opulence of their table denied it.
  "Then who are the members?" I asked.
  Such a hush fell at that question, such a hush of genuine
awe, that all of a sudden a wild thought entered my head, a
thought strange and fantastic and terrible.  I gripped my
host by the wrist and hushed my voice.
  "Are they too exiles?" I asked.
  Twice as he looked in my face he gravely nodded his head.
  I left that club very swiftly indeed, never to see it
again, scarcely pausing to say farewell to those menial
kings, and as I left the door a great window opened far up
at the top of the house and a flash of lightning streamed
from it and killed a dog.

                    The Glittering Gate

                      by Lord Dunsany


Jim, lately a burglar  \_ Both dead
Bill,  "    "    "     /

   Scene: A Lonely Place.
   Time: The present.

{The Lonely Place is strewn with large black rocks and
uncorked beer-bottles, the latter in great profusion.  At
back is a wall of granite built of great slabs, and in it
the Gate of Heaven.  The door is of gold.
 Below the Lonely Place is an abyss hung with stars.
 The rising curtain reveals Jim wearily uncorking a
beer-bottle.  Then he tilts it slowly and with infinite
care.  It proves to be empty.  Faint and unpleasant laughter
is heard off.  This action and accompanying far laughter are
repeated continually throughout the play.  Corked bottles
are discovered lying behind rocks, and more descend
constantly through the air, within reach of Jim.  All prove
to be empty.
 Jim uncorks a few bottles.}

Jim: {weighing one carefully}
    That's a full one.  {It is empty, like all}

    {Singing is heard off left.}

Bill: {enters from left with a bullet-hole over his eye,
    singing} Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves.
    {Breaking off his song}  Why, 'ullo.  'Ere's a bottle
    of beer.  {Finds it empty; looking off and downward}
    I'm getting a bit tired of those blooming great stars
    down there and this rocky ledge.  I've been walking
    along under this wall ever since.  Why, it must be
    twenty-four hours since that householder shot me.  And
    he need n't have done it, either, *I* was n't going to
    hurt the bloke.  I only wanted a bit of his silver
    stuff.  It felt funny, that did.  Hullo, a gate.  Why,
    that's the Gate of Heaven.  Well, well.  So that's all
    right.  {Looks up and up for some time}  No.  I can't
    climb *that* wall.  Why, it's got no top to it.  Up and
    up it goes.  {Knocks at the door and waits}

    That is n't for the likes of us.

    Why, hullo, there's another bloke.  Why, somebody's
    been hanging him.  Why, if it is n't old Jim!  Jim!

Jim: {wearily}

    Why, Jim!  'Ow long 'ave you been here?

    I *am* here always.

    Why, Jim, don't you remember me?  Why, you taught Bill
    to pick locks years and years ago when he was a little
    boy, and had never learnt a trade and had n't a penny
    in the world, and never would have had but for you,
    Jim.  {Jim stares vaguely}  I never forgot *you*, Jim.
    I broke into scores of houses.  And then I took on big
    houses.  Out in the country, you know, real big ones.
    I got rich, Jim, and respected by all who knew me.  I
    was a citizen, Jim, one who dwelt in our midst.  And of
    an evening, sitting over the fire, I used to say, "I am
    as clever as Jim."  But I was n't, Jim.  I could n't
    climb like you.  And I could n't walk like you on a
    creaky stair, when everything's quite still and there's
    a dog in the house and little rattly things left lying
    about, and a door that whines if you touch it, and
    someone ill upstairs that you did n't know of, who has
    nothing to do but listen for *you* 'cause she can't get
    to sleep.  Don't you remember little Bill?

    That would be somewhere else.

    Yes, Jim, yes.  Down on Earth.

    But there is n't anywhere else.

    I never forgot you, Jim.  I'd be pattering away with my
    tongue, in Church, like all the rest, but all the time
    I'd be thinking of you in that little room at Putney
    and the man searching every corner of it for you with a
    revolver in one hand and a candle in the other, and you
    almost going round with him.

    What is Putney?

    Oh, Jim, can't you remember?  Can't you remember the
    day you taught me a livelihood?  I was n't more than
    twelve, and it was spring, and all the may was in
    blossom outside the town.  And we cleared out No. 25 in
    the new street.  And the next day we saw the man's fat,
    silly face.  It was thirty years ago.

    What are years?

    Oh, *Jim!*

    You see there is n't any hope here.  And when there
    isn't any hope there is n't any future.  And when there
    is n't any future there is n't any past.  It's just the
    present here.  I tell you we're stuck.  There are n't
    no years here.  Nor no nothing.

    Cheer up, Jim.  You're thinking of a quotation,
    "Abandon hope, all ye that enter here."  I used to
    learn quotations; they are awfully genteel.  A fellow
    named Shakespeare used to make them.  But there is n't
    any sense in them.  What's the use of saying "ye" when
    you mean "you"?  Don't be thinking of quotations, Jim.

    I tell you there is no hope here.

    Cheer up, Jim.  There's plenty of hope there, is n't
    there?  {Points to the Gate of Heaven}

    Yes, and that's why they keep it locked up so.  They
    won't let us have any.  No.  I begin to remember Earth
    again now since you've been speaking.  It was just the
    same there.  The more they'd got the more they wanted
    to keep *you* from having a bit.

    You'll cheer up a bit when I tell you what I've got.  I
    say, Jim, have you got some beer?  Why, so you have.
    Why, *you* ought to cheer up, Jim.

    All the beer you're ever likely to see again.  They're

Bill: {half rising from the rock on which he has seated
    himself, and pointing his finger at Jim as he rises;
    very cheerfully}  Why, you're the chap that said there
    was no hope here, and you're hoping to find beer in
    every bottle you open.

    Yes; I *hope* to see a drop of beer in one some day,
    but I *know* I won't.  Their trick *might* not work
    just once.

    How many have you tried, Jim?

    Oh, I don't know.  I've always been at it, working as
    fast as I can, ever since -- ever since -- {Feels his
    neck meditatively and up toward his ear}  Why, ever
    since, Bill.

    Why don't you stop it?

    I'm too thirsty, Bill.

    What do you think *I've* got, Jim?

    I don't know.  Nothing's any use.

Bill: {as yet another bottle is shown to be empty}
    Who's that laughing, Jim?

Jim: {astonished at such a question, loudly and
    emphatically}  Who's that laughing?

Bill: {looks a little disconcerted at having apparently
    asked a silly question}  Is it a pal?

    A pal! -- {laughs}   {The laugh off joins in loudly and
    for long}

    Well, I don't know.  But, Jim, what do you think I've

    It isn't any use to you whatever it is.  Not even if
    it's a ten-pound note.

    It's better than a ten-pound note, Jim.  Jim, try and
    remember, Jim.  Don't you remember the way we used to
    go for these iron safes?  Do you remember anything,

    Yes, I am beginning to remember now.  There used to be
    sunsets.  And then there were great yellow lights.  And
    one went in behind them through a swinging door.

    Yes, yes, Jim.  That was the Blue Bear down at

    Yes, and the room was all full of golden light.  And
    there was beer with light in it, and some would be
    spilt on the counter and there was light in that too.
    And there was a girl standing there with yellow hair.
    She'd be the other side of that door now, with
    lamplight in her hair among the angels, and the old
    smile on her lips if one of them chaffed her, and her
    pretty teeth a-shining.  She would be very near the
    throne; there was never any harm in Jane.

    No, there was never any 'arm in Jane, Jim.

    Oh, I don't want to see the angels, Bill.  But if I
    could see Jane again {points in direction of laugh} he
    might laugh as much as he cared to whenever I wanted to
    cry.  You can't cry here, you know, Bill.

    You shall see her again, Jim.

    {Jim takes no interest in this remark; he lowers his
    eyes and goes on with his work.}

    Jim, you shall see her again.  You want to get into
    Heaven, don't you?

Jim: {not raising his eyes}

    Jim.  Do you know what I've got, Jim?

    {Jim makes no answer, goes on wearily with his work.}

    You remember those iron safes, Jim, how we used to
    knock them open like walnuts with "Old Nut-cracker"?

Jim: {at work, wearily}
    Empty again.

    Well, I've got Old Nut-cracker.  I had him in my hand
    at the time, and they let me keep him.  They thought it
    would be a nice proof against me.

    Nothing is any good here.

    I'll get in to Heaven, Jim.  And you shall come with me
    because you taught me a livelihood.  I could n't be
    happy there, like those angels, if I knew of anyone
    being outside.  I'm not like that.

    {Jim goes on with his work.}

    Jim, Jim.  You'll see Jane there.

    You'll never get through those gates, Bill.  You'll
    never do it.

    They're only gold, Jim.  Gold's soft like lead.  Old
    Nut-cracker would do it if they were steel.

    You'll never do it, Bill.

    {Bill puts a rock against the gates, stands on it to
    reach the lock and gets to work on the lock.  A good
    instrument to use is an egg-whipper.  Jim goes on
    wearily with his work.  As Bill works away, fragments
    and golden screws begin to fall on the floor.}

    Jim!  Old Nut-cracker thinks nothing of it.  It's just
    like cheese to Old Nut-cracker.

    They won't let you do it, Bill.

    They don't know what I've got.  I'm getting through it
    like cheese, Jim.

    Suppose it's a mile thick.  Suppose it's a million
    miles thick.  Suppose it's a hundred million miles

    Can't be, Jim.  Those doors are meant to open outward.
    They could n't do that if they were more than four
    inches thick at the most, not for an Archbishop.
    They'd stick.

    You remember that great safe we broke open once, what
    had coal in it.

    This is n't a safe, Jim, this is Heaven.  There'll be
    the old saints with their halos shining and flickering,
    like windows o' wintry nights.  {Creak, creak, creak}
    And angels thick as swallows along a cottage roof the
    day before they go.  {Creak, creak, creak}  And
    orchards full of apples as far as you can see, and the
    rivers Tigris and Euphrates, so the Bible says; and a
    city of gold, for those that care for cities, all full
    of precious stones; but I'm a bit tired of cities and
    precious stones.  {Creak, creak, creak}  I'll go out
    into the fields where the orchards are, by the Tigris
    and Euphrates.  I should n't be surprised if my old
    mother was there.  She never cared much for the way I
    earned my livelihood {creak, creak}, but she was a good
    mother to me.  I don't know if they want a good mother
    in there who would be kind to the angels and sit and
    smile at them when they sang and soothe them if they
    were cross.  If they let all the good ones in she'll be
    there all right.  {Suddenly}  Jim!  They won't have
    brought me up against her, will they?  That's not fair
    evidence, Jim.

    It would be just like them to.  Very like them.

    If there's a glass of beer to be got in Heaven, or a
    dish of tripe and onions, or a pipe of 'bacca she'll
    have them for me when I come to her.  She used to know
    my ways wonderful; and what I liked.  And she used to
    know when to expect me almost anywhere.  I used to
    climb in through the window at any hour and she always
    knew it was me.  {Creak, creak}  She'll know it's me at
    the door now, Jim.  {Creak, creak}  It will be all a
    blaze of light, and I'll hardly know it's her till I
    get used to it... But I'll know her among a million
    angels.  There were n't none like her on Earth and
    there won't be none like her in Heaven... Jim!  I'm
    through, Jim!  One more turn, and Old Nut-cracker's
    done it!  It's giving!  It's giving!  I know the feel
    of it.  *Jim*!
    {At last there is a noise of falling bolts; the gates
    swing out an inch and are stopped by the rock.}

    Jim!  Jim!  I've opened it, Jim.  I've opened the Gate
    of Heaven!  Come and help me.

Jim: {looks up for a moment with open mouth.  Then he
    mournfully shakes his head and goes on drawing a cork}
    Another one empty.

Bill: {looks down once into the abyss that lies below the
    Lonely Place}  Stars.  Blooming great stars.
    {Then he moves away the rock on which he stood.  The
    gates move slowly.  Jim leaps up and runs to help; they
    each take a gate and move backward with their faces
    against it.}

    Hullo, mother!  You there?  Hullo!  You there?  It's
    Bill, mother.

    {The gates swing heavily open, revealing empty night
    and stars.}

Bill: {staggering and gazing into the revealed Nothing, in
    which far stars go wandering}  Stars.  Blooming great
    stars.  There *ain't* no Heaven, Jim.

    {Ever since the revelation a cruel and violent laugh
    has arisen off.  It increases in volume and grows
    louder and louder.}

    That's like them.  That's very like them.  Yes, they'd
    do that!

    {The curtain falls and the laughter still howls on.}

                 The Gods of the Mountain
                      by Lord Dunsany


Agmar     \
Slag      |
Ulf       |
Oogno     |- Beggars  
Thahn     |
Mlan      |
A Thief   /
Oorander  \
Illanaun  |- Citizens
Akmos     /
The Dromedary Men
Citizens, etc.
The Others

  Scene: The East

                       The First Act

{Outside a city wall.  Three beggars are seated upon the

    These days are bad for beggary.

    They are bad.

Ulf: {an older beggar but not gray}
    Some evil has befallen the rich ones of this city.
    They take no joy any longer in benevolence, but are
    become sour and miserly at heart.  Alas for them!  I
    sometimes sigh for them when I think of this.

    Alas for them!  A miserly heart must be a sore

    A sore affliction indeed, and bad for our calling.

Oogno: {reflectively}
    They have been thus for many months.  What thing has
    befallen them?

    Some evil thing.

    There has been a comet come near to the earth of late
    and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the
    gods are drowsy and all those things that are divine in
    man, such as benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance,
    and song, have faded and died and have not been
    replenished by the gods.

    It has indeed been sultry.

    I have seen the comet o' nights.

    The gods are drowsy.

    If they awake not soon and make this city worthy again
    of our order I for one shall forsake the calling and
    buy a shop and sit at ease in the shade and barter for

    You will keep a shop?

    {Enter Agmar and Slag.  Agmar, though poorly dressed,
    is tall, imperious, and older than Ulf.  Slag follows
    behind him.}

    Is this a beggar who speaks?

    Yes, master, a poor beggar.

    How long has the calling of beggary existed?

    Since the building of the first city, master.

    And when has a beggar ever followed a trade?  When has
    he ever haggled and bartered and sat in a shop?

    Why, he has never done so.

    Are you he that shall be first to forsake the calling?

    Times are bad for the calling here.

    They are bad.

    So you would forsake the calling?

    The city is unworthy of our calling.  The gods are
    drowsy and all that is divine in man is dead.  {To
    third beggar}  Are not the gods drowsy?

    They are drowsy in their mountains away at Marma.  The
    seven green idols are drowsy.  Who is this that rebukes

    Are you some great merchant, master?  Perhaps you will
    help a poor man that is starving.

    My master a merchant!  No, no.  He is no merchant.  My
    master is no merchant.

    I perceive that he is some lord in disguise.  The gods
    have woken and sent him to save us.

    No, no.  You do not know my master.  You do not know

    Is he the Soldan's self that has come to rebuke us?

    I am a beggar, and an old beggar.

Slag: {with great pride}
    There is none like my master.  No traveller has met
    with cunning like to his, not even those that come from

    We make you welcome to our town, upon which an evil has
    fallen, the days being bad for beggary.

    Let none who has known the mystery of roads or has felt
    the wind arising new in the morning, or who has called
    forth out of the souls of men divine benevolence, ever
    speak any more of any trade or of the miserable gains
    of shops and the trading men.

    I but spoke hastily, the times being bad.
    I will put right the times.
    There is nothing that my master cannot do.
Agmar: {to Slag}
    Be silent and attend to me.  I do not know this city.
    I have travelled from far, having somewhat exhausted
    the city of Ackara.
    My master was three times knocked down and injured by
    carriages there, once he was killed and seven times he
    was beaten and robbed, and every time he was generously
    compensated.  He had nine diseases, many of them
    mortal --
    Be silent, Slag. -- Have you any thieves among the
    calling here?
    We have a few that we call thieves here, master, but
    they would scarcely seem thieves to you.  They are not
    good thieves.
    I shall need the best thief you have.
    {Enter two citizens richly clad, Illanaun and
    Therefore we will send galleons to Ardaspes.
    Right to Ardaspes through the silver gates.
    {Agmar transfers the thick handle of his long staff to
    his left armpit, he droops on to it and it supports his
    weight; he is upright no longer.  His right arm hangs
    limp and useless.  He hobbles up to the citizens
    imploring alms.}
    I am sorry.  I cannot help you.  There have been too
    many beggars here and we must decline alms for the good
    of the town.
Agmar: {sitting down and weeping}
    I have come from far.
    {Illanaun presently returns and gives Agmar a coin.
    Exit Illanaun.  Agmar, erect again, walks back to the
    We shall need fine raiment; let the thief start at
    once.  Let it rather be green raiment.
    I will go and fetch the thief. {Exit}
    We will dress ourselves as lords and impose upon the
    Yes, yes; we will say we are ambassadors from a far
    And there will be good eating.
Slag: {in an undertone to Ulf}
    But you do not know my master.  Now that you have
    suggested that we go as lords, he will make a better
    suggestion.  He will suggest that we should go as
    Beggars as kings!
    Ay.  You do not know my master.
Ulf: {to Agmar}
    What do you bid us do?
    You shall first come by the fine raiment in the manner
    I have mentioned.
    And what then, master?
    Why, we shall go as gods.
    As gods!
    As gods.  Know you the land through which I have lately
    come in my wanderings?  Marma, where the gods are
    carved from green stone in the mountains.  They sit all
    seven of them against the hills.  They sit there
    motionless and travellers worship them.
    Yes, yes, we know those gods.  They are much reverenced
    here, but they are drowsy and send us nothing
    They are of green jade.  They sit cross-legged with
    their right elbows resting on their left hands, the
    right forefinger pointed upward.  We will come into the
    city disguised, from the direction of Marma, and we
    will claim to be these gods.  We must be seven as they
    are.  And when we sit we must sit cross-legged as they
    do, with the right hand uplifted.
    This is a bad city in which to fall into the hands of
    oppressors, for the judges lack amiability here as the
    merchants lack benevolence, ever since the gods forgot
    In our ancient calling a man may sit at one street
    corner for fifty years doing the one thing, and yet a
    day may come when it is well for him to rise up and do
    another thing while the timorous man starves.
    Also it were not well to anger the gods.
    Is not all life a beggary to the gods?  Do they not see
    all men always begging of them and asking alms with
    incense, and bells, and subtle devices?
    Yes, all men indeed are beggars before the gods.
    Does not the mighty Soldan often sit by the agate altar
    in his royal temple as we sit at a street corner or by
    a palace gate?
    It is even so.
    Then will the gods be glad when we follow the holy
    calling with new devices and with subtlety, as they are
    glad when the priests sing a new song.
    Yet I have a fear.
    {Enter two men talking.}
Agmar: {to Slag}
    Go you into the city before us and let there be a
    prophecy there which saith that the gods who are carven
    from green rock in the mountain shall one day arise in
    Marma and come here in the guise of men.
    Yes, master.  Shall I make the prophecy myself?  Or
    shall it be found in some old document?
    Let someone have seen it once in some rare document.
    Let it be spoken of in the market place.
    It shall be spoken of, master.
    {Slag lingers.  Enter Thief and Thahn.}
    This is our thief.
Agmar: {encouragingly}
    Ah, he is a quick thief.
    I could only procure you three green raiments, master.
    The city is not now well supplied with them; moreover,
    it is a very suspicious city and without shame for the
    baseness of its suspicions.
Slag: {to a beggar}
    This is not thieving.
    I could do no more, master.  I have not practised
    thieving all my life.
    You have got something: it may serve our purpose.  How
    long have you been thieving?
    I first stole when I was ten.
Slag: {in horror}
    When he was ten!
    We must tear them up and divide them amongst the
    seven.  {To Thahn}  Bring me another beggar.
    When my master was ten he had already to slip by night
    out of two cities.
Oogno: {admiringly}
    Out of two cities?
Slag: {nodding his head}
    In his native city they do not now know what became of
    the golden cup that stood in the Lunar Temple.
    Yes, into seven pieces.
    We will each wear a piece of it over our rags.
    Yes, yes, we shall look fine.
    That is not the way we shall disguise ourselves.
    Not cover our rags?
    No, no.  The first who looked closely would say, "These
    are only beggars.  They have disguised themselves."
    What shall we do?
    Each of the seven shall wear a piece of the green
    raiment underneath his rags.  And peradventure here and
    there a little shall show through; and men shall say,
    "These seven have disguised themselves as beggars.  But
    we know not what they be."
    Hear my wise master.
Oogno: {in admiration}
    *He* is a beggar.
    He is an *old* beggar.

                      The Second Act

{The Metropolitan Hall of the city of Kongros.  Citizens,
Enter the seven beggars with green silk under their rags.}

    Who are you and whence come you?
    Who may say what we are or whence we come?
    What are these beggars and why do they come here?
    Who said to you that we were beggars?
    Why do these men come here?
    Who said to you that we were men?
    Now, by the moon!
    My sister.
    My little sister.
    Our little sister the moon.  She comes to us at
    evenings away in the mountains of Marma.  She trips
    over the mountains when she is young.  When she is
    young and slender she comes and dances before us, and
    when she is old and unshapely she hobbles away from the
    Yet is she young again and forever nimble with youth;
    yet she comes dancing back.  The years are not able to
    curb her nor to bring gray hairs to her brethren.

    This is not wonted.

    It is not in accordance with custom.

    Prophecy hath not thought it.

    She comes to us new and nimble, remembering olden

    It were well that prophets should come and speak to us.

    This hath not been in the past.  Let prophets come.
    Let prophets speak to us of future things.

    {The beggars seat themselves upon the floor in the
    attitude of the seven gods of Marma.}

    I heard men speak today in the market place.  They
    speak of a prophecy read somewhere of old.  It says the
    seven gods shall come from Marma in the guise of men.

    Is this a true prophecy?

    It is all the prophecy we have.  Man without prophecy
    is like a sailor going by night over uncharted seas.
    He knows not where are the rocks nor where the havens.
    To the man on watch all things are black and the stars
    guide him not, for he knows not what they are.

    Should we not investigate this prophecy?

    Let us accept it.  It is as the small, uncertain light
    of a lantern, carried as it may be by a drunkard, but
    along the shore of some haven.  Let us be guided.

    It may be that they are but benevolent gods.

    There is no benevolence greater than our benevolence.

    Then we need do little: they portend no danger to us.

    There is no anger greater than our anger.

    Let us make sacrifices to them if they be gods.

    We humbly worship you, if ye be gods.

Illanaun: {kneeling too}
    You are mightier than all men and hold high rank among
    other gods and are lords of this our city, and have the
    thunder as your plaything and the whirlwind and the
    eclipse and all the destinies of human tribes -- if ye
    be gods.

    Let the pestilence not fall at once on this city, as it
    had indeed designed to; let not the earthquake swallow
    it all immediately up amid the howls of the thunder;
    let not infuriated armies overwhelm those that escape
    -- if we be gods --
Populace: {in horror}
    If we be gods!

    Come, let us sacrifice.

    Bring lambs!

    Quick!  Quick! {Exuent some}

Slag: {with solemn air}
    This god is a very divine god.

    He is no common god.

    Indeed, he has made us.

Citizen: {to Slag}
    He will not punish us, master?  None of the gods will
    punish us?  We will make a sacrifice, a good sacrifice.

    We will sacrifice a lamb that the priests have blessed.

First citizen:
    Master, you are not wroth with us?

    Who may say what cloudy dooms are rolling up in the
    mind of the eldest of the gods?  He is not common god
    like us.  Once a shepherd went by him in the mountains
    and doubted.  He sent a doom after that shepherd.

    Master, we have not doubted.

    And the doom found him on the hills at evening.

Second citizen:
    It shall be a good sacrifice, master.

    {Reenter with a dead lamb and fruits.  They offer the
    lamb on an altar where there is fire, and fruits before
    the altar.}

Thahn: {stretching out a hand to a lamb upon an altar}
    That leg is not being cooked at all.

    It is strange that gods should be thus anxious about
    the cooking of a leg of lamb.

    It is strange certainly.

    Almost I had said that it was a man that spoke then.

Oorander: {stroking his beard and regarding the second
    Strange.   Strange, certainly.

    Is it then strange that the gods love roasted flesh?
    For this purpose they keep the lightning.  When the
    lightning flickers about the limbs of men there comes
    to the gods of Marma a pleasant smell, even a smell of
    roasting.  Sometimes the gods, being pacific, are
    pleased to have roasted instead the flesh of lamb.  It
    is all one to the gods; let the roasting stop.

    No, no, gods of the mountains!

    No, no.

    Quick, let us offer flesh to them.  If they eat, all is
    {They offer it; the beggars eat, all but Agmar, who

    One who was ignorant, one who did not know, had almost
    said that they ate like hungry men.


    Yet they look as though they had not had a meal like
    this for a long time.

    They have a hungry look.

Agmar: {who has not eaten}
    I have not eaten since the world was very new and the
    flesh of men was tenderer than now.  These younger gods
    have learned the habit of eating from the lions.

    O oldest of divinities, partake, partake.

    It is not fitting that such as I should eat.  None eat
    but beasts and men and the younger gods.  The sun and
    the moon and the nimble lightning and I -- we may kill
    and we may madden, but we do not eat.

    If he but eat of our offering he cannot overwhelm us.

    Oh, ancient deity, partake, partake.

    Enough.  Let it be enough that these have condescended
    to this bestial and human habit.

Illanaun: {to Akmos}
    And yet he is not unlike a beggar whom I saw not so
    long since.

    But beggars eat.

    Now I never knew a beggar yet who would refuse a bowl
    of Woldery wine.

    This is no beggar.

    Nevertheless let us offer him a bowl of Woldery wine.

    You do wrong to doubt him.

    I do but wish to prove his divinity.  I will fetch the
    Woldery wine.  {Exit}

    He will not drink.  Yet if he does, then he will not
    overwhelm us.  Let us offer him the wine.
    {Reenter Illanaun with a goblet.}

First beggar:
    It is Woldery wine!

Second beggar:
    It is Woldery!

Third beggar:
    A goblet of Woldery wine!

Fourth beggar:
    O blessed day!

    O happy times!

    O my wise master!
    {Illanaun takes the goblet.  All the beggars stretch
    out their hands including Agmar.  Illanaun gives it to
    Agmar.  Agmar takes it solemnly, and very carefully
    pours it out on the ground.}

First beggar:
    He has spilt it.

Second beggar:
    He has spilt it.  {Agmar sniffs the fumes, loquitur}

    It is a fitting libation.  Our anger is somewhat

Another beggar:
    But it was Woldery!

Akmos: {kneeling to Agmar}
    Master, I am childless, and I --

    Trouble us not now.  It is the hour at which the gods
    are accustomed to speak to the gods in the language of
    the gods, and if Man heard us he would guess the
    futility of his destiny, which were not well for Man.
    Begone!  Begone!

One lingers {loquitur}
    Master --

    {Exeunt.  Agmar takes up a piece of meat and begins to
    eat it; the beggars rise and stretch themselves; they
    laugh, but Agmar eats hungrily.}

    Ah!  Now we have come into our own.

    Now we have alms.

    Master!  My wise master!

    These are the good days, the good days; and yet I have
    a fear.

    What do you fear?  There is nothing to fear.  No man is
    as wise as my master.

    I fear the gods whom we pretend to be.

    The gods?

Agmar: {taking a chunk of meat from his lips}
    Come hither, Slag.

Slag: {going up to him}
    Yes, master.

    Watch in the doorway while I eat.  {Slag goes to the
    doorway}  Sit in the attitude of a god.  Warn me if any
    of the citizens approach.
    {Slag sits in the doorway in the attitude of a god,
    back to the audience.

Oogno: {to Agmar}
    But, master, shall we not have Woldery wine?

    We shall have all things if only we are wise at first
    for a little.

    Master, do any suspect us?

    We must be *very* wise.

    But if we are not wise, master?

    Why, then death may come to us --

    O master!

    -- slowly.
    {All stir uneasily except Slag, who sits motionless in
    the doorway.}

    Do they believe us, master?

Slag: {half turning his head}
    Someone comes.
    {Slag resumes his position.}

Agmar: {putting away his meat}
    We shall soon know now.
    {All take up the attitude.  Enter One, loquitur.}

    Master, I want the god that does not eat.

    I am he.

    Master, my child was bitten in the throat by a
    death-adder at noon.  Spare him, master; he still
    breathes, but slowly.

    Is he indeed your child?

    He is surely my child, master.

    Was it your wont to thwart him at his play, while he
    was strong and well?

    I never thwarted him, master.

    Whose child is Death?

    Death is the child of the gods.

    Do you that never thwarted your child in his play ask
    this of the gods?

One: {with some horror, perceiving Agmar's meaning}

    Weep not.  For all the houses that men have builded are
    the play-fields of this child of the gods.

    {The Man goes away in silence, not weeping.}

Oogno: {taking Thahn by the wrist}
    Is this indeed a man?

    A man, a man, and until just now a hungry one.


                       The Third Act

{Same room.
A few days have elapsed.
Seven thrones shaped like mountain-crags stand along the
back of the stage.  On these the beggars are lounging.  The
Thief is absent.}

    Never had beggars such a time.

    Ah, the fruits and tender lamb!

    The Woldery wine!

    It was better to see my master's wise devices than to
    have fruit and lamb and Woldery wine.

    Ah!  When they spied on him to see if he would eat when
    they went away!

    When they questioned him concerning the gods and Man!

    When they asked him why the gods permitted cancer!

    Ah, my wise master!

    How well his scheme has succeeded!

    How far away is hunger!

    It is even like to one of last year's dreams, the
    trouble of a brief night long ago.
Oogno: {laughing}
    Ho, ho, ho!  To see them pray to us.

    When we were beggars did we not speak as beggars?  Did
    we not whine as they?  Was not our mien beggarly?

    We were the pride of our calling.

    Then now that we are gods, let us be as gods, and not
    mock our worshippers.

    I think that the gods *do* mock their worshippers.

    The gods have never mocked us.  We are above all
    pinnacles that we have ever gazed at in dreams.

    I think that when man is high then most of all are the
    gods wont to mock him.

Thief: {entering}
    Master!  I have been with those that know all and see
    all.  I have been with the thieves, master.  They know
    me for one of the craft, but they do not know me as
    being one of us.

    Well, well!

    There is danger, master, there is great danger.

    You mean that they suspect we are men.

    That they have long done, master.  I mean that they
    will know it.  Then we are lost.

    Then they do not know it.

    They do not know it yet, but they will know it, and we
    are lost.

    When will they know it?

    Three days ago they suspected us.

    More than you think suspected us, but have any dared to
    say so?
    No, master.

    Then forget your fears, my thief.

    Two men went on dromedaries three days ago to see if
    the gods were still at Marma.

    They went to Marma!
    Yes, three days ago.
    We are lost!

    They went three days ago?

    Yes, on dromedaries.

    Then they should be back to-day.
    We are lost!

    We are lost!

    They must have seen the green jade idols sitting
    against the mountains.  They will say, "The gods are
    still at Marma."  And we shall be burnt.

    My master will yet devise a plan.

Agmar: {to the Thief}
    Slip away to some high place and look toward the desert
    and see how long we have to devise a plan.

    My master will find a plan.

    He has taken us into a trap.

    His wisdom is our doom.

    He will find a wise plan yet.

Thief: {reentering}
    It is too late!
    It is too late!

    The dromedary men are here.

    We are lost!

    Be quiet!  I must think.
    {They all sit still.  Citizens enter and prostrate
    themselves.  Agmar sits deep in thought.}
Illanaun: {to Agmar}
    Two holy pilgrims have gone to your sacred shrines,
    wherein you were wont to sit before you left the
    mountains.  {Agmar says nothing}  They return even now.

    They left us here and went to find the gods?  A fish
    once took a journey into a far country to find the sea.

    Most reverend deity, their piety is so great that they
    have gone to worship even your shrines.
    I know these men that have great piety.  Such men have
    often prayed to me before, but their prayers are not
    acceptable.  They little love the gods; their only care
    is their piety.  I know these pious ones.  They will
    say that the seven gods were still at Marma.  They will
    lie and say that we were still at Marma.  So shall they
    seem more pious than you all, pretending that they
    alone have seen the gods.  Fools shall believe them and
    share in their damnation.

Oorander: {to Illanaun}
    Hush!  You anger the gods.
    I am not sure who I anger.

    It may be they are the gods.
    Where are these men from Marma?

    Here are the dromedary men; they are coming now.

Illanaun: {to Agmar}
    The holy pilgrims from your shrine are come to worship

    The men are doubters.  How the gods hate the word!
    Doubt ever contaminated virtue.  Let them be cast into
    prison and not besmirch your purity.  {Rising}  Let
    them not enter here.

    But oh, most reverend deity from the Mountain, we also
    doubt, most reverend deity.

    You have chosen.  You have chosen.  And yet it is not
    too late.  Repent and cast these men into prison and it
    may not be too late.  *The gods have never wept.*  And
    yet when they think upon damnation and the dooms that
    are withering a myriad bones, then almost, were they
    not divine, they could weep.  Be quick!  Repent of your
    {Enter the Dromedary Men.}

    Most reverend deity, it is a mighty doubt.

    *Nothing has killed him!  They are not the gods!*

Slag: {to Agmar}
    You have a plan, my master.  You have a plan.

    Not yet, Slag.

Illanaun: {to Oorander}
    These are the men that went to the shrines at Marma.

Oorander: {in a loud, clear voice}
    Were the Gods of the Mountain seated still at Marma, or
    were they not there?
    {The beggars get hurriedly up from their thrones.}

Dromedary Man:
    They were not there.
    They were not there?

Dromedary Man:
    Their shrines were empty.
    Behold the Gods of the Mountain!

    They have indeed come from Marma.

    Come.  Let us go away to prepare a sacrifice.  A mighty
    sacrifice to atone for our doubting.  {Exeunt.}

    My most wise master!

    No, no, Slag.  I do not know what has befallen.  When I
    went by Marma only two weeks ago the idols of green
    jade were still seated there.

    We are saved now.

    Ay, we are saved.

    We are saved, but I know not how.

    Never had beggars such a time.

    I will go out and watch.  {He creeps out.}
    Yet I have a fear.

    A fear?  Why, we are saved.

    Last night I dreamed.
    What was your dream?

    It was nothing.  I dreamed that I was thirsty and one
    gave me Woldery wine; yet there was a fear in my dream.

    When I drink Woldery I am afraid of nothing.
Thief: {reentering}
    They are making a pleasant banquet ready for us; they
    are killing lambs, and girls are there with fruits, and
    there is to be much Woldery wine.

    Never had beggars such a time.

    Do any doubt us now?

    I do not know.

    When will the banquet be?

    When the stars come out.

    Ah!  It is sunset already.  There will be good eating.
    We shall see the girls come in with baskets upon their
    There will be fruits in the baskets.

    All the fruits of the valley.

    Oh, how long we have wandered along the ways of the
    Oh, how hard they were!

    And how dusty!

    And how little wine!

    How long have we asked and asked, and for how much!

    We to whom all things are coming at last!

    I fear lest my art forsake me now that good things come
    without stealing.

    You will need your art no longer.

    The wisdom of my master shall suffice us all our days.
    {Enter a frightened Man.  He kneels before Agmar and
    abases his forehead.}

    Master, we implore you, the people beseech you.
    {Agmar and the beggars in the attitude of the gods sit
    Master, it is terrible.  {The beggars maintain
    silence.}  It is terrible when you wander in the
    evening.  It is terrible on the edge of the desert in
    the evening.  Children die when they see you.
    In the desert?  When did you see us?

    Last night, master.  You were terrible last night.  You
    were terrible in the gloaming.  When your hands were
    stretched out and groping.  You were feeling for the

    Last night do you say?
    You were terrible in the gloaming!

    You yourself saw us?

    Yes, master, you were terrible.  Children too saw you
    and they died.
    You say you saw us?
    Yes, master.  Not as you are now, but otherwise.  We
    implore you, master, not to wander at evening.  You are
    terrible in the gloaming.  You are --

    You say we appeared not as we now are.  How did we
    appear to you?

    Otherwise, master, otherwise.

    But how did we appear to you?
    You were all green, master, all green in the gloaming,
    all of rock again as you used to be in the mountains.
    Master, we can bear to see you in flesh like men, but
    when we see rock walking it is terrible,
    it is terrible.
    That is how we appeared to you?
    Yes, master.  Rock should not walk.  When children see
    it they do not understand.  Rock should not walk in the
    There have been doubters of late.  Are they satisfied?

    Master, they are terrified.  Spare us, master.

    It is wrong to doubt.  Go and be faithful.
    {Exit Man.}

    What have they seen, master?

    They have seen their own fears dancing in the desert.
    They have seen something green after the light was
    gone, and some child has told them a tale that it was
    us.  I do not know what they have seen.  What should
    they have seen?

    Something was coming this way from the desert, he said.

    What should come from the desert?

    They are a foolish people.

    That man's white face has seen some frightful thing.

    It is only we that have frightened them and their fears
    have made them foolish.
    {Enter an Attendant with a torch or lantern which he
    places in a receptacle.  Exit.}
    Now we shall see the faces of the girls when they come
    to the banquet.

    Never had beggars such a time.
    Hark!  They are coming.  I hear footsteps.

    The dancing girls!  They are coming!

    There is no sound of flutes, they said they would come
    with music.
    What heavy boots they have; they sound like feet of

    I do not like to hear their heavy tread.  Those that
    would dance to *us* must be light of foot.
    I shall not smile at them if they are not airy.
    They are coming very slowly.  They should come nimbly
    to us.
Ulf: {in a loud voice, almost chanting}
    I have a fear, an old fear and a boding.  We have done
    ill in the sight of the seven gods.  Beggars we were
    and beggars we should have remained.  We have given up
    our calling and come in sight of our doom.  I will not
    longer let my fear be silent; it shall run about and
    cry; it shall go from me crying, like a dog from a
    doomed city; for my fear has seen calamity and has
    known an evil thing.
Slag: {hoarsely}
Agmar: {rising}
    Come, come!
    {They listen.  No one speaks.  The stony boots come
    on.  Enter in single file through door in right of
    back, a procession of seven green men, even hands and
    faces are green; they wear greenstone sandals; they
    walk with knees extremely wide apart, as having sat
    cross-legged for centuries; their right arms and right
    forefingers point upward, right elbows resting on right
    hands; they stoop grotesquely.  Halfway to the
    footlights they left wheel.  They pass in front of the
    seven beggars, now in terrified attitudes, and six of
    them sit down in the attitude described, with their
    backs to the audience.  The leader stands, still
Oogno: {cries out just as they wheel left}
    The Gods of the Mountain!
Agmar: {hoarsely}
    Be still!  They are dazzled by the light.  They may not
    see us.
    {The leading Green Thing points his finger at the
    lantern -- the flame turns green.  When the six are
    seated the leader points one by one at each of the
    seven beggars, shooting out his forefinger at them.  As
    he does this each beggar in his turn gathers himself
    back on to his throne and crosses his legs, his right
    arm goes stiffly upward with forefinger erect, and a
    staring look of horror comes into his eyes.  In this
    attitude the beggars sit motionless while a green light
    falls upon their faces.  The gods go out.
    Presently enter the Citizens, some with victuals and
    fruit.  One touches a beggars arm and then another's.}
    They are cold; they have turned to stone.
    {All abase themselves, foreheads to the floor.}
    We have doubted them.   We have doubted them.   They
    have turned to stone because we have doubted them.
    They were the true gods.
    They were the true gods.

                      The Golden Doom
                      by Lord Dunsany


                     The King
                     Chief Prophet
                     First Prophet
                     Second Prophet
                     First Sentry
                     Second Sentry

         Scene: Outside the King's great door in Zericon.
         Time: Some while before the fall of Babylon.

{Two Sentries pace to and fro, then halt, one on each side
of the great door.}

First Sentry:
    The day is deadly sultry.
Second Sentry:
    I would that I were swimming down the Gyshon, on the
    cool side, under the fruit trees.

First Sentry:
    It is like to thunder or the fall of a dynasty.

Second Sentry:
    It will grow cool by night-fall.  Where is the King?

First Sentry:
    He rows in his golden barge with ambassadors or
    whispers with captains concerning future wars.  The
    stars spare him!
Second Sentry:
    Why do you say "the stars spare him"?

First Sentry:
    Because if a doom from the stars fall suddenly on a
    king it swallows up his people and all things round
    about him, and his palace falls and the walls of his
    city and citadel, and the apes come in from the woods
    and the large beasts from the desert, so that you would
    not say that a king had been there at all.

Second Sentry:
    But why should a doom from the stars fall on the King?

First Sentry:
    Because he seldom placates them.

Second Sentry:
    Ah!  I have heard that said of him.

First Sentry:
    Who are the stars that a man should scorn them?  Should
    they that rule the thunder, the plague and the
    earthquake withhold these things save for much prayer?
    Always ambassadors are with the King, and his
    commanders, come in from distant lands, prefects of
    cities and makers of the laws, but never the priests of
    the stars.

Second Sentry:
    Hark!  Was that thunder?

First Sentry:
    Believe me, the stars are angry.

    {Enter a Stranger.  He wanders towards the King's door,
    gazing about him.}

Sentries: {lifting their spears at him}
    Go back!  Go back!


First Sentry:
    It is death to touch the King's door.

    I am a stranger from Thessaly.

First Sentry:
    It is death even for a stranger.

    Your door is strangely sacred.

First Sentry:
    It is death to touch it.

    {The Stranger wanders off.}

    {Enter two children hand in hand.}

Boy: {to the Sentry}
    I want to see the King to pray for a hoop.
    {The Sentry smiles.}
Boy: {pushes the door; to girl}
    I cannot open it.  {To the Sentry}  Will it do as well
    if I pray to the King's door?

    Yes, quite as well.  {Turns to talk to the other
    Sentry}  Is there anyone in sight?

Second Sentry: {shading his eyes}
    Nothing but a dog, and he far out on the plain.

First Sentry:
    Then we can talk awhile and eat bash.

    King's door, I want a little hoop.

    {The Sentries take a little bash between finger and
    thumb from pouches and put that wholly forgotten drug
    to their lips.}

Girl: {pointing}
    My father is a taller soldier than that.

    My father can write.  He taught me.

    Ho!  Writing frightens nobody.  My father is a soldier.

    I have a lump of gold.  I found it in stream that runs
    down to Gyshon.

    I have a poem.  I found it in my own head.

    Is it a long poem?

    No.  But it would have been only there were no more
    rhymes for sky.

    What is your poem?

            I saw a purple bird
              Go up against the sky
            And it went up and up
              And round about did fly.

    I saw it die.

    That does n't scan.

    Oh, that does n't matter.

    Do you like my poem?

    Birds are n't purple.

    My bird was.


    Oh, you don't like my poem!

    Yes, I do.

    No, you don't; you think it horrid.
    No.  I don't.

    Yes, you do.  Why did n't you say you liked it?  It is
    the only poem I ever made.

    I do like it.  I do like it.

    You don't, you don't!
    Don't be angry.  I'll write it on the door for you.

    You'll write it?

    Yes, I can write.  My father taught me.  I'll write it
    with my lump of gold.  It makes a yellow mark on the
    iron door.

    Oh, do write it!  I would like to see it written like
    real poetry.
    {The Boy begins to write.  The Girl watches.}

First Sentry:
    You see, we'll be fighting again soon.

Second Sentry:
    Only a little war.  We never have more than a little
    war with the hill-folk.

First Sentry:
    When a man goes to fight, the curtains of the gods wax
    thicker than ever before between his eyes and the
    future; he may go to a great or to a little war.

Second Sentry:
    There can only be a little war with the hill-folk.

First Sentry:
    Yet sometimes the gods laugh.

Second Sentry:
    At whom?

First Sentry:
    At kings.

Second Sentry:
    Why have you grown uneasy about this war in the hills?

First Sentry:
    Because the King is powerful beyond any of his fathers,
    and has more fighting men, more horses, and wealth that
    could have ransomed his father and his grandfather and
    dowered their queens and daughters; and every year his
    miners bring him more from the opal-mines and from the
    turquoise-quarries.  He has grown very mighty.

Second Sentry:
    Then he will the more easily crush the hill-folk in a
    little war.

First Sentry:
    When kings grow very mighty the stars grow very

    I've written your poem.

    Oh, have you really?

    Yes, I'll read it to you.  {He reads}
            I saw a purple bird
              Go up against the sky
            And it went up and up
              And round about did fly.
                I saw it die.

    It does n't scan.

    That does n't matter.
    {Enter furtively a Spy, who crosses stage and goes
    out.  The Sentries cease to talk.}

    That man frightens me.

    He is only one of the King's spies.

    But I don't like the King's spies.  They frighten me.

    Come on, then, we'll run away.

Sentry: {noticing the children again}
    Go away, go away!  The King is coming, he will eat you.
    {The Boy throws a stone at the Sentry and runs out.
    Enter another Spy, who notices the door.  He examines
    it and utters an owl-like whistle.  No. 2 comes back.
    They do not speak.  Both whistle.  No. 3 comes.  All
    examine the door.  Enter the King and his Chamberlain.
    The King wears a purple robe.  The Sentries smartly
    transfer their spears to their left hands and return
    their right arms to their right sides.  They then lower
    their spears until their points are within an inch of
    the ground, at the same time raising their right hands
    above their heads.  They stand for some moments thus.
    Then they lower their right arms to their right sides,
    at the same time raising their spears.  In the next
    motion they take their spears into their right hands
    and lower the butts to the floor, where they were
    before, the spears slanting forward a little.  Both
    Sentries must move together precisely.}

First Spy: {runs forward to the King and kneels, abasing his
    forehead to the floor}   Something has written on the
    iron door.

    On the iron door!

    Some fool has done it.  Who has been here since

First Sentry: {shifts his hand a little higher on his spear,
    brings the spear to his side and closes his heels all
    in one motion; he then takes one pace backward with his
    right foot; then he kneels on his right knee; when he
    has done these he speaks, but not before}
    Nobody, Majesty, but a stranger from Thessaly.

    Did he touch the iron door?

First Sentry:
    No, Majesty; he tried to, but we drove him away.

    How near did he come?

First Sentry:
    Nearly to our spears, Majesty.

    What was his motive in seeking to touch the iron door?
First Sentry:
    I do not know, Majesty.

    Which way did he go?

First Sentry: {pointing left}
    That way, Majesty, an hour ago.

    {The King whispers with one of his Spies, who stoops
    and examines the ground and steals away.  The Sentry

King: {to his two remaining Spies}
    What does this writing say?

A Spy:
    We cannot read, Majesty.

    A good spy should know everything.

Second Spy:
    We watch, Majesty, and we search out, Majesty.  We read
    shadows, and we read footprints, and whispers in secret
    places.  But we do not read writing.

King: {to the Chamberlain}
    See what it is.

Chamberlain: {goes up and reads}
    It is treason, Majesty.

    Read it.

            I saw a purple bird
              Go up against the sky
            And it went up and up
              And round about did fly.
                I saw it die.

First Sentry: {aside}
    The stars have spoken.

King: {to the Sentry}
    Has anyone been here but the stranger from Thessaly?

Sentry: {kneeling as before}
    Nobody, Majesty.

    You saw nothing?

First Sentry:
    Nothing but a dog far out upon the plain and the
    children of the guard at play.

King: {to the Second Sentry}
    And you?

Second Sentry: {kneeling}
    Nothing, Majesty.

    That is strange.

    It is some secret warning.

    It is treason.

    It is from the stars.

    No, no, Majesty.  Not from the stars, not from the
    stars.  Some man has done it.  Yet the thing should be
    interpreted.  Shall I send for the prophets of the

    {The King beckons to his Spies.  They run up to him.}

    Find me some prophet of the stars.  {Exeunt Spies}  I
    fear that we may go no more, my chamberlain, along the
    winding ways of unequalled Zericon, nor play dahoori
    with the golden balls.  I have thought more of my
    people than of the stars and more of Zericon than of
    windy Heaven.

    Believe me, Majesty, some idle man has written it and
    passed by.  Your spies shall find him, and then his
    name will be soon forgotten.

    Yes, yes.  Perhaps you are right, though the sentries
    saw no one.  No doubt some beggar did it.

    Yes, Majesty, some beggar has surely done it.  But
    look, here come two prophets of the stars.  They shall
    tell us that this is idle.
    {Enter two Prophets and a Boy attending them.  All bow
    deeply to the King.  The two Spies steal in again and
    stand at back.}

    Some beggar has written a rhyme on the iron gate, and
    as the ways of rhyme are known to you I desired you,
    rather as poets than as prophets, to say whether there
    was any meaning in it.

    'T is but an idle rhyme.

First Prophet: {bows again and goes up to the door.  He
    glances at the writing}  Come hither, servant of those
    that serve the stars.
    {Attendant approaches.}

First Prophet:
    Bring hither our golden cloaks, for this may be a
    matter for rejoicing; and bring our green cloaks also,
    for this may tell of young new beautiful things with
    which the stars will one day gladden the King; and
    bring our black cloaks also, for it may be a doom.
    {Exit the Boy; the Prophet goes up to the door and
    reads solemnly}  The stars have spoken.

    I tell you that some beggar has written this.

First Prophet:
    It is written in pure gold.  {He dons the black cloak
    over body and head}

    What do the stars mean?  What warning is it?

First Prophet:
    I cannot say.

King: {to Second Prophet}
    Come you then and tell us what the warning is.

Second Prophet:
    The stars have spoken.  {He cloaks himself in black}

    What is it?  What does it mean?

Second Prophet:
    We do not know, but it is from the stars.

    It is a harmless thing; there is no harm in it,
    Majesty.  Why should not birds die?

    Why have the prophets covered themselves in black?

    They are a secret people and look for inner meanings.
    There is no harm in it.

    They have covered themselves in black.

    They have not spoken of any evil thing.  They have not
    spoken of it.

    If the people see the prophets covered in black they
    will say that the stars are against me and believe that
    my luck has turned.

    The people must not know.

    Some prophet must interpret to us the doom.  Let the
    chief prophet of the stars be sent for.

Chamberlain: {going toward left exit}
    Summon the chief prophet of the stars that look on

Voices off:
    The chief prophet of the stars.  The chief prophet of
    the stars.  

    I have summoned the chief prophet, Majesty.

    If he interpret this aright I will put a necklace of
    turquoises round his neck with opals from the mines.

    He will not fail.  He is a very cunning interpreter.

    What if he covers himself with a huge black cloak and
    does not speak and goes muttering away, slowly with
    bended head, till our fear spreads to the sentries and
    they cry aloud?

    This is no doom from the stars, but some idle scribe
    hath written it in his insolence upon the iron door,
    wasting his hoard of gold.

    Not for myself I have a fear of doom, not for myself;
    but I have inherited a rocky land, windy and
    ill-nurtured, and nursed it to prosperity by years of
    peace and spread its boundaries by years of war.  I
    have brought up harvests out of barren acres and given
    good laws unto naughty towns, and my people are happy,
    and lo, the stars are angry!

    It is not the stars, it is not the stars, Majesty, for
    the prophets of the stars have not interpreted it.
    Indeed, it was some reveller wasting his gold.
    {Meanwhile enter Chief Prophet of the stars that look
    on Zericon.}

    Chief Prophet of the stars that look on Zericon, I
    would have you interpret the rhyme upon yonder door.

Chief Prophet: {goes up to door and reads}
    It is from the stars.

    Interpret it and you shall have great turquoises round
    your neck, with opals from the mines in the frozen

Chief Prophet: {cloaks himself like the others in a great
    black cloak}   Who should wear purple in the land but a
    King, or who should go up against the sky but one who
    has troubled the stars by neglecting their ancient
    worship?  Such a one has gone up and up increasing in
    power and wealth, such a one has soared above the
    crowns of those that went before him, such a one the
    stars have doomed, the undying ones, the illustrious.

    {A pause.}

    Who wrote it?

Chief Prophet:
    It is pure gold.  Some god has written it.

    Some god?

First Sentry: {aside to Second Sentry}
    Last night I saw a star go flaming earthward.

    Is this a warning or is it a doom?

Chief Prophet:
    The stars have spoken.

    Is it, then, a doom?

Chief Prophet:
    They speak not in jest.

    I have been a great King -- Let it be said of me "The
    stars overthrew him, and they sent a god for his
    doom."  For I have not met my equal among kings that
    man should overthrow me; and I have not oppressed my
    people that man should rise up against me.

Chief Prophet:
    It is better to give worship to the stars than to do
    good to man.  It is better to be humble before the gods
    than proud in the face of your enemy though he do evil.

    Let the stars hearken yet and I will sacrifice a child
    to them -- I will sacrifice a girl child to the
    twinkling stars and a male child to the stars that
    blink not, the stars of the steadfast eyes.  {To his
    Spies}  Let a boy and a girl be brought for sacrifice.
    {Exit a Spy to the right looking at footprints.}  Will
    you accept this sacrifice to the god that the stars
    have sent?  They say that the gods love children.

Chief Prophet:
    I may refuse no sacrifice to the stars nor to the gods
    whom they send.  {To the other Prophets}  Make ready
    the sacrificial knives.
    {The Prophets draw knives and sharpen them.}

    Is it fitting that the sacrifice take place by the iron
    door where the god from the stars has trod, or must it
    be in the temple?
Chief Prophet:
    Let it be offered by the iron door.  {To the other
    Prophets}  Fetch hither the altar stone.
    {The owl-like whistle is heard off right.  The Third
    Spy runs crouching toward it.  Exit.}

    Will this sacrifice avail to avert the doom?

Chief Prophet:
    Who knows?

    I fear that even yet the doom will fall.

Chief Prophet:
    It were wise to sacrifice some greater thing.

    What more can a man offer?

Chief Prophet:
    His pride.

    What pride?

Chief Prophet:
    Your pride that went up against the sky and troubled
    the stars.

    How shall I sacrifice my pride to the stars?

Chief Prophet:
    It is upon your pride that the doom will fall, and will
    take away your crown and will take away your kingdom.

    I will sacrifice my crown and reign uncrowned among
    you, so only I save my kingdom.

Chief Prophet:
    If you sacrifice your crown which is your pride, and if
    the stars accept it, perhaps the god that they went may
    avert the doom and you may still reign in your kingdom
    though humbled and uncrowned.

    Shall I burn my crown with spices and with incense or
    cast it into the sea?

Chief Prophet:
    Let it be laid here by the iron door where the god came
    who wrote the golden doom.  When he comes again by
    night to shrivel up the city or to pour an enemy in
    through the iron door, he will see your cast-off pride
    and perhaps accept it and take it away to the neglected

King: {to the Chamberlain}
    Go after my spies and say that I make no sacrifice.
    {Exit the Chamberlain; the King takes off his crown}
    Good-bye, my brittle glory; kings have sought you, the
    stars have envied you.  {The stage grows darker}

Chief Prophet:
    Even now the sun has set who denies the stars, and the
    day is departed wherein no gods walk abroad.  It is
    near the hour when spirits roam the earth and all
    things that go unseen, and the faces of the abiding
    stars will be soon revealed to the fields.  Lay your
    crown there and let us come away.

The Sentries: {kneeling}
    Yes, Majesty.
    {They remain kneeling until after the King has gone.
    King and the Chief Prophet walk away.}

Chief Prophet:
    It was your pride.  Let it be forgotten.  May the stars
    accept it.  {Exeunt left}

    {The Sentries rise}

First Sentry:
    The stars have envied him!

Second Sentry:
    It is an ancient crown.  He wore it well.

First Sentry:
    May the stars accept it.

Second Sentry:
    If they do not accept it what doom will overtake us?

First Sentry:
    It will suddenly be as though there were never any city
    of Zericon nor two sentries like you and me standing
    before the door.

Second Sentry:
    Why!  How do you know?

First Sentry:
    That is ever the way of the gods.

Second Sentry:
    But it is unjust.

First Sentry:
    How should the gods know that?

Second Sentry:
    Will it happen to-night?

First Sentry:
    Come! we must march away.  {Exeunt right}

    {The stage grows increasingly darker.  Reenter the
    Chamberlain from the right.  He walks across the Stage
    and goes out to the left.  Reenter Spies from the
    right.  They cross the stage, which is now nearly

Boy: {enters from the right, dressed in white, his hands out
    a little, crying}  King's door, King's door, I want my
    little hoop.  {He goes up to the King's door.  When he
    sees the King's crown there, he utters a satisfied}
    O-oh!  {He takes it up, puts it on the ground, and,
    beating it before him with the sceptre, goes out by the
    way that he entered.}

    {The great door opens; there is light within; a furtive
    Spy slips out and sees that the crown is gone.  Another
    Spy slips out.  Their crouching heads come close
First Spy: {hoarse whisper}
    The gods have come!
    {They run back through the door and the door is
    closed.  It opens again and the King and the
    Chamberlain come through.}

    The stars are satisfied.


                      The Hashish Man

                      by Lord Dunsany

I was at a dinner in London the other day.  The ladies had
gone upstairs, and no one sat on my right; on my left there
was a man I did not know, but he knew my name somehow
apparently, for he turned to me after a while, and said, "I
read a story of yours about Bethmoora in a review."
  Of course I remembered the tale.  It was about a
beautiful Oriental city that was suddenly deserted in a day
-- nobody quite knew why.  I said, "Oh, yes," and slowly
searched in my mind for some more fitting acknowledgment of
the compliment that his memory had paid me.
  I was greatly astonished when he said, "You were wrong
about the gnousar sickness; it was not that at all."
  I said, "Why!  Have you been there?"
  And he said, "Yes; I do it with hashish.  I know
Bethmoora well."  And he took out of his pocket a small box
full of some black stuff that looked like tar, but had a
stranger smell.  He warned me not to touch it with my
finger, as the stain remained for days.  "I got it from a
gipsy," he said.  "He had a lot of it, as it had killed his
father."  But I interrupted him, for I wanted to know for
certain what it was that had made desolate that beautiful
city, Bethmoora, and why they fled from it swiftly in a
day.  "Was it because of the Desert's curse?" I asked.  And
he said, "Partly it was the fury of the Desert and partly
the advice of the Emperor Thuba Mleen, for that fearful
beast is in some way connected with the Desert on his
mother's side."  And he told me this strange story: "You
remember the sailor with the black scar, who was there on
the day that you described when the messengers came on mules
to the gate of Bethmoora, and all the people fled.  I met
this man in a tavern, drinking rum, and he told me all about
the flight from Bethmoora, but knew no more than you did
what the message was, or who had sent it.  However, he said
he would see Bethmoora once more whenever he touched again
at an eastern port, even if he had to face the Devil.  He
often said that he would face the Devil to find out the
mystery of that message that emptied Bethmoora in a day.
And in the end he had to face Thuba Mleen, whose weak
ferocity he had not imagined.  For one day the sailor told
me he had found a ship, and I met him no more after that in
the tavern drinking rum.  It was about that time that I got
the hashish from the gipsy, who had a quantity that he did
not want.  It takes one literally out of oneself.  It is
like wings.  You swoop over distant countries and into other
worlds.  Once I found out the secret of the universe.  I
have forgotten what it was, but I know that the Creator does
not take Creation seriously, for I remember that He sat in
Space with all His work in front of Him and laughed.  I have
seen incredible things in fearful worlds.  As it is your
imagination that takes you there, so it is only by your
imagination that you can get back.  Once out in aether I met
a battered, prowling spirit, that had belonged to a man whom
drugs had killed a hundred years ago; and he led me to
regions that I had never imagined; and we parted in anger
beyond the Pleiades, and I could not imagine my way back.
And I met a huge grey shape that was the Spirit of some
great people, perhaps of a whole star, and I besought It to
show me my way home, and It halted beside me like a sudden
wind and pointed, and, speaking quite softly, asked me if I
discerned a certain tiny light, and I saw a far star
faintly, and then It said to me, `That is the Solar System,'
and strode tremendously on.  And somehow I imagined my way
back, and only just in time, for my body was already
stiffening in a chair in my room; and the fire had gone out
and everything was cold, and I had to move each finger one
by one, and there were pins and needles in them, and
dreadful pains in the nails, which began to thaw; and at
last I could move one arm, and reached a bell, and for a
long time no one came, because every one was in bed.  But at
last a man appeared, and they got a doctor; and HE said that
it was hashish poisoning, but it would have been all right
if I hadn't met that battered, prowling spirit.
  "I could tell you astounding things that I have seen, but
you want to know who sent that message to Bethmoora.  Well,
it was Thuba Mleen.  And this is how I know.  I often went
to the city after that day you wrote of (I used to take
hashish of an evening in my flat), and I always found it
uninhabited.  Sand had poured into it from the desert, and
the streets were yellow and smooth, and through open,
swinging doors the sand had drifted.
  "One evening I had put the guard in front of the fire,
and settled into a chair and eaten my hashish, and the first
thing that I saw when I came to Bethmoora was the sailor
with the black scar, strolling down the street, and making
footprints in the yellow sand.  And now I knew that I should
see what secret power it was that kept Bethmoora
  "I saw that there was anger in the Desert, for there were
storm clouds heaving along the skyline, and I heard a
muttering amongst the sand.
  "The sailor strolled on down the street, looking into the
empty houses as he went; sometimes he shouted and sometimes
he sang, and sometimes he wrote his name on a marble wall.
Then he sat down on a step and ate his dinner.  After a
while he grew tired of the city, and came back up the
street.  As he reached the gate of green copper three men on
camels appeared.
  "I could do nothing.  I was only a consciousness,
invisible, wandering: my body was in Europe.  The sailor
fought well with his fists, but he was over-powered and
bound with ropes, and led away through the Desert.
  "I followed for as long as I could stay, and found that
they were going by the way of the Desert round the Hills of
Hap towards Utnar Vehi, and then I knew that the camel men
belonged to Thuba Mleen.
  "I work in an insurance office all day, and I hope you
won't forget me if ever you want to insure -- life, fire, or
motor -- but that's no part of my story.  I was desperately
anxious to get back to my flat, though it is not good to
take hashish two days running; but I wanted to see what they
would do to the poor fellow, for I had heard bad rumours
about Thuba Mleen.  When at last I got away I had a letter
to write; then I rang for my servant, and told him that I
must not be disturbed, though I left my door unlocked in
case of accidents.  After that I made up a good fire, and
sat down and partook of the pot of dreams.  I was going to
the palace of Thuba Mleen.
  "I was kept back longer than usual by noises in the
street, but suddenly I was up above the town; the European
countries rushed by beneath me, and there appeared the thin
white palace spires of horrible Thuba Mleen.  I found him
presently at the end of a little narrow room.  A curtain of
red leather hung behind him, on which all the names of God,
written in Yannish, were worked with a golden thread.  Three
windows were small and high.  The Emperor seemed no more
than about twenty, and looked small and weak.  No smiles
came on his nasty yellow face, though he tittered
continually.  As I looked from his low forehead to his
quivering under lip, I became aware that there was some
horror about him, though I was not able to perceive what it
was.  And then I saw it -- the man never blinked; and though
later on I watched those eyes for a blink, it never happened
  "And then I followed the Emperor's rapt glance, and I saw
the sailor lying on the floor, alive but hideously rent, and
the royal torturers were at work all round him.  They had
torn long strips from him, but had not detached them, and
they were torturing the ends of them far away from the
sailor."  The man that I met at dinner told me many things
which I must omit.  "The sailor was groaning softly, and
every time he groaned Thuba Mleen tittered.  I had no sense
of smell, but I could hear and see, and I do not know which
was the most revolting -- the terrible condition of the
sailor or the happy unblinking face of horrible Thuba Mleen.
  "I wanted to go away, but the time was not yet come, and
I had to stay where I was.
  "Suddenly the Emperor's face began to twitch violently
and his under lip quivered faster, and he whimpered with
anger, and cried with a shrill voice, in Yannish, to the
captain of his torturers that there was a spirit in the
room.  I feared not, for living men cannot lay hands on a
spirit, but all the torturers were appalled at his anger,
and stopped their work, for their hands trembled in fear.
Then two men of the spear-guard slipped from the room, and
each of them brought back presently a golden bowl, with
knobs on it, full of hashish; and the bowls were large
enough for heads to have floated in had they been filled
with blood.  And the two men fell to rapidly, each eating
with two great spoons -- there was enough in each spoonful
to have given dreams to a hundred men.  And there came upon
them soon the hashish state, and their spirits hovered,
preparing to go free, while I feared horribly, but ever and
anon they fell back again to their bodies, recalled by some
noise in the room.  Still the men ate, but lazily now, and
without ferocity.  At last the great spoons dropped out of
their hands, and their spirits rose and left them.  I could
not flee.  And the spirits were more horrible than the men,
because they were young men, and not yet wholly moulded to
fit their fearful souls.  Still the sailor groaned softly,
evoking little titters from the Emperor Thuba Mleen.  Then
the two spirits rushed at me, and swept me thence as gusts
of wind sweep butterflies, and away we went from that small,
pale, heinous man.  There was no escaping from these
spirits' fierce insistence.  The energy in my minute lump of
the drug was overwhelmed by the huge spoonsful that these
men had eaten with both hands.  I was whirled over Arvle
Woondery, and brought to the lands of Snith, and swept on
still until I came to Kragua, and beyond this to those bleak
lands that are nearly unknown to fancy.  And we came at last
to those ivory hills that are named the Mountains of
Madness, and I tried to struggle against the spirits of that
frightful Emperor's men, for I heard on the other side of
the ivory hills the pittering of those beasts that prey on
the mad, as they prowled up and down.  It was no fault of
mine that my little lump of hashish could not fight with
their horrible spoonsful..."
  Some one was tugging at the hall-door bell.  Presently a
servant came and told our host that a policeman in the hall
wished to speak to him at once.  He apologised to us, and
went outside, and we heard a man in heavy boots, who spoke
in a low voice to him.  My friend got up and walked over to
the window, and opened it, and looked outside.  "I should
think it will be a fine night," he said.  Then he jumped
out.  When we put our astonished heads out of the window to
look for him, he was already out of sight.

                    The Sphinx at Gizeh
                      by Lord Dunsany

I saw the other day the Sphinx's painted face.
  She had painted her face in order to ogle Time.
  And he has spared no other painted face in all the world
but hers.
  Delilah was younger than she, and Delilah is dust.
  Time hath loved nothing but this worthless painted face.
  I do not care that she is ugly, nor that she has painted
her face, so that she only lure his secret from Time.
  Time dallies like a fool at her feet when he should be
smiting cities.
  Time never wearies of her silly smile.
  There are temples all about her that he has forgotten to
  I saw an old man go by, and Time never touched him.
  Time that has carried away the seven gates of Thebes!
  She has tried to bind him with eternal ropes of sand, she
had hoped to oppress him with the Pyramids.
  He lies there in the sand with his foolish hair all
spread about her paws.
  If she ever finds his secret we will put out his eyes, so
that he shall find no more our beautiful things -- there are
lovely gates in Florence that I fear he will carry away.
  We have tried to bind him with song and with old customs,
but they only held him for a little while, and he has always
smitten us and mocked us.
  When he is blind he shall dance to us and make sport.
  Great clumsy time shall stumble and dance, who liked to
kill little children, and can hurt even the daisies no
  Then shall our children laugh at him who slew Babylon's
winged bulls, and smote great numbers of the gods and
fairies -- when he is shorn of his hours and his years.
  We will shut him up in the Pyramid of Cheops, in the
great chamber where the sarcophagus is.  Thence we will lead
him out when we give our feasts.  He shall ripen our corn
for us and do menial work.
  We will kiss thy painted face, O Sphinx, if thou wilt
betray to us Time.
  And yet I fear that in his ultimate anguish he may take
hold blindly of the world and the moon, and slowly pull down
upon him the House of Man.

                 The Three Sailors' Gambit
                      by Lord Dunsany

Sitting some years ago in the ancient tavern at Over, one
afternoon in Spring, I was waiting, as was my custom, for
something strange to happen.  In this I was not always
disappointed for the very curious leaded panes of that
tavern, facing the sea, let a light into the low-ceilinged
room so mysterious, particularly at evening, that it somehow
seemed to affect the events within.  Be that as it may, I
have seen strange things in that tavern and heard stranger
things told.
  And as I sat there three sailors entered the tavern, just
back, as they said, from sea, and come with sunburned skins
from a very long voyage to the South; and one of them had a
board and chessmen under his arm, and they were complaining
that they could find no one who knew how to play chess.
This was the year that the Tournament was in England.  And a
little dark man at a table in a corner of the room, drinking
sugar and water, asked them why they wished to play chess;
and they said they would play any man for a pound.  They
opened their box of chessmen then, a cheap and nasty set,
and the man refused to play with such uncouth pieces, and
the sailors suggested that perhaps he could find better
ones; and in the end he went round to his lodgings near by
and brought his own, and then they sat down to play for a
pound a side.  It was a consultation game on the part of the
sailors, they said that all three must play.
  Well, the little dark man turned out to be Stavlokratz.
  Of course he was fabulously poor, and the sovereign meant
more to him than it did to the sailors, but he didn't seem
keen to play, it was the sailors that insisted; he had made
the badness of the sailors' chessmen an excuse for not
playing at all, but the sailors had over-ruled that, and
then he told them straight out who he was, and the sailors
had never heard of Stavlokratz.
  Well, no more was said after that.  Stavlokratz said no
more, either because he did not wish to boast or because he
was huffed that they did not know who he was.  And I saw no
reason to enlighten the sailors about him; if he took their
pound they had brought it upon themselves, and my boundless
admiration for his genius made me feel that he deserved
whatever might come his way.  He had not asked to play, they
had named the stakes, he had warned them, and gave them the
first move; there was nothing unfair about Stavlokratz.
  I had never seen Stavlokratz before, but I had played
over nearly every one of his games in the World Championship
for the last three or four years; he was always of course
the model chosen by students.  Only young chess-players can
appreciate my delight at seeing him play first hand.
  Well, the sailors used to lower their heads almost as low
as the table and mutter together before every move, but they
muttered so low that you could not hear what they planned.
  They lost three pawns almost straight off, then a knight,
and shortly after a bishop; they were playing in fact the
famous Three Sailors' Gambit.
  Stavlokratz was playing with the easy confidence that
they say was usual with him, when suddenly at about the
thirteenth move I saw him look surprised; he leaned forward
and looked at the board and then at the sailors, but he
learned nothing from their vacant faces; he looked back at
the board again.
  He moved more deliberately after that; the sailors lost
two more pawns, Stavlokratz had lost nothing as yet.  He
looked at me I thought almost irritably, as though something
would happen that he wished I was not there to see.  I
believed at first that he had qualms about taking the
sailors' pound, until it dawned on me that he might lose the
game; I saw that possibility in his face, not on the board,
for the game had become almost incomprehensible to me.  I
cannot describe my astonishment.  And a few moves later
Stavlokratz resigned.
  The sailors showed no more elation than if they had won
some game with greasy cards, playing amongst themselves.
  Stavlokratz asked them where they got their opening.  "We
kind of thought of it," said one.  "It just come into our
heads like," said another.  He asked them questions about
the ports they had touched at.  He evidently thought as I
did myself that they had learned their extraordinary gambit,
perhaps in some old dependancy of Spain, from some young
master of chess whose fame had not reached Europe.  He was
very eager to find out who this man could be, for neither of
us imagined that those sailors had invented it, nor would
anyone who had seen them.  But he got no information from
the sailors.
  Stavlokratz could very ill afford the loss of a pound.
He offered to play them again for the same stakes.  The
sailors began to set up the white pieces.  Stavlokratz
pointed out that it was his turn for the first move.  The
sailors agreed but continued to set up the white pieces and
sat with the white before them waiting for him to move.  It
was a trivial incident, but it revealed to Stavlokratz and
myself that none of these sailors was aware that white
always moves first.
  Stavlokratz played them on his own opening, reasoning of
course that as they had never heard of Stavlokratz they
would not know of his opening; and with probably a very good
hope of getting back his pound he played the fifth variation
with its tricky seventh move, at least so he intended, but
it turned to a variation unknown to the students of
  Throughout this game I watched the sailors closely, and I
became sure, as only an attentive watcher can be, that the
one on their left, Jim Bunion, did not even know the moves.
  When I had made up my mind about this I watched only the
other two, Adam Bailey and Bill Sloggs, trying to make out
which was the master mind; and for a long while I could
not.  And then I heard Adam Bailey mutter six words, the
only words I heard throughout the game, of all their
consultations, "No, him with the horse's head."  And I
decided that Adam Bailey did not know what a knight was,
though of course he might have been explaining things to
Bill Sloggs, but it did not sound like that; so that left
Bill Sloggs.  I watched Bill Sloggs after that with a
certain wonder; he was no more intellectual than the others
to look at, though rather more forceful perhaps.  Poor old
Stavlokratz was beaten again.
  Well, in the end I paid for Stavlokratz, and tried to get
a game with Bill Sloggs alone, but this he would not agree
to, it must be all three or none: and then I went back with
Stavlokratz to his lodgings.  He very kindly gave me a game:
of course it did not last long but I am prouder of having
been beaten by Stavlokratz than of any game that I have ever
won.  And then we talked for an hour about the sailors, and
neither of us could make head or tail of them.  I told him
what I had noticed about Jim Bunion and Adam Bailey, and he
agreed with me that Bill Sloggs was the man, though as to
how he had come by that gambit or that variation of
Stavlokratz's own opening he had no theory.
  I had the sailors' address which was that tavern as much
as anywhere, and they were to be there all evening.  As
evening drew in I went back to the tavern, and found there
still the three sailors.  And I offered Bill Sloggs two
pounds for a game with him alone and he refused, but in the
end he played me for a drink.  And then I found that he had
not heard of the "en passant" rule, and believed that the
fact of checking the king prevented him from castling, and
did not know that a player can have two or more queens on
the board at the same time if he queens his pawns, or that a
pawn could ever become a knight; and he made as many of the
stock mistakes as he had time for in a short game, which I
won.  I thought that I should have got at the secret then,
but his mates who had sat scowling all the while in the
corner came up and interfered.  It was a breach of their
compact apparently for one to play by himself, at any rate
they seemed angry.  So I left the tavern then and came back
again next day, and the next day and the day after, and
often saw the sailors, but none were in a communicative
mood.  I had got Stavlokratz to keep away, and they could
get no one to play chess with at a pound a side, and I would
not play with them unless they told me the secret.
  And then one evening I found Jim Bunion drunk, yet not so
drunk as he wished, for the two pounds were spent; and I
gave him very nearly a tumbler of whiskey, or what passed
for whiskey in that tavern at Over, and he told me the
secret at once.  I had given the others some whiskey to keep
them quiet, and later on in the evening they must have gone
out, but Jim Bunion stayed with me by a little table leaning
across it and talking low, right into my face, his breath
smelling all the while of what passed for whiskey.
  The wind was blowing outside as it does on bad nights in
November, coming up with moans from the South, towards which
the tavern faced with all its leaded panes, so that none but
I was able to hear his voice as Jim Bunion gave up his
  They had sailed for years, he told me, with Bill Snyth;
and on their last voyage home Bill Snyth had died.  And he
was buried at sea.  Just the other side of the line they
buried him, and his pals divided his kit, and these three
got his crystal that only they knew he had, which Bill got
one night in Cuba.  They played chess with the crystal.
  And he was going on to tell me about that night in Cuba
when Bill had bought the crystal from the stranger, how some
folks might think they had seen thunderstorms, but let them
go and listen to that one that thundered in Cuba when Bill
was buying his crystal and they'd find that they didn't know
what thunder was.  But then I interrupted him, unfortunately
perhaps, for it broke the thread of his tale and set him
rambling a while, and cursing other people and talking of
other lands, China, Port Said and Spain: but I brought him
back to Cuba again in the end.  I asked him how they could
play chess with a crystal; and he said that you looked at
the board and looked at the crystal, and there was the game
in the crystal the same as it was on the board, with all the
odd little pieces looking just the same though smaller,
horses' heads and whatnots; and as soon as the other man
moved the move came out in the crystal, and then your move
appeared after it, and all you had to do was to make it on
the board.  If you didn't make the move that you saw in the
crystal things got very bad in it, everything horribly mixed
and moving about rapidly, and scowling and making the same
move over and over again, and the crystal getting cloudier
and cloudier; it was best to take one's eyes away from it
then, or one dreamt about it afterwards, and the foul little
pieces came and cursed you in your sleep and moved about all
night with their crooked moves.
  I thought then that, drunk though he was, he was not
telling the truth, and I promised to show him to people who
played chess all their lives so that he and his mates could
get a pound whenever they liked, and I promised not to
reveal his secret even to Stavlokratz, if only he would tell
me all the truth; and this promise I have kept till long
after the three sailors have lost their secret.  I told him
straight out that I did not believe in the crystal.  Well,
Jim Bunion leaned forward then, even further across the
table, and swore he had seen the man from whom Bill had
bought the crystal and that he was one to whom anything was
possible.  To begin with his hair was villainously dark, and
his features were unmistakable even down there in the South,
and he could play chess with his eyes shut, and even then he
could beat anyone in Cuba.  But there was more than this,
there was the bargain he made with Bill that told one who he
was.  He sold that crystal for Bill Snyth's soul.
  Jim Bunion leaning over the table with his breath in my
face nodded his head several times and was silent.
  I began to question him then.  Did they play chess as far
away as Cuba?  He said they all did.  Was it conceivable
that any man would make such a bargain as Snyth made?
Wasn't the trick well known?  Wasn't it in hundreds of
books?  And if he couldn't read books mustn't he have heard
from sailors that it is the Devil's commonest dodge to get
souls from silly people?
  Jim Bunion had leant back in his own chair quietly
smiling at my questions but when I mentioned silly people he
leaned forward again, and thrust his face close to mine and
asked me several times if I called Bill Snyth silly.  It
seemed that these three sailors thought a great deal of Bill
Snyth and it made Jim Bunion angry to hear anything said
against him.  I hastened to say that the bargain seemed
silly though not of course the man who made it; for the
sailor was almost threatening, and no wonder for the whiskey
in that dim tavern would madden a nun.
  When I said that the bargain seemed silly he smiled
again, and then he thundered his fist down on the table and
said that no one had ever yet got the best of Bill Snyth and
that that was the worst bargain for himself that the Devil
ever made, and that from all he had read or heard of the
Devil he had never been so badly had before as the night
when he met Bill Snyth at the inn in the thunderstorm in
Cuba, for Bill Snyth already had the damndest soul at sea;
Bill was a good fellow, but his soul was damned right
enough, so he got the crystal for nothing.
  Yes, he was there and saw it all himself, Bill Snyth in
the Spanish inn and the candles flaring, and the Devil
walking in and out of the rain, and then the bargain between
those two old hands, and the Devil going out into the
lightning, and the thunderstorm raging on, and Bill Snyth
sitting chuckling to himself between the bursts of the
  But I had more questions to ask and interrupted this
reminiscence.  Why did they all three always play together?
And a look of something like fear came over Jim Bunion's
face; and at first he would not speak.  And then he said to
me that it was like this; they had not paid for that
crystal, but got it as their share of Bill Snyth's kit.  If
they had paid for it or given something in exchange to Bill
Snyth that would have been all right, but they couldn't do
that now because Bill was dead, and they were not sure if
the old bargain might not hold good.  And Hell must be a
large and lonely place, and to go there alone must be bad,
and so the three agreed that they would all stick together,
and use the crystal all three or not at all, unless one
died, and then the two would use it and the one that was
gone would wait for them.  And the last of the three to go
would take the crystal with him, or maybe the crystal would
bring him.  They didn't think, they said, they were the kind
of men for Heaven, and he hoped they knew their place better
than that, but they didn't fancy the notion of Hell alone,
if Hell it had to be.  It was all right for Bill Snyth, he
was afraid of nothing.  He had known perhaps five men that
were not afraid of death, but Bill Snyth was not afraid of
Hell.  He died with a smile on his face like a child in its
sleep; it was drink killed poor Bill Snyth.
  This was why I had beaten Bill Sloggs; Sloggs had the
crystal on him while we played, but would not use it; these
sailors seemed to fear loneliness as some people fear being
hurt; he was the only one of the three who could play chess
at all, he had learnt it in order to be able to answer
questions and keep up their pretence, but he had learnt it
badly, as I found.  I never saw the crystal, they never
showed it to anyone; but Jim Bunion told me that night that
it was about the size that the thick end of a hen's egg
would be if it were round.  And then he fell asleep.
  There were many more questions that I would have asked
him but I could not wake him up.  I even pulled the table
away so that he fell to the floor, but he slept on, and all
the tavern was dark but for one candle burning; and it was
then that I noticed for the first time that the other two
sailors had gone, no one remained at all but Jim Bunion and
I and the sinister barman of that curious inn, and he too
was asleep.
  When I saw that it was impossible to wake the sailor I
went out into the night.  Next day Jim Bunion would talk of
it no more; and when I went back to Stavlokratz I found him
already putting on paper his theory about the sailors, which
became accepted by chess-players, that one of them had been
taught their curious gambit and that the other two between
them had learnt all the defensive openings as well as
general play.  Though who taught them no one could say, in
spite of enquiries made afterwards all along the Southern
  I never learnt any more details from any of the three
sailors, they were always too drunk to speak or else not
drunk enough to be communicative.  I seem just to have taken
Jim Bunion at the flood.  But I kept my promise, it was I
that introduced them to the Tournament, and a pretty mess
they made of established reputations.  And so they kept on
for months, never losing a game and always playing for their
pound a side.  I used to follow them wherever they went
merely to watch their play.  They were more marvellous than
Stavlokratz even in his youth.
  But then they took to liberties such as giving their
queen when playing first-class players.  And in the end one
day when all three were drunk they played the best player in
England with only a row of pawns.  They won the game all
right.  But the ball broke to pieces.  I never smelt such a
stench in all my life.
  The three sailors took it stoically enough, they signed
on to different ships and went back again to the sea, and
the world of chess lost sight, for ever I trust, of the most
remarkable players it ever knew, who would have altogether
spoiled the game.

                        The Workman
                      by Lord Dunsany

I saw a workman fall with his scaffolding right from the
summit of some vast hotel.  And as he came down I saw him
holding a knife and trying to cut his name on the
scaffolding.  He had time to try and do this for he must
have had nearly three hundred feet to fall.  And I could
think of nothing but his folly in doing this futile thing,
for not only would the man be unrecognizably dead in three
seconds, but the very pole on which he tried to scratch
whatever of his name he had time for was certain to be burnt
in a few weeks for firewood.
  Then I went home for I had work to do.  And all that
evening I thought of the man's folly, till the thought
hindered me from serious work.
  And late that night while I was still at work, the ghost
of the workman floated through my wall and stood before me
  I heard no sound until after I spoke to it; but I could
see the grey diaphanous form standing before me shuddering
with laughter.
  I spoke at last and asked what it was laughing at, and
then the ghost spoke.  It said:  "I'm a laughin' at you
sittin' and workin' there."
  "And why," I asked, "do you laugh at serious work?"
  "Why, yer bloomin' life 'ull go by like a wind," he said,
"and yer 'ole silly civilization 'ull be tidied up in a few
  Then he fell to laughing again and this time audibly;
and, laughing still, faded back through the wall again and
into the eternity from which he had come.

               Where the Tides Ebb and Flow

                      by Lord Dunsany

I dreamt that I had done a horrible thing, so that burial
was to be denied me either in soil or sea, neither could
there be any hell for me.
  I waited for some hours, knowing this.  Then my friends
came for me, and slew me secretly and with ancient rite, and
lit great tapers, and carried me away.
  It was all in London that the thing was done, and they
went furtively at dead of night along grey streets and among
mean houses until they came to the river.  And the river and
the tide of the sea were grappling with one another between
the mud-banks, and both of them were black and full of
lights.  A sudden wonder came into the eyes of each, as my
friends came near to them with their glaring tapers.  All
these things I saw as they carried me dead and stiffening,
for my soul was still among my bones, because there was no
hell for it, and because Christian burial was denied me.
  They took me down a stairway that was green with slimy
things, and so came slowly to the terrible mud.  There, in
the territory of forsaken things, they dug a shallow grave.
When they had finished they laid me in the grave, and
suddenly they cast their tapers to the river.  And when the
water had quenched the flaring lights the tapers looked pale
and small as they bobbed upon the tide, and at once the
glamour of the calamity was gone, and I noticed then the
approach of the huge dawn; and my friends cast their cloaks
over their faces, and the solemn procession was turned into
many fugitives that furtively stole away.
  Then the mud came back wearily and covered all but my
face.  There I lay alone with quite forgotten things, with
drifting things that the tides will take no farther, with
useless things and lost things, and the horrible unnatural
bricks that are neither stone nor soil.  I was rid of
feeling, because I had been killed, but perception and
thought were in my unhappy soul.  The dawn widened, and I
saw the desolate houses that crowded the marge of the river,
and their dead windows peered into my dead eyes, windows
with bales behind them instead of human souls.  I grew so
weary looking at these forlorn things that I wanted to cry
out, but could not, because I was dead.  Then I knew, as I
had never known before, that for all the years that herd of
desolate houses had wanted to cry out too, but, being dead,
were dumb.  And I knew then that it had yet been well with
the forgotten drifting things if they had wept, but they
were eyeless and without life.  And I, too, tried to weep,
but there were no tears in my dead eyes.  And I knew then
that the river might have cared for us, might have caressed
us, might have sung to us, but he swept broadly onwards,
thinking of nothing but the princely ships.
  At last the tide did what the river would not, and came
and covered me over, and my soul had rest in the green
water, and rejoiced and believed that it had the Burial of
the Sea.  But with the ebb the water fell again, and left me
alone again with the callous mud among the forgotten things
that drift no more, and with the sight of all those desolate
houses, and with the knowledge among all of us that each was
  In the mournful wall behind me, hung with green weeds,
forsaken of the sea, dark tunnels appeared, and secret
narrow passages that were clamped and barred.  From these at
last the stealthy rats came down to nibble me away, and my
soul rejoiced thereat and believed that he would be free
perforce from the accursed bones to which burial was
refused.  Very soon the rats ran away a little space and
whispered among themselves.  They never came any more.  When
I found that I was accursed even among the rats I tried to
weep again.
  Then the tide came swinging back and covered the dreadful
mud, and hid the desolate houses, and soothed the forgotten
things, and my soul had ease for a while in the sepulture of
the sea.  And then the tide forsook me again.
  To and fro it came about me for many years.  Then the
County Council found me, and gave me decent burial.  It was
the first grave that I had ever slept in.  That very night
my friends came for me.  They dug me up and put me back
again in the shallow hole in the mud.
  Again and again through the years my bones found burial,
but always behind the funeral lurked one of those terrible
men who, as soon as night fell, came and dug them up and
carried them back again to the hole in the mud.
  And then one day the last of those men died who once had
done to me this terrible thing.  I heard his soul go over
the river at sunset.
  And again I hoped.
  A few weeks afterwards I was found once more, and once
more taken out of that restless place and given deep burial
in sacred ground, where my soul hoped that it should rest.
  Almost at once men came with cloaks and tapers to give me
back to the mud, for the thing had become a tradition and a
rite.  And all the forsaken things mocked me in their dumb
hearts when they saw me carried back, for they were jealous
of me because I had left the mud.  It must be remembered
that I could not weep.
  And the years went by seawards where the black barges go,
and the great derelict centuries became lost at sea, and
still I lay there without any cause to hope, and daring not
to hope without a cause, because of the terrible envy and
the anger of the things that could drift no more.
  Once a great storm rode up, even as far as London, out of
the sea from the South; and he came curving into the river
with the fierce East wind.  And he was mightier than the
dreary tides, and went with great leaps over the listless
mud.  And all the sad forgotten things rejoiced, and mingled
with things that were haughtier than they, and rode once
more amongst the lordly shipping that was driven up and
down.  And out of their hideous home he took my bones, never
again, I hoped, to be vexed with the ebb and flow.  And with
the fall of the tide he went riding down the river and
turned to the southwards, and so went to his home.  And my
bones he scattered among many isles and along the shores of
happy alien mainlands.  And for a moment, while they were
far asunder, my soul was almost free.
  Then there arose, at the will of the moon, the assiduous
flow of the tide, and it undid at once the work of the ebb,
and gathered my bones from the marge of sunny isles, and
gleaned them all along the mainland's shores, and went
rocking northwards till it came to the mouth of the Thames,
and there turned westwards its relentless face, and so went
up the river and came to the hole in the mud, and into it
dropped my bones; and partly the mud covered them and partly
it left them white, for the mud cares not for its forsaken
  Then the ebb came, and I saw the dead eyes of the houses
and the jealousy of the other forgotten things that the
storm had not carried thence.
  And some more centuries passed over the ebb and flow and
over the loneliness of things forgotten.  And I lay there
all the whole in the careless grip of the mud, never wholly
covered, yet never able to go free, and I longed for the
great caress of the warm Earth or the comfortable lap of the
  Sometimes men found my bones and buried them, but the
tradition never died, and my friends' successors always
brought them back.  At last the barges went no more, and
there were fewer lights; shaped timbers no longer floated
down the fair-way, and there came instead old wind-uprooted
trees in all their natural simplicity.
  At last I was aware that somewhere near me a blade of
grass was growing, and the moss began to appear all over the
dead houses.  One day some thistledown went drifting over
the river.
  For some years I watched these signs attentively, until I
became certain that London was passing away.  Then I hoped
once more, and all along both banks of the river there was
anger among the lost things that anything should dare to
hope upon the forsaken mud.  Gradually the horrible houses
crumbled, until the poor dead things that never had had life
got decent burial among the weeds and moss.  At last the may
appeared and the convolvulus.  Finally, the wild rose stood
up over mounds that had been wharves and warehouses.  Then I
knew that the cause of Nature had triumphed, and London had
passed away.
  The last man in London came to the wall by the river, in
an ancient cloak that was one of those that once my friends
had worn, and peered over the edge to see that I still was
there.  Then he went, and I never saw men again: they had
passed away with London.
  A few days after the last man had gone the birds came
into London, all the birds that sing.  When they first saw
me they all looked sideways at me, then they went away a
little and spoke among themselves.
  "He only sinned against Man," they said; "it is not our
  "Let us be kind to him," they said.
  Then they hopped nearer me and began to sing.  It was the
time of the rising of the dawn, and from both banks of the
river, and from the sky, and from the thickets that were
once the streets, hundreds of birds were singing.  As the
light increased the birds sang more and more; they grew
thicker and thicker in the air above my head, till there
were thousands of them singing there, and then millions, and
at last I could see nothing but a host of flickering wings
with the sunlight on them, and little gaps of sky.  Then
when there was nothing to be heard in London but the myriad
notes of that exultant song, my soul rose up from the bones
in the hole in the mud and began to climb up the song
heavenwards.  And it seemed that a laneway opened amongst
the wings of the birds, and it went up and up, and one of
the smaller gates of Paradise stood ajar at the end of it.
And then I knew by a sign that the mud should receive me no
more, for suddenly I found that I could weep.
  At this moment I opened my eyes in bed in a house in
London, and outside some sparrows were twittering in a tree
in the light of the radiant morning; and there were tears
still wet upon my face, for one's restraint is feeble while
one sleeps.  But I arose and opened the window wide, and,
stretching my hands out over the little garden, I blessed
the birds whose song had woken me up from the troubled and
terrible centuries of my dream.

                 Why the Milkman Shudders
                When He Perceives the Dawn
                      by Lord Dunsany

In the Hall of the Ancient Company of Milkmen round the
great fireplace at the end, when the winter logs are burning
and all the craft are assembled they tell to-day, as their
grandfathers told before them, why the milkman shudders when
he perceives the dawn.
  When dawn comes creeping over the edges of hills, peers
through the tree-trunks making wonderful shadows, touches
the tops of tall columns of smoke going up from awakening
cottages in the valleys, and breaks all golden over Kentish
fields, when going on tip-toe thence it comes to the walls
of London and slips all shyly up those gloomy streets the
milkman perceives it and shudders.
  A man may be a Milkman's Working Apprentice, may know
what borax is and how to mix it, yet not for that is the
story told to him.  There are five men alone that tell that
story, five men appointed by the Master of the Company, by
whom each place is filled as it falls vacant, and if you do
not hear it from one of them you hear the story from no one
and so can never know why the milkman shudders when he
perceives the dawn.
  It is the way of one of these five men, greybeards all
and milkmen from infancy, to rub his hands by the fire when
the great logs burn, and to settle himself more easily in
his chair, perhaps to sip some drink far other than milk,
then to look round to see that none are there to whom it
would not be fitting the tale should be told and, looking
from face to face and seeing none but the men of the Ancient
Company, and questioning mutely the rest of the five with
his eyes, if some of the five be there, and receiving their
permission, to cough and to tell the tale.  And a great hush
falls in the Hall of the Ancient Company, and something
about the shape of the roof and the rafters makes the tale
resonant all down the hall so that the youngest hears it far
away from the fire and knows, and dreams of the day when
perhaps he will tell himself why the milkman shudders when
he perceives the dawn.
  Not as one tells some casual fact is it told, nor is it
commented on from man to man, but it is told by that great
fire only and when the occasion and the stillness of the
room and the merit of the wine and the profit of all seem to
warrant it in the opinion of the five deputed men: then does
one of them tell it, as I have said, not heralded by any
master of ceremonies but as though it arose out of the
warmth of the fire before which his knotted hands would
chance to be; not a thing learned by rote, but told
differently by each teller, and differently according to his
mood, yet never has one of them dared to alter its salient
points, there is none so base among the Company of Milkmen.
The Company of Powderers for the Face know of this story and
have envied it, the Worthy Company of Chin-Barbers, and the
Company of Whiskerers; but none have heard it in the
Milkmen's Hall, through whose wall no rumour of the secret
goes, and though they have invented tales of their own
Antiquity mocks them.
  This mellow story was ripe with honourable years when
milkmen wore beaver hats, its origin was still mysterious
when smocks were the vogue, men asked one another when
Stuarts were on the throne (and only the Ancient Company
knew the answer) why the milkman shudders when he perceives
the dawn.  It is all for envy of this tale's reputation that
the Company of Powderers for the Face have invented the tale
that they too tell of an evening, "Why the Dog Barks when he
hears the step of the Baker"; and because probably all men
know that tale the Company of the Powderers for the Face
have dared to consider it famous.  Yet it lacks mystery and
is not ancient, is not fortified with classical allusion,
has no secret lore, is common to all who care for an idle
tale, and shares with "The Wars of the Elves," the
Calf-butcher's tale, and "The Story of the Unicorn and the
Rose," which is the tale of the Company of Horse-drivers,
their obvious inferiority.
  But unlike all these tales so new to time, and many
another that the last two centuries tell, the tale that the
milkmen tell ripples wisely on, so full of quotation from
the profoundest writers, so full of recondite allusion, so
deeply tinged with all the wisdom of man and instructive
with the experience of all times that they that hear it in
the Milkmen's Hall as they interpret allusion after allusion
and trace obscure quotation lose idle curiosity and forget
to question why the milkman shudders when he perceives the
  You also, O my reader, give not yourself up to
curiosity.  Consider of how many it is the bane.  Would you
to gratify this tear away the mystery from the Milkmen's
Hall and wrong the Ancient Company of Milkmen?  Would they
if all the world knew it and it became a common thing to
tell that tale any more that they have told for the last
four hundred years?  Rather a silence would settle upon
their hall and a universal regret for the ancient tale and
the ancient winter evenings.  And though curiosity were a
proper consideration yet even then this is not the proper
place nor this the proper occasion for the Tale.  For the
proper place is only the Milkmen's Hall and the proper
occasion only when logs burn well and when wine has been
deeply drunken, then when the candles were burning well in
long rows down to the dimness, down to the darkness and
mystery that lie at the end of the hall, then were you one
of the Company, and were I one of the five, would I rise
from my seat by the fireside and tell you with all the
embellishments that it has gleaned from the ages that story
that is the heirloom of the milkmen.  And the long candles
would burn lower and lower and gutter and gutter away till
they liquefied in their sockets, and draughts would blow
from the shadowy end of the hall stronger and stronger till
the shadows came after them, and still I would hold you with
that treasured story, not by any wit of mine but all for the
sake of its glamour and the times out of which it came; one
by one the candles would flare and die and, when all were
gone, by the light of ominous sparks when each milkman's
face looks fearful to his fellow, you would know, as now you
cannot, why the milkman shudders when he perceives the dawn.