Passing of the Third Floor Back

The neighbourhood of Bloomsbury Square towards four o’clock of a November afternoon is not so crowded as to secure to the stranger, of appearance anything out of the common, immunity from observation. Tibb’s boy, screaming at the top of his voice that she was his honey, stopped suddenly, stepped backwards on to the toes of a voluble young lady wheeling a perambulator, and remained deaf, apparently, to the somewhat personal remarks of the voluble young lady. Not until he had reached the next corner—and then more as a soliloquy than as information to the street—did Tibb’s boy recover sufficient interest in his own affairs to remark that he was her bee. The voluble young lady herself, following some half-a-dozen yards behind, forgot her wrongs in contemplation of the stranger’s back. There was this that was peculiar about the stranger’s back: that instead of being flat it presented a decided curve. “It ain’t a ‘ump, and it don’t look like kervitcher of the spine,” observed the voluble young lady to herself. “Blimy if I don’t believe ‘e’s taking ‘ome ‘is washing up his back.”

The constable at the corner, trying to seem busy doing nothing, noticed the stranger’s approach with gathering interest. “That’s an odd sort of a walk of yours, young man,” thought the constable. “You take care you don’t fall down and tumble over yourself.”

“Thought he was a young man,” murmured the constable, the stranger having passed him. “He had a young face right enough.”

The daylight was fading. The stranger, finding it impossible to read the name of the street upon the corner house, turned back.

“Why, ’tis a young man,” the constable told himself; “a mere boy.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the stranger; “but would you mind telling me my way to Bloomsbury Square.”

“This is Bloomsbury Square,” explained the constable; “leastways round the corner is. What number might you be wanting?”

The stranger took from the ticket pocket of his tightly buttoned overcoat a piece of paper, unfolded it and read it out: “Mrs. Pennycherry. Number Forty-eight.”

“Round to the left,” instructed him the constable; “fourth house. Been recommended there?”

“By—by a friend,” replied the stranger. “Thank you very much.”

“Ah,” muttered the constable to himself; “guess you won’t be calling him that by the end of the week, young—”

“Funny,” added the constable, gazing after the retreating figure of the stranger. “Seen plenty of the other sex as looked young behind and old in front. This cove looks young in front and old behind. Guess he’ll look old all round if he stops long at mother Pennycherry’s: stingy old cat.”

Constables whose beat included Bloomsbury Square had their reasons for not liking Mrs. Pennycherry. Indeed it might have been difficult to discover any human being with reasons for liking that sharp-featured lady. Maybe the keeping of second-rate boarding houses in the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury does not tend to develop the virtues of generosity and amiability.

Meanwhile the stranger, proceeding upon his way, had rung the bell of Number Forty-eight. Mrs. Pennycherry, peeping from the area and catching a glimpse, above the railings, of a handsome if somewhat effeminate masculine face, hastened to readjust her widow’s cap before the looking-glass while directing Mary Jane to show the stranger, should he prove a problematical boarder, into the dining-room, and to light the gas.

“And don’t stop gossiping, and don’t you take it upon yourself to answer questions. Say I’ll be up in a minute,” were Mrs. Pennycherry’s further instructions, “and mind you hide your hands as much as you can.”


“What are you grinning at?” demanded Mrs. Pennycherry, a couple of minutes later, of the dingy Mary Jane.

“Wasn’t grinning,” explained the meek Mary Jane, “was only smiling to myself.”

“What at?”

“Dunno,” admitted Mary Jane. But still she went on smiling.

“What’s he like then?” demanded Mrs. Pennycherry.

“‘E ain’t the usual sort,” was Mary Jane’s opinion.

“Thank God for that,” ejaculated Mrs. Pennycherry piously.

“Says ‘e’s been recommended, by a friend.”

“By whom?”

“By a friend. ‘E didn’t say no name.” Mrs. Pennycherry pondered. “He’s not the funny sort, is he?”

Not that sort at all. Mary Jane was sure of it.

Mrs. Pennycherry ascended the stairs still pondering. As she entered the room the stranger rose and bowed. Nothing could have been simpler than the stranger’s bow, yet there came with it to Mrs. Pennycherry a rush of old sensations long forgotten. For one brief moment Mrs. Pennycherry saw herself an amiable well-bred lady, widow of a solicitor: a visitor had called to see her. It was but a momentary fancy. The next instant Reality reasserted itself. Mrs. Pennycherry, a lodging-house keeper, existing precariously upon a daily round of petty meannesses, was prepared for contest with a possible new boarder, who fortunately looked an inexperienced young gentleman.

“Someone has recommended me to you,” began Mrs. Pennycherry; “may I ask who?”

But the stranger waved the question aside as immaterial.

“You might not remember—him,” he smiled. “He thought that I should do well to pass the few months I am given—that I have to be in London, here. You can take me in?”

Mrs. Pennycherry thought that she would be able to take the stranger in.

“A room to sleep in,” explained the stranger, “—any room will do—with food and drink sufficient for a man, is all that I require.”

“For breakfast,” began Mrs. Pennycherry, “I always give—”

“What is right and proper, I am convinced,” interrupted the stranger. “Pray do not trouble to go into detail, Mrs. Pennycherry. With whatever it is I shall be content.”

Mrs. Pennycherry, puzzled, shot a quick glance at the stranger, but his face, though the gentle eyes were smiling, was frank and serious.

“At all events you will see the room,” suggested Mrs. Pennycherry, “before we discuss terms.”

“Certainly,” agreed the stranger. “I am a little tired and shall be glad to rest there.”

Mrs. Pennycherry led the way upward; on the landing of the third floor, paused a moment undecided, then opened the door of the back bedroom.

“It is very comfortable,” commented the stranger.

“For this room,” stated Mrs. Pennycherry, “together with full board, consisting of—”

“Of everything needful. It goes without saying,” again interrupted the stranger with his quiet grave smile.

“I have generally asked,” continued Mrs. Pennycherry, “four pounds a week. To you—” Mrs. Pennycherry’s voice, unknown to her, took to itself the note of aggressive generosity—”seeing you have been recommended here, say three pounds ten.”

“Dear lady,” said the stranger, “that is kind of you. As you have divined, I am not a rich man. If it be not imposing upon you I accept your reduction with gratitude.”

Again Mrs. Pennycherry, familiar with the satirical method, shot a suspicious glance upon the stranger, but not a line was there, upon that smooth fair face, to which a sneer could for a moment have clung. Clearly he was as simple as he looked.

“Gas, of course, extra.”

“Of course,” agreed the Stranger.


“We shall not quarrel,” for a third time the stranger interrupted. “You have been very considerate to me as it is. I feel, Mrs. Pennycherry, I can leave myself entirely in your hands.”

The stranger appeared anxious to be alone. Mrs. Pennycherry, having put a match to the stranger’s fire, turned to depart. And at this point it was that Mrs. Pennycherry, the holder hitherto of an unbroken record for sanity, behaved in a manner she herself, five minutes earlier in her career, would have deemed impossible—that no living soul who had ever known her would have believed, even had Mrs. Pennycherry gone down upon her knees and sworn it to them.

“Did I say three pound ten?” demanded Mrs. Pennycherry of the stranger, her hand upon the door. She spoke crossly. She was feeling cross, with the stranger, with herself—particularly with herself.

“You were kind enough to reduce it to that amount,” replied the stranger; “but if upon reflection you find yourself unable—”

“I was making a mistake,” said Mrs. Pennycherry, “it should have been two pound ten.”

“I cannot—I will not accept such sacrifice,” exclaimed the stranger; “the three pound ten I can well afford.”

“Two pound ten are my terms,” snapped Mrs. Pennycherry. “If you are bent on paying more, you can go elsewhere. You’ll find plenty to oblige you.”

Her vehemence must have impressed the stranger. “We will not contend further,” he smiled. “I was merely afraid that in the goodness of your heart—”

“Oh, it isn’t as good as all that,” growled Mrs. Pennycherry.

“I am not so sure,” returned the stranger. “I am somewhat suspicious of you. But wilful woman must, I suppose, have her way.”

The stranger held out his hand, and to Mrs. Pennycherry, at that moment, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take it as if it had been the hand of an old friend and to end the interview with a pleasant laugh—though laughing was an exercise not often indulged in by Mrs. Pennycherry.

Mary Jane was standing by the window, her hands folded in front of her, when Mrs. Pennycherry re-entered the kitchen. By standing close to the window one caught a glimpse of the trees in Bloomsbury Square and through their bare branches of the sky beyond.

“There’s nothing much to do for the next half hour, till Cook comes back. I’ll see to the door if you’d like a run out?” suggested Mrs. Pennycherry.

“It would be nice,” agreed the girl so soon as she had recovered power of speech; “it’s just the time of day I like.”

“Don’t be longer than the half hour,” added Mrs. Pennycherry.

Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, assembled after dinner in the drawing-room, discussed the stranger with that freedom and frankness characteristic of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, towards the absent.

“Not what I call a smart young man,” was the opinion of Augustus Longcord, who was something in the City.

“Thpeaking for mythelf,” commented his partner Isidore, “hav’n’th any uthe for the thmart young man. Too many of him, ath it ith.”

“Must be pretty smart if he’s one too many for you,” laughed his partner.

There was this to be said for the repartee of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square: it was simple of construction and easy of comprehension.

“Well it made me feel good just looking at him,” declared Miss Kite, the highly coloured. “It was his clothes, I suppose—made me think of Noah and the ark—all that sort of thing.”

“It would be clothes that would make you think—if anything,” drawled the languid Miss Devine. She was a tall, handsome girl, engaged at the moment in futile efforts to recline with elegance and comfort combined upon a horsehair sofa. Miss Kite, by reason of having secured the only easy-chair, was unpopular that evening; so that Miss Devine’s remark received from the rest of the company more approbation than perhaps it merited.

“Is that intended to be clever, dear, or only rude?” Miss Kite requested to be informed.

“Both,” claimed Miss Devine.

“Myself? I must confess,” shouted the tall young lady’s father, commonly called the Colonel, “I found him a fool.”

“I noticed you seemed to be getting on very well together,” purred his wife, a plump, smiling little lady.

“Possibly we were,” retorted the Colonel. “Fate has accustomed me to the society of fools.”

“Isn’t it a pity to start quarrelling immediately after dinner, you two,” suggested their thoughtful daughter from the sofa, “you’ll have nothing left to amuse you for the rest of the evening.”

“He didn’t strike me as a conversationalist,” said the lady who was cousin to a baronet; “but he did pass the vegetables before he helped himself. A little thing like that shows breeding.”

“Or that he didn’t know you and thought maybe you’d leave him half a spoonful,” laughed Augustus the wit.

“What I can’t make out about him—” shouted the Colonel.

The stranger entered the room.

The Colonel, securing the evening paper, retired into a corner. The highly coloured Kite, reaching down from the mantelpiece a paper fan, held it coyly before her face. Miss Devine sat upright on the horse-hair sofa, and rearranged her skirts.

“Know anything?” demanded Augustus of the stranger, breaking the somewhat remarkable silence.

The stranger evidently did not understand. It was necessary for Augustus, the witty, to advance further into that odd silence.

“What’s going to pull off the Lincoln handicap? Tell me, and I’ll go out straight and put my shirt upon it.”

“I think you would act unwisely,” smiled the stranger; “I am not an authority upon the subject.”

“Not! Why they told me you were Captain Spy of the Sporting Life—in disguise.”

It would have been difficult for a joke to fall more flat. Nobody laughed, though why Mr. Augustus Longcord could not understand, and maybe none of his audience could have told him, for at Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square Mr. Augustus Longcord passed as a humorist. The stranger himself appeared unaware that he was being made fun of.

“You have been misinformed,” assured him the stranger.

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Augustus Longcord.

“It is nothing,” replied the stranger in his sweet low voice, and passed on.

“Well what about this theatre,” demanded Mr. Longcord of his friend and partner; “do you want to go or don’t you?” Mr. Longcord was feeling irritable.

“Goth the ticketh—may ath well,” thought Isidore.

“Damn stupid piece, I’m told.”

“Motht of them thupid, more or leth. Pity to wathte the ticketh,” argued Isidore, and the pair went out.

“Are you staying long in London?” asked Miss Kite, raising her practised eyes towards the stranger.

“Not long,” answered the stranger. “At least I do not know. It depends.”

An unusual quiet had invaded the drawing-room of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, generally noisy with strident voices about this hour. The Colonel remained engrossed in his paper. Mrs. Devine sat with her plump white hands folded on her lap, whether asleep or not it was impossible to say. The lady who was cousin to a baronet had shifted her chair beneath the gasolier, her eyes bent on her everlasting crochet work. The languid Miss Devine had crossed to the piano, where she sat fingering softly the tuneless keys, her back to the cold barely-furnished room.

“Sit down!” commanded saucily Miss Kite, indicating with her fan the vacant seat beside her. “Tell me about yourself. You interest me.” Miss Kite adopted a pretty authoritative air towards all youthful-looking members of the opposite sex. It harmonised with the peach complexion and the golden hair, and fitted her about as well.

“I am glad of that,” answered the stranger, taking the chair suggested. “I so wish to interest you.”

“You’re a very bold boy.” Miss Kite lowered her fan, for the purpose of glancing archly over the edge of it, and for the first time encountered the eyes of the stranger looking into hers. And then it was that Miss Kite experienced precisely the same curious sensation that an hour or so ago had troubled Mrs. Pennycherry when the stranger had first bowed to her. It seemed to Miss Kite that she was no longer the Miss Kite that, had she risen and looked into it, the fly-blown mirror over the marble mantelpiece would, she knew, have presented to her view; but quite another Miss Kite—a cheerful, bright-eyed lady verging on middle age, yet still good-looking in spite of her faded complexion and somewhat thin brown locks. Miss Kite felt a pang of jealousy shoot through her; this middle-aged Miss Kite seemed, on the whole, a more attractive lady. There was a wholesomeness, a broadmindedness about her that instinctively drew one towards her. Not hampered, as Miss Kite herself was, by the necessity of appearing to be somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two, this other Miss Kite could talk sensibly, even brilliantly: one felt it. A thoroughly “nice” woman this other Miss Kite; the real Miss Kite, though envious, was bound to admit it. Miss Kite wished to goodness she had never seen the woman. The glimpse of her had rendered Miss Kite dissatisfied with herself.

“I am not a boy,” explained the stranger; “and I had no intention of being bold.”

“I know,” replied Miss Kite. “It was a silly remark. Whatever induced me to make it, I can’t think. Getting foolish in my old age, I suppose.”

The stranger laughed. “Surely you are not old.”

“I’m thirty-nine,” snapped out Miss Kite. “You don’t call it young?”

“I think it a beautiful age,” insisted the stranger; “young enough not to have lost the joy of youth, old enough to have learnt sympathy.”

“Oh, I daresay,” returned Miss Kite, “any age you’d think beautiful. I’m going to bed.” Miss Kite rose. The paper fan had somehow got itself broken. She threw the fragments into the fire.

“It is early yet,” pleaded the stranger, “I was looking forward to a talk with you.”

“Well, you’ll be able to look forward to it,” retorted Miss Kite. “Good-night.”

The truth was, Miss Kite was impatient to have a look at herself in the glass, in her own room with the door shut. The vision of that other Miss Kite—the clean-looking lady of the pale face and the brown hair had been so vivid, Miss Kite wondered whether temporary forgetfulness might not have fallen upon her while dressing for dinner that evening.

The stranger, left to his own devices, strolled towards the loo table, seeking something to read.

“You seem to have frightened away Miss Kite,” remarked the lady who was cousin to a baronet.

“It seems so,” admitted the stranger.

“My cousin, Sir William Bosster,” observed the crocheting lady, “who married old Lord Egham’s niece—you never met the Eghams?”

“Hitherto,” replied the stranger, “I have not had that pleasure.”

“A charming family. Cannot understand—my cousin Sir William, I mean, cannot understand my remaining here. ‘My dear Emily’—he says the same thing every time he sees me: ‘My dear Emily, how can you exist among the sort of people one meets with in a boarding-house.’ But they amuse me.”

A sense of humour, agreed the stranger, was always of advantage.

“Our family on my mother’s side,” continued Sir William’s cousin in her placid monotone, “was connected with the Tatton-Joneses, who when King George the Fourth—” Sir William’s cousin, needing another reel of cotton, glanced up, and met the stranger’s gaze.

“I’m sure I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” said Sir William’s cousin in an irritable tone. “It can’t possibly interest you.”

“Everything connected with you interests me,” gravely the stranger assured her.

“It is very kind of you to say so,” sighed Sir William’s cousin, but without conviction; “I am afraid sometimes I bore people.”

The polite stranger refrained from contradiction.

“You see,” continued the poor lady, “I really am of good family.”

“Dear lady,” said the stranger, “your gentle face, your gentle voice, your gentle bearing, all proclaim it.”

She looked without flinching into the stranger’s eyes, and gradually a smile banished the reigning dulness of her features.

“How foolish of me.” She spoke rather to herself than to the stranger. “Why, of course, people—people whose opinion is worth troubling about—judge of you by what you are, not by what you go about saying you are.”

The stranger remained silent.

“I am the widow of a provincial doctor, with an income of just two hundred and thirty pounds per annum,” she argued. “The sensible thing for me to do is to make the best of it, and to worry myself about these high and mighty relations of mine as little as they have ever worried themselves about me.”

The stranger appeared unable to think of anything worth saying.

“I have other connections,” remembered Sir William’s cousin; “those of my poor husband, to whom instead of being the ‘poor relation’ I could be the fairy god-mama. They are my people—or would be,” added Sir William’s cousin tartly, “if I wasn’t a vulgar snob.”

She flushed the instant she had said the words and, rising, commenced preparations for a hurried departure.

“Now it seems I am driving you away,” sighed the stranger.

“Having been called a ‘vulgar snob,'” retorted the lady with some heat, “I think it about time I went.”

“The words were your own,” the stranger reminded her.

“Whatever I may have thought,” remarked the indignant dame, “no lady—least of all in the presence of a total stranger—would have called herself—” The poor dame paused, bewildered. “There is something very curious the matter with me this evening, that I cannot understand,” she explained, “I seem quite unable to avoid insulting myself.”

Still surrounded by bewilderment, she wished the stranger good-night, hoping that when next they met she would be more herself. The stranger, hoping so also, opened the door and closed it again behind her.

“Tell me,” laughed Miss Devine, who by sheer force of talent was contriving to wring harmony from the reluctant piano, “how did you manage to do it? I should like to know.”

“How did I do what?” inquired the stranger.

“Contrive to get rid so quickly of those two old frumps?”

“How well you play!” observed the stranger. “I knew you had genius for music the moment I saw you.”

“How could you tell?”

“It is written so clearly in your face.”

The girl laughed, well pleased. “You seem to have lost no time in studying my face.”

“It is a beautiful and interesting face,” observed the stranger.

She swung round sharply on the stool and their eyes met.

“You can read faces?”


“Tell me, what else do you read in mine?”

“Frankness, courage—”

“Ah, yes, all the virtues. Perhaps. We will take them for granted.” It was odd how serious the girl had suddenly become. “Tell me the reverse side.”

“I see no reverse side,” replied the stranger. “I see but a fair girl, bursting into noble womanhood.”

“And nothing else? You read no trace of greed, of vanity, of sordidness, of—” An angry laugh escaped her lips. “And you are a reader of faces!”

“A reader of faces.” The stranger smiled. “Do you know what is written upon yours at this very moment? A love of truth that is almost fierce, scorn of lies, scorn of hypocrisy, the desire for all things pure, contempt of all things that are contemptible—especially of such things as are contemptible in woman. Tell me, do I not read aright?”

I wonder, thought the girl, is that why those two others both hurried from the room? Does everyone feel ashamed of the littleness that is in them when looked at by those clear, believing eyes of yours?

The idea occurred to her: “Papa seemed to have a good deal to say to you during dinner. Tell me, what were you talking about?”

“The military looking gentleman upon my left? We talked about your mother principally.”

“I am sorry,” returned the girl, wishful now she had not asked the question. “I was hoping he might have chosen another topic for the first evening!”

“He did try one or two,” admitted the stranger; “but I have been about the world so little, I was glad when he talked to me about himself. I feel we shall be friends. He spoke so nicely, too, about Mrs. Devine.”

“Indeed,” commented the girl.

“He told me he had been married for twenty years and had never regretted it but once!”

Her black eyes flashed upon him, but meeting his, the suspicion died from them. She turned aside to hide her smile.

“So he regretted it—once.”

“Only once,” explained the stranger, “in a passing irritable mood. It was so frank of him to admit it. He told me—I think he has taken a liking to me. Indeed he hinted as much. He said he did not often get an opportunity of talking to a man like myself—he told me that he and your mother, when they travel together, are always mistaken for a honeymoon couple. Some of the experiences he related to me were really quite amusing.” The stranger laughed at recollection of them—”that even here, in this place, they are generally referred to as ‘Darby and Joan.'”

“Yes,” said the girl, “that is true. Mr. Longcord gave them that name, the second evening after our arrival. It was considered clever—but rather obvious I thought myself.”

“Nothing—so it seems to me,” said the stranger, “is more beautiful than the love that has weathered the storms of life. The sweet, tender blossom that flowers in the heart of the young—in hearts such as yours—that, too, is beautiful. The love of the young for the young, that is the beginning of life. But the love of the old for the old, that is the beginning of—of things longer.”

“You seem to find all things beautiful,” the girl grumbled.

“But are not all things beautiful?” demanded the stranger.

The Colonel had finished his paper. “You two are engaged in a very absorbing conversation,” observed the Colonel, approaching them.

“We were discussing Darbies and Joans,” explained his daughter. “How beautiful is the love that has weathered the storms of life!”

“Ah!” smiled the Colonel, “that is hardly fair. My friend has been repeating to cynical youth the confessions of an amorous husband’s affection for his middle-aged and somewhat—” The Colonel in playful mood laid his hand upon the stranger’s shoulder, an action that necessitated his looking straight into the stranger’s eyes. The Colonel drew himself up stiffly and turned scarlet.

Somebody was calling the Colonel a cad. Not only that, but was explaining quite clearly, so that the Colonel could see it for himself, why he was a cad.

“That you and your wife lead a cat and dog existence is a disgrace to both of you. At least you might have the decency to try and hide it from the world—not make a jest of your shame to every passing stranger. You are a cad, sir, a cad!”

Who was daring to say these things? Not the stranger, his lips had not moved. Besides, it was not his voice. Indeed it sounded much more like the voice of the Colonel himself. The Colonel looked from the stranger to his daughter, from his daughter back to the stranger. Clearly they had not heard the voice—a mere hallucination. The Colonel breathed again.

Yet the impression remaining was not to be shaken off. Undoubtedly it was bad taste to have joked to the stranger upon such a subject. No gentleman would have done so.

But then no gentleman would have permitted such a jest to be possible. No gentleman would be forever wrangling with his wife—certainly never in public. However irritating the woman, a gentleman would have exercised self-control.

Mrs. Devine had risen, was coming slowly across the room. Fear laid hold of the Colonel. She was going to address some aggravating remark to him—he could see it in her eye—which would irritate him into savage retort.

Even this prize idiot of a stranger would understand why boarding-house wits had dubbed them “Darby and Joan,” would grasp the fact that the gallant Colonel had thought it amusing, in conversation with a table acquaintance, to hold his own wife up to ridicule.

“My dear,” cried the Colonel, hurrying to speak first, “does not this room strike you as cold? Let me fetch you a shawl.”

It was useless: the Colonel felt it. It had been too long the custom of both of them to preface with politeness their deadliest insults to each other. She came on, thinking of a suitable reply: suitable from her point of view, that is. In another moment the truth would be out. A wild, fantastic possibility flashed through the Colonel’s brain: If to him, why not to her?

“Letitia,” cried the Colonel, and the tone of his voice surprised her into silence, “I want you to look closely at our friend. Does he not remind you of someone?”

Mrs. Devine, so urged, looked at the stranger long and hard. “Yes,” she murmured, turning to her husband, “he does, who is it?”

“I cannot fix it,” replied the Colonel; “I thought that maybe you would remember.”

“It will come to me,” mused Mrs. Devine. “It is someone—years ago, when I was a girl—in Devonshire. Thank you, if it isn’t troubling you, Harry. I left it in the dining-room.”

It was, as Mr. Augustus Longcord explained to his partner Isidore, the colossal foolishness of the stranger that was the cause of all the trouble. “Give me a man, who can take care of himself—or thinks he can,” declared Augustus Longcord, “and I am prepared to give a good account of myself. But when a helpless baby refuses even to look at what you call your figures, tells you that your mere word is sufficient for him, and hands you over his cheque-book to fill up for yourself—well, it isn’t playing the game.”

“Auguthuth,” was the curt comment of his partner, “you’re a fool.”

“All right, my boy, you try,” suggested Augustus.

“Jutht what I mean to do,” asserted his partner.

“Well,” demanded Augustus one evening later, meeting Isidore ascending the stairs after a long talk with the stranger in the dining-room with the door shut.

“Oh, don’t arth me,” retorted Isidore, “thilly ath, thath what he ith.”

“What did he say?”

“What did he thay! talked about the Jewth: what a grand rathe they were—how people mithjudged them: all that thort of rot.

“Thaid thome of the motht honorable men he had ever met had been Jewth. Thought I wath one of ’em!”

“Well, did you get anything out of him?”

“Get anything out of him. Of courthe not. Couldn’t very well thell the whole rathe, ath it were, for a couple of hundred poundth, after that. Didn’t theem worth it.”

There were many things Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square came gradually to the conclusion were not worth the doing:—Snatching at the gravy; pouncing out of one’s turn upon the vegetables and helping oneself to more than one’s fair share; manoeuvering for the easy-chair; sitting on the evening paper while pretending not to have seen it—all such-like tiresome bits of business. For the little one made out of it, really it was not worth the bother. Grumbling everlastingly at one’s food; grumbling everlastingly at most things; abusing Pennycherry behind her back; abusing, for a change, one’s fellow-boarders; squabbling with one’s fellow-boarders about nothing in particular; sneering at one’s fellow-boarders; talking scandal of one’s fellow-boarders; making senseless jokes about one’s fellow-boarders; talking big about oneself, nobody believing one—all such-like vulgarities. Other boarding-houses might indulge in them: Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square had its dignity to consider.

The truth is, Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square was coming to a very good opinion of itself: for the which not Bloomsbury Square so much as the stranger must be blamed. The stranger had arrived at Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square with the preconceived idea—where obtained from Heaven knows—that its seemingly commonplace, mean-minded, coarse-fibred occupants were in reality ladies and gentlemen of the first water; and time and observation had apparently only strengthened this absurd idea. The natural result was, Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square was coming round to the stranger’s opinion of itself.

Mrs. Pennycherry, the stranger would persist in regarding as a lady born and bred, compelled by circumstances over which she had no control to fill an arduous but honorable position of middle-class society—a sort of foster-mother, to whom were due the thanks and gratitude of her promiscuous family; and this view of herself Mrs. Pennycherry now clung to with obstinate conviction. There were disadvantages attaching, but these Mrs. Pennycherry appeared prepared to suffer cheerfully. A lady born and bred cannot charge other ladies and gentlemen for coals and candles they have never burnt; a foster-mother cannot palm off upon her children New Zealand mutton for Southdown. A mere lodging-house-keeper can play these tricks, and pocket the profits. But a lady feels she cannot: Mrs. Pennycherry felt she no longer could.

To the stranger Miss Kite was a witty and delightful conversationalist of most attractive personality. Miss Kite had one failing: it was lack of vanity. She was unaware of her own delicate and refined beauty. If Miss Kite could only see herself with his, the stranger’s eyes, the modesty that rendered her distrustful of her natural charms would fall from her. The stranger was so sure of it Miss Kite determined to put it to the test. One evening, an hour before dinner, there entered the drawing-room, when the stranger only was there and before the gas was lighted, a pleasant, good-looking lady, somewhat pale, with neatly-arranged brown hair, who demanded of the stranger if he knew her. All her body was trembling, and her voice seemed inclined to run away from her and become a sob. But when the stranger, looking straight into her eyes, told her that from the likeness he thought she must be Miss Kite’s younger sister, but much prettier, it became a laugh instead: and that evening the golden-haired Miss Kite disappeared never to show her high-coloured face again; and what perhaps, more than all else, might have impressed some former habitue of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square with awe, it was that no one in the house made even a passing inquiry concerning her.

Sir William’s cousin the stranger thought an acquisition to any boarding-house. A lady of high-class family! There was nothing outward or visible perhaps to tell you that she was of high-class family. She herself, naturally, would not mention the fact, yet somehow you felt it. Unconsciously she set a high-class tone, diffused an atmosphere of gentle manners. Not that the stranger had said this in so many words; Sir William’s cousin gathered that he thought it, and felt herself in agreement with him.

For Mr. Longcord and his partner, as representatives of the best type of business men, the stranger had a great respect. With what unfortunate results to themselves has been noted. The curious thing is that the Firm appeared content with the price they had paid for the stranger’s good opinion—had even, it was rumoured, acquired a taste for honest men’s respect—that in the long run was likely to cost them dear. But we all have our pet extravagance.

The Colonel and Mrs. Devine both suffered a good deal at first from the necessity imposed upon them of learning, somewhat late in life, new tricks. In the privacy of their own apartment they condoled with one another.

“Tomfool nonsense,” grumbled the Colonel, “you and I starting billing and cooing at our age!”

“What I object to,” said Mrs. Devine, “is the feeling that somehow I am being made to do it.”

“The idea that a man and his wife cannot have their little joke together for fear of what some impertinent jackanapes may think of them! it’s damn ridiculous,” the Colonel exploded.

“Even when he isn’t there,” said Mrs. Devine, “I seem to see him looking at me with those vexing eyes of his. Really the man quite haunts me.”

“I have met him somewhere,” mused the Colonel, “I’ll swear I’ve met him somewhere. I wish to goodness he would go.”

A hundred things a day the Colonel wanted to say to Mrs. Devine, a hundred things a day Mrs. Devine would have liked to observe to the Colonel. But by the time the opportunity occurred—when nobody else was by to hear—all interest in saying them was gone.

“Women will be women,” was the sentiment with which the Colonel consoled himself. “A man must bear with them—must never forget that he is a gentleman.”

“Oh, well, I suppose they’re all alike,” laughed Mrs. Devine to herself, having arrived at that stage of despair when one seeks refuge in cheerfulness. “What’s the use of putting oneself out—it does no good, and only upsets one.” There is a certain satisfaction in feeling you are bearing with heroic resignation the irritating follies of others. Colonel and Mrs. Devine came to enjoy the luxury of much self-approbation.

But the person seriously annoyed by the stranger’s bigoted belief in the innate goodness of everyone he came across was the languid, handsome Miss Devine. The stranger would have it that Miss Devine was a noble-souled, high-minded young woman, something midway between a Flora Macdonald and a Joan of Arc. Miss Devine, on the contrary, knew herself to be a sleek, luxury-loving animal, quite willing to sell herself to the bidder who could offer her the finest clothes, the richest foods, the most sumptuous surroundings. Such a bidder was to hand in the person of a retired bookmaker, a somewhat greasy old gentleman, but exceedingly rich and undoubtedly fond of her.

Miss Devine, having made up her mind that the thing had got to be done, was anxious that it should be done quickly. And here it was that the stranger’s ridiculous opinion of her not only irritated but inconvenienced her. Under the very eyes of a person—however foolish—convinced that you are possessed of all the highest attributes of your sex, it is difficult to behave as though actuated by only the basest motives. A dozen times had Miss Devine determined to end the matter by formal acceptance of her elderly admirer’s large and flabby hand, and a dozen times—the vision intervening of the stranger’s grave, believing eyes—had Miss Devine refused decided answer. The stranger would one day depart. Indeed, he had told her himself, he was but a passing traveller. When he was gone it would be easier. So she thought at the time.

One afternoon the stranger entered the room where she was standing by the window, looking out upon the bare branches of the trees in Bloomsbury Square. She remembered afterwards, it was just such another foggy afternoon as the afternoon of the stranger’s arrival three months before. No one else was in the room. The stranger closed the door, and came towards her with that curious, quick-leaping step of his. His long coat was tightly buttoned, and in his hands he carried his old felt hat and the massive knotted stick that was almost a staff.

“I have come to say good-bye,” explained the stranger. “I am going.”

“I shall not see you again?” asked the girl.

“I cannot say,” replied the stranger. “But you will think of me?”

“Yes,” she answered with a smile, “I can promise that.”

“And I shall always remember you,” promised the stranger, “and I wish you every joy—the joy of love, the joy of a happy marriage.”

The girl winced. “Love and marriage are not always the same thing,” she said.

“Not always,” agreed the stranger, “but in your case they will be one.”

She looked at him.

“Do you think I have not noticed?” smiled the stranger, “a gallant, handsome lad, and clever. You love him and he loves you. I could not have gone away without knowing it was well with you.”

Her gaze wandered towards the fading light.

“Ah, yes, I love him,” she answered petulantly. “Your eyes can see clearly enough, when they want to. But one does not live on love, in our world. I will tell you the man I am going to marry if you care to know.” She would not meet his eyes. She kept her gaze still fixed upon the dingy trees, the mist beyond, and spoke rapidly and vehemently: “The man who can give me all my soul’s desire—money and the things that money can buy. You think me a woman, I’m only a pig. He is moist, and breathes like a porpoise; with cunning in place of a brain, and the rest of him mere stomach. But he is good enough for me.”

She hoped this would shock the stranger and that now, perhaps, he would go. It irritated her to hear him only laugh.

“No,” he said, “you will not marry him.”

“Who will stop me?” she cried angrily.

“Your Better Self.”

His voice had a strange ring of authority, compelling her to turn and look upon his face. Yes, it was true, the fancy that from the very first had haunted her. She had met him, talked to him—in silent country roads, in crowded city streets, where was it? And always in talking with him her spirit had been lifted up: she had been—what he had always thought her.

“There are those,” continued the stranger (and for the first time she saw that he was of a noble presence, that his gentle, child-like eyes could also command), “whose Better Self lies slain by their own hand and troubles them no more. But yours, my child, you have let grow too strong; it will ever be your master. You must obey. Flee from it and it will follow you; you cannot escape it. Insult it and it will chastise you with burning shame, with stinging self-reproach from day to day.” The sternness faded from the beautiful face, the tenderness crept back. He laid his hand upon the young girl’s shoulder. “You will marry your lover,” he smiled. “With him you will walk the way of sunlight and of shadow.”

And the girl, looking up into the strong, calm face, knew that it would be so, that the power of resisting her Better Self had passed away from her for ever.

“Now,” said the stranger, “come to the door with me. Leave-takings are but wasted sadness. Let me pass out quietly. Close the door softly behind me.”

She thought that perhaps he would turn his face again, but she saw no more of him than the odd roundness of his back under the tightly buttoned coat, before he faded into the gathering fog.

Then softly she closed the door.

The Story Of The Bad Little Boy

Once there was a bad little boy whose name was Jim – though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was strange, but still it was true that this one was called Jim.
He didn’t have any sick mother either – a sick mother who was pious and had the consumption, and would be glad to lie down in the grave and be at rest but for the strong love she bore her boy, and the anxiety she felt that the world might be harsh and cold towards him when she was gone. Most bad boys in the Sunday-books are named James, and have sick mothers, who teach them to say, “Now, I lay me down,” etc. and sing them to sleep with sweet, plaintive voices, and then kiss them good-night, and kneel down by the bedside and weep. But it was different with this fellow. He was named Jim, and there wasn’t anything the matter with his mother – no consumption, nor anything of that kind. She was rather stout than otherwise, and she was not pious; moreover, she was not anxious on Jim’s account. She said if he were to break his neck it wouldn’t be much loss. She always spanked Jim to sleep, and she never kissed him good-night; on the contrary, she boxed his ears when she was ready to leave him.
Once this little bad boy stole the key of the pantry, and slipped in there and helped himself to some jam, and filled up the vessel with tar, so that his mother would never know the difference; but all at once a terrible feeling didn’t come over him, and something didn’t seem to whisper to him, “Is it right to disobey my mother? Isn’t it sinful to do this? Where do bad little boys go who gobble up their good kind mother’s jam?” and then he didn’t kneel down all alone and promise never to be wicked any more, and rise up with a light, happy heart, and go and tell his mother all about it, and beg her forgiveness, and be blessed by her with tears of pride and thankfulness in her eyes. No; that is the way with all other bad boys in the books; but it happened otherwise with this Jim, strangely enough. He ate that jam, and said it was bully, in his sinful, vulgar way; and he put in the tar, and said that was bully also, and laughed, and observed “that the old woman would get up and snort” when she found it out; and when she did find it out, he denied knowing anything about it, and she whipped him severely, and he did the crying himself. Everything about this boy was curious – everything turned out differently with him from the way it does to the bad James in the books.
Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and become good. Oh! no; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was all ready for the dog too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him. It was very strange – nothing like it ever happened in those mild little books with marbled backs, and with pictures in them of men with swallow-tailed coats and bell-crowned hats, and pantaloons that are short in the legs, and women with the waists of their dresses under their arms, and no hoops on. Nothing like it in any of the Sunday-school books.
Once he stole the teacher’s pen-knife, and, when he was afraid it would be found out and he would get whipped, he slipped it into George Wilson’s cap – poor Widow Wilson’s son, the moral boy, the good little boy of the village, who always obeyed his mother, and never told an untruth, and was fond of his lessons, and infatuated with Sunday-school. And when the knife dropped from the cap, and poor George hung his head and blushed, as if in conscious guilt, and the grieved teacher charged the theft upon him, and was just in the very act of bringing the switch down upon his trembling shoulders, a white-haired improbable justice of the peace did not suddenly appear in their midst, and strike an attitude and say, “Spare this noble boy – there stands the cowering culprit! I was passing the school-door at recess, and unseen myself, I saw the theft committed!” And then Jim didn’t get whaled, and the venerable justice didn’t read the tearful school a homily and take George by the hand and say such a boy deserved to be exalted, and then tell him to come and make his home with him, and sweep out the office, and make fires, and run errands, and chop wood, and study law, and help his wife to do household labors, and have all the balance of the time to play, and get forty cents a month, and be happy. No; it would have happened that way in the books, but it didn’t happen that way to Jim. No meddling old clam of a justice dropped in to make trouble, and so the model boy George got thrashed, and Jim was glad of it because, you know, Jim hated moral boys. Jim said he was “down on them milk-sops.” Such was the coarse language of this bad, neglected boy.
But the strangest thing that ever happened to Jim was the time he went boating on Sunday, and didn’t get drowned, and that other time that he got caught out in the storm when he was fishing on Sunday, and didn’t get struck by lighting. Why, you might look, and look, all through the Sunday-school books from now till next Christmas, and you would never come across anything like this. Oh no; you would find that all the bad boys who go boating on Sunday invariably get drowned; and all the bad boys who get caught out in storms when they are fishing on Sunday infallibly get struck by lightning. Boats with bad boys in them always upset on Sunday, and it always storms when bad boys go fishing on the Sabbath. How this Jim ever escaped is a mystery to me.
This Jim bore a charmed life – that must have been the way of it. Nothing could hurt him. He even gave the elephant in the menagerie a plug of tobacco, and the elephant didn’t knock the top of his head off with his trunk. He browsed around the cupboard after essence of peppermint, and didn’t make a mistake and drink aqua fortis. He stole his father’s gun and went hunting on the Sabbath, and didn’t shoot three or four of his fingers off. He struck his little sister on the temple with his fist when he was angry, and she didn’t linger in pain through long summer days, and die with sweet words of forgiveness upon her lips that redoubled the anguish of his breaking heart. No; she got over it. He ran off and went to sea at last, and didn’t come back and find himself sad and alone in the world, his loved ones sleeping in the quiet churchyard, and the vine-embowered home of his boyhood tumbled down and gone to decay. Ah! no; he came home as drunk as a piper, and got into the station-house the first thing.
And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalist wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.
So you see there never was a bad James in the Sunday-school books that had such a streak of luck as this sinful Jim with the charmed life.

The Story Of The Good Little Boy
By Mark Twain, 1875

Once there was a good little boy by the name of Jacob Blivens. He always obeyed his parents, no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were; and he always learned his book, and never was late at Sabbath-school. He would not play hookey, even when Hi_ bober judgment told him it was the most profitable thing he could do. None of the other boys could ever make that boy out, he acted so strangely. He wouldn’t lie, no matter how convenient it was. He just said it was wrong to lie, and that was sufficient for him. And he was so honest that he was simply ridiculous. The curious ways that that Jacob had, surpassed everything. He wouldn’t play marbles on Sunday, he wouldn’t rob birds’ nests, he wouldn’t give hot pennies to organ-grinders’ monkeys; he didn’t seem to take any interest in any kind of rational amusement. So the other boys used to try to reason it out and come to an understanding of him, but they couldn’t arrive at any satisfactory conclusion. As I said before, they could only figure out a sort of vague idea that he was “afflicted,” and so they took him under their protection, and never allowed any harm to come to him.
This good little boy read all the Sunday-school books; they were his greatest delight. This was the whole secret of it. He believed in the good little boys they put in the Sunday-school books; he had every confidence in them. He longed to come across one of them alive, once; but he never did. They all died before his time, maybe. Whenever he read about a particularly good one he turned over quickly to the end to see what became of him, because he wanted to travel thousands of miles and gaze on him; but it wasn’t any use; that good little boy always died in the last chapter, and there was a picture of the funeral, with all his relatives and the Sunday-school children standing around the grave in pantaloons that were too short, and bonnets that were too large, and everybody crying into handkerchiefs that had as much as a yard and a half of stuff in them. He was always headed off in this way. He never could see one of those good little boys on account of his always dying in the last chapter.
Jacob had a noble ambition to be put in a Sunday-school book. He wanted to be put in, with pictures representing him gloriously declining to lie to his mother, and her weeping for joy about it; and pictures representing him standing on the doorstep giving a penny to a poor beggar-woman with six children, and telling her to spend it freely, but not to be extravagant, because extravagance is a sin; and pictures of him magnanimously refusing to tell on the bad boy who always lay in wait for him around the corner as he came from school, and welted him over the head with a lath, and then chased him home, saying, “Hi! hi!” as he proceeded. This was the ambition of young Jacob Blivens. He wished to be put in a Sunday-school book. It made him feel a little uncomfortable sometimes when he reflected that the good little boys always died. He loved to live, you know, and this was the most unpleasant feature about being a Sunday-school-book boy. He knew it was not healthy to be good. He knew it was more fatal than consumption to be so supernaturally good as the boys in the books were; he knew that none of them had been able to stand it long, and it pained him to think that if they put him in a book he wouldn’t ever see it, or even if they did get the book out before he died it wouldn’t be popular without any picture of his funeral in the back part of it. It couldn’t be much of a Sunday-school book that couldn’t tell about the advice he gave to the community when he was dying. So at last, of course, he had to make up his mind to do the best he could under the circumstances – to live right, and hang on as long as he could, and have his dying speech all ready when his time came.
But somehow nothing ever went right with this good little boy; nothing ever turned out with him the way it turned out with the good little boys in the books. They always had a good time, and the bad boys had the broken legs; but in his case there was a screw loose somewhere; and it all happened just the other way. When he found Jim Blake stealing apples, and went under the tree to read to him about the bad little boy who fell out of a neighbor’s apple-tree and broke his arm, Jim fell out of the tree too, but he fell on him, and broke his arm, and Jim wasn’t hurt at all. Jacob couldn’t understand that. There wasn’t anything in the books like it.
And once, when some bad boys pushed a blind man over in the mud, and Jacob ran to help him up and receive his blessing, the blind man did not give him any blessing at all, but whacked him over the head with his stick and said he would like to catch him shoving him again, and then pretending to help him up. This was not in accordance with any of the books. Jacob looked them all over to see.
One thing that Jacob wanted to do was to find a lame dog that hadn’t any place to stay, and was hungry and persecuted, and bring him home and pet him and have that dog’s imperishable gratitude. And at last he found one and was happy; and he brought him home and fed him, but when he was going to pet him the dog flew at him and tore all the clothes off him except those that were in front, and made a spectacle of him that was astonishing. He examined authorities, but he could not understand the matter. It was of the same breed of dogs that was in the books, but it acted very differently. Whatever this boy did he got into trouble. The very things the boys in the books got rewarded for turned out to be about the most unprofitable things he could invest in.
Once, when he was on his way to Sunday-school, he saw some bad boys starting off pleasuring in a sailboat. He was filled with consternation, because he knew from his reading that boys who went sailing on Sunday invariably got drowned. So he ran out on a raft to warn them, but a log turned with him and slid him into the river. A man got him out pretty soon, and the doctor pumped the water out of him, and gave him a fresh start with his bellows, but he caught cold and lay sick a-bed nine weeks. But the most unaccountable thing about it was that the bad boys in the boat had a good time all day, and then reached home alive and well in the most surprising manner. Jacob Blivens said there was nothing like these things in the books. He was perfectly dumb-founded.
When he got well he was a little discouraged, but he resolved to keep on trying anyhow. He knew that so far his experience wouldn’t do to go in a book, but he hadn’t yet reached the allotted term of life for good little boys, and he hoped to be able to make a record yet if he could hold on till his time was fully up. If everything else failed he had his dying speech to fall back on.
He examined his authorities, and found that it was now time for him to go to sea as a cabin-boy. He called on a ship captain and made his application, and when the captain asked for his recommendations he proudly drew out a tract and pointed to the words. “To Jacob Blivens, from his affectionate teacher.” But the captain was a coarse, vulgar man, and he said, “Oh, that be blowed! that wasn’t any proof that he know how to wash dishes or handle a slush-bucket, and he guessed he didn’t want him.” This was altogether the most extraordinary thing that ever happened to Jacob in all his life. A compliment from a teacher, on a tract, had never failed to move the tenderest emotions of ship captains, and open the way to all offices of honor and profit in their gift – it never had in any book that ever he had read. He could hardly believe his senses.
This boy always had a hard time of it. Nothing over came out according to the authorities with him. At last, one day, when he was around hunting up bad little boys to admonish, he found a lot of them in the old iron foundry fixing up a little joke on fourteen or fifteen dogs, which they had tied together in long procession, and were going to ornament with empty nitro-glycerine cans made fast one him), and he took hold of the foremost dog by the collar, and turned his reproving eye upon wicked Tom Jones. But just at that moment Alderman McWelter full of wrath, stepped in. All the bad boys ran away, but Jacob Blivens rose in conscious innocence and began one of those stately little Sunday-school-book speeches which always commence with “Oh, sir!” in dead opposition to the fact that no boy, good or bad, ever starts a remark with “Oh, sir.” But the alderman never waited to hear the rest. He took Jacob Blivens by the ear and turned him around, and hit him a whack in the rear with the flat of his hand; and in an instant that good little boy shot out through the roof and soared away towards the sun, with the fragments of those fifteen dogs stringing after him like the tail of a kite. And there wasn’t a sign of that alderman or that old iron foundry left on the face of the earth; and, as for young Jacob Blivens, he never got a chance to make his last dying speech after all his trouble fixing it up, unless he made it to the birds; because, although the bulk of him came down all right in a tree-top in an adjoining county, the rest of him was apportioned around among four townships, and so they had to hold five inquests on him to find out whether he was dead or not, and how it occurred. You never saw a boy scattered so. ^*

[Footnote *: This glycerine catastrophe is borrowed from a floating newspaper item, whose author’s name I would give if I knew it. – [M.T.]]
Thus perished the good little boy who did the best he could, but didn’t come out according to the books. Every boy who ever did as he did prospered except him. His case is truly remarkable. It will probably never be accounted for.

The Hint of an Explanation

A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY on a late December evening, in this new version of peace, is a dreary experience. I suppose that my fellow traveller and I could consider ourselves lucky to have a compartment to ourselves, even though the heating apparatus was not working, even though the lights went out entirely in the frequent Pennine tunnels and were too dim anyway for us to read our books without straining our eyes, and though there was no restaurant car to give at least a change of scene. It was when we were trying simultaneously to chew the same kind of dry bun bought at the same station buffet that my companion and I came together. Before that we had sat at opposite ends of the carriage, both muffled to the chin in overcoats, both bent low over type we could barely make out, but as I threw the remains of my cake under the seat our eyes met, and he laid his book down.
By the time we were half-way to Bedwell Junction we had found an enormous range of subjects for discussion; starting with buns and the weather, we had gone on to politics, the government, foreign affairs, the atom bomb, and, by an inevitable progression, God. We had not, however, become either shrill or acid. My companion, who now sat opposite me, leaning a little forward, so that our knees nearly touched, gave such an impression of serenity that it would have been impossible to quarrel with him, however much our views differed, and differ they did profoundly.
I had soon realized I was speaking to a Catholic, to someone who believed–how do they put it?–in an omnipotent and omniscient Deity, while I was what is loosely called an Agnostic. I have a certain intuition (which I do not trust, founded as it may well be on childish experiences and needs) that a God exists, and I am surprised occasionally into belief by the extraordinary coincidences that beset our path like the traps set for leopards in the jungle, but intellectually I am revolted at the whole notion of such a God who can so abandon his creatures to the enormities of Free Will. I found myself expressing this view to my companion, who listened quietly and with respect. He made no attempt to interrupt: he showed none of the impatience or the intellectual arrogance I have grown to expect from Catholics; when the lights of a wayside station flashed across his face that had escaped hitherto the rays of the one globe working in the compartment, I caught a glimpse suddenly of–what? I stopped speaking, so strong was the impression. I was carried back ten years, to the other side of the great useless conflict, to a small town, Gisors in Normandy. I was again, for a moment, walking on the ancient battlements and looking down across the grey roofs, until my eyes for some reason lit on one grey stony “back” out of the many, where the face of a middle-aged man was pressed against a windowpane (I suppose that face has ceased to exist now, just as I believe the whole town with its medieval memories has been reduced to rubble). I remembered saying to myself with astonishment, “That man is happy–completely happy.” I looked across the compartment at my fellow traveller, but his face was already again in shadow. I said weakly, “When you think what God–if there is a God–allows. It’s not merely the physical agonies, but think of the corruption, even of children. . . .”
He said, “Our view is so limited,” and I was disappointed at the conventionality of his reply. He must have been aware of my disappointment (it was as though our thoughts were huddled as closely as ourselves for warmth), for he went on, “Of course there is no answer here. We catch hints . . .” and then the train roared into another tunnel and the lights again went out. It was the longest tunnel yet; we went rocking down it, and the cold seemed to become more intense with the darkness like an icy fog (perhaps when one sense–of sight–is robbed of sensation, the others grow more sensitive). When we emerged into the mere grey of night and the globe lit up once more, I could see that my companion was leaning back on his seat.
I repeated his last words as a question, “Hints?”
“Oh, they mean very little in cold print–or cold speech,” he said, shivering in his overcoat. “And they mean nothing at all to a human being other than the man who catches them. They are not scientific evidence–or evidence at all for that matter. Events that don’t, somehow, turn out as they were intended–by the human actors I mean, or by the thing behind the human actors.”
“The thing?”
“The word Satan is so anthropomorphic.”
I had to lean forward now: I wanted to hear what he had to say. I am–I really am, God knows–open to conviction.
He said, “One’s words are so crude, but I sometimes feel pity for that thing. It is so continually finding the right weapon to use against its Enemy and the weapon breaks in its own breast. It sometimes seems to me so–powerless. You said something just now about the corruption of children. It reminded me of something in my own childhood. You are the first person–except for one–that I have thought of telling it to, perhaps because you are anonymous. It’s not a very long story, and in a way it’s relevant.”
I said, “I’d like to hear it.”
“You mustn’t expect too much meaning. But to me there seems to be a hint. That’s all. A hint.”
He went slowly on, turning his face to the pane, though he could have seen nothing real in the whirling world outside except an occasional signal lamp, a light in a window, a small country station torn backwards by our rush, picking his words with precision. He said, “When I was a child they taught me to serve at Mass. The church was a small one, for there were very few Catholics where I lived. It was a market town in East Anglia, surrounded by flat, chalky fields and ditches–so many ditches. I don’t suppose there were fifty Catholics all told, and for some reason there was a tradition of hostility to us. Perhaps it went back to the burning of a Protestant martyr in the sixteenth century–there was a stone marking the place near where the meat stalls stood on Wednesdays. I was only half aware of the enmity, though I knew that my school nickname of Popey Martin had something to do with my religion, and I had heard that my father was nearly excluded from the Constitutional Club when he first came to the town.
“Every Sunday I had to dress up in my surplice and serve Mass. I hated it–I have always hated dressing up in any way (which is funny when you come to think of it), and I never ceased to be afraid of losing my place in the service and doing something which would put me to ridicule. Our services were at a different hour from the Anglican, and as our small, far-from-select band trudged out of the hideous chapel the whole of the townsfolk seemed to be on the way past to the proper church–I always thought of it as the proper church. We had to pass the parade of their eyes, indifferent, supercilious, mocking; you can’t imagine how seriously religion can be taken in a small town, if only for social reasons.
“There was one man in particular; he was one of the two bakers in the town, the one my family did not patronize. I don’t think any of the Catholics patronized him because he was called a free-thinker –an odd title, for, poor man, no one’s thoughts were less free than his. He was hemmed in by his hatred–his hatred of us. He was very ugly to look at, with one wall-eye and a head the shape of a turnip, with the hair gone on the crown, and he was unmarried. He had no interests, apparently, but his baking and his hatred, though now that I am older I begin to see other sides to his nature –it did contain, perhaps, a certain furtive love. One would come across him suddenly sometimes on a country walk, especially if one were alone and it was Sunday. It was as if he rose from the ditches, and the smear of chalk on his clothes reminded one of the flour on his working overalls. He would have a stick in his hand and stab at the hedges, and if his mood were very black he would call out after one strange abrupt words like a foreign tongue–I know the meaning of those words, of course, now. Once the police went to his house because of what a boy said he’d seen, but nothing came of it except that the hate shackled him closer. His name was Blacker and he terrified me.
“I think he had a particular hatred of my father–I don’t know why. My father was manager of the Midland Bank, and it’s possible that at some time Blacker may have had unsatisfactory dealings with the bank; my father was a very cautious man who suffered all his life from anxiety about money–his own and other people’s. If I try and picture Blacker now I see him walking along a narrowing path between high windowless walls, and at the end of the path stands a small boy of ten–me. I don’t know whether it’s a symbolic picture or the memory of one of our encounters–our encounters somehow got more and more frequent. You talked just now about the corruption of children. That poor man was preparing to revenge himself on everything he hated–my father, the Catholics, the God whom people persisted in crediting–and that by corrupting me. He had evolved a horrible and ingenious plan.
“I remember the first time I had a friendly word from him. I was passing his shop as rapidly as I could when I heard his voice call out with a kind of sly subservience as though he were an under servant. ‘Master David,’ he called, ‘Master David,’ and I hurried on. But the next time I passed that way he was at his door (he must have seen me coming) with one of those curly cakes in his hand that we called Chelsea buns. I didn’t want to take it, but he made me, and then I couldn’t be other than polite when he asked me to come into his parlour behind the shop and see something very special.
“It was a small electric railway–a rare sight in those days, and he insisted on showing me how it worked. He made me turn the switches and stop and start it, and he told me that I could come in any morning and have a game with it. He used the word ‘game’ as though it were something secret, and it’s true that I never told my family of this invitation and of how, perhaps twice a week those holidays, the desire to control that little railway become overpowering, and looking up and down the street to see if I were observed, I would dive into the shop.”
Our larger, dirtier, adult train drove into a tunnel and the light went out. We sat in darkness and silence, with the noise of the train blocking our ears like wax. When we were though we didn’t speak at once and I had to prick him into continuing.
“An elaborate seduction,” I said.
“Don’t think his plans were as simple as that,” my companion said, “or as crude. There was much more hate than love, poor man, in his make-up. Can you hate something you don’t believe in? And yet he called himself a free-thinker. What an impossible paradox, to be free and to be so obsessed. Day by day all through those holidays his obsession must have grown, but he kept a grip; he bided his time. Perhaps that thing I spoke of gave him the strength and the wisdom. It was only a week from the end of the holidays that he spoke to me on what concerned him so deeply.
“I heard him behind me as I knelt on the floor, coupling two coaches. He said, ‘You won’t be able to do this, Master David, when school starts.’ It wasn’t a sentence that needed any comment from me any more than the one that followed. ‘You ought to have it for your own, you ought,’ but how skilfully and unemphatically he had sowed the longing, the idea of a possibility. . . . I was coming to his parlour every day now; you see, I had to cram every opportunity in before the hated term started again, and I suppose I was becoming accustomed to Blacker, to that wall-eye, that turnip head, that nauseating subservience. The Pope, you know, describes himself as ‘the servant of the servants of God,’ and Blacker–I sometimes think that Blacker was ‘the servant of the servants of . . . ,’ well, let it be.
“The very next day, standing in the doorway watching me play, he began to talk to me about religion. He said, with what untruth even I recognized, how much he admired the Catholics; he wished he could believe like that, but how could a baker believe? He accented ‘a baker’ as one might say a biologist, and the tiny train spun round the gauge 0 track. He said, ‘I can bake the things you eat just as well as any Catholic can,’ and disappeared into his shop. I hadn’t the faintest idea what he meant. Presently he emerged again, holding in his hand a little wafer. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘eat that and tell me. . . .’ When I put it in my mouth I could tell that it was made in the same way as our wafers for communion–he had got the shape a little wrong, that was all–and I felt guilty and irrationally scared. ‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘what’s the difference?’
“‘Difference?’ I asked.
“‘Isn’t that just the same as you eat in church?’
“I said smugly, ‘It hasn’t been consecrated.’
“He said, ‘Do you think, if I put the two of them under a microscope, you could tell the difference?’
“But even at ten I had the answer to that question. ‘No,’ I said, ‘the–accidents don’t change,’ stumbling a little on the word ‘accidents’ which had suddenly conveyed to me the idea of death and wounds.
“Blacker said with sudden intensity, ‘How I’d like to get one of your ones in my mouth–just to see. . . .’
“It may seem odd to you, but this was the first time that the idea of transsubstantiation really lodged in my mind. I had learned it all by rote; I had grown up with the idea. The Mass was as lifeless to me as the sentences in De Bello Gallico; communion a routine like drill in the school-yard, but here suddenly I was in the presence of a man who took it seriously, as seriously as the priest whom naturally one didn’t count–it was his job. I felt more scared than ever.
“He said, ‘It’s all nonsense, but I’d just like to have it in my mouth.’
“‘You could if you were a Catholic,’ I said naïvely.
“He gazed at me with his one good eye, like a Cyclops. He said, ‘You serve at Mass, don’t you? It would be easy for you to get at one of those things. I tell you what I’d do–I’d swap this electric train for one of your wafers–consecrated, mind. It’s got to be consecrated.’
“‘I could get you one out of the box,’ I said. I think I still imagined that his interest was a baker’s interest–to see how they were made.
“‘Oh, no,’ he said, ‘I want to see what your God tastes like.’
“‘I couldn’t do that.’
“‘Not for a whole electric train, just for yourself? You wouldn’t have any trouble at home. I’d pack it up and put a label inside that your dad could see: “For my bank manager’s little boy from a grateful client.” He’d be pleased as punch with that.’
“Now that we are grown men it seems a trivial temptation, doesn’t it? But try to think back to your own childhood. There was a whole circuit of rails there on the floor at our feet, straight rails and curved, and a little station with porters and passengers, a tunnel, a foot-bridge, a level crossing, two signals, buffers, of course –and, above all, a turntable. The tears of longing came into my eyes when I looked at the turntable. It was my favorite piece–it looked so ugly and practical and true. I said weakly, ‘I wouldn’t know how.’
“How carefully he had been studying the ground! He must have slipped several times into Mass at the back of the church. It would have been no good, you understand, in a little town like that, presenting himself for communion. Everybody there knew him for what he was. He said to me, ‘When you’ve been given communion you could just put it under your tongue a moment. He serves you and the other boy first, and I saw you once go out behind the curtain straight afterwards. You’d forgotten one of those little bottles.’
“‘The cruet,’ I said.
“‘Pepper and salt.’ He grinned at me jovially, and I–well, I looked at the little railway which I could no longer come and play with when term started. I said, ‘You’d just swallow it, wouldn’t you?’
“‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I’d just swallow it.’
“Somehow I didn’t want to play with the train any more that day. I got up and made for the door, but he detained me, gripping my lapel. He said, ‘This will be a secret between you and me. Tomorrow’s Sunday. You come along here in the afternoon. Put it in an envelope and post it me. Monday morning the train will be delivered bright and early.’
“‘Not tomorrow,’ I implored him.
“‘I’m not interested in any other Sunday,’ he said. ‘It’s your only chance! He shook me gently backwards and forwards. ‘It will always have to be a secret between you and me,’ he said. ‘Why, if anyone knew they’d take away the train and there’d be me to reckon with. I’d bleed you something awful. You know how I’m always about on Sunday walks. You can’t avoid a man like me. I crop up. You wouldn’t ever be safe in your own house. I know ways to get into houses when people are asleep.’ He pulled me into the shop after him and opened a drawer. In the drawer was an odd looking key and a cut-throat razor. He said, ‘That’s a master key that opens all locks and that–that’s what I bleed people with.’ Then he patted my cheek with his plump floury fingers and said, ‘Forget it. You and me are friends.’
“That Sunday Mass stays in my head, every detail of it, as though it had happened only a week ago. From the moment of the Confession to the moment of Consecration it had a terrible importance; only one other Mass has ever been so important to me–perhaps not even one, for this was a solitary Mass which would never happen again. It seemed as final as the last Sacrament when the priest bent down and put the wafer in my mouth where I knelt before the altar with my fellow server.
“I suppose I had made up my mind to commit this awful act-for, you know, to us it must always seem an awful act–from the moment when I saw Blacker watching from the back of the church. He had put on his best black Sunday clothes and, as though he could never quite escape the smear of his profession, he had a dab of dried talcum on his cheek, which he had presumably applied after using that cut-throat of his. He was watching me closely all the time, and I think it was fear–fear of that terrible undefined thing called bleeding–as much as covetousness that drove me to carry out my instructions.
“My fellow server got briskly up and, taking the paten, preceded Father Carey to the altar rail where the other communicants knelt. I had the Host lodged under my tongue: it felt like a blister. I got up and made for the curtain to get the cruet that I had purposely left in the sacristy. When I was there I looked quickly round for a hiding place and saw an old copy of the Universe lying on a chair. I took the Host from my mouth and inserted it between two sheets –a little damp mess of pulp. Then I thought: perhaps Father Carey has put out the paper for a particular purpose and he will find the Host before I have time to remove it, and the enormity of my act began to come home to me when I tried to imagine what punishment I should incur. Murder is sufficiently trivial to have its appropriate punishment, but for this act the mind boggled at the thought of any retribution at all. I tried to remove the Host, but it stuck clammily between the pages, and in desperation I tore out a piece of the newspaper and, screwing the whole thing up, stuck it in my trousers pocket. When I came back through the curtain carrying the cruet my eyes met Blacker’s. He gave me a grin of encouragement and unhappiness–yes, I am sure, unhappiness. Was it perhaps that the poor man was all the time seeking something incorruptible?
“I can remember little more of that day. I think my mind was shocked and stunned, and I was caught up too in the family bustle of Sunday. Sunday in a provincial town is the day for relations. All the family are at home, and unfamiliar cousins and uncles are apt to arrive, packed in the back seats of other people’s cars. I remember that some crowd of the kind descended on us and pushed Blacker temporarily out of the foreground of my mind. There was somebody called Aunt Lucy, with a loud hollow laugh that filled the house with mechanical merriment like the sound of recorded laughter from inside a hall of mirrors, and I had no opportunity to go out alone even if I had wished to. When six o’clock came and Aunt Lucy and the cousins departed and peace returned, it was too late to go to Blacker’s, and at eight it was my own bed-time.
“I think I had half forgotten what I had in my pocket. As I emptied my pocket the little screw of newspaper brought quickly back the Mass, the priest bending over me, Blacker’s grin. I laid the packet on the chair by my bed and tried to go to sleep, but I was haunted by the shadows on the wall where the curtains blew, the squeak of furniture, the rustle in the chimney, haunted by the presence of God there on the chair. The Host had always been to me–well, the Host. I knew theoretically, as I have said, what I had to believe, but suddenly, as someone whistled in the road outside, whistled secretively, knowingly, to me, I knew that this which I had beside my bed was something of infinite value–something a man would pay for with his whole peace of mind, something that was so hated one could love it as one loves an outcast or a bullied child. These are adult words, and it was a child of ten who lay scared in bed, listening to the whistle from the road, Blacker’s whistle, but I think he felt fairly clearly what I am describing now. That is what I meant when I said this Thing, whatever it is, that seizes every possible weapon against God, is always, everywhere, disappointed at the moment of success. It must have felt as certain of me as Blacker did. It must have felt certain too of Blacker. But I wonder, if one knew what happened later to that poor man, whether one would not find again that the weapon had been turned against its own breast.
“At last I couldn’t bear that whistle any more and got out of bed. I opened the curtains a little way, and there right under my window, the moonlight on his face, was Blacker. If I had stretched my hand down, his fingers reaching up could almost have touched mine. He looked up at me, flashing the one good eye, with hunger-I realize now that near-success must have developed his obsession almost to the point of madness. Desperation had driven him to the house. He whispered up at me. ‘David, where is it?’
“I jerked my head back at the room. ‘Give it me,’ he said. ‘Quick. You shall have the train in the morning.’
“I shook my head. He said, ‘I’ve got the bleeder here, and the key. You’d better toss it down.’
“‘Go away,’ I said, but I could hardly speak for fear.
“‘I’ll bleed you first and then I’ll have it just the same.’
“‘Oh, no, you won’t,’ I said. I went to the chair and picked it-Him–up. There was only one place where He was safe. I couldn’t separate the Host from the paper, so I swallowed both. The newsprint stuck like a prune skin to the back of my throat, but I rinsed it down with water from the ewer. Then I went back to the window and looked down at Blacker. He began to wheedle me. ‘What have you done with it, David? What’s the fuss? It’s only a bit of bread,’ looking so longingly and pleadingly up at me that even as a child I wondered whether he could really think that, and yet desire it so much.
“‘I swallowed it,’ I said.
“‘Swallowed it?’
“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Go away.’
“Then something happened which seems to me now more terrible than his desire to corrupt or my thoughtless act: he began to weep –the tears ran lopsidedly out of the one good eye and his shoulders shook. I only saw his face for a moment before he bent his head and strode off, the bald turnip head shaking, into the dark. When I think of it now, it’s almost as if I had seen that Thing weeping for its inevitable defeat. It had tried to use me as a weapon, and now I had broken in its hands and it wept its hopeless tears through one of Blacker’s eyes.”
The black furnaces of Bedwell Junction gathered around the line. The points switched and we were tossed from one set of rails to another. A spray of sparks, a signal light changing to red, tall chimneys jetting into the grey night sky, the fumes of steam from stationary engines–half the cold journey was over, and now remained the long wait for the slow cross-country train. I said, “It’s an interesting story. I think I should have given Blacker what he wanted. I wonder what he would have done with it.”
“I really believe,” my companion said, “that he would first of all have put it under his microscope–before he did all the other things I expect he had planned.”
“And the hints,” I said. “I don’t quite see what you mean by that.”
“Oh, well,” he said vaguely, “you know for me it was an odd beginning, that affair, when you come to think of it,” but I never should have known what he meant had not his coat, when he rose to take his bag from the rack, come open and disclosed the collar of a priest.
I said, “I suppose you think you owe a lot to Blacker.”
“Yes,” he said, “you see, I am a very happy man.”


The Doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence. She stood looming at the head of the magazine table set in the center of it, a living demonstration that the room was inadequate and ridiculous. Her little bright black eyes took in all the patients as she sized up the seating situation. There was one vacant chair and a place on the sofa occupied by a blond child in a dirty blue romper who should have been told to move over and make room for the lady. He was five or six, but Mrs. Turpin saw at once that no one was going to tell him to move over. He was slumped down in the seat, his arms idle at his sides and his eyes idle in his head; his nose ran unchecked.
Mrs. Turpin put a firm hand on Claud’s shoulder and said in a voice that included anyone who wanted to listen, “Claud, you sit in that chair there,” and gave him a push down into the vacant one. Claud was florid and bald and sturdy, somewhat shorter than Mrs. Turpin, but he sat down as if he were accustomed to doing what she told him to.
Mrs. Turpin remained standing. The only man in the room besides Claud was a lean stringy old fellow with a rusty hand spread out on each knee, whose eyes were closed as if he were asleep or dead or pretending to be so as not to get up and offer her his seat. Her gaze settled agreeably on a well-dressed grey-haired lady whose eyes met hers and whose expression said: if that child belonged to me, he would have some manners and move over-there’s plenty of room there for you and him too.
Claud looked up with a sigh and made as if to rise.
“Sit down,” Mrs. Turpin said. “You know you’re not supposed to stand on that leg. He has an ulcer on his leg,” she explained.
Claud lifted his foot onto the magazine table and rolled his trouser leg up to reveal a purple swelling on a plump marble white calf.
“My!” the pleasant lady said. “How did you do that?”
“A cow kicked him,” Mrs. Turpin said.
“Goodness!” said the lady.
Claud rolled his trouser leg down.
“Maybe the little boy would move over,” the lady suggested, but the child did not stir.
“Somebody will be leaving in a minute,” Mrs. Turpin said. She could not understand why a doctor-with as much money as they made charging five dollars a day to just stick their head in the hospital door and look at you-couldn’t afford a decent-sized waiting room. This one was hardly bigger than a garage. The table was cluttered with limp-looking magazines and at one end of it there was a big green glass ashtray full of cigarette butts and cotton wads with little blood spots on them. If she had had anything to do with the running of the place, that would have been emptied every so often. There were no chairs against the wall at the head of the room. It had a rectangular-shaped panel in it that permitted a view of the office where the nurse came and went and the secretary listened to the radio. A plastic fern, in a gold pot sat in the opening and trailed its fronds down almost to the floor. The radio was softly playing gospel music.
Just then the inner door opened and a nurse with the highest stack of yellow hair Mrs. Turpin had ever seen put her face in the crack and called for the next patient. The woman sitting beside Claud grasped the two arms of her chair and hoisted herself up; she pulled her dress free from her legs and lumbered through the door where the nurse had disappeared.
Mrs. Turpin eased into the vacant chair, which held her tight as a corset. “I wish I could reduce,” she said, and rolled her eyes and gave a comic sigh.
“Oh, you aren’t fat,” the stylish lady said.
“Ooooo I am too,” Mrs. Turpin said. “Claud he eats all he wants to and never weighs over one hundred and seventy-five pounds, but me I just look at something good to eat and I gain some weight,” and her stomach and shoulders shook with laughter. “You can eat all you want to, can’t you, Claud?” she asked, turning to him.
Claud only grinned.
“Well, as long as you have such a good disposition,” the stylish lady said, “I don’t think it makes a bit of difference what size you are. You just can’t beat a good disposition.”
Next to her was a fat girl of eighteen or nineteen, scowling into a thick blue book which Mrs. Turpin saw was entitled Human Development. The girl raised her head and directed her scowl at Mrs. Turpin as if she did not like her looks. She appeared annoyed that anyone should speak while she tried to read. The poor girl’s face was blue with acne and Mrs. Turpin thought how pitiful it was to have a face like that at that age. She gave the girl a friendly smile but the girl only scowled the harder. Mrs. Turpin herself was fat but she had always had good skin, and, though she was forty-seven years old, there was not a wrinkle in her face except around her eyes from laughing too much.
Next to the ugly girl was the child, still in exactly the same position, and next to him was a thin leathery old woman in a cotton print dress. She and Claud had three sacks of chicken feed in their pump house that was in the same print. She had seen from the first that the child belonged with the old woman. She could tell by the way they sat- kind of vacant and white-trashy, as if they would sit there until Doomsday if nobody called and told them to get up. And at right angles but next to the well-dressed pleasant lady was a lank-faced woman who was certainly the child’s mother. She had on a yellow sweatshirt and wine-colored slacks, both gritty-looking, and the rims of her lips were stained with snuff. Her dirty yellow hair was tied behind with a little piece of red paper ribbon. Worse than niggers any day, Mrs. Turpin thought.
The gospel hymn playing was “When I looked up and He looked down,” and Mrs. Turpin, who knew it, supplied the last line mentally, “And wona these days I know I’ll we-eara crown.
Without appearing to, Mrs. Turpin always noticed people’s feet. The well-dressed lady had on red and grey suede shoes to match her dress. Mrs. Turpin had on her good black patent -leather pumps. The ugly girl had on Girl Scout shoes and heavy socks. The old woman had on tennis shoes and the white-trashy mother had on what appeared to be bedroom slippers, black straw with gold braid threaded through them-exactly what you would have expected her to have on.
Sometimes at night when she couldn’t go to sleep, Mrs. Turpin would occupy herself with the question of who she would have chosen to be if she couldn’t have been herself. If Jesus had said to her before he made her, “There’s only two places available for you. You can either be a nigger or white trash,” what would she have said? “Please, Jesus, please,” she would have said, “Just let me wait until there’s another place available,” and he would have said, “No, you have to go right now”, and I have only those two places so make up your mind.” She would have wiggled and squirmed and begged and pleaded but it would have been no use and finally she would have said, “All right, make me a nigger then-but that don’t mean a trashy one.” And he would have made her a near clean respectable Negro woman, herself but black.
Next to the child’s mother was a redheaded youngish woman, reading one of the magazines and working a piece of chewing gum, hell for leather, as Claud would say. Mrs. Turpin could not see the woman’s feet. She was not white trash, just common. Sometimes Mrs. Turpin occupied herself at night naming the classes of people. On the bottom of the heap were most colored people, not the kind she would have been if she had been one, but most of them; then next to them — not above, just away from — were the white-trash; then above them were the home-owners, and above them the home-and-land owners, to which she and Claud belonged, Above she and Claud were people with a lot of money and much bigger houses and much more land. But here the complexity of it would begin to bear in on her, for some of the people with a lot of money were common and ought to be below she and Claud and some of the people who had good blood had lost their money and had to rent and then there some colored people who owned their homes and land as well. There was a colored dentist in town who had two red Lincoln’s and a swimming pool and a farm with registered whiteface cattle on it. Usually by the time she had fallen asleep all the classes of people were moiling and roiling around in her head, and she would dream they were all crammed in together in a box car, being ridden off to be put in a gas oven.
“That’s a beautiful clock,” she said and nodded to her right. It was a big wall clock, the face encased in a brass sunburst.
“Yes, it’s very pretty,” the stylish lady said agreeably. “And right on the dot too,” she added, glancing at her watch.
The ugly girl beside her cast an eye upward at the clock, smirked, then looked directly at Mrs. Turpin and smirked again. Then she returned her eyes to her book. She was obviously the lady’s daughter because, although they didn’t look anything alike as to disposition, they both had the same shape of face and the same blue eyes. On the lady they sparkled pleasantly but in the girl’s scared face they appeared alternately to smolder and to blaze.
What if Jesus had said, “All right, you can be white-trash or a nigger or ugly”!
Mrs. Turpin felt an awful pity for the girl, though she thought it was one thing to be ugly and another to act ugly.
The woman with the snuff-stained lips turned around in her chair and looked up at the clock. Then she turned back and appeared to look a little to the side of Mrs. Turpin. There was a cast in one of her eyes. “You want to know where you can get you one of them there clocks?” she asked in a loud voice.
No , I already have a nice clock,” Mrs. Turpin said. Once somebody like her got a leg in the conversation, she would be all over it. “You can get you one with green stamps,” the woman said. “That’s most likely where he got hisn. Save you up enough, you can get you most anythang. I got me some joo’ry.”
Ought to have got you a wash rag and some soap, Mrs. Turpin thought.
“I get contour sheets with mine,” the pleasant lady said.
The daughter slammed her book shut. She looked straight in front of her, directly through Mrs. Turpin and on through the yellow curtain and the plate glass window which made the wall behind her. The girl’s eyes seemed lit all of a sudden with a peculiar light, an unnatural light like night road signs give. Mrs. Turpin turned her head to see if there was anything going on outside that she should see, but she could not see anything. Figures passing cast only a pate shadow through the curtain. There was no reason the girl should single her out for her ugly looks.
“Miss Finley,” the nurse said, cracking the door. The gum-chewing woman got up and passed in front of her and Claud and went into the office. She had on red high-heeled shoes.
Directly across the table, the ugly girl’s eyes were fixed on Mrs. Turpin as if she had some very special reason for disliking her.
“This is wonderful weather, isn’t it?” the girl’s mother said.
“It’s good weather for cotton if you can get the niggers to pick it,” Mrs. Turpin said, “but niggers don’t want to pick cotton any more. You can’t get the white folks to pick it and now you can’t get the niggers because they got to be right up there with the white folks.”
“They gonna try anyways,” the white-trash woman said, leaning forward.
“Do you have one of those cotton-picking machines?” the pleasant lady asked.
“No,” Mrs. Turpin said, “they leave half the cotton in the field. We don’t have much cotton anyway. If you want to make it farming now, you have to have a little of everything. We got a couple of acres of cotton and a few hogs and chickens and just enough white-face that Claud can look after them himself.
“One thang I don’t want,” the white-trash woman said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Hogs. Nasty stinking things, a-gruntin and a-rootin all over the place.”
Mrs. Turpin gave her the merest edge of her attention. “Our hogs are not dirty and they don’t stink,” she said. “They’re cleaner than some children I’ve seen. Their feet never touch the ground. We have a pig-parlor- that’s where you raise them on concrete,” she explained to the pleasant lady, “and Claud scoots them down with the hose every afternoon and washes off the floor.” Cleaner by far than that child right there, she thought. Poor nasty little thing. He had not moved except to put the thumb of his dirty hand into his mouth.
Mrs. Turpin gave her the merest edge of her attention. “Our hogs are not dirty and they don’t stink,” she said. “They’re cleaner than some children I’ve seen. Their feet never touch the ground. We have a pig-parlor- that’s where you raise them on concrete,” she explained to the pleasant lady, “and Claud scoots them down with the hose every afternoon and washes off the floor.” Cleaner by far than that child right there, she thought. Poor nasty little thing. He had not moved except to put the thumb of his dirty hand into his mouth.
The woman turned her face away from Mrs. Turpin. “I know I wouldn’t scoot down no hog with no hose,” she said to the wall.
You wouldn’t have no hog to scoot down, Mrs. Turpin said to herself.
“A-gruntin and a-rootin and a-groanin,” the woman muttered.
“We got a little of everything,” Mrs. Turpin said to the pleasant lady. “It’s no use in having more than you can handle yourself with help like it is. We found enough niggers to pick our cotton this year, but Claud he has to go after them and take them home again in the evening. They can’t walk that half a mile. No they can’t. I tell you,” she said and laughed merrily. “I sure am tired of buttering up niggers, but you got to love em if you want em to work for you. When they come in the morning, I run out and I say, ‘How yal this morning?’ and when Claud drives them off to the field I just wave to beat the band and they just wave back.” And she waved her hand rapidly to illustrate.
“Like you read out of the same book,” the lady said, showing she understood perfectly.
“Child, yes,” Mrs. Turpin said. “And when they come in from the field, I run out with a bucket of ice water. That’s the way it’s going to be from now on,” she said. “You may as well face it.”
“One thang I know,” the white-trash woman said. “Two thangs I ain’t going to do: love no niggers or scoot down no hog with no hose.” And she let out a bark of contempt.
The look that Mrs. Turpin and the pleasant lady exchanged indicated they both understood that you had to have certain things before you could know certain things. But every time Mrs. Turpin exchanged a look with the lady, she was aware that the ugly girl’s peculiar eyes were still on her, and she had trouble bringing her attention back to the conversation.
“When you got something,” she said, “you got to look after it.” And when you ain’t got a thing but breath and britches, she added to herself, you can afford to come to town every morning and just sit on the Court House coping and spit.
A grotesque revolving shadow passed across the curtain behind her and was thrown palely on the opposite wall. Then a bicycle clattered down against the outside of the building. The door opened and a colored boy glided in with a tray from the drug store. It had two large red and white paper cups on it with tops on them. He was a tall, very black boy in discolored white pants and a green nylon shirt. He was chewing gum slowly, as if to music. He set the tray down in the office opening next to the fern and stuck his head through to look for the secretary. She was not in there. He rested his arms on the ledge and waited, his narrow bottom stuck out, swaying slowly to the left and right. He raised a hand over his head and scratched the base of his skull.
“You see that button there, boy?” Mrs. Turpin said. “You can punch that and she’ll come. She’s probably in the back somewhere.”
“Is thas right?” the boy said agreeably, as if he had never seen the button before. He leaned to the right and put his finger on it. “She sometime out,” he said and twisted around to face his audience, his elbows behind him on the counter. The nurse appeared and he twisted back again. She handed him a dollar and he rooted in his pocket and made the change and counted it out to her. She gave him fifteen cents for a tip and he went out with the empty tray. The heavy door swung too slowly and closed at length with the sound of suction. For a moment no one spoke.
“They ought to send all them niggers back to Africa,” the white trash woman said. “That’s wher they come from in first place.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do without my good colored friends,” the pleasant lady said.
“There’s a heap of things worse than a nigger,” Mrs. Turpin agreed. “It’s all kinds of them just like it’s all kinds of us.”
“Yes, and it takes all kinds to make the world go round,” the lady said in her musical voice.
As she said it, the raw-complexioned girl snapped her teeth together. Her lower lip turned downwards and inside out, revealing the pale pink inside of her mouth. After a second it rolled back up. It was the ugliest face Mrs. Turpin had ever seen anyone make and for a moment she was certain that the girl had made it at her. She was looking at her as if she had known and disliked her all her life-all of Mrs. Turpin’s life, it seemed too, not just all the girl’s life. Why, girl, I don’t even know you, Mrs. Turpin said silently.
She forced her attention back to the discussion. “It wouldn’t be practical to send them back to Africa,” she said. “They wouldn’t want to go. They got it too good here.”
“Wouldn’t be what they wanted-if I had anythang to do with it,” the woman said.
“It wouldn’t be a way in the world you could get all the niggers back over there,” Mrs. Turpin said. “They’d be hiding out and lying down and turning sick on you and wailing and hollering and raring and pitching. It wouldn’t be a way in the world to get them over there.”
“They got over here,” the trashy woman said. “Get back like they got over.”
“It wasn’t so many of them then,” Mrs. Turpin explained.
The woman looked at Mrs. Turpin as if here was an idiot indeed but Mrs. Turpin was not bothered by the look, considering where it came from.
“Nooo,” she said, “they’re going to stay here where they can go to New York and marry white folks and improve their color. That’s what they all want to do, every one of them, improve their color.”
“You know what comes of that, don’t you?” Claud asked.
“No, Claud, what?” Mrs. Turpin said.
Claud’s eyes twinkled. “White-faced niggers,” he said with never a smile.
Everybody in the office laughed except the white-trash and the ugly girl. The girl gripped the book in her lap with white fingers. The trashy woman looked around her from face to face as if she thought they were all idiots. The old woman in the feed sack dress continued to gaze expressionless across the floor at the high-top shoes of the man opposite her, the one who had been pretending to be asleep when the Turpins came in. He was laughing heartily, his hands still spread out on his knees. The child had fallen to the side and was lying now almost face down in the old woman’s lap.
While they recovered from their laughter, the nasal chorus on the radio kept the room from silence.
“You go to blank blank And I’ll go to mine But we’ll all blank along To-geth-ther, And all along the blank We’ll help each-other out Smile-ling in any kind of Weath-ther!”
Mrs. Turpin didn’t catch every word but she caught enough to agree with the spirit of the song and it turned her thoughts sober. To help anybody out that needed it was her philosophy of life. She never spared herself when she found somebody in need, whether they were white or black, trash or decent. And of all she had to be thankful for, she was most thankful that this was so. If Jesus had said, “You can be high society and have all the money you want and be thin and svelte-like, but you can’t be a good woman with it,” she would have had to say, “Well don’t make me that then. Make me a good woman and it don’t matter what else, how fat or how ugly or how poor!” Her heart rose. He had not made her a nigger or white-trash or ugly! He had made her herself and given her a little of everything. Jesus, thank you! she said. Thank you thank you! Whenever she counted her blessings she felt as buoyant as if she weighed one hundred and twenty- five pounds instead of one hundred and eighty.
“What’s wrong with your little boy?” the pleasant lady asked the white-trashy woman.
“He has a ulcer,” the woman said proudly. “He ain’t give me a minute’s peace since he was born. Him and her are just alike,” she said, nodding at the old woman, who was running her leathery fingers through the child’s pale hair. “Look like I can’t get nothing down them two but Co’ Cola and candy.”
That’s all you try to get down em, Mrs. Turpin said to herself. Too lazy to light the fire. There was nothing you could tell her about people like them that she didn’t know already. And it was not just that they didn’t have anything. Because if you gave them everything, in two weeks it would all be broken or filthy or they would have chopped it up for lightwood. She knew all this from her own experience. Help them you must, but help them you couldn’t.
All at once the ugly girl turned her lips inside out again. Her eyes were fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them.
Girl, Mrs. Turpin exclaimed silently, I haven’t done a thing to you! The girl might be confusing her with somebody else. There was no need to sit by and let herself be intimidated.
“You must be in college,” she said boldly, looking directly at the girl. “I see you reading a book there.”
The girl continued to stare and pointedly did not answer.
Her mother blushed at this rudeness. “The lady asked you a question, Mary Grace,” she said under her breath.
“I have ears,” Mary Grace said.
The poor mother blushed again. “Mary Grace goes to Wellesley College,” she explained. She twisted one of the buttons on her dress. “In Massachusetts, she added with a grimace.”And in the summer she just keeps right on studying. Just reads all the time, a real book worm. She’s done real well at Wellesley; she’s taking English and Math and History and Psychology and Social Studies,” she rattled on “and I think it’s too much. I think she ought to get out and have fun.”
The girl looked as if she would like to hurl them all through the plate glass window.
“Way up north,” Mrs. Turpin murmured and thought, well, it hasn’t done much for her manners.
“I’d almost rather to have him sick,” the white-trash woman said, wrenching the attention back to herself. “He’s so mean when he ain’t. Look like some children just take natural to meanness. It’s some gets bad when they get sick but, he was the opposite. Took sick and turned good. He don’t give me no trouble now. It’s me waitin to see the doctor,” she said.
If I was going to send anybody back to Africa, Mrs. Turpin thought, it would be your kind, woman. “Yes, indeed,” she said aloud, but looking up at the ceiling, “It’s a heap of things worse than a nigger.” And dirtier than a hog, she added to herself
“I think people with bad dispositions are more to be pitied than anyone on earth,” the pleasant lady said in a voice that was decidedly thin.
“I thank the Lord he has blessed me with a good one,” Mrs. Turpin said. “The day has never dawned that I couldn’t find something to laugh at.”
“Not since she married me anyways,” Claud said with a comical straight face.
Everybody laughed except the girl and the white trash.
Mrs. Turpin’s stomach shook. “He’s such a caution,” she said, “that I can’t help but laugh at him.”
The girl made a loud ugly noise through her teeth.
Her mother’s mouth grew thin and tight. “I think the worst thing in the world,” she said, “is an ungrateful person. To have everything and not appreciate it. I know a girl,” she said, “who has parents who would give her anything, a little brother who loves her dearly, who is getting a good education, who wears the best clothes, but who can never say a kind word to anyone, who never smiles, who just criticizes and complains all day long.”
“Is she too old to paddle?” Claud asked.
The girl’s face was almost purple.
“Yes,” the lady said, “I’m afraid there’s nothing to do but leave her to her folly. Some day she’ll wake up and it’ll be too late.”
“It never hurt anyone to smile,” Mrs. Turpin said. “It just makes you feel better all over”
“Of course,” the lady said sadly, “but there are just some people you can’t tell anything to. They can’t take criticism.”
“If it’s one thing I am,” Mrs. Turpin said with feeling, “It’s grateful. When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!’ It could have been different!” For one thing, somebody else could have got Claud. At the thought of this, she was flooded with gratitude and a terrible pang of joy ran through her. “Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!” she cried aloud.
The book struck her directly, over her left eye. It struck almost at the same instant that she realized the girl was about to hurl it. Before she could utter a sound, the raw face came crashing across the table toward her, howling. The girl’s fingers sank like clamps the soft flesh of her neck. She heard the mother cry out and Claud shout, “Whoa!” There was an instant when she was certain that she was about to be in an earthquake.
All at once her vision narrowed and she saw everything as if it were happening in a small room far away, or as if she were looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. Claud’s face crumpled and fell out of sight. The nurse ran in, then out, then again. Then the gangling figure of the doctor rushed out of the inner door. Magazines flew this way and that as the table turned over. The girl fell with a thud and Mrs. Turpin’s vision suddenly reversed itself and she saw everything large instead of small. The eyes of the white-trashy woman were staring hugely at the floor. There the girl, held down on one side by the nurse and on the other by her mother, was wrenching and turning in their grasp. The doctor was kneeling astride her, trying to hold her arm down. He managed after a second to sink a long needle into it.
Mrs. Turpin felt entirely hollow except for her heart which swung from side to side as if it were agitated in a great empty drum of flesh.
“Somebody that’s not busy call for the ambulance,” the doctor said in the off-hand voice young doctors adopt for terrible occasions.
Mrs. Turpin could not have moved a finger. The old man who had been sitting next to her skipped nimbly into the office and made the call, for the secretary still seemed to be gone.
“Claud!” Mrs. Turpin called.
He was not in his chair. She knew she must jump up and find him but she felt like someone trying to catch a train in a dream, when everything moves in slow motion and the faster you try to run the slower you go.
“Here I am,” a suffocated voice, very unlike Claud’s, said.
He was doubled up in the corner on the floor, pale as paper, holding his leg. She wanted to get up and go to him but she could not move. Instead, her gaze was drawn slowly downward to the churning face on the floor, which she could see over the doctor’s shoulder.
The girl’s eyes stopped rolling and focused on her. They seemed a much lighter blue than before, as if a door that had been tightly closed behind them was now open to admit light and air.
Mrs. Turpin’s head cleared and her power of motion returned. She leaned forward until she was looking directly into the fierce brilliant eyes. There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. “What you got to say to me?” she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation.
The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered. Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.
Mrs. Turpin sank back in her chair.
After a moment the girl’s eyes closed and she turned her head wearily to the side.
The doctor rose and handed the nurse the empty syringe. He leaned over and put both hands for a moment on the mother’s shoulders, which were shaking. She was sitting on the floor, her lips pressed together, holding Mary Grace’s hand in her lap. The girl’s fingers were gripped like a baby ‘s around her thumb. “Go on to the hospital,” he said. “I’ll call and make the arrangements.”
“Now let’s see that neck,” he said in a jovial voice to Mrs. Turpin.
He began to inspect her neck with his first two fingers. Two little moon-shaped lines like pink fish bones were indented over her windpipe. There was the beginning of an angry red swelling above her eye. His fingers passed over this also.
“Lea’ me be,” she said thickly and shook him off. “See about Claud. She kicked him.”
“I’ll see about him in a minute,” he said and felt her pulse. He was a thin grey-haired man, given to pleasantries. “Go home and have yourself a vacation the rest of the day,” he said and patted her on the shoulder.
Quit your pattin me, Mrs. Turpin growled to herself.
“And put an ice pack over that eye,” he said. Then he went and squatted down beside Claud and looked at his leg. After a moment he pulled him up and Claud limped after him into the office.
Until the ambulance came, the only sounds in the room were the tremulous moans of the girl’s mother, who continued to sit on the floor. The white-trash woman did not take her eyes off the girl. Mrs. Turpin looked straight ahead at nothing. Presently the ambulance drew up, a long dark shadow, behind the curtain. The attendants came in and set the stretcher down beside the girl and lifted her expertly onto it and carried her out. The nurse helped the mother gather up her things. The shadow of the ambulance moved silently away and the nurse came back in the office.
“That there girl is going to be a lunatic, ain’t she?” the white-trash woman asked the nurse, but the nurse kept on to the back and never answered her.
“Yes, she’s going to be a lunatic,” the white-trash woman said to the rest of them.
“Po’ critter,” the old woman murmured. The child’s face was still in her lap. His eyes looked idly out over her knees. He had not moved during the disturbance except to draw one leg up under him.
“I thank Gawd,” the white-trash woman said fervently, “I ain’t a lunatic.”
Claud came limping out and the Turpins went home.
As their pick-up truck turned into their own dirt road and made the crest of the hill, Mrs. Turpin gripped the window ledge and looked out suspiciously. The land sloped gracefully down through a field dotted with lavender weeds and at the start of the rise their small yellow frame house, with its little flower beds spread out around it like a fancy apron, sat primly in its accustomed place between two giant hickory trees. She would not have been startled to see a burnt wound between two blackened chimneys.
Neither of them felt like eating so they put on their house clothes and lowered the shade in the bedroom and lay down, Claud with his leg on a pillow and herself with a damp washcloth over her eye. The instant she was flat on her back, the image of a razor-backed hog with warts on its face and horns coming out behind its ears snorted into her head. She moaned, a low quiet moan.
“I am not,” she said tearfully, “a wart hog. From hell.” But the denial had no force. The girl’s eyes and her words, even the tone of her voice, low but clear, directed only to her, brooked no repudiation. She had been singled out for the message, though there was trash in the room to whom it might justly have been applied. The full force of this fact struck her only now. There was a woman there who was neglecting her own child but she had been overlooked. The message had been given to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hardworking, church-going woman. The tears dried. Her eyes began to burn instead with wrath.
She rose on her elbow and the washcloth fell into her hand. Claud was lying on his back, snoring. She wanted to tell him what the girl had said. At the same time, she did not wish to put the image of herself as a wart hog from hell into his mind.
“Hey, Claud,” she muttered and pushed his shoulder.
Claud opened one pale baby blue eye.
She looked into it warily. He did not think about anything. He just went his way.
“Wha, whasit?” he said and closed the eye again.
“Nothing,” she said. “Does your leg pain you?”
“Hurts like hell,” Claud said.
“It’ll quit terreckly,” she said and lay back down. In a moment Claud was snoring again. For the rest of the afternoon they lay there. Claud slept. She scowled at the ceiling. Occasionally she raised her fist and made a small stabbing motion over her chest as if she was defending her innocence to invisible guests who were like the comforters of Job, reasonable-seeming but wrong.
About five-thirty Claud stirred. “Got to go after those niggers,” he sighed, not moving.
She was looking straight up as if there were unintelligible hand writing on the ceiling. The protuberance over her eye had turned a greenish-blue. “Listen here,” she said.
“Kiss me.”
Claud leaned over and kissed her loudly on the mouth. He pinched her side and their hands interlocked. Her expression of ferocious concentration did not change. Claud got up, groaning and growling, and limped off. She continued to study the ceiling.
She did not get up until she heard the pick-up truck coming back with the Negroes. Then she rose and thrust her feet in her brown oxfords, which she did not bother to lace, and stumped out onto the back porch and got her red plastic bucket. She emptied a tray of ice cubes into it and filled it half full of water and went out into the back yard. Every afternoon after Claud brought the hands in, one of the boys helped him put out hay and the rest waited in the back of the truck until he was ready to take them home. The truck was parked in the shade under one of the hickory trees.
“Hi yawl this evening,” Mrs. Turpin asked grimly, appearing with the bucket and the dipper. There were three women and a boy in the truck.
“Us doin nicely,” the oldest woman said. “Hi you doin?” and her gaze stuck immediately on the dark lump on Mrs. Turpin’s forehead. “You done fell down, ain’t you?” she asked in a solicitous voice. The old woman was dark and almost toothless. She had on an old felt hat of Claud’s set back on her head. The other two women were younger and lighter and they both had new bright green sun hats. One of them had hers on her head; the other had taken hers off and the boy was grinning beneath it.
Mrs. Turpin set the bucket down on the floor of the truck. “Yawl hep yourselves,” she said. She looked around to make sure Claud had gone. “No. I didn’t fall down,” she said, folding her arms. “It was something worse than that.”
“Ain’t nothing bad happen to you!” the old woman said. She said it as if they all knew that Mrs. Turpin was protected in some special way by Divine Providence. “You just had you a little fall.”
“We were ‘in town at the doctor’s office for where the cow kicked Mr. Turpin,” Mrs. Turpin said in a flat tone that indicated they could leave off their foolishness. “And there was this girl there. A big fat girl with her face all broke out. I could look at that girl and tell she was peculiar but I couldn’t tell how. And me and her mama were just talking and going along and all of a sudden WHAM! She throws this big book she was reading at me and …”
“Naw!” the old woman cried out.
“And then she jumps over the table and commences to choke me.”
“Naw!” they all exclaimed, “naw!”
“Hi come she do that?” the old woman asked. “What ail her?”
Mrs. Turpin only glared in front of her.
“Somethin ail her,” the old woman said
“They carried her off in an ambulance,” Mrs. Turpin continued, “but before she went she was rolling on the floor and they were trying to hold her down to give her a shot and she said something to me.” She paused. ” You know what she said to me?”
“What she say,” they asked.
. “She said,” Mrs. Turpin began, and stopped, her face very dark and heavy. The sun was getting whiter and whiter, blanching the sky overhead so that the leaves of the hickory tree were black in the face of it. She could not bring forth the words. “Something real ugly,” she muttered.
“She sho shouldn’t said nothin ugly, to you,” the old woman said.
“You so sweet. You the sweetest lady I know.”
“She pretty too,” the one with the hat on said.
“And stout,” the other one said. “I never knowed no sweeter white lady.”
“That’s the truth befo’ Jesus,” the old woman said. “Amen! You des as sweet and pretty as you can be.”
Mrs. Turpin knew just exactly how much Negro flattery was worth and it added to her rage. “She said,” she began again and finished this time with a fierce rush of breath, “that I was an old wart hog from hell.”
There was an astounded silence.
“Where she at?” the youngest woman cried in a piercing voice.
“Lemme see her. I’ll kill her!”
“I’ll kill her with you!” the other one cried.
“She b’long in the sylum” the old woman said emphatically.
“You the sweetest white lady I know.”
“She pretty too,” the other two said. “Stout as she can be and sweet. Jesus satisfied with her!”
“Deed he is,” the old woman declared.
Idiots! Mrs. Turpin growled to herself. You could never say anything intelligent to a nigger. YOU could talk at them but not with them. “Yawl ain’t drunk your water,” she said shortly. “Leave the bucket in the truck when you’re finished with it. I got more to do than just stand around and pass the time of day,” and she moved off and into the house.
She stood for a moment in the middle of the kitchen. The dark protuberance over her eye looked like a miniature tornado cloud which might any moment sweep across the horizon of her brow. Her lower lip protruded dangerously. She squared her massive shoulders. Then she marched into the front of the house and out the side door and started down the road to the pig parlor. She had the look of a woman going single-handedly, weaponless, into battle.
The sun was a deep yellow now like a harvest moon and was riding westward very fast over the far tree line as if it meant to reach the hogs before she did. The road was rutted and she kicked several good-sized stones out of her path as she strode along. The pig parlor was on a little knoll at the end of a lane that ran off from the side of the barn. It was a square of concrete as large as a small room, with a board fence about four feet high around it. The concrete floor sloped slightly so that the hog wash could drain off into a trench where it was carried to the field for fertilizer. Claud was standing on the outside, on the edge of the concrete, hanging onto the top board, hosing down the floor inside. The hose was connected to the faucet of a water trough nearby.
Mrs. Turpin climbed up beside him and glowered down at the hogs inside. There were seven long-snouted bristly shoats in it-tan with liver-colored spots-and an old sow a few weeks off from farrowing. She was lying on her side grunting. The shoats were running about shaking themselves like idiot children, their little slit pig eyes searching the floor for anything left. She had read that pigs were the most intelligent animal. She doubted it. They were supposed to be smarter than dogs. There had even been a pig astronaut. He had performed his assignment perfectly but died of a heart attack afterwards because they left him in his electric suit, sitting upright throughout his examination when naturally, a hog should be on all fours.
A-gruntin and a-rootin and a-groanin.
“Gimme that hose,” she said, yanking it away from Claud. “Go on and carry, them niggers home and then get off that leg.”
“You look like you might have swallowed a mad dog,” Claud observed, but he got down and limped off. He paid no attention to her humors.
Until he was out of earshot, Mrs. Turpin stood on the side of the pen, holding the hose and pointing the stream of water at the hind quarters of any shoat that looked as if it might try to lie down.
When he had had time to get over the hill, she turned her head slightly and her wrathful eyes scanned the path. He was nowhere in sight. She turned back again and seemed to gather herself up. Her shoulders rose and she drew in her breath.
“What do you send me a message like that for?” she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. “How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?” Her free fist was knotted and with the other she gripped the hose, blindly pointing the stream of water in and out of the eye of the old sow whose outraged squeal she did not hear.
The pig parlor commanded a view of the back pasture where their twenty beef cows were gathered around the hay-bales Claud and the boy had put out. The freshly cut pasture sloped down to the highway. Across it was their cotton field and beyond that a dark green dusty wood which they owned as well. The sun was behind the wood, very red, looking over the paling of trees like a farmer inspecting his own hogs.
“Why me?” she rumbled. “It’s no trash around here, black or white, that I haven’t given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church.”
She appeared to be the right size woman to command the arena before her. “How am I a hog?” she demanded. “Exactly how am I like them?” and she jabbed the stream of water at the shoats. “There was plenty of trash there. It didn’t have to be me.
“If you like trash better, go get yourself some trash then,” she railed. “You could have made me trash. Or a nigger. If trash is what you wanted, why didn’t you make me trash?” She shook her fist with the hose in it and a watery snake appeared momentarily in the air. “I could quit working and take it easy and be filthy,” she growled. “Lounge about the sidewalks all day drinking root beer. Dip snuff and spit in every puddle and have it all over my face. I could be nasty.
“Or you could have made me a nigger. It’s too late for me to be a nigger,” she said with deep sarcasm, “but I could act like one. Lay down in the middle of the road and stop traffic. Roll on the ground.”
In the deepening light everything was taking on a mysterious hue. The pasture was growing a peculiar glassy green and the streak of the highway had turned lavender. She braced herself for a final assault and this time her voice rolled out over the pasture. “Go on,” she yelled, “call me a hog! Call me a hog again. From hell. Call me a wart hog from hell. Put that bottom rail on top. There’ll still be a top and bottom!”
A garbled echo returned to her.
A final surge of fury shook her and she roared, “Who do you think you are?”
The color of everything, field and crimson sky, burned for a moment with a transparent intensity. The question carried over the pasture and across the highway and the cotton field and returned to her clearly, like an answer from beyond the wood.
She opened her mouth but no sound came out of it.
A tiny truck, Claud’s, appeared on the highway, heading rapidly out of sight. Its gears scraped thinly. It looked like a child’s toy. At any moment a bigger truck might smash into it and scatter Claud’s and the niggers’ brains all over the road.
Mrs. Turpin stood there, her gaze fixed on the highway, all her muscles rigid, until in five or six minutes the truck reappeared, returning. She waited until it had had time to turn into their own road. Then like a monumental statue coming to life, she bent her head slowly and gazed, as if through the very heart of mystery, down into the pig parlor at the hogs. They had settled all in one corner around the old sow who was grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.
Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin remained there with her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge. At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.
At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.

The Blue Cross

Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering ribbon of sea, the boat touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of folk like flies, among whom the man we must follow was by no means conspicuous – nor wished to be. There was nothing notable about him, except a slight contrast between the holiday gaiety of his clothes and the official gravity of his face. His clothes included a slight, pale grey jacket, a white waistcoat, and a silver straw hat with a grey-blue ribbon. His lean face was dark by contrast, and ended in a curt black beard that looked Spanish and suggested an Elizabethan ruff. He was smoking a cigarette with the seriousness of an idler. There was nothing about him to indicate the fact that the grey jacket covered a loaded revolver, that the white waistcoat covered a police card, or that the straw hat covered one of the most powerful intellects in Europe. For this was Valentin himself, the head of the Paris police and the most famous investigator of the world; and he was coming from Brussels to London to make the greatest arrest of the century.


Flambeau was in England. The police of three countries had tracked the great criminal at last from Ghent to Brussels, from Brussels to the Hook of Holland; and it was conjectured that he would take some advantage of the unfamiliarity and confusion of the Eucharistic Congress, then taking place in London. Probably he would travel as some minor clerk or secretary connected with it; but, of course, Valentin could not be certain; nobody could be certain about Flambeau.

It is many years now since this colossus of crime suddenly ceased keeping the world in a turmoil; and when he ceased, as they said after the death of Roland, there was a great quiet upon the earth. But in his best days (I mean, of course, his worst) Flambeau was a figure as statuesque and international as the Kaiser. Almost every morning the daily paper announced that he had escaped the consequences of one extraordinary crime by committing another. He was a Gascon of gigantic stature and bodily daring; and the wildest tales were told of his outbursts of athletic humour; how he turned the juge d’instruction upside down and stood him on his head, “to clear his mind”; how he ran down the Rue de Rivoli with a policeman under each arm. It is due to him to say that his fantastic physical strength was generally employed in such bloodless though undignified scenes; his real crimes were chiefly those of ingenious and wholesale robbery. But each of his thefts was almost a new sin, and would make a story by itself. It was he who ran the great Tyrolean Dairy Company in London, with no dairies, no cows, no carts, no milk, but with some thousand subscribers. These he served by the simple operation of moving the little milk cans outside people’s doors to the doors of his own customers. It was he who had kept up an unaccountable and close correspondence with a young lady whose whole letter-bag was intercepted, by the extraordinary trick of photographing his messages infinitesimally small upon the slides of a microscope. A sweeping simplicity, however, marked many of his experiments. It is said that he once repainted all the numbers in a street in the dead of night merely to divert one traveller into a trap. It is quite certain that he invented a portable pillar-box, which he put up at corners in quiet suburbs on the chance of strangers dropping postal orders into it. Lastly, he was known to be a startling acrobat; despite his huge figure, he could leap like a grasshopper and melt into the tree-tops like a monkey. Hence the great Valentin, when he set out to find Flambeau, was perfectly aware that his adventures would not end when he had found him.

But how was he to find him? On this the great Valentin’s ideas were still in process of settlement.

There was one thing which Flambeau, with all his dexterity of disguise, could not cover, and that was his singular height. If Valentin’s quick eye had caught a tall apple-woman, a tall grenadier, or even a tolerably tall duchess, he might have arrested them on the spot. But all along his train there was nobody that could be a disguised Flambeau, any more than a cat could be a disguised giraffe. About the people on the boat he had already satisfied himself; and the people picked up at Harwich or on the journey limited themselves with certainty to six. There was a short railway official travelling up to the terminus, three fairly short market gardeners picked up two stations afterwards, one very short widow lady going up from a small Essex town, and a very short Roman Catholic priest going up from a small Essex village. When it came to the last case, Valentin gave it up and almost laughed. The little priest was so much the essence of those Eastern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting. The Eucharistic Congress had doubtless sucked out of their local stagnation many such creatures, blind and helpless, like moles disinterred. Valentin was a sceptic in the severe style of France, and could have no love for priests. But he could have pity for them, and this one might have provoked pity in anybody. He had a large, shabby umbrella, which constantly fell on the floor. He did not seem to know which was the right end of his return ticket. He explained with a moon-calf simplicity to everybody in the carriage that he had to be careful, because he had something made of real silver “with blue stones” in one of his brown-paper parcels. His quaint blending of Essex flatness with saintly simplicity continuously amused the Frenchman till the priest arrived (somehow) at Tottenham with all his parcels, and came back for his umbrella. When he did the last, Valentin even had the good nature to warn him not to take care of the silver by telling everybody about it. But to whomever he talked, Valentin kept his eye open for someone else; he looked out steadily for anyone, rich or poor, male or female, who was well up to six feet; for Flambeau was four inches above it.

He alighted at Liverpool Street, however, quite conscientiously secure that he had not missed the criminal so far. He then went to Scotland Yard to regularise his position and arrange for help in case of need; he then lit another cigarette and went for a long stroll in the streets of London. As he was walking in the streets and squares beyond Victoria, he paused suddenly and stood. It was a quaint, quiet square, very typical of London, full of an accidental stillness. The tall, flat houses round looked at once prosperous and uninhabited; the square of shrubbery in the centre looked as deserted as a green Pacific islet. One of the four sides was much higher than the rest, like a dais; and the line of this side was broken by one of London’s admirable accidents – a restaurant that looked as if it had strayed from Soho. It was an unreasonably attractive object, with dwarf plants in pots and long, striped blinds of lemon yellow and white. It stood specially high above the street, and in the usual patchwork way of London, a flight of steps from the street ran up to meet the front door almost as a fire-escape might run up to a first-floor window. Valentin stood and smoked in front of the yellow-white blinds and considered them long.

The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. A few clouds in heaven do come together into the staring shape of one human eye. A tree does stand up in the andscape of a doubtful journey in the exact and elaborate shape of a note of interrogation. I have seen both these things myself within the last few days. Nelson does die in the instant of victory; and a man named Williams does quite accidentally murder a man named Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss. As it has been well expressed in the paradox of Poe, wisdom should reckon on the unforeseen.

Aristide Valentin was unfathomably French; and the French intelligence is intelligence specially and solely. He was not “a thinking machine”; for that is a brainless phrase of modern fatalism and materialism. A machine only a machine because it cannot think. But he was a thinking man, and a plain man at the same time. All his wonderful successes, that looked like conjuring, had been gained by plodding logic, by clear and commonplace French thought. The French electrify the world not by starting any paradox, they electrify it by carrying out a truism. They carry a truism so far – as in the French Revolution. But exactly because Valentin understood reason, he understood the limits of reason. Only a man who knows nothing of motors talks of motoring without petrol; only a man who knows nothing of reason talks of reasoning without strong, undisputed first principles. Here he had no strong first principles. Flambeau had been missed at Harwich; and if he was in London at all, he might be anything from a tall tramp on Wimbledon Common to a tall toast-master at the Hotel Metropole. In such a naked state of nescience, Valentin had a view and a method of his own.

In such cases he reckoned on the unforeseen. In such cases, when he could not follow the train of the reasonable, he coldly and carefully followed the train of the unreasonable. Instead of going to the right places – banks, police stations, rendezvous – he systematically went to the wrong places; knocked at every empty house, turned down everycul de sac, went up every lane blocked with rubbish, went round every crescent that led him uselessly out of the way. He defended this crazy course quite logically. He said that if one had a clue this was the worst way; but if one had no clue at all it was the best, because there was just the chance that any oddity that caught the eye of the pursuer might be the same that had caught the eye of the pursued. Somewhere a man must begin, and it had better be just where another man might stop. Something about that flight of steps up to the shop, something about the quietude and quaintness of the restaurant, roused all the detective’s rare romantic fancy and made him resolve to strike at random. He went up the steps, and sitting down at a table by the window, asked for a cup of black coffee.

It was half-way through the morning, and he had not breakfasted; the slight litter of other breakfasts stood about on the table to remind him of his hunger; and adding a poached egg to his order, he proceeded musingly to shake some white sugar into his coffee, thinking all the time about Flambeau. He remembered how Flambeau had escaped, once by a pair of nail scissors, and once by a house on fire; once by having to pay for an unstamped letter, and once by getting people to look through a telescope at a comet that might destroy the world. He thought his detective brain as good as the criminal’s, which was true. But he fully realised the disadvantage. “The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic,” he said with a sour smile, and lifted his coffee cup to his lips slowly, and put it down very quickly. He had put salt in it.

He looked at the vessel from which the silvery powder had come; it was certainly a sugar-basin; as unmistakably meant for sugar as a champagne-bottle for champagne. He wondered why they should keep salt in it. He looked to see if there were any more orthodox vessels. Yes; there were two salt-cellars quite full. Perhaps there was some speciality in the condiment in the saltcellars. He tasted it; it was sugar. Then he looked round at the restaurant with a refreshed air of interest, to see if there were any other traces of that singular artistic taste which puts the sugar in the salt-cellars and the salt in the sugar-basin. Except for an odd splash of some dark fluid on one of the white-papered walls, the whole place appeared neat, cheerful and ordinary. He rang the bell for the waiter.

When that official hurried up, fuzzy-haired and somewhat blear-eyed at that early hour, the detective (who was not without an appreciation of the simpler forms of humour) asked him to taste the sugar and see if it was up to the high reputation of the hotel. The result was that the waiter yawned suddenly and woke up.

“Do you play this delicate joke on your customers every morning?” inquired Valentin. “Does changing the salt and sugar never pall on you as a jest?”

The waiter, when this irony grew clearer, stammeringly assured him that the establishment had certainly no such intention; it must be a most curious mistake. He picked up the sugar-basin and looked at it; he picked up the salt-cellar and looked at that, his face growing more and more bewildered. At last he abruptly excused himself, and hurrying away, returned in a few seconds with the proprietor. The proprietor also examined the sugar-basin and then the salt-cellar; the proprietor also looked bewildered.

Suddenly the waiter seemed to grow inarticulate with a rush of words.

“I rink,” he stuttered eagerly, “I zink it is those two clergymen.”‘

“What two clergymen? “

“The two clergymen,” said the waiter, “that threw soup at the wall.”

“Threw soup at the wall?” repeated Valentin, feeling sure this must be some singular Italian metaphor.

“Yes, yes,” said the attendant excitedly, and pointed at the dark splash on the white paper; “threw it over there on the wall.”

Valentin looked his query at the proprietor, who came to his rescue with fuller reports.

“Yes, sir,” he said, “it’s quite true, though I don’t suppose it has anything to do with the sugar and salt. Two clergymen came in and drank soup here very early, as soon as the shutters were taken down. They were both very quiet, respectable people; one of them paid the bill and went out; the other, who seemed a slower coach altogether, was some minutes longer getting his things together. But he went at last. Only, the instant before he stepped into the street he deliberately picked up his cup, which he had only half emptied, and threw the soup slap on the wall. I was in the back room myself, and so was the waiter; so I could only rush out in time to find the wall splashed and the shop empty. It don’t do any particular damage, but it was confounded cheek; and I tried to catch the men in the street. They were too far off though; I only noticed they went round the next corner into Carstairs Street.”

The detective was on his feet, hat settled and stick in hand. He had already decided that in the universal darkness of his mind he could only follow the first odd finger that pointed; and this finger was odd enough. Paying his bill and clashing the glass doors behind him, he was soon swinging round into the other street.

It was fortunate that even in such fevered moments his eye was cool and quick. Something in a shop-front went by him like a mere flash; yet he went back to look at it. The shop was a popular greengrocer and fruiterer’s, an array of goods set out in the open air and plainly ticketed with their names and prices. the two most prominent compartments were two heaps, of oranges and of nuts respectively. On the heap of nuts lay a scrap of cardboard, on which was written in bold, blue chalk, “Best tangerine oranges, two a penny.” On the oranges was the equally clear and exact description, “Finest Brazil nuts, 4d. a lb.” M. Valentin looked at these two placards and fancied he had met this highly subtle form of humour before, and that somewhat recently. He drew the attention of the red-faced fruiterer, who was looking rather sullenly up and down the street, to this inaccuracy in his advertisements. The fruiterer said nothing, but sharply put each card into its proper place. The detective, leaning elegantly on his walking-cane, continued to scrutinise the shop. At last he said, “Pray excuse my apparent irrelevance, my good sir, but I should like to ask you a question in experimental psychology and the association of ideas.”

The red-faced shopman regarded him with an eye of menace; but he continued gaily, swinging his cane, “Why,” he pursued, “why are two tickets wrongly placed in a greengrocer’s shop like a shovel hat that has come to London for a holiday? Or, in case I do not make myself clear, what is the mystical association which connects the idea of nuts marked as oranges with the idea of two clergymen, one tall and the other short?”

The eyes of the tradesman stood out of his head like a snail’s; he really seemed for an instant likely to fling himself upon the stranger. At last he stammered angrily: “I don’t know what you ‘ave to do with it, but if you’re one of their friends, you can tell ‘em from me that I’ll knock their silly ‘cads off, parsons or no parsons, if they upset my apples again.”

“Indeed? ” asked the detective, with great sympathy. “Did they upset your apples?”

“One of ‘em did,” said the heated shopman; “rolled ‘em all over the street. I’d ‘ave caught the fool but for havin’ to pick ‘em up.”

“Which way did these parsons go?” asked Valentin.

“Up that second road on the left-hand side, and then across the square,” said the other promptly.

“Thanks,” replied Valentin, and vanished like a fairy. On the other side of the second square he found a policeman, and said: Thus is urgent, constable; have you seen two clergymen in shovel.”

The policeman began to chuckle heavily. “I ‘ave. sir; and if you arst me, one of ‘em was drunk. He stood in the middle of the road that bewildered that – “

“Which way did they go?” snapped Valentin.

“They took one of them yellow buses over there,” answered the man; “them that go to Hampstead.”

Valentin produced his official card and said very rapidly: Call up two of your men to come with me in pursuit,” and crossed the road with such contagious energy that the ponderous policeman was moved to almost agile obedience. In a minute and a half the French detective was joined on the opposite pavement by an inspector and a man in plain clothes.

“Well, sir,” began the former, with smiling importance, “and what may – ?”

Valentin pointed suddenly with his cane. “I’ll tell you on the top of that omnibus,” he said, and was darting and dodging across the tangle of the traffic. When all three sank panting on the top seats of the yellow vehicle, the inspector said: “We could go four times as quick in a taxi.”

“Quite true,” replied their leader placidly, “if we only had an idea of where we were going.”

“Well, where <are> you going?” asked the other, staring.

Valentin smoked frowningly for a few seconds; then, removing his cigarette, he said: “If you <know> what a man’s doing, get in front of him; but if you want to guess what he’s doing, keep behind him. Stray when he strays; stop when he stops; travel as slowly as he. Then you may see what he saw and may act as he acted. All we can do is to keep our eyes skinned for a queer thing.”

“What sort of queer thing do you mean? ” asked the inspector.

“Any sort of queer thing,” answered Valentin, and relapsed into obstinate silence.

The yellow omnibus crawled up the northern roads for what seemed like hours on end; the great detective would not explain further, and perhaps his assistants felt a silent and growing doubt of his errand. Perhaps, also, they felt a silent and growing desire for lunch, for the hours crept long past the normal luncheon hour, and the long roads of the North London suburbs seemed to shoot out into length after length like an infernal telescope. It was one of those journeys on which a man perpetually feels that now at last he must have come to the end of the universe, and then finds he has only come to the beginning of Tufnell Park. London died away in draggled taverns and dreary scrubs, and then was unaccountably born again in blazing high streets and blatant hotels. It was like passing through thirteen separate vulgar cities all just touching each other. But though the winter twilight was already threatening the road ahead of them, the Parisian detective still sat silent and watchful, eyeing the frontage of the streets that slid by on either side. By the time they had left Camden Town behind, the policemen were nearly asleep; at least, they gave something like a jump as Valentin leapt erect, struck a hand on each man’s shoulder, and shouted to the driver to stop.

They tumbled down the steps into the road without realising why they had been dislodged; when they looked round for enlightenment they found Valentin triumphantly pointing his finger towards a window on the left side of the road. It was a large window, forming part of the long facade of a gilt and palatial public-house; it was the part reserved for respectable dining, and labelled “Restaurant.” This window, like all the rest along the frontage of the hotel, was of frosted and figured glass; but in the middle of it was a big, black smash, like a star in the ice.

“Our cue at last,” cried Valentin, waving his stick; “the place with the broken window.”

“What window? What cue?” asked his principal assistant. “Why, what proof is there that this has anything to do with – “

Valentin almost broke his bamboo stick with rage.

“Proof!” he cried. “Good God! the man is looking for proof’ Why, of course, the chances are twenty to one that it has <nothing> to do with them. But what else can we do? Don’t you see we must either follow one wild possibility or else go home to bed?” He banged his way into the restaurant, followed by his companions, and they were soon seated at a late luncheon at a little table, and looked at the star of smashed glass from the inside Not that it was very informative to them even then.

“Got your window broken, I see,” said Valentin to the waiter as he paid the bill.

“Yes, sir,” answered the attendant, bending busily over the change, to wretch vaientm silently added an enormous tip. The waiter straightened himself with mild but unmistakable animation.

“Ah, yes, sir,” he said. “Very odd thing, that, sir.”

“Indeed? Tell us about it,” said the detective with careless curiosity.

“Well, two gents in black came in,” said the waiter, “two of those foreign parsons that are running about. They had a cheap and quiet little lunch, and one of them paid for it and went out The other was just going out to join him when I looked at my change again and found he’d paid me more than three times too much. ‘Here,’ I says to the chap who was nearly out of the door, ‘you’ve paid too much.’ ‘Oh,’ he says, very cool, ‘have we?’ ‘Yes,’ I says, and picks up the bill to show him. Well, that was a knock-out.”

“What do you mean?” asked his interlocutor.

“Well, I’d have sworn on seven Bibles that I’d put 4s. on that bill. But now I saw I’d put 14s., as plain as paint.”

“Well?” cried Valentin, moving slowly, but with burning eyes, “and then?”

“The parson at the door he says all serene, ‘Sorry to confuse your accounts, but it’ll pay for the window.’ ‘What window?’ I says. ‘The one I’m going to break,’ he says, and smashed that blessed pane with his umbrella.”

All three inquirers made an exclamation; and the inspector said under his breath, “Are we after escaped lunatics?” The waiter went on with some relish for the ridiculous story:

“I was so knocked silly for a second, I couldn’t do anything. The man marched out of the place and joined his friend just round the corner. Then they went so quick up Bullock Street that I couldn’t catch them, though I ran round the bars to do it.”

“Bullock Street,” said the detective, and shot up that thoroughfare as quickly as the strange couple he pursued.

Their journey now took them through bare brick ways like tunnels; streets with few lights and even with few windows; streets that seemed built out of the blank backs of everything and everywhere. Dusk was deepening, and it was not easy even for the London policemen to guess in what exact direction they were treading. The inspector, however, was pretty certain that they would eventually strike some part of Hampstead Heath. Abruptly one bulging gas-lit window broke the blue twilight like a bull’s-eye lantern; and Valentin stopped an instant before a little garish sweetstuff shop. After an instant’s hesitation he went in; he stood amid the gaudy colours of the confectionery with entire gravity and bought thirteen chocolate cigars with a certain care. He was clearly preparing an opening; but he did not need one.

An angular, elderly young woman in the shop had regarded his elegant appearance with a merely automatic inquiry; but when she saw the door behind him blocked with the blue uniform of the inspector, her eyes seemed to wake up.

“Oh,” she said, “if you’ve come about that parcel, I’ve sent it off already.”

“Parcel!” repeated Valentin; and it was his turn to look inquiring.

“I mean the parcel the gentleman left – the clergyman gentleman.

“For goodness’ sake,” said Valentin, leaning forward with his first real confession of eagerness, “for Heaven’s sake tell us what happened exactly.”

“Well,” said the woman a little doubtfully, “the clergymen came in about half an hour ago and bought some peppermints and talked a bit, and then went off towards the Heath. But a second after, one of them runs back into the shop and says, ‘Have I left a parcel?’ Well, I looked everywhere and couldn’t see one; so he says, ‘Never mind; but if it should turn up, please post it to this address,’ and he left me the address and a shilling for my trouble. And sure enough, though I thought I’d looked everywhere, I found he’d left a brown paper parcel, so I posted it to the place he said. I can’t remember the address now; it was somewhere in Westminster. But as the thing seemed so important, I thought perhaps the police had come about it.”

“So they have,” said Valentin shortly. “Is Hampstead Heath near here? “

“Straight on for fifteen minutes,” said the woman, “and you’ll come right out on the open.” Valentin sprang out of the shop and began to run. The other detectives followed him at a reluctant trot.

The street they threaded was so narrow and shut in by shadows that when they came out unexpectedly into the void common and vast sky they were startled to find the evening still so light and clear. A perfect dome of peacock-green sank into gold amid the blackening trees and the dark violet distances. The glowing green tint was just deep enough to pick out in points of crystal one or two stars. All that was left of the daylight lay in a golden glitter across the edge of Hampstead and that popular hollow which is called the Vale of Health. The holiday makers who roam this region had not wholly dispersed; a few couples sat shapelessly on benches; and here and there a distant girl still shrieked in one of the swings. The glory of heaven deepened and darkened around the sublime vulgarity of man; and standing on the slope and looking across the valley, Valentin beheld the thing which he sought.

Among the black and breaking groups in that distance was one especially black which did not break – a group of two figures clerically clad. Though they seemed as small as insects, Valentin could see that one of them was much smaller than the other. Though the other had a student’s stoop and an inconspicuous manner, he could see that the man was well over six feet high. He shut his teeth and went forward, whirling his stick impatiently. By the time he had substantially diminished the distance and magnified the two black figures as in a vast microscope, he had perceived something else; something which startled him, and yet which he had somehow expected. Whoever was the tall priest, there could be no doubt about the identity of the short one. It was his friend of the Harwich train, the stumpy little <curé> of Essex whom he had warned about his brown paper parcels.

Now, so far as this went, everything fitted in finally and rationally enough. Valentin had learned by his inquiries that morning that a Father Brown from Essex was bringing up a silver cross with sapphires, a relic of considerable value, to show some of the foreign priests at the congress. This undoubtedly was the “silver with blue stones”; and Father Brown undoubtedly was the little greenhorn in the train. Now there was nothing wonderful about the fact that what Valentin had found out Flambeau had also found out; Flambeau found out everything. Also there was nothing wonderful in the fact that when Flambeau heard of a sapphire cross he should try to steal it; that was the most natural thing in all natural history. And most certainly there was nothing wonderful about the fact that Flambeau should have it all his own way with such a silly sheep as the man with the umbrella and the parcels. He was the sort of man whom anybody could lead on a string to the North Pole; it was not surprising that an actor like Flambeau, dressed as another priest, could lead him to Hampstead Heath. So far the crime seemed clear enough; and while the detective pitied the priest for his helplessness, he almost despised Flambeau for condescending to so gullible a victim. But when Valentin thought of all that had happened in between, of all that had led him to his triumph, he racked his brains for the smallest rhyme or reason in it. What had the stealing of a blue-and-silver cross from a priest from Essex to do with chucking soup at wall paper? What had it to do with calling nuts oranges, or with paying for windows first and breaking them afterwards? He had come to the end of his chase; yet somehow he had missed the middle of it. When he failed (which was seldom), he had usually grasped the clue, but nevertheless missed the criminal. Here he had grasped the criminal, but still he could not grasp the clue.

The two figures that they followed were crawling like black flies across the huge green contour of a hill. They were evidently sunk in conversation, and perhaps did not notice where they were going; but they were certainly going to the wilder and more silent heights of the Heath. As their pursuers gained on them, the latter had to use the undignified attitudes of the deer-stalker, to crouch behind clumps of trees and even to crawl prostrate in deep grass. By these ungainly ingenuities the hunters even came close enough to the quarry to hear the murmur of the discussion, but no word could be distinguished except the word “reason” recurring frequently in a high and almost childish voice. Once over an abrupt dip of land and a dense tangle of thickets, the detectives actually lost the two figures they were following. They did not find the trail again for an agonising ten minutes, and then it led round the brow of a great dome of hill overlooking an amphitheatre of rich and desolate sunset scenery. Under a tree in this commanding yet neglected spot was an old ramshackle wooden seat. On this seat sat the two priests still in serious speech together. The gorgeous green and gold still clung to the darkening horizon; but the dome above was turning slowly from peacock-green to peacock-blue, and the stars detached themselves more and more like solid jewels. Mutely motioning to his followers, Valentin contrived to creep up behind the big branching tree, and, standing there in deathly silence, heard the words of the strange priests for the first time.

After he had listened for a minute and a half, he was gripped by a devilish doubt. Perhaps he had dragged the two English policemen to the wastes of a nocturnal heath on an errand no saner than seeking figs on its thistles. For the two priests were talking exactly like priests, piously, with learning and leisure, about the most aerial enigmas of theology. The little Essex priest spoke the more simply, with his round face turned to the strengthening stars; the other talked with his head bowed, as if he were not even worthy to look at them.

But no more innocently clerical conversation could have been heard in any white Italian cloister or black Spanish cathedral.

The first he heard was the tail of one of Father Brown’s sentences, which ended: “. . . what they really meant in the Middle Ages by the heavens being incorruptible.”

The taller priest nodded his bowed head and said:

“Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason; but who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that there may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly unreasonable? “

“No,” said the other priest; “reason is always reasonable, even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason.”

The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky and said: “Yet who knows if in that infinite universe – ?”

“Only infinite physically,” said the little priest, turning sharply in his seat, “not Infinite in the sense of escaping from the laws of truth.”

Valentin behind his tree was tearing his fingernails with silent fury. He seemed almost to hear the sniggers of the English detectives whom he had brought so far on a fantastic guess only to listen to the metaphysical gossip of two mild old parsons. In his impatience he lost the equally elaborate answer of the tall cleric, and when he listened again it was again Father Brown who was speaking:

“Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don’t they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don’t fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, ‘Thou shalt not steal.”‘

Valentin was just in the act of rising from his rigid and crouching attitude and creeping away as softly as might be, felled by the one great folly of his life. But something in the very silence of the tall priest made him stop until the latter spoke. When at last he did speak, he said simply, his head bowed and his hands on his knees: “Well, I think that other worlds may perhaps rise higher than our reason. The mystery of heaven is unfathomable, and I for one can only bow my head.”

Then, with brow yet bent and without changing by the faintest shade his attitude or voice, he added: “Just hand over that sapphire cross of yours, will you? We’re all alone here, and I could pull you to pieces like a straw doll.”

The utterly unaltered voice and attitude added a strange violence to that shocking change of speech. But the guarder of the relic only seemed to turn his head by the smallest section of the compass. He seemed still to have a somewhat foolish face turned to the stars. Perhaps he had not understood. Or, perhaps, he had understood and sat rigid with terror.

“Yes,” said the tall priest, in the same low voice and in the same still posture, “yes, I am Flambeau.”

Then, after a pause, he said:”Come, will you give me that cross? “

“No,” said the other, and the monosyllable had an odd sound.

Flambeau suddenly flung off all his pontifical pretensions. The great robber leaned back in his seat and laughed low but long. “No,” he cried, “you won’t give it me, you proud prelate. You won’t give it me, you little celibate simpleton. Shall I tell you why you won’t give it me? Because I’ve got it already in my own breast-pocket.”

The small man from Essex turned what seemed to be a dazed face in the dusk, and said, with the timid eagerness of “The Private Secretary”: “Are – are you sure? “

Flambeau yelled with delight. “Really, you’re as good as a three-act farce,” he cried. “Yes, you turnip, I am quite sure. I had the sense to make a duplicate of the right parcel, and now, my friend, you’ve got the duplicate and I’ve got the jewels. An old dodge, Father Brown – a very old dodge.”

“Yes,” said Father Brown, and passed his hand through his hair with the same strange vagueness of manner. “Yes, I’ve heard of it before.”

The colossus of crime leaned over to the little rustic priest with a sort of sudden interest.

You have heard of it?” he asked. “Where have you heard of it?”

“Well, I mustn’t tell you his name, of course,” said the little man simply. “He was a penitent, you know. He had lived prosperously for about twenty years entirely on duplicate brown paper parcels. And so, you see, when I began to suspect you, I thought of this poor chap’s way of doing it at once.”

Began to suspect me?” repeated the outlaw with increased intensity. “Did you really have the gumption to suspect me just because I brought you up to this bare part of the heath?”

“No, no,” said Brown with an air of apology. “You see, I suspected you when we first met. It’s that little bulge up the sleeve where you people have the spiked bracelet.”

“How in Tartarus,” cried Flambeau, “did you ever hear of the spiked bracelet?”

“Oh, one’s little flock, you know!” said Father Brown, arching his eyebrows rather blankly. “When I was a curate in Hartlepool, there were three of them with spiked bracelets. So, as I suspected you from the first, don’t you see, I made sure that the cross should go safe, anyhow. I’m afraid I watched you, you know. So at last I saw you change the parcels. Then, don’t you see, I changed them back again. And then I left the right one behind.”

“Left it behind?” repeated Flambeau, and for the first time there was another note in his voice beside his triumph.

“Well, it was like this,” said the little priest, speaking in the same unaffected way. “I went back to that sweet-shop and asked if I’d left a parcel, and gave them a particular address if it turned up Well, I knew I hadn’t; but when I went away again I did. So, in stead of running after me with that valuable parcel, they have sent it flying to a friend of mine in Westminster.” Then he added rather sadly: “I learnt that, too, from a poor fellow in Hartlepool He used to do it with handbags he stole at railway stations, but he’s in a monastery now. Oh, one gets to know, you know,” he added, rubbing his head again with the same sort of desperate apology. “We can’t help being priests. People come and tell us these things.”

Flambeau tore a brown-paper parcel out of his inner pocket and rent it in pieces. There was nothing but paper and sticks of lead inside it. He sprang to his feet with a gigantic gesture, and cried: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe a bumpkin like you could manage all that. I believe you’ve still got the stuff on you, and if you don’t give it up – why, we’re all alone, and I’ll take it by force!”

“No,” said Father Brown simply, and stood up also, “you won’t take it by force. First, because I really haven’t still got it. And, second, because we are not alone.”

Flambeau stopped in his stride forward.

“Behind that tree,” said Father Brown, pointing, “are two strong policemen and the greatest detective alive. How did they come here, do you ask? Why, I brought them, of course! How did I do it? Why, I’ll tell you if you like! Lord bless you, we have to know twenty such things when we work among the criminal classes! Well, I wasn’t sure you were a thief, and it would never do to make a scandal against one of our own clergy. So I just tested you to see if anything would make you show yourself. A man generally makes a small scene if he finds salt in his coffee; if he doesn’t, he has some reason for keeping quiet. I changed the salt and sugar, and you kept quiet. A man generally objects if his bill is three times too big. If he pays it, he has some motive for passing unnoticed. I altered your bill, and you paid it.”

The world seemed waiting for Flambeau to leap like a tiger. But he was held back as by a spell; he was stunned with the utmost curiosity.

“Well,” went on Father Brown, with lumbering lucidity, “as you wouldn’t leave any tracks for the police, of course somebody had to. At every place we went to, I took care to do something that would get us talked about for the rest of the day. I didn’t do much harm – a splashed wall, spilt apples, a broken window; but I saved the cross, as the cross will always be saved. It is at Westminster by now. I rather wonder you didn’t stop it with the Donkey’s Whistle.”

“With the what? ” asked Flambeau.

“I’m glad you’ve never heard of it,” said the priest, making a face. “It’s a foul thing. I’m sure you’re too good a man for a Whistler. I couldn’t have countered it even with the Spots myself; I’m not strong enough in the legs.”

“What on earth are you talking about? ” asked the other.

“Well, I did think you’d know the Spots,” said Father Brown, agreeably surprised. “Oh, you can’t have gone so very wrong yet! “

“How in blazes do you know all these horrors?” cried Flambeau.

The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.

“Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose,” he said. “Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren’t a priest.”

“What?” asked the thief, almost gaping.

“You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.”

And even as he turned away to collect his property, the three policemen came out from under the twilight trees. Flambeau was an artist and a sportsman. He stepped back and swept Valentin a great bow.

“Do not bow to me, <mon ami>,” said Valentin with silver clearness. “Let us both bow to our master.”

And they both stood an instant uncovered while the little Essex priest blinked about for his umbrella.

The Selfish Giant

Note: Oscar Wilde intended this story to be read to children

Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant’s garden.

It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. ‘How happy we are here!’ they cried to each other.

One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden.

‘What are you doing here?’ he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away.

‘My own garden is my own garden,’ said the Giant; ‘any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.’ So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board.


He was a very selfish Giant.

The poor children had now nowhere to play. They tried to play on the road, but the road was very dusty and full of hard stones, and they did not like it. They used to wander round the high wall when their lessons were over, and talk about the beautiful garden inside.

‘How happy we were there,’ they said to each other.

Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still Winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. Once a beautiful flower put its head out from the grass, but when it saw the notice-board it was so sorry for the children that it slipped back into the ground again, and went off to sleep. The only people who were pleased were the Snow and the Frost. ‘Spring has forgotten this garden,’ they cried, ‘so we will live here all the year round.’ The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down. ‘This is a delightful spot,’ he said, ‘we must ask the Hail on a visit.’ So the Hail came. Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go. He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice.

‘I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,’ said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; ‘I hope there will be a change in the weather.’

But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant’s garden she gave none. ‘He is too selfish,’ she said. So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees.

One morning the Giant was lying awake in bed when he heard some lovely music. It sounded so sweet to his ears that he thought it must be the King’s musicians passing by. It was really only a little linnet singing outside his window, but it was so long since he had heard a bird sing in his garden that it seemed to him to be the most beautiful music in the world. Then the Hail stopped dancing over his head, and the North Wind ceased roaring, and a delicious perfume came to him through the open casement. ‘I believe the Spring has come at last,’ said the Giant; and he jumped out of bed and looked out.

What did he see?

He saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms, and were waving their arms gently above the children’s heads. The birds were flying about and twittering with delight, and the flowers were looking up through the green grass and laughing. It was a lovely scene, only in one corner it was still Winter. It was the farthest corner of the garden, and in it was standing a little boy. He was so small that he could not reach up to the branches of the tree, and he was wandering all round it, crying bitterly. The poor tree was still quite covered with frost and snow, and the North Wind was blowing and roaring above it. ‘Climb up! little boy,’ said the Tree, and it bent its branches down as low as it could; but the little boy was too tiny.

And the Giant’s heart melted as he looked out. ‘How selfish I have been!’ he said; ‘now I know why the Spring would not come here. I will put that poor little boy on the top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children’s playground for ever and ever.’ He was really very sorry for what he had done.

So he crept downstairs and opened the front door quite softly, and went out into the garden. But when the children saw him they were so frightened that they all ran away, and the garden became Winter again. Only the little boy did not run, for his eyes were so full of tears that he died not see the Giant coming. And the Giant stole up behind him and took him gently in his hand, and put him up into the tree. And the tree broke at once into blossom, and the birds came and sang on it, and the little boy stretched out his two arms and flung them round the Giant’s neck, and kissed him. And the other children, when they saw that the Giant was not wicked any longer, came running back, and with them came the Spring. ‘It is your garden now, little children,’ said the Giant, and he took a great axe and knocked down the wall. And when the people were gong to market at twelve o’clock they found the Giant playing with the children in the most beautiful garden they had ever seen.

All day long they played, and in the evening they came to the Giant to bid him good-bye.

‘But where is your little companion?’ he said: ‘the boy I put into the tree.’ The Giant loved him the best because he had kissed him.

‘We don’t know,’ answered the children; ‘he has gone away.’

‘You must tell him to be sure and come here to-morrow,’ said the Giant. But the children said that they did not know where he lived, and had never seen him before; and the Giant felt very sad.

Every afternoon, when school was over, the children came and played with the Giant. But the little boy whom the Giant loved was never seen again. The Giant was very kind to all the children, yet he longed for his first little friend, and often spoke of him. ‘How I would like to see him!’ he used to say.

Years went over, and the Giant grew very old and feeble. He could not play about any more, so he sat in a huge armchair, and watched the children at their games, and admired his garden. ‘I have many beautiful flowers,’ he said; ‘but the children are the most beautiful flowers of all.’

One winter morning he looked out of his window as he was dressing. He did not hate the Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting.

Suddenly he rubbed his eyes in wonder, and looked and looked. It certainly was a marvellous sight. In the farthest corner of the garden was a tree quite covered with lovely white blossoms. Its branches were all golden, and silver fruit hung down from them, and underneath it stood the little boy he had loved.

Downstairs ran the Giant in great joy, and out into the garden. He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said, ‘Who hath dared to wound thee?’ For on the palms of the child’s hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.

‘Who hath dared to wound thee?’ cried the Giant; ‘tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.’

‘Nay!’ answered the child; ‘but these are the wounds of Love.’

‘Who art thou?’ said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.

And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, ‘You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.’

And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.

The Light Princess


    1.  What! No Children?
    2.  Won't I, Just?
    3.  She Can't Be Ours.
    4.  Where Is She?
    5.  What Is to Be Done?
    6.  She Laughs Too Much.
    7.  Try Metaphysics.
    8.  Try a Drop of Water.
    9.  Put Me in Again.
  10.  Look at the Moon.
  11.  Hiss!
  12.  Where Is the Prince?
  13.  Here I Am.
  14.  This Is Very Kind of You.
  15.  Look at the Rain!

1. What! No Children?

Once upon a time, so long ago that I have quite forgotten the date, there lived a king and queen who had no children.

And the king said to himself, “All the queens of my acquaintance have children, some three, some seven, and some as many as twelve; and my queen has not one. I feel ill-used.” So he made up his mind to be cross with his wife about it. But she bore it all like a good patient queen as she was. Then the king grew very cross indeed. But the queen pretended to take it all as a joke, and a very good one too.

“Why don’t you have any daughters, at least?” said he. “I don’t say sons; that might be too much to expect.”

“I am sure, dear king, I am very sorry,” said the queen.

“So you ought to be,” retorted the king; “you are not going to make a virtue of that, surely.”

But he was not an ill-tempered king, and in any matter of less moment would have let the queen have her own way with all his heart. This, however, was an affair of state.

The queen smiled.

“You must have patience with a lady, you know, dear king,” said she.

She was, indeed, a very nice queen, and heartily sorry that she could not oblige the king immediately.

2. Won’t I, Just?

The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a daughter—as lovely a little princess as ever cried.

The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was forgotten. Now it does not generally matter if somebody is forgotten, only you must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without intending to forget; and so the chance fell upon the Princess Makemnoit, which was awkward. For the princess was the king’s own sister; and he ought not to have forgotten her. But she had made herself so disagreeable to the old king, their father, that he had forgotten her in making his will; and so it was no wonder that her brother forgot her in writing his invitations. But poor relations don’t do anything to keep you in mind of them. Why don’t they? The king could not see into the garret she lived in, could he?

She was a sour, spiteful creature. The wrinkles of contempt crossed the wrinkles of peevishness, and made her face as full of wrinkles as a pat of butter. If ever a king could be justified in forgetting anybody, this king was justified in forgetting his sister, even at a christening. She looked very odd, too. Her forehead was as large as all the rest of her face, and projected over it like a precipice. When she was angry, her little eyes flashed blue. When she hated anybody, they shone yellow and green. What they looked like when she loved anybody, I do not know; for I never heard of her loving anybody but herself, and I do not think she could have managed that if she had not somehow got used to herself. But what made it highly imprudent in the king to forget her was that she was awfully clever. In fact, she was a witch; and when she bewitched anybody, he very soon had enough of it; for she beat all the wicked fairies in wickedness, and all the clever ones in cleverness. She despised all the modes we read of in history, in which offended fairies and witches have taken their revenges; and therefore, after waiting and waiting in vain for an invitation, she made up her mind at last to go without one, and make the whole family miserable, like a princess as she was.

So she put on her best gown, went to the palace, was kindly received by the happy monarch, who forgot that he had forgotten her, and took her place in the procession to the royal chapel. When they were all gathered about the font, she contrived to get next to it, and throw something into the water; after which she maintained a very respectful demeanour till the water was applied to the child’s face. But at that moment she turned round in her place three times, and muttered the following words, loud enough for those beside her to hear:—

“Light of spirit, by my charms,
Light of body, every part,
Never weary human arms—
Only crush thy parents’ heart!”


They all thought she had lost her wits, and was repeating some foolish nursery rhyme; but a shudder went through the whole of them notwithstanding. The baby, on the contrary, began to laugh and crow; while the nurse gave a start and a smothered cry, for she thought she was struck with paralysis: she could not feel the baby in her arms. But she clasped it tight and said nothing. The mischief was done.

3. She Can’t Be Ours.

Her atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity. If you ask me how this was effected, I answer, “In the easiest way in the world. She had only to destroy gravitation.” For the princess was a philosopher, and knew all the ins and outs of the laws of gravitation as well as the ins and outs of her boot-lace. And being a witch as well, she could abrogate those laws in a moment; or at least so clog their wheels and rust their bearings, that they would not work at all. But we have more to do with what followed than with how it was done.

The first awkwardness that resulted from this unhappy privation was, that the moment the nurse began to float the baby up and down, she flew from her arms towards the ceiling. Happily, the resistance of the air brought her ascending career to a close within a foot of it. There she remained, horizontal as when she left her nurse’s arms, kicking and laughing amazingly. The nurse in terror flew to the bell, and begged the footman, who answered it, to bring up the house-steps directly. Trembling in every limb, she climbed upon the steps, and had to stand upon the very top, and reach up, before she could catch the floating tail of the baby’s long clothes.

When the strange fact came to be known, there was a terrible commotion in the palace. The occasion of its discovery by the king was naturally a repetition of the nurse’s experience. Astonished that he felt no weight when the child was laid in his arms, he began to wave her up and not down, for she slowly ascended to the ceiling as before, and there remained floating in perfect comfort and satisfaction, as was testified by her peals of tiny laughter. The king stood staring up in speechless amazement, and trembled so that his beard shook like grass in the wind. At last, turning to the queen, who was just as horror-struck as himself, he said, gasping, staring, and stammering,—

“She can’t be ours, queen!”

Now the queen was much cleverer than the king, and had begun already to suspect that “this effect defective came by cause.”

“I am sure she is ours,” answered she. “But we ought to have taken better care of her at the christening. People who were never invited ought not to have been present.”

“Oh, ho!” said the king, tapping his forehead with his forefinger, “I have it all. I’ve found her out. Don’t you see it, queen? Princess Makemnoit has bewitched her.” “That’s just what I say,” answered the queen.

“I beg your pardon, my love; I did not hear you.—John! bring the steps I get on my throne with.”

For he was a little king with a great throne, like many other kings.

The throne-steps were brought, and set upon the dining-table, and John got upon the top of them. But he could not reach the little princess, who lay like a baby-laughter-cloud in the air, exploding continuously. “Take the tongs, John,” said his Majesty; and getting up on the table, he handed them to him.

John could reach the baby now, and the little princess was handed down by the tongs.

4. Where Is She?

One fine summer day, a month after these her first adventures, during which time she had been very carefully watched, the princess was lying on the bed in the queen’s own chamber, fast asleep. One of the windows was open, for it was noon, and the day was so sultry that the little girl was wrapped in nothing less ethereal than slumber itself. The queen came into the room, and not observing that the baby was on the bed, opened another window. A frolicsome fairy wind, which had been watching for a chance of mischief, rushed in at the one window, and taking its way over the bed where the child was lying, caught her up, and rolling and floating her along like a piece of flue, or a dandelion seed, carried her with it through the opposite window, and away. The queen went down-stairs, quite ignorant of the loss she had herself occasioned.

When the nurse returned, she supposed that her Majesty had carried her off, and, dreading a scolding, delayed making inquiry about her. But hearing nothing, she grew uneasy, and went at length to the queen’s boudoir, where she found her Majesty.

“Please, your Majesty, shall I take the baby?” said she.

“Where is she?” asked the queen.

“Please forgive me. I know it was wrong.”

“What do you mean?” said the queen, looking grave.

“Oh! don’t frighten me, your Majesty!” exclaimed the nurse, clasping her hands.

The queen saw that something was amiss, and fell down in a faint. The nurse rushed about the palace, screaming, “My baby! my baby!”

Every one ran to the queen’s room. But the queen could give no orders. They soon found out, however, that the princess was missing, and in a moment the palace was like a beehive in a garden; and in one minute more the queen was brought to herself by a great shout and a clapping of hands. They had found the princess fast asleep under a rose-bush, to which the elvish little wind-puff had carried her, finishing its mischief by shaking a shower of red rose-leaves all over the little white sleeper. Startled by the noise the servants made, she woke, and, furious with glee, scattered the rose-leaves in all directions, like a shower of spray in the sunset.

She was watched more carefully after this, no doubt; yet it would be endless to relate all the odd incidents resulting from this peculiarity of the young princess. But there never was a baby in a house, not to say a palace, that kept the household in such constant good humour, at least below-stairs. If it was not easy for her nurses to hold her, at least she made neither their arms nor their hearts ache. And she was so nice to play at ball with! There was positively no danger of letting her fall. They might throw her down, or knock her down, or push her down, but couldn’t let her down. It is true, they might let her fly into the fire or the coal-hole, or through the window; but none of these accidents had happened as yet. If you heard peals of laughter resounding from some unknown region, you might be sure enough of the cause. Going down into the kitchen, or the room, you would find Jane and Thomas, and Robert and Susan, all and sum, playing at ball with the little princess. She was the ball herself, and did not enjoy it the less for that. Away she went, flying from one to another, screeching with laughter. And the servants loved the ball itself better even than the game. But they had to take some care how they threw her, for if she received an upward direction, she would never come down again without being fetched.

5. What Is to Be Done?

But above-stairs it was different. One day, for instance, after breakfast, the king went into his counting-house, and counted out his money. The operation gave him no pleasure.

“To think,” said he to himself, “that every one of these gold sovereigns weighs a quarter of an ounce, and my real, live, flesh-and-blood princess weighs nothing at all!”

And he hated his gold sovereigns, as they lay with a broad smile of self-satisfaction all over their yellow faces.

The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey. But at the second mouthful she burst out crying, and could not swallow it.

The king heard her sobbing. Glad of anybody, but especially of his queen, to quarrel with, he clashed his gold sovereigns into his money-box, clapped his crown on his head, and rushed into the parlour.

“What is all this about?” exclaimed he. “What are you crying for, queen?”

“I can’t eat it,” said the queen, looking ruefully at the honey-pot.

“No wonder!” retorted the king. “You’ve just eaten your breakfast—two turkey eggs, and three anchovies.”

“Oh, that’s not it!” sobbed her Majesty. “It’s my child, my child!”

“Well, what’s the matter with your child? She’s neither up the chimney nor down the draw-well. Just hear her laughing.”

Yet the king could not help a sigh, which he tried to turn into a cough, saying—

“It is a good thing to be light-hearted, I am sure, whether she be ours or not.”

“It is a bad thing to be light-headed,” answered the queen, looking with prophetic soul far into the future.

“‘Tis a good thing to be light-handed,” said the king.

“‘Tis a bad thing to be light-fingered,” answered the queen.

“‘Tis a good thing to be light-footed,” said the king.

“‘Tis a bad thing—” began the queen; but the king interrupted her.

“In fact,” said he, with the tone of one who concludes an argument in which he has had only imaginary opponents, and in which, therefore, he has come off triumphant—”in fact, it is a good thing altogether to be light-bodied.”

“But it is a bad thing altogether to be light-minded,” retorted the queen, who was beginning to lose her temper.

This last answer quite discomfited his Majesty, who turned on his heel, and betook himself to his counting-house again. But he was not half-way towards it, when the voice of his queen overtook him.

“And it’s a bad thing to be light-haired,” screamed she, determined to have more last words, now that her spirit was roused.

The queen’s hair was black as night; and the king’s had been, and his daughter’s was, golden as morning. But it was not this reflection on his hair that arrested him; it was the double use of the word light. For the king hated all witticisms, and punning especially. And besides, he could not tell whether the queen meant light-haired or light-heired; for why might she not aspirate her vowels when she was exasperated herself?

He turned upon his other heel, and rejoined her. She looked angry still, because she knew that she was guilty, or, what was much the same, knew that HE thought so.

“My dear queen,” said he, “duplicity of any sort is exceedingly objectionable between married people of any rank, not to say kings and queens; and the most objectionable form duplicity can assume is that of punning.”

“There!” said the queen, “I never made a jest, but I broke it in the making. I am the most unfortunate woman in the world!”

She looked so rueful, that the king took her in his arms; and they sat down to consult.

“Can you bear this?” said the king.

“No, I can’t,” said the queen.

“Well, what’s to be done?” said the king.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said the queen. “But might you not try an apology?”

“To my old sister, I suppose you mean?” said the king.

“Yes,” said the queen.

“Well, I don’t mind,” said the king.

So he went the next morning to the house of the princess, and, making a very humble apology, begged her to undo the spell. But the princess declared, with a grave face, that she knew nothing at all about it. Her eyes, however, shone pink, which was a sign that she was happy. She advised the king and queen to have patience, and to mend their ways. The king returned disconsolate. The queen tried to comfort him.

“We will wait till she is older. She may then be able to suggest something herself. She will know at least how she feels, and explain things to us.”

“But what if she should marry?” exclaimed the king, in sudden consternation at the idea.

“Well, what of that?” rejoined the queen. “Just think! If she were to have children! In the course of a hundred years the air might be as full of floating children as of gossamers in autumn.”

“That is no business of ours,” replied the queen. “Besides, by that time they will have learned to take care of themselves.”

A sigh was the king’s only answer.

He would have consulted the court physicians; but he was afraid they would try experiments upon her.

6. She Laughs Too Much.

Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she brought upon her parents, the little princess laughed and grew—not fat, but plump and tall. She reached the age of seventeen, without having fallen into any worse scrape than a chimney; by rescuing her from which, a little bird-nesting urchin got fame and a black face. Nor, thoughtless as she was, had she committed anything worse than laughter at everybody and everything that came in her way. When she was told, for the sake of experiment, that General Clanrunfort was cut to pieces with all his troops, she laughed; when she heard that the enemy was on his way to besiege her papa’s capital, she laughed hugely; but when she was told that the city would certainly be abandoned to the mercy of the enemy’s soldiery—why, then she laughed immoderately. She never could be brought to see the serious side of anything. When her mother cried, she said,—

“What queer faces mamma makes! And she squeezes water out of her cheeks? Funny mamma!”

And when her papa stormed at her, she laughed, and danced round and round him, clapping her hands, and crying—

“Do it again, papa. Do it again! It’s SUCH fun! Dear, funny papa!”

And if he tried to catch her, she glided from him in an instant, not in the least afraid of him, but thinking it part of the game not to be caught. With one push of her foot, she would be floating in the air above his head; or she would go dancing backwards and forwards and sideways, like a great butterfly. It happened several times, when her father and mother were holding a consultation about her in private, that they were interrupted by vainly repressed outbursts of laughter over their heads; and looking up with indignation, saw her floating at full length in the air above them, whence she regarded them with the most comical appreciation of the position.

One day an awkward accident happened. The princess had come out upon the lawn with one of her attendants, who held her by the hand. Spying her father at the other side of the lawn, she snatched her hand from the maid’s, and sped across to him. Now when she wanted to run alone, her custom was to catch up a stone in each hand, so that she might come down again after a bound. Whatever she wore as part of her attire had no effect in this way: even gold, when it thus became as it were a part of herself, lost all its weight for the time. But whatever she only held in her hands retained its downward tendency. On this occasion she could see nothing to catch up but a huge toad, that was walking across the lawn as if he had a hundred years to do it in. Not knowing what disgust meant, for this was one of her peculiarities, she snatched up the toad and bounded away. She had almost reached her father, and he was holding out his arms to receive her, and take from her lips the kiss which hovered on them like a butterfly on a rosebud, when a puff of wind blew her aside into the arms of a young page, who had just been receiving a message from his Majesty. Now it was no great peculiarity in the princess that, once she was set agoing, it always cost her time and trouble to check herself. On this occasion there was no time. She must kiss-and she kissed the page. She did not mind it much; for she had no shyness in her composition; and she knew, besides, that she could not help it. So she only laughed, like a musical box. The poor page fared the worst. For the princess, trying to correct the unfortunate tendency of the kiss, put out her hands to keep her off the page; so that, along with the kiss, he received, on the other cheek, a slap with the huge black toad, which she poked right into his eye. He tried to laugh, too, but the attempt resulted in such an odd contortion of countenance, as showed that there was no danger of his pluming himself on the kiss. As for the king, his dignity was greatly hurt, and he did not speak to the page for a whole month.

I may here remark that it was very amusing to see her run, if her mode of progression could properly be called running. For first she would make a bound; then, having alighted, she would run a few steps, and make another bound. Sometimes she would fancy she had reached the ground before she actually had, and her feet would go backwards and forwards, running upon nothing at all, like those of a chicken on its back. Then she would laugh like the very spirit of fun; only in her laugh there was something missing. What it was, I find myself unable to describe. I think it was a certain tone, depending upon the possibility of sorrow—MORBIDEZZA, perhaps. She never smiled.

7. Try Metaphysics.

After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen resolved to hold a council of three upon it; and so they sent for the princess. In she came, sliding and flitting and gliding from one piece of furniture to another, and put herself at last in an armchair, in a sitting posture. Whether she could be said to sit, seeing she received no support from the seat of the chair, I do not pretend to determine.

“My dear child,” said the king, “you must be aware by this time that you are not exactly like other people.”

“Oh, you dear funny papa! I have got a nose, and two eyes, and all the rest. So have you. So has mamma.”

“Now be serious, my dear, for once,” said the queen.

“No, thank you, mamma; I had rather not.”

“Would you not like to be able to walk like other people?” said the king.

“No indeed, I should think not. You only crawl. You are such slow coaches!”

“How do you feel, my child?” he resumed, after a pause of discomfiture.

“Quite well, thank you.”

“I mean, what do you feel like?”

“Like nothing at all, that I know of.”

“You must feel like something.”

“I feel like a princess with such a funny papa, and such a dear pet of a queen-mamma!”

“Now really!” began the queen; but the princess interrupted her.

“Oh Yes,” she added, “I remember. I have a curious feeling sometimes, as if I were the only person that had any sense in the whole world.”

She had been trying to behave herself with dignity; but now she burst into a violent fit of laughter, threw herself backwards over the chair, and went rolling about the floor in an ecstasy of enjoyment. The king picked her up easier than one does a down quilt, and replaced her in her former relation to the chair. The exact preposition expressing this relation I do not happen to know.

“Is there nothing you wish for?” resumed the king, who had learned by this time that it was useless to be angry with her.

“Oh, you dear papa!—yes,” answered she.

“What is it, my darling?”

“I have been longing for it—oh, such a time!—ever since last night.” “Tell me what it is.”

“Will you promise to let me have it?”

The king was on the point of saying Yes, but the wiser queen checked him with a single motion of her head. “Tell me what it is first,” said he.

“No no. Promise first.”

“I dare not. What is it?”

“Mind, I hold you to your promise.—It is—to be tied to the end of a string—a very long string indeed, and be flown like a kite. Oh, such fun! I would rain rose-water, and hail sugar-plums, and snow whipped-cream, and—and—and—”

A fit of laughing checked her; and she would have been off again over the floor, had not the king started up and caught her just in time. Seeing nothing but talk could be got out of her, he rang the bell, and sent her away with two of her ladies-in-waiting.

“Now, queen,” he said, turning to her Majesty, “what IS to be done?”

“There is but one thing left,” answered she. “Let us consult the college of Metaphysicians.”

“Bravo!” cried the king; “we will.”

Now at the head of this college were two very wise Chinese philosophers-by name Hum-Drum, and Kopy-Keck. For them the king sent; and straightway they came. In a long speech he communicated to them what they knew very well already—as who did not?—namely, the peculiar condition of his daughter in relation to the globe on which she dwelt; and requested them to consult together as to what might be the cause and probable cure of her INFIRMITY. The king laid stress upon the word, but failed to discover his own pun. The queen laughed; but Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck heard with humility and retired in silence.

The consultation consisted chiefly in propounding and supporting, for the thousandth time, each his favourite theories. For the condition of the princess afforded delightful scope for the discussion of every question arising from the division of thought-in fact, of all the Metaphysics of the Chinese Empire. But it is only justice to say that they did not altogether neglect the discussion of the practical question, what was to be done.

Hum-Drum was a Materialist, and Kopy-Keck was a Spiritualist. The former was slow and sententious; the latter was quick and flighty: the latter had generally the first word; the former the last.

“I reassert my former assertion,” began Kopy-Keck, with a plunge. “There is not a fault in the princess, body or soul; only they are wrong put together. Listen to me now, Hum-Drum, and I will tell you in brief what I think. Don’t speak. Don’t answer me. I won’t hear you till I have done.— At that decisive moment, when souls seek their appointed habitations, two eager souls met, struck, rebounded, lost their way, and arrived each at the wrong place. The soul of the princess was one of those, and she went far astray. She does not belong by rights to this world at all, but to some other planet, probably Mercury. Her proclivity to her true sphere destroys all the natural influence which this orb would otherwise possess over her corporeal frame. She cares for nothing here. There is no relation between her and this world.

“She must therefore be taught, by the sternest compulsion, to take an interest in the earth as the earth. She must study every department of its history—its animal history; its vegetable history; its mineral history; its social history; its moral history; its political history, its scientific history; its literary history; its musical history; its artistical history; above all, its metaphysical history. She must begin with the Chinese dynasty and end with Japan. But first of all she must study geology, and especially the history of the extinct races of animals-their natures, their habits, their loves, their hates, their revenges. She must—”

“Hold, h-o-o-old!” roared Hum-Drum. “It is certainly my turn now. My rooted and insubvertible conviction is, that the causes of the anomalies evident in the princess’s condition are strictly and solely physical. But that is only tantamount to acknowledging that they exist. Hear my opinion.— From some cause or other, of no importance to our inquiry, the motion of her heart has been reversed. That remarkable combination of the suction and the force-pump works the wrong way-I mean in the case of the unfortunate princess: it draws in where it should force out, and forces out where it should draw in. The offices of the auricles and the ventricles are subverted. The blood is sent forth by the veins, and returns by the arteries. Consequently it is running the wrong way through all her corporeal organism—lungs and all. Is it then at all mysterious, seeing that such is the case, that on the other particular of gravitation as well, she should differ from normal humanity? My proposal for the cure is this:—

“Phlebotomize until she is reduced to the last point of safety. Let it be effected, if necessary, in a warm bath. When she is reduced to a state of perfect asphyxy, apply a ligature to the left ankle, drawing it as tight as the bone will bear. Apply, at the same moment, another of equal tension around the right wrist. By means of plates constructed for the purpose, place the other foot and hand under the receivers of two air-pumps. Exhaust the receivers. Exhibit a pint of French brandy, and await the result.”

“Which would presently arrive in the form of grim Death,” said Kopy-Keck.

“If it should, she would yet die in doing our duty,” retorted Hum-Drum.

But their Majesties had too much tenderness for their volatile offspring to subject her to either of the schemes of the equally unscrupulous philosophers. Indeed, the most complete knowledge of the laws of nature would have been unserviceable in her case; for it was impossible to classify her. She was a fifth imponderable body, sharing all the other properties of the ponderable.

8. Try a Drop of Water.

Perhaps the best thing for the princess would have been to fall in love. But how a princess who had no gravity could fall into anything is a difficulty—perhaps THE difficulty.

As for her own feelings on the subject, she did not even know that there was such a beehive of honey and stings to be fallen into. But now I come to mention another curious fact about her.

The palace was built on the shores of the loveliest lake in the world; and the princess loved this lake more than father or mother. The root of this preference no doubt, although the princess did not recognise it as such, was, that the moment she got into it, she recovered the natural right of which she had been so wickedly deprived—namely, gravity. Whether this was owing to the fact that water had been employed as the means of conveying the injury, I do not know. But it is certain that she could swim and dive like the duck that her old nurse said she was. The manner in which this alleviation of her misfortune was discovered was as follows.

One summer evening, during the carnival of the country, she had been taken upon the lake by the king and queen, in the royal barge. They were accompanied by many of the courtiers in a fleet of little boats. In the middle of the lake she wanted to get into the lord chancellor’s barge, for his daughter, who was a great favourite with her, was in it with her father. Now though the old king rarely condescended to make light of his misfortune, yet, Happening on this occasion to be in a particularly good humour, as the barges approached each other, he caught up the princess to throw her into the chancellor’s barge. He lost his balance, however, and, dropping into the bottom of the barge, lost his hold of his daughter; not, however, before imparting to her the downward tendency of his own person, though in a somewhat different direction; for, as the king fell into the boat, she fell into the water. With a burst of delighted laughter she disappeared in the lake. A cry of horror ascended from the boats. They had never seen the princess go down before. Half the men were under water in a moment; but they had all, one after another, come up to the surface again for breath, when—tinkle, tinkle, babble, and gush! came the princess’s laugh over the water from far away. There she was, swimming like a swan. Nor would she come out for king or queen, chancellor or daughter. She was perfectly obstinate.

But at the same time she seemed more sedate than usual. Perhaps that was because a great pleasure spoils laughing. At all events, after this, the passion of her life was to get into the water, and she was always the better behaved and the more beautiful the more she had of it. Summer and winter it was quite the same; only she could not stay so long in the water when they had to break the ice to let her in. Any day, from morning till evening in summer, she might be descried—a streak of white in the blue water—lying as still as the shadow of a cloud, or shooting along like a dolphin; disappearing, and coming up again far off, just where one did not expect her. She would have been in the lake of a night, too, if she could have had her way; for the balcony of her window overhung a deep pool in it; and through a shallow reedy passage she could have swum out into the wide wet water, and no one would have been any the wiser. Indeed, when she happened to wake in the moonlight she could hardly resist the temptation. But there was the sad difficulty of getting into it. She had as great a dread of the air as some children have of the water. For the slightest gust of wind would blow her away; and a gust might arise in the stillest moment. And if she gave herself a push towards the water and just failed of reaching it, her situation would be dreadfully awkward, irrespective of the wind; for at best there she would have to remain, suspended in her nightgown, till she was seen and angled for by someone from the window.

“Oh! if I had my gravity,” thought she, contemplating the water, “I would flash off this balcony like a long white sea-bird, headlong into the darling wetness. Heigh-ho!”

This was the only consideration that made her wish to be like other people.

Another reason for her being fond of the water was that in it alone she enjoyed any freedom. For she could not walk out without a cortege, consisting in part of a troop of light horse, for fear of the liberties which the wind might take with her. And the king grew more apprehensive with increasing years, till at last he would not allow her to walk abroad at all without some twenty silken cords fastened to as many parts of her dress, and held by twenty noblemen. Of course horseback was out of the question. But she bade good-by to all this ceremony when she got into the water.

And so remarkable were its effects upon her, especially in restoring her for the time to the ordinary human gravity, that Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck agreed in recommending the king to bury her alive for three years; in the hope that, as the water did her so much good, the earth would do her yet more. But the king had some vulgar prejudices against the experiment, and would not give his consent. Foiled in this, they yet agreed in another recommendation; which, seeing that one imported his opinions from China and the other from Thibet, was very remarkable indeed. They argued that, if water of external origin and application could be so efficacious, water from a deeper source might work a perfect cure; in short, that if the poor afflicted princess could by any means be made to cry, she might recover her lost gravity.

But how was this to be brought about? Therein lay all the difficulty—to meet which the philosophers were not wise enough. To make the princess cry was as impossible as to make her weigh. They sent for a professional beggar; commanded him to prepare his most touching oracle of woe; helped him out of the court charade box, to whatever he wanted for dressing up, and promised great rewards in the event of his success. But it was all in vain. She listened to the mendicant artist’s story, and gazed at his marvellous make up, till she could contain herself no longer, and went into the most undignified contortions for relief, shrieking, positively screeching with laughter.

When she had a little recovered herself, she ordered her attendants to drive him away, and not give him a single copper; whereupon his look of mortified discomfiture wrought her punishment and his revenge, for it sent her into violent hysterics, from which she was with difficulty recovered.

But so anxious was the king that the suggestion should have a fair trial, that he put himself in a rage one day, and, rushing up to her room, gave her an awful whipping. Yet not a tear would flow. She looked grave, and her laughing sounded uncommonly like screaming—that was all. The good old tyrant, though he put on his best gold spectacles to look, could not discover the smallest cloud in the serene blue of her eyes.

9. Put Me in Again.

It must have been about this time that the son of a king, who lived a thousand miles from Lagobel set out to look for the daughter of a queen. He travelled far and wide, but as sure as he found a princess, he found some fault in her. Of course he could not marry a mere woman, however beautiful; and there was no princess to be found worthy of him. Whether the prince was so near perfection that he had a right to demand perfection itself, I cannot pretend to say. All I know is, that he was a fine, handsome, brave, generous, well-bred, and well-behaved youth, as all princes are.

In his wanderings he had come across some reports about our princess; but as everybody said she was bewitched, he never dreamed that she could bewitch him. For what indeed could a prince do with a princess that had lost her gravity? Who could tell what she might not lose next? She might lose her visibility, or her tangibility; or, in short, the power of making impressions upon the radical sensorium; so that he should never be able to tell whether she was dead or alive. Of course he made no further inquiries about her. One day he lost sight of his retinue in a great forest. These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a sieve that keeps back the bran. Then the princes get away to follow their fortunes. In this way they have the advantage of the princesses, who are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.

One lovely evening, after wandering about for many days, he found that he was approaching the outskirts of this forest; for the trees had got so thin that he could see the sunset through them; and he soon came upon a kind of heath. Next he came upon signs of human neighbourhood; but by this time it was getting late, and there was nobody in the fields to direct him.

After travelling for another hour, his horse, quite worn out with long labour and lack of food, fell, and was unable to rise again. So he continued his journey on foot. At length he entered another wood—not a wild forest, but a civilized wood, through which a footpath led him to the side of a lake. Along this path the prince pursued his way through the gathering darkness. Suddenly he paused, and listened. Strange sounds came across the water. It was, in fact, the princess laughing. Now there was something odd in her laugh, as I have already hinted; for the hatching of a real hearty laugh requires the incubation of gravity; and perhaps this was how the prince mistook the laughter for screaming. Looking over the lake, he saw something white in the water; and, in an instant, he had torn off his tunic, kicked off his sandals, and plunged in. He soon reached the white object, and found that it was a woman. There was not light enough to show that she was a princess, but quite enough to show that she was a lady, for it does not want much light to see that.

Now I cannot tell how it came about,—whether she pretended to be drowning, or whether he frightened her, or caught her so as to embarrass her,—but certainly he brought her to shore in a fashion ignominious to a swimmer, and more nearly drowned than she had ever expected to be; for the water had got into her throat as often as she had tried to speak.

At the place to which he bore her, the bank was only a foot or two above the water; so he gave her a strong lift out of the water, to lay her on the bank. But, her gravitation ceasing the moment she left the water, away she went up into the air, scolding and screaming.

“You naughty, naughty, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY man!” she cried.

No one had ever succeeded in putting her into a passion before.—When the prince saw her ascend, he thought he must have been bewitched, and have mistaken a great swan for a lady. But the princess caught hold of the topmost cone upon a lofty fir. This came off; but she caught at another; and, in fact, stopped herself by gathering cones, dropping them as the stalks gave way. The prince, meantime, stood in the water, staring, and forgetting to get out. But the princess disappearing, he scrambled on shore, and went in the direction of the tree. There he found her climbing down one of the branches towards the stem. But in the darkness of the wood, the prince continued in some bewilderment as to what the phenomenon could be; until, reaching the ground, and seeing him standing there, she caught hold of him, and said,—

“I’ll tell papa.”

“Oh no, you won’t!” returned the prince.

“Yes, I will,” she persisted. “What business had you to pull me down out of the water, and throw me to the bottom of the air? I never did you any harm.”

“Pardon me. I did not mean to hurt you.”

“I don’t believe you have any brains; and that is a worse loss than your wretched gravity. I pity you.”

The prince now saw that he had come upon the bewitched princess, and had already offended her. But before he could think what to say next, she burst out angrily, giving a stamp with her foot that would have sent her aloft again but for the hold she had of his arm,—

“Put me up directly.”

“Put you up where, you beauty?” asked the prince.

He had fallen in love with her almost, already; for her anger made her more charming than any one else had ever beheld her; and, as far as he could see, which certainly was not far, she had not a single fault about her, except, of course, that she had not any gravity. No prince, however, would judge of a princess by weight. The loveliness of her foot he would hardly estimate by the depth of the impression it could make in mud.

“Put you up where, you beauty?” asked the prince.

“In the water, you stupid!” answered the princess.

“Come, then,” said the prince.

The condition of her dress, increasing her usual difficulty in walking, compelled her to cling to him; and he could hardly persuade himself that he was not in a delightful dream, notwithstanding the torrent of musical abuse with which she overwhelmed him. The prince being therefore in no hurry, they came upon the lake at quite another part, where the bank was twenty-five feet high at least; and when they had reached the edge, he turned towards the princess, and said,—

“How am I to put you in?” “That is your business,” she answered, quite snappishly. “You took me out—put me in again.”

“Very well,” said the prince; and, catching her up in his arms, he sprang with her from the rock. The princess had just time to give one delighted shriek of laughter before the water closed over them. When they came to the surface, she found that, for a moment or two, she could not even laugh, for she had gone down with such a rush, that it was with difficulty she recovered her breath. The instant they reached the surface—

“How do you like falling in?” said the prince.

After some effort the princess panted out,—

“Is that what you call FALLING IN?”

“Yes,” answered the prince, “I should think it a very tolerable specimen.”

“It seemed to me like going up,” rejoined she.

“My feeling was certainly one of elevation too,” the prince conceded.

The princess did not appear to understand him, for she retorted his question:—

“How do YOU like falling in?” said the princess.

“Beyond everything,” answered he; “for I have fallen in with the only perfect creature I ever saw.”

“No more of that: I am tired of it,” said the princess.

Perhaps she shared her father’s aversion to punning.

“Don’t you like falling in then?” said the prince.

“It is the most delightful fun I ever had in my life,” answered she. “I never fell before. I wish I could learn. To think I am the only person in my father’s kingdom that can’t fall!”

Here the poor princess looked almost sad.

“I shall be most happy to fall in with you any time you like,” said the prince, devotedly.

“Thank you. I don’t know. Perhaps it would not be proper. But I don’t care. At all events, as we have fallen in, let us have a swim together.”

“With all my heart,” responded the prince.

And away they went, swimming, and diving, and floating, until at last they heard cries along the shore, and saw lights glancing in all directions. It was now quite late, and there was no moon.

“I must go home,” said the princess. “I am very sorry, for this is delightful.”

“So am I,” returned the prince. “But I am glad I haven’t a home to go to—at least, I don’t exactly know where it is.”

“I wish I hadn’t one either,” rejoined the princess; “it is so stupid! I have a great mind,” she continued, “to play them all a trick. Why couldn’t they leave me alone? They won’t trust me in the lake for a single night!—You see where that green light is burning? That is the window of my room. Now if you would just swim there with me very quietly, and when we are all but under the balcony, give me such a push—up you call it-as you did a little while ago, I should be able to catch hold of the balcony, and get in at the window; and then they may look for me till to-morrow morning!”

“With more obedience than pleasure,” said the prince, gallantly; and away they swam, very gently.

“Will you be in the lake to-morrow night?” the prince ventured to ask.

“To be sure I will. I don’t think so. Perhaps,” was the princess’s somewhat strange answer.

But the prince was intelligent enough not to press her further; and merely whispered, as he gave her the parting lift, “Don’t tell.”

The only answer the princess returned was a roguish look. She was already a yard above his head. The look seemed to say, “Never fear. It is too good fun to spoil that way.”

So perfectly like other people had she been in the water, that even yet the prince could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw her ascend slowly, grasp the balcony, and disappear through the window. He turned, almost expecting to see her still by his side. But he was alone in the water. So he swam away quietly, and watched the lights roving about the shore for hours after the princess was safe in her chamber. As soon as they disappeared, he landed in search of his tunic and sword, and, after some trouble, found them again. Then he made the best of his way round the lake to the other side. There the wood was wilder, and the shore steeper-rising more immediately towards the mountains which surrounded the lake on all sides, and kept sending it messages of silvery streams from morning to night, and all night long. He soon found a spot whence he could see the green light in the princess’s room, and where, even in the broad daylight, he would be in no danger of being discovered from the opposite shore. It was a sort of cave in the rock, where he provided himself a bed of withered leaves, and lay down too tired for hunger to keep him awake. All night long he dreamed that he was swimming with the princess.

10. Look at the Moon.

Early the next morning the prince set out to look for something to eat, which he soon found at a forester’s hut, where for many following days he was supplied with all that a brave prince could consider necessary. And having plenty to keep him alive for the present, he would not think of wants not yet in existence. Whenever Care intruded, this prince always bowed him out in the most princely manner. When he returned from his breakfast to his watch-cave, he saw the princess already floating about in the lake, attended by the king and queen whom he knew by their crowns—and a great company in lovely little boats, with canopies of all the colours of the rainbow, and flags and streamers of a great many more. It was a very bright day, and soon the prince, burned up with the heat, began to long for the cold water and the cool princess. But he had to endure till twilight; for the boats had provisions on board, and it was not till the sun went down that the gay party began to vanish. Boat after boat drew away to the shore, following that of the king and queen, till only one, apparently the princess’s own boat, remained. But she did not want to go home even yet, and the prince thought he saw her order the boat to the shore without her. At all events, it rowed away; and now, of all the radiant company, only one white speck remained. Then the prince began to sing. And this is what he sung:—

“Lady fair,
Lift thine eyes,
Banish night
By the might
Of thine eyes.

Snowy arms,
Oars of snow,
Oar her hither,
Plashing low.
Soft and slow,
Oar her hither.

Stream behind her
O’er the lake,
Radiant whiteness!
In her wake
Following, following for her sake.
Radiant whiteness!

Cling about her,
Waters blue;
Part not from her,
But renew
Cold and true
Kisses round her.

Lap me round,
Waters sad,
That have left her.
Make me glad,
For ye had
Kissed her ere ye left her.”

Before he had finished his song, the princess was just under the place where he sat, and looking up to find him. Her ears had led her truly.

“Would you like a fall, princess?” said the prince, looking down.

“Ah! there you are! Yes, if you please, prince,” said the princess, looking up.

“How do you know I am a prince, princess?” said the prince.

“Because you are a very nice young man, prince,” said the princess.

“Come up then, princess.”

“Fetch me, prince.”

The prince took off his scarf, then his sword-belt, then his tunic, and tied them all together, and let them down. But the line was far too short. He unwound his turban, and added it to the rest, when it was all but long enough; and his purse completed it. The princess just managed to lay hold of the knot of money, and was beside him in a moment. This rock was much higher than the other, and the splash and the dive were tremendous. The princess was in ecstasies of delight, and their swim was delicious.

Night after night they met, and swam about in the dark clear lake; where such was the prince’s gladness, that (whether the princess’s way of looking at things infected him, or he was actually getting light-headed) he often fancied that he was swimming in the sky instead of the lake. But when he talked about being in heaven, the princess laughed at him dreadfully.

When the moon came, she brought them fresh pleasure. Everything looked strange and new in her light, with an old, withered, yet unfading newness. When the moon was nearly full, one of their great delights was, to dive deep in the water, and then, turning round, look up through it at the great blot of light close above them, shimmering and trembling and wavering, spreading and contracting, seeming to melt away, and again grow solid. Then they would shoot up through the blot; and lo! there was the moon, far off, clear and steady and cold, and very lovely, at the bottom of a deeper and bluer lake than theirs, as the princess said.

The prince soon found out that while in the water the princess was very like other people. And besides this, she was not so forward in her questions or pert in her replies at sea as on shore. Neither did she laugh so much; and when she did laugh, it was more gently. She seemed altogether more modest and maidenly in the water than out of it.

But when the prince, who had really fallen in love when he fell in the lake, began to talk to her about love, she always turned her head towards him and laughed. After a while she began to look puzzled, as if she were trying to understand what he meant, but could not—revealing a notion that he meant something. But as soon as ever she left the lake, she was so altered, that the prince said to himself, “If I marry her, I see no help for it: we must turn merman and mermaid, and go out to sea at once.”

11. Hiss!

The princess’s pleasure in the lake had grown to a passion, and she could scarcely bear to be out of it for an hour. Imagine then her consternation, when, diving with the prince one night, a sudden suspicion seized her that the lake was not so deep as it used to be. The prince could not imagine what had happened. She shot to the surface, and, without a word, swam at full speed towards the higher side of the lake. He followed, begging to know if she was ill, or what was the matter. She never turned her head, or took the smallest notice of his question. Arrived at the shore, she coasted the rocks with minute inspection. But she was not able to come to a conclusion, for the moon was very small, and so she could not see well. She turned therefore and swam home, without saying a word to explain her conduct to the prince, of whose presence she seemed no longer conscious. He withdrew to his cave, in great perplexity and distress.

Next day she made many observations, which, alas! strengthened her fears. She saw that the banks were too dry; and that the grass on the shore, and the trailing plants on the rocks, were withering away. She caused marks to be made along the borders, and examined them, day after day, in all directions of the wind; till at last the horrible idea became a certain fact—that the surface of the lake was slowly sinking.

The poor princess nearly went out of the little mind she had. It was awful to her to see the lake, which she loved more than any living thing, lie dying before her eyes. It sank away, slowly vanishing. The tops of rocks that had never been seen till now, began to appear far down in the clear water. Before long they were dry in the sun. It was fearful to think of the mud that would soon lie there baking and festering, full of lovely creatures dying, and ugly creatures coming to life, like the unmaking of a world. And how hot the sun would be without any lake! She could not bear to swim in it any more, and began to pine away. Her life seemed bound up with it; and ever as the lake sank, she pined. People said she would not live an hour after the lake was gone.

But she never cried.

A Proclamation was made to all the kingdom, that whosoever should discover the cause of the lake’s decrease, would be rewarded after a princely fashion. Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck applied themselves to their physics and metaphysics; but in vain. Not even they could suggest a cause.

Now the fact was that the old princess was at the root of the mischief. When she heard that her niece found more pleasure in the water than any one else out of it, she went into a rage, and cursed herself for her want of foresight.

“But,” said she, “I will soon set all right. The king and the people shall die of thirst; their brains shall boil and frizzle in their skulls before I will lose my revenge.”

And she laughed a ferocious laugh, that made the hairs on the back of her black cat stand erect with terror.

Then she went to an old chest in the room, and opening it, took out what looked like a piece of dried seaweed. This she threw into a tub of water. Then she threw some powder into the water, and stirred it with her bare arm, muttering over it words of hideous sound, and yet more hideous import. Then she set the tub aside, and took from the chest a huge bunch of a hundred rusty keys, that clattered in her shaking hands. Then she sat down and proceeded to oil them all. Before she had finished, out from the tub, the water of which had kept on a slow motion ever since she had ceased stirring it, came the head and half the body of a huge gray snake. But the witch did not look round. It grew out of the tub, waving itself backwards and forwards with a slow horizontal motion, till it reached the princess, when it laid its head upon her shoulder, and gave a low hiss in her ear. She started—but with joy; and seeing the head resting on her shoulder, drew it towards her and kissed it. Then she drew it all out of the tub, and wound it round her body. It was one of those dreadful creatures which few have ever beheld—the White Snakes of Darkness.

Then she took the keys and went down to her cellar; and as she unlocked the door she said to herself,—

“This is worth living for!”

Locking the door behind her, she descended a few steps into the cellar, and crossing it, unlocked another door into a dark, narrow passage. She locked this also behind her, and descended a few more steps. If any one had followed the witch-princess, he would have heard her unlock exactly one hundred doors, and descend a few steps after unlocking each. When she had unlocked the last, she entered a vast cave, the roof of which was supported by huge natural pillars of rock. Now this roof was the under side of the bottom of the lake.

She then untwined the snake from her body, and held it by the tail high above her. The hideous creature stretched up its head towards the roof of the cavern, which it was just able to reach. It then began to move its head backwards and forwards, with a slow oscillating motion, as if looking for something. At the same moment the witch began to walk round and round the cavern, coming nearer to the centre every circuit; while the head of the snake described the same path over the roof that she did over the floor, for she kept holding it up. And still it kept slowly oscillating. Round and round the cavern they went, ever lessening the circuit, till at last the snake made a sudden dart, and clung to the roof with its mouth.

“That’s right, my beauty!” cried the princess; “drain it dry.”

She let it go, left it hanging, and sat down on a great stone, with her black cat, which had followed her all round the cave, by her side. Then she began to knit and mutter awful words. The snake hung like a huge leech, sucking at the stone; the cat stood with his back arched, and his tail like a piece of cable, looking up at the snake; and the old woman sat and knitted and muttered. Seven days and seven nights they remained thus; when suddenly the serpent dropped from the roof as if exhausted, and shrivelled up till it was again like a piece of dried seaweed. The witch started to her feet, picked it up, put it in her pocket, and looked up at the roof. One drop of water was trembling on the spot where the snake had been sucking. As soon as she saw that, she turned and fled, followed by her cat. Shutting the door in a terrible hurry, she locked it, and having muttered some frightful words, sped to the next, which also she locked and muttered over; and so with all the hundred doors, till she arrived in her own cellar. Then she sat down on the floor ready to faint, but listening with malicious delight to the rushing of the water, which she could hear distinctly through all the hundred doors.

But this was not enough. Now that she had tasted revenge, she lost her patience. Without further measures, the lake would be too long in disappearing. So the next night, with the last shred of the dying old moon rising, she took some of the water in which she had revived the snake, put it in a bottle, and set out, accompanied by her cat. Before morning she had made the entire circuit of the lake, muttering fearful words as she crossed every stream, and casting into it some of the water out of her bottle. When she had finished the circuit she muttered yet again, and flung a handful of water towards the moon. Thereupon every spring in the country ceased to throb and bubble, dying away like the pulse of a dying man. The next day there was no sound of falling water to be heard along the borders of the lake. The very courses were dry; and the mountains showed no silvery streaks down their dark sides. And not alone had the fountains of mother Earth ceased to flow; for all the babies throughout the country were crying dreadfully—only without tears.

12. Where Is the Prince?

Never since the night when the princess left him so abruptly had the prince had a single interview with her. He had seen her once or twice in the lake; but as far as he could discover, she had not been in it any more at night. He had sat and sung, and looked in vain for his Nereid; while she, like a true Nereid, was wasting away with her lake, sinking as it sank, withering as it dried. When at length he discovered the change that was taking place in the level of the water, he was in great alarm and perplexity. He could not tell whether the lake was dying because the lady had forsaken it; or whether the lady would not come because the lake had begun to sink. But he resolved to know so much at least.

He disguised himself, and, going to the palace, requested to see the lord chamberlain. His appearance at once gained his request; and the lord chamberlain, being a man of some insight, perceived that there was more in the prince’s solicitation than met the ear. He felt likewise that no one could tell whence a solution of the present difficulties might arise. So he granted the prince’s prayer to be made shoeblack to the princess. It was rather cunning in the prince to request such an easy post, for the princess could not possibly soil as many shoes as other princesses.

He soon learned all that could be told about the princess. He went nearly distracted; but after roaming about the lake for days, and diving in every depth that remained, all that he could do was to put an extra polish on the dainty pair of boots that was never called for.

For the princess kept her room, with the curtains drawn to shut out the dying lake, But she could not shut it out of her mind for a moment. It haunted her imagination so that she felt as if the lake were her soul, drying up within her, first to mud, then to madness and death. She thus brooded over the change, with all its dreadful accompaniments, till she was nearly distracted. As for the prince, she had forgotten him. However much she had enjoyed his company in the water, she did not care for him without it. But she seemed to have forgotten her father and mother too. The lake went on sinking. Small slimy spots began to appear, which glittered steadily amidst the changeful shine of the water. These grew to broad patches of mud, which widened and spread, with rocks here and there, and floundering fishes and crawling eels swarming. The people went everywhere catching these, and looking for anything that might have dropped from the royal boats.

At length the lake was all but gone, only a few of the deepest pools remaining unexhausted.

It happened one day that a party of youngsters found themselves on the brink of one of these pools in the very centre of the lake. It was a rocky basin of considerable depth. Looking in, they saw at the bottom something that shone yellow in the sun. A little boy jumped in and dived for it. It was a plate of gold covered with writing. They carried it to the king. On one side of it stood these words:—

“Death alone from death can save.
Love is death, and so is brave—
Love can fill the deepest grave.
Love loves on beneath the wave.”


Now this was enigmatical enough to the king and courtiers. But the reverse of the plate explained it a little. Its writing amounted to this:—

“If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which the water ran. But it would be useless to try to stop it by any ordinary means. There was but one effectual mode.—The body of a living man could alone stanch the flow. The man must give himself of his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise the offering would be of no avail. If the nation could not provide one hero, it was time it should perish.”

13. Here I Am.

This was a very disheartening revelation to the king—not that he was unwilling to sacrifice a subject, but that he was hopeless of finding a man willing to sacrifice himself. No time was to be lost, however, for the princess was lying motionless on her bed, and taking no nourishment but lake-water, which was now none of the best. Therefore the king caused the contents of the wonderful plate of gold to be published throughout the country.

No one, however, came forward.

The prince, having gone several days’ journey into the forest, to consult a hermit whom he had met there on his way to Lagobel, knew nothing of the oracle till his return.

When he had acquainted himself with all the particulars, he sat down and thought,—

“She will die if I don’t do it, and life would be nothing to me without her; so I shall lose nothing by doing it. And life will be as pleasant to her as ever, for she will soon forget me. And there will be so much more beauty and happiness in the world!—To be sure, I shall not see it.” (Here the poor prince gave a sigh.) “How lovely the lake will be in the moonlight, with that glorious creature sporting in it like a wild goddess!—It is rather hard to be drowned by inches, though. Let me see—that will be seventy inches of me to drown.” (Here he tried to laugh, but could not.) “The longer the better, however,” he resumed: “for can I not bargain that the princess shall be beside me all the time? So I shall see her once more, kiss her perhaps,—who knows?—and die looking in her eyes. It will be no death. At least, I shall not feel it. And to see the lake filling for the beauty again!—All right! I am ready.”

He kissed the princess’s boot, laid it down, and hurried to the king’s apartment. But feeling, as he went, that anything sentimental would be disagreeable, he resolved to carry off the whole affair with nonchalance. So he knocked at the door of the king’s counting-house, where it was all but a capital crime to disturb him.

When the king heard the knock he started up, and opened the door in a rage. Seeing only the shoeblack, he drew his sword. This, I am sorry to say, was his usual mode of asserting his regality when he thought his dignity was in danger. But the prince was not in the least alarmed.

“Please your Majesty, I’m your butler,” said he.

“My butler! you lying rascal! What do you mean?”

“I mean, I will cork your big bottle.”

“Is the fellow mad?” bawled the king, raising the point of his sword.

“I will put a stopper—plug—what you call it, in your leaky lake, grand monarch,” said the prince.

The king was in such a rage that before he could speak he had time to cool, and to reflect that it would be great waste to kill the only man who was willing to be useful in the present emergency, seeing that in the end the insolent fellow would be as dead as if he had died by his Majesty’s own hand. “Oh!” said he at last, putting up his sword with difficulty, it was so long; “I am obliged to you, you young fool! Take a glass of wine?”

“No, thank you,” replied the prince.

“Very well,” said the king. “Would you like to run and see your parents before you make your experiment?”

“No, thank you,” said the prince.

“Then we will go and look for the hole at once,” said his Majesty, and proceeded to call some attendants.

“Stop, please your Majesty; I have a condition to make,” interposed the prince.

“What!” exclaimed the king, “a condition! and with me! How dare you?”

“As you please,” returned the prince, coolly. “I wish your Majesty a good morning.”

“You wretch! I will have you put in a sack, and stuck in the hole.”

“Very well, your Majesty,” replied the prince, becoming a little more respectful, lest the wrath of the king should deprive him of the pleasure of dying for the princess. “But what good will that do your Majesty? Please to remember that the oracle says the victim must offer himself.”

“Well, you have offered yourself,” retorted the king.

“Yes, upon one condition.”

“Condition again!” roared the king, once more drawing his sword. “Begone! Somebody else will be glad enough to take the honour off your shoulders.”

“Your Majesty knows it will not be easy to get another to take my place.”

“Well, what is your condition?” growled the king, feeling that the prince was right.

“Only this,” replied the prince: “that, as I must on no account die before I am fairly drowned, and the waiting will be rather wearisome, the princess, your daughter, shall go with me, feed me with her own hands, and look at me now and then to comfort me; for you must confess it IS rather hard. As soon as the water is up to my eyes, she may go and be happy, and forget her poor shoeblack.”

Here the prince’s voice faltered, and he very nearly grew sentimental, in spite of his resolution.

“Why didn’t you tell me before what your condition was? Such a fuss about nothing!” exclaimed the king.

“Do you grant it?” persisted the prince. “Of course I do,” replied the king.

“Very well. I am ready.”

“Go and have some dinner, then, while I set my people to find the place.”

The king ordered out his guards, and gave directions to the officers to find the hole in the lake at once. So the bed of the lake was marked out in divisions and thoroughly examined, and in an hour or so the hole was discovered. It was in the middle of a stone, near the centre of the lake, in the very pool where the golden plate had been found. It was a three-cornered hole of no great size. There was water all round the stone, but very little was flowing through the hole.

14. This Is Very Kind of You.

The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die like a prince.

When the princess heard that a man had offered to die for her, she was so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as she was, and danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the man was; that was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only a man would do, why, take one. In an hour or two more everything was ready. Her maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side of the lake. When she saw it she shrieked, and covered her face with her hands. They bore her across to the stone where they had already placed a little boat for her.

The water was not deep enough to float it, but they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on cushions, placed in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things, and stretched a canopy over all.

In a few minutes the prince appeared. The princess recognized him at once, but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.

“Here I am,” said the prince. “Put me in.”

“They told me it was a shoeblack,” said the princess.

“So I am,” said the prince. “I blacked your little boots three times a day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in.”

The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each other that he was taking it out in impudence.

But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no instructions on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but one way. He put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and, stooping forward, covered the corner that remained open with his two hands. In this uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his fate, and turning to the people, said,—

“Now you can go.”

The king had already gone home to dinner.

“Now you can go,” repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.

The people obeyed her and went.

Presently a little wave flowed over the stone, and wetted one of the prince’s knees. But he did not mind it much. He began to sing, and the song he sang was this:—

“As a world that has no well,
Darting bright in forest dell;
As a world without the gleam
Of the downward-going stream;
As a world without the glance
Of the ocean’s fair expanse;
As a world where never rain
Glittered on the sunny plain;—
Such, my heart, thy world would be,
If no love did flow in thee.

As a world without the sound
Of the rivulets underground;
Or the bubbling of the spring
Out of darkness wandering;
Or the mighty rush and flowing
Of the river’s downward going;
Or the music-showers that drop
On the outspread beech’s top;
Or the ocean’s mighty voice,
When his lifted waves rejoice;—
Such, my soul, thy world would be,
If no love did sing in thee.

Lady, keep thy world’s delight;
Keep the waters in thy sight.
Love hath made me strong to go,
For thy sake, to realms below,
Where the water’s shine and hum
Through the darkness never come;
Let, I pray, one thought of me
Spring, a little well, in thee;
Lest thy loveless soul be found
Like a dry and thirsty ground.”


“Sing again, prince. It makes it less tedious,” said the princess.

But the prince was too much overcome to sing any more, and a long pause followed.

“This is very kind of you, prince,” said the princess at last, quite coolly, as she lay in the boat with her eyes shut.

“I am sorry I can’t return the compliment,” thought the prince; “but you are worth dying for, after all.”

Again a wavelet, and another, and another flowed over the stone, and wetted both the prince’s knees; but he did not speak or move. Two—three—four hours passed in this way, the princess apparently asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much disappointed in his position, for he had none of the consolation he had hoped for.

At last he could bear it no longer.

“Princess!” said he.

But at the moment up started the princess, crying,—

“I’m afloat! I’m afloat!”

And the little boat bumped against the stone.

“Princess!” repeated the prince, encouraged by seeing her wide awake and looking eagerly at the water.

“Well?” said she, without looking round.

“Your papa promised that you should look at me, and you haven’t looked at me once.”

“Did he? Then I suppose I must. But I am so sleepy!”

“Sleep then, darling, and don’t mind me,” said the poor prince.

“Really, you are very good,” replied the princess. “I think I will go to sleep again.”

“Just give me a glass of wine and a biscuit first,” said the prince, very humbly.

“With all my heart,” said the princess, and gaped as she said it.

She got the wine and the biscuit, however, and leaning over the side of the boat towards him, was compelled to look at him.

“Why, prince,” she said, “you don’t look well! Are you sure you don’t mind it?” “Not a bit,” answered he, feeling very faint indeed. “Only I shall die before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to eat.”

“There, then,” said she, holding out the wine to him.

“Ah! you must feed me. I dare not move my hands. The water would run away directly.”

“Good gracious!” said the princess; and she began at once to feed him with bits of biscuit and sips of wine.

As she fed him, he contrived to kiss the tips of her fingers now and then. She did not seem to mind it, one way or the other. But the prince felt better.

“Now for your own sake, princess,” said he, “I cannot let you go to sleep. You must sit and look at me, else I shall not be able to keep up.”

“Well, I will do anything I can to oblige you,” answered she, with condescension; and, sitting down, she did look at him, and kept looking at him with wonderful steadiness, considering all things.

The sun went down, and the moon rose, and, gush after gush, the waters were rising up the prince’s body. They were up to his waist now.

“Why can’t we go and have a swim?” said the princess. “There seems to be water enough Just about here.”

“I shall never swim more,” said the prince.

“Oh, I forgot,” said the princess, and was silent.

So the water grew and grew, and rose up and up on the prince. And the princess sat and looked at him. She fed him now and then. The night wore on. The waters rose and rose. The moon rose likewise higher and higher, and shone full on the face of the dying prince. The water was up to his neck.

“Will you kiss me, princess?” said he, feebly.

The nonchalance was all gone now.

“Yes, I will,” answered the princess, and kissed him with a long, sweet, cold kiss.

“Now,” said he, with a sigh of content, “I die happy.”

He did not speak again. The princess gave him some wine for the last time: he was past eating. Then she sat down again, and looked at him. The water rose and rose. It touched his chin. It touched his lower lip. It touched between his lips. He shut them hard to keep it out. The princess began to feel strange. It touched his upper lip. He breathed through his nostrils. The princess looked wild. It covered his nostrils. Her eyes looked scared, and shone strange in the moonlight. His head fell back; the water closed over it, and the bubbles of his last breath bubbled up through the water. The princess gave a shriek, and sprang into the lake.

She laid hold first of one leg, and then of the other, and pulled and tugged, but she could not move either. She stopped to take breath, and that made her think that HE could not get any breath. She was frantic. She got hold of him, and held his head above the water, which was possible now his hands were no longer on the hole. But it was of no use, for he was past breathing.

Love and water brought back all her strength. She got under the water, and pulled and pulled with her whole might, till at last she got one leg out. The other easily followed. How she got him into the boat she never could tell; but when she did, she fainted away. Coming to herself, she seized the oars, kept herself steady as best she could, and rowed and rowed, though she had never rowed before. Round rocks, and over shallows, and through mud she rowed, till she got to the landing-stairs of the palace. By this time her people were on the shore, for they had heard her shriek. She made them carry the prince to her own room, and lay him in her bed, and light a fire, and send for the doctors.

“But the lake, your Highness!” said the chamberlain, who, roused by the noise, came in, in his nightcap.

“Go and drown yourself in it!” she said.

This was the last rudeness of which the princess was ever guilty; and one must allow that she had good cause to feel provoked with the lord chamberlain.

Had it been the king himself, he would have fared no better. But both he and the queen were fast asleep. And the chamberlain went back to his bed. Somehow, the doctors never came. So the princess and her old nurse were left with the prince. But the old nurse was a wise woman, and knew what to do.

They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess was nearly distracted between hope and fear, but she tried on and on, one thing after another, and everything over and over again.

At last, when they had all but given it up, just as the sun rose, the prince opened his eyes.

15. Look at the Rain!

The princess burst into a passion of tears, and fell on the floor. There she lay for an hour, and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had never been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the great drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The palace was in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and sapphires, and emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the mountains like molten gold; and if it had not been for its subterraneous outlet, the lake would have overflowed and inundated the country. It was full from shore to shore.

But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and wept, and this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain out of doors.

For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise, she found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after many efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled down again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of delight, and ran to her, screaming,—

“My darling child! she’s found her gravity!”

“Oh, that’s it! is it?” said the princess, rubbing her shoulder and her knee alternately. “I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I should be crushed to pieces.”

“Hurrah!” cried the prince from the bed. “If you’ve come round, princess, so have I. How’s the lake?”

“Brimful,” answered the nurse.

“Then we’re all happy.”

“That we are indeed!” answered the princess, sobbing.

And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly. And the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he divided the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, among all the children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.

Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any propriety. And this was not so easy at her time of life, for she could walk no more than a baby. She was always falling down and hurting herself.

“Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?” said she one day to the prince, as he raised her from the floor. “For my part, I was a great deal more comfortable without it.”

“No, no, that’s not it. This is it,” replied the prince, as he took her up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time. “This is gravity.”

“That’s better,” said she. “I don’t mind that so much.”

And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince’s face. And she gave him one little kiss in return for all his; and he thought them overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear she complained of her gravity more than once after this, notwithstanding.

It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain of learning it was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of which would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the prince himself was her teacher; and the second, that she could tumble into the lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have the prince jump in with her; and the splash they made before was nothing to the splash they made now.

The lake never sank again. In process of time, it wore the roof of the cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.

The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt was to tread pretty hard on her gouty toe the next time she saw her. But she was sorry for it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined her house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its ruins; whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies to this day.

So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of gold, and clothes of cloth, and shoes of leather, and children of boys and girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical occasion, to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of gravity.


Leaf by Niggle

There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations.

Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do. Most of these things he thought were a nuisance; but he did them fairly well, when he could not get out of them: which (in his opinion) was far too often. The laws in his country were rather strict. There were other hindrances, too. For one thing, he was sometimes just idle, and did nothing at all. For another, he was kind-hearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper, and swearing (mostly to himself). All the same, it did land him in a good many odd jobs for his neighbour, Mr. Parish, a man with a lame leg. Occasionally he even helped other people from further off, if they came and asked him to. Also, now and again, he remembered his journey, and began to pack a few things in an ineffectual way: at such times he did not paint very much.

He had a number of pictures on hand; most of them were too large and ambitious for his skill. He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different.

There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the Tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in his other pictures; or else he took them and tacked them on to the edges of his great picture. Soon the canvas became so large that he had to get a ladder; and he ran up and down it, putting in a touch here, and rubbing out a patch there. When people came to call, he seemed polite enough, though he fiddled a little with the pencils on his desk. He listened to what they said, but underneath he was thinking all the time about his big canvas, in the tall shed that had been built for it out in his garden (on a plot where once he had grown potatoes).

He could not get rid of his kind heart. “I wish I was more strong-minded!” he sometimes said to himself, meaning that he wished other people’s troubles did not make him feel uncomfortable. But for a long time he was not seriously perturbed. “At any rate, I shall get this one picture done, my real picture, before I have to go on that wretched journey,” he used to say. Yet he was beginning to see that he could not put off his start indefinitely. The picture would have to stop just growing and get finished.

One day, Niggle stood a little way off from his picture and considered it with unusual attention and detachment. He could not make up his mind what he thought about it, and wished he had some friend who would tell him what to think. Actually it seemed to him wholly unsatisfactory, and yet very lovely, the only really beautiful picture in the world. What he would have liked at that moment would have been to see himself walk in, and slap him on the back, and say (with obvious sincerity): “Absolutely magnificent! I see exactly what you are getting at. Do get on with it, and don’t bother about anything else! We will arrange for a public pension, so that you need not.”

However, there was no public pension. And one thing he could see: it would need some concentration, some work, hard uninterrupted work, to finish the picture, even at its present size. He rolled up his sleeves, and began to concentrate. He tried for several days not to bother about other things. But there came a tremendous crop of interruptions. Things went wrong in his house; he had to go and serve on a jury in the town; a distant friend fell ill; Mr. Parish was laid up with lumbago; and visitors kept on coming. It was springtime, and they wanted a free tea in the country: Niggle lived in a pleasant little house, miles away from the town. He cursed them in his heart, but he could not deny that he had invited them himself, away back in the winter, when he had not thought it an “interruption” to visit the shops and have tea with acquaintances in the town. He tried to harden his heart; but it was not a success. There were many things that he had not the face to say no to, whether he thought them duties or not; and there were some things he was compelled to do, whatever he thought. Some of his visitors hinted that his garden was rather neglected, and that he might get a visit from an Inspector. Very few of them knew about his picture, of course; but if they had known, it would not have made much difference. I doubt if they would have thought that it mattered much. I dare say it was not really a very good picture, though it may have had some good passages. The Tree, at any rate, was curious. Quite unique in its way. So was Niggle; though he was also a very ordinary and rather silly little man.

At length Niggle’s time became really precious. His acquaintances in the distant town began to remember that the little man had got to make a troublesome journey, and some began to calculate how long at the latest he could put off starting. They wondered who would take his house, and if the garden would be better kept.

The autumn came, very wet and windy. The little painter was in his shed. He was up on the ladder, trying to catch the gleam of the westering sun on the peak of a snow-mountain, which he had glimpsed just to the left of the leafy tip of one of the Tree’s branches. He knew that he would have to be leaving soon: perhaps early next year. He could only just get the picture finished, and only so so, at that: there were some comers where he would not have time now to do more than hint at what he wanted.

There was a knock on the door. “Come in!” he said sharply, and climbed down the ladder. He stood on the floor twiddling his brush. It was his neighbour, Parish: his only real neighbour, all other folk lived a long way off. Still, he did not like the man very much: partly because he was so often in trouble and in need of help; and also because he did not care about painting, but was very critical about gardening. When Parish looked at Niggle’s garden (which was often) he saw mostly weeds; and when he looked at Niggle’s pictures (which was seldom) he saw only green and grey patches and black lines, which seemed to him nonsensical. He did not mind mentioning the weeds (a neighbourly duty), but he refrained from giving any opinion of the pictures. He thought this was very kind, and he did not realize that, even if it was kind, it was not kind enough. Help with the weeds (and perhaps praise for the pictures) would have been better.

“Well, Parish, what is it?” said Niggle.

“I oughtn’t to interrupt you, I know,” said Parish (without a glance at the picture). “You are very busy, I’m sure.”

Niggle had meant to say something like that himself, but he had missed his chance. All he said was: “Yes.”

“But I have no one else to turn to,” said Parish.

“Quite so,” said Niggle with a sigh: one of those sighs that are a private comment, but which are not made quite inaudible. “What can I do for you?”

“My wife has been ill for some days, and I am getting worried,” said Parish. “And the wind has blown half the tiles on my roof, and water is pouring into the bedroom. I think I ought to get the doctor. And the builders, too, only they take so long to come. I was wondering if you had any wood and canvas you could spare, just to patch me up and see me through for a day or two.” Now he did look at the picture.

“Dear, dear!” said Niggle. “You are unlucky. I hope it is no more than a cold that your wife has got. I’ll come round presently, and help you move the patient downstairs.”

“Thank you very much,” said Parish, rather coolly. “But it is not a cold, it is a fever. I should not have bothered you for a cold. And my wife is in bed downstairs already. I can’t get up and down with trays, not with my leg. But I see you are busy. Sorry to have troubled you. I had rather hoped you might have been able to spare the time to go for the doctor, seeing how I’m placed: and the builder too, if you really have no canvas you can spare.”

“Of course,” said Niggle; though other words were in his heart, which at the moment was merely soft without feeling at all kind. “I could go. I’ll go, if you are really worried.”

“I am worried, very worried. I wish I was not lame,” said Parish.

So Niggle went. You see, it was awkward. Parish was his neighbour, and everyone else a long way off. Niggle had a bicycle, and Parish had not, and could not ride one. Parish had a lame leg, a genuine lame leg which gave him a good deal of pain: that had to be remembered, as well as his sour expression and whining voice. Of course, Niggle had a picture and barely time to finish it. But it seemed that this was a thing that Parish had to reckon with and not Niggle. Parish, however, did not reckon with pictures; and Niggle could not alter that. “Curse it!” he said to him self, as he got out his bicycle.

It was wet and windy, and daylight was waning. “No more work for me today!” thought Niggle, and all the time that he was riding, he was either swearing to himself, or imagining the strokes of his brush on the mountain, and on the spray of leaves beside it, that he had first imagined in the spring. His fingers twitched on the handlebars. Now he was out of the shed, he saw exactly the way in which to treat that shining spray which framed the distant vision of the mountain. But he had a sinking feeling in his heart, a sort of fear that he would never now get a chance to try it out.

Niggle found the doctor, and he left a note at the builder’s. The office was shut, and the builder had gone home to his fireside. Niggle got soaked to the skin, and caught a chill himself. The doctor did not set out as promptly as Niggle had done. He arrived next day, which was quite convenient for him, as by that time there were two patients to deal with, in neighbouring houses. Niggle was in bed, with a high temperature, and marvellous patterns of leaves and involved branches forming in his head and on the ceiling. It did not comfort him to learn that Mrs. Parish had only had a cold, and was getting up. He turned his face to the wall and buried himself in leaves.

He remained in bed some time. The wind went on blowing. It took away a good many more of Parish’s tiles, and some of Niggle’s as well: his own roof began to leak. The builder did not come. Niggle did not care; not for a day or two. Then he crawled out to look for some food (Niggle had no wife). Parish did not come round: the rain had got into his leg and made it ache; and his wife was busy mopping up water, and wondering if “that Mr. Niggle” had forgotten to call at the builder’s. Had she seen any chance of borrowing anything useful, she would have sent Parish round, leg or no leg; but she did not, so Niggle was left to himself.

At the end of a week or so Niggle tottered out to his shed again. He tried to climb the ladder, but it made his head giddy. He sat and looked at the picture, but there were no patterns of leaves or visions of mountains in his mind that day. He could have painted a far-off view of a sandy desert, but he had not the energy.

Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.

“Damn!” said Niggle. But he might just as well have said “Come in!” politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.

“This is a private studio,” said Niggle. “I am busy. Go away!”

“I am an Inspector of Houses,” said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. “Oh!” he said.

“Your neighbour’s house is not satisfactory at all,” said the Inspector.

“I know,” said Niggle. “I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill.”

“I see,” said the Inspector. “But you are not ill now.”

“But I’m not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service.”

“They are busy with worse damage than any up here,” said the Inspector. “There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint.”

“Where?” asked Niggle indignantly.

“There!” said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.

“My picture!” exclaimed Niggle.

“I dare say it is,” said the Inspector. “But houses come first. That is the law.”

“But I can’t . . .” Niggle said no more, for at that moment another man came in. Very much like the Inspector he was, almost his double: tall, dressed all in black.

“Come along!” he said. “I am the Driver.”

Niggle stumbled down from the ladder. His fever seemed to have come on again, and his head was swimming; he felt cold all over.

“Driver? Driver?” he chattered. “Driver of what?”

“You, and your carriage,” said the man. “The carriage was ordered long ago. It has come at last. It’s waiting. You start today on your journey, you know.”

“There now!” said the Inspector. “You’ll have to go; but it’s a bad way to start on your journey, leaving your jobs undone. Still, we can at least make some use of this canvas now.”

“Oh, dear!” said poor Niggle, beginning to weep. “And it’s not, not even finished!”

“Not finished?” said the Driver. “Well, it’s finished with, as far as you’re concerned, at any rate. Come along!”

Niggle went, quite quietly. The Driver gave him no time to pack, saying that he ought to have done that before, and they would miss the train; so all Niggle could do was to grab a little bag in the hall. He found that it contained only a paint-box and a small book of his own sketches: neither food nor clothes. They caught the train all right. Niggle was feeling very tired and sleepy; he was hardly aware of what was going on when they bundled him into his compartment. He did not care much: he had forgotten where he was supposed to be going, or what he was going for. The train ran almost at once into a dark tunnel.

Niggle woke up in a very large, dim railway station. A Porter went along the platform shouting, but he was not shouting the name of the place; he was shouting Niggle!

Niggle got out in a hurry, and found that he had left his little bag behind. He turned back, but the train had gone away.

“Ah, there you are!” said the Porter. “This way! What! No luggage? You will have to go to the Workhouse.”

Niggle felt very ill, and fainted on the platform. They put him in an ambulance and took him to the Workhouse Infirmary.

He did not like the treatment at all. The medicine they gave him was bitter. The officials and attendants were unfriendly, silent, and strict; and he never saw anyone else, except a very severe doctor, who visited him occasionally. It was more like being in a prison than in a hospital. He had to work hard, at stated hours: at digging, carpentry, and painting bare boards all one plain colour. He was never allowed outside, and the windows all looked inwards. They kept him in the dark for hours at a stretch, “to do some thinking,” they said. He lost count of time. He did not even begin to feel better, not if that could be judged by whether he felt any pleasure in doing anything. He did not, not even in getting into bed.

At first, during the first century or so (I am merely giving his impressions), he used to worry aimlessly about the past. One thing he kept on repeating to himself, as he lay in the dark: “I wish I had called on Parish the first morning after the high winds began. I meant to. The first loose tiles would have been easy to fix. Then Mrs. Parish might never have caught cold. Then I should not have caught cold either. Then I should have had a week longer.” But in time he forgot what it was that he had wanted a week longer for. If he worried at all after that, it was about his jobs in the hospital. He planned them out, thinking how quickly he could stop that board creaking, or rehang that door, or mend that table-leg. Probably he really became rather useful, though no one ever told him so. But that, of course, cannot have been the reason why they kept the poor little man so long. They may have been waiting for him to get better, and judging “better” by some odd medical standard of their own.

At any rate, poor Niggle got no pleasure out of life, not what he had been used to call pleasure. He was certainly not amused. But it could not be denied that he began to have a feeling of-well, satisfaction: bread rather than jam. He could take up a task the moment one bell rang, and lay it aside promptly the moment the next one went, all tidy and ready to be continued at the right time. He got through quite a lot in a day, now; he finished small things off neatly. He had no “time of his own” (except alone in his bed-cell), and yet he was becoming master of his time; he began to know just what he could do with it. There was no sense of rush. He was quieter inside now, and at resting-time he could really rest.

Then suddenly they changed all his hours; they hardly let him go to bed at all; they took him off carpentry altogether and kept him at plain digging, day after day. He took it fairly well. It was a long while before he even began to grope in the back of his mind for the curses that he had practically forgotten. He went on digging, till his back seemed broken, his hands were raw, and he felt that he could not manage another spadeful. Nobody thanked him. But the doctor came and looked at him.

“Knock off!” he said. “Complete rest-in the dark.”

Niggle was lying in the dark, resting completely; so that, as he had not been either feeling or thinking at all, he might have been lying there for hours or for years, as far as he could tell. But now he heard Voices: not voices that he had ever heard before. There seemed to be a Medical Board, or perhaps a Court of Inquiry, going on close at hand, in an adjoining room with the door open, possibly, though he could not see any light.

“Now the Niggle case,” said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor’s.

“What was the matter with him?” said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft-it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. “What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place.”

“Yes, but it did not function properly,” said the First Voice. “And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers’ wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet.”

“It would not do him any harm, perhaps,” said the Second Voice. “But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know.”

“Perhaps,” said the First Voice; “but very few that will really bear examination.”

“Well,” said the Second Voice, “there are these. He was a painter by nature. In a minor way, of course; still, a Leaf by Niggle has a charm of its own. He took a great deal of pains with leaves, just for their own sake. But he never thought that that made him important. There is no note in the Records of his pretending, even to himself, that it excused his neglect of things ordered by the law.”

“Then he should not have neglected so many,” said the First Voice.

“All the same, he did answer a good many Calls.”

“A small percentage, mostly of the easier sort, and he called those Interruptions. The Records are full of the word, together with a lot of complaints and silly imprecations.”

“True; but they looked like interruptions to him, of course, poor little man. And there is this: he never expected any Return, as so many of his sort call it. There is the Parish case, the one that came in later. He was Niggle’s neighbour, never did a stroke for him, and seldom showed any gratitude at all. But there is no note in the Records that Niggle expected Parish’s gratitude; he does not seem to have thought about it.”

“Yes, that is a point,” said the First Voice; “but rather small. I think you will find Niggle often merely forgot. Things he had to do for Parish he put out of his mind as a nuisance he had done with.”

“Still, there is this last report,” said the Second Voice, “that wet bicycle-ride. I rather lay stress on that. It seems plain that this was a genuine sacrifice: Niggle guessed that he was throwing away his last chance with his picture, and he guessed, too, that Parish was worrying unnecessarily.”

“I think you put it too strongly,” said the First Voice. “But you have the last word. It is your task, of course, to put the best interpretation on the facts. Sometimes they will bear it. What do you propose?”

“I think it is a case for a little gentle treatment now,” said the Second Voice.

Niggle thought that he had never heard anything so generous as that Voice. It made Gentle Treatment sound like a load of rich gifts, and the summons to a King’s feast. Then suddenly Niggle felt ashamed. To hear that he was considered a case for Gentle Treatment overwhelmed him, and made him blush in the dark. It was like being publicly praised, when you and all the audience knew that the praise was not deserved. Niggle hid his blushes in the rough blanket.

There was a silence. Then the First Voice spoke to Niggle, quite close. “You have been listening,” it said.

“Yes,” said Niggle.

“Well, what have you to say?”

“Could you tell me about Parish?” said Niggle. “I should like to see him again. I hope he is not very ill? Can you cure his leg? It used to give him a wretched time. And please don’t worry about him and me. He was a very good neighbour, and let me have excellent potatoes very cheap, which saved me a lot of time.”

“Did he?” said the First Voice. “I am glad to hear

There was another silence. Niggle heard the Voices receding. “Well, I agree,” he heard the First Voice say in the distance. “Let him go on to the next stage. Tomorrow, if you like.”

Niggle woke up to find that his blinds were drawn, and his little cell was full of sunshine. He got up, and found that some comfortable clothes had been put out for him, not hospital uniform. After breakfast the doctor treated his sore hands, putting some salve on them that healed them at once. He gave Niggle some good advice, and a bottle of tonic (in case he needed it). In the middle of the morning they gave Niggle a biscuit and a glass of wine; and then they gave him a ticket.

“You can go to the railway station now,” said thdoctor. “The Porter will look after you. Good-bye.”

Niggle slipped out of the main door, and blinked a little. The sun was very bright. Also he had expected to walk out into a large town, to match the size of the station; but he did not. He was on the top of a hill, green, bare, swept by a keen invigorating wind. Nobody else was about. Away down under the hill he could see the roof of the station shining.

He walked downhill to the station briskly, but without hurry. The Porter spotted him at once.

“This way!” he said, and led Niggle to a bay, in which there was a very pleasant little local train standing: one coach, and a small engine, both very bright, clean, and newly painted. It looked as if this was their first run. Even the track that lay in front of the engine looked new: the rails shone, the chairs were painted green, and the sleepers gave off a delicious smell of fresh tar in the warm sunshine. The coach was empty.

“Where does this train go, Porter?” asked Niggle.

“I don’t think they have fixed its name yet,” said the Porter. “But you’ll find it all right.” He shut the door.

The train moved off at once. Niggle lay back in his seat. The little engine puffed along in a deep cutting with high green banks, roofed with blue sky. It did not seem very long before the engine gave a whistle, the brakes were put on, and the train stopped. There was no station, and no signboard, only a flight of steps up the green embankment. At the top of the steps there was a wicket-gate in a trim hedge. By the gate stood his bicycle; at least, it looked like his, and there was a yellow label tied to the bars with niggle written on it in large black letters.

Niggle pushed open the gate, jumped on the bicycle, and went bowling downhill in the spring sunshine. Before long he found that the path on which he had started had disappeared, and the bicycle was rolling along over a marvellous turf. It was green and close; and yet he could see every blade distinctly. He seemed to remember having seen or dreamed of that sweep of grass somewhere or other. The curves of the land were familiar somehow. Yes: the ground was becoming level, as it should, and now, of course, it was beginning to rise again. A great green shadow came between him and the sun. Niggle looked up, and fell off his bicycle.

Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.

“It’s a gift!” he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.

He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only. he had had time. Nothing was written on them, they were just exquisite leaves, yet they were dated as clear as a calendar. Some of the most beautiful-and the most characteristic, the most perfect examples of the Niggle style-were seen to have been produced in collaboration with Mr. Parish: there was no other way of putting it.

The birds were building in the Tree. Astonishing birds: how they sang! They were mating, hatching, growing wings, and flying away singing into the Forest, even while he looked at them. For now he saw that the Forest was there too, opening out on either side, and marching away into the distance. The Mountains were glimmering far away.

After a time Niggle turned towards the Forest. Not because he was tired of the Tree, but he seemed to have got it all clear in his mind now, and was aware of it, and of its growth, even when he was not looking at it. As he walked away, he discovered an odd thing: the Forest, of course, was a distant Forest, yet he could approach it, even enter it, without its losing that particular charm. He had never before been able to walk into the distance without turning it into mere surroundings. It really added a considerable attraction to walking in the country, because, as you walked, new distances opened out; so that you now had doubled, treble, and quadruple distances, doubly, trebly, and quadruply enchanting. You could go on and on, and have a whole country in a garden, or in a picture (if you preferred to call it that). You could go on and on, but not perhaps for ever. There were the Mountains in the background. They did get nearer, very slowly. They did not seem to belong to the picture, or only as a link to something else, a glimpse through the trees of something different, a further stage: another picture.

Niggle walked about, but he was not merely pottering. He was looking round carefully. The Tree was finished, though not finished with-“Just the other way about to what it used to be,” he thought-but in the Forest there were a number of inconclusive regions, that still needed work and thought. Nothing needed altering any longer, nothing was wrong, as far as it had gone, but it needed continuing up to a definite point. Niggle saw the point precisely, in each case.

He sat down under a very beautiful distant tree-a variation of the Great Tree, but quite individual, or it would be with a little more attention-and he considered where to begin work, and where to end it, and how much time was required. He could not quite work out his scheme.

“Of course!” he said. “What I need is Parish. There are lots of things about earth, plants, and trees that he knows and I don’t. This place cannot be left just as my private park. I need help and advice: I ought to have got it sooner.”

He got up and walked to the place where he had decided to begin work. He took off his coat. Then, down in a little sheltered hollow hidden from a further view, he saw a man looking round rather bewildered. He was leaning on a spade, but plainly did not know what to do. Niggle hailed him. “Parish!” he called.

Parish shouldered his spade and came up to him. He still limped a little. They did not speak, just nodded as they used to do, passing in the lane; but now they walked about together, arm in arm. Without talking, Niggle and Parish agreed exactly where to make the small house and garden, which seemed to be required.

As they worked together, it became-plain that Niggle was now the better of the two at ordering his time and getting things done. Oddly enough, it was Niggle who became most absorbed in building and gardening, while Parish often wandered about looking at trees, and especially at the Tree.

One day Niggle was busy planting a quickset hedge, and Parish was lying on the grass near by, looking attentively at a beautiful and shapely little yellow flower growing in the green turf. Niggle had put a lot of them among the roots of his Tree long ago. Suddenly Parish looked up: his face was glistening in the sun, and he was smiling.

“This is grand!” he said. “I oughtn’t to be here, really. Thank you for putting in a word for me.”

“Nonsense,” said Niggle. “I don’t remember what I said, but anyway it was not nearly enough.”

“Oh yes, it was,” said Parish. “It got me out a lot sooner. That Second Voice, you know: he had me sent here; he said you had asked to see me. I owe it to you.” “No. You owe it to the Second Voice,” said Niggle. “We both do.”

They went on living and working together: I do not know how long. It is no use denying that at first they occasionally disagreed, especially when they got tired. For at first they did sometimes get tired. They found that they had both been provided with tonics. Each bottle had the same label: A few drops to be taken in water from the Spring, before resting.

They found the Spring in the heart of the Forest;

only once long ago had Niggle imagined it, but he had never drawn it. Now he perceived that it was the source of the lake that glimmered, far away and the nourishment of all that grew in the country. The few drops made the water astringent, rather bitter, but invigorating; and it cleared the head. After drinking they rested alone; and then they got up again and things went on merrily. At such times Niggle would think of wonderful new flowers and plants, and Parish always knew exactly how to set them and where they would do best. Long before the tonics were finished they had ceased to need them. Parish lost his limp.

As their work drew to an end they allowed themselves more and more time for walking about, looking at the trees, and the flowers, and the lights and shapes, and the lie of the land. Sometimes they sang together; but Niggle found that he was now beginning to turn his eyes, more and more often, towards the Mountains.

The time came when the house in the hollow, the garden, the grass, the forest, the lake, and all the country was nearly complete, in its own proper fashion. The Great Tree was in full blossom.

“We shall finish this evening,” said Parish one day. “After that we will go for a really long walk.”

They set out next day, and they walked until they came right through the distances to the Edge. It was not visible, of course: there was no line, or fence, or wall; but they knew that they had come to the margin of that country. They saw a man, he looked like a shepherd; he was walking towards them, down the grass-slopes that led up into the Mountains.

“Do you want a guide?” he asked. “Do you-want to go on?”

For a moment a shadow fell between Niggle and Parish, for Niggle knew that he did now want to go on, and (in a sense) ought to go on; but Parish did not want to go on, and was not yet ready to go.

“I must wait for my wife,” said Parish to Niggle. “She’d be lonely. I rather gathered that they would send her after me, some time or other, when she was ready, and when I had got things ready for her. The house is finished now, as well as we could make it; but I should like to show it to her. She’ll be able to make it better, I expect: more homely. I hope she’ll like this country, too.” He turned to the shepherd. “Are you a guide?” he asked. “Could you tell me the name of this country?”

“Don’t you know?” said the man. “It is Niggle’s Country. It is Niggle’s Picture, or most of it: a little of it is now Parish’s Garden.”

“Niggle’s Picture!” said Parish in astonishment. “Did you think of all this, Niggle? I never knew you were so clever. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“He tried to tell you long ago,” said the man; “but you would not look. He had only got canvas and paint in those days, and you wanted to mend your roof with them. This is what you and your wife used to call Niggle’s Nonsense, or That Daubing.”

“But it did not look like this then, not real,” said Parish.

“No, it was only a glimpse then,” said the man; “but you might have caught the glimpse, if you had ever thought it worth while to try.”

“I did not give you much chance,” said Niggle. “I never tried to explain. I used to call you Old Earth-grubber. But what does it matter? We have lived and worked together now. Things might have been different, but they could not have been better. All the same, I am afraid I shall have to be going on. We shall meet again, I expect: there must be many more things we can do together. Good-bye!” He shook Parish’s hand warmly: a good, firm, honest hand it seemed. He turned and looked back for a moment. The blossom on the Great Tree was shining like flame. All the birds were flying in the air and singing. Then he smiled, and nodded to Parish, and went off with the shepherd.

He was going to learn about sheep, and the high pasturages, and look at a wider sky, and walk ever further and further towards the Mountains, always uphill. Beyond that I cannot guess what became of him. Even little Niggle in his old home could glimpse the Mountains far away, and they got into the borders of his picture; but what they are really like, and what lies beyond them, only those can say who have climbed them.

“I think he was a silly little man,” said Councillor Tompkins. “Worthless, in fact; no use to Society at all.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Atkins, who was nobody of importance, just a schoolmaster. “I am not so sure: it depends on what you mean by use.”

“No practical or economic use,” said Tompkins. “I dare say he could have been made into a serviceable cog of some sort, if you schoolmasters knew your business. But you don’t, and so we get useless people of his sort. If I ran this country I should put him and his like to some job that they’re fit for, washing dishes in a communal kitchen or something, and I should see that they did it properly. Or I would put them away. I should have put him away long ago.”

“Put him away? You mean you’d have made him start on the journey before his time?”

“Yes, if you must use that meaningless old expression. Push him through the tunnel into the great Rubbish Heap: that’s what I mean.”

“Then you don’t think painting is worth anything, not worth preserving, or improving, or even making use of?”

“Of course, painting has uses,” said Tompkins. “But you couldn’t make use of his painting. There is plenty of scope for bold young men not afraid of new ideas and new methods. None for this old-fashioned stuff. Private day-dreaming. He could not have designed a telling poster to save his life. Always fiddling with leaves and flowers. I asked him why, once. He said he thought they were pretty! Can you believe it? He said pretty! ‘What, digestive and genital organs of plants?’ I said to him; and he had nothing to answer. Silly footler.”

“Footler,” sighed Atkins. “Yes, poor little man, he never finished anything. Ah well, his canvases have been put to ‘better uses,’ since he went. But I am not sure, Tompkins. You remember that large one, the one they used to patch the damaged house next door to his, after the gales and floods? I found a corner of it torn off, lying in a field. It was damaged, but legible: a mountain-peak and a spray of leaves. I can’t get it out of my mind.”

“Out of your what?” said Tompkins.

“Who are you two talking about?” said Perkins, intervening in the cause of peace: Atkins had flushed rather red.

“The name’s not worth repeating,” said Tompkins. “I don’t know why we are talking about him at all. He did not live in town.”

“No,” said Atkins; “but you had your eye on his house, all the same. That is why you used to go and call, and sneer at him while drinking his tea. Well, you’ve got his house now, as well as the one in town, so you need not grudge him his name. We were talking about Niggle, if you want to know, Perkins.”

“Oh, poor little Niggle!” said Perkins. “Never knew he painted.”

That was probably the last time Niggle’s name ever came up in conversation. However, Atkins preserved the odd corner. Most of it crumbled; but one beautiful leaf remained intact. Atkins had it framed. Later he left it to the Town Museum, and for a long while “Leaf: by Niggle” hung there in a recess, and was noticed by a few eyes. But eventually the Museum was burnt down, and the leaf, and Niggle, were entirely forgotten in his old country.

“It is proving very useful indeed,” said the Second Voice. “As a holiday, and a refreshment. It is splendid for convalescence; and not only for that, for many it is the best introduction to the Mountains. It works wonders in some cases. I am sending more and more there. They seldom have to come back.”

“No, that is so,” said the First Voice. “I think we shall have to give the region a name. What do you propose?”

“The Porter settled that some time ago,” said the Second Voice. “Train for Niggle’s Parish in the bay: he has shouted that for a long while now. Niggle’s Parish. I sent a message to both of them to tell them.”

“What did they say?”

“They both laughed. Laughed-the Mountains rang with it!”

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

After takeoff the ship routinely monitored the condition of the sixty people sleeping in its cryonic tanks. One malfunction showed, that of person nine. His EEG revealed brain activity.

Shit, the ship said to itself.

Complex homeostatic devices locked into circuit feed, and the ship contacted person nine.

“You are slightly awake,” the ship said, utilizing the psychotronic route; there was no point in rousing person nine to full consciousness—after all, the flight would last a decade.

Virtually unconscious, but unfortunately still able to think, person nine thought, Someone is addressing me. He said, “Where am I located? I don’t see anything.”

“You’re in faulty cryonic suspension.”

He said, “Then I shouldn’t be able to hear you.”

“‘Faulty,’ I said. That’s the point; you can hear me. Do you know your name?”

“Victor Kemmings. Bring me out of this.”

“We are in flight.”

“Then put me under.”

“Just a moment.” The ship examined the cryonic mechanisms; it scanned and surveyed and then it said, “I will try.”

Time passed. Victor Kemmings, unable to see anything, unaware of his body, found himself still conscious. “Lower my temperature,” he said. He could not hear his voice; perhaps he only imagined he spoke. Colors floated toward him and then rushed at him. He liked the colors; they reminded him of a child’s paint box, the semianimated kind, an artificial life-form. He had used them in school, two hundred years ago.

“I can’t put you under,” the voice of the ship sounded inside Kemming’s head. “The malfunction is too elaborate; I can’t correct it and I can’t repair it. You will be conscious for ten years.”

The semianimated colors rushed toward him, but now they possessed a sinister quality, supplied to them by his own fear. “Oh my God,” he said. Ten years! The colors darkened.

As Victor Kemmings lay paralyzed, surrounded by dismal flickerings of light, the ship explained to him its strategy. This strategy did not represent a decision on its part; the ship had been programmed to seek this solution in case of a malfunction of this sort.

“What I will do,” the voice of the ship came to him, “is feed you sensory stimulation. The peril to you is sensory deprivation. If you are conscious for ten years without sensory data, your mind will deteriorate. When we reach the LR4 System, you will be a vegetable.”

“Well, what do you intend to feed me?” Kemmings said in panic. “What do you have in your information storage banks? All the video soap operas of the last century? Wake me up and I’ll walk around.”

“There is no air in me,” the ship said. “Nothing for you to eat. No one to talk to, since everyone else is under.”

Kemmings said, “I can talk to you. We can play chess.”

“Not for ten years. Listen to me; I say, I have no food and no air. You must remain as you are … a bad compromise, but one forced on us. You are talking to me now. I have no particular information stored. Here is policy in these situations: I will feed you your own buried memories, emphasizing the pleasant ones. You possess two hundred and six years of memories and most of them have sunk down into your unconscious. This is a splendid source of sensory data for you to receive. Be of good cheer. This situation, which you are in, is not unique. It has never happened within my domain before, but I am programmed to deal with it. Relax and trust me. I will see that you are provided with a world.”

“They should have warned me,” Kemmings said, “before I agreed to emigrate.” “Relax,” the ship said.

He relaxed, but he was terribly frightened. Theoretically, he should have gone under, into the successful cryonic suspension, then awakened a moment later al his star of destination; or rather the planet, the colony planet, of that star. Everyone else aboard the ship lay in an unknowing state—he was the exception, as if bad karma had attacked him for obscure reasons. Worst of all, he had to depend totally on the goodwill of the ship. Suppose it elected to feed him monsters? The ship could terrorize him for ten years—ten objective years and undoubtedly more from a subjective standpoint. He was, in effect, totally in the ship’s power. Did interstellar ships enjoy such a situation? He knew little about interstellar ships; his field was microbiology. Let me think, he said to himself. My first wife, Martine; the lovely little French girl who wore jeans and a red shirt open at the waist and cooked delicious crepes. “I hear,” the ship said. “So be it.” The rushing colors resolved themselves into coherent, stable sh apes. A building: a little old yellow wooden house that he had owned when he was nineteen years old, in Wyoming. “Wait,” he said in panic. “The foundation was bad; it was on a mud sill. And the roof leaked.” But he saw the kitchen, with the table that he had built himself. And he felt glad.

“You will not know, after a little while,” the ship said, “that I am feeding you your own buried memories.”

“I haven’t thought of that house in a century,” he said wonderingly; entranced, he made out his old electric drip coffee pot with the box of paper filters beside it. This is the house where Martine and I lived, he realized. “Martine!” he said aloud.

“I’m on the phone,” Martine said from the living room.

The ship said, “I will cut in only when there is an emergency. I will be monitoring you, however, to be sure you are in a satisfactory state. Don’t be afraid.”

“Turn down the right rear burner on the stove,” Martine called. He could hear her and yet not see her. He made his way from the kitchen through the dining room and into the living room. At the VF, Martine stood in rapt conversation with her brother; she wore shorts and she was barefoot. Through the front windows of the living room he could see the street; a commercial vehicle was trying to park, without success.

It’s a warm day, he thought. I should turn on the air conditioner.

He seated himself on the old sofa as Martine continued her VF conversation, and he found himself gazing at his most cherished possession, a framed poster on the wall above Martine: Gilbert Shelton’s “Fat Freddy Says” drawing in which Freddy Freak sits with his cat on his lap, and Fat Freddy is trying to say, “Speed kills,” but he is so wired on speed—he holds in his hand every kind of amphetamine tablet, pill, spansule, and capsule that exists—that he can’t say it, and the cat is gritting his teeth and wincing in a mixture of dismay and disgust. The poster is signed by Gilbert Shelton himself; Kemmings’s best friend Ray Torrance gave it to him and Martine as a wedding present. It is worth thousands. It was signed by the artist back in the 1980s. Long before either Victor Kemmings or Martine lived.

If we ever run out of money, Kemmings thought to himself, we could sell the poster. It was not a poster; it was the poster. Martine adored it. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers—from the golden age of a long-ago society. No wonder he loved Martine so; she herself loved back, loved the beauties of the world, and treasured and cherished them as she treasured and cherished him; it was a protective love that nourished but did not stifle. It had been her idea to frame the poster; he would have tacked it up on the wall, so stupid was he.

“Hi,” Martine said, off the VF now. “What are you thinking?”

“Just that you keep alive what you love,” he said.

“I think that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Martine said. “Are you ready for dinner? Open some red wine, a cabernet.”

“Will an ’07 do?” he said, standing up; he felt, then, like taking hold of his wife and hugging her.

“Either an ’07 or a ’12.” She trotted past him, through the dining room and into the kitchen.

Going down into the cellar, he began to search among the bottles, which, of course, lay flat. Musty air and dampness; he liked the smell of the cellar, but then he noticed the redwood planks lying half-buried in the dirt and he thought, I know I’ve got to get a concrete slab poured. He forgot about the wine and went over to the far corner, where the dirt was piled highest; bending down, he poked at a board… he poked with a trowel and then he thought, Where did I get this trowel? I didn’t have it a minute ago. The board crumbled against the trowel. This whole house is collapsing, he realized. Christ sake. I better tell Martine.

Going back upstairs, the wine forgotten, he started to say to her that the foundations of the house were dangerously decayed, but Martine was nowhere in sight. And nothing cooked on the stove—no pots, no pans. Amazed, he put his hand on the stove and found it cold. Wasn’t she just now cooking? he asked himself. “Martine!” he said loudly.

No response. Except for himself, the house was empty. Empty, he thought, and collapsing. Oh my God. He seated himself at the kitchen table and felt the chair give slightly under him; it did not give much, but he felt it; he felt the sagging.

I’m afraid, he thought. Where did she go?

He returned to the living room. Maybe she went next door to borrow some spices or butter or something, he reasoned. Nonetheless, panic now filled him.

He looked at the poster. It was unframed. And the edges had been torn.

I know she framed it, he thought; he ran across the room to it, to examine it closely. Faded . . . the artist’s signature had faded; he could scarcely make it out. She insisted on framing it and under glare-free, reflection-free glass. But it isn’t framed and it’s torn! The most precious thing we own!

Suddenly he found himself crying. It amazed him, his tears. Martine is gone; the poster is deteriorated; the house is crumbling away; nothing is cooking on the stove. This is terrible, he thought. And I don’t understand it.

The ship understood it. The ship had been carefully monitoring Victor Kemmings’s brain wave patterns, and the ship knew that something had gone wrong. The wave-forms showed agitation and pain. I must get him out of this feed-circuit or I will kill him, the ship decided. Where does the flaw lie? it asked itself. Worry dormant in the man; underlying anxieties. Perhaps if I intensify the signal. I will use the same source, but amp up the charge. What has happened is that massive subliminal insecurities have taken possession of him; the fault is not mine, but lies, instead, in his psychological makeup.

I will try an earlier period in his life, the ship decided. Before the neurotic anxieties got laid down.

In the backyard, Victor scrutinized a bee that had gotten itself trapped in a spider’s web. The spider wound up the bee with great care. That’s wrong, Victor thought. I’ll let the bee loose. Reaching up, he took hold of the encapsulated bee, drew it from the web, and, scrutinizing it carefully, began to unwrap it.

The bee stung him; it felt like a little patch of flame.

Why did it sting me? he wondered. I was letting it go. He went indoors to his mother and told her, but she did not listen; she was watching television. His finger hurt where the bee had stung up, but, more important, he did not understand why the bee would attack its rescuer. I won’t do that again, he said to himself.

“Put some Bactine on it,” his mother said at last, roused from watching the TV.

He had begun to cry. It was unfair. It made no sense. He was perplexed and dismayed and he felt a hatred toward small living things, because they were dumb. They didn’t have any sense.

He left the house, played for a time on his swings, his slide, in his sandbox, and then he went into the garage because he heard a strange flapping, whirring sound, like a kind of fan. Inside the gloomy garage, he found that a bird was fluttering against the cobwebbed rear window, trying to get out. Below it, the cat, Dorky, leaped and leaped, trying to reach the bird.

He picked up the cat; the cat extended its body and its front legs, it extended its jaws and bit into the bird. At once the cat scrambled down and ran off with the still-fluttering bird.

Victor ran into the house. “Dorky caught a bird!” he told his mother.

“That goddam cat.” His mother took the broom from the closet in the kitchen and ran outside, trying to find Dorky. The cat had concealed itself under the bramble bushes; she could not reach it with the broom. “I’m going to get rid of that cat,” his mother said.

Victor did not tell her that he had arranged for the cat to catch the bird; he watched in silence as his mother tried and tried to pry Dorky out from her hiding place; Dorky was crunching up the bird; he could hear the sound of breaking bones, small bones. He felt a strange feeling, as if he should tell his mother what he had done, and yet if he told her she would punish him. I won’t do that again, he said to himself. His face, he realized, had turned red. What if his mother figured it out? What if she had some secret way of knowing? Dorky couldn’t tell her and the bird was dead. No one would ever know. He was safe.

But he felt bad. That night he could not eat his dinner. Both his parents noticed. They thought he was sick; they took his temperature. He said nothing about what he had done. His mother told his father about Dorky and they decided to get rid of Dorky. Seated at the table, listening, Victor began to cry.

“All right,” his father said gently. “We won’t get rid of her. It’s natural for a cat to catch a bird.”

The next day he sat playing in his sandbox. Some plants grew up through the sand. He broke them off. Later his mother told him that had been a wrong thing to do.

Alone in the backyard, in his sandbox, he sat with a pail of water, forming a small mound of wet sand. The sky, which had been blue and clear, became by degrees overcast. A shadow passed over him and he looked up. He sensed a presence around him, something vast that could think.

You are responsible for the death of the bird, the presence thought; he could understand its thoughts.

“I know,” he said. He wished, then, that he could die. That he could replace the bird and die for it, leaving it as it had been, fluttering against the cob-webbed window of the garage.

The bird wanted to fly and eat and live, the presence thought.

“Yes,” he said miserably. “You must never do that again,” the presence told him. “I’m sorry,” he said, and wept.

This is a very neurotic person, the ship realized. I am having an awful lot of trouble finding happy memories. There is too much fear in him and too much guilt. He has buried it all, and yet it is still there, worrying him like a dog worrying a rag. Where can I go in his memories to find him solace? I must come up with ten years of memories, or his mind will be lost.

Perhaps, the ship thought, the error that I am making is in the area of choice on my part; I should allow him to select his own memories. However, the ship realized, this will allow an element of fantasy to enter. And that is not usually good. Still I will try the segment dealing with his first marriage once again, the ship decided. He really loved Marline.

Perhaps this time if I keep the intensity of the memories at a greater level the entropic factor can be abolished. What happened was a subtle vitiation of the remembered world, a decay of structure. I will try to compensate for that. So be it.

“Do you suppose Gilbert Shelton really signed this?” Marline said pensively; she stood before the poster, her arms folded; she rocked back and forth slighlly, as if seeking a better perspective on the brightly colored drawing hanging on their living room wall. “I mean, it could have been forged. By a dealer somewhere along Ihe line. During Shellon’s lifetime or after.”

“The letter of authentication,” Victor Kemmings reminded her.

“Oh, thal’s righl!” She smiled her warm smile. “Ray gave us Ihe letter lhal goes wilh it. But suppose the letter is a forgery? Whal we need is another letter certifying that the first letter is authentic.” Laughing, she walked away from the poster.

“Ultimately,” Kemmings said, “we would have lo have Gilbert Shellon here lo personally testify lhal he signed it.”

“Maybe he wouldn’t know. There’s lhal slory aboul Ihe man bringing Ihe Picasso piclure lo Picasso and asking him if il was authentic, and Picasso immediately signed it and said, ‘Now it’s authentic.'” She put her arm around Kemmings and, standing on tiploe, kissed him on Ihe cheek. “It’s genuine. Ray wouldn’t have given us a forgery. He’s the leading expert on countercullure art of Ihe Iwenlieth century. Do you know lhat he owns an aclual lid of dope? It’s preserved under—”

“Ray is dead,” Victor said.

“Whal?” She gazed al him in astonishment “Do you mean somelhing happened lo him since we last—”

“He’s been dead two years,” Kemmings said. “I was responsible. I was driving the buzzcar. I wasn’t cited by the police, bul il was my fault.”

“Ray is living on Mars!” She stared al him.

“I know I was responsible. I never lold you. I never lold anyone. I’m sorry. I didn’l mean lo do it. I saw it flapping againsl Ihe window, and Dorky was Irying lo reach it, and I lifted Dorky up, and I don’t know why but Dorky grabbed it—”

“Sit down, Victor.” Marline led him lo Ihe over-sluffed chair and made him seal himself. “Somelhing’s wrong,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “Somelhing terrible is wrong. I’m responsible for Ihe laking of a life, a precious life lhat can never be replaced. I’m sorry. I wish I could make it okay, bul I can’t”

After a pause, Marline said, “Call Ray.”

“The cat—” he said.

“What cat?”

“There.” He pointed. “In the poster. On Fal Freddy’s lap. Thai’s Dorky. Dorky killed Ray.”


“The presence lold me,” Kemmings said. “It was God. I didn’t realize il al Ihe lime, bul God saw me commil Ihe crime. The murder. And he will never forgive me.”

His wife slared al him numbly.

“God sees everylhing you do,” Kemmings said. “He sees even the falling sparrow. Only in this case il didn’l fall; il was grabbed. Grabbed oul of the air and torn down. God is tearing Ihis house down which is my body, lo pay me back for whal I’ve done. We should have had a building contractor look this house over before we bought it. It’s jusl falling goddam lo pieces.

In a year there won’t be anything left of it. Don’t you believe me?”

Martine faltered, “I—”

“Watch.” Kemmings reached up his arms toward the ceiling; he stood; he reached; he could not touch the ceiling. He walked to the wall and then, after a pause, put his hand through the wall.

Martine screamed.

The ship aborted the memory retrieval instantly. But the harm had been done.

He has integrated his early fears and guilt into one interwoven grid, the ship said to itself. There is no way I can serve up a pleasant memory to him because he instantly contaminates it. However pleasant the original experience in itself was. This is a serious situation, the ship decided. The man is already showing signs of psychosis. And we are hardly into the trip; years lie ahead of him.

After allowing itself time to think the situation through, the ship decided to contact Victor Kemmings once more.

“Mr. Kemmings,” the ship said.

“I’m sorry,” Kemmings said. “I didn’t mean to foul up those retrievals. You did a good job, but I—”

“Just a moment,” the ship said. “I am not equipped to do psychiatric reconstruction of you; I am a simple mechanism, that’s all. What is it you want? Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing?”

“I want to arrive at our destination,” Kemmings said. “I want this trip to be over.” Ah, the ship thought. That is the solution.

One by one the cryonic systems shut down. One by one the people returned to life, among them Victor Kemmings. What amazed him was the lack of a sense of the passage of time. He had entered the chamber, lain down, had felt the membrane cover him and the temperature begin to drop—

And now he stood on the ship’s external platform, the unloading platform, gazing down at a verdant planetary landscape. This, he realized, is LR4-6, the colony world to which I have come in order to begin a new life.

“Looks good,” a heavyset woman beside him said.

“Yes,” he said, and felt the newness of the landscape rush up at him, its promise of a beginning. Something better than he had known the past two hundred years. I am a fresh person in a fresh world, he thought. And he felt glad.

Colors raced at him, like those of a child’s semianimate kit. Saint Elmo’s fire, he realized. That’s right; there is a great deal of ionization in this planet’s atmosphere. A free light show, such as they had back in the twentieth century.

“Mr. Kemmings,” a voice said. An elderly man had come up beside him, to speak to him. “Did you dream?”

“During the suspension?” Kemmings said. “No, not that I can remember.”

“I think I dreamed,” the elderly man said. “Would you take my arm on the descent ramp? I feel unsteady. The air seems thin. Do you find it thin?”

“Don’t be afraid,” Kemmings said to him. He took the elderly man’s arm. “I’ll help you down the ramp. Look; there’s a guide coming this way. He’ll arrange our processing for us; it’s part of the package. We’ll be taken to a resort hotel and given first-class accommodations. Read your brochure.” He smiled at the uneasy older man to reassure him.

“You’d think our muscles would be nothing but flab after ten years in suspension,” the elderly man said.

“It’s just like freezing peas,” Kemmings said. Holding on to the timid older man, he descended the ramp to the ground. “You can store them forever if you get |them cold enough.”

“My name’s Shelton,” the elderly man said.

“What?” Kemmings said, halting. A strange feeling moved through him.

“Don Shelton.” The elderly man extended his hand; reflexively, Kemmings accepted it and they shook. “What’s the matter, Mr. Kemmings? Are you all right?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’m fine. But hungry. I’d like to get something to eat. I’d like to get to our hotel, where I can take a shower and change my clothes.” He wondered where their baggage could be found. Probably it would take the ship an hour to unload it. The ship was not particularly intelligent.

In an intimate, confidential tone, elderly Mr. Shelton said, “You know what I brought with me? A bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon. The finest bourbon on Earth. I’ll bring it over to your hotel room and we’ll share it.” He nudged Kemmings.

“I don’t drink,” Kemmings said. “Only wine.” He wondered if there were any good wines here on this distant colony world. Not distant now, he reflected. It is Earth that’s distant. I should have done like Mr. Shelton and brought a few bottles with me.

Shelton. What did the name remind him of? Something in his far past, in his early years. Something precious, along with good wine and a pretty, gentle young woman making crepes in an old-fashioned kitchen. Aching memories; memories that hurt.

Presently he stood by the bed in his hotel room, his suitcase open; he had begun to hang up his clothes. In the corner of the room, a TV hologram showed a newscaster; he ignored it, but, liking the sound of a human voice, he kept it on.

Did I have any dreams? he asked himself. During these past ten years?

His hand hurt. Gazing down, he saw a red welt, as if he had been stung. A bee stung me, he realized. But when? How? While I lay in cryonic suspension? Impossible. Yet he could see the welt and he could feel the pain. I better get something to put on it, he realized. There’s undoubtedly a robot doctor in the hotel; it’s a first-rate hotel.

When the robot doctor had arrived and was treating the bee sting, Kemmings said, “I got this as punishment for killing the bird.” “Really?” the robot doctor said. “Everything that ever meant anything to me has been taken away from me,” Kemmings said. “Marline, the poster—my little old house with the wine cellar. We had everything and now it’s gone. Martine left me because of the bird.”

“The bird you killed,” the robot doctor said. “God punished me. He took away all that was precious to me because of my sin. It wasn’t Dorky’s sin; it was my sin.”

“But you were just a little boy,” the robot doctor said.

“How did you know that?” Kemmings said. He pulled his hand away from the robot doctor’s grasp. “Something’s wrong. You shouldn’t have known that.”

“Your mother told me,” the robot doctor said. “My mother didn’t know!”

The robot doctor said, “She figured it out. There was | no way the cat could have reached the bird without ; your help.”

“So all the time that I was growing up she knew. But |she never said anything.”

“You can forget about it,” the robot doctor said. _ Kemmings said, “I don’t think you exist. There is no I possible way that you could know these things. I’m still I in cryonic suspension and the ship is still feeding me my own buried memories. So I won’t become psychotic from sensory deprivation.”

“You could hardly have a memory of completing the trip.”

“Wish fulfillment, then. It’s the same thing. I’ll prove I it to you. Do you have a screwdriver?”


Kemmings said, “I’ll remove the back of the TV set and you’ll see; there’s nothing inside it; no components, no parts, no chassis—nothing.”

“I don’t have a screwdriver.”

“A small knife, then. I can see one in your surgical supply bag.” Bending, Kemmings lifted up a small scalpel. “This will do. If I show you, will you believe me?”

“If there’s nothing inside the TV cabinet—”

Squatting down, Kemmings removed the screws holding the back panel of the TV set in place. The panel came loose and he set it down on the floor.

There was nothing inside the TV cabinet. And yet the color hologram continued to fill a quarter of the hotel room, and the voice of the newscaster issued forth from his three-dimensional image.

“Admit you’re the ship,” Kemmings said to the robot doctor.

“Oh dear,” the robot doctor said.

Oh dear, the ship said to itself. And I’ve got almost ten years of this lying ahead of me. He is hopelessly contaminating his experiences with childhood guilt; he imagines that his wife left him because, when he was four years old, he helped a cat catch a bird. The only solution would be for Martine to return to him, but how am I going to arrange that? She may not still be alive. On the other hand, the ship reflected, maybe she is alive. Maybe she could be induced to do something to save her former husband’s sanity. People by and large have very positive traits. And ten years from now it will take a lot to save—or rather restore—his sanity; it will take something drastic, something I myself cannot do alone.

Meanwhile, there was nothing to be done but recycle the wish fulfillment arrival of the ship at its destination. I will run him through the arrival, the ship decided, then wipe his conscious memory clean and run him through it again. The only positive aspect of this, it reflected, is that it will give me something to do, which may help preserve my sanity.

Lying in cryonic suspension—faulty cryonic suspension—Victor Kemmings imagined, once again, that the ship was touching down and he was being brought back to consciousness.

“Did you dream?” a heavyset woman asked him as the group of passengers gathered on the outer platform. “I have the impression that I dreamed. Early scenes from my life . . . over a century ago.”

“None that I can remember,” Kemmings said. He was eager to reach his hotel; a shower and a change of clothes would do wonders for his morale. He felt slightly depressed and wondered why.

“There’s our guide,” an elderly lady said. “They’re going to escort us to our accommodations.”

“It’s in the package,” Kemmings said. His depression remained. The others seemed so spirited, so full of life, but over him only a weariness lay, a weighing-down sensation, as if the gravity of this colony planet were too much for him. Maybe that’s it, he said to himself. But, according to the brochure, the gravity here matched Earth’s; that was one of the attractions.

Puzzled, he made his way slowly down the ramp, step by step, holding on to the rail. I don’t really deserve a new chance at life anyhow, he realized. I’m just going through the motions … I am not like these other people. There is something wrong with me; I cannot remember what it is, but nonetheless it is there. In me. A bitter sense of pain. Of lack of worth.

An insect landed on the back of Kemmings’s right hand, an old insect, weary with flight. He halted, watched it crawl across his knuckles. I could crush it, he thought. It’s so obviously infirm; it won’t live much longer anyhow.

He crushed it—and felt great inner horror. What have I done? he asked himself. My first moment here and I have wiped out a little life. Is this my new beginning?

Turning, he gazed back up at the ship. Maybe I ought to go back, he thought. Have them freeze me forever. I am a man of guilt, a man who destroys. Tears filled his eyes.

And, within its sentient works, the interstellar ship moaned.

During the ten long years remaining in the trip to the LR4 System, the ship had plenty of time to track down Martine Kemmings. It explained the situation to her. She had emigrated to a vast orbiting dome in the Sirius System, found her situation unsatisfactory, and was en route back to Earth. Roused from her own cryonic suspension, she listened intently and then agreed to be at the colony world LR4-6 when her ex-husband arrived—if it was at all possible.

Fortunately, it was possible.

“I don’t think he’ll recognize me,” Martine said to the ship. “I’ve allowed myself to age. I don’t really approve of entirely halting the aging process.”

He’ll be lucky if he recognizes anything, the ship thought.

At the intersystem spaceport on the colony world of LR4-6, Martine stood waiting for the people aboard the ship to appear on the outer platform. She wondered if she would recognize her former husband. She was a little afraid, but she was glad that she had gotten to LR4-6 in time. It had been close. Another week and his ship would have arrived before hers. Luck is on my side, she said to herself, and scrutinized the newly landed interstellar ship.

People appeared on the platform. She saw him. Victor had changed very little.

As he came down the ramp, holding onto the railing as if weary and hesitant, she came up to him, her hands thrust deep in the pockets of her coat; she felt shy and when she spoke she could hardly hear her own voice.

“Hi, Victor,” she managed to say.

He halted, gazed at her. “I know you,” he said.

“It’s Martine,” she said.

Holding out his hand, he said, smiling, “You heard about the trouble on the ship?”

“The ship contacted me.” She took his hand and held it. “What an ordeal.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Recirculating memories forever. Did I ever tell you about a bee that I was trying to extricate from a spider’s web when I was four years old? The idiotic bee stung me.” He bent down and kissed her. “It’s good to see you,” he said.

“Did the ship—”

“It said it would try to have you here. But it wasn’t sure if you could make it.”

As they walked toward the terminal building, Mar-tine said, “I was lucky; I managed to get a transfer to a military vehicle, a high-velocity-drive ship that just shot along like a mad thing. A new propulsion system entirely.”

Victor Kemmings said, “I have spent more time in my own unconscious mind than any other human in history. Worse than early-twentieth-century psychoanalysis. And the same material over and over again. Did you know I was scared of my mother?”

“I was scared of your mother,” Martine said. They stood at the baggage depot, waiting for his luggage to appear. “This looks like a really nice little planet. Much better than where I was … I haven’t been happy at all.”

“So maybe there’s a cosmic plan,” he said, grinning. “You look great.”

“I’m old.”

“Medical science—”

“It was my decision. I like older people.” She surveyed him. He has been hurt a lot by the cryonic malfunction, she said to herself. I can see it in his eyes. They look broken. Broken eyes. Torn down into pieces by fatigue and—defeat. As if his buried early memories swam up and destroyed him. But it’s over, she thought. And I did get here in time.

At the bar in the terminal building, they sat having a drink.

“This old man got me to try Wild Turkey bourbon,” Victor said. “It’s amazing bourbon. He says it’s the best on Earth. He brought a bottle with him from . . .” His voice died into silence.

“One of your fellow passengers,” Marline finished.

“I guess so,” he said.

“Well, you can stop thinking of the birds and the bees,” Martine said.

“Sex?” he said, and laughed.

“Being stung by a bee, helping a cat catch a bird. That’s all past.”

“That cat,” Victor said, “has been dead one hundred and eighty-two years. I figured it out while they were bringing us out of suspension. Probably just as well. Dorky. Dorky, the killer cat. Nothing like Fat Freddy’s cat.”

“I had to sell the poster,” Martine said. “Finally.”

He frowned.

“Remember?” she said. “You let me have it when we split up. Which I always thought was really good of you.”

“How much did you get for it?”

“A lot. I should pay you something like—” She calculated. “Taking inflation into account, I should pay you about two million dollars.”

“Would you consider,” he said, “instead, in place of the money, my share of the sale of the poster, spending some time with me? Until I get used to this planet?”

“Yes,” she said. And she meant it. Very much.

They finished their drinks and then, with his luggage transported by robot spacecap, made their way to his hotel room.

“This is a nice room,” Martine said, perched on the edge of the bed. “And it has a hologram TV. Turn it on.”

“There’s no use turning it on,” Victor Kemmings said. He stood by the open closet, hanging up his shirts.

“Why not?”

Kemmings said, “There’s nothing in it.”

Going over to the TV set, Martine turned it on. A hockey game materialized, projected out into the room, in full color, and the sound of the game assailed her ears.

“It works fine,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “I can prove it to you. If you have a nail file or something, I’ll unscrew the back plate and show you.”

“But I can—”

“Look at this.” He paused in his work of hanging up his clothes. “Watch me put my hand through the wall.” He placed the palm of his right hand against the wall. “See?”

His hand did not go through the wall because hands do not go through walls; his hand remained pressed against the wall, unmoving.

“And the foundation,” he said, “is rotting away.”

“Come and sit down by me,” Martine said.

“I’ve lived this often enough to know,” he said. “I’ve lived this over and over again. I come out of suspension; I walk down the ramp; I get my luggage; sometimes I have a drink at the bar and sometimes I come directly to my room. Usually I turn on the TV and then—” He came over and held his hand toward her. “See where the bee stung me?”

She saw no mark on his hand; she took his hand and held it.

“There is no bee sting there,” she said. “And when the robot doctor comes, I borrow a tool from him and take off the back plate of the TV set. To prove to him that it has no chassis, no components in it. And then the ship starts me over again.” “Victor,” she said. “Look at your hand.” “This is the first time you’ve been here, though,” he said.

“Sit down,” she said.

“Okay.” He seated himself on the bed, beside her, but not too close to her.

“Won’t you sit closer to me?” she said.

“It makes me too sad,” he said. “Remembering you. I really loved you. I wish this was real.”

Marline said, “I will sit with you until it is real for you.”

“I’m going to try reliving the part with the cat,” he said, “and this time not pick up the cat and not let it get the bird. If I do that, maybe my life will change so that it turns into something happy. Something that is real. My real mistake was separating from you. Here; I’ll put my hand through you.” He placed his hand against her arm. The pressure of his muscles was vigorous; she felt the weight, the physical presence of him, against her. “See?” he said. “It goes right through you.”

“And all this,” she said, “because you killed a bird when you were a little boy.”

“No,” he said. “All this because of a failure in the temperature-regulating assembly aboard the ship. Fm not down to the proper temperature. There’s just enough warmth left in my brain cells to permit cerebral activity.” He stood up then, stretched, smiled at her. “Shall we go get some dinner?” he asked.

She said, “I’m sorry. I’m not hungry.”

“I am. I’m going to have some of the local seafood. The brochure says it’s terrific. Come along anyhow; maybe when you see the food and smell it you’ll change your mind.”

Gathering up her coat and purse, she came with him.

“This is a beautiful little planet,” he said. “I’ve explored it dozens of times. I know it thoroughly. We should stop downstairs at the pharmacy for some Bactine, though. For my hand. It’s beginning to swell and it hurts like hell.” He showed her his hand. “It hurts more this time than ever before.”

“Do you want me to come back to you?” Martine said.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll stay with you as long as you want. I agree; we should never have been separated.”

Victor Kemmings said, “The poster is torn.”

“What?” she said.

“We should have framed it,” he said. “We didn’t have sense enough to take care of it. Now it’s torn. And the artist is dead.”


The Adulterous Woman

A housefly had been circling for the last few minutes in the bus, though the windows were closed. And odd sight here, it had been silently flying back and forth on tired wings. Janine lost track of it, then saw it light on her husband’s motionless hand. The weather was cold. The fly shuddered with each gust of sandy wind that scratched against the windows. In the meagre light of the winter morning, with a great fracas of sheet metal and axles, the vehicle was rolling, pitching, and making hardly any progress. Janine looked at her husband. With wisps of greying hair growing low on a narrow forehead, a broad nose, a flabby mouth, Marcel looked like a pouting faun. At each hollow in the pavement she felt him jostle against her. Then his heavy torso would slump back on his widespread legs and he would become inert again and absent, with a vacant stare. Nothing about him seemed active but his thick hairless hands, made even shorter by the flannel underwear extending below his cuffs and covering his wrists. His hands were holding so tight to a little canvas suitcase set between his knees that they appeared not to feel the fly’s halting progress.

Suddenly the wind was distinctly heard to howl and the gritty fog surrounding the bus became even thicker. The sand now struck the windows in packets as if hurled by invisible hands. The fly shook a chilled wing, flexed its legs, and took flight. The bus slowed and seemed on the point of stopping. But the wind apparently died down, the fog lifted slightly, and the vehicle resumed speed. Gaps of light opened up in the dust-drowned landscape. Two or three frail, withered palm trees which seemed cut out of metal flashed into sight in the window only to disappear the next moment.

“What a country!” Marcel said.

The bus was full of Arabs pretending to sleep, shrouded in their burnooses. Some had folded their legs on the seat and swayed more than the others in the car’s motion. Their silence and impassivity began to weigh upon Janine; it seemed to her as if she had been travelling for days with that mute escort. Yet the bus had left only at dawn from the end of the rail line and for two hours in the cold morning it had been advancing on a stony, desolate plateau which, in the beginning at least, extended its straight lines all the way to reddish horizons. But the wind had risen and gradually swallowed up the vast expanse. From that moment on, the passengers had seen nothing more; one after another, they had ceased talking and were silently progressing in a sort of sleepless night, occasionally wiping their lips and eyes irritated by the sand that filtered into the car.

“Janine!” She gave a start at her husband’s call. Once again she thought how ridiculous that name was for someone tall and sturdy like her. Marcel wanted to know where his sample case was. With her foot she explored the empty space under the seat and encountered an object which she decided must be it. She could not stoop over without gasping somewhat. Yet in school she had won the first prize in gymnastics and hadn’t known what it was to be winded. Was that so long ago? Twenty-five years. Twenty-five years were nothing, for it seemed to her only yesterday when she was hesitating between an independent life and marriage, just yesterday when she was thinking anxiously of the time she might be growing old alone. She was not alone and that law-student who always wanted to be with her was now at her side. She had eventually accepted him although he was a little shorter than she and she didn’t much like his eager, sharp laugh or his black protruding eyes. But she liked his courage in facing up to life, which he shared with all the French of this country. She also liked his crestfallen look when events or men failed to live up to his expectations. Above all, she like being loved, and he had showered her with attentions. By so often making her aware that she existed for him he made her exist in reality. No, she was not alone…

The bus, with many loud honks, was plowing its way through invisible obstacles. Inside the car, however, no on stirred. Janine suddenly felt someone staring at her and turned toward the seat across the aisle. He was not an Arab, and she was surprised not to have noticed him from the beginning. He was wearing the uniform of the French regiments of the Sahara and an unbleached linen cap above his tanned face, long and pointed like a jackal’s. His grey eyes were examining her with a sort of glum disapproval, in a fixed stare. She suddenly blushed and turned back to her husband, who was still looking straight ahead in the fog and wind. She snuggled down in her coat. But she could still see the French soldier, so long and thin in his fitted tunic that he seemed constructed of a dry, friable material, a mixture of sand and bone. Then it was that she saw the thin hands and burned faces of the Arabs in front of her and noticed that they seemed to have plenty of room, despite their ample garments, on the seat where she and her husband felt wedged in. She pulled her coat around her knees. Yet she wasn’t so fat – tall and well rounded rather, plump and still desirable, as she was well aware when men looked at her, with her rather childish face, her bright naive eyes contrasting with this big body she knew to be warm and inviting.

No, nothing had happened as she had expected. When Marcel had wanted to take her along on his trip she had protested. For some time he had been thinking of this trip ã since the end of the war, to be precise, when business had returned to normal. Before the war the small dry-goods business he had taken over from his parents on giving up his study of law had provided a fairly good living. On the coast the years of youth can be happy ones. But he didn’t much like physical effort and very soon had given up taking her to the beaches. The little car took them out of town solely for the Sunday afternoon ride. The rest of the time he preferred his shop full of multicoloured piece-goods shaded by the arcades of this half-native, half-European quarter. Above the shop they lived in three rooms furnished with Arab hangings and furniture from the Galerie Barbes. They had not had children. The years had passed in the semi-darkness behind the half-closed shutters. Summer, the beaches, excursions, the mere sight of the sky were things of the past. Nothing seemed to interest Marcel but business. She felt she had discovered his true passion to be money, and, without really knowing why, she didn’t like that. After all, it was to her advantage. Far from being miserly, he was generous, especially where she was concerned. “If something happened to me,” he used to say, “you’d be provided for.” And, in fact, it is essential to provide for one’s needs. But for all the rest, for what is not the most elementary need, how to provide? This is what she felt vaguely, at infrequent intervals. Meanwhile she helped Marcel keep his books and occasionally substituted for him in the shop. Summer was always the hardest, when the heat stifled even the sweet sensation of boredom.
Suddenly, in the summer as it happened, the war, Marcel called up then rejected on the grounds of health, the scarcity of piece-goods, business at a standstill, the streets empty and hot. If something happened now, she would no longer be provided for. This is why, as soon as piece-goods came back on the market, Marcel had thought of covering the villages of the Upper Plateaus and of the South himself in order to do without a middleman and sell directly to the Arab merchants. He had wanted to take her along. She knew that travel was difficult, she had trouble breathing, and she would have preferred staying at home. But he was obstinate and she had accepted because it would have taken too much energy to refuse. Here they were and, truly, nothing was like what she had imagined. She had feared the heat, the swarms of flies, the filthy hotels reeking of aniseed. She had not thought of the cold, of the biting wind, of these semi-polar plateaus cluttered with moraines. She had dreamed too of palm trees and soft sand. Now she saw that the desert was not that at all, but merely stone, stone everywhere, in the sky full of nothing but stone-dust, rasping and cold, as on the ground, where nothing grew among the stores except dry grasses.

The bus stopped abruptly. The driver shouted a few words in that language she had heard all her life without ever understanding it. “What’s the matter?” Marcel asked. The driver, in French this time, said that the sand must have clogged the carburettor, and again Marcel cursed this country. The driver laughed hilariously and asserted that it was nothing, that he would clean the carburettor and they’d be off again. He opened the door and the cold wind blew into the bus, lashing their faces with a myriad grains of sand. All the Arabs silently plunged their noses into their burnooses and huddled up. “Shut the door,” Marcel shouted. The driver laughed as he came back to the door. Without hurrying, he took some tools from under the dashboard, then, tiny in the fog, again disappeared ahead without closing the door. Marcel sighed. “You may be sure he’s never seen a motor in his life.” “Oh, be quiet!” said Janine. Suddenly she gave a start. On the shoulder of the road close to the bus, draped forms were standing still. Under the burnoose’s hood and behind a rampart of veils, only their eyes were visible. Mute, come from nowhere, they were staring at the travellers. “Shepherds,” Marcel said.

Inside the car there was total silence. All the passengers, heads lowered, seemed to be listening to the voice of the wind loosed across these endless plateaus. Janine was all of a sudden struck by the almost complete absence of luggage. At the end of the railroad line the driver had hoisted their trunk and a few bundles onto the roof. In the racks inside the bus could be seen nothing but gnarled sticks and shopping-baskets. All these people of the South apparently were travelling empty-handed.

But the driver was coming back, still brisk. His eyes alone were laughing above the veils with which he too had masked his face. He announced that they would soon be under way. He closed the door, the wind became silent, and the rain of sand on the windows could be heard better. The motor coughed and died. After having been urged at great length by the starter, it finally sparked and the driver raced it by pressing on the gas. With a big hiccough the bus started off. From the ragged clump of shepherds, still motionless, a hand rose and then faded into the fog behind them. Almost at once the vehicle began to bounce on the road, which had become worse. Shaken up, the Arabs constantly swayed. Nonetheless, Janine was feeling overcome with sleep when there suddenly appeared in front of her a little yellow box filled with lozenges. The jackal-soldier was smiling at her. She hesitated, took one, and thanked him. The jackal pocketed the box and simultaneously swallowed his smile. Now he was staring at the road, straight in front of him. Janine turned toward Marcel and saw only the solid back of his neck. Through the window he was watching the denser fog rising from the crumbly embankment.

They had been travelling for hours and fatigue had extinguished all life in the car when shouts burst forth outside. Children wearing burnooses, whirling like tops, leaping, clapping their hands, were running around the bus. It was now going down a long street around the bus. It was now going down a long street lined with low houses; they were entering the oasis. The wind was still blowing, but the walls intercepted the grains of sand which had previously cut off the light. Yet the sky was still cloudy. Amidst shouts, in a great screeching of brakes, the bus stopped in front of the adobe arcades of a hotel with dirty windows. Janine got out and, once on the pavement, staggered. Above the houses she could see a slim yellow minaret. On her left rose the first palm trees of the oasis, and she would have liked to go toward them. But although it was close to noon, the cold was bitter; the wind made her shiver. She turned toward Marcel and saw the soldier coming toward her. She was expecting him to smile or salute. He passed without looking at her and disappeared. Marcel was busy getting down the trunk of piece-goods, a black foot-locker perched on the bus’s roof. It would not be easy. The driver was the only one to take car of the luggage and he had already stopped, standing on the roof, to hold forth to the circle of burnooses gathered around the bus. Janine, surrounded with faces that seemed cut out of bone and leather, besieged by guttural shouts, suddenly became aware of her fatigue. “I’m going in,” she said to Marcel, who was shouting impatiently at the driver.

She entered the hotel. The manager, a thin, laconic Frenchman, came to meet her. He led her to a second-floor balcony overlooking the street and into a room which seemed to have but an iron bed, a white-enamelled chair, an uncontained wardrobe, and, behind a rush screen, a washbasin covered with fine sand-dust. When the manager had closed the door, Janine felt the cold coming from the bare, whitewashed walls. She didn’t know where to put her bag, where to put herself. She had either to lie down or to remain standing, and to shiver in either case. She remained standing, holding her bag and staring at a sort of window-slit that opened onto the sky near the ceiling. She was waiting, but she didn’t know for what. She was aware only of her solitude, and of the penetrating cold, and of a greater weight in the region of her heart. She was in fact dreaming, almost deaf to the sounds rising from the street along with Marcel’s vocal outbursts, more aware on the other hand of that sound of a river coming from the window-slit and caused by the wind in the palm trees, so close now, it seemed to her. Then the wind became a hissing of waves. She imagined, beyond the walls, a sea of erect, flexible palm trees unfurling in the storm. Nothing was like what she had expected, but those invisible waves refreshed her tired eyes. She was standing, heavy, with dangling arms, slightly stooped, as the cold climbed her thick legs. She was dreaming of the erect and flexible palm trees and of the girl she had once been. . . .

After having washed, they went down to the dining-room. On the bare walls had been painted camels and palm trees drowned in a sticky background of pink and lavender. The arcaded windows let in a meager light. Marcel questioned the hotel manager about the merchants. Then an elderly Arab wearing a military decoration on his tunic served them. Marcel, preoccupied, tore his bread into little pieces. He kept his wife from drinking water. “It hasn’t been boiled. Take wine.” She didn’t like that, for wine made her sleepy. Besides, there was pork on the menu. “They don’t eat it because of the Koran. But the Koran didn’t know that well-done pork doesn’t cause illness. We French know how to cook. What are you thinking about?” Janine was not thinking of anything, or perhaps of that victory of the cooks over the prophets. But she had to hurry. They were to leave the next morning for still farther south; that afternoon they had to see all the important merchants. Marcel urged the elderly Arab to hurry the coffee. He nodded without smiling and pattered out. “Slowly in the morning, not too fast in the afternoon,” Marcel said, laughing. Yet eventually the coffee came. They barely took time to swallow it and went out into the dusty, cold street. Marcel called a young Arab to help him carry the trunk, but as a matter of principle quibbled about the payment. His opinion, which he once more expressed to Janine, was in fact based on the vague principle that they always asked for twice as much in the hope of settling for a quarter of the amount. Janine, ill at ease, followed the two trunk-bearers. She had put on a wool dress under her heavy coat and would have liked to take up less space. The pork, although well done, and the small quantity of wine she had drunk also bothered her somewhat.

They walked along a diminutive public garden planted with dusty trees. They encountered Arabs who stepped out of their way without seeming to see them, wrapping themselves in their burnooses. Even when they were wearing rags, she felt they had a look of dignity unknown to the Arabs who stepped out of their way in their burnooses. Even when they were wearing rags, she felt they had a look of dignity unknown to the Arabs of her town. Janine followed the trunk, which made a way for her through the crowd. They went through the gate in an earthen rampart and emerged on a little square planted with the same mineral trees and bordered on the far side, where it was widest, with arcades and shops. But they stopped on the square itself in front of a small construction shaped like an artillery shell and painted chalky blue. Inside, in the single room lighted solely by the entrance, an old Arab with white moustaches stood behind a shiny plank. He was serving tea, raising and lowering the teapot over three tiny multicoloured glasses. Before they could make out anything else in the darkness, the cool scent of mint tea greeted Marcel and Janine at the door. Marcel had barely crossed the threshold and dodged the garlands of pewter teapots, cups and trays, and the postcard displays when he was up against the counter. Janine stayed at the door. She stepped a little aside so as not to cut off the light. At that moment she perceived in the darkness behind the old merchant two Arabs smiling at them, seated on the bulging sacks that filled the back of the shop. Red-and-black rugs and embroidered scarves hung on the walls; the floor was cluttered with sacks and little boxes filled with aromatic seeds. On the counter, beside a sparkling pair of brass scales and an old yardstick with figures effaced, stood a row of loaves of sugar. One of them had been unwrapped from its coarse blue paper and cut into on top. The smell of wool and spices in the room became apparent behind the scent of tea when the old merchant set down the teapot and said good-day.

Marcel talked rapidly in the low voice he assumed when talking business. Then he opened the trunk, exhibited the wools and silks, pushed back the scale and yardstick to spread out his merchandise in front of the old merchant. He got excited , raised his voice, laughed nervously, like a woman who wants to make an impression and is not sure of herself. Now, with hands spread wide, he was going through the gestures of selling and buying. The old man shook his head, passed the tea tray to the two Arabs behind him, and said just a few words that seemed to discourage Marcel. He picked up his goods, piled them back into the trunk, then wiped an imaginary sweat from his forehead. He called the little porter and they started off toward the arcades. In the first shop, although the merchant began by exhibiting the same Olympian manner, they were a bit luckier. “They think they’re God almighty,” Marcel said, “but they’re in business too! Life is hard for everyone.”

Janine followed without answering. The wind had almost ceased. The sky was clearing in spots. A cold, harsh light came from the deep holes that opened up in the thickness of the clouds. They had now left the square. They were walking in narrow streets along earthen walls over which hung rotted December roses or, from time to time, a pomegranate, dried and wormy. An odour of dust and coffee, the smoke of a wood fire, the smell of stone and of sheep permeated this quarter. The shops, hollowed out of the walls, were far from one another; Janine felt her feet getting heavier. But her husband was gradually becoming more cheerful. He was beginning to sell and was feeling more kindly; he called Janine “Baby”; the trip would not be wasted. “Of course,” Janine said mechanically, “it’s better to deal directly with them.”
They came back by another street, toward the centre. It was late in the afternoon; the sky was now almost completely clear. They stopped in the square. Marcel rubbed his hands and looked affectionately at the trunk in front of them. “Look,” said Janine. From the other end of the square was coming a tall Arab, thin, vigorous, wearing a sky-blue burnoose, soft brown boots and gloves, and bearing his bronzed aquiline face loftily. Nothing but the cheche that he was wearing swathed as a turban distinguished him from those French officers in charge of native affairs whom Janine had occasionally admired. He was advancing steadily toward them, but seemed to be looking beyond their group as he slowly removed the glove from one hand. “Well,” said Marcel as he shrugged his shoulders, “there’s one who thinks he’s a general.” Yes, all of them here had that look of pride; but this one, really, was going too far. Although they were surrounded by the empty space of the square, he was walking straight toward the trunk without seeing it, without seeing them. Then the distance separating them decreased rapidly and the Arab was upon them when Marcel suddenly seized the handle of the foot-locker and pulled it out of the way. The Arab passed without seeming to notice anything and headed with the same regular step toward the ramparts. Janine looked at her husband; he had his crestfallen look. “They think they can get away with anything now,” he said. Janine did not reply. She loathed that Arab’s stupid arrogance and suddenly felt unhappy. She wanted to leave and thought of her little apartment. The idea of going back to the hotel, to that icy room, discouraged her. It suddenly occurred to her that the manager had advised her to climb up to the terrace around the fort to see the desert. She said this to Marcel and that he could leave the trunk at the hotel. But he was tired and wanted to sleep a little before dinner. “Please,” said Janine. He looked at her, suddenly attentive. “Of course, my dear,” he said.

She waited for him in the street in front of the hotel. The white-robed crowd was becoming larger and larger. Not a single woman could be seen, and it seemed to Janine that she had never seen so many men. Yet none of them looked at her. Some of them, without appearing to see her, slowly turned toward her that thin, tanned face that made them all look alike to her, the face of the French soldier in the bus and that of the gloved Arab, a face both shrewd and proud. They turned that face toward the foreign woman, they didn’t see her, and then, light and silent, they walked around her as she stood there with swelling ankles. And her discomfort, her need of getting away increased. “Why did I come?” But already Marcel was coming back.
When they climbed the stairs to the fort, it was five o’clock. The wind had died down altogether. The sky, completely clear, was now periwinkle blue. The cold, now drier, made their cheeks smart. Halfway up the stairs an old Arab, stretched out against the wall, asked them if they wanted a guide, but didn’t budge, as if he had been sure of their refusal in advance. The stairs were long and steep despite several landings of packed earth. As they climbed, the space widened and they rose into an ever broader light, cold and dry, in which every sound from the oasis reached them pure and distinct. The bright air seemed to vibrate around them with a vibration increasing in length as they advanced, as if their progress struck from the crystal of light a sound wave that kept spreading out. And as soon as they reached the terrace and their gaze was lost in the vast horizon beyond the palm grove, it seemed to Janine that the whole sky rang with a single short and piercing note, whose echoes gradually filled the space above her, then suddenly died and left her silently facing the limitless expanse.

From east to west, in fact, her gaze swept slowly, without encountering a single obstacle, along a perfect curve. Beneath her, the blue-and-white terraces of the Arab town overlapped one another, splattered with the dark-red spots of peppers drying in the sun. Not a soul could be seen, but from the inner courts, together with the aroma of roasting coffee, there rose laughing voices or incomprehensible stamping of feet. Farther off, the palm grove, divided into uneven squares by clay walls, rustled its upper foliage in a wind that could not be felt up on the terrace. Still farther off and all the way to the horizon extended the ocher-and-gray realm of stones, in which no life was visible. At some distance from the oasis, however, near the wadi that bordered the palm grove on the west could be seen broad black tents. All around them a flock of motionless dromedaries, tiny at that distance, formed against the gray ground the black signs of a strange handwriting, the meaning of which had to be deciphered. Above the desert, the silence was as vast as the space.

Janine, leaning her whole body against the parapet, was speechless, unable to tear herself away from the void opening before her. Beside her, Marcel was getting restless. He was cold; he wanted to go back down. What was there to see here, after all? But she could not take her gaze from the horizon. Over yonder, still farther south, at that point where sky and earth met in a pure line – over yonder it suddenly seemed there was awaiting her something of which, though it had always been lacking, she had never been aware until now. In the advancing afternoon the light relaxed and softened; it was passing from the crystalline to the liquid. Simultaneously, in the heart of a woman brought there by pure chance a knot tightened by the years, habit, and boredom was slowly loosening. She was looking at the nomads’ encampment. She had not even seen the men living in it; nothing was stirring among the black tents, and yet she could think only of them whose existence she had barely known until this day. Homeless, cut off from the world, they were a handful wandering over the vast territory she could see, which however was but a paltry part of an even greater expanse whose dizzying course stopped only thousands of miles farther south, where the first river finally waters the forest. Since the beginning of time, on the dry earth of this limitless land scraped to the bone, a few men had been ceaselessly trudging, possessing nothing but serving no one, poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom. Janine did not know why this thought filled her with such a sweet, vast melancholy that it closed her eyes. She knew that this kingdom had been eternally promised her and yet that it would never be hers, never again, except in this fleeting moment perhaps when she opened her eyes again on the suddenly motionless sky and on its waves of steady light, while the voices rising from the Arab town suddenly fell silent. It seemed to her that the world’s course had just stopped and that, from that moment on, no one would ever age any more or die. Everywhere, henceforth, life was suspended – except in her heart, where, at the same moment, someone was weeping with affliction and wonder.

But the light began to move; the sun, clear and devoid of warmth, went down toward the west, which became slightly pink, while a gray wave took shape in the east ready to roll slowly over the vast expanse. A first dog barked and its distant bark rose in the now even colder air. Janine notice that her teeth were chattering. “We are catching our death of cold,” Marcel said. “You’re a fool. Let’s go back.” But he took her hand awkwardly. Docile now, she turned away from the parapet and followed him. Without moving, the old Arab on the stairs watched them go down toward the town. She walked along without seeing anyone, bent under a tremendous and sudden fatigue, dragging her body, whose weight now seemed to her unbearable. Her exaltation had left her. Now she felt too tall, too thick, too white too for this world she had just entered. A child, the girl, the dry man, the furtive jackal were the only creatures who could silently walk that earth. What would she do there henceforth except to drag herself toward sleep, toward death?

She dragged herself, in fact toward the restaurant with a husband suddenly taciturn unless he was telling how tired he was, while she was struggling weakly against a cold, aware of a fever rising within her. Then she dragged herself toward her bed, where Marcel came to join her and put the light out at once without asking anything of her. The room was frigid. Janine felt the cold creeping up while the fever was increasing. She breathed with difficulty, her blood pumped without warming her; a sort of fear grew within her. She turned over and the old iron bedstead groaned under her weight. No, she didn’t want to fall ill. Her husband was already asleep; she too had to sleep; it was essential. The muffled sounds of the town reached her through the window-slit. With a nasal twang old phonographs in the Moorish cafes ground out tunes she recognized vaguely; they reached her borne on the sound of a slow-moving crowd. She must sleep. But she was counting black tents; behind her eyelids motionless camels were grazing; immense solitudes were whirling within her. Yes, why had she come? She fell asleep on that question.

She awoke a little later. The silence around her was absolute. But, on the edges of town, hoarse dogs were howling in the soundless night. Janine shivered. She turned over, felt her husband’s hard shoulder against hers, and suddenly, half asleep, huddled against him. She was drifting on the surface of sleep without sinking in and she clung to that shoulder with unconscious eagerness as her safest haven. She was talking, but no sound issued from her mouth. She was talking, but she herself hardly heard what she was saying. She could feel only Marcel’s warmth. For more than twenty years every night thus, in his warmth, just the two of them, even when ill, even when travelling, as at present… Besides, what would she have done alone at home? No child! Wasn’t that what she lacked? She didn’t know. She simply followed Marcel, pleased to know that someone needed her. The only joy he gave her was the knowledge that she was necessary. Probably he didn’t love her. Love, even when filled with hate, doesn’t have that sullen face. But what is his face like? They made love in the dark by feel, without seeing each other. Is there another love than that of darkness, a love that would cry aloud in daylight? She didn’t know, but she did know that Marcel needed her and that she needed that need, that she lived on it night and day, at night especially – every night, when he didn’t want to be alone, or to age or die, with that set expression he assumed which she occasionally recognized on other men’s faces, the only common expression of those madmen hiding under an appearance of wisdom until the madness seizes them and hurls them desperately toward a woman’s body to bury in it, without desire, everything terrifying that solitude and night reveals to them.

Marcel stirred as if to move away from her. No, he didn’t love her; he was merely afraid of what was not she, and she and he should long ago have separated and slept alone until the end. But who could always sleep alone? Some men do, cut off from others by a vocation or misfortune, who go to bed every night in the same bed as death. Marcel never could do so – he above all, a weak and disarmed child always frightened by suffering, her own child indeed who needed her and who, just at that moment, let out a sort of whimper. She cuddled a little closer and put her hand on his chest. And to herself she called him with the little love-name she had once given him, which they still used from time to time without even thinking of what they were saying.
She called to him with all her heart. After all, she too needed him, his strength, his little eccentricities, and she too was afraid of death. “If I could overcome that fear, I’d be happy…” Immediately, a nameless anguish seized her. She drew back from Marcel. No, she was overcoming nothing, she was not happy, she was going to die, in truth, without having been liberated. Her heart pained her; she was stifling under a huge weight that she suddenly discovered she had been dragging around for twenty years Now she was struggling under it with all her strength. She wanted to be liberated even if Marcel, even if the others, never were! Fully awake, she sat up in bed and listened to a call that seemed very close. But from the edges of night the exhausted and yet indefatigable voices of the dogs of the oasis were all that reached her ears. A slight wind had risen and she heard its light waters flow in the palm grove. It came from the south, where desert and night mingled now under the again unchanging sky, where life stopped, where no one would ever age or die any more. Then the waters of the wind dried up and she was not even sure of having heard anything except a mute call that she could, after all, silence or notice. But never again would she know its meaning unless she responded to it at once. At once – yes, that much was certain at least!

She got up gently and stood motionless beside the bed, listening to her husband’s breathing. Marcel was asleep. The next moment, the bed’s warmth left her and the cold gripped her. she dressed slowly, feeling for her clothes in the faint light coming through the blinds from the street-lamps. Her shoes in her hand, she reached the door. She waited a moment more in the darkness, then gently opened the door. The knob squeaked and she stood still. Her heart was beating madly. She listened with her body tense and, reassured by the silence, turned her hand a little more. The knob’s turning seemed to her interminable. At last she opened the door, slipped outside, and closed the door with the same stealth. Then, with her cheek against the wood, she waited. After a moment, she made out, in the distance, Marcel’s breathing. She faced about, felt the icy night air against her cheek, and ran the length of the balcony. The outer door was closed. While she was slipping the bolt, the night watchman appeared at the top of the stairs, his face blurred with sleep, and spoke to her in Arabic. “I’ll be back,” said Janine as she stepped out into the night.

Garlands of stars hung down from the black sky over the palm trees and houses. She ran along the short avenue, now empty, that led to the fort. The cold, no longer having to struggle against the sun, had invaded the night; the icy air burned her lungs. But she ran, half blind, in the darkness. At the top of the avenue, however, lights appeared, then descended toward her zigzagging. She stopped, caught the whir of turning sprockets and, behind the enlarging lights, soon saw vast burnooses surmounting fragile bicycle wheels. The burnooses flapped against her; then three red lights sprang out of the black behind her and disappeared at once. She continued running toward the fort. Halfway up the stairs, the air burned her lungs with such cutting effect that she wanted to stop. A final burst of energy hurled her despite herself onto the terrace, against the parapet, which was now pressing her belly. She was panting and everything was hazy before her eyes. Her running had not warmed her and she was still trembling all over. But the cold air she was gulping down soon flowed evenly inside her and a spark of warmth began to glow amidst her shivers. Her eyes opened at last on the expanse of night.

Not a breath, not a sound – except at intervals the muffled crackling of stones that the cold was reducing to sand – disturbed the solitude and silence surrounding Janine. After a moment, however, it seemed to her that the sky above her was moving in a sort of slow gyration. In the vast reaches of the dry, cold night, thousands of stars were constantly appearing, and their sparkling icicles, loosened at once, began to slip gradually toward the horizon. Janine could not tear herself away from contemplating those drifting flares. She was turning with them, and the apparently stationary progress little by little identified her with the core of her being, where cold and desire were now vying with each other. Before her the stars were falling one by one and being snuffed out among the stones of the desert, and each time Janine opened a little more to the night. Breathing deeply, she forgot the cold, the dead weight of others, the craziness or stuffiness of life, the long anguish of living and dying. After so many years of mad, aimless fleeing from fear, she had come to a stop at last. At the same time, she seemed to recover her roots and the sap again rose in her body, which had ceased trembling. Her whole belly pressed against the parapet as she strained toward the moving sky; she was merely waiting for her fluttering heart to calm down and establish silence within her. The last stars of the constellations dropped their clusters a little lower on the desert horizon and became still. Then, with unbearable gentleness, the water of night began to fill Janine, drowned the cold, rose gradually from the hidden core of her being and overflowed in wave after wave, rising up even to her mouth full of moans. The next moment, the whole sky stretched out over her, fallen on her back to the cold earth.

When Janine returned to the room, with the same precautions, Marcel was not awake. But he whimpered as she got back in bed and a few seconds later sat up suddenly. He spoke and she didn’t understand what he was saying. He got up, turned on the light, which blinded her. He staggered toward the washbasin and drank a long draught from the bottle of mineral water. He was about to slip between the sheets when, one knee on the bed, he looked at her without understanding. She was weeping copiously, unable to restrain herself. “It’s nothing, dear,” she said, “its nothing.”