Robert Louis Stevenson*
Fables - Robert Louis Stevenson - 1901 Edition
Scanned and proofed by David Price
I. - THE PERSONS OF THE TALE.
AFTER the 32nd chapter of TREASURE ISLAND, two of the puppets
strolled out to have a pipe before business should begin again, and
met in an open place not far from the story.
"Good-morning, Cap'n," said the first, with a man-o'-war salute,
and a beaming countenance.
"Ah, Silver!" grunted the other. "You're in a bad way, Silver."
"Now, Cap'n Smollett," remonstrated Silver, "dooty is dooty, as I
knows, and none better; but we're off dooty now; and I can't see no
call to keep up the morality business."
"You're a damned rogue, my man," said the Captain.
"Come, come, Cap'n, be just," returned the other. "There's no call
to be angry with me in earnest. I'm on'y a chara'ter in a sea
story. I don't really exist."
"Well, I don't really exist either," says the Captain, "which seems
to meet that."
"I wouldn't set no limits to what a virtuous chara'ter might
consider argument," responded Silver. "But I'm the villain of this
tale, I am; and speaking as one sea-faring man to another, what I
want to know is, what's the odds?"
"Were you never taught your catechism?" said the Captain. "Don't
you know there's such a thing as an Author?"
"Such a thing as a Author?" returned John, derisively. "And who
better'n me? And the p'int is, if the Author made you, he made
Long John, and he made Hands, and Pew, and George Merry - not that
George is up to much, for he's little more'n a name; and he made
Flint, what there is of him; and he made this here mutiny, you keep
such a work about; and he had Tom Redruth shot; and - well, if
that's a Author, give me Pew!"
"Don't you believe in a future state?" said Smollett. "Do you
think there's nothing but the present story-paper?"
"I don't rightly know for that," said Silver; "and I don't see what
it's got to do with it, anyway. What I know is this: if there is
sich a thing as a Author, I'm his favourite chara'ter. He does me
fathoms better'n he does you - fathoms, he does. And he likes
doing me. He keeps me on deck mostly all the time, crutch and all;
and he leaves you measling in the hold, where nobody can't see you,
nor wants to, and you may lay to that! If there is a Author, by
thunder, but he's on my side, and you may lay to it!"
"I see he's giving you a long rope," said the Captain. "But that
can't change a man's convictions. I know the Author respects me; I
feel it in my bones; when you and I had that talk at the blockhouse
door, who do you think he was for, my man?"
"And don't he respect me?" cried Silver. "Ah, you should 'a' heard
me putting down my mutiny, George Merry and Morgan and that lot, no
longer ago'n last chapter; you'd heard something then! You'd 'a'
seen what the Author thinks o' me! But come now, do you consider
yourself a virtuous chara'ter clean through?"
"God forbid!" said Captain Smollett, solemnly. "I am a man that
tries to do his duty, and makes a mess of it as often as not. I'm
not a very popular man at home, Silver, I'm afraid!" and the
"Ah," says Silver. "Then how about this sequel of yours? Are you
to be Cap'n Smollett just the same as ever, and not very popular at
home, says you? And if so, why, it's TREASURE ISLAND over again,
by thunder; and I'll be Long John, and Pew'll be Pew, and we'll
have another mutiny, as like as not. Or are you to be somebody
else? And if so, why, what the better are you? and what the worse
"Why, look here, my man," returned the Captain, "I can't understand
how this story comes about at all, can I? I can't see how you and
I, who don't exist, should get to speaking here, and smoke our
pipes for all the world like reality? Very well, then, who am I to
pipe up with my opinions? I know the Author's on the side of good;
he tells me so, it runs out of his pen as he writes. Well, that's
all I need to know; I'll take my chance upon the rest."
"It's a fact he seemed to be against George Merry," Silver
admitted, musingly. "But George is little more'n a name at the
best of it," he added, brightening. "And to get into soundings for
once. What is this good? I made a mutiny, and I been a gentleman
o' fortune; well, but by all stories, you ain't no such saint. I'm
a man that keeps company very easy; even by your own account, you
ain't, and to my certain knowledge you're a devil to haze. Which
is which? Which is good, and which bad? Ah, you tell me that!
Here we are in stays, and you may lay to it!"
"We're none of us perfect," replied the Captain. "That's a fact of
religion, my man. All I can say is, I try to do my duty; and if
you try to do yours, I can't compliment you on your success."
"And so you was the judge, was you?" said Silver, derisively.
"I would be both judge and hangman for you, my man, and never turn
a hair," returned the Captain. "But I get beyond that: it mayn't
be sound theology, but it's common sense, that what is good is
useful too - or there and thereabout, for I don't set up to be a
thinker. Now, where would a story go to if there were no virtuous
"If you go to that," replied Silver, "where would a story begin, if
there wasn't no villains?"
"Well, that's pretty much my thought," said Captain Smollett. "The
Author has to get a story; that's what he wants; and to get a
story, and to have a man like the doctor (say) given a proper
chance, he has to put in men like you and Hands. But he's on the
right side; and you mind your eye ! You're not through this story
yet; there's trouble coming for you."
"What'll you bet?" asked John.
"Much I care if there ain't," returned the Captain. "I'm glad
enough to be Alexander Smollett, bad as he is; and I thank my stars
upon my knees that I'm not Silver. But there's the ink-bottle
opening. To quarters!"
And indeed the Author was just then beginning to write the words:
II. - THE SINKING SHIP.
"SIR," said the first lieutenant, bursting into the Captain's
cabin, "the ship is going down."
"Very well, Mr. Spoker," said the Captain; "but that is no reason
for going about half-shaved. Exercise your mind a moment, Mr.
Spoker, and you will see that to the philosophic eye there is
nothing new in our position: the ship (if she is to go down at all)
may be said to have been going down since she was launched."
"She is settling fast," said the first lieutenant, as he returned
"Fast, Mr. Spoker?" asked the Captain. "The expression is a
strange one, for time (if you will think of it) is only relative."
"Sir," said the lieutenant, "I think it is scarcely worth while to
embark in such a discussion when we shall all be in Davy Jones's
Locker in ten minutes."
"By parity of reasoning," returned the Captain gently, "it would
never be worth while to begin any inquiry of importance; the odds
are always overwhelming that we must die before we shall have
brought it to an end. You have not considered, Mr. Spoker, the
situation of man," said the Captain, smiling, and shaking his head.
"I am much more engaged in considering the position of the ship,"
said Mr. Spoker.
"Spoken like a good officer," replied the Captain, laying his hand
on the lieutenant's shoulder.
On deck they found the men had broken into the spirit-room, and
were fast getting drunk.
"My men," said the Captain, "there is no sense in this. The ship
is going down, you will tell me, in ten minutes: well, and what
then? To the philosophic eye, there is nothing new in our
position. All our lives long, we may have been about to break a
blood-vessel or to be struck by lightning, not merely in ten
minutes, but in ten seconds; and that has not prevented us from
eating dinner, no, nor from putting money in the Savings Bank. I
assure you, with my hand on my heart, I fail to comprehend your
The men were already too far gone to pay much heed.
"This is a very painful sight, Mr. Spoker," said the Captain.
"And yet to the philosophic eye, or whatever it is," replied the
first lieutenant, "they may be said to have been getting drunk
since they came aboard."
"I do not know if you always follow my thought, Mr. Spoker,"
returned the Captain gently. "But let us proceed."
In the powder magazine they found an old salt smoking his pipe.
"Good God," cried the Captain, "what are you about?"
"Well, sir," said the old salt, apologetically, "they told me as
she were going down."
"And suppose she were?" said the Captain. "To the philosophic eye,
there would be nothing new in our position. Life, my old shipmate,
life, at any moment and in any view, is as dangerous as a sinking
ship; and yet it is man's handsome fashion to carry umbrellas, to
wear indiarubber over-shoes, to begin vast works, and to conduct
himself in every way as if he might hope to be eternal. And for my
own poor part I should despise the man who, even on board a sinking
ship, should omit to take a pill or to wind up his watch. That, my
friend, would not be the human attitude."
"I beg pardon, sir," said Mr. Spoker. "But what is precisely the
difference between shaving in a sinking ship and smoking in a
"Or doing anything at all in any conceivable circumstances?" cried
the Captain. "Perfectly conclusive; give me a cigar!"
Two minutes afterwards the ship blew up with a glorious detonation.
III - THE TWO MATCHES.
ONE day there was a traveller in the woods in California, in the
dry season, when the Trades were blowing strong. He had ridden a
long way, and he was tired and hungry, and dismounted from his
horse to smoke a pipe. But when he felt in his pocket he found but
two matches. He struck the first, and it would not light.
"Here is a pretty state of things!" said the traveller. "Dying for
a smoke; only one match left; and that certain to miss fire! Was
there ever a creature so unfortunate? And yet," thought the
traveller, "suppose I light this match, and smoke my pipe, and
shake out the dottle here in the grass - the grass might catch on
fire, for it is dry like tinder; and while I snatch out the flames
in front, they might evade and run behind me, and seize upon yon
bush of poison oak; before I could reach it, that would have blazed
up; over the bush I see a pine tree hung with moss; that too would
fly in fire upon the instant to its topmost bough; and the flame of
that long torch - how would the trade wind take and brandish that
through the inflammable forest! I hear this dell roar in a moment
with the joint voice of wind and fire, I see myself gallop for my
soul, and the flying conflagration chase and outflank me through
the hills; I see this pleasant forest burn for days, and the cattle
roasted, and the springs dried up, and the farmer ruined, and his
children cast upon the world. What a world hangs upon this
With that he struck the match, and it missed fire.
"Thank God!" said the traveller, and put his pipe in his pocket.
IV. - THE SICK MAN AND THE FIREMAN.
THERE was once a sick man in a burning house, to whom there entered
"Do not save me," said the sick man. "Save those who are strong."
"Will you kindly tell me why?" inquired the fireman, for he was a
"Nothing could possibly be fairer," said the sick man. "The strong
should be preferred in all cases, because they are of more service
in the world."
The fireman pondered a while, for he was a man of some philosophy.
"Granted," said he at last, as apart of the roof fell in; "but for
the sake of conversation, what would you lay down as the proper
service of the strong?"
"Nothing can possibly be easier," returned the sick man; "the
proper service of the strong is to help the weak."
Again the fireman reflected, for there was nothing hasty about this
excellent creature. "I could forgive you being sick," he said at
last, as a portion of the wall fell out, "but I cannot bear your
being such a fool." And with that he heaved up his fireman's axe,
for he was eminently just, and clove the sick man to the bed.
V. - THE DEVIL AND THE INNKEEPER.
ONCE upon a time the devil stayed at an inn, where no one knew him,
for they were people whose education had been neglected. He was
bent on mischief, and for a time kept everybody by the ears. But
at last the innkeeper set a watch upon the devil and took him in
The innkeeper got a rope's end.
"Now I am going to thrash you," said the innkeeper.
"You have no right to be angry with me," said the devil. "I am
only the devil, and it is my nature to do wrong."
"Is that so?" asked the innkeeper.
"Fact, I assure you," said the devil.
"You really cannot help doing ill?" asked the innkeeper.
"Not in the smallest," said the devil; "it would be useless cruelty
to thrash a thing like me."
"It would indeed," said the innkeeper.
And he made a noose and hanged the devil.
"There!" said the innkeeper.
VI. - THE PENITENT
A MAN met a lad weeping. "What do you weep for?" he asked.
"I am weeping for my sins," said the lad.
"You must have little to do," said the man.
The next day they met again. Once more the lad was weeping. "Why
do you weep now?" asked the man.
"I am weeping because I have nothing to eat," said the lad.
"I thought it would come to that," said the man.
VII. - THE YELLOW PAINT.
IN a certain city there lived a physician who sold yellow paint.
This was of so singular a virtue that whoso was bedaubed with it
from head to heel was set free from the dangers of life, and the
bondage of sin, and the fear of death for ever. So the physician
said in his prospectus; and so said all the citizens in the city;
and there was nothing more urgent in men's hearts than to be
properly painted themselves, and nothing they took more delight in
than to see others painted. There was in the same city a young man
of a very good family but of a somewhat reckless life, who had
reached the age of manhood, and would have nothing to say to the
paint: "To-morrow was soon enough," said he; and when the morrow
came he would still put it off. She might have continued to do
until his death; only, he had a friend of about his own age and
much of his own manners; and this youth, taking a walk in the
public street, with not one fleck of paint upon his body, was
suddenly run down by a water-cart and cut off in the heyday of his
nakedness. This shook the other to the soul; so that I never
beheld a man more earnest to be painted; and on the very same
evening, in the presence of all his family, to appropriate music,
and himself weeping aloud, he received three complete coats and a
touch of varnish on the top. The physician (who was himself
affected even to tears) protested he had never done a job so
Some two months afterwards, the young man was carried on a
stretcher to the physician's house.
"What is the meaning of this?" he cried, as soon as the door was
opened. "I was to be set free from all the dangers of life; and
here have I been run down by that self-same water-cart, and my leg
"Dear me!" said the physician. "This is very sad. But I perceive
I must explain to you the action of my paint. A broken bone is a
mighty small affair at the worst of it; and it belongs to a class
of accident to which my paint is quite inapplicable. Sin, my dear
young friend, sin is the sole calamity that a wise man should
apprehend; it is against sin that I have fitted you out; and when
you come to be tempted, you will give me news of my paint."
"Oh!" said the young man, "I did not understand that, and it seems
rather disappointing. But I have no doubt all is for the best; and
in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged to you if you will set my
"That is none of my business," said the physician; "but if your
bearers will carry you round the corner to the surgeon's, I feel
sure he will afford relief."
Some three years later, the young man came running to the
physician's house in a great perturbation. "What is the meaning of
this?" he cried. "Here was I to be set free from the bondage of
sin; and I have just committed forgery, arson and murder."
"Dear me," said the physician. "This is very serious. Off with
your clothes at once." And as soon as the young man had stripped,
he examined him from head to foot. "No," he cried with great
relief, "there is not a flake broken. Cheer up, my young friend,
your paint is as good as new."
"Good God!" cried the young man, "and what then can be the use of
"Why," said the physician, "I perceive I must explain to you the
nature of the action of my paint. It does not exactly prevent sin;
it extenuates instead the painful consequences. It is not so much
for this world, as for the next; it is not against life; in short,
it is against death that I have fitted you out. And when you come
to die, you will give me news of my paint."
"Oh!" cried the young man, "I had not understood that, and it seems
a little disappointing. But there is no doubt all is for the best:
and in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged if you will help me to
undo the evil I have brought on innocent persons."
"That is none of my business," said the physician; "but if you will
go round the corner to the police office, I feel sure it will
afford you relief to give yourself up."
Six weeks later, the physician was called to the town gaol.
"What is the meaning of this?" cried the young man. "Here am I
literally crusted with your paint; and I have broken my leg, and
committed all the crimes in the calendar, and must be hanged to-
morrow; and am in the meanwhile in a fear so extreme that I lack
words to picture it."
"Dear me," said the physician. "This is really amazing. Well,
well; perhaps, if you had not been painted, you would have been
more frightened still."
VIII. - THE HOUSE OF ELD.
So soon as the child began to speak, the gyve was riveted; and the
boys and girls limped about their play like convicts. Doubtless it
was more pitiable to see and more painful to bear in youth; but
even the grown folk, besides being very unhandy on their feet, were
often sick with ulcers.
About the time when Jack was ten years old, many strangers began to
journey through that country. These he beheld going lightly by on
the long roads, and the thing amazed him. "I wonder how it comes,"
he asked, "that all these strangers are so quick afoot, and we must
drag about our fetter?"
"My dear boy," said his uncle, the catechist, "do not complain
about your fetter, for it is the only thing that makes life worth
living. None are happy, none are good, none are respectable, that
are not gyved like us. And I must tell you, besides, it is very
dangerous talk. If you grumble of your iron, you will have no
luck; if ever you take it off, you will be instantly smitten by a
"Are there no thunderbolts for these strangers?" asked Jack.
"Jupiter is longsuffering to the benighted," returned the
"Upon my word, I could wish I had been less fortunate," said Jack.
"For if I had been born benighted, I might now be going free; and
it cannot be denied the iron is inconvenient, and the ulcer hurts."
"Ah!" cried his uncle, "do not envy the heathen! Theirs is a sad
lot! Ah, poor souls, if they but knew the joys of being fettered!
Poor souls, my heart yearns for them. But the truth is they are
vile, odious, insolent, ill-conditioned, stinking brutes, not truly
human - for what is a man without a fetter? - and you cannot be too
particular not to touch or speak with them."
After this talk, the child would never pass one of the unfettered
on the road but what he spat at him and called him names, which was
the practice of the children in that part.
It chanced one day, when he was fifteen, he went into the woods,
and the ulcer pained him. It was a fair day, with a blue sky; all
the birds were singing; but Jack nursed his foot. Presently,
another song began; it sounded like the singing of a person, only
far more gay; at the same time there was a beating on the earth.
Jack put aside the leaves; and there was a lad of his own village,
leaping, and dancing and singing to himself in a green dell; and on
the grass beside him lay the dancer's iron.
"Oh!" cried Jack, "you have your fetter off!"
"For God's sake, don't tell your uncle!" cried the lad.
"If you fear my uncle," returned Jack "why do you not fear the
"That is only an old wives' tale," said the other. "It is only
told to children. Scores of us come here among the woods and dance
for nights together, and are none the worse."
This put Jack in a thousand new thoughts. He was a grave lad; he
had no mind to dance himself; he wore his fetter manfully, and
tended his ulcer without complaint. But he loved the less to be
deceived or to see others cheated. He began to lie in wait for
heathen travellers, at covert parts of the road, and in the dusk of
the day, so that he might speak with them unseen; and these were
greatly taken with their wayside questioner, and told him things of
weight. The wearing of gyves (they said) was no command of
Jupiter's. It was the contrivance of a white-faced thing, a
sorcerer, that dwelt in that country in the Wood of Eld. He was
one like Glaucus that could change his shape, yet he could be
always told; for when he was crossed, he gobbled like a turkey. He
had three lives; but the third smiting would make an end of him
indeed; and with that his house of sorcery would vanish, the gyves
fall, and the villagers take hands and dance like children.
"And in your country?" Jack would ask.
But at this the travellers, with one accord, would put him off;
until Jack began to suppose there was no land entirely happy. Or,
if there were, it must be one that kept its folk at home; which was
But the case of the gyves weighed upon him. The sight of the
children limping stuck in his eyes; the groans of such as dressed
their ulcers haunted him. And it came at last in his mind that he
was born to free them.
There was in that village a sword of heavenly forgery, beaten upon
Vulcan's anvil. It was never used but in the temple, and then the
flat of it only; and it hung on a nail by the catechist's chimney.
Early one night, Jack rose, and took the sword, and was gone out of
the house and the village in the darkness.
All night he walked at a venture; and when day came, he met
strangers going to the fields. Then he asked after the Wood of Eld
and the house of sorcery; and one said north, and one south; until
Jack saw that they deceived him. So then, when he asked his way of
any man, he showed the bright sword naked; and at that the gyve on
the man's ankle rang, and answered in his stead; and the word was
still STRAIGHT ON. But the man, when his gyve spoke, spat and
struck at Jack, and threw stones at him as he went away; so that
his head was broken.
So he came to that wood, and entered in, and he was aware of a
house in a low place, where funguses grew, and the trees met, and
the steaming of the marsh arose about it like a smoke. It was a
fine house, and a very rambling; some parts of it were ancient like
the hills, and some but of yesterday, and none finished; and all
the ends of it were open, so that you could go in from every side.
Yet it was in good repair, and all the chimneys smoked.
Jack went in through the gable; and there was one room after
another, all bare, but all furnished in part, so that a man could
dwell there; and in each there was a fire burning, where a man
could warm himself, and a table spread where he might eat. But
Jack saw nowhere any living creature; only the bodies of some
"This is a hospitable house," said Jack; "but the ground must be
quaggy underneath, for at every step the building quakes."
He had gone some time in the house, when he began to be hungry.
Then he looked at the food, and at first he was afraid; but he
bared the sword, and by the shining of the sword, it seemed the
food was honest. So he took the courage to sit down and eat, and
he was refreshed in mind and body.
"This is strange," thought he, "that in the house of sorcery there
should be food so wholesome."
As he was yet eating, there came into that room the appearance of
his uncle, and Jack was afraid because he had taken the sword. But
his uncle was never more kind, and sat down to meat with him, and
praised him because he had taken the sword. Never had these two
been more pleasantly together, and Jack was full of love to the
"It was very well done," said his uncle, "to take the sword and
come yourself into the House of Eld; a good thought and a brave
deed. But now you are satisfied; and we may go home to dinner arm
"Oh, dear, no!" said Jack. "I am not satisfied yet."
"How!" cried his uncle. "Are you not warmed by the fire? Does not
this food sustain you?"
"I see the food to be wholesome," said Jack; "and still it is no
proof that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg."
Now at this the appearance of his uncle gobbled like a turkey.
"Jupiter!" cried Jack, "is this the sorcerer?"
His hand held back and his heart failed him for the love he bore
his uncle; but he heaved up the sword and smote the appearance on
the head; and it cried out aloud with the voice of his uncle; and
fell to the ground; and a little bloodless white thing fled from
The cry rang in Jack's ears, and his knees smote together, and
conscience cried upon him; and yet he was strengthened, and there
woke in his bones the lust of that enchanter's blood. "If the
gyves are to fall," said he, "I must go through with this, and when
I get home I shall find my uncle dancing."
So he went on after the bloodless thing. In the way, he met the
appearance of his father; and his father was incensed, and railed
upon him, and called to him upon his duty, and bade him be home,
while there was yet time. "For you can still," said he, "be home
by sunset; and then all will be forgiven."
"God knows," said Jack, "I fear your anger; but yet your anger does
not prove that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg."
And at that the appearance of his father gobbled like a turkey.
"Ah, heaven," cried Jack, "the sorcerer again!"
The blood ran backward in his body and his joints rebelled against
him for the love he bore his father; but he heaved up the sword,
and plunged it in the heart of the appearance; and the appearance
cried out aloud with the voice of his father; and fell to the
ground; and a little bloodless white thing fled from the room.
The cry rang in Jack's ears, and his soul was darkened; but now
rage came to him. "I have done what I dare not think upon," said
he. "I will go to an end with it, or perish. And when I get home,
I pray God this may be a dream, and I may find my father dancing."
So he went on after the bloodless thing that had escaped; and in
the way he met the appearance of his mother, and she wept. "What
have you done?" she cried. "What is this that you have done? Oh,
come home (where you may be by bedtime) ere you do more ill to me
and mine; for it is enough to smite my brother and your father."
"Dear mother, it is not these that I have smitten," said Jack; "it
was but the enchanter in their shape. And even if I had, it would
not prove that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg."
And at this the appearance gobbled like a turkey.
He never knew how he did that; but he swung the sword on the one
side, and clove the appearance through the midst; and it cried out
aloud with the voice of his mother; and fell to the ground; and
with the fall of it, the house was gone from over Jack's head, and
he stood alone in the woods, and the gyve was loosened from his
"Well," said he, "the enchanter is now dead, and the fetter gone."
But the cries rang in his soul, and the day was like night to him.
"This has been a sore business," said he. "Let me get forth out of
the wood, and see the good that I have done to others."
He thought to leave the fetter where it lay, but when he turned to
go, his mind was otherwise. So he stooped and put the gyve in his
bosom; and the rough iron galled him as he went, and his bosom
Now when he was forth of the wood upon the highway, he met folk
returning from the field; and those he met had no fetter on the
right leg, but, behold! they had one upon the left. Jack asked
them what it signified; and they said, "that was the new wear, for
the old was found to be a superstition". Then he looked at them
nearly; and there was a new ulcer on the left ankle, and the old
one on the right was not yet healed.
"Now, may God forgive me!" cried Jack. "I would I were well home."
And when he was home, there lay his uncle smitten on the head, and
his father pierced through the heart, and his mother cloven through
the midst. And he sat in the lone house and wept beside the
Old is the tree and the fruit good,
Very old and thick the wood.
Woodman, is your courage stout?
Beware! the root is wrapped about
Your mother's heart, your father's bones;
And like the mandrake comes with groans.
IX - THE FOUR REFORMERS.
FOUR reformers met under a bramble bush. They were all agreed the
world must be changed. "We must abolish property," said one.
"We must abolish marriage," said the second.
"We must abolish God," said the third.
"I wish we could abolish work," said the fourth.
"Do not let us get beyond practical politics," said the first.
"The first thing is to reduce men to a common level."
"The first thing," said the second, "is to give freedom to the
"The first thing," said the third, "is to find out how to do it."
"The first step," said the first, "is to abolish the Bible."
"The first thing," said the second, "is to abolish the laws."
"The first thing," said the third, "is to abolish mankind."
X. - THE MAN AND HIS FRIEND.
A MAN quarrelled with his friend.
"I have been much deceived in you," said the man.
And the friend made a face at him and went away.
A little after, they both died, and came together before the great
white Justice of the Peace. It began to look black for the friend,
but the man for a while had a clear character and was getting in
"I find here some record of a quarrel," said the justice, looking
in his notes. "Which of you was in the wrong?"
"He was," said the man. "He spoke ill of me behind my back."
"Did he so?" said the justice. "And pray how did he speak about
"Oh, he had always a nasty tongue," said the man.
"And you chose him for your friend?" cried the justice. "My good
fellow, we have no use here for fools."
So the man was cast in the pit, and the friend laughed out aloud in
the dark and remained to be tried on other charges.
XI. - THE READER.
"I NEVER read such an impious book," said the reader, throwing it
on the floor.
"You need not hurt me," said the book; "you will only get less for
me second hand, and I did not write myself."
"That is true," said the reader. "My quarrel is with your author."
"Ah, well," said the book, "you need not buy his rant."
"That is true," said the reader. "But I thought him such a
"I find him so," said the book.
"You must be differently made from me," said the reader.
"Let me tell you a fable," said the book. "There were two men
wrecked upon a desert island; one of them made believe he was at
home, the other admitted - "
"Oh, I know your kind of fable," said the reader. "They both
"And so they did," said the book. "No doubt of that. And
"That is true," said the reader. "Push it a little further for
this once. And when they were all dead?"
"They were in God's hands, the same as before," said the book.
"Not much to boast of, by your account," cried the reader.
"Who is impious now?" said the book.
And the reader put him on the fire.
The coward crouches from the rod,
And loathes the iron face of God.
XII. - THE CITIZEN AND THE TRAVELLER.
"LOOK round you," said the citizen. "This is the largest market in
"Oh, surely not," said the traveller.
"Well, perhaps not the largest," said the citizen, "but much the
"You are certainly wrong there," said the traveller. "I can tell
you . . ."
They buried the stranger at the dusk.
XIII. - THE DISTINGUISHED STRANGER.
ONCE upon a time there came to this earth a visitor from a
neighbouring planet. And he was met at the place of his descent by
a great philosopher, who was to show him everything.
First of all they came through a wood, and the stranger looked upon
the trees. "Whom have we here?" said he.
"These are only vegetables," said the philosopher. "They are
alive, but not at all interesting."
"I don't know about that," said the stranger. "They seem to have
very good manners. Do they never speak?"
"They lack the gift," said the philosopher.
"Yet I think I hear them sing," said the other.
"That is only the wind among the leaves," said the philosopher. "I
will explain to you the theory of winds: it is very interesting."
"Well," said the stranger, "I wish I knew what they are thinking."
"They cannot think," said the philosopher.
"I don't know about that," returned the stranger: and then, laying
his hand upon a trunk: "I like these people," said he.
"They are not people at all," said the philosopher. "Come along."
Next they came through a meadow where there were cows.
"These are very dirty people," said the stranger.
"They are not people at all," said the philosopher; and he
explained what a cow is in scientific words which I have forgotten.
"That is all one to me," said the stranger. "But why do they never
"Because they are graminivorous," said the philosopher; "and to
live upon grass, which is not highly nutritious, requires so close
an attention to business that they have no time to think, or speak,
or look at the scenery, or keep themselves clean."
"Well," said the stranger, "that is one way to live, no doubt. But
I prefer the people with the green heads."
Next they came into a city, and the streets were full of men and
"These are very odd people," said the stranger.
"They are the people of the greatest nation in the world," said the
"Are they indeed?" said the stranger. "They scarcely look so."
XIV. - THE CART-HORSES AND THE SADDLE-HORSE.
Two cart-horses, a gelding and a mare, were brought to Samoa, and
put in the same field with a saddle-horse to run free on the
island. They were rather afraid to go near him, for they saw he
was a saddle-horse, and supposed he would not speak to them. Now
the saddle-horse had never seen creatures so big. "These must be
great chiefs," thought he, and he approached them civilly. "Lady
and gentleman," said he, "I understand you are from the colonies.
I offer you my affectionate compliments, and make you heartily
welcome to the islands."
The colonials looked at him askance, and consulted with each other.
"Who can he be?" said the gelding.
"He seems suspiciously civil," said the mare.
"I do not think he can be much account," said the gelding.
"Depend upon it he is only a Kanaka," said the mare.
Then they turned to him.
"Go to the devil!" said the gelding.
"I wonder at your impudence, speaking to persons of our quality!"
cried the mare.
The saddle-horse went away by himself. "I was right," said he,
"they are great chiefs."
XV - THE TADPOLE AND THE FROG.
"BE ashamed of yourself," said the frog.
"When I was a tadpole, I had no tail."
"Just what I thought!" said the tadpole.
"You never were a tadpole."
XVI. - SOMETHING IN IT.
THE natives told him many tales. In particular, they warned him of
the house of yellow reeds tied with black sinnet, how any one who
touched it became instantly the prey of Akaanga, and was handed on
to him by Miru the ruddy, and hocussed with the kava of the dead,
and baked in the ovens and eaten by the eaters of the dead.
"There is nothing in it," said the missionary.
There was a bay upon that island, a very fair bay to look upon;
but, by the native saying, it was death to bathe there. "There is
nothing in that," said the missionary; and he came to the bay, and
went swimming. Presently an eddy took him and bore him towards the
reef. "Oho!" thought the missionary, "it seems there is something
in it after all." And he swam the harder, but the eddy carried him
away. "I do not care about this eddy," said the missionary; and
even as he said it, he was aware of a house raised on piles above
the sea; it was built of yellow reeds, one reed joined with
another, and the whole bound with black sinnet; a ladder led to the
door, and all about the house hung calabashes. He had never seen
such a house, nor yet such calabashes; and the eddy set for the
ladder. "This is singular," said the missionary, "but there can be
nothing in it." And he laid hold of the ladder and went up. It
was a fine house; but there was no man there; and when the
missionary looked back he saw no island, only the heaving of the
sea. "It is strange about the island," said the missionary, "but
who's afraid? my stories are the true ones." And he laid hold of a
calabash, for he was one that loved curiosities. Now he had no
sooner laid hand upon the calabash than that which he handled, and
that which he saw and stood on, burst like a bubble and was gone;
and night closed upon him, and the waters, and the meshes of the
net; and he wallowed there like a fish.
"A body would think there was something in this," said the
missionary. "But if these tales are true, I wonder what about my
Now the flaming of Akaanga's torch drew near in the night; and the
misshapen hands groped in the meshes of the net; and they took the
missionary between the finger and the thumb, and bore him dripping
in the night and silence to the place of the ovens of Miru. And
there was Miru, ruddy in the glow of the ovens; and there sat her
four daughters, and made the kava of the dead; and there sat the
comers out of the islands of the living, dripping and lamenting.
This was a dread place to reach for any of the sons of men. But of
all who ever came there, the missionary was the most concerned;
and, to make things worse, the person next him was a convert of his
"Aha," said the convert, "so you are here like your neighbours?
And how about all your stories?"
"It seems," said the missionary, with bursting tears, "that there
was nothing in them."
By this the kava of the dead was ready, and the daughters of Miru
began to intone in the old manner of singing. "Gone are the green
islands and the bright sea, the sun and the moon and the forty
million stars, and life and love and hope. Henceforth is no more,
only to sit in the night and silence, and see your friends
devoured; for life is a deceit, and the bandage is taken from your
Now when the singing was done, one of the daughters came with the
bowl. Desire of that kava rose in the missionary's bosom; he
lusted for it like a swimmer for the land, or a bridegroom for his
bride; and he reached out his hand, and took the bowl, and would
have drunk. And then he remembered, and put it back.
"Drink!" sang the daughter of Miru.
"There is no kava like the kava of the dead, and to drink of it
once is the reward of living."
"I thank you. It smells excellent," said the missionary. "But I
am a blue-ribbon man myself; and though I am aware there is a
difference of opinion even in our own confession, I have always
held kava to be excluded."
"What!" cried the convert. "Are you going to respect a taboo at a
time like this? And you were always so opposed to taboos when you
"To other people's," said the missionary. "Never to my own."
"But yours have all proved wrong," said the convert.
"It looks like it," said the missionary, "and I can't help that.
No reason why I should break my word."
"I never heard the like of this!" cried the daughter of Miru.
"Pray, what do you expect to gain?"
"That is not the point," said the missionary. "I took this pledge
for others, I am not going to break it for myself."
The daughter of Miru was puzzled; she came and told her mother, and
Miru was vexed; and they went and told Akaanga. "I don't know what
to do about this," said Akaanga; and he came and reasoned with the
"But there IS such a thing as right and wrong," said the
missionary; "and your ovens cannot alter that."
"Give the kava to the rest," said Akaanga to the daughters of Miru.
"I must get rid of this sea-lawyer instantly, or worse will come of
The next moment the missionary came up in the midst of the sea, and
there before him were the palm trees of the island. He swam to the
shore gladly, and landed. Much matter of thought was in that
"I seem to have been misinformed upon some points," said he.
"Perhaps there is not much in it, as I supposed; but there is
something in it after all. Let me be glad of that."
And he rang the bell for service.
The sticks break, the stones crumble,
The eternal altars tilt and tumble,
Sanctions and tales dislimn like mist
About the amazed evangelist.
He stands unshook from age to youth
Upon one pin-point of the truth.
XVII. - FAITH, HALF FAITH AND NO FAITH AT ALL.
IN the ancient days there went three men upon pilgrimage; one was a
priest, and one was a virtuous person, and the third was an old
rover with his axe.
As they went, the priest spoke about the grounds of faith.
"We find the proofs of our religion in the works of nature," said
he, and beat his breast.
"That is true," said the virtuous person.
"The peacock has a scrannel voice," said the priest, "as has been
laid down always in our books. How cheering!" he cried, in a voice
like one that wept. "How comforting!"
"I require no such proofs," said the virtuous person.
"Then you have no reasonable faith," said the priest.
"Great is the right, and shall prevail!" cried the virtuous person.
"There is loyalty in my soul; be sure, there is loyalty in the mind
"These are but playings upon words," returned the priest. "A
sackful of such trash is nothing to the peacock."
Just then they passed a country farm, where there was a peacock
seated on a rail; and the bird opened its mouth and sang with the
voice of a nightingale.
"Where are you now?" asked the virtuous person. "And yet this
shakes not me! Great is the truth, and shall prevail!"
"The devil fly away with that peacock!" said the priest; and he was
downcast for a mile or two.
But presently they came to a shrine, where a Fakeer performed
"Ah!" said the priest, "here are the true grounds of faith. The
peacock was but an adminicle. This is the base of our religion."
And he beat upon his breast, and groaned like one with colic.
"Now to me," said the virtuous person, "all this is as little to
the purpose as the peacock. I believe because I see the right is
great and must prevail; and this Fakeer might carry on with his
conjuring tricks till doomsday, and it would not play bluff upon a
man like me."
Now at this the Fakeer was so much incensed that his hand trembled;
and, lo! in the midst of a miracle the cards fell from up his
"Where are you now?" asked the virtuous person. "And yet it shakes
"The devil fly away with the Fakeer!" cried the priest. "I really
do not see the good of going on with this pilgrimage."
"Cheer up!" cried the virtuous person. "Great is the right, and
"If you are quite sure it will prevail," says the priest.
"I pledge my word for that," said the virtuous person.
So the other began to go on again with a better heart.
At last one came running, and told them all was lost: that the
powers of darkness had besieged the Heavenly Mansions, that Odin
was to die, and evil triumph.
"I have been grossly deceived," cried the virtuous person.
"All is lost now," said the priest.
"I wonder if it is too late to make it up with the devil?" said the
"Oh, I hope not," said the priest. "And at any rate we can but
try. But what are you doing with your axe?" says he to the rover.
"I am off to die with Odin," said the rover.
XVIII. - THE TOUCHSTONE.
THE King was a man that stood well before the world; his smile was
sweet as clover, but his soul withinsides was as little as a pea.
He had two sons; and the younger son was a boy after his heart, but
the elder was one whom he feared. It befell one morning that the
drum sounded in the dun before it was yet day; and the King rode
with his two sons, and a brave array behind them. They rode two
hours, and came to the foot of a brown mountain that was very
"Where do we ride?" said the elder son.
"Across this brown mountain." said the King, and smiled to himself.
"My father knows what he is doing," said the younger son.
And they rode two hours more, and came to the sides of a black
river that was wondrous deep.
"And where do we ride?" asked the elder son.
"Over this black river," said the King, and smiled to himself.
"My father knows what he is doing," said the younger son.
And they rode all that day, and about the time of the sunsetting
came to the side of a lake, where was a great dun.
"It is here we ride," said the King; "to a King's house, and a
priest's, and a house where you will learn much."
At the gates of the dun, the King who was a priest met them; and he
was a grave man, and beside him stood his daughter, and she was as
fair as the morn, and one that smiled and looked down.
"These are my two sons," said the first King.
"And here is my daughter," said the King who was a priest.
"She is a wonderful fine maid," said the first King, "and I like
her manner of smiling,"
"They are wonderful well-grown lads," said the second, "and I like
And then the two Kings looked at each other, and said, "The thing
may come about".
And in the meanwhile the two lads looked upon the maid, and the one
grew pale and the other red; and the maid looked upon the ground
"Here is the maid that I shall marry," said the elder. "For I
think she smiled upon me."
But the younger plucked his father by the sleeve. "Father," said
he, "a word in your ear. If I find favour in your sight, might not
I wed this maid, for I think she smiles upon me?"
"A word in yours," said the King his father. "Waiting is good
hunting, and when the teeth are shut the tongue is at home."
Now they were come into the dun, and feasted; and this was a great
house, so that the lads were astonished; and the King that was a
priest sat at the end of the board and was silent, so that the lads
were filled with reverence; and the maid served them smiling with
downcast eyes, so that their hearts were enlarged.
Before it was day, the elder son arose, and he found the maid at
her weaving, for she was a diligent girl. "Maid," quoth he, "I
would fain marry you."
"You must speak with my father," said she, and she looked upon the
ground smiling, and became like the rose.
"Her heart is with me," said the elder son, and he went down to the
lake and sang.
A little after came the younger son. "Maid," quoth he, "if our
fathers were agreed, I would like well to marry you."
"You can speak to my father," said she; and looked upon the ground,
and smiled and grew like the rose.
"She is a dutiful daughter," said the younger son, "she will make
an obedient wife." And then he thought, "What shall I do?" and he
remembered the King her father was a priest; so he went into the
temple, and sacrificed a weasel and a hare.
Presently the news got about; and the two lads and the first King
were called into the presence of the King who was a priest, where
he sat upon the high seat.
"Little I reck of gear," said the King who was a priest, "and
little of power. For we live here among the shadow of things, and
the heart is sick of seeing them. And we stay here in the wind
like raiment drying, and the heart is weary of the wind. But one
thing I love, and that is truth; and for one thing will I give my
daughter, and that is the trial stone. For in the light of that
stone the seeming goes, and the being shows, and all things besides
are worthless. Therefore, lads, if ye would wed my daughter, out
foot, and bring me the stone of touch, for that is the price of
"A word in your ear," said the younger son to his father. "I think
we do very well without this stone."
"A word in yours," said the father. "I am of your way of thinking;
but when the teeth are shut the tongue is at home." And he smiled
to the King that was a priest.
But the elder son got to his feet, and called the King that was a
priest by the name of father. "For whether I marry the maid or no,
I will call you by that word for the love of your wisdom; and even
now I will ride forth and search the world for the stone of touch."
So he said farewell, and rode into the world.
"I think I will go, too," said the younger son, "if I can have your
leave. For my heart goes out to the maid."
"You will ride home with me," said his father.
So they rode home, and when they came to the dun, the King had his
son into his treasury. "Here," said he, "is the touchstone which
shows truth; for there is no truth but plain truth; and if you will
look in this, you will see yourself as you are."
And the younger son looked in it, and saw his face as it were the
face of a beardless youth, and he was well enough pleased; for the
thing was a piece of a mirror.
"Here is no such great thing to make a work about," said he; "but
if it will get me the maid I shall never complain. But what a fool
is my brother to ride into the world, and the thing all the while
So they rode back to the other dun, and showed the mirror to the
King that was a priest; and when he had looked in it, and seen
himself like a King, and his house like a King's house, and all
things like themselves, he cried out and blessed God. "For now I
know," said he, "there is no truth but the plain truth; and I am a
King indeed, although my heart misgave me." And he pulled down his
temple, and built a new one; and then the younger son was married
to the maid.
In the meantime the elder son rode into the world to find the
touchstone of the trial of truth; and whenever he came to a place
of habitation, he would ask the men if they had heard of it. And
in every place the men answered: "Not only have we heard of it, but
we alone, of all men, possess the thing itself, and it hangs in the
side of our chimney to this day". Then would the elder son be
glad, and beg for a sight of it. And sometimes it would be a piece
of mirror, that showed the seeming of things; and then he would
say, "This can never be, for there should be more than seeming".
And sometimes it would be a lump of coal, which showed nothing; and
then he would say, "This can never be, for at least there is the
seeming". And sometimes it would be a touchstone indeed, beautiful
in hue, adorned with polishing, the light inhabiting its sides; and
when he found this, he would beg the thing, and the persons of that
place would give it him, for all men were very generous of that
gift; so that at the last he had his wallet full of them, and they
chinked together when he rode; and when he halted by the side of
the way he would take them out and try them, till his head turned
like the sails upon a windmill.
"A murrain upon this business!" said the elder son, "for I perceive
no end to it. Here I have the red, and here the blue and the
green; and to me they seem all excellent, and yet shame each other.
A murrain on the trade! If it were not for the King that is a
priest and whom I have called my father, and if it were not for the
fair maid of the dun that makes my mouth to sing and my heart
enlarge, I would even tumble them all into the salt sea, and go
home and be a King like other folk."
But he was like the hunter that has seen a stag upon a mountain, so
that the night may fall, and the fire be kindled, and the lights
shine in his house; but desire of that stag is single in his bosom.
Now after many years the elder son came upon the sides of the salt
sea; and it was night, and a savage place, and the clamour of the
sea was loud. There he was aware of a house, and a man that sat
there by the light of a candle, for he had no fire. Now the elder
son came in to him, and the man gave him water to drink, for he had
no bread; and wagged his head when he was spoken to, for he had no
"Have you the touchstone of truth?" asked the elder son and when
the man had wagged his head, "I might have known that," cried the
elder son. "I have here a wallet full of them!" And with that he
laughed, although his heart was weary.
And with that the man laughed too, and with the fuff of his
laughter the candle went out.
"Sleep," said the man, "for now I think you have come far enough;
and your quest is ended, and my candle is out."
Now when the morning came, the man gave him a clear pebble in his
hand, and it had no beauty and no colour; and the elder son looked
upon it scornfully and shook his head; and he went away, for it
seemed a small affair to him.
All that day he rode, and his mind was quiet, and the desire of the
chase allayed. "How if this poor pebble be the touchstone, after
all?" said he: and he got down from his horse, and emptied forth
his wallet by the side of the way. Now, in the light of each
other, all the touchstones lost their hue and fire, and withered
like stars at morning; but in the light of the pebble, their beauty
remained, only the pebble was the most bright. And the elder son
smote upon his brow. "How if this be the truth?" he cried, "that
all are a little true?" And he took the pebble, and turned its
light upon the heavens, and they deepened about him like the pit;
and he turned it on the hills, and the hills were cold and rugged,
but life ran in their sides so that his own life bounded; and he
turned it on the dust, and he beheld the dust with joy and terror;
and he turned it on himself, and kneeled down and prayed.
"Now, thanks be to God," said the elder son, "I have found the
touchstone; and now I may turn my reins, and ride home to the King
and to the maid of the dun that makes my mouth to sing and my heart
Now when he came to the dun, he saw children playing by the gate
where the King had met him in the old days; and this stayed his
pleasure, for he thought in his heart, "It is here my children
should be playing". And when he came into the hall, there was his
brother on the high seat and the maid beside him; and at that his
anger rose, for he thought in his heart, "It is I that should be
sitting there, and the maid beside me".
"Who are you?" said his brother. "And what make you in the dun?"
"I am your elder brother," he replied. "And I am come to marry the
maid, for I have brought the touchstone of truth."
Then the younger brother laughed aloud. "Why," said he, "I found
the touchstone years ago, and married the maid, and there are our
children playing at the gate."
Now at this the elder brother grew as gray as the dawn. "I pray
you have dealt justly," said he, "for I perceive my life is lost."
"Justly?" quoth the younger brother. "It becomes you ill, that are
a restless man and a runagate, to doubt my justice, or the King my
father's, that are sedentary folk and known in the land."
"Nay," said the elder brother, "you have all else, have patience
also; and suffer me to say the world is full of touchstones, and it
appears not easily which is true."
"I have no shame of mine," said the younger brother. "There it is,
and look in it."
So the elder brother looked in the mirror, and he was sore amazed;
for he was an old man, and his hair was white upon his head; and he
sat down in the hall and wept aloud.
"Now," said the younger brother, "see what a fool's part you have
played, that ran over all the world to seek what was lying in our
father's treasury, and came back an old carle for the dogs to bark
at, and without chick or child. And I that was dutiful and wise
sit here crowned with virtues and pleasures, and happy in the light
of my hearth."
"Methinks you have a cruel tongue," said the elder brother; and he
pulled out the clear pebble and turned its light on his brother;
and behold the man was lying, his soul was shrunk into the
smallness of a pea, and his heart was a bag of little fears like
scorpions, and love was dead in his bosom. And at that the elder
brother cried out aloud, and turned the light of the pebble on the
maid, and, lo! she was but a mask of a woman, and withinside's she
was quite dead, and she smiled as a clock ticks, and knew not
"Oh, well," said the elder brother, "I perceive there is both good
and bad. So fare ye all as well as ye may in the dun; but I will
go forth into the world with my pebble in my pocket."
XIX. - THE POOR THING.
THERE was a man in the islands who fished for his bare bellyful,
and took his life in his hands to go forth upon the sea between
four planks. But though he had much ado, he was merry of heart;
and the gulls heard him laugh when the spray met him. And though
he had little lore, he was sound of spirit; and when the fish came
to his hook in the mid-waters, he blessed God without weighing. He
was bitter poor in goods and bitter ugly of countenance, and he had
It fell in the time of the fishing that the man awoke in his house
about the midst of the afternoon. The fire burned in the midst,
and the smoke went up and the sun came down by the chimney. And
the man was aware of the likeness of one that warmed his hands at
the red peats.
"I greet you," said the man, "in the name of God."
"I greet you," said he that warmed his hands, "but not in the name
of God, for I am none of His; nor in the name of Hell, for I am not
of Hell. For I am but a bloodless thing, less than wind and
lighter than a sound, and the wind goes through me like a net, and
I am broken by a sound and shaken by the cold."
"Be plain with me," said the man, "and tell me your name and of
"My name," quoth the other, "is not yet named, and my nature not
yet sure. For I am part of a man; and I was a part of your
fathers, and went out to fish and fight with them in the ancient
days. But now is my turn not yet come; and I wait until you have a
wife, and then shall I be in your son, and a brave part of him,
rejoicing manfully to launch the boat into the surf, skilful to
direct the helm, and a man of might where the ring closes and the
blows are going."
"This is a marvellous thing to hear," said the man; "and if you are
indeed to be my son, I fear it will go ill with you; for I am
bitter poor in goods and bitter ugly in face, and I shall never get
me a wife if I live to the age of eagles."
"All this hate I come to remedy, my Father," said the Poor Thing;
"for we must go this night to the little isle of sheep, where our
fathers lie in the dead-cairn, and to-morrow to the Earl's Hall,
and there shall you find a wife by my providing."
So the man rose and put forth his boat at the time of the
sunsetting; and the Poor Thing sat in the prow, and the spray blew
through his bones like snow, and the wind whistled in his teeth,
and the boat dipped not with the weight of him.
"I am fearful to see you, my son," said the man. " For methinks
you are no thing of God."
"It is only the wind that whistles in my teeth," said the Poor
Thing, "and there is no life in me to keep it out."
So they came to the little isle of sheep, where the surf burst all
about it in the midst of the sea, and it was all green with
bracken, and all wet with dew, and the moon enlightened it. They
ran the boat into a cove, and set foot to land; and the man came
heavily behind among the rocks in the deepness of the bracken, but
the Poor Thing went before him like a smoke in the light of the
moon. So they came to the dead-cairn, and they laid their ears to
the stones; and the dead complained withinsides like a swarm of
bees: "Time was that marrow was in our bones, and strength in our
sinews; and the thoughts of our head were clothed upon with acts
and the words of men. But now are we broken in sunder, and the
bonds of our bones are loosed, and our thoughts lie in the dust."
Then said the Poor Thing: "Charge them that they give you the
virtue they withheld".
And the man said: "Bones of my fathers, greeting! for I am sprung
of your loins. And now, behold, I break open the piled stones of
your cairn, and I let in the noon between your ribs. Count it well
done, for it was to be; and give me what I come seeking in the name
of blood and in the name of God."
And the spirits of the dead stirred in the cairn like ants; and
they spoke: "You have broken the roof of our cairn and let in the
noon between our ribs; and you have the strength of the still-
living. But what virtue have we? what power? or what jewel here in
the dust with us, that any living man should covet or receive it?
for we are less than nothing. But we tell you one thing, speaking
with many voices like bees, that the way is plain before all like
the grooves of launching: So forth into life and fear not, for so
did we all in the ancient ages." And their voices passed away like
an eddy in a river.
"Now," said the Poor Thing, "they have told you a lesson, but make
them give you a gift. Stoop your hand among the bones without
drawback, and you shall find their treasure."
So the man stooped his hand, and the dead laid hold upon it many
and faint like ants; but he shook them off, and behold, what he
brought up in his hand was the shoe of a horse, and it was rusty.
"It is a thing of no price," quoth the man, "for it is rusty."
"We shall see that," said the Poor Thing; "for in my thought it is
a good thing to do what our fathers did, and to keep what they kept
without question. And in my thought one thing is as good as
another in this world; and a shoe of a horse will do."
Now they got into their boat with the horseshoe, and when the dawn
was come they were aware of the smoke of the Earl's town and the
bells of the Kirk that beat. So they set foot to shore; and the
man went up to the market among the fishers over against the palace
and the Kirk; and he was bitter poor and bitter ugly, and he had
never a fish to sell, but only a shoe of a horse in his creel, and
"Now," said the Poor Thing, "do so and so, and you shall find a
wife and I a mother."
It befell that the Earl's daughter came forth to go into the Kirk
upon her prayers; and when she saw the poor man stand in the market
with only the shoe of a horse, and it rusty, it came in her mind it
should be a thing of price.
"What is that?" quoth she.
"It is a shoe of a horse," said the man.
"And what is the use of it?" quoth the Earl's daughter.
"It is for no use," said the man.
"I may not believe that," said she; "else why should you carry it?"
"I do so," said he, "because it was so my fathers did in the
ancient ages; and I have neither a better reason nor a worse."
Now the Earl's daughter could not find it in her mind to believe
him. "Come," quoth she, "sell me this, for I am sure it is a thing
"Nay," said the man, "the thing is not for sale."
"What!" cried the Earl's daughter. "Then what make you here in the
town's market, with the thing in your creel and nought beside?"
"I sit here," says the man, "to get me a wife."
"There is no sense in any of these answers," thought the Earl's
daughter; "and I could find it in my heart to weep."
By came the Earl upon that; and she called him and told him all.
And when he had heard, he was of his daughter's mind that this
should be a thing of virtue; and charged the man to set a price
upon the thing, or else be hanged upon the gallows; and that was
near at hand, so that the man could see it.
"The way of life is straight like the grooves of launching," quoth
the man. "And if I am to be hanged let me be hanged."
"Why!" cried the Earl, "will you set your neck against a shoe of a
horse, and it rusty?"
"In my thought," said the man, "one thing is as good as another in
this world and a shoe of a horse will do."
"This can never be," thought the Earl; and he stood and looked upon
the man, and bit his beard.
And the man looked up at him and smiled. "It was so my fathers did
in the ancient ages," quoth he to the Earl, "and I have neither a
better reason nor a worse."
"There is no sense in any of this," thought the Earl, "and I must
be growing old." So he had his daughter on one side, and says he:
"Many suitors have you denied, my child. But here is a very
strange matter that a man should cling so to a shoe of a horse, and
it rusty; and that he should offer it like a thing on sale, and yet
not sell it; and that he should sit there seeking a wife. If I
come not to the bottom of this thing, I shall have no more pleasure
in bread; and I can see no way, but either I should hang or you
should marry him."
"By my troth, but he is bitter ugly," said the Earl's daughter.
"How if the gallows be so near at hand?"
"It was not so," said the Earl, "that my fathers did in the ancient
ages. I am like the man, and can give you neither a better reason
nor a worse. But do you, prithee, speak with him again."
So the Earl's daughter spoke to the man. "If you were not so
bitter ugly," quoth she, "my father the Earl would have us marry."
"Bitter ugly am I," said the man, "and you as fair as May. Bitter
ugly I am, and what of that? It was so my fathers - "
"In the name of God," said the Earl's daughter, "let your fathers
"If I had done that," said the man, "you had never been chaffering
with me here in the market, nor your father the Earl watching with
the end of his eye."
"But come," quoth the Earl's daughter, "this is a very strange
thing, that you would have me wed for a shoe of a horse, and it
"In my thought," quoth the man, "one thing is as good - "
"Oh, spare me that," said the Earl's daughter, "and tell me why I
"Listen and look," said the man.
Now the wind blew through the Poor Thing like an infant crying, so
that her heart was melted; and her eyes were unsealed, and she was
aware of the thing as it were a babe unmothered, and she took it to
her arms, and it melted in her arms like the air.
"Come," said the man, "behold a vision of our children, the busy
hearth, and the white heads. And let that suffice, for it is all
"I have no delight in it," said she; but with that she sighed.
"The ways of life are straight like the grooves of launching," said
the man; and he took her by the hand.
"And what shall we do with the horseshoe?" quoth she.
"I will give it to your father," said the man; "and he can make a
kirk and a mill of it for me."
It came to pass in time that the Poor Thing was born; but memory of
these matters slept within him, and he knew not that which he had
done. But he was a part of the eldest son; rejoicing manfully to
launch the boat into the surf, skilful to direct the helm, and a
man of might where the ring closes and the blows are going.
XX. - THE SONG OF THE MORROW.
THE King of Duntrine had a daughter when he was old, and she was
the fairest King's daughter between two seas; her hair was like
spun gold, and her eyes like pools in a river; and the King gave
her a castle upon the sea beach, with a terrace, and a court of the
hewn stone, and four towers at the four corners. Here she dwelt
and grew up, and had no care for the morrow, and no power upon the
hour, after the manner of simple men.
It befell that she walked one day by the beach of the sea, when it
was autumn, and the wind blew from the place of rains; and upon the
one hand of her the sea beat, and upon the other the dead leaves
ran. This was the loneliest beach between two seas, and strange
things had been done there in the ancient ages. Now the King's
daughter was aware of a crone that sat upon the beach. The sea
foam ran to her feet, and the dead leaves swarmed about her back,
and the rags blew about her face in the blowing of the wind.
"Now," said the King's daughter, and she named a holy name, "this
is the most unhappy old crone between two seas."
"Daughter of a King," said the crone, "you dwell in a stone house,
and your hair is like the gold: but what is your profit? Life is
not long, nor lives strong; and you live after the way of simple
men, and have no thought for the morrow and no power upon the
"Thought for the morrow, that I have," said the King's daughter;
"but power upon the hour, that have I not." And she mused with
Then the crone smote her lean hands one within the other, and
laughed like a sea-gull. "Home!" cried she. "O daughter of a
King, home to your stone house; for the longing is come upon you
now, nor can you live any more after the manner of simple men.
Home, and toil and suffer, till the gift come that will make you
bare, and till the man come that will bring you care."
The King's daughter made no more ado, but she turned about and went
home to her house in silence. And when she was come into her
chamber she called for her nurse.
"Nurse," said the King's daughter, "thought is come upon me for the
morrow, so that I can live no more after the manner of simple men.
Tell me what I must do that I may have power upon the hour."
Then the nurse moaned like a snow wind. "Alas!" said she, "that
this thing should be; but the thought is gone into your marrow, nor
is there any cure against the thought. Be it so, then, even as you
will; though power is less than weakness, power shall you have; and
though the thought is colder than winter, yet shall you think it to
So the King's daughter sat in her vaulted chamber in the masoned
house, and she thought upon the thought. Nine years she sat; and
the sea beat upon the terrace, and the gulls cried about the
turrets, and wind crooned in the chimneys of the house. Nine years
she came not abroad, nor tasted the clean air, neither saw God's
sky. Nine years she sat and looked neither to the right nor to the
left, nor heard speech of any one, but thought upon the thought of
the morrow. And her nurse fed her in silence, and she took of the
food with her left hand, and ate it without grace.
Now when the nine years were out, it fell dusk in the autumn, and
there came a sound in the wind like a sound of piping. At that the
nurse lifted up her finger in the vaulted house.
"I hear a sound in the wind," said she, "that is like the sound of
"It is but a little sound," said the King's daughter, "but yet is
it sound enough for me."
So they went down in the dusk to the doors of the house, and along
the beach of the sea. And the waves beat upon the one hand, and
upon the other the dead leaves ran; and the clouds raced in the
sky, and the gulls flew widdershins. And when they came to that
part of the beach where strange things had been done in the ancient
ages, lo, there was the crone, and she was dancing widdershins.
"What makes you dance widdershins, old crone?" said the King's
daughter; "here upon the bleak beach, between the waves and the
"I hear a sound in the wind that is like a sound of piping," quoth
she. "And it is for that that I dance widdershins. For the gift
comes that will make you bare, and the man comes that must bring
you care. But for me the morrow is come that I have thought upon,
and the hour of my power."
"How comes it, crone," said the King's daughter, "that you waver
like a rag, and pale like a dead leaf before my eyes?"
"Because the morrow has come that I have thought upon, and the hour
of my power," said the crone; and she fell on the beach, and, lo!
she was but stalks of the sea tangle, and dust of the sea sand, and
the sand lice hopped upon the place of her.
"This is the strangest thing that befell between two seas," said
the King's daughter of Duntrine.
But the nurse broke out and moaned like an autumn gale. "I am
weary of the wind," quoth she; and she bewailed her day.
The King's daughter was aware of a man upon the beach; he went
hooded so that none might perceive his face, and a pipe was
underneath his arm. The sound of his pipe was like singing wasps,
and like the wind that sings in windlestraw; and it took hold upon
men's ears like the crying of gulls.
"Are you the comer?" quoth the King's daughter of Duntrine.
"I am the corner," said he, "and these are the pipes that a man may
hear, and I have power upon the hour, and this is the song of the
morrow." And he piped the song of the morrow, and it was as long
as years; and the nurse wept out aloud at the hearing of it.
"This is true," said the King's daughter, "that you pipe the song
of the morrow; but that ye have power upon the hour, how may I know
that? Show me a marvel here upon the beach, between the waves and
the dead leaves."
And the man said, "Upon whom?"
"Here is my nurse," quoth the King's daughter. "She is weary of
the wind. Show me a good marvel upon her."
And, lo! the nurse fell upon the beach as it were two handfuls of
dead leaves, and the wind whirled them widdershins, and the sand
lice hopped between.
"It is true," said the King's daughter of Duntrine, "you are the
comer, and you have power upon the hour. Come with me to my stone
So they went by the sea margin, and the man piped the song of the
morrow, and the leaves followed behind them as they went.
Then they sat down together; and the sea beat on the terrace, and
the gulls cried about the towers, and the wind crooned in the
chimneys of the house. Nine years they sat, and every year when it
fell autumn, the man said, "This is the hour, and I have power in
it"; and the daughter of the King said, "Nay, but pipe me the song
of the morrow". And he piped it, and it was long like years.
Now when the nine years were gone, the King's daughter of Duntrine
got her to her feet, like one that remembers; and she looked about
her in the masoned house; and all her servants were gone; only the
man that piped sat upon the terrace with the hand upon his face;
and as he piped the leaves ran about the terrace and the sea beat
along the wall. Then she cried to him with a great voice, "This is
the hour, and let me see the power in it". And with that the wind
blew off the hood from the man's face, and, lo! there was no man
there, only the clothes and the hood and the pipes tumbled one upon
another in a corner of the terrace, and the dead leaves ran over
And the King's daughter of Duntrine got her to that part of the
beach where strange things had been done in the ancient ages; and
there she sat her down. The sea foam ran to her feet, and the dead
leaves swarmed about her back, and the veil blew about her face in
the blowing of the wind. And when she lifted up her eyes, there
was the daughter of a King come walking on the beach. Her hair was
like the spun gold, and her eyes like pools in a river, and she had
no thought for the morrow and no power upon the hour, after the
manner of simple men.
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