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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 5
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    We came to a large portico-like place open on three sides to the air,
    the roof being supported by slender columns. We were now on the opposite
    side of the house and looked upon the river, which was not more than a
    couple of hundred yards from the terrace or platform on which it stood.
    The ground here sloped rapidly to the banks, and, like that in the
    front, was a wilderness with rock and patches of tall fern and thickets
    of thorn and bramble, with a few trees of great size. Nor was wild life
    wanting in this natural park; some deer were feeding near the bank,
    while on the water numbers of wild duck and other water-fowl were
    disporting themselves, splashing and flapping over the surface and
    uttering shrill cries.

    The people of the house were already assembled, standing and sitting by
    the small tables. There was a lively hum of conversation, which ceased
    on my entrance; then those who were sitting stood up and the whole
    company fixed its eyes on me, which was rather disconcerting.

    The old gentleman, standing in the midst of the people, now bent on me a
    long, scrutinizing gaze; he appeared to be waiting for me to speak, and,
    finding that I remained silent, he finally addressed me with solemnity.
    "Smith," he said--and I did not like it--"the meeting with you today was
    to me and to all of us a very strange experience: I little thought that
    an even stranger one awaited me, that before you break bread in this
    house in which you have found shelter, I should have to remind you that
    you are now in a house."

    "Yes, I know I am," I said, and then added: "I'm sure, sir, I appreciate
    your kindness in bringing me here."

    He had perhaps expected something more or something entirely different
    from me, as he continued standing with his eyes fixed on me. Then with a
    sigh, and looking round him, he said in a dissatisfied tone: "My
    children, let us begin, and for the present put out of our minds this
    matter which has been troubling us."

    He then motioned me to a seat at his own table, where I was pleased to
    have a place since the lovely Yoletta was also there.

    I am not particular about what I eat, as with me good digestion waits on
    appetite, and so long as I get a bellyful--to use a good old English
    word--I am satisfied. On this particular occasion, with or without a
    pretty girl at the table, I could have consumed a haggis--that greatest
    abomination ever invented by flesh-eating barbarians--I was so
    desperately hungry. It was therefore a disappointment when nothing more
    substantial than a plate of whitey-green, crisp-looking stuff resembling
    endive, was placed before me by one of the picturesque handmaidens. It
    was cold and somewhat bitter to the taste, but hunger compelled me to
    eat it even to the last green leaf; then, when I began to wonder if it
    would be right to ask for more, to my great relief other more succulent
    dishes followed, composed of various vegetables. We also had some
    pleasant drinks, made, I suppose, from the juices of fruits, but the
    delicious alcoholic sting was not in them. We had fruits, too, of
    unfamiliar flavors, and a confection of crushed nuts and honey.

    We sat at table--or tables--a long time, and the meal was enlivened with
    conversation; for all now appeared in a cheerful frame of mind,
    notwithstanding the melancholy event which had occupied them during the
    day. It was, in fact, a kind of supper, and the one great meal of the
    day: the only other meals being a breakfast, and at noon a crust of
    brown bread, a handful of dried fruit, and drink of milk.

    At the conclusion of the repast, during which I had been too much
    occupied to take notice of everything that passed, I observed that a
    number of small birds had flown in, and were briskly hopping over the
    floor and tables, also perching quite fearlessly on the heads or
    shoulders of the company, and that they were being fed with the
    fragments. I took them to be sparrows and things of that kind, but they
    did not look altogether familiar to me. One little fellow, most lively
    in his motions, was remarkably like my old friend the robin, only the
    bosom was more vivid, running almost into orange, and the wings and tail
    were tipped with the same hue, giving it quite a distinguished
    appearance. Another small olive-green bird, which I at first took for a
    green linnet, was even prettier, the throat and bosom being of a most
    delicate buff, crossed with a belt of velvet black. The bird that really
    seemed most like a common sparrow was chestnut, with a white throat and
    mouse-colored wings and tail. These pretty little pensioners
    systematically avoided my neighborhood, although I tempted them with
    crumbs and fruit; only one flew onto my table, but had no sooner done so
    than it darted away again, and out of the room, as if greatly alarmed. I
    caught the pretty girl's eye just then, and having finished eating, and
    being anxious to join the conversation, for I hate to sit silent when
    others are talking. I remarked that it was strange the little birds so
    persistently avoided me.

    "Oh no, not at all strange," she replied, with surprising readiness,
    showing that she too had noticed it. "They are frightened at your
    appearance."

    "I must indeed appear strange to them," said I, with some bitterness,
    and recalling the adventures of the morning. "It is to me a new and very
    painful experience to walk about the world frightening men, cattle, and
    birds; yet I suppose it is entirely due to the clothes I am wearing--and
    the boots. I wish some kind person would suggest a remedy for this state
    of things; for just now my greatest desire is to be dressed in
    accordance with the fashion."

    "Allow me to interrupt you for one moment, Smith," said the old
    gentleman, who had been listening attentively to my words. "We
    understood what you said so well on this occasion that it seems a pity
    you should suddenly again render yourself unintelligible. Can you
    explain to us what you mean by dressing in accordance with the fashion?"

    "My meaning is, that I simply desire to dress like one of yourselves, to
    see the last of these _uncouth_ garments." I could not help putting
    a little vicious emphasis on that hateful word.

    He inclined his head and said, "Yes?"

    Thus encouraged, I dashed boldly into the middle of matter; for now,
    having dined, albeit without wine, I was inflamed with an intense
    craving to see myself arrayed in their rich, mysterious dress. "This
    being so," I continued, "may I ask you if it is in your power to provide
    me with the necessary garments, so that I may cease to be an object of
    aversion and offense to every living thing and person, myself included?"

    A long and uncomfortable silence ensued, which was perhaps not strange,
    considering the nature of the request. That I had blundered once more
    seemed likely enough, from the general suspense and the somewhat alarmed
    expression of the old gentleman's countenance; nevertheless, my motives
    had been good: I had expressed my wish in that way for the sake of peace
    and quietness, and fearing that if I had asked to be directed to the
    nearest clothing establishment, a new fit of amazement would have been
    the result.

    Finding the silence intolerable, I at length ventured to remark that I
    feared he had not understood me to the end.

    "Perhaps not," he answered gravely. "Or, rather let me say, I hope not."

    "May I explain my meaning?" said I, greatly distressed.

    "Assuredly you may," he replied with dignity. "Only before you speak,
    let me put this plain question to you: Do you ask us to provide you with
    garments--that is to say, to bestow them as a gift on you?"

    "Certainly not!" I exclaimed, turning crimson with shame to think that
    they were all taking me for a beggar. "My wish is to obtain them somehow
    from somebody, since I cannot make them for myself, and to give in
    return their full value."

    I had no sooner spoken than I greatly feared that I had made matters
    worse; for here was I, a guest in the house, actually offering to
    purchase clothing--ready-made or to to order--from my host, who, for all
    I knew, might be one of the aristocracy of the country. My fears,
    however, proved quite groundless.

    "I am glad to hear your explanation," he answered, "for it has
    completely removed the unpleasant impression caused by your former
    words. What can you do in return for the garments you are anxious to
    possess? And here, let me remark, I approve highly of your wish to
    escape, with the least possible delay, from your present covering. Do
    you wish to confine yourself to the finishing of some work in a
    particular line--as wood-carving, or stone, metal, clay or glass work;
    or in making or using colors? or have you only that general knowledge of
    the various arts which would enable you to assist the more skilled in
    preparing materials?"

    "No, I am not an artist," I replied, surprised at his question. "All I
    can do is to buy the clothes--to pay for them in money."

    "What do you mean by that? What is money?"

    "Surely----" I began, but fortunately checked myself in time, for I had
    meant to suggest that he was pulling my leg. But it was really hard to
    believe that a person of his years did not know what money was. Besides,
    I could not answer the question, having always abhorred the study of
    political economy, which tells you all about it; so that I had never
    learned to define money, but only how to spend it. Presently I thought
    the best way out of the muddle was to show him some, and I accordingly
    pulled out my big leather book-purse from my breast pocket. It had an
    ancient, musty smell, like everything else about me, but seemed pretty
    heavy and well-filled, and I proceeded to open it and turn the contents
    on the table. Eleven bright sovereigns and three half-crowns or florins,
    I forget which, rolled out; then, unfolding the papers, I discovered
    three five-pound Bank of England notes.

    "Surely this is very little for me to have about me!" said I, feeling
    greatly disappointed. "I fancy I must have been making ducks and drakes
    of a lot of cash before--before--well, before I was--I don't know what,
    or when, or where."

    Little notice was taken of this somewhat incoherent speech, for all were
    now gathering round the table, examining the gold and notes with eager
    curiosity. At length the old gentleman, pointing to the gold pieces,
    said: "What are these?"

    "Sovereigns," I answered, not a little amused. "Have you never seen any
    like them before?"

    "Never. Let me examine them again. Yes, these eleven are of gold. They
    are all marked alike, on one side with a roughly-executed figure of a
    woman's head, with the hair gathered on its summit in a kind of ball.
    There are also other things on them which I do not understand."

    "Can you not read the letters?" I asked.

    "No. The letters--if these marks are letters--are incomprehensible to
    me. But what have these small pieces of metal to do with the question of
    your garments? You puzzle me."

    "Why, everything. These pieces of metal, as you call them, are money,
    and represent, of course, so much buying power. I don't know yet what
    your currency is, and whether you have the dollar or the rupee"--here I
    paused, seeing that he did not follow me. "My idea is this," I resumed,
    and coming down to very plain speaking: "I can give one of these
    five-pound notes, or its equivalent in gold, if you prefer that--five of
    these sovereigns, I mean--for a suit of clothes such as you all wear."

    So great was my desire to possess the clothes that I was about to double
    the offer, which struck me as poor, and add that I would give ten
    sovereigns; but when I had spoken he dropped the piece he held in his
    hand upon the table, and stared fixedly at me, assisted by all the
    others. Presently, in the profound silence which ensued, a low, silvery
    gurgling became audible, as of some merry mountain burn--a sweet,
    warbling sound, swelling louder by degrees until it ended in a long
    ringing peal of laughter.

    This was from the girl Yoletta. I stared at her, surprised at her
    unseasonable levity; but the only effect of my doing so was a general
    explosion, men and women joining in such a tempest of merriment that one
    might have imagined they had just heard the most wonderful joke ever
    invented since man acquired the sense of the ludicrous.

    The old gentleman was the first to recover a decent gravity, although it
    was plain to see that he struggled severely at intervals to prevent a
    relapse.

    "Smith," said he, "of all the extraordinary delusions you appear to be
    suffering from, this, that you can have garments to wear in return for a
    small piece of paper, or for a few bits of this metal, is the most
    astounding! You cannot exchange these trifles for clothes, because
    clothes are the fruit of much labor of many hands."

    "And yet, sir, you said you understood me when I proposed to pay for the
    things I require," said I, in an aggrieved tone. "You seemed even to
    approve of the offer I made. How, then, am I to pay for them if all I
    possess is not considered of any value?"

    "_All_ you possess!" he replied. "Surely I did not say that! Surely
    you possess the strength and skill common to all men, and can acquire
    anything you wish by the labor of your hands."

    I began once more to see light, although my skill, I knew, would not
    count for much. "Ah yes," I answered: "to go back to that subject, I do
    not know anything about wood-carving or using colors, but I might be
    able to do something--some work of a simpler kind."

    "There are trees to be felled, land to be plowed, and many other things
    to be done. If you will do these things some one else will be released
    to perform works of skill; and as these are the most agreeable to the
    worker, it would please us more to have you labor in the fields than in
    the workhouse."

    "I am strong," I answered, "and will gladly undertake labor of the kind
    you speak of. There is, however, one difficulty. My desire is to change
    these clothes for others which will be more pleasing to the eye, at
    once; but the work I shall have to do in return will not be finished in
    a day. Perhaps not in--well, several days."

    "No, of course not," said he. "A year's labor will be necessary to pay
    for the garments you require."

    This staggered me; for if the clothes were given to me at the beginning,
    then before the end of the year they would be worn to rags, and I should
    make myself a slave for life. I was sorely perplexed in mind, and pulled
    about this way and that by the fear of incurring a debt, and the desire
    to see myself (and to be seen by Yoletta) in those strangely fascinating
    garments. That I had a decent figure, and was not a bad-looking young
    fellow, I was pretty sure; and the hope that I should be able to create
    an impression (favorable, I mean) on the heart of that supremely
    beautiful girl was very strong in me. At all events, by closing with the
    offer I should have a year of happiness in her society, and a year of
    healthy work in the fields could not hurt me, or interfere much with my
    prospects. Besides, I was not quite sure that my prospects were really
    worth thinking about just now. Certainly, I had always lived
    comfortably, spending money, eating and drinking of the best, and
    dressing well--that is, according to the London standard. And there was
    my dear old bachelor Uncle Jack--John Smith, Member of Parliament for
    Wormwood Scrubbs. That is to say, ex-Member; for, being a Liberal when
    the great change came at the last general election, he was ignominiously
    ousted from his seat, the Scrubbs proving at the finish a bitter place
    to him. He was put out in more ways than one, and tried to comfort
    himself by saying that there would soon be another dissolution--thinking
    of his own, possibly, being an old man. I remembered that I had rather
    looked forward to such a contingency, thinking how pleasant it would be
    to have all that money, and cruise about the world in my own yacht,
    enjoying myself as I knew how. And really I had some reason to hope. I
    remember he used to wind up the talk of an evening when I dined with him
    (and got a check) by saying: "My boy, you have talents, if you'd only
    use 'em." Where were those talents now? Certainly they had not made me
    shine much during the last few hours.

    Now, all this seemed unsubstantial, and I remembered these things dimly,
    like a dream or a story told to me in childhood; and sometimes, when
    recalling the past, I seemed to be thinking about ancient
    history--Sesostris, and the Babylonians and Assyrians, and that sort of
    thing. And, besides, it would be very hard to get back from a place
    where even the name of London was unknown. And perhaps, if I ever should
    succeed in getting back, it would only be to encounter a second Roger
    Tichborne case, or to be confronted with the statute of limitations.
    Anyhow, a year could not make much difference, and I should also keep my
    money, which seemed an advantage, though it wasn't much. I looked up:
    they were all once more studying the coins and notes, and exchanging
    remarks about them.

    "If I bind myself to work one year," said I, "shall I have to wait until
    the end of that time before I get the clothes?"

    The reply to this question, I thought, would settle the matter one way
    or the other.

    "No," said he. "It is your wish, and also ours, that you should be
    differently clothed at once, and the garments you require would be made
    for you immediately."

    "Then," said I, taking the desperate plunge, "I should like to have them
    as soon as possible, and I am ready to commence work at once."

    "You shall commence to-morrow morning," he answered, smiling at my
    impetuosity. "The daughters of the house, whose province it is to make
    these things, shall also suspend other work until your garments are
    finished. And now, my son, from this evening you are one of the house
    and one of us, and the things which we possess you also possess in
    common with us."

    I rose and thanked him. He too rose, and, after looking round on us with
    a fatherly smile, went away to the interior of the house.
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    Chapter 5
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