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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 10
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    When I arrived at the house I was met by the young man who had set me
    the morning's task; but he was taciturn now, and wore a cold, estranged
    look, which seemed to portend trouble. He at once led me to a part of
    the house at a distance from the hall, and into a large apartment I now
    saw for the first time. In a few moments the master of the house,
    followed by most of the other inmates, also entered, and on the faces of
    all of them I noticed the same cold, offended look.

    "The dickens take my luck!" said I to myself, beginning to feel
    extremely uncomfortable. "I suppose I have offended against the laws and
    customs by working the horses too long."

    "Smith," said the old man, advancing to the table, and depositing
    thereon a large volume he had brought with him, "come here, and read to
    me in this book."

    Advancing to the table, I saw that it was written in the same minute,
    Hebrew-like characters of the folio I had examined on the previous
    evening. "I cannot read it; I do not understand the letters," I said,
    feeling some shame at having thus publicly to confess my ignorance.

    "Then," said he, bending on me a look of the utmost severity, "there is
    indeed little more to be said. Nevertheless, we take into account the
    confused state of your intellect yesterday, and judge you leniently; and
    let us hope that the pangs of an outraged conscience will be more
    painful to you than the light punishment I am about to inflict for so
    destestable a crime."

    I now concluded that I had offended by squeezing Yoletta's hand, and had
    been told to read from the book merely to make myself acquainted with
    the pains and penalties attendant on such an indiscretion, for to call
    it a "detestable crime" seemed to me a very great abuse of language.

    "If I have offended," was my answer, delivered with little humility, "I
    can only plead my ignorance of the customs of the house."

    "No man," he returned, with increased severity, "is so ignorant as not
    to know right from wrong. Had the matter come to my knowledge sooner, I
    should have said: Depart from us, for your continued presence in the
    house offends us; but we have made a compact with you, and, until the
    year expires, we must suffer you. For the space of sixty days you must
    dwell apart from us, never leaving the room, where each day a task will
    be assigned to you, and subsisting on bread and water only. Let us hope
    that in this period of solitude and silence you will sufficiently repent
    your crime, and rejoin us afterwards with a changed heart; for all
    offenses may be forgiven a man, but it is impossible to forgive a lie."

    "A lie!" I exclaimed in amazement. "I have told no lie!"

    "This," said he, with an access of wrath, "is an aggravation of your
    former offense. It is even a worse offense than the first, and must be
    dealt with separately--when the sixty days have expired."

    "Are you, then, going to condemn me without hearing me speak, or telling
    me anything about it? What lie have I told?"

    After a pause, during which he closely scrutinized my face, he said,
    pointing to the open page before him: "Yesterday, in answer to my
    question, you told me that you could read. Last evening you made a
    contrary statement to Yoletta; and now here is the book, and you confess
    that you cannot read it."

    "But that is easily explained," said I, immensely relieved, for I
    certainly had felt a little guilty about the hand-squeezing performance,
    although it was not a very serious matter. "I can read the books of my
    own country, and naturally concluded that your books were written in the
    same kind of letters; but last evening I discovered that it was not so.
    You have already seen the letters of my country on the coins I showed
    you last evening."

    And here I again pulled out my pocket-book, and emptied the contents on
    the table.

    He began to pick up the sovereigns one by one to examine them.
    Meanwhile, finding my beautiful black and gold stylograph pen inserted
    in the book, I thought I could not do better than to show him how I
    wrote. Fortunately, the fluid in it had not become dry. Tearing a blank
    page from my book I hastily scribbled a few lines, and handed the paper
    to him, saying: "This is how I write."

    He began studying the paper, but his eyes, I perceived, wandered often
    to the stylograph pen in my hand.

    Presently he remarked: "This writing, or these marks you have made on
    the paper, are not the same as the letters on the gold."

    I took the paper and proceeded to copy the sentence I had written, but
    in printing letters, beneath it, then returned it to him.

    He examined it again, and, after comparing my letters with those on the
    sovereigns, said: "Pray tell me, now, what you have written here, and
    explain why you write in two different ways?"

    I told him, as well as I could, why letters of one form were used to
    stamp on gold and other substances, and of a different form for writing.
    Then, with a modest blush, I read the words of the sentence: "In
    different parts of the world men have different customs, and write
    different letters; but alike to all men in all places, a lie is
    hateful."

    "Smith," he said, addressing me in an impressive manner, but happily not
    to charge me with a third and bigger lie, "I have lived long in the
    world, and the knowledge others possess concerning it is mine also. It
    is common knowledge that in the hotter and colder regions men are
    compelled to live differently, owing to the conditions they are placed
    in; but we know that everywhere they have the same law of right and
    wrong inscribed on the heart, and, as you have said, hate a lie; also
    that they all speak the same language; and until this moment I also
    believed that they wrote in similar characters. You, however, have now

    succeeded in convincing me that this is not the case; that in some
    obscure valley, cut off from all intercourse by inaccessible mountains,
    or in some small, unknown island of the sea, a people may exist--ah, did
    you not tell me that you came from an island?"

    "Yes, my home was on an island," I answered.

    "So I imagined. An island of which no report has ever reached us, where
    the people, isolated from their fellows, have in the course of many
    centuries changed their customs--even their manner of writing. Although
    I had seen these gold pieces I did not understand, or did not realize,
    that such a human family existed: now I am persuaded of it, and as I
    alone am to blame for having brought this charge against you, I must now
    ask your forgiveness. We rejoice at your innocence, and hope with
    increased love to atone for our injustice. My son," he concluded,
    placing a hand on my shoulder, "I am now deeply in your debt."

    "I am glad it has ended so happily," I replied, wondering whether his
    being in my debt would increase my chances with Yoletta or not.

    Seeing him again directing curious glances at the stylograph, which I
    was turning about in my fingers, I offered it to him.

    He examined it with interest.

    "I have only been waiting for an opportunity," he said, "to look closely
    at this wonderful contrivance, for I had perceived that your writing was
    not made with a pencil, but with a fluid. It is black polished stone,
    beautifully fashioned and encircled with gold bands, and contains the
    writing-fluid within itself. This surprises me as much as anything you
    have told me."

    "Allow me to make you a present of it," said I, seeing him so taken with
    it.

    "No, not so," he returned. "But I should greatly like to possess it, and
    will keep it if I may bestow in return something you desire."

    Yoletta's hand was really the only thing in life I desired, but it was
    too early to speak yet, as I knew nothing about their matrimonial
    usages--not even whether or not the lady's consent was necessary to a
    compact of the kind. I therefore made a more modest request. "There is
    one thing I greatly desire," I said. "I am very anxious to be able to
    read in your books, and shall consider myself more than compensated if
    you will permit Yoletta to teach me."

    "She shall teach you in any case, my son," he returned. "That, and much
    more, is already owning to you."

    "There is nothing else I desire," said I. "Pray keep the pen and make me
    happy."

    And thus ended a disagreeable matter.

    The cloud having blown over, we all repaired to the supper-room, and
    nothing could exceed our happiness as we sat at meat--or vegetables. Not
    feeling so ravenously hungry as on the previous evening, and, moreover,
    seeing them all in so lively a mood, I did not hesitate to join in the
    conversation: nor did I succeed so very badly, considering the
    strangeness of it all; for like the bee that has been much hindered at
    his flowery work by geometric webs, I began to acquire some skill in
    pushing my way gracefully through the tangling meshes of thought and
    phrases that were new to me.

    The afternoon's experiences had certainly been remarkable--a strange
    mixture of pain and pleasure, not blending into homogeneous gray, but
    resembling rather a bright embroidery on a dark, somber ground; and of
    these surprising contrasts I was destined to have more that same
    evening.

    We were again assembled in the great room, the venerable father
    reclining at his ease on his throne-like couch near the brass globes,
    while the others pursued their various occupations as on the former
    evening. Not being able to get near Yoletta, and having nothing to do, I
    settled myself comfortably in one of the spacious seats, and gave up my
    mind to pleasant dreams. At length, to my surprise, the father, who had
    been regarding me for some time, said: "Will you lead, my son?"

    I started up, turning very red in the face, for I did not wish to
    trouble him with questions, yet was at a loss to know what he meant by
    leading. I thought of several things--whist, evening prayers, dancing,
    etc.; but being still in doubt, I was compelled to ask him to explain.

    "Will you lead the singing?" he returned, looking a little surprised.

    "Oh yes, with pleasure," said I. There being no music about, and no
    piano, I concluded naturally that my friends amused themselves with solo
    songs without accompaniment of an evening, and having a good tenor voice
    I was not unwilling to lead off with a song. Clearing my rusty throat
    with a _ghrr-ghrr-hram_ which made them all jump, I launched forth
    with the "Vicar of Bray"--a grand old song and a great favorite of mine.
    They all started when I commenced, exchanging glances, and casting
    astonished looks towards me; but it was getting so dusky in the room
    that I could not feel sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. Presently
    some that were near me began retiring to distant seats, and this
    distressed me so that it made me hoarse, and my singing became very bad
    indeed; but still I thought it best to go bravely on to the end.
    Suddenly the old gentleman, who had been staring wildly at me for some
    time, drew up his long yellow robe and wrapped it round his face and
    head. I glanced at Yoletta, sitting at some distance, and saw that she
    was holding her hands pressed to her ears.

    I thought it about time to leave off then, and stopping abruptly in the
    middle of the fourth stanza I sat down, feeling extremely hot and
    uncomfortable. I was almost choking, and unable to utter a word. But
    there was no word for me to utter: it was, of course, for them to thank
    me for singing, or to say something; but not a word was spoken. Yoletta
    dropped her hands and resumed her work, while the old man slowly emerged
    with a somewhat frightened look from the wrappings; and then the long
    dead silence becoming unendurable, I remarked that I feared my singing
    was not to their taste. No reply was made; only the father, putting out
    one of his hands, touched a handle or key near him, whereupon one of the
    brass globes began slowly revolving. A low murmur of sound arose, and
    seemed to pass like a wave through the room, dying away in the distance,
    soon to be succeeded by another, and then another, each marked by an
    increase of power; and often as this solemn sound died away, faint
    flute-like notes were heard as if approaching, but still at a great
    distance, and in the ensuing wave of sound from the great globes they
    would cease to be distinguishable. Still the mysterious coming sounds
    continued at intervals to grow louder and clearer, joined by other tones
    as they progressed, now altogether bursting out in joyous chorus, then
    one purest liquid note soaring bird-like alone, but whether from voices
    or wind-instruments I was unable to tell, until the whole air about me
    was filled and palpitating with the strange, exquisite harmony, which
    passed onwards, the tones growing fewer and fainter by degrees until
    they almost died out of hearing in the opposite direction. That all were
    now taking part in the performance I became convinced by watching in
    turn different individuals, some of them having small, curiously-shaped
    instruments in their hands, but there was a blending of voices and a
    something like ventriloquism in the tones which made it impossible to
    distinguish the notes of any one person. Deeper, more sonorous tones now
    issued from the revolving globes, sometimes resembling in character the
    vox humana of an organ, and every time they rose to a certain pitch
    there were responsive sounds--not certainly from any of the
    performers--low, tremulous, and Aeolian in character, wandering over the
    entire room, as if walls and ceiling were honey-combed with sensitive
    musical cells, answering to the deeper vibrations. These floating aerial
    sounds also answered to the higher notes of some of the female singers,
    resembling soprano voices, brightened and spiritualized in a wonderful
    degree; and then the wide room would be filled with a mist, as it were,
    of this floating, formless melody, which seemed to come from invisible
    harpers hovering in the shadows above.

    Lying back on my couch, listening with closed eyes to this mysterious,
    soul-stirring concert, I was affected to tears, and almost feared that I
    had been snatched away into some supra-mundane region inhabited by
    beings of an angelic or half-angelic order--feared, I say, for, with
    this new love in my heart, no elysium or starry abode could compare with
    this green earth for a dwellingplace. But when I remembered my own
    brutal bull of Bashan performance, my face, there in the dark, was on
    fire with shame; and I cursed the ignorant, presumptuous folly I had
    been guilty of in roaring out that abominable "Vicar of Bray" ballad,
    which had now become as hateful to me as my trousers or boots. The
    composer of that song, the writer of the words, and its subject, the
    double-faced Vicar himself, presented themselves to my mind as the three
    most damnable beings that had ever existed. "The devil take my luck!" I
    muttered, grinding my teeth with impotent anger; for it seemed such hard
    lines, just when I had succeeded in getting into favor, to go and spoil
    it all in that unhappy way. Now that I had become acquainted with their
    style of singing, the supposed fib, about which there had been such a
    pother, seemed a very venial offense compared with my attempt to lead
    the singing. Nevertheless, when the concert was over, not a word was
    said on the subject by any one, though I had quite expected to be taken
    at once to the magisterial chamber to hear some dreadful sentence passed
    on me; and when, before retiring, anxious to propitiate my host, I began
    to express regret for having inflicted pain on them by attempting to
    sing, the venerable gentleman raised his hands deprecatingly, and begged
    me to say no more about it, for painful subjects were best forgotten.
    "No doubt," he kindly added, "when you were lying there buried among the
    hills, you swallowed a large amount of earth and gravel in your efforts
    to breathe, and have not yet freed your lungs from it."

    This was the most charitable view he could take of the matter, and I was
    thankful that no worse result followed.
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