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A short story by L. P. Jacks

All Men Are Ghosts

Title:     All Men Are Ghosts
Author: L. P. Jacks [More Titles by Jacks]



"'To be or not to be--that is the question,' said Hamlet:
'To be is not to be--that is the answer,' said Hegel."

Dr Phippeny Piecraft invented this couplet one night for his own edification, as, inert in body and despondent in mind, he lay back in the arm-chair of his consulting-room. "There is more point," he went on, "in Hamlet's 'question' than in Hegel's 'answer.' But the gospel is not in either. Both are futile as physic. At all events, neither of them brings any consolation to me."

Dr Piecraft was reflecting on the hardness of his lot. Ten years had elapsed since he first mounted his brass plate, and he was still virtually without a practice. He earned just enough from casual patients to pay his rent and keep body and soul together. To be sure, his father had left him a hundred a year; but Piecraft had given the old man a promise "that he would look after Jim." Now Jim was a half-brother, many years younger than himself; and he was also the one being in the world whom Piecraft loved with an undivided heart. So the whole of his income from that source was ear-marked for the boy's education; not for worlds would the doctor have spent a penny of it on himself. He even denied himself cigars, of which he was exceedingly fond, restricting himself to the cheapest of tobacco, in order that Jim might have plenty of pocket-money; and whenever the question arose as to who was to have a new suit of clothes, Jim or the doctor, it was always Jim who went smart and the doctor who went shabby.

He was over forty years of age, and, in his own eyes, a failure. Yet no man could have done more to deserve success. His medical qualifications were of the widest and highest; diplomas of all sorts covered the walls of his consulting-room; a gold medal for cerebral pathology lay in a glass case on his writing-table. He was actively abreast of advancing medical science; he had run into debt that he might keep himself supplied with the best literature of his profession, and he was prepared at a moment's notice to treat a difficult case in the light of the latest discoveries at Paris, St Petersburg, or New York. Moreover, he had led a clean life, and was known among his friends as a man of irreproachable honour. But somehow the patients seemed to avoid him, and only once in two years had he been summoned to a consultation.

To account for Piecraft's failure as a medical man several theories were in circulation, and it is probable that each of them contained an element of truth. Some persons would set it down to the shabbiness of his appearance, or to the brusqueness of his manners, or to the fact that his consulting-room often reeked with the fumes of cheap tobacco. Others would say that Piecraft was constitutionally unable to practise those "intelligent hesitations" so often needed in the application of medical principles. They would remind you of his fatal tendency to determine diagnosis on a sudden impulse, which Piecraft called "psychological intuition," and in illustration of this they would tell you a story: how once, when the vicar's wife had brought her petted daughter to be treated for hysteria, the fit happening to come on in the consulting-room, Piecraft had cured the young lady on the spot by soundly boxing her ears. Concerning this incident he had been taken severely to task by an intimate friend of his, an old practitioner of standing. "It will be time enough to adopt those methods of treatment," the friend had said to him, "when you are earning five thousand a year. At the present stage of your career it is almost fatal. Learn so to treat a patient that the story of the cure when subsequently related after dinner may have the characteristics of High Tragedy, or at all events may reflect some credit on the sufferer. Help him to create a drama, and see to it that he comes out ultimately as its hero. Don't you see that in the present instance you have spoilt a moving story, than which nothing gives greater offence, turning the whole situation into Low Comedy and making the patient a laughing-stock? People will never stand that, Piecraft. It is idle to insist that the cure was efficacious and permanent. So no doubt it was. A better remedy for that type of hysteria could not be devised. But reflect on the fact that you have deprived the vicar's family of a legitimate opportunity for dramatic expression and dethroned the vicar's daughter from her place as heroine. In short, you have committed an outrage on the artistic rights of medicine, and, mark my words, you will have to pay for it. Always remember, Piecraft, that in medicine, as in many other things, it is not the act alone which ensures success, but the gesture with which the act is accompanied."

Moreover, Piecraft held a theory which he never took the least pains to conceal, though it was extremely provoking to his patients both rich and poor. His theory was that more than half the ailments of the human body are best treated by leaving them alone. For example, a certain old gentleman having consulted him about some senile malady, the doctor had dismissed him with the following remark: "My dear sir, the best remedy for the troubles of old age is to grow still older. The matter is in your own hands." Many suchlike epigrams were reported of him, and often they constituted the sole return which the patients received for the two guineas deposited on the table of the consulting-room. Obviously this kind of thing could not go on. As most of his patients consulted Piecraft because they wished to be extensively interfered with, and objected to nothing so much as being left alone, with or without an epigram to console them, it followed of course that they seldom consulted him a second time.

But beneath these peripheral causes of irritation there lay a deeper offence. The truth is that Piecraft had made himself highly obnoxious to the members of his own profession, and had acquired--though I doubt if he fully deserved it--the reputation of a traitor. "Futile as physic" was a phrase constantly on his lips; and the words, offensive as they were, were only the foam that broke forth from the deeper waters of his treachery. He had gone so far as to embark on a propaganda for what he called "the Simplification of Medical Practice," publicly proposing that a Society should be founded for that object; and in pursuance of this proposal he had published a series of articles in which he had argued that the healing art is still dominated by the spirit of Magic and encumbered with a mass of dogmatic assumptions and superstitious observances. "The Seat of Authority in Therapeutics," "Medicine without Priest and without Ritual," "Big Words and Little Bottles," were the titles of some of these abominable essays. The last-named especially had aroused great indignation, not only by the excessively vehement language in which Piecraft pleaded for "simple and rational" principles, but far more by a caustic parallel he had drawn between the doings of a successful London practitioner and the ritual of a medicine-man among the Australian aborigines. The offence went deep, and the matter became the more serious for Piecraft because the indignation extended from the doctors to the theologians, who suspected--though the suspicion was utterly unfounded--that under the cover of an attack on orthodox medicine he was really engaged in putting a knife, from the back, into official religion; a suspicion which deprived the unfortunate doctor of every one of his clerical patients, including their wives and daughters, at a single stroke.

The combined effect of all these causes was, of course, disastrous. If, for example, you happened to be suffering from a severe pain in the head--le mal des beaux esprits--which your family doctor had failed to cure, and suggested to the latter that Piecraft, as a distinguished cerebral pathologist, should be summoned to a consultation, you were pretty certain to be met with this rejoinder: "Yes, Piecraft has beyond all question an unrivalled knowledge of the human brain. But please understand that if you call him in I shall have to retire from the case." And if you pressed for further explanation you would at first be put off with airs of mystery which would gradually consolidate into some such statement as this: "Well, in the profession we don't regard Piecraft as a medical man in the strict sense of the term. He is really a literary man who has mistaken his vocation"; or, "Nature intended Piecraft for a popular agitator"; or, "Piecraft's forte is journalism"; or, "Piecraft's title of 'doctor' should always be written in inverted commas"; or, "Piecraft is trying to live in two worlds, the world of imagination and the world of pure science; he will come to grief in both of them." And once the prophetic remark was made: "Piecraft's proper rôle is that of a character in the Arabian Nights." I have been told, too, that one day the Senior Physician of the hospital where Piecraft held a minor appointment overheard him muttering his favourite phrase by the bedside of a patient, "Futile as physic! futile as physic!" Whereupon the Senior Physician stepped up to him and, laying his hand on his shoulder in the kindest possible manner, whispered in his ear, "Resign, Piecraft; resign!"

* * * * *

Dr Phippeny Piecraft had no belief in the immortality of the soul: his studies in cerebral pathology had disposed of that question long ago. "What a philosopher most requires," he used to reflect, "is not so much a big brain of his own as a little knowledge of the brains of other people. Hamlet, for example, if he had studied Yorick's brain instead of sentimentalising over his skull, might have framed his question differently. And as to Hegel--well, that thing knocked all the Hegelism out of me," and he glanced at the gold medal in the glass case.

But, like many another man who disbelieves in the future life, Dr Piecraft was not a little curious as to what might happen to him after death. He was indulging that curiosity on the very evening we first encounter him. "There is a pill in that little bottle," he was thinking, "which would end the whole wretched business in something less than thirty seconds. I wonder I don't swallow it. I should do it if it were not for Jim. But no, I shouldn't! Hamlet, old boy, you were quite right. I'm as big a coward as the rest of them. There's just a chance that if I were to swallow that pill I should find myself in hell-fire in half a minute--and I'm not fool enough, or not hero enough, to run it. Of course, there's just a chance of heaven too; for, after all, I've been a decent sort of chap, and, as Stevenson says, there's an ultimate decency in the Universe. Heaven!--my stars, heaven doesn't attract me! I've never yet heard a description of heaven which doesn't make it almost as bad as the other place. Extraordinary, that when people try to conceive a better world than this they almost invariably picture something infinitely worse! Mahomet knew that: 'cute fellow, Mahomet. And yet he was no more successful than the rest."

Piecraft's reflections, once started on that line, plunged further. "I wonder what sort of heaven would attract me," he thought. "Let me see. Why, yes! If I could be sure of going to a place where I should be professionally busy all day long, plenty of interesting and difficult cases, and no need to worry about Jim's education and his future--I'd swallow the pill this instant. By heaven, I would! I'd do harder things than that. I'd stick it out in this wretched hole for another ten years, I'd give up smoking shag, I'd give up everything, except Jim--if only at the end of the time I could go to some heaven where the stream of patients would never cease! I really don't think I could accept salvation on any other terms. But wait! Yes, there is just one other offer I would look at. If only they'd let me go back to the old home in Gower Street, if they'd make the old street look as it did in those days, and smell as it did, and give tobacco the same taste it had then, and show me Dad standing at the window with Jim in his arms, and let me be in love again with that nice girl at the Slade School--yes, and if they'd let me go into the shilling seats at the Lyceum to see Mary Anderson as Perdita--by Gad, I'd take the pill for that, indeed I would!"

He was pursuing these reflections when his housekeeper entered the room with three or four letters. He looked them over, and his face brightened when he saw that one of them was from his half-brother Jim. A pipe was instantly filled and Piecraft re-settled himself in his arm-chair with the open letter in his hand. Jim's letter was dated from Harrow and ran as follows:--

"DEAR PHIP,--Many thanks for your congratulations on my eighteenth birthday and for the enclosure of two pounds. Don't be angry, old chap, when I tell you how I spent them. I got leave at once to go down town, and bought you a silk hat, a pair of gloves, some collars, and a couple of ties. You will get them all to-morrow, and I hope the hat and gloves are the right size. I am pretty sure they are. I was half inclined to buy you a box of cigars, but I thought you needed the other things more.

"The fact of the case is, Phip, I have definitely made up my mind to be a burden on you no longer. True, I might get a scholarship at the 'Varsity, as I got one at Harrow. But you would still have to pinch to maintain me; and when I remember how long you have done it already, I feel a perfect beast. I am old enough now to understand what it means, and I tell you, Phip, that nothing will induce me to come back to Harrow after the present term. So please give notice at once. I mean to go out to the Colonies with a man from the Modern Side, and I shall earn my living somehow--as a labourer if need be, for I am big and strong enough. Indeed, I would rather enlist than go on with this.

"Have you ever thought of trying to make a bit by writing, Phip? I believe you could write a novel. Don't you remember what bully stories you used to tell me when I was a kid? Have a shot at it, old boy. There's a person here in the Sixth who has a knack that way, and he made a hundred pounds by a thing he wrote. He got the tip for it out of a book on the art of novel-writing, the advertisement of which I have cut out of the Daily Mail and send you enclosed. I would have sent you the book itself had there been enough left out of the two pounds. But there was only fourpence.

"The Head preached a capital sermon last night on the text, 'Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.' The instant he gave out the words I thought of you, old Phip. And I went on thinking of you till he had done. That's how I know the sermon was a good one, though I didn't listen to another word. Anything that makes me think of you must be good. Phip, you are a dead cert. for heaven when you die. But don't die yet, there's a good chap. For if you go, I shall go too.--Ever yours, JIM.

"P.S.--Don't forget to give notice that I am leaving this term."

When Dr Piecraft laid down the letter his eyes were full of tears. "The only bit of heaven that's left me," he said aloud, "is going to be taken away. There's one person in the world, anyhow, who doesn't think me a failure. If you go to the Colonies, Jim, I shall take the pill, come what may. You're a warm-hearted boy, Jim, but cruel too. I'd rather spend a hundred a year on you and go threadbare in consequence, than earn ten thousand a year and not have you to spend it on. At the same time, my only chance of making you relent is to earn some money.--What the deuce is all this about novel-writing?"

He took up the advertisement which had fallen in his lap, and read as follows: "How to Write Novels--a Guide to Fortune in Literature. Containing Practical Instructions for Amateurs, whereby Success is assured. By an Old Hand."

* * * * *

Next morning Piecraft bought the book. As no patients came that day he had ample leisure to read it. "Easy as lying," he said to himself when he had finished. "I see the trick of it. And, by George, I'll make the first attempt this very night. I have half a dozen ideas already. Cerebral pathology is no bad training for a novelist."

So he sat down to work, and by two in the morning had written the first chapter of a very promising novel. In ten days more the novel was complete.

Reading over his manuscript, and severely criticising himself by the rules of his Manual, he found that he had put in too much scenery, had undercoloured the beauty of the heroine, had forgotten to describe her dress, and had introduced no action to break the tedious sentiment of the love-dialogues. These errors he at once set himself to correct, pruning down the excesses and making good the defects. Then, reviewing the whole, he satisfied himself that he had done well. The plot turned on a love affair, and was easily intelligible. The sexes were evenly balanced, and every character had its foil. There was plenty of incident and continuous action. And the whole was unified by a single purpose or controlling idea.

This last gave Piecraft peculiar satisfaction. He had feared when he began that unity of purpose would be of all the rules the most difficult to satisfy. In the purpose of his life he had failed; was it likely, he asked himself, that he would do any better in romance? Judge, then, of his pleasure on discovering that a clear thread of intention ran through the novel from the first sentence to the last, and came to adequate fulfilment in the final catastrophe. "Purpose," he reflected, "is going to be my strongest point. I shall score heavily on that."

He sent his manuscript to a publisher, and was rejoiced to hear of its acceptance within a week. In the six months that followed, having little else to do, he produced two more novels. Each of them had a Purpose. The publisher bought the manuscripts outright for fifty pounds apiece.

"It's the Purpose that pays," thought Piecraft. "It's the Purpose that works the oracle. It's the Purpose the public like. Next time I'll introduce more Purpose and stand out for better terms with the publisher."

Meanwhile he had been compelled, much against his will, to give notice of Jim's withdrawal from school. In spite of the brightening of his prospects the half-brother had proved inexorable. "I will borrow from you," wrote Jim, "enough to pay my third-class fare across the ocean and leave me with a pound or two on landing. After that, not another penny." "All right, Jim; have it your own way," was Phippeny's answer. "I shall work away until I have saved £500, and then, my boy, I'll join you on the other side and life will begin again for both of us. Meanwhile, I'm growing uncommonly prolific in the way of pot-boilers. But I'm not exactly in love with it, and shall abandon my new profession without a sigh. I wish I could produce something really good. Perhaps when I join you I shall get a new inspiration. I believe one can find a pen and ink in the Colonies."--Thus the matter was arranged.

* * * * *

Dr Phippeny Piecraft was not in the habit of going to church, but one Sunday evening, shortly after these events, he found himself there by accident and heard a sermon, some sentences of which caught his attention. It happened that just then he was gravelled for lack of matter; and he was busy during the service in vainly attempting to construct a plot in which a gamekeeper's daughter was to be betrayed by a young lord under circumstances of excruciating novelty. In spite of the novelty of the circumstances he could not help recognising that the main theme was a trifle stale; and as they were singing the hymn before the sermon he confessed to himself that the plot was not worth elaboration, and began to think about other things.

Piecraft's mind, indeed, was just then in a state of extreme confusion. Now he would be listening to the words of the preacher, now giving way to anxieties about Jim, now returning to the plot of his novel like a moth to a candle-light, and now reflecting, with the acute discomfort of a double consciousness, on his inability to concentrate his thoughts. "There is nothing," he mused, "which sooner demoralises a man's intelligence than the discovery that he can make money by following the demand of a degenerate public taste. It leads to mental incoherence and to the most extraordinary self-deception. I am afraid that that cursed Manual has undone me. It seems to have resurrected another personality who belongs to a lower order of being than my true and proper self. Having failed to earn my living by being the man I am, I am now in a way to make money by being the man I am not. What business have I to be constructing these ridiculous plots? And how is it that, once started on that line, I am unable to prevent myself going further? I had thought that a scientific training was the best safeguard against obsession. But I perceive it is no such thing. Is it possible that I am so far like Frate Alberigo--my proper soul expelled to another world, and perhaps practising medicine there, while a demon holds possession of my body and writes third-rate novels in this?"

A moment later he was thinking about Jim.

"I hope the boy won't forget to send me a cable when he reaches the port; somehow I feel unaccountably anxious about him." Then he turned to wondering how much he would be able to screw out of the publishers for the next novel, and how everything would depend on the breadth of the Purpose.

Suddenly a sentence of the sermon caught his ear: "Illusion is an integral part of Reality."

"Tip-top," thought Piecraft. "So it is." And in a moment his imagination began to cast about for a reality of which three parts should be illusion. But he could think of nothing that answered the description, and again he said to himself, "I am not in a normal condition to-day. One should never force a reluctant brain. And I can't help being anxious about Jim. I had better turn my attention to the sermon."

"For example," the preacher was just then saying, "many a man who has determined to abandon the pursuit of happiness has subsequently realised that he was still pursuing happiness in another form. Others have found that actions which they thought they were doing for the love of God were really done out of hatred of the devil.... Nor can we ever be sure that we are the authors of our own acts. No doubt we usually think we are. But if the testimony of holy men--and of bad men too--counts for anything, we shall be forced to the conclusion that many acts which we think we have performed have really been performed by some person who is not ourselves, or by some force or motivation whose source is not in our own souls. This, my friends, applies to our bad actions as well as to our good ones. Thus we see how of all reality, even of moral reality, illusion is an integral part."

Dr Phippeny Piecraft did not trouble himself for one instant about the truth or error of these doctrines. An idea suddenly leaped into his mind as he heard them, and the preacher had hardly concluded the last period before the novelist saw himself secure of at least eighty pounds for his next manuscript. Such are the strange reactions which the best-meant sermons often provoke in the minds of the hearers, especially when there is genius in the congregation.

The title of his new novel was the first thing that came into Piecraft's head. It was to be called Dual Personality, and cerebral pathology was to supply the atmosphere. The plot came next--at least the outline of it. The main actors were to be two young lords, or something of that sort, the one as good as they make them and the other as bad. Each of these young lords was to play the part of motivating force to the actions of the other. "We'll call them A and B," reflected Phippeny. "A, the good young lord, shall intend nothing but good and do nothing but evil. B, the bad one, shall intend nothing but evil and do nothing but good: that is, A's actions shall represent B's character, and vice versa. Each, of course, must be exhibited as under the influence of the other; and this mutual influence must be so strong that A's virtues are converted by B's influence into vices, and B's vices by A's influence into virtues. Thus each of them shall be the author, not of his own actions, but of the actions of his friend. A splendid idea, and one that has never yet occurred to any novelist living or dead! It is certain to lead to some tremendous situations."

Before the sermon concluded the pot was beginning to simmer. Several situations had been rapidly sketched by way of experiment: a trial trip, so to say, had been taken. For example: Scene, a labyrinthine wood. Time, the dead of night. An intermittent moonlight, and a gale causing strange voices in the tree-tops. The bad young lord, on his way to the gamekeeper's daughter, is stealing among the trees. Suddenly a figure steps into his path. It is the good young lord. Conversation: upshot--the bad young lord resolves to take Holy Orders. Takes them, but becomes a worse villain than before; psychology to be arranged later. Second situation: good young lord now leader of Labour movement: the bad young lord (in Orders) persuades the other, by casuistry, to misapply trust funds to support coal-strike. And so on and so on. End: Archbishopric for villain, penal servitude for hero. Reader all the time kept in doubt as to which is villain and which hero; and sometimes led to think, by cerebral pathology, that the two men are one personality--the two halves of one brain. Counter-plot for the women--each lord in love with the woman who is matched to the other. Keynote of whole--tragic irony.

Piecraft had advanced thus far when his mind received another jostle. His attention was again caught by the words of the sermon. "I have heard," the preacher was saying, "of a distinguished author who, on reading one of his own books ten years after it was written, entirely failed to recognise it as his own work, and insisted that it had been written by somebody else. Such is the force of illusion."

"The fellow's an idiot," thought Piecraft, "to believe such a story. The thing couldn't happen. At least, I'm pretty sure it will never happen to me. None the less, it might be worked in for a literary effect." And again he fell to musing.

The preacher was now coming to the end of his sermon. He had been saying something about the relations of St Paul to the older apostles, and about the various illusions current at the time; and then, after alluding to St Paul's sojourn in the wilderness of Arabia, was winding up a period with the following questions: "But meanwhile, my brethren, where is Peter? Where is John? Where is James? And what are they doing?"

"Where is James? " These, and what followed them, were the only words that penetrated to Piecraft's intelligence, and they struck so sharply into the current of his thoughts that he almost forgot himself. He sat bolt upright, opened his mouth, and was on the point of shouting an answer to the question, when he suddenly remembered where he was and checked himself in time. The answer he had on the tip of his tongue was this: "James, so far as I can judge, is just getting into wireless touch with New York, but I would to God I knew what he was doing!"

A moment later he was thinking, "I'm getting light-headed, and shall be making an ass of myself if I'm not careful. I'm certainly not in my usual health. What the deuce is the matter with me? When, I wonder, shall I have news of Jim's arrival?"

When Piecraft left the church he was in a state of acute depression and distress. His pulse was throbbing and his head aching, and it seemed to him as he paced the streets that the preacher was following close behind him, and constantly repeating the question, "Where is James, where is James?" Sometimes the voice would sound like a distant echo, sometimes like a mocking cry.

On reaching home he said to his housekeeper: "Mrs Avory, I shall be glad if you will sit up till you hear me go to bed. For the first time in my life I am afraid of being left alone. I can't imagine what has come over me."

He tried to read the paper, to write a letter, to play the piano; paced the floor; wandered into the housekeeper's sitting-room; went out for a walk and came back after going twenty yards. Then he took up a volume of his favourite Arabian Nights and found, after reading a page, that he had not understood a sentence of the print. Towards midnight his agitation was so great that he could bear it no longer. He rang the bell.

"Mrs Avory," he said, "something has gone wrong with me--or with somebody else. I can't help thinking about James--and fancying all sorts of things. I believe I am going mad. In heaven's name, what am I to do?"

"Well, sir," said the woman, "you are a doctor and should know better than I. But if I were you, sir, I'd take a sleeping draught and go to bed."

In despair Piecraft took the woman's advice. As a doctor he avoided the use of every kind of drug on principle, and was terrified when he realised how much morphia he had put into the draught. "Now indeed I am mad," he thought, "for the smallest dose of morphia was always enough to give me the horrors."

His fears were not ungrounded. There is no record of what he saw, fancied, or suffered during the night and the following day; but when he entered his dining-room late next evening, Mrs Avory started as though she had seen a ghost. "Give me the newspaper," he cried, and before she could prevent him he snatched it out of her hand.

"'Titanic' sinks after collision with iceberg. Enormous loss of life"--were the first words he read.

"I knew it!" he exclaimed.

* * * * *

Those who saw the tragic throng of men and women who for the next few days hung round the doors of the White Star offices in London will not have forgotten that poor fellow who was beside himself--how he would walk among the crowd accosting this person and that, and how he would then take off his hat, or his gloves, or pull at his tie and say, "Look at this hat, sir; look at those gloves; look at that tie! Jim gave me those, sir. He bought them with two pounds I gave him to spend on himself. What do you think of that for a noble act? And I tell you that Jim's lying at this moment fathoms deep in the ocean. He's among the lost, sir; by God, I know it. A mere boy in years, madam, only eighteen last birthday; but a man in character. Loyal to the core! And take my word for one thing. Jim played the man at the last, sir; you bet your stars he did! He didn't wear a lifebelt; not he--that is, if there was a woman around who hadn't got one! A man who would spend his money as he spent those two pounds wouldn't keep a lifebelt for himself. Would he, now? Look at this hat! Look at these gloves! Look at that tie!...."

For two whole days Piecraft maintained this requiem. On the evening of the second day some kind-hearted fellow-sufferer persuaded him to go home, and volunteered to bear him company. It was a long hour's journey to the other end of London. A telegraph boy arrived at the house at the same moment as the two men and handed Piecraft a telegram. He broke it open and read. Then he suddenly tore off his hat, and, handing it with a quick movement to his companion, staggered forward and collapsed on the doorstep.

* * * * *

When he came to himself he was lying on the sofa in his study. In the room were several people who, as soon as Piecraft opened his eyes, gazed upon him attentively for a few moments and then, nodding to each other, as though to say "all right," quietly withdrew.

The novelist looked round him. Yes, he was assuredly in his own familiar room. But one thing struck him as strange. The room was usually in a state of extreme disorder--dust everywhere, books and papers lying about in confusion, hats, sticks, pipes, photographs and golf-balls mingling in the chaos. Now everything was neat and orderly. The furniture had been polished, the carpet cleaned, the hearth swept up and the fire-irons in their place. On the table, too, was a vase of flowers. "There must have been a spring cleaning," he thought.

He felt remarkably well. "I believe that I fell asleep during a sermon. Well, the sleep has done me good and cleared my brain. But who on earth brought me here? Strange: but I'll think it out when I have time. Just now I want to write. That was a capital idea for my new novel. I must work it out at once while the inspiration is still active; for I never felt keener and fitter in my life. Let me see.--Yes, Dual Personality was to be the title." These were his first reflections.

Then without more ado he sat down to the table; lit his pipe; ruminated for five minutes, and began to write.

He wrote rapidly and continuously for many hours, and midnight had passed when Piecraft flung down the last sheet on the floor and uttered a triumphant "Done!"

"I thought," he said aloud, "that it would run to at least 100,000 words. But I don't believe there's a fifth that number. The thing has come out a Short Story. Never mind, I'm safe for a twenty-pound note anyhow. Not so bad for one day's work. I'll read it over in the morning." Then, feeling hungry, he rang the bell.

To his great surprise there entered not the fussy old lady who usually waited on him, but a girl neatly dressed and with a remarkably intelligent face.

"Are you the new servant?" said he.

The girl made no reply, but, having placed food on the table, withdrew. "As modest as she is pretty," thought Piecraft as he ate his meal. "Well, I'll give her no cause to complain of me. And I hope she'll continue to wait on me. For in all my life I never knew bread and wine to taste so delicious."

On the following morning he had barely finished his breakfast, supplied him in the same silent manner, when a tap came at the door and a young man stepped into the room. "Is there anything I can do for you, sir?" said he.

"Who are you?" said Piecraft. "I have never seen you before."

"Oh," said the young man, "I'm a messenger. Your friends have sent me to look after you."

"It's the first time they have ever done such a thing," returned the other, "and I'm much obliged to them. Anyhow, you came at the right time. There is something you can do for me; at least I think so. Can you read aloud?"

"I like nothing better," said the young man.

"Well, then, you are the very man I want. It so happens that I wrote a story for the press last night, and I was just wishing that I had a kind friend who would do me the service of reading it aloud. There's nothing that gives an author a better idea of the effect of his work than to hear it read aloud."

"I will read it with the greatest pleasure," said the youth.

"Then let us get to work at once," said Piecraft--and he handed his manuscript across the table.

The young man settled himself in a good light and began to read. The first sentence ran as follows:

"For the fourth time that day, Abdulla, the water-seller of Damascus, had come to the river's bank to fill his water-skin."

"Stop!" cried Piecraft. "I never wrote that! I must have given you the wrong manuscript. What is the title on the outside?"

"The Hole in the Water-skin," answered the reader.

"It's not the title of my story," said Piecraft. "Here, hand the papers over to me and let me look at them. Extraordinary! Where did this thing come from? I presume you're attempting some kind of practical joke. What have you done with the manuscript I gave you?"

"The confusion will soon pass," said the other.

"Confusion, indeed!" answered Piecraft, as his eye glanced over the sheets. "You've hit the right word this time, my boy. For the odd thing is that the whole piece is written in my hand and on my paper, and is, I could swear, the identical bundle of sheets I laid away last night. And yet there is not a word in it I can recognise as my own. But wait--what's this on page 32? I see something about 'dual personality.' That was the title of my story. But no! The words are scratched out. Yes, a whole page--two pages--more pages--are deleted at that point. What on earth does it all mean?"

"Perhaps," said the young man, "if you allow me to read the whole to you, your connection with the story will gradually become clear."

"You had better do so," answered Piecraft. "At all events, read on till I stop you. For, from what I see, I don't like the fellow's style, and may soon grow tired of it. And make a point of reading the portions that are scratched out."

"I shall remember your wishes," said the other; "and as to not liking the fellow's style, I think you may find that it is to some extent founded on your own."

"I don't believe it," said Piecraft. "Anyhow, if he hasn't been copying my style, he has been stealing my ideas. The passage about 'dual personality' proves it. But go ahead, and let us hear what it's all about."

The young man again settled himself in a good light and read as follows.



For the fourth time that day Abdulla, the water-seller of Damascus, had come to the river's bank to fill his water-skin. The day was hot beyond endurance; the drinkers had been clamorous and trade had been brisk; and a bag of small money, the fruits of his merchandise, hung within the folds of his gaberdine.

Weary with going to and fro in the burning streets, Abdulla seated himself under a palm tree, the last of a long line that ran down to the pool where the skins were filled. Resting his back against the cool side of the tree, the setting sun being behind him, he drew forth his bag and counted his coins. "One more journey," he said to himself, "and the bag will be full. Zobeida shall have sweetmeats to-morrow."

The pleasing thought lingered in his mind; fled for a moment and then returned; Abdulla saw the shop of the infidel Greek, with boxes of chocolate in the window; he saw himself inside making his choice among innumerable boxes, and holding the bag of money in his hand. Then his head fell forward on his chest and he was asleep.

The plunge into sleep had been so sudden, and its duration was so brief, that no memory of it was left, and Abdulla knew not that he had slept nor the moment when he awaked. Fluctuating images rose and wavered and vanished; and then, as though in answer to a signal, the incoherence ceased, the forms became defined, and a steady stream of consciousness began to flow.

He was conscious of the figure of a man in the foreground whose presence he had not previously noticed. The man was sitting motionless on a low rock less than a stone-cast distant, and close to the river's brim; and he seemed to be watching the still flow of the stream. A moment later he stood upright, turned round, and crossed the fifty paces of sand that lay between him and Abdulla.

As the man drew nearer, Abdulla observed that he bore a bewildering resemblance to himself. Not many minutes before he had been looking at his own reflection in a small pocket mirror which he had purchased that morning from a Jew as a present for Zobeida; and as he had looked at the image, still thinking of Zobeida, he wished that God had bestowed upon him a countenance of nobler cast. The face he now saw before him was the face he had just seen in the mirror, with the nobler cast introduced; and Abdulla, noticing the difference as well as the resemblance, was afraid.

"Depart from me, O my master," said he, "for I am a man of no account." And he bowed himself to the ground.

"Rise," said the other, "and make haste; for the sun is low, and scarce an hour remains for thy merchandise. Dip thy water-skin into the stream; and, as thou dippest, think on the hour of thy death, when the All-merciful will dip into the river of thy life, and thou shalt sleep for the twinkling of an eye, and know not when thou awakest, and there shall be no mark left on thee, even as no mark is left on the river when thou hast filled thy water-skin from its abundance."

"I know not what thou sayest," said Abdulla, "for I am a poor man and ignorant."

"Thou art young," said the other, "and there is time for thee to learn. Hear, then, and I will enlighten thee. Everything hath its double, and the double is redoubled again. To this world there is a next before and a next after, and to each next a nearest, through a counting that none can complete. Worlds without end lie enfolded one within another like the petals of a rose; and as the fragrance of one petal penetrates and intermingles with the fragrance of all the rest, so is the vision of the world thou seest now blended with the vision of that which was and of that which is to come. And I tell thee, O thou seller of water, that between this world and its next fellow the difference is so faint that none save the enlightened can discern it. A man may live a thousand lives, as thou hast already done, and dream but of one. Again thou shalt sleep and again thou shalt awake, and the world of thy sleeping shall differ from the world of thy waking no more than thy full water-skin differs from itself when two drops of water have fallen from its mouth."

"Thou speakest like a devotee," answered Abdulla. "The matter of thy discourse is utterly beyond me, save for that thou sayest concerning the dipping of the water-skin. There thy thought is as the echo of mine own. But know that I am ashamed in thy presence; and again I entreat thee to depart." And Abdulla bowed himself as before.

"Do, then, as I bid thee," said the man; "dip thy skin in the water of the flowing river, think on the hour of thy death, and forget not as thou dippest to pronounce the name of God."

Then Abdulla rose up and did what he was commanded to do. While he was dipping the skin he tried to think of the hour of his death; but he could think only of the words, and dying seemed to him a thing of naught; for he was young and Zobeida was fair. Nevertheless, when he had lifted the full skin from the river, and saw that his taking left no mark, an old thought came back to him, and for the thousandth time he began to wonder at the ways of flowing water. "Only God can understand them," he murmured. "May the Compassionate have mercy upon the ignorant!"

Then he adjusted the burden on his back and turned to the palm-belt. But the stranger was gone.

As one who walks in sleep, Abdulla retraced the path on which for more than half the year he came and went three or four times a day. Now he pondered the words of his visitant; now the image of flowing water rose and glided before the inner eye.

He passed under the gate of the city without noting where he was. But here a sudden jostle interrupted his reverie. A man driving a string of donkeys thrust him against the wall, cursing him as he passed. Abdulla looked up and, when he heard the curses, repeated the name of God as a protection against evil.

Re-settling the water-skin in the position from which it had been displaced by the collision with the donkey, he took up the thread of his musing and went on. He thought of Zobeida, of the Cadi, of the contract of marriage, of the sweetmeats he would purchase on the morrow, of the shop of the Greek. But again his reverie was broken; this time by the sound of his own voice. The cry of his trade had burst automatically from his lips: "Water; sweet water! Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come and buy!"

A vision lay before him, and he seemed to be gazing at it from a point in mid-air. He saw a street in Damascus; the crowd is coming and going, the merchants are in their shops, and some are crying their wares. Close by the door of a house a boy is holding forth a wooden bowl, and in front of him a water-seller is in the act of opening his water-skin. Abdulla watches the filling of the bowl, and sees the man put forth his hand to take the coin the boy is offering. The man touches the coin and instantly becomes Abdulla himself! Abdulla closes his water-skin and replaces it on his back, not without a momentary sense of bewilderment. He observes also that some of the water is spilt on the ground. But he has no memory of the spilling.

Abdulla would fain have questioned himself. But he found no question to ask and could not begin the interrogation. Something seemed to have disturbed him, but so completely had it vanished that he could give the disturbance neither form nor name. Otherwise the chain of his memory was unbroken. He had finished his last round for the day; scarce a cup of water remained in the skin, and as he flung the flaccid thing over his shoulder he began to recall, one by one, the names and faces of his customers, forty in all, reflecting with satisfaction that the last skinful had brought him the best gains of the day. Then he remembered the driver of donkeys who had thrust him against the wall, and, examining the skin, found that it was frayed almost to bursting. And Abdulla uttered a curse on the driver and turned homewards.

His road lay through narrow streets, crowded with people, and as he passed down one of them a veiled woman cried to him from the door of a hovel.

"O compassionate water-seller, I have two children within who are sore athirst, for the fever is burning them. Give them, I pray thee, a mouthful of water, and Allah shall recompense thee in Paradise."

"Woman," said Abdulla, "there is less water in the skin than would suffice to cool the tongue of a soul in hell. Nevertheless, what I have I will give thee." And he lowered the mouth of his water-skin into the woman's bowl.

Not a drop came forth. In vain Abdulla shook the skin and pressed the corners between the palms of his hands. Then, discovering what had happened, he began to curse and to swear.

"By the beard of the Prophet," he cried, "the skin has burst! A driver of donkeys, begotten of Satan, thrust me against the wall at the entering in of the city, and frayed the water-skin. And now, by the permission of God, the heat has dried up the remnant of the water and cracked the skin, thus completing the work of the Deviser of Mischief. Alas, alas! for the skin was borrowed. And to-morrow restitution will be demanded, for the lender is likewise a son of the Devil, and the bowels of mercy are not within him."

"Verily thou raisest a great cry for a small evil," said the woman. "Bethink thee of them who are perishing with thirst, and hold thy peace."

"Nay, but I am mindful of them," said Abdulla; "for had not the water-skin been burst, I would have had the wherewithal to give them to drink. But know, O mother of sorrows, that the motives of mankind are of a mixed nature, especially when grief oppresseth them. And my griefs are greater than thou deemest. Woe is me! Behold this bag of money, and raise thy voice with mine in lamentation over the miseries of the unfortunate. A damsel, more beautiful than the full moon seen beyond the summits of waving palms, is at this hour hungering for the sweetmeats of the infidel, even as the children of thy body are thirsting for water; and within this bag is the money which, by the favour of Allah, would have purchased abundance of all that she desireth. But ere to-morrow's sun has risen from the edge of the desert, four coins out of every five will be claimed as damages by the lender of the skin (whom may the Prophet utterly reject!), the rest being reserved for the daily food which the All-merciful provides for his creatures. And the damsel will sit in the corner of the house, rocking her goodly body, which was created for the angels to gaze upon; and she will bite her hands and beat them on the wall, and wail for the sweetmeats that come not, and curse the name of Abdulla, the breaker of vows!"

"Most excellent of water-sellers," said the woman, "many are the damsels in this city addicted to the sweetmeats of the infidel, and of those that are beautiful as the full moon beyond the waving palms there are not a few. Thy description, therefore, availeth not for the identification of thy beloved. Describe her more narrowly, I beseech thee, that hereafter, when my children are dead, I may bring her the balm of consolation. For I am afflicted in her woes; and between women in sorrow there is ever a bond."

"Yea, verily," answered Abdulla. "I will so describe my beloved that thou shall recognise her among ten thousand. Know, then, that her form is like unto a minaret of ivory built by the Waters of Silence in a king's garden; her eyes are as lighted lamps in the house of the Enchanter; the flowing of her hair is a troop of wild horses pursued by Bedouîn in the wilderness of Arabia; and the fragrance of her coming is like an odour of precious nards wafted on the evening breeze from the Islands of Wak-Wak."

"O Abdulla," replied the other, "of a truth I know this damsel. And now I perceive that the Devourer of Bliss hath taken thee in his net and multiplied thy sorrows upon thy head. But forget not the grief of this thy handmaid, and the suffering of those she has nursed at the breast. Hear even now the wailing that is within! Lo, a worker of spells has sent destruction among us, and the sickness is sore in the habitations of the poor. Press, then, thy skin once more, if peradventure Allah may have left there one drop of water, that the mouth of the little ones may be moistened before they die. And add a curse, I pray thee, on the Worker of Spells; for the Giver of Gifts hath made thy tongue of great alacrity, and taught thee the putting-together of wise judgments and the rounding-off of memorable sayings."

By this time a crowd, attracted by the cries and the cursing, had gathered round the speakers, and so thick was the press that Abdulla had much ado to move his hands that he might press the water-skin as he was bidden.

"O wise and much-enduring woman," he cried, "I greatly fear me that thy prayer is vain. But I will even do as thou biddest, if only these foolish ones will make room that I may pass my hands craftily over the skin. Thereafter I will add a goodly curse on the worker of spells, and at the last thou and I and all this multitude will wail and lament together, that the heart of the All-merciful may be moved to pity and his will turned to work us good."

So spake Abdulla, and the crowd began to give way. But, behold, a marching squad of soldiery, going to the war, with drums beating and bayonets all aflash, suddenly swings down the street, filling its whole breadth from side to side. Instantly the crowd backs, and Abdulla and the woman, separated from one another, are swept along as driftwood by the torrent. Arrived in the open space into which the street discharged, Abdulla rushes hither and thither in search of the woman, examining every face in the crowd, and raising himself on tiptoe that he may look over their heads. But the woman is nowhere to be seen.

Perturbed by the sudden disappearance of the woman, Abdulla turned once more into the homeward way. Before he had taken many steps it occurred to him to examine the rent in his water-skin. Standing quite still and holding the skin at arm's length before him, he gazed intently at the small hole, about the size of an olive-stone, which had resulted from the donkey-driver's assault. As he thus gazed, the incident which had so abruptly terminated a few minutes before seemed to retreat into the distant past. Then it became a story, heard he knew not where, about a water-seller who lived long ago. Next, it seemed a dream of the night before, the details of which he could not recall. Finally, it vanished from his memory altogether.

Abdulla, realising that it was gone, turned quickly and found, with some surprise, that he was standing in front of a large shop with plate-glass windows, behind which were boxes of chocolate arranged in rows. A mirror--at least it seemed so to Abdulla,--of equal length with the shop front, was set at the back and doubled the objects in the window.

The sight of the sweetmeats instantly brought back the memory of his misfortunes, and, in so doing, gave an occasion to the Tempter.

"I will conceal what has happened from the lender of the skin," thought Abdulla. "I will insert a cunning patch, which will assuredly burst so soon as the skin is filled with water, and I will then swear by God and the Prophet that the skin was patched when I borrowed it. And now I will go in and bargain with the infidel for yonder box, the circumference whereof is wide as the belly of a well-fattened sheep."

Raising his eyes from the great box of chocolates, Abdulla's attention was strangely arrested by the reflection of his own face and figure in the mirror at the back of the shop front. He noted, with a start, the unwonted dignity of the figure as thus presented, and immediately recalled the man who had accosted him but lately by the Water-sellers' Pool.

Abdulla gazed on what was before him, and thought thus within himself, "Of a truth I knew not that Allah had bestowed so dignified a countenance on the least worthy of his servants. The eyes are the eyes of eagles; the nose is a promontory looking seawards; the brow is a tower of brass built for defence at the gateway of a kingdom. Verily, the mirror of Zobeida must have been at fault. Surely God hath now provided me, in my own countenance, with the means of endearment, and the sweetmeats of the infidel are needed not. Moreover, it becometh not one thus favoured to deal crookedly with the followers of the Prophet. Is Abdulla a man of violence, as the driver of the donkey; or a man of no bowels, as the lender of the skin? Is he an accursed Greek or a more accursed Armenian that he should play the cheat with his neighbour, inserting a cunning patch, which will assuredly produce leakage and make the rent worse than before? God forbid! Abdulla is a man of pure occupation, even as yonder image reveals him. Nevertheless, it may be that the Author of Deception has fashioned a lying picture in the mirror, that he may cause me to forgo the purchase of the box, and undo me with the beloved, who will soil her cheeks with rivers of tears, and rock her body in the corner of the house. Go to, now; I will see whether the Evil One be not hidden behind the mirror; or if, perchance, there be not here some witchcraft contrivance of the Franks."

So thinking, Abdulla stepped into the entry of the shop, that he might examine the back of the mirror. What was his astonishment on discovering that there was no mirror at all, the boxes of chocolate he had taken for reflections being just as real as all the rest!

The Greek proprietor, suspecting him to be a thief, rushed out to apprehend him. He was too late, for Abdulla had fled into the darkness.

* * * * *

The sudden night had fallen; aloft, in a firmament of violet-black, the great stars were shining, and the city was still.

Pursuing his way, Abdulla found himself in front of a lofty house with a solitary latticed window immediately beneath the roof. It was the appointed hour. Presently a handkerchief was waved from between the lattice, and the soft voice of a woman began to speak.

"O Abdulla, my beloved," said the voice, "though it be dark in the street, yet there is a light round about thee so that I can see thy countenance as if it were noonday. Wherefore hast thou anointed thyself with radiance, and made thyself to shine like the sons of the morning? Where hast thou been? For thy fashion is passing strange, and my heart turns to water at the sight of thee."

"I have been," said Abdulla, "in the company of the wise, who have taught me the way of understanding, and shown me all knowledge, and opened the dark things that are hidden in the secret parts of the earth. All day have I conversed with enlightened and honourable men, and they have made me the chief of their company and the father of their sect."

"Begone, then," answered the woman, "for I know thee not, and thy comeliness makes me afraid. I had deemed that thou wert Abdulla, the seller of water; and I am even now prepared to let down a basket that he may place therein the thing for which my soul is an hungered, even the sweetmeats of the infidel, which I would then draw up again with a cord of silk, and be refreshed after my manner. But as for the ways of understanding, thou mayest tread them alone, and the opening up of that which is hidden is a thing that my soul hateth."

"O thou that speakest behind the lattice," said Abdulla, "thy discourse is of matters that lack importance in the eyes of the sagacious. I perceive thou art possessed by a demon, and surmise that the Whetter of Appetite is leading thee in the path of destruction. Retire, therefore, to thy inner chamber, and recite quickly the Seven Exorcisms and the Two Professions of Faith."

"O Abdulla, if indeed thou art he," replied the voice, "I discern thou art contending for a purpose. Peradventure, the eyes of the wanton have entangled thee in the way, and thou hast bestowed on another that which, when thy heart was upright, thou designedst for me. Come now and prove thine integrity, for I will presently let down the basket that thou mayest fill it with the delicacies of the Franks."

"Thou fallest deeper into the snares of the demon," said Abdulla, "and thy voice soundeth afar off, even as the voice of one crying for water from the flames of the nethermost pit. Know that he to whom thou speakest is of them that walk in the light; and what have these to do with the delicacies of the Franks? Verily, I understand not thy topic, having heard but a rumour thereof among the conversations of the ignorant."

"O despiser of the knowledge that sweetens life," said the woman, "verily, I deem thee a man of limited information and degenerate wit. But hearken unto my words, and I will enlighten thee concerning the topic of our discourse, that ignorance may excuse thee no further. Know, then, that the delicacies of the Franks are of many kinds, arranged in boxes that are tied with silver cords. And the chief of them all is a thing of two natures, cunningly blended, whereof one nature appertaineth to the outer shell, and the other to the inner substance. The outer shell tasteth bitter, and the colour is of the second degree of blackness, like unto the skin of the Ethiopian eunuch. The inner substance is sweeter than the honeycomb, and white as the wool of Helbon, interspersed with all manner of nuts. This is the chief among the delicacies of the Franks; and such is the marvel of the blending of the natures that the palate knoweth neither the bitterness of the shell, nor the sweetness of the kernel, but a third flavour of more eminent rank, to which Allah hath appointed no name. Hie thee, therefore, O man of no excuse, and buy from them that sell."

"That for which thou askest," said Abdulla, "is utterly beneath the dignity of the enlightened to give thee. Ask for the wisdom of the ancients and thou shalt have it. Ask for the revelation of things hidden, and it shall be accorded thee. But the delicacies of the Franks, cunningly blended as to their two natures, and arranged in boxes that are tied with silver cords, shalt thou in no wise receive."

"O raiser of false expectations," cried the lady, "and betrayer of her that has trusted thee, among all the sons of Adam there is none more utterly contemptible than thou. In the dignity of thy carriage thou appearest unto me as a thing abhorred; I like not thy wisdom; I have no fellowship with thy knowledge, and I despise the insolent shining of thy inner light."

"O woman of a light mind and a debased appetite," said Abdulla, "thy wits have gone astray, and thou babblest like one asleep, confounding the things that are not with the things that are. Abdulla, the water-seller, of whom thou speakest, is long numbered with the dead, and the waters of forgetfulness have flowed over his record. Only this day I heard afar off the last rumour which the world hath concerning him. And this was the rumour: that, on a day, perceiving one athirst in the byways, Abdulla gave him freely three drops of water from the dregs of his water-skin, thereby earning the favour of Allah (whose name he exalted!) and the promise of Paradise. But going forth in the way he met a man having the Evil Eye; and lo, it straightway entered into the heart of Abdulla to fill his water-skin with the sweetmeats of the infidel, that he might find favour in the eyes of a frivolous woman--even one such as thou art. And God (than whom there is no other!), being angered at the folly of Abdulla, made a hole in the skin, and sent forth the Terminator of Delights to end his days. So the water-seller died, and the weight of his water-skin, laden with sweetmeats, went forth with his soul. And this, being heavy, dragged him down to the place of darkness, where the sweetmeats fell out through the hole in the skin and were eaten of devils."

At this the woman banged-to the lattice and disappeared.

Abdulla started at the sound of the closing lattice. He was in a standing posture on the roof of his house. The mat on which he slept was tossed into a heap, and the empty water-skin, which served him for a pillow, had been thrown some yards from its place. Abdulla looked over the parapet eastwards; and he saw the desert rose-red in the dawn.

For a long time Abdulla walked to and fro on the roof of his house pondering the things that had happened to him both in the day and the night. To piece the story together was no easy matter, for there were gaps in his memory, and, though some of the incidents were clear, others were perplexingly dim. Moreover, the incidents that were clear seemed to change places with those that were dim, so that the line between his dreams and his waking experiences was now in one place and now in another. He could not be sure, for example, that the fraying of his water-skin belonged to the one class rather than the other, and so rapid was the transition from conviction to doubt that he examined the skin no less than five times to satisfy himself the hole was there.

The longer he meditated on these things the greater became his confusion of mind, and by the time the sun was fully risen from the desert he was well-nigh distracted and beginning to doubt of his own identity. In vain did he repeat the Seven Exorcisms, the Four Prayers, the Tecbir, the Adan, and the Two Professions of Faith, calling on the name of Allah between the exercises, and extolling His majesty every time. At last Abdulla began to wring his hands and to cry aloud like one bereft of intelligence.

While thus lamenting, it suddenly seemed to him that one from a far distance was calling him by name. Checking his cries, he listened. The voice came nearer and nearer, and presently broke out in familiar tones at his very side.

"What aileth thee, O Abdulla?" said the voice. "Hast thou partaken of the intoxicating drug? Has the Evil Eye encountered thee? Or sufferest thou from a visitation of God?"

"O my mother," answered Abdulla, "there is none else besides thee under heaven who can ease my pain and give me counsel in my perplexity. The sound of thy voice is to me like running waters to him that perisheth of thirst. Know that a great bewilderment has overtaken me, so that I discern no more the things that are not from the things that are."

"That which was foreordained has come to pass," said the woman. "Thou wast marked on thy forehead in the hour of thy birth; and I saw it, and knew that things hidden from the foundation of the earth would be revealed unto thee. Lo, the mark is on thy forehead still. O Abdulla, my son, thou art no longer a seller of water, but a seer of the Inner Substance, and divulger of secrets."

"O my mother," said Abdulla, "I know not what thou sayest. The Inner Substance is a thing whereof I have never heard, and there is no secret that I can divulge. Only a dream of the night season has troubled me, and even now it seemeth to mingle with the things that God makes visible, so that the desert floats like a yellow cloud, and thine own form undulates before me like the morning mist."

"Thy confusion," said the woman, "is caused by the intermingling of the worlds, which few among the sons of men are permitted to note; and the undulations that bewilder thee are made by the river of Time. What thou seest is the passing of that which was into that which is, and of that which is into that which is to be. But rouse thy mind quickly, O my son, and betake thyself on the instant to a skilful Interpreter of Dreams, that the matter be resolved."

"I hear and obey," said Abdulla; and he ran down the steps of his house into the street.

As he passed through the door, Selim the courier called to him from the other side.

"O thou that dwellest alone," cried Selim, "hast thou taken to thyself a wife? Has Zobeida proved gracious?"

"Nay, verily," answered Abdulla. "I have broken a vow and Zobeida rejecteth me utterly. And know, O Selim, that I am a man sore troubled with dreams in the night season, so that a spirit of amazement hath possessed me, and I discern not the light from the darkness, nor the shadow from the substance."

"Thou tellest a strange thing," said Selim. "Nevertheless, I heard thee speaking scarce a moment gone with one on the roof."

"My mother was come from the lower parts of the house to comfort me," said Abdulla, "and it was with her that I spake."

"Verily, thou art bewitched," answered the other. "More than twenty years have passed since thy mother entered into the Mercy of God, and her body is dust within the tomb."

Abdulla's answer was a piteous cry. He leaned for support against the wall of his house, spreading out his hands like one who would save himself from falling.

"O Selim," he cried, "I am encompassed with forgetfulness, and my heart is eradicated within me. Said I not unto thee that I discern no more between the darkness and the light, between the shadow and the substance? But I swear to thee, by the beard of the Prophet, that she with whom I spake was the mother who bore me. She stretched out her arms towards me and touched the mark on my forehead, and bade me hasten to the Interpreter of Dreams that the matter might be resolved."

"It is a sign from Allah," said Selim; "and I doubt not that thou wilt die the death at the hand of the infidel and be received into Paradise. For know that thou hast been called two days ago, and the sergeant is even now seeking for thee."

"That also I had forgotten," said Abdulla. "I will hasten forthwith to the Interpreter of Dreams, and thereafter I will report me to the sergeant. And the rest shall be as Allah willeth."

And Abdulla passed on his way to the Interpreter of Dreams.

* * * * *

Suddenly he realised that his path was blocked by a crowd, and looking up he saw above him, on the other side of the street, the lattice of Zobeida. "Verily," he thought, "I have made a long circuit; for this house lieth not in the way."

Loud cries were coming from the house, mingled with curses and the sound of hands beaten against the wall. As soon as Abdulla appeared, one of the crowd called out towards the lattice:

"O woman that cursest in the darkness, come now to the light, that we may hear thy maledictions more plainly, and be refreshed by the beauty of thy countenance. Lo, he who is thy enemy passeth even now beneath the window. Come forth, then, and the sight of him shall be as a fire in thy bones, inspiring thy tongue to the invention of disastrous epithets and calamitous imprecations. And we, on our part, will hold him fast, even the accursed Abdulla, that he run not away till his destiny is pronounced and his doom completed."

At this the lattice was burst open, and Zobeida, tearing aside her veil, displayed a countenance of wrath. Her hair was dishevelled, her cheeks were soiled with ashes and tears, her eyes were like coals of fire, and her voice hissed and rang like the sword of a slayer in the day of battle.

"O Abdulla," she cried, "of a truth thou art the Emperor of liars and the Sultan of rogues. May the Abaser of Pride rub thy nose in the dust!"

"O my mistress," answered Abdulla, "impose upon thyself, I beseech thee, the obligation of good manners."

"Dog and son of a dog----" cried Zobeida. But Abdulla heard no more. A distant confusion of sounds had arisen. It drew nearer with amazing rapidity, and finally broke forth into the tramp of marching feet, the rumbling of wheels, and the booming of a drum. The houses melted away, the sound of Zobeida's voice grew fainter and fainter, and the knot of bystanders was gone.

Abdulla sprang to attention and looked about him. He was in the main street of the city, and opposite was the house of the Interpreter of Dreams. Coming down the street was a regiment of Turkish infantry, with a battery of guns following behind. And a dim memory passed, like a swift shadow, over the mind of Abdulla.

For an instant he was bemused, and one who passed by heard him muttering broken words. "The long way round," he murmured; "the lattice of Zobeida--a caravan of camels laden with sweetmeats--dog and the son of a dog." Then a wind passed over his face, and it seemed to him that he had been thinking foolishly. "Well for me," he replied, "that I went not round by the house of Zobeida. For the time is short and I too am called." And with that he crossed over, making haste that he might reach the other side before the marching column blocked the street.

The house of the Interpreter was built after the European fashion, and on the door was a large brass knocker after the manner of the Franks. Abdulla stretched forth his hand, and was about to raise the knocker when one plucked him by the sleeve. Turning round he saw a man in the uniform of an officer of artillery.

"Wherefore hast thou not reported thyself?" said the officer. "Thy name was called two days ago, and verily thou runnest a risk of being shot."

"O my master, a bewilderment hath overtaken me," said Abdulla, "so that I forget all things and know not the day from the night. Lo, even now, I seek the Interpreter of Dreams that the matter may be resolved."

"Thou art in a way to have thy dreams interpreted by a bullet through the brain," said the officer. "Leave then thy dreaming and hold thy peace; or, by Allah, I will proclaim thy cowardice forthwith and order thy arrest. Fall in!"

Abdulla had no choice. A moment later he was marching in step with a squad of reservists who followed in the rear of the guns.

As the column passed down the street a veiled woman stepped out from the edge of the crowd, and, taking three paces by the side of Abdulla, whispered in his ear:

"Play the man."

* * * * *

They were now at the station, entraining for the seat of war. The carriages were crowded with shouting soldiery, and many, unable to find room within, had clambered on the roofs. Among these was Abdulla, crouching silent.

Suddenly a man in European costume forced his way along the platform and called him by name.

"Art thou Abdulla, the water-seller of Damascus?" said the man.

"I am he."

"Come down, then, that I may speak with thee. And hasten, for the time is short."

"Stay thou behind and let these go," said the European, when Abdulla had descended from the roof. "I will purchase thy release from the Pasha. Nay, the matter is already arranged, and none of these will hinder thee if thou stayest."

"And wherefore should I do this?" asked Abdulla.

"For a weighty and good reason," said the European. "Know that the fame of thee has reached to London, to Paris, to New York. Thou art spoken of as one who hath a power upon thee which may aid in opening up the things that have been hidden from the foundation of the earth. And the probers of secrets have sent me that I may search thee out, and engage thee at a great salary, and take thee with me to the seats of the learned and the cities of the West."

"Thou art in error," said Abdulla, "for power such as thou speakest of belongeth not to me. Of a truth, I am one who walketh in a great bewilderment, and the spirit of forgetfulness hath overpowered me. But withal I am a common man, of whom Allah hath created millions, and it was but yesterday I was seeking the Interpreter of Dreams, that I might pay him the fee and have the matter resolved."

"I am the Interpreter of Dreams whom thou soughtest," said the other, "and I dwell in the house built in the European fashion, with the great knocker of brass, after the manner of the Franks."

"Thy name?" said Abdulla.

"My name is Professor----"--but an escape of steam from the panting locomotive drowned the next word,--"and I am come from London to fetch thee."

"I go not with thee," said Abdulla, "for thou seemest to be one whom the Deluder of Intelligence is leading astray. I have but dreams to tell thee; and if thou wantest dreams, hast thou none of thine own? Verily, a dream is but a little thing."

"Thou errest," shouted the other--for Abdulla had now climbed back on to the roof,--"a dream is a thing more wonderful than aught else the Creator hath appointed, and there is none among the sons of Adam who understandeth the coming and the going thereof. But if thou wilt come with me----"

The Interpreter broke off in the middle of his sentence, for the train was moving out of the station, and he saw that Abdulla could no longer hear the words.

* * * * *

The battery to which Abdulla was attached lay in a hollow to the rear of the main battle, awaiting orders to take up a position in the front. It was the first time he had been under fire. Dead bodies, horridly mangled, lay around, and a straggling throng of wounded men, some silent, some unmanned by agony, and all terrible to look upon, was passing by. As Abdulla saw these things, the fear of death grew strong within him. His body trembled and his face was blanched.

Seeing his state his companions began to deride him. Presently a gaily dressed officer, passing where he was, paused in front of him, and drawing a small mirror from his pocket held it in front of the trembling man, and said:

"Look in this, O Abdulla, and thou wilt see the face of a coward."

Abdulla looked in the mirror and saw there the very face which had confronted him not long ago in the shop window of the Greek.

The soldiers around him burst into a roar of laughter as Abdulla looked in the mirror; but he heard them not.

He was busy in inward colloquy. "O thou that tremblest in thy body," he was saying to himself, "O Abdulla the coward, hearken unto me. Behold yon rider coming swiftly, and know, O thou craven carcase, that he bringeth the order to advance. Thinkest thou to stay behind, and then run away stealthily, and get thee back to thy water-selling in Damascus and to thy dallyings with a woman? Yea, verily, thou thinkest it; and even now contrivest within thyself how thou mayest steal away and not be seen. But know thou that I who speak to thee will suffer not thy cowardice. I will force thee presently to carry thy trembling limbs to yonder line, whence come these whom thou seest in their pain. Thither will I take thee, and I will hold thee fast in a place where death cometh to four of every five. Not a step backward shalt thou go. Nay, rather, I will blow a flame through thy nostrils into the marrow of thy bones, driving thee forward, until I have thee firm in the very hottest of the fire. See, the signal rises! Hark, the trumpet sounds! Up then, thou quaking carrion, for thy hour is come.--Well done! Those behind thee are taking note that thou tremblest no more! By Allah, I have conquered thee and have thee utterly in my power!"

Every man was in his place. Abdulla, firm and ready, the rebuking voice now silent within him, sat on the leading gun-horse; the traces that bound it to the gun were already taut, and the whip-hand of the driver was aloft in air. The word is given, the whips descend, and the whole thundering train of men and beasts, with Abdulla at its head, sweeps forward to the place of sacrifice.

* * * * *

The battle was lost, and the long ridge on which Abdulla's battery had been posted was carpeted with dead and dying men. A pall of yellow smoke, broken from moment to moment by the flashes of exploding shrapnel, hung over the ridge, and a blazing house immediately behind the position shed a copper-coloured glare over the appalling scene. A cold and cursed rain was falling, and stricken men, in extremities of thirst, were lapping pools of water defiled with their own blood.

Of the twelve guns that formed the battery, all were dismantled save one, and by this there stood a solitary man, the only upright figure from end to end of the ridge. It was Abdulla. For five hours he had done his duty untouched by shot, shell, or bayonet. He had continued the service of his gun till the last round of ammunition was expended; and when a cry arose among the survivors that they should save themselves, he had watched the last stragglers depart and refused to stir from his post. And now he stood inactive and motionless, alone in a copper-coloured wilderness of agony and death.

Twice the enemy had attempted by desperate charges to storm the hill, and, save for the lull in the artillery fire which preceded these attacks, the work of death had hardly ceased for a moment. Even now it still went on, slaying those who were half slain. Unable to see clearly the state of things on the ridge, or behind it, and unaware that the defence was totally annihilated, the enemy had hardly slackened his fire. Scores of shrapnel were bursting overhead, and the singing of the rifle bullets was like the hum of bees in swarming time. As the shells exploded and the pitiless missiles came thrashing down, Abdulla noticed how, after each explosion, some portion of the human carpet would toss and undulate for a moment, as though the wind had got under it, and then subside again into its place. The numbness and exhaustion of other faculties had liberated his powers of observation, and at that moment they were abnormally acute.

Fear, even the memory of fear, had long departed, and of mental distress there was none, save a sense of immobility and powerlessness, such as a man may have in an ugly dream. Abdulla leaned on the wheel of the gun-carriage, gazing on the scene around him as a spectacle to be studied; and he watched the shells bursting overhead with no more concern than he would have felt for a passing flight of birds. He was aware of his utter loneliness, and now and then a slight stir of self-compassion would ripple the lucid depths of his consciousness. With a certain repugnance, also, he noticed the copper-coloured light, which shed its glare in every direction as far as he could see.

The tensest hours of his life, during which he had exerted his body with furious energy, and his senses had been incessantly assailed with every kind of shock, had ended in a feeling, amounting almost to conviction, that the events in which he had participated, the deeds he had done, and the spectacle now before him were the tissue of a dream.

Blustering facts that bludgeon and bombard the senses, often provoke us, by the very violence of their self-announcement, to suspect them as illusory. Reality is a low-voiced, soft-footed thing; a mean between two extremes, clothed at all times in the garments of modesty and reserve, which neither strives nor cries nor lifts up its voice in the streets. But when the gods are drunk and the heavens in uproar, and the thing called "fact" is unrestrained, ranting and storming about the stage like an ill-mannered actor--then it is that the cup begins to pass away from us, and a still small voice whispers within that the whole performance is a masquerade.

Thus had it happened to Abdulla. Dreamer as he was, he had never yet been able to detect himself in the act of dreaming. But now the waking state was over-wakeful, and at the very moment when each nerve in his body was strung to utmost tension, and the sense organs in full commission, and fact in its most brutal form thundering on the gates of his mind, there came to him a calm that was more than vacancy, a conviction that he was in the land of dreams, and a peaceful foreshadowing that he would soon awake.

"And yet," he thought, "it is weary work, this waiting for the spell to break. Ha, that one would have done it, had I stood a span further to the left! Why cannot they wake me? Are not a hundred pieces of artillery sufficient to rouse one solitary man from his dreams? Stay! What if I am wakened already? And what if this be hell? If so, is it so much worse than earth? But please Allah that I stand not thus for all eternity, waiting for the dream to pass. Ah! I was hit that time"--and he put his hand to the region of his heart. "A mere graze. Perhaps the next will do better. Allah send me a thing to do! Ho, thou Selim! Hast thou life in thee to stand upright and do a thing? I saw thee raise thyself a moment ago. If thou hast strength, bestir thyself a little, and thou and I will find another round, and fire a last shot before we pass."

Selim the courier was lying behind the gun with a dozen others, dead or wounded to death. Abdulla had hardly finished speaking when a shrapnel burst over the heap, and Selim, who had been lying face downward on the top, flung himself round in the last agony. As the bullets struck, the whole heap seemed to disperse, the bodies spreading outward into a ring with a hollow space in the midst.

Then Abdulla saw a thing that caused his heart to leap for joy. Lying in the hollow made by the dispersion of the bodies was a round of ammunition which some man had been carrying at the moment he was stricken down, and which had hitherto been covered up by the dead. At the sight of it, a sudden inspiration fell like a thunderbolt upon Abdulla's dream. The sense of immobility was gone. "By Allah, thou art alive and awake!" he cried, addressing himself. "Quick, thou slave of a body! Thou hast yet strength in thee to open the breech-piece of the gun, and the cartridge is not so heavy but that these arms can lift it. Up, then, and act!"

He sprang forward. Quick as thought he seized the cartridge and carried his burden back to the gun.

Then he stretched forth his hand to grasp the lever which controlled the mechanism of the breech. But before his fingers closed on the metal he paused for the briefest instant to look around him. In one glance he took in the whole scene in all its extent and detail--the long ridge under the copper-coloured light, the carpet of moaning or silent forms, the dead body of Selim, the dismantled guns, the valley below, the enemy's position on the further side, and the red spurts of flame from his artillery. He noted also that the rain had ceased and the setting sun had broken through the cloud.

Then, on a sudden, the vast view seemed to fall away into an immeasurable distance, and, as a landscape contracts when seen from the wrong end of the telescope, drew inwards from its edges with incredible rapidity until it occupied no more space than is enclosed by the circumference of the smallest coin. And in the same flash of time it was gone altogether.

As it went, Abdulla felt his fingers close on the cold metal.

They closed on the metal, and Abdulla saw without the least surprise that the thing he held in his hand was the knocker of brass on the door of the Interpreter of Dreams.

* * * * *

He knew no shock, asked himself no questions, perceived no breach of continuity. He lifted the knocker, and its fall sounded in the street of Damascus at the very instant that the boom of the bursting shell, which had blown the water-seller to fragments, was reverberating over Tchatalja.

Abdulla knocked. As he waited for the door to open he looked up and down the street. He had arrived in Damascus overnight, and his surroundings were yet strange to him. Nevertheless, as he continued to look at the houses and the passers-by, a suspicion crossed his mind that he had been in this place before. "Perhaps I have dreamed of such a place," he thought. "But surely the face of yonder man is familiar. Where did I see one like him? In Paris? In London? Ho thou, with the courier's badge on thine arm! A word with thee."

The man paused at the doorstep, and Abdulla looked him full in the face. Instantly his mind became confused, his tongue began to stammer, and he heard himself speaking of he knew not what. "Hast thou life in thee?" he said. "If so, bestir thyself and thou and I----" But the words broke off, and Abdulla stood mouthing.

"Thou babblest like one intoxicated," said the man. "May Allah preserve thy wits!" And he passed on.

The door opened, and Abdulla's mind became clear. A moment later he stood in the presence of the Interpreter of Dreams.

"Who art thou?" said the Interpreter, "and what is the occasion of thy coming?"

"I am a Cairene," said Abdulla, "born of Syrian parentage in this city, but taken hence when I was an infant of five years. I am come to Damascus for a purpose which thou and I have in common. I, too, am a student of dreams."

"Of which kind?" asked the Interpreter. "For know that dreams are of two kinds: dreams of the worlds that were, and dreams of the worlds that are to be. Of which hast thou knowledge?"

"Of a world that was," said Abdulla.

"Thou hast chosen a thankless study," answered the other. "Few will trust thy discoveries. For a thousand who will believe thee if thou teachest of a world that is to be, there is scarce one who will listen if thou speakest of a world that was. But tell me thy history, and name thy qualifications."

"I have been educated in the Universities of the West," said Abdulla, "and there I sat at the feet of one who taught me a doctrine which he had learnt from a master of the ancient time. And the doctrine was this: that worlds without end lie enfolded one within the other like the petals of a rose; and the next world after differs from the next world before no more than a full water-skin differs from itself when two drops of water have fallen from its mouth. 'The world,' taught the master, 'is a memory and a dream, and at every stage of its existence it beholds the image of its past and the fainter image of its future reflected as in a glass.'"

"And why makest thou the world that was before of more account than the world that comes after?"

"I said not that I made it of more account," answered Abdulla, "but that my knowledge was of this rather than of that. But know that I am a dreamer of dreams, and it is the world before that my dreams have revealed to me."

"Tell me thy dreams."

"It is of them that I came to speak with thee. There is one dream that ever recurreth both in the day and the night. Seventy times seven have I seen a frayed water-skin, having a hole in a certain part, no larger than an olive-stone."

"That is a small matter," said the Interpreter, "and such things concern us not. But I suspect that thou art not at the end of thy story. For, verily, thou hast not travelled from the cities of the West to speak of a thing so slight. Say, therefore, what has brought thee to Damascus."

"That also I would tell thee; for it is a matter to be pondered. Thou art of the wise, and knowest, therefore, that there is a virtue in places and a power in localities. In one, the light of the soul is extinguished; in another, it is kindled; in one, the reason dies; in another, the half-thought becomes a whole, and the doctrine that is dimly apprehended becomes clear. Now, being in the city of Paris, I conversed with one of the French who had visited the holy places of his religion, where he had meditated in solitude and seen visions and dreamed dreams; and I told him that I had a doctrine newly born, half grown. 'O Abdulla,' he said, 'there is a virtue in places and a power in localities. Go thou, therefore, to the city of Damascus, for that is a place where, in days that are gone, the half-thought became a whole, and the doctrine dimly apprehended became clear. Put thyself on the way to Damascus and await the issue.'"

At these words the Interpreter rose from his seat and paced the room in thought.

"The man of whom thou speakest," he said at length, "is known to me; and many are they whom he has guided to this place. Rightly sayest thou that there is a virtue in places and a power in localities. And here the power still lingers which the world lost when mankind took to babbling. Thy reason for coming hither is mine also. Seest thou not that I have made my dwelling in the Street that is called Straight?"

"I see and understand," said Abdulla.

There was another pause, and again the Interpreter paced the room. Then he resumed:

"Between thee and me there is need of little speech to attain a comprehension, and the short sentence meaneth more than the long explanation. Nevertheless, I would fain hear the rest of thy story. Proceed then, and tell me of the dreams that came to thee on the way to Damascus."

"On the way itself," said Abdulla, "there came no dreams. But this very day I sat by the bank of the river, full of thought, and methinks sleep overpowered me--though I know not. And there came a poor man carrying a water-skin, and I, looking upon him, saw that his face was like unto mine own, but marred by his toil and his poverty. And the man sat himself down, leaning against a palm-tree on the side away from the sun, and slept. Then I arose and stood before him, and expounded to him my doctrine, and he seemed as one that saw and heard, though asleep. And when his eyes were opened he saw me no more, but took up his water-skin and filled it at the river, making mention of the name of God.

"I followed him into the city, and saw one thrust him against the wall so that his water-skin was frayed. Thereafter the water-skin burst, and a hole appeared in a certain part the size of an olive-stone, and the remnant of the water flowed forth. But, passing a certain street, a woman called to him to give her little ones to drink. And I, being hard by, and seeming to know the woman, whispered to the man that he should pass his hands craftily over the skin, if peradventure a drop remained to moisten the lips of them that cried out for the thirst. But none remained, and the man went on his way sorrowing.

"Then I lost him for a while; but as night fell I found him again, standing in front of a glass window and meditating a thing that was dishonest. And the man looking through the window saw me standing among the goods that were in the shop. Whereupon he changed his design and ran away.

"I wandered through the streets of the city, and passing by a certain house, a frivolous woman looked out from a lattice and reviled me. I understood not the things that she spake, and having answered the woman I departed. Then I bethought me that she had taken me for another, and, remembering that the face of the water-seller was like unto mine own, I surmised that it was he.

"Suddenly, I know not how, I found myself in a place of battle, armed like the rest, and, turning aside, I saw, standing among the harnessed horses of a gun-team, the man whose water-selling I had watched in the city. And the spirit of fear was upon him; his countenance was blanched and his body all aquake; and I, ashamed that one who bore my own semblance should stand disgraced among his fellows, rebuked him for his cowardice; and methought I blew a fire through his nostrils into the marrow of his bones. Then the man took courage and, mounting his horse with alacrity, went forward with the bravest to the place of death.

"Thereafter I saw him no more. But this very hour, even as I lifted thy knocker of brass, a great light shone round about me, a sound of thunder shook the air, and a voice said, 'Lo! thy broken water-skin is mended and full of water. Go forth, therefore, and give to them that are athirst.' Whereupon it seemed to me that the half-thought became a whole, and the doctrine that was dimly apprehended grew clear. And now I am a man prepared to go forward, even as he was into whom I blew the breath of courage on the field of death. A thing that was holding me back is gone from me, and lo! I am free."

"Perchance one has ministered unto thee, even as thou didst minister to that other in the hour when he was afraid," said the Interpreter.

"That may be," said Abdulla. "But did I not tell thee that as yet I have no knowledge of the world that will be?"

"The knowledge awaits thee, and will begin from this hour," said the Interpreter. "Most assuredly that which thou tellest is an image of the world that was; and he that dreameth of the one world dreameth also in due season of the other. But hearken now while I put thee to the question; and if thou answerest according to thy doctrine, peradventure the interpretation of thy vision will appear in the issue."

"Say on," said Abdulla.

"This, then, is the question. Thinkest thou, O Dreamer, that when a man dies and enters Paradise, he knows of his condition, as who should say, 'Lo, I am now a disembodied spirit, having just passed through the article of death, and these before me are the Gates of Heaven, and yonder shining thing is the Throne of God?'"

"Nay, verily," said Abdulla, "in this and in every world the Throne of God is revealed after one and the same manner, and never shall it be seen in any world save by such as follow there the Loyal Path whereby it is found in this. And he who beholdeth not the Gates of Paradise in the world where he is, will look for them in vain in the world where he is to be."

"Art thou willing to think, then, that thou and I are in Paradise even at this hour?"

"Thou hintest at the doctrine that has been revealed to me," said the other. "It may be even as thou sayest. For certain am I that thou and I have died many deaths; and as there is another world in respect of this, so is this world another in respect of them that went before. Great is the error which deemeth that the number of the worlds is but two, and that death, therefore, cometh once only to a man, when he passeth from the first to the second. Of death, as of life, the kinds are innumerable; and of these, that which destroyeth the body at the end is only one, and perhaps not the chief. Whatsoever changeth into its contrary must needs die in the act; so that except one die, grief cannot pass into joy, nor darkness into light, nor evil into good; neither can the lost be found, nor the sleeper awake. Wherefore it may be that thou and I are in Paradise even now."

"Thou speakest to the question," said the Interpreter. "Some there are, as thou sayest, who, being in Paradise already, will still be asking whether Paradise awaits them. And if the enlightened go thus astray, how much deeper is the ignorance of the darkened! For in no place, O Abdulla, is Hell more doubted of than in Hell itself."

"I have lived in the cities of the West and have observed that very thing," said Abdulla. "Many a damned soul have I heard making boast of his good estate, and many a doubt of Judgment shouted forth from the very flames of the Pit. For how shall a man know when he is now dead and come to Judgment? Doth he live in his dying, and, taking note of his last breath, say within himself, 'Lo, now I am dead'? And if he know not the single occasion of his dying, how should he remember even though death worketh upon him daily and passeth over him a thousand times?"

"Death and forgetting are one," said the Interpreter, "and the memory of dying perisheth like a dream. But some there are to whom Allah hath appointed a station at the place of passage and set as watchmen at the intermingling of the worlds. These pass to and fro over the bridges, gathering tidings from forgotten realms; and much of majesty and worth that escapeth the common sort is apparent unto them. And of such, O Abdulla, thy dreams declare thee to be one."

"Hast thou no further interpretation?" asked Abdulla.

"Hark!" said the other. "The full interpretation cometh even now."

And, as he spoke, the brass knocker sounded on the door.

* * * * *

Thus endeth "The Hole in the Water-skin."



Throughout the whole of this long prelection Dr Phippeny Piecraft had scarcely moved a muscle, listening with ever deeper attention as the story went on. Once only had he interrupted the reader.

"You are coming now," he had said, "to the deleted passage about Dual Personality. Don't forget to read it."

"Pardon me," said the young man, "I passed that point some minutes since. The writer had pencilled against the passage, 'Omit, spoils the unity.' So, from respect to his wishes, I left it out."

"It was well done," Piecraft had answered. "Unity is all-important. Proceed."

And now, the reading being over, the two men sat for several minutes facing one another in silence. Presently the reader said:

"Well, have you identified the author?"

"I have," said Piecraft. "The tale is a reminiscence of some old speculations of mine. I wrote every word of it myself, and I finished it last night."

"How came you to think that it was written by somebody else?"

"That is what puzzles me. But I can give a partial explanation. Last night, after finishing the tale, I had a dream, which was extremely vivid, though I find it impossible now to recall the details. I dreamt that I was writing a story under the title of Dual Personality--something about a gamekeeper and two young lords who interchanged their characters. It was a sort of nightmare, partly accounted for by the fact that my health, until to-day, has been indifferent. When you came in this morning the influence of the dream lingered in sufficient strength to make me think I had actually written the story dreamed about, and not the one you have just read out. It was an illusion."

"Illusion is an integral part of reality," said the young man.

"Is that an original remark?" asked Piecraft. "Somehow I seem to remember having heard it before."

"It is a quotation," answered the other. "I am in the habit of using it for the enlightenment of new-comers."

"New-comers!" exclaimed Piecraft. "My dear fellow, do you know that my brass plate has been on this house for over ten years. It is you who are the new-comer, not I."

The young man smiled. "It has been on this house much longer than that, but you are a new-comer all the same," said he.

"I don't catch your drift," said Piecraft. "What do you mean?"

"It takes time to answer that," said the other. "Be content to learn gradually."

"There's something strange about all this," said Piecraft, "which I should like to clear up at once. I don't seem to know exactly where I am. Do you mind shaking me? For I'm half inclined to think that I'm fast asleep and dreaming--like Abdulla, in the story."

"You were never so wide-awake in your life. But if you wish for an immediate enlightenment, I can take you to a house in the next street, when the whole position will be cleared up at once."

"Come along," said Piecraft. "I feel like a man who is in for a big adventure. There's something interesting in this."

As they passed down the street, Piecraft said: "Would you mind telling me as we walk along what you think of the story you read just now? It's not in my usual style; in fact, it's quite a new departure, and I'm very anxious, before publishing, to know what impression it makes on good judges."

"The story is not bad for a first attempt," said the young man. "You'll learn to express yourself better later on. It was a bold thing on your part to tackle that subject right away. To handle it properly requires much more experience than you have had. There are one or two points which you have presented in a false light, and you have mixed some things up which ought to have been kept separate. But, on the whole, you have no reason to be discouraged."

"I'm surprised at what you say," returned Piecraft. "As to my being a beginner, I had a notion that I was a novelist of standing, as well as a Gold Medallist in Cerebral Pathology. But just now I'm not going to dogmatise about that or anything else. It's just possible that I'm still under the illusion produced by the dream of last night. Meanwhile, I'm really anxious to know what has happened. The things about me are familiar--and yet somehow not the same as I remember them. They look as though the old dirt had been washed out of them."

"You are getting on remarkably well," said his companion. "The whole world has been spring-cleaned since you saw it last."

"You have an original way of expressing yourself," said Piecraft. "Your style reminds me of a young half-brother of mine. He was lost in a steamer whose name I can't remember--when was it? His conversation was always picturesque. And, by the way, that suggests another thing. The young girl who waited on me, this morning--who is she?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because she's so uncommonly like a girl I used to run after in the old days--a student at the Slade School of Art. And a wonderfully good, nice girl she was. Her father, who was said to be a scoundrel, got ten years for alleged embezzlement; and the girl gave me up because I wouldn't take his side. How she stuck to him through thick and thin! I tell you, my boy, she was a loyal soul! I wonder if she is still alive."

"Such souls are hard to kill," said the other.

* * * * *

By this time the pair had arrived at the house indicated by the messenger. On the door of it was an enormous knocker of brass.

"Knock, and it shall be opened," said the young man.

Dr Piecraft had lifted the knocker and was about to let it fall when he heard his name called loudly down the street and saw a man running towards him with a piece of paper in his hand. The man approached and Piecraft, taking the paper, read as follows:

"Dr Phippeny Piecraft is needed at once for a matter of life and death."

"I must be off immediately," he said to his companion; "I am called to an urgent case. It's a matter of life and death. Duty first, my boy, and the clearing-up of mysteries afterwards! Remember what the sergeant said to Abdulla when he plucked him by the sleeve. Besides--who knows?--this may mean that the practice is going to revive."

"That is precisely what it does mean," said the young man. "Matters of life and death are extremely common just now, and you are the very man to deal with them."

"How do you know that?" said Piecraft with some astonishment; and, as he spoke the words, without thinking he released the lifted knocker from his hand.

The knocker fell, and the instant it struck the door Dr Phippeny Piecraft knew where he was.

"It's wonderfully like the old home," he said.

A familiar laugh sounded behind him.

He turned round; and the man who grasped his hand was Jim.

[The end]
L. P. Jacks's short story: All Men Are Ghosts