And the days of peace wore on and there arose again from the earth, like mist in the autumn from the fields that generations have ploughed, the savour of sameness again. And the man went forth one morning and appeared once more to the gods, and cried: “O ancient gods; give us but one war again, for I would be back to the camps and debateable borders of lands.”
And the gods said: “We hear not well of your way of life, yea ill things have come to our hearing, so that we grant no more the wishes you wish.”
THE SACK OF EMERALDS
One bad October night in the high wolds beyond Wiltshire, with a north wind chaunting of winter, with the old leaves letting go their hold one by one from branches and dropping down to decay, with a mournful sound of owls, and in fearsome loneliness, there trudged in broken boots and in wet and windy rags an old man, stooping low under a sack of emeralds. It were easy to see had you been travelling late on that inauspicious night, that the burden of the sack was far too great for the poor old man that bore it. And had you flashed a lantern in his face there was a look there of hopelessness and fatigue that would have told you it was no wish of his that kept him tottering on under that bloated sack.
When the menacing look of the night and its cheerless sounds, and the cold, and the weight of the sack, had all but brought him to the door of death, and he had dropped his sack onto the road and was dragging it on behind him, just as he felt that his final hour was come, and come (which was worse) as he held the accursed sack, just then he saw the bulk and the black shape of the Sign of the Lost Shepherd loom up by the ragged way. He opened the door and staggered into the light and sank on a bench with his huge sack beside him.
All this you had seen had you been on that lonely road, so late on those bitter wolds, with their outlines vast and mournful in the dark, and their little clumps of trees sad with October. But neither you nor I were out that night. I did not see the poor old man and his sack until he sank down all of a heap in the lighted inn.
And Yon the blacksmith was there; and the carpenter, Willie Losh; and Jackers, the postman’s son. And they gave him a glass of beer. And the old man drank it up, still hugging his emeralds.
And at last they asked him what he had in his sack, the question he clearly dreaded; and he only clasped yet tighter the sodden sack and mumbled he had potatoes.
“Potatoes,” said Yon the blacksmith.
“Potatoes,” said Willie Losh.
And when he heard the doubt that was in their voices the old man shivered and moaned.
“Potatoes, did you say?” said the postman’s son. And they all three rose and tried to peer at the sack that the rain-soaked wayfarer so zealously sheltered.
And from the old man’s fierceness I had said that, had it not been for that foul night on the roads and the weight he had carried so far and the fearful winds of October, he had fought with the blacksmith, the carpenter and the postman’s son, all three, till he beat them away from his sack. And weary and wet as he was he fought them hard.