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The square shape around the seriffed letter W is formed out of interlacing ribbons with terminal foliation of acanthus leaves and pomegranate buds. The decoration is created in thin black lines, leaving the letters, vines, and leaves white. It appears to be a wood engraving.

WHEN the shaggy-headed youth came running
to me with the bad news, I feared the gods
had taken me at my word. For the gods
are indiscriminating folk, given to judging
by individual actions rather than by the
tendency of a whole life, which in my case
had ever been of love to my gentle ass.

    A sore time it was to fly away with my donkey. The inhabitants of this
strange Thorp which I, after twoscore days and two of wanderings, had
happened upon nestling in the foots of the snow-capped mountain,
these sturdy people were not so well disposed towards me as I, a canny
packman, could have wished, and I knew right well it is ill to drive
bargains with folk who look upon one with disfavour. Unwittingly I
had drawn suspicion upon my head by being the last one of them all
who had had dealings with their maker of gods before he buried him-
self under the mountain. Now, lying, as it did, forty-two days’ journey
from its nearest neighbour, you will readily understand that the Thorp
depended on its own resources for all things pertaining to life and
death, and that when the one whose genius had fitted him to fashion
their gods (he made them out of clay-dust, the same material of which
we are all created, so that his gods were wholly sympathetic), when he
buried himself, the good people were thrown into a great state of
nervousness, and were put to their wits’ end to find how they might
resurrect their lost creator of images. The Thorpsmen were angry
with the maker of gods for digging himself a living grave, and deter-
mined to bring him forth to his duties again. It was when all were
straining their every nerve to accomplish this that the gods gave my
donkey wings.

    A most unfortunate event happening at a most unfortunate moment,
hor trade with the good people I could not. No one would buy so
much as a drop of my best charm against goblins and ghouls, they
were all so taken up with the pretty quarrel between Thorp and

    Now I had not journeyed over the shoulders of mountains, around
moraine and through long leagues of forest, over morass and bog-land,
and across wind-swept plains, merely to satisfy myself as to the out-
come of a quarrel, however entertaining in its origin and incident.


Sure am I that, ponder as I may, I cannot for the life of me make out
what in man impels him to lay up goods to leave behind him when
he dies. This is the way to make death hard, for he that is without the
comforts of life can wink at Death as he approaches. But that each
must die is a truth that everybody knows and nobody realises. And I,
packman, with not a soul to leave behind me but my quiet donkey—
the gods protect her!—and with plenty stored by to keep me in comfort
for more years than it would fit me to look forward to, still sat uneasy
when my pack stood full.

    Now, the women of the Thorp (I set no store by the men, who want
little from a packman, and that little invariably articles of substance
wherefrom no great profit can be made) stood arms akimbo, in the
middle of the cobble-paved street, with the goats and children playing
about the doorsteps, and the swallows skimming the eaves, and they
discussed the grievous topic over and over and over again, until they
nearly drove me daft.

    The quarrel had reached its most entertaining stage when the Fates
willed that mine hostess, a woman young and of goodly proportions,
should take it into her kind heart to prepare for me a rare mess of
onions boiled in the juice of the mountain grape, and overspread with
rich butter melted quietly in a copper kettle and spiced with the spice
of the snow-berry. A dish this is that I dearly love, but, alas! it loves
not me; so that when I should be enjoying a quiet smoke and the
fulness of my paunch, I am doubled across the back of my donkey in
the agony of a laboured digestion.

    The dwellers in lands called Christian, illogical as are all savages,
give praise to their Maker for will-power that on occasion enables them
to withstand one or two temptations, but blame a devil when, as is usually
the case, the temptation overcomes them. Of course, we of the true
faith recognise that the gods create everything, good and evil alike. I
we resist a temptation, we praise our gods for giving us the strength of
mind to do so; if the temptation overcomes us, we equally blame the
gods for creating a temptation stronger than they gave us the will-
power to conquer; and, verily, I fear at each years end we have a heavy
balance against our gods. And my account to their debit is made
large by this same dish of onions, grape-juice, and butter, which has
tempted and overcome me time and time again.

    This evening of which I am telling you I had made up my mind to
take but a nibble of the sweet-smelling food — only enough, mind you, to
let the taste of it overspread me like the pipings of a flute, or the musky


smell of the mountain rose—but the gods give my donkey wings if I
could resist the charms of the onions. After I had finished the last sop
of the gravy and the last morsel of the onions, and had run my
wild-rice cake round the plate to make sure that no particle had been
overlooked, I took my staff in hand, and without waiting for the first
symptom of distress to rap against my ribs, made off to a secluded spot
on the mountain-side in solitude to groan my soul to peace. In the
middle of my repentance I realised, as only one in the throes of
dyspepsia can, how foolish of me to fiddle away my time in the Thorp
listening to the quarrel, and there and then made up my mind to set
out on the morrow for around the mountain, and leave the good people
to buzz over their own little affairs.

    The sun was splashing the heavens with the gold of evening when I
again turned my face towards the Thorp. The goats, sedate and drab,
were wending their way home, the young ones of them scrambling up the
side of every rock near the path to gaze away across the landscape, and
to float plaintive bleatings on the cool air of evening. Their tiny
bells tinkled in many a golden tone. Next to my own good donkey I
know of no such favoured beast as the goat, for it loves the lonely places
of the mountain, it seeks eminences, it breathes cool air, gazes upon great
views, and meditates among the immortal rocks and immaculate snows,
and within the sound of roaring waters. It is only to the great that the
gods have given whiskers.

    Now, in the Thorp was one, a lad of by-ordinary large head and
watery eyes. His lips, too, were thick, and his chin hung loose, expos-
ing, for the most part, his tongue, and his legs bent towards each other
so that they touched at the knees. Fate had given him a burly body
and a weak head. But that is neither here nor there. He was a gentle
lad, and fond of me from the first; so that much of his time was
misspent in hanging about my heels when he should have been helping
his father to beat clay. His father was the Thorp’s potter, an irritat-
ingly industrious body, who spent long hours busily beating, sometimes
the clay, and sometimes the boy.

    I took pity on the lad, as one always pities the harmless, and allowed
him to follow me about and to stand gazing at me, his one bare foot
planted firmly in the dust, and his other placed on his bare knee, whilst
his arms hung loosely by his side. We seldom spoke. When he did
address a remark to me, I found that it was usually rational enough,
only with just a wee bit too much of the mystery and poetry of life in
it, a sign which all agree denotes the witless. He was wofully


unworldly. I’ll warrant the lad could not have sold a half-ell of gaudy
ribbon to a vain widow, a trick almost as easy as lying.

    Well, it chanced that as I returned from my immolation on the
mountain, I came upon this youth waiting for me at the outskirts of
the Thorp, near to where the bustling little river sweeps a curve like to
the shape of my ass s hoof, and together we made our way to the far
side of the Thorp to see to my donkey that she had plenty of fodder
and that she was securely tethered, for I had no wish that she should
stray far that night. The beast is much given to exploring the country-
side during the hours of darkness, having her share of the inquisitive-
ness of her sex. That evening I sat late. For sure the Thorp brewed
good honest liquor of fine body, and plenty of it; and this, I supposed,
was to be my last opportunity to swig of it.

    Next morning I arose early. When I stepped into the streets the
goats were still lying huddled at the feet of the god of Good Dreams,
around which, when the god had been placed in the middle of the
street, the men and women of the Thorp each evening joined hands
and sang their vesper hymn.

    I had no more than filled my lungs of the snell morning air that
came circling down from the snow-capped mountain, and rubbed my eyes
to gaze at the great clouds swimming midway up the rocky heights,
when I became aware of the shaggy boy standing among the goats
waiting for me. And when I placed my hand on his head he raised
his great eyes to me for a moment, and then fell behind to trot after
me as I proceeded on my journey to see to my beast. Opposite his
father s workshop I felt him lightly touch my frock, and, on turning, dis-
covered the lad gazing away to the east where the sun had just kindled
the heavens to a blaze of saffron and gold, and had thrust his sword of
flame into the heart of Night until the snows of the mountain dripped
blood. The gentle boy left me to enter upon his day’s duties, for
already his father was astir.

    After giving my donkey a good rub-down, I saw her comfortably
a-stall with her nose in a generous measure of corn, for many a weary
league of rough road lay before us. Returning to the house of mine
host, I set my pack in the middle of the floor, and commenced to
re-sort the contents. This proved a tedious but not unpleasant task,
for the Fates had been not altogether unkind to me in my hagglings,
and I could palm a goodly number of quaint carvings and some few
gems that had cost me little and would bring me much.

    Breakfast I ate slowly, with a clear remembrance of my last night’s


meal to counsel frugality; and having finished, mine host and hostess
sat with me a while, struggling to get me to better understand their
tongue. I was sorry to leave them; and they, although they would not
accept even so much as my keep-cost, I verily believe were sorry for
me to go (she was a substantial, juicy woman the wife, with cheeks
as red as the breast of the fire-bird), and so it was that the sun had
swung high in heaven before I again set to work at my pack. I was in
the act of placing in a secure corner some richly carved fool-stones,
which I knew would bring me a rare price when I again had the good
chance to fall in with the simple Christians, when the latch-string was
pulled rudely, the heavy oak door bumped open by a fat knee, and into
the room bounded the potter’s lad, the wet clay still sticking to his
fingers, and his eyes and mouth wide open.

    ‘Thy donkey!’ he gasped.

    This gave me a sore fright, but it is my way never to show eager-
ness for news—good or bad.

    ‘Thy donkey!’ he shouted again, standing there upon one foot, the
other slapped on his knee. I continued at my pack, never once raising
my head, for I was busy placing gewgaws of trifling value on top to
catch the eyes of sparkish maidens; ay, and the married women are
as vain as the maidens, and whiles less discriminating.

    ‘Thy donkey is stolen from thee! Thy donkey is taken away!
Thy donkey! Thy donkey!’

    Now the gods know that I have loved them and all their works that
are good, and why they allowed this ill turn to befall me only their
impudent little selves can say. I did not lift my head, but continued
at my work; but you may well believe that my thoughts were busy
over the sore blow that had fallen upon me. The lad stood for
a few moments, and then I saw his shadow move across my pack; I
heard the door slam after him, and he was off no doubt to alarm the
Thorp. All that now remained for me to do was to close the jaws of
my pack and pull tight the straps, so I determined to make a clean
job of it before venturing upon the next business in hand. Who could
have made away with my ass! There was not such another beast in
all the country. Indeed, much wealth could I have gathered had I
placed my donkey on show, as the Christians do with their fat women
and princes; but, to be sure, no right-thinking being would so demean
his beast. Who could have taken her? For many days’ journey, far
and near, whosoever had made away with her must be a marked man,
for all peoples round about were usually far more anxious to gaze at


my donkey than to examine my wares. However, that was but a
small thumb of comfort for me to suck at and grow fat. At the best I
could not expect to get her back other than leg-weary, gaunt, and un-
fitted for the journey on which I had set my heart.

    I was in the act of pulling tight the strappings of my pack, when
suddenly booming on the air, like the roar of a genie, sounded the
great drum, the Thorp’s drum, beaten only when some dire news came
to the bailiwick, and was deemed of such vital importance that the
inhabitants one and all should understand without delay. At the
ominous sound mine hostess, good woman, came rushing into the
room, crying, ‘The gods save us! some red tidings from him that is in
the mountain,’ and without more ado she suddenly seized me by the
wrist and made off with me as fast as she could leg it towards the
ambo which stood in the centre of the Thorp’s meeting-place. I cried
to her that my head was bare, having indeed but a moment before
folded my skull-cap of silk and placed it next my breast preparatory to
putting on my mountain head-gear; but pause for a moment she would
not, not she! although I noticed that she used her free hand to stick a
bit ribbon I had given her in her hair as she ran. But there, away she
ran with me, old fool packman, puffing at such a rate that I could not
come by enough breath to protest another word.

    This was the second time I had seen the people of the Thorp
assembled in answer to the call of the drum. They came from all
quarters in great haste, for, as I have told you, expectation was in the
air, and the people awaited anxiously word from him who had buried
himself alive. But when the Father stood in his place on top of the
ambo, and told the honest people of the stain that had come upon the
Thorp’s reputation for honesty, and the great loss that had befallen my
heart and pouch, their expressions of anger towards the maker of gods
gave place to one of pain. At the bad news that my pretty cuddy had
been made away with I could see that the simple-minded people were
much distressed. Agitation passed over the throng like the shadow of
a cloud across a sunburnt heath, and I soon found myself the centre of
a sympathetic knot of people, most of them the buxom women of the
Thorp, an experience I took good care to appreciate, for I am fond of
sympathy. So a space of time elapsed before the Father could continue
his address to the people.

    He said that as no spoken words of sorrow would restore the ass to
stall, it behoved them to energetically set about finding the thieves,
and to prevent the taking of the donkey out of the territory dominated


by the just laws of the bailiwick. Fortunately, the gods had been to
special pains to create the ass an ambling beast, slow and sedate; and
as the robbers had obtained but a short time’s start, and as there were
only four passes by which an ass could leave the country, he called for
volunteers, fleet of foot, to make for those passes and intercept the
robbers. One or other party, he said, must find the ass, or, at the very
least, trace of the beast if she had escaped by the pass.

    Mine host was the first to step forward; and before the sun had
reached the shoulder of the mountain, I saw the four strong parties
legging it away towards the scars in the hills, my youth of the shaggy
head well in front of that which made for around the mountain. You
may well believe I watched the various parties focus into the horizon
with a great longing in my heart that one or other might be successful
in restoring to me my gentle ass. She had grown to meditative age in
my service; and the spot on her shoulder was a pure white where I
rested my hand as we toiled over the shoulders of the mountains for
many long days in many strange lands.

    The people, in the fulness of their consideration for my sorrow, had
quietly urged me to the ambo, and placed me in the seat of a patriarch,
whose soul, poor man, that day fortnight had sat the lawful time upon
the peak of the mountain before fading into the blue of the sky, and I
thought at the time, and do still believe, that I became the proud
position not so ungainly. But the gods had surely turned from me their
faces; for whom should I find standing near to me, so near that I could
see the scorn in her black eyes as she surveyed me in my new position,
whom but the wife of the Father, to wit, the Termagant herself, as proud
as a Christian leech or a Jew beggar. I had only that moment taken
upon me the full dignity of my place (for a bereavement that excites
pity is wonderfully pleasant to a vain man), when, casting with con-
siderable pride a glance at the people before me, my eye caught sight
of her masculine face among the very first. Faith, it gave me a sore
turn to see her so near at hand, and willingly would I have slipped
quietly from my place and edged away into the crowd but for the fear
of the shame of it. For the Termagant had laid heavy hands upon me
once, and the bruises I then took on my skin had only as yet turned to
yellow about the edges of them. But, keep from hitching and fid-
geting in my place when her cruel glance was cast at me—the gods
give my donkey wings if I could! And she would look at the bare
spot on the top of my head, which, mind you, was not placed there by
age or natural decay, but by some deplorable cause I have never quite


been able to fathom, nor my richest salves (applied lustily and with as
good a grace as the knowledge of how much they cost me would allow)
remedy. So I placed my hands over my face as though mourning the
loss of my faithful friend, and kept my eye the while on the Termagant,
peeping between my fingers.

    I have made it my sure rule since the days that I can remember to
tell the truth when out of earshot of my pack. And this is the truth.
I firmly believed that this, the second close meeting with the Termagant,
was to pass without evil befalling from the wicked woman. As I
watched her face, it seemed to my slow brain that she had made up her
mind that the stir had nothing in it of particular interest to her, and
she commenced to cast about her disdainful glances, and occasionally to
gaze upon the Father with pitying scorn. He, poor soul, as much
unnerved as I, or more, by her proximity, continued to address the
people, nervously rubbing his fat hands up, over, and down, and
then up, over, and up, his ample stomach, until in strident tones she
told him that he was soiling his best gear, and that he had much better
put his hands in his mouth for all the use his speech was likely to
prove. Such a course, she said, would at least keep hands and tongue
out of mischief.

    You who are linked to a woman will bear me out when I say that
it is bad enough in all conscience to have a wife glowering up into
your face when you are disporting yourself as befits one who has the
eyes of a gathering upon him, but to have a wife shoot a verbal dart
of scorn at you so that the people may see it quiver in your breast
is past all endurance. The Father, poor soul, flushed to the fringe of
his white hair, stammered, and looked helplessly at the she-dragon, who
tossed her head contemptuously in the air and bade him proceed.
She should have been a heathen priestess—a fine figure she would have
made with a knife above her head and a human sacrifice at her feet.
There are no degrees to woman’s heart, as there are no degrees to her
virtue. If her heart be not made of rose-leaves, it is of the flint-stone
of the mountain.

    For some moments the Father stuttered, and at length, with
the boldness of despair, blurted out that as the good name of the
Thorp was at stake, he had decided that this was an occasion for
resorting to extraordinary measures. Since the days his great-great-
great-grandfather was Father to the Thorp, when some one disposed
to evil had cast a spell over the goats so that they all took to walking
backwards, and in so doing knocking over the gods that stood at the


street corners, to the utter destruction of all proper worship (a calamity
well remembered, for it had been crooned to the children by successive
generations of young mothers), the action which he, the Father, had
determined upon had never been taken. But he believed the people
would bear him out when he said that the present circumstances
warranted lusty measures. Therefore he bade them all return to their
homes, to put things to order, and to do what was seemly and right;
and when the sun sat upon the peak of the mountain, each man, woman,
and child was to leave home and betake him or her into the house of
the neighbour to the left, there to make a fit and proper search of the
rooms and premises for the stolen ass. Those who lived in houses at
the end of the street, so that they had no neighbours to the left of them,
were to cross over to the other side of the way, and in so doing com-
plete the circle.

    No sooner were the words out of the Father’s mouth than there
was a great stir among the women folk, for here was a cutting test of
housewifery to be sure, a-knocking at every door without so much as a
warning cough. Many a time it is a clean entry that leads to a dirty
hall. I could see by the expression that came upon many a coun-
tenance that certain overlooked corners at the morning’s sweeping, and
certain bundles, and certain legs off stools, and such-like, came to the
minds of the women, for they all prided themselves on their cleanliness
and order, and were loth that their neighbour should find so much as
one copper platter unpolished. Most of the good wives were for off
without more said, but I noticed that some few were not disposed to
show haste, resting easy in the knowledge that all things were to rights
at their homes. Mine hostess I was proud to see range herself with
the latter, as she well might, for she dearly loved to make herself a
slave to her household duties. Indeed, in so doing I think she was not
so far wrong, for it gave her many chances to bemoan her unhappy lot,
which always does the heart of woman great good.

    The flittermouse of the Thorp, a gadabout who was the earliest to
discover anything unusual that might be taking place in the neighbour-
hood, whether it was the first sweet words between two who might
become lovers in time, or a fight on top of a rock between horned
goats, had at the words of the Father clapped her hand on top of the
lace cap she wore and scudded for her house (ill-kept, I’ll warrant,
although I had never peered inside her door, for I dislike her kind, and
can afford to have likes and dislikes, being now on the safe side of life
and gear), when even she was brought to a standstill by the shrill voice


of the Termagant. Faith, I had seen it coming, the storm conceived
in her mind, nursed in her bosom, and bursting into violent life on her
lips. She skirled the single word ‘Stay,’ and strode towards the ambo
where I and the patriarchs were sitting. The gods will bear me out
when I say that I have never in any country or clime, among the
Bedouins of the desert or the savage creatures who live in the land of
mists, laid claim to great valour. So when I saw the she-dragon
coming my way, I just gathered up the skirt of my robe and made off
as fast as fat legs and generous living would allow me to run, while the
folk set up a hearty laugh. But, thinks I, better a lamed pride than a
broken noddle, and I paid no heed to their humour, and would soon
have been out of hearing had not one (he was the father of my Shaggy-
headed youth, and had left his work only because it was compulsory to
answer the summons of the great drum—his fists beat against his hips
for want of clay) caught me by the flying cope, and when I looked
around I saw that the shrew was not pursuing me. Instead, she seemed
to have bustled one of the patriarchs out of his seat, and was standing
in his place facing the people. These were now gathering close about
her for fear of missing one of her words, for all honest folks’ ears prick
up when they hear the first sound of a scolding wife’s tongue. To see
that she was not in chase of me gave me heart, and I quietly elbowed
my way into position to hear, standing in the centre of a press of
people. The gods adorn my donkey with a peacock’s tail to spread in
the sun if she did not look a terrible sight, the anger having forced her
cheeks to a crimson and drawn tight her muscles until the nails of her
fingers stuck into her flesh!

    ‘Stay,’ she skirled again, although there was little need to repeat
the invitation, for devil a one of them would have moved heel or toe
away while there was a prospect of hearing her rant. The Father had
sunk in his seat on top of the ambo, in a huddle of collapse, for right
well he knew he was in for a tongue-lashing, and, by my troth, it turned
out that he imagined no vain thing.

    ‘Mothers of the Thorp,’ she began after an impressive pause, ‘our
common sense must interpose to save our homes from sacrilege.
Mothers of the Thorp, what is this the anile fathers have proposed?
What is this egg that has been hatched by the warmth of the united
wisdom of those to whom the brainless, credulous, silly, yet conceited
men of this Thorp have intrusted the honour of the Thorp? An ass
has been stolen, the asses that represent the bailiwick bray, and the
sum-total of the bray is that we are all to be made asses of; that our


houses are to be looked upon as asses’ stalls, and we asses are to seek
for the stolen ass in one another’s homes, for the time being supposed
to be the stabling-place of an ass!

    ‘Cast your eyes on the Sire of the asses,’ she whirled round, and
waved her red hand at the Father, who shrivelled up inside his robes,
until only his white head was to be seen. ‘Gaze at him! Ha, ha, ha!’
—(the gods bless me if her laugh did not send chills running up my
backbone like as if I had been gnawing at a tinker’s file!)—‘I vow you
can see nothing but his ears,’—faith, it was a fact too.

    ‘And, pray, let me ask who is he, the only one that is not to be
made an ass of, and for whom we are all to get down on four legs and
walk? Pray you, who is he? Does one of you know? If so, speak!
Does one of you know his name? Does one of you know his people?
Does one of you know his errand? Does one of you, any one of you,
know from whence he has come? whither he goes? how long he
stays? In fact, does any one of you know anything about him except
that one evening when the sun shot its angry javelins at the peeping
stars, he and his precious ass came up our street and sought our
hospitality. Who is he, I ask, that we should creep?

    ‘Since he has sat down on his fat haunches in our midst, have we
had cause to rejoice? Has not disaster such as this Thorp never before
met with befallen us? Has not our maker of gods buried himself alive,
and had not this proud-paunched packman a finger in the pie?

    ‘And now for this precious donkey of his, for which we are all asked
to play spy-your-neighbour. I have been told by those that are
studying his outlandish tongue that most of it seems to consist of
appeals to the gods, and that one of the most frequently reiterated
prayer has been, “The gods give my donkey wings!” I repeat it, “The
gods give my donkey wings!” Now’—here the artful shrew let her
voice drop until it almost lost its harshness, although her looks were
as sour as ever—‘now, mothers of the Thorp, we know the gods, for we
have seen them formed and baked, loved and broken. And if we
prayed to one that did not heed, we soon reduced the lazy god to its
original clay by throwing it into the stream. But there stands a
packman/ her finger pointed firmly at me, and the press of people broke
away from me as she spoke, ‘there stands one who has implored his
gods to give to his donkey wings, and who, now that the ass has flown,
wishes us to sympathise with him, to flatter him by exalting him to a
patriarch’s seat, and to each one of us to cast doubt on the integrity
of his or her neighbour by paying a spying visit. No, no! The gods


are just. The ass has flown; the ass’s master’s prayers are answered;
and we say the matter, so far as we are concerned, is at an end. There
shall be no search. As he has prayed for his donkey to take flight,
let him now pray the gods to pluck his ass and restore her to him
without feathers.’

    Again she paused, and I vainly thought the vixen had done. The
god of the Moods had surely never seen such a sudden change as had
come over the good Thorp folk, the men and the women. When the
virago began her tirade, all for me was sympathy and sorrow. By the
time she reached the first breathing-space of her address, the people
were scowling at me as they who say loudest they follow Christ scowl
at those who cry ‘mercy’ or ‘charity.’ And when she had reached
this stage, their murmurings swelled to a roar. Now I began to have
fears for my skin, for I saw fair chances of having to run for it, as once
upon a time I ran from the bazaars of those who search the veda for
consolation, and the gods in their kindness have been unkind to me, for
I have waxed fat—not so great, mind you, as to be noticeable in a
company of good drinkers, but still, I know myself not so fit to act the
quarry as earlier days had seen me. Once I was on the point of dash-
ing for it, seeing a fine opening towards the stream, but the thought
came to me of my pack lipping full, cracking its ribs with the good
things it had swallowed, and good things yet to be disgorged, and I
made up my mind to see what lightning the thunder-cloud carried in
its weasand. This I vow before gods and men: Every woman’s tongue
is tipped with brimstone.

    A diversion here intervened. A party of searchers was discovered
to be returning. Alas! dejected, and without my pretty donkey.
Then another, and another, and at length the last of the four, each
empty-handed. At this the looks of the people again softened for me;
and the Termagant, the shrew, the vixen, the virago (man! I could have
wrung her neck, I swear I could), began to speak kindly to me some-
thing after this fashion:

    ‘My poor man’ (I never could school myself to bear the sympathy
of an enemy), ‘you see the ass is gone, your wicked words the gods
have heard and heeded, your donkey has flown, as any child in this the
Thorp (it is the especial care of the true gods) could have told you she
would fly. We are sorry for you. But you have brought distress,
anxiety, ay, disaster, on our peaceable homes, and you are punished.
My good man, for your own well-being, take your pack upon your back,
your staff in your hand, turn your face to your road, and the god


of Good Speed bless your sandals, and he of Good Fare your stomach.
And when tempted lightly to address the gods, think of how they
avenge, for, as I have ever found (it has been my guide and support all
my days) in this world it is a bridled tongue or a broken back.’

    (Believe me or not, as you please, but she stood there before them
all with the effrontery of a policeman bearing false witness, and had
the impertinence to say this to me, who had my tongue in subjugation
before the day she was born.)

    ‘Go your way, fat man, and the god of the Falling Rain wash your
footsteps from our land! It may be that your grey donkey is waiting
for you in the mists that swim round the waist of the mountain.’

    It was high time for me to be off. I made my way through the
thick of them, some of them scowling, some snivelling, some gibbering,
some giggling. The good wife, my hostess, met me at the door, her
chin puckering and twitching, for she had a big heart and it was sore,
and she came close to me when she helped me on with my pack and
pulled the straps gently. I saw more than one great tear run quickly
down her rosy cheek, hesitate, and fall to her swan-white apron. I
could not trust myself to say ‘good-bye.’ It was as well that I had
said the words as near as might be earlier in the morning before my
donkey had flown—I think I never loved my beast so much as when I
felt the weight of the pack, and realised that to lighten was to lose.

    All made tight, I stepped into the street. The good folk stood each
by his own door-cheek, and the men took off their hats and removed
their pipes from their teeth when they saw me step over the threshold.
I paused for a moment to gaze at the heavens. The great mountain
stood glittering in the sun of noon, its snow-cap immaculate against
the blue of the sky. Above my head the mountain gnats threaded a
magic dance, and a murmur of insects sang in the air. To leave this
peaceful Thorp brought many pangs to my heart. But leave I must.

    When I withdrew my eyes from the sky they lighted upon the
Shaggy-Head standing in the middle of the street waiting for me, a
look of helpless wonderment in his face, and his great fat foot, bare and
dust-stained, on his awkward knee. My heart, soft at the time, went
out to him, for I knew that he at least would miss me. So caring no
fig for the folk that stood mouth-agape, I went up to the lad, stuck my
staff in my girdle, placed my two hands flatly on his bushy head, and
looked at his great wondering eyes. We understood each other, the
boy and I, and although I could see consternation among the people,
who were one and all shy of the lad, for ’twas said he had dealings with


the fairies on the mountain-side—like enough—the two of us stood
there in the middle of the quaint street with all the folk pointing and
gesticulating, and goats walking between our legs, and the butterflies
floating in the sunshine like the souls of little children . . .

    ‘Wheee, wheeee, whzeehraw-w—whrzeee-haw-www— wheee-haw-ee
haweerzee eehaw, eezee, eezee -haw eeeee, eee e——e ah, ee ahh, ah,

    How clearly her beautiful voice sounded on the calm air! The
good folk one and all, mother and son of them, darted in-doors at the
sound, as though a witch-bird had cast its shadow across the cobble-
paved street. But start not I! The instant I heard the first sweet
tones, and realised the direction from which they hailed, I knew it all,
ay, without giving it a second thought. I just kept my hands where
they were, but I fear me my eyes must have spoken, for the gentle lad
smiled into my face. By and by the silly people first peeped, and then
ventured out into the street, and next instant off they set pell-mell
towards the stable, where I had in the morning stalled my ass. But
catch me making a fool of myself! I turned me towards the house of
my hostess, and gave the buxom woman a sound, resounding smack of a
kiss — her husband had run off with the rest of them, so whether or no
he would have minded is no concern of mine—I took off my pack, and
put it snugly away right and safe; laid aside my travelling gear, stood
my staff in the corner, and made my way to the bin that held the corn
my donkey loved to crunch, and on which she had grown a wee bit too
gross of late. Poor beast! she had bided in patience a long, long time
for her morning meal before crying to me, for those sure of a meal are
slow to hunger.

    You may be sure I held my head high when I passed among the
people, who had been craning their necks for a view of the ass. They,
witless folk, could not make head or tail of the matter. But I knew.
The gentle lad had slipped away from the shop to have a squint at the
beast he knew I loved so dearly, and not knowing that I had taken her
to stall, had believed she was stolen. And I, old, foolish, addle-
headed, blockhead of a packman that I am, had let the commotion the
Thorpsmen set up steal from me the little common sense the gods had
ladled into my pate, and it never crossed my mind to go and see for
myself whether or no my ass had really flown. But, nevertheless, I
enjoyed a quiet chuckle over the head of the affair—to be sure, all to
myself, for I at once schooled my face to that look of grieved innocence,
learned from the Christians, that so well becomes one who has


managed to escape from a very tight corner into which his folly or vice
had led him, and from which some one else’s cleverness extricates him.
The folk looked upon the return of the donkey as a miracle performed,
and you may be sure I took no pains to disabuse them of this idea, for
folk bitterly resent having their eyes opened to a truth that makes them
out tomfools. As for miracles? Well, most miracles I have come
across were simply the perfection of the natural. The natural is the
one thing that surprises folk nowadays.

    When at last I came out from seeing my donkey to rights, I could
scarcely keep the people from pulling me to pieces, they were all so
eager to do me honour. For a mannerly while I was, I’m thinking,
cleverly reserved, but they would press upon me their best in the way
of reeming swigs, and policy and pewter urged me to relax and to
smile upon them—true, at first a whit superior-like, but after a time
right genially—and my recollections mingled with the clouds of the
mountain rather early in the evening, although, when they returned to
me next morning I was cosy enough in bed, and my sandals laid
aside too.

    Next evening I found the people very proud of me, for it seems I
had decorated the Thorp’s chief Patriarchal Goat with a fine string of
coloured beads of which the goats and men were very vain. How I
came to give away such a saleable article, the gods give my donkey
wings if I could explain! But, ah, the hand is open when the
stomach’s full, which to me is one of the best proofs of the cursedness
of drink. If my wits had been about me, I could have made some
small thing go very much further, and left the people as well pleased.

                                                                                                ANGUS EVAN ABBOTT.

MLA citation:

Abbott, Angus Evan. “The Gods Gave My Donkey Wings.” The Pageant, 1897, pp. 87-105. Pageant Digital Edition, edited by Frederick King and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021.