There is a faint freshness in the London night as thoughsome strayed reveller of a breeze had left his comrades inthe Kentish uplands and had entered the town by stealth. The pavements are a little damp and shiny. Upon one's earsthat at this late hour have become very acute there hits thetap of a remote footfall. Louder and louder grow the taps,filling the whole night. And a black cloaked figure passesby, and goes tapping into the dark. One who has danced goeshomewards. Somewhere a ball has closed its doors andended. Its yellow lights are out, its musicians are silent,its dancers have all gone into the night air, and Time hassaid of it, "Let it be past and over, and among the thingsthat I have put away."

Shadows begin to detach themselves from their greatgathering places. No less silently than those shadows thatare thin and dead move homewards the stealthy cats. Thushave we even in London our faint forebodings of the dawn'sapproach, which the birds and the beasts and the stars arecrying aloud to the untrammelled fields.

At what moment I know not I perceive that the nightitself is irrecoverably overthrown. It is suddenly revealedto me by the weary pallor of the street lamps that thestreets are silent and nocturnal still, not because there isany strength in night, but because men have not yet arisenfrom sleep to defy him. So have I seen dejected and untidyguards still bearing antique muskets in palatial gateways,although the realms of the monarch that they guard haveshrunk to a single province which no enemy yet has troubledto overrun.

And it is now manifest from the aspect of the streetlamps, those abashed dependants of night, that alreadyEnglish mountain peaks have seen the dawn, that the cliffsof Dover are standing white to the morning, that thesea-mist has lifted and is pouring inland.

And now men with a hose have come and are sluicing outthe streets.

Behold now night is dead.

What memories, what fancies throng one's mind! A nightbut just now gathered out of London by the hostile hand ofTime. A million common artificial things all cloaked for awhile in mystery, like beggars robed in purple, and seatedon dread thrones. Four million people asleep, dreamingperhaps. What worlds have they gone into? Whom have theymet? But my thoughts are far off with Bethmoora in herloneliness, whose gates swing to and fro. To and fro theyswing, and creak and creak in the wind, but no one hearsthem. They are of green copper, very lovely, but no onesees them now. The desert wind pours sand into theirhinges, no watchman comes to ease them. No guard goes roundBethmoora's battlements, no enemy assails them. There areno lights in her houses, no footfall in her streets; shestands there dead and lonely beyond the Hills of Hap, and Iwould see Bethmoora once again, but dare not.

It is many a year, as they tell me, since Bethmoorabecame desolate.

Her desolation is spoken of in taverns where sailorsmeet, and certain travellers have told me of it.

I had hoped to see Bethmoora once again. It is many ayear ago, they say, when the vintage was last gathered infrom the vineyards that I knew, where it is all desert now. It was a radiant day, and the people of the city weredancing by the vineyards, while here and there one playedupon the kalipac. The purple flowering shrubs were all inbloom, and the snow shone upon the Hills of Hap.

Outside the copper gates they crushed the grapes in vatsto make the syrabub. It had been a goodly vintage.

In little gardens at the desert's edge men beat thetambang and the tittibuk, and blew melodiously the zootibar.

All there was mirth and song and dance, because thevintage had been gathered in, and there would be amplesyrabub for the winter months, and much left over toexchange for turquoises and emeralds with the merchants whocome down from Oxuhahn. Thus they rejoiced all day overtheir vintage on the narrow strip of cultivated ground thatlay between Bethmoora and the desert which meets the sky tothe South. And when the heat of the day began to abate, andthe sun drew near to the snows on the Hills of Hap, the noteof the zootibar still rose clear from the gardens, and thebrilliant dresses of the dancers still wound among theflowers. All that day three men on mules had been noticedcrossing the face of the Hills of Hap. Backwards andforwards they moved as the track wound lower and lower,three little specks of black against the snow. They wereseen first in the very early morning up near the shoulder ofPeol Jagganoth, and seemed to be coming out of Utnar Vehi. All day they came. And in the evening, just before lightscome out and colours change, they appeared beforeBethmoora's copper gates. They carried staves, such asmessengers bear in those lands, and seemed sombrely cladwhen the dancers all came round them with their green andlilac dresses. Those Europeans who were present and heardthe message given were ignorant of the language, and onlycaught the name of Utnar Vehi. But it was brief, and passedrapidly from mouth to mouth, and almost at once the peopleburnt their vineyards and began to flee away from Bethmoora,going for the most part northwards, though some went to theEast. They ran down out of their fair white houses, andstreamed through the copper gate; the throbbing of thetambang and the tittibuk suddenly ceased with the note ofthe zootibar, and the clinking kalipac stopped a momentafter. The three strange travellers went back the way theycame the instant their message was given. It was the hourwhen a light would have appeared in some high tower, andwindow after window would have poured into the dusk itslion-frightening light, and the copper gates would have beenfastened up. But no lights came out in windows there thatnight and have not ever since, and those copper gates wereleft wide and have never shut, and the sound arose of thered fire crackling in the vineyards, and the pattering offeet fleeing softly. There were no cries, no other soundsat all, only the rapid and determined flight. They fled asswiftly and quietly as a herd of wild cattle flee when theysuddenly see a man. It was as though something had befallenwhich had been feared for generations, which could only beescaped by instant flight, which left no time forindecision.

Then fear took the Europeans also, and they too fled. And what the message was I have never heard.

Many believe that it was a message from Thuba Mleen, themysterious emperor of those lands, who is never seen by man,advising that Bethmoora should be left desolate. Others saythat the message was one of warning from the gods, whetherfrom friendly gods or from adverse ones they know not.

And others hold that the Plague was ravaging a line ofcities over in Utnar Vehi, following the South-west windwhich for many weeks had been blowing across them towardsBethmoora.

Some say that the terrible gnousar sickness was upon thethree travellers, and that their very mules were drippingwith it, and suppose that they were driven to the city byhunger, but suggest no better reason for so terrible acrime.

But most believe that it was a message from the deserthimself, who owns all the Earth to the southwards, spokenwith his peculiar cry to those three who knew his voice --men who had been out on the sand-wastes without tents bynight, who had been by day without water, men who had beenout there where the desert mutters, and had grown to knowhis needs and his malevolence. They say that the desert hada need for Bethmoora, that he wished to come into her lovelystreets, and to send into her temples and her houses hisstorm-winds draped with sand. For he hates the sound andthe sight of men in his old evil heart, and he would haveBethmoora silent and undisturbed, save for the weird love hewhispers at her gates.

If I knew what that message was that the three menbrought on mules, and told in the copper gate, I think thatI should go and see Bethmoora once again. For a greatlonging comes on me here in London to see once more thatwhite and beautiful city; and yet I dare not, for I know notthe danger I should have to face, whether I should risk thefury of unknown dreadful gods, or some disease unspeakableand slow, or the desert's curse, or torture in some littleprivate room of the Emperor Thuba Mleen, or something thatthe travellers have not told -- perhaps more fearful still.