The Bird of the Difficult Eye

Observant men and women that know their Bond Street wellwill appreciate my astonishment when in a jewellers' shop Iperceived that nobody was furtively watching me. Not onlythis but when I even picked up a little carved crystal toexamine it no shop-assistants crowded round me. I walkedthe whole length of the shop, still no one politelyfollowed.

Seeing from this that some extraordinary revolution hadoccurred in the jewelry business I went with my curiositywell aroused to a queer old person half demon and half manwho has an idol-shop in a byway of the City and who keeps meinformed of affairs at the Edge of the World. And brieflyover a pinch of heather incense that he takes by way ofsnuff he gave me this tremendous information: that Mr. NeepyThang the son of Thangobrind had returned from the Edge ofthe World and was even now in London.

The information may not appear tremendous to thoseunacquainted with the source of jewelry; but when I say thatthe only thief employed by any West-end jeweller sincefamous Thangobrind's distressing doom is this same NeepyThang, and that for lightness of fingers and swiftness ofstockinged foot they have none better in Paris, it will beunderstood why the Bond-street jewellers no longer caredwhat became of their old stock.

There were big diamonds in London that summer and a fewconsiderable sapphires. In certain astounding kingdomsbehind the East strange sovereigns missed from their turbansthe heirlooms of ancient wars, and here and there thekeepers of crown jewels who had not heard the stockingedfeet of Thang, were questioned and died slowly.

And the jewellers gave a little dinner to Thang at theHotel Great Magnificent; the windows had not been opened forfive years and there was wine at a guinea a bottle that youcould not tell from champagne and cigars at half a crownwith a Havana label. Altogether it was a splendid eveningfor Thang.

But I have to tell of a far sadder thing than a dinner ata hotel. The public require jewelry and jewelry must beobtained. I have to tell of Neepy Thang's last journey.

That year the fashion was emeralds. A man named Greenhad recently crossed the Channel on a bicycle and thejewellers said that a green stone would be particularlyappropriate to commemorate the event and recommendedemeralds.

Now a certain money-lender of Cheapside who had just beenmade a peer had divided his gains into three equal parts;one for the purchase of the peerage, country-house and park,and the twenty thousand pheasants that are absolutelyessential, and one for the upkeep of the position, while thethird he banked abroad, partly to cheat the nativetax-gatherer and partly because it seemed to him that thedays of the Peerage were few and that he might at any momentbe called upon to start afresh elsewhere. In the upkeep ofthe position he included jewelry for his wife and so it cameabout that Lord Castlenorman placed an order with twowell-known Bond-street jewellers named Messrs. Grosvenor andCampbell to the extent of 100,000 pounds for a few reliableemeralds.

But the emeralds in stock were mostly small andshop-soiled and Neepy Thang had to set out at once before hehad had as much as a week in London. I will briefly sketchhis project. Not many knew it, for where the form ofbusiness is blackmail the fewer creditors you have thebetter (which of course in various degrees applies at alltimes).

On the shores of the risky seas of Shiroora Shan growsone tree only so that upon its branches if anywhere in theworld there must build its nest the Bird of the DifficultEye. Neepy Thang had come by this information, which wasindeed the truth, that if the bird migrated to Fairylandbefore the three eggs hatched out they would undoubtedly allturn into emeralds, while if they hatched out first it wouldbe a bad business.

When he had mentioned these eggs to Messrs. Grosvenor andCampbell they had said, "The very thing": they were men offew words, in English, for it was not their native tongue.

So Neepy Thang set out. He bought the purple ticket atVictoria Station. He went by Herne Hill, Bromley andBickley and passed St. Mary Cray. At Eynsford he changedand taking a footpath along a winding valley went wanderinginto the hills. And at the top of a hill in a little wood,where all the anemones long since were over and the perfumeof mint and thyme from outside came drifting in with Thang,he found once more the familiar path, age-old and fair aswonder, that leads to the Edge of the World. Little to himwere its sacred memories that are one with the secret ofearth, for he was on business, and little would they be tome if I ever put them on paper. Let it suffice that he wentdown that path going further and further from the fields weknow, and all the way he muttered to himself, "What if theeggs hatch out and it be a bad business!" The glamour thatis at all times upon those lonely lands that lie at the backof the chalky hills of Kent intensified as he went upon hisjourneys. Queerer and queerer grew the things that he sawby little World-End Path. Many a twilight descended uponthat journey with all their mysteries, many a blaze ofstars; many a morning came flaming up to a tinkle of silverhorns; till the outpost elves of Fairyland came in sight andthe glittering crests of Fairyland's three mountainsbetokened the journey's end. And so with painful steps (forthe shores of the world are covered with huge crystals) hecame to the risky seas of Shiroora Shan and saw thempounding to gravel the wreckage of fallen stars, saw themand heard their roar, those shipless seas that between earthand the fairies' homes heave beneath some huge wind that isnone of our four. And there in the darkness on the grizzlycoast, for darkness was swooping slantwise down the sky asthough with some evil purpose, there stood that lonely,gnarled and deciduous tree. It was a bad place to be foundin after dark, and night descended with multitudes of stars,beasts prowling in the blackness gluttered at Neepy Thang. (See any dictionary, but in vain.) And there on a lowerbranch within easy reach he clearly saw the Bird of theDifficult Eye sitting upon the nest for which she isfamous. Her face was towards those three inscrutablemountains, far-off on the other side of the risky seas,whose hidden valleys are Fairyland. Though not yet autumnin the fields we know, it was close on mid-winter here, themoment as Thang knew when those eggs hatch out. Had hemiscalculated and arrived a minute too late? Yet the birdwas even now about to migrate, her pinions fluttered and hergaze was toward Fairyland. Thang hoped and muttered aprayer to those pagan gods whose spite and vengeance he hadmost reason to fear. It seems that it was too late or aprayer too small to placate them, for there and then thestroke of mid-winter came and the eggs hatched out in theroar of Shiroora Shan or ever the bird was gone with herdifficult eye and it was a bad business indeed for NeepyThang; I haven't the heart to tell you any more.

"'Ere," said Lord Castlenorman some few weeks later toMessrs. Grosvenor and Campbell, "you aren't 'arf taking yourtime about those emeralds."