The Long Porter`s Tale

There are things that are known only to the long porter ofTong Tong Tarrup as he sits and mumbles memories to himselfin the little bastion gateway.

He remembers the war there was in the halls of thegnomes; and how the fairies came for the opals once, whichTong Tong Tarrup has; and the way that the giants wentthrough the fields below, he watching from his gateway: heremembers quests that are even yet a wonder to the gods. Who dwells in those frozen houses on the high bare brink ofthe world not even he has told me, and he is held to begarrulous. Among the elves, the only living things everseen moving at that awful altitude where they quarryturquoise on Earth's highest crag, his name is a byword forloquacity wherewith they mock the talkative.

His favourite story if you offer him bash -- the drug ofwhich he is fondest, and for which he will give his servicein war to the elves against the goblins, or vice-versa ifthe goblins bring him more -- his favourite story, whenbodily soothed by the drug and mentally fiercely excited,tells of a quest undertaken ever so long ago for nothingmore marketable than an old woman's song.

Picture him telling it. An old man, lean and bearded,and almost monstrously long, that lolled in a city's gatewayon a crag perhaps ten miles high; the houses for the mostpart facing eastward, lit by the sun and moon and theconstellations we know, but one house on the pinnaclelooking over the edge of the world and lit by the glimmer ofthose unearthly spaces where one long evening wears away thestars: my little offering of bash; a long forefinger thatnipped it at once on a stained and greedy thumb -- all theseare in the foreground of the picture. In the background,the mystery of those silent houses and of not knowing whotheir denizens were, or what service they had at the handsof the long porter and what payment he had in return, andwhether he was mortal.

Picture him in the gateway of this incredible town,having swallowed my bash in silence, stretch his greatlength, lean back, and begin to speak.

It seems that one clear morning a hundred years ago, avisitor to Tong Tong Tarrup was climbing up from the world. He had already passed above the snow and had set his foot ona step of the earthward stairway that goes down from TongTong Tarrup on to the rocks, when the long porter saw him. And so painfully did he climb those easy steps that thegrizzled man on watch had long to wonder whether or not thestranger brought him bash, the drug that gives a meaning tothe stars and seems to explain the twilight. And in the endthere was not a scrap of bash, and the stranger had nothingbetter to offer that grizzled man than his mere story only.

It seems that the stranger's name was Gerald Jones, andhe always lived in London; but once as a child he had beenon a Northern moor. It was so long ago that he did notremember how, only somehow or other he walked alone on themoor, and all the ling was in flower. There was nothing insight but ling and heather and bracken, except, far off nearthe sunset, on indistinct hills, there were little vaguepatches that looked like the fields of men. With evening amist crept up and hid the hills, and still he went walkingon over the moor. And then he came to the valley, a tinyvalley in the midst of the moor, whose sides were incrediblysteep. He lay down and looked at it through the roots ofthe ling. And a long, long way below him, in a garden by acottage, with hollyhocks all round her that were taller thanherself, there sat an old woman on a wooden chair, singingin the evening. And the man had taken a fancy to the songand remembered it after in London, and whenever it came tohis mind it made him think of evenings -- the kind you don'tget in London -- and he heard a soft wind going idly overthe moor and the bumble-bees in a hurry, and forgot thenoise of the traffic. And always, whenever he heard menspeak of Time, he grudged to Time most this song. Onceafterwards he went to that Northern moor again and found thetiny valley, but there was no old woman in the garden, andno one was singing a song. And either regret for the songthat the old woman had sung, on a summer evening twentyyears away and daily receding, troubled his mind, or elsethe wearisome work that he did in London, for he worked fora great firm that was perfectly useless; and he grew oldearly, as men do in cities. And at last, when melancholybrought only regret and the uselessness of his work gainedround him with age, he decided to consult a magician. So toa magician he went and told him his troubles, andparticularly he told him how he had heard the song. "Andnow," he said, "it is nowhere in the world."

"Of course it is not in the world," the magician said,"but over the Edge of the World you may easily find it." And he told the man that he was suffering from flux of timeand recommended a day at the Edge of the World. Jones askedwhat part of the Edge of the World he should go to, and themagician had heard Tong Tong Tarrup well spoken of; so hepaid him, as is usual, in opals, and started at once on thejourney. The ways to that town are winding; he took theticket at Victoria Station that they only give if they knowyou: he went past Bleth: he went along the Hills ofNeol-Hungar and came to the Gap of Poy. All these are inthat part of the world that pertains to the fields we know;but beyond the Gap of Poy on those ordinary plains, that soclosely resemble Sussex, one first meets the unlikely. Aline of common grey hills, the Hills of Sneg, may be seen atthe edge of the plain from the Gap of Poy; it is there thatthe incredible begins, infrequently at first, but happeningmore and more as you go up the hills. For instance,descending once into Poy Plains, the first thing that I sawwas an ordinary shepherd watching a flock of ordinarysheep. I looked at them for some time and nothing happened,when, without a word, one of the sheep walked up to theshepherd and borrowed his pipe and smoked it -- an incidentthat struck me as unlikely; but in the Hills of Sneg I metan honest politician. Over these plains went Jones and overthe Hills of Sneg, meeting at first unlikely things, andthen incredible things, till he came to the long slopebeyond the hills that leads up to the Edge of the World, andwhere, as all guide-books tell, anything may happen. Youmight at the foot of this slope see here and there thingsthat could conceivably occur in the fields we know; but soonthese disappeared, and the traveller saw nothing butfabulous beasts, browsing on flowers as astounding asthemselves, and rocks so distorted that their shapes hadclearly a meaning, being too startling to be accidental. Even the trees were shockingly unfamiliar, they had so muchto say, and they leant over to one another whenever theyspoke and struck grotesque attitudes and leered. Jones sawtwo fir-trees fighting. The effect of these scenes on hisnerves was very severe; still he climbed on, and was muchcheered at last by the sight of a primrose, the onlyfamiliar thing he had seen for hours, but it whistled andskipped away. He saw the unicorns in their secret valley. Then night in a sinister way slipped over the sky, and thereshone not only the stars, but lesser and greater moons, andhe heard dragons rattling in the dark.

With dawn there appeared above him among its amazingcrags the town of Tong Tong Tarrup, with the light on itsfrozen stairs, a tiny cluster of houses far up in the sky. He was on the steep mountain now: great mists were leavingit slowly, and revealing, as they trailed away, more andmore astonishing things. Before the mist had all gone heheard quite near him, on what he had thought was baremountain, the sound of a heavy galloping on turf. He hadcome to the plateau of the centaurs. And all at once he sawthem in the mist: there they were, the children of fable,five enormous centaurs. Had he paused on account of anyastonishment he had not come so far: he strode on over theplateau, and came quite near to the centaurs. It is neverthe centaurs' wont to notice men; they pawed the ground andshouted to one another in Greek, but they said no word tohim. Nevertheless they turned and stared at him when heleft them, and when he had crossed the plateau and stillwent on, all five of them cantered after to the edge oftheir green land; for above the high green plateau of thecentaurs is nothing but naked mountains, and the last greenthing that is seen by the mountaineer as he travels to TongTong Tarrup is the grass that the centaurs trample. He cameinto the snow fields that the mountain wears like a cape,its head being bare above it, and still climbed on. Thecentaurs watched him with increasing wonder.

Not even fabulous beasts were near him now, nor strangedemoniac trees -- nothing but snow and the clean bare cragabove it on which was Tong Tong Tarrup. All day he climbedand evening found him above the snow-line; and soon he cameto the stairway cut in the rock and in sight of thatgrizzled man, the long porter of Tong Tong Tarrup, sittingmumbling amazing memories to himself and expecting in vainfrom the stranger a gift of bash.

It seems that as soon as the stranger arrived at thebastion gateway, tired though he was, he demanded lodgingsat once that commanded a good view of the Edge of theWorld. But the long porter, that grizzled man, disappointedof his bash, demanded the stranger's story to add to hismemories before he would show him the way. And this is thestory, if the long porter has told me the truth and if hismemory is still what it was. And when the story was told,the grizzled man arose, and, dangling his musical keys, wentup through door after door and by many stairs and led thestranger to the top-most house, the highest roof in theworld, and in its parlour showed him the parlour window. There the tired stranger sat down in a chair and gazed outof the window sheer over the Edge of the World. The windowwas shut, and in its glittering panes the twilight of theWorld's Edge blazed and danced, partly like glow-worms'lamps and partly like the sea; it went by rippling, full ofwonderful moons. But the traveller did not look at thewonderful moons. For from the abyss there grew with theirroots in far constellations a row of hollyhocks, and amongstthem a small green garden quivered and trembled as scenestremble in water; higher up, ling in bloom was floating uponthe twilight, more and more floated up till all the twilightwas purple; the little green garden low down was hung in themidst of it. And the garden down below, and the ling allround it, seemed all to be trembling and drifting on asong. For the twilight was full of a song that sang andrang along the edges of the World, and the green garden andthe ling seemed to flicker and ripple with it as the songrose and fell, and an old woman was singing it down in thegarden. A bumble-bee sailed across from over the Edge ofthe World. And the song that was lapping there against thecoasts of the World, and to which the stars were dancing,was the same that he had heard the old woman sing long sincedown in the valley in the midst of the Northern moor.

But that grizzled man, the long porter, would not let thestranger stay, because he brought him no bash, andimpatiently he shouldered him away, himself not troubling toglance through the World's outermost window, for the landsthat Time afflicts and the spaces that Time knows not areall one to that grizzled man, and the bash that he eats moreprofoundly astounds his mind than anything man can show himeither in the World we know or over the Edge. And, bitterlyprotesting, the traveller went back and down again to theWorld.

Accustomed as I am to the incredible from knowing theEdge of the World, the story presents difficulties to me. Yet it may be that the devastation wrought by Time is merelylocal, and that outside the scope of his destruction oldsongs are still being sung by those that we deem dead. Itry to hope so. And yet the more I investigate the storythat the long porter told me in the town of Tong Tong Tarrupthe more plausible the alternative theory appears -- thatthat grizzled man is a liar.