A Tale of London

"Come," said the Sultan to his hasheesh-eater in the veryfurthest lands that know Bagdad, "dream to me now ofLondon."

And the hasheesh-eater made a low obeisance and seatedhimself cross-legged upon a purple cushion broidered withgolden poppies, on the floor, beside an ivory bowl where thehasheesh was, and having eaten liberally of the hasheeshblinked seven times and spoke thus:

"O Friend of God, know then that London is the desideratetown even of all Earth's cities. Its houses are of ebonyand cedar which they roof with thin copper plates that thehand of Time turns green. They have golden balconies inwhich amethysts are where they sit and watch the sunset. Musicians in the gloaming steal softly along the ways;unheard their feet fall on the white sea-sand with whichthose ways are strewn, and in the darkness suddenly theyplay on dulcimers and instruments with strings. Then arethere murmurs in the balconies praising their skill, thenare there bracelets cast down to them for reward and goldennecklaces and even pearls.

"Indeed but the city is fair; there is by the sandy waysa paving all alabaster, and the lanterns along it are ofchrysoprase, all night long they shine green, but ofamethyst are the lanterns of the balconies.

"As the musicians go along the ways dancers gather aboutthem and dance upon the alabaster pavings, for joy and notfor hire. Sometimes a window opens far up in an ebonypalace and a wreath is cast down to a dancer or orchidsshowered upon them.

"Indeed of many cities have I dreamt but of none fairer,through many marble metropolitan gates hasheesh has led me,but London is its secret, the last gate of all; the ivorybowl has nothing more to show. And indeed even now the impsthat crawl behind me and that will not let me be areplucking me by the elbow and bidding my spirit return, forwell they know that I have seen too much. `No, not London,'they say; and therefore I will speak of some other city, acity of some less mysterious land, and anger not the impswith forbidden things. I will speak of Persepolis or famousThebes."

A shade of annoyance crossed the Sultan's face, a look ofthunder that you had scarcely seen, but in those lands theywatched his visage well, and though his spirit was wanderingfar away and his eyes were bleared with hasheesh yet thatstoryteller there and then perceived the look that wasdeath, and sent his spirit back at once to London as a manruns into his house when the thunder comes.

"And therefore," he continued, "in the desiderate city,in London, all their camels are pure white. Remarkable isthe swiftness of their horses, that draw their chariots thatare of ivory along those sandy ways and that are ofsurpassing lightness, they have little bells of silver upontheir horses' heads. O Friend of God, if you perceivedtheir merchants! The glory of their dresses in thenoonday! They are no less gorgeous than those butterfliesthat float about their streets. They have overcloaks ofgreen and vestments of azure, huge purple flowers blaze ontheir overcloaks, the work of cunning needles, the centresof the flowers are of gold and the petals of purple. Alltheir hats are black --" ("No, no," said the Sultan) --"but irises are set about the brims, and green plumes floatabove the crowns of them.

"They have a river that is named the Thames, on it theirships go up with violet sails bringing incense for thebraziers that perfume the streets, new songs exchanged forgold with alien tribes, raw silver for the statues of theirheroes, gold to make balconies where the women sit, greatsapphires to reward their poets with, the secrets of oldcities and strange lands, the learning of the dwellers infar isles, emeralds, diamonds, and the hoards of the sea. And whenever a ship comes into port and furls its violetsails and the news spreads through London that she has come,then all the merchants go down to the river to barter, andall day long the chariots whirl through the streets, and thesound of their going is a mighty roar all day until evening,their roar is even like--"

"Not so," said the Sultan.

"Truth is not hidden from the Friend of God," replied thehasheesh-eater, "I have erred being drunken with thehasheesh, for in the desiderate city, even in London, sothick upon the ways is the white sea-sand with which thecity glimmers that no sound comes from the path of thecharioteers, but they go softly like a light sea-wind." ("It is well," said the Sultan.) "They go softly down tothe port where the vessels are, and the merchandise in fromthe sea, amongst the wonders that the sailors show, on landby the high ships, and softly they go though swiftly atevening back to their homes.

"O would that the Munificent, the Illustrious, the Friendof God, had even seen these things, had seen the jewellerswith their empty baskets, bargaining there by the ships,when the barrels of emeralds came up from the hold. Orwould that he had seen the fountains there in silver basinsin the midst of the ways. I have seen small spires upontheir ebony houses and the spires were all of gold, birdsstrutted there upon the copper roofs from golden spire tospire that have no equal for splendour in all the woods ofthe world. And over London the desiderate city the sky isso deep a blue that by this alone the traveller may knowwhere he has come, and may end his fortunate journey. Noryet for any colour of the sky is there too great heat inLondon, for along its ways a wind blows always from theSouth gently and cools the city.

"Such, O Friend of God, is indeed the city of London,lying very far off on the yonder side of Bagdad, without apeer for beauty or excellence of its ways among the towns ofthe earth or cities of song; and even so, as I have told,its fortunate citizens dwell, with their hearts everdevising beautiful things and from the beauty of their ownfair work that is more abundant around them every year,receiving new inspirations to work things more beautifulyet."

"And is their government good?" the Sultan said.

"It is most good," said the hasheesh-eater, and fellbackwards upon the floor.

He lay thus and was silent. And when the Sultanperceived he would speak no more that night he smiled andlightly applauded.

And there was envy in that palace, in lands beyondBadgad, of all that dwell in London.