The tall man said: theres
a strong feeling against those on the railway amongst some who
live here; thats what I have heard; and theres a
provincial magistrate; hes said to be hot, you are hardly
human, he is said to think, whether he says it or not I do not
know, but he acts upon it, thats what I have heard, look
down there, that might well be his house He pointed
down from the embankment to a tall town house, built of stone,
four storeys high; from the ground its roof would be hidden by
the parapet. thats probably his house, narrow,
tall, examines everything; I can see no-one at the windows. Thats
where he lives.
Yes, said the little man, Im certain
Why should this be? You have done no harm to anyone,
I wish that were true, said the little man.
Weve done nothing of importance, a few small things,
from ignorance, largely, said the tall man, I speak
for both of us, but you get a name, you take on the identity
of everyone who passes through, in their eyes, whom you have
never known, whom you have never seen; one small thing happened
years ago, dont ask me what it was, or perhaps the small
thing never happened, they think it will happen in the time to
come, in the near future, perhaps, theyll look at you,
and say, hes about to do something which we dont
like, look at the way he goes to it, changes his name with every
day that comes, juggles the stance of his past with every hour,
and they forget that they are like that, too, we know our past,
thats what they say, you have no past that we acknowledge,
you offend by your presence, the magistrate will say, what a
waste of time the trial, what a waste, imprisonment at the public
What strange superstitions, said Ariel to himself.
Do you think that they are superstitions? Is that what
you think? Do you think we make them up upon the road, sheltering
from the rain beneath an arch? Do you think we measure time in
days of travel? Have you seen a road more straight than the road
of days? If these are superstitions, then all knowledge partakes
of superstition. Perhaps that is not far from the truth. You
think we shift our stance from day to day, and you are right;
but beneath the adaptation to the day we do not change. That
which you know you have always seen before. We have seen these
things for ourselves. But youre free, now, you dont
have to believe us.
The derelict railway cut through the town.
The embankment ran on, straight as a die, across land level once
more, making no allowance for the presence of the town. The main
road ran through a high Roman arch in the embankment. Ariel,
standing on the bridge, looked down at the town, his sight drawn
by its complexity. The other two men, seeing him stop, grasped
him by his arms. Do not hold me, I will not be constrained,
not by you, nor by anyone, he said, his voice suddenly
loud; you could hear its echoes from the roofs and the walls
of the houses below; even these echoes of his voice were filled
with authority; one would have said that another had spoken;
the men at his sides let go of his arms at once and backed away
from him, looking at his face; he looked from one to the other;
I will never be constrained by anyone, he said, with
a final authority.
Come on, please come on with us, said the small man,
but in such a subdued tone, and so muffled with anxiety that
you had difficulty understanding him; his eyes did not meet Ariels
This is surely no place to stop, said the tall man,
stop here and itll be the end of you, did you not
hear him speak of the apparition and its warning?
Where knowledge has its limit, there superstition waits. Ive
heard something of the kind, sonorous, the chaplain, perhaps,
giving what he did not know a dignity it did not need, said Ariel
Ariel stood in the heat, one boot firmly on the ground, the other
resting solidly upon a block of stone. His arms were crossed.
Ariel saw no reason for either anxiety or agitation; the day
was a day like any other and the town an unremarkable town, empty
in the midmorning heat. No doubt its people were going about
their business in the shade. Nothing was moving except for the
shadows of the little clouds which flowed across the roofs and
We must go on, said the tall man, we have been
lucky so far.
Luckier than we deserve, said the short man.
Do you think the future will ever be dissimilar to this?
asked Ariel, still standing between them.
Its not the time to think of things like that,
said the tall man.
Anywhere else you can speculate and spend your life in
thought, but not here, this is the place for quietness and speed,
said the small man, hands edges to temples, so well
go on, here its best not to think, youll be alarmed
by what comes to mind: so, as we both say, its best to
go on without the least consideration of the place through which
we go. Blinkered horses trust and do not shy.
What he says is true, said the tall man, you
are at your most vulnerable here, pause in thought and youll
lose the best part of your will.
The place is certainly quiet, said the short man,
making an unthinking matter-of-fact statement. What day
of the week is it?
Tuesday, said Ariel.
You know such things with certainty, do you? asked
the small man, wanting no answer, nothing questioning in his
voice. While he spoke he leaned with his back against the wooden
parapet of the bridge; then he paused, as if wondering whether
he should continue speaking in the hot forenoon, what he might
have said he did not know; none of them spoke, it was difficult
to tell what any of them were thinking, all their previous words
had vanished and it seemed that they were three men who had met
that morning by chance, in hemi-recognition; the tall mans
face was in shade, and as he stooped, his face lowered, it was
difficult to tell his expression. The short man looked either
way along the railway, back to the bridge over the river where
Ariel had dived in the early morning, forward, to the unknown
straightness ahead where the track wavered in the heat-haze,
you would make out nothing more clearly with a telescope, he
thought to himself, all youd see would be the shimmering,
right to the disk of the pale daytime moon, what else one might
see I do not know, he asks why we should quit this town as fast
as we are able: well I know the answer, but not the words for
it, never have I known the words for much, but we cant
stay here, could not stay yesterday in the place we were, one
day and what a day that will be. Shake the sand from my
shoes, the dust of the day, the little gravels, the stones.
Do you know the towns name? asked Ariel.
updated 28th August 2010