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The Dead Man
by [?]

One evening I was sauntering along a soft, grey, dusty track between two breast-high walls of grain. So narrow was the track that here and there tar-besmeared cars were lying–tangled, broken, and crushed–in the ruts of the cartway.

Field mice squeaked as a heavy car first swayed–then bent forwards towards the sun-baked earth. A number of martins and swallows were flitting in the sky, and constituting a sign of the immediate proximity of dwellings and a river; though for the moment, as my eyes roved over the sea of gold, they encountered naught beyond a belfry rising to heaven like a ship’s mast, and some trees which from afar looked like the dark sails of a ship. Yes, there was nothing else to be seen save the brocaded, undulating steppe where gently it sloped away south-westwards. And as was the earth’s outward appearance, so was that of the sky–equally peaceful.

Invariably, the steppe makes one feel like a fly on a platter. Invariably, it inclines one to believe, when the centre of the expanse is reached, that the earth lies within the compass of the sky, with the sun embracing it, and the stars hemming it about as, half-blinded, they stare at the sun’s beauty.


Presently the sun’s huge, rosy-red disk impinged upon the blue shadows of the horizon before preparing to sink into a snow-white cloud-bank; and as it did so it bathed the ears of grain around me in radiance and caused the cornflowers to seem the darker by comparison; and the stillness, the herald of night, to accentuate more than ever the burden of the earth’s song.

Fanwise then spread the ruddy beams over the firmament; and, in so doing, they cast upon my breast a shaft of light like Moses’ rod, and awoke therein a flood of calm, but ardent, sentiments which set me longing to embrace all the evening world, and to pour into its ear great, eloquent, and never previously voiced, utterances.

Now, too, the firmament began to spangle itself with stars; and since the earth is equally a star, and is peopled with humankind, I found myself longing to traverse every road throughout the universe, and to behold, dispassionately, all the joys and sorrows of life, and to join my fellows in drinking honey mixed with gall.

Yet also there was upon me a feeling of hunger, for not since the morning had my wallet contained a morsel of food. Which circumstance hindered the process of thought, and intermittently vexed me with the reflection that, rich though is the earth, and much thence though humanity has won by labour, a man may yet be forced to walk hungry. . . .

Suddenly the track swerved to the right, and as the walls of grain opened out before me, there lay revealed a steppe valley, with, flowing at its bottom, a blue rivulet, and spanning the rivulet, a newly-constructed bridge which, with its reflection in the water, looked as yellow as though fashioned of rope. On the further side of the rivulet some seven white huts lay pressed against a small declivity that was crowned with a cattle-fold, and amid the silver-grey trunks of some tall black poplars whose shadows, where they fell upon the hamlet, seemed as soft as down a knee-haltered horse, was stumping with swishing tail. And though the air, redolent of smoke and tar and hemp ensilage, was filled with the sounds of poultry cackling and a baby crying during the process of being put to bed, the hubbub in no way served to dispel the illusion that everything in the valley was but part of a sketch executed by an artistic hand, and cast in soft tints which the sun had since caused, in some measure, to fade.

In the centre of the semi-circle of huts there stood a brick- kiln, and next to it, a high, narrow red chapel which resembled a one-eyed watchman. And as I stood gazing at the scene in general, a crane stooped with a faint and raucous cry, and a woman who had come out to draw water looked as though, as she raised bare arms to stretch herself upwards– cloud-like, and white-robed from head to foot– she were about to float away altogether.