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The Bottle Imp
by [?]

“The house?” asked Keawe.

“No, not the house,” replied the man; “but the bottle. For, I must tell you, although I appear to you so rich and fortunate, all my fortune, and this house itself and its garden, came out of a bottle not much bigger than a pint. This is it. ”

And he opened a lockfast place, and took out a round–bellied bottle with a long neck; the glass of it was white like milk, with changing rainbow colours in the grain. Withinsides something obscurely moved, like a shadow and a fire.

“This is the bottle,” said the man; and, when Keawe laughed, “You do not believe me?” he added. “Try, then, for yourself. See if you can break it. ”

So Keawe took the bottle up and dashed it on the floor till he was weary; but it jumped on the floor like a child’s ball, and was not injured.

“This is a strange thing,” said Keawe. “For by the touch of it, as well as by the look, the bottle should be of glass. ”

“Of glass it is,” replied the man, sighing more heavily than ever; “but the glass of it was tempered in the flames of hell. An imp lives in it, and that is the shadow we behold there moving: or so I suppose. If any man buy this bottle the imp is at his command; all that he desires — love, fame, money, houses like this house, ay, or a city like this city — all are his at the word uttered. Napoleon had this bottle, and by it he grew to be the king of the world; but he sold it at the last, and fell. Captain Cook had this bottle, and by it he found his way to so many islands; but he, too, sold it, and was slain upon Hawaii. For, once it is sold, the power goes and the protection; and unless a man remain content with what he has, ill will befall him. ”

“And yet you talk of selling it yourself?” Keawe said.

“I have all I wish, and I am growing elderly,” replied the man. “There is one thing the imp cannot do — he cannot prolong life; and, it would not be fair to conceal from you, there is a drawback to the bottle; for if a man die before he sells it, he must burn in hell forever. ”

“To be sure, that is a drawback and no mistake,” cried Keawe. “I would not meddle with the thing. I can do without a house, thank God; but there is one thing I could not be doing with one particle, and that is to be damned. ”

“Dear me, you must not run away with things,” returned the man. “All you have to do is to use the power of the imp in moderation, and then sell it to someone else, as I do to you, and finish your life in comfort. ”

“Well, I observe two things,” said Keawe. “All the time you keep sighing like a maid in love, that is one; and, for the other, you sell this bottle very cheap. ”

“I have told you already why I sigh,” said the man. “It is because I fear my health is breaking up; and, as you said yourself, to die and go to the devil is a pity for anyone. As for why I sell so cheap, I must explain to you there is a peculiarity about the bottle. Long ago, when the devil brought it first upon earth, it was extremely expensive, and was sold first of all to Prester John for many millions of dollars; but it cannot be sold at all, unless sold at a loss. If you sell it for as much as you paid for it, back it comes to you again like a homing pigeon. It follows that the price has kept falling in these centuries, and the bottle is now remarkably cheap. I bought it myself from one of my great neighbours on this hill, and the price I paid was only ninety dollars. I could sell it for as high as eighty–nine dollars and ninety–nine cents, but not a penny dearer, or back the thing must come to me. Now, about this there are two bothers. First, when you offer a bottle so singular for eighty odd dollars, people suppose you to be jesting. And second — but there is no hurry about that — and I need not go into it. Only remember it must be coined money that you sell it for. ”