E. M. Forster – The Celestial Omnibus (read online)

 The Celestial Omnibus  



The boy who resided at Agathox Lodge, 28, Buckingham Park Road,
Surbiton, had often been puzzled by the old sign-post that stood almost
opposite. He asked his mother about it, and she replied that it was a
joke, and not a very nice one, which had been made many years back by
some naughty young men, and that the police ought to remove it. For
there were two strange things about this sign-post: firstly, it pointed
up a blank alley, and, secondly, it had painted on it in faded
characters, the words, "To Heaven."

"What kind of young men were they?" he asked.

"I think your father told me that one of them wrote verses, and was
expelled from the University and came to grief in other ways. Still, it
was a long time ago. You must ask your father about it. He will say the
same as I do, that it was put up as a joke."

"So it doesn't mean anything at all?"

She sent him upstairs to put on his best things, for the Bonses were
coming to tea, and he was to hand the cake-stand.

It struck him, as he wrenched on his tightening trousers, that he might
do worse than ask Mr. Bons about the sign-post. His father, though very
kind, always laughed at him--shrieked with laughter whenever he or any
other child asked a question or spoke. But Mr. Bons was serious as well
as kind. He had a beautiful house and lent one books, he was a
churchwarden, and a candidate for the County Council; he had donated to
the Free Library enormously, he presided over the Literary Society, and
had Members of Parliament to stop with him--in short, he was probably
the wisest person alive.

Yet even Mr. Bons could only say that the sign-post was a joke--the joke
of a person named Shelley.

"Off course!" cried the mother; "I told you so, dear. That was the

"Had you never heard of Shelley?" asked Mr. Bons.

"No," said the boy, and hung his head.

"But is there no Shelley in the house?"

"Why, yes!" exclaimed the lady, in much agitation. "Dear Mr. Bons, we
aren't such Philistines as that. Two at the least. One a wedding
present, and the other, smaller print, in one of the spare rooms."

"I believe we have seven Shelleys," said Mr. Bons, with a slow smile.
Then he brushed the cake crumbs off his stomach, and, together with his
daughter, rose to go.

The boy, obeying a wink from his mother, saw them all the way to the
garden gate, and when they had gone he did not at once return to the
house, but gazed for a little up and down Buckingham Park Road.

His parents lived at the right end of it. After No. 39 the quality of
the houses dropped very suddenly, and 64 had not even a separate
servants' entrance. But at the present moment the whole road looked
rather pretty, for the sun had just set in splendour, and the
inequalities of rent were drowned in a saffron afterglow. Small birds
twittered, and the breadwinners' train shrieked musically down through
the cutting--that wonderful cutting which has drawn to itself the whole
beauty out of Surbiton, and clad itself, like any Alpine valley, with
the glory of the fir and the silver birch and the primrose. It was this
cutting that had first stirred desires within the boy--desires for
something just a little different, he knew not what desires that would
return whenever things were sunlit, as they were this evening, running
up and down inside him, up and down, up and down, till he would feel
quite unusual all over, and as likely as not would want to cry. This
evening he was even sillier, for he slipped across the road towards the
sign-post and began to run up the blank alley.

The alley runs between high walls--the walls of the gardens of "Ivanhoe"
and "Belle Vista" respectively. It smells a little all the way, and is
scarcely twenty yards long, including the turn at the end. So not
unnaturally the boy soon came to a standstill. "I'd like to kick that
Shelley," he exclaimed, and glanced idly at a piece of paper which was
pasted on the wall. Rather an odd piece of paper, and he read it
carefully before he turned back. This is what he read:

            S. AND C.R.C.C.
      _Alteration in Service._

Owing to lack of patronage the Company are regretfully compelled to
suspend the hourly service, and to retain only the

       _Sunrise and Sunset Omnibuses,_

which will run as usual. It is to be hoped that the public will
patronize an arrangement which is intended for their convenience. As an
extra inducement, the Company will, for the first time, now issue

               Return Tickets!

(available one day only), which may be obtained of the driver.
Passengers are again reminded that _no tickets are issued at the other
end_, and that no complaints in this connection will receive
consideration from the Company. Nor will the Company be responsible for
any negligence or stupidity on the part of Passengers, nor for
Hailstorms, Lightning, Loss of Tickets, nor for any Act of God.

                                For the Direction.

Now he had never seen this notice before, nor could he imagine where the
omnibus went to. S. of course was for Surbiton, and R.C.C. meant Road
Car Company. But what was the meaning or the other C.? Coombe and
Maiden, perhaps, of possibly "City." Yet it could not hope to compete
with the South-Western. The whole thing, the boy reflected, was run on
hopelessly unbusiness-like lines. Why no tickets from the other end? And
what an hour to start! Then he realized that unless the notice was a
hoax, an omnibus must have been starting just as he was wishing the
Bonses good-bye. He peered at the ground through the gathering dusk, and
there he saw what might or might not be the marks of wheels. Yet nothing
had come out of the alley. And he had never seen an omnibus at any time
in the Buckingham Park Road. No: it must be a hoax, like the sign-posts,
like the fairy tales, like the dreams upon which he would wake suddenly
in the night. And with a sigh he stepped from the alley--right into the
arms of his father.

Oh, how his father laughed! "Poor, poor Popsey!" he cried. "Diddums!
Diddums! Diddums think he'd walky-palky up to Evvink!" And his mother,
also convulsed with laughter, appeared on the steps of Agathox Lodge.
"Don't, Bob!" she gasped. "Don't be so naughty! Oh, you'll kill me! Oh,
leave the boy alone!"

But all that evening the joke was kept up. The father implored to be
taken too. Was it a very tiring walk? Need one wipe one's shoes on the
door-mat? And the boy went to bed feeling faint and sore, and thankful
for only one thing--that he had not said a word about the omnibus. It
was a hoax, yet through his dreams it grew more and more real, and the
streets of Surbiton, through which he saw it driving, seemed instead to
become hoaxes and shadows. And very early in the morning he woke with a
cry, for he had had a glimpse of its destination.

He struck a match, and its light fell not only on his watch but also on
his calendar, so that he knew it to be half-an-hour to sunrise. It was
pitch dark, for the fog had come down from London in the night, and all
Surbiton was wrapped in its embraces. Yet he sprang out and dressed
himself, for he was determined to settle once for all which was real:
the omnibus or the streets. "I shall be a fool one way or the other," he
thought, "until I know." Soon he was shivering in the road under the gas
lamp that guarded the entrance to the alley.

To enter the alley itself required some courage. Not only was it
horribly dark, but he now realized that it was an impossible terminus
for an omnibus. If it had not been for a policeman, whom he heard
approaching through the fog, he would never have made the attempt. The
next moment he had made the attempt and failed. Nothing. Nothing but a
blank alley and a very silly boy gaping at its dirty floor. It _was_ a
hoax. "I'll tell papa and mamma," he decided. "I deserve it. I deserve
that they should know. I am too silly to be alive." And he went back to
the gate of Agathox Lodge.

There he remembered that his watch was fast. The sun was not risen; it
would not rise for two minutes. "Give the bus every chance," he thought
cynically, and returned into the alley.

But the omnibus was there.


It had two horses, whose sides were still smoking from their journey,
and its two great lamps shone through the fog against the alley's walls,
changing their cobwebs and moss into tissues of fairyland. The driver
was huddled up in a cape. He faced the blank wall, and how he had
managed to drive in so neatly and so silently was one of the many things
that the boy never discovered. Nor could he imagine how ever he would
drive out.

"Please," his voice quavered through the foul brown air, "Please, is
that an omnibus?"

"Omnibus est," said the driver, without turning round. There was a
moment's silence. The policeman passed, coughing, by the entrance of the
alley. The boy crouched in the shadow, for he did not want to be found
out. He was pretty sure, too, that it was a Pirate; nothing else, he
reasoned, would go from such odd places and at such odd hours.

"About when do you start?" He tried to sound nonchalant.

"At sunrise."

"How far do you go?"

"The whole way."

"And can I have a return ticket which will bring me all the way back?"

"You can."

"Do you know, I half think I'll come." The driver made no answer. The
sun must have risen, for he unhitched the brake. And scarcely had the
boy jumped in before the omnibus was off.

How? Did it turn? There was no room. Did it go forward? There was a
blank wall. Yet it was moving--moving at a stately pace through the fog,
which had turned from brown to yellow. The thought of warm bed and
warmer breakfast made the boy feel faint. He wished he had not come. His
parents would not have approved. He would have gone back to them if the
weather had not made it impossible. The solitude was terrible; he was
the only passenger. And the omnibus, though well-built, was cold and
somewhat musty. He drew his coat round him, and in so doing chanced to
feel his pocket. It was empty. He had forgotten his purse.

"Stop!" he shouted. "Stop!" And then, being of a polite disposition, he
glanced up at the painted notice-board so that he might call the driver
by name. "Mr. Browne! stop; O, do please stop!"

Mr. Browne did not stop, but he opened a little window and looked in at
the boy. His face was a surprise, so kind it was and modest.

"Mr. Browne, I've left my purse behind. I've not got a penny. I can't
pay for the ticket. Will you take my watch, please? I am in the most
awful hole."

"Tickets on this line," said the driver, "whether single or return, can
be purchased by coinage from no terrene mint. And a chronometer, though
it had solaced the vigils of Charlemagne, or measured the slumbers of
Laura, can acquire by no mutation the double-cake that charms the
fangless Cerberus of Heaven!" So saying, he handed in the necessary
ticket, and, while the boy said "Thank you," continued: "Titular
pretensions, I know it well, are vanity. Yet they merit no censure when
uttered on a laughing lip, and in an homonymous world are in some sort
useful, since they do serve to distinguish one Jack from his fellow.
Remember me, therefore, as Sir Thomas Browne."

"Are you a Sir? Oh, sorry!" He had heard of these gentlemen drivers. "It
_is_ good of you about the ticket. But if you go on at this rate,
however does your bus pay?"

"It does not pay. It was not intended to pay. Many are the faults of my
equipage; it is compounded too curiously of foreign woods; its cushions
tickle erudition rather than promote repose; and my horses are nourished
not on the evergreen pastures of the moment, but on the dried bents and
clovers of Latinity. But that it pays!--that error at all events was
never intended and never attained."

"Sorry again," said the boy rather hopelessly. Sir Thomas looked sad,
fearing that, even for a moment, he had been the cause of sadness. He
invited the boy to come up and sit beside him on the box, and together
they journeyed on through the fog, which was now changing from yellow to
white. There were no houses by the road; so it must be either Putney
Heath or Wimbledon Common.

"Have you been a driver always?"

"I was a physician once."

"But why did you stop? Weren't you good?"

"As a healer of bodies I had scant success, and several score of my
patients preceded me. But as a healer of the spirit I have succeeded
beyond my hopes and my deserts. For though my draughts were not better
nor subtler than those of other men, yet, by reason of the cunning
goblets wherein I offered them, the queasy soul was ofttimes tempted to
sip and be refreshed."

"The queasy soul," he murmured; "if the sun sets with trees in front of
it, and you suddenly come strange all over, is that a queasy soul?"

"Have you felt that?"

"Why yes."

After a pause he told the boy a little, a very little, about the
journey's end. But they did not chatter much, for the boy, when he liked
a person, would as soon sit silent in his company as speak, and this, he
discovered, was also the mind of Sir Thomas Browne and of many others
with whom he was to be acquainted. He heard, however, about the young
man Shelley, who was now quite a famous person, with a carriage of his
own, and about some of the other drivers who are in the service of the
Company. Meanwhile the light grew stronger, though the fog did not
disperse. It was now more like mist than fog, and at times would travel
quickly across them, as if it was part of a cloud. They had been
ascending, too, in a most puzzling way; for over two hours the horses
had been pulling against the collar, and even if it were Richmond Hill
they ought to have been at the top long ago. Perhaps it was Epsom, or
even the North Downs; yet the air seemed keener than that which blows on
either. And as to the name of their destination, Sir Thomas Browne was


"Thunder, by Jove!" said the boy, "and not so far off either. Listen to
the echoes! It's more like mountains."

He thought, not very vividly, of his father and mother. He saw them
sitting down to sausages and listening to the storm. He saw his own
empty place. Then there would be questions, alarms, theories, jokes,
consolations. They would expect him back at lunch. To lunch he would not
come, nor to tea, but he would be in for dinner, and so his day's
truancy would be over. If he had had his purse he would have bought them
presents--not that he should have known what to get them.


The peal and the lightning came together. The cloud quivered as if it
were alive, and torn streamers of mist rushed past. "Are you afraid?"
asked Sir Thomas Browne.

"What is there to be afraid of? Is it much farther?"

The horses of the omnibus stopped just as a ball of fire burst up and
exploded with a ringing noise that was deafening but clear, like the
noise of a blacksmith's forge. All the cloud was shattered.

"Oh, listen. Sir Thomas Browne! No, I mean look; we shall get a view at
last. No, I mean listen; that sounds like a rainbow!"

The noise had died into the faintest murmur, beneath which another
murmur grew, spreading stealthily, steadily, in a curve that widened but
did not vary. And in widening curves a rainbow was spreading from the
horses' feet into the dissolving mists.

"But how beautiful! What colours! Where will it stop? It is more like
the rainbows you can tread on. More like dreams."

The colour and the sound grew together. The rainbow spanned an enormous
gulf. Clouds rushed under it and were pierced by it, and still it grew,
reaching forward, conquering the darkness, until it touched something
that seemed more solid than a cloud.

The boy stood up. "What is that out there?" he called. "What does it
rest on, out at that other end?"

In the morning sunshine a precipice shone forth beyond the gulf A
precipice--or was it a castle? The horses moved. They set their feet
upon the rainbow.

"Oh, look!" the boy shouted. "Oh, listen! Those caves--or are they
gateways? Oh, look between those cliffs at those ledges. I see people! I
see trees!"

"Look also below," whispered Sir Thomas. "Neglect not the diviner

The boy looked below, past the flames of the rainbow that licked against
their wheels. The gulf also had cleared, and in its depths there flowed
an everlasting river. One sunbeam entered and struck a green pool, and
as they passed over he saw three maidens rise to the surface of the
pool, singing, and playing with something that glistened like a ring.

"You down in the water----" he called.

They answered, "You up on the bridge----" There was a burst of music.
"You up on the bridge, good luck to you. Truth in the depth, truth on
the height."

"You down in the water, what are you doing?"

Sir Thomas Browne replied: "They sport in the mancipiary possession of
their gold"; and the omnibus arrived.


The boy was in disgrace. He sat locked up in the nursery of Agathox
Lodge, learning poetry for a punishment. His father had said, "My boy! I
can pardon anything but untruthfulness," and had caned him, saying at
each stroke, "There is _no_ omnibus, _no_ driver, _no_ bridge, _no_
mountain; you are a _truant_, _guttersnipe_, a _liar_." His father
could be very stern at times. His mother had begged him to say he was
sorry. But he could not say that. It was the greatest day of his life,
in spite of the caning, and the poetry at the end of it.

He had returned punctually at sunset--driven not by Sir Thomas Browne,
but by a maiden lady who was full of quiet fun. They had talked of
omnibuses and also of barouche landaus. How far away her gentle voice
seemed now! Yet it was scarcely three hours since he had left her up the

His mother called through the door. "Dear, you are to come down and to
bring your poetry with you."

He came down, and found that Mr. Bons was in the smoking-room with his
father. It had been a dinner party.

"Here is the great traveller!" said his father grimly. "Here is the
young gentleman who drives in an omnibus over rainbows, while young
ladies sing to him." Pleased with his wit, he laughed.

"After all," said Mr. Bons, smiling, "there is something a little like
it in Wagner. It is odd how, in quite illiterate minds, you will find
glimmers of Artistic Truth. The case interests me. Let me plead for the
culprit. We have all romanced in our time, haven't we?"

"Hear how kind Mr. Bons is," said his mother, while his father said,
"Very well. Let him say his Poem, and that will do. He is going away to
my sister on Tuesday, and she will cure him of this alley-slopering."
(Laughter.) "Say your Poem."

The boy began. "'Standing aloof in giant ignorance.'"

His father laughed again--roared. "One for you, my son! 'Standing aloof
in giant ignorance!' I never knew these poets talked sense. Just
describes you. Here, Bons, you go in for poetry. Put him through it,
will you, while I fetch up the whisky?"

"Yes, give me the Keats," said Mr. Bons. "Let him say his Keats to me."

So for a few moments the wise man and the ignorant boy were left alone
in the smoking-room.

"'Standing aloof in giant ignorance, of thee I dream and of the
Cyclades, as one who sits ashore and longs perchance to visit----'"

"Quite right. To visit what?"

"'To visit dolphin coral in deep seas,'" said the boy, and burst into

"Come, come! why do you cry?"

"Because--because all these words that only rhymed before, now that I've
come back they're me."

Mr. Bons laid the Keats down. The case was more interesting than he had
expected. "_You?_" he exclaimed, "This sonnet, _you_?"

"Yes--and look further on: 'Aye, on the shores of darkness there is
light, and precipices show untrodden green.' It _is_ so, sir. All these
things are true."

"I never doubted it," said Mr. Bons, with closed eyes.

"You--then you believe me? You believe in the omnibus and the driver and
the storm and that return ticket I got for nothing and----"

"Tut, tut! No more of your yarns, my boy. I meant that I never doubted
the essential truth of Poetry. Some day, when you read more, you will
understand what I mean."

"But Mr. Bons, it _is_ so. There _is_ light upon the shores of darkness.
I have seen it coming. Light and a wind."

"Nonsense," said Mr. Bons.

"If I had stopped! They tempted me. They told me to give up my
ticket--for you cannot come back if you lose your ticket. They called
from the river for it, and indeed I was tempted, for I have never been
so happy as among those precipices. But I thought of my mother and
father, and that I must fetch them. Yet they will not come, though the
road starts opposite our house. It has all happened as the people up
there warned me, and Mr. Bons has disbelieved me like every one else. I
have been caned. I shall never see that mountain again."

"What's that about me?" said Mr. Bons, sitting up in his chair very

"I told them about you, and how clever you were, and how many books you
had, and they said, 'Mr. Bons will certainly disbelieve you.'"

"Stuff and nonsense, my young friend. You grow impertinent. I--well--I
will settle the matter. Not a word to your father. I will cure you.
To-morrow evening I will myself call here to take you for a walk, and at
sunset we will go up this alley opposite and hunt for your omnibus, you
silly little boy."

His face grew serious, for the boy was not disconcerted, but leapt about
the room singing, "Joy! joy! I told them you would believe me. We will
drive together over the rainbow. I told them that you would come." After
all, could there be anything in the story? Wagner? Keats? Shelley? Sir
Thomas Browne? Certainly the case was interesting.

And on the morrow evening, though it was pouring with rain, Mr. Bons did
not omit to call at Agathox Lodge.

The boy was ready, bubbling with excitement, and skipping about in a way
that rather vexed the President of the Literary Society. They took a
turn down Buckingham Park Road, and then--having seen that no one was
watching them--slipped up the alley. Naturally enough (for the sun was
setting) they ran straight against the omnibus.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Bons. "Good gracious heavens!"

It was not the omnibus in which the boy had driven first, nor yet that
in which he had returned. There were three horses--black, gray, and
white, the gray being the finest. The driver, who turned round at the
mention of goodness and of heaven, was a sallow man with terrifying jaws
and sunken eyes. Mr. Bons, on seeing him, gave a cry as if of
recognition, and began to tremble violently.

The boy jumped in.

"Is it possible?" cried Mr. Bons. "Is the impossible possible?"

"Sir; come in, sir. It is such a fine omnibus. Oh, here is his name--Dan
some one."

Mr. Bons sprang in too. A blast of wind immediately slammed the omnibus
door, and the shock jerked down all the omnibus blinds, which were very
weak on their springs.

"Dan.... Show me. Good gracious heavens! we're moving."

"Hooray!" said the boy.

Mr. Bons became flustered. He had not intended to be kidnapped. He could
not find the door-handle, nor push up the blinds. The omnibus was quite
dark, and by the time he had struck a match, night had come on outside
also. They were moving rapidly.

"A strange, a memorable adventure," he said, surveying the interior of
the omnibus, which was large, roomy, and constructed with extreme
regularity, every part exactly answering to every other part. Over the
door (the handle of which was outside) was written, "Lasciate ogni
baldanza voi che entrate"--at least, that was what was written, but Mr.
Bons said that it was Lashy arty something, and that baldanza was a
mistake for speranza. His voice sounded as if he was in church.
Meanwhile, the boy called to the cadaverous driver for two return
tickets. They were handed in without a word. Mr. Bons covered his face
with his hand and again trembled. "Do you know who that is!" he
whispered, when the little window had shut upon them. "It is the

"Well, I don't like him as much as Sir Thomas Browne, though I shouldn't
be surprised if he had even more in him."

"More in him?" He stamped irritably. "By accident you have made the
greatest discovery of the century, and all you can say is that there is
more in this man. Do you remember those vellum books in my library,
stamped with red lilies? This--sit still, I bring you stupendous
news!--_this is the man who wrote them_."

The boy sat quite still. "I wonder if we shall see Mrs. Gamp?" he asked,
after a civil pause.

"Mrs. ----?"

"Mrs. Gamp and Mrs. Harris. I like Mrs. Harris. I came upon them quite
suddenly. Mrs. Gamp's bandboxes have moved over the rainbow so badly.
All the bottoms have fallen out, and two of the pippins off her bedstead
tumbled into the stream."

"Out there sits the man who wrote my vellum books!" thundered Mr. Bons,
"and you talk to me of Dickens and of Mrs. Gamp?"

"I know Mrs. Gamp so well," he apologized. "I could not help being glad
to see her. I recognized her voice. She was telling Mrs. Harris about
Mrs. Prig."

"Did you spend the whole day in her elevating company?"

"Oh, no. I raced. I met a man who took me out beyond to a race-course.
You run, and there are dolphins out at sea."

"Indeed. Do you remember the man's name?"

"Achilles. No; he was later. Tom Jones."

Mr. Bons sighed heavily. "Well, my lad, you have made a miserable mess
of it. Think of a cultured person with your opportunities! A cultured
person would have known all these characters and known what to have said
to each. He would not have wasted his time with a Mrs. Gamp or a Tom
Jones. The creations of Homer, of Shakespeare, and of Him who drives us
now, would alone have contented him. He would not have raced. He would
have asked intelligent questions."

"But, Mr. Bons," said the boy humbly, "you will be a cultured person. I
told them so."

"True, true, and I beg you not to disgrace me when we arrive. No
gossiping. No running. Keep close to my side, and never speak to these
Immortals unless they speak to you. Yes, and give me the return tickets.
You will be losing them."

The boy surrendered the tickets, but felt a little sore. After all, he
had found the way to this place. It was hard first to be disbelieved and
then to be lectured. Meanwhile, the rain had stopped, and moonlight
crept into the omnibus through the cracks in the blinds.

"But how is there to be a rainbow?" cried the boy.

"You distract me," snapped Mr. Bons. "I wish to meditate on beauty. I
wish to goodness I was with a reverent and sympathetic person."

The lad bit his lip. He made a hundred good resolutions. He would
imitate Mr. Bons all the visit. He would not laugh, or run, or sing, or
do any of the vulgar things that must have disgusted his new friends
last time. He would be very careful to pronounce their names properly,
and to remember who knew whom. Achilles did not know Tom Jones--at
least, so Mr. Bons said. The Duchess of Malfi was older than Mrs.
Gamp--at least, so Mr. Bons said. He would be self-conscious, reticent,
and prim. He would never say he liked any one. Yet when the Wind flew up
at a chance touch of his head, all these good resolutions went to the
winds, for the omnibus had reached the summit of a moonlit hill, and
there was the chasm, and there, across it, stood the old precipices,
dreaming, with their feet in the everlasting river. He exclaimed, "The
mountain! Listen to the new tune in the water! Look at the camp fires in
the ravines," and Mr. Bons, after a hasty glance, retorted, "Water? Camp
fires? Ridiculous rubbish. Hold your tongue. There is nothing at all."

Yet, under his eyes, a rainbow formed, compounded not of sunlight and
storm, but of moonlight and the spray of the river. The three horses put
their feet upon it. He thought it the finest rainbow he had seen, but
did not dare to say so, since Mr. Bons said that nothing was there. He
leant out--the window had opened--and sang the tune that rose from the
sleeping waters.

"The prelude to Rhinegold?" said Mr. Bons suddenly. "Who taught you
these _leit motifs_?" He, too, looked out of the window. Then he behaved
very oddly. He gave a choking cry, and fell back on to the omnibus
floor. He writhed and kicked. His face was green.

"Does the bridge make you dizzy?" the boy asked.

"Dizzy!" gasped Mr. Bons. "I want to go back. Tell the driver."

But the driver shook his head.

"We are nearly there," said the boy, "They are asleep. Shall I call?
They will be so pleased to see you, for I have prepared them."

Mr. Bons moaned. They moved over the lunar rainbow, which ever and ever
broke away behind their wheels. How still the night was! Who would be
sentry at the Gate?

"I am coming," he shouted, again forgetting the hundred resolutions. "I
am returning--I, the boy."

"The boy is returning," cried a voice to other voices, who repeated,
"The boy is returning."

"I am bringing Mr. Bons with me."


"I should have said Mr. Bons is bringing me with him."

Profound silence.

"Who stands sentry?"


And on the rocky causeway, close to the springing of the rainbow bridge,
he saw a young man who carried a wonderful shield.

"Mr. Bons, it is Achilles, armed."

"I want to go back," said Mr. Bons.

The last fragment of the rainbow melted, the wheels sang upon the living
rock, the door of the omnibus burst open. Out leapt the boy--he could
not resist--and sprang to meet the warrior, who, stooping suddenly,
caught him on his shield.

"Achilles!" he cried, "let me get down, for I am ignorant and vulgar,
and I must wait for that Mr. Bons of whom I told you yesterday."

But Achilles raised him aloft. He crouched on the wonderful shield, on
heroes and burning cities, on vineyards graven in gold, on every dear
passion, every joy, on the entire image of the Mountain that he had
discovered, encircled, like it, with an everlasting stream. "No, no," he
protested, "I am not worthy. It is Mr. Bons who must be up here."

But Mr. Bons was whimpering, and Achilles trumpeted and cried, "Stand
upright upon my shield!"

"Sir, I did not mean to stand! something made me stand. Sir, why do you
delay? Here is only the great Achilles, whom you knew."

Mr. Bons screamed, "I see no one. I see nothing. I want to go back."
Then he cried to the driver, "Save me! Let me stop in your chariot. I
have honoured you. I have quoted you. I have bound you in vellum. Take
me back to my world."

The driver replied, "I am the means and not the end. I am the food and
not the life. Stand by yourself, as that boy has stood. I cannot save
you. For poetry is a spirit; and they that would worship it must worship
in spirit and in truth."

Mr. Bons--he could not resist--crawled out of the beautiful omnibus. His
face appeared, gaping horribly. His hands followed, one gripping the
step, the other beating the air. Now his shoulders emerged, his chest,
his stomach. With a shriek of "I see London," he fell--fell against the
hard, moonlit rock, fell into it as if it were water, fell through it,
vanished, and was seen by the boy no more.

"Where have you fallen to, Mr. Bons? Here is a procession arriving to
honour you with music and torches. Here come the men and women whose
names you know. The mountain is awake, the river is awake, over the
race-course the sea is awaking those dolphins, and it is all for you.
They want you----"

There was the touch of fresh leaves on his forehead. Some one had
crowned him.


       *       *       *       *       *

From the _Kingston Gazette, Surbiton Times,_ and _Paynes Park Observer_.

The body of Mr. Septimus Bons has been found in a shockingly mutilated
condition in the vicinity of the Bermondsey gas-works. The deceased's
pockets contained a sovereign-purse, a silver cigar-case, a bijou
pronouncing dictionary, and a couple of omnibus tickets. The unfortunate
gentleman had apparently been hurled from a considerable height. Foul
play is suspected, and a thorough investigation is pending by the


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