ANTHONY and THE ANCIENTS
ATHONY told me the story, after he came to know me well. He said I might write about it, but did n't care to have his real name given. So I have given him another name. Perhaps he dreamed it, but as I dislike stories that are only dreams, I won't say he did. It probably is n't a literal fact, but you can perhaps make it useful if you will seek for a sort of lesson in it. If you don't see any lesson in it, then the story does n't apply to you. Here is the way he told it to me, as nearly as I can write it down.
I went to the museum and after looking at other departments, came late in the afternoon to the place where they had ancient pottery. I was looking at a case of old lamps, when one of the attendants opened the cabinet door to put in a specimen. I knew him by sight, and he bowed. Then I spoke to him:
"I wish I knew how those lamps were used."
"Come to my room and I 'll show you," he answered pleasantly.
So I went into his working-room, and he took an ancient lamp from a shelf. He filled it with lard-oil, I think, put a wick into the spout—he made a rude wick from a piece of twisted linen rag—and lighted it.
The lamp gave a dim and flickering light.
"I wish I could see it in the dark," I said, after a minute. "All right," he said; "just take it into that store-room," and he pointed to one of the doors, "shut the door, and you will find it as dark as Egypt."
I took the lamp, shielded it from the air with my hand, went into the store-room, and shut the door. It certainly was very dark in there, and the lamp gave hardly any light. As I sat in the gloom, I began to wish that I had lived in the days of the ancients. I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if I could be transported back into the ages before any of the marvelous inventions of our day were known. How much I could tell them!
"I wish," I said to myself, "that I could live in those times for a little while."
As I spoke I was gently rubbing the edge of the lamp.
A blue flame sprang up from the wick, there was a muffled explosion, and the room seemed filled with a violet vapor. Then a voice seemed to come from the wreaths of vapor, and it said:
"Master of the lamp, I am here. You shall at once be obeyed."
Before I could answer, the door opened, the vapor cleared away, and, half dazed, I walked out into the light.
For a few moments I could not make out any of the objects around me. Gradually my sight cleared, and I saw that I was out in the open air and standing upon high ground overlooking a wooded valley through which wound a river. As I looked down wonderingly, I heard a rustling behind me at some distance. I turned, and saw a gigantic elk coming toward me, brandishing a pair of horns that seemed ten feet wide from tip to tip.Then I knew that my wish had been granted, for I remembered to have read of the ancient Irish elk. I knew I was in the British isles, years before historic times. As I was coming to this conclusion, I was also making rapid progress toward the valley. I found that I was dressed in a short tunic of a dark blue color, and that my legs were covered by loose trousers bound tight with small twisted bands of cloth. Upon my feet were rough shoes of hide. My head was bare and my hair was very long. I carried a club in one hand, and saw that it had a head of sharp stone.
"Why, I'm a regular savage!" I said to myself, laughingly. The elk had not pursued me far and I soon dropped into a walk, and leisurely made my way into the valley.
I came upon a settlement. It was a collection of huts, made, as I could see from an unfinished one, of willow rods covered with mud and turf. I looked curiously at them, and yet the scene was not unfamiliar to me. All through the time I was there I seemed somehow to be both an ancient and a modern.
Upon entering the road that ran near the groups of huts, I met a man dressed not unlike myself.
"Ah, Anton," he said without the least surprise, "you are back from the hill. Did you see the elk?"
"Yes," I answered. "He came after me. If I had had my gun with me, I would have shot him."
He seemed puzzled by my answer, but only asked, "Where was the elk?"
"Upon the eastern hill," I replied.
"We will go and hunt him," said the man.
We walked together toward one of the largest huts, and entered it. There was a fire upon a block of stone in the middle of the floor, and the smoke drifted out through a hole in the center of the domed roof. Around the fire sat the members of the chief's household: his wife and several children.
The chief sat by the fire fitting a spear-head of stone to a long pole. The wife was making a cord out of some soft bark. The children were playing with sticks and stones, and one of the girls had a rude doll. We did not talk English, of course, but I understood them and they understood me. What language we used I don't know.
The chief questioned me about the elk, and I told him all I knew.
"Come!" he said, and strode out of the hut, calling upon several other men to take part in the hunt. I went with them, out of curiosity.
To my surprise, they had no other weapons than rude clubs with stone heads, and sharp sticks the ends of which had been hardened by charring in fire. They surrounded the elk and killed it, but not without a fierce struggle. Several of them were severely hurt by the sharp horns.
On my way back to the village, I walked beside the chief. We fell into conversation and I explained to him my astonishment at their rude clubs and spears.
"If you had a rifle," I said, "you could shoot the elk without needing to go near him."
"A rifle?" he inquired. "What is that? I have heard of a queer weapon made of a stick and a cord, and I believe that it can kill from a distance. But I do not know how it is made."
"You mean a bow and arrow," I said, laughing. "Why, they are nothing to a rifle. If I had a rifle, I could stand off further than a bow can send, and yet reach a man with ease."
"This sounds like magic," the chief said, cautiously drawing a little away from me.
"It is not magic," I answered; "it is only that I know more than your people."
"But your beard is not yet to be seen," answered the chief, smiling indulgently as one might at a foolish child.
I saw that sooner or later I must explain how I knew more than the men of his time, and so I told him as much of my story as I thought he could understand.
"So you see," I said, in conclusion, "I am really one of your remote descendants."
"You tell a marvelous story," the chief declared; "and if it be also a true one, you may be a great help to my people. Come to my hut and I will talk with you of the things that should be done. If you can advise me well you shall be my chief counselor—even before your beard grows."
After we had eaten some of the meat of the elk, I went into the chief's hut and he bade me sit down near the fire. The smoke was very thick.
"This is all wrong," I said. "You should have a chimney." Then I explained to him how the hot air was light and would carry off the smoke through a chimney.
"It would be good," he replied, "to have less smoke. But we could not take time to build such a contrivance as you speak of. Game so soon becomes scarce that we have to move our houses to a new place very often. We could not build those stone chimneys so often. Besides, if there was no hole in the roof, the hut would be dark."
"You must cut a hole in the side of the hut."
"It would be too cold at night," he answered.
"But we do not leave the hole open. We fill it with something hard and like ice. We call it 'glass.'"
"And how can it be had?"
"It is made," I said, "of sand and of—of soda, I think."
"Sand I know," said the chief; "but what is soda?"
"Maybe it's potash," I suggested.
"I never heard of that either," said the chief, with a smile I did n't like. "But what is it?"
"Well," I said at last, rather shamefacedly, "I'm not a glass-worker. I don't know how to make it. I'm sorry."
The chief said nothing, but looked at me with a faint smile. I thought it best to change the subject.
"Talking of guns—rifles," I said, "it would be splendid if you had one. They are made of steel, which is hardened iron, you know, and then loaded with powder. A lead bullet is put over the powder and then when the powder explodes, the bullet, or round piece of lead, is driven—oh, ever so far—a thousand paces!"
"But I do not know these things," said the chief; and I noticed that he spoke soothingly, as one might to a child whose mind was disordered. "You speak of iron, of steel, of lead, and of powder. What are they?"
"It is hard for me to explain," I said, "because you know so little. Iron is a hard substance melted out of certain rocks. When that is treated in some way it becomes steel. Lead is another substance of the same kind, but much softer."
"Can you show us how to find or to make these things?" the old chief asked. "We may be very ignorant, but we can learn."
I was silent for a few moments. I had never seen any iron ore and I had not the least idea how to get iron out of the rock, even if I had the ore. As for steel, I knew it had carbon in it, but how it was put in or left in I did n't know.
"To tell the truth," I replied, "I don't know much about them myself. And as for gunpowder, I think it is made of charcoal."
"Good!" broke in the chief, "I know charcoal."
"And—and saltpeter, I believe, and something else," I went on weakly. "But I don't know what saltpeter is, I'm sure."
"I don't see how we can do anything with the little you know," said the chief, kindly. "You tell me strange stories, but there seems to be nothing practical about your knowledge." I could not deny that he was right. I began to think over some of our modern improvements, and luckily thought of a candle. So I explained to him how candles were made of tallow, by dipping a string into the melted tallow. Nothing would satisfy him but an immediate trial. To my great triumph I succeeded in making a tolerable candle out of some animal fat. The chief was delighted.
"That," said he, "is a great invention. You indeed are fortunate people. We have only torches."
"But we don't use candles," I said; "we have gas, and kerosene-lamps, and the electric light. But I can't make any of those for you. I don't know where to find coal or oil, or how to make electricity, or an electric light."
"No matter," he said cheerfully; "this is quite enough. I see there is some truth in your story. Tell me more of your marvels."
"Well," I said, "we use the steam-engine for traveling. We heat water over the fire, and a vapor or steam comes from it, and we let the steam go into a box, and it pushes a wheel around, and that pushes other wheels. That's the way we travel."
"Can you make a steam-engine?"
"No-o," I said. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand it."
"Well, what else?" the chief asked patiently.
"How do you tell time?" I inquired.
"By the sun," he replied. "Have you a better way?"
"We have machines to tell time for us."
"Indeed!" he said wonderingly.
"Yes," I said. "There is a piece of metal coiled up, and that pushes around some wheels, and they push other wheels that move two flat pieces and make them point to marks that mean the hours."
"Do you know how they work?"
"Not exactly," I said; "though I have a general idea."
"We might find these hard substances you call metals," said the chief thoughtfully; "for I have seen bits of hard substance come from the rocks of our fireplaces. But I fear you could not teach us to make these wonderful machines."
"I'm afraid I could n't," I replied, regretfully.
"There's one thing I want to ask you," the chief said eagerly; "and that is about the tides. Sometimes the water is high and then it is low. Do you know what makes the tides?"
Now that was a question I ought to have been able to answer. I knew it had something to do with the moon, and faint memories of the words perigee and apogee came into my mind. But so vague were my ideas that I could n't make it clear to myself, and so I thought it wise to tell the plain truth. I said I did n't know.
"At times the sun turns black," said the chief. "Why is that?"
"The moon gets in front of it," I answered, glad of an opportunity to make any kind of a reply.
"But the moon is n't black," he said.
"No, but it looks so," I said. "The moon has no light of her own. She looks bright only because the sun lights her."
"We know that," he said, "for the light on the edge of the moon is always toward the sun. But how often does the sun turn black?"
"I don't know," I was forced to confess.
"Why does n't it happen oftener?"
This was worse than a school examination. I made up my mind to end it.
"Chief," I said, "if I have not shown learning, at least I have learned my own ignorance. I am going to go back to my own time, if I can (and I think I can, for my wish was only to stay a while), and when I do get back there I'm going to know some of those things you asked me about. I'm going to know them all through. Then, if I can, I'm going to come back and teach you many things."
"I wish you good fortune," said the chief, "for this candle you have made is a great thing—a great invention."
"Farewell," I said.
Then I turned and climbed the eastern hill, where I had seen the elk. Just as I came to the crest of the hill a stone gave way beneath my feet, and I went tumbling—tumbling—tumbling down into the store-room of the museum, where I woke up.
"I forgot all about you!" said the voice of the museum attendant. "You must have been asleep."
"I think so. I had a strange dream," I said. Then I looked at the lamp. It was broken. "I have broken the lamp," I added.
"No matter," he replied. "It is only one of a common kind. If it was Aladdin's lamp, now," he smilingly suggested, "it would be a matter of some importance."
"True enough," I answered.