THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 22: THE HOLY FOUNTAIN
At last I ventured a story myself; and vast was the success of it.
Not right off, of course, for the native of those islands does
not, as a rule, dissolve upon the early applications of a humorous
thing; but the fifth time I told it, they began to crack in places;
the eight time I told it, they began to crumble; at the twelfth
repetition they fell apart in chunks; and at the fifteenth they
disintegrated, and I got a broom and swept them up. This language
is figurative. Those islanders--well, they are slow pay at first,
in the matter of return for your investment of effort, but in the end
they make the pay of all other nations poor and small by contrast.
I was at the well next day betimes. Merlin was there, enchanting
away like a beaver, but not raising the moisture. He was not in
a pleasant humor; and every time I hinted that perhaps this contract
was a shade too hefty for a novice he unlimbered his tongue and
cursed like a bishop--French bishop of the Regency days, I mean.
Matters were about as I expected to find them. The "fountain" was
an ordinary well, it had been dug in the ordinary way, and stoned up
in the ordinary way. There was no miracle about it. Even the lie
that had created its reputation was not miraculous; I could have
told it myself, with one hand tied behind me. The well was in a
dark chamber which stood in the center of a cut-stone chapel, whose
walls were hung with pious pictures of a workmanship that would
have made a chromo feel good; pictures historically commemorative
of curative miracles which had been achieved by the waters when
nobody was looking. That is, nobody but angels; they are always
on deck when there is a miracle to the fore--so as to get put in
the picture, perhaps. Angels are as fond of that as a fire company;
look at the old masters.