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A Strange Hostess
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I learned afterward that there were several moons in the service of this world, but the laws that ruled their times and different orbits I failed to discover.
Again I fell asleep, and slept undisturbed.
When I went down in the morning, I found bread and water waiting me, the loaf so large that I ate only half of it. My hostess sat muffled beside me while I broke my fast, and except to greet me when I entered, never opened her mouth until I asked her to instruct me how to arrive at Bulika. She then told me to go up the bank of the river-bed until it disappeared; then verge to the right until I came to a forest--in which I might spend a night, but which I must leave with my face to the rising moon. Keeping in the same direction, she said, until I reached a running stream, I must cross that at right angles, and go straight on until I saw the city on the horizon.
I thanked her, and ventured the remark that, looking out of the window in the night, I was astonished to see her messenger understand her so well, and go so straight and so fast in the direction she had indicated.
"If I had but that animal of yours to guide me--" I went on, hoping to learn something of its mission, but she interrupted me, saying,
"It was to Bulika she went--the shortest way."
"How wonderfully intelligent she looked!"
"Astarte knows her work well enough to be sent to do it," she answered.
"Have you many messengers like her?"
"As many as I require."
"Are they hard to teach?"
"They need no teaching. They are all of a certain breed, but not one of the breed is like another. Their origin is so natural it would seem to you incredible."
"May I not know it?"
"A new one came to me last night--from your head while you slept."
"All in this world seem to love mystery!" I said to myself. "Some chance word of mine suggested an idea--and in this form she embodies the small fact!"
"Then the creature is mine!" I cried.
"Not at all!" she answered. "That only can be ours in whose existence our will is a factor."
"Ha! a metaphysician too!" I remarked inside, and was silent.
"May I take what is left of the loaf?" I asked presently.
"You will want no more to-day," she replied.
"To-morrow I may!" I rejoined.
She rose and went to the door, saying as she went,
"It has nothing to do with to-morrow--but you may take it if you will."
She opened the door, and stood holding it. I rose, taking up the bread--but lingered, much desiring to see her face.
"Must I go, then?" I asked.
"No one sleeps in my house two nights together!" she answered.
"I thank you, then, for your hospitality, and bid you farewell!" I said, and turned to go.
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