Messer Marco Polo
Wherever they went now was sand, and a dull haze that made the sun look like a
copper coin. And a great silence fell on the caravan, and nothing was heard but
the crunch of the camels' pads and the tinkle of the camels' bells. And no green
thing was seen.
And a great terror fell on the caravan, so that one night a third of the caravan
deserted. The rest went on in silence under the dull sun. And now they came
across a village of white skeletons grinning in the silent sand. And at night there
was nothing heard, not even the barking of a dog. And others of the caravan
deserted, and others were lost.
And now they had come so far into the desert that they could not return, but must
keep on their way, and on the fifth day they came to the Hill of the Drum. And all
through the night they could not sleep for the booming of the Drum. And some of
the caravan went mad there, and fled screaming into the waste.
And now there was only a great haze about them, and they looked at one
another with terror, saying: "Were we ever any place where green was, where
birds sang, or there was sweet water? Or maybe we are dead. Or maybe this
was all our life, and the pleasant towns, and the lamplight in the villages, and the
apricots in the garden, and our wives and children, maybe they were all a dream
that we woke in the middle of. Let us lie down and sleep that we may dream
But Marco Polo would not let them lie down, for to lie down was death. But he
drove them onward. And again they complained: "Surely God never saw this
place that He left it so terrible. Surely He was never here. He was never here."
And now that their minds were pitched to the height of madness, the warlocks of
the desert took shape and jeered at them, and the white-sheeted ghosts flitted
alongside of them, and the goblins of the Gobi harried them from behind. And the
sun was like dull copper through the haze, and the moon like a guttering candle,
and stars there were none.
And when the moon was at its full, they came to the Hill of the Bell. And through
the night the Bell went GONGH, GONGH, GONGH, until they could feel it in
every fiber of their bodies, and their skin itched with it. They would stop their
ears. But they would hear it in the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet.
GONGH, GONGH, GONGH.
And when they left the Hill of the Bell there were only six of the caravan left, and
a multitude of white-sheeted ghosts. And the caravan plodded onward dully. And