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Prester John

18.
How A Man May Sometimes Put His Trust In A
Horse
I had long passed the limit of my strength. Only constant fear and wild
alternations of hope had kept me going so long, and now that I was safe I
became light-headed in earnest. The wonder is that I did not fall off. Happily the
horse was good and the ground easy, for I was powerless to do any guiding. I
simply sat on his back in a silly glow of comfort, keeping a line for the dying sun,
which I saw in a nick of the Iron Crown Mountain. A sort of childish happiness
possessed me. After three days of imminent peril, to be free was to be in
fairyland. To be swishing through the long bracken or plunging among the breast-
high flowers of the meadowlands in a world of essential lights and fragrances,
seemed scarcely part of mortal experience. Remember that I was little more than
a lad, and that I had faced death so often of late that my mind was all adrift. To
be able to hope once more, nay, to be allowed to cease both from hope and fear,
was like a deep and happy opiate to my senses. Spent and frail as I was, my soul
swam in blessed waters of ease.
The mood did not last long. I came back to earth with a shock, as the schimmel
stumbled at the crossing of a stream. I saw that the darkness was fast falling,
and with the sight panic returned to me. Behind me I seemed to hear the sound
of pursuit. The noise was in my ears, but when I turned it ceased, and I saw only
the dusky shoulders of hills.
I tried to remember what Arcoll had told me about his headquarters, but my
memory was wiped clean. I thought they were on or near the highway, but I could
not remember where the highway was. Besides, he was close to the enemy, and
I wanted to get back into the towns, far away from the battle- line. If I rode west I
must come in time to villages, where I could hide myself. These were unworthy
thoughts, but my excuse must be my tattered nerves. When a man comes out of
great danger, he is apt to be a little deaf to the call of duty.
Suddenly I became ashamed. God had preserved me from deadly perils, but not
that I might cower in some shelter. I had a mission as clear as Laputa's. For the
first time I became conscious to what a little thing I owed my salvation. That
matter of the broken halter was like the finger of Divine Providence. I had been
saved for a purpose, and unless I fulfilled that purpose I should again be lost. I
was always a fatalist, and in that hour of strained body and soul I became
something of a mystic. My panic ceased, my lethargy departed, and a more
manly resolution took their place. I gripped the Schimmel by the head and turned
him due left. Now I remembered where the highroad ran, and I remembered
something else.
For it was borne in on me that Laputa had fallen into my hands. Without any
subtle purpose I had played a master game. He was cut off from his people,
without a horse, on the wrong side of the highroad which Arcoll's men patrolled.
Without him the rising would crumble. There might be war, even desperate war,
but we should fight against a leaderless foe. If he could only be shepherded to
 
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