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The Man Who Knew Too Much

4. The Bottomless Well
In an oasis, or green island, in the red and yellow seas of sand that stretch beyond Europe
toward the sunrise, there can be found a rather fantastic contrast, which is none the less
typical of such ai place, since international treaties have made it an outpost of the British
occupation. The site is famous among archaeologists for something that is hardly a
monument, but merely a hole in the ground. But it is a round shaft, like that of a well, and
probably a part of some great irrigation works of remote and disputed date, perhaps more
ancient than anything in that ancient land. There is a green fringe of palm and prickly
pear round the black mouth of the well; but nothing of the upper masonry remains except
two bulky and battered stones standing like the pillars of a gateway of nowhere, in which
some of the more transcendental archaeologists, in certain moods at moonrise or sunset,
think they can trace the faint lines of figures or features of more than Babylonian
monstrosity; while the more rationalistic archaeologists, in the more rational hours of
daylight, see nothing but two shapeless rocks. It may have been noticed, however, that all
Englishmen are not archaeologists. Many of those assembled in such a place for official
and military purposes have hobbies other than archaeology. And it is a solemn fact that
the English in this Eastern exile have contrived to make a small golf links out of the
green scrub and sand; with a comfortable clubhouse at one end of it and this primeval
monument at the other. They did not actually use this archaic abyss as a bunker, because
it was by tradition unfathomable, and even for practical purposes unfathomed. Any
sporting projectile sent into it might be counted most literally as a lost ball. But they often
sauntered round it in their interludes of talking and smoking cigarettes, and one of them
had just come down from the clubhouse to find another gazing somewhat moodily into
the well.
Both the Englishmen wore light clothes and white pith helmets and puggrees, but there,
for the most part, their resemblance ended. And they both almost simultaneously said the
same word, but they said it on two totally different notes of the voice.
"Have you heard the news?" asked the man from the club. "Splendid."
"Splendid," replied the man by the well. But the first man pronounced the word as a
young man might say it about a woman, and the second as an old man might say it about
the weather, not without sincerity, but certainly without fervor.
And in this the tone of the two men was sufficiently typical of them. The first, who was a
certain Captain Boyle, was of a bold and boyish type, dark, and with a sort of native heat
in his face that did not belong to the atmosphere of the East, but rather to the ardors and
ambitions of the West. The other was an older man and certainly an older resident, a
civilian official--Horne Fisher; and his drooping eyelids and drooping light mustache
expressed all the paradox of the Englishman in the East. He was much too hot to be
anything but cool.
 
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