Twice Told Tales HTML version

The Great Carbuncle
At nightfall once in the olden time, on the rugged side of one of the Crystal Hills, a party
of adventurers were refreshing themselves after a toilsome and fruitless quest for the
Great Carbuncle. They had come thither, not as friends nor partners in the enterprise, but
each, save one youthful pair, impelled by his own selfish and solitary longing for this
wondrous gem. Their feeling of brotherhood, however, was strong enough to induce them
to contribute a mutual aid in building a rude hut of branches and kindling a great fire of
shattered pines that had drifted down the headlong current of the Amonoosuck, on the
lower bank of which they were to pass the night. There was but one of their number,
perhaps, who had become so estranged from natural sympathies by the absorbing spell of
the pursuit as to acknowledge no satisfaction at the sight of human faces in the remote
and solitary region whither they had ascended. A vast extent of wilderness lay between
them and the nearest settlement, while scant a mile above their heads was that bleak
verge where the hills throw off their shaggy mantle of forest-trees and either robe
themselves in clouds or tower naked into the sky. The roar of the Amonoosuck would
have been too awful for endurance if only a solitary man had listened while the
mountain-stream talked with the wind.
The adventurers, therefore, exchanged hospitable greetings and welcomed one another to
the hut where each man was the host and all were the guests of the whole company. They
spread their individual supplies of food on the flat surface of a rock and partook of a
general repast; at the close of which a sentiment of good-fellowship was perceptible
among the party, though repressed by the idea that the renewed search for the Great
Carbuncle must make them strangers again in the morning. Seven men and one young
woman, they warmed themselves together at the fire, which extended its bright wall
along the whole front of their wigwam. As they observed the various and contrasted
figures that made up the assemblage, each man looking like a caricature of himself in the
unsteady light that flickered over him, they came mutually to the conclusion that an odder
society had never met in city or wilderness, on mountain or plain.
The eldest of the group—a tall, lean, weatherbeaten man some sixty years of age—was
clad in the skins of wild animals whose fashion of dress he did well to imitate, since the
deer, the wolf and the bear had long been his most intimate companions. He was one of
those ill-fated mortals, such as the Indians told of, whom in their early youth the Great
Carbuncle smote with a peculiar madness and became the passionate dream of their
existence. All who visited that region knew him as "the Seeker," and by no other name.
As none could remember when he first took up the search, there went a fable in the valley
of the Saco that for his inordinate lust after the Great Carbuncle he had been condemned
to wander among the mountains till the end of time, still with the same feverish hopes at
sunrise, the same despair at eve. Near this miserable Seeker sat a little elderly personage
wearing a high-crowned hat shaped somewhat like a crucible. He was from beyond the
sea—a Doctor Cacaphodel, who had wilted and dried himself into a mummy by
continually stooping over charcoal-furnaces and inhaling unwholesome fumes during his