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stuff with great foam to it, and brown beer for the Germans; and there was white wine there for the French people, and red wine for the Italians,
usquebaugh for the Scots, and rum from the sugarcane for such as had cold in their bones. There was all kind of drink there in the brass-bound barrels drink would make you mad and drink would make you merry, drink would put heart in a timid man and drink would make fighting men peaceful as pigeons; and drink that would make you forget trouble all in the brass-bound barrels at the end of the room. And pleasant, fat little men were roaming around serving the varied liquor in little silver cups, and fine Venetian glasses for the wine, and in broad-bellied drinking-pots that would hold more than a quart.
And there was such a babel of language as was never heard but in one place before.
Some of the drinkers were dicing and shouting as they won, and grumbling and cursing when they lost. And some were singing. And some were dancing to the Irish pipes. And there was a knot around the Indian conjurer.
But there was one man by himself at a table. And him being so silent, you'd think he was shouting for attention. He was so restful against the great commotion, you'd know he was a great man. You might turn your back on him, and you'd know he was there, though he never even whispered nor put out a finger. A fat, pleasant, closecoupled man he was, in loose, green clothes, with gold brocade on them. And there were two big gold ear-rings in his lobes. He smoked a wee pipe
with the bowl half-ways up it. The pipe was silver and all stem, and the bowl no bigger than a ten-cent piece. His shoulders were very powerful, so you'd know he was a man you should be polite to, and out of that chest of his a great shout could come. He might have been a working-man, only, when he fingered his pipe, you'd see his hands were as well kept as a lord's lady's, fine as silk and polished to a degree. And you'd think maybe a pleasant poet, which is a scarce thing, until you looked at the brown face of him and big gold ear-rings. And then you 'd know what he was: he was a great sea-captain.
But where did he come from? You might know from the high cheek bones and the eyes that were on a slant, as it were, that it was an Eastern man was in it. It might be Java and it might be Borneo or it might be the strange country of Japan.
And there were a couple of strange occurrences in the wine-shop. The Indian juggler was being baited by the fighting men, as people will be after poking coarse fun at a foreigner. The slim Hindu fellow was n't taking it at
all well. He was looking with eyes like gimlets at a big bullock of a soldier that was leading the tormenters.
"Show me something would surprise me," he was ordering. "Be damned to this old woman's entertainment!" says he. "As a magician," says he, "you 're the worst I ever saw. If you 're a magician," says he, "I'm a rabbit."
And there was a roar at that, because he was known to be a very brave man. "Show me a magic trick," says he. Says the Hindu:
"Maybe you'd wish you had n't seen it."
"Be damned to that!" says the big fellow.
"Look at this man well," the Hindu told the room. "Look at him well." He throws a handful of powder in the fire and chants in his foreign language. A cloud of white smoke rises from the fire. He makes a pass before it, and, lo and behold ye! it's a screen against the wall. And there 's great commotion of shadows on the screen, and suddenly you see what it 's all about. It's a platform, and a man kneeling, with his head on the block. You don't see who it is, but you get chilled. And suddenly there's a headsman in a red cloak and a red mask, and the ax swings and falls. The head pops off, and the body falls limp. And the head rolls down the platform and stops, and you see it's the head of the fellow who wanted to see something, and it 's in the grisly grin of death. .
"There's your latter end for you," says the conjurer. "You wanted to see something. I hope you 're content."
The big fellow turns white, gulps, gives a bellow, and makes a rush; but the conjurer is n't there, nor his screen nor anything.
Everybody in the room was white and shaken-all but the sea-captain. He just tamps his pipe as if nothing had happened. He does n't even take a drink from his glass.
And a little while later an Irish chieftain walks in. He 's poor and ragged and very thin. You might know he'd been fighting the heathen for the Holy Sepulchre, and so entitled to respect, no matter what his condition. And behind him are five clansmen as ragged as he. But a big German trooper rolls up.
"And what are you?" says the big, burly fellow.
"A gentleman, I hope," says the ragged chief.
"T is yourself that says it," laughs the German trooper. The chieftain snicks the knife from his armpit, and sticks him in the jugular as neat as be damned.
"You'd might take that out, Kevin Beg" the Irish chief points to the killed man-"and throw it in the canal. Somebody might stumble over it and bark their shins."
Now this, as you can conceive, roused a powerful commotion in the
room. They were all on their feet, captains and mariners and men-atarms, cheering or grumbling, and arguing the rights and wrongs of the matter. All but the sea-captain, who saw it all, and he never blinked an eyelid, never even missed a draw of the pipe.
And then Marco Polo knew him to be a Chinaman, because, as all the world knows, Chinamen are never surprised at anything.
So Marco Polo goes over and salutes him politely.
"I wonder if you mind my sitting down by you for a while," he says. "I perceive you 're from China."
The sea-captain waves him politely to his place.
"I'm from China." He smiles. "You guessed right."
"Is it long since you 've been in China?"
"Well, that depends upon what you call long," says the captain. "If you mean time, it's one thing. If you
mean voyage, it 's another. For you 've got to take into account," says he, "adverse winds, roundabout turns to avoid currents, possible delays to have the ship scraped free from the parasite life that does be attaching itself to the strakes, time spent in barter and trade. Other matters, too: the attacks of pirates, cross-grained princes who don't want you to be leaving their ports with a good cargo in your hold; sickness; loss of sails and masts; repairs to the ship. It was n't a short journey and it was n't a long one."
Dragoian. Dragoian is not a good city. It is filled with sorcerers who have tattooed faces. At Lambri I put in for the sago you buy from the hairy men with tails.
"Son, never stop at the isle of Andaman. The men there have faces like dogs. They are a cruel generation, and eat every one they can catch. I could tell you a story, but I would not spoil this fine spring night. Go rather to the island of Ceylon, and see the King's Ruby, which is the greatest jewel in the world. I stopped there
"It will be a long ways to China, and at Coromandel for the pearls the I'm thinking."
"I can tell you how long it is from China to here, and you can reverse that, and you will get a fair idea of how long it is from here to China. I left Zeitoon with a cargo of porcelain for Japan, and traded it for gold-dust, and from Japan I went to Chamba to lay in a store of chessmen and pen-cases. And from Chamba I sailed to Java, which is the greatest island in the world. Java is fifteen hundred miles from Chamba, south and southeast, and it took me four months sailing; but a sea-captain cannot pass Java by, for it is the chief place for black pepper, nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs, cloves, and all the spices that grow. "And I stopped at various small islands from there, until I came to Basma, which is the island
of the unicorns. And there we trade in pygmies, which ignorant people think are human folk. They are just a wee monkey, with all the hair plucked out except the hair of the beard. There is great money in them.
"I stopped at Sumatra for cocoanuts and toddy, and just for water at
divers go down in the sea for, and there are no clothes on that island, so that every one goes naked as a fish. And there is the shrine of Saint Thomas. I was there.
"Gujarat, Tana, I stopped there. The Male and Female Islands I put into for ambergris. Svestra, which is full of magicians-I was there, too. Madagascar and Zanzibar, where they live on camel flesh, I was there. And from Zanzibar I came north to Abyssinia, because I had to get an ostrich there for the King of Siam. And there was a letter and a parcel for the Sultan of Egypt. So I went to Cairo. I had a month on my hands, so I thought I'd run over and see Venice, because it 's a hobby of mine, you might say, to see the world.
"Now let me reckon. Four and three make seven, and four more are eleven, and six are seventeen, and let us say nine with that, and you have twenty-six. And the month I 'm forgetting on the rocks of Aden is twentyseven, and a week here and a week there for bad winds and such like. It would be safe to put that at three months. So it 's two years and a half since I left China."
"You never," says young Marco, "met anybody in China by the name of Polo?"
"Poh-lo? Poh-lo? China's a bigChina's a bigger place nor you would imagine, laddie. There 's half a hundred million people there."
"These were foreigners," Marco explained, "traders. They were at the court of the great Khan."
"Polo? Polo? Well, now, I think I've heard of them. Was one of them a big red-bearded man with a great eye for a horse and a great eye for a woman?"
"That would be my Uncle Matthew." "For God's sake! And was the And was the other a cold, dark man, a good judge of a jewel and a grand judge of a sword?" "My father, Nicholas Polo."
"For God's sake! you 're the son of one and the nephew of the other!"
"Did you know them?"
"Ah, laddie, how would I be knowing people like that? Sure, they 're great folks, high in the esteem of the grand Khan, and I 'm only a poor sailorman."
"But you heard of them."
"I heard of them. They were in good health. And I heard they were on their way home, though they would travel overland and not risk the great dangers. I suppose, if they go back to China, you'll be going with them?"
"I don't know," says Marco Polo. "You ought to see China. It's a great country, a beautiful country."
"It would have to be very great and very beautiful," says Marco Polo, "to outweigh the greatness and the beauty that are here. You must n't think You must n't think I'm running down your country, mister," says he; "but for greatness, where
is the beating of Venice in this day? What struck Constantinople like a thunderbolt but the mailed hand of Venice? When the Barbary corsairs roamed the seven seas, so that it was no more safe for a merchant vessel to be sailing than for a babe to be walking through a wild jungle, it was Venice who accepted the challenge, and made the great sea as peaceful as the Grand Canal. Who humbled proud Genoa? And hurled the Saracen from Saint John of Acre's walls? Venice. And as
for magnificence, the retinue of our doge when he goes to marry the sea with a ring makes the court of Lorenzo seem like a huckster's train."
"It is a crowning city."
"And as for beauty, sir," went on Marco Polo, "there is nothing in the world like San Marco's, and it ablaze in the setting sun, and the great pillars before it rising in tongues of flame. And was there ever in all time anything like the Grand Canal at the dusk of day, and the torches beginning to show like fireflies, and the lap of the water, and stringed music, and the great barges going by like swans, now a battle-hacked captain of war, now a great gracious lady? And the moon does be rising.
"You 've sailed all the way from China and seen strange and beautiful things, but I remember one summer's day, when I took my little sailing-boat and went out on the water to compose a poem for a lady, and the water was blue-oh, as blue as the sky's self, and the sands of the Lido were silver, and the water shuffled gently over them, as gently as a child's little feet. And there was a clump of olive-trees there