The Sack Of Emeralds, by Lord Dunsany
One bad October night in the high wolds beyond Wiltshire, with a north
wind chaunting of winter, with the old leaves letting go their hold
one by one from branches and dropping down to decay, with a mournful
sound of owls, and in fearsome loneliness, there trudged in broken
boots and in wet and windy rags an old man, stooping low under a sack
of emeralds. It were easy to see had you been travelling late on that
inauspicious night, that the burden of the sack was far too great for
the poor old man that bore it. And had you flashed a lantern in his
face there was a look there of hopelessness and fatigue that would
have told you it was no wish of his that kept him tottering on under
that bloated sack.
When the menacing look of the night and its cheerless sounds, and the
cold, and the weight of the sack, had all but brought him to the door
of death, and he had dropped his sack onto the road and was dragging
it on behind him, just as he felt that his final hour was come, and
come (which was worse) as he held the accursed sack, just then he saw
the bulk and the black shape of the Sign of the Lost Shepherd loom up
by the ragged way. He opened the door and staggered into the light
and sank on a bench with his huge sack beside him.
All this you had seen had you been on that lonely road, so late on
those bitter wolds, with their outlines vast and mournful in the dark,
and their little clumps of trees sad with October. But neither you
nor I were out that night. I did not see the poor old man and his
sack until he sank down all of a heap in the lighted inn.
And Yon the blacksmith was there; and the carpenter, Willie Losh; and
Jackers, the postman's son. And they gave him a glass of beer. And
the old man drank it up, still hugging his emeralds.
And at last they asked him what he had in his sack, the question he
clearly dreaded; and he only clasped yet tighter the sodden sack and
mumbled he had potatoes.
"Potatoes," said Yon the blacksmith.
"Potatoes," said Willie Losh.
And when he heard the doubt that was in their voices the old man
shivered and moaned.
"Potatoes, did you say?" said the postman's son. And they all three
rose and tried to peer at the sack that the rain-soaked wayfarer so
And from the old man's fierceness I had said that, had it not been for
that foul night on the roads and the weight he had carried so far and
the fearful winds of October, he had fought with the blacksmith, the
carpenter and the postman's son, all three, till he beat them away
from his sack. And weary and wet as he was he fought them hard.
I should no doubt have interfered; and yet the three men meant no harm
to the wayfarer, but resented the reticence that he displayed to them
though they had given him beer; it was to them as though a master key
had failed to open a cupboard. And, as for me, curiosity held me down
to my chair and forbade me to interfere on behalf of the sack; for the
old man's furtive ways, and the night out of which he came, and the
hour of his coming, and the look of his sack, all made me long as much
to know what he had, as even the blacksmith, the carpenter and the
And then they found the emeralds. They were all bigger than hazel
nuts, hundreds and hundreds of them: and the old man screamed.
"Come, come, we're not thieves," said the blacksmith.
"We're not thieves," said the carpenter.
"We're not thieves," said the postman's son.
And with awful fear on his face the wayfarer closed his sack,
whimpering over his emeralds and furtively glancing round as though
the loss of his secret were and utterly deadly thing. And then they
asked him to give them just one each, just one huge emerald each,
because they had given him a glass of beer. Then to see the wayfarer
shrink against his sack and guard it with clutching fingers one would
have said that he was a selfish man, were it not for the terror that
was freezing his face. I have seen men look sheer at Death with far
And they took their emerald all three, one enormous emerald each,
while the old man hopelessly struggled till he saw his three emeralds
go, and fell to the floor and wept, a pitiable, sodden heap.
And about that time I began to hear far off down the windy road, by
which that sack had come, faintly at first and slowly louder and
louder, the click clack clop of a lame horse coming nearer. Click
clack clop and a loose shoe rattling, the sound of a horse too weary
to be out upon such a night, too lame to be out at all.
Click clack clop. And all of a sudden the old wayfarer heard it;
heard it above the sound of his won sobbing, and at once went white to
the lips. Such sudden fear as blanched him in a moment struck right
to the hearts of all there. They muttered to him that it was only
their play, they hastily whispered excuses, they asked him what was
wrong, but seemed scarcely to hope for an answer, nor did he speak,
but sat with a frozen stare, all at once dry-eyed, a monument to
Nearer and nearer came the click clack clop.
And when I saw the expression of that man's face and how its horror
deepened as the ominous sound drew nearer, then I knew that something
was wrong. And looking for the last time upon all four I saw the
wayfarer horror-struck by his sack and the other three crowding round
to put their huge emeralds back then, even on such a night, I slipped
away from the inn.
Outside the bitter wind roared in my ears, and close in the darkness
the horse went click clack clop.
And as soon as my eyes could see at all in the night I saw a man in a
huge hat looped up in front, wearing a sword in a scabbard shabby and
huge, and looking blacker than the darkness, riding on a lean horse
slowly up to the inn. Whether his were the emeralds, or who he was,
or why he rode a lame horse on such a night, I did not stop to
discover, but went at once from the inn as he strode in his great
black riding coat up to the door.
And that was the last that was ever seen of the wayfarer; the
blacksmith, the carpenter or the postman's son.