A Shop In Go By Street
by Lord Dunsany
I said I must go back to Yann again and see if Bird of the River
still plies up and down and whether her bearded captain commands her
still or whether he sits in the gate of fair Belzoond drinking at
evening the marvellous yellow wine that the mountaineer brings down
from the Hian Min. And I wanted to see the sailors again who came
from Durl and Duz and to hear from their lips what befell Perdóndaris
when its doom came up without warning from the hills and fell on that
famous city. And I wanted to hear the sailors pray at night each to
his own god, and to feel the wind of the evening coolly arise when the
sun went flaming away from that exotic river. For I thought never
again to see the tide of Yann, but when I gave up politics not long
ago the wings of my fancy strengthened, though they had erstwhile
drooped, and I had hopes of coming behind the East once more where
Yann like a proud white war-horse goes through the Lands of Dream.
Yet I had forgotten the way to those little cottages on the edge of
the fields we know whose upper windows, though dim with antique
cobwebs, look out on the fields we know not and are the starting-point
of all adventure in all the Lands of Dream.
I therefore made enquiries. And so I came to be directed to the shop
of a dreamer who lives not far from the Embankment in the City. Among
so many streets as there are in the city it is little wonder that
there is one that has never been seen before; it is named Go-by Street
and runs out of the Strand if you look very closely. Now when you
enter this man's shop you do not go straight to the point but you ask
him to sell you something, and if it is anything with which he can
supply you he hands it you and wishes you good-morning. It is his
way. And many have been deceived by asking for some unlikely thing,
such as the oyster-shell from which was taken one of those single
pearls that made the gates of Heaven in Revelations, and finding that
the old man had it in stock.
He was comatose when I went into the shop, his heavy lids almost
covered his little eyes; he sat, and his mouth was open. I said, "I
want some of Abama and Pharpah, rivers of Damascus." "How much?" he
said. "Two and a half yards of each, to be delivered to my flat."
"That is very tiresome," he muttered, "very tiresome. We do not stock
it in that quantity." "Then I will take all you have," I said.
He rose laboriously and looked among some bottles. I saw one
labelled: Nilos, river of Ægyptos; and others Holy Ganges, Phlegethon,
Jordan; I was almost afraid he had it, when I heard him mutter again,
"This is very tiresome," and presently he said, "We are out of it."
"Then," I said, "I wish you to tell me the way to those little
cottages in whose upper chambers poets look out upon the fields we
know not, for I wish to go into the Land of Dream and to sail once
more upon mighty, sea-like Yann."
At that he moved heavily and slowly in way-worn carpet slippers,
panting as he went, to the back part of his shop, and I went with him.
This was a dingy lumber-room full of idols: the near end was dingy and
dark but at the far end was a blue cærulean glow in which stars seemed
to be shining and the heads of the idols glowed. "This," said the fat
old man in carpet slippers, "is the heaven of the gods who sleep." I
asked him what gods slept and he mentioned names that I had never
heard as well as names that I knew. "All those," he said, "that are
not worshipped now are asleep."
"Then does Time not kill the gods?" I said to him and he answered,
"No. But for three or four thousand years a god is worshipped and for
three or four he sleeps. Only Time is wakeful always."
"But they that teach us of new gods"—I said to him, "are they not
"They hear the old ones stirring in their sleep being about to wake,
because the dawn is breaking and the priests crow. These are the
happy prophets: unhappy are they that hear some old god speak while he
sleeps still being deep in slumber, and prophesy and prophesy and no
dawn comes, they are those that men stone saying, 'Prophesy where this
stone shall hit you, and this.'"
"Then shall Time never slay the gods," I said. And he answered, "They
shall die by the bedside of the last man. Then Time shall go mad in
his solitude and shall not know his hours from his centuries of years
and they shall clamour round him crying for recognition and he shall
lay his stricken hands on their heads and stare at them blindly and
say, 'My children, I do not know you one from another,' and at these
words of Time empty worlds shall reel."
And for some while then I was silent, for my imagination went out into
those far years and looked back at me and mocked me because I was the
creature of a day.
Suddenly I was aware by the old man's heavy breathing that he had gone
to sleep. It was not an ordinary shop: I feared lest one of his gods
should wake and call for him: I feared many things, it was so dark,
and one or two of those idols were something more than grotesque. I
shook the old man hard by one of his arms.
"Tell me the way to the cottages," I said, "on the edge of the fields
"I don't think we can do that," he said.
"Then supply me," I said, "with the goods."
That brought him to his senses. He said, "You go out by the back door
and turn to the right"; and he opened a little, old, dark door in the
wall through which I went, and he wheezed and shut the door. The back
of the shop was of incredible age. I saw in antique characters upon a
mouldering board, "Licensed to sell weasels and jade earrings." The
sun was setting now and shone on little golden spires that gleamed
along the roof which had long ago been thatched and with a wonderful
straw. I saw that the whole of Go-by Street had the same strange
appearance when looked at from behind. The pavement was the same as
the pavement of which I was weary and of which so many thousand miles
lay the other side of those houses, but the street was of most pure
untrampled grass with such marvellous flowers in it that they lured
downward from great heights the flocks of butterflies as they traveled
by, going I know not whence. The other side of the street there was
pavement again but no houses of any kind, and what there was in place
of them I did not stop to see, for I turned to my right and walked
along the back of Go-by Street till I came to the open fields and the
gardens of the cottages that I sought. Huge flowers went up out of
these gardens like slow rockets and burst into purple blooms and stood
there huge and radiant on six-foot stalks and softly sang strange
songs. Others came up beside them and bloomed and began singing too.
A very old witch came out of her cottage by the back door and into the
garden in which I stood.
"What are these wonderful flowers?" I said to her.
"Hush! Hush!" she said, "I am putting the poets to bed. These
flowers are their dreams."
And in a lower voice I said: "What wonderful songs are they singing?"
and she said, "Be still and listen."
And I listened and found they were singing of my own childhood and of
things that happened there so far away that I had quite forgotten them
till I heard the wonderful song.
"Why is the song so faint?" I said to her.
"Dead voices," she said, "Dead voices," and turned back again to her
cottage saying: "Dead voices" still, but softly for fear that she
should wake the poets. "They sleep so badly while they live," she
I stole on tiptoe upstairs to the little room from whose windows,
looking one way, we see the fields we know and, looking another, those
hilly lands that I sought—almost I feared not to find them. I looked
at once toward the mountains of faëry; the afterglow of the sunset
flamed on them, their avalanches flashed on their violet slopes coming
down tremendous from emerald peaks of ice; and there was the old gap
in the blue-grey hills above the precipice of amethyst whence one sees
the Lands of Dream.
All was still in the room where the poets slept when I came quietly
down. The old witch sat by a table with a lamp, knitting a splendid
cloak of gold and green for a king that had been dead a thousand
"Is it any use," I said, "to the king that is dead that you sit and
knit him a cloak of gold and green?"
"Who knows?" she said.
"What a silly question to ask," said her old black cat who lay curled
by the fluttering fire.
Already the stars were shining on that romantic land when I closed the
witch's door; already the glow-worms were mounting guard for the night
around those magical cottages. I turned and trudged for the gap in
the blue-grey mountains.
Already when I arrived some colour began to show in the amethyst
precipice below the gap although it was not yet morning. I heard a
rattling and sometimes caught a flash from those golden dragons far
away below me that are the triumph of the goldsmiths of Sirdoo and
were given life by the ritual incantations of the conjurer Amargrarn.
On the edge of the opposite cliff, too near I thought for safety, I
saw the ivory palace of Singanee that mighty elephant-hunter; small
lights appeared in windows, the slaves were awake, and beginning with
heavy eyelids the work of the day.
And now a ray of sunlight topped the world. Others than I must
describe how it swept from the amethyst cliff the shadow of the black
one that opposed it, how that one shaft of sunlight pierced the
amethyst for leagues, and how the rejoicing colour leaped up to
welcome the light and shot back a purple glow on the walls of the
palace of ivory while down in that incredible ravine the golden
dragons still played in the darkness.
At this moment a female slave came out by a door of the palace and
tossed a basket-full of sapphires over the edge. And when day was
manifest on those marvellous heights and the flare of the amethyst
precipice filled the abyss, then the elephant-hunter arose in his
ivory palace and took his terrific spear and going out by a landward
door went forth to avenge Perdóndaris
I turned then and looked upon the lands of Dream, and the thin white
mist that never rolls quite away was shifting in the morning. Rising
like isles above it I saw the Hills of Hap and the city of copper,
old, deserted Bethmoora, and Utnar Véhi and Kyph and Mandaroon and the
wandering leagues of Yann. Rather I guessed than saw the Hian Min
whose imperturbable and aged heads scarce recognize for more than
clustered mounds the round Acroctian hills, that are heaped about
their feet and that shelter, as I remembered, Durl and Duz. But most
clearly I discerned that ancient wood through which one going down to
the bank of Yann whenever the moon is old may come on Bird of the
River anchored there, waiting three days for travellers, as has been
prophesied of her. And as it was now that season I hurried down from
the gap in the blue-grey hills by an elfin path that was coeval with
fable, and came by means of it to the edge of the wood. Black though
the darkness was in that ancient wood the beasts that moved in it were
blacker still. It is very seldom that any dreamer travelling in Lands
of Dream is ever seized by these beasts, and yet I ran; for if a man's
spirit is seized in the Lands of Dream his body may survive it for
many years and well know the beasts that mouthed him far away and the
look in their little eyes and the smell of their breath; that is why
the recreation field at Hanwell is so dreadfully trodden into restless
And so I came at last to the sea-like flood of proud, tremendous Yann,
with whom there tumbled streams from incredible lands—with these he
went by singing. Singing he carried drift-wood and whole trees,
fallen in far-away, unvisited forests, and swept them mightily by, but
no sign was there either out in the river or in the olden anchorage
near by of the ship I came to see.
And I built myself a hut and roofed it over with the huge abundant
leaves of a marvellous weed and ate the meat that grows on the
targar-tree and waited there three days. And all day long the river
tumbled by and all night long the tolulu-bird sang on and the huge
fireflies had no other care than to pour past in torrents of dancing
sparks, and nothing rippled the surface of the Yann by day and nothing
disturbed the tolulu-bird by night. I know not what I feared for the
ship I sought and its friendly captain who came from fair Belzoond and
its cheery sailors out of Durl and Duz; all day long I looked for it
on the river and listened for it by night until the dancing fireflies
danced me to sleep. Three times only in those three nights the
tolulu-bird was scared and stopped his song, and each time I awoke
with a start and found no ship and saw that he was only scared by the
dawn. Those indescribable dawns upon the Yann came up like flames in
some land over the hills where a magician burns by secret means
enormous amethysts in a copper pot. I used to watch them in wonder
while no bird sang—till all of a sudden the sun came over a hill and
every bird but one began to sing, and the tolulu-bird slept fast, till
out of an opening eye he saw the stars.
I would have waited three more days, but on the third day I had gone
in my loneliness to see the very spot where first I met Bird of the
River at her anchorage with her bearded captain sitting on the deck.
And as I looked at the black mud of the harbour and pictured in my
mind that band of sailors whom I had not seen for two years, I saw an
old hulk peeping from the mud. The lapse of centuries seemed partly
to have rotted and partly to have buried in the mud all but the prow
of the boat and on the prow I faintly saw a name. I read it slowly—
it was Bird of the River. And then I knew that, while in Ireland and
London two years had barely passed over my head, ages had gone over
the region of Yann and wrecked and rotted that once familiar ship, and
buried years ago the bones of the youngest of my friends, who so often
sang to me of Durl and Duz or told the dragon-legends of Belzoond.
For beyond the world we know there roars a hurricane of centuries
whose echo only troubles—though sorely—our fields; while elsewhere
there is calm. I stayed a moment by that battered hulk and said a
prayer for whatever may be immortal of those who were wont to sail it
down the Yann, and I prayed for them to the gods to whom they loved to
pray, to the little lesser gods that bless Belzoond. Then leaving the
hut that I built to those ravenous years I turned my back to the Yann
and entering the forest at evening just as its orchids were opening
their petals to perfume the night came out of it in the morning, and
passed that day along the amethyst gulf by the gap in the blue-grey
mountains. I wondered if Singanee, that mighty elephant-hunter, had
returned again with his spear to his lofty ivory palace or if his doom
had been one with that of Perdóndaris. I saw a merchant at a small
back door selling new sapphires as I passed the palace, then I went on
and came as twilight fell to those small cottages where the elfin
mountains are in sight of the fields we know. And I went to the old
witch that I had seen before and she sat in her parlour with a red
shawl round her shoulders still knitting the golden cloak, and faintly
through one of her windows the elfin mountains shone and I saw again
through another the fields we know.
"Tell me something," I said, "of this strange land!"
"How much do you know?" she said. "Do you know that dreams are
"Of course I do," I said. "Every one knows that."
"Oh no they don't," she said, "the mad don't know it."
"That is true," I said.
"And do you know," she said, "that Life is illusion?"
"Of course it is not," I said. "Life is real, Life is earnest——."
At that the witch and her cat (who had not moved from her old place by
the hearth) burst into laughter. I stayed some time, for there was
much that I wished to ask, but when I saw that the laughter would not
stop I turned and went away.