Well, when I had been dead about thirty years I begun to get a
Mind you, had been whizzing through space all that
time, like a comet. LIKE a comet! Why, Peters, I laid over the
lot of them! Of course there warn't any of them going my way, as a
steady thing, you know, because they travel in a long circle like
the loop of a lasso, whereas I was pointed as straight as a dart
for the Hereafter; but I happened on one every now and then that
was going my way for an hour or so, and then we had a bit of a
brush together. But it was generally pretty one-sided, because I
sailed by them the same as if they were standing still. An
ordinary comet don't make more than about 200,000 miles a minute.
Of course when I came across one of that sort - like Encke's and
Halley's comets, for instance - it warn't anything but just a flash
and a vanish, you see. You couldn't rightly call it a race. It
was as if the comet was a gravel-train and I was a telegraph
despatch. But after I got outside of our astronomical system, I
used to flush a comet occasionally that was something LIKE. WE
haven't got any such comets - ours don't begin. One night I was
swinging along at a good round gait, everything taut and trim, and
the wind in my favor - I judged I was going about a million miles a
minute - it might have been more, it couldn't have been less - when
I flushed a most uncommonly big one about three points off my
starboard bow. By his stern lights I judged he was bearing about
northeast-and-by-north-half-east. Well, it was so near my course
that I wouldn't throw away the chance; so I fell off a point,
steadied my helm, and went for him. You should have heard me whiz,
and seen the electric fur fly! In about a minute and a half I was
fringed out with an electrical nimbus that flamed around for miles
and miles and lit up all space like broad day. The comet was
burning blue in the distance, like a sickly torch, when I first
sighted him, but he begun to grow bigger and bigger as I crept up
on him. I slipped up on him so fast that when I had gone about
150,000,000 miles I was close enough to be swallowed up in the
phosphorescent glory of his wake, and I couldn't see anything for
the glare. Thinks I, it won't do to run into him, so I shunted to
one side and tore along. By and by I closed up abreast of his
tail. Do you know what it was like? It was like a gnat closing up
on the continent of America. I forged along. By and by I had
sailed along his coast for a little upwards of a hundred and fifty
million miles, and then I could see by the shape of him that I
hadn't even got up to his waistband yet. Why, Peters, WE don't
know anything about comets, down here. If you want to see comets
that ARE comets, you've got to go outside of our solar system -
where there's room for them, you understand. My friend, I've seen
comets out there that couldn't even lay down inside the ORBITS of
our noblest comets without their tails hanging over.
Well, I boomed along another hundred and fifty million miles, and
got up abreast his shoulder, as you may say. I was feeling pretty
fine, I tell you; but just then I noticed the officer of the deck
come to the side and hoist his glass in my direction. Straight off
I heard him sing out - "Below there, ahoy! Shake her up, shake her
up! Heave on a hundred million billion tons of brimstone!"
"Pipe the stabboard watch! All hands on deck!"
"Send two hundred thousand million men aloft to shake out royals
"Hand the stuns'ls! Hang out every rag you've got! Clothe her
from stem to rudder-post!"
In about a second I begun to see I'd woke up a pretty ugly
customer, Peters. In less than ten seconds that comet was just a
blazing cloud of red-hot canvas. It was piled up into the heavens
clean out of sight - the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy
all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces - oh, well, nobody
can describe the way it rolled and tumbled up into the skies, and
nobody can half describe the way it smelt. Neither can anybody
begin to describe the way that monstrous craft begun to crash
along. And such another powwow - thousands of bo's'n's whistles
screaming at once, and a crew like the populations of a hundred
thousand worlds like ours all swearing at once. Well, I never
heard the like of it before.
We roared and thundered along side by side, both doing our level
best, because I'd never struck a comet before that could lay over
me, and so I was bound to beat this one or break something. I
judged I had some reputation in space, and I calculated to keep it.
I noticed I wasn't gaining as fast, now, as I was before, but still
I was gaining. There was a power of excitement on board the comet.
Upwards of a hundred billion passengers swarmed up from below and
rushed to the side and begun to bet on the race. Of course this
careened her and damaged her speed. My, but wasn't the mate mad!
He jumped at that crowd, with his trumpet in his hand, and sung out
"Amidships! amidships, you -! (1) or I'll brain the last idiot of
Well, sir, I gained and gained, little by little, till at last I
went skimming sweetly by the magnificent old conflagration's nose.
By this time the captain of the comet had been rousted out, and he
stood there in the red glare for'ard, by the mate, in his shirt-
sleeves and slippers, his hair all rats' nests and one suspender
hanging, and how sick those two men did look! I just simply
couldn't help putting my thumb to my nose as I glided away and
"Ta-ta! ta-ta! Any word to send to your family?"
Peters, it was a mistake. Yes, sir, I've often regretted that - it
was a mistake. You see, the captain had given up the race, but
that remark was too tedious for him - he couldn't stand it. He
turned to the mate, and says he -
"Have we got brimstone enough of our own to make the trip?"
"Yes, sir - more than enough."
"How much have we got in cargo for Satan?"
"Eighteen hundred thousand billion quintillions of kazarks."
"Very well, then, let his boarders freeze till the next comet
comes. Lighten ship! Lively, now, lively, men! Heave the whole
Peters, look me in the eye, and be calm. I found out, over there,
that a kazark is exactly the bulk of a HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE
WORLDS LIKE OURS! They hove all that load overboard. When it fell
it wiped out a considerable raft of stars just as clean as if
they'd been candles and somebody blowed them out. As for the race,
that was at an end. The minute she was lightened the comet swung
along by me the same as if I was anchored. The captain stood on
the stern, by the after-davits, and put his thumb to his nose and
sung out -
"Ta-ta! ta-ta! Maybe YOU'VE got some message to send your friends
in the Everlasting Tropics!"
Then he hove up his other suspender and started for'ard, and inside
of three-quarters of an hour his craft was only a pale torch again
in the distance. Yes, it was a mistake, Peters - that remark of
mine. I don't reckon I'll ever get over being sorry about it. I'd
'a' beat the bully of the firmament if I'd kept my mouth shut.
But I've wandered a little off the track of my tale; I'll get back
on my course again. Now you see what kind of speed I was making.
So, as I said, when I had been tearing along this way about thirty
years I begun to get uneasy. Oh, it was pleasant enough, with a
good deal to find out, but then it was kind of lonesome, you know.
Besides, I wanted to get somewhere. I hadn't shipped with the idea
of cruising forever. First off, I liked the delay, because I
judged I was going to fetch up in pretty warm quarters when I got
through; but towards the last I begun to feel that I'd rather go to
- well, most any place, so as to finish up the uncertainty.
Well, one night - it was always night, except when I was rushing by
some star that was occupying the whole universe with its fire and
its glare - light enough then, of course, but I necessarily left it
behind in a minute or two and plunged into a solid week of darkness
again. The stars ain't so close together as they look to be.
Where was I? Oh yes; one night I was sailing along, when I
discovered a tremendous long row of blinking lights away on the
horizon ahead. As I approached, they begun to tower and swell and
look like mighty furnaces. Says I to myself -
"By George, I've arrived at last - and at the wrong place, just as
Then I fainted. I don't know how long I was insensible, but it
must have been a good while, for, when I came to, the darkness was
all gone and there was the loveliest sunshine and the balmiest,
fragrantest air in its place. And there was such a marvellous
world spread out before me - such a glowing, beautiful, bewitching
country. The things I took for furnaces were gates, miles high,
made all of flashing jewels, and they pierced a wall of solid gold
that you couldn't see the top of, nor yet the end of, in either
direction. I was pointed straight for one of these gates, and a-
coming like a house afire. Now I noticed that the skies were black
with millions of people, pointed for those gates. What a roar they
made, rushing through the air! The ground was as thick as ants
with people, too - billions of them, I judge.
I lit. I drifted up to a gate with a swarm of people, and when it
was my turn the head clerk says, in a business-like way -
"Well, quick! Where are you from?"
"San Francisco," says I.
"San Fran - WHAT?" says he.
He scratched his head and looked puzzled, then he says -
"Is it a planet?"
By George, Peters, think of it! "PLANET?" says I; "it's a city.
And moreover, it's one of the biggest and finest and - "
"There, there!" says he, "no time here for conversation. We don't
deal in cities here. Where are you from in a GENERAL way?"
"Oh," I says, "I beg your pardon. Put me down for California."
I had him AGAIN, Peters! He puzzled a second, then he says, sharp
and irritable -
"I don't know any such planet - is it a constellation?"
"Oh, my goodness!" says I. "Constellation, says you? No - it's a
"Man, we don't deal in States here. WILL you tell me where you are
from IN GENERAL - AT LARGE, don't you understand?"
"Oh, now I get your idea," I says. "I'm from America, - the United
States of America."
Peters, do you know I had him AGAIN? If I hadn't I'm a clam! His
face was as blank as a target after a militia shooting-match. He
turned to an under clerk and says -
"Where is America? WHAT is America?"
The under clerk answered up prompt and says -
"There ain't any such orb."
"ORB?" says I. "Why, what are you talking about, young man? It
ain't an orb; it's a country; it's a continent. Columbus
discovered it; I reckon likely you've heard of HIM, anyway.
America - why, sir, America - "
"Silence!" says the head clerk. "Once for all, where - are - you -
"Well," says I, "I don't know anything more to say - unless I lump
things, and just say I'm from the world."
"Ah," says he, brightening up, "now that's something like! WHAT
Peters, he had ME, that time. I looked at him, puzzled, he looked
at me, worried. Then he burst out -
"Come, come, what world?"
Says I, "Why, THE world, of course."
"THE world!" he says. "H'm! there's billions of them! . . . Next!"
That meant for me to stand aside. I done so, and a sky-blue man
with seven heads and only one leg hopped into my place. I took a
walk. It just occurred to me, then, that all the myriads I had
seen swarming to that gate, up to this time, were just like that
creature. I tried to run across somebody I was acquainted with,
but they were out of acquaintances of mine just then. So I thought
the thing all over and finally sidled back there pretty meek and
feeling rather stumped, as you may say.
"Well?" said the head clerk.
"Well, sir," I says, pretty humble, "I don't seem to make out which
world it is I'm from. But you may know it from this - it's the one
the Saviour saved."
He bent his head at the Name. Then he says, gently -
"The worlds He has saved are like to the gates of heaven in number
- none can count them. What astronomical system is your world in?
- perhaps that may assist."
"It's the one that has the sun in it - and the moon - and Mars" -
he shook his head at each name - hadn't ever heard of them, you see
- "and Neptune - and Uranus - and Jupiter - "
"Hold on!" says he - "hold on a minute! Jupiter . . . Jupiter . .
. Seems to me we had a man from there eight or nine hundred years
ago - but people from that system very seldom enter by this gate."
All of a sudden he begun to look me so straight in the eye that I
thought he was going to bore through me. Then he says, very
deliberate, "Did you come STRAIGHT HERE from your system?"
"Yes, sir," I says - but I blushed the least little bit in the
world when I said it.
He looked at me very stern, and says -
"That is not true; and this is not the place for prevarication.
You wandered from your course. How did that happen?"
Says I, blushing again -
"I'm sorry, and I take back what I said, and confess. I raced a
little with a comet one day - only just the least little bit - only
the tiniest lit - "
"So - so," says he - and without any sugar in his voice to speak
I went on, and says -
"But I only fell off just a bare point, and I went right back on my
course again the minute the race was over."
"No matter - that divergence has made all this trouble. It has
brought you to a gate that is billions of leagues from the right
one. If you had gone to your own gate they would have known all
about your world at once and there would have been no delay. But
we will try to accommodate you." He turned to an under clerk and
"What system is Jupiter in?"
"I don't remember, sir, but I think there is such a planet in one
of the little new systems away out in one of the thinly worlded
corners of the universe. I will see."
He got a balloon and sailed up and up and up, in front of a map
that was as big as Rhode Island. He went on up till he was out of
sight, and by and by he came down and got something to eat and went
up again. To cut a long story short, he kept on doing this for a
day or two, and finally he came down and said he thought he had
found that solar system, but it might be fly-specks. So he got a
microscope and went back. It turned out better than he feared. He
had rousted out our system, sure enough. He got me to describe our
planet and its distance from the sun, and then he says to his chief
"Oh, I know the one he means, now, sir. It is on the map. It is
called the Wart."
Says I to myself, "Young man, it wouldn't be wholesome for you to
go down THERE and call it the Wart."
Well, they let me in, then, and told me I was safe forever and
wouldn't have any more trouble.
Then they turned from me and went on with their work, the same as
if they considered my case all complete and shipshape. I was a
good deal surprised at this, but I was diffident about speaking up
and reminding them. I did so hate to do it, you know; it seemed a
pity to bother them, they had so much on their hands. Twice I
thought I would give up and let the thing go; so twice I started to
leave, but immediately I thought what a figure I should cut
stepping out amongst the redeemed in such a rig, and that made me
hang back and come to anchor again. People got to eying me -
clerks, you know - wondering why I didn't get under way. I
couldn't stand this long - it was too uncomfortable. So at last I
plucked up courage and tipped the head clerk a signal. He says -
"What! you here yet? What's wanting?"
Says I, in a low voice and very confidential, making a trumpet with
my hands at his ear -
"I beg pardon, and you mustn't mind my reminding you, and seeming
to meddle, but hain't you forgot something?"
He studied a second, and says -
"Forgot something? . . . No, not that I know of."
"Think," says I.
He thought. Then he says -
"No, I can't seem to have forgot anything. What is it?"
"Look at me," says I, "look me all over."
He done it.
"Well?" says he.
"Well," says I, "you don't notice anything? If I branched out
amongst the elect looking like this, wouldn't I attract
considerable attention? - wouldn't I be a little conspicuous?"
"Well," he says, "I don't see anything the matter. What do you
"Lack! Why, I lack my harp, and my wreath, and my halo, and my
hymn-book, and my palm branch - I lack everything that a body
naturally requires up here, my friend."
Puzzled? Peters, he was the worst puzzled man you ever saw.
Finally he says -
"Well, you seem to be a curiosity every way a body takes you. I
never heard of these things before."
I looked at the man awhile in solid astonishment; then I says -
"Now, I hope you don't take it as an offence, for I don't mean any,
but really, for a man that has been in the Kingdom as long as I
reckon you have, you do seem to know powerful little about its
"Its customs!" says he. "Heaven is a large place, good friend.
Large empires have many and diverse customs. Even small dominions
have, as you doubtless know by what you have seen of the matter on
a small scale in the Wart. How can you imagine I could ever learn
the varied customs of the countless kingdoms of heaven? It makes
my head ache to think of it. I know the customs that prevail in
those portions inhabited by peoples that are appointed to enter by
my own gate - and hark ye, that is quite enough knowledge for one
individual to try to pack into his head in the thirty-seven
millions of years I have devoted night and day to that study. But
the idea of learning the customs of the whole appalling expanse of
heaven - O man, how insanely you talk! Now I don't doubt that this
odd costume you talk about is the fashion in that district of
heaven you belong to, but you won't be conspicuous in this section