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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1941

Let the People Sing

page 26

Let the People Sing

All his life he sat under the mountain, waiting for it to come down. The others weren't like that. He thought them ignorant: they knew him to be mad. They tilled their fields: the men carved queer, strong carvings out of the red, soft rock. The women made baskets, and wove cloths subtly from the fibres of leaves. But always he sat there, waiting for the mountain to come down.

In the evenings the men and women gathered: they danced and sang together, and their laughter, tinkling over the taut strings of their ukeleles, echoed up the mountain and mocked it. Then he knew, that there was no hope for them.

One day a small wisp of smoke appeared on the lip of the mountain. That is the sign, he told them. But they laughed, and held hands, to comfort one another. Never mind, you shall see, he said.

On the second day the smoke had thickened almost imperceptably. By so much are our lives shortened, he said. But they were anxious to return to their carving and weaving, and had no time for the mountain. And that night too they laughed and sang, while he sat there, waiting for it to come down.

One day, oppressed by the feeling of doom that hung over him and maddened by their stupidity, he said: 'Why is it that you doubt and refuse to see the truth? Do you not know that the mountain will one day come over us? Must I prove it to you? Very well; I shall climb up to the top, where no man has ever been. And when I come back I shall tell you what I have seen, so that you may know that you are damned.'And off he went up the mountain.

Down below the people watched him set out, but since their memories were not very good they soon forget all about him. On the second day they were again at their carving and weaving, or in the fields. And at night the faint echo of their laughter and the taut strings of the ukeleles mocked the man climbing the mountain. Fools, he thought, they'll know soon enough.

By the fourth day he reached the lip of the crater. A watcher from below who happened to glance up thought he saw a smudge, like a small black beetle, on the edge of the horizon. Then there was a puff of smoke, like a railway engine, only it wasn't smoke and he had never seen a railway engine.

In the succeeding generations the tribe became more and more numerous, until it could no longer live on the side of the mountain. So that, when at last the mountain did come down as the man had prophesied, there was nobody sitting there, waiting for it. But now they are living on a broad plain by the side of a great stream. And the story has it that a member of the tribe, far wiser than the rest, sits by its banks page 27 waiting for it to rise. He doesn't join in the laughter and the dancing and the singing; and the strumming of the ukeleles is harsh and childlike to the well-tuned ear. For he knows that one day the banks will rise, and the waters of the flood overwhelm the people. And what's more, he's right; it's perfectly true, and there's no gainsaying it.