“I have to get rid of it!” Said the man sitting in the corner of the compartment, breaking the silence abruptly.
Mr. Hinchcliff looked up, not fully understanding. Until now he had been lost in the contemplation of his student cloak tied by a cord to the handles of his suitcase, an outward and visible sign of his recently obtained teaching position; he had remained immersed in the delight that this cloak caused him and the pleasant prospects it discovered. For Mr. Hinchcliff had just enrolled him at the University of London and was going to join a post of assistant professor at the preparatory school in Holmwood — a very enviable position. He looked in astonishment at his traveling companion at the other end of the compartment.
“Why not give it?” Said this character. “Give it! … why not?”
He was a tall man with a dark, dark complexion. He had his arms crossed nervously across his chest and he had put his feet on the bench in front of him. He began to pull his very long black mustache, his eyes fixed on the tips of his boots.
“Why not?” He said again.
Mr. Hinchcliff coughed.
The stranger looked up — they were dark gray eyes, very sharp — and, for a minute, perhaps, he stared at Mr. Hinchcliff grimly. Then his face seemed to take on an expression of interest.
“Yes,” he said slowly, “why not? And end it.
“I don’t catch you, not very well,” said Mr. Hinchcliff, coughing a second time.
“You don’t follow me very well,” the stranger replied mechanically as his bizarre eyes wandered from Mr. Hinchcliff to the suitcase from which the cape hung ostentatiously and back to Mr. Hinchcliff’s downy face.
“Your words are so disjointed, you understand…” Mr. Hinchcliff apologized.
“Why not!” Said the stranger following his thought “Are you a student?” He said, addressing Mr. Hinchcliff.
“I am a correspondence student at the University of London,” said Mr. Hinchcliff with undisguised pride and nervously raising his hand to his tie.
“In pursuit of science,” said the stranger. And he suddenly lifted his feet off the bench, put his fist on his knee, and gazed at Mr. Hinchcliff as if he had never seen a student in his life.
“Yes!” And he gestured with an outstretched index finger.
Then he got up, took a leather bag from the net and opened it. Without the slightest word he took out a round object wrapped in a quantity of silver paper which he carefully unfolded. He handed the thing to Mr. Hinchcliff: it was a small golden yellow fruit and very soft to the touch.
Mr. Hinchcliff stood with his mouth and eyes wide open for a moment. He did not attempt to take this object, although it was offered to him to take.
“This,” the fantastic stranger said, speaking very slowly, “is the Apple of the Tree of Knowledge. Look at it: small, brilliant, wonderful … Knowledge! … and I will give it to you.
Mr. Hinchcliff’s mind had a painful minute of straining, then the obvious explanation: mad, crossed his brain and cleared the whole situation; a madman in a happy mood. He tilted his head a little.
-The Apple of the Tree of Knowledge, eh? … – said Mr. Hinchcliff looking at the fruit, feigning an air of extreme interest and then returning his gaze to his interlocutor.-But why don’t you eat it yourself? …… And besides how did it come into your possession?
“It never withers! I’ve had it for three months, and it’s still shiny, and smooth, and ripe, and desirable as you see it.
He put his hand on his knee and considered the apple dreamily, then began to wrap it in his papers again as if he had changed his intention to give it away.
“But how did you get it?” Asked Mr. Hinchcliff, who had an argumentative mind, and how do you know it’s the fruit of the Tree?
“I bought this fruit,” said the stranger, “three months ago, for a sip of water and a crust of bread. The man who ceded her to me, because my care had preserved her life, was Armenian. Armenia! this wonderful land! the first of all countries! where Noah’s Ark has remained, to this day, buried in the glaciers of Mount Ararat. This man, I said, fleeing with others from the Kurds who had surprised them, reached deserted places in the mountains … places that no one in the world knows. Fleeing from those who were pursuing them, they came to a high plateau between the peaks of the mountains. There grew a green grass whose blades were like blades, which cut and tear mercilessly all who ventured to cross them. The Kurds were after them and they had no other chance of salvation than to sink into these grass and the worst was that the paths they traced at the cost of their blood were used by the Kurds to follow them. All the fugitives were killed except this Armenian and one other. He heard the cries and moans of his companions and the rustle of the grasses around those who pursued them, for these grasses rose almost to man’s height. He heard calls and curses, and when, finally, he stopped, all was silent. He pushed forward anyway without understanding, torn and bloody, until he came to a wall of rock below a precipice from which he saw, behind him, the burning grass and the fumes
The stranger stopped.
– Yes? – said Mr. Hinchcliff, – and then? …
“So he was there, wounded and torn by the sharp grass, the rocks scorching in the sunlight, and the smoke of the fire advancing towards him. He did not dare to stay there. He didn’t care much about death, but torture! … In the distance, beyond the smoke, he heard clamors and complaints. Women were screaming. He began to climb a gorge in the rocks between which grew bushes with dry branches, which protruded like thorns between the leaves, and he hid in a kind of excavation. There he met his companion, a shepherd who had also escaped the massacre. Believing the cold, hunger and thirst of little compared to the cruelty of the Kurds, they continued to climb the heights among the snow and ice. They wandered like this for three long days. The third day, they had a vision. I believe that hungry people often have visions, but in this case we have this fruit.
He held up the fruit wrapped in silver in his hand.
“I heard this story from other mountain people who knew the legend. It was evening, at a time when the number of stars increased; they descended, a slope of smooth rocks which led towards an immense dark valley in which grew oddly twisted trees, and from these trees hung small globes phosphorous hundred like glowworms, strange round yellow lights. Suddenly the valley lit up in the distance, far away with a golden flame which slowly advanced, making the stunted trees appear as black as the night and casting on the slopes and the outlines of things golden reflections. At this vision, the two men, educated in the legends of the mountains, knew that they saw Eden or the sentinel of Eden, prostrated their faces to the ground like men struck with death … When they dared to raise their eyes, the valley was again in the dark, then the light reappeared coming towards them, transparent as amber … The shepherd, at this sight, jumped to his feet and with a loud cry began to run at top speed towards the light, but the other was too scared to follow him. He remained stunned, stunned, terrified, watching his companion walk away into the shifting light. No sooner had the shepherd taken his course than there was a sound like a thunderclap, the beating of invisible wings above the valley and an unspeakable dread; telling me the story, the man who gave me the fruit looked anxiously as if he was still trying to save himself around him. Climbing up the slope as fast as he could, with the tumult running behind him, he bumped into one of those stunted trees and a ripe fruit fell into his hand: this one. Immediately he was surrounded by the sound of wings and thunder. He fell and passed out, and when he regained his senses he found himself in the midst of the blackened and smoking ruins of his village where, along with other people, I was caring for the wounded. A vision? But he still held the golden fruit of the tree in his hand. There were other people there who knew the legend, who knew what that strange fruit was. wings and thunder. He fell and passed out, and when he regained his senses he found himself in the midst of the blackened and smoking ruins of his village where, along with other people, I was caring for the wounded. A vision? But he still held the golden fruit of the tree in his hand. There were other people there who knew the legend, who knew what that strange fruit was. wings and thunder. He fell and passed out, and when he regained his senses he found himself in the midst of the blackened and smoking ruins of his village where, along with other people, I was caring for the wounded. A vision? But he still held the golden fruit of the tree in his hand. There were other people there who knew the legend, who knew what that strange fruit was.
He fell silent.
“And here it is,” he said after a silence.
It was a very extraordinary story to be told in a third class compartment on a little Surrey railway line. One might have thought that the real was only a veil for the fantastic and here the fantastic was quite evident.
“Really!” Was all Mr. Hinchcliff could answer.
“The legend,” said the stranger, “says that these thickets of dwarf trees growing around the garden come from the apple that Adam held in his hand when he and Eve were driven out of paradise. He felt something in his hand, saw the half-eaten apple and threw it away angrily. There, since, these trees grow, in this desolate valley, surrounded by eternal snows, at the entrance of which the flaming swords stand guard until the day of judgment.
“I thought,” Mr. Hinchcliff said, “that all this gossip was… fables… parables… rather. Do you mean that over there in Armenia …
The stranger answered the unfinished question by holding out the fruit in his open hand.
“But you have no certainty,” said Mr. Hinchcliff, “that this is the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The man may have had … some kind of mirage you might say, suppose …
“Look at him,” said the stranger.