The Second Purse

Hoopla and Nuncio turned right and crossed over one of the high arched stone bridges that jumped the canyons. In the middle, Hoopla drew near to the edge and peered over. The canyon below was deep and dark but from this point the bottom could, just barely be made out. The floor and walls were covered with an endless series of round, stone tubes, out of which feet kicked and flailed, licked at by fire.

“Who’s in that middle tube,” said Hoopla, “who kicks so fiercely?”

“Ah,” sighed Nuncio, “but it’s the chief of this place you’re looking at, and for his greatness the flames that feed upon the uncallused soles of his feet are the fiercer. Is it speech with him that you’re panting after?”

“Can we?”

“Nothing’s forbidden on such a trip as we’re on. Well, come on then, down the slope, soonest begun is soonest ended.”

The canyon walls were steep, though shivered into rough stairs by an ancient earthquake. When the rocks slid down ahead of them and knocked against the chief’s tube, he bellowed, “Is that you, Virgil? Have you grown fat so early, and come to knock me from my place? Have these eyes grown weak in this damnable murk? Where is all your gold now, your pride of place?”

“What’s he talking about?” said Hoopla.

“He takes you for your better,” said Nuncio, “and his worse. Speak truth, and ease his mind, though little he’s earned it. Let truth only fill your mouth while we’re in such uncertain climes, for neither cleverness nor strength of arms will be seeing us safe home again.”

“You and your riddles,” growled Hoopla.