Home > Stardust(3)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“Is that so?” said Dunstan, unsurprised.

“That it is,” said the gentleman in the top hat. “And what I was wondering was, would you know of a house that might have a room?”Dunstan shrugged. “All the rooms have gone by now,” he said. “I remember that when I was a boy of nine, my mother and my father sent me to sleep out in the rafters of the cow byre for a week, and let my room to a lady from the Orient, and her family and servants. She left me a kite, as a thank you, and I flew it from the meadow until one day it snapped its string and flew away into the sky.”

“Where do you live now?” asked the gentleman in the top hat.

“I have a cottage on the edge of my father’s land,” Dunstan replied. “It was our shepherd’s cottage, until he died, two years ago last lammas-tide, and my parents gave it to me.”

“Take me to it,” said the gentleman in the hat, and it did not occur to Dunstan to refuse him.

The spring moon was high and bright, and the night was clear.

They walked down from the village to the forest beneath it, and they walked the whole way past the Thorn family farm (where the gentleman in the top hat was startled by a cow, sleeping in the meadow, which snorted as it dreamed) until they reached Dunstan’s cottage.

It had one room and a fireplace. The stranger nodded. “I like this well enough,” he said. “Come, Dunstan Thorn, I’ll rent it from you for the next three days.”

“What’ll you give me for it?”

“A golden sovereign, a silver sixpence, a copper penny, and a fresh shiny farthing,” said the man.

Now a golden sovereign for two nights was more than a fair rent, in the days when a farmworker might hope to make fifteen pounds in a good year. Still, Dunstan hesitated. “If you’re here for the market,” he told the tall man, “then it’s miracles and wonders you’ll be trading.”The tall man nodded. “So, it would be miracles and wonders that you would be after, is it?” He looked around Dunstan’s one-room cottage again. It began to rain then, a gentle pattering on the thatch above them.

“Oh, very well,” said the tall gentleman, a trifle testily, “a miracle, a wonder. Tomorrow, you shall attain your Heart’s Desire. Now, here is your money,” and he took it from Dun-stan’s ear, with one easy gesture. Dunstan touched it to the iron nail on the cottage door, checking for faerie gold, then he bowed low to the gentleman and walked off into the rain. He tied the money up in his handkerchief.

Dunstan walked to the cow byre in the pelting rain. He climbed into the hayloft and was soon asleep.

He was aware, in the night, of thunder and of lightning, although he did not wake; and then in the small hours of the morning he was woken by someone treading, awkwardly, on his feet.

“Sorry,” said a voice. “That is to say, ’scuse me.”

“Who’s that? Who’s there?” said Dunstan.

“Just me,” said the voice. “I’m here for the market. I was sleeping in a hollow tree for the night, but the lightnin’ toppled it, cracked it like an egg it did and smashed it like a twig, and the rain got down my neck, and it threatened to get into my baggage, and there’s things in there must be kept dry as dust, and I’d kept it safe as houses on all my travelings here, though it was wet as . . .”

“Water?” suggested Dunstan.

“Ever-so,” continued the voice in the darkness. “So I was wonderin’,” it continued, “if you’d mind me stayin’ here under your roof as I’m not very big, and I’d not disturb you or nothing.”

“Just don’t tread on me,” sighed Dunstan.

It was then that a flash of lightning illuminated the byre, and in the light, Dunstan saw something small and hairy in the corner, wearing a large floppy hat. And then, darkness.

“I hope I’m not disturbin’ you,” said the voice, which certainly sounded rather hairy, now Dunstan thought about it.

“You aren’t,” said Dunstan, who was very tired.

“That’s good,” said the hairy voice, “because I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”

“Please,” begged Dunstan, “let me sleep. Please.”There was a snuffling noise, which was replaced by a gentle snoring.

Dunstan rolled over in the hay. The person, whoever, whatever it was, farted, scratched itself, and began to snore once more.

Dunstan listened to the rain on the byre roof, and thought about Daisy Hempstock, and in his thoughts they were walking together, and six steps behind them walked a tall man with a top hat and a small, furry creature whose face Dunstan could not see.

They were off to see his Heart’s Desire.... There was bright sunlight on his face, and the cow byre was empty. He washed his face, and walked up to the farmhouse.

He put on his very best jacket, and his very best shirt, and his very best britches. He scraped the mud from his boots with his pocketknife. Then he walked into the farm kitchen, and kissed his mother on the cheek, and helped himself to a cottage loaf and a large pat of fresh-churned butter.

And then, with his money tied up in his fine Sunday cambric handkerchief, he walked up to the village of Wall and bade good morning to the guards on the gate.

Through the gap in the wall he could see colored tents being raised, stalls being erected, colored flags, and people walking back and forth.

“We’re not to let anyone through until midday,” said the guard.

Dunstan shrugged, and went to the pub, where he pondered what he would buy with his savings (the shiny half-crown he had saved, and the lucky sixpence, with a hole drilled through it, on a leather thong around his neck) and with the additional pocket handkerchief filled with coins. He had, for the moment, quite forgotten there had been anything else promised the night before. At the stroke of midday Dunstan strode up to the wall and, nervously, as if he were breaking the greatest of taboos, he walked through beside, as he realized, the gentleman in the black silk top hat, who nodded to him.

“Ah. My landlord. And how are you today, sir?”

“Very well,” said Dunstan.

“Walk with me,” said the tall man. “Let us walk together.”They walked across the meadow, toward the tents. “Have you been here before?” asked the tall man.

“I went to the last market, nine years ago. I was only a boy,” admitted Dunstan.

“Well,” said his tenant, “remember to be polite, and take no gifts. Remember that you’re a guest. And now, I shall give you the last part of the rent that I owe you. For I swore an oath. And my gifts last a long time. You and your firstborn child and his or her firstborn child It’s a gift that will last as long as I live.”

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