Introduction
 

I found myself in Twilight Land. How I ever got there I cannot tell, but there I was in Twilight Land.

What is Twilight Land? It is a wonderful, wonderful place where no sun shines to scorch your back as you jog along the way, where no rain falls to make the road muddy and hard to travel, where no wind blows the dust into your eyes or the chill into your marrow. Where all is sweet and quiet and ready to go to bed.

Where is Twilight Land? Ah! that I cannot tell you. You will either have to ask your mother or find it for yourself.

There I was in Twilight Land. The birds were singing their good-night song, and the little frogs were piping "peet, peet." The sky overhead was full of still brightness, and the moon in the east hung in the purple gray like a great bubble as yellow as gold. All the air was full of the smell of growing things. The high-road was gray, and the trees were dark.

I drifted along the road as a soap-bubble floats before the wind, or as a body floats in a dream. I floated along and I floated along past the trees, past the bushes, past the mill-pond, past the mill where the old miller stood at the door looking at me.

I floated on, and there was the Inn, and it was the Sign of Mother Goose.

The sign hung on a pole, and on it was painted a picture of Mother Goose with her gray gander.

It was to the Inn I wished to come.

I floated on, and I would have floated past the Inn, and perhaps have gotten into the Land of Never-Come-Back-Again, only I caught at the branch of an apple-tree, and so I stopped myself, though the apple-blossoms came falling down like pink and white snowflakes.

The earth and the air and the sky were all still, just as it is at twilight, and I heard them laughing and talking in the tap-room of the Inn of the Sign of Mother Goose--the clinking of glasses, and the rattling and clatter of knives and forks and plates and dishes. That was where I wished to go.

So in I went. Mother Goose herself opened the door, and there I was.

The room was all full of twilight; but there they sat, every one of them. I did not count them, but there were ever so many: Aladdin, and Ali Baba, and Fortunatis, and Jack-the-Giant-Killer, and Doctor Faustus, and Bidpai, and Cinderella, and Patient Grizzle, and the Soldier who cheated the Devil, and St. George, and Hans in Luck, who traded and traded his lump of gold until he had only an empty churn to show for it; and there was Sindbad the Sailor, and the Tailor who killed seven flies at a blow, and the Fisherman who fished up the Genie, and the Lad who fiddled for the Jew in the bramble-bush, and the Blacksmith who made Death sit in his apple-tree, and Boots, who always marries the Princess, whether he wants to or not--a rag-tag lot as ever you saw in your life, gathered from every place, and brought together in Twilight Land.

Each one of them was telling a story, and now it was the turn of the Soldier who cheated the Devil.

"I will tell you," said the Soldier who cheated the Devil, "a story of a friend of mine."

"Take a fresh pipe of tobacco," said St. George.

"Thank you, I will," said the Soldier who cheated the Devil.

He filled his long pipe full of tobacco, and then he tilted it upside down and sucked in the light of the candle.

Puff! puff! puff! and a cloud of smoke went up about his head, so that you could just see his red nose shining through it, and his bright eyes twinkling in the midst of the smoke-wreath, like two stars through a thin cloud on a summer night.

"I'll tell you," said the Soldier who cheated the Devil, "the story of a friend of mine. Tis every word of it just as true as that I myself cheated the Devil."

He took a drink from his mug of beer, and then he began.

"Tis called," said he--