THE STONE OF THE WISE MEN 549
shall I choose ? Are air balloons invented yet ?' he asked his father, who knew of all inventions thajt had been made or that were to be made. But air balloons had not yet been invented, nor steam-ships, nor railways. ' Good : then I shall choose an air balloon,' he said ; ' my father knows how they are made and guided. Nobody has invented them yet, and consequently the people will believe that it is an aerial phantom. When I have used the balloon I will burn it, and for this purpose you must give me a few pieces of the invention that will be made next—I mean chemical matches.'
And he obtained what he wanted, and flew away. The birds accompanied him farther than they had flown with the other brothers. They were curious to know what would be the result of the flight, and more of them came sweeping up : they thought he was some new bird ; and he soon had a goodly following. The air became black with birds, they came on like a cloud—like the cloud of locusts over the land of Egypt.
Now he was out in the wide world.
11 have had a good friend and helper in the East Wind/ he said.
' The East and the WTest Wind, you mean,' said the winds. ' We have been both at work, otherwise }7ou would not have come north-west.'
But he did not hear what the winds said, and it does not matter either. The birds had also ceased to accompany him. When they were most numerous, a few of them became tired of the journey. Too much was made of this kind of thing, they said. He had got fancies into his head. ' There is nothing at all to fly after; there is nothing; it's quite stupid;' and so they stayed behind, the whole flock of them.
The air balloon descended over one of the greatest cities, and the aeronaut took up his station on the highest point, on the church steeple. The balloon rose again, which it ought not to have done : where it went to is not known, but that was not a matter of consequence, for it was not yet invented. Then he sat on the church steeple. The birds no longer hovered around him, they had got tired of him, and he was tired of them.
All the chimneys in the town were smoking merrily.