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This, That and the Other. By JBP.

Once upon a time there was a Prince of This who fell reasonably in love with a Princess of That, explaining to his parents that the fruits of such an alliance might well be not only some of These but also some of Those. The Princess, however, proved to be an untimely girl mysteriously pining for someone invisible, called the Other.

The King of That exhausted the vacuous and vacillating counsel of his ministers and went to consult the Wise Man in the Wood.

"She is pining away," said the King, "on the one hand, and on the other hand old Gumbo of This is getting impatient for an answer. He's an impetuous fellow with a lot of tanks."

"It is better," said the wise man, "to pine away than to pine here - less dispiriting for the populace. Send her to Aunt Freya in the mountains. And on the other hand tell Gumbo that she has gone into a secret retreat incumbent upon all royal ladies of That before receiving prmission from the Godess to wed a mortal."

"Fascinating," said the King, who liked stories.

As the Princess was mooning in the mountains she saw a man striding along as if looking for something important which only he could find. She stopped him with a cry of admiring surprise. "Surely," she said, "you must be the Other?"

The man frowned. "Certainly not," he said. "I am the One."

She gazed at him with something darkly indefinable dawning in her eyes, and murmured, "Yes, you are the One."

"Come to think of it," he said, something similar but less interesting dawning in his own, "you are the One, after all, and I, personally, have discoverded you. I always knew I was destined to seek and of course find an object or subject of peculiar significance."

Experiences of this kind can cause serious disturbances of the physio-emotional system, leading to sleeplessness and a belief in miracles.

The man proved to be a certain Nobody of Nowhere, and when the Princess proudly announced this to her Aunt Freya, her father and all those whom it might concern, it transpired that the news concerned them very much indeed, so that an uproar was followed by confusion and utter indignity for forty days and thirty-nine nights.

The King was forced by his own exasperated obstinacy to go once more to the Wise Man in the Wood, and complain that his advice had been disastrous in its effect. "Naturally," said the wise man. "Advice is like that. If you take my advice, you will neither give nor receive it.

"Very funny," said the King. "But what on earth shall I do?"

"Have you no imagination?" asked the wise man.

"What's imagination got to do with it?" said the King. "The alliance of two kingdoms is at stake, and therefore the peace of the world. Gumbo is infuriated and holding idiotic manouevres with his tanks."

"You might, I suppose, tell His Excellent Majesty King Gumbo that tanks devour an enormous amount of fuel which is disastrously expensive and could bankrupt his kingdom. Or on the other hand inform him that the Goddess has whispered to the Princess, and the heart-broken Princess has conveyed the message to you, that she is of too insignificant a pedigree to marry Gumbo's precious son and must therefore resign herself to union with a Nobody."

"That would disgrace the honour of my family and my Kngdom!" protested the King.

"But preferable to having to listen to Gumbo's appalling reminiscences, attend his revolting banquets and chat politely with his enormous Queen," said the wise man. "True,' said the King. "A nasty fellow to offend. Envious. And pompous, and with tanks, however expensive."

"And after all," said the wise man, "if This ceased to be in creative opposition to That, all possibility of balance would evaporate."

"Remarks of that kind," said the King, "have no practical value. And besides, if you're such a wise man, what on earth has been the purpose of it all?"

"I'm only a wise man," said the wise man, "because people are stupid enough to call me one. As for the purpose - the purpose of it all is for each one of us to gain a momentary glimpse of where we actually are before we vanish." "And where are we?" cried the King.

"In a very surprising and unsuitable place," said the wise man, watching a beetle proceeding on its way.


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