THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 34: THE YANKEE AND THE KING SOLD AS SLAVES
Well, what had I better do? Nothing in a hurry, sure. I must
get up a diversion; anything to employ me while I could think,
and while these poor fellows could have a chance to come to life
again. There sat Marco, petrified in the act of trying to get
the hang of his miller-gun--turned to stone, just in the attitude
he was in when my pile-driver fell, the toy still gripped in his
unconscious fingers. So I took it from him and proposed to explain
its mystery. Mystery! a simple little thing like that; and yet it
was mysterious enough, for that race and that age.
I never saw such an awkward people, with machinery; you see, they
were totally unused to it. The miller-gun was a little double-barreled
tube of toughened glass, with a neat little trick of a spring
to it, which upon pressure would let a shot escape. But the shot
wouldn't hurt anybody, it would only drop into your hand. In the
gun were two sizes--wee mustard-seed shot, and another sort that
were several times larger. They were money. The mustard-seed
shot represented milrays, the larger ones mills. So the gun was
a purse; and very handy, too; you could pay out money in the dark
with it, with accuracy; and you could carry it in your mouth; or
in your vest pocket, if you had one. I made them of several sizes--
one size so large that it would carry the equivalent of a dollar.
Using shot for money was a good thing for the government; the metal
cost nothing, and the money couldn't be counterfeited, for I was
the only person in the kingdom who knew how to manage a shot tower.
"Paying the shot" soon came to be a common phrase. Yes, and I knew
it would still be passing men's lips, away down in the nineteenth
century, yet none would suspect how and when it originated.
The king joined us, about this time, mightily refreshed by his nap,
and feeling good. Anything could make me nervous now, I was so
uneasy--for our lives were in danger; and so it worried me to
detect a complacent something in the king's eye which seemed to
indicate that he had been loading himself up for a performance
of some kind or other; confound it, why must he go and choose
such a time as this?