It was Petronius who laughed now, a small chuckle, inviting the other to enjoy the humor of the situation.

“But honesty sometimes has very little to do with the pronouncements of the law, Tregarth. If you had not been an essentially honest man — as well as one with ideals — you would never have stood up to Hanson. It is because you are what you are that I know you are ripe for me. Shall we go?”

Somehow Simon found himself paying his check, following Dr. Jorge Petronius. A car waited at the curb, but the doctor did not address its driver as the machine carried them into the night and the rain.

“Simon Tregarth,” Petronius’ voice was as impersonal now as if he recited data important only to himself. “Of Cornish descent. Enlisted in the U.S. Army on March tenth, 1939. Promoted on the field from sergeant to lieutenant, and climbed to rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Served in the occupation forces until stripped of his commission and imprisoned for — For what, Colonel? Ah, yes, for flagrant black market dealing. Only, most unfortunately the brave colonel did not know he had been drawn into a criminal deal until too late. That was the point, was it not, Tregarth, which put you on the other side of the law? Since you had been given the name you thought you might as well play the game.

“Since Berlin you have been busy in quite a few dubious exploits, until you were unwise enough to cross Hanson. Another affair into which you were pushed unknowingly? You seem to be an unlucky man, Tregarth. Let us hope that your fortunes change tonight.”

“Where are we going — to the docks?” Again he heard that rich chuckle. “We head downtown, but not to the harbor. My clients travel, but not by sea, air, or land. How much do you know of the traditions of your fatherland. Colonel?”

“ Matacham, Pennsylvania has no traditions I ever heard of—”

“I am not concerned with a crude mining town on this continent. I am speaking of Cornwall, which is older than time — our time.”

“My grandparents were Cornish. But I don’t know any more than that.”

“Your family was of the pure blood, and Cornwall is old, so very old. It is associated with Wales in legends. Arthur was known there, and the Romans of Britain huddled within its borders when the axes of the Saxons swept them to limbo. Before the Romans there were others, many, many others, some of them bearing with them scraps of strange knowledge. You are going to make me very happy, Tregarth.” There was a pause as if inviting comment; when Simon did not answer, the other continued.

“I am about to introduce you to one of your native traditions, Colonel. A most interesting experiment. Ah, here we are!”

The car had stopped before the mouth of a dark alley.

Petronius opened the door.

“You now behold the single drawback of my establishment, Tregarth. This lane is too narrow to accommodate the car; we must walk.”

For a moment Simon stared up the black mouth, wondering if the doctor had brought him to some appointed slaughterhouse. Did Sammy wait here? But Petronius had snapped on a torch and was waving its beam ahead in invitation.

“Only a yard or two, I assure you. Just follow me.”

The alley was indeed a short one and they came out into an empty space between towering buildings. Squatting in a hollow ringed about by these giants was a small house.

“You see here an anachronism, Tregarth.” The doctor set a key in the door lock. “This is a late seventeenth century farmhouse in the heart of a twentieth century city. Because its title is in doubt, it exists, a very substantial ghost of the past to haunt the present. Enter please.”

Later, as he steamed in front of an open fire, a mixture his host had pressed upon him in his hand, Simon thought that Petronius’ description of a ghost house was very apt. It needed only a steeple crowned hat for the doctor’s head, a sword at his side, to complete the illusion that he had stepped from one era into another.

“Where do I go from here?” he asked.

Petronius prodded the fire with a poker. “You shall go at dawn, Colonel, free and clear, as I promise. As to where,” he smiled, “that we shall see.”

“Why wait until dawn?”

As if being forced into telling more than he wished, Petronius put down the poker and wiped his hands on a handkerchief before he faced his client squarely.

“Because only at dawn does your door open — the proper one for you. This is a story at which you may scoff, Tregarth, until you see the proof before your eyes. What do you know of menhirs?”

Simon felt absurdly pleased that he could supply an answer the other obviously did not expect.

“They were stones — set in circles by prehistoric men — Stonehenge.”

“Set up in circles, sometimes. But they had other uses also.” Petronius was all unsuppressed eagerness now, begging for serious attention from his listener.

“There were certain stones of great power mentioned in the old legends. The Lia Fail of the Tuatha De Danann of Ireland. When the rightful king trod upon it, it shouted aloud in his honor. It was the coronation stone of that race, one of their three great treasures. And do not the kings of England to this day still cherish the Stone of Scone beneath their throne?

“But in Cornwall there was another stone of power — the Siege Perilous. It was one rumored to be able to judge a man, determine his worth, and then deliver him to his fate. Arthur was supposed to have discovered its power through the Seer Merlin and incorporated it among the seats of the Round Table. Six of his knights tried it — and disappeared. Then came two who knew its secret and stayed: Percival and Galahad.”

“Look here.” Simon was bitterly disappointed, the more so because he had almost dared to hope again. Petronius was cracked, there was no escape after all.

“Arthur and the Round Table — that’s a fairy tale for kids. You’re talking as if—”

“As if it were true history?” Petronius caught him up. “Ah, but who is to say what is history and what is not? Every word of the past which comes to us is colored and influenced by the learning, the prejudices, even the physical condition of the historian who has recorded it for later generations. Tradition fathers history and what is tradition but word of mouth? How distorted may such accounts become in a single generation? You, yourself, had your entire life changed by perjured testimony. Yet that testimony has been inserted in records, has now become history, untrue as it is. How can anyone say that this story is legend but that one a fact, and know that he is correct? History is made, is recorded by human beings, and it is larded with all the errors our species is subject to. There are scraps of truth in legend and many lies in accepted history. I know — for the Siege Perilous does exist!

“There are also theories of history alien to the conventional ones we learn as children. Have you ever heard of the alternate worlds which may stem from momentous decisions? In one of those worlds, Colonel Tregarth, perhaps you did not turn aside your eyes on that night in Berlin. In another you did not meet with me an hour ago, but went on to keep your rendezvous with Sammy!”

The doctor rocked back and forth on his heels, as if set teetering by the force of his words and belief. And in spite of himself Simon caught a bit of that fiery enthusiasm.

“Which of these theories do you intend to apply to my problem?”

Petronius laughed, once again at ease. “Just have the patience to hear me out without believing that you are listening to a madman, and I shall explain.” He glanced from the watch on his wrist to the wall clock behind him. “We have some hours yet. So, it is like this—”

As the little man began mouthing what sounded like wild nonsense, Simon obediently listened. The warmth, the drink, the chance to rest were payment enough. He might have to leave to face Sammy later, but that chance he pushed to the back of his mind as he concentrated on what Petronius was saying.

The mellow chime of the ancient clock struck the hour three times before the doctor was done. Tregarth sighed, perhaps he had only been battered into submission by that flood of words, but if it were true — And there was Petronius’ reputation. Simon unbuttoned his shirt and drew out his money belt.

“I know that Sacarsi and Wolverstein haven’t been heard of since they contacted you,” he conceded.

“No, for they went through their doors; they found — the worlds they had always unconsciously sought. It is

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