An Old Game
by Henry van Dyke
Three men were taking a walk together, as they said, just to while away the time.
The first man intended to go Somewhere, to look at a piece of property which he was considering. The second man was ready to go Anywhere, since he expected to be happy by the way. The third man thought he was going Nowhere, because he was a philosopher and held that time and space are only mental forms.
Therefore the third man walked in silence, reflecting upon the vanity of whiling away an hour which did not exist, and upon the futility of going when staying was the same thing. But the other men, being more simple, were playing the oldest game in the world and giving names to the things that they saw as they travelled.
“Mutton,” said the Somewhere Man, as he looked over a stone wall.
“A flock of sheep,” said the Anywhere Man, gazing upon the pasture, where the fleecy ewes were nipping grass between the rocks and the eager lambs nuzzled their mothers.
But the Nowhere Man meditated on the foolish habit of eating, and said nothing.
“An ant-hill,” said the Anywhere Man, looking at a mound beside the path; “see how busy the citizens are!”
“Pismires,” said the Somewhere Man, kicking the mound; “they sting like the devil.”
But the Nowhere Man, being certain that the devil is a myth, said nothing.
“Briars,” said the Somewhere Man, as they passed through a coppice.
“Blackberries,” said the Anywhere Man; “they will blossom next month and ripen in August.”
But the Nowhere Man, to whom they referred the settlement of the first round of the game, decided that both had lost because they spoke only of accidental phenomena.
With the next round they came into a little forest on a sandy hill. The oak-trees were still bare, and the fir-trees were rusty green, and the maple-trees were in rosy bud. On these things the travellers were agreed.
But among the withered foliage on the ground a vine trailed far and wide with verdant leaves, thick and heavy, and under the leaves were clusters of rosy stars, breathing a wonderful sweetness, so that the travellers could not but smell it.
“Rough-leaf,” said the Somewhere Man; “gravel-weed we call it in our country, because it marks the poorest soil.”
“Trailing arbutus,” said the Anywhere Man; “May-flowers we call them in our country.”
“But why?” asked the Nowhere Man. “May has not yet come.”
“She is coming,” answered the other; “she will be here before these are gone.”
On the other side of the wood they entered a meadow where a little bird was bubbling over with music in the air.
“Skunk-blackbird,” said the Somewhere Man; “colours the same as a skunk.”
“Bobolink,” said the Anywhere Man; “spills his song while he flies.”
“It is a silly name,” said the Nowhere Man. “Where did you find it?”
“I don’t know,” answered the other; “it just sounds to me like the bird.”
By this time it was clear that the two men did not play the game by the same rules, but they went on playing, just as other people do.
They saw a little thatched house beside the brook. “Beastly hovel,” said the first man. “Pretty cottage,” said the second.
A woman was tossing and fondling her child, with kiss-words. “Sickly sentiment,” said the first man. “Mother love,” said the second.
They passed a youth sleeping on the grass under a tree. “Lazy hound!” said the first man. “Happy dog!” said the second.
Now the third man, remembering that he was a philosopher, concluded that he was wasting his imaginary time in hearing this endless old game.
“I must bid you good-day, gentlemen,” said he, “for it seems to me that you are disputing only about appearances, and are not likely to arrive Somewhere or Anywhere. But I am seeking _das Ding an sich_.”
So he left them, and went on his way Nowhere. And I know not which of the others won the game, but I think the second man had more pleasure in playing it.