R. A. Lafferty knows a lot about the history and customs of odd ethnic groups on our planet, as he’s shown in his novel FOURTH MANSIONS and in any number of his short stories: there are unknown peoples among us, he likes to say, who have talents we might not expect. For instance, the people of the Travertine islands, which float in the sky—there’s one of those islands called Stutzamutza, and its people are worth visiting. Especially if you want to build a 400-foot-high pagoda of pink marble. Or even if you don’t.

 

 

NOR LIMESTONE ISLANDS

R. A. Lafferty

 

 

A lapidary is one who cuts, polishes, engraves and sets small stones. He is also a scrivener with a choppy style who sets in little stones or pieces here and there and attempts to make a mosaic out of them.

 

But what do you call one who cuts and sets very large stones?

 

* * * *

 

Take a small lapillus or stone for instance:

 

“The origin of painting as an art in Greece is connected with definite historical personages; but that of sculpture is lost in the mists of legend. Its authentic history does not begin until about the year B.C. 600. It was regarded as an art imparted to men by the gods; for such is the thought expressed in the assertion that the earliest statues fell from heaven.”

 

Article Statuaria Ars; Sculpture—

Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature

and Antiquities.

 

* * * *

 

We set that little stone in one corner, even though it contains a misunderstanding of what fell from heaven: it wasn’t finished statues.

 

Then we set another small stone: (We haven’t the exact citation of this. It’s from Charles Fort or from one of his imitators.) It’s of a scientist who refused to believe that several pieces of limestone had fallen from the sky, even though two farmers had seen them fall. They could not have fallen from the sky, the scientist said, because there is no limestone in the sky. (What would that scientist have done if he had been confronted with the question of Whales in the Sky?)

 

We set that little stone of wisdom into one corner. And we look around for other stones to set.

 

* * * *

 

The limestone salesman was making his pitch to the city commissioners. He had been making a poor pitch and he was a poor salesman. All he had was price (much less than one tenth that of the other bidders) and superior quality. But the limestone salesman did not make a good appearance. He was bare-chested (and colossally deep-chested). He had only a little shoulder jacket above, and a folded drape below. On his feet he had the crepida or Hermes-sandals, made of buckskin apparently: a silly affectation. He was darkly burnt in skin and hair, but the roots of his hair and of his skin indicated that he was blond in both. He was golden-bearded, but the beard (and in fact the whole man) was covered with chalk-dust or rock-dust. The man was sweaty, and he smelled. His was a composite smell of limestone and edged bronze and goats and clover and honey and ozone and lentils and sour milk and dung and strong cheese.

 

“No, I don’t believe that we want to deal with you at all,” the mayor of the city was saying. “The other firms are all reputable and long established.”

 

“Our firm is long established,” the limestone salesman said. “It has been doing business from the same—ah— cart for nine thousand years.”

 

“Balderdash,” the streets and sewers commissioner swore. “You won’t even give us the address of your firm, and you haven’t put in a formal bid.”

 

“The address is Stutzamutza,” the limestone salesman said. “That’s all the address I can give you. There isn’t any other address. And I will put in a formal bid if you will show me how to do it. I offer you three hundred tons of the finest marble-limestone, cut exactly to specification, and set in place, guaranteed to take care of your project, guaranteed to be without flaw, in either pure white or variegated; I offer this delivered and set within one hour, all for the price of three hundred dollars or three hundred bushels of cracked corn.”

 

“Oh take it, take it!” a Miss Phosphor McCabe cried out. “We elect you gentlemen to do our business for us at bargain prices. Do not pass up this fine bargain, I beg you.” Phosphor McCabe was a lady photographer who had nine fingers in every pie.

 

“You be quiet, young lady, or we will have you put out of the hearing room,” said the parks and playgrounds commissioner. “You will wait your turn, and you will not interfere in other cases. I shudder to think what your own petition will be today. Was ever a group so put upon by cranks as ourselves?”

 

“You have a very bad reputation, man,” the finance commissioner said to the limestone salesman, “insofar as anyone has heard of you before. There is some mumble that your limestone or marble is not substantial, that it will melt away like hailstones. There is even a rumor that you had something to do with the terrible hailstorm of the night before last.”

 

“Ah, we just had a little party at our place that night,” the limestone salesman said. “We had a few dozen bottles of Tontitown wine from some stone that we set over in Arkansas, and we drank it up. We didn’t hurt anybody or anything with those hailstones. Hey, some of them were as big as basketballs, weren’t they! But we were careful where we let them fall. How often do you see a hailstorm as wild as that that doesn’t do any damage at all to anything?”

 

“We can’t afford to look silly,” the schools and activities commissioner said. “We have been made to look silly in quite a few cases lately, not all of them our own fault. We can’t afford to buy limestone for a project like this from someone like you.”

 

“I wonder if you could get me about a hundred and twenty tons of good quality pink granite?” asked a smiling pinkish man in the hearing room.

 

“No, that’s another island entirely,” the limestone salesman said. “I’ll tell them if I see them.”

 

“Mr. Chalupa, I don’t know what your business is here today,” the mayor said severely to the smiling pinkish man, “but you will wait your turn, and you will not mix into this case. Lately it seems that our open hearings are just one nut after another.”

 

“How can you lose?” the limestone salesman asked the commissioners. “I will supply and cut and set the stones. If you are not satisfied, I will leave the stones at no cost, or I will remove them again. And not until you are completely satisfied do you pay me the three hundred dollars or the three hundred bushels of cracked corn.”

 

“I want to go to your country with you,” Miss Phosphor McCabe burst out. “I am fascinated by what I have heard of it. I want to do a photographic article about it for the Heritage Geographical Magazine. How far away is your country now?”

 

“All right,” the limestone salesman said. “I’ll wait for you. We’ll go just as soon as I have transacted my business and you have transacted yours. We like everybody and we want everybody to come and visit us, but hardly anybody wants to. Right now, my country is about three miles from here. Last chance, gentlemen: I offer you the best bargain in quality marble-limestone that you’ll ever find if you live two hundred years. And I hope you do all live to be two hundred. We like everybody and we’d like to see everybody live two hundred years at least.”

 

“Absolutely not,” said the mayor of the city. “We’d be the laughing-stock of the whole state if we did business with someone like you. What kind of a country of yours are you talking about that’s only three miles from here? Absolutely not. You are wasting your time and ours, man.”

 

“No, no, it just couldn’t be,” said the streets and sewers commissioner. “What would the papers print if they heard that we had bought limestone from somebody nearly as disreputable as a saucerian?”

 

“Rejected, rejected,” said the parks and playgrounds commissioner. “We were elected to transact the city’s business with economy and dignity.”

 

“Ah well, all right,” the limestone salesman said. “You can’t sell a stylobate every time you try. Good day, commissioners. No hurry, lady. I’ll wait for you.” And the limestone salesman went out, leaving, as it seemed, a cloud of rock-dust in his wake.

 

* * * *

 

“What a day!” the schools and activities commissioner moaned. “What a procession of jokers we have had! Anyhow, that one can’t be topped.”

 

“I’m not so sure,” the mayor grumbled. “Miss Phosphor McCabe is next.”

 

“Oh, I’ll be brief,” Phosphor said brightly. “All I want is a permit to build a pagoda on that thirty-acre hill that my grandfather left me. It won’t interfere with anything. There won’t be any utilities to run to it. And it will be pretty.”

 

“Ah, why do you want to build a pagoda?” the streets and sewers commissioner asked.

 

“So I can take pictures of it. And just because I want to build a pagoda.”

 

“What kind of a pagoda will it be?” the parks and playgrounds commissioner asked.

 

“A pink pagoda.”

 

“How big will it be?” the schools and activities commissioner asked.

 

“Thirty acres big. And four hundred feet high. It will be big and it won’t bother anything.”

 

“Why do you want it so big?” the mayor asked.

 

“So it will be ten times as big as the Black Pagoda in India. It’ll be real pretty and an attraction to the area.”

 

“Do you have the money to build this with?” the streets and sewers commissioner asked.

 

“No, I don’t have hardly any money. If I sell my photographic article “With Camera and Canoe on Sky-High Stutzamutza” to the Heritage Geographical Magazine I will get some money for it. And I have been snapping unrehearsed camera portraits of all you gentlemen for the last few minutes, and I may be able to sell them to Comic Weekly if I can think of cute headings for them. As to the money to build the Pink Pagoda, oh, I’ll think of something.”

 

“Miss McCabe, your request is remanded or remaindered or whatever, which is the same thing as being tabled,” the mayor said.

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“I’m not sure. The legal commissioner is absent today, but he always says something like that when we want to pass the buck for a little while.”

 

“It means come back in one week, Miss McCabe,” the streets and sewers commissioner said.

 

“All right,” Miss Phosphor McCabe agreed. “I couldn’t possibly start on the Pink Pagoda before a week anyhow.”

 

* * * *

 

And now we set this odd-shaped stone over in the other corner:

 

“The seventeenth century discovery of the Polynesian Islands by common seamen was one of the ancient paradise promises fulfilled. The green islands, the blue sea, the golden beaches and the golden sunlight, the dusky girls! Fruit incomparable, fish incomparable, roast pig and baked bird beyond believing, breadfruit and volcano, absolute and continuing perfection of weather, brown-skin paradise maidens such as are promised in alcoran, song and string-music and surf-music! This was the Promised Paradise of the Islands, and it came true.

 

“But even this was a weak thing beside the less known, the earlier and continuing discovery of the Floating Islands (or the Travertine Islands) by more intrepid farers. The girls of the Floating Islands are lighter (except for the cool blacks on the Greenstone Dolomites) than the Polynesian maidens; they are more intelligent and much more full of fun; are more handsome and fuller-bodied; are of an artier and more vital culture. They are livelier. Oh how they are livelier! And the regions themselves defy description. For color and zest, there is nothing in Polynesia or Aegea or Antilla to compare at all. And all the Travertine people are so friendly! Perhaps it is well that they are little known and little visited. We may be too weak for their experience.”

 

Facts of the Paradise Legend: Harold Bluewater.

 

* * * *

 

Look closely at that little stone ere we leave it. Are you sure that you have correctly noted the shape of it?

 

Then a still smaller stone to be set in, here where there seems too empty a little gap. It’s a mere quotation:

 

“In Lapidary Inscription a Man is not upon Oath.”

—Doctor Johnson.

 

* * * *

 

Miss Phosphor McCabe did visit the limestone salesman’s country, and she did do the photographic article “With Camera and Canoe in Sky-High Stutzamutza.” The stunning, eye-blowing, heart-swelling, joy-filled color photography cannot be given here, but these are a few extracts from the sustaining text:

 

“Stutzamutza is a limestone land of such unbelievable whiteness as to make the eyes ache with delight. It is this super-whiteness as a basis that makes all the other colors stand out with such clarity. There cannot be anywhere a bluer sky than, for most of the hours and days, surrounds Stutzamutza (see plates I and II). There cannot be greener fields, where there are fields, nor more silvery water (plates IV and V). The waterfalls are absolute rainbows, especially Final Falls, when it flows clear off the high land (plate VI). There cannot be more variegated cliffs, blue, black, pink, ochre, red, green, but always with that more-white-than-white basic (plate VII). There cannot be such a sun anywhere else. It shines here as it shines nowhere on the world.

 

“Due to the high average elevation of Stutzamutza (there will be some boggled eyes when I reveal just what I do mean by the average elevation of this place), the people are all wonderfully deep-chested or deep-breasted. They are like something out of fable. The few visitors who come here from lower, from more mundane elevations, are uniform in their disbelief. ‘Oh, oh,’ they will say. ‘There can’t be girls like that.’ There are, however (see plate VIII). ‘How long has this been going on?’ these occasional visitors ask. It has been going on for the nine thousand years of recorded Stutzamutza history; and, beyond that, it has been going on as long as the world has been going on.

 

“Perhaps due to their deep-breastedness the Stutzamutza people are superb in their singing. They are lusty, they are loud, they are beautiful and enchanting in this. Their instruments, besides the conventional flutes and bagpipes (with their great lung-power, these people do wonderful things with the bagpipes) and lyric harps and tabors, are the thunder-drum (plate IX) and the thirteen-foot-long trumpets (plates X and XI). It is doubted whether any other people anywhere would be able to blow these roaring trumpets.

 

“Perhaps it is due also to their deep-breastedness that the Stutzamutza people are all so lustily affectionate. There is something both breath-taking and breath-giving in their Olympian carnality. They have a robustness and glory in their man and woman interfluents that leave this underdeveloped little girl more than amazed (plates X to XIX). Moreover, these people are witty and wise, and always pleasant.

 

“It is said that originally there was not any soil at all on Stutzamutza. The people would trade finest quality limestone, marble, and dolomite for equal amounts of soil, be it the poorest clay or sand. They filled certain crevices with this soil and got vegetation to begin. And, in a few thousand years, they built countless verdant terraces, knolls and valleys. Grapes, olives and clover are now grown in profusion. Wine and oil and honey gladden the deep hearts of the people. The wonderful blue-green clover (see plate XX) is grazed by the bees and the goats. There are two separate species of goats, the meadow and pasture goat kept for its milk and cheese and mohair, and the larger and wilder mountain goat hunted on the white crags and eaten for its flavor-some randy meat. Woven mohair and dressed buckskin are used for the Stutzamutza clothing. The people are not voluminously clothed, in spite of the fact that it becomes quite chilly on the days when the elevation suddenly increases.

 

“There is very little grain grown on Stutzamutza. Mostly, quarried stones are bartered for grain. Quarrying stone is the main industry, it is really the only on Stutzamutza. The great quarries in their cutaways sometimes reveal amazing fossil deposits. There is a complete fossilized body of a whale (it is an extinct Zeuglodon or Eocene Whale) (see plate XXI).

 

‘If this is whale indeed, then this all must have been under ocean once,’ I said to one of my deep-chested friends. ‘Oh certainly,’ he said, nowhere else is limestone formed than in ocean.’ ‘Then how has it risen so far above it?’ I asked. ‘That is something for the Geologists and the Hyphologists to figure out,’ my friend said.

 

“The fascinating aspect of the water on Stutzamutza is its changeableness. A lake is sometimes formed in a single day, and it may be emptied out in one day again by mere tipping. The rain is prodigious sometimes, when it is decided to come into that aspect. To shoot the rapids on the sudden swollen rivers is a delight. Sometimes ice will form all over Stutzamutza in a very few minutes. The people delight in this sudden ice, all except the little under-equipped guest. The beauty of it is stupendous; so is its cold. They shear the ice off in great sheets and masses and blocks, and let it fall for fun.

 

“But all lesser views are forgotten when one sees the waterfalls tumbling in the sunlight. And the most wonderful of all of them is Final Falls. Oh to watch it fall clear off Stutzamutza (see plate XXII), to see it fall into practically endless space, thirty thousand feet, sixty thousand feet, turning into mist, into sleet or snow or rain or hail depending on the sort of day it is, to see the miles-long rainbow of it extending to the vanishing point so far below your feet!

 

“There is a particularly striking pink marble cliff towards the north end of the land (the temporary north end of the land). ‘You like it? You can have it,’ my friends say. That is what I had been fishing for them to say.”

 

* * * *

 

Yes, Miss Phosphor McCabe did the really stunning photographic article for Heritage Geographical Magazine. Heritage Geographical did not accept it, however. Miss Phosphor McCabe had arrived at some unacceptable conclusions, the editor said.

 

“What really happened is that I arrived at an unacceptable place,” Miss Phosphor said. “I remained there for six days. I photographed it and I narrated it.”

 

“Ah, we’d never get by with that,” the editor said. Part of the trouble was Miss Phosphor McCabe’s explanations of just what she did mean by the average elevation of Stutzamutza (it was quite high), and by “days of increasing elevation.”

 

* * * *

 

Now here is another stone of silly shape. At first glimpse, it will not seem possible to fit it into the intended gap. But the eye is deceived: this shape will fit into the gap nicely. It is a recollection in age of a thing observed during a long lifetime by a fine weather eye.

 

“Already as a small boy I was interested in clouds. I believed that certain clouds preserve their identities and appear again and again; and that some clouds are more solid than others.

 

“Later, when I took meteorology and weather courses at the university, I had a class-mate who held a series of seemingly insane beliefs. At the heart of these was the theory that certain apparent clouds are not vapor masses at all but are floating stone islands in the sky. He believed that there were some thirty of these islands, most of them composed of limestone, but some of them of basalt, or sand-stone, even of shale. He said that one, at least, of them was composed of pot-stone or soap-stone.

 

“This class-mate said that these floating islands were sometimes large, one of them being at least five miles long: that they were intelligently navigated to follow the best camouflage, the limestone islands usually traveling with masses of white fleecy clouds, the basalt islands traveling with dark thunder-heads, and so on. He believed that these islands sometimes came to rest on earth, that each of them had its own several nests in unfrequented regions. And he believed that the floating islands were peopled.

 

“We had considerable fun with Mad Anthony Tummley our eccentric class-mate. His ideas, we told each other, were quite insane. And, indeed, Anthony himself was finally institutionalized. It was a sad case, but one that could hardly be discussed without laughter.

 

“But later, after more than fifty years in the weather profession, I have come to the conclusion that Anthony Tummley was right in every respect. Several of us veteran weathermen share this knowledge now, but we have developed a sort of code for the thing, not daring to admit it openly, even to ourselves. Whales in the Sky’ is the code-name for this study, and we pretend to keep it on a humorous basis.

 

“Some thirty of these floating stone islands are continuously over our own country (there may be more than a hundred of them in the world). They are tracked on radar; they are sighted again and again in their slightly changed forms (some of them, now and then, seem to sluff off small masses of stone and deposit it somehow on earth); they are known, they are named.

 

“They are even visited by some persons of odd character: always a peculiar combination of simplicity, acceptance, intelligence and strange rapport. There are persons and families in rural situations who employ these peopled islands to carry messages and goods for them. In rural and swampland Louisiana, there was once some wonder that the people did not more avail themselves of the Intercostal Canal barges to carry their supplies, and their products to market. ‘How are the barges better than the stone islands that we have always used?’ these people ask. ‘They aren’t on a much more regular schedule, they aren’t much faster, and they won’t give you anything like the same amount of service in exchange for a hundredweight of rice. Besides that, the stone-island people are our friends, and some of them have intermarried with us Cajuns.’ There are other regions where the same easy cooperation obtains.

 

“Many of the stone-island people are well known along certain almost regular routes. These people are all of a powerful and rather coarse beauty. They are good-natured and hearty. They actually traffic in stone, trading amazing tonnages of top grade building stone for grain and other simple provisions.

 

“There is no scientific explanation at all of how these things can be, how the stone islands are able to float in the sky. But that they do so is the open secret of perhaps a million persons.

 

“Really, I am now too wealthy to be put in a mad-house (though I made my money in a rather mad traffic which would not be generally believed). I am too old to be laughed at openly: I will merely be smiled at as an eccentric. I have now retired from that weather profession which served me as a front for many years (which profession, however, I loved and still love).

 

“I know what I know. There are more things in the zone fifteen miles above the earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

 

Memories of 52 years as a Weather Observer

by Hank Fairday (Privately printed 1970).

 

* * * *

 

Miss Phosphor McCabe did another really stunning photographic article for the Heritage Geographical Magazine. It had a catchy title: “All Right, Then You Tell Me How I Did It, or The Building of the Pink Pagoda.”

 

“The Pink Pagoda is complete, except for such additions as I shall have made whenever the notion strikes me, and whenever my high-flying friends are in the neighborhood. It is by far the largest structure in the world and also, in my own opinion, the most beautiful. But it is not massive in appearance: it is light and airy. Come see it in the stone, all of you! Come see it in the color photography (plates I to CXXIX) if you are not able to come yourself. This wonderful structure gives the answers to hundreds of questions, if you will just open your eyes and your ears.

 

“Of ancient megalithic structures it has sometimes been asked how a hundred or more of one hundred ton blocks of stone could have been piled up, and fitted so carefully that even a knife-blade could not be inserted between the blocks. It’s easy. You usually don’t set a hundred one hundred ton blocks, unless for a certain ornamentation. You set one ten thousand ton block, and the joinings are merely simulated. In the Pink Pagoda I have had set blocks as heavy as three hundred thousand tons of pink limestone (see plate XXI).

 

“They bring the whole island down in place. They split off what block is wanted at that location (and, believe me, they are some splitters); then they withdraw the island a little bit and leave the block in place.

 

“Well, how else was it done? How did I get the one hundred and fifty thousand ton main capstone in place four hundred and fifty feet in the air? With ramps? Oh stop it, you’ll scare the cuckoos. The stone pillars and turrets all around and below it are like three-dimensional lace-work, and that main capstone had to go on last. It wasn’t done by rocking it up on ramps, even if there had been a place for the ramps. It was all done on one Saturday afternoon, and here are the sequence pictures showing just how it was done. It was done by using a floating island, and by detaching pieces of that island as it was floated into place. I tell you that there is no other way that a one hundred and five pound girl can assemble a thirty million ton Pink Pagoda in six hours. She has got to have a floating island, with a north cliff of pink limestone, and she has got to be very good friends with the people on that island.

 

“Please come and see my Pink Pagoda. All the people and all the officials avert their eyes from it. They say that it is impossible that such a thing could be there, and therefore it cannot be there. But it is there. See it yourself (or see plates IV, IX, XXXIII, LXX especially). And it is pretty (see plates XIX, XXIV, V, LIV). But best, come see it as it really is.”

 

* * * *

 

Miss Phosphor McCabe did that rather astonishing photographic article for the Heritage Geographical Magazine. Heritage Geographical refused to publish it, though, stating that such things were impossible. And they refused to come and see the Pink Pagoda itself, which is a pity, since it is the largest and most beautiful structure on earth.

 

It stands there yet, on that thirty acre hill right on the north edge of town. And you have not heard the last stone of it yet. The latest, a bad-natured little addition, will not be the last: Miss Phosphor swears that it will not be.

 

There was a flimsy-winged enemy flew down, shortly after the first completion of the pagoda, and set the latest, very small stone (it is called the egg-of-doubt stone) on top of the main capstone. ‘Twas a crabbed written little stone, and it read:

 

“I will not trow two-headed calves,”

Say never-seens, and also haves.

 

“I’ll not believe a hollow earth,”

Say scepticals of doubtful birth.

 

“I’ll not concede Atlantis you,

Nor yet Lemuria or Mu,

 

“Nor woodsmen in northwestern lands,

Nor bandy-legg’d saucerians,

 

“Nor ancient technologic myth,

Nor charm of timeless megalith.

 

“I will not credit Whales that fly,

Nor Limestone Islands in the Sky.”

 

Unfolk Ballad

 

That crabby little ballad-stone on the top almost spoils the Pink Pagoda for me. But it will be removed, Miss Phosphor McCabe says, just as soon as her traveling friends are back in this-neighborhood and she can get up there.

 

* * * *

 

That is all that we have to say on the subject of stone setting.

 

Does anyone else have something further to add?