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Babylon: 70 M.

By Donald A. Wollheim

"How many miles to Babylon?
Threescore miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You may get there by candlelight."

Sitting in his study, by the open window, Barry Kane heard the woman in the garden of the adjoining house reading Mother Goose rhymes to her little girl. He hadn't been paying attention consciously; it had just been a part of the noises of everyday living. His mind had been reflecting on the small urn he had just unpacked. But the word 'Babylon' struck his ear and sparked his attention; the little jingle jerked his mind away from the black, time-encrusted relic before him, and onto the woman's clear enunciation outside.

Barry frowned a bit, still idly turning the stone jug in his hand. Now that was an odd one, he thought. It was vaguely familiar; he supposed that he had run across it himself in his own childhood— and, as children do, simply had listened to it for its rhythm and ignored its meaning. Like so many of Mother Goose's poems it seemed to make not much sense.

He tried to focus his attention again on the urn. He'd only unwrapped it a few minutes ago from its careful packings and sawdust. The expedition had shipped it to him from Baghdad, along with other interesting bits they had dug out of Babylon's ruins. An odd coincidence that that particular bit of nursery nonsense should have been overheard at just this time. He wondered idly if the mother outside would be surprised to know that so close to her was a piece that had just arrived from that very Babylon.

Only "threescore miles and ten" too, Barry thought. Why didn't he up and go then? Although he'd rated as an expert on the ancient civilizations of Asia Minor, actually he'd never been abroad. But now that he knew how close it was, why...

He shook his head sharply. What was he thinking about, he asked himself angrily. Daydreaming of all things! Babylon was perhaps ten thousand or more miles away from where he sat, not the mere seventy of the rhyme. He couldn't get there in a hundred c...

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