walter williams had long prided himself on being the last well-dressed man in the ever-expanding metropolis, and he had inured himself to the taunts of boors and riffraff and hooligans as he made his way down the various boulevards of the city in his homburg and spats, with his rolled umbrella and his perfectly starched collars and his pointed handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket.
he had, indeed, welcomed the jeers, and found his destiny in them, as surely as he looked forward to the day when taste and civilization returned ascendant, and he, walter, would be remembered as the lonely hero who kept the banner flying and the light burning in the darkest hours.
but of late, he begun to doubt, and to feel the stirrings of despondency.
not that his reception in the street had grown harsher. if anything, it had become milder, much milder, and instead of hoots and rude remarks, he now experienced only the occasional quizzical or milldly amused glance.
“is this the end,?” walter thought, as he sat on a park bench one late afternoon, “ am i, and my dreams, to simply fade away, without even a chance to take the battle to the enemy? am i the last of all my tribe?”
walter realized he must have spoken the last sentence, at least, aloud, for a voice from the other end of the bench replied,
“i, too, sir, often feel the same way. i, too, am the last of my tribe.”
walter turned his head and saw a completely nondescript individual, whose arrival he had not registered, leaning back against the slats of the bench and regarding walter with the trace of a wistful smile.
“do you now, sir?” walter addressed the nondescript personage politely, for he always extended to others the courtesy he expected himself, “and what might that tribe be?”
“the tribe of wizards,” the man answered.
“really?” was all walter could think to reply.
“i am indeed. and in my time i was the most powerful of all wizards, the veritable master of all time and space. kingdoms and empires whirled through my fingers like grains of sand, universes wobbled on their axes, and galaxies vanished at my touch.” the nondescript man shook his head with a rueful smile. “as for what use i made of my powers, delicacy bids me be silent.”
“i am sure you used your powers wisely and well,” walter murmured, as he considered the best way to make his escape from the wizard.
but before the conversation went any further, it was interrupted by the arrival of a third personage.
a fellow almost the twin of the wizard, but smaller and shabbier. who stood before walter and announced,
“i could not help overhearing you gentlemens’ conversation. i, too, am the last of my tribe.”
“and that tribe is - ?“ walter managed to smile.
“for many years,” the little man said, “i collected the labels of whiskey bottles, and in time i amassed what was undoubtedly the world’s greatest collection of such. but all the other collectors passed away, and i was left alone with none but myself to admire my carefully accumulated treasures. and then, just last week, my attic room was broken into and my life’s work stolen. no doubt by ignorant thugs unaware of its uniqueness, who probably consigned it to the nearest dumpster. so you see, gentlemen, i too am the last of my tribe.”
walter nodded, but the wizard exclaimed, “good grief! do you equate the collection of the labels of whiskey bottles with wizardry, with mastery of all time and space? what impudence!”
“now, now,:” said walter, with a philosophy he did not know he had in him, “who are we to say? when we each choose our path through this life, how do we know with what laughter, or with what indifference, the gods regard us?”
and all three fell silent, as the twilight closed around them.