The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume
XXI, by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Title: The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume XXI

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

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THE WORKS OF

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

SWANSTON EDITION

VOLUME XXI
 

Of this SWANSTON EDITION in Twenty-five
Volumes of the Works of ROBERT LOUIS
STEVENSON Two Thousand and Sixty Copies
have been printed, of which only Two Thousand
Copies are for sale.

This is No. ............

 
THE SCHOONER EQUATOR.

ON THE FORWARD DECK OF THE SCHOONER “EQUATOR”

 

THE WORKS OF

ROBERT LOUIS

STEVENSON

 
VOLUME TWENTY-ONE
 
LONDON: PUBLISHED BY CHATTO AND
WINDUS: IN ASSOCIATION WITH CASSELL
AND COMPANY LIMITED: WILLIAM
HEINEMANN: AND LONGMANS GREEN
AND COMPANY MDCCCCXII
 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

CONTENTS

THE STORY OF A LIE
CHAPTER   PAGE
I. Introduces the Admiral 3
II. A Letter to the Papers 8
III. In the Admiral’s Name 14
IV. Esther on the Filial Relation 21
V. The Prodigal Father makes his Début at Home 24
VI. The Prodigal Father goes on from Strength to Strength 31
VII. The Elopement 41
VIII. Battle Royal 50
IX. In which the Liberal Editor appears as “Deus ex Machinâ” 60
THE MERRY MEN
I. Eilean Aros 69
II. What the Wreck had brought to Aros 76
III. Land and Sea in Sandag Bay 89
IV. The Gale 100
V. A Man out of the Sea 112
OLALLA 127
HEATHERCAT
PART I.—THE KILLING-TIME
I. Traquairs of Montroymont 177
II. Francie 182
III. The Hill-end of Drumlowe 195
THE GREAT NORTH ROAD
I. Nance at the “Green Dragon” 203
II. In which Mr. Archer is Installed 210
III. Jonathan Holdaway 218
IV. Mingling Threads 223
V. Life in the Castle 229
VI. The Bad Half-Crown 233
VII. The Bleaching-Green 238
VIII. The Mail Guard 244
THE YOUNG CHEVALIER
Prologue—The Wine-Seller’s Wife 253
I. The Prince 263
FABLES
I. The Persons of the Tale 269
II. The Sinking Ship 272
III. The Two Matches 274
IV. The Sick Man and the Fireman 275
V. The Devil and the Innkeeper 276
VI. The Penitent 277
VII. The Yellow Paint 277
VIII. The House of Eld 280
IX. The Four Reformers 286
X. The Man and his Friend 287
XI. The Reader 287
XII. The Citizen and the Traveller 288
XIII. The Distinguished Stranger 289
XIV. The Cart-horses and the Saddle-horse 290
XV. The Tadpole and the Frog 291
XVI. Something in it 291
XVII. Faith, Half-faith, and no Faith at all 295
XVIII. The Touchstone 297
XIX. The Poor Thing 304
XX. The Song of the Morrow 310
 

1


THE STORY OF A LIE


2

 

3

THE STORY OF A LIE


 

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCES THE ADMIRAL

When Dick Naseby was in Paris he made some odd acquaintances, for he was one of those who have ears to hear, and can use their eyes no less than their intelligence. He made as many thoughts as Stuart Mill; but his philosophy concerned flesh and blood, and was experimental as to its method. He was a type-hunter among mankind. He despised small game and insignificant personalities, whether in the shape of dukes or bagmen, letting them go by like sea-weed; but show him a refined or powerful face, let him hear a plangent or a penetrating voice, fish for him with a living look in some one’s eye, a passionate gesture, a meaning or ambiguous smile, and his mind was instantaneously awakened. “There was a man, there was a woman,“ he seemed to say, and he stood up to the task of comprehension with the delight of an artist in his art.

And indeed, rightly considered, this interest of his was an artistic interest. There is no science in the personal study of human nature. All comprehension is creation; the woman I love is somewhat of my handiwork; and the great lover, like the great painter, is he that can so embellish his subject as to make her more than human, whilst yet by a cunning art he has so based his apotheosis on the nature of the case that the woman can go on being a true woman, and give her character free play, and show littleness, or cherish spite, or be greedy of common pleasures, 4 and he continue to worship without a thought of incongruity. To love a character is only the heroic way of understanding it. When we love, by some noble method of our own or some nobility of mien or nature in the other, we apprehend the loved one by what is noblest in ourselves. When we are merely studying an eccentricity, the method of our study is but a series of allowances. To begin to understand is to begin to sympathise; for comprehension comes only when we have stated another’s faults and virtues in terms of our own. Hence the proverbial toleration of artists for their own evil creations. Hence, too, it came about that Dick Naseby, a high-minded creature, and as scrupulous and brave a gentleman as you would want to meet, held in a sort of affection the various human creeping things whom he had met and studied.

One of these was Mr. Peter Van Tromp, an English-speaking, two-legged animal of the international genus, and by profession of general and more than equivocal utility. Years before he had been a painter of some standing in a colony, and portraits signed “Van Tromp” had celebrated the greatness of colonial governors and judges. In those days he had been married, and driven his wife and infant daughter in a pony trap. What were the steps of his declension? No one exactly knew. Here he was at least, and had been, any time these past ten years, a sort of dismal parasite upon the foreigner in Paris.

It would be hazardous to specify his exact industry. Coarsely followed, it would have merited a name grown somewhat unfamiliar to our ears. Followed as he followed it, with a skilful reticence, in a kind of social chiaroscuro, it was still possible for the polite to call him a professional painter. His lair was in the Grand Hotel and the gaudiest cafés. There he might be seen jotting off a sketch with an air of some inspiration; and he was always affable, and one of the easiest of men to fall in talk withal. A conversation usually ripened into a peculiar sort of intimacy, and it was extraordinary how many little services Van Tromp contrived 5 to render in the course of six-and-thirty hours. He occupied a position between a friend and a courier, which made him worse than embarrassing to repay. But those whom he obliged could always buy one of his villainous little pictures, or, where the favours had been prolonged and more than usually delicate, might order and pay for a large canvas, with perfect certainty that they would hear no more of the transaction.

Among resident artists he enjoyed the celebrity of a non-professional sort. He had spent more money—no less than three individual fortunes, it was whispered—than any of his associates could ever hope to gain. Apart from his colonial career, he had been to Greece in a brigantine with four brass carronades; he had travelled Europe in a chaise and four, drawing bridle at the palace-doors of German princes; queens of song and dance had followed him like sheep, and paid his tailor’s bills. And to behold him now, seeking small loans with plaintive condescension, sponging for breakfast on an art-student of nineteen, a fallen Don Juan who had neglected to die at the propitious hour, had a colour of romance for young imaginations. His name and his bright past, seen through the prism of whispered gossip, had gained him the nickname of “The Admiral.”

Dick found him one day at the receipt of custom, rapidly painting a pair of hens and a cock in a little water-colour sketching-box, and now and then glancing at the ceiling like a man who should seek inspiration from the muse. Dick thought it remarkable that a painter should choose to work over an absinthe in a public café, and looked the man over. The aged rakishness of his appearance was set off by a youthful costume; he had disreputable grey hair and a disreputable sore, red nose; but the coat and the gesture, the outworks of the man, were still designed for show. Dick came up to his table and inquired if he might look at what the gentleman was doing. No one was so delighted as the Admiral.

6

“A bit of a thing,” said he. “I just dash them off like that. I—I dash them off,” he added, with a gesture.

“Quite so,” said Dick, who was appalled by the feebleness of the production.

“Understand me,” continued Van Tromp; “I am a man of the world. And yet—once an artist always an artist. All of a sudden a thought takes me in the street; I become its prey; it’s like a pretty woman; no use to struggle; I must—dash it off.”

“I see,” said Dick.

“Yes,” pursued the painter; “it all comes easily, easily to me; it is not my business; it’s a pleasure. Life is my business—life—this great city, Paris—Paris after dark—its lights, its gardens, its odd corners. Aha!” he cried, “to be young again! The heart is young, but the heels are leaden. A poor, mean business, to grow old! Nothing remains but the coup d’œil, the contemplative man’s enjoyment, Mr. ——,” and he paused for the name.

“Naseby,” returned Dick.

The other treated him at once to an exciting beverage, and expatiated on the pleasure of meeting a compatriot in a foreign land; to hear him, you would have thought they had encountered in Central Africa. Dick had never found any one take a fancy to him so readily, nor show it in an easier or less offensive manner. He seemed tickled with him as an elderly fellow about town might be tickled by a pleasant and witty lad; he indicated that he was no precisian, but in his wildest times had never been such a blade as he thought Dick. Dick protested, but in vain. This manner of carrying an intimacy at the bayonet’s point was Van Tromp’s stock-in-trade. With an older man he insinuated himself; with youth he imposed himself, and in the same breath imposed an ideal on his victim, who saw that he must work up to it or lose the esteem of this old and vicious patron. And what young man can bear to lose a character for vice?

7

As last, as it grew towards dinner-time, “Do you know Paris?” asked Van Tromp.

“Not so well as you, I am convinced,” said Dick.

“And so am I,” returned Van Tromp gaily. “Paris! My young friend—you will allow me?—when you know Paris as I do, you will have seen Strange Things. I say no more; all I say is, Strange Things. We are men of the world, you and I, and in Paris, in the heart of civilised existence. This is an opportunity, Mr. Naseby. Let us dine. Let me show you where to dine.”

Dick consented. On the way to dinner the Admiral showed him where to buy gloves, and made him buy them; where to buy cigars, and made him buy a vast store, some of which he obligingly accepted. At the restaurant he showed him what to order, with surprising consequences in the bill. What he made that night by his percentages it would be hard to estimate. And all the while Dick smilingly consented, understanding well that he was being done, but taking his losses in the pursuit of character as a hunter sacrifices his dogs. As for the Strange Things, the reader will be relieved to hear that they were no stranger than might have been expected, and he may find things quite as strange without the expense of a Van Tromp for guide. Yet he was a guide of no mean order, who made up for the poverty of what he had to show by a copious, imaginative commentary.

“And such,” said he, with an hiccup, “such is Paris.”

“Pooh!” said Dick, who was tired of the performance.

The Admiral hung an ear, and looked up sidelong with a glimmer of suspicion.

“Good-night,” said Dick; “I’m tired.”

“So English!” cried Van Tromp, clutching him by the hand. “So English! So blasé! Such a charming companion! Let me see you home.”

“Look here,” returned Dick, “I have said good-night, and now I’m going. You’re an amusing old boy; I like you, in a sense; but here’s an end of it for to-night. Not 8 another cigar, not another grog, not another percentage out of me.”

“I beg your pardon!” cried the Admiral with dignity.

“Tut, man!” said Dick; “you’re not offended; you’re a man of the world, I thought. I’ve been studying you, and it’s over. Have I not paid for the lesson? Au revoir.

Van Tromp laughed gaily, shook hands up to the elbows, hoped cordially they would meet again and that often, but looked after Dick as he departed with a tremor of indignation. After that they two not unfrequently fell in each other’s way, and Dick would often treat the old boy to breakfast on a moderate scale and in a restaurant of his own selection. Often, too, he would lend Van Tromp the matter of a pound, in view of that gentleman’s contemplated departure for Australia; there would be a scene of farewell almost touching in character, and a week or a month later they would meet on the same boulevard without surprise or embarrassment. And in the meantime Dick learned more about his acquaintance on all sides: heard of his yacht, his chaise and four, his brief season of celebrity amid a more confiding population, his daughter, of whom he loved to whimper in his cups, his sponging, parasitical, nameless way of life; and with each new detail something that was not merely interest nor yet altogether affection grew up in his mind towards this disreputable stepson of the arts. Ere he left Paris Van Tromp was one of those whom he entertained to a farewell supper; and the old gentleman made the speech of the evening, and then fell below the table, weeping, smiling, paralysed.


 

CHAPTER II

A LETTER TO THE PAPERS

Old Mr. Naseby had the sturdy, untutored nature of the upper middle class. The universe seemed plain to him. 9 “The thing’s right,” he would say, or “the thing’s wrong”; and there was an end of it. There was a contained, prophetic energy in his utterances, even on the slightest affairs; he saw the damned thing; if you did not, it must be from perversity of will, and this sent the blood to his head. Apart from this, which made him an exacting companion, he was one of the most upright, hot-tempered old gentlemen in England. Florid, with white hair, the face of an old Jupiter, and the figure of an old fox-hunter, he enlivened the vale of Thyme from end to end on his big, cantering chestnut.

He had a hearty respect for Dick as a lad of parts. Dick had a respect for his father as the best of men, tempered by the politic revolt of a youth who has to see to his own independence. Whenever the pair argued, they came to an open rupture; and arguments were frequent, for they were both positive, and both loved the work of the intelligence. It was a treat to hear Mr. Naseby defending the Church of England in a volley of oaths, or supporting ascetic morals with an enthusiasm not entirely innocent of port wine. Dick used to wax indignant, and none the less so because, as his father was a skilful disputant, he found himself not seldom in the wrong. On these occasions, he would redouble in energy, and declare that black was white, and blue yellow, with much conviction and heat of manner; but in the morning such a licence of debate weighed upon him like a crime, and he would seek out his father, where he walked before breakfast on a terrace overlooking all the vale of Thyme.

“I have to apologise, sir, for last night——” he would begin.

“Of course you have,” the old gentleman would cut in cheerfully. “You spoke like a fool. Say no more about it.”

“You do not understand me, sir. I refer to a particular point. I confess there is much force in your argument from the doctrine of possibilities.”

10

“Of course there is,” returned his father. “Come down and look at the stables. Only,” he would add, “bear this in mind, and do remember that a man of my age and experience knows more about what he is saying than a raw boy.”

He would utter the word “boy” even more offensively than the average of fathers, and the light way in which he accepted these apologies cut Dick to the heart. The latter drew slighting comparisons, and remembered that he was the only one who ever apologised. This gave him a high station in his own esteem, and thus contributed indirectly to his better behaviour; for he was scrupulous as well as high-spirited, and prided himself on nothing more than on a just submission.

So things went on until the famous occasion when Mr. Naseby, becoming engrossed in securing the election of a sound party candidate to Parliament, wrote a flaming letter to the papers. The letter had about every demerit of party letters in general: it was expressed with the energy of a believer; it was personal; it was a little more than half unfair, and about a quarter untrue. The old man did not mean to say what was untrue, you may be sure; but he had rashly picked up gossip, as his prejudice suggested, and now rashly launched it on the public with the sanction of his name.

“The Liberal candidate,” he concluded, “is thus a public turncoat. Is that the sort of man we want? He has been given the lie, and has swallowed the insult. Is that the sort of man we want? I answer, No! With all the force of my conviction, I answer, No!”

And then he signed and dated the letter with an amateur’s pride, and looked to be famous by the morrow.

Dick, who had heard nothing of the matter, was up first on that inauspicious day, and took the journal to an arbour in the garden. He found his father’s manifesto in one column; and in another a leading article. ”No one that we are aware of,“ ran the article, ”had consulted 11 Mr. Naseby on the subject, but if he had been appealed to by the whole body of electors, his letter would be none the less ungenerous and unjust to Mr. Dalton. We do not choose to give the lie to Mr. Naseby, for we are too well aware of the consequences; but we shall venture instead to print the facts of both cases referred to by this red-hot partisan in another portion of our issue. Mr. Naseby is of course a large proprietor in our neighbourhood; but fidelity to facts, decent feeling, and English grammar, are all of them qualities more important than the possession of land. Mr. N—— is doubtless a great man; in his large gardens and that half-mile of greenhouses, where he has probably ripened his intellect and temper, he may say what he will to his hired vassals, but (as the Scots say)—

here

He maunna think to domineer.

Liberalism,“ continued the anonymous journalist, ”is of too free and sound a growth,“ etc.

Richard Naseby read the whole thing from beginning to end; and a crushing shame fell upon his spirit. His father had played the fool; he had gone out noisily to war, and come back with confusion. The moment that his trumpets sounded, he had been disgracefully unhorsed. There was no question as to the facts; they were one and all against the Squire. Richard would have given his ears to have suppressed the issue; but as that could not be done, he had his horse saddled, and, furnishing himself with a convenient staff, rode off at once to Thymebury.

The editor was at breakfast in a large, sad apartment. The absence of furniture, the extreme meanness of the meal, and the haggard, bright-eyed, consumptive look of the culprit, unmanned our hero; but he clung to his stick, and was stout and warlike.

“You wrote the article in this morning’s paper?” he demanded.

12

“You are young Mr. Naseby? I published it,” replied the editor, rising.

“My father is an old man,” said Richard; and then with an outburst, “And a damned sight finer fellow than either you or Dalton!” He stopped and swallowed; he was determined that all should go with regularity. “I have but one question to put to you, sir,” he resumed. “Granted that my father was misinformed, would it not have been more decent to withhold the letter and communicate with him in private?”

“Believe me,” returned the editor, “that alternative was not open to me. Mr. Naseby told me in a note that he had sent his letter to three other journals, and in fact threatened me with what he called exposure if I kept it back from mine. I am really concerned at what has happened; I sympathise and approve of your emotion, young gentleman; but the attack on Mr. Dalton was gross, very gross, and I had no choice but to offer him my columns to reply. Party has its duties, sir,” added the scribe, kindling, as one who should propose a sentiment; “and the attack was gross.”

Richard stood for half a minute digesting the answer; and then the god of fair play came uppermost in his heart, and, murmuring “Good morning,” he made his escape into the street.

His horse was not hurried on the way home, and he was late for breakfast. The Squire was standing with his back to the fire in a state bordering on apoplexy, his fingers violently knitted under his coat-tails. As Richard came in, he opened and shut his mouth like a cod-fish, and his eyes protruded.

“Have you seen that, sir?” he cried, nodding towards the paper.

“Yes, sir,” said Richard.

“Oh, you’ve read it, have you?”

“Yes; I have read it,” replied Richard, looking at his foot.

13

“Well,” demanded the old gentleman, “and what have you to say to it, sir?”

“You seem to have been misinformed,” said Dick.

“Well? What then? Is your mind so sterile, sir? Have you not a word of comment? no proposal?”

“I fear, sir, you must apologise to Mr. Dalton. It would be more handsome, indeed it would be only just, and a free acknowledgment would go far—” Richard paused, no language appearing delicate enough to suit the case.

“That is a suggestion which should have come from me, sir,” roared the father. “It is out of place upon your lips. It is not the thought of a loyal son. Why, sir, if my father had been plunged in such deplorable circumstances, I should have thrashed the editor of that vile sheet within an inch of his life. I should have thrashed the man, sir. It would have been the action of an ass; but it would have shown that I had the blood and the natural affections of a man. Son? You are no son, no son of mine, sir!”

“Sir!” said Dick.

“I’ll tell you what you are, sir,” pursued the Squire. “You’re a Benthamite. I disown you. Your mother would have died for shame; there was no modern cant about your mother; she thought—she said to me, sir—I’m glad she’s in her grave, Dick Naseby. Misinformed! Misinformed, sir? Have you no loyalty, no spring, no natural affections? Are you clockwork, hey? Away! This is no place for you. Away!” (Waving his hands in the air.) “Go away! Leave me!”

At this moment Dick beat a retreat in a disarray of nerves, a whistling and clamour of his own arteries, and in short in such a final bodily disorder as made him alike incapable of speech or hearing. And in the midst of all this turmoil, a sense of unpardonable injustice remained graven in his memory.


 

14

CHAPTER III

IN THE ADMIRAL’S NAME

There was no return to the subject. Dick and his father were henceforth on terms of coldness. The upright old gentleman grew more upright when he met his son, buckrammed with immortal anger; he asked after Dick’s health, and discussed the weather and the crops with an appalling courtesy; his pronunciation was point-de-vice, his voice was distant, distinct, and sometimes almost trembling with suppressed indignation.

As for Dick, it seemed to him as if his life had come abruptly to an end. He came out of his theories and clevernesses; his premature man-of-the-worldness, on which he had prided himself on his travels, “shrank like a thing ashamed” before this real sorrow. Pride, wounded honour, pity and respect tussled together daily in his heart; and now he was within an ace of throwing himself upon his father’s mercy, and now of slipping forth at night and coming back no more to Naseby House. He suffered from the sight of his father, nay, even from the neighbourhood of this familiar valley, where every corner had its legend, and he was besieged with memories of childhood. If he fled into a new land, and among none but strangers, he might escape his destiny, who knew? and begin again light-heartedly. From that chief peak of the hills, that now and then, like an uplifted finger, shone in an arrow of sunlight through the broken clouds, the shepherd in clear weather might perceive the shining of the sea. There, he thought, was hope. But his heart failed him when he saw the Squire; and he remained. His fate was not that of the voyager by sea and land; he was to travel in the spirit, and begin his journey sooner than he supposed.

15

For it chanced one day that his walk led him into a portion of the uplands which was almost unknown to him. Scrambling through some rough woods, he came out upon a moorland reaching towards the hills. A few lofty Scots firs grew hard by upon a knoll; a clear fountain near the foot of the knoll sent up a miniature streamlet which meandered in the heather. A shower had just skimmed by, but now the sun shone brightly, and the air smelt of the pines and the grass. On a stone under the trees sat a young lady sketching. We have learned to think of women in a sort of symbolic transfiguration, based on clothes; and one of the readiest ways in which we conceive our mistress is as a composite thing, principally petticoats. But humanity has triumphed over clothes; the look, the touch of a dress has become alive; and the woman who stitched herself into these material integuments has now permeated right through and gone out to the tip of her skirt. It was only a black dress that caught Dick Naseby’s eye; but it took possession of his mind, and all other thoughts departed. He drew near, and the girl turned round. Her face startled him; it was a face he wanted; and he took it in at once like breathing air.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, taking off his hat, “you are sketching.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “for my own amusement. I despise the thing.”

“Ten to one you do yourself injustice,” returned Dick. “Besides, it’s a freemasonry. I sketch myself, and you know what that implies.”

“No. What?” she asked.

“Two things,” he answered. “First, that I am no very difficult critic; and second, that I have a right to see your picture.”

She covered the block with both her hands. “Oh, no,” she said; “I am ashamed.”

“Indeed, I might give you a hint,” said Dick. “Although no artist myself, I have known many; in 16 Paris I had many for friends, and used to prowl among studios.”

“In Paris?” she cried, with a leap of light into her eyes. “Did you ever meet Mr. Van Tromp?”

“I? Yes. Why, you’re not the Admiral’s daughter, are you?”

“The Admiral? Do they call him that?” she cried. “Oh, how nice, how nice of them! It is the younger men who call him so, is it not?”

“Yes,” said Dick, somewhat heavily.

“You can understand now,” she said, with an unspeakable accent of contented and noble-minded pride, “why it is I do not choose to show my sketch. Van Tromp’s daughter! The Admiral’s daughter! I delight in that name. The Admiral! And so you know my father?”

“Well,” said Dick, “I met him often; we were even intimate. He may have mentioned my name—Naseby.”

“He writes so little. He is so busy, so devoted to his art! I have had a half wish,” she added, laughing, “that my father was a plainer man whom I could help—to whom I could be a credit; but only sometimes, you know, and with only half my heart. For a great painter! You have seen his works?”

“I have seen some of them,” returned Dick; “they—they are very nice.”

She laughed aloud. “Nice?” she repeated. “I see you don’t care much for art.”

“Not much,” he admitted; “but I know that many people are glad to buy Mr. Van Tromp’s pictures.”

“Call him the Admiral!” she cried. “It sounds kindly and familiar; and I like to think that he is appreciated and looked up to by young painters. He has not always been appreciated; he had a cruel life for many years; and when I think”—there were tears in her eyes—“when I think of that, I feel inclined to be a fool,” she broke off. “And now I shall go home. You have filled 17 me full of happiness; for think, Mr. Naseby, I have not seen my father since I was six years old; and yet he is in my thoughts all day! You must come and call on me; my aunt will be delighted, I am sure; and then you will tell me all—all about my father, will you not?”

Dick helped her to get her sketching traps together; and when all was ready, she gave Dick her hand and a frank return of pressure.

“You are my father’s friend,” she said; “we shall be great friends too. You must come and see me soon.”

Then she was gone down the hillside at a run; and Dick stood by himself in a state of some bewilderment and even distress. There were elements of laughter in the business; but the black dress, and the face that belonged to it, and the hand that he had held in his, inclined him to a serious view. What was he, under the circumstances, called upon to do? Perhaps to avoid the girl? Well, he would think about that. Perhaps to break the truth to her? Why, ten to one, such was her infatuation, he would fail. Perhaps to keep up the illusion, to colour the raw facts; to help her to false ideas, while yet not plainly stating falsehoods? Well, he would see about that; he would also see about avoiding the girl. He saw about this last so well, that the next afternoon beheld him on his way to visit her.

In the meantime the girl had gone straight home, light as a bird, tremulous with joy, to the little cottage where she lived alone with a maiden aunt; and to that lady, a grim, sixty years old Scotswoman, with a nodding head, communicated news of her encounter and invitation.

“A friend of his?” cried the aunt. “What like is he? What did ye say was his name?”

She was dead silent, and stared at the old woman darkling. Then very slowly, “I said he was my father’s friend; I have invited him to my house, and come he shall,” she said; and with that she walked off to her room, where she sat staring at the wall all the evening. Miss 18 M’Glashan, for that was the aunt’s name, read a large bible in the kitchen with some of the joys of martyrdom.

It was perhaps half-past three when Dick presented himself, rather scrupulously dressed, before the cottage door; he knocked, and a voice bade him enter. The kitchen, which opened directly off the garden, was somewhat darkened by foliage; but he could see her as she approached from the far end to meet him. This second sight of her surprised him. Her strong black brows spoke of temper easily aroused and hard to quiet; her mouth was small, nervous, and weak; there was something dangerous and sulky underlying, in her nature, much that was honest, compassionate, and even noble.

“My father’s name,” she said, “has made you very welcome.”

And she gave him her hand with a sort of curtsey. It was a pretty greeting, although somewhat mannered; and Dick felt himself among the gods. She led him through the kitchen to a parlour, and presented him to Miss M’Glashan.

“Esther,” said the aunt, “see and make Mr. Naseby his tea.”

As soon as the girl was gone upon this hospitable intent, the old woman crossed the room and came quite near to Dick as if in menace.

“Ye know that man?” she asked, in an imperious whisper.

“Mr. Van Tromp?” said Dick. “Yes; I know him.”

“Well, and what brings ye here?” she said. “I couldn’t save the mother—her that’s dead—but the bairn!” She had a note in her voice that filled poor Dick with consternation. “Man,” she went on, “what is it now? Is it money?”

“My dear lady,” said Dick, “I think you misinterpret my position. I am young Mr. Naseby of Naseby House. My acquaintance with Mr. Van Tromp is really very slender; I am only afraid that Miss Van Tromp has exaggerated 19 our intimacy in her own imagination. I know positively nothing of his private affairs, and do not care to know. I met him casually in Paris—that is all.”

Miss M’Glashan drew a long breath. “In Paris?” she said. “Well, and what do you think of him?—what do ye think of him?” she repeated, with a different scansion, as Richard, who had not much taste for such a question, kept her waiting for an answer.

“I found him a very agreeable companion,” he said.

“Ay,” said she, “did ye! And how does he win his bread?”

“I fancy,” he gasped, “that Mr. Van Tromp has many generous friends.”

“I’ll warrant!” she sneered; and before Dick could find more to say, she was gone from the room.

Esther returned with the tea-things, and sat down.

“Now,” she said cosily, “tell me all about my father.”

“He”—stammered Dick, “he is a very agreeable companion.”

“I shall begin to think it is more than you are, Mr. Naseby,” she said, with a laugh. “I am his daughter, you forget. Begin at the beginning, and tell me all you have seen of him, all he said and all you answered. You must have met somewhere; begin with that.”

So with that he began: how he had found the Admiral painting in a café; how his art so possessed him that he could not wait till he got home to—well, to dash off his idea; how (this in reply to a question) his idea consisted of a cock crowing and two hens eating corn; how he was fond of cocks and hens; how this did not lead him to neglect more ambitious forms of art; how he had a picture in his studio of a Greek subject which was said to be remarkable from several points of view; how no one had seen it nor knew the precise site of the studio in which it was being vigorously though secretly confected; how (in answer to a suggestion) this shyness was common to the Admiral, Michelangelo, and others; how they (Dick and 20 Van Tromp) had struck up an acquaintance at once, and dined together that same night; how he (the Admiral) had once given money to a beggar; how he spoke with effusion of his little daughter; how he had once borrowed money to send her a doll—a trait worthy of Newton, she being then in her nineteenth year at least; how, if the doll never arrived (which it appeared it never did), the trait was only more characteristic of the highest order of creative intellect; how he was—no, not beautiful—striking, yes, Dick would go so far, decidedly striking in appearance; how his boots were made to lace and his coat was black, not cut-away, a frock; and so on, and so on by the yard. It was astonishing how few lies were necessary. After all, people exaggerated the difficulty of life. A little steering, just a touch of the rudder now and then, and with a willing listener there is no limit to the domain of equivocal speech. Sometimes Miss M’Glashan made a freezing sojourn in the parlour; and then the task seemed unaccountably more difficult; but to Esther, who was all eyes and ears, her face alight with interest, his stream of language flowed without break or stumble, and his mind was ever fertile in ingenious evasions and—

What an afternoon it was for Esther!

“Ah!” she said at last, “it’s good to hear all this! My aunt, you should know, is narrow and too religious; she cannot understand an artist’s life. It does not frighten me,” she added grandly; “I am an artist’s daughter.”

With that speech, Dick consoled himself for his imposture; she was not deceived so grossly after all; and then if a fraud, was not the fraud piety itself?—and what could be more obligatory than to keep alive in the heart of a daughter that filial trust and honour which, even although misplaced, became her like a jewel of the mind? There might be another thought, a shade of cowardice, a selfish desire to please; poor Dick was merely human; and what would you have had him do?


 

21

CHAPTER IV

ESTHER ON THE FILIAL RELATION

A month later Dick and Esther met at the stile beside the cross roads; had there been any one to see them but the birds and summer insects, it would have been remarked that they met after a different fashion from the day before. Dick took her in his arms, and their lips were set together for a long while. Then he held her at arm’s length, and they looked straight into each other’s eyes.

“Esther!” he said,—you should have heard his voice!

“Dick!” said she.

“My darling!”

It was some time before they started for their walk; he kept an arm about her, and their sides were close together as they walked; the sun, the birds, the west wind running among the trees, a pressure, a look, the grasp tightening round a single finger, these things stood them in lieu of thought and filled their hearts with joy. The path they were following led them through a wood of pine trees carpeted with heather and blueberry, and upon this pleasant carpet, Dick, not without some seriousness, made her sit down.

“Esther!” he began, “there is something you ought to know. You know my father is a rich man, and you would think, now that we love each other, we might marry when we pleased. But I fear, darling, we may have long to wait, and shall want all our courage.”

“I have courage for anything,” she said, “I have all I want; with you and my father, I am so well off, and waiting is made so happy, that I could wait a lifetime and not weary.”

He had a sharp pang at the mention of the Admiral. “Hear me out,” he continued. “I ought to have told 22 you this before; but it is a thought I shrink from; if it were possible, I should not tell you even now. My poor father and I are scarce on speaking terms.”

“Your father,” she repeated, turning pale.

“It must sound strange to you; but yet I cannot think I am to blame,” he said. “I will tell you how it happened.”

“O Dick!” she said, when she had heard him to an end, “how brave you are, and how proud! Yet I would not be proud with a father. I would tell him all.”

“What!” cried Dick, “go in months after, and brag that I meant to thrash the man, and then didn’t? And why? Because my father had made a bigger ass of himself than I supposed. My dear, that’s nonsense.”

She winced at his words and drew away. “But then that is all he asks,” she pleaded. “If he only knew that you had felt that impulse, it would make him so proud and happy. He would see you were his own son after all, and had the same thoughts and the same chivalry of spirit. And then you did yourself injustice when you spoke just now. It was because the editor was weak and poor and excused himself, that you repented your first determination. Had he been a big red man, with whiskers, you would have beaten him—you know you would—if Mr. Naseby had been ten times more committed. Do you think, if you can tell it to me, and I understand at once, that it would be more difficult to tell it to your own father, or that he would not be more ready to sympathise with you than I am? And I love you, Dick; but then he is your father.”

“My dear,” said Dick desperately, “you do not understand; you do not know what it is to be treated with daily want of comprehension and daily small injustices, through childhood and boyhood and manhood, until you despair of a hearing, until the thing rides you like a nightmare, until you almost hate the sight of the man you love, and who’s your father after all. In short, Esther, 23 you don’t know what it is to have a father, and that’s what blinds you.”

“I see,” she said musingly, “you mean that I am fortunate in my father. But I am not so fortunate, after all; you forget, I do not know him; it is you who know him; he is already more your father than mine.” And here she took his hand. Dick’s heart had grown as cold as ice. “But I am sorry for you, too,” she continued, “it must be very sad and lonely.”

“You misunderstand me,” said Dick chokingly. “My father is the best man I know in all this world; he is worth a hundred of me, only he doesn’t understand me, and he can’t be made to.”

There was a silence for a while. “Dick,” she began again, “I am going to ask a favour, it’s the first since you said you loved me. May I see your father—see him pass, I mean, where he will not observe me?”

“Why?” asked Dick.

“It is a fancy; you forget, I am romantic about fathers.”

The hint was enough for Dick; he consented with haste, and full of hang-dog penitence and disgust, took her down by a back way and planted her in the shrubbery, whence she might see the Squire ride by to dinner. There they both sat silent, but holding hands, for nearly half an hour. At last the trotting of a horse sounded in the distance, the park gates opened with a clang, and then Mr. Naseby appeared, with stooping shoulders and a heavy, bilious countenance, languidly rising to the trot. Esther recognised him at once; she had often seen him before, though with her huge indifference for all that lay outside the circle of her love, she had never so much as wondered who he was; but now she recognised him, and found him ten years older, leaden and springless, and stamped by an abiding sorrow.

“O Dick, Dick!” she said, and the tears began to shine upon her face as she hid it in his bosom; his own 24 fell thickly too. They had a sad walk home, and that night, full of love and good counsel, Dick exerted every art to please his father, to convince him of his respect and affection, to heal up this breach of kindness, and reunite two hearts. But alas! the Squire was sick and peevish; he had been all day glooming over Dick’s estrangement—for so he put it to himself, and now with growls, cold words, and the cold shoulder, he beat off all advances, and entrenched himself in a just resentment.


 

CHAPTER V

THE PRODIGAL FATHER MAKES HIS DÉBUT AT HOME

That took place upon a Thursday. On the Thursday following, as Dick was walking by appointment, earlier than usual, in the direction of the cottage, he was appalled to meet in the lane a fly from Thymebury, containing the human form of Miss M’Glashan. The lady did not deign to remark him in her passage; her face was suffused with tears, and expressed much concern for the packages by which she was surrounded. He stood still, and asked himself what this circumstance might portend. It was so beautiful a day that he was loth to forecast evil, yet something must perforce have happened at the cottage, and that of a decisive nature; for here was Miss M’Glashan on her travels, with a small patrimony in brown paper parcels, and the old lady’s bearing implied hot battle and unqualified defeat. Was the house to be closed against him? Was Esther left alone, or had some new protector made his appearance from among the millions of Europe? It is the character of love to loathe the near relatives of the loved one; chapters in the history of the human race have justified this feeling, and the conduct of uncles, in particular, has frequently met with censure from the independent novelist. Miss M’Glashan was now seen in 25 the rosy colours of regret; whoever succeeded her, Dick felt the change would be for the worse. He hurried forward in this spirit; his anxiety grew upon him with every step; as he entered the garden a voice fell upon his ear, and he was once more arrested, not this time by doubt, but by an indubitable certainty of ill.

The thunderbolt had fallen; the Admiral was here.

Dick would have retreated, in the panic terror of the moment; but Esther kept a bright look-out when her lover was expected. In a twinkling she was by his side, brimful of news and pleasure, too glad to notice his embarrassment, and in one of those golden transports of exultation which transcend not only words but caresses. She took him by the end of the fingers (reaching forward to take them, for her great preoccupation was to save time), she drew him towards her, pushed him past her in the door, and planted him face to face with Mr. Van Tromp, in a suit of French country velveteens and with a remarkable carbuncle on his nose. Then, as though this was the end of what she could endure in the way of joy, Esther turned and ran out of the room.

The two men remained looking at each other with some confusion on both sides. Van Tromp was naturally the first to recover; he put out his hand with a fine gesture.

“And you know my little lass, my Esther?” he said. “This is pleasant, this is what I have conceived of home. A strange word for the old rover; but we all have a taste for home and the homelike, disguise it how we may. It has brought me here, Mr. Naseby,” he concluded, with an intonation that would have made his fortune on the stage, so just, so sad, so dignified, so like a man of the world and a philosopher, “and you see a man who is content.”

“I see,” said Dick.

“Sit down,” continued the parasite, setting the example. “Fortune has gone against me. (I am just sirrupping a little brandy—after my journey.) I was going down, Mr. 26 Naseby; between you and me, I was décavé; I borrowed fifty francs, smuggled my valise past the concierge—a work of considerable tact—and here I am!”

“Yes,” said Dick, “and here you are.” He was quite idiotic.

Esther, at this moment, re-entered the room.

“Are you glad to see him?” she whispered in his ear, the pleasure in her voice almost bursting through the whisper into song.

“Oh yes,” said Dick; “very.”

“I knew you would be,” she replied; “I told him how you loved him.”

“Help yourself,” said the Admiral, “help yourself; and let us drink to a new existence.”

“To a new existence,” repeated Dick; and he raised the tumbler to his lips, but set it down untasted. He had had enough of novelties for one day.

Esther was sitting on a stool beside her father’s feet, holding her knees in her arms, and looking with pride from one to the other of her two visitors. Her eyes were so bright that you were never sure if there were tears in them or not; little voluptuous shivers ran about her body; sometimes she nestled her chin into her throat, sometimes threw back her head, with ecstasy; in a word, she was in that state when it is said of people that they cannot contain themselves for happiness. It would be hard to exaggerate the agony of Richard.

And, in the meantime, Van Tromp ran on interminably.

“I never forget a friend,” said he, “nor yet an enemy: of the latter, I never had but two—myself and the public; and I fancy I have had my vengeance pretty freely out of both.” He chuckled. “But those days are done. Van Tromp is no more. He was a man who had successes; I believe you knew I had successes—to which we shall refer no further,” pulling down his neckcloth with a smile. “That man exists no more: by an exercise of will I have destroyed him. There is something like it in the poets. 27 First, a brilliant and conspicuous career—the observed, I may say, of all observers including the bum-baily: and then, presto! a quiet, sly, old, rustic bonhomme, cultivating roses. In Paris, Mr. Naseby——”

“Call him Richard, father,” said Esther.

“Richard, if he will allow me. Indeed, we are old friends, and now near neighbours; and, à propos, how are we off for neighbours, Richard? The cottage stands, I think, upon your father’s land, a family which I respect—and the wood, I understand, is Lord Trevanion’s. Not that I care; I am an old Bohemian. I have cut society with a cut direct; I cut it when I was prosperous, and now I reap my reward, and can cut it with dignity in my declension. These are our little amours propres, my daughter: your father must respect himself. Thank you, yes; just a leetle, leetle tiny—thanks, thanks; you spoil me. But, as I was saying, Richard, or was about to say, my daughter has been allowed to rust; her aunt was a mere duenna; hence, in parenthesis, Richard, her distrust of me; my nature and that of the duenna are poles asunder—poles! But, now that I am here, now that I have given up the fight, and live henceforth for one only of my works—I have the modesty to say it is my best—my daughter—well, we shall put all that to rights. The neighbours, Richard?”

Dick was understood to say that there were many good families in the Vale of Thyme.

“You shall introduce us,” said the Admiral.

Dick’s shirt was wet; he made a lumbering excuse to go; which Esther explained to herself by a fear of intrusion, and so set down to the merit side of Dick’s account, while she proceeded to detain him.

“Before our walk?” she cried. “Never! I must have my walk.”

“Let us all go,” said the Admiral, rising.

“You do not know that you are wanted,” she cried, leaning on his shoulder with a caress. “I might wish to 28 speak to my old friend about my new father. But you shall come to-day, you shall do all you want; I have set my heart on spoiling you.”

“I will take just one drop more,” said the Admiral, stooping to help himself to brandy. “It is surprising how this journey has fatigued me. But I am growing old, I am growing old, I am growing old, and—I regret to add—bald.”

He cocked a white wide-awake coquettishly upon his head—the habit of the lady-killer clung to him; and Esther had already thrown on her hat, and was ready, while he was still studying the result in a mirror: the carbuncle had somewhat painfully arrested his attention.

“We are papa now; we must be respectable,” he said to Dick, in explanation of his dandyism: and then he went to a bundle and chose himself a staff. Where were the elegant canes of his Parisian epoch? This was a support for age, and designed for rustic scenes. Dick began to see and appreciate the man’s enjoyment in a new part, when he saw how carefully he had “made it up.” He had invented a gait for this first country stroll with his daughter, which was admirably in key. He walked with fatigue; he leaned upon the staff; he looked round him with a sad, smiling sympathy on all that he beheld; he even asked the name of a plant, and rallied himself gently for an old town-bird, ignorant of nature. “This country life will make me young again,” he sighed. They reached the top of the hill towards the first hour of evening; the sun was descending heaven, the colour had all drawn into the west; the hills were modelled in their least contour by the soft, slanting shine; and the wide moorlands, veined with glens and hazelwoods, ran west and north in a hazy glory of light. Then the painter awakened in Van Tromp.

“Gad, Dick,” he cried, “what value!”

An ode in four hundred lines would not have seemed so touching to Esther; her eyes filled with happy tears: 29 yes, here was the father of whom she had dreamed, whom Dick had described; simple, enthusiastic, unworldly, kind, a painter at heart, and a fine gentleman in manner.

And just then the Admiral perceived a house by the wayside, and something depending over the house door which might be construed as a sign by the hopeful and thirsty.

“Is that,” he asked, pointing with his stick, “an inn?”

There was a marked change in his voice, as though he attached some importance to the inquiry: Esther listened, hoping she should hear wit or wisdom.

Dick said it was.

“You know it?” inquired the Admiral.

“I have passed it a hundred times, but that is all,” replied Dick.

“Ah,” said Van Tromp, with a smile, and shaking his head; “you are not an old campaigner; you have the world to learn. Now I, you see, find an inn so very near my own home, and my first thought is—my neighbours. I shall go forward and make my neighbours’ acquaintance; no, you needn’t come; I shall not be a moment.”

And he walked off briskly towards the inn, leaving Dick alone with Esther on the road.

“Dick,” she exclaimed, “I am so glad to get a word with you; I am so happy, I have such a thousand things to say; and I want you to do me a favour. Imagine, he has come without a paint-box, without an easel; and I want him to have all. I want you to get them for me in Thymebury. You saw, this moment, how his heart turned to painting. They can’t live without it,” she added; meaning perhaps Van Tromp and Michelangelo.

Up to that moment she had observed nothing amiss in Dick’s behaviour. She was too happy to be curious; and his silence, in presence of the great and good being whom she called her father, had seemed both natural and praiseworthy. But now that they were alone, she became 30 conscious of a barrier between her lover and herself, and alarm sprang up in her heart.

“Dick,” she cried, “you don’t love me.”

“I do that,” he said heartily.

“But you are unhappy; you are strange; you—you are not glad to see my father,” she concluded, with a break in her voice.

“Esther,” he said, “I tell you that I love you; if you love me, you know what that means, and that all I wish is to see you happy. Do you think I cannot enjoy your pleasure? Esther, I do. If I am uneasy, if I am alarmed, if——. Oh, believe me, try and believe in me,” he cried, giving up argument with perhaps a happy inspiration.

But the girl’s suspicions were aroused; and though she pressed the matter no further (indeed, her father was already seen returning), it by no means left her thoughts. At one moment she simply resented the selfishness of a man who had obtruded his dark looks and passionate language on her joy; for there is nothing that a woman can less easily forgive than the language of a passion which, even if only for the moment, she does not share. At another, she suspected him of jealousy against her father; and for that, although she could see excuses for it, she yet despised him. And at least, in one way or the other, here was the dangerous beginning of a separation between two hearts. Esther found herself at variance with her sweetest friend; she could no longer look into his heart and find it written in the same language as her own; she could no longer think of him as the sun which radiated happiness upon her life, for she had turned to him once, and he had breathed upon her black and chilly, radiated blackness and frost. To put the whole matter in a word, she was beginning, although ever so slightly, to fall out of love.


 

31

CHAPTER VI

THE PRODIGAL FATHER GOES ON FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

We will not follow all the steps of the Admiral’s return and installation, but hurry forward towards the catastrophe, merely chronicling by the way a few salient incidents, wherein we must rely entirely upon the evidence of Richard, for Esther to this day has never opened her mouth upon this trying passage of her life, and as for the Admiral—well, that naval officer, although still alive, and now more suitably installed in a seaport town where he has a telescope and a flag in his front garden, is incapable of throwing the slightest gleam of light upon the affair. Often and often has he remarked to the present writer: “If I know what it was all about, sir, I’ll be——” in short, be what I hope he will not. And then he will look across at his daughter’s portrait, a photograph, shake his head with an amused appearance, and mix himself another grog by way of consolation. Once I have heard him go further, and express his feelings with regard to Esther in a single but eloquent word. “A minx, sir,” he said, not in anger, rather in amusement: and he cordially drank her health upon the back of it. His worst enemy must admit him to be a man without malice; he never bore a grudge in his life, lacking the necessary taste and industry of attention.

Yet it was during this obscure period that the drama was really performed; and its scene was in the heart of Esther, shut away from all eyes. Had this warm, upright, sullen girl been differently used by destiny, had events come upon her even in a different succession, for some things lead easily to others, the whole course of this tale would have been changed, and Esther never would have 32 run away. As it was, through a series of acts and words of which we know but few, and a series of thoughts which any one may imagine for himself, she was awakened in four days from the dream of a life.

The first tangible cause of disenchantment was when Dick brought home a painter’s arsenal on Friday evening. The Admiral was in the chimney-corner, once more “sirrupping” some brandy-and-water, and Esther sat at the table at work. They both came forward to greet the new arrival; and the girl, relieving him of his monstrous burthen, proceeded to display her offerings to her father. Van Tromp’s countenance fell several degrees; he became quite querulous.

“God bless me,” he said; and then, “I must really ask you not to interfere, child,” in a tone of undisguised hostility.

“Father,” she said, “forgive me; I knew you had given up your art——”

“Oh yes!” cried the Admiral; “I’ve done with it to the judgment-day!”

“Pardon me again,” she said firmly, “but I do not, I cannot think that you are right in this. Suppose the world is unjust, suppose that no one understands you, you have still a duty to yourself. And, oh, don’t spoil the pleasure of your coming home to me; show me that you can be my father and yet not neglect your destiny. I am not like some daughters; I will not be jealous of your art, and I will try to understand it.”

The situation was odiously farcical. Richard groaned under it; he longed to leap forward and denounce the humbug. And the humbug himself? Do you fancy he was easier in his mind? I am sure, on the other hand, that he was actually miserable; and he betrayed his sufferings by a perfectly silly and undignified access of temper, during which he broke his pipe in several places, threw his brandy-and-water into the fire, and employed words which were very plain although the drift of them 33 was somewhat vague. It was of very brief duration. Van Tromp was himself again, and in a most delightful humour within three minutes of the first explosion.

“I am an old fool,” he said frankly. “I was spoiled when a child. As for you, Esther, you take after your mother; you have a morbid sense of duty, particularly for others; strive against it, my dear—strive against it. And as for the pigments, well, I’ll use them some of these days; and to show that I’m in earnest, I’ll get Dick here to prepare a canvas.”

Dick was put to this menial task forthwith, the Admiral not even watching how he did, but quite occupied with another grog and a pleasant vein of talk.

A little after Esther arose, and making some pretext, good or bad, went off to bed. Dick was left hobbled by the canvas, and was subjected to Van Tromp for about an hour.

The next day, Saturday, it is believed that little intercourse took place between Esther and her father; but towards the afternoon Dick met the latter returning from the direction of the inn, where he had struck up quite a friendship with the landlord. Dick wondered who paid for these excursions, and at the thought that the reprobate must get his pocket-money where he got his board and lodging, from poor Esther’s generosity, he had it almost in his heart to knock the old gentleman down. He, on his part, was full of airs and graces and geniality.

“Dear Dick,” he said, taking his arm, “this is neighbourly of you; it shows your tact to meet me when I had a wish for you. I am in pleasant spirits; and it is then that I desire a friend.”

“I am glad to hear you are so happy,” retorted Dick bitterly. “There’s certainly not much to trouble you.”

“No,” assented the Admiral, “not much. I got out of it in time; and here—well, here everything pleases me. I am plain in my tastes. A propos, you have never asked me how I liked my daughter?”

34

“No,” said Dick roundly; “I certainly have not.”

“Meaning you will not. And why, Dick? She is my daughter, of course; but then I am a man of the world and a man of taste, and perfectly qualified to give an opinion with impartiality—yes, Dick, with impartiality. Frankly, I am not disappointed in her. She has good looks; she has them from her mother. She is devoted, quite devoted to me——”

“She is the best woman in the world!” broke out Dick.

“Dick,” cried the Admiral, stopping short; “I have been expecting this. Let us—let us go back to the ‘Trevanion Arms,’ and talk this matter out over a bottle.”

“Certainly not,” said Dick. “You have had far too much already.”

The parasite was on the point of resenting this; but a look at Dick’s face, and some recollections of the terms on which they had stood in Paris, came to the aid of his wisdom and restrained him.

“As you please,” he said; “although I don’t know what you mean—nor care. But let us walk, if you prefer it. You are still a young man; when you are my age—— But, however, to continue. You please me, Dick; you have pleased me from the first; and to say truth, Esther is a trifle fantastic, and will be better when she is married. She has means of her own, as of course you are aware. They come, like the looks, from her poor, dear, good creature of a mother. She was blessed in her mother. I mean she shall be blessed in her husband, and you are the man, Dick, you and not another. This very night I will sound her affections.”

Dick stood aghast.

“Mr. Van Tromp, I implore you,” he said; “do what you please with yourself, but, for God’s sake, let your daughter alone.”

“It is my duty,” replied the Admiral, “and between ourselves, you rogue, my inclination too. I am as match-making 35 as a dowager. It will be more discreet for you to stay away to-night. Farewell. You leave your case in good hands; I have the tact of these little matters by heart; it is not my first attempt.”

All arguments were in vain; the old rascal stuck to his point; nor did Richard conceal from himself how seriously this might injure his prospects, and he fought hard. Once there came a glimmer of hope. The Admiral again proposed an adjournment to the “Trevanion Arms,” and when Dick had once more refused, it hung for a moment in the balance whether or not the old toper would return there by himself. Had he done so, of course Dick could have taken to his heels, and warned Esther of what was coming, and of how it had begun. But the Admiral, after a pause, decided for the brandy at home, and made off in that direction.

We have no details of the sounding.

Next day the Admiral was observed in the parish church, very properly dressed. He found the places, and joined in response and hymn, as to the manner born; and his appearance, as he intended it should, attracted some attention among the worshippers. Old Naseby, for instance, had observed him.

“There was a drunken-looking blackguard opposite us in church,” he said to his son as they drove home; “do you know who he was?”

“Some fellow—Van Tromp, I believe,” said Dick.

“A foreigner too!” observed the Squire.

Dick could not sufficiently congratulate himself on the escape he had effected. Had the Admiral met him with his father, what would have been the result? And could such a catastrophe be long postponed? It seemed to him as if the storm were nearly ripe; and it was so more nearly than he thought.

He did not go to the cottage in the afternoon, withheld by fear and shame; but when dinner was over at Naseby House, and the Squire had gone off into a comfortable 36 doze, Dick slipped out of the room, and ran across country, in part to save time, in part to save his own courage from growing cold; for he now hated the notion of the cottage or the Admiral, and if he did not hate, at least feared to think of Esther. He had no clue to her reflections; but he could not conceal from his own heart that he must have sunk in her esteem, and the spectacle of her infatuation galled him like an insult.

He knocked and was admitted. The room looked very much as on his last visit, with Esther at the table and Van Tromp beside the fire; but the expression of the two faces told a very different story. The girl was paler than usual; her eyes were dark, the colour seemed to have faded from round about them, and her swiftest glance was as intent as a stare. The appearance of the Admiral, on the other hand, was rosy, and flabby, and moist; his jowl hung over his shirt-collar, his smile was loose and wandering, and he had so far relaxed the natural control of his eyes, that one of them was aimed inward, as if to catch the growth of the carbuncle. We are warned against bad judgments; but the Admiral was certainly not sober. He made no attempt to rise when Richard entered, but waved his pipe flightily in the air, and gave a leer of welcome. Esther took as little notice of him as might be.

“Aha! Dick!” cried the painter. “I’ve been to church; I have, upon my word. And I saw you there, though you didn’t see me. And I saw a devilish pretty woman, by Gad. If it were not for this baldness, and a kind of crapulous air I can’t disguise from myself—if it weren’t for this and that and t’other thing—I—I’ve forgot what I was saying. Not that that matters, I’ve heaps of things to say. I’m in a communicative vein to-night. I’ll let out all my cats, even unto seventy times seven. I’m in what I call the stage, and all I desire is a listener, although he were deaf, to be as happy as Nebuchadnezzar.”

37

Of the two hours which followed upon this it is unnecessary to give more than a sketch. The Admiral was extremely silly, now and then amusing, and never really offensive. It was plain that he kept in view the presence of his daughter, and chose subjects and a character of language that should not offend a lady. On almost any other occasion Dick would have enjoyed the scene. Van Tromp’s egotism, flown with drink, struck a pitch above mere vanity. He became candid and explanatory; sought to take his auditors entirely into his confidence, and tell them his inmost conviction about himself. Between his self-knowledge, which was considerable, and his vanity, which was immense, he had created a strange hybrid animal, and called it by his own name. How he would plume his feathers over virtues which would have gladdened the heart of Cæsar or St. Paul; and anon, complete his own portrait with one of those touches of pitiless realism which the satirist so often seeks in vain.

“Now, there’s Dick,” he said, “he’s shrewd; he saw through me the first time we met, and told me so—told me so to my face, which I had the virtue to keep. I bear you no malice for it, Dick; you were right; I am a humbug.”

You may fancy how Esther quailed at this new feature of the meeting between her two idols.

And then, again, in a parenthesis:

“That,” said Van Tromp, “was when I had to paint those dirty daubs of mine.”

And a little further on, laughingly said, perhaps, but yet with an air of truth:

“I never had the slightest hesitation in sponging upon any human creature.”

Thereupon Dick got up.

“I think, perhaps,” he said, “we had better all be thinking of going to bed.” And he smiled with a feeble and deprecatory smile.

“Not at all,” cried the Admiral, “I know a trick worth 38 two of that. Puss here,” indicating his daughter, “shall go to bed; and you and I will keep it up till all’s blue.”

Thereupon Esther arose in sullen glory. She had sat and listened for two mortal hours while her idol defiled himself and sneered away his godhead. One by one, her illusions had departed. And now he wished to order her to bed in her own house! now he called her Puss! now, even as he uttered the words, toppling on his chair, he broke the stem of his tobacco-pipe in three! Never did the sheep turn upon her shearer with a more commanding front. Her voice was calm, her enunciation a little slow, but perfectly distinct, and she stood before him, as she spoke, in the simplest and most maidenly attitude.

“No,” she said, “Mr. Naseby will have the goodness to go home at once, and you will go to bed.”

The broken fragments of pipe fell from the Admiral’s fingers; he seemed by his countenance to have lived too long in a world unworthy of him; but it is an odd circumstance, he attempted no reply, and sat thunder-struck, with open mouth.

Dick she motioned sharply towards the door, and he could only obey her. In the porch, finding she was close behind him, he ventured to pause and whisper, ”You have done right.”

”I have done as I pleased,” she said. “Can he paint?”

“Many people like his paintings,” returned Dick, in stifled tones; “I never did; I never said I did,” he added, fiercely defending himself before he was attacked.

“I ask you if he can paint. I will not be put off. Can he paint?” she repeated.

“No,” said Dick.

“Does he even like it?”

“Not now, I believe.”

“And he is drunk?”—she leaned upon the word with hatred.

“He has been drinking.”

“Go,” she said, and was turning to re-enter the house 39 when another thought arrested her. “Meet me to-morrow morning at the stile,” she said.

“I will,” replied Dick.

And then the door closed behind her, and Dick was alone in the darkness. There was still a chink of light above the sill, a warm, mild glow behind the window; the roof of the cottage and some of the banks and hazels were defined in denser darkness against the sky; but all else was formless, breathless, and noiseless like the pit. Dick remained as she had left him, standing squarely on one foot and resting only on the toe of the other, and as he stood he listened with his soul. The sound of a chair pushed sharply over the floor startled his heart into his mouth; but the silence which had thus been disturbed settled back again at once upon the cottage and its vicinity. What took place during this interval is a secret from the world of men; but when it was over the voice of Esther spoke evenly and without interruption for perhaps half a minute, and as soon as that ceased heavy and uncertain footfalls crossed the parlour and mounted lurching up the stairs. The girl had tamed her father, Van Tromp had gone obediently to bed: so much was obvious to the watcher in the road. And yet he still waited, straining his ears, and with terror and sickness at his heart; for if Esther had followed her father, if she had even made one movement in this great conspiracy of men and nature to be still, Dick must have had instant knowledge of it from his station before the door; and if she had not moved, must she not have fainted? or might she not be dead?

He could hear the cottage clock deliberately measure out the seconds; time stood still with him; an almost superstitious terror took command of his faculties; at last, he could bear no more, and, springing through the little garden in two bounds, he put his face against the window. The blind, which had not been drawn fully down, left an open chink about an inch in height along the bottom of the glass, and the whole parlour was thus 40 exposed to Dick’s investigation. Esther sat upright at the table, her head resting on her hand, her eyes fixed upon the candle. Her brows were slightly bent, her mouth slightly open; her whole attitude so still and settled that Dick could hardly fancy that she breathed. She had not stirred at the sound of Dick’s arrival. Soon after, making a considerable disturbance amid the vast silence of the night, the clock lifted up its voice, whined for a while like a partridge, and then eleven times hooted like a cuckoo. Still Esther continued immovable and gazed upon the candle. Midnight followed, and then one of the morning; and still she had not stirred, nor had Richard Naseby dared to quit the window. And then about half-past one, the candle she had been thus intently watching flared up into a last blaze of paper, and she leaped to her feet with an ejaculation, looked about her once, blew out the light, turned round, and was heard rapidly mounting the staircase in the dark.

Dick was left once more alone to darkness and to that dulled and dogged state of mind when a man thinks that Misery must have done her worst, and is almost glad to think so. He turned and walked slowly towards the stile; she had told him no hour, and he was determined, whenever she came, that she should find him waiting. As he got there the day began to dawn, and he leaned over a hurdle and beheld the shadows flee away. Up went the sun at last out of a bank of clouds that were already disbanding in the east; a herald wind had already sprung up to sweep the leafy earth and scatter the congregated dewdrops. “Alas!” thought Dick Naseby, “how can any other day come so distastefully to me?” He still wanted his experience of the morrow.


 

41

CHAPTER VII

THE ELOPEMENT

It was probably on the stroke of ten, and Dick had been half asleep for some time against the bank, when Esther came up the road carrying a bundle. Some kind of instinct, or perhaps the distant light footfalls, recalled him, while she was still a good way off, to the possession of his faculties, and he half raised himself and blinked upon the world. It took him some time to recollect his thoughts. He had awakened with a certain blank and childish sense of pleasure, like a man who had received a legacy overnight but this feeling gradually died away, and was then suddenly and stunningly succeeded by a conviction of the truth. The whole story of the past night sprang into his mind with every detail, as by an exercise of the direct and speedy sense of sight, and he arose from the ditch and, with rueful courage, went to meet his love.

She came up to him walking steady and fast, her face still pale, but to all appearance perfectly composed; and she showed neither surprise, relief, nor pleasure at finding her lover on the spot. Nor did she offer him her hand.

“Here I am,” said he.

“Yes,” she replied; and then, without a pause or any change of voice, “I want you to take me away,” she added.

“Away?” he repeated. “How? Where?”

“To-day,” she said. “I do not care where it is, but I want you to take me away.”

“For how long? I do not understand,” gasped Dick.

“I shall never come back here any more,” was all she answered.

Wild words uttered, as these were, with perfect quiet of manner, exercise a double influence on the hearer’s mind. Dick was confounded; he recovered from astonishment 42 only to fall into doubt and alarm. He looked upon her frozen attitude, so discouraging for a lover to behold, and recoiled from the thoughts which it suggested.

“To me?” he asked. “Are you coming to me, Esther?”

“I want you to take me away,” she repeated, with weary impatience. “Take me away—take me away from here.”

The situation was not sufficiently defined. Dick asked himself with concern whether she were altogether in her right wits. To take her away, to marry her, to work off his hands for her support, Dick was content to do all this; yet he required some show of love upon her part. He was not one of those tough-hided and small-hearted males who would marry their love at the point of the bayonet rather than not marry her at all. He desired that a woman should come to his arms with an attractive willingness, if not with ardour. And Esther’s bearing was more that of despair than that of love. It chilled him and taught him wisdom.

“Dearest,” he urged, “tell me what you wish, and you shall have it; tell me your thoughts, and then I can advise you. But to go from here without a plan, without forethought, in the heat of a moment, is madder than madness, and can help nothing. I am not speaking like a man, but I speak the truth; and I tell you again, the thing’s absurd, and wrong, and hurtful.”

She looked at him with a lowering, languid look of wrath.

“So you will not take me?” she said. “Well, I will go alone.”

And she began to step forward on her way. But he threw himself before her.

“Esther, Esther!” he cried.

“Let me go—don’t touch me—what right have you to interfere? Who are you, to touch me?” she flashed out, shrill with anger.

43

Then, being made bold by her violence, he took her firmly, almost roughly, by the arm, and held her while he spoke.

“You know well who I am, and what I am, and that I love you. You say I will not help you; but your heart knows the contrary. It is you who will not help me; for you will not tell me what you want. You see—or you could see, if you took the pains to look—how I have waited here all night to be ready at your service. I only asked information; I only urged you to consider; and I still urge you to think better of your fancies. But if your mind is made up, so be it; I will beg no longer; I will give you my orders; and I will not allow—not allow you to go hence alone.”

She looked at him for a while with cold, unkind scrutiny, like one who tries the temper of a tool.

“Well, take me away then,” she said, with a sigh.

“Good,” said Dick. “Come with me to the stables; there we shall get the pony-trap and drive to the junction. To-night you shall be in London. I am yours so wholly that no words can make me more so; and, besides, you know it, and the words are needless. May God help me to be good to you, Esther—may God help me! for I see that you will not.”

So, without more speech, they set out together, and were already got some distance from the spot, ere he observed that she was still carrying the hand-bag. She gave it up to him, passively, but when he offered her his arm, merely shook her head and pursed up her lips. The sun shone clearly and pleasantly; the wind was fresh and brisk upon their faces, and smelt racily of woods and meadows. As they went down into the valley of the Thyme, the babble of the stream rose into the air like a perennial laughter. On the far-away hills, sun-burst and shadow raced along the slopes and leaped from peak to peak. Earth, air, and water, each seemed in better health and had more of the shrewd salt of life in them 44 than upon ordinary mornings; and from east to west, from the lowest glen to the height of heaven, from every look and touch and scent, a human creature could gather the most encouraging intelligence as to the durability and spirit of the universe.

Through all this walked Esther, picking her small steps like a bird, but silent and with a cloud under her thick eyebrows. She seemed insensible, not only of nature, but of the presence of her companion. She was altogether engrossed in herself, and looked neither to right nor to left, but straight before her on the road. When they came to the bridge, however, she halted, leaned on the parapet, and stared for a moment at the clear, brown pool, and swift, transient snowdrift of the rapids.

“I am going to drink,” she said; and descended the winding footpath to the margin.

There she drank greedily in her hands, and washed her temples with water. The coolness seemed to break, for an instant, the spell that lay upon her; for, instead of hastening forward again in her dull, indefatigable tramp, she stood still where she was, for near a minute, looking straight before her. And Dick, from above on the bridge where he stood to watch her, saw a strange, equivocal smile dawn slowly on her face and pass away again at once and suddenly, leaving her as grave as ever; and the sense of distance, which it is so cruel for a lover to endure, pressed with every moment more heavily on her companion. Her thoughts were all secret; her heart was locked and bolted; and he stood without, vainly wooing her with his eyes.

“Do you feel better?” asked Dick, as she at last rejoined him; and after the constraint of so long a silence, his voice sounded foreign to his own ears.

She looked at him for an appreciable fraction of a minute ere she answered, and when she did, it was in the monosyllable—“Yes.”

45

Dick’s solicitude was nipped and frosted. His words died away on his tongue. Even his eyes, despairing of encouragement, ceased to attend on hers. And they went on in silence through Kirton hamlet, where an old man followed them with his eyes, and perhaps envied them their youth and love; and across the Ivy beck where the mill was splashing and grumbling low thunder to itself in the chequered shadow of the dell, and the miller before the door was beating flour from his hands as he whistled a modulation; and up by the high spinney, whence they saw the mountains upon either hand; and down the hill again to the back courts and offices of Naseby House. Esther had kept ahead all the way, and Dick plodded obediently in her wake; but as they neared the stables, he pushed on and took the lead. He would have preferred her to await him in the road while he went on and brought the carriage back, but after so many repulses and rebuffs he lacked courage to offer the suggestion. Perhaps, too, he felt it wiser to keep his convoy within sight. So they entered the yard in Indian file, like a tramp and his wife.

The groom’s eyebrows rose as he received the order for the pony-phaeton, and kept rising during all his preparations. Esther stood bolt upright and looked steadily at some chickens in the corner of the yard. Master Richard himself, thought the groom, was not in his ordinary; for in truth, he carried the hand-bag like a talisman, and either stood listless, or set off suddenly walking in one direction after another with brisk, decisive footsteps. Moreover, he had apparently neglected to wash his hands, and bore the air of one returning from a prolonged nutting ramble. Upon the groom’s countenance there began to grow up an expression as of one about to whistle. And hardly had the carriage turned the corner and rattled into the high road with this inexplicable pair, than the whistle broke forth—prolonged, and low, and tremulous; and the groom, already so far relieved, vented the rest of his surprise in one simple English word, friendly to the 46 mouth of Jack-tar and the sooty pitman, and hurried to spread the news round the servants’ hall of Naseby House. Luncheon would be on the table in little beyond an hour; and the Squire, on sitting down, would hardly fail to ask for Master Richard. Hence, as the intelligent reader can foresee, this groom has a part to play in the imbroglio.

Meantime, Dick had been thinking deeply and bitterly. It seemed to him as if his love had gone from him indeed, yet gone but a little way; as if he needed but to find the right touch or intonation, and her heart would recognise him and be melted. Yet he durst not open his mouth, and drove in silence till they had passed the main park-gates and turned into the cross-cut lane along the wall. Then it seemed to him as if it must be now, or never.

“Can’t you see you are killing me?” he cried. “Speak to me, look at me, treat me like a human man.”

She turned slowly and looked him in the face with eyes that seemed kinder. He dropped the reins and caught her hand, and she made no resistance, although her touch was unresponsive. But when, throwing one arm round her waist, he sought to kiss her lips, not like a lover indeed, not because he wanted to do so, but as a desperate man who puts his fortunes to the touch, she drew away from him, with a knot in her forehead, backed and shied about fiercely with her head, and pushed him from her with her hand. Then there was no room left for doubt, and Dick saw, as clear as sunlight, that she had a distaste or nourished a grudge against him.

“Then you don’t love me?” he said, drawing back from her, he also, as though her touch had burnt him; and then, as she made no answer, he repeated with another intonation, imperious and yet still pathetic, “You don’t love me, do you, do you?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Why do you ask me? Oh, how should I know? It has all been lies together—lies, and lies, and lies!”

47

He cried her name sharply, like a man who has taken a physical hurt, and that was the last word that either of them spoke until they reached Thymebury Junction.

This was a station isolated in the midst of moorlands, yet lying on the great up-line to London. The nearest town, Thymebury itself, was seven miles distant along the branch they call the Vale of Thyme Railway. It was now nearly half an hour past noon, the down train had just gone by, and there would be no more traffic at the junction until half-past three, when the local train comes in to meet the up express at a quarter before four. The stationmaster had already gone off to his garden, which was half a mile away in a hollow of the moor; a porter, who was just leaving, took charge of the phaeton, and promised to return it before night to Naseby House; only a deaf, snuffy, and stern old man remained to play propriety for Dick and Esther.

Before the phaeton had driven off, the girl had entered the station and seated herself upon a bench. The endless, empty moorlands stretched before her, entirely unenclosed, and with no boundary but the horizon. Two lines of rails, a waggon shed, and a few telegraph posts, alone diversified the outlook. As for sounds, the silence was unbroken save by the chant of the telegraph wires and the crying of the plovers on the waste. With the approach of midday the wind had more and more fallen, it was now sweltering hot and the air trembled in the sunshine.

Dick paused for an instant on the threshold of the platform. Then, in two steps, he was by her side and speaking almost with a sob.

“Esther,” he said, “have pity on me. What have I done? Can you not forgive me? Esther, you loved me once—can you not love me still?”

“How can I tell you? How am I to know?” she answered. “You are all a lie to me—all a lie from first to last. You were laughing at my folly, playing with me 48 like a child, at the very time when you declared you loved me. Which was true? was any of it true? or was it all, all a mockery? I am weary trying to find out. And you say I loved you; I loved my father’s friend. I never loved, I never heard of, you, until that man came home and I began to find myself deceived. Give me back my father, be what you were before, and you may talk of love indeed!”

“Then you cannot forgive me—cannot?” he asked.

“I have nothing to forgive,” she answered. “You do not understand.”

“Is that your last word, Esther?” said he, very white, and biting his lip to keep it still.

“Yes; that is my last word,” replied she.

“Then we are here on false pretences, and we stay here no longer,” he said. “Had you still loved me, right or wrong, I should have taken you away, because then I could have made you happy. But as it is—I must speak plainly—what you propose is degrading to you, and an insult to me, and a rank unkindness to your father. Your father may be this or that, but you should use him like a fellow-creature.”

“What do you mean?” she flashed. “I leave him my house and all my money; it is more than he deserves. I wonder you dare speak to me about that man. And besides, it is all he cares for; let him take it, and let me never hear from him again.”

“I thought you romantic about fathers,” he said.

“Is that a taunt?” she demanded.

“No,” he replied, “it is an argument. No one can make you like him, but don’t disgrace him in his own eyes. He is old, Esther, old and broken down. Even I am sorry for him, and he has been the loss of all I cared for. Write to your aunt; when I see her answer you can leave quietly and naturally, and I will take you to your aunt’s door. But in the meantime you must go home. You have no money, and so you are helpless, and must 49 do as I tell you; and believe me, Esther, I do all for your good, and your good only, so God help me.”

She had put her hand into her pocket and withdrawn it empty.

“I counted upon you,” she wailed.

“You counted rightly, then,” he retorted. “I will not, to please you for a moment, make both of us unhappy for our lives; and since I cannot marry you, we have only been too long away, and must go home at once.”

“Dick,” she cried suddenly, “perhaps I might—perhaps in time—perhaps—”

“There is no perhaps about the matter,” interrupted Dick. “I must go and bring the phaeton.”

And with that he strode from the station, all in a glow of passion and virtue. Esther, whose eyes had come alive and her cheeks flushed during these last words, relapsed in a second into a state of petrifaction. She remained without motion during his absence, and when he returned suffered herself to be put back into the phaeton, and driven off on the return journey like an idiot or a tired child. Compared with what she was now, her condition of the morning seemed positively natural. She sat cold and white and silent, and there was no speculation in her eyes. Poor Dick flailed and flailed at the pony, and once tried to whistle, but his courage was going down; huge clouds of despair gathered together in his soul, and from time to time their darkness was divided by a piercing flash of longing and regret. He had lost his love—he had lost his love for good.

The pony was tired, and the hills very long and steep, and the air sultrier than ever, for now the breeze began to fail entirely. It seemed as if this miserable drive would never be done, as if poor Dick would never be able to go away and be comfortably wretched by himself; for all his desire was to escape from her presence and the reproach of her averted looks. He had lost his love, he thought—he had lost his love for good.

50

They were already not far from the cottage, when his heart again faltered and he appealed to her once more, speaking low and eagerly in broken phrases.

“I cannot live without your love,” he concluded.

“I do not understand what you mean,” she replied, and I believe with perfect truth.

“Then,” said he, wounded to the quick, “your aunt might come and fetch you herself. Of course you can command me as you please. But I think it would be better so.”

“Oh yes,” she said wearily, “better so.”

This was the only exchange of words between them till about four o’clock; the phaeton, mounting the lane, “opened out” the cottage between the leafy banks. Thin smoke went straight up from the chimney; the flowers in the garden, the hawthorn in the lane, hung down their heads in the heat; the stillness was broken only by the sound of hoofs. For right before the gate a livery servant rode slowly up and down, leading a saddle horse. And in this last Dick shuddered to identify his father’s chestnut.

Alas! poor Richard, what should this portend?

The servant, as in duty bound, dismounted and took the phaeton into his keeping; yet Dick thought he touched his hat to him with something of a grin. Esther, passive as ever, was helped out and crossed the garden with a slow and mechanical gait; and Dick, following close behind her, heard from within the cottage his father’s voice upraised in an anathema, and the shriller tones of the Admiral responding in the key of war.


 

CHAPTER VIII

BATTLE ROYAL

Squire Naseby, on sitting down to lunch, had inquired for Dick, whom he had not seen since the day before at 51 dinner; and the servant answering awkwardly that Master Richard had come back, but had gone out again with the pony-phaeton, his suspicions became aroused, and he cross-questioned the man until the whole was out. It appeared from this report that Dick had been going about for nearly a month with a girl in the Vale—a Miss Van Tromp; that she lived near Lord Trevanion’s upper wood; that recently Miss Van Tromp’s papa had returned home from foreign parts after a prolonged absence; that this papa was an old gentleman, very chatty and free with his money in the public-house—whereupon Mr. Naseby’s face became encrimsoned; that the papa, furthermore, was said to be an admiral—whereupon Mr. Naseby spat out a whistle brief and fierce as an oath; that Master Dick seemed very friendly with the papa—“God help him!” said Mr. Naseby; that last night Master Dick had not come in, and to-day he had driven away in the phaeton with the young lady.

“Young woman,” corrected Mr. Naseby.

“Yes, sir,” said the man, who had been unwilling enough to gossip from the first, and was now cowed by the effect of his communications on the master. “Young woman, sir!”

“Had they luggage?” demanded the Squire.

“Yes, sir.”

Mr. Naseby was silent for a moment, struggling to keep down his emotion, and he mastered it so far as to mount into the sarcastic vein, when he was in the nearest danger of melting into the sorrowful.

“And was this—this Van Dunk with them?” he asked, dwelling scornfully on the name.

The servant believed not, and being eager to shift the responsibility to other shoulders, suggested that perhaps the master had better inquire further from George the stableman in person.

“Tell him to saddle the chestnut and come with me. 52 And then you can take away this trash,” added Mr. Naseby, pointing to the luncheon; and he arose, lordly in his anger, and marched forth upon the terrace to await his horse.

There Dick’s old nurse shrunk up to him, for the news went like wildfire over Naseby House, and timidly expressed a hope that there was nothing much amiss with the young master.

“I’ll pull him through,” the Squire said grimly, as though he meant to pull him through a threshing-mill; “I’ll save him from this gang; God help him with the next! He has a taste for low company, and no natural affections to steady him. His father was no society for him; he must go fuddling with a Dutchman, Nance, and now he’s caught. Let us pray he’ll take the lesson,” he added, more gravely, “but youth is here to make troubles, and age to pull them out again.”

Nance whimpered and recalled several episodes of Dick’s childhood, which moved Mr. Naseby to blow his nose and shake her hard by the hand; and then, the horse having arrived opportunely, to get himself without delay into the saddle and canter off.

He rode straight, hot spur, to Thymebury, where, as was to be expected, he could glean no tidings of the runaways. They had not been seen at the George; they had not been seen at the station. The shadow darkened on Mr. Naseby’s face; the junction did not occur to him; his last hope was for Van Tromp’s cottage; thither he bade George guide him, and thither he followed, nursing grief, anxiety, and indignation in his heart.

“Here it is, sir,” said George, stopping.

“What! on my own land!” he cried. “How’s this? I let this place to somebody—M’Whirter or M’Glashan.”

“Miss M’Glashan was the young lady’s aunt, sir, I believe,” returned George.

“Ay—dummies,” said the Squire. “I shall whistle for my rent too. Here, take my horse.”

53

The Admiral, this hot afternoon, was sitting by the window with a long glass. He already knew the Squire by sight, and now, seeing him dismount before the cottage and come striding through the garden, concluded without doubt he was there to ask for Esther’s hand.

“This is why the girl is not yet home,” he thought; “a very suitable delicacy on young Naseby’s part.”

And he composed himself with some pomp, answered the loud rattle of the riding-whip upon the door with a dulcet invitation to enter, and coming forward with a bow and a smile, “Mr. Naseby, I believe,” said he.

The Squire came armed for battle; took in his man from top to toe in one rapid and scornful glance, and decided on a course at once. He must let the fellow see that he understood him.

“You are Mr. Van Tromp?” he returned roughly, and without taking any notice of the proffered hand.

“The same, sir,” replied the Admiral. “Pray be seated.”

“No, sir,” said the Squire, point-blank, “I will not be seated. I am told that you are an admiral,” he added.

“No, sir, I am not an admiral,” returned Van Tromp, who now began to grow nettled and enter into the spirit of the interview.

“Then why do you call yourself one, sir?”

“I have to ask your pardon, I do not,” says Van Tromp, as grand as the Pope.

But nothing was of avail against the Squire.

“You sail under false colours from beginning to end,” he said. “Your very house was taken under a sham name.”

“It is not my house. I am my daughter’s guest,” replied the Admiral. “If it were my house——”

“Well?” said the Squire, “what then? hey?”

The Admiral looked at him nobly, but was silent.

“Look here,” said Mr. Naseby, “this intimidation is a waste of time; it is thrown away on me, sir; it will 54 not succeed with me. I will not permit you even to gain time by your fencing. Now, sir, I presume you understand what brings me here.”

“I am entirely at a loss to account for your intrusion,” bows and waves Van Tromp.

“I will try to tell you, then. I come here as a father”—down came the riding-whip upon the table—“I have right and justice upon my side. I understand your calculations, but you calculated without me. I am a man of the world, and I see through you and your manœuvres. I am dealing now with a conspiracy—I stigmatise it as such, and I will expose it and crush it. And now I order you to tell me how far things have gone, and whither you have smuggled my unhappy son.”

“My God, sir!” Van Tromp broke out, “I have had about enough of this. Your son? God knows where he is for me! What the devil have I to do with your son? My daughter is out, for the matter of that; I might ask you where she is, and what would you say to that? But this is all midsummer madness. Name your business distinctly, and be off.”

“How often am I to tell you?” cried the Squire. “Where did your daughter take my son to-day in that cursed pony carriage?”

“In a pony carriage?” repeated Van Tromp.

“Yes, sir—with luggage.”

“Luggage?”—Van Tromp had turned a little pale.

“Luggage, I said—luggage!” shouted Naseby. “You may spare me this dissimulation. Where’s my son? You are speaking to a father, sir, a father.”

“But, sir, if this be true,” out came Van Tromp in a new key, “it is I who have an explanation to demand.”

“Precisely. There is the conspiracy,” retorted Naseby. “Oh!” he added, “I am a man of the world. I can see through and through you.”

Van Tromp began to understand.

“You speak a great deal about being a father, Mr. 55 Naseby,” said he; “I believe you forget that the appellation is common to both of us. I am at a loss to figure to myself, however dimly, how any man—I have not said any gentleman—could so brazenly insult another as you have been insulting me since you entered this house. For the first time I appreciate your base insinuations, and I despise them and you. You were, I am told, a manufacturer; I am an artist; I have seen better days; I have moved in societies where you would not be received, and dined where you would be glad to pay a pound to see me dining. The so-called aristocracy of wealth, sir, I despise. I refuse to help you; I refuse to be helped by you. There lies the door.”

And the Admiral stood forth in a halo.

It was then that Dick entered. He had been waiting in the porch for some time back, and Esther had been listlessly standing by his side. He had put out his hand to bar her entrance, and she had submitted without surprise; and though she seemed to listen, she scarcely appeared to comprehend. Dick, on his part, was as white as a sheet; his eyes burned and his lips trembled with anger as he thrust the door suddenly open, introduced Esther with ceremonious gallantry, and stood forward and knocked his hat firmer on his head like a man about to leap.

“What is all this?” he demanded.

“Is this your father, Mr. Naseby?” inquired the Admiral.

“It is,” said the young man.

“I make you my compliments,” returned Van Tromp.

“Dick!” cried his father, suddenly breaking forth, “It is not too late, is it? I have come here in time to save you. Come, come away with me—come away from this place.”

And he fawned upon Dick with his hands.

“Keep your hands off me,” cried Dick, not meaning 56 unkindness, but because his nerves were shattered by so many successive miseries.

“No, no,” said the old man. “Don’t repulse your father, Dick, when he has come here to save you. Don’t repulse me, my boy. Perhaps I have not been kind to you, not quite considerate, too harsh; my boy, it was not for want of love. Think of old times. I was kind to you then, was I not? When you were a child, and your mother was with us.” Mr. Naseby was interrupted by a sort of sob. Dick stood looking at him in a maze. “Come away,” pursued the father in a whisper; “you need not be afraid of any consequences. I am a man of the world, Dick; and she can have no claim on you—no claim, I tell you; and we’ll be handsome too, Dick—we’ll give them a good round figure, father and daughter, and there’s an end.”

He had been trying to get Dick towards the door, but the latter stood off.

“You had better take care, sir, how you insult that lady,” said the son, as black as night.

“You would not choose between your father and your mistress?” said the father.

“What do you call her, sir?” cried Dick, high and clear.

Forbearance and patience were not among Mr. Naseby’s qualities.

“I called her your mistress,” he shouted, “and I might have called her a ——”

“That is an unmanly lie,” replied Dick slowly.

“Dick!” cried the father, “Dick!”

“I do not care,” said the son, strengthening himself against his own heart; “I—I have said it, and it’s the truth.”

There was a pause.

“Dick,” said the old man at last, in a voice that was shaken as by a gale of wind, “I am going. I leave you with your friends, sir—with your friends. I came to 57 serve you, and now I go away a broken man. For years I have seen this coming, and now it has come. You never loved me. Now you have been the death of me. You may boast of that. Now I leave you. God pardon you.”

With that he was gone; and the three who remained together heard his horse’s hoofs descend the lane. Esther had not made a sign throughout the interview, and still kept silence now that it was over; but the Admiral, who had once or twice moved forward and drawn back again, now advanced for good.

“You are a man of spirit, sir,” said he to Dick; “but though I am no friend to parental interference, I will say that you were heavy on the governor.” Then he added with a chuckle: “You began, Richard, with a silver spoon, and here you are in the water, like the rest. Work, work, nothing like work. You have parts, you have manners; why, with application, you may die a millionaire!”

Dick shook himself. He took Esther by the hand, looking at her mournfully.

“Then this is farewell?” he said.

“Yes,” she answered. There was no tone in her voice, and she did not return his gaze.

“For ever,” added Dick.

“For ever,” she repeated mechanically.

“I have had hard measure,” he continued. “In time, I believe I could have shown you I was worthy, and there was no time long enough to show how much I loved you. But it was not to be. I have lost all.”

He relinquished her hand, still looking at her, and she turned to leave the room.

“Why, what in fortune’s name is the meaning of all this?” cried Van Tromp. “Esther, come back!”

“Let her go,” said Dick, and he watched her disappear with strangely mingled feelings. For he had fallen into that stage when men have the vertigo of misfortune, 58 court the strokes of destiny, and rush towards anything decisive, that it may free them from suspense though at the cost of ruin. It is one of the many minor forms of suicide.

“She did not love me,” he said, turning to her father.

“I feared as much,” said he, “when I sounded her. Poor Dick, poor Dick! And yet I believe I am as much cut up as you are. I was born to see others happy.”

“You forget,” returned Dick, with something like a sneer, “that I am now a pauper.”

Van Tromp snapped his fingers.

“Tut!” said he; “Esther has plenty for us all.”

Dick looked at him with some wonder. It had never dawned upon him that this shiftless, thriftless, worthless, sponging parasite was yet, after all and in spite of all, not mercenary in the issue of his thoughts; yet so it was.

“Now,” said Dick, “I must go.”

“Go?” cried Van Tromp. “Where? Not one foot, Mr. Richard Naseby. Here you shall stay in the meantime! and—well, and do something practical—advertise for a situation as private secretary—and when you have it, go and welcome. But in the meantime, sir, no false pride; we must stay with our friends; we must sponge a while on Papa Van Tromp, who has sponged so often upon us.”

“By God,” cried Dick, “I believe you are the best of the lot.”

“Dick, my boy,” replied the Admiral, winking, “you mark me, I am not the worst.”

“Then why,” began Dick, and then paused. “But Esther,” he began again, once more to interrupt himself. “The fact is, Admiral,” he came out with it roundly now, “your daughter wished to run away from you to-day, and I only brought her back with difficulty.”

“In the pony carriage?” asked the Admiral, with the silliness of extreme surprise.

“Yes,” Dick answered.

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“Why, what the devil was she running away from?”

Dick found the question unusually hard to answer.

“Why,” said he, “you know you’re a bit of a rip.”

“I behave to that girl, sir, like an archdeacon,” replied Van Tromp warmly.

“Well—excuse me—but you know you drink,” insisted Dick.

“I know that I was a sheet in the wind’s eye, sir, once—once only, since I reached this place,” retorted the Admiral. “And even then I was fit for any drawing-room. I should like you to tell me how many fathers, lay and clerical, go upstairs every day with a face like a lobster and cod’s eyes—and are dull, upon the back of it—not even mirth for the money! No, if that’s what she runs for, all I say is, let her run.”

“You see,” Dick tried it again, “she has fancies—”

“Confound her fancies!” cried Van Tromp. “I used her kindly; she had her own way; I was her father. Besides, I had taken quite a liking to the girl, and meant to stay with her for good. But I tell you what it is, Dick, since she has trifled with you—Oh yes, she did though!—and since her old papa’s not good enough for her—the devil take her, say I.”

“You will be kind to her at least?” said Dick.

“I never was unkind to a living soul,” replied the Admiral. “Firm I can be, but not unkind.”

“Well,” said Dick, offering his hand, “God bless you, and farewell.”

The Admiral swore by all his gods he should not go. “Dick,” he said, “you are a selfish dog; you forget your old Admiral. You wouldn’t leave him alone, would you?”

It was useless to remind him that the house was not his to dispose of, that being a class of considerations to which his intelligence was closed; so Dick tore himself off by force, and shouting a good-bye, made off along the lane to Thymebury.


 

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CHAPTER IX

IN WHICH THE LIBERAL EDITOR APPEARS AS “DEUS EX MACHIN”

It was perhaps a week later, as old Mr. Naseby sat brooding in his study, that there was shown in upon him, on urgent business, a little hectic gentleman shabbily attired.

“I have to ask pardon for this intrusion, Mr. Naseby,” he said; “but I come here to perform a duty. My card has been sent in, but perhaps you may not know, what it does not tell you, that I am the editor of the Thymebury Star.”

Mr. Naseby looked up, indignant.

“I cannot fancy,” he said, “that we have much in common to discuss.”

“I have only a word to say—one piece of information to communicate. Some months ago, we had—you will pardon my referring to it, it is absolutely necessary—but we had an unfortunate difference as to facts.”

“Have you come to apologise?” asked the Squire sternly.

“No, sir; to mention a circumstance. On the morning in question, your son, Mr. Richard Naseby——”

“I do not permit his name to be mentioned.”

“You will, however, permit me,” replied the Editor.

“You are cruel,” said the Squire. He was right, he was a broken man.

Then the Editor described Dick’s warning visit; and how he had seen in the lad’s eye that there was a thrashing in the wind, and had escaped through pity only—so the Editor put it—“through pity only, sir. And oh, sir,” he went on, “if you had seen him speaking up for you, I am sure you would have been proud of your son. I know 61 I admired the lad myself, and indeed that’s what brings me here.”

“I have misjudged him,” said the Squire. “Do you know where he is?”

“Yes, sir, he lies sick at Thymebury.”

“You can take me to him?”

“I can.”

“I pray God he may forgive me,” said the father.

And he and the Editor made post-haste for the country town.

Next day the report went abroad that Mr. Richard was reconciled to his father and had been taken home to Naseby House. He was still ailing, it was said, and the Squire nursed him like the proverbial woman. Rumour, in this instance, did no more than justice to the truth; and over the sick-bed many confidences were exchanged, and clouds that had been growing for years passed away in a few hours, and, as fond mankind loves to hope, for ever. Many long talks had been fruitless in external action, though fruitful for the understanding of the pair; but at last, one showery Tuesday, the Squire might have been observed upon his way to the cottage in the lane.

The old gentleman had arranged his features with a view to self-command, rather than external cheerfulness; and he entered the cottage on his visit of conciliation with the bearing of a clergyman come to announce a death.

The Admiral and his daughter were both within, and both looked upon their visitor with more surprise than favour.

“Sir,” said he to Van Tromp, “I am told I have done you much injustice.”

There came a little sound in Esther’s throat, and she put her hand suddenly to her heart.

“You have, sir; and the acknowledgment suffices,” replied the Admiral. “I am prepared, sir, to be easy with you, since I hear you have made it up with my friend 62 Dick. But let me remind you that you owe some apologies to this young lady also.”

“I shall have the temerity to ask for more than her forgiveness,” said the Squire. “Miss Van Tromp,” he continued, “once I was in great distress, and knew nothing of you or your character; but I believe you will pardon a few rough words to an old man who asks forgiveness from his heart. I have heard much of you since then; for you have a fervent advocate in my house. I believe you will understand that I speak of my son. He is, I regret to say, very far from well; he does not pick up as the doctors had expected; he has a great deal upon his mind, and, to tell you the truth, my girl, if you won’t help us, I am afraid I shall lose him. Come now, forgive him! I was angry with him once myself, and I found I was in the wrong. This is only a misunderstanding, like the other, believe me; and, with one kind movement, you may give happiness to him, and to me, and to yourself.”

Esther made a movement towards the door, but long before she reached it she had broken forth sobbing.

“It is all right,” said the Admiral; “I understand the sex. Let me make you my compliments, Mr. Naseby.”

The Squire was too much relieved to be angry.

“My dear,” said he to Esther, “you must not agitate yourself.”

“She had better go up and see him right away,” suggested Van Tromp.

“I had not ventured to propose it,” replied the Squire. “Les convenances, I believe——”

Je m’en fiche,” cried the Admiral, snapping his fingers. “She shall go and see my friend Dick. Run and get ready, Esther.”

Esther obeyed.

“She has not—has not run away again?” inquired Mr. Naseby, as soon as she was gone.

“No,” said Van Tromp, “not again. She is a devilish odd girl, though, mind you that.”

63

“But I cannot stomach the man with the carbuncles,” thought the Squire.

And this is why there is a new household and a brand-new baby in Naseby Dower House; and why the great Van Tromp lives in pleasant style upon the shores of England; and why twenty-six individual copies of the Thymebury Star are received daily at the door of Naseby House.

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65


THE MERRY MEN


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My dear Lady Taylor,

To your name, if I wrote on brass, I could add nothing; it has been already written higher than I could dream to reach, by a strong and a dear hand; and if I now dedicate to you these tales,1 it is not as the writer who brings you his work, but as the friend who would remind you of his affection.

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.

Skerryvore, Bournemouth.

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69

THE MERRY MEN

 

 

CHAPTER I

EILEAN AROS

It was a beautiful morning in the late July when I set forth on foot for the last time for Aros. A boat had put me ashore the night before at Grisapol; I had such breakfast as the little inn afforded, and, leaving all my baggage till I had an occasion to come round for it by sea, struck right across the promontory with a cheerful heart.

I was far from being a native of these parts, springing, as I did, from an unmixed lowland stock. But an uncle of mine, Gordon Darnaway, after a poor, rough youth, and some years at sea, had married a young wife in the islands; Mary Maclean she was called, the last of her family; and when she died in giving birth to a daughter, Aros, the sea-girt farm, had remained in his possession. It brought him in nothing but the means of life, as I was well aware; but he was a man whom ill-fortune had pursued; he feared, cumbered as he was with the young child, to make a fresh adventure upon life; and remained in Aros, biting his nails at destiny. Years passed over his head in that isolation, and brought neither help nor contentment. Meantime our family was dying out in the lowlands; there is little luck for any of that race; and perhaps my father was the luckiest of all, for not only was he one of the last to die, but he left a son to his name and a little money to support it. I was a student of 70 Edinburgh University, living well enough at my own charges, but without kith or kin; when some news of me found its way to Uncle Gordon on the Ross of Grisapol; and he, as he was a man who held blood thicker than water, wrote to me the day he heard of my existence, and taught me to count Aros as my home. Thus it was that I came to spend my vacations in that part of the country, so far from all society and comfort, between the codfish and the moorcocks; and thus it was that now, when I had done with my classes, I was returning thither with so light a heart that July day.

The Ross, as we call it, is a promontory neither wide nor high, but as rough as God made it to this day; the deep sea on either hand of it, full of rugged isles and reefs most perilous to seamen—all overlooked from the eastward by some very high cliffs and the great peak of Ben Kyaw. The Mountain of the Mist, they say the words signify in the Gaelic tongue; and it is well named. For that hill-top, which is more than three thousand feet in height, catches all the clouds that come blowing from the seaward; and, indeed, I used often to think that it must make them for itself; since when all heaven was clear to the sea level, there would ever be a streamer on Ben Kyaw. It brought water, too, and was mossy2 to the top in consequence. I have seen us sitting in broad sunshine on the Ross, and the rain falling black like crape upon the mountain. But the wetness of it made it often appear more beautiful to my eyes; for when the sun struck upon the hillsides there were many wet rocks and watercourses that shone like jewels even as far as Aros, fifteen miles away.

The road that I followed was a cattle-track. It twisted so as nearly to double the length of my journey; it went over rough boulders so that a man had to leap from one to another, and through soft bottoms where the moss came nearly to the knee. There was no cultivation anywhere, 71 and not one house in the ten miles from Grisapol to Aros. Houses of course there were—three at least; but they lay so far on the one side or the other that no stranger could have found them from the track. A large part of the Ross is covered with big granite rocks, some of them larger than a two-roomed house, one beside another, with fern and deep heather in between them where the vipers breed. Any way the wind was, it was always sea air, as salt as on a ship; the gulls were as free as moorfowl over all the Ross; and whenever the way rose a little, your eye would kindle with the brightness of the sea. From the very midst of the land, on a day of wind and a high spring, I have heard the Roost roaring like a battle where it runs by Aros, and the great and fearful voices of the breakers that we call the Merry Men.

Aros itself—Aros Jay, I have heard the natives call it, and they say it means the House of God—Aros itself was not properly a piece of the Ross, nor was it quite an islet. It formed the south-west corner of the land, fitted close to it, and was in one place only separated from the coast by a little gut of the sea, not forty feet across the narrowest. When the tide was full, this was clear and still, like a pool on a land river; only there was a difference in the weeds and fishes, and the water itself was green instead of brown; but when the tide went out, in the bottom of the ebb, there was a day or two in every month when you could pass dryshod from Aros to the mainland. There was some good pasture, where my uncle fed the sheep he lived on; perhaps the feed was better because the ground rose higher on the islet than the main level of the Ross, but this I am not skilled enough to settle. The house was a good one for that country, two stories high. It looked westward over a bay, with a pier hard by for a boat, and from the door you could watch the vapours blowing on Ben Kyaw.

On all this part of the coast, and especially near Aros, these great granite rocks that I have spoken of go down 72 together in troops into the sea, like cattle on a summer’s day. There they stand, for all the world like their neighbours ashore; only the salt water sobbing between them instead of the quiet earth, and clots of sea-pink blooming on their sides instead of heather; and the great sea-conger to wreathe about the base of them instead of the poisonous viper of the land. On calm days you can go wandering between them in a boat for hours, echoes following you about the labyrinth; but when the sea is up, Heaven help the man that hears that caldron boiling.

Off the south-west end of Aros these blocks are very many, and much greater in size. Indeed, they must grow monstrously bigger out to sea, for there must be ten sea miles of open water sown with them as thick as a country place with houses, some standing thirty feet above the tides, some covered, but all perilous to ships; so that on a clear, westerly blowing day, I have counted, from the top of Aros, the great rollers breaking white and heavy over as many as six-and-forty buried reefs. But it is nearer in shore that the danger is worst; for the tide, here running like a mill-race, makes a long belt of broken water—a Roost we call it—at the tail of the land. I have often been out there in a dead calm at the slack of the tide; and a strange place it is, with the sea swirling and combing up and boiling like the caldrons of a linn, and now and again a little dancing mutter of sound as though the Roost were talking to itself. But when the tide begins to run again, and above all in heavy weather, there is no man could take a boat within half a mile of it, nor a ship afloat that could either steer or live in such a place. You can hear the roaring of it six miles away. At the seaward end there comes the strongest of the bubble; and it’s here that these big breakers dance together—the dance of death, it may be called—that have got the name, in these parts, of the Merry Men. I have heard it said that they run fifty feet high; but that must be the green water only, for the spray runs twice as high as that. Whether 73 they got the name from their movements, which are swift and antic, or from the shouting they make about the turn of the tide, so that all Aros shakes with it, is more than I can tell.

The truth is, that in a south-westerly wind, that part of our archipelago is no better than a trap. If a ship got through the reefs, and weathered the Merry Men, it would be to come ashore on the south coast of Aros, in Sandag Bay, where so many dismal things befell our family, as I propose to tell. The thought of all these dangers, in the place I knew so long, makes me particularly welcome the works now going forward to set lights upon the headlands and buoys along the channels of our iron-bound, inhospitable islands.

The country people had many a story about Aros, as I used to hear from my uncle’s man, Rorie, an old servant of the Macleans, who had transferred his services without afterthought on the occasion of the marriage. There was some tale of an unlucky creature, a sea-kelpie, that dwelt and did business in some fearful manner of his own among the boiling breakers of the Roost. A mermaid had once met a piper on Sandag beach, and there sang to him a long, bright midsummer’s night, so that in the morning he was found stricken crazy, and from thenceforward, till the day he died, said only one form of words; what they were in the original Gaelic I cannot tell, but they were thus translated: “Ah, the sweet singing out of the sea.” Seals that haunted on that coast have been known to speak to man in his own tongue, presaging great disasters. It was here that a certain saint first landed on his voyage out of Ireland to convert the Hebrideans. And, indeed, I think he had some claim to be called saint; for, with the boats of that past age, to make so rough a passage, and land on such a ticklish coast, was surely not far short of the miraculous. It was to him, or to some of his monkish underlings who had a cell there, that the islet owes its holy and beautiful name, the House of God.

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Among these old wives’ stories there was one which I was inclined to hear with more credulity. As I was told, in that tempest which scattered the ships of the Invincible Armada over all the north and west of Scotland, one great vessel came ashore on Aros, and before the eyes of some solitary people on a hill-top, went down in a moment with all hands, her colours flying even as she sank. There was some likelihood in this tale; for another of that fleet lay sunk on the north side, twenty miles from Grisapol. It was told, I thought, with more detail and gravity than its companion stories, and there was one particularity which went far to convince me of its truth: the name, that is, of the ship was still remembered, and sounded, in my ears, Spanishly. The Espirito Santo they called it, a great ship of many decks of guns, laden with treasure and grandees of Spain, and fierce soldadoes, that now lay fathom deep to all eternity, done with her wars and voyages, in Sandag Bay, upon the west of Aros. No more salvos of ordnance for that tall ship, the “Holy Spirit,” no more fair winds or happy ventures; only to rot there deep in the sea-tangle and hear the shoutings of the Merry Men as the tide ran high about the island. It was a strange thought to me first and last, and only grew stranger as I learned the more of Spain, from which she had set sail with so proud a company, and King Philip, the wealthy king, that sent her on that voyage.

And now I must tell you, as I walked from Grisapol that day, the Espirito Santo was very much in my reflections. I had been favourably remarked by our then Principal in Edinburgh College, that famous writer, Dr. Robertson, and by him had been set to work on some papers of an ancient date to rearrange and sift of what was worthless; and in one of these, to my great wonder, I found a note of this very ship, the Espirito Santo, with her captain’s name, and how she carried a great part of the Spaniards’ treasure, and had been lost upon the Ross of Grisapol; but in what particular spot the wild tribes 75 of that place and period would give no information to the king’s inquiries. Putting one thing with another, and taking our island tradition together with this note of old King Jamie’s perquisitions after wealth, it had come strongly on my mind that the spot for which he sought in vain could be no other than the small bay of Sandag on my uncle’s land; and being a fellow of a mechanical turn, I had ever since been plotting how to weigh that good ship up again with all her ingots, ounces, and doubloons, and bring back our house of Darnaway to its long-forgotten dignity and wealth.

This was a design of which I soon had reason to repent. My mind was sharply turned on different reflections; and since I became the witness of a strange judgment of God’s, the thought of dead men’s treasures has been intolerable to my conscience. But even at that time I must acquit myself of sordid greed; for if I desired riches, it was not for their own sake, but for the sake of a person who was dear to my heart—my uncle’s daughter, Mary Ellen. She had been educated well, and had been a time to school upon the mainland; which, poor girl, she would have been happier without. For Aros was no place for her, with old Rorie the servant, and her father, who was one of the unhappiest men in Scotland, plainly bred up in a country place among Cameronians, long a skipper sailing out of the Clyde about the islands, and now, with infinite discontent, managing his sheep and a little ’long shore fishing for the necessary bread. If it was sometimes weariful to me, who was there but a month or two, you may fancy what it was to her who dwelt in that same desert all the year round, with the sheep and flying sea-gulls, and the Merry Men singing and dancing in the Roost!


 

76

CHAPTER II

WHAT THE WRECK HAD BROUGHT TO AROS

It was half-flood when I got the length of Aros; and there was nothing for it but to stand on the far shore and whistle for Rorie with the boat. I had no need to repeat the signal. At the first sound, Mary was at the door flying a handkerchief by way of answer, and the old long-legged serving-man was shambling down the gravel to the pier. For all his hurry, it took him a long while to pull across the bay; and I observed him several times to pause, go into the stern, and look over curiously into the wake. As he came nearer, he seemed to me aged and haggard, and I thought he avoided my eye. The coble had been repaired, with two new thwarts and several patches of some rare and beautiful foreign wood, the name of it unknown to me.

“Why, Rorie,” said I, as we began the return voyage, “this is fine wood. How came you by that?”

“It will be hard to cheesel,” Rorie opined reluctantly; and just then, dropping the oars, he made another of those dives into the stern which I had remarked as he came across to fetch me, and, leaning his hand on my shoulder, stared with an awful look into the waters of the bay.

“What is wrong?” I asked, a good deal startled.

“It will be a great feesh,” said the old man, returning to his oars; and nothing more could I get out of him but strange glances and an ominous nodding of the head. In spite of myself, I was infected with a measure of uneasiness; I turned also, and studied the wake. The 77 water was still and transparent, but, out here in the middle of the bay, exceeding deep. For some time I could see naught; but at last it did seem to me as if something dark—a great fish, or perhaps only a shadow—followed studiously in the track of the moving coble. And then I remembered one of Rorie’s superstitions: how in a ferry in Morven, in some great, exterminating feud among the clans, a fish, the like of it unknown in all our waters, followed for some years the passage of the ferryboat, until no man dared to make the crossing.

“He will be waiting for the right man,” said Rorie.

Mary met me on the beach, and led me up the brae and into the house of Aros. Outside and inside there were many changes. The garden was fenced with the same wood that I had noted in the boat; there were chairs in the kitchen covered with strange brocade; curtains of brocade hung from the window; a clock stood silent on the dresser; a lamp of brass was swinging from the roof; the table was set for dinner with the finest of linen and silver; and all these new riches were displayed in the plain old kitchen that I knew so well, with the high-backed settle, and the stools, and the closet bed for Rorie; with the wide chimney the sun shone into, and the clear-smouldering peats; with the pipes on the mantelshelf and the three-cornered spittoons, filled with sea-shells instead of sand, on the floor; with the bare stone walls and the bare wooden floor, and the three patchwork rugs that were of yore its sole adornment—poor man’s patchwork, the like of it unknown in cities, woven with homespun, and Sunday black, and sea-cloth polished on the bench of rowing. The room, like the house, had been a sort of wonder in that country-side, it was so neat and habitable; and to see it now, shamed by these incongruous additions, filled me with indignation and a kind of anger. In view of the errand I had come upon to Aros, the feeling was baseless and unjust; but it burned high, at the first moment, in my heart.

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“Mary, girl,” said I, “this is the place I had learned to call my home, and I do not know it.”

“It is my home by nature, not by the learning,” she replied; “the place I was born and the place I’m like to die in; and I neither like these changes, nor the way they came, nor that which came with them. I would have liked better, under God’s pleasure, they had gone down into the sea, and the Merry Men were dancing on them now.”

Mary was always serious; it was perhaps the only trait that she shared with her father; but the tone with which she uttered these words was even graver than of custom.

“Ay,” said I, “I feared it came by wreck, and that’s by death; yet when my father died I took his goods without remorse.”

“Your father died a clean-strae death, as the folk say,” said Mary.

“True,” I returned; “and a wreck is like a judgment. What was she called?”

“They ca’d her the Christ-Anna,” said a voice behind me; and, turning round, I saw my uncle standing in the doorway.

He was a sour, small, bilious man, with a long face and very dark eyes; fifty-six years old, sound and active in body, and with an air somewhat between that of a shepherd and that of a man following the sea. He never laughed, that I heard; read long at the Bible; prayed much, like the Cameronians he had been brought up among; and, indeed, in many ways, used to remind me of one of the hill-preachers in the killing times before the Revolution. But he never got much comfort, nor even, as I used to think, much guidance, by his piety. He had his black fits when he was afraid of hell; but he had led a rough life, to which he would look back with envy, and was still a rough, cold, gloomy man.

As he came in at the door out of the sunlight, with 79 his bonnet on his head and a pipe hanging in his button-hole, he seemed, like Rorie, to have grown older and paler, the lines were deeplier ploughed upon his face, and the whites of his eyes were yellow, like old stained ivory, or the bones of the dead.

“Ay,” he repeated, dwelling upon the first part of the word, “the Christ-Anna. It’s an awfu’ name.”

I made him my salutations, and complimented him upon his look of health; for I feared he had perhaps been ill.

“I’m in the body,” he replied, ungraciously enough; “aye in the body and the sins of the body, like yoursel’. Denner,” he said abruptly to Mary, and then ran on, to me: “They’re grand braws, thir that we hae gotten, are they no’? Yon’s a bonny knock,3 but it’ll no gang; and the napery’s by ordnar. Bonny, bairnly braws; it’s for the like o’ them folk sells the peace of God that passeth understanding; it’s for the like o’ them, an’ maybe no’ even sae muckle worth, folk daunton God to His face and burn in muckle hell; and it’s for that reason the Scripture ca’s them, as I read the passage, the accursed thing.—Mary, ye girzie,” he interrupted himself to cry with some asperity, “what for hae ye no’ put out the twa candlesticks?”

“Why should we need them at high noon?” she asked.

But my uncle was not to be turned from his idea. “We’ll bruik4 them while we may,” he said; and so two massive candlesticks of wrought silver were added to the table equipage, already so unsuited to that rough seaside farm.

“She cam’ ashore Februar’ 10, about ten at nicht,” he went on to me. “There was nae wind, and a sair run o’ sea; and she was in the sook o’ the Roost, as I jaloose. We had seen her a’ day, Rorie and me, beating to the wind. She wasna a handy craft, I’m thinking, 80 that Christ-Anna; for she would neither steer nor stey wi’ them. A sair day they had of it; their hands was never aff the sheets, and it perishin’ cauld—ower cauld to snaw; and aye they would get a bit nip o’ wind, and awa’ again, to pit the emp’y hope into them. Eh, man! but they had a sair day for the last o’t! He would have had a prood, prood heart that won ashore upon the back o’ that.”

“And were all lost?” I cried. “God help them!”

“Wheesht!” he said sternly. “Nane shall pray for the deid on my hearth-stane.”

I disclaimed a Popish sense for my ejaculation; and he seemed to accept my disclaimer with unusual facility, and ran on once more upon what had evidently become a favourite subject.

“We fand her in Sandag Bay, Rorie an’ me, and a’ thae braws in the inside of her. There’s a kittle bit, ye see, about Sandag; whiles the sook rins strong for the Merry Men; an’ whiles again, when the tide’s makin’ hard an’ ye can hear the Roost blawin’ at the far-end of Aros, there comes a back-spang of current straucht into Sandag Bay. Weel, there’s the thing that got the grip on the Christ-Anna. She büt to have come in ram-stam an’ stern forrit; for the bows of her are aften under, and the back-side of her is clear at hie-water o’ neaps. But, man! the dunt that she cam doon wi’ when she struck! Lord save us a’l but it’s an unco life to be a sailor—a cauld, wanchancy life. Mony’s the gliff I got mysel’ in the great deep; and why the Lord should hae made yon unco water is mair than ever I could win to understand. He made the vales and the pastures, the bonny green yaird, the halesome, canty land—

And now they shout and sing to Thee,

For Thou hast made them glad,

as the Psalms say in the metrical version. No’ that I would preen my faith to that clink neither; but it’s bonny, 81 and easier to mind. ‘Who go to sea in ships,’ they hae’t again—

and in

Great waters trading be,

Within the deep these men God’s works

And His great wonders see.

Weel, it’s easy sayin’ sae. Maybe Dauvit wasna very weel acquaint wi’ the sea. But, troth, if it wasna prentit in the Bible, I wad whiles be temp’it to think it wasna the Lord, but the muckle black deil that made the sea. There’s naething good comes oot o’t but the fish; an’ the spentacle o’ God riding on the tempest, to be shüre, whilk would be what Dauvit was likely ettling at. But, man, they were sair wonders that God showed to the Christ-Anna—wonders, do I ca’ them? Judgments, rather: judgments in the mirk nicht among the draygons o’ the deep. And their souls—to think o’ that—their souls, man, maybe no’ prepared! The sea—a muckle yett to hell!”

I observed, as my uncle spoke, that his voice was unnaturally moved and his manner unwontedly demonstrative. He leaned forward at these last words, for example, and touched me on the knee with his spread fingers, looking up into my face with a certain pallor, and I could see that his eyes shone with a deep-seated fire, and that the lines about his mouth were drawn and tremulous.

Even the entrance of Rorie, and the beginning of our meal, did not detach him from his train of thought beyond a moment. He condescended, indeed, to ask me some questions as to my success at college, but I thought it was with half his mind; and even in his extempore grace, which was, as usual, long and wandering, I could find the trace of his preoccupation, praying, as he did, that God would “remember in mercy fower puir, feckless, fiddling, sinful creatures here by their lee-lane beside the great and dowie waters.”

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Soon there came an interchange of speeches between him and Rorie.

“Was it there?” asked my uncle.

“Ou, ay!” said Rorie.

I observed that they both spoke in a manner of aside, and with some show of embarrassment, and that Mary herself appeared to colour, and looked down on her plate. Partly to show my knowledge, and so relieve the party from an awkward strain, partly because I was curious, I pursued the subject.

“You mean the fish?” I asked.

“Whatten fish?” cried my uncle. “Fish, quo’ he! Fish! Your een are fu’ o’ fatness, man; your heid dozened wi’ carnal leir. Fish! it’s a bogle!”

He spoke with great vehemence, as though angry; and perhaps I was not very willing to be put down so shortly, for young men are disputatious. At least I remember I retorted hotly, crying out upon childish superstitions.

“And ye come frae the College!” sneered Uncle Gordon. “Gude kens what they learn folk there; it’s no’ muckle service onyway. Do ye think, man, that there’s naething in a’ yon saut wilderness o’ a world oot wast there, wi’ the sea-grasses growin’, an’ the sea-beasts fechtin’, an’ the sun glintin’ down into it, day by day? Na; the sea’s like the land, but fearsomer. If there’s folk ashore, there’s folk in the sea—deid they may be, but they’re folk whatever; and as for deils, there’s nane that’s like the sea-deils. There’s no sae muckle harm in the land-deils, when a’s said and done. Lang syne, when I was a callant in the south country, I mind there was an auld, bald bogle in the Peewic Moss. I got a glisk o’ him mysel’, sittin’ on his hunkers in a hag, as grey’s a tombstane. An’, troth, he was a fearsome-like taed. But he steered naebody. Nae doobt, if ane that was a reprobate, ane the Lord hated, had gane by there wi’ his sin still upon his stamach, nae doobt the creature would hae lowped upo’ the likes o’ him. But there’s deils in the deep sea would 83 yoke on a communicant! Eh, sirs, if ye had gane doon wi’ the puir lads in the Christ-Anna, ye would ken by now the mercy o’ the seas. If ye had sailed it for as lang as me, ye would hate the thocht of it as I do. If ye had but used the een God gave ye, ye would hae learned the wickedness o’ that fause, saut, cauld, bullering creature, and of a’ that’s in it by the Lord’s permission: labsters an’ partans, an’ sic-like, howking in the deid; muckle, gutsy, blawing whales; an’ fish—the hale clan o’ them—cauld-wamed, blind-ee’d uncanny ferlies. Oh, sirs,” he cried, “the horror—the horror o’ the sea!”

We were all somewhat staggered by this outburst; and the speaker himself, after that last hoarse apostrophe, appeared to sink gloomily into his own thoughts. But Rorie, who was greedy of superstitious lore, recalled him to the subject by a question.

“You will not ever have seen a teevil of the sea?” he asked.

“No’ clearly,” replied the other. “I misdoobt if a mere man could see ane clearly and conteenue in the body. I hae sailed wi’ a lad—they ca’d him Sandy Gabart; he saw ane, shüre eneuch, an’ shüre eneuch it was the end of him. We were seeven days oot frae the Clyde—a sair wark we had had—gaun north wi’ seeds an’ braws an’ things for the Macleod. We had got in ower near under the Cutchull’ns, an’ had just gane about by Soa, an’ were off on a long tack, we thocht would maybe hauld as far’s Copnahow. I mind the nicht weel; a mune smoored wi’ mist; a fine-gaun breeze upon the water, but no steedy; an’—what nane o’ us likit to hear—anither wund gurlin’ owerheid, amang thae fearsome, auld stane craigs o’ the Cutchull’ns. Weel, Sandy was forrit wi’ the jib sheet; we couldna see him for the mains’l, that had just begude to draw, when a’ at ance he gied a skirl. I luffed for my life, for I thocht we were over near Soa; but na, it wasna that, it was puir Sandy Gabart’s deid skreigh, or near-hand, for he was deid in half an hour. A’t he could tell 84 was that a sea-deil, or sea-bogle, or sea-spenster, or sic-like, had clum up by the bowsprit, an’ gi’en him ae cauld, uncanny look. An’, or the life was oot o’ Sandy’s body, we kent weel what the thing betokened, and why the wund gurled in the taps o’ the Cutchull’ns; for doon it cam’—a wund do I ca’ it! it was the wund o’ the Lord’s anger—an’ a’ that nicht we focht like men dementit, and the neist that we kenned we were ashore in Loch Uskevagh, an’ the cocks were crawin’ in Benbecula.”

“It will have been a merman,” Rorie said.

“A merman!” screamed my uncle with immeasurable scorn. “Auld wives’ clavers! There’s nae sic things as mermen.”

“But what was the creature like?” I asked.

“What like was it? Gude forbid that we suld ken what like it was! It had a kind of a heid upon it—man could say nae mair.”

Then Rorie, smarting under the affront, told several tales of mermen, mermaids, and sea-horses that had come ashore upon the islands and attacked the crews of boats upon the sea; and my uncle, in spite of his incredulity, listened with uneasy interest.

“Aweel, aweel,” he said, “it may be sae; I may be wrang; but I find nae word o’ mermen in the Scriptures.”

“And you will find nae word of Aros Roost, maybe,” objected Rorie, and his argument appeared to carry weight.

When dinner was over, my uncle carried me forth with him to a bank behind the house. It was a very hot and quiet afternoon; scarce a ripple anywhere upon the sea, nor any voice but the familiar voice of sheep and gulls; and perhaps in consequence of this repose in nature, my kinsman showed himself more rational and tranquil than before. He spoke evenly and almost cheerfully of my career, with every now and then a reference to the lost ship or the treasures it had brought to Aros. For my part, I listened to him in a sort of trance, gazing with all my heart on that remembered scene, and drinking 85 gladly the sea-air and the smoke of peats that had been lit by Mary.

Perhaps an hour had passed when my uncle, who had all the while been covertly gazing on the surface of the little bay, rose to his feet and bade me follow his example. Now I should say that the great run of tide at the south-west end of Aros exercises a perturbing influence round all the coast. In Sandag Bay, to the south, a strong current runs at certain points of the flood and ebb respectively; but in this northern bay—Aros Bay, as it is called—where the house stands and on which my uncle was now gazing, the only sign of disturbance is towards the end of the ebb, and even then it is too slight to be remarkable. When there is any swell, nothing can be seen at all; but when it is calm, as it often is, there appear certain strange, undecipherable marks—sea-runes, as we may name them—on the glassy surface of the bay. The like is common in a thousand places on the coast; and many a boy must have amused himself as I did, seeking to read in them some reference to himself or those he loved. It was to these marks that my uncle now directed my attention, struggling, as he did so, with an evident reluctance.

“Do you see yon scart upo’ the water?” he inquired; “yon ane wast the grey stane? Ay? Weel, it’ll no’ be like a letter, wull it?”

“Certainly it is,” I replied. “I have often remarked it. It is like a C.”

He heaved a sigh as if heavily disappointed with my answer, and then added below his breath: “Ay, for the Christ-Anna.”

“I used to suppose, sir, it was for myself,” said I; “for my name is Charles.”

“And so ye saw’t afore?” he ran on, not heeding my remark. “Weel, weel, but that’s unco strange. Maybe, it’s been there waitin’, as a man wad say, through a’ the weary ages. Man, but that’s awfu’.” And then, breaking off: “Ye’ll no’ see anither, will ye?” he asked.

86

“Yes,” said I. “I see another very plainly, near the Ross side, where the road comes down—an M.”

“An M,” he repeated very low; and then, again after another pause: “An’ what wad ye make o’ that?” he inquired.

“I had always thought it to mean Mary, sir,” I answered, growing somewhat red, convinced as I was in my own mind that I was on the threshold of a decisive explanation.

But we were each following his own train of thought to the exclusion of the other’s. My uncle once more paid no attention to my words; only hung his head and held his peace; and I might have been led to fancy that he had not heard me, if his next speech had not contained a kind of echo from my own.

“I would say naething o’ thae clavers to Mary,” he observed, and began to walk forward.

There is a belt of turf along the side of Aros Bay where walking is easy; and it was along this that I silently followed my silent kinsman. I was perhaps a little disappointed at having lost so good an opportunity to declare my love; but I was at the same time far more deeply exercised at the change that had befallen my uncle. He was never an ordinary, never, in the strict sense, an amiable, man; but there was nothing in even the worst that I had known of him before, to prepare me for so strange a transformation. It was impossible to close the eyes against one fact; that he had, as the saying goes, something on his mind; and as I mentally ran over the different words which might be represented by the letter M—misery, mercy, marriage, money, and the like—I was arrested with a sort of start by the word murder. I was still considering the ugly sound and fatal meaning of the word, when the direction of our walk brought us to a point from which a view was to be had to either side, back towards Aros Bay and homestead, and forward on the ocean, dotted to the north with isles, and lying to the 87 southward blue and open to the sky. There my guide came to a halt, and stood staring for awhile on that expanse. Then he turned to me and laid a hand on my arm.

“Ye think there’s naething there?” he said, pointing with his pipe; and then cried out aloud, with a kind of exultation: “I’ll tell ye, man! The deid are down there—thick like rattons!”

He turned at once, and, without another word, we retraced our steps to the house of Aros.

I was eager to be alone with Mary; yet it was not till after supper, and then but for a short while, that I could have a word with her. I lost no time beating about the bush, but spoke out plainly what was on my mind.

“Mary,” I said, “I have not come to Aros without a hope. If that should prove well founded, we may all leave and go somewhere else, secure of daily bread and comfort; secure, perhaps, of something far beyond that, which it would seem extravagant in me to promise. But there’s a hope that lies nearer to my heart than money.” And at that I paused. “You can guess fine what that is, Mary,” I said. She looked away from me in silence, and that was small encouragement, but I was not to be put off. “All my days I have thought the world of you,” I continued; “the time goes on and I think always the more of you; I could not think to be happy or hearty in my life without you: you are the apple of my eye.” Still she looked away, and said never a word; but I thought I saw that her hands shook. “Mary,” I cried in fear, “do ye no’ like me?”

“Oh, Charlie man,” she said, “is this a time to speak of it? Let me be a while; let me be the way I am; it’ll not be you that loses by the waiting!”

I made out by her voice that she was nearly weeping, and this put me out of any thought but to compose her. “Mary Ellen,” I said, “say no more; I did not come to trouble you: your way shall be mine, and your time too; 88 and you have told me all I wanted. Only just this one thing more: what ails you?”

She owned it was her father, but would enter into no particulars, only shook her head, and said he was not well and not like himself, and it was a great pity. She knew nothing of the wreck. “I havena been near it,” said she. “What for would I go near it, Charlie lad? The poor souls are gone to their account long syne; and I would just have wished they had ta’en their gear with them—poor souls!”

This was scarcely any great encouragement for me to tell her of the Espirito Santo; yet I did so, and at the very first word she cried out in surprise. “There was a man at Grisapol,” she said, “in the month of May—a little, yellow, black-avised body, they tell me, with gold rings upon his fingers, and a beard; and he was speiring high and low for that same ship.”

It was towards the end of April that I had been given these papers to sort out by Dr. Robertson: and it came suddenly back upon my mind that they were thus prepared for a Spanish historian, or a man calling himself such, who had come with high recommendations to the Principal, on a mission of inquiry as to the dispersion of the great Armada. Putting one thing with another, I fancied that the visitor “with the gold rings upon his fingers” might be the same with Dr. Robertson’s historian from Madrid. If that were so, he would be more likely after treasure for himself than information for a learned society. I made up my mind, I should lose no time over my undertaking; and if the ship lay sunk in Sandag Bay, as perhaps both he and I supposed, it should not be for the advantage of this ringed adventurer, but for Mary and myself, and for the good, old, honest, kindly family of the Darnaways.


 

89

CHAPTER III

LAND AND SEA IN SANDAG BAY

I was early afoot next morning; and as soon as I had a bite to eat, set forth upon a tour of exploration. Something in my heart distinctly told me that I should find the ship of the Armada; and although I did not give way entirely to such hopeful thoughts, I was still very light in spirits and walked upon air. Aros is a very rough islet, its surface strewn with great rocks and shaggy with fern and heather; and my way lay almost north and south across the highest knoll; and though the whole distance was inside of two miles, it took more time and exertion than four upon a level road. Upon the summit, I paused. Although not very high—not three hundred feet, as I think—it yet outtops all the neighbouring lowlands of the Ross, and commands a great view of sea and islands. The sun, which had been up some time, was already hot upon my neck; the air was listless and thundery, although purely clear; away over the north-west, where the isles lie thickliest congregated, some half a dozen small and ragged clouds hung together in a covey; and the head of Ben Kyaw wore, not merely a few streamers, but a solid hood of vapour. There was a threat in the weather. The sea, it is true, was smooth like glass: even the Roost was but a seam on that wide mirror, and the Merry Men no more than caps of foam; but to my eye and ear, so long familiar with these places, the sea also seemed to lie uneasily; a sound of it, like a long sigh, mounted to me where I stood; and, quiet as it was, the Roost itself appeared to be revolving mischief. For I ought to say 90 that all we dwellers in these parts attributed, if not prescience, at least a quality of warning, to that strange and dangerous creature of the tides.

I hurried on, then, with the greater speed, and had soon descended the slope of Aros to the part that we call Sandag Bay. It is a pretty large piece of water compared with the size of the isle; well sheltered from all but the prevailing wind; sandy and shoal and bounded by low sand-hills to the west, but to the eastward lying several fathoms deep along a ledge of rocks. It is upon that side that, at a certain time each flood, the current mentioned by my uncle sets so strong into the bay; a little later, when the Roost begins to work higher, an undertow runs still more strongly in the reverse direction; and it is the action of this last, as I suppose, that has scoured that part so deep. Nothing is to be seen out of Sandag Bay but one small segment of the horizon and, in heavy weather, the breakers flying high over a deep-sea reef.

From half-way down the hill I had perceived the wreck of February last, a brig of considerable tonnage, lying, with her back broken, high and dry on the east corner of the sands; and I was making directly towards it, and already almost on the margin of the turf, when my eyes were suddenly arrested by a spot, cleared of fern and heather, and marked by one of those long, low, and almost human-looking mounds that we see so commonly in graveyards. I stopped like a man shot. Nothing had been said to me of any dead man or interment on the island; Rorie, Mary, and my uncle had all equally held their peace; of her at least, I was certain that she must be ignorant; and yet here, before my eyes, was proof indubitable of the fact. Here was a grave; and I had to ask myself, with a chill, what manner of man lay there in his last sleep, awaiting the signal of the Lord in that solitary, sea-beat resting-place? My mind supplied no answer but what I feared to entertain. Shipwrecked, at least, he must have been; perhaps, like the old Armada 91 mariners, from some far and rich land over-sea; or perhaps one of my own race, perishing within eyesight of the smoke of home. I stood awhile uncovered by his side, and I could have desired that it had lain in our religion to put up some prayer for that unhappy stranger, or, in the old classic way, outwardly to honour his misfortune. I knew, although his bones lay there, a part of Aros, till the trumpet sounded, his imperishable soul was forth and far away, among the raptures of the everlasting Sabbath or the pangs of hell; and yet my mind misgave me even with a fear, that perhaps he was near me where I stood, guarding his sepulchre, and lingering on the scene of his unhappy fate.

Certainly it was with a spirit somewhat overshadowed that I turned away from the grave to the hardly less melancholy spectacle of the wreck. Her stem was above the first arc of the flood; she was broken in two a little abaft the foremast—though indeed she had none, both masts having broken short in her disaster; and as the pitch of the beach was very sharp and sudden, and the bows lay many feet below the stern, the fracture gaped widely open, and you could see right through her poor hull upon the farther side. Her name was much defaced, and I could not make out clearly whether she was called Christiania, after the Norwegian city, or Christiana, after the good woman, Christian’s wife, in that old book the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” By her build she was a foreign ship, but I was not certain of her nationality. She had been painted green, but the colour was faded and weathered, and the paint peeling off in strips. The wreck of the mainmast lay alongside, half-buried in sand. She was a forlorn sight, indeed, and I could not look without emotion at the bits of rope that still hung about her, so often handled of yore by shouting seamen; or the little scuttle where they had passed up and down to their affairs; or that poor noseless angel of a figure-head that had dipped into so many running billows.

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I do not know whether it came most from the ship or from the grave, but I fell into some melancholy scruples, as I stood there, leaning with one hand against the battered timbers. The homelessness of men, and even of inanimate vessels, cast away upon strange shores, came strongly in upon my mind. To make a profit of such pitiful misadventures seemed an unmanly and a sordid act; and I began to think of my then quest as of something sacrilegious in its nature. But when I remembered Mary I took heart again. My uncle would never consent to an imprudent marriage, nor would she, as I was persuaded, wed without his full approval. It behoved me, then, to be up and doing for my wife; and I thought with a laugh how long it was since that great sea-castle, the Espirito Santo, had left her bones in Sandag Bay, and how weak it would be to consider rights so long extinguished and misfortunes so long forgotten in the process of time.

I had my theory of where to seek for her remains. The set of the current and the soundings both pointed to the east side of the bay under the ledge of rocks. If she had been lost in Sandag Bay, and if, after these centuries, any portion of her held together, it was there that I should find it. The water deepens, as I have said, with great rapidity, and even close alongside the rocks several fathoms may be found. As I walked upon the edge I could see far and wide over the sandy bottom of the bay; the sun shone clear and green and steady in the deeps; the bay seemed rather like a great transparent crystal, as one sees them in a lapidary’s shop; there was naught to show that it was water but an internal trembling, a hovering within of sun-glints and netted shadows, and now and then a faint lap and a dying bubble round the edge. The shadows of the rocks lay out for some distance at their feet, so that my own shadow, moving, pausing, and stooping on the top of that, reached sometimes half across the bay. It was above all in this belt of shadows that I hunted for the Espirito Santo; since it was there the undertow ran 93 strongest, whether in or out. Cool as the whole water seemed this broiling day, it looked, in that part, yet cooler, and had a mysterious invitation for the eyes. Peer as I pleased, however, I could see nothing but a few fishes or a bush of sea-tangle, and here and there a lump of rock that had fallen from above and now lay separate on the sandy floor. Twice did I pass from one end to the other of the rocks, and in the whole distance I could see nothing of the wreck, nor any place but one where it was possible for it to be. This was a large terrace in five fathoms of water, raised off the surface of the sand to a considerable height, and looking from above like a mere outgrowth of the rocks on which I walked. It was one mass of great sea-tangles like a grove, which prevented me judging of its nature, but in shape and size it bore some likeness to a vessel’s hull. At least it was my best chance. If the Espirito Santo lay not there under the tangles, it lay nowhere at all in Sandag Bay; and I prepared to put the question to the proof, once and for all, and either go back to Aros a rich man or cured for ever of my dreams of wealth.

I stripped to the skin, and stood on the extreme margin with my hands clasped, irresolute. The bay at that time was utterly quiet; there was no sound but from a school of porpoises somewhere out of sight behind the point; yet a certain fear withheld me on the threshold of my venture. Sad sea-feelings, scraps of my uncle’s superstitions, thoughts of the dead, of the grave, of the old broken ships, drifted through my mind. But the strong sun upon my shoulders warmed me to the heart, and I stooped forward and plunged into the sea.

It was all that I could do to catch a trail of the sea-tangle that grew so thickly on the terrace; but once so far anchored I secured myself by grasping a whole armful of these thick and slimy stalks, and, planting my feet against the edge, I looked around me. On all sides the clear sand stretched forth unbroken; it came to the foot 94 of the rocks, scoured into the likeness of an alley in a garden by the action of the tides; and before me, for as far as I could see, nothing was visible but the same many-folded sand upon the sun-bright bottom of the bay. Yet the terrace to which I was then holding was as thick with strong sea-growths as a tuft of heather, and the cliff from which it bulged hung draped below the water-line with brown lianas. In this complexity of forms, all swaying together in the current, things were hard to be distinguished; and I was still uncertain whether my feet were pressed upon the natural rock or upon the timbers of the Armada treasure-ship, when the whole tuft of tangle came away in my hand, and in an instant I was on the surface, and the shores of the bay and the bright water swam before my eyes in a glory of crimson.

I clambered back upon the rocks, and threw the plant of tangle at my feet. Something at the same moment rang sharply, like a falling coin. I stooped, and there, sure enough, crusted with the red rust, there lay an iron shoe-buckle. The sight of this poor human relic thrilled me to the heart, but not with hope nor fear, only with a desolate melancholy. I held it in my hand, and the thought of its owner appeared before me like the presence of an actual man. His weather-beaten face, his sailor’s hands, his sea-voice hoarse with singing at the capstan, the very foot that had once worn that buckle and trod so much along the swerving decks—the whole human fact of him, as a creature like myself, with hair and blood and seeing eyes, haunted me in that sunny, solitary place, not like a spectre, but like some friend whom I had basely injured. Was the great treasure-ship indeed below there, with her guns and chain and treasure, as she had sailed from Spain; her decks a garden for the seaweed, her cabin a breeding-place for fish, soundless but for the dredging water, motionless but for the waving of the tangle upon her battlements—that old, populous, sea-riding castle, now a reef in Sandag Bay? Or, as I thought it likelier, 95 was this a waif from the disaster of the foreign brig—was this shoe-buckle bought but the other day and worn by a man of my own period in the world’s history, hearing the same news from day to day, thinking the same thoughts, praying, perhaps, in the same temple with myself? However it was, I was assailed with dreary thoughts; my uncle’s words, “the dead are down there,” echoed in my ears; and though I determined to dive once more, it was with a strong repugnance that I stepped forward to the margin of the rocks.

A great change passed at that moment over the appearance of the bay. It was no more that clear, visible interior, like a house roofed with glass, where the green submarine sunshine slept so stilly. A breeze, I suppose, had flawed the surface, and a sort of trouble and blackness filled its bosom, where flashes of light and clouds of shadow tossed confusedly together. Even the terrace below obscurely rocked and quivered. It seemed a graver thing to venture on this place of ambushes; and when I leaped into the sea a second time it was with a quaking in my soul.

I secured myself as at first, and groped among the waving tangle. All that met my touch was cold and soft and gluey. The thicket was alive with crabs and lobsters, trundling to and fro lopsidedly, and I had to harden my heart against the horror of their carrion neighbourhood. On all sides I could feel the grain and the clefts of hard, living stone; no planks, no iron, not a sign of any wreck; the Espirito Santo was not there. I remember I had almost a sense of relief in my disappointment, and I was about ready to leave go, when something happened that sent me to the surface with my heart in my mouth. I had already stayed somewhat late over my explorations; the current was freshening with the change of the tide, and Sandag Bay was no longer a safe place for a single swimmer. Well, just at the last moment there came a sudden flush of current, dredging through the tangles like a wave. I lost one hold, was flung sprawling on my side, 96 and, instinctively grasping for a fresh support, my fingers closed on something hard and cold. I think I knew at that moment what it was. At least I instantly left hold of the tangle, leaped for the surface, and clambered out next moment on the friendly rocks with the bone of a man’s leg in my grasp.

Mankind is a material creature, slow to think and dull to perceive connections. The grave, the wreck of the brig, and the rusty shoe-buckle were surely plain advertisements. A child might have read their dismal story, and yet it was not until I touched that actual piece of mankind that the full horror of the charnel ocean burst upon my spirit. I laid the bone beside the buckle, picked up my clothes, and ran as I was along the rocks towards the human shore. I could not be far enough from the spot; no fortune was vast enough to tempt me back again. The bones of the drowned dead should henceforth roll undisturbed by me, whether on tangle or minted gold. But as soon as I trod the good earth again, and had covered my nakedness against the sun, I knelt down over against the ruins of the brig, and out of the fulness of my heart prayed long and passionately for all poor souls upon the sea. A generous prayer is never presented in vain; the petition may be refused, but the petitioner is always, I believe, rewarded by some gracious visitation. The horror, at least, was lifted from my mind; I could look with calm of spirit on that great bright creature, God’s ocean; and as I set off homeward up the rough sides of Aros, nothing remained of my concern beyond a deep determination to meddle no more with the spoils of wrecked vessels or the treasures of the dead.

I was already some way up the hill before I paused to breathe and look behind me. The sight that met my eyes was doubly strange.

For, first, the storm that I had foreseen was now advancing with almost tropical rapidity. The whole surface of the sea had been dulled from its conspicuous 97 brightness to an ugly hue of corrugated lead; already in the distance the white waves, the “skipper’s daughters,” had begun to flee before a breeze that was still insensible on Aros; and already along the curve of Sandag Bay there was a splashing run of sea that I could hear from where I stood. The change upon the sky was even more remarkable. There had begun to arise out of the south-west a huge and solid continent of scowling cloud; here and there, through rents in its contexture, the sun still poured a sheaf of spreading rays; and here and there, from all its edges, vast inky streamers lay forth along the yet unclouded sky. The menace was express and imminent. Even as I gazed, the sun was blotted out. At any moment the tempest might fall upon Aros in its might.

The suddenness of this change of weather so fixed my eyes on heaven that it was some seconds before they alighted on the bay, mapped out below my feet, and robbed a moment later of the sun. The knoll which I had just surmounted overflanked a little amphitheatre of lower hillocks sloping towards the sea, and beyond that the yellow arc of beach and the whole extent of Sandag Bay. It was a scene on which I had often looked down, but where I had never before beheld a human figure. I had but just turned my back upon it and left it empty, and my wonder may be fancied when I saw a boat and several men in that deserted spot. The boat was lying by the rocks. A pair of fellows, bareheaded, with their sleeves rolled up, and one with a boat-hook, kept her with difficulty to her moorings, for the current was growing brisker every moment. A little way off upon the ledge two men in black clothes, whom I judged to be superior in rank, laid their heads together over some task which at first I did not understand, but a second after I had made it out—they were taking bearings with the compass; and just then I saw one of them unroll a sheet of paper and lay his finger down, as though identifying features in a map. Meanwhile a third was walking to and fro, 98 poking among the rocks and peering over the edge into the water. While I was still watching them with the stupefaction of surprise, my mind hardly yet able to work on what my eyes reported, this third person suddenly stooped and summoned his companions with a cry so loud that it reached my ears upon the hill. The others ran to him, even dropping the compass in their hurry, and I could see the bone and the shoe-buckle going from hand to hand, causing the most unusual gesticulations of surprise and interest. Just then I could hear the seamen crying from the boat, and saw them point westward to that cloud continent which was ever the more rapidly unfurling its blackness over heaven. The others seemed to consult; but the danger was too pressing to be braved, and they bundled into the boat, carrying my relics with them, and set forth out of the bay with all speed of oars.

I made no more ado about the matter, but turned and ran for the house. Whoever these men were, it was fit my uncle should be instantly informed. It was not then altogether too late in the day for a descent of the Jacobites; and maybe Prince Charlie, whom I knew my uncle to detest, was one of the three superiors whom I had seen upon the rock. Yet as I ran, leaping from rock to rock, and turned the matter loosely in my mind, this theory grew ever the longer the less welcome to my reason. The compass, the map, the interest awakened by the buckle, and the conduct of that one among the strangers who had looked so often below him in the water, all seemed to point to a different explanation of their presence on that outlying, obscure islet of the western sea. The Madrid historian, the search instituted by Dr. Robertson, the bearded stranger with the rings, my own fruitless search that very morning in the deep water of Sandag Bay, ran together, piece by piece, in my memory, and I made sure that these strangers must be Spaniards in quest of ancient treasure and the lost ship of the Armada. But the people living in outlying islands, such as Aros, 99 are answerable for their own security; there is none near by to protect or even to help them; and the presence in such a spot of a crew of foreign adventurers—poor, greedy, and most likely lawless—filled me with apprehensions for my uncle’s money, and even for the safety of his daughter. I was still wondering how we were to get rid of them when I came, all breathless, to the top of Aros. The whole world was shadowed over; only in the extreme east, on a hill of the mainland, one last gleam of sunshine lingered like a jewel; rain had begun to fall, not heavily, but in great drops; the sea was rising with each moment, and already a band of white encircled Aros and the nearer coasts of Grisapol. The boat was still pulling seaward, but I now became aware of what had been hidden from me lower down—a large, heavily sparred, handsome schooner lying-to at the south end of Aros. Since I had not seen her in the morning when I had looked around so closely at the signs of the weather, and upon these lone waters where a sail was rarely visible, it was clear she must have lain last night behind the uninhabited Eilean Gour, and this proved conclusively that she was manned by strangers to our coast, for that anchorage, though good enough to look at, is little better than a trap for ships. With such ignorant sailors upon so wild a coast, the coming gale was not unlikely to bring death upon its wings.


 

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CHAPTER IV

THE GALE

I found my uncle at the gable-end, watching the signs of the weather, with a pipe in his fingers.

“Uncle,” said I, “there were men ashore at Sandag Bay——”

I had no time to go further; indeed, I not only forgot my words, but even my weariness, so strange was the effect on Uncle Gordon. He dropped his pipe and fell back against the end of the house with his jaw fallen, his eyes staring, and his long face as white as paper. We must have looked at one another silently for a quarter of a minute, before he made answer in this extraordinary fashion: “Had he a hair kep on?”

I knew as well as if I had been there that the man who now lay buried at Sandag had worn a hairy cap, and that he had come shore alive. For the first and only time I lost toleration for the man who was my benefactor and the father of the woman I hoped to call my wife.

“These were living men,” said I, “perhaps Jacobites, perhaps the French, perhaps pirates, perhaps adventurers come here to seek the Spanish treasure-ship; but, whatever they may be, dangerous at least to your daughter and my cousin. As for your own guilty terrors, man, the dead sleeps well where you have laid him. I stood this morning by his grave; he will not wake before the trump of doom.”

My kinsman looked upon me, blinking, while I spoke; then he fixed his eyes for a little on the ground, and pulled 101 his fingers foolishly; but it was plain that he was past the power of speech.

“Come,” said I. “You must think for others. You must come up the hill with me and see this ship.”

He obeyed without a word or a look, following slowly after my impatient strides. The spring seemed to have gone out of his body, and he scrambled heavily up and down the rocks, instead of leaping, as he was wont, from one to another. Nor could I, for all my cries, induce him to make better haste. Only once he replied to me complainingly, and like one in bodily pain: “Ay, ay, man, I’m coming.” Long before we had reached the top I had no other thought for him but pity. If the crime had been monstrous, the punishment was in proportion.

At last we emerged above the sky-line of the hill, and could see around us. All was black and stormy to the eye; the last gleam of sun had vanished; a wind had sprung up, not yet high, but gusty and unsteady to the point; the rain, on the other hand, had ceased. Short as was the interval, the sea already ran vastly higher than when I had stood there last; already it had begun to break over some of the outward reefs, and already it moaned aloud in the sea-caves of Aros. I looked, at first, in vain for the schooner.

“There she is,” I said at last. But her new position, and the course she was now lying, puzzled me. “They cannot mean to beat to sea,” I cried.

“That’s what they mean,” said my uncle, with something like joy; and just then the schooner went about and stood upon another tack, which put the question beyond the reach of doubt. These strangers, seeing a gale on hand, had thought first of sea-room. With the wind that threatened, in these reef-sown waters and contending against so violent a stream of tide, their course was certain death.

“Good God!” said I, “they are all lost.”

“Ay,” returned my uncle, “a’—a’ lost. They hadna 102 a chance but to rin for Kyle Dona. The gate they’re gaun the noo, they couldna win through an the muckle deil were there to pilot them. Eh, man,” he continued, touching me on the sleeve, “it’s a braw nicht for a shipwreck! Twa in ae twalmonth! Eh, but the Merry Men’ll dance bonny!”

I looked at him, and it was then that I began to fancy him no longer in his right mind. He was peering up to me, as if for sympathy, a timid joy in his eyes. All that had passed between us was already forgotten in the prospect of this fresh disaster.

“If it were not too late,” I cried with indignation, “I would take the coble and go out to warn them.”

“Na, na,” he protested, “ye maunna interfere; ye maunna meddle wi’ the like o’ that. It’s His”—doffing his bonnet—“His wull. And, eh, man! but it’s a braw nicht for’t!”

Something like fear began to creep into my soul; and, reminding him that I had not yet dined, I proposed we should return to the house. But no; nothing would tear him from his place of outlook.

“I maun see the hail thing, man Charlie,” he explained; and then as the schooner went about a second time, “Eh, but they han’le her bonny!” he cried. “The Christ-Anna was naething to this.”

Already the men on board the schooner must have begun to realise some part, but not yet the twentieth, of the dangers that environed their doomed ship. At every lull of the capricious wind they must have seen how fast the current swept them back. Each tack was made shorter, as they saw how little it prevailed. Every moment the rising swell began to boom and foam upon another sunken reef; and ever and again a breaker would fall in sounding ruin under the very bows of her, and the brown reef and streaming tangle appear in the hollow of the wave. I tell you, they had to stand to their tackle: there was no idle man aboard that ship, God knows. It 103 was upon the progress of a scene so horrible to any human-hearted man that my misguided uncle now pored and gloated like a connoisseur. As I turned to go down the hill, he was lying on his belly on the summit, with his hands stretched forth and clutching in the heather. He seemed rejuvenated, mind and body.

When I got back to the house already dismally affected, I was still more sadly downcast at the sight of Mary. She had her sleeves rolled up over her strong arms, and was quietly making bread. I got a bannock from the dresser and sat down to eat it in silence.

“Are ye wearied, lad?” she asked after a while.

“I am not so much wearied, Mary,” I replied, getting on my feet, “as I am weary of delay, and perhaps of Aros too. You know me well enough to judge me fairly, say what I like. Well, Mary, you may be sure of this: you had better be anywhere but here.”

“I’ll be sure of one thing,” she returned: “I’ll be where my duty is.”

“You forget, you have a duty to yourself,” I said.

“Ay, man,” she replied, pounding at the dough; “will you have found that in the Bible, now?”

“Mary,” I said solemnly, “you must not laugh at me just now. God knows I am in no heart for laughing. If we could get your father with us, it would be best; but with him or without him, I want you far away from here, my girl; for your own sake, and for mine, ay, and for your father’s too, I want you far—far away from here. I came with other thoughts; I came here as a man comes home; now it is all changed, and I have no desire nor hope but to flee—for that’s the word—flee, like a bird out of the fowler’s snare, from this accursed island.”

She had stopped her work by this time.

“And do you think, now,” said she, “do you think, now, I have neither eyes nor ears? Do ye think I havena broken my heart to have these braws (as he calls them, God forgive him!) thrown into the sea? Do 104 ye think I have lived with him, day in, day out, and not seen what you saw in an hour or two? No,” she said, “I know there’s wrong in it; what wrong, I neither know nor want to know. There was never an ill thing made better by meddling, that I could hear of. But, my lad, you must never ask me to leave my father. While the breath is in his body, I’ll be with him. And he’s not long for here, either: that I can tell you, Charlie—he’s not long for here. The mark is on his brow; and better so—maybe better so.”

I was a while silent, not knowing what to say; and when I roused my head at last to speak, she got before me.

“Charlie,” she said, “what’s right for me needna be right for you. There’s sin upon this house and trouble; you are a stranger; take your things upon your back and go your ways to better places and to better folk, and if you were ever minded to come back, though it were twenty years syne, you would find me aye waiting.”

“Mary Ellen,” I said, “I asked you to be my wife, and you said as good as yes. That’s done for good. Wherever you are, I am; as I shall answer to my God.”

As I said the words the wind suddenly burst out raving, and then seemed to stand still and shudder round the house of Aros. It was the first squall, or prologue, of the coming tempest, and as we started and looked about us, we found that a gloom, like the approach of evening, had settled round the house.

“God pity all poor folks at sea!” she said. “We’ll see no more of my father till the morrow’s morning.”

And then she told me, as we sat by the fire and hearkened to the rising gusts, of how this change had fallen upon my uncle. All last winter he had been dark and fitful in his mind. Whenever the Roost ran high, or, as Mary said, whenever the Merry Men were dancing, he would lie out for hours together on the Head, if it were night, or on the top of Aros by day, watching the tumult 105 of the sea, and sweeping the horizon for a sail. After February the 10th, when the wealth-bringing wreck was cast ashore at Sandag, he had been at first unnaturally gay, and his excitement had never fallen in degree, but only changed in kind from dark to darker. He neglected his work, and kept Rorie idle. They two would speak together by the hour at the gable-end, in guarded tones and with an air of secrecy, and almost of guilt; and if she questioned either, as at first she sometimes did, her inquiries were put aside with confusion. Since Rorie had first remarked the fish that hung about the ferry, his master had never set foot but once upon the mainland of the Ross. That once—it was in the height of the springs—he had passed dry-shod while the tide was out; but, having lingered overlong on the far side, found himself cut off from Aros by the returning waters. It was with a shriek of agony that he had leaped across the gut, and he had reached home thereafter in a fever-fit of fear. A fear of the sea, a constant haunting thought of the sea, appeared in his talk and devotions, and even in his looks when he was silent.

Rorie alone came in to supper; but a little later my uncle appeared, took a bottle under his arm, put some bread in his pocket, and set forth again to his outlook, followed this time by Rorie. I heard that the schooner was losing ground, but the crew was still fighting every inch with hopeless ingenuity and courage; and the news filled my mind with blackness.

A little after sundown the full fury of the gale broke forth, such a gale as I have never seen in summer, nor, seeing how swiftly it had come, even in winter. Mary and I sat in silence, the house quaking overhead, the tempest howling without, the fire between us sputtering with raindrops. Our thoughts were far away with the poor fellows on the schooner, or my not less unhappy uncle, houseless on the promontory; and yet ever and again we were startled back to ourselves, when the wind 106 would rise and strike the gable like a solid body, or suddenly fall and draw away, so that the fire leaped into flame and our hearts bounded in our sides. Now the storm in its might would seize and shake the four corners of the roof, roaring like Leviathan in anger. Anon, in a lull, cold eddies of tempest moved shudderingly in the room, lifting the hair upon our heads and passing between us as we sat. And again the wind would break forth in a chorus of melancholy sounds, hooting low in the chimney, wailing with flutelike softness round the house.

It was perhaps eight o’clock when Rorie came in and pulled me mysteriously to the door. My uncle, it appeared, had frightened even his constant comrade; and Rorie, uneasy at his extravagance, prayed me to come out and share the watch. I hastened to do as I was asked; the more readily as, what with fear and horror, and the electrical tension of the night, I was myself restless and disposed for action. I told Mary to be under no alarm, for I should be a safeguard on her father; and wrapping myself warmly in a plaid, I followed Rorie into the open air.

The night, though we were so little past midsummer, was as dark as January. Intervals of a groping twilight alternated with spells of utter blackness; and it was impossible to trace the reason of these changes in the flying horror of the sky. The wind blew the breath out of a man’s nostrils; all heaven seemed to thunder overhead like one huge sail; and when there fell a momentary lull on Aros, we could hear the gusts dismally sweeping in the distance. Over all the lowlands of the Ross the wind must have blown as fierce as on the open sea; and God only knows the uproar that was raging around the head of Ben Kyaw. Sheets of mingled spray and rain were driven in our faces. All round the isle of Aros the surf, with an incessant, hammering thunder, beat upon the reefs and beaches. Now louder in one place, now lower in another, like the combinations of orchestral 107 music, the constant mass of sound was hardly varied for a moment. And loud above all this hurly-burly I could hear the changeful voices of the Roost and the intermittent roaring of the Merry Men. At that hour, there flashed into my mind the reason of the name that they were called. For the noise of them seemed almost mirthful, as it out-topped the other noises of the night; or if not mirthful, yet instinct with a portentous joviality. Nay, and it seemed even human. As when savage men have drunk away their reason, and, discarding speech, bawl together in their madness by the hour; so, to my ears, these deadly breakers shouted by Aros in the night.

Arm in arm, and staggering against the wind, Rorie and I won every yard of ground with conscious effort. We slipped on the wet sod, we fell together sprawling on the rocks. Bruised, drenched, beaten, and breathless, it must have taken us near half an hour to get from the house down to the Head that overlooks the Roost. There, it seemed, was my uncle’s favourite observatory. Right in the face of it, where the cliff is highest and most sheer, a hump of earth, like a parapet, makes a place of shelter from the common winds, where a man may sit in quiet and see the tide and the mad billows contending at his feet. As he might look down from the window of a house upon some street disturbance, so, from this post, he looks down upon the tumbling of the Merry Men. On such a night, of course, he peers upon a world of blackness, where the waters wheel and boil, where the waves joust together with the noise of an explosion, and the foam towers and vanishes in the twinkling of an eye. Never before had I seen the Merry Men thus violent. The fury, height, and transiency of their spoutings was a thing to be seen and not recounted. High over our heads on the cliff rose their white columns in the darkness; and the same instant, like phantoms, they were gone. Sometimes three at a time would thus aspire and vanish; sometimes a gust took them, and the spray would fall about us, heavy 108 as a wave. And yet the spectacle was rather maddening in its levity than impressive by its force. Thought was beaten down by the confounding uproar; a gleeful vacancy possessed the brains of men, a state akin to madness; and I found myself at times following the dance of the Merry Men as it were a tune upon a jigging instrument.

I first caught sight of my uncle when we were still some yards away in one of the flying glimpses of twilight that chequered the pitch darkness of the night. He was standing up behind the parapet, his head thrown back and the bottle to his mouth. As he put it down, he saw and recognised us with a toss of one hand fleeringly above his head.

“Has he been drinking?” shouted I to Rorie.

“He will aye be drunk when the wind blaws,” returned Rorie in the same high key, and it was all that I could do to hear him.

“Then—was he so—in February?” I inquired.

Rorie’s “Ay” was a cause of joy to me. The murder, then, had not sprung in cold blood from calculation; it was an act of madness no more to be condemned than to be pardoned. My uncle was a dangerous madman, if you will, but he was not cruel and base as I had feared. Yet what a scene for a carouse, what an incredible vice, was this that the poor man had chosen! I have always thought drunkenness a wild and almost fearful pleasure, rather demoniacal than human; but drunkenness, out here in the roaring blackness, on the edge of a cliff above that hell of waters, the man’s head spinning like the Roost, his foot tottering on the edge of death, his ear watching for the signs of shipwreck, surely that, if it were credible in any one, was morally impossible in a man like my uncle, whose mind was set upon a damnatory creed and haunted by the darkest superstitions. Yet so it was; and, as we reached the bight of shelter and could breathe again, I saw the man’s eyes shining in the night with an unholy glimmer.

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“Eh, Charlie man, it’s grand!” he cried. “See to them!” he continued, dragging me to the edge of the abyss from whence arose that deafening clamour and those clouds of spray; “see to them dancin’, man! Is that no wicked?”

He pronounced the word with gusto, and I thought it suited with the scene.

“They’re yowlin’ for thon schooner,” he went on, his thin, insane voice clearly audible in the shelter of the bank, “an’ she’s comin’ aye nearer, aye nearer, aye nearer an’ nearer an’ nearer; an’ they ken’t, the folk kens it, they ken weel it’s by wi’ them. Charlie lad, they’re a’ drunk in yon schooner, a’ dozened wi’ drink. They were a’ drunk in the Christ-Anna, at the hinder end. There’s nane could droon at sea wantin’ the brandy. Hoot awa, what do you ken?” with a sudden blast of anger. “I tell ye, it canna be; they daurna droon without it. Hae,” holding out the bottle, “tak’ a sowp.”

I was about to refuse, but Rorie touched me as if in warning; and indeed I had already thought better of the movement. I took the bottle, therefore, and not only drank freely myself, but contrived to spill even more as I was doing so. It was pure spirit, and almost strangled me to swallow. My kinsman did not observe the loss, but, once more throwing back his head, drained the remainder to the dregs. Then, with a loud laugh, he cast the bottle forth among the Merry Men, who seemed to leap up, shouting to receive it.

“Hae, bairns!” he cried, “there’s your hansel. Ye’ll get bonnier nor that or morning.”

Suddenly, out in the black night before us, and not two hundred yards away, we heard, at a moment when the wind was silent, the clear note of a human voice. Instantly the wind swept howling down upon the Head, and the Roost bellowed, and churned, and danced with a new fury. But we had heard the sound, and we knew, with agony, that this was the doomed ship now close on 110 ruin, and that what we had heard was the voice of her master issuing his last command. Crouching together on the edge, we waited, straining every sense, for the inevitable end. It was long, however, and to us it seemed like ages, ere the schooner suddenly appeared for one brief instant, relieved against a tower of glimmering foam. I still see her reefed mainsail flapping loose, as the boom fell heavily across the deck; I still see the black outline of the hull, and still think I can distinguish the figure of a man stretched upon the tiller. Yet the whole sight we had of her passed swifter than lightning; the very wave that disclosed her fell burying her for ever; the mingled cry of many voices at the point of death rose and was quenched in the roaring of the Merry Men. And with that the tragedy was at an end. The strong ship, with all her gear, and the lamp perhaps still burning in the cabin, the lives of so many men, precious surely to others, dear, at least, as heaven to themselves, had all, in that one moment, gone down into the surging waters. They were gone like a dream. And the wind still ran and shouted, and the senseless waters in the Roost still leaped and tumbled as before.

How long we lay there together, we three, speechless and motionless, is more than I can tell, but it must have been for long. At length, one by one, and almost mechanically, we crawled back into the shelter of the bank. As I lay against the parapet, wholly wretched and not entirely master of my mind, I could hear my kinsman maundering to himself in an altered and melancholy mood. Now he would repeat to himself with maudlin iteration, “Sic a fecht as they had—sic a sair fecht as they had, puir lads, puir lads!” and anon he would bewail that “a’ the gear was as gude’s tint,” because the ship had gone down among the Merry Men instead of stranding on the shore; and throughout, the name—the Christ-Anna—would come and go in his divagations, pronounced with shuddering awe. The storm 111 all this time was rapidly abating. In half an hour the wind had fallen to a breeze, and the change was accompanied or caused by a heavy, cold, and plumping rain. I must then have fallen asleep, and when I came to myself, drenched, stiff, and unrefreshed, day had already broken, grey, wet, discomfortable day; the wind blew in faint and shifting capfuls, the tide was out, the Roost was at its lowest, and only the strong beating surf round all the coasts of Aros remained to witness of the furies of the night.


 

112

CHAPTER V

A MAN OUT OF THE SEA

Rorie set out for the house in search of warmth and breakfast; but my uncle was bent upon examining the shores of Aros, and I felt it a part of duty to accompany him throughout. He was now docile and quiet, but tremulous and weak in mind and body; and it was with the eagerness of a child that he pursued his exploration. He climbed far down upon the rocks; on the beaches he pursued the retreating breakers. The merest broken plank or rag of cordage was a treasure in his eyes to be secured at the peril of his life. To see him, with weak and stumbling footsteps, expose himself to the pursuit of the surf, or the snares and pitfalls of the weedy rock, kept me in a perpetual terror. My arm was ready to support him, my hand clutched him by the skirt, I helped him to draw his pitiful discoveries beyond the reach of the returning wave; a nurse accompanying a child of seven would have had no different experience.

Yet, weakened as he was by the reaction from his madness of the night before, the passions that smouldered in his nature were those of a strong man. His terror of the sea, although conquered for the moment, was still undiminished; had the sea been a lake of living flames, he could not have shrunk more panically from its touch; and once, when his foot slipped and he plunged to the mid-leg into a pool of water, the shriek that came up out of his soul was like the cry of death. He sat still for a while, panting like a dog, after that; but his desire for the spoils of shipwreck triumphed once more over his 113 fears; once more he tottered among the curded foam; once more he crawled upon the rocks among the bursting bubbles; once more his whole heart seemed to be set on driftwood, fit, if it was fit for anything, to throw upon the fire. Pleased as he was with what he found, he still incessantly grumbled at his ill-fortune.

“Aros,” he said, “is no’ a place for wrecks ava’—no’ ava’. A’ the years I’ve dwalt here, this ane maks the second; and the best o’ the gear clean tint!”

“Uncle,“ said I, for we were now on a stretch of open sand, where there was nothing to divert his mind, “I saw you last night, as I never thought to see you—you were drunk.”

“Na, na,” he said, “no’ as bad as that. I had been drinking, though. And to tell ye the God’s truth, it’s a thing I canna mend. There’s nae soberer man than me in my ordnar; but when I hear the wind blaw in my lug, it’s my belief that I gang gyte.”

“You are a religious man,” I replied, “and this is sin.”

“Ou,” he returned, “if it wasna sin, I dinna ken that I would care for’t. Ye see, man, it’s defiance. There’s a sair spang o’ the auld sin o’ the world in yon sea; it’s an unchristian business at the best o’t; an’ whiles when it gets up, an’ the wind skreighs—the wind an’ her are a kind of sib, I’m thinkin’—an’ thae Merry Men, the daft callants, blawin’ and lauchin’, and puir souls in the deid-thraws warstlin’ the leelang nicht wi’ their bit ships—weel, it comes ower me like a glamour. I’m a deil, I ken’t. But I think naething o’ the puir sailor lads; I’m wi’ the sea, I’m just like ane o’ her ain Merry Men.”

I thought I should touch him in a joint of his harness. I turned me towards the sea; the surf was running gaily, wave after wave, with their manes blowing behind them, riding one after another up the beach, towering, curving, falling one upon another on the trampled sand. Without, the salt air, the scared gulls, the widespread army of the 114 sea-chargers, neighing to each other, as they gathered together to the assault of Aros; and close before us, that line on the flat sands, that, with all their number and their fury, they might never pass.

“Thus far shalt thou go,” said I, “and no farther.” And then I quoted as solemnly as I was able a verse that I had often before fitted to the chorus of the breakers:—

But yet the Lord, that is on high,

Is more of might by far

Than noise of many waters is,

Or great sea-billows are.

“Ay,” said my kinsman, “at the hinder end, the Lord will triumph; I dinna misdoobt that. But here on earth, even silly men-folk daur Him to His face. It is no’ wise; I am no sayin’ that it’s wise; but it’s the pride of the eye, and it’s the lust o’ life, an’ it’s the wale o’ pleesures.”

I said no more, for we had now begun to cross a neck of land that lay between us and Sandag; and I withheld my last appeal to the man’s better reason till we should stand upon the spot associated with his crime. Nor did he pursue the subject; but he walked beside me with a firmer step. The call that I had made upon his mind acted like a stimulant, and I could see that he had forgotten his search for worthless jetsam, in a profound, gloomy, and yet stirring train of thought. In three or four minutes we had topped the brae and began to go down upon Sandag. The wreck had been roughly handled by the sea; the stem had been spun round and dragged a little lower down; and perhaps the stern had been forced a little higher, for the two parts now lay entirely separate on the beach. When we came to the grave I stopped, uncovered my head in the thick rain, and, looking my kinsman in the face, addressed him.

“A man,” said I, “was in God’s providence suffered to escape from mortal dangers; he was poor, he was naked, he was wet, he was weary, he was a stranger; he 115 had every claim upon the bowels of your compassion; it may be that he was the salt of the earth, holy, helpful, and kind; it may be he was a man laden with iniquities to whom death was the beginning of torment. I ask you in the sight of Heaven: Gordon Darnaway, where is the man for whom Christ died?”

He started visibly at the last words; but there came no answer, and his face expressed no feeling but a vague alarm.

“You were my father’s brother,” I continued; “you have taught me to count your house as if it were my father’s house; and we are both sinful men walking before the Lord among the sins and dangers of this life. It is by our evil that God leads us into good; we sin, I dare not say by His temptation, but I must say with His consent; and to any but the brutish man his sins are the beginning of wisdom. God has warned you by this crime; He warns you still by the bloody grave between our feet; and if there shall follow no repentance, no improvement, no return to Him, what can we look for but the following of some memorable judgment?”

Even as I spoke the words, the eyes of my uncle wandered from my face. A change fell upon his looks that cannot be described; his features seemed to dwindle in size, the colour faded from his cheeks, one hand rose waveringly and pointed over my shoulder into the distance, and the oft-repeated name fell once more from his lips: “The Christ-Anna!”

I turned; and if I was not appalled to the same degree, as I return thanks to Heaven that I had not the cause, I was still startled by the sight that met my eyes. The form of a man stood upright on the cabin-hutch of the wrecked ship; his back was towards us; he appeared to be scanning the offing with shaded eyes, and his figure was relieved to its full height, which was plainly very great, against the sea and sky. I have said a thousand times that I am not superstitious; but at that moment, 116 with my mind running upon death and sin, the unexplained appearance of a stranger on that sea-girt, solitary island filled me with a surprise that bordered close on terror. It seemed scarce possible that any human soul should have come ashore alive in such a sea as had raged last night along the coast of Aros; and the only vessel within miles had gone down before our eyes among the Merry Men. I was assailed with doubts that made suspense unbearable, and, to put the matter to the touch at once, stepped forward and hailed the figure like a ship.

He turned about, and I thought he started to behold us. At this my courage instantly revived, and I called and signed to him to draw near, and he, on his part, dropped immediately to the sands, and began slowly to approach, with many stops and hesitations. At each repeated mark of the man’s uneasiness I grew the more confident myself; and I advanced another step, encouraging him as I did so with my head and hand. It was plain the castaway had heard indifferent accounts of our island hospitality; and indeed, about this time, the people farther north had a sorry reputation.

“Why,” I said, “the man is black!”

And just at that moment, in a voice that I could scarce have recognised, my kinsman began swearing and praying in a mingled stream. I looked at him; he had fallen on his knees, his face was agonised; at each step of the castaway’s the pitch of his voice rose, the volubility of his utterance and the fervour of his language redoubled. I call it prayer, for it was addressed to God; but surely no such ranting incongruities were ever before addressed to the Creator by a creature: surely if prayer can be a sin, this mad harangue was sinful. I ran to my kinsman, I seized him by the shoulders, I dragged him to his feet.

“Silence, man,” said I, “respect your God in words, if not in action. Here, on the very scene of your transgressions, He sends you an occasion of atonement. Forward 117 and embrace it: welcome like a father yon creature who comes trembling to your mercy.”

With that, I tried to force him towards the black; but he felled me to the ground, burst from my grasp, leaving the shoulder of his jacket, and fled up the hillside towards the top of Aros like a deer. I staggered to my feet again, bruised and somewhat stunned; the negro had paused in surprise, perhaps in terror, some half-way between me and the wreck; my uncle was already far away, bounding from rock to rock; and I thus found myself torn for a time between two duties. But I judged, and I pray Heaven that I judged rightly, in favour of the poor wretch upon the sands; his misfortune was at least not plainly of his own creation; it was one, besides, that I could certainly relieve; and I had begun by that time to regard my uncle as an incurable and dismal lunatic. I advanced accordingly towards the black, who now awaited my approach with folded arms, like one prepared for either destiny. As I came nearer, he reached forth his hand with a great gesture, such as I had seen from the pulpit, and spoke to me in something of a pulpit voice, but not a word was comprehensible. I tried him first in English, then in Gaelic, both in vain; so that it was clear we must rely upon the tongue of looks and gestures. Thereupon I signed to him to follow me, which he did readily and with a grave obeisance like a fallen king; all the while there had come no shade of alteration in his face, neither of anxiety while he was still waiting, nor of relief now that he was reassured; if he were a slave, as I supposed, I could not but judge he must have fallen from some high place in his own country, and, fallen as he was, I could not but admire his bearing. As we passed the grave, I paused and raised my hands and eyes to heaven in token of respect and sorrow for the dead; and he, as if in answer, bowed low and spread his hands abroad; it was a strange motion, but done like a thing of common custom; and I supposed it was ceremonial in the land from 118 which he came. At the same time he pointed to my uncle, whom we could just see perched upon a knoll, and touched his head to indicate that he was mad.

We took the long way round the shore, for I feared to excite my uncle if we struck across the island; and as we walked, I had time enough to mature the little dramatic exhibition by which I hoped to satisfy my doubts. Accordingly, pausing on a rock, I proceeded to imitate before the negro the action of the man whom I had seen the day before taking bearings with the compass at Sandag. He understood me at once, and, taking the imitation out of my hands, showed me where the boat was, pointed out seaward as if to indicate the position of the schooner, and then down along the edge of the rock with the words “Espirito Santo,” strangely pronounced, but clear enough for recognition. I had thus been right in my conjecture; the pretended historical inquiry had been but a cloak for treasure-hunting; the man who had played on Dr. Robertson was the same as the foreigner who visited Grisapol in spring, and now, with many others, lay dead under the Roost of Aros: there had their greed brought them, there should their bones be tossed for evermore. In the meantime the black continued his imitation of the scene, now looking up skyward as though watching the approach of the storm; now, in the character of a seaman, waving the rest to come aboard; now as an officer, running along the rock and entering the boat; and anon bending over imaginary oars with the air of a hurried boatman; but all with the same solemnity of manner, so that I was never even moved to smile. Lastly, he indicated to me, by a pantomime not to be described in words, how he himself had gone up to examine the stranded wreck, and, to his grief and indignation, had been deserted by his comrades; and thereupon folded his arms once more, and stooped his head, like one accepting fate.

The mystery of his presence being thus solved for me, 119 I explained to him by means of a sketch the fate of the vessel and of all aboard her. He showed no surprise nor sorrow, and, with a sudden lifting of his open hand, seemed to dismiss his former friends or masters (whichever they had been) into God’s pleasure. Respect came upon me and grew stronger, the more I observed him; I saw he had a powerful mind and a sober and severe character, such as I loved to commune with; and before we reached the house of Aros I had almost forgotten, and wholly forgiven him, his uncanny colour.

To Mary I told all that had passed without suppression, though I own my heart failed me; but I did wrong to doubt her sense of justice.

“You did the right,” she said. “God’s will be done.” And she set out meat for us at once.

As soon as I was satisfied, I bade Rorie keep an eye upon the castaway, who was still eating, and set forth again myself to find my uncle. I had not gone far before I saw him sitting in the same place, upon the very topmost knoll, and seemingly in the same attitude as when I had last observed him. From that point, as I have said, the most of Aros and the neighbouring Ross would be spread below him like a map; and it was plain that he kept a bright look-out in all directions, for my head had scarcely risen above the summit of the first ascent before he had leaped to his feet and turned as if to face me. I hailed him at once, as well as I was able, in the same tones and words as I had often used before, when I had come to summon him to dinner. He made not so much as a movement in reply. I passed on a little farther, and again tried parley, with the same result. But when I began a second time to advance, his insane fears blazed up again, and still in dead silence, but with incredible speed, he began to flee from before me along the rocky summit of the hill. An hour before he had been dead weary, and I had been comparatively active. But now his strength was recruited by the fervour of insanity, and 120 it would have been vain for me to dream of pursuit. Nay, the very attempt, I thought, might have inflamed his terrors, and thus increased the miseries of our position. And I had nothing left but to turn homeward and make my sad report to Mary.

She heard it, as she had heard the first, with a concerned composure, and, bidding me lie down and take that rest of which I stood so much in need, set forth herself in quest of her misguided father. At that age it would have been a strange thing that put me from either meat or sleep; I slept long and deep; and it was already long past noon before I awoke and came downstairs into the kitchen. Mary, Rorie, and the black castaway were seated about the fire in silence; and I could see that Mary had been weeping. There was cause enough, as I soon learned, for tears. First she, and then Rorie, had been forth to seek my uncle; each in turn had found him perched upon the hill-top, and from each in turn he had silently and swiftly fled. Rorie had tried to chase him, but in vain; madness lent a new vigour to his bounds; he sprang from rock to rock over the widest gullies; he scoured like the wind along the hill-tops; he doubled and twisted like a hare before the dogs; and Rorie at length gave in; and the last that he saw, my uncle was seated as before upon the crest of Aros. Even during the hottest excitement of the chase, even when the fleet-footed servant had come, for a moment, very near to capture him, the poor lunatic had uttered not a sound. He fled, and he was silent, like a beast; and this silence had terrified his pursuer.

There was something heart-breaking in the situation. How to capture the madman, how to feed him in the meanwhile, and what to do with him when he was captured, were the three difficulties that we had to solve.

“The black,” said I, “is the cause of this attack. It may even be his presence in the house that keeps my uncle on the hill. We have done the fair thing; he has 121 been fed and warmed under this roof; now I propose that Rorie put him across the bay in the coble, and take him through the Ross as far as Grisapol.”

In this proposal Mary heartily concurred; and bidding the black follow us, we all three descended to the pier. Certainly, Heaven’s will was declared against Gordon Darnaway; a thing had happened, never paralleled before in Aros: during the storm, the coble had broken loose, and, striking on the rough splinters of the pier, now lay in four feet of water with one side stove in. Three days of work at least would be required to make her float. But I was not to be beaten. I led the whole party round to where the gut was narrowest, swam to the other side, and called to the black to follow me. He signed, with the same clearness and quiet as before, that he knew not the art; and there was truth apparent in his signals, it would have occurred to none of us to doubt his truth; and that hope being over, we must all go back even as we came to the house of Aros, the negro walking in our midst without embarrassment.

All we could do that day was to make one more attempt to communicate with the unhappy madman. Again he was visible on his perch; again he fled in silence. But food and a great cloak were at least left for his comfort; the rain, besides, had cleared away, and the night promised to be even warm. We might compose ourselves, we thought, until the morrow; rest was the chief requisite, that we might be strengthened for unusual exertions; and as none cared to talk, we separated at an early hour.

I lay long awake, planning a campaign for the morrow. I was to place the black on the side of Sandag, whence he should head my uncle towards the house; Rorie in the west, I on the east, were to complete the cordon, as best we might. It seemed to me, the more I recalled the configuration of the island, that it should be possible, though hard, to force him down upon the low ground along Aros Bay; and once there, even with 122 the strength of his madness, ultimate escape was hardly to be feared. It was on his terror of the black that I relied; for I made sure, however he might run, it would not be in the direction of the man whom he supposed to have returned from the dead, and thus one point of the compass at least would be secure.

When at length I fell asleep, it was to be awakened shortly after by a dream of wrecks, black men, and submarine adventure; and I found myself so shaken and fevered that I arose, descended the stair, and stepped out before the house. Within, Rorie and the black were asleep together in the kitchen; outside was a wonderful clear night of stars, with here and there a cloud still hanging, last stragglers of the tempest. It was near the top of the flood, and the Merry Men were roaring in the windless quiet of the night. Never, not even in the height of the tempest, had I heard their song with greater awe. Now, when the winds were gathered home, when the deep was dandling itself back into its summer slumber, and when the stars rained their gentle light over land and sea, the voice of these tide-breakers was still raised for havoc. They seemed, indeed, to be a part of the world’s evil and the tragic side of life. Nor were their meaningless vociferations the only sounds that broke the silence of the night. For I could hear, now shrill and thrilling and now almost drowned, the note of a human voice that accompanied the uproar of the Roost. I knew it for my kinsman’s; and a great fear fell upon me of God’s judgments, and the evil in the world. I went back again into the darkness of the house as into a place of shelter, and lay long upon my bed, pondering these mysteries.

It was late when I again woke, and I leaped into my clothes and hurried to the kitchen. No one was there; Rorie and the black had both stealthily departed long before; and my heart stood still at the discovery. I could rely on Rorie’s heart, but I placed no trust in 123 his discretion. If he had thus set out without a word, he was plainly bent upon some service to my uncle. But what service could he hope to render even alone, far less in the company of the man in whom my uncle found his fears incarnated? Even if I were not already too late to prevent some deadly mischief, it was plain I must delay no longer. With the thought I was out of the house; and often as I have run on the rough sides of Aros, I never ran as I did that fatal morning. I do not believe I put twelve minutes to the whole ascent.

My uncle was gone from his perch. The basket had indeed been torn open and the meat scattered on the turf; but, as we found afterwards, no mouthful had been tasted; and there was not another trace of human existence in that wide field of view. Day had already filled the clear heavens; the sun already lighted in a rosy bloom upon the crest of Ben Kyaw; but all below me the rude knolls of Aros and the shield of sea lay steeped in the clear darkling twilight of the dawn.

“Rorie!” I cried; and again “Rorie!” My voice died in the silence, but there came no answer back. If there were indeed an enterprise afoot to catch my uncle, it was plainly not in fleetness of foot, but in dexterity of stalking, that the hunters placed their trust. I ran on farther, keeping the higher spurs, and looking right and left, nor did I pause again till I was on the mount above Sandag. I could see the wreck, the uncovered belt of sand, the waves idly beating, the long ledge of rocks, and on either hand the tumbled knolls, boulders, and gullies of the island. But still no human thing.

At a stride the sunshine fell on Aros, and the shadows and colours leaped into being. Not half a moment later, below me to the west, sheep began to scatter as in a panic. There came a cry. I saw my uncle running. I saw the black jump up in hot pursuit; and before I had time to understand, Rorie also had appeared, calling directions in Gaelic as to a dog herding sheep.

124

I took to my heels to interfere, and perhaps I had done better to have waited where I was, for I was the means of cutting off the madman’s last escape. There was nothing before him from that moment but the grave, the wreck, and the sea in Sandag Bay. And yet Heaven knows that what I did was for the best.

My Uncle Gordon saw in what direction, horrible to him, the chase was driving him. He doubled, darting to the right and left; but high as the fever ran in his veins, the black was still the swifter. Turn where he would, he was still forestalled, still driven toward the scene of his crime. Suddenly he began to shriek aloud, so that the coast re-echoed; and now both I and Rorie were calling on the black to stop. But all was vain, for it was written otherwise. The pursuer still ran, the chase still sped before him screaming; they avoided the grave, and skimmed close past the timbers of the wreck; in a breath they had cleared the sand; and still my kinsman did not pause, but dashed straight into the surf; and the black, now almost within reach, still followed swiftly behind him. Rorie and I both stopped, for the thing was now beyond the hands of men, and these were the decrees of God that came to pass before our eyes. There was never a sharper ending. On that steep beach they were beyond their depth at a bound; neither could swim; the black rose once for a moment with a throttling cry; but the current had them, racing seaward; and if ever they came up again, which God alone can tell, it would be ten minutes after, at the far end of Aros Roost, where the sea-birds hover fishing.


1 i.e. the six stories which were in 1887 published in a volume entitled The Merry Men, and Other Tales and Fables: of this volume “The Merry Men” and “Olalla” formed part.

2 Boggy.

3 Clock.

4 Enjoy.

 

125


OLALLA


126

 

127

OLALLA

“Now,” said the doctor, “my part is done, and, I may say, with some vanity, well done. It remains only to get you out of this cold and poisonous city, and to give you two months of a pure air and an easy conscience. The last is your affair. To the first I think I can help you. It falls indeed rather oddly; it was but the other day the Padre came in from the country; and as he and I are old friends, although of contrary professions, he applied to me in a matter of distress among some of his parishioners. This was a family—but you are ignorant of Spain, and even the names of our grandees are hardly known to you; suffice it, then, that they were once great people, and are now fallen to the brink of destitution. Nothing now belongs to them but the residencia, and certain leagues of desert mountain, in the greater part of which not even a goat could support life. But the house is a fine old place, and stands at a great height among the hills, and most salubriously; and I had no sooner heard my friend’s tale than I remembered you. I told him I had a wounded officer, wounded in the good cause, who was now able to make a change; and I proposed that his friends should take you for a lodger. Instantly the Padre’s face grew dark, as I had maliciously foreseen it would. It was out of the question, he said. Then let them starve, said I, for I have no sympathy with tatterdemalion pride. Thereupon we separated, not very content with one another; but yesterday, to my wonder, the Padre returned and made a submission: the difficulty, he said, he had found upon inquiry to be less than he had feared; or, in other words, 128 these proud people had put their pride in their pocket. I closed with the offer; and, subject to your approval, I have taken rooms for you in the residencia. The air of these mountains will renew your blood; and the quiet in which you will there live is worth all the medicines in the world.”

“Doctor,” said I, “you have been throughout my good angel, and your advice is a command. But tell me, if you please, something of the family with which I am to reside.”

“I am coming to that,” replied my friend; “and, indeed, there is a difficulty in the way. These beggars are, as I have said, of very high descent, and swollen with the most baseless vanity; they have lived for some generations in a growing isolation, drawing away, on either hand, from the rich who had now become too high for them, and from the poor, whom they still regarded as too low; and even to-day, when poverty forces them to unfasten their door to a guest, they cannot do so without a most ungracious stipulation. You are to remain, they say, a stranger; they will give you attendance, but they refuse from the first the idea of the smallest intimacy.”

I will not deny that I was piqued, and perhaps the feeling strengthened my desire to go, for I was confident that I could break down that barrier if I desired. “There is nothing offensive in such a stipulation,” said I; “and I even sympathise with the feeling that inspired it.”

“It is true they have never seen you,” returned the doctor politely; “and if they knew you were the handsomest and the most pleasant man that ever came from England (where I am told that handsome men are common, but pleasant ones not so much so), they would doubtless make you welcome with a better grace. But since you take the thing so well, it matters not. To me, indeed, it seems discourteous. But you will find yourself the gainer. The family will not much tempt you. A mother, a son, and a daughter; an old woman said to be half-witted, 129 a country lout, and a country girl, who stands very high with her confessor, and is, therefore,” chuckled the physician, “most likely plain; there is not much in that to attract the fancy of a dashing officer.”

“And yet you say they are high-born,” I objected.

“Well, as to that, I should distinguish,” returned the doctor. “The mother is; not so the children. The mother was the last representative of a princely stock, degenerate both in parts and fortune. Her father was not only poor, he was mad: and the girl ran wild about the residencia till his death. Then, much of the fortune having died with him, and the family being quite extinct, the girl ran wilder than ever, until at last she married, Heaven knows whom, a muleteer some say, others a smuggler; while there are some who uphold there was no marriage at all, and that Felipe and Olalla are bastards. The union, such as it was, was tragically dissolved some years ago; but they live in such seclusion, and the country at that time was in so much disorder, that the precise manner of the man’s end is known only to the priest—if even to him.”

“I begin to think I shall have strange experiences,” said I.

“I would not romance, if I were you,” replied the doctor; “you will find, I fear, a very grovelling and commonplace reality. Felipe, for instance, I have seen. And what am I to say? He is very rustic, very cunning, very loutish, and, I should say, an innocent; the others are probably to match. No, no, señor commandante, you must seek congenial society among the great sights of our mountains; and in these at least, if you are at all a lover of the works of nature, I promise you will not be disappointed.”

The next day Felipe came for me in a rough country cart, drawn by a mule; and a little before the stroke of noon, after I had said farewell to the doctor, the innkeeper, and different good souls who had befriended me during my sickness, we set forth out of the city by the eastern 130 gate, and began to ascend into the Sierra. I had been so long a prisoner, since I was left behind for dying after the loss of the convoy, that the mere smell of the earth set me smiling. The country through which we went was wild and rocky, partially covered with rough woods, now of the cork-tree, and now of the great Spanish chestnut, and frequently intersected by the beds of mountain torrents. The sun shone, the wind rustled joyously; and we had advanced some miles, and the city had already shrunk into an inconsiderable knoll upon the plain behind us, before my attention began to be diverted to the companion of my drive. To the eye, he seemed but a diminutive, loutish, well-made country lad, such as the doctor had described, mighty quick and active, but devoid of any culture; and this first impression was with most observers final. What began to strike me was his familiar, chattering talk; so strangely inconsistent with the terms on which I was to be received; and partly from his imperfect enunciation, partly from the sprightly incoherence of the matter, so very difficult to follow clearly without an effort of the mind. It is true I had before talked with persons of a similar mental constitution; persons who seemed to live (as he did) by the senses, taken and possessed by the visual object of the moment and unable to discharge their minds of that impression. His seemed to me (as I sat, distantly giving ear) a kind of conversation proper to drivers, who pass much of their time in a great vacancy of the intellect and threading the sights of a familiar country. But this was not the case of Felipe; by his own account, he was a home-keeper; “I wish I was there now,” he said; and then, spying a tree by the wayside, he broke off to tell me that he had once seen a crow among its branches.

“A crow?“ I repeated, struck by the ineptitude of the remark, and thinking I had heard imperfectly.

But by this time he was already filled with a new idea; hearkening with a rapt intentness, his head on one side, 131 his face puckered; and he struck me rudely, to make me hold my peace. Then he smiled and shook his head.

“What did you hear?” I asked.

“Oh, it is all right,” he said; and began encouraging his mule with cries that echoed unhumanly up the mountain walls.

I looked at him more closely. He was superlatively well-built, light, and lithe and strong; he was well-featured; his yellow eyes were very large, though, perhaps, not very expressive; take him altogether, he was a pleasant-looking lad, and I had no fault to find with him, beyond that he was of a dusky hue, and inclined to hairiness; two characteristics that I disliked. It was his mind that puzzled, and yet attracted me. The doctor’s phrase—an innocent—came back to me; and I was wondering if that were, after all, the true description, when the road began to go down into the narrow and naked chasm of a torrent. The waters thundered tumultuously in the bottom; and the ravine was filled full of the sound, the thin spray, and the claps of wind, that accompanied their descent. The scene was certainly impressive; but the road was in that part very securely walled in; the mule went steadily forward; and I was astonished to perceive the paleness of terror in the face of my companion. The voice of that wild river was inconstant, now sinking lower as if in weariness, now doubling its hoarse tones; momentary freshets seemed to swell its volume, sweeping down the gorge, raving and booming against the barrier walls; and I observed it was at each of these accessions to the clamour that my driver more particularly winced and blanched. Some thoughts of Scottish superstition and the river-kelpie passed across my mind; I wondered if perchance the like were prevalent in that part of Spain; and turning to Felipe, sought to draw him out.

“What is the matter?” I asked.

“Oh, I am afraid,” he replied.

“Of what are you afraid?” I returned. “This 132 seems one of the safest places on this very dangerous road.”

“It makes a noise,” he said, with a simplicity of awe that set my doubts at rest.

The lad was but a child in intellect; his mind was like his body, active and swift, but stunted in development; and I began from that time forth to regard him with a measure of pity, and to listen at first with indulgence, and at last even with pleasure, to his disjointed babble.

By about four in the afternoon we had crossed the summit of the mountain line, said farewell to the western sunshine, and began to go down upon the other side, skirting the edge of many ravines and moving through the shadow of dusky woods. There rose upon all sides the voice of falling water, not condensed and formidable as in the gorge of the river, but scattered and sounding gaily and musically from glen to glen. Here, too, the spirits of my driver mended, and he began to sing aloud in a falsetto voice, and with a singular bluntness of musical perception, never true either to melody or key, but wandering at will, and yet somehow with an effect that was natural and pleasing, like that of the song of birds. As the dusk increased, I fell more and more under the spell of this artless warbling, listening and waiting for some articulate air, and still disappointed; and when at last I asked him what it was he sang—“Oh,” cried he, “I am just singing!” Above all, I was taken with a trick he had of unweariedly repeating the same note at little intervals; it was not so monotonous as you would think, or, at least, not disagreeable; and it seemed to breathe a wonderful contentment with what is, such as we love to fancy in the attitude of trees, or the quiescence of a pool.

Night had fallen dark before we came out upon a plateau, and drew up a little after, before a certain lump of superior blackness which I could only conjecture to be the residencia. Here my guide, getting down from the 133 cart, hooted and whistled for a long time in vain; until at last an old peasant man came towards us from somewhere in the surrounding dark, carrying a candle in his hand. By the light of this I was able to perceive a great arched doorway of a Moorish character: it was closed by iron-studded gates, in one of the leaves of which Felipe opened a wicket. The peasant carried off the cart to some out-building; but my guide and I passed through the wicket, which was closed again behind us; and, by the glimmer of the candle, passed through a court, up a stone stair, along a section of an open gallery, and up more stairs again, until we came at last to the door of a great and somewhat bare apartment. This room, which I understood was to be mine, was pierced by three windows, lined with some lustrous wood disposed in panels, and carpeted with the skins of many savage animals. A bright fire burned in the chimney, and shed abroad a changeful flicker; close up to the blaze there was drawn a table, laid for supper; and in the far end a bed stood ready. I was pleased by these preparations, and said so to Felipe; and he, with the same simplicity of disposition that I had already remarked in him, warmly re-echoed my praises. “A fine room,” he said; “a very fine room. And fire, too; fire is good; it melts out the pleasure in your bones. And the bed,” he continued, carrying over the candle in that direction—“see what fine sheets—how soft, how smooth, smooth”; and he passed his hand again and again over their texture, and then laid down his head and rubbed his cheeks among them with a grossness of content that somehow offended me. I took the candle from his hand (for I feared he would set the bed on fire) and walked back to the supper-table, where, perceiving a measure of wine, I poured out a cup and called to him to come and drink of it. He started to his feet at once and ran to me with a strong expression of hope; but when he saw the wine he visibly shuddered.

134

“Oh, no,” he said, “not that; that is for you. I hate it.”

“Very well, Señor,” said I; “then I will drink to your good health, and to the prosperity of your house and family. Speaking of which,” I added, after I had drunk, “shall I not have the pleasure of laying my salutations in person at the feet of the Señora, your mother?”

But at these words all the childishness passed out of his face, and was succeeded by a look of indescribable cunning and secrecy. He backed away from me at the same time, as though I were an animal about to leap or some dangerous fellow with a weapon, and when he had got near the door, glowered at me sullenly with contracted pupils. “No,” he said at last, and the next moment was gone noiselessly out of the room; and I heard his footing die away downstairs as light as rainfall, and silence closed over the house.

After I had supped I drew up the table nearer to the bed and began to prepare for rest; but in the new position of the light, I was struck by a picture on the wall. It represented a woman, still young. To judge by her costume and the mellow unity which reigned over the canvas, she had long been dead; to judge by the vivacity of the attitude, the eyes and the features, I might have been beholding in a mirror the image of life. Her figure was very slim and strong, and of a just proportion; red tresses lay like a crown over her brow; her eyes, of a very golden brown, held mine with a look; and her face, which was perfectly shaped, was yet marred by a cruel, sullen, and sensual expression. Something in both face and figure, something exquisitely intangible, like the echo of an echo, suggested the features and bearing of my guide; and I stood a while unpleasantly attracted and wondering at the oddity of the resemblance. The common, carnal stock of that race, which had been originally designed for such high dames as the one now looking on me from the canvas, had fallen to baser uses, wearing country clothes, sitting 135 on the shaft and holding the reins of a mule cart, to bring home a lodger. Perhaps an actual link subsisted; perhaps some scruple of the delicate flesh that was once clothed upon with the satin and brocade of the dead lady, now winced at the rude contact of Felipe’s frieze.

The first light of the morning shone full upon the portrait, and, as I lay awake, my eyes continued to dwell upon it with growing complacency; its beauty crept about my heart insidiously, silencing my scruples one after another; and while I knew that to love such a woman were to sign and seal one’s own sentence of degeneration, I still knew that, if she were alive, I should love her. Day after day the double knowledge of her wickedness and of my weakness grew clearer. She came to be the heroine of many day-dreams, in which her eyes led on to, and sufficiently rewarded, crimes. She cast a dark shadow on my fancy, and when I was out in the free air of heaven, taking vigorous exercise and healthily renewing the current of my blood, it was often a glad thought to me that my enchantress was safe in the grave, her wand of beauty broken, her lips closed in silence, her philtre spilt. And yet I had a half-lingering terror that she might not be dead after all, but re-arisen in the body of some descendant.

Felipe served my meals in my own apartment; and his resemblance to the portrait haunted me. At times it was not; at times, upon some change of attitude or flash of expression, it would leap out upon me like a ghost. It was above all in his ill tempers that the likeness triumphed. He certainly liked me; he was proud of my notice, which he sought to engage by many simple and childlike devices; he loved to sit close before my fire, talking his broken talk or singing his odd, endless, wordless, songs, and sometimes drawing his hand over my clothes with an affectionate manner of caressing that never failed to cause in me an embarrassment of which I was ashamed. But for all that, he was capable of flashes of causeless anger and fits of sturdy sullenness. At a word of reproof, I have seen him 136 upset the dish of which I was about to eat, and this not surreptitiously, but with defiance; and similarly at a hint of inquisition. I was not unnaturally curious, being in a strange place and surrounded by strange people; but at the shadow of a question he shrank back, lowering and dangerous. Then it was that, for a fraction of a second, this rough lad might have been the brother of the lady in the frame. But these humours were swift to pass; and the resemblance died along with them.

In these first days I saw nothing of any one but Felipe, unless the portrait is to be counted; and since the lad was plainly of weak mind, and had moments of passion, it may be wondered that I bore his dangerous neighbourhood with equanimity. As a matter of fact, it was for some time irksome; but it happened before long that I obtained over him so complete a mastery as set my disquietude at rest.

It fell in this way. He was by nature slothful, and much of a vagabond, and yet he kept by the house, and not only waited upon my wants, but laboured every day in the garden or small farm to the south of the residencia. Here he would be joined by the peasant whom I had seen on the night of my arrival, and who dwelt at the far end of the enclosure, about half a mile away, in a rude out-house; but it was plain to me that of these two, it was Felipe who did most; and though I would sometimes see him throw down his spade and go to sleep among the very plants he had been digging, his constancy and energy were admirable in themselves, and still more so since I was well assured they were foreign to his disposition, and the fruit of an ungrateful effort. But while I admired, I wondered what had called forth in a lad so shuttle-witted this enduring sense of duty. How was it sustained? I asked myself, and to what length did it prevail over his instincts? The priest was possibly his inspirer; but the priest came one day to the residencia. I saw him both come and go after an interval of close 137 upon an hour, from a knoll where I was sketching, and all that time Felipe continued to labour undisturbed in the garden.

At last, in a very unworthy spirit, I determined to debauch the lad from his good resolutions, and, waylaying him at the gate, easily persuaded him to join me in a ramble. It was a fine day, and the woods to which I led him were green and pleasant and sweet-smelling, and alive with the hum of insects. Here he discovered himself in a fresh character, mounting up to heights of gaiety that abashed me, and displaying an energy and grace of movement that delighted the eye. He leaped, he ran round me in mere glee; he would stop, and look and listen, and seem to drink in the world like a cordial; and then he would suddenly spring into a tree with one bound, and hang and gambol there like one at home. Little as he said to me, and that of not much import, I have rarely enjoyed more stirring company; the sight of his delight was a continual feast; the speed and accuracy of his movements pleased me to the heart; and I might have been so thoughtlessly unkind as to make a habit of these walks, had not chance prepared a very rude conclusion to my pleasure. By some swiftness or dexterity the lad captured a squirrel in a tree top. He was then some way ahead of me, but I saw him drop to the ground and crouch there, crying aloud for pleasure like a child. The sound stirred my sympathies, it was so fresh and innocent; but as I bettered my pace to draw near, the cry of the squirrel knocked upon my heart. I have heard and seen much of the cruelty of lads, and above all, of peasants; but what I now beheld struck me into a passion of anger. I thrust the fellow aside, plucked the poor brute out of his hands, and with swift mercy killed it. Then I turned upon the torturer, spoke to him long out of the heat of my indignation, calling him names at which he seemed to wither; and at length, pointing towards the residencia, bade him begone and leave me, for I chose to walk with 138 men, not with vermin. He fell upon his knees, and, the words coming to him with more clearness than usual, poured out a stream of the most touching supplications, begging me in mercy to forgive him, to forget what he had done, to look to the future. “Oh, I try so hard,” he said. “Oh, commandante, bear with Felipe this once; he will never be a brute again!” Thereupon, much more affected than I cared to show, I suffered myself to be persuaded, and at last shook hands with him and made it up. But the squirrel, by way of penance, I made him bury; speaking of the poor thing’s beauty, telling him what pains it had suffered, and how base a thing was the abuse of strength. “See, Felipe,” said I, “you are strong indeed; but in my hands you are as helpless as that poor thing of the trees. Give me your hand in mine. You cannot remove it. Now suppose that I were cruel like you, and took a pleasure in pain. I only tighten my hold, and see how you suffer.” He screamed aloud, his face stricken ashy and dotted with needle-points of sweat; and when I set him free, he fell to the earth and nursed his hand and moaned over it like a baby. But he took the lesson in good part; and whether from that, or from what I had said to him, or the higher notion he now had of my bodily strength, his original affection was changed into a dog-like, adoring fidelity.

Meanwhile I gained rapidly in health. The residencia stood on the crown of a stony plateau; on every side the mountains hemmed it about; only from the roof, where was a bartizan, there might be seen, between two peaks, a small segment of plain, blue with extreme distance. The air in these altitudes moved freely and largely; great clouds congregated there, and were broken up by the wind and left in tatters on the hill-tops; a hoarse and yet faint rumbling of torrents rose from all round; and one could there study all the ruder and more ancient characters of nature in something of their pristine force. I delighted from the first in the vigorous scenery and 139 changeful weather; nor less in the antique and dilapidated mansion where I dwelt. This was a large oblong, flanked at two opposite corners by bastion-like projections, one of which commanded the door, while both were loopholed for musketry. The lower story was, besides, naked of windows, so that the building, if garrisoned, could not be carried without artillery. It enclosed an open court planted with pomegranate trees. From this a broad flight of marble stairs ascended to an open gallery, running all round and resting, towards the court, on slender pillars. Thence, again, several enclosed stairs led to the upper stories of the house, which were thus broken up into distinct divisions. The windows, both within and without, were closely shuttered; some of the stonework in the upper parts had fallen; the roof, in one place, had been wrecked in one of the flurries of wind which were common in these mountains; and the whole house, in the strong, beating sunlight, and standing out above a grove of stunted cork-trees, thickly laden and discoloured with dust, looked like the sleeping palace of the legend. The court, in particular, seemed the very home of slumber. A hoarse cooing of doves haunted about the eaves; the winds were excluded, but when they blew outside, the mountain dust fell here as thick as rain, and veiled the red bloom of the pomegranates; shuttered windows and the closed doors of numerous cellars, and the vacant arches of the gallery, enclosed it; and all day long the sun made broken profiles on the four sides, and paraded the shadow of the pillars on the gallery floor. At the ground level there was, however, a certain pillared recess, which bore the marks of human habitation. Though it was open in front upon the court, it was yet provided with a chimney, where a wood fire would be always prettily blazing; and the tile floor was littered with the skins of animals.

It was in this place that I first saw my hostess. She had drawn one of the skins forward and sat in the sun, leaning against a pillar. It was her dress that struck me 140 first of all, for it was rich and brightly coloured, and shone out in that dusty courtyard with something of the same relief as the flowers of the pomegranates. At a second look it was her beauty of person that took hold of me. As she sat back—watching me, I thought, though with invisible eyes—and wearing at the same time an expression of almost imbecile good-humour and contentment, she showed a perfectness of feature and a quiet nobility of attitude that were beyond a statue’s. I took off my hat to her in passing, and her face puckered with suspicion as swiftly and lightly as a pool ruffles in the breeze; but she paid no heed to my courtesy. I went forth on my customary walk a trifle daunted, her idol-like impassivity haunting me; and when I returned, although she was still in much the same posture, I was half surprised to see that she had moved as far as the next pillar, following the sunshine. This time, however, she addressed me with some trivial salutation, civilly enough conceived, and uttered in the same deep-chested, and yet indistinct and lisping tones, that had already baffled the utmost niceness of my hearing from her son. I answered rather at a venture; for not only did I fail to take her meaning with precision, but the sudden disclosure of her eyes disturbed me. They were unusually large, the iris golden like Felipe’s, but the pupil at that moment so distended that they seemed almost black; and what affected me was not so much their size as (what was perhaps its consequence) the singular insignificance of their regard. A look more blankly stupid I have never met. My eyes dropped before it even as I spoke, and I went on my way upstairs to my own room, at once baffled and embarrassed. Yet when I came there and saw the face of the portrait, I was again reminded of the miracle of family descent. My hostess was, indeed, both older and fuller in person; her eyes were of a different colour; her face, besides, was not only free from the ill-significance that offended and attracted me in the painting; it was devoid of either good or bad—a moral blank 141 expressing literally naught. And yet there was a likeness, not so much speaking as immanent, not so much in any particular feature as upon the whole. It should seem, I thought, as if when the master set his signature to that grave canvas, he had not only caught the image of one smiling and false-eyed woman, but stamped the essential quality of a race.

From that day forth, whether I came or went, I was sure to find the Señora seated in the sun against a pillar, or stretched on a rug before the fire; only at times she would shift her station to the top round of the stone staircase, where she lay with the same nonchalance right across my path. In all these days, I never knew her to display the least spark of energy beyond what she expended in brushing and re-brushing her copious copper-coloured hair, or in lisping out, in the rich and broken hoarseness of her voice, her customary idle salutations to myself. These, I think, were her two chief pleasures, beyond that of mere quiescence. She seemed always proud of her remarks, as though they had been witticisms: and, indeed, though they were empty enough, like the conversation of many respectable persons, and turned on a very narrow range of subjects, they were never meaningless or incoherent; nay, they had a certain beauty of their own, breathing, as they did, of her entire contentment. Now she would speak of the warmth, in which (like her son) she greatly delighted; now of the flowers of the pomegranate trees, and now of the white doves and long-winged swallows that fanned the air of the court. The birds excited her. As they raked the eaves in their swift flight, or skimmed sidelong past her with a rush of wind, she would sometimes stir, and sit a little up, and seem to awaken from her doze of satisfaction. But for the rest of her days she lay luxuriously folded on herself and sunk in sloth and pleasure. Her invincible content at first annoyed me, but I came gradually to find repose in the spectacle, until at last it grew to be my habit to sit down 142 beside her four times in the day, both coming and going, and to talk with her sleepily, I scarce knew of what. I had come to like her dull, almost animal neighbourhood; her beauty and her stupidity soothed and amused me. I began to find a kind of transcendental good sense in her remarks, and her unfathomable good-nature moved me to admiration and envy. The liking was returned; she enjoyed my presence half-unconsciously, as a man in deep meditation may enjoy the babbling of a brook. I can scarce say she brightened when I came, for satisfaction was written on her face eternally, as on some foolish statue’s; but I was made conscious of her pleasure by some more intimate communication than the sight. And one day, as I sat within reach of her on the marble step, she suddenly shot forth one of her hands and patted mine. The thing was done, and she was back in her accustomed attitude, before my mind had received intelligence of the caress; and when I turned to look her in the face I could perceive no answerable sentiment. It was plain she attached no moment to the act, and I blamed myself for my own more uneasy consciousness.

The sight and (if I may so call it) the acquaintance of the mother confirmed the view I had already taken of the son. The family blood had been impoverished, perhaps by long inbreeding, which I knew to be a common error among the proud and the exclusive. No decline, indeed, was to be traced in the body, which had been handed down unimpaired in shapeliness and strength; and the faces of to-day were struck as sharply from the mint as the face of two centuries ago that smiled upon me from the portrait. But the intelligence (that more precious heirloom) was degenerate; the treasure of ancestral memory ran low; and it had required the potent, plebeian crossing of a muleteer or mountain contrabandista to raise what approached hebetude in the mother into the active oddity of the son. Yet of the two, it was the mother I preferred. Of Felipe, vengeful and placable, full of starts and shyings, 143 inconstant as a hare, I could even conceive as a creature possibly noxious. Of the mother I had no thoughts but those of kindness. And indeed, as spectators are apt ignorantly to take sides, I grew something of a partisan in the enmity which I perceived to smoulder between them. True, it seemed mostly on the mother’s part. She would sometimes draw in her breath as he came near, and the pupils of her vacant eyes would contract as if with horror or fear. Her emotions, such as they were, were much upon the surface and readily shared; and this latent repulsion occupied my mind, and kept me wondering on what grounds it rested, and whether the son was certainly in fault.

I had been about ten days in the residencia, when there sprang up a high and harsh wind, carrying clouds of dust. It came out of malarious lowlands, and over several snowy sierras. The nerves of those on whom it blew were strung and jangled; their eyes smarted with the dust; their legs ached under the burthen of their body; and the touch of one hand upon another grew to be odious. The wind, besides, came down the gullies of the hills and stormed about the house with a great, hollow buzzing and whistling that was wearisome to the ear and dismally depressing to the mind. It did not so much blow in gusts as with the steady sweep of a waterfall, so that there was no remission of discomfort while it blew. But higher up on the mountain it was probably of a more variable strength, with accesses of fury; for there came down at times a far-off wailing, infinitely grievous to hear; and at times, on one of the high shelves or terraces, there would start up, and then disperse, a tower of dust, like the smoke of an explosion.

I no sooner awoke in bed than I was conscious of the nervous tension and depression of the weather, and the effect grew stronger as the day proceeded. It was in vain that I resisted; in vain that I set forth upon my customary morning’s walk; the irrational, unchanging fury 144 of the storm had soon beat down my strength and wrecked my temper; and I returned to the residencia, glowing with dry heat, and foul and gritty with dust. The court had a forlorn appearance; now and then a glimmer of sun fled over it; now and then the wind swooped down upon the pomegranates, and scattered the blossoms, and set the window shutter clapping on the wall. In the recess the Señora was pacing to and fro with a flushed countenance and bright eyes; I thought, too, she was speaking to herself, like one in anger. But when I addressed her with my customary salutation, she only replied by a sharp gesture and continued her walk. The weather had distempered even this impassive creature; and as I went on upstairs I was the less ashamed of my own discomposure.

All day the wind continued; and I sat in my room and made a feint of reading, or walked up and down, and listened to the riot overhead. Night fell, and I had not so much as a candle. I began to long for some society, and stole down to the court. It was now plunged in the blue of the first darkness; but the recess was redly lighted by the fire. The wood had been piled high, and was crowned by a shock of flames, which the draught of the chimney brandished to and fro. In this strong and shaken brightness the Señora continued pacing from wall to wall with disconnected gestures, clasping her hands, stretching forth her arms, throwing back her head as in appeal to heaven. In these disordered movements the beauty and grace of the woman showed more clearly; but there was a light in her eye that struck on me unpleasantly; and when I had looked on a while in silence, and seemingly unobserved, I turned tail as I had come, and groped my way back again to my own chamber.

By the time Felipe brought my supper and lights, my nerve was utterly gone; and, had the lad been such as I was used to seeing him, I should have kept him (even by force, had that been necessary) to take off the edge from my distasteful solitude. But on Felipe, also, the 145 wind had exercised its influence. He had been feverish all day; now that the night had come he was fallen into a low and tremulous humour that reacted on my own. The sight of his scared face, his starts and pallors and sudden hearkenings, unstrung me; and when he dropped and broke a dish, I fairly leaped out of my seat.

“I think we are all mad to-day,” said I, affecting to laugh.

“It is the black wind,” he replied dolefully. “You feel as if you must do something, and you don’t know what it is.”

I noted the aptness of the description; but, indeed, Felipe had sometimes a strange felicity in rendering into words the sensations of the body. “And your mother, too,” said I; “she seems to feel this weather much. Do you not fear she may be unwell?”

He stared at me a little, and then said, “No,” almost defiantly; and the next moment, carrying his hand to his brow, cried out lamentably on the wind and the noise that made his head go round like a millwheel. “Who can be well?” he cried; and, indeed, I could only echo his question, for I was disturbed enough myself.

I went to bed early, wearied with day-long restlessness; but the poisonous nature of the wind, and its ungodly and unintermittent uproar, would not suffer me to sleep. I lay there and tossed, my nerves and senses on the stretch. At times I would doze, dream horribly, and wake again; and these snatches of oblivion confused me as to time. But it must have been late on in the night, when I was suddenly startled by an outbreak of pitiable and hateful cries. I leaped from my bed, supposing I had dreamed; but the cries still continued to fill the house, cries of pain, I thought, but certainly of rage also, and so savage and discordant that they shocked the heart. It was no illusion; some living thing, some lunatic or some wild animal was being foully tortured. The thought of Felipe and the squirrel flashed into my mind, and I ran to the door; 146 but it had been locked from the outside, and I might shake it as I pleased, I was a fast prisoner. Still the cries continued. Now they would dwindle down into a moaning that seemed to be articulate, and at these times I made sure they must be human; and again they would break forth and fill the house with ravings worthy of hell. I stood at the door and gave ear to them, till at last they died away. Long after that, I still lingered and still continued to hear them mingle in fancy with the storming of the wind; and when at last I crept to my bed, it was with a deadly sickness and a blackness of horror on my heart.

It was little wonder if I slept no more. Why had I been locked in? What had passed? Who was the author of these indescribable and shocking cries? A human being? It was inconceivable. A beast? The cries were scarce quite bestial; and what animal, short of a lion or a tiger, could thus shake the solid walls of the residencia? And while I was thus turning over the elements of the mystery, it came into my mind that I had not yet set eyes upon the daughter of the house. What was more probable than that the daughter of the Señora, and the sister of Felipe, should be herself insane? Or, what more likely than that these ignorant and half-witted people should seek to manage an afflicted kinswoman by violence? Here was a solution; and yet when I called to mind the cries (which I never did without a shuddering chill) it seemed altogether insufficient: not even cruelty could wring such cries from madness. But of one thing I was sure: I could not live in a house where such a thing was half conceivable, and not probe the matter home and, if necessary, interfere.

The next day came, the wind had blown itself out, and there was nothing to remind me of the business of the night. Felipe came to my bedside with obvious cheerfulness; as I passed through the court the Señora was sunning herself with her accustomed immobility; 147 and when I issued from the gateway I found the whole face of nature austerely smiling, the heavens of a cold blue, and sown with great cloud islands, and the mountain-sides mapped forth into provinces of light and shadow. A short walk restored me to myself, and renewed within me the resolve to plumb this mystery; and when, from the vantage of my knoll, I had seen Felipe pass forth to his labours in the garden, I returned at once to the residencia to put my design in practice. The Señora appeared plunged in slumber; I stood a while and marked her, but she did not stir; even if my design were indiscreet, I had little to fear from such a guardian; and turning away, I mounted to the gallery and began my exploration of the house.

All morning I went from one door to another, and entered spacious and faded chambers, some rudely shuttered, some receiving their full charge of daylight, all empty and unhomely. It was a rich house, on which Time had breathed its tarnish and dust had scattered disillusion. The spider swung there; the bloated tarantula scampered on the cornices; ants had their crowded highways on the floor of halls of audience; the big and foul fly, that lives on carrion and is often the messenger of death, had set up his nest in the rotten woodwork, and buzzed heavily about the rooms. Here and there a stool or two, a couch, a bed, or a great carved chair remained behind, like islets on the bare floors, to testify of man’s bygone habitation; and everywhere the walls were set with the portraits of the dead. I could judge, by these decaying effigies, in the house of what a great and what a handsome race I was then wandering. Many of the men wore orders on their breasts and had the port of noble offices; the women were all richly attired; the canvases, most of them, by famous hands. But it was not so much these evidences of greatness that took hold upon my mind, even contrasted, as they were, with the present depopulation and decay of that great house. It 148 was rather the parable of family life that I read in this succession of fair faces and shapely bodies. Never before had I so realised the miracle of the continued race, the creation and re-creation, the weaving and changing and handing down of fleshly elements. That a child should be born of its mother, that it should grow and clothe itself (we know not how) with humanity, and put on inherited looks, and turn its head with the manner of one ascendant, and offer its hand with the gesture of another, are wonders dulled for us by repetition. But in the singular unity of look, in the common features and common bearing, of all these painted generations on the walls of the residencia, the miracle started out and looked me in the face. And an ancient mirror falling opportunely in my way, I stood and read my own features a long while, tracing out on either hand the filaments of descent and the bonds that knit me with my family.

At last, in the course of these investigations, I opened the door of a chamber that bore the marks of habitation. It was of large proportions and faced to the north, where the mountains were most wildly figured. The embers of a fire smouldered and smoked upon the hearth, to which a chair had been drawn close. And yet the aspect of the chamber was ascetic to the degree of sternness; the chair was uncushioned; the floor and walls were naked; and beyond the books which lay here and there in some confusion, there was no instrument of either work or pleasure. The sight of books in the house of such a family exceedingly amazed me; and I began with a great hurry, and in momentary fear of interruption, to go from one to another and hastily inspect their character. They were of all sorts, devotional, historical, and scientific, but mostly of a great age and in the Latin tongue. Some I could see to bear the marks of constant study; others had been torn across and tossed aside as if in petulance or disapproval. Lastly, as I cruised about that empty chamber, I espied some papers written upon with pencil 149 on a table near the window. An unthinking curiosity led me to take one up. It bore a copy of verses, very roughly metred in the original Spanish, and which I may render somewhat thus—

“Pleasure approached with pain and shame,

Grief with a wreath of lilies came.

Pleasure showed the lovely sun;

Jesu dear, how sweet it shone!

Grief with her worn hand pointed on,

Jesu dear, to Thee!”

Shame and confusion at once fell on me; and, laying down the paper, I beat an immediate retreat from the apartment. Neither Felipe nor his mother could have read the books nor written these rough but feeling verses. It was plain I had stumbled with sacrilegious feet into the room of the daughter of the house. God knows, my own heart most sharply punished me for my indiscretion. The thought that I had thus secretly pushed my way into the confidence of a girl so strangely situated, and the fear that she might somehow come to hear of it, oppressed me like guilt. I blamed myself besides for my suspicions of the night before; wondered that I should ever have attributed those shocking cries to one of whom I now conceived as of a saint, spectral of mien, wasted with maceration, bound up in the practices of a mechanical devotion, and dwelling in a great isolation of soul with her incongruous relatives; and as I leaned on the balustrade of the gallery and looked down into the bright close of pomegranates and at the gaily dressed and somnolent woman, who just then stretched herself and delicately licked her lips as in the very sensuality of sloth, my mind swiftly compared the scene with the cold chamber looking northward on the mountains, where the daughter dwelt.

That same afternoon, as I sat upon my knoll, I saw the Padre enter the gates of the residencia. The revelation of the daughter’s character had struck home to my 150 fancy, and almost blotted out the horrors of the night before; but at sight of this worthy man the memory revived. I descended, then, from the knoll, and making a circuit among the woods, posted myself by the wayside to await his passage. As soon as he appeared I stepped forth and introduced myself as the lodger of the residencia. He had a very strong, honest countenance, on which it was easy to read the mingled emotions with which he regarded me, as a foreigner, a heretic, and yet one who had been wounded for the good cause. Of the family at the residencia he spoke with reserve, and yet with respect. I mentioned that I had not yet seen the daughter, whereupon he remarked that that was as it should be, and looked at me a little askance. Lastly, I plucked up courage to refer to the cries that had disturbed me in the night. He heard me out in silence, and then stopped and partly turned about, as though to mark beyond doubt that he was dismissing me.

“Do you take tobacco-powder?” said he, offering his snuff-box; and then, when I had refused, “I am an old man,” he added, “and I may be allowed to remind you that you are a guest.”

“I have, then, your authority,” I returned, firmly enough, although I flushed at the implied reproof, “to let things take their course, and not to interfere?”

He said “Yes,” and with a somewhat uneasy salute turned and left me where I was. But he had done two things: he had set my conscience at rest, and he had awakened my delicacy. I made a great effort, once more dismissed the recollections of the night, and fell once more to brooding on my saintly poetess. At the same time, I could not quite forget that I had been locked in, and that night when Felipe brought me my supper I attacked him warily on both points of interest.

“I never see your sister,” said I casually.

“Oh, no,” said he; “she is a good, good girl,” and his mind instantly veered to something else.

151

“Your sister is pious, I suppose?” I asked in the next pause.

“Oh!” he cried, joining his hands with extreme fervour, “a saint; it is she that keeps me up.”

“You are very fortunate,” said I, “for the most of us, I am afraid, and myself among the number, are better at going down.”

“Señor,” said Felipe earnestly, “I would not say that. You should not tempt your angel. If one goes down, where is he to stop?”

“Why, Felipe,” said I, “I had no guess you were a preacher, and I may say a good one; but I suppose that is your sister’s doing?”

He nodded at me with round eyes.

“Well, then,” I continued, “she has doubtless reproved you for your sin of cruelty?”

“Twelve times!” he cried; for this was the phrase by which the odd creature expressed the sense of frequency. “And I told her you had done so—I remembered that,” he added proudly—“and she was pleased.”

“Then, Felipe,” said I, “what were those cries that I heard last night? for surely they were cries of some creature in suffering.”

“The wind,” returned Felipe, looking in the fire.

I took his hand in mine, at which, thinking it to be a caress, he smiled with a brightness of pleasure that came near disarming my resolve. But I trod the weakness down. “The wind,” I repeated; “and yet I think it was this hand,” holding it up, “that had first locked me in.” The lad shook visibly, but answered never a word. “Well,” said I, “I am a stranger and a guest. It is not my part either to meddle or to judge in your affairs; in these you shall take your sister’s counsel, which I cannot doubt to be excellent. But in so far as concerns my own I will be no man’s prisoner, and I demand that key.” Half an hour later my door was 152 suddenly thrown open, and the key tossed ringing on the floor.

A day or two after I came in from a walk a little before the point of noon. The Senõra was lying lapped in slumber on the threshold of the recess; the pigeons dozed below the eaves like snowdrifts; the house was under a deep spell of noontide quiet; and only a wandering and gentle wind from the mountain stole round the galleries, rustled among the pomegranates, and pleasantly stirred the shadows. Something in the stillness moved me to imitation, and I went very lightly across the court and up the marble staircase. My foot was on the topmost round, when a door opened, and I found myself face to face with Olalla. Surprise transfixed me; her loveliness struck to my heart; she glowed in the deep shadow of the gallery, a gem of colour; her eyes took hold upon mine and clung there, and bound us together like the joining of hands; and the moments we thus stood face to face, drinking each other in, were sacramental and the wedding of souls. I know not how long it was before I awoke out of a deep trance, and, hastily bowing, passed on into the upper stair. She did not move, but followed me with her great, thirsting eyes; and as I passed out of sight it seemed to me as if she paled and faded.

In my own room, I opened the window and looked out, and could not think what change had come upon that austere field of mountains that it should thus sing and shine under the lofty heaven. I had seen her—Olalla! And the stone crags answered, Olalla! and the dumb, unfathomable azure answered, Olalla! The pale saint of my dreams had vanished for ever; and in her place I beheld this maiden on whom God had lavished the richest colours and the most exuberant energies of life, whom He had made active as a deer, slender as a reed, and in whose great eyes He had lighted the torches of the soul. The thrill of her young life, strung like a wild animal’s, had 153 entered into me; the force of soul that had looked out from her eyes and conquered mine, mantled about my heart and sprang to my lips in singing. She passed through my veins: she was one with me.

I will not say that this enthusiasm declined; rather my soul held out in its ecstasy as in a strong castle, and was there besieged by cold and sorrowful considerations. I could not doubt but that I loved her at first sight, and already with a quivering ardour that was strange to my experience. What then was to follow? She was the child of an afflicted house, the Señora’s daughter, the sister of Felipe; she bore it even in her beauty. She had the lightness and swiftness of the one, swift as an arrow, light as dew; like the other, she shone on the pale background of the world with the brilliancy of flowers. I could not call by the name of brother that half-witted lad, nor by the name of mother that immovable and lovely thing of flesh, whose silly eyes and perpetual simper now recurred to my mind like something hateful. And if I could not marry, what then? She was helplessly unprotected; her eyes, in that single and long glance, which had been all our intercourse, had confessed a weakness equal to my own; but in my heart I knew her for the student of the cold northern chamber, and the writer of the sorrowful lines; and this was a knowledge to disarm a brute. To flee was more than I could find courage for; but I registered a vow of unsleeping circumspection.

As I turned from the window, my eyes alighted on the portrait. It had fallen dead, like a candle after sunrise; it followed me with eyes of paint. I knew it to be like, and marvelled at the tenacity of type in that declining race; but the likeness was swallowed up in difference. I remembered how it had seemed to me a thing unapproachable in the life, a creature rather of the painter’s craft than of the modesty of nature, and I marvelled at the thought, and exulted in the image of Olalla. Beauty I had seen before, and not been charmed, 154 and I had been often drawn to women, who were not beautiful except to me; but in Olalla all that I desired and had not dared to imagine was united.

I did not see her the next day, and my heart ached and my eyes longed for her, as men long for morning. But the day after, when I returned, about my usual hour, she was once more on the gallery, and our looks once more met and embraced. I would have spoken, I would have drawn near to her; but strongly as she plucked at my heart, drawing me like a magnet, something yet more imperious withheld me; and I could only bow and pass by; and she, leaving my salutation unanswered, only followed me with her noble eyes.

I had now her image by rote, and as I conned the traits in memory it seemed as if I read her very heart. She was dressed with something of her mother’s coquetry and love of positive colour. Her robe, which I knew she must have made with her own hands, clung about her with a cunning grace. After the fashion of that country, besides, her bodice stood open in the middle, in a long slit, and here, in spite of the poverty of the house, a gold coin, hanging by a ribbon, lay on her brown bosom. These were proofs, had any been needed, of her inborn delight in life and her own loveliness. On the other hand, in her eyes that hung upon mine, I could read depth beyond depth of passion and sadness, lights of poetry and hope, blacknesses of despair, and thoughts that were above the earth. It was a lovely body, but the inmate, the soul, was more than worthy of that lodging. Should I leave this incomparable flower to wither unseen on these rough mountains? Should I despise the great gift offered me in the eloquent silence of her eyes? Here was a soul immured; should I not burst its prison? All side considerations fell off from me; were she the child of Herod I swore I should make her mine; and that very evening I set myself, with a mingled sense of treachery and disgrace, to captivate the brother. Perhaps I read 155 him with more favourable eyes, perhaps the thought of his sister always summoned up the better qualities of that imperfect soul; but he had never seemed to me so amiable, and his very likeness to Olalla, while it annoyed, yet softened me.

A third day passed in vain—an empty desert of hours. I would not lose a chance, and loitered all afternoon in the court, where (to give myself a countenance) I spoke more than usual with the Señora. God knows it was with a most tender and sincere interest that I now studied her; and even as for Felipe, so now for the mother, I was conscious of a growing warmth of toleration. And yet I wondered. Even while I spoke with her, she would doze off into a little sleep, and presently awake again without embarrassment; and this composure staggered me. And again, as I marked her make infinitesimal changes in her posture, savouring and lingering on the bodily pleasure of the movement, I was driven to wonder at this depth of passive sensuality. She lived in her body; and her consciousness was all sunk into and disseminated through her members, where it luxuriously dwelt. Lastly, I could not grow accustomed to her eyes. Each time she turned on me those great beautiful and meaningless orbs, wide open to the day, but closed against human inquiry—each time I had occasion to observe the lively changes of her pupils which expanded and contracted in a breath—I know not what it was came over me, I can find no name for the mingled feeling of disappointment, annoyance, and distaste that jarred along my nerves. I tried her on a variety of subjects, equally in vain; and at last led the talk to her daughter. But even there she proved indifferent; said she was pretty, which (as with children) was her highest word of commendation, but was plainly incapable of any higher thought; and when I remarked that Olalla seemed silent, merely yawned in my face and replied that speech was of no great use when you had nothing to say. “People speak much, very much,” she 156 added, looking at me with expanded pupils; and then again yawned, and again showed me a mouth that was as dainty as a toy. This time I took the hint, and, leaving her to her repose, went up into my own chamber to sit by the open window, looking on the hills and not beholding them, sunk in lustrous and deep dreams, and hearkening in fancy to the note of a voice that I had never heard.

I awoke on the fifth morning with a brightness of anticipation that seemed to challenge fate. I was sure of myself, light of heart and foot, and resolved to put my love incontinently to the touch of knowledge. It should lie no longer under the bonds of silence, a dumb thing, living by the eye only, like the love of beasts; but should now put on the spirit, and enter upon the joys of the complete human intimacy. I thought of it with wild hopes, like a voyager to El Dorado; into that unknown and lovely country of her soul, I no longer trembled to adventure. Yet when I did indeed encounter her, the same force of passion descended on me and at once submerged my mind; speech seemed to drop away from me like a childish habit; and I but drew near to her as the giddy man draws near to the margin of a gulf. She drew back from me a little as I came; but her eyes did not waver from mine, and these lured me forward. At last, when I was already within reach of her, I stopped. Words were denied me; if I advanced I could but clasp her to my heart in silence; and all that was sane in me, all that was still unconquered, revolted against the thought of such an accost. So we stood for a second, all our life in our eyes, exchanging salvos of attraction and yet each resisting; and then, with a great effort of the will, and conscious at the same time of a sudden bitterness of disappointment, I turned and went away in the same silence.

What power lay upon me that I could not speak? And she, why was she also silent? Why did she draw away before me dumbly, with fascinated eyes? Was this love? or was it a mere brute attraction, mindless and 157 inevitable, like that of the magnet for the steel? We had never spoken, we were wholly strangers; and yet an influence, strong as the grasp of a giant, swept us silently together. On my side, it filled me with impatience; and yet I was sure that she was worthy; I had seen her books, read her verses, and thus, in a sense, divined the soul of my mistress. But on her side, it struck me almost cold. Of me, she knew nothing but my bodily favour; she was drawn to me as stones fall to the earth; the laws that rule the earth conducted her, unconsenting, to my arms; and I drew back at the thought of such a bridal, and began to be jealous for myself. It was not thus that I desired to be loved. And then I began to fall into a great pity for the girl herself. I thought how sharp must be her mortification, that she, the student, the recluse, Felipe’s saintly monitress, should have thus confessed an overweening weakness for a man with whom she had never exchanged a word. And at the coming of pity, all other thoughts were swallowed up; and I longed only to find and console and reassure her; to tell her how wholly her love was returned on my side, and how her choice, even if blindly made, was not unworthy.

The next day it was glorious weather; depth upon depth of blue over-canopied the mountains; the sun shone wide; and the wind in the trees and the many fallen torrents in the mountains filled the air with delicate and haunting music. Yet I was prostrated with sadness. My heart wept for the sight of Olalla, as a child weeps for its mother. I sat down on a boulder on the verge of the low cliffs that bound the plateau to the north. Thence I looked down into the wooded valley of a stream, where no foot came. In the mood I was in, it was even touching to behold the place untenanted; it lacked Olalla; and I thought of the delight and glory of a life passed wholly with her in that strong air, and among these rugged and lovely surroundings, at first with a whimpering sentiment, and then again with such a fiery 158 joy that I seemed to grow in strength and stature, like a Samson.

And then suddenly I was aware of Olalla drawing near. She appeared out of a grove of cork-trees, and came straight towards me; and I stood up and waited. She seemed in her walking a creature of such life and fire and lightness as amazed me; yet she came quietly and slowly. Her energy was in the slowness; but for inimitable strength, I felt she would have run, she would have flown to me. Still, as she approached, she kept her eyes lowered to the ground; and when she had drawn quite near, it was without one glance that she addressed me. At the first note of her voice I started. It was for this I had been waiting; this was the last test of my love. And lo, her enunciation was precise and clear, not lisping and incomplete like that of her family; and the voice, though deeper than usual with women, was still both youthful and womanly. She spoke in a rich chord; golden contralto strains mingled with hoarseness, as the red threads were mingled with the brown among her tresses. It was not only a voice that spoke to my heart directly; but it spoke to me of her. And yet her words immediately plunged me back upon despair.

“You will go away,” she said, “to-day.”

Her example broke the bonds of my speech; I felt as lightened of a weight, or as if a spell had been dissolved. I know not in what words I answered; but, standing before her on the cliffs, I poured out the whole ardour of my love, telling her that I lived upon the thought of her, slept only to dream of her loveliness, and would gladly forswear my country, my language, and my friends, to live for ever by her side. And then, strongly commanding myself, I changed the note; I reassured, I comforted her; I told her I had divined in her a pious and heroic spirit, with which I was worthy to sympathise, and which I longed to share and lighten. “Nature,” I told her, “was the voice of God, which men disobey at 159 peril; and if we were thus dumbly drawn together, ay, even as by a miracle of love, it must imply a divine fitness in our souls; we must be made,” I said—“made for one another. We should be mad rebels,” I cried out—“mad rebels against God, not to obey this instinct.”

She shook her head. “You will go to-day,” she repeated, and then with a gesture, and in a sudden, sharp note—“no, not to-day,” she cried, “to-morrow!”

But at this sign of relenting, power came in upon me in a tide. I stretched out my arms and called upon her name; and she leaped to me and clung to me. The hills rocked about us, the earth quailed; a shock as of a blow went through me and left me blind and dizzy. And the next moment she had thrust me back, broken rudely from my arms, and fled with the speed of a deer among the cork-trees.

I stood and shouted to the mountains; I turned and went back towards the residencia, walking upon air. She sent me away, and yet I had but to call upon her name and she came to me. These were but the weaknesses of girls, from which even she, the strangest of her sex, was not exempted. Go? Not I, Olalla—Oh, not I, Olalla, my Olalla! A bird sang near by; and in that season birds were rare. It bade me be of good cheer. And once more the whole countenance of nature, from the ponderous and stable mountains down to the lightest leaf and the smallest darting fly in the shadow of the groves, began to stir before me and to put on the lineaments of life and wear a face of awful joy. The sunshine struck upon the hills, strong as a hammer on the anvil, and the hills shook; the earth, under that vigorous insolation, yielded up heady scents; the woods smouldered in the blaze. I felt the thrill of travail and delight run through the earth. Something elemental, something rude, violent, and savage, in the love that sang in my heart, was like a key to nature’s secrets; and the very stones that rattled under my feet appeared alive and friendly. Olalla! 160 Her touch had quickened, and renewed, and strung me up to the old pitch of concert with the rugged earth, to a swelling of the soul that men learn to forget in their polite assemblies. Love burned in me like rage; tenderness waxed fierce; I hated, I adored, I pitied, I revered her with ecstasy. She seemed the link that bound me in with dead things on the one hand, and with our pure and pitying God upon the other: a thing brutal and divine, and akin at once to the innocence and to the unbridled forces of the earth.

My head thus reeling, I came into the courtyard of the residencia, and the sight of the mother struck me like a revelation. She sat there, all sloth and contentment, blinking under the strong sunshine, branded with a passive enjoyment, a creature set quite apart, before whom my ardour fell away like a thing ashamed. I stopped a moment, and, commanding such shaken tones as I was able, said a word or two. She looked at me with her unfathomable kindness; her voice in reply sounded vaguely out of the realm of peace in which she slumbered, and there fell on my mind, for the first time, a sense of respect for one so uniformly innocent and happy, and I passed on in a kind of wonder at myself that I should be so much disquieted.

On my table there lay a piece of the same yellow paper I had seen in the north room; it was written on with pencil in the same hand, Olalla’s hand, and I picked it up with a sudden sinking of alarm, and read, “If you have any kindness for Olalla, if you have any chivalry for a creature sorely wrought, go from here to-day; in pity, in honour, for the sake of Him who died, I supplicate that you shall go.” I looked at this a while in mere stupidity, then I began to awaken to a weariness and horror of life; the sunshine darkened outside on the bare hills, and I began to shake like a man in terror. The vacancy thus suddenly opened in my life unmanned me like a physical void. It was not my heart, it was not 161 my happiness, it was life itself that was involved. I could not lose her. I said so, and stood repeating it. And then, like one in a dream, I moved to the window, put forth my hand to open the casement, and thrust it through the pane. The blood spurted from my wrist; and with an instantaneous quietude and command of myself, I pressed my thumb on the little leaping fountain, and reflected what to do. In that empty room there was nothing to my purpose; I felt, besides, that I required assistance. There shot into my mind a hope that Olalla herself might be my helper, and I turned and went downstairs, still keeping my thumb upon the wound.

There was no sign of either Olalla or Felipe, and I addressed myself to the recess, whither the Señora had now drawn quite back and sat dozing close before the fire, for no degree of heat appeared too much for her.

“Pardon me,” said I, “if I disturb you, but I must apply to you for help.”

She looked up sleepily and asked me what it was, and with the very words I thought she drew in her breath with a widening of the nostrils and seemed to come suddenly and fully alive.

“I have cut myself,” I said, “and rather badly. See!” And I held out my two hands, from which the blood was oozing and dripping.

Her great eyes opened wide, the pupils shrank into points; a veil seemed to fall from her face, and leave it sharply expressive and yet inscrutable. And as I still stood, marvelling a little at her disturbance, she came swiftly up to me, and stooped and caught me by the hand; and the next moment my hand was at her mouth, and she had bitten me to the bone. The pang of the bite, the sudden spurting of blood, and the monstrous horror of the act, flashed through me all in one, and I beat her back; and she sprang at me again and again, with bestial cries, cries that I recognised, such cries as had awakened me on the night of the high wind. Her strength 162 was like that of madness; mine was rapidly ebbing with the loss of blood; my mind besides was whirling with the abhorrent strangeness of the onslaught, and I was already forced against the wall, when Olalla ran betwixt us, and Felipe, following at a bound, pinned down his mother on the floor.

A trance-like weakness fell upon me; I saw, heard, and felt, but I was incapable of movement. I heard the struggle roll to and fro upon the floor, the yells of the catamount ringing up to heaven as she strove to reach me. I felt Olalla clasp me in her arms, her hair falling on my face, and, with the strength of a man, raise and half drag, half carry me upstairs into my own room, where she cast me down upon the bed. Then I saw her hasten to the door and lock it, and stand an instant listening to the savage cries that shook the residencia. And then, swift and light as a thought, she was again beside me, binding up my hand, laying it in her bosom, moaning and mourning over it, with dove-like sounds. They were not words that came to her, they were sounds more beautiful than speech, infinitely touching, infinitely tender; and yet as I lay there, a thought stung to my heart, a thought wounded me like a sword, a thought, like a worm in a flower, profaned the holiness of my love. Yes, they were beautiful sounds, and they were inspired by human tenderness; but was their beauty human?

All day I lay there. For a long time the cries of that nameless female thing, as she struggled with her half-witted whelp, resounded through the house, and pierced me with despairing sorrow and disgust. They were the death-cry of my love; my love was murdered; it was not only dead, but an offence to me; and yet, think as I pleased, feel as I must, it still swelled within me like a storm of sweetness, and my heart melted at her looks and touch. This horror that had sprung out, this doubt upon Olalla, this savage and bestial strain that ran not only through the whole behaviour of her family, but found a 163 place in the very foundations and story of our love—though it appalled, though it shocked and sickened me, was yet not of power to break the knot of my infatuation.

When the cries had ceased, there came a scraping at the door, by which I knew Felipe was without; and Olalla went and spoke to him—I know not what. With that exception, she stayed close beside me, now kneeling by my bed and fervently praying, now sitting with her eyes upon mine. So then, for these six hours I drank in her beauty, and silently perused the story in her face. I saw the golden coin hover on her breaths; I saw her eyes darken and brighten, and still speak no language but that of an unfathomable kindness; I saw the faultless face, and, through the robe, the lines of the faultless body. Night came at last, and in the growing darkness of the chamber the sight of her slowly melted; but even then the touch of her smooth hand lingered in mine and talked with me. To lie thus in deadly weakness and drink in the traits of the beloved, is to re-awake to love from whatever shock of disillusion. I reasoned with myself; and I shut my eyes on horrors, and again I was very bold to accept the worst. What mattered it, if that imperious sentiment survived; if her eyes still beckoned and attached me; if now, even as before, every fibre of my dull body yearned and turned to her? Late on in the night some strength revived in me, and I spoke:—

“Olalla,” I said, “nothing matters; I ask nothing; I am content; I love you.”

She knelt down a while and prayed, and I devoutly respected her devotions. The moon had begun to shine in upon one side of each of the three windows, and make a misty clearness in the room, by which I saw her indistinctly. When she re-arose she made the sign of the cross.

“It is for me to speak,” she said, “and for you to listen. I know; you can but guess. I prayed, how I prayed for you to leave this place. I begged it of you, 164 and I know you would have granted me even this; or if not, oh let me think so!”

“I love you,” I said.

“And yet you have lived in the world,” she said; after a pause, “you are a man and wise; and I am but a child. Forgive me, if I seem to teach, who am as ignorant as the trees of the mountain; but those who learn much do but skim the face of knowledge; they seize the laws, they conceive the dignity of the design—the horror of the living fact fades from their memory. It is we who sit at home with evil who remember, I think, and are warned and pity. Go, rather, go now, and keep me in mind. So I shall have a life in the cherished places of your memory; a life as much my own as that which I lead in this body.”

“I love you,” I said once more; and reaching out my weak hand, took hers, and carried it to my lips, and kissed it. Nor did she resist, but winced a little; and I could see her look upon me with a frown that was not unkindly, only sad and baffled. And then it seemed she made a call upon her resolution; plucked my hand towards her, herself at the same time leaning somewhat forward, and laid it on the beating of her heart. “There,” she cried, “you feel the very footfall of my life. It only moves for you; it is yours. But is it even mine? It is mine indeed to offer you, as I might take the coin from my neck, as I might break a live branch from a tree, and give it you. And yet not mine! I dwell, or I think I dwell (if I exist at all), somewhere apart, an impotent prisoner, and carried about and deafened by a mob that I disown. This capsule, such as throbs against the sides of animals, knows you at a touch for its master; ay, it loves you! But my soul, does my soul? I think not; I know not, fearing to ask. Yet when you spoke to me, your words were of the soul; it is of the soul that you ask—it is only from the soul that you would take me.”

“Olalla,” I said, “the soul and the body are one, and mostly so in love. What the body chooses, the soul loves; 165 where the body clings, the soul cleaves; body for body, soul to soul, they come together at God’s signal; and the lower part (if we can call aught low) is only the footstool and foundation of the highest.”

“Have you,” she said, “seen the portraits in the house of my fathers? Have you looked at my mother or at Felipe? Have your eyes never rested on that picture that hangs by your bed? She who sat for it died ages ago; and she did evil in her life. But, look again: there is my hand to the least line, there are my eyes and my hair. What is mine, then, and what am I? If not a curve in this poor body of mine (which you love, and for the sake of which you dotingly dream that you love me), not a gesture that I can frame, not a tone of my voice, not any look from my eyes, no, not even now when I speak to him I love, but has belonged to others? Others, ages dead, have wooed other men with my eyes; other men have heard the pleading of the same voice that now sounds in your ears. The hands of the dead are in my bosom; they move me, they pluck me, they guide me; I am a puppet at their command; and I but re-inform features and attributes that have long been laid aside from evil in the quiet of the grave. Is it me you love, friend? or the race that made me? The girl who does not know and cannot answer for the least portion of herself? or the stream of which she is a transitory eddy, the tree of which she is the passing fruit? The race exists; it is old, it is ever young, it carries its eternal destiny in its bosom; upon it, like waves upon the sea, individual succeeds to individual, mocked with a semblance of self-control, but they are nothing. We speak of the soul, but the soul is in the race.”

“You fret against the common law,” I said. “You rebel against the voice of God, which He has made so winning to convince, so imperious to command. Hear it, and how it speaks between us! Your hand clings to mine, your heart leaps at my touch, the unknown elements of 166 which we are compounded awake and run together at a look; the clay of the earth remembers its independent life and yearns to join us; we are drawn together as the stars are turned about in space, or as the tides ebb and flow; by things older and greater than we ourselves.”

“Alas!” she said, “what can I say to you? My fathers, eight hundred years ago, ruled all this province: they were wise, great, cunning, and cruel; they were a picked race of the Spanish; their flags led in war; the king called them his cousin; the people, when the rope was slung for them or when they returned and found their hovels smoking, blasphemed their name. Presently a change began. Man has risen; if he has sprung from the brutes, he can descend again to the same level. The breath of weariness blew on their humanity and the cords relaxed; they began to go down; their minds fell on sleep, their passions awoke in gusts, heady and senseless like the wind in the gutters of the mountains; beauty was still handed down, but no longer the guiding wit nor the human heart; the seed passed on, it was wrapped in flesh, the flesh covered the bones, but they were the bones and the flesh of brutes, and their mind was as the mind of flies. I speak to you as I dare; but you have seen for yourself how the wheel has gone backward with my doomed race. I stand, as it were, upon a little rising ground in this desperate descent, and see both before and behind, both what we have lost and to what we are condemned to go farther downward. And shall I—I that dwell apart in the house of the dead, my body, loathing its ways—shall I repeat the spell? Shall I bind another spirit, reluctant as my own, into this bewitched and tempest-broken tenement that I now suffer in? Shall I hand down this cursed vessel of humanity, charge it with fresh life as with fresh poison, and dash it, like a fire, in the faces of posterity? But my vow has been given; the race shall cease from off the earth. At this hour my brother is making ready; his foot will soon be on the 167 stair; and you will go with him and pass out of my sight for ever. Think of me sometimes as one to whom the lesson of life was very harshly told, but who heard it with courage; as one who loved you indeed, but who hated herself so deeply that her love was hateful to her; as one who sent you away and yet would have longed to keep you for ever: who had no dearer hope than to forget you, and no greater fear than to be forgotten.”

She had drawn towards the door as she spoke, her rich voice sounding softer and farther away; and with the last word she was gone, and I lay alone in the moonlit chamber. What I might have done had not I lain bound by my extreme weakness, I know not; but as it was, there fell upon me a great and blank despair. It was not long before there shone in at the door the ruddy glimmer of a lantern, and Felipe, coming, charged me without a word upon his shoulders, and carried me down to the great gate, where the cart was waiting. In the moonlight the hills stood out sharply, as if they were of cardboard; on the glimmering surface of the plateau, and from among the low trees which swung together and sparkled in the wind, the great black cube of the residencia stood out bulkily, its mass only broken by three dimly lighted windows in the northern front above the gate. They were Olalla’s windows, and as the cart jolted onwards I kept my eyes fixed upon them till, where the road dipped into a valley, they were lost to my view for ever. Felipe walked in silence beside the shafts, but from time to time he would check the mule and seem to look back upon me; and at length drew quite near and laid his hand upon my head. There was such kindness in the touch, and such a simplicity, as of the brutes, that tears broke from me like the bursting of an artery.

“Felipe,” I said, “take me where they will ask no questions.”

He said never a word, but he turned his mule about, end for end, retraced some part of the way we had gone, 168 and, striking into another path, led me to the mountain village, which was, as we say in Scotland, the kirk-town of that thinly peopled district. Some broken memories dwell in my mind of the day breaking over the plain, of the cart stopping, of arms that helped me down, of a bare room into which I was carried, and of a swoon that fell upon me like sleep.

The next day and the days following, the old priest was often at my side with his snuff-box and prayer-book, and after a while, when I began to pick up strength, he told me that I was now on a fair way to recovery, and must as soon as possible hurry my departure; whereupon, without naming any reason, he took snuff and looked at me sideways. I did not affect ignorance; I knew he must have seen Olalla. “Sir,” said I, “you know that I do not ask in wantonness. What of that family?”

He said they were very unfortunate; that it seemed a declining race, and that they were very poor and had been much neglected.

“But she has not,” I said. “Thanks, doubtless, to yourself, she is instructed and wise beyond the use of women.”

“Yes,” he said, “the Señorita is well-informed. But the family has been neglected.”

“The mother?” I queried.

“Yes, the mother too,” said the Padre, taking snuff. “But Felipe is a well-intentioned lad.”

“The mother is odd?” I asked.

“Very odd,” replied the priest.

“I think, sir, we beat about the bush,” said I. “You must know more of my affairs than you allow. You must know my curiosity to be justified on many grounds. Will you not be frank with me?”

“My son,” said the old gentleman, “I will be very frank with you on matters within my competence; on those of which I know nothing it does not require much discretion to be silent. I will not fence with you, I take 169 your meaning perfectly; and what can I say, but that we are all in God’s hands, and that His ways are not our ways? I have even advised with my superiors in the Church, but they, too, were dumb. It is a great mystery.”

“Is she mad?” I asked.

“I will answer you according to my belief. She is not,” returned the Padre, “or she was not. When she was young—God help me, I fear I neglected that wild lamb—she was surely sane; and yet, although it did not run to such heights, the same strain was already notable; it had been so before her in her father, ay, and before him, and this inclined me, perhaps, to think too lightly of it. But these things go on growing, not only in the individual but in the race.”

“When she was young,” I began, and my voice failed me for a moment, and it was only with a great effort that I was able to add, “was she like Olalla?”

“Now God forbid!” exclaimed the Padre. “God forbid that any man should think so slightingly of my favourite penitent. No, no; the Señorita (but for her beauty, which I wish most honestly she had less of) has not a hair’s resemblance to what her mother was at the same age. I could not bear to have you think so; though, heaven knows, it were, perhaps, better that you should.”

At this I raised myself in bed, and opened my heart to the old man; telling him of our love and of her decision; owning my own horrors, my own passing fancies, but telling him that these were at an end; and with something more than a purely formal submission, appealing to his judgment.

He heard me very patiently and without surprise; and when I had done he sat for some time silent. Then he began: “The Church,” and instantly broke off again to apologise. “I had forgotten, my child, that you were not a Christian,” said he. “And indeed, upon a point so highly unusual, even the Church can scarce be said to have decided. But would you have my opinion? The 170 Señorita is, in a matter of this kind, the best judge; I would accept her judgment.”

On the back of that he went away, nor was he thenceforward so assiduous in his visits; indeed, even when I began to get about again, he plainly feared and deprecated my society, not as in distaste, but much as a man might be disposed to flee from the riddling sphinx. The villagers, too, avoided me; they were unwilling to be my guides upon the mountain. I thought they looked at me askance, and I made sure that the more superstitious crossed themselves on my approach. At first I set this down to my heretical opinions; but it began at length to dawn upon me that if I was thus redoubted it was because I had stayed at the residencia. All men despise the savage notions of such peasantry; and yet I was conscious of a chill shadow that seemed to fall and dwell upon my love. It did not conquer, but I may not deny that it restrained, my ardour.

Some miles westward of the village there was a gap in the sierra, from which the eye plunged direct upon the residencia; and thither it became my daily habit to repair. A wood crowned the summit; and just where the pathway issued from its fringes, it was overhung by a considerable shelf of rock, and that, in its turn, was surmounted by a crucifix of the size of life and more than usually painful in design. This was my perch; thence, day after day, I looked down upon the plateau, and the great old house, and could see Felipe, no bigger than a fly, going to and fro about the garden. Sometimes mists would draw across the view, and be broken up again by mountain winds; sometimes the plain slumbered below me in unbroken sunshine; it would sometimes be all blotted out by rain. This distant post, these interrupted sights of the place where my life had been so strangely changed, suited the indecision of my humour. I passed whole days there, debating with myself the various elements of our position, now leaning to the suggestions of love, 171 now giving an ear to prudence, and in the end halting irresolute between the two.

One day, as I was sitting on my rock, there came by that way a somewhat gaunt peasant wrapped in a mantle. He was a stranger, and plainly did not know me even by repute; for, instead of keeping the other side, he drew near and sat down beside me, and we had soon fallen in talk. Among other things, he told me he had been a muleteer, and in former years had much frequented these mountains; later on, he had followed the army with his mules, had realised a competence, and was now living retired with his family.

“Do you know that house?” I inquired at last, pointing to the residencia, for I readily wearied of any talk that kept me from the thought of Olalla.

He looked at me darkly and crossed himself.

“Too well,” he said, “it was there that one of my comrades sold himself to Satan; the Virgin shield us from temptations! He has paid the price; he is now burning in the reddest place in hell!”

A fear came upon me; I could answer nothing; and presently the man resumed, as if to himself: “Yes,” he said, “O yes, I know it. I have passed its doors. There was snow upon the pass, the wind was driving it; sure enough there was death that night upon the mountains, but there was worse beside the hearth. I took him by the arm, Señor, and dragged him to the gate; I conjured him, by all he loved and respected, to go forth with me; I went on my knees before him in the snow; and I could see he was moved by my entreaty. And just then she came out on the gallery, and called him by his name; and he turned, and there was she, standing with a lamp in her hand and smiling on him to come back. I cried out aloud to God, and threw my arms about him, but he put me by, and left me alone. He had made his choice; God help us. I would pray for him, but to what end? there are sins that not even the Pope can loose.”

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“And your friend,” I asked, “what became of him?”

“Nay, God knows,” said the muleteer. “If all be true that we hear, his end was like his sin, a thing to raise the hair.”

“Do you mean that he was killed?” I asked.

“Sure enough, he was killed,” returned the man. “But how? Ah, how? But these are things that it is sin to speak of.”

“The people of that house....” I began.

But he interrupted me with a savage outburst. “The people?” he cried. “What people? There are neither men nor women in that house of Satan’s! What? have you lived here so long, and never heard?” And here he put his mouth to my ear and whispered, as if even the fowls of the mountain might have overheard and been stricken with horror.

What he told me was not true, nor was it even original; being, indeed, but a new edition, vamped up again by village ignorance and superstition, of stories nearly as ancient as the race of man. It was rather the application that appalled me. In the old days, he said, the Church would have burned out that nest of basilisks; but the arm of the Church was now shortened; his friend Miguel had been unpunished by the hands of men, and left to the more awful judgment of an offended God. This was wrong; but it should be so no more. The Padre was sunk in age; he was even bewitched himself; but the eyes of his flock were now awake to their own danger; and some day—ay, and before long—the smoke of that house should go up to heaven.

He left me filled with horror and fear. Which way to turn I knew not; whether first to warn the Padre, or to carry my ill news direct to the threatened inhabitants of the residencia. Fate was to decide for me; for, while I was still hesitating, I beheld the veiled figure of a woman drawing near to me up the pathway. No veil could deceive my penetration; by every line and every movement I 173 recognised Olalla; and keeping hidden behind a corner of the rock, I suffered her to gain the summit. Then I came forward. She knew me and paused, but did not speak; I, too, remained silent; and we continued for some time to gaze upon each other with a passionate sadness.

“I thought you had gone,” she said at length. “It is all that you can do for me—to go. It is all I ever asked of you. And you still stay. But do you know, that every day heaps up the peril of death, not only on your head, but on ours? A report has gone about the mountain; it is thought you love me, and the people will not suffer it.”

I saw she was already informed of her danger, and I rejoiced at it. “Olalla,” I said, “I am ready to go this day, this very hour, but not alone.”

She stepped aside and knelt down before the crucifix to pray, and I stood by and looked now at her and now at the object of her adoration, now at the living figure of the penitent, and now at the ghastly, daubed countenance, the painted wounds, and the projected ribs of the image. The silence was only broken by the wailing of some large birds that circled sidelong, as if in surprise or alarm, about the summit of the hills. Presently Olalla rose again, turned towards me, raised her veil, and, still leaning with one hand on the shaft of the crucifix, looked upon me with a pale and sorrowful countenance.

“I have laid my hand upon the cross,” she said. “The Padre says you are no Christian; but look up for a moment with my eyes, and behold the face of the Man of Sorrows. We are all such as He was—the inheritors of sin; we must all bear and expiate a past which was not ours; there is in all of us—ay, even in me—a sparkle of the divine. Like Him, we must endure for a little while, until morning returns, bringing peace. Suffer me to pass on upon my way alone; it is thus that I shall be least lonely, counting for my friend Him who is the friend of all the distressed; it is thus that I shall be the most happy, having taken my 174 farewell of earthly happiness, and willingly accepted sorrow for my portion.”

I looked at the face of the crucifix, and, though I was no friend to images, and despised that imitative and grimacing art of which it was a rude example, some sense of what the thing implied was carried home to my intelligence. The face looked down upon me with a painful and deadly contraction; but the rays of a glory encircled it, and reminded me that the sacrifice was voluntary. It stood there, crowning the rock, as it still stands on so many highway sides, vainly preaching to passers-by, an emblem of sad and noble truths; that pleasure is not an end, but an accident; that pain is the choice of the magnanimous; that it is best to suffer all things and do well. I turned and went down the mountain in silence; and when I looked back for the last time before the wood closed about my path, I saw Olalla still leaning on the crucifix.

 

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HEATHERCAT

A FRAGMENT


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177

HEATHERCAT


 

CHAPTER I

TRAQUAIRS OF MONTROYMONT

The period of this tale is in the heat of the killing-time; the scene laid for the most part in solitary hills and morasses, haunted only by the so-called Mountain Wanderers, the dragoons that came in chase of them, the women that wept on their dead bodies, and the wild birds of the moorland that have cried there since the beginning. It is a land of many rain-clouds; a land of much mute history, written there in pre-historic symbols. Strange green raths are to be seen commonly in the country, above all by the kirkyards; barrows of the dead, standing stones; beside these, the faint, durable footprints and handmarks of the Roman; and an antiquity older perhaps than any, and still living and active—a complete Celtic nomenclature and a scarce-mingled Celtic population. These rugged and grey hills were once included in the boundaries of the Caledonian Forest. Merlin sat here below his apple-tree and lamented Gwendolen; here spoke with Kentigern; here fell into his enchanted trance. And the legend of his slumber seems to body forth the story of that Celtic race, deprived for so many centuries of their authentic speech, surviving with their ancestral inheritance of melancholy perversity and patient, unfortunate courage.

The Traquairs of Montroymont (Mons Romanus, as the erudite expound it) had long held their seat about the head-waters of the Dule and in the back parts of the 178 moorland parish of Balweary. For two hundred years they had enjoyed in these upland quarters a certain decency (almost to be named distinction) of repute; and the annals of their house, or what is remembered of them, were obscure and bloody. Ninian Traquair was “cruallie slochtered” by the Crozers at the kirk-door of Balweary, anno 1482. Francis killed Simon Ruthven of Drumshoreland, anno 1540; bought letters of slayers at the widow and heir, and, by a barbarous form of compounding, married (without tocher) Simon’s daughter Grizzel, which is the way the Traquairs and Ruthvens came first to an intermarriage. About the last Traquair and Ruthven marriage, it is the business of this book, among many other things, to tell.

The Traquairs were always strong for the Covenant; for the King also, but the Covenant first; and it began to be ill days for Montroymont when the Bishops came in and the dragoons at the heels of them. Ninian (then laird) was an anxious husband of himself and the property, as the times required, and it may be said of him, that he lost both. He was heavily suspected of the Pentland Hills rebellion. When it came the length of Bothwell Brig, he stood his trial before the Secret Council, and was convicted of talking with some insurgents by the wayside, the subject of the conversation not very clearly appearing, and of the reset and maintenance of one Gale, a gardener man, who seen before Bothwell with a musket, and afterwards, for a continuance of months, delved the garden at Montroymont. Matters went very ill with Ninian at the Council; some of the lords were clear for treason; and even the boot was talked of. But he was spared that torture; and at last, having pretty good friendship among great men, he came off with a fine of seven thousand marks, that caused the estate to groan. In this case, as in so many others, it was the wife that made the trouble. She was a great keeper of conventicles; would ride ten miles to one, and when she was fined, rejoiced greatly to suffer for the Kirk; but it was rather her husband that suffered. 179 She had their only son, Francis, baptized privately by the hands of Mr. Kidd; there was that much the more to pay for! She could neither be driven nor wiled into the parish kirk; as for taking the sacrament at the hands of any Episcopalian curate, and tenfold more at those of Curate Haddo, there was nothing further from her purposes; and Montroymont had to put his hand in his pocket month by month and year by year. Once, indeed, the little lady was cast in prison, and the laird, worthy, heavy, uninterested man, had to ride up and take her place; from which he was not discharged under nine months and a sharp fine. It scarce seemed she had any gratitude to him; she came out of gaol herself, and plunged immediately deeper in conventicles, resetting recusants, and all her old, expensive folly, only with greater vigour and openness, because Montroymont was safe in the Tolbooth and she had no witness to consider. When he was liberated and came back, with his fingers singed, in December 1680, and late in the black night, my lady was from home. He came into the house at his alighting, with a riding-rod yet in his hand; and, on the servant-maid telling him, caught her by the scruff of the neck, beat her violently, flung her down in the passage-way, and went upstairs to his bed fasting and without a light. It was three in the morning when my lady returned from that conventicle, and, hearing of the assault (because the maid had sat up for her, weeping), went to their common chamber with a lantern in hand and stamping with her shoes so as to wake the dead; it was supposed, by those that heard her, from a design to have it out with the good man at once. The house-servants gathered on the stair, because it was a main interest with them to know which of these two was the better horse; and for the space of two hours they were heard to go at the matter, hammer and tongs. Montroymont alleged he was at the end of possibilities; it was no longer within his power to pay the annual rents; she had served him basely by keeping conventicles while he 180 lay in prison for her sake; his friends were weary, and there was nothing else before him but the entire loss of the family lands, and to begin life again by the wayside as a common beggar. She took him up very sharp and high: called upon him, if he were a Christian? and which he most considered, the loss of a few dirty, miry glebes, or of his soul? Presently he was heard to weep, and my lady’s voice to go on continually like a running burn, only the words indistinguishable; whereupon it was supposed a victory for her ladyship, and the domestics took themselves to bed. The next day Traquair appeared like a man who had gone under the harrows; and his lady wife thenceforward continued in her old course without the least deflection.

Thenceforward Ninian went on his way without complaint, and suffered his wife to go on hers without remonstrance. He still minded his estate, of which it might be said he took daily a fresh farewell, and counted it already lost; looking ruefully on the acres and the graves of his fathers, on the moorlands where the wildfowl consorted, the low, gurgling pool of the trout, and the high, windy place of the calling curlews—things that were yet his for the day and would be another’s to-morrow; coming back again, and sitting ciphering till the dusk at his approaching ruin, which no device of arithmetic could postpone beyond a year or two. He was essentially the simple ancient man, the farmer and landholder; he would have been content to watch the seasons come and go, and his cattle increase, until the limit of age; he would have been content at any time to die, if he could have left the estates undiminished to an heir-male of his ancestors, that duty standing first in his instinctive calendar. And now he saw everywhere the image of the new proprietor come to meet him, and go sowing and reaping, or fowling for his pleasure on the red moors, or eating the very gooseberries in the Place garden; and saw always, on the other hand, the figure of Francis go forth, a beggar, into the broad world.

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It was in vain the poor gentleman sought to moderate; took every test and took advantage of every indulgence; went and drank with the dragoons in Balweary; attended the communion and came regularly to the church to Curate Haddo, with his son beside him. The mad, raging, Presbyterian zealot of a wife at home made all of no avail; and indeed the house must have fallen years before if it had not been for the secret indulgence of the curate, who had a great sympathy with the laird, and winked hard at the doings in Montroymont. This curate was a man very ill reputed in the countryside, and indeed in all Scotland. “Infamous Haddo” is Shield’s expression. But Patrick Walker is more copious. “Curate Hall Haddo,” says he, sub voce Peden, “or Hell Haddo, as he was more justly to be called, a pokeful of old condemned errors and the filthy vile lusts of the flesh, a published whoremonger, a common gross drunkard, continually and godlessly scraping and skirling on a fiddle, continually breathing flames against the remnant of Israel. But the Lord put an end to his piping, and all these offences were composed into one bloody grave.” No doubt this was written to excuse his slaughter; and I have never heard it claimed for Walker that he was either a just witness or an indulgent judge. At least, in a merely human character, Haddo comes off not wholly amiss in the matter of these Traquairs: not that he showed any graces of the Christian, but had a sort of Pagan decency, which might almost tempt one to be concerned about his sudden, violent, and unprepared fate.


 

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CHAPTER II

FRANCIE

Francie was eleven years old, shy, secret, and rather childish of his age, though not backward in schooling, which had been pushed on far by a private governor, one M’Brair, a forfeited minister harboured in that capacity at Montroymont. The boy, already much employed in secret by his mother, was the most apt hand conceivable to run upon a message, to carry food to lurking fugitives, or to stand sentry on the skyline above a conventicle. It seemed no place on the moorlands was so naked but what he would find cover there; and as he knew every hag, boulder, and heather-bush in a circuit of seven miles about Montroymont, there was scarce any spot but what he could leave or approach it unseen. This dexterity had won him a reputation in that part of the country; and among the many children employed in these dangerous affairs, he passed under the by-name of Heathercat.

How much his father knew of this employment might be doubted. He took much forethought for the boy’s future, seeing he was like to be left so poorly, and would sometimes assist at his lessons, sighing heavily, yawning deep, and now and again patting Francie on the shoulder if he seemed to be doing ill, by way of a private, kind encouragement. But a great part of the day was passed in aimless wanderings with his eyes sealed, or in his cabinet sitting bemused over the particulars of the coming bankruptcy; and the boy would be absent a dozen times for once that his father would observe it.

On 2nd of July 1682 the boy had an errand from his 183 mother, which must be kept private from all, the father included in the first of them. Crossing the braes, he hears the clatter of a horse’s shoes, and claps down incontinent in a hag by the wayside. And presently he spied his father come riding from one direction, and Curate Haddo walking from another; and Montroymont leaning down from the saddle, and Haddo getting on his toes (for he was a little, ruddy, bald-pated man, more like a dwarf), they greeted kindly, and came to a halt within two fathoms of the child.

“Montroymont,” the curate said, “the deil’s in ’t but I’ll have to denunciate your leddy again.”

“Deil’s in ’t indeed!” says the laird.

“Man! can ye no induce her to come to the kirk?” pursues Haddo; “or to a communion at the least of it? For the conventicles, let be! and the same for yon solemn fule, M’Brair: I can blink at them. But she’s got to come to the kirk, Montroymont.”

“Dinna speak of it,” says the laird. “I can do nothing with her.”

“Couldn’t ye try the stick to her? it works wonders whiles,” suggested Haddo. “No? I’m wae to hear it. And I suppose ye ken where you’re going?”

“Fine!” said Montroymont. “Fine do I ken where: bankrup’cy and the Bass Rock!”

“Praise to my bones that I never married!” cried the curate. “Well, it’s a grievous thing to me to see an auld house dung down that was here before Flodden Field. But naebody can say it was with my wish.”

“No more they can, Haddo!” says the laird. “A good friend ye’ve been to me, first and last. I can give you that character with a clear conscience.”

Whereupon they separated, and Montroymont rode briskly down into the Dule Valley. But of the curate Francis was not to be quit so easily. He went on with his little, brisk steps to the corner of a dyke, and stopped and whistled and waved upon a lassie that was herding 184 cattle there. This Janet M’Clour was a big lass, being taller than the curate; and what made her look the more so, she was kilted very high. It seemed for a while she would not come, and Francie heard her calling Haddo a “daft auld fule,” and saw her running and dodging him among the whins and hags till he was fairly blown. But at the last he gets a bottle from his plaid-neuk and holds it up to her; whereupon she came at once into a composition, and the pair sat, drinking of the bottle, and daffing and laughing together, on a mound of heather. The boy had scarce heard of these vanities, or he might have been minded of a nymph and satyr, if anybody could have taken long-leggit Janet for a nymph. But they seemed to be huge friends, he thought; and was the more surprised, when the curate had taken his leave, to see the lassie fling stones after him with screeches of laughter, and Haddo turn about and caper, and shake his staff at her, and laugh louder than herself. A wonderful merry pair, they seemed; and when Francie had crawled out of the hag, he had a great deal to consider in his mind. It was possible they were all fallen in error about Mr. Haddo, he reflected,—having seen him so tender with Montroymont, and so kind and playful with the lass Janet; and he had a temptation to go out of his road and question her herself upon the matter. But he had a strong spirit of duty on him; and plodded on instead over the braes till he came near the House of Cairngorm. There, in a hollow place, by the burnside that was shaded by some birks, he was aware of a barefoot boy, perhaps a matter of three years older than himself. The two approached with the precautions of a pair of strange dogs, looking at each other queerly.

“It’s ill weather on the hills,” said the stranger, giving the watchword.

“For a season,” said Francie, “but the Lord will appear.”

“Richt,” said the barefoot boy; “wha’re ye frae?”

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“The Leddy Montroymont,” says Francie.

“Ha’e, then!” says the stranger, and handed him a folded paper, and they stood and looked at each other again. “It’s unco’ het,” said the boy.

“Dooms het,” says Francie.

“What do they ca’ ye?” says the other.

“Francie,” says he. “I’m young Montroymont. They ca’ me Heathercat.”

“I’m Jock Crozer,” said the boy. And there was another pause, while each rolled a stone under his foot.

“Cast your jaiket and I’ll fecht ye for a bawbee,” cried the elder boy with sudden violence, and dramatically throwing back his jacket.

“Na, I have nae time the now,” said Francie, with a sharp thrill of alarm, because Crozer was much the heavier boy.

“Ye’re feared. Heathercat indeed!” said Crozer, for among this infantile army of spies and messengers, the fame of Crozer had gone forth and was resented by his rivals. And with that they separated.

On his way home Francie was a good deal occupied with the recollection of this untoward incident. The challenge had been fairly offered and basely refused: the tale would be carried all over the country, and the lustre of the name of Heathercat be dimmed. But the scene between Curate Haddo and Janet M’Clour had also given him much to think of: and he was still puzzling over the case of the curate, and why such ill words were said of him, and why, if he were so merry-spirited, he should yet preach so dry, when coming over a knowe, whom should he see but Janet, sitting with her back to him, minding her cattle! He was always a great child for secret, stealthy ways, having been employed by his mother on errands when the same was necessary; and he came behind the lass without her hearing.

“Jennet,” says he.

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“Keep me,” cries Janet, springing up. “O, it’s you, Maister Francie! Save us, what a fricht ye gied me.”

“Ay, it’s me,” said Francie. “I’ve been thinking, Jennet; I saw you and the curate a while back——”

“Brat!” cried Janet, and coloured up crimson; and the one moment made as if she would have stricken him with a ragged stick she had to chase her bestial with, and the next was begging and praying that he would mention it to none. It was “naebody’s business, whatever,” she said; “it would just start a clash in the country”; and there would be nothing left for her but to drown herself in Dule Water.

“Why?” says Francie.

The girl looked at him and grew scarlet again.

“And it isna that, anyway,” continued Francie. “It was just that he seemed so good to ye—like our Father in heaven, I thought; and I thought that mebbe, perhaps, we had all been wrong about him from the first. But I’ll have to tell Mr. M’Brair; I’m under a kind of a bargain to him to tell him all.”

“Tell it to the divil if ye like for me!” cried the lass. “I’ve naething to be ashamed of. Tell M’Brair to mind his ain affairs,” she cried again: “they’ll be hot eneugh for him, if Haddie likes!” And so strode off, shoving her beasts before her, and ever and again looking back and crying angry words to the boy, where he stood mystified.

By the time he had got home his mind was made up that he would say nothing to his mother. My Lady Montroymont was in the keeping-room, reading a godly book; she was a wonderful frail little wife to make so much noise in the world and be able to steer about that patient sheep her husband; her eyes were like sloes, the fingers of her hands were like tobacco-pipe shanks, her mouth shut tight like a trap; and even when she was the most serious, and still more when she was angry, 187 there hung about her face the terrifying semblance of a smile.

“Have ye gotten the billet, Francie?” said she; and when he had handed it over, and she had read and burned it, “Did you see anybody?” she asked.

“I saw the laird,” said Francie.

“He didna see you, though?” asked his mother.

“Deil a fear,” from Francie.

“Francie!” she cried. “What’s that I hear? an aith? The Lord forgive me, have I broughten forth a brand for the burning, a fagot for hell-fire?”

“I’m very sorry, ma’am,” said Francie. “I humbly beg the Lord’s pardon, and yours, for my wickedness.”

“H’m,” grunted the lady. “Did ye see nobody else?”

“No, ma’am,” said Francie, with the face of an angel, “except Jock Crozer, that gied me the billet.”

“Jock Crozer!” cried the lady. “I’ll Crozer them! Crozers indeed! What next? Are we to repose the lives of a suffering remnant in Crozers? The whole clan of them wants hanging, and if I had my way of it, they wouldna want it long. Are you aware, sir, that these Crozers killed your forebear at the kirk-door?”

“You see, he was bigger ’n me,” said Francie.

“Jock Crozer!” continued the lady. “That’ll be Clement’s son, the biggest thief and reiver in the countryside. To trust a note to him! But I’ll give the benefit of my opinions to Lady Whitecross when we two forgather. Let her look to herself! I have no patience with half-hearted carlines, that complies on the Lord’s day morning with the kirk, and comes taigling the same night to the conventicle. The one or the other! is what I say: hell or heaven—Haddie’s abominations or the pure word of God dreeping from the lips of Mr. Arnot,

“‘Like honey from the honeycomb

That dreepeth, sweeter far.’”

My lady was now fairly launched, and that upon two 188 congenial subjects: the deficiencies of the Lady Whitecross and the turpitudes of the whole Crozer race—which, indeed, had never been conspicuous for respectability. She pursued the pair of them for twenty minutes on the clock with wonderful animation and detail, something of the pulpit manner, and the spirit of one possessed. “O hellish compliance!” she exclaimed. “I would not suffer a complier to break bread with Christian folk. Of all the sins of this day there is not one so God-defying, so Christ-humiliating, as damnable compliance”: the boy standing before her meanwhile, and brokenly pursuing other thoughts, mainly of Haddo and Janet, and Jock Crozer stripping off his jacket. And yet, with all his distraction, it might be argued that he heard too much: his father and himself being “compliers”—that is to say, attending the church of the parish as the law required.

Presently, the lady’s passion beginning to decline, or her flux of ill words to be exhausted, she dismissed her audience. Francie bowed low, left the room, closed the door behind him: and then turned him about in the passage-way, and with a low voice, but a prodigious deal of sentiment, repeated the name of the evil one twenty times over, to the end of which, for the greater efficacy, he tacked on “damnable” and “hellish.” Fas est ab hoste doceri—disrespect is made more pungent by quotation; and there is no doubt but he felt relieved, and went upstairs into his tutor’s chamber with a quiet mind. M’Brair sat by the cheek of the peat-fire and shivered, for he had a quartan ague and this was his day. The great nightcap and plaid, the dark unshaven cheeks of the man, and the white, thin hands that held the plaid about his chittering body, made a sorrowful picture. But Francie knew and loved him; came straight in, nestled close to the refugee, and told his story. M’Brair had been at the College with Haddo; the Presbytery had licensed both on the same day; and at this tale, 189 told with so much innocency by the boy, the heart of the tutor was commoved.

“Woe upon him! Woe upon that man!” he cried. “O the unfaithful shepherd! O the hireling and apostate minister! Make my matters hot for me? quo’ she! the shameless limmer! And true it is, that he could repose me in that nasty, stinking hole, the Canongate Tolbooth, from which your mother drew me out—the Lord reward her for it!—or to that cold, unbieldy, marine place of the Bass Rock, which, with my delicate kist, would be fair ruin to me. But I will be valiant in my Master’s service. I have a duty here: a duty to my God, to myself, and to Haddo: in His strength, I will perform it.”

Then he straitly discharged Francie to repeat the tale, and bade him in the future to avert his very eyes from the doings of the curate. “You must go to his place of idolatry; look upon him there!” says he, “but nowhere else. Avert your eyes, close your ears, pass him by like a three days’ corp. He is like that damnable monster Basiliscus, which defiles—yea, poisons!—by the sight.”—All which was hardly claratory to the boy’s mind.

Presently Montroymont came home, and called up the stairs to Francie. Traquair was a good shot and swordsman: and it was his pleasure to walk with his son over the braes of the moorfowl, or to teach him arms in the back court, when they made a mighty comely pair, the child being so lean, and light, and active, and the laird himself a man of a manly, pretty stature, his hair (the periwig being laid aside) showing already white with many anxieties, and his face of an even, flaccid red. But this day Francie’s heart was not in the fencing.

“Sir,” says he, suddenly lowering his point, “will ye tell me a thing if I was to ask it?”

“Ask away,” says the father.

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“Well, it’s this,” said Francie: “Why do you and me comply if it’s so wicked?”

“Ay, ye have the cant of it too!” cried Montroymont. “But I’ll tell ye for all that. It’s to try and see if we can keep the rigging on this house, Francie. If she had her way, we would be beggar-folk, and hold our hands out by the wayside. When ye hear her—when ye hear folk,” he corrected himself briskly, “call me a coward, and one that betrayed the Lord, and I kenna what else, just mind it was to keep a bed to ye to sleep in and a bite for ye to eat.—On guard!” he cried, and the lesson proceeded again till they were called to supper.

“There’s another thing yet,” said Francie, stopping his father. “There’s another thing that I am not sure that I am very caring for. She—she sends me errands.”

“Obey her, then, as is your bounden duty,” said Traquair.

“Ay, but wait till I tell ye,” says the boy. “If I was to see you I was to hide.”

Montroymont sighed. “Well, and that’s good of her too,” said he. “The less that I ken of thir doings the better for me; and the best thing you can do is just to obey her, and see and be a good son to her, the same as ye are to me, Francie.”

At the tenderness of this expression the heart of Francie swelled within his bosom, and his remorse was poured out. “Faither!” he cried, “I said ‘deil’ to-day; many’s the time I said it, and damnable too, and hellish. I ken they’re all right; they’re beeblical. But I didna say them beeblically; I said them for sweir words—that’s the truth of it.”

“Hout, ye silly bairn!” said the father, “dinna do it nae mair, and come in by to your supper.” And he took the boy, and drew him close to him a moment, as they went through the door, with something very fond and secret, like a caress between a pair of lovers.

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The next day M’Brair was abroad in the afternoon, and had a long advising with Janet on the braes where she herded cattle. What passed was never wholly known; but the lass wept bitterly, and fell on her knees to him among the whins. The same night, as soon as it was dark, he took the road again for Balweary. In the Kirkton, where the dragoons quartered, he saw many lights, and heard the noise of a ranting song and people laughing grossly, which was highly offensive to his mind. He gave it the wider berth, keeping among fields; and came down at last by the water-side, where the manse stands solitary between the river and the road. He tapped at the back door, and the old woman called upon him to come in, and guided him through the house to the study, as they still called it, though there was little enough study there in Haddo’s days, and more song-books than theology.

“Here’s yin to speak wi’ ye, Mr. Haddie!” cries the old wife.

And M’Brair, opening the door and entering, found the little, round, red man seated in one chair and his feet upon another. A clear fire and a tallow dip lighted him barely. He was taking tobacco in a pipe, and smiling to himself; and a brandy-bottle and glass, and his fiddle and bow, were beside him on the table.

“Hech, Patey M’Brair, is this you?” said he, a trifle tipsily. “Step in by, man, and have a drop brandy: for the stomach’s sake! Even the deil can quote Scripture—eh, Patey?”

“I will neither eat nor drink with you,” replied M’Brair. “I am come upon my Master’s errand! woe be upon me if I should anyways mince the same. Hall Haddo, I summon you to quit this kirk which you encumber.”

“Muckle obleeged!” says Haddo, winking.

“You and me have been to kirk and market together,” pursued M’Brair; “we have had blessed seasons in the 192 kirk, we have sat in the same teaching-rooms and read in the same book; and I know you still retain for me some carnal kindness. It would be my shame if I denied it; I live here at your mercy and by your favour, and glory to acknowledge it. You have pity on my wretched body, which is but grass, and must soon be trodden under: but O, Haddo! how much greater is the yearning with which I yearn after and pity your immortal soul! Come now, let us reason together! I drop all points of controversy, weighty though these be; I take your defaced and damnified kirk on your own terms; and I ask you, Are you a worthy minister? The communion season approaches; how can you pronounce thir solemn words, ‘The elders will now bring forrit the elements,’ and not quail? A parishioner may be summoned to-night; you may have to rise from your miserable orgies; and I ask you, Haddo, what does your conscience tell you? Are you fit? Are you fit to smooth the pillow of a parting Christian? And if the summons should be for yourself, how then?”

Haddo was startled out of all composure and the better part of his temper. “What’s this of it?” he cried. “I’m no waur than my neebours. I never set up to be speeritual; I never did. I’m a plain, canty creature; godliness is cheerfulness, says I; give me my fiddle and a dram, and I wouldna hairm a flee.”

“And I repeat my question,” said M’Brair: “Are you fit—fit for this great charge? fit to carry and save souls?”

“Fit? Blethers! As fit ’s yoursel’,” cried Haddo.

“Are you so great a self-deceiver?” said M’Brair. “Wretched man, trampler upon God’s covenants, crucifier of your Lord afresh. I will ding you to the earth with one word: How about the young woman, Janet M’Clour?”

“Weel, what about her? what do I ken?” cries Haddo. “M’Brair, ye daft auld wife, I tell ye as true ’s truth, I never meddled her. It was just daffing, I tell ye: daffing, and nae mair: a piece of fun, like! I’m no’ 193 denying but what I’m fond of fun, sma’ blame to me! But for onything sarious—hout, man, it might come to a deposeetion! I’ll sweir it to ye. Where’s a Bible, till you hear me sweir?”

“There is nae Bible in your study,” said M’Brair severely.

And Haddo, after a few distracted turns, was constrained to accept the fact.

“Weel, and suppose there isna?” he cried, stamping. “What mair can ye say of us, but just that I’m fond of my joke, and so ’s she? I declare to God, by what I ken, she might be the Virgin Mary—if she would just keep clear of the dragoons. But me! na, deil haet o’ me!”

“She is penitent at least,” said M’Brair.

“Do you mean to actually up and tell me to my face that she accused me?” cried the curate.

“I canna just say that,” replied M’Brair. “But I rebuked her in the name of God, and she repented before me on her bended knees.”

“Weel, I daursay she’s been ower far wi’ the dragoons,” said Haddo. “I never denied that. I ken naething by it.”

“Man, you but show your nakedness the more plainly,” said M’Brair. “Poor, blind, besotted creature—and I see you stoytering on the brink of dissolution: your light out, and your hours numbered. Awake, man!” he shouted with a formidable voice, “awake, or it be ower late.”

“Be damned if I stand this!” exclaimed Haddo, casting his tobacco-pipe violently on the table, where it was smashed in pieces. “Out of my house with ye, or I’ll call for the dragoons.”

“The speerit of the Lord is upon me,” said M’Brair with solemn ecstasy. “I sist you to compear before the Great White Throne, and I warn you the summons shall be bloody and sudden.”

And at this, with more agility than could have been 194 expected, he got clear of the room and slammed the door behind him in the face of the pursuing curate. The next Lord’s day the curate was ill, and the kirk closed, but for all his ill words, Mr. M’Brair abode unmolested in the house of Montroymont.


 

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CHAPTER III

THE HILL-END OF DRUMLOWE

This was a bit of a steep broken hill that overlooked upon the west a moorish valley, full of ink-black pools. These presently drained into a burn that made off, with little noise and no celerity of pace, about the corner of the hill. On the far side the ground swelled into a bare heath, black with junipers, and spotted with the presence of the standing stones for which the place was famous. They were many in that part, shapeless, white with lichen—you would have said with age: and had made their abode there for untold centuries, since first the heathens shouted for their installation. The ancients had hallowed them to some ill religion, and their neighbourhood had long been avoided by the prudent before the fall of day; but of late, on the up-springing of new requirements, these lonely stones on the moor had again become a place of assembly. A watchful picket on the Hill-end commanded all the northern and eastern approaches; and such was the disposition of the ground, that by certain cunningly posted sentries the west also could be made secure against surprise: there was no place in the country where a conventicle could meet with more quiet of mind or a more certain retreat open, in the case of interference from the dragoons. The minister spoke from a knowe close to the edge of the ring, and poured out the words God gave him on the very threshold of the devils of yore. When they pitched a tent (which was often in wet weather, upon a communion occasion) it was rigged over the huge isolated pillar that had the name of Anes-Errand, none knew why. 196 And the congregation sat partly clustered on the slope below, and partly among the idolatrous monoliths and on the turfy soil of the Ring itself. In truth the situation was well qualified to give a zest to Christian doctrines, had there been any wanted. But these congregations assembled under conditions at once so formidable and romantic as made a zealot of the most cold. They were the last of the faithful; God, who had averted His face from all other countries of the world, still leaned from heaven to observe, with swelling sympathy, the doings of His moorland remnant; Christ was by them with His eternal wounds, with dropping tears; the Holy Ghost (never perfectly realised nor firmly adopted by Protestant imaginations) was dimly supposed to be in the heart of each and on the lips of the minister. And over against them was the army of the hierarchies, from the men Charles and James Stuart, on to King Lewie and the Emperor; and the scarlet Pope, and the muckle black devil himself, peering out the red mouth of hell in an ecstasy of hate and hope. “One pull more!” he seemed to cry; “one pull more, and it’s done. There’s only Clydesdale and the Stewartry, and the three Bailiaries of Ayr, left for God.” And with such an august assistance of powers and principalities looking on at the last conflict of good and evil, it was scarce possible to spare a thought to those old, infirm, debile, ab agendo devils whose holy place they were now violating.

There might have been three hundred to four hundred present. At least there were three hundred horses tethered for the most part in the ring; though some of the hearers on the outskirts of the crowd stood with their bridles in their hand, ready to mount at the first signal. The circle of faces was strangely characteristic; long, serious, strongly marked, the tackle standing out in the lean brown cheeks, the mouth set and the eyes shining with a fierce enthusiasm; the shepherd, the labouring man, and the rarer laird, stood there in their broad blue bonnets or laced 197 hats, and presenting an essential identity of type. From time to time a long-drawn groan of adhesion rose in this audience, and was propagated like a wave to the outskirts, and died away among the keepers of the horses. It had a name; it was called “a holy groan.”

A squall came up; a great volley of flying mist went out before it and whelmed the scene; the wind stormed with a sudden fierceness that carried away the minister’s voice and twitched his tails and made him stagger, and turned the congregation for a moment into a mere pother of blowing plaid-ends and prancing horses, and the rain followed and was dashed straight into their faces. Men and women panted aloud in the shock of that violent shower-bath; the teeth were bared along all the line in an involuntary grimace; plaids, mantles, and riding-coats were proved vain, and the worshippers felt the water stream on their naked flesh. The minister, reinforcing his great and shrill voice, continued to contend against and triumph over the rising of the squall and the dashing of the rain.

“In that day ye may go thirty mile and not hear a crawing cock,” he said; “and fifty mile and not get a light to your pipe; and an hundred mile and not see a smoking house. For there’ll be naething in all Scotland but deid men’s banes and blackness, and the living anger of the Lord. O, where to find a bield—O sirs, where to find a bield from the wind of the Lord’s anger? Do ye call this a wind? Bethankit! Sirs, this is but a temporary dispensation; this is but a puff of wind, this is but a spit of rain and by with it. Already there’s a blue bow in the west, and the sun will take the crown of the causeway again, and your things’ll be dried upon ye, and your flesh will be warm upon your bones. But O, sirs, sirs! for the day of the Lord’s anger!”

His rhetoric was set forth with an ear-piercing elocution, and a voice that sometimes crashed like cannon. Such as it was, it was the gift of all hill-preachers, to a 198 singular degree of likeness or identity. Their images scarce ranged beyond the red horizon of the moor and the rainy hill-top, the shepherd and his sheep, a fowling-piece, a spade, a pipe, a dunghill, a crowing cock, the shining and the withdrawal of the sun. An occasional pathos of simple humanity, and frequent patches of big Biblical words, relieved the homely tissue. It was a poetry apart; bleak, austere, but genuine, and redolent of the soil.

A little before the coming of the squall there was a different scene enacting at the outposts. For the most part, the sentinels were faithful to their important duty; the Hill-end of Drumlowe was known to be a safe meeting-place; and the out-pickets on this particular day had been somewhat lax from the beginning, and grew laxer during the inordinate length of the discourse. Francie lay there in his appointed hiding-hole, looking abroad between two whin-bushes. His view was across the course of the burn, then over a piece of plain moorland, to a gap between two hills; nothing moved but grouse, and some cattle who slowly traversed his field of view, heading northward: he heard the psalms, and sang words of his own to the savage and melancholy music; for he had his own design in hand, and terror and cowardice prevailed in his bosom alternately, like the hot and the cold fit of an ague. Courage was uppermost during the singing, which he accompanied through all its length with this impromptu strain:

“And I will ding Jock Crozer down

No later than the day.”

Presently the voice of the preacher came to him in wafts, at the wind’s will, as by the opening and shutting of a door; wild spasms of screaming, as of some undiscerned gigantic hill-bird stirred with inordinate passion, succeeded to intervals of silence; and Francie heard them with a critical ear. “Ay,” he thought at last, “he’ll do; he has the bit in his mou’ fairly.”

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He had observed that his friend, or rather his enemy, Jock Crozer, had been established at a very critical part of the line of outposts; namely, where the burn issues by an abrupt gorge from the semicircle of high moors. If anything was calculated to nerve him to battle it was this. The post was important; next to the Hill-end itself, it might be called the key to the position; and it was where the cover was bad, and in which it was most natural to place a child. It should have been Heathercat’s; why had it been given to Crozer? An exquisite fear of what should be the answer passed through his marrow every time he faced the question. Was it possible that Crozer could have boasted? that there were rumours abroad to his—Heathercat’s—discredit? that his honour was publicly sullied? All the world went dark about him at the thought; he sank without a struggle into the midnight pool of despair; and every time he so sank, he brought back with him—not drowned heroism indeed, but half-drowned courage by the locks. His heart beat very slowly as he deserted his station, and began to crawl towards that of Crozer. Something pulled him back, and it was not the sense of duty, but a remembrance of Crozer’s build and hateful readiness of fist. Duty, as he conceived it, pointed him forward on the rueful path that he was travelling. Duty bade him redeem his name if he were able, at the risk of broken bones; and his bones and every tooth in his head ached by anticipation. An awful subsidiary fear whispered him that if he were hurt, he should disgrace himself by weeping. He consoled himself, boy-like, with the consideration that he was not yet committed; he could easily steal over unseen to Crozer’s post, and he had a continuous private idea that he would very probably steal back again. His course took him so near the minister that he could hear some of his words: “What news, minister, of Claver’se? He’s going round like a roaring rampaging lion....

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THE GREAT NORTH ROAD

A FRAGMENT


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THE GREAT NORTH ROAD


 

CHAPTER I

NANCE AT THE “GREEN DRAGON”

Nance Holdaway was on her knees before the fire blowing the green wood that voluminously smoked upon the dogs, and only now and then shot forth a smothered flame; her knees already ached and her eyes smarted, for she had been some while at this ungrateful task, but her mind was gone far away to meet the coming stranger. Now she met him in the wood, now at the castle gate, now in the kitchen by candle-light; each fresh presentment eclipsed the one before; a form so elegant, manners so sedate, a countenance so brave and comely, a voice so winning and resolute—sure such a man was never seen! The thick-coming fancies poured and brightened in her head like the smoke and flames upon the hearth.

Presently the heavy foot of her uncle Jonathan was heard upon the stair, and as he entered the room she bent the closer to her work. He glanced at the green fagots with a sneer, and looked askance at the bed and the white sheets, at the strip of carpet laid, like an island, on the great expanse of the stone floor, and at the broken glazing of the casement clumsily repaired with paper.

“Leave that fire a-be,” he cried. “What, have I toiled all my life to turn innkeeper at the hind end? Leave it a-be, I say.”

“La, uncle, it doesn’t burn a bit; it only smokes,” said Nance, looking up from her position.

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“You are come of decent people of both sides,” returned the old man. “Who are you to blow the coals for any Robin-run-agate? Get up, get on your hood, make yourself useful, and be off to the ‘Green Dragon.’”

“I thought you was to go yourself,” Nance faltered.

“So did I,” quoth Jonathan; “but it appears I was mistook.”

The very excess of her eagerness alarmed her, and she began to hang back. “I think I would rather not, dear uncle,” she said. “Night is at hand, and I think, dear, I would rather not.”

“Now you look here,” replied Jonathan, “I have my lord’s orders, have I not? Little he gives me, but it’s all my livelihood. And do you fancy, if I disobey my lord, I’m likely to turn round for a lass like you? No, I’ve that hell-fire of pain in my old knee, I wouldn’t walk a mile, not for King George upon his bended knees.” And he walked to the window and looked down the steep scarp to where the river foamed in the bottom of the dell.

Nance stayed for no more bidding. In her own room, by the glimmer of the twilight, she washed her hands and pulled on her Sunday mittens; adjusted her black hood, and tied a dozen times its cherry ribbons; and in less than ten minutes, with a fluttering heart and excellently bright eyes, she passed forth under the arch and over the bridge, into the thickening shadows of the groves. A well-marked wheel-track conducted her. The wood, which upon both sides of the river dell was a mere scrambling thicket of hazel, hawthorn, and holly, boasted on the level of more considerable timber. Beeches came to a good growth, with here and there an oak; and the track now passed under a high arcade of branches, and now ran under the open sky in glades. As the girl proceeded these glades became more frequent, the trees began again to decline in size, and the wood to degenerate into furzy coverts. Last of all there was a fringe of elders; and beyond that the track came forth upon an open, rolling 205 moorland, dotted with wind-bowed and scanty bushes, and all golden brown with the winter, like a grouse. Right over against the girl the last red embers of the sunset burned under horizontal clouds; the night fell clear and still and frosty, and the track in low and marshy passages began to crackle under foot with ice.

Some half a mile beyond the borders of the wood the lights of the “Green Dragon” hove in sight, and running close beside them, very faint in the dying dusk, the pale ribbon of the Great North Road. It was the back of the post-house that was presented to Nance Holdaway; and as she continued to draw near and the night to fall more completely, she became aware of an unusual brightness and bustle. A post-chaise stood in the yard, its lamps already lighted: light shone hospitably in the windows and from the open door; moving lights and shadows testified to the activity of servants bearing lanterns. The clank of pails, the stamping of hoofs on the firm causeway, the jingle of harness, and, last of all, the energetic hissing of a groom, began to fall upon her ear. By the stir you would have thought the mail was at the door, but it was still too early in the night. The down mail was not due at the “Green Dragon” for hard upon an hour; the up mail from Scotland not before two in the black morning.

Nance entered the yard somewhat dazzled. Sam, the tall ostler, was polishing a curb-chain with sand; the lantern at his feet letting up spouts of candle-light through the holes with which its conical roof was peppered.

“Hey, miss,” said he jocularly, “you won’t look at me any more, now you have gentry at the castle.”

Her cheeks burned with anger.

“That’s my lord’s chay,” the man continued, nodding at the chaise, “Lord Windermoor’s. Came all in a fluster—dinner, bowl of punch, and put the horses to. For all the world like a runaway match, my dear—bar the bride. He brought Mr. Archer in the chay with him.”

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“Is that Holdaway?” cried the landlord from the lighted entry, where he stood shading his eyes.

“Only me, sir,” answered Nance.

“O, you, Miss Nance,” he said. “Well, come in quick, my pretty. My lord is waiting for your uncle.”

And he ushered Nance into a room cased with yellow wainscot and lighted by tall candles, where two gentlemen sat at a table finishing a bowl of punch. One of these was stout, elderly, and irascible, with a face like a full moon, well dyed with liquor, thick tremulous lips, a short, purple hand, in which he brandished a long pipe, and an abrupt and gobbling utterance. This was my Lord Windermoor. In his companion Nance beheld a younger man, tall, quiet, grave, demurely dressed, and wearing his own hair. Her glance but lighted on him, and she flushed, for in that second she made sure that she had twice betrayed herself—betrayed by the involuntary flash of her black eyes her secret impatience to behold this new companion, and, what was far worse, betrayed her disappointment in the realisation of her dreams. He, meanwhile, as if unconscious, continued to regard her with unmoved decorum.

“O, a man of wood,” thought Nance.

“What—what?” said his lordship. “Who is this?”

“If you please, my lord, I am Holdaway’s niece,” replied Nance, with a curtsey.

“Should have been here himself,” observed his lordship. “Well, you tell Holdaway that I’m aground, not a stiver—not a stiver. I’m running from the beagles—going abroad, tell Holdaway. And he need look for no more wages: glad of ’em myself, if I could get ’em. He can live in the castle if he likes, or go to the devil. O, and here is Mr. Archer; and I recommend him to take him in—a friend of mine—and Mr. Archer will pay, as I wrote. And I regard that in the light of a precious good thing for Holdaway, let me tell you, and a set-off against the wages.”

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“But O, my lord!” cried Nance, “we live upon the wages, and what are we to do without?”

“What am I to do?—what am I to do?” replied Lord Windermoor with some exasperation. “I have no wages. And there is Mr. Archer. And if Holdaway doesn’t like it, he can go to the devil, and you with him!—and you with him!”

“And yet, my lord,” said Mr. Archer, “these good people will have as keen a sense of loss as you or I; keener, perhaps, since they have done nothing to deserve it.”

“Deserve it?” cried the peer. “What? What? If a rascally highwayman comes up to me with a confounded pistol, do you say that I’ve deserved it? How often am I to tell you, sir, that I was cheated—that I was cheated?”

“You are happy in the belief,” returned Mr. Archer gravely.

“Archer, you would be the death of me!” exclaimed his lordship. “You know you’re drunk; you know it, sir; and yet you can’t get up a spark of animation.”

“I have drunk fair, my lord,” replied the younger man; “but I own I am conscious of no exhilaration.”

“If you had as black a look-out as me, sir,” cried the peer, “you would be very glad of a little innocent exhilaration, let me tell you. I am glad of it—glad of it, and I only wish I was drunker. For let me tell you it’s a cruel hard thing upon a man of my time of life and my position, to be brought down to beggary because the world is full of thieves and rascals—thieves and rascals. What? For all I know, you may be a thief and a rascal yourself; and I would fight you for a pinch of snuff—a pinch of snuff,” exclaimed his lordship.

Here Mr. Archer turned to Nance Holdaway with a pleasant smile, so full of sweetness, kindness, and composure that, at one bound, her dreams returned to her. “My good Miss Holdaway,” said he, “if you are willing to show me the road, I am even eager to be gone. As 208 for his lordship and myself, compose yourself; there is no fear; this is his lordship’s way.”

“What? what?” cried his lordship. “My way? Ish no such a thing, my way.”

“Come, my lord,” cried Archer; “you and I very thoroughly understand each other; and let me suggest, it is time that both of us were gone. The mail will soon be due. Here, then, my lord, I take my leave of you, with the most earnest assurance of my gratitude for the past, and a sincere offer of any services I may be able to render in the future.”

“Archer,” exclaimed Lord Windermoor, “I love you like a son. Le’ ’s have another bowl.”

“My lord, for both our sakes, you will excuse me,” replied Mr. Archer. “We both require caution; we must both, for some while at least, avoid the chance of a pursuit.”

“Archer,” quoth his lordship, “this is a rank ingratishood. What? I’m to go firing away in the dark in the cold po’chaise, and not so much as a game of écarté possible, unless I stop and play with the postillion, the postillion; and the whole country swarming with thieves and rascals and highwaymen.”

“I beg your lordship’s pardon,” put in the landlord, who now appeared in the doorway to announce the chaise, “but this part of the North Road is known for safety. There has not been a robbery, to call a robbery, this five years’ time. Further south, of course, it’s nearer London, and another story,” he added.

“Well, then, if that’s so,” concluded my lord, “le’ ’s have t’ other bowl and a pack of cards.”

“My lord, you forget,” said Archer, “I might still gain; but it is hardly possible for me to lose.”

“Think I’m a sharper?” inquired the peer. “Gen’leman’s parole’s all I ask.”

But Mr. Archer was proof against these blandishments, and said farewell gravely enough to Lord Windermoor, 209 shaking his hand and at the same time bowing very low. “You will never know,” says he, “the service you have done me.” And with that, and before my lord had finally taken up his meaning, he had slipped about the table, touched Nance lightly but imperiously on the arm, and left the room. In face of the outbreak of his lordship’s lamentations she made haste to follow the truant.


 

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CHAPTER II

IN WHICH MR. ARCHER IS INSTALLED

The chaise had been driven round to the front door; the courtyard lay all deserted, and only lit by a lantern set upon a window-sill. Through this Nance rapidly led the way, and began to ascend the swellings of the moor with a heart that somewhat fluttered in her bosom. She was not afraid, but in the course of these last passages with Lord Windermoor Mr. Archer had ascended to that pedestal on which her fancy waited to instal him. The reality, she felt, excelled her dreams, and this cold night walk was the first romantic incident in her experience.

It was the rule in these days to see gentlemen unsteady after dinner, yet Nance was both surprised and amused when her companion, who had spoken so soberly, began to stumble and waver by her side with the most airy divagations. Sometimes he would get so close to her that she must edge away; and at others lurch clear out of the track and plough among deep heather. His courtesy and gravity meanwhile remained unaltered. He asked her how far they had to go; whether the way lay all upon the moorland, and when he learned they had to pass a wood expressed his pleasure. “For,” said he, “I am passionately fond of trees. Trees and fair lawns, if you consider of it rightly, are the ornaments of nature, as palaces and fine approaches——” And here he stumbled into a patch of slough and nearly fell. The girl had hard work not to laugh, but at heart she was lost in admiration for one who talked so elegantly.

They had got to about a quarter of a mile from the

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“Green Dragon,” and were near the summit of the rise, when a sudden rush of wheels arrested them. Turning and looking back, they saw the post-house, now much declined in brightness; and speeding away northward the two tremulous bright dots of my Lord Windermoor’s chaise-lamps. Mr. Archer followed these yellow and unsteady stars until they dwindled into points and disappeared.

“There goes my only friend,” he said. “Death has cut off those that loved me, and change of fortune estranged my flatterers; and but for you, poor bankrupt, my life is as lonely as this moor.”

The tone of his voice affected both of them. They stood there on the side of the moor, and became thrillingly conscious of the void waste of the night, without a feature for the eye, and except for the fainting whisper of the carriage-wheels without a murmur for the ear. And instantly, like a mockery, there broke out, very far away, but clear and jolly, the note of the mail-guard’s horn. “Over the hills” was his air. It rose to the two watchers on the moor with the most cheerful sentiment of human company and travel, and at the same time in and around the “Green Dragon” it woke up a great bustle of lights running to and fro and clattering hoofs. Presently after, out of the darkness to southward, the mail grew near with a growing rumble. Its lamps were very large and bright, and threw their radiance forward in overlapping cones; the four cantering horses swarmed and steamed; the body of the coach followed like a great shadow; and this lit picture slid with a sort of ineffectual swiftness over the black field of night, and was eclipsed by the buildings of the “Green Dragon.”

Mr. Archer turned abruptly and resumed his former walk; only that he was now more steady, kept better alongside his young conductor, and had fallen into a silence broken by sighs. Nance waxed very pitiful over his fate, contrasting an imaginary past of courts and 212 great society, and perhaps the King himself, with the tumbledown ruin in a wood to which she was now conducting him.

“You must try, sir, to keep your spirits up,” said she. “To be sure this is a great change for one like you; but who knows the future?”

Mr. Archer turned towards her in the darkness, and she could clearly perceive that he smiled upon her very kindly. “There spoke a sweet nature,” said he, “and I must thank you for these words. But I would not have you fancy that I regret the past for any happiness found in it, or that I fear the simplicity and hardship of the country. I am a man that has been much tossed about in life; now up, now down; and do you think that I shall not be able to support what you support—you who are kind, and therefore know how to feel pain; who are beautiful, and therefore hope; who are young, and therefore (or am I the more mistaken?) discontented?”

“Nay, sir, not that, at least,” said Nance; “not discontented. If I were to be discontented, how should I look those that have real sorrows in the face? I have faults enough, but not that fault; and I have my merits too, for I have a good opinion of myself. But for beauty, I am not so simple but that I can tell a banter from a compliment.”

“Nay, nay,” said Mr. Archer, “I had half forgotten; grief is selfish, and I was thinking of myself and not of you, or I had never blurted out so bold a piece of praise. ’Tis the best proof of my sincerity. But come, now, I would lay a wager you are no coward?”

“Indeed, sir, I am not more afraid than another,” said Nance. “None of my blood are given to fear.”

“And you are honest?” he returned.

“I will answer for that,” said she.

“Well, then, to be brave, to be honest, to be kind, and to be contented, since you say you are so—is not that to fill up a great part of virtue?”

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“I fear you are but a flatterer,” said Nance, but she did not say it clearly, for what with bewilderment and satisfaction, her heart was quite oppressed.

There could be no harm, certainly, in these grave compliments; but yet they charmed and frightened her, and to find favour, for reasons however obscure, in the eyes of this elegant, serious, and most unfortunate young gentleman, was a giddy elevation, was almost an apotheosis, for a country maid.

But she was to be no more exercised; for Mr. Archer, disclaiming any thought of flattery, turned off to other subjects, and held her all through the wood in conversation, addressing her with an air of perfect sincerity, and listening to her answers with every mark of interest. Had open flattery continued, Nance would have soon found refuge in good sense; but the more subtle lure she could not suspect, much less avoid. It was the first time she had ever taken part in a conversation illuminated by any ideas. All was then true that she had heard and dreamed of gentlemen; they were a race apart, like deities knowing good and evil. And then there burst upon her soul a divine thought, hope’s glorious sunrise: since she could understand, since it seemed that she too, even she, could interest this sorrowful Apollo, might she not learn? or was she not learning? Would not her soul awake and put forth wings? Was she not, in fact, an enchanted princess, waiting but a touch to become royal? She saw herself transformed, radiantly attired, but in the most exquisite taste: her face grown longer and more refined; her tint etherealised; and she heard herself with delighted wonder talking like a book.

Meanwhile they had arrived at where the track comes out above the river dell, and saw in front of them the castle, faintly shadowed on the night, covering with its broken battlements a bold projection of the bank, and showing at the extreme end, where were the habitable tower and wing, some crevices of candle-light. Hence she 214 called loudly upon her uncle, and he was seen to issue, lantern in hand, from the tower door, and, where the ruins did not intervene, to pick his way over the swarded courtyard, avoiding treacherous cellars and winding among blocks of fallen masonry. The arch of the great gate was still entire, flanked by two tottering bastions, and it was here that Jonathan met them, standing at the edge of the bridge, bent somewhat forward, and blinking at them through the glow of his own lantern. Mr. Archer greeted him with civility; but the old man was in no humour of compliance. He guided the new-comer across the courtyard, looking sharply and quickly in his face, and grumbling all the time about the cold, and the discomfort and dilapidation of the castle. He was sure he hoped that Mr. Archer would like it; but in truth he could not think what brought him there. Doubtless he had a good reason—this with a look of cunning scrutiny—but, indeed, the place was quite unfit for any person of repute; he himself was eaten up with the rheumatics. It was the most rheumaticky place in England, and some fine day the whole habitable part (to call it habitable) would fetch away bodily and go down the slope into the river. He had seen the cracks widening; there was a plaguy issue in the bank below; he thought a spring was mining it; it might be to-morrow, it might be next day; but they were all sure of a come-down sooner or later. “And that is a poor death,” said he, “for any one, let alone a gentleman, to have a whole old ruin dumped upon his belly. Have a care to your left there; these cellar vaults have all broke down, and the grass and hemlock hide ’em. Well, sir, here is welcome to you, such as it is, and wishing you well away.”

And with that Jonathan ushered his guest through the tower door, and down three steps on the left hand into the kitchen or common room of the castle. It was a huge, low room, as large as a meadow, occupying the whole width of the habitable wing, with six barred windows 215 looking on the court, and two into the river valley. A dresser, a table, and a few chairs stood dotted here and there upon the uneven flags. Under the great chimney a good fire burned in an iron fire-basket; a high old settee, rudely carved with figures and Gothic lettering, flanked it on either side; there was a hinge table and a stone bench in the chimney corner, and above the arch hung guns, axes, lanterns, and great sheaves of rusty keys.

Jonathan looked about him, holding up the lantern, and shrugged his shoulders, with a pitying grimace. “Here it is,” he said. “See the damp on the floor, look at the moss; where there’s moss you may be sure that it’s rheumaticky. Try and get near that fire for to warm yourself; it’ll blow the coat off your back. And with a young gentleman with a face like yours, as pale as a tallow-candle, I’d be afeard of a churchyard cough and a galloping decline,” says Jonathan, naming the maladies with gloomy gusto, “or the cold might strike and turn your blood,” he added.

Mr. Archer fairly laughed. “My good Mr. Holdaway,” said he, “I was born with that same tallow-candle face, and the only fear that you inspire me with is the fear that I intrude unwelcomely upon your private hours. But I think I can promise you that I am very little troublesome, and I am inclined to hope that the terms which I can offer may still pay you the derangement.”

“Yes, the terms,” said Jonathan, “I was thinking of that. As you say, they are very small,” and he shook his head.

“Unhappily, I can afford no more,” said Mr. Archer. “But this we have arranged already,” he added with a certain stiffness; “and as I am aware that Miss Holdaway has matter to communicate, I will, if you permit, retire at once. To-night I must bivouac; to-morrow my trunk is to follow from the ’Dragon.‘ So if you will show me to my room I shall wish you a good slumber and a better awakening.”

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Jonathan silently gave the lantern to Nance, and she, turning and curtseying in the doorway, proceeded to conduct their guest up the broad winding staircase of the tower. He followed with a very brooding face.

“Alas!” cried Nance, as she entered the room, “your fire black out,” and, setting down the lantern, she clapped upon her knees before the chimney and began to rearrange the charred and still smouldering remains. Mr. Archer looked about the gaunt apartment with a sort of shudder. The great height, the bare stone, the shattered windows, the aspect of the uncurtained bed, with one of its four fluted columns broken short, all struck a chill upon his fancy. From this dismal survey his eyes returned to Nance crouching before the fire, the candle in one hand and artfully puffing at the embers; the flames as they broke forth played upon the soft outline of her cheek—she was alive and young, coloured with the bright hues of life, and a woman. He looked upon her, softening; and then sat down and continued to admire the picture.

“There, sir,” said she, getting upon her feet, “your fire is doing bravely now. Good-night.”

He rose and held out his hand. “Come,” said he, “you are my only friend in these parts, and you must shake hands.”

She brushed her hand upon her skirt and offered it, blushing.

“God bless you, my dear,” said he.

And then, when he was alone, he opened one of the windows, and stared down into the dark valley. A gentle wimpling of the river among stones ascended to his ear; the trees upon the other bank stood very black against the sky; farther away an owl was hooting. It was dreary and cold, and as he turned back to the hearth and the fine glow of fire, “Heavens!” said he to himself, “what an unfortunate destiny is mine!”

He went to bed, but sleep only visited his pillow in uneasy snatches. Outbreaks of loud speech came up the 217 staircase; he heard the old stones of the castle crack in the frosty night with sharp reverberations, and the bed complained under his tossings. Lastly, far on into the morning, he awakened from a doze to hear, very far off, in the extreme and breathless quiet, a wailing flourish on the horn. The down mail was drawing near to the “Green Dragon.” He sat up in bed; the sound was tragical by distance, and the modulation appealed to his ear like human speech. It seemed to call upon him with a dreary insistence—to call him far away, to address him personally, and to have a meaning that he failed to seize. It was thus, at least, in this nodding castle, in a cold, miry woodland, and so far from men and society, that the traffic on the Great North Road spoke to him in the intervals of slumber.


 

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CHAPTER III

JONATHAN HOLDAWAY

Nance descended the tower stair, pausing at every step. She was in no hurry to confront her uncle with bad news, and she must dwell a little longer on the rich note of Mr. Archer’s voice, the charm of his kind words, and the beauty of his manner and person. But, once at the stair-foot, she threw aside the spell and recovered her sensible and workaday self.

Jonathan was seated in the middle of the settle, a mug of ale beside him, in the attitude of one prepared for trouble; but he did not speak, and suffered her to fetch her supper and eat of it, with a very excellent appetite, in silence. When she had done, she, too, drew a tankard of home-brewed, and came and planted herself in front of him upon the settle.

“Well?” said Jonathan.

“My lord has run away,” said Nance.

“What?” cried the old man.

“Abroad,” she continued; “run away from creditors. He said he had not a stiver, but he was drunk enough. He said you might live on in the castle, and Mr. Archer would pay you; but you was to look for no more wages, since he would be glad of them himself.”

Jonathan’s face contracted; the flush of a black, bilious anger mounted to the roots of his hair; he gave an inarticulate cry, leapt upon his feet, and began rapidly pacing the stone floor. At first he kept his hands behind his back in a tight knot; then he began to gesticulate as he turned.

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“This man—this lord,” he shouted, “who is he? He was born with a gold spoon in his mouth, and I with a dirty straw. He rolled in his coach when he was a baby. I have dug and toiled and laboured since I was that high—that high.” And he shouted again. “I’m bent and broke, and full of pains. D’ye think I don’t know the taste of sweat? Many’s the gallon I’ve drunk of it—ay, in the midwinter, toiling like a slave. All through, what has my life been? Bend, bend, bend my old creaking back till it would ache like breaking; wade about in the foul mire, never a dry stitch; empty belly, sore hands, hat off to my Lord Redface; kicks and ha’pence; and now, here, at the hind end, when I’m worn to my poor bones, a kick and done with it.” He walked a little while in silence, and then, extending his hand, “Now, you Nance Holdaway,” says he, “you come of my blood, and you’re a good girl. When that man was a boy, I used to carry his gun for him. I carried the gun all day on my two feet, and many a stitch I had, and chewed a bullet for. He rode upon a horse, with feathers in his hat; but it was him that had the shots and took the game home. Did I complain? Not I. I knew my station. What did I ask, but just the chance to live and die honest? Nance Holdaway, don’t let them deny it to me—don’t let them do it. I’ve been as poor as Job, and as honest as the day, but now, my girl, you mark these words of mine, I’m getting tired of it.”

“I wouldn’t say such words, at least,” said Nance.

“You wouldn’t?” said the old man grimly. “Well, and did I when I was your age? Wait till your back’s broke and your hands tremble, and your eyes fail, and you’re weary of the battle and ask no more but to lie down in your bed and give the ghost up like an honest man; and then let there up and come some insolent, ungodly fellow—ah! if I had him in these hands! ‘Where’s my money that you gambled?’ I should say. ‘Where’s my 220 money that you drank and diced?’ ‘Thief!’ is what I would say; ‘Thief!’” he roared, “‘Thief!’”

“Mr. Archer will hear you if you don’t take care,” said Nance, “and I would be ashamed, for one, that he should hear a brave, old, honest, hard-working man like Jonathan Holdaway talk nonsense like a boy.”

“D’ye think I mind for Mr. Archer?” he cried shrilly, with a clack of laughter; and then he came close up to her, stooped down with his two palms upon his knees, and looked her in the eyes, with a strange hard expression, something like a smile. “Do I mind for God, my girl?” he said; “that’s what it’s come to be now, do I mind for God?”

“Uncle Jonathan,” she said, getting up and taking him by the arm; “you sit down again, where you were sitting. There, sit still; I’ll have no more of this; you’ll do yourself a mischief. Come, take a drink of this good ale, and I’ll warm a tankard for you. La, we’ll pull through, you’ll see. I’m young, as you say, and it’s my turn to carry the bundle; and don’t you worry your bile, or we’ll have sickness, too, as well as sorrow.”

“D’ye think that I’d forgotten you?” said Jonathan, with something like a groan; and thereupon his teeth clicked to, and he sat silent with the tankard in his hand and staring straight before him.

“Why,” says Nance, setting on the ale to mull, “men are always children, they say, however old; and if ever I heard a thing like this, to set to and make yourself sick, just when the money’s failing. Keep a good heart up; you haven’t kept a good heart these seventy years, nigh hand, to break down about a pound or two. Here’s this Mr. Archer come to lodge, that you disliked so much. Well, now you see it was a clear Providence. Come, let’s think upon our mercies. And here is the ale mulling lovely; smell of it; I’ll take a drop myself, it smells so sweet. And, Uncle Jonathan, you let me say one word. 221 You’ve lost more than money before now; you lost my aunt, and bore it like a man. Bear this.”

His face once more contracted; his fist doubled, and shot forth into the air, and trembled. “Let them look out!” he shouted. “Here, I warn all men; I’ve done with this foul kennel of knaves. Let them look out!”

“Hush, hush! for pity’s sake,” cried Nance.

And then all of a sudden he dropped his face into his hands, and broke out with a great hiccoughing dry sob that was horrible to hear. “O,” he cried, “my God, if my son hadn’t left me, if my Dick was here!” and the sobs shook him; Nance sitting still and watching him, with distress. “O, if he were here to help his father!” he went on again. “If I had a son like other fathers, he would save me now, when all is breaking down; O, he would save me! Ay, but where is he? Raking taverns, a thief perhaps. My curse be on him!” he added, rising again into wrath.

“Hush!” cried Nance, springing to her feet: “your boy, your dead wife’s boy—Aunt Susan’s baby that she loved—would you curse him? O, God forbid!”

The energy of her address surprised him from his mood. He looked upon her, tearless and confused. “Let me go to my bed,” he said at last, and he rose, and, shaking as with ague, but quite silent, lighted his candle, and left the kitchen.

Poor Nance! the pleasant current of her dreams was all diverted. She beheld a golden city, where she aspired to dwell; she had spoken with a deity, and had told herself that she might rise to be his equal; and now the earthly ligaments that bound her down had been tightened. She was like a tree looking skyward, her roots were in the ground. It seemed to her a thing so coarse, so rustic, to be thus concerned about a loss in money; when Mr. Archer, fallen from the sky-level of counts and nobles, faced his changed destiny with so immovable a courage. To weary of honesty; that, at least, no one could do, but even to 222 name it was already a disgrace; and she beheld in fancy her uncle, and the young lad, all laced and feathered, hand upon hip, bestriding his small horse. The opposition seemed to perpetuate itself from generation to generation; one side still doomed to the clumsy and the servile, the other born to beauty.

She thought of the golden zones in which gentlemen were bred, and figured with so excellent a grace; zones in which wisdom and smooth words, white linen and slim hands, were the mark of the desired inhabitants; where low temptations were unknown, and honesty no virtue, but a thing as natural as breathing.


 

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CHAPTER IV

MINGLING THREADS

It was nearly seven before Mr. Archer left his apartment. On the landing he found another door beside his own opening on a roofless corridor, and presently he was walking on the top of the ruins. On one hand he could look down a good depth into the green courtyard; on the other his eye roved along the downward course of the river, the wet woods all smoking, the shadows long and blue, the mists golden and rosy in the sun, here and there the water flashing across an obstacle. His heart expanded and softened to a grateful melancholy, and with his eye fixed upon the distance, and no thought of present danger, he continued to stroll along the elevated and treacherous promenade.

A terror-stricken cry rose to him from the courtyard. He looked down, and saw in a glimpse Nance standing below with hands clasped in horror and his own foot trembling on the margin of a gulf. He recoiled and leant against a pillar, quaking from head to foot, and covering his face with his hands; and Nance had time to run round by the stair and rejoin him where he stood before he had changed a line of his position.

“Ah!” he cried, and clutched her wrist; “don’t leave me. The place rocks; I have no head for altitudes.”

“Sit down against that pillar,” said Nance. “Don’t you be afraid; I won’t leave you, and don’t look up or down: look straight at me. How white you are!”

“The gulf,” he said, and closed his eyes again and shuddered.

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“Why,” said Nance, “what a poor climber you must be! That was where my cousin Dick used to get out of the castle after Uncle Jonathan had shut the gate. I’ve been down there myself with him helping me. I wouldn’t try with you,” she said, and laughed merrily.

The sound of her laughter was sincere and musical, and perhaps its beauty barbed the offence to Mr. Archer. The blood came into his face with a quick jet, and then left it paler than before. “It is a physical weakness,” he said harshly, “and very droll, no doubt, but one that I can conquer on necessity. See, I am still shaking. Well, I advance to the battlements and look down. Show me your cousin’s path.”

“He would go sure-foot along that little ledge,” said Nance, pointing as she spoke; “then out through the breach and down by yonder buttress. It is easier coming back, of course, because you see where you are going. From the buttress foot a sheep-walk goes along the scarp—see, you can follow it from here in the dry grass. And now, sir,” she added, with a touch of womanly pity, “I would come away from here if I were you, for indeed you are not fit.”

Sure enough Mr. Archer’s pallor and agitation had continued to increase; his cheeks were deathly, his clenched fingers trembled pitifully. “The weakness is physical,” he sighed, and had nearly fallen. Nance led him from the spot, and he was no sooner back in the tower-stair, than he fell heavily against the wall and put his arm across his eyes. A cup of brandy had to be brought him before he could descend to breakfast; and the perfection of Nance’s dream was for the first time troubled.

Jonathan was waiting for them at table, with yellow, blood-shot eyes and a peculiar dusky complexion. He hardly waited till they found their seats, before, raising one hand, and stooping with his mouth above his plate, he put up a prayer for a blessing on the food and a spirit of gratitude in the eaters, and thereupon, and without more 225 civility, fell to. But it was notable that he was no less speedily satisfied than he had been greedy to begin. He pushed his plate away and drummed upon the table.

“These are silly prayers,” said he, “that they teach us. Eat and be thankful, that’s no such wonder. Speak to me of starving—there’s the touch. You’re a man, they tell me, Mr. Archer, that has met with some reverses?”

“I have met with many,” replied Mr. Archer.

“Ha!” said Jonathan. “None reckons but the last. Now, see; I tried to make this girl here understand me.”

“Uncle,” said Nance, “what should Mr. Archer care for your concerns? He hath troubles of his own, and came to be at peace, I think.”

“I tried to make her understand me,” repeated Jonathan doggedly; “and now I’ll try you. Do you think this world is fair?”

“Fair and false!” quoth Mr. Archer.

The old man laughed immoderately. “Good,” said he, “very good, but what I mean is this: do you know what it is to get up early and go to bed late, and never take so much as a holiday but four: and one of these your own marriage day, and the other three the funerals of folk you loved, and all that, to have a quiet old age in shelter, and bread for your old belly, and a bed to lay your crazy bones upon, with a clear conscience?”

“Sir,” said Mr. Archer with an inclination of his head, “you portray a very brave existence.”

“Well,” continued Jonathan, “and in the end thieves deceive you, thieves rob and rook you, thieves turn you out in your old age and send you begging. What have you got for all your honesty? A fine return! You that might have stole scores of pounds, there you are out in the rain with your rheumatics!”

Mr. Archer had forgotten to eat; with his hand upon his chin he was studying the old man’s countenance. “And you conclude?” he asked.

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“Conclude!” cried Jonathan. “I conclude I’ll be upsides with them.”

“Ay,” said the other, “we are all tempted to revenge.”

“You have lost money?” asked Jonathan.

“A great estate,” said Archer quietly.

“See now!” says Jonathan, “and where is it?”

“Nay, I sometimes think that every one has had his share of it but me,” was the reply. “All England hath paid his taxes with my patrimony: I was a sheep that left my wool on every briar.”

“And you sit down under that?” cried the old man. “Come now, Mr. Archer, you and me belong to different stations; and I know mine—no man better,—but since we have both been rooked, and are both sore with it, why, here’s my hand with a very good heart, and I ask for yours, and no offence, I hope.”

“There is surely no offence, my friend,” returned Mr. Archer, as they shook hands across the table; “for, believe me, my sympathies are quite acquired to you. This life is an arena where we fight with beasts; and, indeed,” he added, sighing, “I sometimes marvel why we go down to it unarmed.”

In the meanwhile a creaking of ungreased axles had been heard descending through the wood; and presently after, the door opened, and the tall ostler entered the kitchen carrying one end of Mr. Archer’s trunk. The other was carried by an aged beggar man of that district, known and welcome for some twenty miles about under the name of “Old Cumberland.” Each was soon perched upon a settle, with a cup of ale; and the ostler, who valued himself upon his affability, began to entertain the company, still with half an eye on Nance, to whom in gallant terms he expressly dedicated every sip of ale. First he told of the trouble they had to get his Lordship started in the chaise; and how he had dropped a rouleau of gold on the threshold, and the passage and doorstep had been strewn with guinea-pieces. At this old Jonathan 227 looked at Mr. Archer. Next the visitor turned to news of a more thrilling character: how the down mail had been stopped again near Grantham by three men on horseback—a white and two bays; how they had handkerchiefs on their faces; how Tom the guard’s blunderbuss missed fire, but he swore he had winged one of them with a pistol; and how they had got clean away with seventy pounds in money, some valuable papers, and a watch or two.

“Brave! brave!” cried Jonathan in ecstasy. “Seventy pounds! O, it’s brave!”

“Well, I don’t see the great bravery,” observed the ostler, misapprehending him. “Three men, and you may call that three to one. I’ll call it brave when some one stops the mail single-handed; that’s a risk.”

“And why should they hesitate?” inquired Mr. Archer. “The poor souls who are fallen to such a way of life, pray what have they to lose? If they get the money, well; but if a ball should put them from their troubles, why, so better.”

“Well, sir,” said the ostler, “I believe you’ll find they won’t agree with you. They count on a good fling, you see; or who would risk it?—And here’s my best respects to you, Miss Nance.”

“And I forgot the part of cowardice,” resumed Mr. Archer. “All men fear.”

“O, surely not!” cried Nance.

“All men,” reiterated Mr. Archer.

“Ay, that’s a true word,” observed Old Cumberland, “and a thief, anyway, for it’s a coward’s trade.”

“But these fellows, now,” said Jonathan, with a curious, appealing manner—“these fellows with their seventy pounds! Perhaps, Mr. Archer, they were no true thieves after all, but just people who had been robbed and tried to get their own again. What was that you said, about all England and the taxes? One takes, another gives; why, that’s almost fair. If I’ve been rooked and robbed, 228 and the coat taken off my back, I call it almost fair to take another’s.”

“Ask Old Cumberland,” observed the ostler; “you ask Old Cumberland, Miss Nance!” and he bestowed a wink upon his favoured fair one.

“Why that?” asked Jonathan.

“He had his coat taken—ay, and his shirt too,” returned the ostler.

“Is that so?” cried Jonathan eagerly. “Was you robbed too?”

“That was I,” replied Cumberland, “with a warrant! I was a well-to-do man when I was young.”

“Ay! See that!” says Jonathan. “And you don’t long for a revenge?”

“Eh! Not me!” answered the beggar. “It’s too long ago. But if you’ll give me another mug of your good ale, my pretty lady, I won’t say no to that.”

“And shalt have! And shalt have!” cried Jonathan. “Or brandy even, if you like it better.”

And as Cumberland did like it better, and the ostler chimed in, the party pledged each other in a dram of brandy before separating.

As for Nance, she slipped forth into the ruins, partly to avoid the ostler’s gallantries, partly to lament over the defects of Mr. Archer. Plainly, he was no hero. She pitied him; she began to feel a protecting interest mingle with and almost supersede her admiration, and was at the same time disappointed and yet drawn to him. She was, indeed, conscious of such unshaken fortitude in her own heart, that she was almost tempted by an occasion to be bold for two. She saw herself, in a brave attitude, shielding her imperfect hero from the world; and she saw, like a piece of heaven, his gratitude for her protection.


 

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CHAPTER V

LIFE IN THE CASTLE

From that day forth the life of these three persons in the ruin ran very smoothly. Mr. Archer now sat by the fire with a book, and now passed whole days abroad, returning late, dead weary. His manner was a mask; but it was half transparent; through the even tenor of his gravity and courtesy profound revolutions of feeling were betrayed, seasons of numb despair, of restlessness, of aching temper. For days he would say nothing beyond his usual courtesies and solemn compliments; and then, all of a sudden, some fine evening beside the kitchen fire, he would fall into a vein of elegant gossip, tell of strange and interesting events, the secrets of families, brave deeds of war, the miraculous discovery of crime, the visitations of the dead. Nance and her uncle would sit till the small hours with eyes wide open: Jonathan applauding the unexpected incidents with many a slap of his big hand; Nance, perhaps, more pleased with the narrator’s eloquence and wise reflections; and then, again, days would follow of abstraction, of listless humming, of frequent apologies and long hours of silence. Once only, and then after a week of unrelieved melancholy, he went over to the “Green Dragon,” spent the afternoon with the landlord and a bowl of punch, and returned as on the first night, devious in step but courteous and unperturbed of speech.

If he seemed more natural and more at his ease it was when he found Nance alone; and, laying by some of his reserve, talked before her rather than to her of his destiny, character, and hopes. To Nance these interviews were but 230 a doubtful privilege. At times he would seem to take a pleasure in her presence, to consult her gravely, to hear and to discuss her counsels; at times even, but these were rare and brief, he would talk of herself, praise the qualities that she possessed, touch indulgently on her defects, and lend her books to read and even examine her upon her reading; but far more often he would fall into a half unconsciousness, put her a question and then answer it himself, drop into the veiled tone of voice of one soliloquising, and leave her at last as though he had forgotten her existence. It was odd, too, that in all this random converse, not a fact of his past life, and scarce a name, should ever cross his lips. A profound reserve kept watch upon his most unguarded moments. He spoke continually of himself, indeed, but still in enigmas; a veiled prophet of egoism.

The base of Nance’s feelings for Mr. Archer was admiration as for a superior being; and with this, his treatment, consciously or not, accorded happily. When he forgot her, she took the blame upon herself. His formal politeness was so exquisite that this essential brutality stood excused. His compliments, besides, were always grave and rational; he would offer reason for his praise, convict her of merit, and thus disarm suspicion. Nay, and the very hours when he forgot and remembered her alternately could by the ardent fallacies of youth be read in the light of an attention. She might be far from his confidence; but still she was nearer it than any one. He might ignore her presence, but yet he sought it.

Moreover, she, upon her side, was conscious of one point of superiority. Beside this rather dismal, rather effeminate man, who recoiled from a worm, who grew giddy on the castle wall, who bore so helplessly the weight of his misfortunes, she felt herself a head and shoulders taller in cheerful and sterling courage. She could walk head in air along the most precarious rafter; her hand feared neither the grossness nor the harshness of life’s 231 web, but was thrust cheerfully, if need were, into the briar bush, and could take hold of any crawling horror. Ruin was mining the walls of her cottage, as already it had mined and subverted Mr. Archer’s palace. Well, she faced it with a bright countenance and a busy hand. She had got some washing, some rough seamstress work from the “Green Dragon,” and from another neighbour ten miles away across the moor. At this she cheerfully laboured, and from that height she could afford to pity the useless talents and poor attitude of Mr. Archer. It did not change her admiration, but it made it bearable. He was above her in all ways; but she was above him in one. She kept it to herself, and hugged it. When, like all young creatures, she made long stories to justify, to nourish, and to forecast the course of her affection, it was this private superiority that made all rosy, that cut the knot, and that, at last, in some great situation, fetched to her knees the dazzling but imperfect hero. With this pretty exercise she beguiled the hours of labour, and consoled herself for Mr. Archer’s bearing. Pity was her weapon and her weakness. To accept the loved one’s faults, although it has an air of freedom, is to kiss the chain, and this pity it was which, lying nearer to her heart, lent the one element of true emotion to a fanciful and merely brain-sick love.

Thus it fell out one day that she had gone to the “Green Dragon” and brought back thence a letter to Mr. Archer. He, upon seeing it, winced like a man under the knife: pain, shame, sorrow, and the most trenchant edge of mortification cut into his heart and wrung the steady composure of his face.

“Dear heart! have you bad news?” she cried.

But he only replied by a gesture and fled to his room, and when, later on, she ventured to refer to it, he stopped her on the threshold, as if with words prepared beforehand. “There are some pains,” said he, “too acute for consolation, or I would bring them to my kind consoler. 232 Let the memory of that letter, if you please, be buried.” And then as she continued to gaze at him, being, in spite of herself, pained by his elaborate phrase, doubtfully sincere in word and manner: “Let it be enough,” he added haughtily, “that if this matter wring my heart, it doth not touch my conscience. I am a man, I would have you to know, who suffers undeservedly.”

He had never spoken so directly: never with so convincing an emotion; and her heart thrilled for him. She could have taken his pains and died of them with joy.

Meanwhile she was left without support. Jonathan now swore by his lodger, and lived for him. He was a fine talker. He knew the finest sight of stories; he was a man and a gentleman, take him for all in all, and a perfect credit to Old England. Such were the old man’s declared sentiments, and sure enough he clung to Mr. Archer’s side, hung upon his utterance when he spoke, and watched him with unwearying interest when he was silent. And yet his feeling was not clear; in the partial wreck of his mind, which was leaning to decay, some afterthought was strongly present. As he gazed in Mr. Archer’s face a sudden brightness would kindle in his rheumy eyes, his eyebrows would lift as with a sudden thought, his mouth would open as though to speak, and close again on silence. Once or twice he even called Mr. Archer mysteriously forth into the dark courtyard, took him by the button, and laid a demonstrative finger on his chest; but there his ideas or his courage failed him; he would shufflingly excuse himself and return to his position by the fire without a word of explanation. “The good man was growing old,” said Mr. Archer with a suspicion of a shrug. But the good man had his idea, and even when he was alone the name of Mr. Archer fell from his lips continually in the course of mumbled and gesticulative conversation.


 

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CHAPTER VI

THE BAD HALF-CROWN

However early Nance arose, and she was no sluggard, the old man, who had begun to outlive the earthly habit of slumber, would usually have been up long before, the fire would be burning brightly, and she would see him wandering among the ruins, lantern in hand, and talking assiduously to himself. One day, however, after he had returned late from the market town, she found that she had stolen a march upon that indefatigable early riser. The kitchen was all blackness. She crossed the castle-yard to the wood-cellar, her steps printing the thick hoarfrost. A scathing breeze blew out of the north-east and slowly carried a regiment of black and tattered clouds over the face of heaven, which was already kindled with the wild light of morning, but where she walked, in shelter of the ruins, the flame of her candle burned steady. The extreme cold smote upon her conscience. She could not bear to think this bitter business fell usually to the lot of one so old as Jonathan, and made desperate resolutions to be earlier in the future.

The fire was a good blaze before he entered, limping dismally into the kitchen. “Nance,” said he, “I be all knotted up with the rheumatics; will you rub me a bit?” She came and rubbed him where and how he bade her. “This is a cruel thing that old age should be rheumaticky,” said he. “When I was young I stood my turn of the teethache like a man! for why? because it couldn’t last for ever; but these rheumatics come to live and die with you. Your aunt was took before the time came; never 234 had an ache to mention. Now I lie all night in my single bed and the blood never warms in me; this knee of mine it seems like lighted up with rheumatics; it seems as though you could see to sew by it; and all the strings of my old body ache, as if devils was pulling ’em. Thank you kindly; that’s someways easier now, but an old man, my dear, has little to look for; it’s pain, pain, pain to the end of the business, and I’ll never be rightly warm again till I get under the sod,” he said, and looked down at her with a face so aged and weary that she had nearly wept.

“I lay awake all night,” he continued; “I do so mostly, and a long walk kills me. Eh, deary me, to think that life should run to such a puddle! And I remember long syne when I was strong, and the blood all hot and good about me, and I loved to run, too—deary me, to run! Well, that’s all by. You’d better pray to be took early, Nance, and not live on till you get to be like me, and are robbed in your grey old age, your cold, shivering, dark old age, that’s like a winter’s morning”; and he bitterly shuddered, spreading his hands before the fire.

“Come now,” said Nance, “the more you say the less you’ll like it, Uncle Jonathan; but if I were you I would be proud for to have lived all your days honest and beloved, and come near the end with your good name: isn’t that a fine thing to be proud of? Mr. Archer was telling me in some strange land they used to run races each with a lighted candle, and the art was to keep the candle burning. Well, now, I thought that was like life; a man’s good conscience is the flame he gets to carry, and if he comes to the winning-post with that still burning, why, take it how you will, the man’s a hero—even if he was low-born like you and me.”

“Did Mr. Archer tell you that?” asked Jonathan.

“No, dear,” said she, “that’s my own thought about it. He told me of the race. But see, now,” she continued, putting on the porridge, “you say old age is a hard season, but so is youth. You’re half out of the 235 battle, I would say; you loved my aunt and got her, and buried her, and some of these days soon you’ll go to meet her; and take her my love and tell her I tried to take good care of you; for so I do, Uncle Jonathan.”

Jonathan struck with his fist upon the settle. “D’ye think I want to die, ye vixen?” he shouted. “I want to live ten hundred years.”

This was a mystery beyond Nance’s penetration, and she stared in wonder as she made the porridge.

“I want to live,” he continued, “I want to live and to grow rich. I want to drive my carriage and to dice in hells and see the ring, I do. Is this a life that I lived? I want to be a rake, d’ye understand? I want to know what things are like. I don’t want to die like a blind kitten, and me seventy-six.”

“O fie!” said Nance.

The old man thrust out his jaw at her, with the grimace of an irreverent schoolboy. Upon that aged face it seemed a blasphemy. Then he took out of his bosom a long leather purse, and emptying its contents on the settle, began to count and recount the pieces, ringing and examining each, and suddenly he leapt like a young man. “What!” he screamed. “Bad? O Lord! I’m robbed again!” And falling on his knees before the settle he began to pour forth the most dreadful curses on the head of his deceiver. His eyes were shut, for to him this vile solemnity was prayer. He held up the bad half-crown in his right hand, as though he were displaying it to Heaven, and what increased the horror of the scene, the curses he invoked were those whose efficacy he had tasted—old age and poverty, rheumatism and an ungrateful son. Nance listened appalled; then she sprang forward and dragged down his arm and laid her hand upon his mouth.

“Whist!” she cried. “Whist ye, for God’s sake! O my man, whist ye! If Heaven were to hear; if poor Aunt Susan were to hear! Think, she may be listening.” 236 And with the histrionism of strong emotion she pointed to a corner of the kitchen.

His eyes followed her finger. He looked there for a little, thinking, blinking; then he got stiffly to his feet and resumed his place upon the settle, the bad piece still in his hand. So he sat for some time, looking upon the half-crown, and now wondering to himself on the injustice and partiality of the law, now computing again and again the nature of his loss. So he was still sitting when Mr. Archer entered the kitchen. At this a light came into his face, and after some seconds of rumination he despatched Nance upon an errand.

“Mr. Archer,” said he, as soon as they were alone together, “would you give me a guinea-piece for silver?”

“Why, sir, I believe I can,” said Mr. Archer.

And the exchange was just effected when Nance re-entered the apartment. The blood shot into her face.

“What’s to do here?” she asked rudely.

“Nothing, my dearie,” said old Jonathan, with a touch of whine.

“What’s to do?” she said again.

“Your uncle was but changing me a piece of gold,“ returned Mr. Archer.

“Let me see what he hath given you, Mr. Archer,” replied the girl. “I had a bad piece, and I fear it is mixed up among the good.”

“Well, well,” replied Mr. Archer, smiling, “I must take the merchant’s risk of it. The money is now mixed.”

“I know my piece,” quoth Nance. “Come, let me see your silver, Mr. Archer. If I have to get it by a theft I’ll see that money,” she cried.

“Nay, child, if you put as much passion to be honest as the world to steal, I must give way, though I betray myself,” said Mr. Archer. “There it is as I received it.”

Nance quickly found the bad half-crown.

“Give him another,” she said, looking Jonathan in the face; and when that had been done, she walked over to 237 the chimney and flung the guilty piece into the reddest of the fire. Its base constituents began immediately to run; even as she watched it the disc crumbled, and the lineaments of the King became confused. Jonathan, who had followed close behind, beheld these changes from over her shoulder, and his face darkened sorely.

“Now,” said she, “come back to table, and to-day it is I that shall say grace, as I used to do in the old times, day about with Dick”; and covering her eyes with one hand, “O Lord,” said she with deep emotion, “make us thankful; and, O Lord, deliver us from evil! For the love of the poor souls that watch for us in heaven, O deliver us from evil.”


 

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CHAPTER VII

THE BLEACHING-GREEN

The year moved on to March; and March, though it blew bitter keen from the North Sea, yet blinked kindly between whiles on the river dell. The mire dried up in the closest covert; life ran in the bare branches, and the air of the afternoon would be suddenly sweet with the fragrance of new grass.

Above and below the castle the river crooked like the letter “S.” The lower loop was to the left, and embraced the high and steep projection which was crowned by the ruins; the upper loop enclosed a lawny promontory, fringed by thorn and willow. It was easy to reach it from the castle side, for the river ran in this part very quietly among innumerable boulders and over dam-like walls of rock. The place was all enclosed, the wind a stranger, the turf smooth and solid; so it was chosen by Nance to be her bleaching-green.

One day she brought a bucketful of linen, and had but begun to wring and lay them out when Mr. Archer stepped from the thicket on the far side, drew very deliberately near, and sat down in silence on the grass. Nance looked up to greet him with a smile, but finding her smile was not returned, she fell into embarrassment and stuck the more busily to her employment. Man or woman, the whole world looks well at any work to which they are accustomed; but the girl was ashamed of what she did. She was ashamed, besides, of the sun-bonnet that so well became her, and ashamed of her bare arms, which were her greatest beauty.

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“Nausicaa,” said Mr. Archer at last, “I find you like Nausicaa.”

“And who was she?” asked Nance, and laughed in spite of herself, an empty and embarrassed laugh, that sounded in Mr. Archer’s ears, indeed, like music, but to her own like the last grossness of rusticity.

“She was a princess of the Grecian islands,” he replied. “A king, being shipwrecked, found her washing by the shore. Certainly I, too, was shipwrecked,” he continued, plucking at the grass. “There was never a more desperate castaway—to fall from polite life, fortune, a shrine of honour, a grateful conscience, duties willingly taken up and faithfully discharged; and to fall to this—idleness, poverty, inutility, remorse.” He seemed to have forgotten her presence, but here he remembered her again. “Nance,” said he, “would you have a man sit down and suffer or rise up and strive?”

“Nay,” she said. “I would always rather see him doing.”

“Ha!” said Mr. Archer, “but yet you speak from an imperfect knowledge. Conceive a man damned to a choice of only evil—misconduct upon either side, not a fault behind him, and yet naught before him but this choice of sins. How would you say then?”

“I would say that he was much deceived, Mr. Archer,” returned Nance. “I would say there was a third choice, and that the right one.“

“I tell you,” said Mr. Archer, “the man I have in view hath two ways open, and no more. One to wait, like a poor mewling baby, till Fate save or ruin him; the other to take his troubles in his hand, and to perish or be saved at once. It is no point of morals; both are wrong. Either way this step-child of Providence must fall; which shall he choose, by doing or not doing?”

“Fall, then, is what I would say,” replied Nance. “Fall where you will, but do it! For O, Mr. Archer,” she continued, stooping to her work, “you that are good 240 and kind, and so wise, it doth sometimes go against my heart to see you live on here like a sheep in a turnip-field! If you were braver——” and here she paused, conscience-smitten.

“Do I, indeed, lack courage?” inquired Mr. Archer of himself. “Courage, the footstool of the virtues, upon which they stand? Courage, that a poor private carrying a musket has to spare of; that does not fail a weasel or a rat; that is a brutish faculty? I to fail there, I wonder? But what is courage, then? The constancy to endure oneself or to see others suffer? The itch of ill-advised activity: mere shuttle-wittedness, or to be still and patient? To inquire of the significance of words is to rob ourselves of what we seem to know, and yet, of all things, certainly to stand still is the least heroic. Nance,” he said, “did you ever hear of Hamlet?”

“Never,” said Nance.

“’Tis an old play,” returned Mr. Archer, “and frequently enacted. This while I have been talking Hamlet. You must know this Hamlet was a Prince among the Danes,” and he told her the play in a very good style, here and there quoting a verse or two with solemn emphasis.

“It is strange,” said Nance; “he was then a very poor creature?”

“That was what he could not tell,” said Mr. Archer. “Look at me, am I as poor a creature?”

She looked, and what she saw was the familiar thought of all her hours; the tall figure very plainly habited in black, the spotless ruffles, the slim hands; the long, well-shapen, serious, shaven face, the wide and somewhat thin-lipped mouth, the dark eyes that were so full of depth and change and colour. He was gazing at her with his brows a little knit, his chin upon one hand and that elbow resting on his knee.

“Ye look a man!” she cried, “ay, and should be a great one! The more shame to you to lie here idle like a dog before the fire.”

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“My fair Holdaway,” quoth Mr. Archer, “you are much set on action. I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed.” He continued, looking at her with a half-absent fixity, “’Tis a strange thing, certainly, that in my years of fortune I should never taste happiness, and now when I am broke, enjoy so much of it, for was I ever happier than to-day? Was the grass softer, the stream pleasanter in sound, the air milder, the heart more at peace? Why should I not sink? To dig—why, after all, it should be easy. To take a mate, too? Love is of all grades since Jupiter; love fails to none; and children”—but here he passed his hand suddenly over his eyes. “O fool and coward, fool and coward!” he said bitterly; “can you forget your fetters? You did not know that I was fettered, Nance?” he asked, again addressing her.

But Nance was somewhat sore. “I know you keep talking,” she said, and, turning half away from him, began to wring out a sheet across her shoulder. “I wonder you are not wearied of your voice. When the hands lie abed the tongue takes a walk.“

Mr. Archer laughed unpleasantly, rose and moved to the water’s edge. In this part the body of the river poured across a little narrow fell, ran some ten feet very smoothly over a bed of pebbles, then getting wind, as it were, of another shelf of rock which barred the channel, began, by imperceptible degrees, to separate towards either shore in dancing currents, and to leave the middle clear and stagnant. The set towards either side was nearly equal; about one half of the whole water plunged on the side of the castle, through a narrow gullet; about one half ran lipping past the margin of the green and slipped across a babbling rapid.

“Here,“ said Mr. Archer, after he had looked for some time at the fine and shifting demarcation of these currents, “come here and see me try my fortune.”

“I am not like a man,” said Nance; “I have no time to waste.”

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“Come here,” he said again. “I ask you seriously, Nance. We are not always childish when we seem so.”

She drew a little nearer.

“Now,” said he, “you see these two channels—choose one.”

“I’ll choose the nearest, to save time,” said Nance.

“Well, that shall be for action,” returned Mr. Archer. “And since I wish to have the odds against me, not only the other channel but yon stagnant water in the midst shall be for lying still. You see this?” he continued, pulling up a withered rush. “I break it in three. I shall put each separately at the top of the upper fall, and according as they go by your way or by the other I shall guide my life.”

“This is very silly,” said Nance, with a movement of her shoulders.

“I do not think it so,” said Mr. Archer.

“And then,” she resumed, “if you are to try your fortune, why not evenly?”

“Nay,” returned Mr. Archer with a smile, “no man can put complete reliance in blind fate; he must still cog the dice.”

By this time he had got upon the rock beside the upper fall, and, bidding her look out, dropped a piece of rush into the middle of the intake. The rusty fragment was sucked at once over the fall, came up again far on the right hand, leaned ever more and more in the same direction, and disappeared under the hanging grasses on the castle side.

“One,” said Mr. Archer, “one for standing still.”

But the next launch had a different fate, and after hanging for a while about the edge of the stagnant water, steadily approached the bleaching-green and danced down the rapid under Nance’s eyes.

“One for me,” she cried with some exultation; and then she observed that Mr. Archer had grown pale, and was kneeling on the rock, with his hand raised like a 243 person petrified. “Why,” said she, “you do not mind it, do you?”

“Does a man not mind a throw of dice by which a fortune hangs?” said Mr. Archer, rather hoarsely. “And this is more than fortune. Nance, if you have any kindness for my fate, put up a prayer before I launch the next one.”

“A prayer,” she cried, “about a game like this? I would not be so heathen.”

“Well,” said he, “then without,” and he closed his eyes and dropped the piece of rush. This time there was no doubt. It went for the rapid as straight as any arrow.

“Action then!” said Mr. Archer, getting to his feet; “and then God forgive us,” he added, almost to himself.

“God forgive us, indeed,” cried Nance, “for wasting the good daylight! But come, Mr. Archer, if I see you look so serious I shall begin to think you was in earnest.”

“Nay,” he said, turning upon her suddenly, with a full smile; “but is not this good advice? I have consulted God and demigod; the nymph of the river, and what I far more admire and trust, my blue-eyed Minerva. Both have said the same. My own heart was telling it already. Action, then, be mine; and into the deep sea with all this paralysing casuistry. I am happy to-day for the first time.”


 

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CHAPTER VIII

THE MAIL GUARD

Somewhere about two in the morning a squall had burst upon the castle, a clap of screaming wind that made the towers rock, and a copious drift of rain that streamed from the windows. The wind soon blew itself out, but the day broke cloudy and dripping, and when the little party assembled at breakfast their humours appeared to have changed with the change of weather. Nance had been brooding on the scene at the river-side, applying it in various ways to her particular aspirations, and the result, which was hardly to her mind, had taken the colour out of her cheeks. Mr. Archer, too, was somewhat absent, his thoughts were of a mingled strain; and even upon his usually impassive countenance there were betrayed successive depths of depression and starts of exultation, which the girl translated in terms of her own hopes and fears. But Jonathan was the most altered: he was strangely silent, hardly passing a word, and watched Mr. Archer with an eager and furtive eye. It seemed as if the idea that had so long hovered before him had now taken a more solid shape, and, while it still attracted, somewhat alarmed his imagination.

At this rate, conversation languished into a silence which was only broken by the gentle and ghostly noises of the rain on the stone roof and about all that field of ruins; and they were all relieved when the note of a man whistling and the sound of approaching footsteps in the grassy court announced a visitor. It was the ostler from the “Green Dragon” bringing a letter for Mr. Archer. 245 Nance saw her hero’s face contract and then relax again at sight of it; and she thought that she knew why, for the sprawling, gross black characters of the address were easily distinguishable from the fine writing on the former letter that had so much disturbed him. He opened it and began to read; while the ostler sat down to table with a pot of ale, and proceeded to make himself agreeable after his fashion.

“Fine doings down our way, Miss Nance,” said he. “I haven’t been abed this blessed night.”

Nance expressed a polite interest, but her eye was on Mr. Archer, who was reading his letter with a face of such extreme indifference that she was tempted to suspect him of assumption.

“Yes,” continued the ostler, “not been the like of it this fifteen years: the North Mail stopped at the three stones.”

Jonathan’s cup was at his lip, but at this moment he choked with a great splutter; and Mr. Archer, as if startled by the noise, made so sudden a movement that one corner of the sheet tore off and stayed between his finger and thumb. It was some little time before the old man was sufficiently recovered to beg the ostler to go on, and he still kept coughing and crying and rubbing his eyes. Mr. Archer, on his side, laid the letter down, and, putting his hands in his pocket, listened gravely to the tale.

“Yes,” resumed Sam, “the North Mail was stopped by a single horseman; dash my wig, but I admire him! There were four insides and two out, and poor Tom Oglethorpe, the guard. Tom showed himself a man; let fly his blunderbuss at him; had him covered, too, and could swear to that; but the Captain never let on, up with a pistol and fetched poor Tom a bullet through the body. Tom, he squelched upon the seat, all over blood. Up comes the Captain to the window. ‘Oblige me,’ says he, ‘with what you have.’ Would you believe it? Not a man says cheep!—not them. ‘Thy hands over thy 246 head.’ Four watches, rings, snuff-boxes, seven-and-forty pounds overhead in gold. One Dicksee, a grazier, tries it on: gives him a guinea. ‘Beg your pardon,’ says the Captain, ‘I think too highly of you to take it at your hand. I will not take less than ten from such a gentleman.’ This Dicksee had his money in his stocking, but there was the pistol at his eye. Down he goes, offs with his stocking, and there was thirty golden guineas. ‘Now,’ says the Captain, ‘you’ve tried it on with me, but I scorns the advantage. Ten I said,’ he says, ‘and ten I take.’ So, dash my buttons, I call that man a man!” cried Sam in cordial admiration.

“Well, and then?” says Mr. Archer.

“Then,” resumed Sam, “that old fat fagot Engleton, him as held the ribbons and drew up like a lamb when he was told to, picks up his cattle, and drives off again. Down they came to the ’Dragon,‘ all singing like as if they was scalded, and poor Tom saying nothing. You would ’a’ thought they had all lost the King’s crown to hear them. Down gets this Dicksee. ‘Postmaster,’ he says, taking him by the arm, ‘this is a most abominable thing,’ he says. Down gets a Major Clayton, and gets the old man by the other arm. ‘We’ve been robbed,’ he cries, ‘robbed!’ Down gets the others, and all around the old man telling their story, and what they had lost, and how they was all as good as ruined; till at last Old Engleton says, says he, ‘How about Oglethorpe?’ says he. ‘Ay,’ says the others, ‘how about the guard?’ Well, with that we bousted him down, as white as a rag and all blooded like a sop. I thought he was dead. Well, he ain’t dead; but he’s dying, I fancy.”

“Did you say four watches?” said Jonathan.

“Four, I think. I wish it had been forty,” cried Sam. “Such a party of soused herrings I never did see—not a man among them bar poor Tom. But us that are the servants on the road have all the risk and none of the profit.”

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“And this brave fellow,” asked Mr. Archer, very quietly, “this Oglethorpe—how is he now?”

“Well, sir, with my respects, I take it he has a hole bang through him,” said Sam. “The doctor hasn’t been yet. He’d ’a’ been bright and early if it had been a passenger. But, doctor or no, I’ll make a good guess that Tom won’t see to-morrow. He’ll die on a Sunday, will poor Tom; and they do say that’s fortunate.”

“Did Tom see him that did it?” asked Jonathan.

“Well, he saw him,” replied Sam, “but not to swear by. Said he was a very tall man, and very big, and had a ’ankerchief about his face, and a very quick shot, and sat his horse like a thorough gentleman, as he is.”

“A gentleman!” cried Nance. “The dirty knave!”

“Well, I calls a man like that a gentleman,” returned the ostler; “that’s what I mean by a gentleman.“

“You don’t know much of them, then,” said Nance. “A gentleman would scorn to stoop to such a thing. I call my uncle a better gentleman than any thief.”

“And you would be right,” said Mr. Archer.

“How many snuff-boxes did he get?” asked Jonathan.

“O, dang me if I know,” said Sam; “I didn’t take an inventory.”

“I will go back with you, if you please,” said Mr. Archer. “I should like to see poor Oglethorpe. He has behaved well.”

“At your service, sir,” said Sam, jumping to his feet. “I dare to say a gentleman like you would not forget a poor fellow like Tom—no, nor a plain man like me, sir, that went without his sleep to nurse him. And excuse me, sir,” added Sam, “you won’t forget about the letter neither?”

“Surely not,” said Mr. Archer.

Oglethorpe lay in a low bed, one of several in a long garret of the inn. The rain soaked in places through the roof and fell in minute drops; there was but one small window; the beds were occupied by servants, the air of 248 the garret was both close and chilly. Mr. Archer’s heart sank at the threshold to see a man lying perhaps mortally hurt in so poor a sick-room, and as he drew near the low bed he took his hat off. The guard was a big, blowsy, innocent-looking soul with a thick lip and a broad nose, comically turned up; his cheeks were crimson, and when Mr. Archer laid a finger on his brow he found him burning with fever.

“I fear you suffer much,” he said, with a catch in his voice, as he sat down on the bedside.

“I suppose I do, sir,” returned Oglethorpe; “it is main sore.”

“I am used to wounds and wounded men,” returned the visitor. “I have been in the wars and nursed brave fellows before now; and, if you will suffer me, I propose to stay beside you till the doctor comes.”

“It is very good of you, sir, I am sure,” said Oglethorpe. “The trouble is they won’t none of them let me drink.”

“If you will not tell the doctor,” said Mr. Archer, “I will give you some water. They say it is bad for a green wound, but in the Low Countries we all drank water when we found the chance, and I could never perceive we were the worse for it.“

“Been wounded yourself, sir, perhaps?” called Oglethorpe.

“Twice,” said Mr. Archer, “and was as proud of these hurts as any lady of her bracelets. ’Tis a fine thing to smart for one’s duty; even in the pangs of it there is contentment.”

“Ah, well!” replied the guard, “if you’ve been shot yourself, that explains. But as for contentment, why, sir, you see, it smarts, as you say. And then, I have a good wife, you see, and a bit of a brat—a little thing, so high.”

“Don’t move,” said Mr. Archer.

“No, sir, I will not, and thank you kindly,” said Oglethorpe. “At York they are. A very good lass is my 249 wife—far too good for me. And the little rascal—well, I don’t know how to say it, but he sort of comes round you. If I were to go, sir, it would be hard on my poor girl—main hard on her!”

“Ay, you must feel bitter hardly to the rogue that laid you here,” said Archer.

“Why, no, sir, more against Engleton and the passengers,” replied the guard. “He played his hand, if you come to look at it; and I wish he had shot worse, or me better. And yet I’ll go to my grave but what I covered him,” he cried. “It looks like witchcraft. I’ll go to my grave but what he was drove full of slugs like a pepper-box.”

“Quietly,” said Mr. Archer, “you must not excite yourself. These deceptions are very usual in war; the eye, in the moment of alert, is hardly to be trusted, and when the smoke blows away you see the man you fired at, taking aim, it may be, at yourself. You should observe, too, that you were in the dark night, and somewhat dazzled by the lamps, and that the sudden stopping of the mail had jolted you. In such circumstances a man may miss, ay, even with a blunderbuss, and no blame attach to his marksmanship.” ...

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THE YOUNG CHEVALIER

A FRAGMENT


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253

THE YOUNG CHEVALIER


 

PROLOGUE

THE WINE-SELLER’S WIFE

There was a wine-seller’s shop, as you went down to the river in the city of the Anti-popes. There a man was served with good wine of the country and plain country fare; and the place being clean and quiet, with a prospect on the river, certain gentlemen who dwelt in that city in attendance on a great personage made it a practice (when they had any silver in their purses) to come and eat there and be private.

They called the wine-seller Paradou. He was built more like a bullock than a man, huge in bone and brawn, high in colour, and with a hand like a baby for size. Marie-Madeleine was the name of his wife; she was of Marseilles, a city of entrancing women, nor was any fairer than herself. She was tall, being almost of a height with Paradou; full-girdled, point-device in every form, with an exquisite delicacy in the face; her nose and nostrils a delight to look at from the fineness of the sculpture, her eyes inclined a hair’s-breadth inward, her colour between dark and fair, and laid on even like a flower’s. A faint rose dwelt in it, as though she had been found unawares bathing, and had blushed from head to foot. She was of a grave countenance, rarely smiling; yet it seemed to be written upon every part of her that she rejoiced in life. Her husband loved the heels of her feet and the knuckles of her fingers; he loved her like a glutton and a brute; his 254 love hung about her like an atmosphere; one that came by chance into the wine-shop was aware of that passion; and it might be said that by the strength of it the woman had been drugged or spell-bound. She knew not if she loved or loathed him; he was always in her eyes like something monstrous,—monstrous in his love, monstrous in his person, horrific but imposing in his violence; and her sentiment swung back and forward from desire to sickness. But the mean, where it dwelt chiefly, was an apathetic fascination, partly of horror; as of Europa in mid ocean with her bull.

On the 10th November 1749 there sat two of the foreign gentlemen in the wine-seller’s shop. They were both handsome men of a good presence, richly dressed. The first was swarthy and long and lean, with an alert, black look, and a mole upon his cheek. The other was more fair. He seemed very easy and sedate, and a little melancholy for so young a man, but his smile was charming. In his grey eyes there was much abstraction, as of one recalling fondly that which was past and lost. Yet there was strength and swiftness in his limbs; and his mouth set straight across his face, the under lip a thought upon side, like that of a man accustomed to resolve. These two talked together in a rude outlandish speech that no frequenter of that wine-shop understood. The swarthy man answered to the name of Ballantrae; he of the dreamy eyes was sometimes called Balmile, and sometimes my Lord, or my Lord Gladsmuir; but when the title was given him, he seemed to put it by as if in jesting, not without bitterness.

The mistral blew in the city. The first day of that wind, they say in the countries where its voice is heard, it blows away all the dust, the second all the stones, and the third it blows back others from the mountains. It was now come to the third day; outside the pebbles flew like hail, and the face of the river was puckered, and the very building-stones in the walls of houses seemed to be 255 curdled, with the savage cold and fury of that continuous blast. It could be heard to hoot in all the chimneys of the city; it swept about the wine-shop, filling the room with eddies; the chill and gritty touch of it passed between the nearest clothes and the bare flesh; and the two gentlemen at the far table kept their mantles loose about their shoulders. The roughness of these outer hulls, for they were plain travellers’ cloaks that had seen service, set the greater mark of richness on what showed below of their laced clothes; for the one was in scarlet and the other in violet and white, like men come from a scene of ceremony; as indeed they were.

It chanced that these fine clothes were not without their influence on the scene which followed, and which makes the prologue of our tale. For a long time Balmile was in the habit to come to the wine-shop and eat a meal or drink a measure of wine; sometimes with a comrade; more often alone, when he would sit and dream and drum upon the table, and the thoughts would show in the man’s face in little glooms and lightenings, like the sun and the clouds upon a water. For a long time Marie-Madeleine had observed him apart. His sadness, the beauty of his smile when by any chance he remembered her existence and addressed her, the changes of his mind signalled forth by an abstruse play of feature, the mere fact that he was foreign and a thing detached from the local and the accustomed, insensibly attracted and affected her. Kindness was ready in her mind; it but lacked the touch of an occasion to effervesce and crystallise. Now Balmile had come hitherto in a very poor plain habit; and this day of the mistral, when his mantle was just open, and she saw beneath it the glancing of the violet and the velvet and the silver, and the clustering fineness of the lace, it seemed to set the man in a new light, with which he shone resplendent to her fancy.

The high inhuman note of the wind, the violence and continuity of its outpouring, and the fierce touch of it 256 upon man’s whole periphery, accelerated the functions of the mind. It set thoughts whirling, as it whirled the trees of the forest; it stirred them up in flights, as it stirred up the dust in chambers. As brief as sparks, the fancies glittered and succeeded each other in the mind of Marie-Madeleine; and the grave man with the smile, and the bright clothes under the plain mantle, haunted her with incongruous explanations. She considered him, the unknown, the speaker of an unknown tongue, the hero (as she placed him) of an unknown romance, the dweller upon unknown memories. She recalled him sitting there alone, so immersed, so stupefied; yet she was sure he was not stupid. She recalled one day when he had remained a long time motionless, with parted lips, like one in the act of starting up, his eyes fixed on vacancy. Any one else must have looked foolish; but not he. She tried to conceive what manner of memory had thus entranced him; she forged for him a past; she showed him to herself in every light of heroism and greatness and misfortune; she brooded with petulant intensity on all she knew and guessed of him. Yet, though she was already gone so deep, she was still unashamed, still unalarmed; her thoughts were still disinterested; she had still to reach the stage at which—beside the image of that other whom we love to contemplate and to adorn—we place the image of ourself and behold them together with delight.

She stood within the counter, her hands clasped behind her back, her shoulders pressed against the wall, her feet braced out. Her face was bright with the wind and her own thoughts; as a fire in a similar day of tempest glows and brightens on a hearth, so she seemed to glow, standing there, and to breathe out energy. It was the first time Ballantrae had visited that wine-seller’s, the first time he had seen the wife; and his eyes were true to her.

“I perceive your reason for carrying me to this very draughty tavern,” he said at last.

“I believe it is propinquity,” returned Balmile.

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“You play dark,” said Ballantrae, “but have a care! Be more frank with me, or I will cut you out. I go through no form of qualifying my threat, which would be commonplace and not conscientious. There is only one point in these campaigns: that is the degree of admiration offered by the man; and to our hostess I am in a posture to make victorious love.”

“If you think you have the time, or the game worth the candle,” replied the other with a shrug.

“One would suppose you were never at the pains to observe her,” said Ballantrae.

“I am not very observant,” said Balmile. “She seems comely.”

“You very dear and dull dog!” cried Ballantrae; “chastity is the most besotting of the virtues. Why, she has a look in her face beyond singing! I believe, if you was to push me hard, I might trace it home to a trifle of a squint. What matters? The height of beauty is in the touch that’s wrong, that’s the modulation in a tune. ’Tis the devil we all love; I owe many a conquest to my mole”—he touched it as he spoke with a smile, and his eyes glittered;—“we are all hunchbacks, and beauty is only that kind of deformity that I happen to admire. But come! Because you are chaste, for which I am sure I pay you my respects, that is no reason why you should be blind. Look at her, look at the delicious nose of her, look at her cheek, look at her ear, look at her hand and wrist—look at the whole baggage from heels to crown, and tell me if she wouldn’t melt on a man’s tongue.”

As Ballantrae spoke, half jesting, half enthusiastic, Balmile was constrained to do as he was bidden. He looked at the woman, admired her excellences, and was at the same time ashamed for himself and his companion. So it befell that when Marie-Madeleine raised her eyes, she met those of the subject of her contemplations fixed directly on herself with a look that is unmistakable, the look of a person measuring and valuing another,—and, to 258 clench the false impression, that his glance was instantly and guiltily withdrawn. The blood beat back upon her heart and leaped again; her obscure thoughts flashed clear before her; she flew in fancy straight to his arms like a wanton, and fled again on the instant like a nymph. And at that moment there chanced an interruption, which not only spared her embarrassment, but set the last consecration on her now articulate love.

Into the wine-shop there came a French gentleman, arrayed in the last refinement of the fashion, though a little tumbled by his passage in the wind. It was to be judged he had come from the same formal gathering at which the others had preceded him; and perhaps that he had gone there in the hope to meet with them, for he came up to Ballantrae with unceremonious eagerness.

“At last, here you are!” he cried in French. “I thought I was to miss you altogether.”

The Scotsmen rose, and Ballantrae, after the first greetings, laid his hand on his companion’s shoulder.

“My lord,” said he, “allow me to present to you one of my best friends and one of our best soldiers, the Lord Viscount Gladsmuir.”

The two bowed with the elaborate elegance of the period.

Monseigneur,” said Balmile, “je n’ai pas la prétention de m’affubler d’un titre que la mauvaise fortune de mon roi ne me permet pas de porter comme il sied. Je m’appelle, pour vous servir, Blair de Balmile tout court.” [My lord, I have not the effrontery to cumber myself with a title which the ill fortunes of my king will not suffer me to bear the way it should be. I call myself, at your service, plain Blair of Balmile.]

Monsieur le Vicomte ou monsieur Blèr’ de Balmaïl,” replied the new-comer, “le nom n’y fait rien et l’on connaît vos beaux faits.” [The name matters nothing, your gallant actions are known.]

A few more ceremonies, and these three, sitting down 259 together to the table, called for wine. It was the happiness of Marie-Madeleine to wait unobserved upon the prince of her desires. She poured the wine, he drank of it; and that link between them seemed to her, for the moment, close as a caress. Though they lowered their tones, she surprised great names passing in their conversation, names of kings, the names of de Gesvre and Belle-Isle; and the man who dealt in these high matters, and she who was now coupled with him in her own thoughts, seemed to swim in mid air in a transfiguration. Love is a crude core, but it has singular and far-reaching fringes; in that passionate attraction for the stranger that now swayed and mastered her, his harsh incomprehensible language, and these names of grandees in his talk, were each an element.

The Frenchman stayed not long, but it was plain he left behind him matter of much interest to his companions; they spoke together earnestly, their heads down, the woman of the wine-shop totally forgotten; and they were still so occupied when Paradou returned.

This man’s love was unsleeping. The even bluster of the mistral, with which he had been combating some hours, had not suspended, though it had embittered, that predominant passion. His first look was for his wife, a look of hope and suspicion, menace and humility and love, that made the over-blooming brute appear for the moment almost beautiful. She returned his glance, at first as though she knew him not, then with a swiftly waxing coldness of intent; and at last, without changing their direction, she had closed her eyes.

There passed across her mind during that period much that Paradou could not have understood had it been told to him in words: chiefly the sense of an enlightening contrast betwixt the man who talked of kings and the man who kept a wine-shop, betwixt the love she yearned for and that to which she had been long exposed like a victim bound upon the altar. There swelled upon her, 260 swifter than the Rhone, a tide of abhorrence and disgust. She had succumbed to the monster, humbling herself below animals; and now she loved a hero, aspiring to the semi-divine. It was in the pang of that humiliating thought that she had closed her eyes.

Paradou—quick, as beasts are quick, to translate silence—felt the insult through his blood; his inarticulate soul bellowed within him for revenge. He glanced about the shop. He saw the two indifferent gentlemen deep in talk, and passed them over: his fancy flying not so high. There was but one other present, a country lout who stood swallowing his wine, equally unobserved by all and unobserving; to him he dealt a glance of murderous suspicion, and turned direct upon his wife. The wine-shop had lain hitherto, a space of shelter, the scene of a few ceremonial passages and some whispered conversation, in the howling river of the wind; the clock had not yet ticked a score of times since Paradou’s appearance; and now, as he suddenly gave tongue, it seemed as though the mistral had entered at his heels.

“What ails you, woman?” he cried, smiting on the counter.

“Nothing ails me,” she replied. It was strange; but she spoke and stood at that moment like a lady of degree, drawn upward by her aspirations.

“You speak to me, by God, as though you scorned me!” cried the husband.

The man’s passion was always formidable; she had often looked on upon its violence with a thrill, it had been one ingredient in her fascination; and she was now surprised to behold him, as from afar off, gesticulating but impotent. His fury might be dangerous like a torrent or a gust of wind, but it was inhuman; it might be feared or braved, it should never be respected. And with that there came in her a sudden glow of courage and that readiness to die which attends so closely upon all strong passions.

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“I do scorn you,“ she said.

“What is that?” he cried.

“I scorn you,” she repeated, smiling.

“You love another man!” said he.

“With all my soul,” was her reply.

The wine-seller roared aloud so that the house rang and shook with it.

“Is this the ——?” he cried, using a foul word, common in the South; and he seized the young countryman and dashed him to the ground. There he lay for the least interval of time insensible; thence fled from the house, the most terrified person in the county. The heavy measure had escaped from his hands, splashing the wine high upon the wall. Paradou caught it. “And you?” he roared to his wife, giving her the same name in the feminine, and he aimed at her the deadly missile. She expected it, motionless, with radiant eyes.

But before it sped, Paradou was met by another adversary, and the unconscious rivals stood confronted. It was hard to say at that moment which appeared the more formidable. In Paradou, the whole muddy and truculent depths of the half-man were stirred to frenzy; the lust of destruction raged in him; there was not a feature in his face but it talked murder. Balmile had dropped his cloak: he shone out at once in his finery, and stood to his full stature; girt in mind and body; all his resources, all his temper, perfectly in command; in his face the light of battle. Neither spoke; there was no blow nor threat of one; it was war reduced to its last element, the spiritual; and the huge wine-seller slowly lowered his weapon. Balmile was a noble, he a commoner; Balmile exulted in an honourable cause. Paradou already perhaps began to be ashamed of his violence. Of a sudden, at least, the tortured brute turned and fled from the shop in the footsteps of his former victim, to whose continued flight his reappearance added wings.

So soon as Balmile appeared between her husband and 262 herself, Marie-Madeleine transferred to him her eyes. It might be her last moment, and she fed upon that face; reading there inimitable courage and illimitable valour to protect. And when the momentary peril was gone by, and the champion turned a little awkwardly towards her whom he had rescued, it was to meet, and quail before, a gaze of admiration more distinct than words. He bowed, he stammered, his words failed him; he who had crossed the floor a moment ago, like a young god, to smite, returned like one discomfited; got somehow to his place by the table, muffled himself again in his discarded cloak, and for a last touch of the ridiculous, seeking for anything to restore his countenance, drank of the wine before him, deep as a porter after a heavy lift. It was little wonder if Ballantrae, reading the scene with malevolent eyes, laughed out loud and brief, and drank with raised glass, “To the champion of the Fair.”

Marie-Madeleine stood in her old place within the counter; she disdained the mocking laughter; it fell on her ears, but it did not reach her spirit. For her, the world of living persons was all resumed again into one pair, as in the days of Eden; there was but the one end in life, the one hope before her, the one thing needful, the one thing possible,—to be his.


 

263

CHAPTER I

THE PRINCE

That same night there was in the city of Avignon a young man in distress of mind. Now he sat, now walked in a high apartment, full of draughts and shadows. A single candle made the darkness visible; and the light scarce sufficed to show upon the wall, where they had been recently and rudely nailed, a few miniatures and a copper medal of the young man’s head. The same was being sold that year in London, to admiring thousands. The original was fair; he had beautiful brown eyes, a beautiful bright open face; a little feminine, a little hard, a little weak; still full of the light of youth, but already beginning to be vulgarised; a sordid bloom come upon it, the lines coarsened with a touch of puffiness. He was dressed, as for a gala, in peach-colour and silver; his breast sparkled with stars and was bright with ribbons; for he had held a levee in the afternoon and received a distinguished personage incognito. Now he sat with a bowed head, now walked precipitately to and fro, now went and gazed from the uncurtained window, where the wind was still blowing, and the lights winked in the darkness.

The bells of Avignon rose into song as he was gazing; and the high notes and the deep tossed and drowned, boomed suddenly near or were suddenly swallowed up, in the current of the mistral. Tears sprang in the pale blue eyes; the expression of his face was changed to that of a more active misery; it seemed as if the voices of the bells reached, and touched and pained him, in a waste of vacancy where even pain was welcome. Outside 264 in the night they continued to sound on, swelling and fainting; and the listener heard in his memory, as it were their harmonies, joy-bells clashing in a northern city, and the acclamations of a multitude, the cries of battle, the gross voices of cannon, the stridor of an animated life. And then all died away, and he stood face to face with himself in the waste of vacancy, and a horror came upon his mind, and a faintness on his brain, such as seizes men upon the brink of cliffs.

On the table, by the side of the candle, stood a tray of glasses, a bottle, and a silver bell. He went thither swiftly, then his hand lowered first above the bell, then settled on the bottle. Slowly he filled a glass, slowly drank it out; and, as a tide of animal warmth recomforted the recesses of his nature, stood there smiling at himself. He remembered he was young; the funeral curtains rose, and he saw his life shine and broaden and flow out majestically, like a river sunward. The smile still on his lips, he lit a second candle and a third; a fire stood ready built in a chimney, he lit that also; and the fir-cones and the gnarled olive billets were swift to break in flame and to crackle on the hearth, and the room brightened and enlarged about him like his hopes. To and fro, to and fro, he went, his hands lightly clasped, his breath deeply and pleasurably taken. Victory walked with him; he marched to crowns and empires among shouting followers; glory was his dress. And presently again the shadows closed upon the solitary. Under the gilt of flame and candle-light, the stone walls of the apartment showed down bare and cold; behind the depicted triumph loomed up the actual failure: defeat, the long distress of the flight, exile, despair, broken followers, mourning faces, empty pockets, friends estranged. The memory of his father rose in his mind: he, too, estranged and defied; despair sharpened into wrath. There was one who had led armies in the field, who had staked his life upon the family enterprise, a man of action and experience, of the 265 open air, the camp, the court, the council-room; and he was to accept direction from an old, pompous gentleman in a home in Italy, and buzzed about by priests? A pretty king, if he had not a martial son to lean upon! A king at all?

“There was a weaver (of all people) joined me at St. Ninians; he was more of a man than my papa!” he thought. “I saw him lie doubled in his blood and a grenadier below him—and he died for my papa! All died for him, or risked the dying, and I lay for him all those months in the rain and skulked in heather like a fox; and now he writes me his advice! calls me Carluccio—me, the man of the house, the only king in that king’s race.“ He ground his teeth. “The only king in Europe! Who else? Who has done and suffered except me? who has lain and run and hidden with his faithful subjects, like a second Bruce? Not my accursed cousin, Louis of France at least, the lewd effeminate traitor!” And filling the glass to the brim, he drank a king’s damnation. Ah, if he had the power of Louis, what a king were here!

The minutes followed each other into the past, and still he persevered in this debilitating cycle of emotions, still fed the fire of his excitement with driblets of Rhine wine: a boy at odds with life, a boy with a spark of the heroic, which he was now burning out and drowning down in futile reverie and solitary excess.

From two rooms beyond, the sudden sound of a raised voice attracted him.

“By....

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267


FABLES


268

 

269

FABLES


 
I

THE PERSONS OF THE TALE

After the 32nd chapter of “Treasure Island,” two of the puppets strolled out to have a pipe before business should begin again, and met in an open place not far from the story.

“Good-morning, Cap’n,” said the first, with a man-o’-war salute, and a beaming countenance.

“Ah, Silver!” grunted the other. “You’re in a bad way, Silver.”

“Now, Cap’n Smollett,” remonstrated Silver, “dooty is dooty, as I knows, and none better; but we’re off dooty now; and I can’t see no call to keep up the morality business.”

“You’re a damned rogue, my man,” said the Captain.

“Come, come, Cap’n, be just,” returned the other. “There’s no call to be angry with me in earnest. I’m on’y a chara’ter in a sea story. I don’t really exist.”

“Well, I don’t really exist either,” says the Captain, “which seems to meet that.”

“I wouldn’t set no limits to what a virtuous chara’ter might consider argument,” responded Silver. “But I’m the villain of this tale, I am; and speaking as one sea-faring man to another, what I want to know is, what’s the odds?”

“Were you never taught your catechism?” said the Captain. “Don’t you know there’s such a thing as an Author?”

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“Such a thing as a Author?” returned John derisively. “And who better’n me? And the p’int is, if the Author made you, he made Long John, and he made Hands, and Pew, and George Merry—not that George is up to much, for he’s little more’n a name; and he made Flint, what there is of him; and he made this here mutiny, you keep such a work about; and he had Tom Redruth shot; and—well, if that’s a Author, give me Pew!”

“Don’t you believe in a future state?” said Smollett. “Do you think there’s nothing but the present story-paper?”

“I don’t rightly know for that,” said Silver; “and I don’t see what it’s got to do with it, anyway. What I know is this: if there is sich a thing as a Author, I’m his favourite chara’ter. He does me fathoms better’n he does you—fathoms, he does. And he likes doing me. He keeps me on deck mostly all the time, crutch and all; and he leaves you measling in the hold, where nobody can’t see you, nor wants to, and you may lay to that! If there is a Author, by thunder, but he’s on my side, and you may lay to it!”

“I see he’s giving you a long rope,” said the Captain. “But that can’t change a man’s convictions. I know the Author respects me; I feel it in my bones: when you and I had that talk at the blockhouse door, who do you think he was for, my man?”

“And don’t he respect me?” cried Silver. “Ah, you should ’a’ heard me putting down my mutiny, George Merry and Morgan and that lot, no longer ago’n last chapter; you’d ’a’ heard something then! You’d ’a’ seen what the Author thinks o’ me! But come now, do you consider yourself a virtuous chara’ter clean through?”

“God forbid!” said Captain Smollett solemnly. “I am a man that tries to do his duty, and makes a mess of it as often as not. I’m not a very popular man at home, Silver, I’m afraid!” and the Captain sighed.

“Ah,” says Silver. “Then how about this sequel of 271 yours? Are you to be Cap’n Smollett just the same as ever and not very popular at home, says you? And if so, why, it’s ‘Treasure Island’ over again, by thunder; and I’ll be Long John and Pew’ll be Pew, and we’ll have another mutiny as like as not. Or are you to be somebody else? And if so, why, what the better are you? and what the worse am I?”

“Why, look here, my man,” returned the Captain; “I can’t understand how this story comes about at all, can I? I can’t see how you and I who don’t exist should get to speaking here, and smoke our pipes for all the world like reality? Very well, then, who am I to pipe up with my opinions? I know the Author’s on the side of good; he tells me so, it runs out of his pen as he writes. Well, that’s all I need to know; I’ll take my chance upon the rest.”

“It’s a fact he seemed to be against George Merry,” Silver admitted, musingly. “But George is little more’n a name at the best of it,” he added, brightening. “And to get into soundings for once. What is this good? I made a mutiny, and I been a gentleman o’ fortune; well, but by all stories, you ain’t no such saint. I’m a man that keeps company very easy; even by your own account, you ain’t, and to my certain knowledge you’re a devil to haze. Which is which? Which is good and which bad? Ah, you tell me that! Here we are in stays, and you may lay to it!”

“We’re none of us perfect,” replied the Captain. “That’s a fact of religion, my man. All I can say is, I try to do my duty; and if you try to do yours, I can’t compliment you on your success.”

“And so you was the judge, was you?” said Silver, derisively.

“I would be both judge and hangman for you, my man, and never turn a hair,” returned the Captain. “But I get beyond that: it mayn’t be sound theology, but it’s common sense, that what is good is useful too—or there 272 and thereabout, for I don’t set up to be a thinker. Now, where would a story go to if there were no virtuous characters?”

“If you go to that,” replied Silver, “where would a story begin, if there wasn’t no villains?”

“Well, that’s pretty much my thought,” said Captain Smollett. “The Author has to get a story; that’s what he wants; and to get a story, and to have a man like the doctor (say) given a proper chance, he has to put in men like you and Hands. But he’s on the right side; and you mind your eye! You’re not through this story yet; there’s trouble coming for you.”

“What’ll you bet?” asked John.

“Much I care if there ain’t,” returned the Captain. “I’m glad enough to be Alexander Smollett, bad as he is; and I thank my stars upon my knees that I’m not Silver. But there’s the ink-bottle opening. To quarters!”

And indeed the Author was just then beginning to write the words:

Chapter XXXIII

 
II

THE SINKING SHIP

“Sir,” said the first lieutenant, bursting into the Captain’s cabin, “the ship is going down.”

“Very well, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain; “but that is no reason for going about half-shaved. Exercise your mind a moment, Mr. Spoker, and you will see that to the philosophic eye there is nothing new in our position: the ship (if she is to go down at all) may be said to have been going down since she was launched.”

“She is settling fast,” said the first lieutenant, as he returned from shaving.

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“Fast, Mr. Spoker?” asked the Captain. “The expression is a strange one, for time (if you will think of it) is only relative.”

“Sir,” said the lieutenant, “I think it is scarcely worth while to embark in such a discussion when we shall all be in Davy Jones’s Locker in ten minutes.”

“By parity of reasoning,” returned the Captain gently, “it would never be worth while to begin any inquiry of importance; the odds are always overwhelming that we must die before we shall have brought it to an end. You have not considered, Mr. Spoker, the situation of man,” said the Captain, smiling, and shaking his head.

“I am much more engaged in considering the position of the ship,” said Mr. Spoker.

“Spoken like a good officer,” replied the Captain, laying his hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder.

On deck they found the men had broken into the spirit-room, and were fast getting drunk.

“My men,” said the Captain, “there is no sense in this. The ship is going down, you will tell me, in ten minutes: well, and what then? To the philosophic eye, there is nothing new in our position. All our lives long, we may have been about to break a blood-vessel or to be struck by lightning, not merely in ten minutes, but in ten seconds; and that has not prevented us from eating dinner, no, nor from putting money in the Savings Bank. I assure you, with my hand on my heart, I fail to comprehend your attitude.”

The men were already too far gone to pay much heed.

“This is a very painful sight, Mr. Spoker,” said the Captain.

“And yet to the philosophic eye, or whatever it is,” replied the first lieutenant, “they may be said to have been getting drunk since they came aboard.”

“I do not know if you always follow my thought, Mr. Spoker,” returned the Captain gently. “But let us proceed.”

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In the powder magazine they found an old salt smoking his pipe.

“Good God!” cried the Captain, “what are you about?”

“Well, sir,” said the old salt apologetically, “they told me as she were going down.”

“And suppose she were?” said the Captain. “To the philosophic eye, there would be nothing new in our position. Life, my old shipmate, life, at any moment and in any view, is as dangerous as a sinking ship; and yet it is man’s handsome fashion to carry umbrellas, to wear indiarubber overshoes, to begin vast works, and to conduct himself in every way as if he might hope to be eternal. And for my own poor part I should despise the man who, even on board a sinking ship, should omit to take a pill or to wind up his watch. That, my friend, would not be the human attitude.”

“I beg pardon, sir,” said Mr. Spoker. “But what is precisely the difference between shaving in a sinking ship and smoking in a powder magazine?”

“Or doing anything at all in any conceivable circumstances?” cried the Captain. “Perfectly conclusive; give me a cigar!”

Two minutes afterwards the ship blew up with a glorious detonation.


 
III

THE TWO MATCHES

One day there was a traveller in the woods in California, in the dry season, when the trades were blowing strong. He had ridden a long way, and he was tired and hungry, and dismounted from his horse to smoke a pipe. But when he felt in his pocket he found but two matches. He struck the first, and it would not light.

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“Here is a pretty state of things!” said the traveller. “Dying for a smoke; only one match left; and that certain to miss fire! Was there ever a creature so unfortunate? And yet,” thought the traveller, “suppose I light this match, and smoke my pipe, and shake out the dottle here in the grass—the grass might catch fire, for it is dry like tinder; and while I snatch out the flames in front, they might evade and run behind me, and seize upon yon bush of poison oak; before I could reach it, that would have blazed up; over the bush I see a pine-tree hung with moss; that, too, would fly in fire upon the instant to its topmost bough; and the flame of that long torch—how would the trade-wind take and brandish that through the inflammable forest! I hear this dell roar in a moment with the joint voice of wind and fire, I see myself gallop for my soul, and the flying conflagration chase and outflank me through the hills; I see this pleasant forest burn for days, and the cattle roasted, and the springs dried up, and the farmer ruined, and his children cast upon the world. What a world hangs upon this moment!”

With that he struck the match, and it missed fire.

“Thank God!” said the traveller, and put his pipe in his pocket.


 
IV

THE SICK MAN AND THE FIREMAN

There was once a sick man in a burning house, to whom there entered a fireman.

“Do not save me,” said the sick man. “Save those who are strong.”

“Will you kindly tell me why?” inquired the fireman, for he was a civil fellow.

“Nothing could possibly be fairer,” said the sick man. 276 “The strong should be preferred in all cases, because they are of more service in the world.”

The fireman pondered a while, for he was a man of some philosophy. “Granted,” said he at last, as a part of the roof fell in; “but for the sake of conversation, what would you lay down as the proper service of the strong?”

“Nothing can possibly be easier,” returned the sick man; “the proper service of the strong is to help the weak.”

Again the fireman reflected, for there was nothing hasty about this excellent creature. “I could forgive you being sick,” he said at last, as a portion of the wall fell out, “but I cannot bear your being such a fool.” And with that he heaved up his fireman’s axe, for he was eminently just, and clove the sick man to the bed.


 
V

THE DEVIL AND THE INNKEEPER

Once upon a time the devil stayed at an inn, where no one knew him, for they were people whose education had been neglected. He was bent on mischief, and for a time kept everybody by the ears. But at last the innkeeper set a watch upon the devil and took him in the fact.

The innkeeper got a rope’s end.

“Now I’m going to thrash you,” said the innkeeper.

“You have no right to be angry with me,” said the devil. “I am only the devil, and it is my nature to do wrong.”

“Is that so?” asked the innkeeper.

“Fact, I assure you,” said the devil.

“You really can’t help doing ill?” asked the innkeeper.

“Not in the smallest,” said the devil; “it would be useless cruelty to thrash a thing like me.”

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“It would indeed,” said the innkeeper.

And he made a noose and hanged the devil.

“There!” said the innkeeper.


 
VI

THE PENITENT

A man met a lad weeping. “What do you weep for?” he asked.

“I am weeping for my sins,” said the lad.

“You must have little to do,” said the man.

The next day they met again. Once more the lad was weeping. “Why do you weep now?” asked the man.

“I am weeping because I have nothing to eat,” said the lad.

“I thought it would come to that,” said the man.


 
VII

THE YELLOW PAINT

In a certain city there lived a physician who sold yellow paint. This was of so singular a virtue that whoso was bedaubed with it from head to heel was set free from the dangers of life, and the bondage of sin, and the fear of death for ever. So the physician said in his prospectus; and so said all the citizens in the city; and there was nothing more urgent in men’s hearts than to be properly painted themselves, and nothing they took more delight in than to see others painted. There was in the same city a young man of a very good family but of a somewhat reckless life, who had reached the age of manhood, and would have nothing to say to the paint: “To-morrow was soon enough,” said he; and when the morrow came he 278 would still put it off. So he might have continued to do until his death; only, he had a friend of about his own age and much of his own manners; and this youth, taking a walk in the public street, with not one fleck of paint upon his body, was suddenly run down by a water-cart and cut off in the heyday of his nakedness. This shook the other to the soul; so that I never beheld a man more earnest to be painted; and on the very same evening, in the presence of all his family, to appropriate music, and himself weeping aloud, he received three complete coats and a touch of varnish on the top. The physician (who was himself affected even to tears) protested he had never done a job so thorough.

Some two months afterwards, the young man was carried on a stretcher to the physician’s house.

“What is the meaning of this?” he cried, as soon as the door was opened. “I was to be set free from all the dangers of life; and here have I been run down by that self-same water-cart, and my leg is broken.”

“Dear me!” said the physician. “This is very sad. But I perceive I must explain to you the action of my paint. A broken bone is a mighty small affair at the worst of it; and it belongs to a class of accident to which my paint is quite inapplicable. Sin, my dear young friend, sin is the sole calamity that a wise man should apprehend; it is against sin that I have fitted you out; and when you come to be tempted you will give me news of my paint.”

“O!” said the young man, “I did not understand that, and it seems rather disappointing. But I have no doubt all is for the best; and in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged to you if you will set my leg.”

“That is none of my business,” said the physician; “but if your bearers will carry you round the corner to the surgeon’s, I feel sure he will afford relief.”

Some three years later, the young man came running to the physician’s house in a great perturbation. “What 279 is the meaning of this?” he cried. “Here was I to be set free from the bondage of sin; and I have just committed forgery, arson, and murder.”

“Dear me!” said the physician. “This is very serious. Off with your clothes at once.” And as soon as the young man had stripped, he examined him from head to foot. “No,” he cried with great relief, “there is not a flake broken. Cheer up, my young friend, your paint is as good as new.”

“Good God!” cried the young man, “and what then can be the use of it?”

“Why,” said the physician, “I perceive I must explain to you the nature of the action of my paint. It does not exactly prevent sin; it extenuates instead the painful consequences. It is not so much for this world as for the next; it is not against life; in short, it is against death that I have fitted you out. And when you come to die, you will give me news of my paint.”

“O!” cried the young man, “I had not understood that, and it seems a little disappointing. But there is no doubt all is for the best; and in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged if you will help me to undo the evil I have brought on innocent persons.”

“That is none of my business,” said the physician; “but if you will go round the corner to the police office, I feel sure it will afford you relief to give yourself up.”

Six weeks later the physician was called to the town gaol.

“What is the meaning of this?” cried the young man. “Here am I literally crusted with your paint; and I have broken my leg, and committed all the crimes in the calendar, and must be hanged to-morrow; and am in the meanwhile in a fear so extreme that I lack words to picture it.”

“Dear me!” said the physician. “This is really amazing. Well, well; perhaps if you had not been painted, you would have been more frightened still.”


 

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VIII

THE HOUSE OF ELD

So soon as the child began to speak, the gyve was riveted; and the boys and girls limped about their play like convicts. Doubtless it was more pitiable to see and more painful to bear in youth; but even the grown folk, besides being very unhandy on their feet, were often sick with ulcers.

About the time when Jack was ten years old, many strangers began to journey through that country. These he beheld going lightly by on the long roads, and the thing amazed him. “I wonder how it comes,” he asked, “that all these strangers are so quick afoot, and we must drag about our fetter?”

“My dear boy,” said his uncle, the catechist, “do not complain about your fetter, for it is the only thing that makes life worth living. None are happy, none are good, none are respectable, that are not gyved like us. And I must tell you, besides, it is very dangerous talk. If you grumble of your iron, you will have no luck; if you ever take it off, you will be instantly smitten by a thunderbolt.”

“Are there no thunderbolts for these strangers?” asked Jack.

“Jupiter is long-suffering to the benighted,” returned the catechist.

“Upon my word, I could wish I had been less fortunate,” said Jack. “For if I had been born benighted, I might now be going free; and it cannot be denied the iron is inconvenient, and the ulcer hurts.”

“Ah!” cried his uncle, “do not envy the heathen! Theirs is a sad lot! Ah, poor souls, if they but knew the joys of being fettered! Poor souls, my heart yearns for them. But the truth is they are vile, odious, insolent, ill-conditioned, 281 stinking brutes, not truly human—for what is a man without a fetter?—and you cannot be too particular not to touch or speak with them.”

After this talk, the child would never pass one of the unfettered on the road but what he spat at him and called him names, which was the practice of the children in that part.

It chanced one day, when he was fifteen, he went into the woods, and the ulcer pained him. It was a fair day, with a blue sky; all the birds were singing; but Jack nursed his foot. Presently, another song began; it sounded like the singing of a person, only far more gay; at the same time there was a beating on the earth. Jack put aside the leaves; and there was a lad of his own village, leaping, and dancing and singing to himself in a green dell; and on the grass beside him lay the dancer’s iron.

“O!” cried Jack, “you have your fetter off!”

“For God’s sake, don’t tell your uncle!” cried the lad.

“If you fear my uncle,” returned Jack, “why do you not fear the thunderbolt?”

“That is only an old wives’ tale,” said the other. “It is only told to children. Scores of us come here among the woods and dance for nights together, and are none the worse.”

This put Jack in a thousand new thoughts. He was a grave lad; he had no mind to dance himself; he wore his fetter manfully, and tended his ulcer without complaint. But he loved the less to be deceived or to see others cheated. He began to lie in wait for heathen travellers, at covert parts of the road, and in the dusk of the day, so that he might speak with them unseen; and these were greatly taken with their wayside questioner, and told him things of weight. The wearing of gyves (they said) was no command of Jupiter’s. It was the contrivance of a white-faced thing, a sorcerer, that dwelt in that country in the Wood of Eld. He was one like Glaucus that could change 282 his shape, yet he could be always told; for when he was crossed, he gobbled like a turkey. He had three lives; but the third smiting would make an end of him indeed; and with that his house of sorcery would vanish, the gyves fall, and the villagers take hands and dance like children.

“And in your country?” Jack would ask.

But at this, the travellers, with one accord, would put him off; until Jack began to suppose there was no land entirely happy. Or, if there were, it must be one that kept its folk at home; which was natural enough.

But the case of the gyves weighed upon him. The sight of the children limping stuck in his eyes; the groans of such as dressed their ulcers haunted him. And it came at last in his mind that he was born to free them.

There was in that village a sword of heavenly forgery, beaten upon Vulcan’s anvil. It was never used but in the temple, and then the flat of it only; and it hung on a nail by the catechist’s chimney. Early one night Jack rose, and took the sword, and was gone out of the house and the village in the darkness.

All night he walked at a venture; and when day came, he met strangers going to the fields. Then he asked after the Wood of Eld and the house of sorcery; and one said north, and one south; until Jack saw that they deceived him. So then, when he asked his way of any man, he showed the bright sword naked; and at that the gyve on the man’s ankle rang and answered in his stead; and the word was still Straight on. But the man, when his gyve spoke, spat and struck at Jack, and threw stones at him as he went away; so that his head was broken.

So he came to that wood, and entered in, and he was aware of a house in a low place, where funguses grew, and the trees met, and the steaming of the marsh arose about it like a smoke. It was a fine house, and a very rambling; some parts of it were ancient like the hills, and some but of yesterday, and none finished; and all the ends of it 283 were open, so that you could go in from every side. Yet it was in good repair, and all the chimneys smoked.

Jack went in through the gable; and there was one room after another, all bare, but all furnished in part, so that a man could dwell there; and in each there was a fire burning, where a man could warm himself, and a table spread where he might eat. But Jack saw nowhere any living creature; only the bodies of some stuffed.

“This is a hospitable house,” said Jack; “but the ground must be quaggy underneath, for at every step the building quakes.”

He had gone some time in the house, when he began to be hungry. Then he looked at the food, and at first he was afraid; but he bared the sword, and by the shining of the sword, it seemed the food was honest. So he took the courage to sit down and eat, and he was refreshed in mind and body.

“This is strange,” thought he, “that in the house of sorcery there should be food so wholesome.”

As he was yet eating, there came into that room the appearance of his uncle, and Jack was afraid because he had taken the sword. But his uncle was never more kind, and sat down to meat with him, and praised him because he had taken the sword. Never had these two been more pleasantly together, and Jack was full of love to the man.

“It was very well done,” said his uncle, “to take the sword and come yourself into the House of Eld; a good thought and a brave deed. But now you are satisfied; and we may go home to dinner arm in arm.”

“O dear no!” said Jack. “I am not satisfied yet.”

“How!” cried his uncle. “Are you not warmed by the fire? Does not this food sustain you?”

“I see the food to be wholesome,” said Jack; “and still it is no proof that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg.”

Now at this the appearance of his uncle gobbled like a turkey.

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“Jupiter!” cried Jack, “is this the sorcerer?”

His hand held back and his heart failed him for the love he bore his uncle; but he heaved up the sword and smote the appearance on the head; and it cried out aloud with the voice of his uncle; and fell to the ground; and a little bloodless white thing fled from the room.

The cry rang in Jack’s ears, and his knees smote together, and conscience cried upon him; and yet he was strengthened, and there woke in his bones the lust of that enchanter’s blood. “If the gyves are to fall,” said he, “I must go through with this, and when I get home I shall find my uncle dancing.”

So he went on after the bloodless thing. In the way he met the appearance of his father; and his father was incensed, and railed upon him, and called to him upon his duty, and bade him be home, while there was yet time. “For you can still,” said he, “be home by sunset; and then all will be forgiven.”

“God knows,” said Jack, “I fear your anger; but yet your anger does not prove that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg.”

And at that the appearance of his father gobbled like a turkey.

“Ah, heaven,” cried Jack, “the sorcerer again!”

The blood ran backward in his body, and his joints rebelled against him for the love he bore his father; but he heaved up the sword, and plunged it in the heart of the appearance; and the appearance cried out aloud with the voice of his father; and fell to the ground; and a little bloodless white thing fled from the room.

The cry rang in Jack’s ears, and his soul was darkened; but now rage came to him. “I have done what I dare not think upon,” said he. “I will go to an end with it, or perish. And when I get home, I pray God this may be a dream, and I may find my father dancing.”

So he went on after the bloodless thing that had escaped; and in the way he met the appearance of his 285 mother, and she wept. “What have you done?” she cried. “What is this that you have done? O, come home (where you may be by bedtime) ere you do more ill to me and mine; for it is enough to smite my brother and your father.”

“Dear mother, it is not these that I have smitten,” said Jack; “it was but the enchanter in their shape. And even if I had, it would not prove that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg.”

And at this the appearance gobbled like a turkey.

He never knew how he did that; but he swung the sword on the one side, and clove the appearance through the midst; and it cried out aloud with the voice of his mother; and fell to the ground; and with the fall of it, the house was gone from over Jack’s head, and he stood alone in the woods, and the gyve was loosened from his leg.

“Well,” said he, “the enchanter is now dead, and the fetter gone.” But the cries rang in his soul, and the day was like night to him. “This has been a sore business,” said he. “Let me get forth out of the wood, and see the good that I have done to others.”

He thought to leave the fetter where it lay, but when he turned to go, his mind was otherwise. So he stooped and put the gyve in his bosom; and the rough iron galled him as he went, and his bosom bled.

Now when he was forth of the wood upon the highway, he met folk returning from the field; and those he met had no fetter on the right leg, but, behold! they had one upon the left. Jack asked them what it signified; and they said, “that was the new wear, for the old was found to be a superstition.” Then he looked at them nearly; and there was a new ulcer on the left ankle, and the old one on the right was not yet healed.

“Now, may God forgive me!” cried Jack. “I would I were well home.”

And when he was home, there lay his uncle smitten 286 on the head, and his father pierced through the heart, and his mother cloven through the midst. And he sat in the lone house and wept beside the bodies.

MORAL

Old is the tree and the fruit good,

Very old and thick the wood.

Woodman, is your courage stout?

Beware! the root is wrapped about

Your mother’s heart, your father’s bones;

And like the mandrake comes with groans.


 
IX

THE FOUR REFORMERS

Four reformers met under a bramble-bush. They were all agreed the world must be changed. “We must abolish property,” said one.

“We must abolish marriage,” said the second.

“We must abolish God,” said the third.

“I wish we could abolish work,” said the fourth.

“Do not let us get beyond practical politics,” said the first. “The first thing is to reduce men to a common level.”

“The first thing,” said the second, “is to give freedom to the sexes.”

“The first thing,” said the third, “is to find out how to do it.”

“The first step,” said the first, “is to abolish the Bible.”

“The first thing,” said the second, “is to abolish the laws.”

“The first thing,” said the third, “is to abolish mankind.”


 

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X

THE MAN AND HIS FRIEND

A man quarrelled with his friend.

“I have been much deceived in you,” said the man.

And the friend made a face at him and went away.

A little after, they both died, and came together before the great white Justice of the Peace. It began to look black for the friend, but the man for a while had a clear character and was getting in good spirits.

“I find here some record of a quarrel,” said the Justice, looking in his notes. “Which of you was in the wrong?”

“He was,” said the man. “He spoke ill of me behind my back.”

“Did he so?” said the Justice. “And pray how did he speak about your neighbours?”

“O, he had always a nasty tongue,” said the man.

“And you chose him for your friend?” cried the Justice. “My good fellow, we have no use here for fools.”

So the man was cast in the pit, and the friend laughed out aloud in the dark and remained to be tried on other charges.


 
XI

THE READER

“I never read such an impious book,” said the reader, throwing it on the floor.

“You need not hurt me,” said the book; “you will only get less for me second-hand, and I did not write myself.”

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“That is true,” said the reader. “My quarrel is with your author.”

“Ah, well,” said the book, “you need not buy his rant.”

“That is true,” said the reader. “But I thought him such a cheerful writer.”

“I find him so,” said the book.

“You must be differently made from me,” said the reader.

“Let me tell you a fable,” said the book. “There were two men wrecked upon a desert island; one of them made believe he was at home, the other admitted——”

“O, I know your kind of fable,” said the reader. “They both died.”

“And so they did,” said the book. “No doubt of that. And everybody else.”

“That is true,” said the reader. “Push it a little further for this once. And when they were all dead?”

“They were in God’s hands, the same as before,” said the book.

“Not much to boast of, by your account,” cried the reader.

“Who is impious now?” said the book.

And the reader put him on the fire.

The coward crouches from the rod,

And loathes the iron face of God.


 
XII

THE CITIZEN AND THE TRAVELLER

“Look round you,” said the citizen. “This is the largest market in the world.”

“O, surely not,” said the traveller.

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“Well, perhaps not the largest,” said the citizen, “but much the best.”

“You are certainly wrong there,” said the traveller. “I can tell you....”

They buried the stranger at the dusk.


 
XIII

THE DISTINGUISHED STRANGER

Once upon a time there came to this earth a visitor from a neighbouring planet. And he was met at the place of his descent by a great philosopher, who was to show him everything.

First of all they came through a wood, and the stranger looked upon the trees. “Whom have we here?” said he.

“These are only vegetables,” said the philosopher. “They are alive, but not at all interesting.”

“I don’t know about that,” said the stranger. “They seem to have very good manners. Do they never speak?”

“They lack the gift,” said the philosopher.

“Yet I think I hear them sing,” said the other.

“That is only the wind among the leaves,” said the philosopher. “I will explain to you the theory of winds: it is very interesting.”

“Well,” said the stranger, “I wish I knew what they are thinking.”

“They cannot think,” said the philosopher.

“I don’t know, about that,” returned the stranger: and then, laying his hand upon a trunk: “I like these people,” said he.

“They are not people at all,” said the philosopher. “Come along.”

Next they came through a meadow where there were cows.

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“These are very dirty people,” said the stranger.

“They are not people at all,” said the philosopher; and he explained what a cow is in scientific words which I have forgotten.

“That is all one to me,” said the stranger. “But why do they never look up?”

“Because they are graminivorous,” said the philosopher; “and to live upon grass, which is not highly nutritious, requires so close an attention to business that they have no time to think, or speak, or look at the scenery, or keep themselves clean.”

“Well,” said the stranger, “that is one way to live, no doubt. But I prefer the people with the green heads.”

Next they came into a city, and the streets were full of men and women.

“These are very odd people,” said the stranger.

“They are the people of the greatest nation in the world,” said the philosopher.

“Are they indeed?” said the stranger. “They scarcely look so.”


 
XIV

THE CART-HORSES AND THE SADDLE-HORSE

Two cart-horses, a gelding and a mare, were brought to Samoa, and put in the same field with a saddle-horse to run free on the island. They were rather afraid to go near him, for they saw he was a saddle-horse, and supposed he would not speak to them. Now the saddle-horse had never seen creatures so big. “These must be great chiefs,” thought he, and he approached them civilly. “Lady and gentleman,” said he, “I understand you are from the colonies. I offer you my affectionate compliments, and make you heartily welcome to the islands.”

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The colonials looked at him askance, and consulted with each other.

“Who can he be?” said the gelding.

“He seems suspiciously civil,” said the mare.

“I do not think he can be much account,” said the gelding.

“Depend upon it he is only a Kanaka,” said the mare.

Then they turned to him.

“Go to the devil!” said the gelding.

“I wonder at your impudence, speaking to persons of our quality!” cried the mare.

The saddle-horse went away by himself. “I was right,” said he, “they are great chiefs.”


 
XV

THE TADPOLE AND THE FROG

“Be ashamed of yourself,” said the frog. “When I was a tadpole, I had no tail.”

“Just what I thought!” said the tadpole. “You never were a tadpole.”


 
XVI

SOMETHING IN IT

The natives told him many tales. In particular, they warned him of the house of yellow reeds tied with black sinnet, how any one who touched it became instantly the prey of Akaänga, and was handed on to him by Miru the ruddy, and hocussed with the kava of the dead, and baked in the ovens and eaten by the eaters of the dead.

“There is nothing in it,” said the missionary.

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There was a bay upon that island, a very fair bay to look upon; but, by the native saying, it was death to bathe there. “There is nothing in that,” said the missionary; and he came to the bay, and went swimming. Presently an eddy took him and bore him towards the reef. “Oho!” thought the missionary, “it seems there is something in it after all.” And he swam the harder, but the eddy carried him away. “I do not care about this eddy,” said the missionary; and even as he said it, he was aware of a house raised on piles above the sea; it was built of yellow reeds, one reed joined with another, and the whole bound with black sinnet; a ladder led to the door, and all about the house hung calabashes. He had never seen such a house, nor yet such calabashes; and the eddy set for the ladder. “This is singular,” said the missionary, “but there can be nothing in it.” And he laid hold of the ladder and went up. It was a fine house; but there was no man there; and when the missionary looked back he saw no island, only the heaving of the sea. “It is strange about the island,” said the missionary, “but who’s afraid? my stories are the true ones.” And he laid hold of a calabash, for he was one that loved curiosities. Now he had no sooner laid hand upon the calabash than that which he handled, and that which he saw and stood on, burst like a bubble and was gone; and night closed upon him, and the waters, and the meshes of the net; and he wallowed there like a fish.

“A body would think there was something in this,” said the missionary. “But if these tales are true, I wonder what about my tales!”

Now the flaming of Akaänga’s torch drew near in the night; and the misshapen hands groped in the meshes of the net; and they took the missionary between the finger and the thumb, and bore him dripping in the night and silence to the place of the ovens of Miru. And there was Miru, ruddy in the glow of the ovens; and there sat her four daughters, and made the kava of the dead; and 293 there sat the comers out of the islands of the living, dripping and lamenting.

This was a dread place to reach for any of the sons of men. But of all who ever came there, the missionary was the most concerned; and, to make things worse, the person next him was a convert of his own.

“Aha,” said the convert, “so you are here like your neighbours? And how about all your stories?”

“It seems,” said the missionary, with bursting tears, “that there was nothing in them.”

By this the kava of the dead was ready, and the daughters of Miru began to intone in the old manner of singing: “Gone are the green islands and the bright sea, the sun and the moon and the forty million stars, and life and love and hope. Henceforth is no more, only to sit in the night and silence, and see your friends devoured; for life is a deceit, and the bandage is taken from your eyes.”

Now when the singing was done, one of the daughters came with the bowl. Desire of that kava rose in the missionary’s bosom; he lusted for it like a swimmer for the land, or a bridegroom for his bride; and he reached out his hand, and took the bowl, and would have drunk. And then he remembered, and put it back.

“Drink!” sang the daughter of Miru. “There is no kava like the kava of the dead, and to drink of it once is the reward of living.”

“I thank you. It smells excellent,” said the missionary. “But I am a blue-ribbon man myself; and though I am aware there is a difference of opinion even in our own confession, I have always held kava to be excluded.”

“What!” cried the convert. “Are you going to respect a taboo at a time like this? And you were always so opposed to taboos when you were alive!”

“To other people’s,” said the missionary. “Never to my own.”

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“But yours have all proved wrong,” said the convert.

“It looks like it,” said the missionary, “and I can’t help that. No reason why I should break my word.”

“I never heard the like of this!” cried the daughter of Miru. “Pray, what do you expect to gain?”

“That is not the point,” said the missionary. “I took this pledge for others, I am not going to break it for myself.”

The daughter of Miru was puzzled; she came and told her mother, and Miru was vexed; and they went and told Akaänga.

“I don’t know what to do about this,” said Akaänga; and he came and reasoned with the missionary.

“But there is such a thing as right and wrong,” said the missionary; “and your ovens cannot alter that.”

“Give the kava to the rest,” said Akaänga to the daughters of Miru. “I must get rid of this sea-lawyer instantly, or worse will come of it.”

The next moment the missionary came up in the midst of the sea, and there before him were the palm-trees of the island. He swam to the shore gladly, and landed. Much matter of thought was in that missionary’s mind.

“I seem to have been misinformed upon some points,” said he. “Perhaps there is not much in it, as I supposed; but there is something in it after all. Let me be glad of that.”

And he rang the bell for service.

MORAL

The sticks break, the stones crumble,

The eternal altars tilt and tumble,

Sanctions and tales dislimn like mist

About the amazed evangelist.

He stands unshook from age to youth

Upon one pin-point of the truth.


 

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XVII

FAITH, HALF-FAITH, AND NO FAITH AT ALL

In the ancient days there went three men upon pilgrimage; one was a priest, and one was a virtuous person, and the third was an old rover with his axe.

As they went, the priest spoke about the grounds of faith.

“We find the proofs of our religion in the works of nature,” said he, and beat his breast.

“That is true,” said the virtuous person.

“The peacock has a scrannel voice,” said the priest, “as has been laid down always in our books. How cheering!” he cried, in a voice like one that wept. “How comforting!”

“I require no such proofs,” said the virtuous person.

“Then you have no reasonable faith,” said the priest.

“Great is the right, and shall prevail!” cried the virtuous person. “There is loyalty in my soul; be sure, there is loyalty in the mind of Odin.”

“These are but playings upon words,” returned the priest. “A sackful of such trash is nothing to the peacock.”

Just then they passed a country farm, where there was a peacock seated on a rail; and the bird opened its mouth and sang with the voice of a nightingale.

“Where are you now?” asked the virtuous person. “And yet this shakes not me! Great is the truth, and shall prevail!”

“The devil fly away with that peacock!” said the priest; and he was downcast for a mile or two.

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But presently they came to a shrine, where a Fakeer performed miracles.

“Ah!” said the priest, “here are the true grounds of faith. The peacock was but an adminicle. This is the base of our religion.” And he beat upon his breast, and groaned like one with colic.

“Now to me,” said the virtuous person, “all this is as little to the purpose as the peacock. I believe because I see the right is great and must prevail; and this Fakeer might carry on with his conjuring tricks till doomsday, and it would not play bluff upon a man like me.”

Now at this the Fakeer was so much incensed that his hand trembled; and, lo! in the midst of a miracle the cards fell from up his sleeve.

“Where are you now?” asked the virtuous person. “And yet it shakes not me!”

“The devil fly away with the Fakeer!” cried the priest. “I really do not see the good of going on with this pilgrimage.”

“Cheer up!” cried the virtuous person. “Great is the right, and shall prevail!”

“If you are quite sure it will prevail,” says the priest.

“I pledge my word for that,” said the virtuous person.

So the other began to go on again with a better heart.

At last one came running, and told them all was lost: that the powers of darkness had besieged the Heavenly Mansions, that Odin was to die, and evil triumph.

“I have been grossly deceived,” cried the virtuous person.

“All is lost now,” said the priest.

“I wonder if it is too late to make it up with the devil?” said the virtuous person.

“O, I hope not,” said the priest. “And at any rate we can but try.—But what are you doing with your axe?” says he to the rover.

“I am off to die with Odin,” said the rover.


 

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XVIII

THE TOUCHSTONE

The King was a man that stood well before the world; his smile was sweet as clover, but his soul withinsides was as little as a pea. He had two sons; and the younger son was a boy after his heart, but the elder was one whom he feared. It befell one morning that the drum sounded in the dun before it was yet day; and the King rode with his two sons, and a brave array behind them. They rode two hours, and came to the foot of a brown mountain that was very steep.

“Where do we ride?” said the elder son.

“Across this brown mountain,” said the King, and smiled to himself.

“My father knows what he is doing,” said the younger son.

And they rode two hours more, and came to the sides of a black river that was wondrous deep.

“And where do we ride?” asked the elder son.

“Over this black river,” said the King, and smiled to himself.

“My father knows what he is doing,” said the younger son.

And they rode all that day, and about the time of the sunsetting came to the side of a lake, where was a great dun.

“It is here we ride,” said the King; “to a King’s house, and a priest’s, and a house where you will learn much.”

At the gates of the dun, the King who was a priest met them; and he was a grave man, and beside him stood his daughter, and she was as fair as the morn, and one that smiled and looked down.

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“These are my two sons,” said the first King.

“And here is my daughter,” said the King who was a priest.

“She is a wonderful fine maid,” said the first King, “and I like her manner of smiling.”

“They are wonderful well-grown lads,” said the second, “and I like their gravity.”

And then the two Kings looked at each other, and said, “The thing may come about.”

And in the meanwhile the two lads looked upon the maid, and the one grew pale and the other red; and the maid looked upon the ground smiling.

“Here is the maid that I shall marry,” said the elder. “For I think she smiled upon me.”

But the younger plucked his father by the sleeve. “Father,” said he, “a word in your ear. If I find favour in your sight, might not I wed this maid, for I think she smiles upon me?”

“A word in yours,” said the King his father. “Waiting is good hunting, and when the teeth are shut the tongue is at home.”

Now they were come into the dun, and feasted; and this was a great house, so that the lads were astonished; and the King that was a priest sat at the end of the board and was silent, so that the lads were filled with reverence; and the maid served them smiling with downcast eyes, so that their hearts were enlarged.

Before it was day, the elder son arose, and he found the maid at her weaving, for she was a diligent girl. “Maid,” quoth he, “I would fain marry you.”

“You must speak with my father,” said she, and she looked upon the ground smiling, and became like the rose.

“Her heart is with me,” said the elder son, and he went down to the lake and sang.

A little while after came the younger son. “Maid,” quoth he, “if our fathers were agreed, I would like well to marry you.”

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“You can speak to my father,” said she; and looked upon the ground, and smiled and grew like the rose.

“She is a dutiful daughter,” said the younger son, “she will make an obedient wife.” And then he thought, “What shall I do?” and he remembered the King her father was a priest; so he went into the temple, and sacrificed a weasel and a hare.

Presently the news got about; and the two lads and the first King were called into the presence of the King who was a priest, where he sat upon the high seat.

“Little I reck of gear,” said the King who was a priest, “and little of power. For we live here among the shadow of things, and the heart is sick of seeing them. And we stay here in the wind like raiment drying, and the heart is weary of the wind. But one thing I love, and that is truth; and for one thing will I give my daughter, and that is the trial stone. For in the light of that stone the seeming goes, and the being shows, and all things besides are worthless. Therefore, lads, if ye would wed my daughter, out foot, and bring me the stone of touch, for that is the price of her.”

“A word in your ear,” said the younger son to his father. “I think we do very well without this stone.”

“A word in yours,” said the father. “I am of your way of thinking; but when the teeth are shut the tongue is at home.” And he smiled to the King that was a priest.

But the elder son got to his feet, and called the King that was a priest by the name of father. “For whether I marry the maid or no, I will call you by that word for the love of your wisdom; and even now I will ride forth and search the world for the stone of touch.” So he said farewell, and rode into the world.

“I think I will go, too,” said the younger son, “if I can have your leave. For my heart goes out to the maid.”

“You will ride home with me,” said his father.

So they rode home, and when they came to the dun, the King had his son into his treasury. “Here,” said he, 300 “is the touchstone which shows truth; for there is no truth but plain truth; and if you will look in this, you will see yourself as you are.”

And the younger son looked in it, and saw his face as it were the face of a beardless youth, and he was well enough pleased; for the thing was a piece of a mirror.

“Here is no such great thing to make a work about,” said he; “but if it will get me the maid I shall never complain. But what a fool is my brother to ride into the world, and the thing all the while at home!”

So they rode back to the other dun, and showed the mirror to the King that was a priest; and when he had looked in it, and seen himself like a King, and his house like a King’s house, and all things like themselves, he cried out and blessed God. “For now I know,” said he, “there is no truth but the plain truth; and I am a King indeed, although my heart misgave me.” And he pulled down his temple and built a new one; and then the younger son was married to the maid.

In the meantime the elder son rode into the world to find the touchstone of the trial of truth; and whenever he came to a place of habitation, he would ask the men if they had heard of it. And in every place the men answered: “Not only have we heard of it, but we alone, of all men, possess the thing itself, and it hangs in the side of our chimney to this day.” Then would the elder son be glad, and beg for a sight of it. And sometimes it would be a piece of mirror, that showed the seeming of things; and then he would say, “This can never be, for there should be more than seeming.” And sometimes it would be a lump of coal, which showed nothing; and then he would say, “This can never be, for at least there is the seeming.” And sometimes it would be a touchstone indeed, beautiful in hue, adorned with polishing, the light inhabiting its sides; and when he found this, he would beg the thing, and the persons of that place would give it him, for all men were very generous of that gift; so 301 that at the last he had his wallet full of them, and they chinked together when he rode; and when he halted by the side of the way he would take them out and try them, till his head turned like the sails upon a windmill.

“A murrain upon this business!” said the elder son, “for I perceive no end to it. Here I have the red, and here the blue and the green; and to me they seem all excellent, and yet shame each other. A murrain on the trade! If it were not for the King that is a priest and whom I have called my father, and if it were not for the fair maid of the dun that makes my mouth to sing and my heart enlarge, I would even tumble them all into the salt sea, and go home and be a King like other folk.”

But he was like the hunter that has seen a stag upon a mountain, so that the night may fall, and the fire be kindled, and the lights shine in his house; but desire of that stag is single in his bosom.

Now after many years the elder son came upon the sides of the salt sea; and it was night, and a savage place, and the clamour of the sea was loud. There he was aware of a house, and a man sat there by the light of a candle, for he had no fire. Now the elder son came in to him, and the man gave him water to drink, for he had no bread; and wagged his head when spoken to, for he had no words.

“Have you the touchstone of truth?” asked the elder son; and when the man had wagged his head, “I might have known that,” cried the elder son. “I have here a wallet full of them!” And with that he laughed, although his heart was weary.

And with that the man laughed too, and with the fuff of his laughter the candle went out.

“Sleep,” said the man, “for now I think you have come far enough; and your quest is ended and my candle is out.”

Now when the morning came, the man gave him a clear pebble in his hand, and it had no beauty and no colour; and the elder son looked upon it scornfully and 302 shook his head; and he went away, for it seemed a small affair to him.

All that day he rode, and his mind was quiet, and the desire of the chase allayed. “How if this poor pebble be the touchstone, after all?” said he: and he got down from his horse and emptied forth his wallet by the side of the way. Now, in the light of each other, all the touchstones lost their hue and fire, and withered like stars at morning; but in the light of the pebble, their beauty remained, only the pebble was the most bright. And the elder son smote upon his brow. “How if this be the truth?” he cried, “that all are a little true?” And he took the pebble and turned its light upon the heavens, and they deepened about him like the pit; and he turned it on the hills, and the hills were cold and rugged, but life ran in their sides so that his own life bounded; and he turned it on the dust, and he beheld the dust with joy and terror; and he turned it on himself, and knelt down and prayed.

“Now, thanks be to God,” said the elder son, “I have found the touchstone; and now I may turn my reins, and ride home to the King and to the maid of the dun that makes my mouth to sing and my heart enlarge.”

Now when he came to the dun, he saw children playing by the gate where the King had met him in the old days; and this stayed his pleasure, for he thought in his heart, “It is here my children should be playing.” And when he came into the hall, there was his brother on the high seat and the maid beside him; and at that his anger rose, for he thought in his heart, “It is I that should be sitting there, and the maid beside me.”

“Who are you?” said his brother. “And what make you in the dun?”

“I am your elder brother,” he replied. “And I am come to marry the maid, for I have brought the touchstone of truth.”

Then the younger brother laughed aloud. “Why,” 303 said he, “I found the touchstone years ago, and married the maid, and there are our children playing at the gate.”

Now at this the elder brother grew as grey as the dawn. “I pray you have dealt justly,” said he, “for I perceive my life is lost.”

“Justly?” quoth the younger brother. “It becomes you ill, that are a restless man and a runagate, to doubt my justice, or the King my father’s, that are sedentary folk and known in the land.”

“Nay,” said the elder brother, “you have all else, have patience also; and suffer me to say the world is full of touchstones, and it appears not easily which is true.”

“I have no shame of mine,” said the younger brother. “There it is, and look in it.”

So the elder brother looked in the mirror, and he was sore amazed; for he was an old man, and his hair was white upon his head; and he sat down in the hall and wept aloud.

“Now,” said the younger brother, “see what a fool’s part you have played, that ran over all the world to seek what was lying in our father’s treasury, and came back an old carle for the dogs to bark at, and without chick or child. And I that was dutiful and wise sit here crowned with virtues and pleasures, and happy in the light of my hearth.”

“Methinks you have a cruel tongue,” said the elder brother; and he pulled out the clear pebble and turned its light on his brother; and behold the man was lying, his soul was shrunk into the smallness of a pea, and his heart was a bag of little fears like scorpions, and love was dead in his bosom. And at that the elder brother cried out aloud, and turned the light of the pebble on the maid, and, lo! she was but a mask of a woman, and withinsides she was quite dead, and she smiled as a clock ticks, and knew not wherefore.

“O, well,” said the elder brother, “I perceive there 304 is both good and bad. So fare ye all as well as ye may in the dun; but I will go forth into the world with my pebble in my pocket.”


 
XIX

THE POOR THING

There was a man in the islands who fished for his bare bellyful, and took his life in his hands to go forth upon the sea between four planks. But though he had much ado, he was merry of heart; and the gulls heard him laugh when the spray met him. And though he had little lore, he was sound of spirit; and when the fish came to his hook in the mid-waters, he blessed God without weighing. He was bitter poor in goods and bitter ugly of countenance, and he had no wife.

It fell in the time of the fishing that the man awoke in his house about the midst of the afternoon. The fire burned in the midst, and the smoke went up and the sun came down by the chimney. And the man was aware of the likeness of one that warmed his hands at the red peats.

“I greet you,” said the man, “in the name of God.”

“I greet you,” said he that warmed his hands, “but not in the name of God, for I am none of His; nor in the name of Hell, for I am not of Hell. For I am but a bloodless thing, less than wind and lighter than a sound, and the wind goes through me like a net, and I am broken by a sound and shaken by the cold.”

“Be plain with me,” said the man, “and tell me your name and of your nature.”

“My name,” quoth the other, “is not yet named, and my nature not yet sure. For I am part of a man; and I was a part of your fathers, and went out to fish and fight with them in the ancient days. But now is my turn not 305 yet come; and I wait until you have a wife, and then shall I be in your son, and a brave part of him, rejoicing manfully to launch the boat into the surf, skilful to direct the helm, and a man of might where the ring closes and the blows are going.”

“This is a marvellous thing to hear,” said the man; “and if you are indeed to be my son, I fear it will go ill with you; for I am bitter poor in goods and bitter ugly in face, and I shall never get me a wife if I live to the age of eagles.”

“All this have I come to remedy, my Father,” said the Poor Thing; “for we must go this night to the little isle of sheep, where our fathers lie in the dead-cairn, and to-morrow to the Earl’s Hall, and there shall you find a wife by my providing.”

So the man rose and put forth his boat at the time of the sunsetting; and the Poor Thing sat in the prow, and the spray blew through his bones like snow, and the wind whistled in his teeth, and the boat dipped not with the weight of him.

“I am fearful to see you, my son,” said the man. “For methinks you are no thing of God.”

“It is only the wind that whistles in my teeth,” said the Poor Thing, “and there is no life in me to keep it out.”

So they came to the little isle of sheep, where the surf burst all about it in the midst of the sea, and it was all green with bracken, and all wet with dew, and the moon enlightened it. They ran the boat into a cove, and set foot to land; and the man came heavily behind among the rocks in the deepness of the bracken, but the Poor Thing went before him like a smoke in the light of the moon. So they came to the dead-cairn, and they laid their ears to the stones; and the dead complained withinsides like a swarm of bees: “Time was that marrow was in our bones, and strength in our sinews; and the thoughts of our head were clothed upon with acts and the words 306 of men. But now are we broken in sunder, and the bonds of our bones are loosed, and our thoughts lie in the dust.”

Then said the Poor Thing: “Charge them that they give you the virtue they withheld.”

And the man said: “Bones of my fathers, greeting! for I am sprung of your loins. And now, behold, I break open the piled stones of your cairn, and I let in the noon between your ribs. Count it well done, for it was to be; and give me what I come seeking in the name of blood and in the name of God.”

And the spirits of the dead stirred in the cairn like ants; and they spoke: “You have broken the roof of our cairn and let in the noon between our ribs; and you have the strength of the still-living. But what virtue have we? what power? or what jewel here in the dust with us, that any living man should covet or receive it? for we are less than nothing. But we tell you one thing, speaking with many voices like bees, that the way is plain before all like the grooves of launching: So forth into life and fear not, for so did we all in the ancient ages.” And their voices passed away like an eddy in a river.

“Now,” said the Poor Thing, “they have told you a lesson, but make them give you a gift. Stoop your hand among the bones without drawback, and you shall find their treasure.”

So the man stooped his hand, and the dead laid hold upon it many and faint like ants; but he shook them off, and behold, what he brought up in his hand was the shoe of a horse, and it was rusty.

“It is a thing of no price,” quoth the man, “for it is rusty.”

“We shall see that,” said the Poor Thing; “for in my thought it is a good thing to do what our fathers did, and to keep what they kept without question. And in my thought one thing is as good as another in this world; and a shoe of a horse will do.”

Now they got into their boat with the horse-shoe, and 307 when the dawn was come they were aware of the smoke of the Earl’s town and the bells of the Kirk that beat. So they set foot to shore: and the man went up to the market among the fishers over against the palace and the Kirk; and he was bitter poor and bitter ugly, and he had never a fish to sell, but only a shoe of a horse in his creel, and it rusty.

“Now,” said the Poor Thing, “do so and so, and you shall find a wife and I a mother.”

It befell that the Earl’s daughter came forth to go into the Kirk upon her prayers; and when she saw the poor man stand in the market with only the shoe of a horse, and it rusty, it came in her mind it should be a thing of price.

“What is that?” quoth she.

“It is a shoe of a horse,” said the man.

“And what is the use of it?” quoth the Earl’s daughter.

“It is for no use,” said the man.

“I may not believe that,” said she; “else why should you carry it?”

“I do so,” said he, “because it was so my fathers did in the ancient ages; and I have neither a better reason nor a worse.”

Now the Earl’s daughter could not find it in her mind to believe him. “Come,” quoth she, “sell me this, for I am sure it is a thing of price.”

“Nay,” said the man, “the thing is not for sale.”

“What!” cried the Earl’s daughter. “Then what make you here in the town’s market, with the thing in your creel and nought beside?”

“I sit here,” says the man, “to get me a wife.”

“There is no sense in any of these answers,” thought the Earl’s daughter; “and I could find it in my heart to weep.”

By came the Earl upon that; and she called him and told him all. And when he had heard, he was of his daughter’s mind that this should be a thing of virtue; 308 and charged the man to set a price upon the thing, or else be hanged upon the gallows; and that was near at hand, so that the man could see it.

“The way of life is straight like the grooves of launching,” quoth the man. “And if I am to be hanged let me be hanged.”

“Why!” cried the Earl, “will you set your neck against a shoe of a horse, and it rusty?”

“In my thought,” said the man, “one thing is as good as another in this world; and the shoe of a horse will do.“

“This can never be,” thought the Earl; and he stood and looked upon the man, and bit his beard.

And the man looked up at him and smiled. “It was so my fathers did in the ancient ages,” quoth he to the Earl, “and I have neither a better reason nor a worse.”

“There is no sense in any of this,” thought the Earl, “and I must be growing old.” So he had his daughter on one side, and says he: “Many suitors have you denied, my child. But here is a very strange matter that a man should cling so to a shoe of a horse, and it rusty; and that he should offer it like a thing on sale, and yet not sell it; and that he should sit there seeking a wife. If I come not to the bottom of this thing, I shall have no more pleasure in bread; and I can see no way, but either I should hang or you should marry him.”

“By my troth, but he is bitter ugly,” said the Earl’s daughter. “How if the gallows be so near at hand?”

“It was not so,” said the Earl, “that my fathers did in the ancient ages. I am like the man, and can give you neither a better reason nor a worse. But do you, prithee, speak with him again.”

So the Earl’s daughter spoke to the man. “If you were not so bitter ugly,” quoth she, “my father the Earl would have us marry.”

“Bitter ugly am I,” said the man, “and you as fair 309 as May. Bitter ugly I am, and what of that? It was so my fathers——”

“In the name of God,” said the Earl’s daughter, “let your fathers be!“

“If I had done that,” said the man, “you had never been chaffering with me here in the market, nor your father the Earl watching with the end of his eye.”

“But come,” quoth the Earl’s daughter, “this is a very strange thing, that you would have me wed for a shoe of a horse, and it rusty.”

“In my thought,” quoth the man, “one thing is as good——”

“O, spare me that,” said the Earl’s daughter, “and tell me why I should marry.”

“Listen and look,” said the man.

Now the wind blew through the Poor Thing like an infant crying, so that her heart was melted; and her eyes were unsealed, and she was aware of the thing as it were a babe unmothered, and she took it to her arms and it melted in her arms like the air.

“Come,” said the man, “behold a vision of our children, the busy hearth, and the white heads. And let that suffice, for it is all God offers.”

“I have no delight in it,” said she; but with that she sighed.

“The ways of life are straight like the grooves of launching,” said the man; and he took her by the hand.

“And what shall we do with the horse-shoe?” quoth she.

“I will give it to your father,” said the man; “and he can make a kirk and a mill of it for me.”

It came to pass in time that the Poor Thing was born; but memory of these matters slept with him, and he knew not that which he had done. But he was a part of the eldest son; rejoicing manfully to launch the boat into the surf, skilful to direct the helm, and a man of might where the ring closes and the blows are going.


 

310

XX

THE SONG OF THE MORROW

The King of Duntrine had a daughter when he was old, and she was the fairest King’s daughter between two seas; her hair was like spun gold, and her eyes like pools in a river; and the King gave her a castle upon the sea beach, with a terrace, and a court of the hewn stone, and four towers at the four corners. Here she dwelt and grew up, and had no care for the morrow, and no power upon the hour, after the manner of simple men.

It befell that she walked one day by the beach of the sea when it was autumn, and the wind blew from the place of rains; and upon the one hand of her the sea beat, and upon the other the dead leaves ran. This was the loneliest beach between two seas, and strange things had been done there in the ancient ages. Now the King’s daughter was aware of a crone that sat upon the beach. The sea-foam ran to her feet, and the dead leaves swarmed about her back, and the rags blew about her face in the blowing of the wind.

“Now,” said the King’s daughter, and she named a holy name, “this is the most unhappy old crone between two seas.”

“Daughter of a King,” said the crone, “you dwell in a stone house, and your hair is like the gold: but what is your profit? Life is not long, nor lives strong; and you live after the way of simple men, and have no thought for the morrow and no power upon the hour.”

“Thought for the morrow, that I have,” said the King’s daughter; “but power upon the hour, that have I not.” And she mused with herself.

Then the crone smote her lean hands one within the other, and laughed like a sea-gull. “Home!” cried she. 311 “O daughter of a King, home to your stone house; for the longing is come upon you now, nor can you live any more after the manner of simple men. Home, and toil and suffer, till the gift come that will make you bare, and till the man come that will bring you care.”

The King’s daughter made no more ado, but she turned about and went home to her house in silence. And when she was come into her chamber she called for her nurse.

“Nurse,” said the King’s daughter, “thought is come upon me for the morrow, so that I can live no more after the manner of simple men. Tell me what I must do that I may have power upon the hour.”

Then the nurse moaned like a snow wind. “Alas!” said she, “that this thing should be; but the thought is gone into your marrow, nor is there any cure against the thought. Be it so, then, even as you will; though power is less than weakness, power shall you have; and though the thought is colder than winter, yet shall you think it to an end.”

So the King’s daughter sat in her vaulted chamber in the masoned house, and she thought upon the thought. Nine years she sat; and the sea beat upon the terrace, and the gulls cried about the turrets, and wind crooned in the chimneys of the house. Nine years she came not abroad, nor tasted the clean air, neither saw God’s sky. Nine years she sat and looked neither to the right nor to the left, nor heard speech of any one, but thought upon the thought of the morrow. And her nurse fed her in silence, and she took of the food with her left hand, and ate it without grace.

Now when the nine years were out, it fell dusk in the autumn, and there came a sound in the wind like a sound of piping. At that the nurse lifted up her finger in the vaulted house.

“I hear a sound in the wind,” said she, “that is like the sound of piping.”

312

“It is but a little sound,” said the King’s daughter, “but yet it is sound enough for me.”

So they went down in the dusk to the doors of the house, and along the beach of the sea. And the waves beat upon the one hand, and upon the other the dead leaves ran; and the clouds raced in the sky, and the gulls flew widdershins. And when they came to that part of the beach where strange things had been done in the ancient ages, lo! there was the crone, and she was dancing widdershins.

“What makes you dance widdershins, old crone?” said the King’s daughter; “here upon the bleak beach, between the waves and the dead leaves?”

“I hear a sound in the wind that is like a sound of piping,” quoth she. “And it is for that that I dance widdershins. For the gift comes that will make you bare, and the man comes that must bring you care. But for me the morrow is come that I have thought upon, and the hour of my power.”

“How comes it, crone,” said the King’s daughter, “that you waver like a rag, and pale like a dead leaf before my eyes?”

“Because the morrow has come that I have thought upon, and the hour of my power,” said the crone; and she fell on the beach, and, lo! she was but stalks of the sea tangle, and dust of the sea sand, and the sand-lice hopped upon the place of her.

“This is the strangest thing that befell between two seas,” said the King’s daughter of Duntrine.

But the nurse broke out and moaned like an autumn gale. “I am weary of the wind,” quoth she; and she bewailed her day.

The King’s daughter was aware of a man upon the beach; he went hooded so that none might perceive his face, and a pipe was underneath his arm. The sound of his pipe was like singing wasps, and like the wind that sings in windlestraw; and it took hold upon men’s ears like the crying of gulls.

313

“Are you the comer?” quoth the King’s daughter of Duntrine.

“I am the comer,” said he, “and these are the pipes that a man may hear, and I have power upon the hour, and this is the song of the morrow.” And he piped the song of the morrow, and it was as long as years; and the nurse wept out aloud at the hearing of it.

“This is true,” said the King’s daughter, “that you pipe the song of the morrow; but that ye have power upon the hour, how may I know that? Show me a marvel here upon the beach, between the waves and the dead leaves.”

And the man said, “Upon whom?”

“Here is my nurse,” quoth the King’s daughter. “She is weary of the wind. Show me a good marvel upon her.”

And, lo! the nurse fell upon the beach as it were two handfuls of dead leaves, and the wind whirled them widdershins, and the sand-lice hopped between.

“It is true,“ said the King’s daughter of Duntrine; “you are the comer, and you have power upon the hour. Come with me to my stone house.”

So they went by the sea margin, and the man piped the song of the morrow, and the leaves followed behind them as they went. Then they sat down together; and the sea beat on the terrace, and the gulls cried about the towers, and the wind crooned in the chimneys of the house. Nine years they sat, and every year when it fell autumn, the man said, “This is the hour, and I have power in it”; and the daughter of the King said, “Nay, but pipe me the song of the morrow.” And he piped it, and it was long like years.

Now when the nine years were gone, the King’s daughter of Duntrine got her to her feet, like one that remembers; and she looked about her in the masoned house; and all her servants were gone; only the man that piped sat upon the terrace with the hood upon his face; and as he piped the leaves ran about the terrace and the sea beat along 314 the wall. Then she cried to him with a great voice, “This is the hour, and let me see the power in it.” And with that the wind blew off the hood from the man’s face, and, lo! there was no man there, only the clothes and the hood and the pipes tumbled one upon another in a corner of the terrace, and the dead leaves ran over them.

And the King’s daughter of Duntrine got her to that part of the beach where strange things had been done in the ancient ages; and there she sat her down. The sea-foam ran to her feet, and the dead leaves swarmed about her back, and the veil blew about her face in the blowing of the wind. And when she lifted up her eyes, there was the daughter of a King come walking on the beach. Her hair was like the spun gold, and her eyes like pools in a river, and she had no thought for the morrow and no power upon the hour, after the manner of simple men.


 

END OF VOL. XXI

 

Printed by Cassell & Company, Limited, La Belle Sauvage, London, E.C.


 





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