The Moon Endureth, Tales and Fancies
by John Buchan
THE COMPANY OF
A LUCID INTERVAL
STREAMS OF WATER
IN THE SOUTH
THE GIPSY'S SONG
TO THE LADY
THE GROVE OF
THE RIDING OF
THE KINGS OF
THE RIME OF TRUE
FROM THE PENTLANDS LOOKING NORTH AND
Around my feet the clouds are drawn
In the cold mystery of the dawn;
No breezes cheer, no guests intrude
My mossy, mist-clad solitude;
When sudden down the steeps of sky
Flames a long, lightening wind. On high
The steel-blue arch shines clear, and far,
In the low lands where cattle are,
Towns smoke. And swift, a haze, a gleam,--
The Firth lies like a frozen stream,
Reddening with morn. Tall spires of ships,
Like thorns about the harbour's lips,
Now shake faint canvas, now, asleep,
Their salt, uneasy slumbers keep;
While golden-grey, o'er kirk and wall,
Day wakes in the ancient capital.
Before me lie the lists of strife,
The caravanserai of life,
Whence from the gates the merchants go
On the world's highways; to and fro
Sail laiden ships; and in the street
The lone foot-traveller shakes his feet,
And in some corner by the fire
Tells the old tale of heart's desire.
Thither from alien seas and skies
Comes the far-questioned merchandise:--
Wrought silks of Broussa, Mocha's ware
Brown-tinted, fragrant, and the rare
Thin perfumes that the rose's breath
Has sought, immortal in her death:
Gold, gems, and spice, and haply still
The red rough largess of the hill
Which takes the sun and bears the vines
Among the haunted Apennines.
And he who treads the cobbled street
To-day in the cold North may meet,
Come month, come year, the dusky East,
And share the Caliph's secret feast;
Or in the toil of wind and sun
Bear pilgrim-staff, forlorn, fordone,
Till o'er the steppe, athwart the sand
Gleam the far gates of Samarkand.
The ringing quay, the weathered face
Fair skies, dusk hands, the ocean race
The palm-girt isle, the frosty shore,
Gales and hot suns the wide world o'er
Grey North, red South, and burnished West
The goals of the old tireless quest,
Leap in the smoke, immortal, free,
Where shines yon morning fringe of sea
I turn, and lo! the moorlands high
Lie still and frigid to the sky.
The film of morn is silver-grey
On the young heather, and away,
Dim, distant, set in ribs of hill,
Green glens are shining, stream and mill,
Clachan and kirk and garden-ground,
All silent in the hush profound
Which haunts alone the hills' recess,
The antique home of quietness.
Nor to the folk can piper play
The tune of "Hills and Far Away,"
For they are with them. Morn can fire
No peaks of weary heart's desire,
Nor the red sunset flame behind
Some ancient ridge of longing mind.
For Arcady is here, around,
In lilt of stream, in the clear sound
Of lark and moorbird, in the bold
Gay glamour of the evening gold,
And so the wheel of seasons moves
To kirk and market, to mild loves
And modest hates, and still the sight
Of brown kind faces, and when night
Draws dark around with age and fear
Theirs is the simple hope to cheer.--
A land of peace where lost romance
And ghostly shine of helm and lance
Still dwell by castled scarp and lea,
And the last homes of chivalry,
And the good fairy folk, my dear,
Who speak for cunning souls to hear,
In crook of glen and bower of hill
Sing of the Happy Ages still.
O Thou to whom man's heart is known,
Grant me my morning orison.
Grant me the rover's path--to see
The dawn arise, the daylight flee,
In the far wastes of sand and sun!
Grant me with venturous heart to run
On the old highway, where in pain
And ecstasy man strives amain,
Conquers his fellows, or, too weak,
Finds the great rest that wanderers seek!
Grant me the joy of wind and brine,
The zest of food, the taste of wine,
The fighter's strength, the echoing strife
The high tumultuous lists of life--
May I ne'er lag, nor hapless fall,
Nor weary at the battle-call!...
But when the even brings surcease,
Grant me the happy moorland peace;
That in my heart's depth ever lie
That ancient land of heath and sky,
Where the old rhymes and stories fall
In kindly, soothing pastoral.
There in the hills grave silence lies,
And Death himself wears friendly guise
There be my lot, my twilight stage,
Dear city of my pilgrimage.
THE COMPANY OF THE MARJOLAINE
"Qu'est-c'qui passe ici si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine,"
-CHANSONS DE FRANCE
...I came down from the mountain and into the pleasing valley of
the Adige in as pelting a heat as ever mortal suffered under. The way
underfoot was parched and white; I had newly come out of a wilderness
of white limestone crags, and a sun of Italy blazed blindingly in an
azure Italian sky. You are to suppose, my dear aunt, that I had had
enough and something more of my craze for foot-marching. A fortnight
ago I had gone to Belluno in a post-chaise, dismissed my fellow to
carry my baggage by way of Verona, and with no more than a valise on
my back plunged into the fastnesses of those mountains. I had a fancy
to see the little sculptured hills which made backgrounds for
Gianbellini, and there were rumours of great mountains built wholly of
marble which shone like the battlements.
...1 This extract from the unpublished papers of the Manorwater
family has seemed to the Editor worth printing for its historical
interest. The famous Lady Molly Carteron became Countess of
Manorwater by her second marriage. She was a wit and a friend of
wits, and her nephew, the Honourable Charles Hervey-Townshend
(afterwards our Ambassador at The Hague), addressed to her a series
of amusing letters while making, after the fashion of his
contemporaries, the Grand Tour of Europe. Three letters, written at
various places in the Eastern Alps and despatched from Venice, contain
the following short narrative....
of the Celestial City. So at any rate reported young Mr. Wyndham,
who had travelled with me from Milan to Venice. I lay the first night
at Pieve, where Titian had the fortune to be born, and the landlord at
the inn displayed a set of villainous daubs which he swore were the
early works of that master. Thence up a toilsome valley I journeyed
to the Ampezzan country, valley where indeed I saw my white mountains,
but, alas! no longer Celestial. For it rained like Westmorland for
five endless days, while I kicked my heels in an inn and turned a
canto of Aristo into halting English couplets. By-and-by it cleared,
and I headed westward towards Bozen, among the tangle of rocks where
the Dwarf King had once his rose-garden. The first night I had no
inn but slept in the vile cabin of a forester, who spoke a tongue half
Latin, half Dutch, which I failed to master. The next day was a blaze
of heat, the mountain-paths lay thick with dust, and I had no wine
from sunrise to sunset. Can you wonder that, when the following noon
I saw Santa Chiara sleeping in its green circlet of meadows, my
thought was only of a deep draught and a cool chamber? I protest that
I am a great lover of natural beauty, of rock and cascade, and all the
properties of the poet: but the enthusiasm of Rousseau himself would
sink from the stars to earth if he had marched since breakfast in a
cloud of dust with a throat like the nether millstone.
Yet I had not entered the place before Romance revived. The
little town--a mere wayside halting-place on the great mountain-road
to the North--had the air of mystery which foretells adventure. Why
is it that a dwelling or a countenance catches the fancy with the
promise of some strange destiny? I have houses in my mind which I
know will some day and somehow be intertwined oddly with my life; and
I have faces in memory of which I know nothing--save that I shall
undoubtedly cast eyes again upon them. My first glimpses of Santa
Chiara gave me this earnest of romance. It was walled and fortified,
the streets were narrow pits of shade, old tenements with bent fronts
swayed to meet each other. Melons lay drying on flat roofs, and yet
now and then would come a high-pitched northern gable. Latin and
Teuton met and mingled in the place, and, as Mr. Gibbon has taught
us, the offspring of this admixture is something fantastic and
unpredictable. I forgot my grievous thirst and my tired feet in
admiration and a certain vague expectation of wonders. Here, ran my
thought, it is fated, maybe, that romance and I shall at last compass
a meeting. Perchance some princess is in need of my arm, or some
affair of high policy is afoot in this jumble of old masonry. You
will laugh at my folly, but I had an excuse for it. A fortnight in
strange mountains disposes a man to look for something at his next
encounter with his kind, and the sight of Santa Chiara would have
fired the imagination of a judge in Chancery.
I strode happily into the courtyard of the Tre Croci, and
presently had my expectation confirmed for I found my fellow,--a
faithful rogue I got in Rome on a Cardinal's recommendation,--hot in
dispute with a lady's maid. The woman was old, harsh-featured--no
Italian clearly, though she spoke fluently in the tongue. She rated
my man like a pickpocket, and the dispute was over a room.
"The signor will bear me out," said Gianbattista. "Was not I sent
to Verona with his baggage, and thence to this place of ill manners?
Was I not bidden engage for him a suite of apartments? Did I not duly
choose these fronting on the gallery, and dispose therein the signor's
baggage? And lo! an hour ago I found it all turned into the yard and
this woman installed in its place. It is monstrous, unbearable! Is
this an inn for travellers, or haply the private mansion of these
"My servant speaks truly," I said firmly yet with courtesy, having
no mind to spoil adventure by urging rights. "He had orders to take
these rooms for me, and I know not what higher power can countermand
The woman had been staring at me scornfully, for no doubt in my
dusty habit I was a figure of small count; but at the sound of my
voice she started, and cried out, "You are English, signor?"
I bowed an admission. "Then my mistress shall speak with you,"
she said, and dived into the inn like an elderly rabbit.
Gianbattista was for sending for the landlord and making a riot in
that hostelry; but I stayed him, and bidding him fetch me a flask of
white wine, three lemons, and a glass of eau de vie, I sat down
peaceably at one of the little tables in the courtyard and prepared
for the quenching of my thirst. Presently, as I sat drinking that
excellent compound of my own invention, my shoulder was touched, and I
turned to find the maid and her mistress. Alas for my hopes of a
glorious being, young and lissom and bright with the warm riches of
the south! I saw a short, stout little lady, well on the wrong side
of thirty. She had plump red cheeks, and fair hair dressed
indifferently in the Roman fashion. Two candid blue eyes redeemed her
plainness, and a certain grave and gentle dignity. She was notably a
gentlewoman, so I got up, doffed my hat, and awaited her commands.
She spoke in Italian. "Your pardon,signor, but I fear my good
Cristine has done you unwittingly a wrong."
Cristine snorted at this premature plea of guilty, while I
hastened to assure the fair apologist that any rooms I might have
taken were freely at her service.
I spoke unconsciously in English, and she replied in a halting
parody of that tongue. "I understand him," she said, "but I do not
speak him happily. I will discourse, if the signor pleases, in our
She and her father, it appeared, had come over the Brenner, and
arrived that morning at the Tre Croci, where they purposed to lie for
some days. He was an old man, very feeble, and much depending upon
her constant care. Wherefore it was necessary that the rooms of all
the party should adjoin, and there was no suite of the size in the inn
save that which I had taken. Would I therefore consent to forgo my
right, and place her under an eternal debt?
I agreed most readily, being at all times careless where I sleep,
so the bed be clean, or where I eat, so the meal be good. I bade my
servant see the landlord and have my belongings carried to other
rooms. Madame thanked me sweetly, and would have gone, when a thought
"It is but courteous," she said, "that you should know the names
of those whom you have befriended. My father is called the Count
d'Albani, and I am his only daughter. We travel to Florence, where
we have a villa in the environs."
"My name," said I, "is Hervey-Townshend, an Englishman travelling
abroad for his entertainment."
"Hervey?" she repeated. "Are you one of the family of Miladi
"My worthy aunt," I replied, with a tender recollection of that
Madame turned to Cristine, and spoke rapidly in a whisper.
"My father, sir," she said, addressing me, "is an old frail man,
little used to the company of strangers; but in former days he has
had kindness from members of your house, and it would be a
satisfaction to him, I think, to have the privilege of your
She spoke with the air of a vizier who promises a traveller a
sight of the Grand Turk. I murmured my gratitude, and hastened after
Gianbattista. In an hour I had bathed, rid myself of my beard, and
arrayed myself in decent clothing. Then I strolled out to inspect the
little city, admired an altar-piece, chaffered with a Jew for a cameo,
purchased some small necessaries, and returned early in the afternoon
with a noble appetite for dinner.
The Tre Croci had been in happier days a Bishop's lodging, and
possessed a dining-hall ceiled with black oak and adorned with
frescos. It was used as a general salle a manger for all dwellers in
the inn, and there accordingly I sat down to my long-deferred meal.
At first there were no other diners, and I had two maids, as well as
Gianbattista, to attend on my wants. Presently Madame d'Albani
entered, escorted by Cristine and by a tall gaunt serving-man, who
seemed no part of the hostelry. The landlord followed, bowing
civilly, and the two women seated themselves at the little table at
the farther end. "Il Signor Conte dines in his room," said Madame to
the host, who withdrew to see to that gentleman's needs.
I found my eyes straying often to the little party in the cool
twilight of that refectory. The man-servant was so old and battered,
and of such a dignity, that he lent a touch of intrigue to the thing.
He stood stiffly behind Madame's chair, handing dishes with an air of
great reverence--the lackey of a great noble, if I had ever seen the
type. Madame never glanced toward me, but conversed sparingly with
Cristine, while she pecked delicately at her food. Her name ran in my
head with a tantalizing flavour of the familiar. Albani! D'Albani!
It was a name not uncommon in the Roman States, but I had never heard
it linked to a noble family. And yet I had somehow, somewhere; and in
the vain effort at recollection I had almost forgotten my hunger.
There was nothing bourgeois in the little lady. The austere
servants, the high manner of condescension, spake of a stock used to
deference, though, maybe, pitifully decayed in its fortunes. There
was a mystery in these quiet folk which tickled my curiosity.
Romance after all was not destined to fail me at Santa Chiara.
My doings of the afternoon were of interest to me alone. Suffice
it to say that when at nightfall I found Gianbattista the trustee of
a letter. It was from Madame, written in a fine thin hand on a
delicate paper, and it invited me to wait upon the signor her father,
that evening at eight o'clock. What caught my eye was a coronet
stamped in a corner. A coronet, I say, but in truth it was a crown,
the same as surmounts the Arms Royal of England on the sign-board of a
Court tradesman. I marvelled at the ways of foreign heraldry. Either
this family of d'Albani had higher pretensions than I had given it
credit for, or it employed an unlearned and imaginative stationer. I
scribbled a line of acceptance and went to dress.
The hour of eight found me knocking at the Count's door. The grim
serving-man admitted me to the pleasant chamber which should have been
mine own. A dozen wax candles burned in sconces, and on the table
among fruits and the remains of supper stood a handsome candelabra of
silver. A small fire of logs had been lit on the hearth, and before
it in an armchair sat a strange figure of a man. He seemed not so
much old as aged. I should have put him at sixty, but the marks he
bore were clearly less those of time than of life. There sprawled
before me the relics of noble looks. The fleshy nose, the pendulous
cheek, the drooping mouth, had once been cast in looks of manly
beauty. Heavy eyebrows above and heavy bags beneath spoiled the
effect of a choleric blue eye, which age had not dimmed. The man was
gross and yet haggard; it was not the padding of good living which
clothed his bones, but a heaviness as of some dropsical malady. I
could picture him in health a gaunt loose-limbed being, high-featured
and swift and eager. He was dressed wholly in black velvet, with
fresh ruffles and wristbands, and he wore heeled shoes with antique
silver buckles. It was a figure of an older age which rose to greet
me, in one hand a snuff-box and a purple handkerchief, and in the
other a book with finger marking place. He made me a great bow as
Madame uttered my name, and held out a hand with a kindly smile.
"Mr. Hervey-Townshend," he said, "we will speak English, if you
please. I am fain to hear it again, for 'tis a tongue I love. I
make you welcome, sir, for your own sake and for the sake of your
kin. How is her honourable ladyship, your aunt? A week ago she sent
me a letter."
I answered that she did famously, and wondered what cause of
correspondence my worthy aunt could have with wandering nobles of
He motioned me to a chair between Madame and himself, while a
servant set a candle on a shelf behind him. Then he proceeded to
catechise me in excellent English, with now and then a phrase of
French, as to the doings in my own land. Admirably informed this
Italian gentleman proved himself. I defy you to find in Almack's
more intelligent gossip. He inquired as to the chances of my Lord
North and the mind of my Lord Rockingham. He had my Lord Shelburne's
foibles at his fingers' ends. The habits of the Prince, the aims of
the their ladyships of Dorset and Buckingham, the extravagance of this
noble Duke and that right honourable gentleman were not hid from him.
I answered discreetly yet frankly, for there was no ill-breeding in
his curiosity. Rather it seemed like the inquiries of some fine lady,
now buried deep in the country, as to the doings of a forsaken
Mayfair. There was humour in it and something of pathos.
"My aunt must be a voluminous correspondent, sir," I said.
He laughed, "I have many friends in England who write to me, but I
have seen none of them for long, and I doubt I may never see them
again. Also in my youth I have been in England." And he sighed as at
Then he showed the book in his hand. "See," he said, "here is one
of your English writings, the greatest book I have ever happened on."
It was a volume of Mr. Fielding. For a little he talked of books and
poets. He admired Mr. Fielding profoundly, Dr. Smollet somewhat less,
Mr. Richardson not at all. But he was clear that England had a
monopoly of good writers, saving only my friend M. Rousseau, whom he
valued, yet with reservations. Of the Italians he had no opinion. I
instanced against him the plays of Signor Alfieri. He groaned, shook
his head, and grew moody.
"Know you Scotland?" he asked suddenly.
I replied that I had visited Scotch cousins, but had no great
estimation for the country. "It is too poor and jagged," I said,
"for the taste of one who loves colour and sunshine and suave
outlines." He sighed. "It is indeed a bleak land, but a kindly.
When the sun shines at all he shines on the truest hearts in the
world. I love its bleakness too. There is a spirit in the misty
hills and the harsh sea-wind which inspires men to great deeds.
Poverty and courage go often together, and my Scots, if they are
poor, are as untamable as their mountains."
"You know the land, sir?" I asked.
"I have seen it, and I have known many Scots. You will find them
in Paris and Avignon and Rome, with never a plack in their pockets.
I have a feeling for exiles, sir, and I have pitied these poor
people. They gave their all for the cause they followed."
Clearly the Count shared my aunt's views of history--those views
which have made such sport for us often at Carteron. Stalwart Whig
as I am, there was something in the tone of the old gentleman which
made me feel a certain majesty in the lost cause.
"I am Whig in blood and Whig in principle," I said,--"but I have
never denied that those Scots who followed the Chevalier were too
good to waste on so trumpery a leader."
I had no sooner spoken the words than I felt that somehow I had
been guilty of a betise.
"It may be so," said the Count. "I did not bid you here, sir, to
argue on politics, on which I am assured we should differ. But I
will ask you one question. The King of England is a stout upholder
of the right of kings. How does he face the defection of his American
"The nation takes it well enough, and as for his Majesty's
feelings, there is small inclination to inquire into them. I
conceive of the whole war as a blunder out of which we have come as
we deserved. The day is gone by for the assertion of monarchic rights
against the will of a people."
"May be. But take note that the King of England is suffering
to-day as--how do you call him?--the Chevalier suffered forty years
ago. 'The wheel has come full circle,' as your Shakespeare says. Time
has wrought his revenge."
He was staring into a fire, which burned small and smokily.
"You think the day for kings is ended. I read it differently. The
world will ever have need of kings. If a nation cast out one it will
have to find another. And mark you, those later kings, created by the
people, will bear a harsher hand than the old race who ruled as of
right. Some day the world will regret having destroyed the kindly and
legitimate line of monarchs and put in their place tyrants who govern
by the sword or by flattering an idle mob.
This belated dogma would at other times have set me laughing, but
the strange figure before me gave no impulse to merriment. I glanced
at Madame, and saw her face grave and perplexed, and I thought I read
a warning gleam in her eye. There was a mystery about the party which
irritated me, but good breeding forbade me to seek a clue.
"You will permit me to retire, sir," I said. "I have but this
morning come down from a long march among the mountains east of this
valley. Sleeping in wayside huts and tramping those sultry paths make
a man think pleasantly of bed."
The Count seemed to brighten at my words. "You are a marcher,
sir, and love the mountains! Once I would gladly have joined you,
for in my youth I was a great walker in hilly places. Tell me, now,
how many miles will you cover in a day?"
I told him thirty at a stretch.
"Ah," he said, "I have done fifty, without food, over the roughest
and mossiest mountains. I lived on what I shot, and for drink I had
spring-water. Nay, I am forgetting. There was another beverage,
which I wager you have never tasted. Heard you ever, sir, of that eau
de vie which the Scots call usquebagh? It will comfort a traveller as
no thin Italian wine will comfort him. By my soul, you shall taste
it. Charlotte, my dear, bid Oliphant fetch glasses and hot water and
lemons. I will give Mr. Hervey-Townshend a sample of the brew. You
English are all tetes-de-fer, sir, and are worthy of it."
The old man's face had lighted up, and for the moment his air had
the jollity of youth. I would have accepted the entertainment had I
not again caught Madame's eye. It said, unmistakably and with serious
pleading, "Decline." I therefore made my excuses, urged fatigue,
drowsiness, and a delicate stomach, bade my host good-night, and in
deep mystification left the room.
Enlightenment came upon me as the door closed. There in the
threshold stood the manservant whom they called Oliphant, erect as a
sentry on guard. The sight reminded me of what I had once seen at
Basle when by chance a Rhenish Grand Duke had shared the inn with me.
Of a sudden a dozen clues linked together--the crowned notepaper,
Scotland, my aunt Hervey's politics, the tale of old wanderings.
"Tell me," I said in a whisper, "who is the Count d'Albani, your
master?" and I whistled softly a bar of "Charlie is my darling."
"Ay," said the man, without relaxing a muscle of his grim face.
"It is the King of England--my king and yours."
In the small hours of the next morning I was awoke by a most
unearthly sound. It was as if all the cats on all the roofs of Santa
Chiara were sharpening their claws and wailing their battle-cries.
Presently out of the noise came a kind of music--very slow, solemn,
and melancholy. The notes ran up in great flights of ecstasy, and
sunk anon to the tragic deeps. In spite of my sleepiness I was held
spellbound and the musician had concluded with certain barbaric grunts
before I had the curiosity to rise. It came from somewhere in the
gallery of the inn, and as I stuck my head out of my door I had a
glimpse of Oliphant, nightcap on head and a great bagpipe below his
arm, stalking down the corridor.
The incident, for all the gravity of the music, seemed to give a
touch of farce to my interview of the past evening. I had gone to
bed with my mind full of sad stories of the deaths of kings.
Magnificence in tatters has always affected my pity more deeply than
tatters with no such antecedent, and a monarch out at elbows stood for
me as the last irony of our mortal life. Here was a king whose
misfortunes could find no parallel. He had been in his youth the hero
of a high adventure, and his middle age had been spent in fleeting
among the courts of Europe, and waiting as pensioner on the whims of
his foolish but regnant brethren. I had heard tales of a growing
sottishness, a decline in spirit, a squalid taste in pleasures. Small
blame, I had always thought, to so ill-fated a princeling. And now I
had chanced upon the gentleman in his dotage, travelling with a barren
effort at mystery, attended by a sad-faced daughter and two ancient
domestics. It was a lesson in the vanity of human wishes which the
shallowest moralist would have noted. Nay, I felt more than the
moral. Something human and kindly in the old fellow had caught my
fancy. The decadence was too tragic to prose about, the decadent too
human to moralise on. I had left the chamber of the--shall I say de
jure King of England?--a sentimental adherent of the cause. But this
business of the bagpipes touched the comic. To harry an old valet out
of bed and set him droning on pipes in the small hours smacked of a
theatrical taste, or at least of an undignified fancy. Kings in
exile, if they wish to keep the tragic air, should not indulge in such
My mind changed again when after breakfast I fell in with Madame
on the stair. She drew aside to let me pass, and then made as if she
would speak to me. I gave her good-morning, and, my mind being full
of her story, addressed her as "Excellency."
"I see, sir," she said, " hat you know the truth. I have to ask
your forbearance for the concealment I practised yesterday. It was a
poor requital for your generosity, but is it one of the shifts of our
sad fortune. An uncrowned king must go in disguise or risk the
laughter of every stable-boy. Besides, we are too poor to travel in
state, even if we desired it."
Honestly, I knew not what to say. I was not asked to sympathise,
having already revealed my politics, and yet the case cried out for
sympathy. You remember, my dear aunt, the good Lady Culham, who was
our Dorsetshire neighbour, and tried hard to mend my ways at Carteron?
This poor Duchess--for so she called herself--was just such another.
A woman made for comfort, housewifery, and motherhood, and by no
means for racing about Europe in charge of a disreputable parent. I
could picture her settled equably on a garden seat with a lapdog and
needlework, blinking happily over green lawns and mildly rating an
errant gardener. I could fancy her sitting in a summer parlour, very
orderly and dainty, writing lengthy epistles to a tribe of nieces. I
could see her marshalling a household in the family pew, or riding
serenely in the family coach behind fat bay horses. But here, on an
inn staircase, with a false name and a sad air of mystery, she was
woefully out of place. I noted little wrinkles forming in the
corners of her eyes, and the ravages of care beginning in the plump
rosiness of her face. Be sure there was nothing appealing in her
mien. She spoke with the air of a great lady, to whom the world is
matter only for an afterthought. It was the facts that appealed and
grew poignant from her courage.
"There is another claim upon your good nature," she said.
"Doubtless you were awoke last night by Oliphant's playing upon the
pipes. I rebuked the landlord for his insolence in protesting, but to
you, a gentleman and a friend, an explanation is due. My father
sleeps ill, and your conversation seems to have cast him into a train
of sad memories. It has been his habit on such occasions to have the
pipes played to him, since they remind him of friends and happier
days. It is a small privilege for an old man, and he does not claim
I declared that the music had only pleased, and that I would
welcome its repetition. Where upon she left me with a little bow and
an invitation to join them that day at dinner, while I departed into
the town on my own errands. I returned before midday, and was seated
at an arbour in the garden, busy with letters, when there hove in
sight the gaunt figure of Oliphant. He hovered around me, if such a
figure can be said to hover, with the obvious intention of addressing
me. The fellow had caught my fancy, and I was willing to see more of
him. His face might have been hacked out of grey granite, his clothes
hung loosely on his spare bones, and his stockined shanks would have
done no discredit to Don Quixote. There was no dignity in his air,
only a steady and enduring sadness. Here, thought I, is the one of
the establishment who most commonly meets the shock of the world's
buffets. I called him by name and asked him his desires.
It appeared that he took me for a Jacobite, for he began a
rigmarole about loyalty and hard fortune. I hastened to correct him,
and he took the correction with the same patient despair with which he
took all things. 'Twas but another of the blows of Fate.
"At any rate," he said in a broad Scotch accent, "ye come of kin
that has helpit my maister afore this. I've many times heard tell o'
Herveys and Townshends in England, and a' folk said they were on the
richt side. Ye're maybe no a freend, but ye're a freend's freend, or
I wadna be speirin' at ye."
I was amused at the prologue, and waited on the tale. It soon
came. Oliphant, it appeared, was the purse-bearer of the household,
and woeful straits that poor purse-bearer must have been often put to.
I questioned him as to his master's revenues, but could get no clear
answer. There were payments due next month in Florence which would
solve the difficulties for the winter, but in the meantime expenditure
had beaten income. Travelling had cost much, and the Count must have
his small comforts. The result in plain words was that Oliphant had
not the wherewithal to frank the company to Florence; indeed, I
doubted if he could have paid the reckoning in Santa Chiara. A loan
was therefore sought from a friend's friend, meaning myself.
I was very really embarrassed. Not that I would not have given
willingly, for I had ample resources at the moment and was mightily
concerned about the sad household. But I knew that the little Duchess
would take Oliphant's ears from his head if she guessed that he had
dared to borrow from me, and that, if I lent, her back would for ever
be turned against me. And yet, what would follow on my refusal? In a
day of two there would be a pitiful scene with mine host, and as like
as not some of their baggage detained as security for payment. I did
not love the task of conspiring behind the lady's back, but if it
could be contrived 'twas indubitably the kindest course. I glared
sternly at Oliphant, who met me with his pathetic, dog-like eyes.
"You know that your mistress would never consent to the request
you have made of me?"
"I ken," he said humbly."But payin' is my job, and I simply havena
the siller. It's no the first time it has happened, and it's a sair
trial for them both to be flung out o' doors by a foreign hostler
because they canna meet his charges. But, sir, if ye can lend to me,
ye may be certain that her leddyship will never, hear a word o't.
Puir thing, she takes nae thocht o' where the siller comes frae, ony
mair than the lilies o' the field."
I became a conspirator. "You swear, Oliphant, by all you hold
sacred, to breathe nothing of this to your mistress, and if she
should suspect, to lie like a Privy Councillor?"
A flicker of a smile crossed his face. "I'll lee like a Scotch
packman, and the Father o' lees could do nae mair. You need have no
fear for your siller, sir. I've aye repaid when I borrowed, though
you may have to wait a bittock." And the strange fellow strolled off.
At dinner no Duchess appeared till long after the appointed hour,
nor was there any sign of Oliphant. When she came at last with
Cristine, her eyes looked as if she had been crying, and she greeted
me with remote courtesy. My first thought was that Oliphant had
revealed the matter of the loan, but presently I found that the lady's
trouble was far different. Her father, it seemed, was ill again with
his old complaint. What that was I did not ask, nor did the Duchess
We spoke in French, for I had discovered that this was her
favourite speech. There was no Oliphant to wait on us, and the inn
servants were always about, so it was well to have a tongue they did
not comprehend. The lady was distracted and sad. When I inquired
feelingly as to the general condition of her father's health she
parried the question, and when I offered my services she disregarded
my words. It was in truth a doleful meal, while the faded Cristine
sat like a sphinx staring into vacancy. I spoke of England and of her
friends, of Paris and Versailles, of Avignon where she had spent some
years, and of the amenities of Florence, which she considered her
home. But it was like talking to a nunnery door. I got nothing but
"It is indeed true, sir," or "Do you say so, sir!" till my energy
began to sink. Madame perceived my discomfort, and, as she rose,
murmured an apology. "Pray forgive my distraction, but I am poor
company when my father is ill. I have a foolish mind, easily
frightened. Nay, nay!" she went on when I again offered help, "the
illness is trifling. It will pass off by to-morrow, or at the latest
the next day. Only I had looked forward to some ease at Santa
Chiara, and the promise is belied."
As it chanced that evening, returning to the inn, I passed by the
north side where the windows of the Count's room looked over a little
flower-garden abutting on the courtyard. The dusk was falling, and a
lamp had been lit which gave a glimpse into the interior. The sick
man was standing by the window, his figure flung into relief by the
lamplight. If he was sick, his sickness was of a curious type. His
face was ruddy, his eye wild, and, his wig being off, his scanty hair
stood up oddly round his head. He seemed to be singing, but I could
not catch the sound through the shut casement. Another figure in the
room, probably Oliphant, laid a hand on the Count's shoulder, drew him
from the window, and closed the shutter.
It needed only the recollection of stories which were the property
of all Europe to reach a conclusion on the gentleman's illness. The
legitimate King of England was very drunk.
As I went to my room that night I passed the Count's door. There
stood Oliphant as sentry, more grim and haggard than ever, and I
thought that his eye met mine with a certain intelligence. From
inside the room came a great racket. There was the sound of glasses
falling, then a string of oaths, English, French, and for all I know,
Irish, rapped out in a loud drunken voice. A pause, and then came the
sound of maudlin singing. It pursued me along the gallery, an old
childish song, delivered as if 'twere a pot-house catch-
"Qu'est-ce qui passe ici si tard, Compagnons de la Marjolaine---"
One of the late-going company of the Marjolaine hastened to bed.
This king in exile, with his melancholy daughter, was becoming too
much for him.
It was just before noon next day that the travellers arrived. I
was sitting in the shady loggia of the inn, reading a volume of De
Thou, when there drove up to the door two coaches. Out of the first
descended very slowly and stiffly four gentlemen; out of the second
four servants and a quantity of baggage. As it chanced there was no
one about, the courtyard slept its sunny noontide sleep, and the only
movement was a lizard on the wall and a buzz of flies by the fountain.
Seeing no sign of the landlord, one of the travellers approached me
with a grave inclination.
"This is the inn called the Tre Croci, sir?" he asked.
I said it was, and shouted on my own account for the host.
Presently that personage arrived with a red face and a short wind,
having ascended rapidly from his own cellar. He was awed by the
dignity of the travellers, and made none of his usual protests of
incapacity. The servants filed off solemnly with the baggage, and the
four gentlemen set themselves down beside me in the loggia and ordered
each a modest flask of wine.
At first I took them for our countrymen, but as I watched them the
conviction vanished. All four were tall and lean beyond the average
of mankind. They wore suits of black, with antique starched frills to
their shirts; their hair was their own and unpowdered. Massive
buckles of an ancient pattern adorned their square-toed shoes, and the
canes they carried were like the yards of a small vessel. They were
four merchants, I had guessed, of Scotland, maybe, or of Newcastle,
but their voices were not Scotch, and their air had no touch of
commerce. Take the heavy-browed preoccupation of a Secretary of
State, add the dignity of a bishop, the sunburn of a fox-hunter, and
something of the disciplined erectness of a soldier, and you may
perceive the manner of these four gentlemen. By the side of them my
assurance vanished. Compared with their Olympian serenity my Person
seemed fussy and servile. Even so, I mused, must Mr. Franklin have
looked when baited in Parliament by the Tory pack. The reflection gave
me the cue. Presently I caught from their conversation the word
"Washington," and the truth flashed upon me. I was in the presence
of four of Mr. Franklin's countrymen. Having never seen an American in
the flesh, I rejoiced at the chance of enlarging my acquaintance.
They brought me into the circle by a polite question as to the
length of road to Verona. Soon introductions followed. My name
intrigued them, and they were eager to learn of my kinship to Uncle
Charles. The eldest of the four, it appeared, was Mr. Galloway out of
Maryland. Then came two brothers, Sylvester by name, of Pennsylvania,
and last Mr. Fish, a lawyer of New York. All four had campaigned in
the late war, and all four were members of the Convention, or whatever
they call their rough-and-ready parliament. They were modest in their
behaviour, much disinclined to speak of their past, as great men might
be whose reputation was world-wide. Somehow the names stuck in my
memory. I was certain that I had heard them linked with some
stalwart fight or some moving civil deed or some defiant manifesto.
The making of history was in their steadfast eye and the grave lines
of the mouth. Our friendship flourished mightily in a brief hour, and
brought me the invitation, willingly accepted, to sit with them at
There was no sign of the Duchess or Cristine or Oliphant. Whatever
had happened, that household to-day required all hands on deck, and I
was left alone with the Americans. In my day I have supped with the
Macaronies, I have held up my head at the Cocoa Tree, I have avoided
the floor at hunt dinners, I have drunk glass to glass with Tom
Carteron. But never before have I seen such noble consumers of good
liquor as those four gentlemen from beyond the Atlantic. They drank
the strong red Cyprus as if it had been spring-water. "The dust of
your Italian roads takes some cleansing, Mr. Townshend," was their
only excuse, but in truth none was needed. The wine seemed only to
thaw their iron decorum. Without any surcease of dignity they grew
communicative, and passed from lands to peoples and from peoples to
constitutions. Before we knew it we were embarked upon high politics.
Naturally we did not differ on the war. Like me, they held it to
have been a grievous necessity. They had no bitterness against
England, only regrets for her blunders. Of his Majesty they spoke
with respect, of his Majesty's advisers with dignified condemnation.
They thought highly of our troops in America; less highly of our
"Look you, sir," said Mr. Galloway, "in a war such as we have
witnessed the Almighty is the only strategist. You fight against the
forces of Nature, and a newcomer little knows that the success or
failure of every operation he can conceive depends not upon
generalship, but upon the confirmation of a vast country. Our
generals, with this in mind and with fewer men, could make all your
schemes miscarry. Had the English soldiers not been of such stubborn
stuff, we should have been victors from the first. Our leader was not
General Washington but General America, and his brigadiers were
forests, swamps, lakes, rivers, and high mountains."
"And now," I said, "having won, you have the greatest of human
experiments before you. Your business is to show that the Saxon
stock is adaptable to a republic."
It seemed to me that they exchanged glances.
"We are not pedants," said Mr. Fish, "and have no desire to
dispute about the form of a constitution. A people may be as free
under a king as under a senate. Liberty is not the lackey of any type
These were strange words from a member of a race whom I had
thought wedded to the republicanism of Helvidius Priscus.
"As a loyal subject of a monarchy," I said, "I must agree with
you. But your hands are tied, for I cannot picture the establishment
of a House of Washington and--if not, where are you to turn for your
Again a smile seemed to pass among the four.
"We are experimenters, as you say, sir, and must go slowly. In
the meantime, we have an authority which keeps peace and property
safe. We are at leisure to cast our eyes round and meditate on the
"Then, gentlemen," said I, "you take an excellent way of
meditation in visiting this museum of old sovereignties. Here you
have the relics of any government you please--a dozen republics,
tyrannies, theocracies, merchant confederations, kingdoms, and more
than one empire. You have your choice. I am tolerably familiar with
the land, and if I can assist you I am at your service."
They thanked me gravely "We have letters," said Mr. Galloway; "one
in especial is to a gentleman whom we hope to meet in this place.
Have you heard in your travels of the Count of Albany?"
"He has arrived," said I, "two days ago. Even now he is in the
chamber above us at dinner."
The news interested them hugely.
"You have seen him?" they cried. "What is he like?"
"An elderly gentleman in poor health, a man who has travelled
much, and, I judge, has suffered something from fortune. He has a
fondness for the English, so you will be welcome, sirs; but he was
indisposed yesterday, and may still be unable to receive you. His
daughter travels with him and tends his old age."
" And you--you have spoken with him?"
"The night before last I was in his company. We talked of many
things, including the late war. He is somewhat of your opinion on
matters of government."
The four looked at each other, and then Mr. Galloway rose.
"I ask your permission, Mr. Townshend, to consult for a moment
with my friends. The matter is of some importance, and I would beg
you to await us." So saying, he led the others out of doors, and I
heard them withdraw to a corner of the loggia. Now, thought I, there
is something afoot, and my long-sought romance approaches fruition.
The company of the Marjolaine, whom the Count had sung of, have
arrived at last.
Presently they returned and seated themselves at the table.
"You can be of great assistance to us, Mr. Townshend, and we would
fain take you into our confidence. Are you aware who is this Count of
I nodded. "It is a thin disguise to one familiar with history."
"Have you reached any estimate of his character or capabilities?
You speak to friends, and, let me tell you, it is a matter which
deeply concerns the Count's interests."
"I think him a kindly and pathetic old gentleman. He naturally
bears the mark of forty years' sojourn in the wilderness."
Mr. Galloway took snuff.
"We have business with him, but it is business which stands in
need of an agent. There is no one in the Count's suite with whom we
could discuss affairs?"
"There is his daughter."
"Ah, but she would scarcely suit the case. Is there no man--a
friend, and yet not a member of the family who can treat with us?"
I replied that I thought that I was the only being in Santa Chiara
who answered the description.
"If you will accept the task, Mr. Townshend, you are amply
qualified. We will be frank with you and reveal our business. We are
on no less an errand than to offer the Count of Albany a crown.
I suppose I must have had some suspicion of their purpose, and yet
the revelation of it fell on me like a thunderclap. I could only
stare owlishly at my four grave gentlemen.
Mr. Galloway went on unperturbed. "I have told you that in
America we are not yet republicans. There are those among us who
favour a republic, but they are by no means a majority. We have got
rid of a king who misgoverned us, but we have no wish to get rid of
kingship. We want a king of our own choosing, and we would get with
him all the ancient sanctions of monarchy. The Count of Albany is of
the most illustrious royal stock in Europe--he is, if legitimacy goes
for anything, the rightful King of Britain. Now, if the republican
party among us is to be worsted, we must come before the nation with a
powerful candidate for their favour. You perceive my drift? What more
potent appeal to American pride than to say: 'We have got rid of King
George; we choose of our own free will the older line and King
I said foolishly that I thought monarchy had had its day, and that
'twas idle to revive it.
"That is a sentiment well enough under a monarchical government;
but we, with a clean page to write upon, do not share it. You know
your ancient historians. Has not the repository of the chief power
always been the rock on which republicanism has shipwrecked? If that
power is given to the chief citizen, the way is prepared for the
tyrant. If it abides peacefully in a royal house, it abides with
cyphers who dignify, without obstructing, a popular constitution. Do
not mistake me, Mr. Townshend. This is no whim of a sentimental girl,
but the reasoned conclusion of the men who achieved our liberty.
There is every reason to believe that General Washington shares our
views, and Mr. Hamilton, whose name you may know, is the inspirer of
"But the Count is an old man," I urged; for I knew not where to
begin in my exposition of the hopelessness of their errand.
"By so much the better. We do not wish a young king who may be
fractious. An old man tempered by misfortune is what our purpose
"He has also his failings. A man cannot lead his life for forty
years and retain all the virtues."
At that one of the Sylvesters spoke sharply. "I have heard such
gossip, but I do not credit it. I have not forgotten Preston and
I made my last objection. "He has no posterity--legitimate
posterity--to carry on his line."
The four gentlemen smiled. "That happens to be his chiefest
recommendation," said Mr. Galloway. "It enables us to take the House
of Stuart on trial. We need a breathing-space and leisure to look
around; but unless we establish the principle of monarchy at once the
republicans will forestall us. Let us get our king at all costs, and
during the remaining years of his life we shall have time to settle
the succession problem.
"We have no wish to saddle ourselves for good with a race who
might prove burdensome. If King Charles fails he has no son, and we
can look elsewhere for a better monarch. You perceive the reason of
I did, and I also perceived the colossal absurdity of the whole
business. But I could not convince them of it, for they met my
objections with excellent arguments. Nothing save a sight of the
Count would, I feared, disillusion them.
"You wish me to make this proposal on your behalf?" I asked.
"We shall make the proposal ourselves, but we desire you to
prepare the way for us. He is an elderly man, and should first be
informed of our purpose."
"There is one person whom I beg leave to consult--the Duchess, his
daughter. It may be that the present is an ill moment for approaching
the Count, and the affair requires her sanction."
They agreed, and with a very perplexed mind I went forth to seek
the lady. The irony of the thing was too cruel, and my heart ached
for her. In the gallery I found Oliphant packing some very shabby
trunks, and when I questioned him he told me that the family were to
leave Santa Chiara on the morrow. Perchance the Duchess had awakened
to the true state of their exchequer, or perchance she thought it well
to get her father on the road again as a cure for his ailment.
I discovered Cristine, and begged for an interview with her
mistress on an urgent matter. She led me to the Duchess's room, and
there the evidence of poverty greeted me openly. All the little
luxuries of the menage had gone to the Count. The poor lady's room
was no better than a servant's garret, and the lady herself sat
stitching a rent in a travelling cloak. She rose to greet me with
alarm in her eyes.
As briefly as I could I set out the facts of my amazing mission.
At first she seemed scarcely to hear me. "What do they want with
him?" she asked. "He can give them nothing. He is no friend to the
Americans or to any people who have deposed their sovereign." Then,
as she grasped my meaning, her face flushed.
"It is a heartless trick, Mr. Townshend. I would fain think you
no party to it."
"Believe me, dear madame, it is no trick. The men below are in
sober earnest. You have but to see their faces to know that theirs
is no wild adventure. I believe sincerely that they have the power to
implement their promise."
"But it is madness. He is old and worn and sick. His day is long
past for winning a crown."
"All this I have said, but it does not move them." And I told her
rapidly Mr. Galloway's argument. She fell into a muse. "At the
eleventh hour! Nay, too late, too late. Had he been twenty years
younger, what a stroke of fortune! Fate bears too hard on us, too
Then she turned to me fiercely. "You have no doubt heard, sir,
the gossip about my father, which is on the lips of every fool in
Europe. Let us have done with this pitiful make-believe. My father
is a sot. Nay, I do not blame him. I blame his enemies and his
miserable destiny. But there is the fact. Were he not old, he would
still be unfit to grasp a crown and rule over a turbulent people. He
flees from one city to another, but he cannot flee from himself. That
is his illness on which you condoled with me yesterday."
The lady's control was at breaking-point. Another moment and I
expected a torrent of tears. But they did not come. With a great
effort she regained her composure.
"Well, the gentlemen must have an answer. You will tell them that
the Count, my father--nay--give him his true title if you care--is
vastly obliged to them for the honour they have done him, but would
decline on account of his age and infirmities. You know how to phrase
a decent refusal."
"Pardon me," said I, "but I might give them that answer till
doomsday and never content them. They have not travelled many
thousand miles to be put off by hearsay evidence. Nothing will
satisfy them but an interview with your father himself.
"It is impossible," she said sharply.
"Then we must expect the renewed attentions of our American
friends. They will wait till they see him."
She rose and paced the room.
"They must go," she repeated many times. "If they see him sober
he will accept with joy, and we shall be the laughing-stock of the
world. I tell you it cannot be. I alone know how immense is the
impossibility. He cannot afford to lose the last rags of his dignity,
the last dregs of his ease. They must not see him. I will speak with
"They will be honoured, madame, but I do not think they will be
convinced. They are what we call in my land 'men of business.' They
will not be content till they get the Count's reply from his own lips.
A new Duchess seemed to have arisen, a woman of quick action and
"So be it. They shall see him. Oh, I am sick to death of fine
sentiments and high loyalty and all the vapouring stuff I have lived
among for years. All I ask for myself and my father is a little
peace, and, by Heaven! I shall secure it. If nothing will kill your
gentlemen's folly but truth, why, truth they shall have. They shall
see my father, and this very minute. Bring them up, Mr. Townshend,
and usher them into the presence of the rightful King of England. You
will find him alone." She stopped her walk and looked out of the
I went back in a hurry to the Americans. "I am bidden to bring
you to the Count's chamber. He is alone and will see you. These are
the commands of madame his daughter."
"Good!" said Mr. Galloway, and all four, grave gentlemen as they
were, seemed to brace themselves to a special dignity as befitted
ambassadors to a king. I led them upstairs, tapped at the Count's
door, and, getting no answer, opened it and admitted them.
And this was what we saw. The furniture was in disorder, and on a
couch lay an old man sleeping a heavy drunken sleep. His mouth was
open and his breath came stertorously. The face was purple, and large
purple veins stood out on the mottled forehead. His scanty white hair
was draggled over his cheek. On the floor was a broken glass, wet
stains still lay on the boards, and the place reeked of spirits. The
four looked for a second--I do not think longer at him whom they would
have made their king. They did not look at each other. With one
accord they moved out, and Mr. Fish, who was last, closed the door
very gently behind him.
In the hall below Mr. Galloway turned to me. "Our mission is
ended, Mr. Townshend. I have to thank you for your courtesy." Then to
the others, "If we order the coaches now, we may get well on the way
to Verona ere sundown."
An hour later two coaches rolled out of the courtyard of the Tre
Croci. As they passed, a window was half-opened on the upper floor,
and a head looked out. A line of a song came down, a song sung in a
strange quavering voice. It was the catch I had heard the night
"Qu'est-ce qui passe ici si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine--e!"
It was true. The company came late indeed--too late by forty
years. . . .
Hearts to break but nane to sell,
Gear to tine but nane to hain;--
We maun dree a weary spell
Ere our lad comes back again.
I walk abroad on winter days,
When storms have stripped the wide champaign,
For northern winds have norland ways,
And scents of Badenoch haunt the rain.
And by the lipping river path,
When in the fog the Rhone runs grey,
I see the heather of the Strath,
And watch the salmon leap in Spey.
The hills are feathered with young trees,
I set them for my children's boys.
I made a garden deep in ease,
A pleasance for my lady's joys.
Strangers have heired them. Long ago
She died,--kind fortune thus to die;
And my one son by Beauly flow
Gave up the soul that could not lie.
Old, elbow-worn, and pinched I bide
The final toll the gods may take.
The laggard years have quenched my pride;
They cannot kill the ache, the ache.
Weep not the dead, for they have sleep
Who lie at home: but ah, for me
In the deep grave my heart will weep
With longing for my lost countrie.
Hearts to break but nane to sell,
Gear to tine but nane to hain;--
We maun dree a weary spell
Ere our lad comes back again.
A LUCID INTERVAL
To adopt the opening words of a more famous tale, "The truth of
this strange matter is what the world has long been looking for." The
events which I propose to chronicle were known to perhaps a hundred
people in London whose fate brings them into contact with politics.
The consequences were apparent to all the world, and for one hectic
fortnight tinged the soberest newspapers with saffron, drove more than
one worthy election agent to an asylum, and sent whole batches of
legislators to Continental cures. "But no reasonable explanation of
the mystery has been forthcoming until now, when a series of chances
gave the key into my hands.
Lady Caerlaverock is my aunt, and I was present at the two
remarkable dinner-parties which form the main events in this tale. I
was also taken into her confidence during the terrible fortnight which
intervened between them. Like everybody else, I was hopelessly in the
dark, and could only accept what happened as a divine interposition.
My first clue came when James, the Caerlaverocks' second footman,
entered my service as valet, and being a cheerful youth chose to
gossip while he shaved me. I checked him, but he babbled on, and I
could not choose but learn something about the disposition of the
Caerlaverock household below stairs. I learned--what I knew
before--that his lordship had an inordinate love for curries, a taste
acquired during some troubled years as Indian Viceroy. I had often
eaten that admirable dish at his table, and had heard him boast of the
skill of the Indian cook who prepared it. James, it appeared, did not
hold with the Orient in the kitchen. He described the said Indian
gentleman as a "nigger," and expressed profound distrust of his ways.
He referred darkly to the events of the year before, which in some
distorted way had reached the servants' ears. "We always thought as
'ow it was them niggers as done it," he declared; and when I
questioned him on his use of the plural, admitted that at the time in
question "there 'ad been more nor one nigger 'anging about the
Pondering on these sayings, I asked myself if it were not possible
that the behaviour of certain eminent statesmen was due to some
strange devilry of the East, and I made a vow to abstain in future
from the Caerlaverock curries. But last month my brother returned
from India, and I got the whole truth. He was staying with me in
Scotland, and in the smoking-room the talk turned on occultism in the
East. I declared myself a sceptic, and George was stirred. He asked
me rudely what I knew about it, and proceeded to make a startling
confession of faith. He was cross-examined by the others, and
retorted with some of his experiences. Finding an incredulous
audience, his tales became more defiant, until he capped them all with
one monstrous yarn. He maintained that in a Hindu family of his
acquaintance there had been transmitted the secret of a drug, capable
of altering a man's whole temperament until the antidote was
administered. It would turn a coward into a bravo, a miser into a
spendthrift, a rake into a fakir. Then, having delivered his
manifesto he got up abruptly and went to bed.
I followed him to his room, for something in the story had revived
a memory. By dint of much persuasion I dragged from the somnolent
George various details. The family in question were Beharis, large
landholders dwelling near the Nepal border. He had known old Ram
Singh for years, and had seen him twice since his return from England.
He got the story from him under no promise of secrecy, for the family
drug was as well known in the neighbourhood as the nine incarnations
of Krishna. He had no doubt about the truth of it, for he had
positive proof. "And others besides me," said George. "Do you
remember when Vennard had a lucid interval a couple of years ago and
talked sense for once? That was old Ram Singh's doing, for he told me
Three years ago it seems the Government of India saw fit to
appoint a commission to inquire into land tenure on the Nepal border.
Some of the feudal Rajahs had been "birsing yont," like the
Breadalbanes, and the smaller zemindars were gravely disquieted. The
result of the commission was that Ram Singh had his boundaries
rectified, and lost a mile or two of country which his hard-fisted
fathers had won.
I know nothing of the rights of the matter, but there can be no
doubt about Ram Singh's dissatisfaction. He appealed to the law
courts, but failed to upset the commission's finding, and the Privy
Council upheld the Indian judgment. Thereupon in a flowery and
eloquent document he laid his case before the Viceroy, and was told
that the matter was closed. Now Ram Singh came of a fighting stock,
so he straightway took ship to England to petition the Crown. He
petitioned Parliament, but his petition went into the bag behind the
Speaker's chair, from which there is no return. He petitioned the
King, but was courteously informed that he must approach the
Department concerned. He tried the Secretary of State for India, and
had an interview with Abinger Vennard, who was very rude to him, and
succeeded in mortally insulting the feudal aristocrat. He appealed to
the Prime Minister, and was warned off by a harassed private
secretary. The handful of members of Parliament who make Indian
grievances their stock-in-trade fought shy of him, for indeed Ram
Singh's case had no sort of platform appeal in it, and his arguments
were flagrantly undemocratic. But they sent him to Lord Caerlaverock,
for the ex-viceroy loved to be treated as a kind of consul-general
for India. But this Protector of the Poor proved a broken reed. He
told Ram Singh flatly that he was a belated feudalist, which was true;
and implied that he was a land-grabber, which was not true, Ram Singh
having only enjoyed the fruits of his fore-bears' enterprise. Deeply
incensed, the appellant shook the dust of Caerlaverock House from his
feet, and sat down to plan a revenge upon the Government which had
wronged him. And in his wrath he thought of the heirloom of his
house, the drug which could change men's souls.
It happened that Lord Caerlaverock cook's came from the same
neighbourhood as Ram Singh. This cook, Lal Muhammad by name, was one
of a large poor family, hangers-on of Ram Singh's house. The
aggrieved landowner summoned him, and demanded as of right his humble
services. Lal Muhammad, who found his berth to his liking, hesitated,
quibbled, but was finally overborne. He suggested a fee for his
services, but hastily withdrew when Ram Singh sketched a few of the
steps he proposed to take on his return by way of punishing Lal
Muhammad's insolence on Lal Muhammad's household. Then he got to
business. There was a great dinner next week--so he had learned from
Jephson, the butler--and more than one member of the Government would
honour Caerlaverock House by his presence. With deference he
suggested this as a fitting occasion for the experiment, and Ram Singh
was pleased to assent.
I can picture these two holding their meetings in the South
Kensington lodgings where Ram Singh dwelt. We know from James, the
second footman, that they met also at Caerlaverock House, no doubt
that Ram Singh might make certain that his orders were duly obeyed. I
can see the little packet of clear grains--I picture them like small
granulated sugar--added to the condiments, and soon dissolved out of
sight. The deed was done; the cook returned to Bloomsbury and Ram
Singh to Gloucester Road, to await with the patient certainty of the
East the consummation of a great vengeance.
My wife was at Kissengen, and I was dining with the Caerlaverocks
en garcon. When I have not to wait upon the adornment of the female
person I am a man of punctual habits, and I reached the house as the
hall clock chimed the quarter-past. My poor friend, Tommy Deloraine,
arrived along with me, and we ascended the staircase together. I call
him "my poor friend," for at the moment Tommy was under the weather.
He had the misfortune to be a marquis, and a very rich one, and at
the same time to be in love with Claudia Barriton. Neither
circumstance was in itself an evil, but the combination made for
tragedy. For Tommy's twenty-five years of healthy manhood, his
cleanly-made up-standing figure, his fresh countenance and cheerful
laugh, were of no avail in the lady's eyes when set against the fact
that he was an idle peer. Miss Claudia was a charming girl, with a
notable bee in her bonnet. She was burdened with the cares of the
State, and had no patience with any one who took them lightly. To her
mind the social fabric was rotten beyond repair, and her purpose was
frankly destructive. I remember some of her phrases: "A bold and
generous policy of social amelioration"; "The development of a civic
conscience"; "A strong hand to lop off decaying branches from the
trunk of the State." I have no fault to find with her creed, but I
objected to its practical working when it took the shape of an inhuman
hostility to that devout lover, Tommy Deloraine. She had refused him,
I believe, three times, with every circumstance of scorn. The first
time she had analysed his character, and described him as a bundle of
attractive weaknesses. "The only forces I recognise are those of
intellect and conscience," she had said, "and you have neither." The
second time--it was after he had been to Canada on the staff--she
spoke of the irreconcilability of their political ideals. "You are an
Imperialist," she said, "and believe in an empire of conquest for the
benefit of the few. I want a little island with a rich life for all."
Tommy declared that he would become a Doukhobor to please her, but
she said something about the inability of Ethiopians to change their
skin. The third time she hinted vaguely that there was "another."
The star of Abinger Vennard was now blazing in the firmament, and she
had conceived a platonic admiration for him. The truth is that Miss
Claudia, with all her cleverness, was very young and--dare I say it?
Caerlaverock was stroking his beard, his legs astraddle on the
hearthrug, with something appallingly viceregal in his air, when Mr.
and Mrs. Alexander Cargill were announced. The Home Secretary was a
joy to behold. He had the face of an elderly and pious bookmaker, and
a voice in which lurked the indescribable Scotch quality of "unction."
When he was talking you had only to shut your eyes to imagine
yourself in some lowland kirk on a hot Sabbath morning. He had been a
distinguished advocate before he left the law for politics, and had
swayed juries of his countrymen at his will. The man was
extraordinarily efficient on a platform. There were unplumbed depths
of emotion in his eye, a juicy sentiment in his voice, an overpowering
tenderness in his manner, which gave to politics the glamour of a
revival meeting. He wallowed in obvious pathos, and his hearers, often
unwillingly, wallowed with him. I have never listened to any orator
at once so offensive and so horribly effective. There was no appeal
too base for him, and none too august: by some subtle alchemy he
blended the arts of the prophet and the fishwife. He had discovered a
new kind of language. Instead of "the hungry millions," or "the
toilers," or any of the numerous synonyms for our masters, he invented
the phrase, "Goad's people." "I shall never rest," so ran his great
declaration, "till Goad's green fields and Goad's clear waters are
free to Goad's people." I remember how on this occasion he pressed my
hand with his famous cordiality, looked gravely and earnestly into my
face, and then gazed sternly into vacancy. It was a fine picture of
genius descending for a moment from its hill-top to show how close it
was to poor humanity.
Then came Lord Mulross, a respectable troglodytic peer, who
represented the one sluggish element in a swiftly progressing
Government. He was an oldish man with bushy whiskers and a reputed
mastery of the French tongue. A Whig, who had never changed his creed
one iota, he was highly valued by the country as a sober element in
the nation's councils, and endured by the Cabinet as necessary
ballast. He did not conceal his dislike for certain of his
colleagues, notably Mr. Vennard and Mr. Cargill.
When Miss Barriton arrived with her stepmother the party was
almost complete. She entered with an air of apologising for her
prettiness. Her manner with old men was delightful, and I watched
with interest the unbending of Caerlaverock and the simplifying of Mr.
Cargill in her presence. Deloraine, who was talking feverishly to
Mrs. Cargill, started as if to go and greet her, thought better of it,
and continued his conversation. The lady swept the room with her eye,
but did not acknowledge his presence. She floated off with Mr.
Cargill to a window-corner, and metaphorically sat at his feet. I saw
Deloraine saying things behind his moustache, while he listened to
Mrs. Cargill's new cure for dyspepsia.
Last of all, twenty minutes late, came Abinger Vennard. He made a
fine stage entrance, walking swiftly with a lowering brow to his
hostess, and then glaring fiercely round the room as if to challenge
criticism. I have heard Deloraine, in a moment of irritation,
describe him as a "Pre-Raphaelite attorney," but there could be no
denying his good looks. He had a bad, loose figure, and a quantity of
studiously neglected hair, but his face was the face of a young Greek.
A certain kind of political success gives a man the manners of an
actor, and both Vennard and Cargill bristled with self-consciousness.
You could see it in the way they patted their hair, squared their
shoulders, and shifted their feet to positions loved by sculptors.
"Well, Vennard, what's the news from the House?" Caerlaverock
"Simpson is talking," said Vennard wearily. "He attacks me, of
course. He says he has lived forty years in India--as if that
mattered! When will people recognise that the truths of democratic
policy are independent of time and space? Liberalism is a category,
an eternal mode of thought, which cannot be overthrown by any trivial
happenings. I am sick of the word 'facts.' I long for truths."
Miss Barriton's eyes brightened, and Cargill said, "Excellent."
Lord Mulross, who was a little deaf, and in any case did not
understand the language, said loudly to my aunt that he wished there
was a close time for legislation.
"The open season for grouse should be the close season for
And then we went down to dinner.
Miss Barriton sat on my left hand, between Deloraine and me, and
it was clear she was discontented with her position. Her eyes
wandered down the table to Vennard, who had taken in an American
duchess, and seemed to be amused at her prattle. She looked with
disfavour at Deloraine, and turned to me as the lesser of two evils.
I was tactless enough to say that I thought there was a good deal
in Lord Mulross's view. "Oh, how can you?" she cried. "Is there a
close season for the wants of the people? It sounds to me perfectly
horrible the way you talk of government, as if it were a game for idle
men of the upper classes. I want professional politicians, men who
give their whole heart and soul to the service of the State. I know
the kind of member you and Lord Deloraine like--a rich young man who
eats and drinks too much, and thinks the real business of life is
killing little birds. He travels abroad and shoots some big game, and
then comes home and vapours about the Empire. He knows nothing about
realities, and will go down before the men who take the world
I am afraid I laughed, but Deloraine, who had been listening, was
in no mood to be amused.
"I don't think you are quite fair to us, Miss Claudia," he said
slowly. "We take things seriously enough, the things we know about.
We can't be expected to know about everything, and the misfortune is
that the things I care about don't interest you. But they are
important enough for all that."
"Hush," said the lady rudely. "I want to hear what Mr. Vennard is
Mr. Vennard was addressing the dinner-table as if it were a large
public meeting. It was a habit he had, for he had no mind to confine
the pearls of his wisdom to his immediate neighbours. His words were
directed to Caerlaverock at the far end.
"In my opinion this craze for the scientific stand-point is not
merely overdone--it is radically vicious. Human destinies cannot be
treated as if they were inert objects under the microscope. The
cold-blooded logical way of treating a problem is in almost every case
the wrong way. Heart and imagination to me are more vital than
intellect. I have the courage to be illogical, to defy facts for the
sake of an ideal, in the certainty that in time facts will fall into
conformity. My Creed may be put in the words of Newman's favourite
quotation: Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum
suum--Not in cold logic is it God's will that His people should find
"It is profoundly true," sighed Mr. Cargill, and Miss Claudia's
beaming eyes proved her assent. The moment of destiny, though I did
not know it, had arrived. The entree course had begun, and of the two
entrees one was the famous Caerlaverock curry. Now on a hot July
evening in London there are more attractive foods than curry seven
times heated, MORE INDICO. I doubt if any guest would have touched
it, had not our host in his viceregal voice called the attention of
the three ministers to its merits, while explaining that under
doctor's orders he was compelled to refrain for a season. The result
was that Mulross, Cargill, and Vennard alone of the men partook of it.
Miss Claudia, alone of the women, followed suit in the fervour of her
hero-worship. She ate a mouthful, and then drank rapidly two glasses
My narrative of the events which followed is based rather on what
I should have seen than on what I saw. I had not the key, and missed
much which otherwise would have been plain to me. For example, if I
had known the secret, I must have seen Miss Claudia's gaze cease to
rest upon Vennard and the adoration die out of her eyes. I must have
noticed her face soften to the unhappy Deloraine. As it was, I did
not remark her behaviour, till I heard her say to her neighbour--
"Can't you get hold of Mr. Vennard and forcibly cut his hair?"
Deloraine looked round with a start. Miss Barriton's tone was
intimate and her face friendly.
"Some people think it picturesque," he said in serious
"Oh, yes, picturesque--like a hair-dresser's young man!" she
shrugged her shoulders. He looks as if he had never been out of
doors in his life."
Now, whatever the faults of Tommy's appearance, he had a wholesome
sunburnt face, and he knew it. This speech of Miss Barriton's cheered
him enormously, for he argued that if she had fallen out of love with
Vennard's looks she might fall in love with his own. Being a
philosopher in his way, he was content to take what the gods gave, and
ask for no explanations.
I do not know how their conversation prospered, for my attention
was distracted by the extraordinary behaviour of the Home Secretary.
Mr. Cargill had made himself notorious by his treatment of
"political" prisoners. It was sufficient in his eyes for a criminal
to confess to political convictions to secure the most lenient
treatment and a speedy release. The Irish patriot who cracked skulls
in the Scotland Division of Liverpool, the Suffragist who broke
windows and the noses of the police, the Social Democrat whose
antipathy to the Tsar revealed itself in assaults upon the Russian
Embassy, the "hunger-marchers" who had designs on the British
Museum,--all were sure of respectful and tender handling. He had
announced more than once, amid tumultuous cheering, that he would
never be the means of branding earnestness, however mistaken, with the
badge of the felon.
He was talking I recall, to Lady Lavinia Dobson, renowned in two
hemispheres for her advocacy of women's rights. And this was what I
heard him say. His face had grown suddenly flushed and his eye
bright, so that he looked liker than ever to a bookmaker who had had a
good meeting. "No, no, my dear lady, I have been a lawyer, and it is
my duty in office to see that the law, the palladium of British
liberties is kept sacrosanct. The law is no respecter of persons, and
I intend that it shall be no respecter of creeds. If men or women
break the laws, to jail they shall go, though their intentions were
those of the Apostle Paul. We don't punish them for being Socialists
or Suffragists, but for breaking the peace. Why, goodness me, if we
didn't, we should have every malefactor in Britain claiming
preferential treatment because he was a Christian Scientist or a
"Mr. Cargill, do you realise what you are saying?" said Lady
Lavinia with a scared face.
"Of course I do. I am a lawyer, and may be presumed to know the
law. If any other doctrine were admitted, the Empire would burst up
in a fortnight."
"That I should live to hear you name that accursed name!" cried
the outraged lady. "You are denying your gods, Mr. Cargill. You are
forgetting the principles of a lifetime."
Mr. Cargill was becoming excited, and exchanging his ordinary
Edinburgh-English for a broader and more effective dialect.
"Tut, tut, my good wumman, I may be allowed to know my own
principles best. I tell ye I've always maintained these views from
the day when I first walked the floor of the Parliament House.
Besides, even if I hadn't, I'm surely at liberty to change if I get
more light. Whoever makes a fetish of consistency is a trumpery body
and little use to God or man. What ails ye at the Empire, too? Is it
not better to have a big country than a kailyard, or a house in
Grosvenor Square than a but-and-ben in Balham?"
Lady Lavinia folded her hands. "We slaughter our black
fellow-citizens, we fill South Africa with yellow slaves, we crowd
the Indian prisons with the noblest and most enlightened of the Indian
race, and we call it Empire building!"
"No, we don't," said Mr. Cargill stoutly, "we call it
common-sense. That is the penal and repressive side of any great
activity. D'ye mean to tell me that you never give your maid a good
hearing? But would you like it to be said that you spent the whole of
your days swearing at the wumman?"
"I never swore in my life," said Lady Lavinia.
"I spoke metaphorically," said Mr. Cargill. "If ye cannot
understand a simple metaphor, ye cannot understand the rudiments of
Picture to yourself a prophet who suddenly discovers that his God
is laughing at him, a devotee whose saint winks and tells him that
the devotion of years has been a farce, and you will get some idea of
Lady Lavinia's frame of mind. Her sallow face flushed, her lip
trembled, and she slewed round as far as her chair would permit her.
Meanwhile Mr. Cargill, redder than before, went on contentedly with
I was glad when my aunt gave the signal to rise. The atmosphere
was electric, and all were conscious of it save the three Ministers,
Deloraine, and Miss Claudia. Vennard seemed to be behaving very
badly. He was arguing with Caerlaverock down the table, and the
ex-Viceroy's face was slowly getting purple. When the ladies had
gone, we remained oblivious to wine and cigarettes, listening to this
heated controversy which threatened any minute to end in a quarrel.
The subject was India, and Vennard was discussing on the follies
of all Viceroys.
"Take this idiot we've got now," he declared. "He expects me to
be a sort of wet-nurse to the Government of India and do all their
dirty work for them. They know local conditions, and they have ample
powers if they would only use them, but they won't take an atom of
responsibility. How the deuce am I to decide for them, when in the
nature of things I can't be half as well informed about the facts!"
"Do you maintain," said Caerlaverock, stuttering in his wrath,
"that the British Government should divest itself of responsibility
for the governement of our great Indian Dependency?"
"Not a bit," said Vennard impatiently; "of course we are
responsible, but that is all the more reason why the fellows who know
the business at first hand should do their duty. If I am the head of
a bank I am responsible for its policy, but that doesn't mean that
every local bank-manager should consult me about the solvency of
clients I never heard of. Faversham keeps bleating to me that the
state of India is dangerous. Well, for God's sake let him suppress
every native paper, shut up the schools, and send every agitator to
the Andamans. I'll back him up all right. But don't let him ask me
what to do, for I don't know."
"You think such a course would be popular?" asked a large, grave
man, a newspaper editor.
"Of course it would," said Vennard cheerily. "The British public
hates the idea of letting India get out of hand. But they want a
lead. They can't be expected to start the show any more than I can."
Lord Caerlaverock rose to join the ladies with an air of outraged
dignity. Vennard pulled out his watch and announced that he must go
back to the House.
"Do you know what I am going to do?" he asked. "I am going down
to tell Simpson what I think of him. He gets up and prates of having
been forty years in India. Well, I am going to tell him that it is to
him and his forty-year lot that all this muddle is due. Oh, I assure
you, there's going to be a row," said Vennard, as he struggled into
Mulross had been sitting next me, and I asked him if he was
leaving town. "I wish I could," he said, "but I fear I must stick on
over the Twelth. I don't like the way that fellow Von Kladow has been
talking. He's up to no good, and he's going to get a flea in his ear
before he is very much older."
Cheerfully, almost hilariously the three Ministers departed,
Vennard and Cargill in a hansom and Mulross on foot. I can only
describe the condition of those left behind as nervous prostration.
We looked furtively at each other, each afraid to hint his
suspicions, but all convinced that a surprising judgment had befallen
at least two members of his Majesty's Government. For myself I put the
number at three, for I did not like to hear a respected Whig Foreign
Secretary talk about giving the Chancellor of a friendly but jealous
Power a flea in his ear.
The only unperplexed face was Deloraine's. He whispered to me
that Miss Barriton was going on to the Alvanleys' ball, and had
warned him to be there. "She hasn't been to a dance for months, you
know," he said. "I really think things are beginning to go a little
better, old man."
When I opened my paper next morning I read two startling pieces of
news. Lord Mulross had been knocked down by a taxi-cab on his way
home the night before, and was now in bed suffering from a bad shock
and a bruised ankle. There was no cause for anxiety, said the report,
but his lordship must keep his room for a week or two.
The second item, which filled leading articles and overflowed into
"Political Notes," was Mr. Vennard's speech. The Secretary for India
had gone down about eleven o'clock to the House, where an Indian
debate was dragging out its slow length. He sat himself on the
Treasury Bench and took notes, and the House soon filled in
anticipation of his reply. His "tail"--progressive young men like
himself--were there in full strength, ready to cheer every syllable
which fell from their idol. Somewhere about half-past twelve he rose
to wind up the debate, and the House was treated to an unparalleled
sensation. He began with his critics, notably the unfortunate
Simpson, and, pretty much in Westbury's language to the herald, called
them silly old men who did not understand their silly old business.
But it was the reasons he gave for this abuse which left his
followers aghast. He attacked his critics not for being satraps and
reactionaries, but because they had dared to talk second-rate Western
politics in connection with India.
"Have you lived for forty years with your eyes shut," he cried,
"that you cannot see the difference between a Bengali, married at
fifteen and worshipping a pantheon of savage gods, and the
university-extension Young Radical at home? There is a thousand
years between them, and you dream of annihilating the centuries with
a little dubious popular science!" Then he turned to the other
critics of Indian administration--his quondam supporters. He analysed
the character of these " members for India" with a vigour and acumen
which deprived them of speech. The East, he said, had had its revenge
upon the West by making certain Englishmen babus. His honourable
friends had the same slipshod minds, and they talked the same
pigeon-English, as the patriots of Bengal. Then his mood changed, and
he delivered a solemn warning against what he called "the treason
begotten of restless vanity and proved incompetence." He sat down,
leaving a House deeply impressed and horribly mystified.
The Times did not know what to make of it at all. In a weighty
leader it welcomed Mr. Vennard's conversion, but hinted that with a
convert's zeal he had slightly overstated his case. The Daily
Chronicle talked of "nervous breakdown," and suggested "kindly
forgetfulness" as the best treatment. The Daily News, in a spirited
article called "The Great Betrayal," washed its hands of Mr. Vennard
unless he donned the white sheet of the penitent. Later in the day I
got The Westminster Gazette, and found an ingenious leader which
proved that the speech in no way conflicted with Liberal principles,
and was capable of a quite ordinary explanation. Then I went to see
I found my aunt almost in tears.
"What has happened?" she cried. "What have we done that we should
be punished in this awful way? And to think that the blow fell in
this house? Caerlaverock--we all--thought Mr. Vennard so strange last
night, and Lady Lavinia told me that Mr. Cargill was perfectly
horrible. I suppose it must be the heat and the strain of the
session. And that poor Lord Mulross, who was always so wise, should
be stricken down at this crisis!"
I did not say that I thought Mulross's accident a merciful
dispensation. I was far more afraid of him than of all the others,
for if with his reputation for sanity he chose to run amok, he would
be taken seriously. He was better in bed than affixing a flea to Von
"Caerlaverock was with the Prime Minister this morning," my aunt
went on. "He is going to make a statement in the Lords tomorrow to
try to cover Mr. Vennard's folly. They are very anxious about what
Mr. Cargill will do today. He is addressing the National Convention
of Young Liberals at Oldham this afternoon, and though they have sent
him a dozen telegrams they can get no answer. Caerlaverock went to
Downing Street an hour ago to get news."
There was the sound of an electric brougham stopping in the square
below, and we both listened with a premonition of disaster. A minute
later Caerlaverock entered the room, and with him the Prime Minister.
The cheerful, eupeptic countenance of the latter was clouded with
care. He shook hands dismally with my aunt, nodded to me, and flung
himself down on a sofa.
"The worst has happened," Caerlaverock boomed solemnly. "Cargill
has been incredibly and infamously silly." He tossed me an evening
One glance convinced me that the Convention of Young Liberals had
had a waking-up. Cargill had addressed them on what he called the
true view of citizenship. He had dismissed manhood suffrage as an
obsolete folly. The franchise, he maintained, should be narrowed and
given only to citizens, and his definition of citizenship was military
training combined with a fairly high standard of rates and taxes. I
do not know how the Young Liberals received his creed, but it had no
sort of success with the Prime Minister.
"We must disavow him," said Caerlaverock.
"He is too valuable a man to lose," said the Prime Minister. "We
must hope that it is only a temporary aberration. I simply cannot
spare him in the House."
"But this is flat treason."
"I know, I know. It is all too horrible, and utterly unexpected.
But the situation wants delicate handling, my dear Caerlaverock. I
see nothing for it but to give out that he was ill."
"Or drunk?" I suggested.
The Prime Minister shook his head sadly. "I fear it will be the
same thing. What we call illness the ordinary man will interpret as
intoxication. It is a most regrettable necessity, but we must face
The harassed leader rose, seized the evening paper, and departed
as swiftly as he had come. "Remember, illness," were his parting
words. "An old heart trouble, which is apt to affect his brain. His
friends have always known about it."
I walked home, and looked in at the Club on my way. There I found
Deloraine devouring a hearty tea and looking the picture of virtuous
"Well, this is tremendous news," I said, as I sat down beside
"What news?" he asked with a start.
"This row about Vennard and Cargill."
"Oh, that! I haven't seen the papers to-day. What's it all
about?" His tone was devoid of interest.
Then I knew that something of great private moment had happened to
"I hope I may congratulate you," I said.
Deloraine beamed on me affectionately. "Thanks very much, old
man. Things came all right, quite suddenly, you know. We spent most
of the time at the Alvanleys together, and this morning in the Park
she accepted me. It will be in the papers next week, but we mean to
keep it quiet for a day or two. However, it was your right to be
told--and, besides,you guessed."
I remember wondering, as I finished my walk home, whether there
could not be some connection between the stroke of Providence which
had driven three Cabinet Ministers demented and that gentler touch
which had restored Miss Claudia Barriton to good sense and a
The next week was an epoch in my life. I seemed to live in the
centre of a Mad Tea-party, where every one was convinced of the
madness, and yet resolutely protested that nothing had happened. The
public events of those days were simple enough. While Lord Mulross's
ankle approached convalescence, the hives of politics were humming
with rumours. Vennard's speech had dissolved his party into its
parent elements, and the Opposition, as nonplussed as the Government,
did not dare as yet to claim the recruit. Consequently he was left
alone till he should see fit to take a further step. He refused to be
interviewed, using blasphemous language about our free Press; and
mercifully he showed no desire to make speeches. He went down to golf
at Littlestone, and rarely showed himself in the House. The earnest
young reformer seemed to have adopted not only the creed but the
habits of his enemies.
Mr. Cargill's was a hard case. He returned from Oldham, delighted
with himself and full of fight, to find awaiting him an urgent message
from the Prime Minister. His chief was sympathetic and kindly. He
had long noticed that the Home Secretary looked fagged and ill. There
was no Home Office Bill very pressing, and his assistance in general
debate could be dispensed with for a little. Let him take a
fortnight's holiday--fish, golf, yacht--the Prime Minister was airily
suggestive. In vain Mr. Cargill declared he was perfectly well. His
chief gently but firmly overbore him, and insisted on sending him his
own doctor. That eminent specialist, having been well coached, was
vaguely alarming, and insisted on a change. Then Mr. Cargill began to
suspect, and asked the Prime Minister point-blank if he objected to
his Oldham speech. He was told that there was no objection--a little
strong meat, perhaps, for Young Liberals, a little daring, but full of
Mr. Cargill's old intellectual power. Mollified and reassured, the
Home Secretary agreed to a week's absence, and departed for a little
salmon- fishing in Scotiand. His wife had meantime been taken into
the affair, and privately assured by the Prime Minister that she
would greatly ease the mind of the Cabinet if she could induce her
husband to take a longer holiday--say three weeks. She promised to do
her best and to keep her instructions secret, and the Cargills duly
departed for the North. "In a fortnight," said the Prime Minister to
my aunt, "he will have forgotten all this nonsense; but of course we
shall have to watch him very carefully in the future."
The Press was given its cue, and announced that Mr. Cargill had
spoken at Oldham while suffering from severe nervous breakdown, and
that the remarkable doctrines of that speech need not be taken
seriously. As I had expected, the public put its own interpretation
upon this tale. Men took each other aside in clubs, women gossiped in
drawing-rooms, and in a week the Cargill scandal had assumed amazing
proportions. The popular version was that the Home Secretary had got
very drunk at Caerlaverock House, and still under the influence of
liquor had addressed the Young Liberals at Oldham. He was now in an
Inebriates' Home, and would not return to the House that session. I
confess I trembled when I heard this story, for it was altogether too
libellous to pass unnoticed. I believed that soon it would reach the
ear of Cargill, fishing quietly at Tomandhoul, and that then there
would be the deuce to pay.
Nor was I wrong. A few days later I went to see my aunt to find
out how the land lay. She was very bitter, I remember, about Claudia
Barriton. "I expected sympathy and help from her, and she never comes
near me. I can understand her being absorbed in her engagement, but I
cannot understand the frivolous way she spoke when I saw her
yesterday. She had the audacity to say that both Mr. Vennard and Mr.
Cargill had gone up in her estimation. Young people can be so
I would have defended Miss Barriton, but at this moment an
astonishing figure was announced. It was Mrs. Cargill in travelling
dress, with a purple bonnet and a green motor-veil. Her face was
scarlet, whether from excitement or the winds of Tomandhoul, and she
charged down on us like a young bull.
"We have come back," she said, "to meet our accusers. "
"Accusers!" cried my aunt.
"Yes, accusers!" said the lady. "The abominable rumour about
Alexander has reached our ears. At this moment he is with the Prime
Minister, demanding an official denial. I have come to you, because
it was here, at your table, that Alexander is said to have fallen."
"I really don't know what you mean, Mrs. Cargill."
"I mean that Alexander is said to have become drunk while dining
here, to have been drunk when he spoke at Oldham, and to be now in a
Drunkard's Home." The poor lady broke down, "Alexander," she cried,
"who has been a teetotaller from his youth, and for thirty years an
elder in the U.P. Church! No form of intoxicant has ever been
permitted at our table. Even in illness the thing has never passed
My aunt by this time had pulled herself together. "If this
outrageous story is current, Mrs. Cargill, there was nothing for it
but to come back. Your friends know that it is a gross libel. The
only denial necessary is for Mr. Cargill to resume his work. I trust
his health is better."
"He is well, but heartbroken. His is a sensitive nature, Lady
Caerlaverock, and he feels a stain like a wound."
"There is no stain," said my aunt briskly. "Every public man is a
target for scandals, but no one but a fool believes them. They will
die a natural death when he returns to work. An official denial would
make everybody look ridiculous, and encourage the ordinary person to
think that there may have been something in them. Believe me, dear
Mrs. Cargill, there is nothing to be anxious about now that you are
back in London again."
On the contrary, I thought, there was more cause for anxiety than
ever. Cargill was back in the House and the illness game could not
be played a second time. I went home that night acutely sympathetic
towards the worries of the Prime Minister. Mulross would be abroad in
a day or two, and Vennard and Cargill were volcanoes in eruption. The
Government was in a parlous state, with three demented Ministers on
The same night I first heard the story of The Bill. Vennard had
done more than play golf at Littlestone. His active mind--for his
bitterest enemies never denied his intellectual energy--had been busy
on a great scheme. At that time, it will be remembered, a serious
shrinkage of unskilled labour existed not only in the Transvaal, but
in the new copper fields of East Africa. Simultaneously a famine was
scourging Behar, and Vennard, to do him justice, had made manful
efforts to cope with it. He had gone fully into the question, and had
been slowly coming to the conclusion that Behar was hopelessly
overcrowded. In his new frame of mind--unswervingly logical, utterly
unemotional, and wholly unbound by tradition--he had come to connect
the African and Indian troubles, and to see in one the relief of the
other. The first fruit of his meditations was a letter to The Times.
In it he laid down a new theory of emigration. The peoples of the
Empire, he said, must be mobile, shifting about to suit economic
conditions. But if this was true of the white man, it was equally
true for the dark races under our tutelage. He referred to the famine
and argued that the recurrence of such disasters was inevitable,
unless we assisted the poverty-stricken ryot to emigrate and sell his
labour to advantage. He proposed indentures and terminable contracts,
for he declared he had no wish to transplant for good. All that was
needed was a short season of wage-earning abroad, that the labourer
might return home with savings which would set him for the future on a
higher economic plane. The letter was temperate and academic in
phrasing, the speculation of a publicist rather than the declaration
of a Minister. But in Liberals, who remembered the pandemonium raised
over the Chinese in South Africa, it stirred up the gloomiest
Then, whispered from mouth to mouth, came the news of the Great
Bill. Vennard, it was said, intended to bring in a measure at the
earliest possible date to authorise a scheme of enforced and
State-aided emigration to the African mines. It would apply at first
only to the famine districts, but power would be given to extend its
working by proclamation to other areas. Such was the rumour, and I
need not say it was soon magnified. Questions were asked in the House
which the Speaker ruled out of order. Furious articles, inviting
denial, appeared in the Liberal Press; but Vennard took not the
slightest notice. He spent his time between his office in Whitehall
and the links at Littlestone, dropping into the House once or twice
for half an hour's slumber while a colleague was speaking. His Under
Secretary in the Lords--a young gentleman who had joined the party for
a bet, and to his immense disgust had been immediately rewarded with
office--lost his temper under cross-examination and swore audibly at
the Opposition. In a day or two the story universally believed was
that the Secretary for India was about to transfer the bulk of the
Indian people to work as indentured labourers for South African Jews.
It was this popular version, I fancy, which reached the ears of
Ram Singh, and the news came on him like a thunderclap. He thought
that what Vennard proposed Vennard could do. He saw his native
province stripped of its people, his fields left unploughed, and his
cattle untended; nay, it was possible, his own worthy and honourable
self sent to a far country to dig in a hole. It was a grievous and
intolerable prospect. He walked home to Gloucester Road in heavy
preoccupation, and the first thing he did was to get out the
mysterious brass box in which he kept his valuables. From a
pocket-book he took a small silk packet, opened it, and spilled a few
clear grains on his hand. It was the antidote.
He waited two days, while on all sides the rumour of the Bill grew
stronger and its provisions more stringent. Then he hesitated no
longer, but sent for Lord Caerlaverock's cook.
I conceive that the drug did not create new opinions, but elicited
those which had hitherto lain dormant. Every man has a creed, but in
his soul he knows that that creed has another side, possibly not less
logical, which it does not suit him to produce. Our most honest
convictions are not the children of pure reason, but of temperament,
environment, necessity, and interest. Most of us take sides in life
and forget the one we reject. But our conscience tells us it is
there, and we can on occasion state it with a fairness and fulness
which proves that it is not wholly repellent to our reason. During
the crisis I write of, the attitude of Cargill and Vennard was not
that of roysterers out for irresponsible mischief. They were
eminently reasonable and wonderfully logical, and in private
conversation they gave their opponents a very bad time. Cargill, who
had hitherto been the hope of the extreme Free-traders, wrote an
article for the Quarterly on Tariff Reform. It was set up, but long
before it could be used it was cancelled and the type scattered. I
have seen a proof of it, however, and I confess I have never read a
more brilliant defence of a doctrine which the author had hitherto
described as a childish heresy. Which proves my contention--that
Cargill all along knew that there was a case against Free Trade, but
naturally did not choose to admit it, his allegiance being vowed
elsewhere. The drug altered temperament, and with it the creed which
is based mainly on temperament. It scattered current convictions,
roused dormant speculations, and without damaging the reason switched
it on to a new track.
I can see all this now, but at the time I saw only stark madness
and the horrible ingenuity of the lunatic. While Vennard was
ruminating on his Bill, Cargill was going about London arguing like a
Scotch undergraduate. The Prime Minister had seen from the start that
the Home Secretary was the worse danger. Vennard might talk of his
preposterous Bill, but the Cabinet would have something to say to it
before its introduction, and he was mercifully disinclined to go near
St. Stephen's. But Cargill was assiduous in his attendance at the
House, and at any moment might blow the Government sky-high. His
colleagues were detailed in relays to watch him. One would hale him
to luncheon, and keep him till question time was over. Another would
insist on taking him for a motor ride, which would end in a break-down
about Brentford. Invitations to dinner were showered upon him, and
Cargill, who had been unknown in society, found the whole social
machinery of his party set at work to make him a lion. The result
was that he was prevented from speaking in public, but given far too
much encouragement to talk in private. He talked incessantly, before,
at, and after dinner, and he did enormous harm. He was horribly
clever, too, and usually got the best of an argument, so that various
eminent private Liberals had their tempers ruined by his dialectic.
In his rich and unabashed accent--he had long discarded his
Edinburgh-English--he dissected their arguments and ridiculed their
character. He had once been famous for his soapy manners: now he was
as rough as a Highland stot.
Things could not go on in this fashion: the risk was too great.
It was just a fortnight, I think, after the Caerlaverock
dinner-party, when the Prime Minister resolved to bring matters to a
head. He could not afford to wait for ever on a return of sanity. He
consulted Caerlaverock, and it was agreed that Vennard and Cargill
should be asked, or rather commanded to dine on the following evening
at Caerlaverock House. Mulross, whose sanity was not suspected, and
whose ankle was now well again, was also invited, as were three other
members of the Cabinet and myself as amicus curiae. It was understood
that after dinner there would be a settling-up with the two rebels.
Either they should recant and come to heel, or they should depart
from the fold to swell the wolf-pack of the Opposition. The Prime
Minister did not conceal the loss which his party would suffer, but
he argued very sensibly that anything was better than a brace of
vipers in its bosom.
I have never attended a more lugubrious function. When I arrived
I found Caerlaverock, the Prime Minister, and the three other members
of the Cabinet standing round a small fire in attitudes of nervous
dejection. I remember it was a raw wet evening, but the gloom out of
doors was sunshine compared to the gloom within. Caerlaverock's
viceregal air had sadly altered. The Prime Minister, once famous for
his genial manners, was pallid and preoccupied. We exchanged remarks
about the weather and the duration of the session. Then we fell
silent till Mulross arrived.
He did not look as if he had come from a sickbed. He came in as
jaunty as a boy, limping just a little from his accident. He was
greeted by his colleagues with tender solicitude,--solicitude, I
fear, completely wasted on him.
"Devilish silly thing to do to get run over," he said. "I was in
a brown study when a cab came round a corner. But I don't regret it,
you know. During the last fortnight I have had leisure to go into
this Bosnian Succession business, and I see now that Von Kladow has
been playing one big game of bluff. Very well; it has got to stop. I
am going to prick the bubble before I am many days older."
The Prime Minister looked anxious. "Our policy towards Bosnia has
been one of non-interference. It is not for us, I should have
thought, to read Germany a lesson."
"Oh, come now," Mulross said, slapping--yes, actually slapping--
his leader on the back; "we may drop that nonsense when we are alone.
You know very well that there are limits to our game of
non-interference. If we don't read Germany a lesson, she will read
us one--and a damned long unpleasant one too. The sooner we give up
all this milk-blooded, blue-spectacled, pacificist talk the better.
However, you will see what I have got to say to-morrow in the House."
The Prime Minister's face lengthened. Mulross was not the pillar
he had thought him, but a splintering reed. I saw that he agreed
with me that this was the most dangerous of the lot.
Then Cargill and Vennard came in together. Both looking
uncommonly fit, younger, trimmer, cleaner. Vennard, instead of his
sloppy clothes and shaggy hair, was groomed like a Guardsman; had a
large pearl-and-diamond solitaire in his shirt, and a white waistcoat
with jewelled buttons. He had lost all his self-consciousness,
grinned cheerfully at the others, warmed his hands at the fire, and
cursed the weather. Cargill, too, had lost his sanctimonious look.
There was a bloom of rustic health on his cheek, and a sparkle in his
eye, so that he had the appearance of some rosy Scotch laird of
Raeburn's painting. Both men wore an air of purpose and contentment .
Vennard turned at once on the Prime Minister. "Did you get my
letter?" he asked. "No? Well, you'll find it waiting when you get
home. We're all friends here, so I can tell you its contents. We
must get rid of this ridiculous Radical 'tail.' They think they have
the whip-hand of us; well, we have got to prove that we can do very
well without them. They are a collection of confounded, treacherous,
complacent prigs, but they have no grit in them, and will come to heel
if we tackle them firmly. I respect an honest fanatic, but I do not
respect those sentiment-mongers. They have the impudence to say that
the country is with them. I tell you it is rank nonsense. If you
take a strong hand with them, you'll double your popularity, and
we'll come back next year with an increased majority. Cargill
agrees with me."
The Prime Minister looked grave. "I am not prepared to discuss
any policy of ostracism. What you call our 'tail' is a vital section
of our party. Their creed may be one-sided, but it is none the less
part of our mandate from the people."
"I want a leader who governs as well as reigns," said Vennard. "I
believe in discipline, and you know as well as I do that the Rump is
infernally out of hand."
"They are not the only members who fail in discipline."
Vennard grinned. "I suppose you mean Cargill and myself. But we
are following the central lines of British policy. We are on your
side, and we want to make your task easier."
Cargill suddenly began to laugh. "I don't want any ostracism.
Leave them alone, and Vennard and I will undertake to give them such
a time in the House that they will wish they had never been born.
We'll make them resign in batches."
Dinner was announced, and, laughing uproariously, the two rebels
went arm-in-arm into the dining-room.
Cargill was in tremendous form. He began to tell Scotch stories,
memories of his old Parliament House days. He told them admirably,
with a raciness of idiom which I had thought beyond him. They were
long tales, and some were as broad as they were long, but Mr. Cargill
disarmed criticism. His audience, rather scandalised at the start,
were soon captured, and political troubles were forgotten in
old-fashioned laughter. Even the Prime Minister's anxious face
This lasted till the entree, the famous Caerlaverock curry.
As I have said, I was not in the secret, and did not detect the
transition. As I partook of the dish I remember feeling a sudden
giddiness and a slight nausea. The antidote, to those who had not
taken the drug, must have been, I suppose, in the nature of a mild
emetic. A mist seemed to obscure the faces of my fellow-guests, and
slowly the tide of conversation ebbed away. First Vennard, then
Cargill, became silent. I was feeling rather sick, and I noticed with
some satisfaction that all our faces were a little green. I wondered
casually if I had been poisoned.
The sensation passed, but the party had changed. More especially I
was soon conscious that something had happened to the three Ministers.
I noticed Mulross particularly, for he was my neighbour. The look of
keenness and vitality had died out of him, and suddenly he seemed a
rather old, rather tired man, very weary about the eyes.
I asked him if he felt seedy.
"No, not specially," he replied, "but that accident gave me a
"You should go off for a change," I said.
"I almost thimk I will," was the answer. "I had not meant to
leave town till just before the Twelth but I think I had better get
away to Marienbad for a fortnight. There is nothing doing in the
House, and work at the Office is at a standstill. Yes, I fancy I'll
go abroad before the end of the week."
I caught the Prime Minister's eye and saw that he had forgotten
the purpose of the dinner, being dimly conscious that that purpose
was now idle. Cargill and Vennard had ceased to talk like rebels.
The Home Secretary had subsided into his old, suave, phrasing self.
The humour had gone out of his eye, and the looseness had returned to
his lips. He was an older and more commonplace man, but harmless,
quite harmless. Vennard, too, wore a new air, or rather had
recaptured his old one. He was saying little, but his voice had lost
its crispness and recovered its half-plaintive unction; his shoulders
had a droop in them; once more he bristled with self-consciousness.
We others were still shaky from that detestable curry, and were so
puzzled as to be acutely uncomfortable. Relief would come later, no
doubt; for the present we were uneasy at this weird transformation. I
saw the Prime Minister examining the two faces intently, and the
result seemed to satisfy him. He sighed and looked at Caerlaverock,
who smiled and nodded.
"What about that Bill of yours, Vennard?" he asked. "There have
been a lot of stupid rumours."
"Bill?" Vennard said. "I know of no Bill. Now that my
departmental work is over, I can give my whole soul to Cargill's
Small Holdings. Do you mean that?"
"Yes, of course. There was some confusion in the popular mind,
but the old arrangement holds. You and Cargill will put it through
They began to talk about those weariful small holdings, and I
ceased to listen. We left the dining-room and drifted to the
lihrary, where a fire tried to dispel the gloom of the weather. There
was a feeling of deadly depression abroad, so that, for all its
awkwardness, I would really have preferred the former Caerlaverock
dinner. The Prime Minister was whispering to his host. I heard him
say something about there being "the devil of a lot of explaining"
Vennard and Cargill came last to the library, arm-in-arm as
"I should count it a greater honour," Vennard was saying, "to
sweeten the lot of one toiler in England than to add a million miles
to our territory. While one English household falls below the minimum
scale of civic wellbeing, all talk of Empire is sin and folly."
"Excellent!" said Mr. Cargill. Then I knew for certain that at last
peace had descended upon the vexed tents of Israel.
THE SHORTER CATECHISM
When I was young and herdit sheep
I read auld tales o' Wallace wight;
My held was fou o' sangs and threip
O' folk that feared nae mortal might.
But noo I'm auld, and weel I ken
We're made alike o' gowd and mire;
There's saft bits in the stievest men,
The bairnliest's got a spunk o' fire.
Sae hearken to me, lads,
It's truth that I tell:
There's nae man a' courage--
I ken by mysel'.
I've been an elder forty year:
I've tried to keep the narrow way:
I've walked afore the Lord in fear:
I've never missed the kirk a day.
I've read the Bible in and oot,
(I ken the feck o't clean by hert).
But, still and on, I sair misdoot
I'm better noo than at the stert.
Sae hearken to me, lads,
It's truth I maintain:
Man's works are but rags, for
I ken by my ain.
I hae a name for decent trade:
I'll wager a' the countryside
Wad sweer nae trustier man was made,
The ford to soom, the bent to bide.
But when it comes to coupin' horse,
I'm just like a' that e'er was born;
I fling my heels and tak' my course;
I'd sell the minister the morn.
Sae hearken to me, lads,
It's truth that I tell:
There's nae man deid honest--
I ken by mysel'.
He pushed the matted locks from his brow as he peered into the
mist. His hair was thick with salt, and his eyes smarted from the
greenwood fire on the poop. The four slaves who crouched beside the
thwarts-Carians with thin birdlike faces-were in a pitiable case,
their hands blue with oar-weals and the lash marks on their shoulders
beginning to gape from sun and sea. The Lemnian himself bore marks of
ill usage. His cloak was still sopping, his eyes heavy with watching,
and his lips black and cracked with thirst. Two days before the storm
had caught him and swept his little craft into mid-Aegean. He was a
sailor, come of sailor stock, and he had fought the gale manfully and
well. But the sea had burst his waterjars, and the torments of
drought had been added to his toil. He had been driven south almost
to Scyros, but had found no harbour. Then a weary day with the oars
had brought him close to the Euboean shore, when a freshet of storm
drove him seaward again. Now at last in this northerly creek of
Sciathos he had found shelter and a spring. But it was a perilous
place, for there were robbers in the bushy hills-mainland men who
loved above all things to rob an islander: and out at sea, as he
looked towards Pelion, there seemed something adoing which boded
little good. There was deep water beneath a ledge of cliff, half
covered by a tangle of wildwood. So Atta lay in the bows, looking
through the trails of vine at the racing tides now reddening in the
The storm had hit others besides him it seemed. The channel was
full of ships, aimless ships that tossed between tide and wind.
Looking closer, he saw that they were all wreckage. There had been
tremendous doings in the north, and a navy of some sort had come to
grief. Atta was a prudent man, and knew that a broken fleet might be
dangerous. There might be men lurking in the maimed galleys who would
make short work of the owner of a battered but navigable craft. At
first he thought that the ships were those of the Hellenes. The
troublesome fellows were everywhere in the islands, stirring up strife
and robbing the old lords. But the tides running strongly from the
east were bringing some of the wreckage in an eddy into the bay. He
lay closer and watched the spars and splintered poops as they neared
him. These were no galleys of the Hellenes. Then came a drowned
man, swollen and horrible: then another-swarthy, hooknosed fellows,
all yellow with the sea. Atta was puzzled. They must be the men from
the East about whom he had been hearing. Long ere he left Lemnos
there had been news about the Persians. They were coming like locusts
out of the dawn, swarming over Ionia and Thrace, men and ships
numerous beyond telling. They meant no ill to honest islanders: a
little earth and water were enough to win their friendship. But they
meant death to the hubris of the Hellenes. Atta was on the side of
the invaders; he wished them well in their war with his ancient foes.
They would eat them up, Athenians, Lacedaemonians, Corinthians,
Aeginetans, men of Argos and Elis, and none would be left to trouble
him. But in the meantime something had gone wrong. Clearly there had
been no battle. As the bodies butted against the side of the galley
he hooked up one or two and found no trace of a wound. Poseidon had
grown cranky, and had claimed victims. The god would be appeased by
this time, and all would go well.
Danger being past, he bade the men get ashore and fill the
water-skins. "God's curse on all Hellenes," he said, as he soaked up
the cold water from the spring in the thicket.
About noon he set sail again. The wind sat in the north-east, but
the wall of Pelion turned it into a light stern breeze which carried
him swiftly westward. The four slaves, still leg-weary and arm-weary,
lay like logs beside the thwarts. Two slept; one munched some salty
figs; the fourth, the headman, stared wearily forward, with ever and
again a glance back at his master. But the Lemnian never looked his
way. His head was on his breast, as he steered, and he brooded on the
sins of the Hellenes. He was of the old Pelasgian stock, the first
bords of the land, who had come out of the soil at the call of God.
The pillaging northmen had crushed his folk out of the mainlands and
most of the islands, but in Lemnos they had met their match. It was a
family story how every grown male had been slain, and how the women
long after had slaughtered their conquerors in the night. "Lemnian
deeds," said the Hellenes, when they wished to speak of some shameful
thing: but to Atta the shame was a glory to be cherished for ever.
He and his kind were the ancient people, and the gods loved old
things, as those new folk would find. Very especially he hated the
men of Athens. Had not one of their captains, Militades, beaten the
Lemnians and brought the island under Athenian sway? True, it was a
rule only in name, for any Athenian who came alone to Lemnos would
soon be cleaving the air from the highest cliff-top. But the thought
irked his pride, and he gloated over the Persians' coming. The Great
King from beyond the deserts would smite those outrageous upstarts.
Atta would willingly give earth and water. It was the whim of a
fantastic barbarian, and would be well repaid if the bastard Hellenes
were destroyed. They spoke his own tongue, and worshipped his own
gods, and yet did evil. Let the nemesis of Zeus devour them!
The wreckage pursued him everywhere. Dead men shouldered the
sides of the galley, and the straits were stuck full of things like
monstrous buoys, where tall ships had foundered. At Artemision he
thought he saw signs of an anchored fleet with the low poops of the
Hellenes, and sheered off to the northern shores. There, looking
towards Oeta and the Malian Gulf, he found an anchorage at sunset.
The waters were ugly and the times ill, and he had come on an
enterprise bigger than he had dreamed. The Lemnian was a stout fellow,
but he had no love for needless danger. He laughed mirthlessly as he
thought of his errand, for he was going to Hellas, to the shrine of
It was a woman's doing, like most crazy enterprises. Three years
ago his wife had laboured hard in childbirth, and had had the whims
of labouring women. Up in the keep of Larisa, on the windy hillside,
there had been heart-searching and talk about the gods. The little
olive-wood Hermes, the very private and particular god of Atta's folk,
was good enough in simple things like a lambing or a harvest, but he
was scarcely fit for heavy tasks. Atta's wife declared that her lord
lacked piety. There were mainland gods who repaid worship, but his
scorn of all Hellenes made him blind to the merits of those potent
divinities. At first Atta resisted. There was Attic blood in his
wife, and he strove to argue with her unorthodox craving. But the
woman persisted, and a Lemnian wife, as she is beyond other wives in
virtue and comeliness, excels them in stubbornness of temper. A
second time she was with child, and nothing would content her but that
Atta should make his prayers to the stronger gods. Dodona was far
away, and long ere he reached it his throat would be cut in the
hills. But Delphi was but two days' journey from the Malian coast,
and the god of Delphi, the Far-Darter had surprising gifts, if one
were to credit travellers' tales. Atta yielded with an ill grace, and
out of his wealth devised an offering to Apollo. So on this July day
he found himself looking across the gulf to Kallidromos bound for a
Hellenic shrine, but hating all Hellenes in his soul. A verse of
Homer consoled him-the words which Phocion spoke to Achilles. "Verily
even the gods may be turned, they whose excellence and honour and
strength are greater than thine; yet even these do men, when they
pray, turn from their purpose with offerings of incense and pleasant
vows." The Far-Darter must hate the hubris of those Hellenes, and be
the more ready to avenge it since they dared to claim his
countenance. "No race has ownership in the gods," a Lemnian
song-maker had said when Atta had been questioning the ways of
The following dawn found him coasting past the north end of Euboea
in the thin fog of a windless summer morn. He steered by the peak of
Othrys and a spur of Oeta, as he had learnt from a slave who had
travelled the road. Presently he was in the muddy Malian waters, and
the sun was scattering the mist on the landward side. And then he
became aware of a greater commotion than Poseidon's play with the
ships off Pelion. A murmur like a winter's storm came seawards. He
lowered the sail, which he had set to catch a chance breeze, and bade
the men rest on their oars. An earthquake seemed to be tearing at the
roots of the hills.
The mist rolled up, and his hawk eyes saw a strange sight. The
water was green and still around him, but shoreward it changed its
colour. It was a dirty red, and things bobbed about in it like the
Persians in the creek of Sciathos. On the strip of shore, below the
sheer wall of Kallidromos, men were fighting-myriads of men, for away
towards Locris they stretched in ranks and banners and tents till the
eye lost them in the haze. There was no sail on the queer,
muddy-red-edged sea; there was no man on the hills: but on that one
flat ribbon of sand all the nations of the earth were warring. He
remembered about the place: Thermopylae they called it, the Gate of
the Hot Springs. The Hellenes were fighting the Persians in the pass
for their Fatherland.
Atta was prudent and loved not other men's quarrels. He gave the
word to the rowers to row seaward. In twenty strokes they were in
the mist again...
Atta was prudent, but he was also stubborn. He spent the day in a
creek on the northern shore of the gulf, listening to the weird hum
which came over the waters out of the haze. He cursed the delay. Up
on Kallidromos would be clear dry air and the path to Delphi among the
oak woods. The Hellenes could not be fighting everywhere at once. He
might find some spot on the shore, far in their rear, where he could
land and gain the hills. There was danger indeed, but once on the
ridge he would be safe; and by the time he came back the Great King
would have swept the defenders into the sea, and be well on the road
for Athens. He asked himself if it were fitting that a Lemnian should
be stayed in his holy task by the struggles of Hellene and Barbarian.
His thoughts flew to his steading at Larisa, and the dark-eyed wife
who was awaiting his homecoming. He could not return without
Apollo's favour: his manhood and the memory of his lady's eyes
forbade it. So late in the afternoon he pushed off again and steered
his galley for the south.
About sunset the mist cleared from the sea; but the dark falls
swiftly in the shadow of the high hills, and Atta had no fear. With
the night the hum sank to a whisper; it seemed that the invaders were
drawing off to camp, for the sound receded to the west. At the last
light the Lemnian touched a rock-point well to the rear of the
defence. He noticed that the spume at the tide's edge was reddish and
stuck to his hands like gum. Of a surety much blood was flowing on
He bade his slaves return to the north shore and lie hidden to
await him. When he came back he would light a signal fire on the
topmost bluff of Kallidromos. Let them watch for it and come to take
him off. Then he seized his bow and quiver, and his short
hunting-spear, buckled his cloak about him, saw that the gift to
Apollo was safe in the folds of it, and marched sturdily up the
The moon was in her first quarter, a slim horn which at her rise
showed only the faint outline of the hill. Atta plodded steadfastly
on, but he found the way hard. This was not like the crisp sea-turf
of Lemnos, where among the barrows of the ancient dead, sheep and kine
could find sweet fodder. Kallidromos ran up as steep as the roof of a
barn. Cytisus and thyme and juniper grew rank, but above all the
place was strewn with rocks, leg-twisting boulders, and great cliffs
where eagles dwelt. Being a seaman, Atta had his bearings. The path
to Delphi left the shore road near the Hot Springs, and went south by
a rift of the mountain. If he went up the slope in a beeline he must
strike it in time and find better going. Still it was an eerie place
to be tramping after dark. The Hellenes had strange gods of the
thicket and hillside, and he had no wish to intrude upon their
sanctuaries. He told himself that next to the Hellenes he hated this
country of theirs, where a man sweltered in hot jungles or tripped
among hidden crags. He sighed for the cool beaches below Larisa,
where the surf was white as the snows of Samothrace, and the
fisherboys sang round their smoking broth-pots.
Presently he found a path. It was not the mule road, worn by many
feet, that he had looked for, but a little track which twined among
the boulders. Still it eased his feet, so he cleared the thorns from
his sandals, strapped his belt tighter, and stepped out more
confidently. Up and up he went, making odd detours among the crags.
Once he came to a promontory, and, looking down, saw lights twinkling
from the Hot Springs. He had thought the course lay more southerly,
but consoled himself by remembering that a mountain path must have
many windings. The great matter was that he was ascending, for he
knew that he must cross the ridge of Oeta before he struck the Locrian
glens that led to the Far-Darter's shrine.
At what seemed the summit of the first ridge he halted for breath,
and, prone on the thyme, looked back to sea. The Hot Springs were
hidden, but across the gulf a single light shone from the far shore.
He guessed that by this time his galley had been beached and his
slaves were cooking supper. The thought made him homesick. He had
beaten and cursed these slaves of his times without number, but now in
this strange land he felt them kinsfolk, men of his own household.
Then he told himself he was no better than a woman. Had he not gone
sailing to Chalcedon and distant Pontus, many months' journey from
home while this was but a trip of days? In a week he would be
welcomed by a smiling wife, with a friendly god behind him.
The track still bore west, though Delphi lay in the south.
Moreover, he had come to a broader road running through a little
tableland. The highest peaks of Oeta were dark against the sky, and
around him was a flat glade where oaks whispered in the night breezes.
By this time he judged from the stars that midnight had passed, and
he began to consider whether, now that he was beyond the fighting, he
should not sleep and wait for dawn. He made up his mind to find a
shelter, and, in the aimless way of the night traveller, pushed on and
on in the quest of it. The truth is his mind was on Lemnos, and a
dark-eyed, white-armed dame spinning in the evening by the threshold.
His eyes roamed among the oaktrees, but vacantly and idly, and many a
mossy corner was passed unheeded. He forgot his ill temper, and
hummed cheerfully the song his reapers sang in the barley-fields below
his orchard. It was a song of seamen turned husbandmen, for the gods
it called on were the gods of the sea....
Suddenly he found himself crouching among the young oaks, peering
and listening. There was something coming from the west. It was
like the first mutterings of a storm in a narrow harbour, a steady
rustling and whispering. It was not wind; he knew winds too well to
be deceived. It was the tramp of light-shod feet among the
twigs--many feet, for the sound remained steady, while the noise of a
few men will rise and fall. They were coming fast and coming
silently. The war had reached far up Kallidromos.
Atta had played this game often in the little island wars. Very
swiftly he ran back and away from the path up the slope which he knew
to be the first ridge of Kallidromos. The army, whatever it might be,
was on the Delphian road. Were the Hellenes about to turn the flank
of the Great King?
A moment later he laughed at his folly. For the men began to
appear, and they were crossing to meet him, coming from the west.
Lying close in the brushwood he could see them clearly. It was well
he had left the road, for they stuck to it, following every
winding-crouching, too, like hunters after deer. The first man he
saw was a Hellene, but the ranks behind were no Hellenes. There was no
glint of bronze or gleam of fair skin. They were dark, long-haired
fellows, with spears like his own, and round Eastern caps, and
egg-shaped bucklers. Then Atta rejoiced. It was the Great King who
was turning the flank of the Hellenes. They guarded the gate, the
fools, while the enemy slipped through the roof.
He did not rejoice long. The van of the army was narrow and kept
to the path, but the men behind were straggling all over the
hillside. Another minute and he would be discovered. The thought was
cheerless. It was true that he was an islander and friendly to the
Persian, but up on the heights who would listen to his tale? He would
be taken for a spy, and one of those thirsty spears would drink his
blood. It must be farewell to Delphi for the moment, he thought, or
farewell to Lemnos for ever. Crouching low, he ran back and away from
the path to the crest of the sea-ridge of Kallidromos.
The men came no nearer him. They were keeping roughly to the line
of the path, and drifted through the oak wood before him, an army
without end. He had scarcely thought there were so many fighting men
in the world. He resolved to lie there on the crest, in the hope that
ere the first light they would be gone. Then he would push on to
Delphi, leaving them to settle their quarrels behind him. These were
the hard times for a pious pilgrim.
But another noise caught his ear from the right. The army had
flanking squadrons, and men were coming along the ridge. Very bitter
anger rose in Atta's heart. He had cursed the Hellenes, and now he
cursed the Barbarians no less. Nay, he cursed all war, that spoiled
the errands of peaceful folk. And then, seeking safety, he dropped
over the crest on to the steep shoreward face of the mountain.
In an instant his breath had gone from him. He slid down a long
slope of screes, and then with a gasp found himself falling sheer
into space. Another second and he was caught in a tangle of bush,
and then dropped once more upon screes, where he clutched desperately
for handhold. Breathless and bleeding he came to anchor on a shelf of
greensward and found himself blinking up at the crest which seemed to
tower a thousand feet above. There were men on the crest now. He
heard them speak and felt that they were looking down.
The shock kept him still till the men had passed. Then the terror
of the place gripped him, and he tried feverishly to retrace his
steps. A dweller all his days among gentle downs, he grew dizzy with
the sense of being hung in space. But the only fruit of his efforts
was to set him slipping again. This time he pulled up at the root of
gnarled oak, which overhung the sheerest cliff on Kallidromos. The
danger brought his wits back. He sullenly reviewed his case, and
found it desperate.
He could not go back, and, even if he did, he would meet the
Persians. If he went on he would break his neck, or at the best fall
into the Hellenes' hands. Oddly enough he feared his old enemies less
than his friends. He did not think that the Hellenes would butcher
him. Again, he might sit perched in his eyrie till they settled their
quarrel, or he fell off. He rejected this last way. Fall off he
should for certain, unless he kept moving. Already he was retching
with the vertigo of the heights. It was growing lighter. Suddenly he
was looking not into a black world, but to a pearl-grey floor far
beneath him. It was the sea, the thing he knew and loved. The sight
screwed up his courage. He remembered that he was Lemnian and a
seafarer. He would be conquered neither by rock, nor by Hellene, nor
by the Great King. Least of all by the last, who was a barbarian.
Slowly, with clenched teeth and narrowed eyes, he began to clamber
down a ridge which flanked the great cliffs of Kallidromos. His plan
was to reach the shore and take the road to the east before the
Persians completed their circuit. Some instinct told him that a great
army would not take the track he had mounted by. There must be some
longer and easier way debouching farther down the coast. He might yet
have the good luck to slip between them and the sea.
The two hours which followed tried his courage hard. Thrice he
fell, and only a juniper-root stood between him and death. His hands
grew ragged, and his nails were worn to the quick. He had long ago
lost his weapons; his cloak was in shreds, all save the breast-fold
which held the gift to Apollo. The heavens brightened, but he dared
not look around. He knew he was traversing awesome places, where a
goat could scarcely tread. Many times he gave up hope of life. His
head was swimming, and he was so deadly sick that often he had to lie
gasping on some shoulder of rock less steep than the rest. But his
anger kept him to his purpose. He was filled with fury at the
Hellenes. It was they and their folly that had brought him these
mischances. Some day ....
He found himself sitting blinking on the shore of the sea. A
furlong off the water was lapping on the reefs. A man, larger than
human in the morning mist, was standing above him.
"Greeting, stranger," said the voice. "By Hermes, you choose the
difficult roads to travel."
Atta felt for broken bones, and, reassured, struggled to his feet.
"God's curse upon all mountains," he said. He staggered to the
edge of the tide and laved his brow. The savour of salt revived him.
He turned to find the tall man at his elbow, and noted how worn and
ragged he was, and yet how upright. "When a pigeon is flushed from
the rocks, there is a hawk near," said the voice.
Atta was angry. "A hawk!" he cried. "Nay, an army of eagles.
There will be some rare flushing of Hellenes before evening."
"What frightened you, Islander?" the stranger asked. "Did a wolf
bark up on the hillside?"
"Ay, a wolf. The wolf from the East with a multitude of
wolflings. There will be fine eating soon in the pass."
The man's face grew dark. He put his hand to his mouth and
called. Half a dozen sentries ran to join him. He spoke to them in
the harsh Lacedaemonian speech which made Atta sick to hear. They
talked with the back of the throat and there was not an "s" in their
"There is mischief in the hills," the first man said. "This
islander has been frightened down over the rocks. The Persian is
stealing a march on us."
The sentries laughed. One quoted a proverb about island courage.
Atta's wrath flared and he forgot himself. He had no wish to warn
the Hellenes, but it irked his pride to be thought a liar. He began to
tell his story hastily, angrily, confusedly; and the men still
Then he turned eastward and saw the proof before him. The light
had grown and the sun was coming up over Pelion. The first beam fell
on the eastern ridge of Kallidromos, and there, clear on the sky-line,
was the proof. The Persian was making a wide circuit, but moving
shoreward. In a little he would be at the coast, and by noon at the
His hearers doubted no more. Atta was hurried forward through the
lines of the Greeks to the narrow throat of the pass, where behind a
rough rampart of stones lay the Lacedaemonian headquarters. He was
still giddy from the heights, and it was in a giddy dream that he
traversed the misty shingles of the beach amid ranks of sleeping
warriors. It was a grim place, for there were dead and dying in it,
and blood on every stone. But in the lee of the wall little fires
were burning and slaves were cooking breakfast. The smell of roasting
flesh came pleasantly to his nostrils, and he remembered that he had
had no meal since he crossed the gulf.
Then he found himself the centre of a group who had the air of
kings. They looked as if they had been years in war. Never had he
seen faces so worn and so terribly scarred. The hollows in their
cheeks gave them the air of smiling, and yet they were grave. Their
scarlet vests were torn and muddled, and the armour which lay near was
dinted like the scrap-iron before a smithy door. But what caught his
attention were the eyes of the men. They glittered as no eyes he had
ever seen before glittered. The sight cleared his bewilderment and
took the pride out of his heart. He could not pretend to despise a
folk who looked like Ares fresh from the wars of the Immortals.
They spoke among themselves in quiet voices. Scouts came and
went, and once or twice one of the men, taller than the rest, asked
Atta a question. The Lemnian sat in the heart of the group, sniffing
the smell of cooking, and looking at the rents in his cloak and the
long scratches on his legs. Something was pressing on his breast, and
he found that it was Apollo's gift. He had forgotten all about it.
Delphi seemed beyond the moon, and his errand a child's dream.
Then the King, for so he thought of the tall man, spoke--
"You have done us a service, Islander. The Persian is at our back
and front, and there will be no escape for those who stay. Our allies
are going home, for they do not share our vows. We of Lacedaemon wait
in the pass. If you go with the men of Corinth you will find a place
of safety before noon. No doubt in the Euripus there is some boat to
take you to your own land."
He spoke courteously, not in the rude Athenian way; and somehow
the quietness of his voice and his glittering eyes roused wild
longings in Atta's heart. His island pride was face to face with a
greater-greater than he had ever dreamed of.
"Bid yon cooks give me some broth," he said gruffly. "I am faint.
After I have eaten I will speak with you."
He was given food, and as he ate he thought. He was on trial
before these men of Lacedaemon. More, the old faith of the islands,
the pride of the first masters, was at stake in his hands. He had
boasted that he and his kind were the last of the men; now these
Hellenes of Lacedaemon were preparing a great deed, and they deemed
him unworthy to share in it. They offered him safety. Could he brook
the insult? He had forgotten that the cause of the Persian was his;
that the Hellenes were the foes of his race. He saw only that the
last test of manhood was preparing and the manhood in him rose to
greet the trial. An odd wild ecstasy surged in his veins. It was not
the lust of battle, for he had no love of slaying, or hate for the
Persian, for he was his friend. It was the sheer joy of proving that
the Lemnian stock had a starker pride than these men of Lacedamon.
They would die for their fatherland, and their vows; but he, for a
whim, a scruple, a delicacy of honour. His mind was so clear that no
other course occurred to him. There was only one way for a man. He,
too, would be dying for his fatherland, for through him the island
race would be ennobled in the eyes of gods and men.
Troops were filing fast to the east--Thebans, Corinthians. "Time
flies, Islander," said the King's voice. "The hours of safety are
slipping past." Atta looked up carelessly. "I will stay," he said.
"God's curse on all Hellenes! Little I care for your quarrels. It
is nothing to me if your Hellas is under the heels of the East. But I
care much for brave men. It shall never be said that a man of Lemnos,
a son of the old race, fell back when Death threatened. I stay with
you, men of Lacedaemon.
The King's eyes glittered; they seemed to peer into his heart.
"It appears they breed men in the islands," he said. "But you
err. Death does not threaten. Death awaits us.
"It is all one," said Atta. "But I crave a boon. Let me fight my
last fight by your side. I am of older stock than you, and a king in
my own country. I would strike my last blow among kings."
There was an hour of respite before battle was joined, and Atta
spent it by the edge of the sea. He had been given arms, and in
girding himself for the fight he had found Apollo's offering in his
breastfold. He was done with the gods of the Hellenes. His offering
should go to the gods of his own people. So, calling upon Poseidon,
he flung the little gold cup far out to sea. It flashed in the
sunlight, and then sank in the soft green tides so noiselessly that it
seemed as if the hand of the Sea-god had been stretched to take it.
"Hail, Poseidon!" the Lemnian cried. "I am bound this day for the
Ferryman. To you only I make prayer, and to the little Hermes of
Larisa. Be kind to my kin when they travel the sea, and keep them
islanders and seafarers for ever. Hail and farewell, God of my own
Then, while the little waves lapped on the white sand, Atta made a
song. He was thinking of the homestead far up in the green downs,
looking over to the snows of Samothrace. At this hour in the morning
there would be a tinkle of sheep-bells as the flocks went down to the
low pastures. Cool wind would be blowing, and the noise of the surf
below the cliffs would come faint to the ear. In the hall the maids
mould be spinning, while their dark-haired mistress would be casting
swift glances to the doorway, lest it might be filled any moment by
the form of her returning lord. Outside in the chequered sunlight of
the orchard the child would be playing with his nurse, crooning in
childish syllables the chanty his father had taught him. And at the
thought of his home a great passion welled up in Atta's heart. It was
not regret, but joy and pride and aching love. In his antique island
creed the death he was awaiting was not other than a bridal. He was
dying for the things he loved, and by his death they would be blessed
eternally. He would not have long to wait before bright eyes came to
greet him in the House of Shadows.
So Atta made the Song of Atta, and sang it then, and later in the
press of battle. It was a simple song, like the lays of seafarers.
It put into rough verse the thought which cheers the heart of all
adventurers--nay, which makes adventure possible for those who have
much to leave. It spoke of the shining pathway of the sea which is
the Great Uniter. A man may lie dead in Pontus or beyond the Pillars
of Herakles, but if he dies on the shore there is nothing between him
and his fatherland. It spoke of a battle all the long dark night in a
strange place--a place of marshes and black cliffs and shadowy
"In the dawn the sweet light comes," said the song, "and the salt
winds and the tides will bear me home..."
When in the evening the Persians took toll of the dead, they found
one man who puzzled them. He lay among the tall Lacedaemonians on the
very lip of the sea, and around him were swathes of their countrymen.
It looked as if he had been fighting his way to the water, and had
been overtaken by death as his feet reached the edge. Nowhere in the
pass did the dead lie so thick, and yet he was no Hellene. He was
torn like a deer that the dogs have worried, but the little left of
his garments and his features spoke of Eastern race. The survivors
could tell nothing except that he had fought like a god and had been
singing all the while.
The matter came to the ear of the Great King who was sore enough
at the issue of the day. That one of his men had performed feats of
valeur beyond the Hellenes was a pleasant tale to tell. And so his
captains reported it. Accordingly when the fleet from Artemision
arrived next morning, and all but a few score Persians were shovelled
into holes, that the Hellenes might seem to have been conquered by a
lesser force, Atta's body was laid out with pomp in the midst of the
Lacedaemonians. And the seamen rubbed their eyes and thanked their
strange gods that one man of the East had been found to match those
terrible warriors whose name was a nightmare. Further, the Great King
gave orders that the body of Atta should be embalmed and carried with
the army, and that his name and kin should be sought out and duly
honoured. This latter was a task too hard for the staff, and no more
was heard of it till months later, when the King, in full flight
after Salamis, bethought him of the one man who had not played him
false. Finding that his lieutenants had nothing to tell him, he eased
five of them of their heads.
As it happened, the deed was not quite forgotten. An islander, a
Lesbian and a cautious man, had fought at Therrnopylae in the Persian
ranks, and had heard Atta's singing and seen how he fell. Long
afterwards some errand took this man to Lemnos, and in the evening,
speaking with the Elders, he told his tale and repeated something of
the song. There was that in the words which gave the Lemnians a clue,
the mention, I think, of the olive-wood Hermes and the snows of
Samothrace. So Atta came to great honour among his own people, and
his memory and his words were handed down to the generations. The
song became a favourite island lay, and for centuries throughout the
Aegean seafaring men sang it when they turned their prows to wild
seas. Nay, it travelled farther, for you will find part of it stolen
by Euripides and put in a chorus of the Andromache. There are echoes
of it in some of the epigrams of the Anthology; and, though the old
days have gone, the simple fisher-folk still sing snatches in their
barbarous dialect. The Klephts used to make a catch of it at night
round their fires in the hills, and only the other day I met a man in
Scyros who had collected a dozen variants, and was publishing them in
a dull book on island folklore.
In the centuries which followed the great fight, the sea fell away
from the roots of the cliffs and left a mile of marshland. About fifty
years ago a peasant, digging in a rice-field, found the cup which Atta
bad given to Poseidon. There was much talk about the discovery, and
scholars debated hotly about its origin. To-day it is in the Berlin
Museum, and according to the new fashion in archaeology it is labelled
"Minoan," and kept in the Cretan Section. But any one who looks
carefully will see behind the rim a neat little carving of a dolphin;
and I happen to know that that was the private badge of Atta's house.
I will sing of thee, Great Sea-Mother,
Whose white arms gather
Thy sons in the ending:
And draw them homeward
From far sad marches--
Wild lands in the sunset,
Bitter shores of the morning--
Soothe them and guide them
By shining pathways
Homeward to thee.
All day I have striven in dark glens
With parched throat and dim eyes,
Where the red crags choke the stream
And dank thickets hide the spear.
I have spilled the blood of my foes
And their wolves have torn my flanks.
I am faint, O Mother,
Faint and aweary.
I have longed for thy cool winds
And thy kind grey eyes
And thy lover's arms.
At the even I came
To a land of terrors,
Of hot swamps where the feet mired
And waters that flowerd red with blood
There I strove with thousands,
Wild-eyed and lost,
As a lion among serpents.
--But sudden before me
I saw the flash
Of the sweet wide waters
That wash my homeland
And mirror the stars of home.
Then sang I for joy,
For I knew the Preserver,
Thee, the Uniter,
The great Sea-Mother.
Soon will the sweet light come,
And the salt winds and the tides
Will bear me home.
Far in the sunrise,
Nestled in thy bosom,
Lies my own green isle.
Thither wilt thou bear me.
To where, above the sea-cliffs,
Stretch mild meadows, flower-decked, thyme-scented,
Crisp with sea breezes.
There my flocks feed
On sunny uplands,
Looking over thy waters
To where the mount Saos
Raises purl snows to God.
Hermes, guide of souls,
I made thee a shrine in my orchard,
And round thy olive-wood limbs
The maidens twined Spring blossoms-
Violet and helichryse
And the pale wind flowers.
Keep thou watch for me,
For I am coming.
Tell to my lady
And to all my kinsfolk
That I who have gone from them
Tarry not long, but come swift o'er the sea-path,
My feet light with joy,
My eyes bright with longing.
For little it matters
Where a man may fall,
If he fall by the sea-shore;
The kind waters await him,
The white arms are around him,
And the wise Mother of Men
Will carry him home.
I who sing
Wait joyfully on the morning.
Ten thousand beset me
And their spears ache for my heart.
They will crush me and grind me to mire,
So that none will know the man that once was me.
But at the first light I shall be gone,
Singing, flitting, o'er the grey waters,
To thee, the Preserver,
Thee, the Uniter,
Mother the Sea.
"Est impossibile? Certum est."
Leithen told me this story one evening in early September as we
sat beside the pony track which gropes its way from Glenvalin up the
Correi na Sidhe. I had arrived that afternoon from the south, while
he had been taking an off-day from a week's stalking, so we had walked
up the glen together after tea to get the news of the forest. A rifle
was out on the Correi na Sidhe beat, and a thin spire of smoke had
risen from the top of Sgurr Dearg to show that a stag had been killed
at the burnhead. The lumpish hill pony with its deer-saddle had gone
up the Correi in a gillie's charge while we followed at leisure,
picking our way among the loose granite rocks and the patches of wet
bogland. The track climbed high on one of the ridges of Sgurr Dearg,
till it hung over a caldron of green glen with the Alt-na-Sidhe
churning in its linn a thousand feet below. It was a breathless
evening, I remember, with a pale-blue sky just clearing from the haze
of the day. West-wind weather may make the North, even in September,
no bad imitation of the Tropics, and I sincerely pitied the man who
all these stifling hours had been toiling on the screes of Sgurr
Dearg. By-and-by we sat down on a bank of heather, and idly watched
the trough swimming at our feet. The clatter of the pony's hoofs grew
fainter, the drone of bees had gone, even the midges seemed to have
forgotten their calling. No place on earth can be so deathly still as
a deer-forest early in the season before the stags have begun roaring,
for there are no sheep with their homely noises, and only the rare
croak of a raven breaks the silence. The hillside was far from
sheer-one could have walked down with a little care-but something in
the shape of the hollow and the remote gleam of white water gave it
an extraordinary depth and space. There was a shimmer left from the
day's heat, which invested bracken and rock and scree with a curious
airy unreality. One could almost have believed that the eye had
tricked the mind, that all was mirage, that five yards from the path
the solid earth fell away into nothingness. I have a bad head, and
instinctively I drew farther back into the heather. Leithen's eyes
were looking vacantly before him.
"Did you ever know Hollond?" he asked.
Then he laughed shortly. "I don't know why I asked that, but
somehow this place reminded me of Hollond. That glimmering hollow
looks as if it were the beginning of eternity. It must be eerie to
live with the feeling always on one."
Leithen seemed disinclined for further exercise. He lit a pipe
and smoked quietly for a little. "Odd that you didn't know Hollond.
You must have heard his name. I thought you amused yourself with
Then I remembered. There had been an erratic genius who had
written some articles in Mind on that dreary subject, the
mathematical conception of infinity. Men had praised them to me, but
I confess I never quite understood their argument. "Wasn't he some
sort of mathematical professor?" I asked.
"He was, and, in his own way, a tremendous swell. He wrote a book
on Number which has translations in every European language. He is
dead now, and the Royal Society founded a medal in his honour. But I
wasn't thinking of that side of him."
It was the time and place for a story, for the pony would not be
back for an hour. So I asked Leithen about the other side of Hollond
which was recalled to him by Correi na Sidhe. He seemed a little
unwilling to speak...
"I wonder if you will understand it. You ought to, of course,
better than me, for you know something of philosophy. But it took me
a long time to get the hang of it, and I can't give you any kind of
explanation. He was my fag at Eton, and when I began to get on at the
Bar I was able to advise him on one or two private matters, so that he
rather fancied my legal ability. He came to me with his story because
he had to tell someone, and he wouldn't trust a colleague. He said he
didn't want a scientist to know, for scientists were either pledged to
their own theories and wouldn't understand, or, if they understood,
would get ahead of him in his researches. He wanted a lawyer, he
said, who was accustomed to weighing evidence. That was good sense,
for evidence must always be judged by the same laws, and I suppose in
the long-run the most abstruse business comes down to a fairly simple
deduction from certain data. Anyhow, that was the way he used to
talk, and I listened to him, for I liked the man, and had an enormous
respect for his brains. At Eton he sluiced down all the mathematics
they could give him, and he was an astonishing swell at Cambridge. He
was a simple fellow, too, and talked no more jargon than he could
help. I used to climb with him in the Alps now and then, and you
would never have guessed that he had any thoughts beyond getting up
"It was at Chamonix, I remember, that I first got a hint of the
matter that was filling his mind. We had been taking an off-day, and
were sitting in the hotel garden, watching the Aiguilles getting
purple in the twilight. Chamonix always makes me choke a little-it is
so crushed in by those great snow masses. I said something about
it--said I liked the open spaces like the Gornegrat or the Bel Alp
better. He asked me why: if it was the difference of the air, or
merely the wider horizon? I said it was the sense of not being
crowded, of living in an empty world. He repeated the word 'empty' and
"'By "empty" you mean,' he said,'where things don't knock up
I told him No. I mean just empty, void, nothing but blank aether.
"You don't knock up against things here, and the air is as good as
you want. It can't be the lack of ordinary emptiness you feel."
"I agreed that the word needed explaining. 'I suppose it is
mental restlessness,' I said. 'I like to feel that for a tremendous
distance there is nothing round me. Why, I don't know. Some men are
built the other way and have a terror of space.'
"He said that that was better. 'It is a personal fancy, and
depends on your KNOWING that there is nothing between you and the top
of the Dent Blanche. And you know because your eyes tell you there is
nothing. Even if you were blind, you might have a sort of sense about
adjacent matter. Blind men often have it. But in any case, whether
got from instinct or sight, the KNOWLEDGE is what matters.'
"Hollond was embarking on a Socratic dialogue in which I could see
little point. I told him so, and he laughed. "'I am not sure that I
am very clear myself. But yes--there IS a point. Supposing you
knew-not by sight or by instinct, but by sheer intellectual knowledge,
as I know the truth of a mathematical proposition--that what we call
empty space was full, crammed. Not with lumps of what we call matter
like hills and houses, but with things as real--as real to the mind.
Would you still feel crowded?'
"'No,' I said, 'I don't think so. It is only what we call matter
that signifies. It would be just as well not to feel crowded by the
other thing, for there would be no escape from it. But what are you
getting at? Do you mean atoms or electric currents or what?'
"He said he wasn't thinking about that sort of thing, and began to
talk of another subject.
"Next night, when we were pigging it at the Geant cabane, he
started again on the same tack. He asked me how I accounted for the
fact that animals could find their way back over great tracts of
unknown country. I said I supposed it was the homing instinct.
"'Rubbish, man,' he said. 'That's only another name for the
puzzle, not an explanation. There must be some reason for it. They
must KNOW something that we cannot understand. Tie a cat in a bag and
take it fifty miles by train and it will make its way home. That cat
has some clue that we haven't.'
"I was tired and sleepy, and told him that I did not care a rush
about the psychology of cats. But he was not to be snubbed, and went
"'How if Space is really full of things we cannot see and as yet
do not know? How if all animals and some savages have a cell in
their brain or a nerve which responds to the invisible world? How if
all Space be full of these landmarks, not material in our sense, but
quite real? A dog barks at nothing, a wild beast makes an aimless
circuit. Why? Perhaps because Space is made up of corridors and
alleys, ways to travel and things to shun? For all we know, to a
greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont Blanc may be as crowded
as Piccadilly Circus.'
"But at that point I fell asleep and left Hollond to repeat his
questions to a guide who knew no English and a snoring porter.
"Six months later, one foggy January afternoon, Hollond rang me up
at the Temple and proposed to come to see me that night after dinner.
I thought he wanted to talk Alpine shop, but he turned up in Duke
Street about nine with a kit-bag full of papers. He was an odd fellow
to look at--a yellowish face with the skin stretched tight on the
cheek-bones, clean-shaven, a sharp chin which he kept poking forward,
and deep-set, greyish eyes. He was a hard fellow, too, always in
pretty good condition, which was remarkable considering how he slaved
for nine months out of the twelve. He had a quiet, slow-spoken
manner, but that night I saw that he was considerably excited.
"He said that he had come to me because we were old friends. He
proposed to tell me a tremendous secret. 'I must get another mind to
work on it or I'll go crazy. I don't want a scientist. I want a plain
"Then he fixed me with a look like a tragic actor's. 'Do you
remember that talk we had in August at Chamonix--about Space? I
daresay you thought I was playing the fool. So I was in a sense, but
I was feeling my way towards something which has been in my mind for
ten years. Now I have got it, and you must hear about it. You may
take my word that it's a pretty startling discovery.'
"I lit a pipe and told him to go ahead, warning him that I knew
about as much science as the dustman.
"I am bound to say that it took me a long time to understand what
he meant. He began by saying that everybody thought of Space as an
'empty homogeneous medium.' 'Never mind at present what the ultimate
constituents of that medium are. We take it as a finished product,
and we think of it as mere extension, something without any quality at
all. That is the view of civilised man. You will find all the
philosophers taking it for granted. Yes, but every living thing does
not take that view. An animal, for instance. It feels a kind of
quality in Space. It can find its way over new country, because it
perceives certain landmarks, not necessarily material, but
perceptible, or if you like intelligible. Take an Australian savage.
He has the same power, and, I believe, for the same reason. He is
conscious of intelligible landmarks.'
"'You mean what people call a sense of direction,' I put in.
"'Yes, but what in Heaven's name is a sense of direction? The
phrase explains nothing. However incoherent the mind of the animal
or the savage may be, it is there somewhere, working on some data.
I've been all through the psychological and anthropological side of
the business, and after you eliminate the clues from sight and hearing
and smell and half-conscious memory there remains a solid lump of the
"Hollond's eye had kindled, and he sat doubled up in his chair,
dominating me with a finger.
"'Here, then is a power which man is civilising himself out of.
Call it anything you like, but you must admit that it is a power.
Don't you see that it is a perception of another kind of reality that
we are leaving behind us? ', Well, you know the way nature works. The
wheel comes full circle, and what we think we have lost we regain in a
higher form. So for a long time I have been wondering whether the
civilised mind could not recreate for itself this lost gift, the gift
of seeing the quality of Space. I mean that I wondered whether the
scientific modern brain could not get to the stage of realising that
Space is not an empty homogeneous medium, but full of intricate
differences, intelligible and real, though not with our common
"I found all this very puzzling and he had to repeat it several
times before I got a glimpse of what he was talking about.
"'I've wondered for a long time he went on 'but now quite
suddenly, I have begun to know.' He stopped and asked me abruptly if
I knew much about mathematics.
"'It's a pity,' he said,'but the main point is not technical,
though I wish you could appreciate the beauty of some of my proofs.
Then he began to tell me about his last six months' work. I should
have mentioned that he was a brilliant physicist besides other things.
All Hollond's tastes were on the borderlands of sciences, where
mathematics fades into metaphysics and physics merges in the
abstrusest kind of mathematics. Well, it seems he had been working
for years at the ultimate problem of matter, and especially of that
rarefied matter we call aether or space. I forget what his view
was-atoms or molecules or electric waves. If he ever told me I have
forgotten, but I'm not certain that I ever knew. However, the point
was that these ultimate constituents were dynamic and mobile, not a
mere passive medium but a medium in constant movement and change. He
claimed to have discovered--by ordinary inductive experiment--that the
constituents of aether possessed certain functions, and moved in
certain figures obedient to certain mathematical laws. Space, I
gathered, was perpetually 'forming fours' in some fancy way.
"Here he left his physics and became the mathematician. Among his
mathematical discoveries had been certain curves or figures or
something whose behaviour involved a new dimension. I gathered that
this wasn't the ordinary Fourth Dimension that people talk of, but
that fourth-dimensional inwardness or involution was part of it. The
explanation lay in the pile of manuscripts he left with me, but though
I tried honestly I couldn't get the hang of it. My mathematics
stopped with desperate finality just as he got into his subject.
"His point was that the constituents of Space moved according to
these new mathematical figures of his. They were always changing,
but the principles of their change were as fixed as the law of
gravitation. Therefore, if you once grasped these principles you knew
the contents of the void. What do you make of that?"
I said that it seemed to me a reasonable enough argument, but that
it got one very little way forward. "A man," I said, "might know the
contents of Space and the laws of their arrangement and yet be unable
to see anything more than his fellows. It is a purely academic
knowledge. His mind knows it as the result of many deductions, but
his senses perceive nothing."
Leithen laughed. "Just what I said to Hollond. He asked the
opinion of my legal mind. I said I could not pronounce on his
argument but that I could point out that he had established no trait
d'union between the intellect which understood and the senses which
perceived. It was like a blind man with immense knowledge but no
eyes, and therefore no peg to hang his knowledge on and make it
useful. He had not explained his savage or his cat. 'Hang it, man,'
I said, 'before you can appreciate the existence of your Spacial forms
you have to go through elaborate experiments and deductions. You
can't be doing that every minute. Therefore you don't get any nearer
to the USE of the sense you say that man once possessed, though you
can explain it a bit.'"
"What did he say?" I asked.
"The funny thing was that he never seemed to see my difficulty.
When I kept bringing him back to it he shied off with a new wild
theory of perception. He argued that the mind can live in a world of
realities without any sensuous stimulus to connect them with the world
of our ordinary life. Of course that wasn't my point. I supposed
that this world of Space was real enough to him, but I wanted to know
how he got there. He never answered me. He was the typical Cambridge
man, you know--dogmatic about uncertainties, but curiously diffident
about the obvious. He laboured to get me to understand the notion of
his mathematical forms, which I was quite willing to take on trust
from him. Some queer things he said, too. He took our feeling about
Left and Right as an example of our instinct for the quality of Space.
But when I objected that Left and Right varied with each object, and
only existed in connection with some definite material thing, he said
that that was exactly what he meant. It was an example of the
mobility of the Spacial forms. Do you see any sense in that?"
I shook my head. It seemed to me pure craziness.
"And then he tried to show me what he called the 'involution of
Space,' by taking two points on a piece of paper. The points were a
foot away when the paper was flat, they coincided when it was doubled
up. He said that there were no gaps between the figures, for the
medium was continuous, and he took as an illustration the loops on a
cord. You are to think of a cord always looping and unlooping itself
according to certain mathematical laws. Oh, I tell you, I gave up
trying to follow him. And he was so desperately in earnest all the
time. By his account Space was a sort of mathematical pandemonium."
Leithen stopped to refill his pipe, and I mused upon the ironic
fate which had compelled a mathematical genius to make his sole
confidant of a philistine lawyer, and induced that lawyer to repeat
it confusedly to an ignoramus at twilight on a Scotch hill. As told
by Leithen it was a very halting tale.
"But there was one thing I could see very clearly," Leithen went
on, "and that was Hollond's own case. This crowded world of Space
was perfectly real to him. How he had got to it I do not know.
Perhaps his mind, dwelling constantly on the problem, had unsealed
some atrophied cell and restored the old instinct. Anyhow, he was
living his daily life with a foot in each world.
"He often came to see me, and after the first hectic discussions
he didn't talk much. There was no noticeable change in him--a little
more abstracted perhaps. He would walk in the street or come into a
room with a quick look round him, and sometimes for no earthly reason
he would swerve. Did you ever watch a cat crossing a room? It sidles
along by the furniture and walks over an open space of carpet as if it
were picking its way among obstacles. Well, Hollond behaved like
that, but he had always been counted a little odd, and nobody noticed
it but me.
"I knew better than to chaff him, and had stopped argument, so
there wasn't much to be said. But sometimes he would give me news
about his experiences. The whole thing was perfectly clear and
scientific and above board, and nothing creepy about it. You know how
I hate the washy supernatural stuff they give us nowadays. Hollond
was well and fit, with an appetite like a hunter. But as he talked,
sometimes--well, you know I haven't much in the way of nerves or
imagination--but I used to get a little eerie. Used to feel the solid
earth dissolving round me. It was the opposite of vertigo, if you
understand me--a sense of airy realities crowding in on you-crowding
the mind, that is, not the body.
"I gathered from Hollond that he was always conscious of corridors
and halls and alleys in Space, shifting, but shifting according to
inexorable laws. I never could get quite clear as to what this
consciousness was like. When I asked he used to look puzzled and
worried and helpless. I made out from him that one landmark involved
a sequence, and once given a bearing from an object you could keep the
direction without a mistake. He told me he could easily, if he
wanted, go in a dirigible from the top of Mont Blanc to the top of
Snowdon in the thickest fog and without a compass, if he were given
the proper angle to start from. I confess I didn't follow that
myself. Material objects had nothing to do with the Spacial forms,
for a table or a bed in our world might be placed across a corridor of
Space. The forms played their game independent of our kind of
reality. But the worst of it was, that if you kept your mind too much
in one world you were apt to forget about the other and Hollond was
always barking his shins on stones and chairs and things.
"He told me all this quite simply and frankly. Remember his mind
and no other part of him lived in his new world. He said it gave him
an odd sense of detachment to sit in a room among people, and to know
that nothing there but himself had any relation at all to the infinite
strange world of Space that flowed around them. He would listen, he
said, to a great man talking, with one eye on the cat on the rug,
thinking to himself how much more the cat knew than the man."
"How long was it before he went mad?" I asked.
It was a foolish question, and made Leithen cross. "He never went
mad in your sense. My dear fellow, you're very much wrong if you
think there was anything pathological about him--then. The man was
brilliantly sane. His mind was as keen is a keen sword. I couldn't
understand him, but I could judge of his sanity right enough."
I asked if it made him happy or miserable.
"At first I think it made him uncomfortable. He was restless
because he knew too much and too little. The unknown pressed in on
his mind as bad air weighs on the lungs. Then it lightened and he
accepted the new world in the same sober practical way that he took
other things. I think that the free exercise of his mind in a pure
medium gave him a feeling of extraordinary power and ease. His eyes
used to sparkle when he talked. And another odd thing he told me. He
was a keen rockclimber, but, curiously enough, he had never a very
good head. Dizzy heights always worried him, though he managed to
keep hold on himself. But now all that had gone. The sense of the
fulness of Space made him as happy--happier I believe--with his legs
dangling into eternity, as sitting before his own study fire.
"I remember saying that it was all rather like the mediaeval
wizards who made their spells by means of numbers and figures.
"He caught me up at once. 'Not numbers,' he said. "Number has no
place in Nature. It is an invention of the human mind to atone for a
bad memory. But figures are a different matter. All the mysteries of
the world are in them, and the old magicians knew that at least, if
they knew no more.'
"He had only one grievance. He complained that it was terribly
lonely. 'It is the Desolation,' he would quote, 'spoken of by Daniel
the prophet.' He would spend hours travelling those eerie shifting
corridors of Space with no hint of another human soul. How could there
be? It was a world of pure reason, where human personality had no
place. What puzzled me was why he should feel the absence of this.
One wouldn't you know, in an intricate problem of geometry or a game
of chess. I asked him, but he didn't understand the question. I
puzzled over it a good deal, for it seemed to me that if Hollond felt
lonely, there must be more in this world of his than we imagined. I
began to wonder if there was any truth in fads like psychical
research. Also, I was not so sure that he was as normal as I had
thought: it looked as if his nerves might be going bad.
"Oddly enough, Hollond was getting on the same track himself. He
had discovered, so he said, that in sleep everybody now and then lived
in this new world of his. You know how one dreams of triangular
railway platforms with trains running simultaneously down all three
sides and not colliding. Well, this sort of cantrip was 'common
form,' as we say at the Bar, in Hollond's Space, and he was very
curious about the why and wherefore of Sleep. He began to haunt
psychological laboratories, where they experiment with the charwoman
and the odd man, and he used to go up to Cambridge for seances. It
was a foreign atmosphere to him, and I don't think he was very happy
in it. He found so many charlatans that he used to get angry, and
declare he would be better employed at Mother's Meetings!"
From far up the Glen came the sound of the pony's hoofs. The stag
had been loaded up and the gillies were returning. Leithen looked at
his watch. "We'd better wait and see the beast," he said.
"... Well, nothing happened for more than a year. Then one
evening in May he burst into my rooms in high excitement. You
understand quite clearly that there was no suspicion of horror or
fright or anything unpleasant about this world he had discovered. It
was simply a series of interesting and difficult problems. All this
time Hollond had been rather extra well and cheery. But when he came
in I thought I noticed a different look in his eyes, something puzzled
and diffident and apprehensive .
"'There's a queer performance going on in the other world,' he
said. 'It's unbelievable. I never dreamed of such a thing. I-- I
don't quite know how to put it, and I don't know how to explain it,
but--but I am becoming aware that there are other beings-- other
minds--moving in Space besides mine.'
"I suppose I ought to have realised then that things were
beginning to go wrong. But it was very difficult, he was so rational
and anxious to make it all clear. I asked him how he knew. 'There
could, of course, on his own showing be no CHANGE in that world, for
the forms of Space moved and existed under inexorable laws. He said
he found his own mind failing him at points. There would come over
him a sense of fear--intellectual fear--and weakness, a sense of
something else, quite alien to Space, thwarting him. Of course he
could only describe his impressions very lamely, for they were purely
of the mind, and he had no material peg to hang them on, so that I
could realise them. But the gist of it was that he had been gradually
becoming conscious of what he called 'Presences' in his world. They
had no effect on Space--did not leave footprints in its corridors,
for instance--but they affected his mind. There was some mysterious
contact established between him and them. I asked him if the
affection was unpleasant and he said 'No, not exactly.' But I could
see a hint of fear in his eyes.
"Think of it. Try to realise what intellectual fear is. I can't,
but it is conceivable. To you and me fear implies pain to ourselves
or some other, and such pain is always in the last resort pain of the
flesh. Consider it carefully and you will see that it is so. But
imagine fear so sublimated and transmuted as to be the tension of pure
spirit. I can't realise it, but I think it possible. I don't pretend
to understand how Hollond got to know about these Presences. But
there was no doubt about the fact. He was positive, and he wasn't in
the least mad--not in our sense. In that very month he published his
book on Number, and gave a German professor who attacked it a most
tremendous public trouncing.
"I know what you are going to say,--that the fancy was a weakening
of the mind from within. I admit I should have thought of that but he
looked so confoundedly sane and able that it seemed ridiculous. He
kept asking me my opinion, as a lawyer, on the facts he offered. It
was the oddest case ever put before me, but I did my best for him. I
dropped all my own views of sense and nonsense. I told him that,
taking all that he had told me as fact, the Prescences might be either
ordinary minds traversing Space in sleep; or minds such as his which
had independently captured the sense of Space's quality; or, finally,
the spirits of just men made perfect, behaving as psychical
researchers think they do. It was a ridiculous task to set a prosaic
man, and I wasn't quite serious. But Holland was serious enough.
"He admitted that all three explanations were conceivable, but he
was very doubtful about the first. The projection of the spirit into
Space during sleep, he thought, was a faint and feeble thing, and
these were powerful Presences. With the second and the third he was
rather impressed. I suppose I should have seen what was happening and
tried to stop it; at least, looking back that seems to have been my
duty. But it was difficult to think that anything was wrong with
Hollond; indeed the odd thing is that all this time the idea of
madness never entered my head. I rather backed him up. Somehow the
thing took my fancy, though I thought it moonshine at the bottom of my
heart. I enlarged on the pioneering before him. 'Think,' I told him,
'what may be waiting for you. You may discover the meaning of Spirit.
You may open up a new world, as rich as the old one, but
imperishable. You may prove to mankind their immortality and deliver
them for ever from the fear of death. Why, man, you are picking at
the lock of all the world's mysteries.'
"But Hollond did not cheer up. He seemed strangely languid and
dispirited. 'That is all true enough,' he said,'if you are right, if
your alternatives are exhaustive. But suppose they are something
else, something .... What that 'something' might be he had apparently
no idea, and very soon he went away.
"He said another thing before he left. We asked me if I ever read
poetry, and I said, not often. Nor did he: but he had picked up a
little book somewhere and found a man who knew about the Presences. I
think his name was Traherne, one of the seventeenth-century fellows.
He quoted a verse which stuck to my fly-paper memory. It ran
'Within the region of the air, Compassed about with Heavens fair,
Great tracts of lands there may be found, Where many numerous hosts,
In those far distant coasts, For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.'
Hollond was positive he did not mean angels or anything of the
sort. I told him that Traherne evidently took a cheerful view of
them. He admitted that, but added: 'He had religion, you see. He
believed that everything was for the best. I am not a man of faith,
and can only take comfort from what I understand. I'm in the dark, I
"Next week I was busy with the Chilian Arbitration case, and saw
nobody for a couple of months. Then one evening I ran against
Hollond on the Embankment, and thought him looking horribly ill. He
walked back with me to my rooms, and hardly uttered one word all the
way. I gave him a stiff whisky-and-soda, which he gulped down
absent-mindedly. There was that strained, hunted look in his eyes
that you see in a frightened animal's. He was always lean, but now he
had fallen away to skin and bone.
"'I can't stay long,' he told me, 'for I'm off to the Alps
to-morrow and I have a lot to do.' Before then he used to plunge
readily into his story, but now he seemed shy about beginning. Indeed
I had to ask him a question.
"'Things are difficult,' he said hesitatingly, and rather
distressing. Do you know, Leithen, I think you were wrong
about--about what I spoke to you of. You said there must be one of
three explanations. I am beginning to think that there is a fourth.
"He stopped for a second or two, then suddenly leaned forward and
gripped my knee so fiercely that I cried out. 'That world is the
Desolation,' he said in a choking voice, 'and perhaps I am getting
near the Abomination of the Desolation that the old prophet spoke of.
I tell you, man, I am on the edge of a terror, a terror,' he almost
screamed, 'that no mortal can think of and live.'
You can imagine that I was considerably startled. It was
lightning out of a clear sky. How the devil could one associate
horror with mathematics? I don't see it yet... At any rate, I-- You
may he sure I cursed my folly for ever pretending to take him
seriously. The only way would have been to have laughed him out of
it at the start. And yet I couldn't, you know--it was too real and
reasonable. Anyhow, I tried a firm tone now, and told him the whole
thing was arrant raving bosh. I bade him be a man and pull himself
together. I made him dine with me, and took him home, and got him
into a better state of mind before he went to bed. Next morning I saw
him off at Charing Cross, very haggard still, but better. He promised
to write to me pretty often...."
The pony, with a great eleven-pointer lurching athwart its back,
was abreast of us, and from the autumn mist came the sound of soft
Highland voices. Leithen and I got up to go, when we heard that the
rifle had made direct for the Lodge by a short cut past the Sanctuary.
In the wake of the gillies we descended the Correi road into a glen
all swimming with dim purple shadows. The pony minced and boggled; the
stag's antlers stood out sharp on the rise against a patch of sky,
looking like a skeleton tree. Then we dropped into a covert of birches
and emerged on the white glen highway.
Leithen's story had bored and puzzled me at the start, but now it
had somehow gripped my fancy. Space a domain of endless corridors
and Presences moving in them! The world was not quite the same as an
hour ago. It was the hour, as the French say, "between dog and wolf,"
when the mind is disposed to marvels. I thought of my stalking on the
morrow, and was miserably conscious that I would miss my stag. Those
airy forms would get in the way. Confound Leithen and his yarns!
"I want to hear the end of your story," I told him, as the lights
of the Lodge showed half a mile distant.
"The end was a tragedy," he said slowly. "I don't much care to
talk about it. But how was I to know? I couldn't see the nerve
going. You see I couldn't believe it was all nonsense. If I could I
might have seen. But I still think there was something in it--up to a
point. Oh, I agree he went mad in the end. It is the only
explanation. Something must have snapped in that fine brain, and he
saw the little bit more which we call madness. Thank God, you and I
are prosaic fellows...
"I was going out to Chamonix myself a week later. But before I
started I got a post-card from Hollond, the only word from him. He
had printed my name and address, and on the other side had scribbled
six words--' I know at last--God's mercy.--H.G.H' The handwriting was
like a sick man of ninety. I knew that things must be pretty bad with
"I got to Chamonix in time for his funeral. An ordinary climbing
accident--you probably read about it in the papers. The Press talked
about the toll which the Alps took from intellectuals--the usual rot.
There was an inquiry, but the facts were quite simple. The body was
only recognised by the clothes. He had fallen several thousand feet.
"It seems that he had climbed for a few days with one of the
Kronigs and Dupont, and they had done some hair-raising things on the
Aiguilles. Dupont told me that they had found a new route up the
Montanvert side of the Charmoz. He said that Hollond climbed like a
'diable fou' and if you know Dupont's standard of madness you will see
that the pace must have been pretty hot. 'But monsieur was sick,' he
added; 'his eyes were not good. And I and Franz, we were grieved for
him and a little afraid. We were glad when he left us.'
"He dismissed the guides two days before his death. The next day
he spent in the hotel, getting his affairs straight. He left
everything in perfect order, but not a line to a soul, not even to
his sister. The following day he set out alone about three in the
morning for the Grepon. He took the road up the Nantillons glacier to
the Col, and then he must have climbed the Mummery crack by himself.
After that he left the ordinary route and tried a new traverse across
the Mer de Glace face. Somewhere near the top he fell, and next day a
party going to the Dent du Requin found him on the rocks thousands of
"He had slipped in attempting the most foolhardy course on earth,
and there was a lot of talk about the dangers of guideless climbing.
But I guessed the truth, and I am sure Dupont knew, though he held
We were now on the gravel of the drive, and I was feeling better.
The thought of dinner warmed my heart and drove out the eeriness of
the twilight glen. The hour between dog and wolf was passing. After
all, there was a gross and jolly earth at hand for wise men who had a
mind to comfort.
Leithen, I saw, did not share my mood. He looked glum and
puzzled, as if his tale had aroused grim memories. He finished it at
the Lodge door.
"... For, of course, he had gone out that day to die. He had seen
the something more, the little bit too much, which plucks a man from
his moorings. He had gone so far into the land of pure spirit that he
must needs go further and shed the fleshly envelope that cumbered him.
God send that he found rest! I believe that he chose the steepest
cliff in the Alps for a purpose. He wanted to be unrecognisable. He
was a brave man and a good citizen. I think he hoped that those who
found him might not see the look in his eyes."
STOCKS AND STONES
[The Chief Topaiwari replieth to Sir Walter Raleigh who
upbraideth him for idol worship]
My gods, you say, are idols dumb,
Which men have wrought from wood or clay,
Carven with chisel, shaped with thumb,
A morning's task, an evening's play.
You bid me turn my face on high
Where the blue heaven the sun enthrones,
And serve a viewless deity,
Nor make my bow to stocks and stones.
My lord, I am not skilled in wit
Nor wise in priestcraft, but I know
That fear to man is spur and bit
To jog and curb his fancies' flow.
He fears and loves, for love and awe
In mortal souls may well unite
To fashion forth the perfect law
Where Duty takes to wife Delight.
But on each man one Fear awaits
And chills his marrow like the dead.--
He cannot worship what he hates
Or make a god of naked Dread.
The homeless winds that twist and race,
The heights of cloud that veer and roll,
The unplumb'd Abyss, the drift of Space--
These are the fears that drain the soul.
Ye dauntless ones from out the sea
Fear nought. Perchance your gods are strong
To rule the air where grim things be,
And quell the deeps with all their throng.
For me, I dread not fire nor steel,
Nor aught that walks in open light,
But fend me from the endless Wheel,
The voids of Space, the gulfs of Night.
Wherefore my brittle gods I make
Of friendly clay and kindly stone,--
Wrought with my hands, to serve or break,
From crown to toe my work, my own.
My eyes can see, my nose can smell,
My fingers touch their painted face,
They weave their little homely spell
To warm me from the cold of Space.
My gods are wrought of common stuff
For human joys and mortal tears;
Weakly, perchance, yet staunch enough
To build a barrier 'gainst my fears,
Where, lowly but secure, I wait
And hear without the strange winds blow.--
I cannot worship what I hate,
Or serve a god I dare not know.
STREAMS OF WATER IN THE SOUTH
" As streams of water in the south, Our bondage, Lord, recall.
-PSALM cxxvi. (Scots Metrical Version).
It was at the ford of the Clachlands Water in a tempestuous
August, that I, an idle boy, first learned the hardships of the
Lammas droving. The shepherd of the Redswirehead, my very good
friend, and his three shaggy dogs, were working for their lives in an
angry water. The path behind was thronged with scores of sheep bound
for the Gledsmuir market, and beyond it was possible to discern
through the mist the few dripping dozen which had made the passage.
Between raged yards of brown foam coming down from murky hills, and
the air echoed with the yelp of dogs and the perplexed cursing of men.
Before I knew I was helping in the task, with water lipping round
my waist and my arms filled with a terrified sheep. It was no light
task, for though the water was no more than three feet deep it was
swift and strong, and a kicking hogg is a sore burden. But this was
the only road; the stream might rise higher at any moment; and somehow
or other those bleating flocks had to be transferred to their fellows
beyond. There were six men at the labour, six men and myself and all
were cross and wearied and heavy with water.
I made my passages side by side with my friend the shepherd, and
thereby felt much elated. This was a man who had dwelt all his days
in the wilds and was familiar with torrents as with his own doorstep.
Now and then a swimming dog would bark feebly as he was washed
against us, and flatter his fool's heart that he was aiding the work.
And so we wrought on, till by midday I was dead-beat, and could
scarce stagger through the surf, while all the men had the same
gasping faces. I saw the shepherd look with longing eye up the long
green valley, and mutter disconsolately in his beard.
"Is the water rising?" I asked.
"It's no rising," said he, " but I likena the look o' yon big
black clud upon Cairncraw. I doubt there's been a shoor up the
muirs, and a shoor there means twae mair feet o' water in the
Clachlands. God help Sandy Jamieson's lambs, if there is."
"How many are left?" I asked.
"Three, fower,--no abune a score and a half," said he, running his
eye over the lessened flocks. "I maun try to tak twae at a time." So
for ten minutes he struggled with a double burden, and panted
painfully at each return. Then with a sudden swift look up-stream he
broke off and stood up. "Get ower the water, every yin o' ye, and
leave the sheep," he said, and to my wonder every man of the five
obeyed his word.
And then I saw the reason of his command, for with a sudden swift
leap forward the Clachlands rose, and flooded up to where I stood an
instant before high and dry.
"It's come," said the shepherd in a tone of fate, "and there's
fifteen no ower yet, and Lord kens how they'll dae't. They'll hae to
gang roond by Gledsmuir Brig, and that's twenty mile o' a differ.
'Deed, it's no like that Sandy Jamieson will get a guid price the
morn for sic sair forfochen beasts."
Then with firmly gripped staff he marched stoutly into the tide
till it ran hissing below his armpits. "I could dae't alone," he
cried, "but no wi' a burden. For, losh, if ye slippit, ye'd be in
the Manor Pool afore ye could draw breath."
And so we waited with the great white droves and five angry men
beyond, and the path blocked by a surging flood. For half an hour we
waited, holding anxious consultation across the stream, when to us
thus busied there entered a newcomer, a helper from the ends of the
He was a man of something over middle size, but with a stoop
forward that shortened him to something beneath it. His dress was
ragged homespun, the cast-off clothes of some sportsman, and in his
arms he bore a bundle of sticks and heather-roots which marked his
calling. I knew him for a tramp who long had wandered in the place,
but I could not account for the whole-voiced shout of greeting which
met him as he stalked down the path. He lifted his eyes and looked
solemnly and long at the scene. Then something of delight came into
his eye, his face relaxed, and flinging down his burden he stripped
his coat and came toward us.
"Come on, Yeddie, ye're sair needed," said the shepherd, and I
watched with amazement this grizzled, crooked man seize a sheep by
the fleece and drag it to the water. Then he was in the midst,
stepping warily, now up, now down the channel, but always nearing the
farther bank. At last with a final struggle he landed his charge, and
turned to journey back. Fifteen times did he cross that water, and at
the end his mean figure had wholly changed. For now he was straighter
and stronger, his eye flashed, and his voice, as he cried out to the
drovers, had in it a tone of command. I marvelled at the
transformation; and when at length he had donned once more his ragged
coat and shouldered his bundle, I asked the shepherd his name.
"They ca' him Adam Logan," said my friend, his face still bright
with excitement, "but maist folk ca' him 'Streams o' Water.'"
"Ay," said I, "and why 'Streams of Water'?"
"Juist for the reason ye see," said he.
Now I knew the shepherd's way, and I held my peace, for it was
clear that his mind was revolving other matters, concerned most
probably with the high subject of the morrow's prices. But in a
little, as we crossed the moor toward his dwelling, his thoughts
relaxed and he remembered my question. So he answered me thus:
"Oh, ay; as ye were sayin', he's a queer man Yeddie-aye been; guid
kens whaur he cam frae first, for he's been trampin' the countryside
since ever I mind, and that's no yesterday. He maun be sixty year,
and yet he's as fresh as ever. If onything, he's a thocht dafter in
his ongaein's, mair silent-like. But ye'll hae heard tell o' him
afore?" I owned ignorance.
"Tut," said he, "ye ken nocht. But Yeddie had aye a queer crakin'
for waters. He never gangs on the road. Wi' him it's juist up yae
glen and doon anither and aye keepin' by the burn-side. He kens every
water i' the warld, every bit sheuch and burnie frae Gallowa' to
Berwick. And then he kens the way o' spates the best I ever seen, and
I've heard tell o' him fordin' waters when nae ither thing could leeve
i' them. He can weyse and wark his road sae cunnin'ly on the stanes
that the roughest flood, if it's no juist fair ower his heid, canna
upset him. Mony a sheep has he saved to me, and it's mony a guid drove
wad never hae won to Gledsmuir market but for Yeddie."
I listened with a boy's interest in any romantic narration.
Somehow, the strange figure wrestling in the brown stream took fast
hold on my mind, and I asked the shepherd for further tales.
"There's little mair to tell," he said, "for a gangrel life is
nane o' the liveliest. But d'ye ken the langnebbit hill that cocks
its tap abune the Clachlands heid? Weel, he's got a wee bit o' grund
on the tap frae the Yerl, and there he's howkit a grave for himsel'.
He's sworn me and twae-three ithers to bury him there, wherever he
may dee. It's a queer fancy in the auld dotterel."
So the shepherd talked, and as at evening we stood by his door we
saw a figure moving into the gathering shadows. I knew it at once,
and did not need my friend's "There gangs 'Streams o' Water'" to
recognise it. Something wild and pathetic in the old man's face
haunted me like a dream, and as the dusk swallowed him up, he seemed
like some old Druid recalled of the gods to his ancient habitation of
Two years passed, and April came with her suns and rains and again
the waters brimmed full in the valleys. Under the clear, shining sky
the lambing went on, and the faint bleat of sheep brooded on the
hills. In a land of young heather and green upland meads, of faint
odours of moor-burn, and hill-tops falling in clear ridges to the
sky-line, the veriest St. Anthony would not abide indoors; so I flung
all else to the winds and went a-fishing.
At the first pool on the Callowa, where the great flood sweeps
nobly round a ragged shoulder of hill, and spreads into broad deeps
beneath a tangle of birches, I began my toils. The turf was still wet
with dew and the young leaves gleamed in the glow of morning. Far up
the stream rose the grim hills which hem the mosses and tarns of that
tableland, whence flow the greater waters of the countryside. An
ineffable freshness, as of the morning alike of the day and the
seasons, filled the clear hill-air, and the remote peaks gave the
needed touch of intangible romance.
But as I fished I came on a man sitting in a green dell, busy at
the making of brooms. I knew his face and dress, for who could
forget such eclectic raggedness?--and I remembered that day two years
before when he first hobbled into my ken. Now, as I saw him there, I
was captivated by the nameless mystery of his appearance. There was
something startling to one accustomed to the lack-lustre gaze of
town-bred folk, in the sight of an eye as keen and wild as a hawk's
from sheer solitude and lonely travelling. He was so bent and scarred
with weather that he seemed as much a part of that woodland place as
the birks themselves, and the noise of his labours did not startle the
birds that hopped on the branches.
Little by little I won his acquaintance--by a chance reminiscence,
a single tale, the mention of a friend. Then he made me free of his
knowledge, and my fishing fared well that day. He dragged me up
little streams to sequestered pools, where I had astonishing success;
and then back to some great swirl in the Callowa where he had seen
monstrous takes. And all the while he delighted me with his talk, of
men and things, of weather and place, pitched high in his thin, old
voice, and garnished with many tones of lingering sentiment. He spoke
in a broad, slow Scots, with so quaint a lilt in his speech that one
seemed to be in an elder time among people of a quieter life and a
Then by chance I asked him of a burn of which I had heard, and how
it might he reached. I shall never forget the tone of his answer as
his face grew eager and he poured forth his knowledge.
"Ye'll gang up the Knowe Burn, which comes down into the
Cauldshaw. It's a wee tricklin' thing, trowin' in and out o' pools
i' the rock, and comin' doun out o' the side o' Caerfraun. Yince a
merrymaiden bided there, I've heard folks say, and used to win the
sheep frae the Cauldshaw herd, and bile them i' the muckle pool below
the fa'. They say that there's a road to the ill Place there, and
when the Deil likit he sent up the lowe and garred the water faem and
fizzle like an auld kettle. But if ye're gaun to the Colm Burn ye
maun haud atower the rig o' the hill frae the Knowe heid, and ye'll
come to it wimplin' among green brae faces. It's a bonny bit, rale
lonesome, but awfu' bonny, and there's mony braw trout in its siller
Then I remembered all I had heard of the old man's craze, and I
humoured him. "It's a fine countryside for burns," I said.
"Ye may say that," said he gladly, "a weel-watered land. But a'
this braw south country is the same. I've traivelled frae the
Yeavering Hill in the Cheviots to the Caldons in Galloway, and it's
a' the same. When I was young, I've seen me gang north to the
Hielands and doun to the English lawlands, but now that I'm gettin'
auld I maun bide i' the yae place. There's no a burn in the South I
dinna ken, and I never cam to the water I couldna ford."
"No?" said I. "I've seen you at the ford o' Clachlands in the
"Often I've been there," he went on, speaking like one calling up
vague memories. "Yince, when Tam Rorison was drooned, honest man.
Yince again, when the brigs were ta'en awa', and the Black House o'
Clachlands had nae bread for a week. But oh, Clachlands is a bit easy
water. But I've seen the muckle Aller come roarin' sae high that it
washed awa' a sheepfold that stood weel up on the hill. And I've seen
this verra burn, this bonny clear Callowa, lyin' like a loch for miles
i' the haugh. But I never heeds a spate, for if a man just kens the
way o't it's a canny, hairmless thing. I couldna wish to dee better
than just be happit i' the waters o' my ain countryside, when my legs
fail and I'm ower auld for the trampin'."
Something in that queer figure in the setting of the hills struck
a note of curious pathos. And towards evening as we returned down
the glen the note grew keener. A spring sunset of gold and crimson
flamed in our backs and turned the clear pools to fire. Far off down
the vale the plains and the sea gleamed half in shadow. Somehow in
the fragrance and colour and the delectable crooning of the stream,
the fantastic and the dim seemed tangible and present, and high
sentiment revelled for once in my prosaic heart.
And still more in the breast of my companion. He stopped and
sniffed the evening air, as he looked far over hill and dale and then
back to the great hills above us. "Yen's Crappel, and Caerdon, and
the Laigh Law," he said, lingering with relish over each name, "and
the Gled comes doun atween them. I haena been there for a twalmonth,
and I maun hae anither glisk o't, for it's a braw place." And then
some bitter thought seemed to seize him, and his mouth twitched. "I'm
an auld man," he cried, " and I canna see ye a' again. There's burns
and mair burns in the high hills that I'll never win to." Then he
remembered my presence, and stopped. "Ye maunna mind me," he said
huskily, " but the sicht o' a' thae lang blue hills makes me daft, now
that I've faun i' the vale o' years. Yince I was young and could get
where I wantit, but now I am auld and maun bide i' the same bit. And
I'm aye thinkin' o' the waters I've been to, and the green heichs and
howes and the linns that I canna win to again. I maun e'en be content
wi' the Callowa, which is as guid as the best."
And then I left him, wandering down by the streamside and telling
his crazy meditations to himself.
A space of years elapsed ere I met him, for fate had carried me
far from the upland valleys. But once again I was afoot on the white
moor-roads; and, as I swung along one autumn afternoon up the path
which leads from the Glen of Callowa to the Gled, I saw a figure
before me which I knew for my friend. When I overtook him, his
appearance puzzled and troubled me. Age seemed to have come on him at
a bound, and in the tottering figure and the stoop of weakness I had
difficulty in recognising the hardy frame of the man as I had known
him. Something, too, had come over his face. His brow was clouded,
and the tan of weather stood out hard and cruel on a blanched cheek.
His eye seemed both wilder and sicklier, and for the first time I saw
him with none of the appurtenances of his trade. He greeted me feebly
and dully, and showed little wish to speak. He walked with slow,
uncertain step, and his breath laboured with a new panting. Every now
and then he would look at me sidewise, and in his feverish glance I
could detect none of the free kindliness of old. The man was ill in
body and mind.
I asked him how he had done since I saw him last.
"It's an ill world now," he said in a slow, querulous voice.
"There's nae need for honest men, and nae leevin'. Folk dinna
heed me ava now. They dinna buy my besoms, they winna let me bide a
nicht in their byres, and they're no like the kind canty folk in the
auld times. And a' the countryside is changin'. Doun by Goldieslaw
they're makkin' a dam for takin' water to the toun, and they're
thinkin' o' daein' the like wi' the Callowa. Guid help us, can they no
let the works o' God alane? Is there no room for them in the dirty
lawlands that they maun file the hills wi' their biggins?"
I conceived dimly that the cause of his wrath was a scheme for
waterworks at the border of the uplands, but I had less concern for
this than his strangely feeble health.
"You are looking ill," I said. "What has come over you?"
"Oh, I canna last for aye," he said mournfully. "My auld body's
about dune. I've warkit it ower sair when I had it, and it's gaun to
fail on my hands. Sleepin' out o' wat nichts and gangin' lang wantin'
meat are no the best ways for a long life"; and he smiled the ghost of
And then he fell to wild telling of the ruin of the place and the
hardness of the people, and I saw that want and bare living had gone
far to loosen his wits. I knew the countryside, and I recognised that
change was only in his mind. And a great pity seized me for this
lonely figure toiling on in the bitterness of regret. I tried to
comfort him, but my words were useless, for he took no heed of me;
with bent head and faltering step he mumbled his sorrows to himself.
Then of a sudden we came to the crest of the ridge where the road
dips from the hill-top to the sheltered valley. Sheer from the
heather ran the white streak till it lost itself among the reddening
rowans and the yellow birks of the wood. The land was rich in autumn
colour, and the shining waters dipped and fell through a pageant of
russet and gold. And all around hills huddled in silent spaces, long
brown moors crowned with cairns, or steep fortresses of rock and
shingle rising to foreheads of steel-like grey. The autumn blue faded
in the far sky-line to white, and lent distance to the farther peaks.
The hush of the wilderness, which is far different from the hush of
death, brooded over the scene, and like faint music came the sound of
a distant scytheswing, and the tinkling whisper which is the flow of
a hundred streams.
I am an old connoisseur in the beauties of the uplands, but I held
my breath at the sight. And when I glanced at my companion, he, too,
had raised his head, and stood with wide nostrils and gleaming eye
revelling in this glimpse of Arcady. Then he found his voice, and the
weakness and craziness seemed for one moment to leave him.
"It's my ain land," he cried, "and I'll never leave it. D'ye see
yon broun hill wi' the lang cairn?" and he gripped my arm fiercely
and directed my gaze. "Yon's my bit. I howkit it richt on the verra
tap, and ilka year I gang there to make it neat and ordlerly. I've
trystit wi' fower men in different pairishes that whenever they hear
o' my death, they'll cairry me up yonder and bury me there. And then
I'll never leave it, but be still and quiet to the warld's end. I'll
aye hae the sound o' water in my ear, for there's five burns tak'
their rise on that hillside, and on a' airts the glens gang doun to
the Gled and the Aller."
Then his spirit failed him, his voice sank, and he was almost the
feeble gangrel once more. But not yet, for again his eye swept the
ring of hills, and he muttered to himself names which I knew for
streams, lingeringly, lovingly, as of old affections. "Aller and Gled
and Callowa," he crooned, "braw names, and Clachlands and Cauldshaw
and the Lanely Water. And I maunna forget the Stark and the Lin and
the bonny streams o' the Creran. And what mair? I canna mind a' the
burns, the Howe and the Hollies and the Fawn and the links o' the
Manor. What says the Psalmist about them?
'As streams o' water in the South, Our bondage Lord, recall.'
Ay, but yen's the name for them. 'Streams o' water in the
And as we went down the slopes to the darkening vale I heard him
crooning to himself in a high, quavering voice the single distich;
then in a little his weariness took him again, and he plodded on with
no thought save for his sorrows.
The conclusion of this tale belongs not to me, but to the shepherd
of the Redswirehead, and I heard it from him in his dwelling, as I
stayed the night, belated on the darkening moors. He told me it after
supper in a flood of misty Doric, and his voice grew rough at times,
and he poked viciously at the dying peat.
In the last back-end I was at Gledfoot wi' sheep, and a weary job
I had and little credit. Ye ken the place, a lang dreich shore wi'
the wind swirlin' and bitin' to the bane, and the broun Gled water
choked wi' Solloway sand. There was nae room in ony inn in the town,
so I bude to gang to a bit public on the Harbour Walk, where
sailor-folk and fishermen feucht and drank, and nae dacent men frae
the hills thocht of gangin'. I was in a gey ill way, for I had sell't
my beasts dooms cheap, and I thocht o' the lang miles hame in the
wintry weather. So after a bite o' meat I gangs out to get the air
and clear my heid, which was a' rammled wi' the auction-ring.
And whae did I find, sittin' on a bench at the door, but the auld
man Yeddie. He was waur changed than ever. His lang hair was
hingin' over his broo, and his face was thin and white as a ghaist's.
His claes fell loose about him, and he sat wi' his hand on his auld
stick and his chin on his hand, hearin' nocht and glowerin' afore him.
He never saw nor kenned me till I shook him by the shoulders, and
cried him by his name.
"Whae are ye?" says he, in a thin voice that gaed to my hert.
"Ye ken me fine, ye auld fule," says I. "I'm Jock Rorison o' the
Redswirehead, whaur ye've stoppit often."
"Redswirehead," he says, like a man in a dream. "Redswirehead!
That's at the tap o' the Clachlands Burn as ye gang ower to the
"And what are ye daein' here? It's no your countryside ava, and
ye're no fit noo for lang trampin'."
"No," says he, in the same weak voice and wi' nae fushion in him,
"but they winna hae me up yonder noo. I'm ower auld and useless.
Yince a'body was gled to see me, and wad keep me as lang's I wantit,
and had aye a gud word at meeting and pairting. Noo it's a' changed,
and my wark's dune."
I saw fine that the man was daft, but what answer could I gie to
his havers? Folk in the Callowa Glens are as kind as afore, but ill
weather and auld age had put queer notions intil his heid. Forbye, he
was seeck, seeck unto death, and I saw mair in his een than I likit to
"Come in-by and get some meat, man," I said. "Ye're famishin'
wi' cauld and hunger."
"I canna eat," he says, and his voice never changed. "It's lang
since I had a bite, for I'm no hungry. But I'm awfu' thirsty. I cam
here yestreen, and I can get nae water to drink like the water in the
hills. I maun be settin' out back the morn, if the Lord spares me."
I mindit fine that the body wad tak nae drink like an honest man,
but maun aye draibble wi' burn water, and noo he had got the thing on
the brain. I never spak a word, for the maitter was bye ony mortal's
For lang he sat quiet. Then he lifts his heid and looks awa ower
the grey sea. A licht for a moment cam intil his een.
"Whatna big water's yon?" he said, wi' his puir mind aye rinnin'
"That's the Solloway," says I.
"The Solloway," says he; " it's a big water, and it wad be an ill
job to ford it."
"Nae man ever fordit it," I said.
"But I never yet cam to the water I couldna ford," says he. "But
what's that queer smell i' the air? Something snell and cauld and
"That's the salt, for we're at the sea here, the mighty ocean.
He keepit repeatin' the word ower in his mouth. "The salt, the
salt, I've heard tell o' it afore, but I dinna like it. It's
terrible cauld and unhamely."
By this time an onding o' rain was coming up' frae the water, and
I bade the man come indoors to the fire. He followed me, as biddable
as a sheep, draggin' his legs like yin far gone in seeckness. I set
him by the fire, and put whisky at his elbow, but he wadna touch it.
"I've nae need o' it," said he. "I'm find and warm"; and he sits
staring at the fire, aye comin' ower again and again, "The Solloway,
the Solloway. It's a guid name and a muckle water."
But sune I gaed to my bed, being heavy wi' sleep, for I had
traivelled for twae days.
The next morn I was up at six and out to see the weather. It was
a' changed. The muckle tides lay lang and still as our ain Loch o'
the Lee, and far ayont I saw the big blue hills o' England shine
bricht and clear. I thankit Providence for the day, for it was better
to tak the lang miles back in sic a sun than in a blast o' rain.
But as I lookit I saw some folk comin' up frae the beach carryin'
something atween them. My hert gied a loup, and " some puir, drooned
sailor-body," says I to mysel', "whae has perished in yesterday's
storm." But as they cam nearer I got a glisk which made me run like
daft, and lang ere I was up on them I saw it was Yeddie.
He lay drippin' and white, wi' his puir auld hair lyin' back frae
his broo and the duds clingin' to his legs. But out o' the face
there had gane a' the seeckness and weariness. His een were stelled,
as if he had been lookin' forrit to something, and his lips were set
like a man on a lang errand. And mair, his stick was grippit sae firm
in his hand that nae man could loose it, so they e'en let it be.
Then they tell't me the tale o't, how at the earliest licht they
had seen him wanderin' alang the sands, juist as they were putting
out their boats to sea. They wondered and watched him, till of a
sudden he turned to the water and wadit in, keeping straucht on till
he was oot o' sicht. They rowed a' their pith to the place, but they
were ower late. Yince they saw his heid appear abune water, still wi'
his face to the other side; and then they got his body, for the tide
was rinnin' low in the mornin'. I tell't them a' I kenned o' him, and
they were sair affected. "Puir cratur," said yin, "he's shurely
So we brocht him up to the house and laid him there till the folk
i' the town had heard o' the business. Syne the procurator-fiscal
came and certifeed the death and the rest was left tae me. I got a
wooden coffin made and put him in it, juist as he was, wi' his staff
in his hand and his auld duds about him. I mindit o' my sworn word,
for I was yin o' the four that had promised, and I ettled to dae his
bidding. It was saxteen mile to the hills, and yin and twenty to the
lanely tap whaur he had howkit his grave. But I never heedit it. I'm
a strong man, weel-used to the walkin' and my hert was sair for the
auld body. Now that he had gotten deliverance from his affliction, it
was for me to leave him in the place he wantit. Forbye, he wasna
muckle heavier than a bairn.
It was a long road, a sair road, but I did it, and by seven
o'clock I was at the edge o' the muirlands. There was a braw mune,
and a the glens and taps stood out as clear as midday. Bit by bit,
for I was gey tired, I warstled ower the rigs and up the cleuchs to
the Gled-head; syne up the stany Gled-cleuch to the lang grey hill
which they ca' the Hurlybackit. By ten I had come to the cairn, and
black i' the mune I saw the grave. So there I buried him, and though
I'm no a releegious man, I couldna help sayin' ower him the guid words
o' the Psalmist--
"As streams of water in the South, Our bondage, Lord, recall."
So if you go from the Gled to the Aller, and keep far over the
north side of the Muckle Muneraw, you will come in time to a stony
ridge which ends in a cairn. There you will see the whole hill
country of the south, a hundred lochs, a myriad streams, and a forest
of hill-tops. There on the very crest lies the old man, in the heart
of his own land, at the fountain-head of his many waters. If you
listen you will hear a hushed noise as of the swaying in trees or a
ripple on the sea. It is the sound of the rising of burns, which,
innumerable and unnumbered, flow thence to the silent glens for
THE GIPSY'S SONG TO THE LADY
"Whereupon the Faas, coming down fron the Gates of Galloway, did
so bewitch my lady that she forgat husband and kin, and followed
the tinkler's piping." --Chap-book of the Raid of Cassilis.
The door is open to the wall,
The air is bright and free;
Adown the stair, across the hall,
And then-the world and me;
The bare grey bent, the running stream,
The fire beside the shore;
And we will bid the hearth farewell,
And never seek it more, My love,
And never seek it more.
And you shall wear no silken gown,
No maid shall bind your hair;
The yellow broom shall be your gem,
Your braid the heather rare.
Athwart the moor, adown the hill,
Across the world away;
The path is long for happy hearts
That sing to greet the day, My love,
That sing to greet the day.
When morning cleaves the eastern grey,
And the lone hills are red
When sunsets light the evening way
And birds are quieted;
In autumn noon and springtide dawn,
By hill and dale and sea,
The world shall sing its ancient song
Of hope and joy for thee, My love,
Of hope and joy for thee.
And at the last no solemn stole
Shall on thy breast be laid;
No mumbling priest shall speed thy soul,
No charnel vault thee shade.
But by the shadowed hazel copse,
Aneath the greenwood tree,
Where airs are soft and waters sing,
Thou'lt ever sleep by me, My love,
Thou'lt ever sleep by me.
THE GROVE OF ASHTAROTH
"C'est enfin que dans leurs prunelles
Rit et pleure-fastidieux--
L'amour des choses eternelles
Des vieux morts et des anciens dieux!"
We were sitting around the camp fire, some thirty miles north of a
place called Taqui, when Lawson announced his intention of finding a
home. He had spoken little the last day or two, and I had guessed
that he had struck a vein of private reflection. I thought it might
be a new mine or irrigation scheme, and I was surprised to find that
it was a country house.
"I don't think I shall go back to England," he said, kicking a
sputtering log into place. "I don't see why I should. For business
purposes I am far more useful to the firm in South Africa than in
Throgmorton Street. I have no relation left except a third cousin,
and I have never cared a rush for living in town. That beastly house
of mine in Hill Street will fetch what I gave for it,--Isaacson cabled
about it the other day, offering for furniture and all. I don't want
to go into Parliament, and I hate shooting little birds and tame deer.
I am one of those fellows who are born Colonial at heart, and I don't
see why I shouldn't arrange my life as I please. Besides, for ten
years I have been falling in love with this country, and now I am up
to the neck."
He flung himself back in the camp-chair till the canvas creaked,
and looked at me below his eyelids. I remember glancing at the lines
of him, and thinking what a fine make of a man he was. In his
untanned field-boots, breeches, and grey shirt, he looked the born
wilderness hunter, though less than two months before he had been
driving down to the City every morning in the sombre regimentals of
his class. Being a fair man, he was gloriously tanned, and there was
a clear line at his shirt-collar to mark the limits of his sunburn. I
had first known him years ago, when he was a broker's clerk working on
half-commission. Then he had gone to South Africa, and soon I heard
he was a partner in a mining house which was doing wonders with some
gold areas in the North. The next step was his return to London as
the new millionaire,--young, good-looking, wholesome in mind and body,
and much sought after by the mothers of marriageable girls. We
played polo together, and hunted a little in the season, but there
were signs that he did not propose to become the conventional English
gentleman. He refused to buy a place in the country, though half the
Homes of England were at his disposal. He was a very busy man, he
declared, and had not time to be a squire. Besides, every few months
he used to rush out to South Africa. I saw that he was restless, for
he was always badgering me to go big-game hunting with him in some
remote part of the earth. There was that in his eyes, too, which
marked him out from the ordinary blond type of our countrymen. They
were large and brown and mysterious, and the light of another race was
in their odd depths.
To hint such a thing would have meant a breach of friendship, for
Lawson was very proud of his birth. When he first made his fortune
he had gone to the Heralds to discover his family, and these obliging
gentlemen had provided a pedigree. It appeared that he was a scion of
the house of Lowson or Lowieson, an ancient and rather disreputable
clan on the Scottish side of the Border. He took a shooting in
Teviotdale on the strength of it, and used to commit lengthy Border
ballads to memory. But I had known his father, a financial journalist
who never quite succeeded, and I had heard of a grandfather who sold
antiques in a back street at Brighton. The latter, I think, had not
changed his name, and still frequented the synagogue. The father was
a progressive Christian, and the mother had been a blonde Saxon from
the Midlands. In my mind there was no doubt, as I caught Lawson's
heavy-lidded eyes fixed on me. My friend was of a more ancient race
than the Lowsons of the Border.
"Where are you thinking of looking for your house?" I asked. "In
Natal or in the Cape Peninsula? You might get the Fishers' place if
you paid a price."
"The Fishers' place be hanged!" he said crossly. "I don't want
any stuccoed, over-grown Dutch farm. I might as well be at
Roehampton as in the Cape."
He got up and walked to the far side of the fire, where a lane ran
down through the thornscrub to a gully of the hills. The moon was
silvering the bush of the plains, forty miles off and three thousand
feet below us.
"I am going to live somewhere hereabouts," he answered at last. I
whistled. "Then you've got to put your hand in your pocket, old man.
You'll have to make everything, including a map of the countryside."
"I know," he said; "that's where the fun comes in. Hang it all,
why shouldn't I indulge my fancy? I'm uncommonly well off, and I
haven't chick or child to leave it to. Supposing I'm a hundred miles
from rail-head, what about it? I'll make a motor-road and fix up a
telephone. I'll grow most of my supplies, and start a colony to
provide labour. When you come and stay with me, you'll get the best
food and drink on earth, and sport that will make your mouth water.
I'll put Lochleven trout in these streams,--at 6,000 feet you can do
anything. We'll have a pack of hounds, too, and we can drive pig in
the woods, and if we want big game there are the Mangwe flats at our
feet. I tell you I'll make such a country-house as nobody ever
dreamed of. A man will come plumb out of stark savagery into lawns
and rose-gardens." Lawson flung himself into his chair again and
smiled dreamily at the fire.
"But why here, of all places?" I persisted. I was not feeling
very well and did not care for the country.
"I can't quite explain. I think it's the sort of land I have
always been looking for. I always fancied a house on a green plateau
in a decent climate looking down on the tropics. I like heat and
colour, you know, but I like hills too, and greenery, and the things
that bring back Scotland. Give me a cross between Teviotdale and the
Orinoco, and, by Gad! I think I've got it here."
I watched my friend curiously, as with bright eyes and eager voice
he talked of his new fad. The two races were very clear in him--the
one desiring gorgeousness, the other athirst for the soothing spaces
of the North. He began to plan out the house. He would get Adamson to
design it, and it was to grow out of the landscape like a stone on the
hillside. There would be wide verandahs and cool halls, but great
fireplaces against winter time. It would all be very simple and
fresh--"clean as morning" was his odd phrase; but then another idea
supervened, and he talked of bringing the Tintorets from Hill Street.
"I want it to be a civilised house, you know. No silly luxury, but
the best pictures and china and books. I'll have all the furniture
made after the old plain English models out of native woods. I don't
want second-hand sticks in a new country. Yes, by Jove, the
Tintorets are a great idea, and all those Ming pots I bought. I had
meant to sell them, but I'll have them out here."
He talked for a good hour of what he would do, and his dream grew
richer as he talked, till by the time we went to bed he had sketched
something more like a palace than a country-house. Lawson was by no
means a luxurious man. At present he was well content with a Wolseley
valise, and shaved cheerfully out of a tin mug. It struck me as odd
that a man so simple in his habits should have so sumptuous a taste in
bric-a-brac. I told myself, as I turned in, that the Saxon mother
from the Midlands had done little to dilute the strong wine of the
It drizzled next morning when we inspanned, and I mounted my horse
in a bad temper. I had some fever on me, I think, and I hated this
lush yet frigid tableland, where all the winds on earth lay in wait
for one's marrow. Lawson was, as usual, in great spirits. We were
not hunting, but shifting our hunting-ground, so all morning we
travelled fast to the north along the rim of the uplands.
At midday it cleared, and the afternoon was a pageant of pure
colour. The wind sank to a low breeze; the sun lit the infinite
green spaces, and kindled the wet forest to a jewelled coronal.
Lawson gaspingly admired it all, as he cantered bareheaded up a
bracken-clad slope. "God's country," he said twenty times. "I've
found it." Take a piece of Sussex downland; put a stream in every
hollow and a patch of wood; and at the edge, where the cliffs at home
would fall to the sea, put a cloak of forest muffling the scarp and
dropping thousands of feet to the blue plains. Take the diamond air
of the Gornergrat, and the riot of colour which you get by a West
Highland lochside in late September. Put flowers everywhere, the
things we grow in hothouses, geraniums like sun-shades and arums like
trumpets. That will give you a notion of the countryside we were in.
I began to see that after all it was out of the common.
And just before sunset we came over a ridge and found something
better. It was a shallow glen, half a mile wide, down which ran a
blue-grey stream in lings like the Spean, till at the edge of the
plateau it leaped into the dim forest in a snowy cascade. The opposite
side ran up in gentle slopes to a rocky knell, from which the eye had
a noble prospect of the plains. All down the glen were little copses,
half moons of green edging some silvery shore of the burn, or delicate
clusters of tall trees nodding on the hill brow. The place so
satisfied the eye that for the sheer wonder of its perfection we
stopped and stared in silence for many minutes.
Then "The House," I said, and Lawson replied softly, "The House!"
We rode slowly into the glen in the mulberry gloaming. Our
transport waggons were half an hour behind, so we had time to
explore. Lawson dismounted and plucked handfuls of flowers from the
water meadows. He was singing to himself all the time--an old French
catch about Cadet Rousselle and his Trois maisons.
"Who owns it?" I asked.
"My firm, as like as not. We have miles of land about here. But
whoever the man is, he has got to sell. Here I build my tabernacle,
old man. Here, and nowhere else!"
In the very centre of the glen, in a loop of the stream, was one
copse which even in that half light struck me as different from the
others. It was of tall, slim, fairy-like trees, the kind of wood the
monks painted in old missals. No, I rejected the thought. It was no
Christian wood. It was not a copse, but a "grove,"--one such as
Artemis may have flitted through in the moonlight. It was small,
forty or fifty yards in diameter, and there was a dark something at
the heart of it which for a second I thought was a house.
We turned between the slender trees, and--was it fancy?--an odd
tremor went through me. I felt as if I were penetrating the temenos
of some strange and lovely divinity, the goddess of this pleasant
vale. There was a spell in the air, it seemed, and an odd dead
Suddenly my horse started at a flutter of light wings. A flock of
doves rose from the branches, and I saw the burnished green of their
plumes against the opal sky. Lawson did not seem to notice them. I
saw his keen eyes staring at the centre of the grove and what stood
It was a little conical tower, ancient and lichened, but, so far
as I could judge, quite flawless. You know the famous Conical Temple
at Zimbabwe, of which prints are in every guidebook. This was of the
same type, but a thousandfold more perfect. It stood about thirty
feet high, of solid masonry, without door or window or cranny, as
shapely as when it first came from the hands of the old builders.
Again I had the sense of breaking in on a sanctuary. What right had
I, a common vulgar modern, to be looking at this fair thing, among
these delicate trees, which some white goddess had once taken for her
Lawson broke in on my absorption. "Let's get out of this," he
said hoarsely and he took my horse's bridle (he had left his own
beast at the edge) and led him back to the open. But I noticed that
his eyes were always turning back and that his hand trembled.
"That settles it," I said after supper. "What do you want with
your mediaeval Venetians and your Chinese pots now? You will have
the finest antique in the world in your garden--a temple as old as
time, and in a land which they say has no history. You had the right
inspiration this time."
I think I have said that Lawson had hungry eyes. In his
enthusiasm they used to glow and brighten; but now, as he sat looking
down at the olive shades of the glen, they seemed ravenous in their
fire. He had hardly spoken a word since we left the wood.
"Where can I read about these things?" he asked, and I gave him
the names of books. Then, an hour later, he asked me who were the
builders. I told him the little I knew about Phoenician and Sabaen
wanderings, and the ritual of Sidon and Tyre. He repeated some names
to himself and went soon to bed.
As I turned in, I had one last look over the glen, which lay ivory
and black in the moon. I seemed to hear a faint echo of wings, and to
see over the little grove a cloud of light visitants. "The Doves of
Ashtaroth have come back," I said to myself. "It is a good omen.
They accept the new tenant." But as I fell asleep I had a sudden
thought that I was saying something rather terrible.
Three years later, pretty nearly to a day, I came back to see what
Lawson had made of his hobby. He had bidden me often to Welgevonden,
as he chose to call it--though I do not know why he should have fixed
a Dutch name to a countryside where Boer never trod. At the last
there had been some confusion about dates, and I wired the time of my
arrival, and set off without an answer. A motor met me at the queer
little wayside station of Taqui, and after many miles on a doubtful
highway I came to the gates of the park, and a road on which it was a
delight to move. Three years had wrought little difference in the
landscape. Lawson had done some planting,--conifers and flowering
shrubs and suchlike,--but wisely he had resolved that Nature had for
the most part forestalled him. All the same, he must have spent a
mint of money. The drive could not have been beaten in England, and
fringes of mown turf on either hand had been pared out of the lush
meadows. When we came over the edge of the hill and looked down on
the secret glen, I could not repress a cry of pleasure. The house
stood on the farther ridge, the viewpoint of the whole neighbourhood;
and its brown timbers and white rough-cast walls melted into the
hillside as if it had been there from the beginning of things. The
vale below was ordered in lawns and gardens. A blue lake received the
rapids of the stream, and its banks were a maze of green shades and
glorious masses of blossom. I noticed, too, that the little grove we
had explored on our first visit stood alone in a big stretch of lawn,
so that its perfection might be clearly seen. Lawson had excellent
taste, or he had had the best advice.
The butler told me that his master was expected home shortly, and
took me into the library for tea. Lawson had left his Tintorets and
Ming pots at home after all. It was a long, low room, panelled in
teak half-way up the walls, and the shelves held a multitude of fine
bindings. There were good rugs on the parquet door, but no ornaments
anywhere, save three. On the carved mantelpiece stood two of the old
soapstone birds which they used to find at Zimbabwe, and between, on
an ebony stand, a half moon of alabaster, curiously carved with
zodiacal figures. My host had altered his scheme of furnishing, but I
approved the change.
He came in about half-past six, after I had consumed two cigars
and all but fallen asleep. Three years make a difference in most
men, but I was not prepared for the change in Lawson. For one thing,
he had grown fat. In place of the lean young man I had known, I saw a
heavy, flaccid being, who shuffled in his gait, and seemed tired and
listless. His sunburn had gone, and his face was as pasty as a city
clerk's. He had been walking, and wore shapeless flannel clothes,
which hung loose even on his enlarged figure. And the worst of it
was, that he did not seem over-pleased to see me. He murmured
something about my journey, and then flung himself into an arm-chair
and looked out of the window.
I asked him if he had been ill.
"Ill! No!" he said crossly. "Nothing of the kind. I'm perfectly
"You don't look as fit as this place should make you. What do you
do with yourself? Is the shooting as good as you hoped?"
He did not answer, but I thought I heard him mutter something like
"shooting be damned."
Then I tried the subject of the house. I praised it
extravagantly, but with conviction. "There can be no place like it
in the world," I said.
He turned his eyes on me at last, and I saw that they were as deep
and restless as ever. With his pallid face they made him look
curiously Semitic. I had been right in my theory about his ancestry.
"Yes," he said slowly, "there is no place like it--in the world."
Then he pulled himself to his feet. "I'm going to change," he
said. "Dinner is at eight. Ring for Travers, and he'll show you
I dressed in a noble bedroom, with an outlook over the garden-vale
and the escarpment to the far line of the plains, now blue and saffron
in the sunset. I dressed in an ill temper, for I was seriously
offended with Lawson, and also seriously alarmed. He was either very
unwell or going out of his mind, and it was clear, too, that he would
resent any anxiety on his account. I ransacked my memory for rumours,
but found none. I had heard nothing of him except that he had been
extraordinarily successful in his speculations, and that from his
hill-top he directed his firm's operations with uncommon skill. If
Lawson was sick or mad, nobody knew of it.
Dinner was a trying ceremony. Lawson, who used to be rather
particular in his dress, appeared in a kind of smoking suit with a
flannel collar. He spoke scarcely a word to me, but cursed the
servants with a brutality which left me aghast. A wretched footman
in his nervousness spilt some sauce over his sleeve. Lawson dashed the
dish from his hand and volleyed abuse with a sort of epileptic fury.
Also he, who had been the most abstemious of men, swallowed
disgusting quantities of champagne and old brandy.
He had given up smoking, and half an hour after we left the
dining-room he announced his intention of going to bed. I watched
him as he waddled upstairs with a feeling of angry bewilderment. Then
I went to the library and lit a pipe. I would leave first thing in
the morning--on that I was determined. But as I sat gazing at the moon
of alabaster and the soapstone birds my anger evaporated, and concern
took its place. I remembered what a fine fellow Lawson had been, what
good times we had had together. I remembered especially that evening
when we had found this valley and given rein to our fancies. What
horrid alchemy in the place had turned a gentleman into a brute? I
thought of drink and drugs and madness and insomnia, but I could fit
none of them into my conception of my friend. I did not consciously
rescind my resolve to depart, but I had a notion that I would not act
The sleepy butler met me as I went to bed. "Mr. Lawson's room is
at the end of your corridor, sir," he said. "He don't sleep over
well, so you may hear him stirring in the night. At what hour would
you like breakfast, sir? Mr. Lawson mostly has his in bed."
My room opened from the great corridor, which ran the full length
of the front of the house. So far as I could make out, Lawson was
three rooms off, a vacant bedroom and his servant's room being between
us. I felt tired and cross, and tumbled into bed as fast as possible.
Usually I sleep well, but now I was soon conscious that my drowsiness
was wearing off and that I was in for a restless night. I got up and
laved my face, turned the pillows, thought of sheep coming over a hill
and clouds crossing the sky; but none of the old devices were of any
use. After about an hour of make-believe I surrendered myself to
facts, and, lying on my back, stared at the white ceiling and the
patches of moonshine on the walls.
It certainly was an amazing night. I got up, put on a
dressing-gown, and drew a chair to the window. The moon was almost
at its full, and the whole plateau swam in a radiance of ivory and
silver. The banks of the stream were black, but the lake had a great
belt of light athwart it, which made it seem like a horizon and the
rim of land beyond it like a contorted cloud. Far to the right I saw
the delicate outlines of the little wood which I had come to think of
as the Grove of Ashtaroth. I listened. There was not a sound in the
air. The land seemed to sleep peacefully beneath the moon, and yet I
had a sense that the peace was an illusion. The place was feverishly
I could have given no reason for my impression but there it was.
Something was stirring in the wide moonlit landscape under its deep
mask of silence. I felt as I had felt on the evening three years ago
when I had ridden into the grove. I did not think that the influence,
whatever it was, was maleficent. I only knew that it was very
strange, and kept me wakeful.
By-and-by I bethought me of a book. There was no lamp in the
corridor save the moon, but the whole house was bright as I slipped
down the great staircase and across the hall to the library. I
switched on the lights and then switched them off. They seemed
profanation, and I did not need them.
I found a French novel, but the place held me and I stayed. I sat
down in an arm-chair before the fireplace and the stone birds. Very
odd those gawky things, like prehistoric Great Auks, looked in the
moonlight. I remember that the alabaster moon shimmered like
translucent pearl, and I fell to wondering about its history. Had the
old Sabaens used such a jewel in their rites in the Grove of
Then I heard footsteps pass the window. A great house like this
would have a watchman, but these quick shuffling footsteps were
surely not the dull plod of a servant. They passed on to the grass
and died away. I began to think of getting back to my room.
In the corridor I noticed that Lawson's door was ajar, and that a
light had been left burning. I had the unpardonable curiosity to
peep in. The room was empty, and the bed had not been slept in. Now
I knew whose were the footsteps outside the library window.
I lit a reading-lamp and tried to interest myself in "La Cruelle
Enigme." But my wits were restless, and I could not keep my eyes on
the page. I flung the book aside and sat down again by the window.
The feeling came over me that I was sitting in a box at some play.
The glen was a huge stage, and at any moment the players might appear
on it. My attention was strung as high as if I had been waiting for
the advent of some world-famous actress. But nothing came. Only the
shadows shifted and lengthened as the moon moved across the sky.
Then quite suddenly the restlessness left me and at the same
moment the silence was broken by the crow of a cock and the rustling
of trees in a light wind. I felt very sleepy, and was turning to bed
when again I heard footsteps without. From the window I could see a
figure moving across the garden towards the house. It was Lawson, got
up in the sort of towel dressing-gown that one wears on board ship.
He was walking slowly and painfully, as if very weary. I did not see
his face, but the man's whole air was that of extreme fatigue and
dejection. I tumbled into bed and slept profoundly till long after
The man who valeted me was Lawson's own servant. As he was laying
out my clothes I asked after the health of his master, and was told
that he had slept ill and would not rise till late. Then the man, an
anxious-faced Englishman, gave me some information on his own account.
Mr. Lawson was having one of his bad turns. It would pass away in a
day or two, but till it had gone he was fit for nothing. He advised
me to see Mr. Jobson, the factor, who would look to my entertainment
in his master's absence.
Jobson arrived before luncheon, and the sight of him was the first
satisfactory thing about Welgevonden. He was a big, gruff Scot from
Roxburghshire, engaged, no doubt, by Lawson as a duty to his Border
ancestry. He had short grizzled whiskers, a weatherworn face, and a
shrewd, calm blue eye. I knew now why the place was in such perfect
We began with sport, and Jobson explained what I could have in the
way of fishing and shooting. His exposition was brief and
business-like, and all the while I could see his eye searching me.
It was clear that he had much to say on other matters than sport.
I told him that I had come here with Lawson three years before,
when he chose the site. Jobson continued to regard me curiously.
"I've heard tell of ye from Mr. Lawson. Ye're an old friend of his,
"The oldest," I said. "And I am sorry to find that the place does
not agree with him. Why it doesn't I cannot imagine, for you look fit
enough. Has he been seedy for long?"
"It comes and it goes," said Mr. Jobson. "Maybe once a month he
has a bad turn. But on the whole it agrees with him badly. He's no'
the man he was when I first came here."
Jobson was looking at me very seriously and frankly. I risked a
"What do you suppose is the matter?"
He did not reply at once, but leaned forward and tapped my knee.
"I think it's something that doctors canna cure. Look at me, sir.
I've always been counted a sensible man, but if I told you what was
in my head you would think me daft. But I have one word for you.
Bide till to-night is past and then speir your question. Maybe you
and me will be agreed."
The factor rose to go. As he left the room he flung me back a
remark over his shoulder--"Read the eleventh chapter of the First
Book of Kings."
After luncheon I went for a walk. First I mounted to the crown of
the hill and feasted my eyes on the unequalled loveliness of the view.
I saw the far hills in Portuguese territory, a hundred miles away,
lifting up thin blue fingers into the sky. The wind blew light and
fresh, and the place was fragrant with a thousand delicate scents.
Then I descended to the vale, and followed the stream up through the
garden. Poinsettias and oleanders were blazing in coverts, and there
was a paradise of tinted water-lilies in the slacker reaches. I saw
good trout rise at the fly, but I did not think about fishing. I was
searching my memory for a recollection which would not come.
By-and-by I found myself beyond the garden, where the lawns ran to
the fringe of Ashtaroth's Grove.
It was like something I remembered in an old Italian picture.
Only, as my memory drew it, it should have been peopled with strange
figures-nymphs dancing on the sward, and a prick-eared faun peeping
from the covert. In the warm afternoon sunlight it stood, ineffably
gracious and beautiful, tantalising with a sense of some deep hidden
loveliness. Very reverently I walked between the slim trees, to where
the little conical tower stood half in the sun and half in shadow.
Then I noticed something new. Round the tower ran a narrow path,
worn in the grass by human feet. There had been no such path on my
first visit, for I remembered the grass growing tall to the edge of
the stone. Had the Kaffirs made a shrine of it, or were there other
and strange votaries?
When I returned to the house I found Travers with a message for
me. Mr. Lawson was still in bed, but he would like me to go to him.
I found my friend sitting up and drinking strong tea,--a bad thing, I
should have thought, for a man in his condition. I remember that I
looked about the room for some sign of the pernicious habit of which I
believed him a victim. But the place was fresh and clean, with the
windows wide open, and, though I could not have given my reasons, I
was convinced that drugs or drink had nothing to do with the sickness.
He received me more civilly, but I was shocked by his looks. There
were great bags below his eyes, and his skin had the wrinkled puffy
appearance of a man in dropsy. His voice, too, was reedy and thin.
Only his great eyes burned with some feverish life.
"I am a shocking bad host," he said, "but I'm going to be still
more inhospitable. I want you to go away. I hate anybody here when
I'm off colour."
"Nonsense," I said; "you want looking after. I want to know
about this sickness. Have you had a doctor?"
He smiled wearily. "Doctors are no earthly use to me. There's
nothing much the matter I tell you. I'll be all right in a day or
two, and then you can come back. I want you to go off with Jobson and
hunt in the plains till the end of the week. It will be better fun
for you, and I'll feel less guilty."
Of course I pooh-poohed the idea, and Lawson got angry. "Damn it,
man," he cried, "why do you force yourself on me when I don't want
you? I tell you your presence here makes me worse. In a week I'll be
as right as the mail and then I'll be thankful for you. But get away
now; get away, I tell you."
I saw that he was fretting himself into a passion. "All right," I
said soothingly; "Jobson and I will go off hunting. But I am horribly
anxious about you, old man."
He lay back on his pillows. "You needn't trouble. I only want a
little rest. Jobson will make all arrangements, and Travers will get
you anything you want. Good-bye."
I saw it was useless to stay longer, so I left the room. Outside
I found the anxious-faced servant "Look here," I said, "Mr. Lawson
thinks I ought to go, but I mean to stay. Tell him I'm gone if he
asks you. And for Heaven's sake keep him in bed."
The man promised, and I thought I saw some relief in his face.
I went to the library, and on the way remembered Jobson's remark
about Ist Kings. With some searching I found a Bible and turned up
the passage. It was a long screed about the misdeeds of Solomon, and
I read it through without enlightenment. I began to re-read it, and a
word suddenly caught my attention--
"For Solomon went after Ashtaroth, the goddess of the Zidonians."
That was all, but it was like a key to a cipher. Instantly there
flashed over my mind all that I had heard or read of that strange
ritual which seduced Israel to sin. I saw a sunburnt land and a
people vowed to the stern service of Jehovah. But I saw, too, eyes
turning from the austere sacrifice to lonely hill-top groves and
towers and images, where dwelt some subtle and evil mystery. I saw the
fierce prophets, scourging the votaries with rods, and a nation
Penitent before the Lord; but always the backsliding again, and the
hankering after forbidden joys. Ashtaroth was the old goddess of the
East. Was it not possible that in all Semitic blood there remained
transmitted through the dim generations, some craving for her spell?
I thought of the grandfather in the back street at Brighten and of
those burning eyes upstairs.
As I sat and mused my glance fell on the inscrutable stone birds.
They knew all those old secrets of joy and terror. And that moon of
alabaster! Some dark priest had worn it on his forehead when he
worshipped, like Ahab, "all the host of Heaven." And then I honestly
began to be afraid. I, a prosaic, modern Christian gentleman, a
half-believer in casual faiths, was in the presence of some hoary
mystery of sin far older than creeds or Christendom. There was fear
in my heart--a kind of uneasy disgust, and above all a nervous eerie
disquiet. Now I wanted to go away and yet I was ashamed of the
cowardly thought. I pictured Ashtaroth's Grove with sheer horror.
What tragedy was in the air? What secret awaited twilight? For the
night was coming, the night of the Full Moon, the season of ecstasy
I do not know how I got through that evening. I was disinclined
for dinner, so I had a cutlet in the library and sat smoking till my
tongue ached. But as the hours passed a more manly resolution grew up
in my mind. I owed it to old friendship to stand by Lawson in this
extremity. I could not interfere--God knows, his reason seemed
already rocking, but I could be at hand in case my chance came. I
determined not to undress, but to watch through the night. I had a
bath, and changed into light flannels and slippers. Then I took up my
position in a corner of the library close to the window, so that I
could not fail to hear Lawson's footsteps if he passed.
Fortunately I left the lights unlit, for as I waited I grew
drowsy, and fell asleep. When I woke the moon had risen, and I knew
from the feel of the air that the hour was late. I sat very still,
straining my ears, and as I listened I caught the sound of steps.
They were crossing the hall stealthily, and nearing the library door.
I huddled into my corner as Lawson entered.
He wore the same towel dressing-gown, and he moved swiftly and
silently as if in a trance. I watched him take the alabaster moon
from the mantelpiece and drop it in his pocket. A glimpse of white
skin showed that the gown was his only clothing. Then he moved past
me to the window, opened it and went out.
Without any conscious purpose I rose and followed, kicking off my
slippers that I might go quietly. He was running, running fast,
across the lawns in the direction of the Grove--an odd shapeless
antic in the moonlight. I stopped, for there was no cover, and I
feared for his reason if he saw me. When I looked again he had
disappeared among the trees.
I saw nothing for it but to crawl, so on my belly I wormed my way
over the dripping sward. There was a ridiculous suggestion of
deer-stalking about the game which tickled me and dispelled my
uneasiness. Almost I persuaded myself I was tracking an ordinary
sleep-walker. The lawns were broader than I imagined, and it seemed
an age before I reached the edge of the Grove. The world was so still
that I appeared to be making a most ghastly amount of noise. I
remember that once I heard a rustling in the air, and looked up to see
the green doves circling about the tree-tops.
There was no sign of Lawson. On the edge of the Grove I think
that all my assurance vanished. I could see between the trunks to
the little tower, but it was quiet as the grave, save for the wings
above. Once more there came over me the unbearable sense of
anticipation I had felt the night before. My nerves tingled with
mingled expectation and dread. I did not think that any harm would
come to me, for the powers of the air seemed not malignant. But I
knew them for powers, and felt awed and abased. I was in the presence
of the "host of Heaven," and I was no stern Israelitish prophet to
prevail against them.
I must have lain for hours waiting in that spectral place, my eyes
riveted on the tower and its golden cap of moonshine. I remember that
my head felt void and light, as if my spirit were becoming disembodied
and leaving its dew-drenched sheath far below. But the most curious
sensation was of something drawing me to the tower, something mild and
kindly and rather feeble, for there was some other and stronger force
keeping me back. I yearned to move nearer, but I could not drag my
limbs an inch. There was a spell somewhere which I could not break. I
do not think I was in any way frightened now. The starry influence
was playing tricks with me, but my mind was half asleep. Only I
never took my eyes from the little tower. I think I could not, if I
had wanted to.
Then suddenly from the shadows came Lawson. He was stark-naked,
and he wore, bound across his brow, the half-moon of alabaster. He
had something, too, in his hand,--something which glittered.
He ran round the tower, crooning to himself, and flinging wild
arms to the skies. Sometimes the crooning changed to a shrill cry of
passion, such as a manad may have uttered in the train of Bacchus. I
could make out no words, but the sound told its own tale. He was
absorbed in some infernal ecstasy. And as he ran, he drew his right
hand across his breast and arms, and I saw that it held a knife.
I grew sick with disgust,--not terror, but honest physical
loathing. Lawson, gashing his fat body, affected me with an
overpowering repugnance. I wanted to go forward and stop him, and I
wanted, too, to be a hundred miles away. And the result was that I
stayed still. I believe my own will held me there, but I doubt if in
any case I could have moved my legs.
The dance grew swifter and fiercer. I saw the blood dripping from
Lawson's body, and his face ghastly white above his scarred breast.
And then suddenly the horror left me; my head swam; and for one
second--one brief second--I seemed to peer into a new world. A
strange passion surged up in my heart. I seemed to see the earth
peopled with forms not human, scarcely divine, but more desirable than
man or god. The calm face of Nature broke up for me into wrinkles of
wild knowledge. I saw the things which brush against the soul in
dreams, and found them lovely. There seemed no cruelty in the knife
or the blood. It was a delicate mystery of worship, as wholesome as
the morning song of birds. I do not know how the Semites found
Ashtaroth's ritual; to them it may well have been more rapt and
passionate than it seemed to me. For I saw in it only the sweet
simplicity of Nature, and all riddles of lust and terror soothed away
as a child's nightmares are calmed by a mother. I found my legs able
to move, and I think I took two steps through the dusk towards the
And then it all ended. A cock crew, and the homely noises of
earth were renewed. While I stood dazed and shivering, Lawson
plunged through the Grove toward me. The impetus carried him to the
edge, and he fell fainting just outside the shade.
My wits and common-sense came back to me with my bodily strength.
I got my friend on my back, and staggered with him towards the house.
I was afraid in real earnest now, and what frightened me most was the
thought that I had not been afraid sooner. I had come very near the
"abomination of the Zidonians."
At the door I found the scared valet waiting. He had apparently
done this sort of thing before
"Your master has been sleep-walking and has had a fall," I said.
"We must get him to bed at once."
We bathed the wounds as he lay in a deep stupor, and I dressed
them as well as I could. The only danger lay in his utter
exhaustion, for happily the gashes were not serious, and no artery
had been touched. Sleep and rest would make him well, for he had the
constitution of a strong man. I was leaving the room when he opened
his eyes and spoke. He did not recognize me, but I noticed that his
face had lost its strangeness, and was once more that of the friend I
had known. Then I suddenly bethought me of an old hunting remedy
which he and I always carried on our expeditions. It is a pill made
up from an ancient Portuguese prescription. One is an excellent
specific for fever. Two are invaluable if you are lost in the bush,
for they send a man for many hours into a deep sleep, which prevents
suffering and madness, till help comes. Three give a painless death.
I went to my room and found the little box in my jewel-case. Lawson
swallowed two, and turned wearily on his side. I bade his man let
him sleep till he woke, and went off in search of food.
I had business on hand which would not wait. By seven, Jobson,
who had been sent for, was waiting for me in the library. I knew by
his grim face that here I had a very good substitute for a prophet of
"You were right," I said. "I have read the IIth chapter of Ist
Kings, and I have spent such a night as I pray God I shall never
"I thought you would," he replied. "I've had the same experience
"The Grove?" I said.
"Ay, the wud," was the answer in broad Scots.
I wanted to see how much he understood. "Mr. Lawson's family is
from the Scottish Border?"
"Ay. I understand they come off Borthwick Water side," he
replied, but I saw by his eyes that he knew what I meant.
"Mr. Lawson is my oldest friend," I went on, "and I am going to
take measures to cure him. For what I am going to do I take the sole
responsibility. I will make that plain to your master. But if I am to
succeed I want your help. Will you give it me? It sounds like madness
and you are a sensible man and may like to keep out of it. I leave it
to your discretion."
Jobson looked me straight in the face. "Have no fear for me," he
said; "there is an unholy thing in that place, and if I have the
strength in me I will destroy it. He has been a good master to me,
and, forbye I am a believing Christian. So say on, sir."
There was no mistaking the air. I had found my Tishbite.
"I want men," I said, "--as many as we can get."
Jobson mused. "The Kaffirs will no' gang near the place, but
there's some thirty white men on the tobacco farm. They'll do your
will, if you give them an indemnity in writing."
"Good," said I. "Then we will take our instructions from the only
authority which meets the case. We will follow the example of King
Josiah. I turned up the 23rd chapter of end Kings, and read--
"And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the
right hand of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon the king of
Israel had builded for Ashtaroth the abomination of the Zidonians ...
did the king defile.
"And he brake in Pieces the images, and cut down the groves. and
filled their places with the bones of men....'
"Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, and the high place which
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both
that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high
place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove."
Jobson nodded. "It'll need dinnymite. But I've plenty of yon
down at the workshops. I'll be off to collect the lads."
Before nine the men had assembled at Jobson's house. They were a
hardy lot of young farmers from home, who took their instructions
docilely from the masterful factor. On my orders they had brought
their shotguns. We armed them with spades and woodmen's axes, and one
man wheeled some coils of rope in a handcart.
In the clear, windless air of morning the Grove, set amid its
lawns, looked too innocent and exquisite for ill. I had a pang of
regret that a thing so fair should suffer; nay, if I had come alone,
I think I might have repented. But the men were there, and the
grim-faced Jobson was waiting for orders. I placed the guns, and sent
beaters to the far side. I told them that every dove must be shot.
It was only a small flock, and we killed fifteen at the first
drive. The poor birds flew over the glen to another spinney, but we
brought them back over the guns and seven fell. Four more were got in
the trees, and the last I killed myself with a long shot. In half an
hour there was a pile of little green bodies on the sward.
Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were
an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to
the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a
It was as if someone were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not
threatening, but pleading--something too fine for the sensual ear,
but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and
distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was
the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old
exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow
in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman's voice,
some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the
world. And what the voice told me was that I was destroying her last
That was the pathos of it--the voice was homeless. As the axes
flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit
was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be
telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long
sad wanderings, of hardly-won shelter, and a peace which was the
little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No
thought of wrong-doing. The spell, which to Semitic blood held the
mystery of evil, was to me, of the Northern race, only delicate and
rare and beautiful. Jobson and the rest did not feel it, I with my
finer senses caught nothing but the hopeless sadness of it. That
which had stirred the passion in Lawson was only wringing my heart.
It was almost too pitiful to bear. As the trees crashed down and the
men wiped the sweat from their brows, I seemed to myself like the
murderer of fair women and innocent children. I remember that the
tears were running over my cheeks. More than once I opened my mouth
to countermand the work, but the face of Jobson, that grim Tishbite,
held me back.
I knew now what gave the Prophets of the Lord their mastery, and I
knew also why the people sometimes stoned them.
The last tree fell, and the little tower stood like a ravished
shrine, stripped of all defence against the world. I heard Jobson's
voice speaking. "We'd better blast that stane thing now. We'll
trench on four sides and lay the dinnymite. Ye're no' looking weel,
sir.!Ye'd better go and sit down on the braeface."
I went up the hillside and lay down. Below me, in the waste of
shorn trunks, men were running about, and I saw the mining begin. It
all seemed like an aimless dream in which I had no part. The voice of
that homeless goddess was still pleading. It was the innocence of it
that tortured me Even so must a merciful Inquisitor have suffered from
the plea of some fair girl with the aureole of death on her hair. I
knew I was killing rare and unrecoverable beauty. As I sat dazed and
heartsick, the whole loveliness of Nature seemed to plead for its
divinity. The sun in the heavens, the mellow lines of upland, the
blue mystery of the far plains, were all part of that soft voice. I
felt bitter scorn for myself. I was guilty of blood; nay, I was
guilty of the sin against light which knows no forgiveness. I was
murdering innocent gentleness--and there would be no peace on earth
for me. Yet I sat helpless. The power of a sterner will constrained
me. And all the while the voice was growing fainter and dying away
into unutterable sorrow.
Suddenly a great flame sprang to heaven, and a pall of smoke. I
heard men crying out, and fragments of stone fell around the ruins of
the grove. When the air cleared, the little tower had gone out of
The voice had ceased and there seemed to me to be a bereaved
silence in the world. The shock moved me to my feet, and I ran down
the slope to where Jobson stood rubbing his eyes.
"That's done the job. Now we maun get up the tree roots. We've
no time to howk. We'll just blast the feck o' them."
The work of destruction went on, but I was coming back to my
senses. I forced myself to be practical and reasonable. I thought
of the night's experience and Lawson's haggard eyes, and I screwed
myself into a determination to see the thing through. I had done the
deed; it was my business to make it complete. A text in Jeremiah came
into my head:
"Their children remember their altars and their groves by the
green trees upon the high hills."
I would see to it that this grove should be utterly forgotten.
We blasted the tree-roots, and, yolking oxen, dragged the debris
into a great heap. Then the men set to work with their spades, and
roughly levelled the ground. I was getting back to my old self, and
Jobson's spirit was becoming mine.
"There is one thing more," I told him "Get ready a couple of
ploughs. We will improve upon King Josiah." My brain was a medley
of Scripture precedents, and I was determined that no safeguard should
We yoked the oxen again and drove the ploughs over the site of the
grove. It was rough ploughing, for the place was thick with bits of
stone from the tower, but the slow Afrikaner oxen plodded on, and
sometime in the afternoon the work was finished. Then I sent down to
the farm for bags of rock-salt, such as they use for cattle. Jobson
and I took a sack apiece, and walked up and down the furrows, sowing
them with salt.
The last act was to set fire to the pile of tree trunks. They
burned well, and on the top we flung the bodies of the green doves.
The birds of Ashtaroth had an honourable pyre.
Then I dismissed the much-perplexed men, and gravely shook hands
with Jobson. Black with dust and smoke I went back to the house,
where I bade Travers pack my bags and order the motor. I found
Lawson's servant, and heard from him that his master was sleeping
peacefully. I gave him some directions, and then went to wash and
Before I left I wrote a line to Lawson. I began by transcribing
the verses from the 23rd chapter of 2nd Kings. I told him what I had
done, and my reason. "I take the whole responsibility upon myself,"
I wrote. "No man in the place had anything to do with it but me. I
acted as I did for the sake of our old friendship, and you will
believe it was no easy task for me. I hope you will understand.
Whenever you are able to see me send me word, and I will come back
and settle with you. But I think you will realise that I have saved
The afternoon was merging into twilight as I left the house on the
road to Taqui. The great fire, where the Grove had been, was still
blazing fiercely, and the smoke made a cloud over the upper glen, and
filled all the air with a soft violet haze. I knew that I had done
well for my friend, and that he would come to his senses and be
grateful. My mind was at ease on that score, and in something like
comfort I faced the future. But as the car reached the ridge I looked
back to the vale I had outraged. The moon was rising and silvering
the smoke, and through the gaps I could see the tongues of fire.
Somehow, I know not why, the lake, the stream, the garden-coverts,
even the green slopes of hill, wore an air of loneliness and
desecration. And then my heartache returned, and I knew that I had
driven something lovely and adorable from its last refuge on earth.
I will walk warily in the wise woods on the fringes of eventide,
For the covert is full of noises and the stir of nameless things.
I have seen in the dusk of the beeches the shapes of the lords
And down in the marish hollow I have heard the lady who sings.
And once in an April gleaming I met a maid on the sward,
All marble-white and gleaming and tender and wild of eye;--
I, Jehan the hunter, who speak am a grown man, middling hard,
But I dreamt a month of the maid, and wept I knew not why.
Down by the edge of the firs, in a coppice of heath and vine,
Is an old moss-grown altar, shaded by briar and bloom,
Denys, the priest, hath told me 'twas the lord Apollo's shrine
In the days ere Christ came down from God to the Virgin's womb.
I never go past but I doff my cap and avert my eyes-
(Were Denys to catch me I trow I'd do penance for half a year)--
For once I saw a flame there and the smoke of a sacrifice,
And a voice spake out of the thicket that froze my soul with
Wherefore to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
Mary the Blessed Mother, and the kindly Saints as well,
I will give glory and praise, and them I cherish the most,
For they have the keys of Heaven, and save the soul from Hell.
But likewise I will spare for the Lord Apollo a grace,
And a bow for the lady Venus-as a friend but not as a thrall.
'Tis true they are out of Heaven, but some day they may win the
For gods are kittle cattle, and a wise man honours them all.
THE RIDING OF NINEMILEBURN
Sim bent over the meal ark and plumbed its contents with his fist.
Two feet and more remained: provender--with care--for a month, till
he harvested the waterside corn and ground it at Ashkirk mill. He
straightened his back better pleased; and, as he moved, the fine dust
flew into his throat and set him coughing. He choked back the sound
till his face crimsoned.
But the mischief was done. A woman's voice, thin and weary, came
from the ben-end. The long man tiptoed awkwardly to her side.
"Canny, lass," he crooned. "It's me back frae the hill. There's a
mune and a clear sky, and I'll hae the lave under thack and rape the
morn. Syne I'm for Ninemileburn, and the coo 'ill be i' the byre by
Setterday. Things micht be waur, and we'll warstle through yet.
There was mair tint at Flodden."
The last rays of October daylight that filtered through the straw
lattice showed a woman's head on the pillow. The face was white and
drawn, and the great black eyes--she had been an Oliver out of
Megget--were fixed in the long stare of pain. Her voice had the high
lilt and the deep undertones of the Forest.
"The bairn 'ill be gone ere ye ken, Sim," she said wearily. "He
canna live without milk, and I've nane to gie him. Get the coo back
or lose the son I bore ye. If I were my ordinar' I wad hae't in the
byre, though I had to kindle Ninemileburn ower Wat's heid."
She turned miserably on her pillow and the babe beside her set up
a feeble crying. Sim busied himself with re-lighting the peat fire.
He knew too well that he would never see the milk-cow till he took
with him the price of his debt or gave a bond on harvested crops. He
had had a bad lambing, and the wet summer had soured his shallow
lands. The cess to Branksome was due, and he had had no means to pay
it. His father's cousin of the Ninemileburn was a brawling fellow,
who never lacked beast in byre or corn in bin, and to him he had gone
for the loan. But Wat was a hard man, and demanded surety; so the one
cow had travelled the six moorland miles and would not return till the
bond was cancelled. As well might he try to get water from stone as
move Wat by any tale of a sick wife and dying child.
The peat smoke got into his throat and brought on a fresh fit of
coughing. The wet year had played havoc with his chest and his lean
shoulders shook with the paroxysms. An anxious look at the bed told
him that Marion was drowsing, so he slipped to the door.
Outside, as he had said, the sky was clear. From the plashy
hillside came the rumour of swollen burns. Then he was aware of a
man's voice shouting.
"Sim," it cried, "Sim o' the Cleuch ... Sim." A sturdy figure
came down through the scrog of hazel and revealed itself as his
neighbour of the Dodhead. Jamie Telfer lived five miles off in
Ettrick, but his was the next house to the Cleuch shieling. Telfer
was running, and his round red face shone with sweat.
"Dod, man, Sim, ye're hard o' hearing. I was routin' like to wake
the deid, and ye never turned your neck. It's the fray I bring ye.
Mount and ride to the Carewoodrig. The word's frae Branksome. I've
but Ranklehope to raise, and then me and William's Tam will be on the
road to join ye."
"Whatna fray?" Sim asked blankly.
"Ninemileburn. Bewcastle's marching. They riped the place at
cockcrow, and took twenty-six kye, five horse and a walth o'
plenishing. They were seen fordin' Teviot at ten afore noon, but
they're gaun round by Ewes Water, for they durstna try the Hermitage
Slack. Forbye they move slow, for the bestial's heavy wark to drive.
They shut up Wat in the auld peel, and he didna win free till bye
midday. Syne he was off to Branksome, and the word frae Branksome is
to raise a' Ettrick, Teviotdale, Ale Water, and the Muirs o' Esk. We
look to win up wi' the lads long ere they cross Liddel, and that at
the speed they gang will be gey an' near sunrise. It's a braw mune
for the job."
Jarnie Telfer lay on his face by the burn and lapped up water like
a dog. Then without another word he trotted off across the hillside
beyond which lay the Ranklehope.
Sim had a fit of coughing and looked stupidly at the sky. Here
was the last straw. He was dog-tired, for he had had little sleep
the past week. There was no one to leave with Marion, and Marion was
too weak to tend herself. The word was from Branksome, and at another
time Branksome was to be obeyed. But now the thing was past reason.
What use was there for a miserable careworn man to ride among the
swank, well-fed lads in the Bewcastle chase? And then he remembered
his cow. She would be hirpling with the rest of the Ninemileburn
beasts on the road to the Border. The case was more desperate than he
had thought. She was gone for ever unless he helped Wat to win her
back. And if she went, where was the milk for the child?
He stared hopelessly up at a darkening sky. Then he went to the
lean-to where his horse was stalled. The beast was fresh, for it had
not been out for two days--a rough Forest shelty with shaggy fetlocks
and a mane like a thicket. Sim set his old saddle on it, and went
back to the house.
His wife was still asleep, breathing painfully. He put water on
the fire to boil, and fetched a handful of meal from the ark. With
this he made a dish of gruel, and set it by the bedside. He drew a
pitcher of water from the well, for she might be thirsty. Then he
banked up the fire and steeked the window. When she woke she would
find food and drink, and he would be back before the next darkening.
He dared not look at the child.
The shelty shied at a line of firelight from the window, as Sim
flung himself wearily on its back. He had got his long ash spear
from its place among the rafters, and donned his leather jacket with
the iron studs on breast and shoulder. One of the seams gaped. His
wife had been mending it when her pains took her.
He had ridden by Commonside and was high on the Caerlanrig before
he saw signs of men. The moon swam in a dim dark sky, and the hills
were as yellow as corn. The round top of the Wisp made a clear mark
to ride by. Sim was a nervous man, and at another time would never
have dared to ride alone by the ruined shieling of Chasehope, where
folk said a witch had dwelt long ago and the Devil still came in the
small hours. But now he was too full of his cares to have room for
dread. With his head on his breast he let the shelty take its own
road through the mosses.
But on the Caerlanrig he came on a troop of horse. They were a
lusty crowd, well-mounted and armed, with iron basnets and corselets
that jingled as they rode. Harden's men, he guessed, with young
Harden at the head of them. They cried him greeting as he fell in at
the tail. "It's Long Sim o' the Cleuch," one said; "he's sib to Wat
or he wadna be here. Sim likes his ain fireside better than the
The companionship of others cheered him. There had been a time,
before he brought Marion from Megget, when he was a well kenned
figure on the Borders, a good man at weaponshows and a fierce fighter
when his blood was up. Those days were long gone; but the gusto of
them returned. No man had ever lightlied him without paying scot. He
held up his head and forgot his cares and his gaping jackets. In a
little they had topped the hill,and were looking down on the young
waters of Ewes.
The company grew, as men dropped in from left and right. Sim
recognised the wild hair of Charlie of Geddinscleuch, and the square
shoulders of Adam of Frodslaw. They passed Mosspaul, a twinkle far
down in the glen, and presently came to the long green slope which is
called the Carewoodrig, and which makes a pass from Ewes to Hermitage.
To Sim it seemed that an army had encamped on it. Fires had been lit
in a howe, and wearied men slept by them. These were the runners, who
all day had been warning the dales. By one fire stood the great
figure of Wat o' the Ninemileburn, blaspheming to the skies and
counting his losses. He had girded on a long sword, and for better
precaution had slung an axe on his back. At the sight of young Harden
he held his peace. The foray was Branksome's and a Scott must lead.
Dimly and stupidly, for he was very weary, Sim heard word of the
enemy. The beasts had travelled slow, and would not cross Liddel
till sunrise. Now they were high up on Tarras water, making for
Liddel at a ford below the Castletown. There had been no time to
warn the Elliots, but the odds were that Lariston and Mangerton would
be out by morning.
"Never heed the Elliots," cried young Harden. "We can redd our
ain frays, lads. Haste and ride, and we'll hae Geordie Musgrave long
ere he wins to the Ritterford, Borrowstonemoss is the bit for us."
And with a light Scott laugh he was in the saddle.
They were now in a land of low hills, which made ill-going. A
companion gave Sim the news. Bewcastle and five-score men and the
Scots four-score and three. "It's waur to haul than to win," said the
man. " Ae man can take ten beasts when three 'ill no keep them.
There'll be bluidy war on Tarras side ere the nicht's dune."
Sim was feeling his weariness too sore for speech. He remembered
that he had tasted no food for fifteen hours. He found his meal-poke
and filled his mouth, but the stuff choked him. It only made him
cough fiercely, so that Wat o' the Ninemileburn, riding before him,
cursed him for a broken-winded fool. Also he was remembering about
Marion, lying sick in the darkness twenty miles over the hills.
The moon was clouded, for an east wind was springing up. It was
ill riding on the braeface, and Sim and his shelty floundered among
the screes. He was wondering how long it would all last. Soon he must
fall down and be the scorn of the Border men. The thought put Marion
out of his head again. He set his mind on tending his horse and
keeping up with his fellows.
Suddenly a whistle from Harden halted the company. A man came
running back from the crown of the rig. A whisper went about that
Bewcastle was on the far side, in the little glen called the Brunt
Burn. The men held their breath,and in the stillness they heard far
off the sound of hooves on stones and the heavy breathing of cattle.
It was a noble spot for an ambuscade. The Borderers scattered
over the hillside, some riding south to hold the convoy as it came
down the glen. Sim's weariness lightened. His blood ran quicker; he
remembered that the cow, his child's one hope, was there before him.
He found himself next his cousin Wat, who chewed curses in his great
beard. When they topped the rig they saw a quarter of a mile below
them the men they sought. The cattle were driven in the centre, with
horsemen in front and rear and flankers on the braeside.
"Hae at them, lads," cried Wat o' the Ninemileburn, as he dug
spurs into his grey horse. From farther down the glen he was
answered with a great shout of "Branksome".
Somehow or other Sim and his shelty got down the steep braeface.
The next he knew was that the raiders had turned to meet him--to meet
him alone, it seemed; the moon had come out again, and their faces
showed white in it. The cattle, as the driving ceased, sank down
wearily in the moss. A man with an iron ged turned, cursing to
receive Wat's sword on his shoulder-bone. A light began to blaze from
down the burn--Sim saw the glitter of it out of the corner of an
eye--but the men in front were dark figures with white faces.
The Bewcastle lads were stout fellows, well used to hold as well
as take. They closed up in line around the beasts, and the moon lit
the tops of their spears. Sim brandished his ash-shaft, which had
weighed heavily these last hours, and to his surprise found it light.
He found his voice, too, and fell a-roaring like Wat.
Before he knew he was among the cattle. Wat had broken the ring,
and men were hacking and slipping among the slab sides of the wearied
beasts. The shelty came down over the rump of a red buliock, and Sim
was sprawling on his face in the trampled grass. He struggled to rise,
and some one had him by the throat.
Anger fired his slow brain. He reached out his long arms and
grappled a leather jerkin. His nails found a seam and rent it, for
he had mighty fingers. Then he was gripping warm flesh, tearing it
like a wild beast, and his assailant with a cry slackened his hold.
"Whatna wull-cat..." he began, but he got no further. The hoof of
Wat's horse came down on his head and brained him. A splatter of
blood fell on Sim's face.
The man was half wild. His shelty had broken back for the hill,
but his spear lay a yard off. He seized it and got to his feet, to
find that Wat had driven the English over the burn. The cattle were
losing their weariness in panic, and tossing wild manes among the
Scots. It was like a fight in a winter's byre. The glare on the right
grew fiercer, and young Harden's voice rose, clear as a bell, above
the tumult. He was swearing by the cross of his sword.
On foot, in the old Border way, Sim followed in Wat's wake,into
the bog and beyond the burn. He laired to his knees, but he scarcely
heeded it. There was a big man before him, a foolish, red-haired
fellow, who was making great play with a cudgel. He had shivered two
spears and was singing low to himself. Farther off Wat had his axe in
hand and was driving the enemy to the brae. There were dead men in
the moss. Sim stumbled over a soft body, and a hand caught feebly at
his heel. "To me, lads," cried Wat. "Anither birse and we hae them
But something happened. Harden was pushing the van of the raiders
up the stream, and a press of them surged in from the right. Wat
found himself assailed on his flank, and gave ground. The big man with
the cudgel laughed loud and ran down the hill, and the Scots fell back
on Sim. Men tripped over him, and as he rose he found the giant above
him with his stick in the air.
The blow fell, glancing from the ash-shaft to Sim's side.
Something cracked and his left arm hung limp. But the furies of hell
had hold of him now. He rolled over, gripped his spear short, and
with a swift turn struck upwards. The big man gave a sob and toppled
down into a pool of the burn.
Sim struggled to his feet, and saw that the raiders were beginning
to hough the cattle One man was driving a red spear into a helpless
beast. It might have been the Cleuch cow. The sight maddened him,
and like a destroying angel he was among them. One man he caught full
in the throat, and had to set a foot on breast before he could tug the
spear out. Then the head shivered on a steel corselet, and Sim played
quarterstaff with the shaft. The violence,of his onslaught turned the
tide. Those whom Harden drove up were caught in a vice, and squeezed
out, wounded and dying and mad with fear, on to the hill above the
burn. Both sides were weary men, or there would have been a grim
slaughter. As it was, none followed the runners, and every now and
again a Scot would drop like a log, not from wounds but from dead
Harden's flare was dying down. Dawn was breaking and Sim's wild
eyes cleared. Here a press of cattle, dazed with fright, and the red
and miry heather. Queer black things were curled and stretched
athwart it. He noticed a dead man beside him, perhaps of his own
slaying. It was a shabby fellow, in a jacket that gaped like Sim's.
His face was thin and patient, and his eyes, even in death, looked
puzzled and reproachful. He would be one of the plain folk who had to
ride, willy-nilly, on bigger men's quarrels. Sim found himself
wondering if he, also, had a famished wife and child at home. The
fury of the night had gone, and Sim began to sob from utter tiredness.
He slept in what was half a swoon. When he woke the sun was well
up in the sky and the Scots were cooking food. His arm irked him,
and his head burned like fire. He felt his body and found nothing
worse than bruises, and one long shallow scar where his jacket was
A Teviotdale man brought him a cog of brose. Sim stared at it and
sickened: he was too far gone for food. Young Harden passed, and
looked curiously at him. "Here's a man that has na spared himsel',"
he said. "A drop o' French cordial is the thing for you, Sim." And
out of a leathern flask he poured a little draught which he bade Sim
The liquor ran through his veins and lightened the ache of his
head. He found strength to rise and look round. Surely they were
short of men. If these were all that were left Bewcastle had been
Jamie Telfer enlightened him. "When we had gotten the victory,
there were some o' the lads thocht that Bewcastle sud pay scot in
beasts as weel as men. Sae Wat and a score mair rade off to lowse
Geordie Musgrave's kye. The road's clear, and they'll be back ower
Liddell by this time. Dod, there'll be walth o' plenishin' at the
Sim was cheered by the news. If Wat got back more than his own he
might be generous. They were cooking meat round the fire, the flesh
of the cattle killed in the fight. He went down to the nearest blaze,
and was given a strip of roast which he found he could swallow.
"How mony beasts were killed?" he asked incuriously, and was told
three. Saugh poles had been set up to hang the skins on. A notion
made Sim stagger to his feet and go to inspect them. There could be no
mistake. There hung the brindled hide of Marion's cow.
Wat returned in a cloud of glory, driving three-and-twenty English
beasts before him--great white fellows that none could match on the
Scottish side. He and his lads clamoured for food, so more flesh was
roasted, till the burnside smelt like a kitchen. The Scots had found
better than cattle, for five big skins of ale bobbed on their saddles.
Wat summoned all to come and drink, and Harden, having no fear of
reprisals, did not forbid it.
Sim was becoming a man again. He had bathed his bruises and
scratches in the burn, and Will o' Phawhope, who had skill as a
leech, had set his arm and bound it to his side in splints of ash and
raw hide. He had eaten grossly of flesh--the first time since the
spring, and then it had only been braxy lamb. The ale had warmed his
blood and quickened his wits. He began to feel pleased with himself.
He had done well in the fray--had not young Harden praised him?--and
surly Wat had owned that the salvage of so many beasts was Sim's
doing. "Man, Sim, ye wrocht michtily at the burnside," he had said.
"The heids crackit like nits when ye garred your staff sing. Better
you wi' a stick than anither tnan wi' a sword." It was fine praise,
and warmed Sim's chilly soul. For a year he had fought bitterly for
bread, and now glory had come to him without asking.
Men were drawn by lot to drive the cattle, and others to form a
rearguard. The rest set off for their homes by the nearest road. The
shelty had been recovered, and Sim to his pride found himself riding
in the front with Wat and young Harden and others of the Scott and
The company rode fast over the green hills in the clear autumn
noon. Harden's blue eyes danced, and he sang snatches in his gay
voice. Wat rumbled his own praises and told of the raid over Liddel.
Sim felt a new being from the broken man who the night before had
wearily jogged on the same road. He told himself he took life too
gravely and let care ride him too hard. He was too much thirled to
the Cleuch and tied to his wife's apron. In the future he would see
his friends, and bend the bicker with the rest of them.
By the darkening they had come to Ninemileburn, where Harden's
road left theirs. Wat had them all into the bare dwelling, and
another skin of ale was broached. A fire was lit and the men
sprawled around it, singing songs. Then tales began, and they would
have sat till morning, had not Harden called them to the road. Sim,
too, got to his feet. He was thinking of the six miles yet before
him, and as home grew nearer his spirits sank. Dimly he remembered the
sad things that waited his homecoming.
Wat made him a parting speech. "Gude e'en to ye, Cousin Sim.
Ye've been a kind man to me the day. May I do as weel by you if ever
the fray gangs by the Cleuch. I had a coo o' yours in pledge, and it
was ane o the beasts the Musgraves speared. By the auld law your debt
still stands, and if I likit I could seek anither pledge. But
there'll be something awin' for rescue-shot, and wi' that and the gude
wark ye've dune the day, I'm content to ca' the debt paid."
Wat's words sounded kind, and no doubt Wat thought himself
generous. Sim had it on his tongue to ask for a cow--even on a
month's loan. But pride choked his speech. It meant telling of the
pitiful straits at the Cleuch. After what had passed he must hold his
head high amongst those full-fed Branksome lads. He thanked Wat,
cried farewell to the rest, and mounted his shelty.
The moon was rising and the hills were yellow as corn. The shelty
had had a feed of oats, and capered at the shadows. What with
excitement, meat and ale, and the dregs of a great fatigue, Sim's
mind was hazy, and his cheerfulness returned. He thought only on his
exploits. He had done great things--he, Sim o' the Cleuch--and every
man in the Forest would hear of them and praise his courage. There
would be ballads made about him; he could hear the blind violer at the
Ashkirk change-house singing--songs which told how Sim o' the Cleuch
smote Bewcastle in the howe of the Brunt Burn--ash against steel, one
against ten. The fancy intoxicated him; he felt as if he, too, could
make a ballad. It would speak of the soft shiny night with the moon
high in the heavens. It would tell of the press of men and beasts by
the burnside, and the red glare of Harden's fires, and Wat with his
axe, and above all of Sim with his ash-shaft and his long arms, and
how Harden drove the raiders up the burn and Sim smote them silently
among the cattle. Wat's exploits would come in, but the true glory was
Sim's. But for him Scots saddles might have been empty and every
beast safe over Liddel.
The picture fairly ravished him. It carried him over the six
miles of bent and down by the wood of hazel to where the Cleuch lay
huddled in its nook of hill. It brought him to the door of his own
silent dwelling. As he pushed into the darkness his heart suddenly
With fumbling hands he kindled a rushlight. The peat fire had
long gone out and left only a heap of white ashes. The gruel by the
bed had been spilled and was lying on the floor. Only the jug of
water was drained to the foot.
His wife lay so still that he wondered. A red spot burned in each
cheek, and, as he bent down, he could hear her fast breathing. He
flashed the light on her eyes and she slowly opened them.
"The coo, Sim," she said faintly. "Hae ye brocht the coo?"
The rushlight dropped on the floor. Now he knew the price of his
riding. He fell into a fit of coughing.
Since flaming angels drove our sire
From Eden's green to walk the mire,
We are the folk who tilled the plot
And ground the grain and boiled the pot.
We hung the garden terraces
That pleasured Queen Semiramis.
Our toil it was and burdened brain
That set the Pyramids o'er the plain.
We marched from Egypt at God's call
And drilled the ranks and fed them all;
But never Eschol's wine drank we,--
Our bones lay 'twixt the sand and sea.
We officered the brazen bands
That rode the far and desert lands;
We bore the Roman eagles forth
And made great roads from south to north;
White cities flowered for holidays,
But we, forgot, died far away.
And when the Lord called folk to Him,
And some sat blissful at His feet,
Ours was the task the bowl to brim,
For on this earth even saints must eat.
The serfs have little need to think,
Only to work and sleep and drink;
A rover's life is boyish play,
For when cares press he rides away;
The king sits on his ruby throne,
And calls the whole wide world his own.
But we, the plain folk, noon and night
No surcease of our toil we see;
We cannot ease our cares by flight,
For Fortune holds our loves in fee.
We are not slaves to sell our wills,
We are not kings to ride the hills,
But patient men who jog and dance
In the dull wake of circumstance;
Loving our little patch of sun,
Too weak our homely dues to shun,
Too nice of conscience, or too free,
To prate of rights--if rights there be.
The Scriptures tell us that the meek
The earth shall have to work their will;
It may be they shall find who seek,
When they have topped the last long hill.
Meantime we serve among the dust
For at the best a broken crust,
A word of praise, and now and then
The joy of turning home again.
But freemen still we fall or stand,
We serve because our hearts command.
Though kings may boast and knights cavort,
We broke the spears at Agincourt.
When odds were wild and hopes were down,
We died in droves by Leipsic town.
Never a field was starkly won
But ours the dead that faced the sun.
The slave will fight because he must,
The rover for his ire and lust,
The king to pass an idle hour
Or feast his fatted heart with power;
But we, because we choose, we choose,
Nothing to gain and much to lose,
Holding it happier far to die
Than falter in our decency.
The serfs may know an hour of pride
When the high flames of tumult ride.
The rover has his days of ease
When he has sacked his palaces.
A king may live a year like God
When prostrate peoples drape the sod.
We ask for little,-leave to tend
Our modest fields: at daylight's end
The fires of home: a wife's caress:
The star of children's happiness.
Vain hope! 'Tis ours for ever and aye
To do the job the slaves have marred,
To clear the wreckage of the fray,
And please our kings by working hard.
Daily we mend their blunderings,
Swachbucklers, demagogues, and kings!
What if we rose?-If some fine morn,
Unnumbered as the autumn corn,
With all the brains and all the skill
Of stubborn back and steadfast will,
We rose and, with the guns in train,
Proposed to deal the cards again,
And, tired of sitting up o' nights,
Gave notice to our parasites,
Announcing that in future they
Who paid the piper should call the lay!
Then crowns would tumble down like nuts,
And wastrels hide in water-butts;
Each lamp-post as an epilogue:
Would hold a pendent demagogue:
Then would the world be for the wise!--
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
But ah! the plain folk never rise.
THE KINGS OF ORION
"An ape and a lion lie side by side in the heart of a man."
Spring-fishing in the North is a cold game for a man whose blood
has become thin in gentler climates. All afternoon I had failed to
stir a fish, and the wan streams of the Laver, swirling between bare
grey banks, were as icy to the eye as the sharp gusts of hail from the
north-east were to the fingers. I cast mechanically till I grew
weary, and then with an empty creel and a villainous temper set myself
to trudge the two miles of bent to the inn. Some distant ridges of
hill stood out snow-clad against the dun sky, and half in anger, half
in dismal satisfaction, I told myself that fishing to-morrow would be
as barren as to-day.
At the inn door a tall man was stamping his feet and watching a
servant lifting rodcases from a dog-cart. Hooded and wrapped though
he was, my friend Thirlstone was an unmistakable figure in any
landscape. The long, haggard, brown face, with the skin drawn tightly
over the cheek-bones, the keen blue eyes finely wrinkled round the
corners with staring at many suns, the scar which gave his mouth a
humorous droop to the right, made up a whole which was not easily
forgotten. I had last seen him on the quay at Funchal bargaining with
some rascally boatman to take him after mythical wild goats in Las
Desertas. Before that we had met at an embassy ball in Vienna, and
still earlier at a hill-station in Persia to which I had been sent
post-haste by an anxious and embarrassed Government. Also I had been
at school with him, in those far-away days when we rode nine stone and
dreamed of cricket averages. He was a soldier of note, who had taken
part in two little wars and one big one; had himself conducted a
political mission through a hard country with some success, and was
habitually chosen by his superiors to keep his eyes open as a foreign
attache in our neighbours' wars. But his fame as a hunter had gone
abroad into places where even the name of the British army is unknown.
He was the hungriest shikari I have ever seen, and I have seen many.
If you are wise you will go forthwith to some library and procure a
little book entitled "Three Hunting Expeditions," by A.W.T. It is a
modest work, and the style is that of a leading article, but all the
lore and passion of the Red Gods are in its pages.
The sitting-room at the inn is a place of comfort, and while
Thirlstone warmed his long back at the fire I sank contentedly into
one of the well-rubbed leather arm-chairs. The company of a friend
made the weather and scarcity of salmon less the intolerable grievance
they had seemed an hour ago than a joke to be laughed at. The
landlord came in with whisky, and banked up the peats till they glowed
beneath a pall of blue smoke.
"I hope to goodness we are alone," said Thirlstone, and he turned
to the retreating landlord and asked the question.
"There's naebody bidin' the nicht forbye yoursels," he said, "but
the morn there's a gentleman comin'. I got a letter frae him the
day. Maister Wiston, they ca him. Maybe ye ken him?"
I started at the name, which I knew very well. Thirlstone, who
knew it better, stopped warming himself and walked to the window,
where he stood pulling his moustache and staring at the snow. When
the man had left the room, he turned to me with the face of one whose
mind is made up on a course but uncertain of the best method.
"Do you know this sort of weather looks infernally unpromising?
I've half a mind to chuck it and go back to town."
I gave him no encouragement, finding amusement in his
difficulties. "Oh, it's not so bad," I said, "and it won't last.
To-morrow we may have the day of our lives."
He was silent for a little, staring at the fire. "Anyhow," he said
at last, "we were fools to be so far up the valley. Why shouldn't we
go down to the Forest Lodge? They'll take us in, and we should be
deucedly comfortable, and the water's better."
"There's not a pool on the river to touch the stretch here," I
said. "I know, for I've fished every inch of it."
He had no reply to this, so he lit a pipe and held his peace for a
time. Then, with some embarrassment but the air of having made a
discovery, he announced that his conscience was troubling him about
his work, and he thought he ought to get back to it at once. "There
are several things I have forgotten to see to, and they're rather
important. I feel a beast behaving like this, but you won't mind,
"My dear Thirlstone," I said, "what is the good of hedging? Why
can't you say you won't meet Wiston!"
His face cleared. "Well, that's the fact--I won't. It would be
too infernally unpleasant. You see, I was once by way of being his
friend, and he was in my regiment. I couldn't do it."
The landlord came in at the moment with a basket of peats. "How
long is Capt.--Mr. Wiston staying here?" I asked.
"He's no bidin' ony time. He's just comin' here in the middle o'
the day for his denner, and then drivin' up the water to Altbreac. He
has the fishin' there."
Thirlstone's face showed profound relief. "Thank God!" I heard
him mutter under his breath, and when the landlord had gone he fell
to talking of salmon with enthusiasm. "We must make a big day of it
to-morrow, dark to dark, you know. Thank Heaven, our beat's
down-stream, too." And thereafter he made frequent excursions to the
door, and bulletins on the weather were issued regularly.
Dinner over, we drew our chairs to the hearth, and fell to talk
and the slow consumption of tobacco. When two men from the ends of
the earth meet by a winter fire, their thoughts are certain to drift
overseas. We spoke of the racing tides off Vancouver, and the lonely
pine-clad ridges running up to the snow-peaks of the Selkirks, to
which we had both travelled once upon a time in search of sport.
Thirlstone on his own account had gone wandering to Alaska, and
brought back some bear-skins and a frost-bitten toe as trophies, and
from his tales had consorted with the finest band of rogues which
survives unhanged on this planet. Then some casual word took our
thoughts to the south, and our memories dallied with Africa.
Thirlstone had hunted in Somaliland and done mighty slaughter; while
I had spent some never-to-be forgotten weeks long ago in the
hinterland of Zanzibar, in the days before railways and
game-preserves. I have gone through life with a keen eye for the
discovery of earthly paradises, to which I intend to retire when my
work is over, and the fairest I thought I had found above the Rift
valley, where you had a hundred miles of blue horizon and the weather
of Scotland. Thirlstone, not having been there, naturally differed,
and urged the claim of a certain glen in Kashmir, where you may hunt
two varieties of bear and three of buck in thickets of rhododendron,
and see the mightiest mountain-wall on earth from your tent door. The
mention of the Indian frontier brought us back to our professions, and
for a little we talked "shop" with the unblushing confidence of those
who know each other's work and approve it. As a very young soldier
Thirlstone had gone shooting in the Pamirs, and had blundered into a
Russian party of exploration which contained Kuropatkin. He had in
consequence grossly outstayed his leave, having been detained for a
fortnight by an arbitrary hospitality; but he had learned many things,
and the experience had given him strong views on frontier questions.
Half an hour was devoted to a masterly survey of the East, until a
word pulled us up.
"I went there in '99" Thirlstone was saying,--"the time Wiston and
I were sent--" and then he stopped, and his eager face clouded.
Wiston's name cast a shadow over our reminiscences.
"What did he actually do?" I asked after a short silence.
"Pretty bad! He seemed a commonplace, good sort of fellow,
popular, fairly competent, a little bad-tempered perhaps. And then
suddenly he did something so extremely blackguardly that everything
was at an end. It's no good repeating details, and I hate to think
about it. We know little about our neighbours, and I'm not so sure
that we know much about ourselves. There may be appalling depths of
iniquity in every one of us, only most people are fortunate enough to
go through the world without meeting anything to wake the devil in
them. I don't believe Wiston was bad in the ordinary sense. Only
there was something else in him-somebody else, if you like--and in a
moment it came uppermost, and he was a branded man. Ugh! it's a
gruesome thought." Thirlstone had let his pipe go out, and was
staring moodily into the fire.
"How do you explain things like that?" he asked. "I have an idea
of my own about them. We talk glibly of ourselves and our personality
and our conscience, as if every man's nature were a smooth, round,
white thing, like a chuckie-stone. But I believe there are two
men-perhaps more-in every one of us. There's our ordinary self,
generally rather humdrum; and then there's a bit of something else,
good, bad, but never indifferent,--and it is that something else which
may make a man a saint or a great villain."
"'The Kings of Orion have come to earth,'" I quoted.
Something in the words struck Thirlstone, and he asked me what was
the yarn I spoke of.
"It's an old legend," I explained. "When the kings were driven
out of Orion, they were sent to this planet and given each his
habitation in some mortal soul. There were differences of character
in that royal family, and so the alter ego which dwells alongside of
us may be virtuous or very much the reverse. But the point is that he
is always greater than ourselves, for he has been a king. It's a
foolish story, but very widely believed. There is something oi the
sort in Celtic folk-lore, and there's a reference to it in Ausonius.
Also the bandits in the Bakhtiari have a version of it in a very
"Kings of Orion," said Thirlstone musingly. "I like that idea.
Good or bad, but always great! After all, we show a kind of belief in
it in our daily practice. Every man is always making fancies about
himself; but it is never his workaday self, but something else. The
bank clerk who pictures himself as a financial Napoleon knows that his
own thin little soul is incapable of it; but he knows, too, that it is
possible enough for that other bigger thing which is not his soul, but
yet in some odd way is bound up with it. I fancy myself a
field-marshal in a European war; but I know perfectly well that if the
job were offered me, I should realise my incompetence and decline. I
expect you rather picture yourself now and then as a sort of Julius
Caesar and empire-maker, and yet, with all respect, my dear chap, I
think it would be rather too much for you."
"There was once a man," I said, "an early Victorian Whig, whose
chief ambitions were to reform the criminal law and abolish slavery.
Well, this dull, estimable man in his leisure moments was Emperor of
Byzantium. He fought great wars and built palaces, and then, when the
time for fancy was past, went into the House of Commons and railed
against militarism and Tory extravagance. That particular king from
Orion had a rather odd sort of earthly tenement."
Thirlstone was all interest. "A philosophic Whig and the throne
of Byzantium. A pretty rum mixture! And yet--yet," and his eyes
became abstracted. "Did you ever know Tommy Lacelles?"
"The man who once governed Deira? Retired now, and lives somewhere
in Kent. Yes, I've met him once or twice. But why?"
"Because," said Thirlstone solemnly, " nless I'm greatly mistaken,
Tommy was another such case, though no man ever guessed it except
myself. I don't mind telling you the story, now that he is retired
and vegetating in his ancestral pastures. Besides, the facts are all
in his favour, and the explanation is our own business....
"His wife was my cousin, and when she died Tommy was left a very
withered, disconsolate man, with no particular object in life. We all
thought he would give up the service, for he was hideously well off
and then one fine day, to our amazement, he was offered Deira, and
accepted it. I was short of a job at the time, for my battalion was
at home, and there was nothing going on anywhere, so I thought I
should like to see what the East Coast of Africa was like, and wrote
to Tommy about it. He jumped at me, cabled offering me what he called
his Military Secretaryship, and I got seconded, and set off. I had
never known him very well, but what I had seen I had liked; and I
suppose he was glad to have one of Maggie's family with him, for he
was still very low about her loss. I was in pretty good spirits, for
it meant new experiences, and I had hopes of big game.
"You've never been to Deira? Well, there's no good trying to
describe it, for it's the only place in the world like itself. God
made it and left it to its own devices. The town is pretty enough,
with its palms and green headland, and little scrubby islands in the
river's mouth. It has the usual half-Arab, half-Portugee look-white
green-shuttered houses, flat roofs, sallow little men in duck, and
every type of nigger from the Somali to the Shangaan. There are some
good buildings, and Government House was the mansion of some old
Portugee seigneur, and was built when people in Africa were not in
such a hurry as to-day. Inland there's a rolling, forest country,
beginning with decent trees and ending in mimosa-thorn, when the land
begins to rise to the stony hills of the interior; and that poisonous
yellow river rolls through it all, with a denser native population
along its banks than you will find anywhere else north of the Zambesi.
For about two months in the year the climate is Paradise, and for the
rest you live in a Turkish bath, with every known kind of fever
hanging about. We cleaned out the town and improved the sanitation,
so there were few epidemics, but there was enough ordinary malaria to
sicken a crocodile.
"The place was no special use to us. It had been annexed in spite
of a tremendous Radical outcry, and, upon my soul, it was one of the
few cases where the Radicals had something to say for themselves. All
we got by it was half a dozen of the nastiest problems an unfortunate
governor can have to face. Ten years before it had been a decaying
strip of coast, with a few trading firms in the town, and a small
export of ivory and timber. But some years before Tommy took it up
there had been a huge discovery of copper in the hills inland, a
railway had been built, and there were several biggish mining
settlements at the end of it. Deira itself was filled with offices of
European firms, it had got a Stock Exchange of its own, and it was
becoming the usual cosmopolitan playground. It had a knack, too, of
getting the very worst breed of adventurer. I know something of your
South African and Australian mining town, and with all their faults
they are run by white men. If they haven't much morals, they have a
kind of decency which keeps them fairly straight. But for our sins we
got a brand of Levantine Jew, who was fit for nothing but making money
and making trouble. They were always defying the law, and then, when
they got into a hole, they squealed to Government for help, and
started a racket in the home papers about the weakness of the Imperial
power. The crux of the whole difficulty was the natives, who lived
along the river and in the foothills. They were a hardy race of
Kaffirs, sort of far-away cousins to the Zulu, and till the mines were
opened they had behaved well enough. They had arms, which we had
never dared to take away, but they kept quiet and paid their
hut-taxes like men. I got to know many of the chiefs, and liked
them, for they were upstanding fellows to look at and heavenborn
shikaris. However, when the Jews came along they wanted labour, and,
since we did not see our way to allow them to add to the imported
coolie population, they had to fall back upon the Labonga. At first
things went smoothly. The chiefs were willing to let their men work
for good wages, and for a time there was enough labour for everybody.
But as the mines extended, and the natives, after making a few
pounds, wanted to get back to their kraals, there came a shortage; and
since the work could not be allowed to slacken, the owners tried other
methods. They made promises which they never intended to keep, and
they stood on the letter of a law which the natives did not
understand, and they employed touts who were little better than
slave-dealers. They got the labour, of course, but soon they had put
the Labonga into a state of unrest which a very little would turn
into a rising.
"Into this kettle of fish Tommy was pitchforked, and when I
arrived he was just beginning to understand how unpleasant it was.
As I said before, I did not know him very well, and I was amazed to
find how bad he was at his job. A more curiously incompetent person I
never met. He was a long, thin man, with a grizzled moustache and a
mild sleepy eye-not an impressive figure, except on a horse; and he
had an odd lisp which made even a shrewd remark sound foolish. He was
the most industrious creature in the world, and a model of official
decorum. His papers were always in order, his despatches always neat
and correct, and I don't believe any one ever caught him tripping in
office work. But he had no more conception than a child of the kind
of trouble that was brewing. He knew never an honest man from a
rogue, and the result was that he received all unofficial
communications with a polite disbelief. I used to force him to see
people-miners, prospectors, traders, any one who had something to say
worth listening to, but it all glided smoothly off his mind. He was
simply the most incompetent being ever created, living in the world as
not being of it, or rather creating a little official world of his
own, where all events happened on lines laid down by the Colonial
Office, and men were like papers, to be rolled into packets and
properly docketed. He had an Executive Council of people like
himself, competent officials and blind bats at anything else. Then
there was a precious Legislative Council, intended to represent the
different classes of the population. There were several good men on
it-one old trader called Mackay, for instance, who had been thirty
years in the country-but most were nominees of the mining firms, and
very seedy rascals at that. They were always talking about the
rights of the white man, and demanding popular control of the
Government, and similar twaddle. The leader was a man who hailed
from Hamburg, and called himself Le Foy--descended from a Crusader of
the name of Levi--who was a jackal of one of the chief copper firms.
He overflowed with Imperialist sentiment, and when he wasn't waving
the flag he used to gush about the beauties of English country life
the grandeur of the English tradition. He hated me from the start,
for when he talked of going 'home' I thought he meant Hamburg, and
said so; and then a thing happened which made him hate me worse. He
was infernally rude to Tommy, who, like the dear sheep he was, never
saw it, and, if he had, wouldn't have minded. But one day I chanced
to overhear some of his impertinences, so I hunted out my biggest
sjambok and lay in wait for Mr. Le Foy. I told him that he was a
representative of the sovereign people, that I was a member of an
effete bureaucracy, and that it would be most painful if
unpleasantness arose between us. But, I added, I was prepared, if
necessary, to sacrifice my official career to my private feelings, and
if he dared to use such language again to his Majesty's representative
I would give him a hiding he would remember till he found himself in
Abraham's bosom. Not liking my sjambok, he became soap and butter at
once, and held his tongue for a month or two.
"But though Tommy was no good at his job, he was a tremendous
swell at other things. He was an uncommonly good linguist, and had
always about a dozen hobbies which he slaved at; and when he found
himself at Deira with a good deal of leisure, he became a bigger crank
than ever. He had a lot of books which used to follow him about the
world in zinc-lined boxes--your big paper-backed German books which
mean research,--and he was a Fellow of the Koyal Society, and
corresponded with half a dozen foreign shows. India was his great
subject, but he had been in the Sudan and knew a good deal about
African races. When I went out to him, his pet hobby was the Bantu,
and he had acquired an amazing amount of miscellaneous learning. He
knew all about their immigration from the North, and the Arab and
Phoenician trade-routes, and the Portuguese occupation, and the rest
of the history of that unpromising seaboard. The way he behaved in
his researches showed the man. He worked hard at the Labonga
language-which, I believe, is a linguistic curiosity of the first
water-from missionary books and the conversation of tame Kaffirs. But
he never thought of paying them a visit in their native haunts. I was
constantly begging him to do it, but it was not Tommy's way. He did
not care a straw about political experience, and he liked to look at
things through the medium of paper and ink. Then there were the
Phoenician remains in the foot-hills where the copper was mined-old
workings, and things which might have been forts or temples. He knew
all that was to be known about them, but he had never seen them and
never wanted to. Once only he went to the hills, to open some new
reservoirs and make the ordinary Governor's speech; but he went in a
special train and stayed two hours, most of which was spent in
lunching and being played to by brass bands.
"But, oddly enough, there was one thing which stirred him with an
interest that was not academic. I discovered it by accident one day
when I went into his study and found him struggling with a map of
Central Asia. Instead of the mild, benevolent smile with which he
usually greeted my interruptions, he looked positively furtive, and, I
could have sworn, tried to shuffle the map under some papers. Now it
happens that Central Asia is the part of the globe that I know better
than most men, and I could not help picking up the map and looking at
it. It was a wretched thing, and had got the Oxus two hundred miles
out of its course. I pointed this out to Tommy, and to my amazement he
became quite excited. 'Nonsense,' he said. 'You don't mean to say it
goes south of that desert. Why, I meant to--,' and then he stammered
and stopped. I wondered what on earth he had meant to do, but I
merely observed that I had been there, and knew. That brought Tommy
out of his chair in real excitement. 'What!' he cried, 'you! You
never told me,' and he started to fire off a round of questions, which
showed that if he knew very little about the place, he had it a good
deal in his mind.
I drew some sketch-plans for him, and left him brooding over them.
"That was the first hint I got. The second was a few nights
later, when we were smoking in the billiard-room. I had been reading
Marco Polo, and the talk got on to Persia and drifted all over the
north side of the Himalaya. Tommy, with an abstracted eye, talked of
Alexander and Timour and Genghis Khan, and particularly of Prester
John, who was a character and took his fancy. I had told him that the
natives in the Pamirs were true Persian stock, and this interested him
greatly. 'Why was there never a great state built up in those
valleys?' he asked. 'You get nothing but a few wild conquerors
rushing east and west, and then some squalid khanates. And yet all
the materials were there--the stuff for a strong race, a rich land,
the traditions of an old civilisation, and natural barriers against
"'I suppose they never found the man,' I said.
"He agreed. 'Their princes were sots, or they were barbarians of
genius who could devastate to the gates of Peking or Constantinople,
but could never build. They did not recognise their limits, and so
they went out in a whirlwind. But if there had been a man of solid
genius he might have built up the strongest nation on the globe. In
time he could have annexed Persia and nibbled at China. He would have
been rich, for he could tap all the inland trade-routes of Asia. He
would have had to be a conqueror, for his people would be a race of
warriors, but first and foremost he must have been a statesman. Think
of such a civilisation, THE Asian civilisation, growing up
mysteriously behind the deserts and the ranges! That's my idea of
Prester John. Russia would have been confined to the line of the
Urals. China would have been absorbed. There would have been no
Japan. The whole history of the world for the last few hundred years
would have been different. It is the greatest of all the lost chances
in history.' Tommy waxed pathetic over the loss.
"I was a little surprised at his eloquence, especially when he
seemed to remember himself and stopped all of a sudden. But for the
next week I got no peace with his questions. I told him all I knew of
Bokhara, and Samarkand, and Tashkend, and Yarkand. I showed him the
passes in the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. I traced out the rivers, and
I calculated distances; we talked over imaginary campaigns, and set up
fanciful constitutions. It a was childish game, but I found it
interesting enough. He spoke of it all with a curious personal tone
which puzzled me, till one day when we were amusing ourselves with a
fight on the Zarafshan, and I put in a modest claim to be allowed to
win once in a while. For a second he looked at me in blank surprise.
'You can't,' he said; 'I've got to enter Samarkand before I can...'
and he stopped again, with a glimmering sense in his face that he was
giving himself away. And then I knew that I had surprised Tommy's
secret. While he was muddling his own job, he was salving his pride
with fancies of some wild career in Asia, where Tommy, disguised as
the lord knows what Mussulman grandee, was hammering the little states
into an empire.
"I did not think then as I think now, and I was amused to find so
odd a trait in a dull man. I had known something of the kind before.
I had met fellows who after their tenth peg would begin to swagger
about some ridiculous fancy of their own--their little private corner
of soul showing for a moment when the drink had blown aside their
common-sense. Now, I had never known the thing appear in cold blood
and everyday life, but I assumed the case to be the same. I thought
of it only as a harmless fancy, never imagining that it had anything
to do with character. I put it down to that kindly imagination which
is the old opiate for failures. So I played up to Tommy with all my
might, and though he became very discreet after the first betrayal,
having hit upon the clue, I knew what to look for, and I found it.
When I told him that the Labonga were in a devil of a mess, he would
look at me with an empty face and change the subject; but once among
the Turcomans his eye would kindle, and he would slave at his
confounded folly with sufficient energy to reform the whole East
Coast. It was the spark that kept the man alive. Otherwise he would
have been as limp as a rag, but this craziness put life into him, and
made him carry his head in the air and walk like a free man. I
remember he was very keen about any kind of martial poetry. He used
to go about crooning Scott and Macaulay to himself, and when we went
for a walk or a ride he wouldn't speak for miles, but keep smiling to
himself and humming bits of songs. I daresay he was very happy,--far
happier than your stolid, competent man, who sees only the one thing
to do and does it. Tommy was muddling his particular duty, but
building glorious palaces in the air.
"One day Mackay, the old trader, came to me after a sitting of the
precious Legislative Council. We were very friendly, and I had done
all I could to get the Government to listen to his views. He was a
dour, ill-tempered Scotsman, very anxious for the safety of his
property, but perfectly careless about any danger to himself.
"'Captain Thirlstone,' he said, 'that Governor of yours is a
"Of course I shut him up very brusquely, but he paid no attention.
'He just sits and grins, and lets yon Pentecostal crowd we've gotten
here as a judgment for our sins do what they like wi' him. God kens
what'll happen. I would go home to-morrow, if I could realise without
an immoderate loss. For the day of reckoning is at hand. Maark my
words, Captain--at hand.'
"I said I agreed with him about the approach of trouble, but that
the Governor would rise to the occasion. I told him that people like
Tommy were only seen at their best in a crisis, and that he might be
perfectly confident that when it arrived he would get a new idea of
the man. I said this, but of course I did not believe a word of it.
I thought Tommy was only a dreamer, who had rotted any grit he ever
possessed by his mental opiates. At that time I did not understand
about the kings from Orion.
" And then came the thing we had all been waiting for--a Labonga
rising. A week before I had got leave and had gone up country,
partly to shoot, but mainly to see for myself what trouble was
brewing. I kept away from the river, and therefore missed the main
native centres, but such kraals as I passed had a look I did not like.
The chiefs were almost always invisible, and the young bloods were
swaggering about and bukking to each other, while the women were
grinding maize as if for some big festival. However, after a bit the
country seemed to grow more normal, and I went into the foothills to
shoot, fairly easy in my mind. I had got up to a place called
Shimonwe, on the Pathi river, where I had ordered letters to be sent,
and one night coming in from a hard day after kudu I found a
post-runner half-dead of fatigue with a chit from Utterson, who
commanded a police district twenty miles nearer the coast. It said
simply that all the young men round about him had cleared out and
appeared to be moving towards Deira, that he was in the devil of a
quandary, and that, since the police were under the Governor, he would
take his orders from me.
"It looked as if the heather were fairly on fire at last, so I set
off early next morning to trek back. About midday I met Utterson, a
very badly scared little man, who had come to look for me. It seemed
that his policemen had bolted in the night and gone to join the
rising, leaving him with two white sergeants, barely fifty rounds of
ammunition, and no neighbour for a hundred miles. He said that the
Labonga chiefs were not marching to the coast, as he had thought, but
north along the eastern foothills in the direction of the mines. This
was better news, for it meant that in all probability the railway
would remain open. It was my business to get somehow to my chief, and
I was in the deuce of a stew how to manage it. It was no good
following the line of the natives' march, for they would have been
between me and my goal, and the only way was to try and outflank them
by going due east, in the Deira direction, and then turning north, so
as to strike the railway about half-way to the mines. I told Utterson
we had better scatter, otherwise we should have no chance of getting
through a densely populated native country. So, about five in the
afternoon I set off with my chief shikari, who, by good luck, was not
a Labonga, and dived into the jungly bush which skirts the hills.
"For three days I had a baddish time. We steered by the stars,
travelling chiefly by night, and we showed extraordinary skill in
missing the water-holes. I had a touch of fever and got
light-headed, and it was all I could do to struggle through the thick
grass and wait-a-bit thorns. My clothes were torn to rags, and I grew
so footsore that it was agony to move. All the same we travelled
fast, and there was no chance of our missing the road, for any route
due north was bound to cut the railway. I had the most sickening
uncertainty about what was to come next. Hely, who was in command at
Deira, was a good enough man, but he had only three companies of white
troops, and the black troops were as likely as not to be on their way
to the rebels. It looked as if we should have a Cawnpore business on
a small scale, though I thanked Heaven there were no women in the
case. As for Tommy, he would probably be repeating platitudes in
Deira and composing an intelligent despatch on the whole subject.
"About four in the afternoon of the third day I struck the line
near a little station called Palala. I saw by the look of the rails
that trains were still running, and my hopes revived. At Palala there
was a coolie stationmaster, who gave me a drink and a little food,
after which I slept heavily in his office till wakened by the arrival
of an up train. It contained one of the white companies and a man
Davidson, of the 101st, who was Hely's second in command. From him I
had news that took away my breath. The Governor had gone up the line
two days before with an A.D.C. and old Mackay. 'The sportsman has got
a move on him at last,' said Davidson, 'but what he means to do Heaven
only knows. The Labonga are at the mines, and a kind of mine-guard
has been formed for defence. The joke of it is that most of the
magnates are treed up there, for the railway is cut and they can't get
away. I don't envy your chief the job of schooling that nervous
"I went on with Davidson, and very early next morning we came to a
broken culvert and had to stop. There we stuck for three hours till
the down train arrived, and with it Hely. He was for ordinary a
stolid soul, but I never saw a man in such a fever of excitement. He
gripped me by the arm and fairly shook me. 'That old man of yours is
a hero,' he cried. 'The Lord forgive me! and I have always crabbed
"I implored him in Heaven's name to tell me what was up, but he
would say nothing till he had had his pow-pow with Davidson. It
seemed that he was bringing all his white troops up the line for some
great demonstration that Tommy had conceived. Davidson went back to
Deira, while we mended the culvert and got the men transferred to the
other train. Then I screwed the truth out of Hely. Tommy had got up
to the mines before the rebels arrived, and had found as fine a chaos
as can be imagined. He did not seem to have had any doubts what to
do. There was a certain number of white workmen, hard fellows from
Cornwall mostly, with a few Australians, and these he got together
with Mackay's help and organised into a pretty useful corps. He set
them to guard the offices, and gave them strict orders to shoot at
sight any one attempting to leave. Then he collected the bosses and
talked to them like a father. What he said Hely did not know, except
that he had damned their eyes pretty heartily, and told them what a
set of swine they were, making trouble which they had not the pluck to
face. Whether from Mackay, or from his own intelligence, or from a
memory of my neglected warnings, he seemed to have got a tight grip on
the facts at last. Meanwhile, the Labonga were at the doors, chanting
their battle-songs half a mile away, and shots were heard from the far
pickets. If they had tried to rush the place then, all would have
been over, but, luckily, that was never their way of fighting. They
sat down in camp to make their sacrifices and consult their
witch-doctors, and presently Hely arrived with the first troops,
having come in on the northern flank when he found the line cut. He
had been in time to hear the tail-end of Tommy's final address to the
mineowners. He told them, in words which Hely said he could never
have imagined coming from his lips, that they would be well served if
the Labonga cleaned the whole place out. Only, he said, that would be
against the will of Britain, and it was his business, as a loyal
servant, to prevent it. Then, after giving Hely his instructions, he
had put on his uniform, gold lace and all, and every scrap of bunting
he possessed--all the orders and 'Golden Stars' of half a dozen
Oriental States where he had served. He made Ashurst, the A.D.C., put
on his best Hussar's kit, and Mackay rigged himself out in a
frock-coat and a topper; and the three set out on horseback for the
Labonga. 'I believe he'll bring it off, said Hely, with wild
eyes,n'and, by Heaven, if he does, it'll be the best thing since John
"For the rest of the way I sat hugging myself with excitement. The
miracle of miracles seemed to have come. The old, slack, incompetent
soul in Tommy seemed to have been driven out by that other spirit,
which had hitherto been content to dream of crazy victories on the
Oxus. I cursed my folly in having missed it all, for I would have
given my right hand to be with him among the Labonga. I envied that
young fool Ashurst his luck in being present at that queer
transformation scene. I had not a doubt that Tommy would bring it off
all right. The kings from Orion don't go into action without coming
out on top. As we got near the mines I kept my ears open for the
sound of shots; but all was still,--not even the kind of hubbub a
native force makes when it is on the move. Something had happened,
but what it was no man could guess. When we got to where the line was
up, we made very good time over the five miles to the mines. No one
interfered with us, and the nearer we got the greater grew my
certainty. Soon we were at the pickets, who had nothing to tell us;
and then we were racing up the long sandy street to the offices, and
there, sitting smoking on the doorstep of the hotel, surrounded by
everybody who was not on duty, were Mackay and Ashurst.
"They were an odd pair. Ashurst still wore his uniform; but he
seemed to have been rolling about in it on the ground; his sleek hair
was wildly ruffled, and he was poking holes in the dust with his
sword. Mackay had lost his topper, and wore a disreputable cap, his
ancient frock-coat was without buttons, and his tie had worked itself
up behind his ears. They talked excitedly to each other, now and then
vouchsafing a scrap of information to an equally excited audience.
When they saw me they rose and rushed for me, and dragged me between
them up the street, while the crowd tailed at our heels.
"'Ye're a true prophet, Captain Thirlstone,' Mackay began, 'and I
ask your pardon for doubting you. Ye said the Governor only needed a
crisis to behave like a man. Well, the crisis has come; and if
there's a man alive in this sinful world, it's that chief o' yours.
And then his emotion overcame him. and, hard-bitten devil as he was,
he sat down on the ground and gasped with hysterical laughter, while
Ashurst, with a very red face, kept putting the wrong end of a
cigarette in his mouth and swearing profanely.
"I never remember a madder sight. There was the brassy blue sky
and reddish granite rock and acres of thick red dust. The scrub had
that metallic greenness which you find in all copper places. Pretty
unwholesome it looked, and the crowd, which had got round us again,
was more unwholesome still. Fat Jew boys, with diamond rings on dirty
fingers and greasy linen cuffs, kept staring at us with twitching
lips; and one or two smarter fellows in riding-breeches, mine-managers
and suchlike, tried to show their pluck by nervous jokes. And in the
middle was Mackay, with his damaged frocker, drawling out his story in
"'He made this laddie put on his braws, and he commandeered this
iniquitous garment for me. I've raxed its seams, and it'll never look
again on the man that owns it. Syne he arrayed himself in purple and
fine linen till he as like the king's daughter, all glorious without;
and says he to me, "Mackay," he says, "we'll go and talk to these
uncovenanted deevils in their own tongue. We'll visit them at home,
Mackay," he says. "They're none such bad fellows, but they want a
little humouring from men like you and me." So we got on our horses
and started the procession--the Governor with his head in the air, and
the laddie endenvouring to look calm and collected, and me praying to
the God of Israel and trying to keep my breeks from working up above
my knees. I've been in Kaffir wars afore, but I never thought I would
ride without weapon of any kind into such a black Armageddon. I am a
peaceable man for ordinar', and a canny one, but I wasna myself in
that hour. Man, Thirlstone, I was that overcome by the spirit of your
chief, that if he had bidden me gang alone on the same errand, I
wouldna say but what Iwould have gone.
"'We hadna ridden half a mile before we saw the indunas and their
men, ten thousand if there was one, and terrible as an army with
banners. I speak feeguratively, for they hadna the scrap of a flag
among them. They were beating the war-drums, and the young men were
dancing with their big skin shields and wagging their ostrich
feathers, so I saw they were out for business. I'll no' say but what
my blood ran cold, but the Governor's eye got brighter and his back
stiffer. "Kings may be blest," I says to myself, "but thou art
"'We rode straight for the centre of the crowd, where the young
men were thickest and the big war-drums lay. As soon as they saw us
a dozen lifted their spears and ran out to meet us. But they stopped
after six steps. The sun glinted on the Governor's gold lace and my
lum hat, and no doubt they thought we were heathen deities descended
from the heavens. Down they went on their faces, and then back like
rabbits to the rest, while the drums stopped, and the whole body
awaited our coming in a silence like the tomb.
" Never a word we spoke, but just jogged on with our chins cocked
up till we were forenent the big drum, where yon old scoundrel Umgazi
was standing with his young men looking as black as sin. For a moment
their spears were shaking in their hands, and I heard the click of a
breech-bolt. If we had winked an eye we would have become pincushions
that instant. But some unearthly power upheld us. Even the laddie
kept a stiff face, and for me I forgot my breeks in watching the
Governor. He looked as solemn as an archangel, and comes to a halt
opposite Umgazi, where he glowers at the old man for maybe three
minutes, while we formed up behind him. Their eyes fell before his,
and by-and-by their spears dropped to their sides. "The father has
come to his children," says he in their own tongue. "What do the
children seek from their father?
"'Ye see the cleverness of the thing. The man's past folly came
to help him. The natives had never seen the Governor before till
they beheld him in gold lace and a cocked hat on a muckle horse,
speaking their own tongue and looking like a destroying angel. I
tell you the Labonga's knees were loosed under them. They durstna
speak a word until the Governor repeated the question in the same
quiet, steely voice. "You seek something," he said, "else you had not
come out to meet me in your numbers. The father waits to hear the
"'Then Umgazi found his tongue and began an uneasy speech. The
mines, he said, truly enough, were the abode of devils, who compelled
the people to work under the ground. The crops were unreaped and the
buck went unspeared, because there were no young men left to him.
Their father had been away or asleep, they thought, for no help had
come from him; therefore it had seemed good to them, being freemen and
warriors, to seek help for themselves.
"'The Governor listened to it all with a set face. Then he smiled
at them with supernatural assurance. They were fools, he said, and
people of little wit, and he flung the better part of the Book of Job
at their heads. The Lord kens where the man got his uncanny knowledge
of the Labonga. He had all their heathen customs by heart, and he
played with them like a cat with a mouse. He told then they were
damned rascals to make such a stramash, and damned fools to think they
could frighten the white man by their demonstrations. There was no
brag about his words, just a calm statement of fact. At the same
time, he said, he had no mind to let any one wrong his children, and
if any wrong had been done it should be righted. It was not meet, he
said, that the young men should be taken from the villages unless by
their own consent, though it was his desire that such young men as
could be spared should have a chance of earning an honest penny. And
then he fired at them some stuff about the British Empire and the
King, and you could sec the Labonga imbibing it like water. The man in
a cocked hat might have told them that the sky was yellow, and they
would have swallowed it.
"'"I have spoken," he says at last, and there was a great shout
from the young men, and old Umgazi looked pretty foolish. They were
coming round our horses to touch our stirrups with their noses, but
the Governor stopped them.
"'"My children will pile their weapons in front of me." says he, "
to show me how they have armed themselves, and likewise to prove that
their folly is at an end. All except a dozen," says he, "whom I
select as a bodyguard." And there and then he picked twelve lusty
savages for his guard, while the rest without a cheep stacked their
spears and guns forenent the big drum.
"'Then he turned to us and spoke in English. "Get back to the
mines hell-for-leather, and tell them what's happening, and see that
you get up some kind of a show for to-morrow at noon. I will bring
the chiefs, and we'll feast them. Get all the bands you can, and let
them play me in. Tell the mines fellows to look active for it's the
chance of their lives. "Then he says to the Labonga, "My men will
return he says, "but as for me I will spend the night with my
children. Make ready food, but let no beer be made, for it is a
"'And so we left him. I will not descrihe how I spent last night
mysel', but I have something to say about this remarkable phenomenon.
I could enlarge on the triumph of mind over matter. ....
"Mackay did not enlarge. He stopped, cocked his ears, and looked
down the road, from which came the strains of 'Annie Laurie,' played
with much spirit but grievously out of tune. Followed 'The British
Grenadiers,' and then an attempt at 'The March of the Priests.'
Mackay rose in excitement and began to crane his disreputable neck,
while the band--a fine scratch collection of instruments--took up
their stand at the end of the street, flanked by a piper in khaki who
performed when their breath failed. Mackay chuckled with
satisfaction. 'The deevils have entered into the spirit of my
instructions,' he said. 'In a wee bit the place will be like Falkirk
Tryst for din.
"Punctually at twelve there came a great hullabaloo up the road,
the beating of drums and the yelling of natives, and presently the
procession hove in sight. There was Tommy on his horse, and on each
side of him six savages with feather head-dress, and shields and
war-paint complete. After him trooped about thirty of the great
chiefs, walking two by two, for all the world like an Aldershot
parade. They carried no arms, but the bodyguard shook their spears,
and let yells out of them that would have scared Julius Caesar. Then
the band started in, and the piper blew up, and the mines people
commenced to cheer, and I thought the heavens would fall. Long before
Tommy came abreast of me I knew what I should see. His uniform looked
as if it had been slept in, and his orders were all awry. But he had
his head flung back, and his eyes very bright, and his jaw set square.
He never looked to right or left, never recognised me or anybody,
for he was seeing something quite different from the red road and the
white shanties and the hot sky."
The fire had almost died out. Thirlstone stooped for a moment and
stirred the peats.
"Yes," he said, "I knew that in his fool's ear the trumpets of all
Asia were ringing, and the King of Bokhara was entering Samarkand."
(The Song of NEHEMIAH'S Workmen
How many miles to Babylon?
'Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again.
We are come back from Babylon,
Out of the plains and the glare,
To the little hills of our own country
And the sting of our kindred air;
To the rickle of stones on the red rock's edge
Which Kedron cleaves like a sword.
We will build the walls of Zion again,
To the glory of Zion's lord.
Now is no more of dalliance
By the reedy waters in spring,
When we sang of home, and sighed, and dreamed,
And wept on remembering.
Now we are back in our ancient hills
Out of the plains and the sun;
But before we make it a dwelling-place
There's a wonderful lot to be done.
The walls are to build from west to east,
From Gihon to Olivet,
Waters to lead and wells to clear,
And the garden furrows to set.
From the Sheep Gate to the Fish Gate
Is a welter of mire and mess;
And southward over the common lands
'Tis a dragon's wilderness.
The Courts of the Lord are a heap of dust
Where the hill winds whistle and race,
And the noble pillars of God His House
Stand in a ruined place
In the Holy of Holies foxes lair,
And owls and night-birds build.
There's a deal to do ere we patch it anew
As our father Solomon willed.
Now is the day of the ordered life
And the law which all obey.
We toil by rote and speak by note
And never a soul dare stray.
Ever among us a lean old man
Keepeth his watch and ward,
Crying, "The Lord hath set you free:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
A goodly task we are called unto,
A task to dream on o' nights,
--Work for Judah and Judah's God,
Setting our lands to rights;
Everything fair and all things square
And straight as a plummet string.
--Is it mortal guile, if once in a while
Our thoughts go wandering?...
We were not slaves in Babylon,
For the gate of our souls lay free,
There in that vast and sunlit land
On the edges of mystery.
Daily we wrought and daily we thought,
And we chafed not at rod and power,
For Sinim, Ssabea, and dusky Hind
Talked to us hour by hour.
The man who lives in Babylon
May poorly sup and fare,
But loves and lures from the ends of the earth
Beckon him everywhere.
Next year he too may have sailed strange seas
And conquered a diadem;
For kings are as common in Babylon
As crows in Bethlehem.
Here we are bound to the common round
In a land which knows not change
Nothing befalleth to stir the blood
Or quicken the heart to range;
Never a hope that we cannot plumb
Or a stranger visage in sight,--
At the most a sleek Samaritan
Or a ragged Amorite.
Here we are sober and staid of soul,
Working beneath the law,
Settled amid our father's dust,
Seeing the hills they saw.
All things fixed and determinate,
Chiselled and squared by rule;
Is it mortal guile once in a while
To try and escape from school?
We will go back to Babylon,
Silently one by one,
Out from the hills and the laggard brooks
To the streams that brim in the sun.
Only a moment, Lord, we crave,
To breathe and listen and see.--
Then we start anew with muscle and thew
To hammer trestles for Thee.
THE RIME OF TRUE THOMAS
THE TALE OF THE RESPECTABLE WHAUP AND THE GREAT GODLY MAN
This is a story that I heard from the King of the Numidians, who
with his tattered retinue encamps behind the peat-ricks. If you ask
me where and when it happened I fear that I am scarce ready with an
answer. But I will vouch my honour for its truth; and if any one seek
further proof, let him go east the town and west the town and over the
fields of No mans land to the Long Muir, and if he find not the King
there among the peat-ricks, and get not a courteous answer to his
question, then times have changed in that part of the country, and he
must continue the quest to his Majesty's castle in Spain.
Once upon a time, says the tale, there was a Great Godly Man, a
shepherd to trade, who lived in a cottage among heather. If you
looked east in the morning, you saw miles of moor running wide to the
flames of sunrise, and if you turned your eyes west in the evening,
you saw a great confusion of dim peaks with the dying eye of the sun
set in a crevice. If you looked north, too, in the afternoon, when
the life of the day is near its end and the world grows wise, you
might have seen a country of low hills and haughlands with many waters
running sweet among meadows. But if you looked south in the dusty
forenoon or at hot midday, you saw the far-off glimmer of a white
road, the roofs of the ugly little clachan of Kilmaclavers, and the
rigging of the fine new kirk of Threepdaidle. It was a Sabbath
afternoon in the hot weather, and the man had been to kirk all the
morning. He had heard a grand sermon from the minister (or it may
have been the priest, for I am not sure of the date and the King told
the story quickly)--a fine discourse with fifteen heads and three
parentheses. He held all the parentheses and fourteen of the heads in
his memory, but he had forgotten the fifteenth; so for the purpose of
recollecting it, and also for the sake of a walk, he went forth in
the afternoon into the open heather.
The whaups were crying everywhere, making the air hum like the
twanging of a bow. Poo-eelie, Poo-eelie, they cried, Kirlew, Kirlew,
Whaup, Wha-up. Sometimes they came low, all but brushing him, till
they drove settled thoughts from his head. Often had he been on the
moors, but never had he seen such a stramash among the feathered clan.
The wailing iteration vexed him, and he shoo'd the birds away with
his arms. But they seemed to mock him and whistle in his very face,
and at the flaff of their wings his heart grew sore. He waved his
great stick; he picked up bits of loose moor-rock and flung them
wildly; but the godless crew paid never a grain of heed. The
morning's sermon was still in his head, and the grave words of the
minister still rattled in his ear, but he could get no comfort for
this intolerable piping. At last his patience failed him and he swore
unchristian words. "Deil rax the birds' thrapples," he cried. At this
all the noise was hushed and in a twinkling the moor was empty. Only
one bird was left, standing on tall legs before him with its head
bowed upon its breast, and its beak touching the heather.
Then the man repented his words and stared at the thing in the
moss. "What bird are ye?" he asked thrawnly.
"I am a Respectable Whaup," said the bird, "and I kenna why ye
have broken in on our family gathering. Once in a hundred years we
foregather for decent conversation, and here we are interrupted by a
muckle, sweerin' man."
Now the shepherd was a fellow of great sagacity, yet he never
thought it a queer thing that he should be having talk in the
mid-moss with a bird.
"What for were ye making siccan a din, then?" he asked. "D'ye no
ken ye were disturbing the afternoon of the holy Sabbath?
The bird lifted its eyes and regarded him solemnly. "The Sabbath
is a day of rest and gladness," it said, "and is it no reasonable
that we should enjoy the like?"
The shepherd shook his head, for the presumption staggered him.
"Ye little ken what ye speak of," he said. "The Sabbath is for them
that have the chance of salvation, and it has been decreed that
salvation is for Adam's race and no for the beasts that perish."
The whaup gave a whistle of scorn. "I have heard all that long
ago. In my great grandmother's time, which 'ill be a thousand years
and mair syne, there came a people from the south with bright brass
things on their heads and breasts and terrible swords at their thighs.
And with them were some lang gowned men who kenned the stars and
would come out o' nights to talk to the deer and the corbies in their
ain tongue. And one, I mind, foregathered with my great-grandmother
and told her that the souls o' men flitted in the end to braw meadows
where the gods bide or gaed down to the black pit which they ca' Hell.
But the souls o' birds, he said, die wi' their bodies, and that's the
end o' them. Likewise in my mother's time, when there was a great
abbey down yonder by the Threepdaidle Burn which they called the
House of Kilmaclavers, the auld monks would walk out in the evening
to pick herbs for their distillings, and some were wise and kenned the
ways of bird and beast. They would crack often o' nights with my ain
family, and tell them that Christ had saved the souls o' men, but that
birds and beasts were perishable as the dew o' heaven. And now ye
have a black-gowned man in Threepdaidle who threeps on the same
overcome. Ye may a' ken something o' your ain kitchen midden, but
certes! ye ken little o' the warld beyond it."
Now this angered the man, and he rebuked the bird. "These are
great mysteries," he said, "which are no to be mentioned in the ears
of an unsanctified creature. What can a thing like you wi' a lang neb
and twae legs like stilts ken about the next warld?"
"Weel, weel," said the whaup, "we'll let the matter be.
Everything to its ain trade, and I will not dispute with ye on
Metapheesics. But if ye ken something about the next warld, ye ken
terrible little about this."
Now this angered the man still more, for he was a shepherd reputed
to have great skill in sheep and esteemed the nicest judge of hogg and
wether in all the countryside. "What ken ye about that?" he asked.
"Ye may gang east to Yetholm and west to Kells, and no find a better
"If sheep were a'," said the bird, "ye micht be right; but what o'
the wide warld and the folk in it? Ye are Simon Etterick o' the Lowe
Moss. Do ye ken aucht o' your forebears?"
"My father was a God-fearing man at the Kennelhead and my
grandfather and great grandfather afore him. One o' our name, folk
say, was shot at a dykeback by the Black Westeraw. "
"If that's a'" said the bird, "ye ken little. Have ye never
heard o' the little man, the fourth back from yoursel', who killed
the Miller o' Bewcastle at the Lammas Fair? That was in my ain time,
and from my mother I have heard o' the Covenanter who got a bullet in
his wame hunkering behind the divot-dyke and praying to his Maker.
There were others of your name rode in the Hermitage forays and
turned Naworth and Warkworth and Castle Gay. I have heard o' an
Etterick. Sim o' the Redcleuch, who cut the throat o' Jock Johnstone
in his ain house by the Annan side. And my grandmother had tales o'
auld Ettericks who rade wi' Douglas and the Bruce and the ancient
Kings o' Scots; and she used to tell o' others in her mother's time,
terrible shockheaded men hunting the deer and rinnin' on the high
moors, and bidin' in the broken stane biggings on the hill-taps.
The shepherd stared, and he, too, saw the picture. He smelled the
air of battle and lust and foray, and forgot the Sabbath.
"And you yoursel'," said the bird, "are sair fallen off from the
auld stock. Now ye sit and spell in books, and talk about what ye
little understand, when your fathers were roaming the warld. But
little cause have I to speak, for I too am a downcome. My bill is two
inches shorter than my mother's, and my grandmother was taller on her
feet. The warld is getting weaklier things to dwell in it, even since
I mind mysel'."
"Ye have the gift o' speech; bird," said the man, "and I would
hear mair." You will perceive that he had no mind of the Sabbath day
or the fifteenth head of the forenoon's discourse.
"What things have I to tell ye when ye dinna ken the very
horn-book o' knowledge? Besides, I am no clatter-vengeance to tell
stories in the middle o' the muir, where there are ears open high and
low. There's others than me wi mair experience and a better skill at
the telling. Our clan was well acquaint wi' the reivers and lifters
o' the muirs, and could crack fine o' wars and the takin of cattle.
But the blue hawk that lives in the corrie o' the Dreichil can speak
o' kelpies and the dwarfs that bide in the hill. The heron, the lang
solemn fellow, kens o' the greenwood fairies and the wood elfins, and
the wild geese that squatter on the tap o' the Muneraw will croak to
ye of the merry maidens and the girls o' the pool. The wren--him that
hops in the grass below the birks--has the story of the Lost Ladies of
the Land, which is ower auld and sad for any but the wisest to hear;
and there is a wee bird bides in the heather-hill--lintie men call
him--who sings the Lay of the West Wind, and the Glee of the Rowan
Berries. But what am I talking of? What are these things to you, if
ye have not first heard True Thomas's Rime, which is the beginning and
end o' all things?
"I have heard no rime" said the man, "save the sacred psalms o'
"Bonny rimes" said the bird. "Once I flew by the hinder end o'
the Kirk and I keekit in. A wheen auld wives wi' mutches and a
wheen solemn men wi' hoasts! Be sure the Rime is no like yon."
"Can ye sing it, bird?" said the man, "for I am keen to hear it."
"Me sing!" cried the bird, "me that has a voice like a craw! Na,
na, I canna sing it, but maybe I can tak ye where ye may hear it.
When I was young an auld bogblitter did the same to me, and sae
began my education. But are ye willing and brawly willing? --for if
ye get but a sough of it ye will never mair have an ear for other
"I am willing and brawly willing," said the man.
"Then meet me at the Gled's Cleuch Head at the sun's setting,"
said the bird, and it flew away.
Now it seemed to the man that in a twinkling it was sunset, and he
found himself at the Gled's Cleuch Head with the bird flapping in the
heather before him. The place was a long rift in the hill, made green
with juniper and hazel, where it was said True Thomas came to drink
"Turn ye to the west," said the whaup, "and let the sun fail on
your face; then turn ye five times round about and say after me the
Rune Of the Heather and the Dew." And before he knew the man did as
he was told, and found himself speaking strange words, while his head
hummed and danced as if in a fever.
"Now lay ye down and put your ear to the earth," said the bird;
and the man did so. Instantly a cloud came over his brain, and he
did not feel the ground on which he lay or the keen hill-air which
blew about him. He felt himself falling deep into an abysm of space,
then suddenly caught up and set among the stars of heaven. Then
slowly from the stillness there welled forth music, drop by drop like
the clear falling of rain, and the man shuddered for he knew that he
heard the beginning of the Rime.
High rose the air, and trembled among the tallest pines and the
summits of great hills. And in it were the sting of rain and the
blatter of hail, the soft crush of snow and the rattle of thunder
among crags. Then it quieted to the low sultry croon which told of
blazing midday when the streams are parched and the bent crackles like
dry tinder. Anon it was evening, and the melody dwelled among the
high soft notes which mean the coming of dark and the green light of
sunset. Then the whole changed to a great paean which rang like an
organ through the earth. There were trumpet notes ill it and flute
notes and the plaint of pipes. "Come forth," it cried; "the sky is
wide and it is a far cry to the world's end. The fire crackles fine
o' nights below the firs, and the smell of roasting meat and wood
smoke is dear to the heart of man. Fine, too is the sting of salt and
the rasp of the north wind in the sheets. Come forth, one and all,
unto the great lands oversea, and the strange tongues and the hermit
peoples. Learn before you die to follow the Piper's Son, and though
your old bones bleach among grey rocks, what matter if you have had
your bellyful of life and come to your heart's desire?" And the tune
fell low and witching, bringing tears to the eyes and joy to the
heart; and the man knew (though no one told him) that this was the
first part of the Rime, the Song of the Open Road, the Lilt of the
Adventurer, which shall be now and ever and to the end of days.
Then the melody changed to a fiercer and sadder note. He saw his
forefathers, gaunt men and terrible, run stark among woody hills. He
heard the talk of the bronze-clad invader, and the jar and clangour as
stone met steel. Then rose the last coronach of his own people,
hiding in wild glens, starving in corries, or going hopelessly to the
death. He heard the cry of the Border foray, the shouts of the
famished Scots as they harried Cumberland, and he himself rode in the
midst of them. Then the tune fell more mournful and slow, and Flodden
lay before him. He saw the flower of the Scots gentry around their
King, gashed to the breast-bone, still fronting the lines of the
south, though the paleness of death sat on each forehead. "The
flowers of the Forest are gone," cried the lilt, and through the long
years he heard the cry of the lost, the desperate, fighting for kings
over the water and princes in the heather. "Who cares?" cried the
air. "Man must die, and how can he die better than in the stress of
fight with his heart high and alien blood on his sword? Heigh-ho!
One against twenty, a child against a host, this is the romance of
life." And the man's heart swelled, for he knew (though no one told
him) that this was the Song of Lost Battles which only the great can
sing before they die.
But the tune was changing, and at the change the man shivered for
the air ran up to the high notes and then down to the deeps with an
eldrich cry, like a hawk's scream at night, or a witch's song in the
gloaming. It told of those who seek and never find, the quest that
knows no fulfilment. "There is a road," it cried, "which leads to the
Moon and the Great Waters. No changehouse cheers it, and it has no
end; but it is a fine road, a braw road--who will follow it?" And the
man knew (though no one told him) that this was the Ballad of Grey
Weather, which makes him who hears it sick all the days of his life
for something which he cannot name. It is the song which the birds
sing on the moor in the autumn nights, and the old crow on the treetop
hears and flaps his wing. It is the lilt which men and women hear in
the darkening of their days, and sigh for the unforgettable; and
love-sick girls get catches of it and play pranks with their lovers.
It is a song so old that Adam heard it in the Garden before Eve came
to comfort him, so young that from it still flows the whole joy and
sorrow of earth.
Then it ceased, and all of a sudden the man was rubbing his eyes
on the hillside, and watching the falling dusk. "I have heard the
Rime," he said to himself, and he walked home in a daze. The whaups
were crying, but none came near him, though he looked hard for the
bird that had spoken with him. It may be that it was there and he did
not know it, or it may be that the whole thing was only a dream; but
of this I cannot say.
The next morning the man rose and went to the manse.
"I am glad to see you, Simon," said the minister, "for it will
soon be the Communion Season, and it is your duty to go round with
"True," said the man, "but it was another thing I came to talk
about," and he told him the whole tale.
"There are but two ways of it, Simon," said the minister. "Either
ye are the victim of witchcraft, or ye are a self-deluded man. If the
former (whilk I am loth to believe), then it behoves ye to watch and
pray lest ye enter into temptation. If the latter, then ye maun put a
strict watch over a vagrant fancy, and ye'll be quit o' siccan
Now Simon was not listening but staring out of the window. "There
was another thing I had it in my mind to say," said he. "I have come
to lift my lines, for I am thinking of leaving the place."
"And where would ye go?" asked the minister, aghast.
"I was thinking of going to Carlisle and trying my luck as a
dealer, or maybe pushing on with droves to the South."
"But that's a cauld country where there are no faithfu'
ministrations," said the minister.
"Maybe so, but I am not caring very muckle about ministrations,"
said the man, and the other looked after him in horror.
When he left the manse he went to a Wise Woman, who lived on the
left side of the kirkyard above Threepdaidle burn-foot. She was very
old, and sat by the ingle day and night, waiting upon death. To her he
told the same tale.
She listened gravely, nodding with her head. "Ach," she said, "I
have heard a like story before. And where will you be going?"
"I am going south to Carlisle to try the dealing and droving" said
the man, "for I have some skill of sheep."
"And will ye bide there?" she asked.
"Maybe aye, and maybe no," he said. "I had half a mind to push on
to the big toun or even to the abroad. A man must try his fortune."
"That's the way of men," said the old wife. "I, too, have heard
the Rime, and many women who now sit decently spinning in
Kilmaclavers have heard it. But woman may hear it and lay it up in
her soul and bide at hame, while a man, if he get but a glisk of it in
his fool's heart, must needs up and awa' to the warld's end on some
daft-like ploy. But gang your ways and fare-ye-weel. My cousin
Francie heard it, and he went north wi' a white cockade in his bonnet
and a sword at his side, singing 'Charlie's come hame'. And Tam
Crichtoun o' the Bourhopehead got a sough o' it one simmers' morning,
and the last we heard o' Tam he was fechting like a deil among the
Frenchmen. Once I heard a tinkler play a sprig of it on the pipes,
and a' the lads were wud to follow him. Gang your ways for I am near
the end o' mine."
And the old wife shook with her coughing. So the man put up his
belongings in a pack on his back and went whistling down the Great
Whether or not this tale have a moral it is not for me to say. The
King (who told it me) said that it had, and quoted a scrap of Latin,
for he had been at Oxford in his youth before he fell heir to his
kingdom. One may hear tunes from the Rime, said he, in the thick of a
storm on the scarp of a rough hill, in the soft June weather, or in
the sunset silence of a winter's night. But let none, he added, pray
to have the full music; for it will make him who hears it a footsore
traveller in the ways o' the world and a masterless man till death.