Monday, November 5, 2007


The Merry Men - Robert Louis Stevenson. 1904 edition

The Merry Men - Robert Louis Stevenson. 1904 edition
The Merry Men
i. Eilean Aros
ii. What the wreck had brought to Aros
iii. Land and sea in Sandag Bay
iv. The gale
v. A man out of the sea
Will o' the Mill
i. The plain and the stars
ii. The Parson's Marjory
iii. Death
Thrawn Janet
The Treasure of Franchard
i. By the dying Mountebank
ii. Morning tale
iii. The adoption
iv. The education of the philosopher
v. Treasure trove
vi. A criminal investigation, in two parts
vii. The fall of the House of Desprez
viii. The wages of philosophy
IT WAS a beautiful morning in the late July when I set forth on
foot for the last time for Aros. A boat had put me ashore the
night before at Grisapol; I had such breakfast as the little inn
afforded, and, leaving all my baggage till I had an occasion to
come round for it by sea, struck right across the promontory with a
cheerful heart.
I was far from being a native of these parts, springing, as I did,
from an unmixed lowland stock. But an uncle of mine, Gordon
Darnaway, after a poor, rough youth, and some years at sea, had
married a young wife in the islands; Mary Maclean she was called,
the last of her family; and when she died in giving birth to a
daughter, Aros, the sea-girt farm, had remained in his possession.
It brought him in nothing but the means of life, as I was well
aware; but he was a man whom ill-fortune had pursued; he feared,
cumbered as he was with the young child, to make a fresh adventure
upon life; and remained in Aros, biting his nails at destiny.
Years passed over his head in that isolation, and brought neither
help nor contentment. Meantime our family was dying out in the
lowlands; there is little luck for any of that race; and perhaps my
father was the luckiest of all, for not only was he one of the last
to die, but he left a son to his name and a little money to support
it. I was a student of Edinburgh University, living well enough at
my own charges, but without kith or kin; when some news of me found
its way to Uncle Gordon on the Ross of Grisapol; and he, as he was
a man who held blood thicker than water, wrote to me the day he
heard of my existence, and taught me to count Aros as my home.
Thus it was that I came to spend my vacations in that part of the
country, so far from all society and comfort, between the codfish
and the moorcocks; and thus it was that now, when I had done with
my classes, I was returning thither with so light a heart that July
The Ross, as we call it, is a promontory neither wide nor high, but
as rough as God made it to this day; the deep sea on either hand of
it, full of rugged isles and reefs most perilous to seamen - all
overlooked from the eastward by some very high cliffs and the great
peals of Ben Kyaw. THE MOUNTAIN OF THE MIST, they say the words
signify in the Gaelic tongue; and it is well named. For that hilltop,
which is more than three thousand feet in height, catches all
the clouds that come blowing from the seaward; and, indeed, I used
often to think that it must make them for itself; since when all
heaven was clear to the sea level, there would ever be a streamer
on Ben Kyaw. It brought water, too, and was mossy (1) to the top
in consequence. I have seen us sitting in broad sunshine on the
Ross, and the rain falling black like crape upon the mountain. But
the wetness of it made it often appear more beautiful to my eyes;
for when the sun struck upon the hill sides, there were many wet
rocks and watercourses that shone like jewels even as far as Aros,
fifteen miles away.
The road that I followed was a cattle-track. It twisted so as
nearly to double the length of my journey; it went over rough
boulders so that a man had to leap from one to another, and through
soft bottoms where the moss came nearly to the knee. There was no
cultivation anywhere, and not one house in the ten miles from
Grisapol to Aros. Houses of course there were - three at least;
but they lay so far on the one side or the other that no stranger
could have found them from the track. A large part of the Ross is
covered with big granite rocks, some of them larger than a tworoomed
house, one beside another, with fern and deep heather in
between them where the vipers breed. Anyway the wind was, it was
always sea air, as salt as on a ship; the gulls were as free as
moorfowl over all the Ross; and whenever the way rose a little,
your eye would kindle with the brightness of the sea. From the
very midst of the land, on a day of wind and a high spring, I have
heard the Roost roaring, like a battle where it runs by Aros, and
the great and fearful voices of the breakers that we call the Merry
Aros itself - Aros Jay, I have heard the natives call it, and they
say it means THE HOUSE OF GOD - Aros itself was not properly a
piece of the Ross, nor was it quite an islet. It formed the southwest
corner of the land, fitted close to it, and was in one place
only separated from the coast by a little gut of the sea, not forty
feet across the narrowest. When the tide was full, this was clear
and still, like a pool on a land river; only there was a difference
in the weeds and fishes, and the water itself was green instead of
brown; but when the tide went out, in the bottom of the ebb, there
was a day or two in every month when you could pass dryshod from
Aros to the mainland. There was some good pasture, where my uncle
fed the sheep he lived on; perhaps the feed was better because the
ground rose higher on the islet than the main level of the Ross,
but this I am not skilled enough to settle. The house was a good
one for that country, two storeys high. It looked westward over a
bay, with a pier hard by for a boat, and from the door you could
watch the vapours blowing on Ben Kyaw.
On all this part of the coast, and especially near Aros, these
great granite rocks that I have spoken of go down together in
troops into the sea, like cattle on a summer's day. There they
stand, for all the world like their neighbours ashore; only the
salt water sobbing between them instead of the quiet earth, and
clots of sea-pink blooming on their sides instead of heather; and
the great sea conger to wreathe about the base of them instead of
the poisonous viper of the land. On calm days you can go wandering
between them in a boat for hours, echoes following you about the
labyrinth; but when the sea is up, Heaven help the man that hears
that cauldron boiling.
Off the south-west end of Aros these blocks are very many, and much
greater in size. Indeed, they must grow monstrously bigger out to
sea, for there must be ten sea miles of open water sown with them
as thick as a country place with houses, some standing thirty feet
above the tides, some covered, but all perilous to ships; so that
on a clear, westerly blowing day, I have counted, from the top of
Aros, the great rollers breaking white and heavy over as many as
six-and-forty buried reefs. But it is nearer in shore that the
danger is worst; for the tide, here running like a mill race, makes
a long belt of broken water - a ROOST we call it - at the tail of
the land. I have often been out there in a dead calm at the slack
of the tide; and a strange place it is, with the sea swirling and
combing up and boiling like the cauldrons of a linn, and now and
again a little dancing mutter of sound as though the ROOST were
talking to itself. But when the tide begins to run again, and
above all in heavy weather, there is no man could take a boat
within half a mile of it, nor a ship afloat that could either steer
or live in such a place. You can hear the roaring of it six miles
away. At the seaward end there comes the strongest of the bubble;
and it's here that these big breakers dance together - the dance of
death, it may be called - that have got the name, in these parts,
of the Merry Men. I have heard it said that they run fifty feet
high; but that must be the green water only, for the spray runs
twice as high as that. Whether they got the name from their
movements, which are swift and antic, or from the shouting they
make about the turn of the tide, so that all Aros shakes with it,
is more than I can tell.
The truth is, that in a south-westerly wind, that part of our
archipelago is no better than a trap. If a ship got through the
reefs, and weathered the Merry Men, it would be to come ashore on
the south coast of Aros, in Sandag Bay, where so many dismal things
befell our family, as I propose to tell. The thought of all these
dangers, in the place I knew so long, makes me particularly welcome
the works now going forward to set lights upon the headlands and
buoys along the channels of our iron-bound, inhospitable islands.
The country people had many a story about Aros, as I used to hear
from my uncle's man, Rorie, an old servant of the Macleans, who had
transferred his services without afterthought on the occasion of
the marriage. There was some tale of an unlucky creature, a seakelpie,
that dwelt and did business in some fearful manner of his
own among the boiling breakers of the Roost. A mermaid had once
met a piper on Sandag beach, and there sang to him a long, bright
midsummer's night, so that in the morning he was found stricken
crazy, and from thenceforward, till the day he died, said only one
form of words; what they were in the original Gaelic I cannot tell,
but they were thus translated: 'Ah, the sweet singing out of the
sea.' Seals that haunted on that coast have been known to speak to
man in his own tongue, presaging great disasters. It was here that
a certain saint first landed on his voyage out of Ireland to
convert the Hebrideans. And, indeed, I think he had some claim to
be called saint; for, with the boats of that past age, to make so
rough a passage, and land on such a ticklish coast, was surely not
far short of the miraculous. It was to him, or to some of his
monkish underlings who had a cell there, that the islet owes its
holy and beautiful name, the House of God.
Among these old wives' stories there was one which I was inclined
to hear with more credulity. As I was told, in that tempest which
scattered the ships of the Invincible Armada over all the north and
west of Scotland, one great vessel came ashore on Aros, and before
the eyes of some solitary people on a hill-top, went down in a
moment with all hands, her colours flying even as she sank. There
was some likelihood in this tale; for another of that fleet lay
sunk on the north side, twenty miles from Grisapol. It was told, I
thought, with more detail and gravity than its companion stories,
and there was one particularity which went far to convince me of
its truth: the name, that is, of the ship was still remembered, and
sounded, in my ears, Spanishly. The ESPIRITO SANTO they called it,
a great ship of many decks of guns, laden with treasure and
grandees of Spain, and fierce soldadoes, that now lay fathom deep
to all eternity, done with her wars and voyages, in Sandag bay,
upon the west of Aros. No more salvos of ordnance for that tall
ship, the 'Holy Spirit,' no more fair winds or happy ventures; only
to rot there deep in the sea-tangle and hear the shoutings of the
Merry Men as the tide ran high about the island. It was a strange
thought to me first and last, and only grew stranger as I learned
the more of Spain, from which she had set sail with so proud a
company, and King Philip, the wealthy king, that sent her on that
And now I must tell you, as I walked from Grisapol that day, the
ESPIRITO SANTO was very much in my reflections. I had been
favourably remarked by our then Principal in Edinburgh College,
that famous writer, Dr. Robertson, and by him had been set to work
on some papers of an ancient date to rearrange and sift of what was
worthless; and in one of these, to my great wonder, I found a note
of this very ship, the ESPIRITO SANTO, with her captain's name, and
how she carried a great part of the Spaniard's treasure, and had
been lost upon the Ross of Grisapol; but in what particular spot,
the wild tribes of that place and period would give no information
to the king's inquiries. Putting one thing with another, and
taking our island tradition together with this note of old King
Jamie's perquisitions after wealth, it had come strongly on my mind
that the spot for which he sought in vain could be no other than
the small bay of Sandag on my uncle's land; and being a fellow of a
mechanical turn, I had ever since been plotting how to weigh that
good ship up again with all her ingots, ounces, and doubloons, and
bring back our house of Darnaway to its long-forgotten dignity and
This was a design of which I soon had reason to repent. My mind
was sharply turned on different reflections; and since I became the
witness of a strange judgment of God's, the thought of dead men's
treasures has been intolerable to my conscience. But even at that
time I must acquit myself of sordid greed; for if I desired riches,
it was not for their own sake, but for the sake of a person who was
dear to my heart - my uncle's daughter, Mary Ellen. She had been
educated well, and had been a time to school upon the mainland;
which, poor girl, she would have been happier without. For Aros
was no place for her, with old Rorie the servant, and her father,
who was one of the unhappiest men in Scotland, plainly bred up in a
country place among Cameronians, long a skipper sailing out of the
Clyde about the islands, and now, with infinite discontent,
managing his sheep and a little 'long shore fishing for the
necessary bread. If it was sometimes weariful to me, who was there
but a month or two, you may fancy what it was to her who dwelt in
that same desert all the year round, with the sheep and flying seagulls,
and the Merry Men singing and dancing in the Roost!
IT was half-flood when I got the length of Aros; and there was
nothing for it but to stand on the far shore and whistle for Rorie
with the boat. I had no need to repeat the signal. At the first
sound, Mary was at the door flying a handkerchief by way of answer,
and the old long-legged serving-man was shambling down the gravel
to the pier. For all his hurry, it took him a long while to pull
across the bay; and I observed him several times to pause, go into
the stern, and look over curiously into the wake. As he came
nearer, he seemed to me aged and haggard, and I thought he avoided
my eye. The coble had been repaired, with two new thwarts and
several patches of some rare and beautiful foreign wood, the name
of it unknown to me.
'Why, Rorie,' said I, as we began the return voyage, 'this is fine
wood. How came you by that?'
'It will be hard to cheesel,' Rorie opined reluctantly; and just
then, dropping the oars, he made another of those dives into the
stern which I had remarked as he came across to fetch me, and,
leaning his hand on my shoulder, stared with an awful look into the
waters of the bay.
'What is wrong?' I asked, a good deal startled.
'It will be a great feesh,' said the old man, returning to his
oars; and nothing more could I get out of him, but strange glances
and an ominous nodding of the head. In spite of myself, I was
infected with a measure of uneasiness; I turned also, and studied
the wake. The water was still and transparent, but, out here in
the middle of the bay, exceeding deep. For some time I could see
naught; but at last it did seem to me as if something dark - a
great fish, or perhaps only a shadow - followed studiously in the
track of the moving coble. And then I remembered one of Rorie's
superstitions: how in a ferry in Morven, in some great,
exterminating feud among the clans; a fish, the like of it unknown
in all our waters, followed for some years the passage of the
ferry-boat, until no man dared to make the crossing.
'He will be waiting for the right man,' said Rorie.
Mary met me on the beach, and led me up the brae and into the house
of Aros. Outside and inside there were many changes. The garden
was fenced with the same wood that I had noted in the boat; there
were chairs in the kitchen covered with strange brocade; curtains
of brocade hung from the window; a clock stood silent on the
dresser; a lamp of brass was swinging from the roof; the table was
set for dinner with the finest of linen and silver; and all these
new riches were displayed in the plain old kitchen that I knew so
well, with the high-backed settle, and the stools, and the closet
bed for Rorie; with the wide chimney the sun shone into, and the
clear-smouldering peats; with the pipes on the mantelshelf and the
three-cornered spittoons, filled with sea-shells instead of sand,
on the floor; with the bare stone walls and the bare wooden floor,
and the three patchwork rugs that were of yore its sole adornment -
poor man's patchwork, the like of it unknown in cities, woven with
homespun, and Sunday black, and sea-cloth polished on the bench of
rowing. The room, like the house, had been a sort of wonder in
that country-side, it was so neat and habitable; and to see it now,
shamed by these incongruous additions, filled me with indignation
and a kind of anger. In view of the errand I had come upon to
Aros, the feeling was baseless and unjust; but it burned high, at
the first moment, in my heart.
'Mary, girl,' said I, 'this is the place I had learned to call my
home, and I do not know it.'
'It is my home by nature, not by the learning,' she replied; 'the
place I was born and the place I'm like to die in; and I neither
like these changes, nor the way they came, nor that which came with
them. I would have liked better, under God's pleasure, they had
gone down into the sea, and the Merry Men were dancing on them
Mary was always serious; it was perhaps the only trait that she
shared with her father; but the tone with which she uttered these
words was even graver than of custom.
'Ay,' said I, 'I feared it came by wreck, and that's by death; yet
when my father died, I took his goods without remorse.'
'Your father died a clean strae death, as the folk say,' said Mary.
'True,' I returned; 'and a wreck is like a judgment. What was she
'They ca'd her the CHRIST-ANNA,' said a voice behind me; and,
turning round, I saw my uncle standing in the doorway.
He was a sour, small, bilious man, with a long face and very dark
eyes; fifty-six years old, sound and active in body, and with an
air somewhat between that of a shepherd and that of a man following
the sea. He never laughed, that I heard; read long at the Bible;
prayed much, like the Cameronians he had been brought up among; and
indeed, in many ways, used to remind me of one of the hillpreachers
in the killing times before the Revolution. But he never
got much comfort, nor even, as I used to think, much guidance, by
his piety. He had his black fits when he was afraid of hell; but
he had led a rough life, to which he would look back with envy, and
was still a rough, cold, gloomy man.
As he came in at the door out of the sunlight, with his bonnet on
his head and a pipe hanging in his button-hole, he seemed, like
Rorie, to have grown older and paler, the lines were deeplier
ploughed upon his face, and the whites of his eyes were yellow,
like old stained ivory, or the bones of the dead.
'Ay' he repeated, dwelling upon the first part of the word, 'the
CHRIST-ANNA. It's an awfu' name.'
I made him my salutations, and complimented him upon his look of
health; for I feared he had perhaps been ill.
'I'm in the body,' he replied, ungraciously enough; 'aye in the
body and the sins of the body, like yoursel'. Denner,' he said
abruptly to Mary, and then ran on to me: 'They're grand braws, thir
that we hae gotten, are they no? Yon's a bonny knock (2), but
it'll no gang; and the napery's by ordnar. Bonny, bairnly braws;
it's for the like o' them folk sells the peace of God that passeth
understanding; it's for the like o' them, an' maybe no even sae
muckle worth, folk daunton God to His face and burn in muckle hell;
and it's for that reason the Scripture ca's them, as I read the
passage, the accursed thing. Mary, ye girzie,' he interrupted
himself to cry with some asperity, 'what for hae ye no put out the
twa candlesticks?'
'Why should we need them at high noon?' she asked.
But my uncle was not to be turned from his idea. 'We'll bruik (3)
them while we may,' he said; and so two massive candlesticks of
wrought silver were added to the table equipage, already so
unsuited to that rough sea-side farm.
'She cam' ashore Februar' 10, about ten at nicht,' he went on to
me. 'There was nae wind, and a sair run o' sea; and she was in the
sook o' the Roost, as I jaloose. We had seen her a' day, Rorie and
me, beating to the wind. She wasnae a handy craft, I'm thinking,
that CHRIST-ANNA; for she would neither steer nor stey wi' them. A
sair day they had of it; their hands was never aff the sheets, and
it perishin' cauld - ower cauld to snaw; and aye they would get a
bit nip o' wind, and awa' again, to pit the emp'y hope into them.
Eh, man! but they had a sair day for the last o't! He would have
had a prood, prood heart that won ashore upon the back o' that.'
'And were all lost?' I cried. 'God held them!'
'Wheesht!' he said sternly. 'Nane shall pray for the deid on my
I disclaimed a Popish sense for my ejaculation; and he seemed to
accept my disclaimer with unusual facility, and ran on once more
upon what had evidently become a favourite subject.
'We fand her in Sandag Bay, Rorie an' me, and a' thae braws in the
inside of her. There's a kittle bit, ye see, about Sandag; whiles
the sook rins strong for the Merry Men; an' whiles again, when the
tide's makin' hard an' ye can hear the Roost blawin' at the far-end
of Aros, there comes a back-spang of current straucht into Sandag
Bay. Weel, there's the thing that got the grip on the CHRIST-ANNA.
She but to have come in ram-stam an' stern forrit; for the bows of
her are aften under, and the back-side of her is clear at hie-water
o' neaps. But, man! the dunt that she cam doon wi' when she
struck! Lord save us a'! but it's an unco life to be a sailor - a
cauld, wanchancy life. Mony's the gliff I got mysel' in the great
deep; and why the Lord should hae made yon unco water is mair than
ever I could win to understand. He made the vales and the
pastures, the bonny green yaird, the halesome, canty land -
And now they shout and sing to Thee,
For Thou hast made them glad,
as the Psalms say in the metrical version. No that I would preen
my faith to that clink neither; but it's bonny, and easier to mind.
"Who go to sea in ships," they hae't again -
And in
Great waters trading be,
Within the deep these men God's works
And His great wonders see.
Weel, it's easy sayin' sae. Maybe Dauvit wasnae very weel acquant
wi' the sea. But, troth, if it wasnae prentit in the Bible, I wad
whiles be temp'it to think it wasnae the Lord, but the muckle,
black deil that made the sea. There's naething good comes oot o't
but the fish; an' the spentacle o' God riding on the tempest, to be
shure, whilk would be what Dauvit was likely ettling at. But, man,
they were sair wonders that God showed to the CHRIST-ANNA -
wonders, do I ca' them? Judgments, rather: judgments in the mirk
nicht among the draygons o' the deep. And their souls - to think
o' that - their souls, man, maybe no prepared! The sea - a muckle
yett to hell!'
I observed, as my uncle spoke, that his voice was unnaturally moved
and his manner unwontedly demonstrative. He leaned forward at
these last words, for example, and touched me on the knee with his
spread fingers, looking up into my face with a certain pallor, and
I could see that his eyes shone with a deep-seated fire, and that
the lines about his mouth were drawn and tremulous.
Even the entrance of Rorie, and the beginning of our meal, did not
detach him from his train of thought beyond a moment. He
condescended, indeed, to ask me some questions as to my success at
college, but I thought it was with half his mind; and even in his
extempore grace, which was, as usual, long and wandering, I could
find the trace of his preoccupation, praying, as he did, that God
would 'remember in mercy fower puir, feckless, fiddling, sinful
creatures here by their lee-lane beside the great and dowie
Soon there came an interchange of speeches between him and Rorie.
'Was it there?' asked my uncle.
'Ou, ay!' said Rorie.
I observed that they both spoke in a manner of aside, and with some
show of embarrassment, and that Mary herself appeared to colour,
and looked down on her plate. Partly to show my knowledge, and so
relieve the party from an awkward strain, partly because I was
curious, I pursued the subject.
'You mean the fish?' I asked.
'Whatten fish?' cried my uncle. 'Fish, quo' he! Fish! Your een
are fu' o' fatness, man; your heid dozened wi' carnal leir. Fish!
it's a bogle!'
He spoke with great vehemence, as though angry; and perhaps I was
not very willing to be put down so shortly, for young men are
disputatious. At least I remember I retorted hotly, crying out
upon childish superstitions.
'And ye come frae the College!' sneered Uncle Gordon. 'Gude kens
what they learn folk there; it's no muckle service onyway. Do ye
think, man, that there's naething in a' yon saut wilderness o' a
world oot wast there, wi' the sea grasses growin', an' the sea
beasts fechtin', an' the sun glintin' down into it, day by day?
Na; the sea's like the land, but fearsomer. If there's folk
ashore, there's folk in the sea - deid they may be, but they're
folk whatever; and as for deils, there's nane that's like the sea
deils. There's no sae muckle harm in the land deils, when a's said
and done. Lang syne, when I was a callant in the south country, I
mind there was an auld, bald bogle in the Peewie Moss. I got a
glisk o' him mysel', sittin' on his hunkers in a hag, as gray's a
tombstane. An', troth, he was a fearsome-like taed. But he
steered naebody. Nae doobt, if ane that was a reprobate, ane the
Lord hated, had gane by there wi' his sin still upon his stamach,
nae doobt the creature would hae lowped upo' the likes o' him. But
there's deils in the deep sea would yoke on a communicant! Eh,
sirs, if ye had gane doon wi' the puir lads in the CHRIST-ANNA, ye
would ken by now the mercy o' the seas. If ye had sailed it for as
lang as me, ye would hate the thocht of it as I do. If ye had but
used the een God gave ye, ye would hae learned the wickedness o'
that fause, saut, cauld, bullering creature, and of a' that's in it
by the Lord's permission: labsters an' partans, an' sic like,
howking in the deid; muckle, gutsy, blawing whales; an' fish - the
hale clan o' them - cauld-wamed, blind-eed uncanny ferlies. O,
sirs,' he cried, 'the horror - the horror o' the sea!'
We were all somewhat staggered by this outburst; and the speaker
himself, after that last hoarse apostrophe, appeared to sink
gloomily into his own thoughts. But Rorie, who was greedy of
superstitious lore, recalled him to the subject by a question.
'You will not ever have seen a teevil of the sea?' he asked.
'No clearly,' replied the other. 'I misdoobt if a mere man could
see ane clearly and conteenue in the body. I hae sailed wi' a lad
- they ca'd him Sandy Gabart; he saw ane, shure eneueh, an' shure
eneueh it was the end of him. We were seeven days oot frae the
Clyde - a sair wark we had had - gaun north wi' seeds an' braws an'
things for the Macleod. We had got in ower near under the
Cutchull'ns, an' had just gane about by soa, an' were off on a lang
tack, we thocht would maybe hauld as far's Copnahow. I mind the
nicht weel; a mune smoored wi' mist; a fine gaun breeze upon the
water, but no steedy; an' - what nane o' us likit to hear - anither
wund gurlin' owerheid, amang thae fearsome, auld stane craigs o'
the Cutchull'ns. Weel, Sandy was forrit wi' the jib sheet; we
couldnae see him for the mains'l, that had just begude to draw,
when a' at ance he gied a skirl. I luffed for my life, for I
thocht we were ower near Soa; but na, it wasnae that, it was puir
Sandy Gabart's deid skreigh, or near hand, for he was deid in half
an hour. A't he could tell was that a sea deil, or sea bogle, or
sea spenster, or sic-like, had clum up by the bowsprit, an' gi'en
him ae cauld, uncanny look. An', or the life was oot o' Sandy's
body, we kent weel what the thing betokened, and why the wund
gurled in the taps o' the Cutchull'ns; for doon it cam' - a wund do
I ca' it! it was the wund o' the Lord's anger - an' a' that nicht
we foucht like men dementit, and the niest that we kenned we were
ashore in Loch Uskevagh, an' the cocks were crawin' in Benbecula.'
'It will have been a merman,' Rorie said.
'A merman!' screamed my uncle with immeasurable scorn. 'Auld
wives' clavers! There's nae sic things as mermen.'
'But what was the creature like?' I asked.
'What like was it? Gude forbid that we suld ken what like it was!
It had a kind of a heid upon it - man could say nae mair.'
Then Rorie, smarting under the affront, told several tales of
mermen, mermaids, and sea-horses that had come ashore upon the
islands and attacked the crews of boats upon the sea; and my uncle,
in spite of his incredulity, listened with uneasy interest.
'Aweel, aweel,' he said, 'it may be sae; I may be wrang; but I find
nae word o' mermen in the Scriptures.'
'And you will find nae word of Aros Roost, maybe,' objected Rorie,
and his argument appeared to carry weight.
When dinner was over, my uncle carried me forth with him to a bank
behind the house. It was a very hot and quiet afternoon; scarce a
ripple anywhere upon the sea, nor any voice but the familiar voice
of sheep and gulls; and perhaps in consequence of this repose in
nature, my kinsman showed himself more rational and tranquil than
before. He spoke evenly and almost cheerfully of my career, with
every now and then a reference to the lost ship or the treasures it
had brought to Aros. For my part, I listened to him in a sort of
trance, gazing with all my heart on that remembered scene, and
drinking gladly the sea-air and the smoke of peats that had been
lit by Mary.
Perhaps an hour had passed when my uncle, who had all the while
been covertly gazing on the surface of the little bay, rose to his
feet and bade me follow his example. Now I should say that the
great run of tide at the south-west end of Aros exercises a
perturbing influence round all the coast. In Sandag Bay, to the
south, a strong current runs at certain periods of the flood and
ebb respectively; but in this northern bay - Aros Bay, as it is
called - where the house stands and on which my uncle was now
gazing, the only sign of disturbance is towards the end of the ebb,
and even then it is too slight to be remarkable. When there is any
swell, nothing can be seen at all; but when it is calm, as it often
is, there appear certain strange, undecipherable marks - sea-runes,
as we may name them - on the glassy surface of the bay. The like
is common in a thousand places on the coast; and many a boy must
have amused himself as I did, seeking to read in them some
reference to himself or those he loved. It was to these marks that
my uncle now directed my attention, struggling, as he did so, with
an evident reluctance.
'Do ye see yon scart upo' the water?' he inquired; 'yon ane wast
the gray stane? Ay? Weel, it'll no be like a letter, wull it?'
'Certainly it is,' I replied. 'I have often remarked it. It is
like a C.'
He heaved a sigh as if heavily disappointed with my answer, and
then added below his breath: 'Ay, for the CHRIST-ANNA.'
'I used to suppose, sir, it was for myself,' said I; 'for my name
is Charles.'
'And so ye saw't afore?', he ran on, not heeding my remark. 'Weel,
weel, but that's unco strange. Maybe, it's been there waitin', as
a man wad say, through a' the weary ages. Man, but that's awfu'.'
And then, breaking off: 'Ye'll no see anither, will ye?' he asked.
'Yes,' said I. 'I see another very plainly, near the Ross side,
where the road comes down - an M.'
'An M,' he repeated very low; and then, again after another pause:
'An' what wad ye make o' that?' he inquired.
'I had always thought it to mean Mary, sir,' I answered, growing
somewhat red, convinced as I was in my own mind that I was on the
threshold of a decisive explanation.
But we were each following his own train of thought to the
exclusion of the other's. My uncle once more paid no attention to
my words; only hung his head and held his peace; and I might have
been led to fancy that he had not heard me, if his next speech had
not contained a kind of echo from my own.
'I would say naething o' thae clavers to Mary,' he observed, and
began to walk forward.
There is a belt of turf along the side of Aros Bay, where walking
is easy; and it was along this that I silently followed my silent
kinsman. I was perhaps a little disappointed at having lost so
good an opportunity to declare my love; but I was at the same time
far more deeply exercised at the change that had befallen my uncle.
He was never an ordinary, never, in the strict sense, an amiable,
man; but there was nothing in even the worst that I had known of
him before, to prepare me for so strange a transformation. It was
impossible to close the eyes against one fact; that he had, as the
saying goes, something on his mind; and as I mentally ran over the
different words which might be represented by the letter M -
misery, mercy, marriage, money, and the like - I was arrested with
a sort of start by the word murder. I was still considering the
ugly sound and fatal meaning of the word, when the direction of our
walk brought us to a point from which a view was to be had to
either side, back towards Aros Bay and homestead, and forward on
the ocean, dotted to the north with isles, and lying to the
southward blue and open to the sky. There my guide came to a halt,
and stood staring for awhile on that expanse. Then he turned to me
and laid a hand on my arm.
'Ye think there's naething there?' he said, pointing with his pipe;
and then cried out aloud, with a kind of exultation: 'I'll tell ye,
man! The deid are down there - thick like rattons!'
He turned at once, and, without another word, we retraced our steps
to the house of Aros.
I was eager to be alone with Mary; yet it was not till after
supper, and then but for a short while, that I could have a word
with her. I lost no time beating about the bush, but spoke out
plainly what was on my mind.
'Mary,' I said, 'I have not come to Aros without a hope. If that
should prove well founded, we may all leave and go somewhere else,
secure of daily bread and comfort; secure, perhaps, of something
far beyond that, which it would seem extravagant in me to promise.
But there's a hope that lies nearer to my heart than money.' And
at that I paused. 'You can guess fine what that is, Mary,' I said.
She looked away from me in silence, and that was small
encouragement, but I was not to be put off. 'All my days I have
thought the world of you,' I continued; 'the time goes on and I
think always the more of you; I could not think to be happy or
hearty in my life without you: you are the apple of my eye.' Still
she looked away, and said never a word; but I thought I saw that
her hands shook. 'Mary,' I cried in fear, 'do ye no like me?'
'O, Charlie man,' she said, 'is this a time to speak of it? Let me
be, a while; let me be the way I am; it'll not be you that loses by
the waiting!'
I made out by her voice that she was nearly weeping, and this put
me out of any thought but to compose her. 'Mary Ellen,' I said,
'say no more; I did not come to trouble you: your way shall be
mine, and your time too; and you have told me all I wanted. Only
just this one thing more: what ails you?'
She owned it was her father, but would enter into no particulars,
only shook her head, and said he was not well and not like himself,
and it was a great pity. She knew nothing of the wreck. 'I
havenae been near it,' said she. 'What for would I go near it,
Charlie lad? The poor souls are gone to their account long syne;
and I would just have wished they had ta'en their gear with them -
poor souls!'
This was scarcely any great encouragement for me to tell her of the
ESPIRITO SANTO; yet I did so, and at the very first word she cried
out in surprise. 'There was a man at Grisapol,' she said, 'in the
month of May - a little, yellow, black-avised body, they tell me,
with gold rings upon his fingers, and a beard; and he was speiring
high and low for that same ship.'
It was towards the end of April that I had been given these papers
to sort out by Dr. Robertson: and it came suddenly back upon my
mind that they were thus prepared for a Spanish historian, or a man
calling himself such, who had come with high recommendations to the
Principal, on a mission of inquiry as to the dispersion of the
great Armada. Putting one thing with another, I fancied that the
visitor 'with the gold rings upon his fingers' might be the same
with Dr. Robertson's historian from Madrid. If that were so, he
would be more likely after treasure for himself than information
for a learned society. I made up my mind, I should lose no time
over my undertaking; and if the ship lay sunk in Sandag Bay, as
perhaps both he and I supposed, it should not be for the advantage
of this ringed adventurer, but for Mary and myself, and for the
good, old, honest, kindly family of the Darnaways.
I WAS early afoot next morning; and as soon as I had a bite to eat,
set forth upon a tour of exploration. Something in my heart
distinctly told me that I should find the ship of the Armada; and
although I did not give way entirely to such hopeful thoughts, I
was still very light in spirits and walked upon air. Aros is a
very rough islet, its surface strewn with great rocks and shaggy
with fernland heather; and my way lay almost north and south across
the highest knoll; and though the whole distance was inside of two
miles it took more time and exertion than four upon a level road.
Upon the summit, I paused. Although not very high - not three
hundred feet, as I think - it yet outtops all the neighbouring
lowlands of the Ross, and commands a great view of sea and islands.
The sun, which had been up some time, was already hot upon my neck;
the air was listless and thundery, although purely clear; away over
the north-west, where the isles lie thickliest congregated, some
half-a-dozen small and ragged clouds hung together in a covey; and
the head of Ben Kyaw wore, not merely a few streamers, but a solid
hood of vapour. There was a threat in the weather. The sea, it is
true, was smooth like glass: even the Roost was but a seam on that
wide mirror, and the Merry Men no more than caps of foam; but to my
eye and ear, so long familiar with these places, the sea also
seemed to lie uneasily; a sound of it, like a long sigh, mounted to
me where I stood; and, quiet as it was, the Roost itself appeared
to be revolving mischief. For I ought to say that all we dwellers
in these parts attributed, if not prescience, at least a quality of
warning, to that strange and dangerous creature of the tides.
I hurried on, then, with the greater speed, and had soon descended
the slope of Aros to the part that we call Sandag Bay. It is a
pretty large piece of water compared with the size of the isle;
well sheltered from all but the prevailing wind; sandy and shoal
and bounded by low sand-hills to the west, but to the eastward
lying several fathoms deep along a ledge of rocks. It is upon that
side that, at a certain time each flood, the current mentioned by
my uncle sets so strong into the bay; a little later, when the
Roost begins to work higher, an undertow runs still more strongly
in the reverse direction; and it is the action of this last, as I
suppose, that has scoured that part so deep. Nothing is to be seen
out of Sandag Bay, but one small segment of the horizon and, in
heavy weather, the breakers flying high over a deep sea reef.
From half-way down the hill, I had perceived the wreck of February
last, a brig of considerable tonnage, lying, with her back broken,
high and dry on the east corner of the sands; and I was making
directly towards it, and already almost on the margin of the turf,
when my eyes were suddenly arrested by a spot, cleared of fern and
heather, and marked by one of those long, low, and almost humanlooking
mounds that we see so commonly in graveyards. I stopped
like a man shot. Nothing had been said to me of any dead man or
interment on the island; Rorie, Mary, and my uncle had all equally
held their peace; of her at least, I was certain that she must be
ignorant; and yet here, before my eyes, was proof indubitable of
the fact. Here was a grave; and I had to ask myself, with a chill,
what manner of man lay there in his last sleep, awaiting the signal
of the Lord in that solitary, sea-beat resting-place? My mind
supplied no answer but what I feared to entertain. Shipwrecked, at
least, he must have been; perhaps, like the old Armada mariners,
from some far and rich land over-sea; or perhaps one of my own
race, perishing within eyesight of the smoke of home. I stood
awhile uncovered by his side, and I could have desired that it had
lain in our religion to put up some prayer for that unhappy
stranger, or, in the old classic way, outwardly to honour his
misfortune. I knew, although his bones lay there, a part of Aros,
till the trumpet sounded, his imperishable soul was forth and far
away, among the raptures of the everlasting Sabbath or the pangs of
hell; and yet my mind misgave me even with a fear, that perhaps he
was near me where I stood, guarding his sepulchre, and lingering on
the scene of his unhappy fate.
Certainly it was with a spirit somewhat over-shadowed that I turned
away from the grave to the hardly less melancholy spectacle of the
wreck. Her stem was above the first arc of the flood; she was
broken in two a little abaft the foremast - though indeed she had
none, both masts having broken short in her disaster; and as the
pitch of the beach was very sharp and sudden, and the bows lay many
feet below the stern, the fracture gaped widely open, and you could
see right through her poor hull upon the farther side. Her name
was much defaced, and I could not make out clearly whether she was
called CHRISTIANIA, after the Norwegian city, or CHRISTIANA, after
the good woman, Christian's wife, in that old book the 'Pilgrim's
Progress.' By her build she was a foreign ship, but I was not
certain of her nationality. She had been painted green, but the
colour was faded and weathered, and the paint peeling off in
strips. The wreck of the mainmast lay alongside, half buried in
sand. She was a forlorn sight, indeed, and I could not look
without emotion at the bits of rope that still hung about her, so
often handled of yore by shouting seamen; or the little scuttle
where they had passed up and down to their affairs; or that poor
noseless angel of a figure-head that had dipped into so many
running billows.
I do not know whether it came most from the ship or from the grave,
but I fell into some melancholy scruples, as I stood there, leaning
with one hand against the battered timbers. The homelessness of
men and even of inanimate vessels, cast away upon strange shores,
came strongly in upon my mind. To make a profit of such pitiful
misadventures seemed an unmanly and a sordid act; and I began to
think of my then quest as of something sacrilegious in its nature.
But when I remembered Mary, I took heart again. My uncle would
never consent to an imprudent marriage, nor would she, as I was
persuaded, wed without his full approval. It behoved me, then, to
be up and doing for my wife; and I thought with a laugh how long it
was since that great sea-castle, the ESPIRITO SANTO, had left her
bones in Sandag Bay, and how weak it would be to consider rights so
long extinguished and misfortunes so long forgotten in the process
of time.
I had my theory of where to seek for her remains. The set of the
current and the soundings both pointed to the east side of the bay
under the ledge of rocks. If she had been lost in Sandag Bay, and
if, after these centuries, any portion of her held together, it was
there that I should find it. The water deepens, as I have said,
with great rapidity, and even close along-side the rocks several
fathoms may be found. As I walked upon the edge I could see far
and wide over the sandy bottom of the bay; the sun shone clear and
green and steady in the deeps; the bay seemed rather like a great
transparent crystal, as one sees them in a lapidary's shop; there
was naught to show that it was water but an internal trembling, a
hovering within of sun-glints and netted shadows, and now and then
a faint lap and a dying bubble round the edge. The shadows of the
rocks lay out for some distance at their feet, so that my own
shadow, moving, pausing, and stooping on the top of that, reached
sometimes half across the bay. It was above all in this belt of
shadows that I hunted for the ESPIRITO SANTO; since it was there
the undertow ran strongest, whether in or out. Cool as the whole
water seemed this broiling day, it looked, in that part, yet
cooler, and had a mysterious invitation for the eyes. Peer as I
pleased, however, I could see nothing but a few fishes or a bush of
sea-tangle, and here and there a lump of rock that had fallen from
above and now lay separate on the sandy floor. Twice did I pass
from one end to the other of the rocks, and in the whole distance I
could see nothing of the wreck, nor any place but one where it was
possible for it to be. This was a large terrace in five fathoms of
water, raised off the surface of the sand to a considerable height,
and looking from above like a mere outgrowth of the rocks on which
I walked. It was one mass of great sea-tangles like a grove, which
prevented me judging of its nature, but in shape and size it bore
some likeness to a vessel's hull. At least it was my best chance.
If the ESPIRITO SANTO lay not there under the tangles, it lay
nowhere at all in Sandag Bay; and I prepared to put the question to
the proof, once and for all, and either go back to Aros a rich man
or cured for ever of my dreams of wealth.
I stripped to the skin, and stood on the extreme margin with my
hands clasped, irresolute. The bay at that time was utterly quiet;
there was no sound but from a school of porpoises somewhere out of
sight behind the point; yet a certain fear withheld me on the
threshold of my venture. Sad sea-feelings, scraps of my uncle's
superstitions, thoughts of the dead, of the grave, of the old
broken ships, drifted through my mind. But the strong sun upon my
shoulders warmed me to the heart, and I stooped forward and plunged
into the sea.
It was all that I could do to catch a trail of the sea-tangle that
grew so thickly on the terrace; but once so far anchored I secured
myself by grasping a whole armful of these thick and slimy stalks,
and, planting my feet against the edge, I looked around me. On all
sides the clear sand stretched forth unbroken; it came to the foot
of the rocks, scoured into the likeness of an alley in a garden by
the action of the tides; and before me, for as far as I could see,
nothing was visible but the same many-folded sand upon the sunbright
bottom of the bay. Yet the terrace to which I was then
holding was as thick with strong sea-growths as a tuft of heather,
and the cliff from which it bulged hung draped below the water-line
with brown lianas. In this complexity of forms, all swaying
together in the current, things were hard to be distinguished; and
I was still uncertain whether my feet were pressed upon the natural
rock or upon the timbers of the Armada treasure-ship, when the
whole tuft of tangle came away in my hand, and in an instant I was
on the surface, and the shores of the bay and the bright water swam
before my eyes in a glory of crimson.
I clambered back upon the rocks, and threw the plant of tangle at
my feet. Something at the same moment rang sharply, like a falling
coin. I stooped, and there, sure enough, crusted with the red
rust, there lay an iron shoe-buckle. The sight of this poor human
relic thrilled me to the heart, but not with hope nor fear, only
with a desolate melancholy. I held it in my hand, and the thought
of its owner appeared before me like the presence of an actual man.
His weather-beaten face, his sailor's hands, his sea-voice hoarse
with singing at the capstan, the very foot that had once worn that
buckle and trod so much along the swerving decks - the whole human
fact of him, as a creature like myself, with hair and blood and
seeing eyes, haunted me in that sunny, solitary place, not like a
spectre, but like some friend whom I had basely injured. Was the
great treasure ship indeed below there, with her guns and chain and
treasure, as she had sailed from Spain; her decks a garden for the
seaweed, her cabin a breeding place for fish, soundless but for the
dredging water, motionless but for the waving of the tangle upon
her battlements - that old, populous, sea-riding castle, now a reef
in Sandag Bay? Or, as I thought it likelier, was this a waif from
the disaster of the foreign brig - was this shoe-buckle bought but
the other day and worn by a man of my own period in the world's
history, hearing the same news from day to day, thinking the same
thoughts, praying, perhaps, in the same temple with myself?
However it was, I was assailed with dreary thoughts; my uncle's
words, 'the dead are down there,' echoed in my ears; and though I
determined to dive once more, it was with a strong repugnance that
I stepped forward to the margin of the rocks.
A great change passed at that moment over the appearance of the
bay. It was no more that clear, visible interior, like a house
roofed with glass, where the green, submarine sunshine slept so
stilly. A breeze, I suppose, had flawed the surface, and a sort of
trouble and blackness filled its bosom, where flashes of light and
clouds of shadow tossed confusedly together. Even the terrace
below obscurely rocked and quivered. It seemed a graver thing to
venture on this place of ambushes; and when I leaped into the sea
the second time it was with a quaking in my soul.
I secured myself as at first, and groped among the waving tangle.
All that met my touch was cold and soft and gluey. The thicket was
alive with crabs and lobsters, trundling to and fro lopsidedly, and
I had to harden my heart against the horror of their carrion
neighbourhood. On all sides I could feel the grain and the clefts
of hard, living stone; no planks, no iron, not a sign of any wreck;
the ESPIRITO SANTO was not there. I remember I had almost a sense
of relief in my disappointment, and I was about ready to leave go,
when something happened that sent me to the surface with my heart
in my mouth. I had already stayed somewhat late over my
explorations; the current was freshening with the change of the
tide, and Sandag Bay was no longer a safe place for a single
swimmer. Well, just at the last moment there came a sudden flush
of current, dredging through the tangles like a wave. I lost one
hold, was flung sprawling on my side, and, instinctively grasping
for a fresh support, my fingers closed on something hard and cold.
I think I knew at that moment what it was. At least I instantly
left hold of the tangle, leaped for the surface, and clambered out
next moment on the friendly rocks with the bone of a man's leg in
my grasp.
Mankind is a material creature, slow to think and dull to perceive
connections. The grave, the wreck of the brig, and the rusty shoebuckle
were surely plain advertisements. A child might have read
their dismal story, and yet it was not until I touched that actual
piece of mankind that the full horror of the charnel ocean burst
upon my spirit. I laid the bone beside the buckle, picked up my
clothes, and ran as I was along the rocks towards the human shore.
I could not be far enough from the spot; no fortune was vast enough
to tempt me back again. The bones of the drowned dead should
henceforth roll undisturbed by me, whether on tangle or minted
gold. But as soon as I trod the good earth again, and had covered
my nakedness against the sun, I knelt down over against the ruins
of the brig, and out of the fulness of my heart prayed long and
passionately for all poor souls upon the sea. A generous prayer is
never presented in vain; the petition may be refused, but the
petitioner is always, I believe, rewarded by some gracious
visitation. The horror, at least, was lifted from my mind; I could
look with calm of spirit on that great bright creature, God's
ocean; and as I set off homeward up the rough sides of Aros,
nothing remained of my concern beyond a deep determination to
meddle no more with the spoils of wrecked vessels or the treasures
of the dead.
I was already some way up the hill before I paused to breathe and
look behind me. The sight that met my eyes was doubly strange.
For, first, the storm that I had foreseen was now advancing with
almost tropical rapidity. The whole surface of the sea had been
dulled from its conspicuous brightness to an ugly hue of corrugated
lead; already in the distance the white waves, the 'skipper's
daughters,' had begun to flee before a breeze that was still
insensible on Aros; and already along the curve of Sandag Bay there
was a splashing run of sea that I could hear from where I stood.
The change upon the sky was even more remarkable. There had begun
to arise out of the south-west a huge and solid continent of
scowling cloud; here and there, through rents in its contexture,
the sun still poured a sheaf of spreading rays; and here and there,
from all its edges, vast inky streamers lay forth along the yet
unclouded sky. The menace was express and imminent. Even as I
gazed, the sun was blotted out. At any moment the tempest might
fall upon Aros in its might.
The suddenness of this change of weather so fixed my eyes on heaven
that it was some seconds before they alighted on the bay, mapped
out below my feet, and robbed a moment later of the sun. The knoll
which I had just surmounted overflanked a little amphitheatre of
lower hillocks sloping towards the sea, and beyond that the yellow
arc of beach and the whole extent of Sandag Bay. It was a scene on
which I had often looked down, but where I had never before beheld
a human figure. I had but just turned my back upon it and left it
empty, and my wonder may be fancied when I saw a boat and several
men in that deserted spot. The boat was lying by the rocks. A
pair of fellows, bareheaded, with their sleeves rolled up, and one
with a boathook, kept her with difficulty to her moorings for the
current was growing brisker every moment. A little way off upon
the ledge two men in black clothes, whom I judged to be superior in
rank, laid their heads together over some task which at first I did
not understand, but a second after I had made it out - they were
taking bearings with the compass; and just then I saw one of them
unroll a sheet of paper and lay his finger down, as though
identifying features in a map. Meanwhile a third was walking to
and fro, polling among the rocks and peering over the edge into the
water. While I was still watching them with the stupefaction of
surprise, my mind hardly yet able to work on what my eyes reported,
this third person suddenly stooped and summoned his companions with
a cry so loud that it reached my ears upon the hill. The others
ran to him, even dropping the compass in their hurry, and I could
see the bone and the shoe-buckle going from hand to hand, causing
the most unusual gesticulations of surprise and interest. Just
then I could hear the seamen crying from the boat, and saw them
point westward to that cloud continent which was ever the more
rapidly unfurling its blackness over heaven. The others seemed to
consult; but the danger was too pressing to be braved, and they
bundled into the boat carrying my relies with them, and set forth
out of the bay with all speed of oars.
I made no more ado about the matter, but turned and ran for the
house. Whoever these men were, it was fit my uncle should be
instantly informed. It was not then altogether too late in the day
for a descent of the Jacobites; and may be Prince Charlie, whom I
knew my uncle to detest, was one of the three superiors whom I had
seen upon the rock. Yet as I ran, leaping from rock to rock, and
turned the matter loosely in my mind, this theory grew ever the
longer the less welcome to my reason. The compass, the map, the
interest awakened by the buckle, and the conduct of that one among
the strangers who had looked so often below him in the water, all
seemed to point to a different explanation of their presence on
that outlying, obscure islet of the western sea. The Madrid
historian, the search instituted by Dr. Robertson, the bearded
stranger with the rings, my own fruitless search that very morning
in the deep water of Sandag Bay, ran together, piece by piece, in
my memory, and I made sure that these strangers must be Spaniards
in quest of ancient treasure and the lost ship of the Armada. But
the people living in outlying islands, such as Aros, are answerable
for their own security; there is none near by to protect or even to
help them; and the presence in such a spot of a crew of foreign
adventurers - poor, greedy, and most likely lawless - filled me
with apprehensions for my uncle's money, and even for the safety of
his daughter. I was still wondering how we were to get rid of them
when I came, all breathless, to the top of Aros. The whole world
was shadowed over; only in the extreme east, on a hill of the
mainland, one last gleam of sunshine lingered like a jewel; rain
had begun to fall, not heavily, but in great drops; the sea was
rising with each moment, and already a band of white encircled Aros
and the nearer coasts of Grisapol. The boat was still pulling
seaward, but I now became aware of what had been hidden from me
lower down - a large, heavily sparred, handsome schooner, lying to
at the south end of Aros. Since I had not seen her in the morning
when I had looked around so closely at the signs of the weather,
and upon these lone waters where a sail was rarely visible, it was
clear she must have lain last night behind the uninhabited Eilean
Gour, and this proved conclusively that she was manned by strangers
to our coast, for that anchorage, though good enough to look at, is
little better than a trap for ships. With such ignorant sailors
upon so wild a coast, the coming gale was not unlikely to bring
death upon its wings.
I FOUND my uncle at the gable end, watching the signs of the
weather, with a pipe in his fingers.
'Uncle,' said I, 'there were men ashore at Sandag Bay - '
I had no time to go further; indeed, I not only forgot my words,
but even my weariness, so strange was the effect on Uncle Gordon.
He dropped his pipe and fell back against the end of the house with
his jaw fallen, his eyes staring, and his long face as white as
paper. We must have looked at one another silently for a quarter
of a minute, before he made answer in this extraordinary fashion:
'Had he a hair kep on?'
I knew as well as if I had been there that the man who now lay
buried at Sandag had worn a hairy cap, and that he had come ashore
alive. For the first and only time I lost toleration for the man
who was my benefactor and the father of the woman I hoped to call
my wife.
'These were living men,' said I, 'perhaps Jacobites, perhaps the
French, perhaps pirates, perhaps adventurers come here to seek the
Spanish treasure ship; but, whatever they may be, dangerous at
least to your daughter and my cousin. As for your own guilty
terrors, man, the dead sleeps well where you have laid him. I
stood this morning by his grave; he will not wake before the trump
of doom.'
My kinsman looked upon me, blinking, while I spoke; then he fixed
his eyes for a little on the ground, and pulled his fingers
foolishly; but it was plain that he was past the power of speech.
'Come,' said I. 'You must think for others. You must come up the
hill with me, and see this ship.'
He obeyed without a word or a look, following slowly after my
impatient strides. The spring seemed to have gone out of his body,
and he scrambled heavily up and down the rocks, instead of leaping,
as he was wont, from one to another. Nor could I, for all my
cries, induce him to make better haste. Only once he replied to me
complainingly, and like one in bodily pain: 'Ay, ay, man, I'm
coming.' Long before we had reached the top, I had no other
thought for him but pity. If the crime had been monstrous the
punishment was in proportion.
At last we emerged above the sky-line of the hill, and could see
around us. All was black and stormy to the eye; the last gleam of
sun had vanished; a wind had sprung up, not yet high, but gusty and
unsteady to the point; the rain, on the other hand, had ceased.
Short as was the interval, the sea already ran vastly higher than
when I had stood there last; already it had begun to break over
some of the outward reefs, and already it moaned aloud in the seacaves
of Aros. I looked, at first, in vain for the schooner.
'There she is,' I said at last. But her new position, and the
course she was now lying, puzzled me. 'They cannot mean to beat to
sea,' I cried.
'That's what they mean,' said my uncle, with something like joy;
and just then the schooner went about and stood upon another tack,
which put the question beyond the reach of doubt. These strangers,
seeing a gale on hand, had thought first of sea-room. With the
wind that threatened, in these reef-sown waters and contending
against so violent a stream of tide, their course was certain
'Good God!' said I, 'they are all lost.'
'Ay,' returned my uncle, 'a' - a' lost. They hadnae a chance but
to rin for Kyle Dona. The gate they're gaun the noo, they couldnae
win through an the muckle deil were there to pilot them. Eh, man,'
he continued, touching me on the sleeve, 'it's a braw nicht for a
shipwreck! Twa in ae twalmonth! Eh, but the Merry Men'll dance
I looked at him, and it was then that I began to fancy him no
longer in his right mind. He was peering up to me, as if for
sympathy, a timid joy in his eyes. All that had passed between us
was already forgotten in the prospect of this fresh disaster.
'If it were not too late,' I cried with indignation, 'I would take
the coble and go out to warn them.'
'Na, na,' he protested, 'ye maunnae interfere; ye maunnae meddle
wi' the like o' that. It's His' - doffing his bonnet - 'His wull.
And, eh, man! but it's a braw nicht for't!'
Something like fear began to creep into my soul and, reminding him
that I had not yet dined, I proposed we should return to the house.
But no; nothing would tear him from his place of outlook.
'I maun see the hail thing, man, Cherlie,' he explained - and then
as the schooner went about a second time, 'Eh, but they han'le her
bonny!' he cried. 'The CHRIST-ANNA was naething to this.'
Already the men on board the schooner must have begun to realise
some part, but not yet the twentieth, of the dangers that environed
their doomed ship. At every lull of the capricious wind they must
have seen how fast the current swept them back. Each tack was made
shorter, as they saw how little it prevailed. Every moment the
rising swell began to boom and foam upon another sunken reef; and
ever and again a breaker would fall in sounding ruin under the very
bows of her, and the brown reef and streaming tangle appear in the
hollow of the wave. I tell you, they had to stand to their tackle:
there was no idle men aboard that ship, God knows. It was upon the
progress of a scene so horrible to any human-hearted man that my
misguided uncle now pored and gloated like a connoisseur. As I
turned to go down the hill, he was lying on his belly on the
summit, with his hands stretched forth and clutching in the
heather. He seemed rejuvenated, mind and body.
When I got back to the house already dismally affected, I was still
more sadly downcast at the sight of Mary. She had her sleeves
rolled up over her strong arms, and was quietly making bread. I
got a bannock from the dresser and sat down to eat it in silence.
'Are ye wearied, lad?' she asked after a while.
'I am not so much wearied, Mary,' I replied, getting on my feet,
'as I am weary of delay, and perhaps of Aros too. You know me well
enough to judge me fairly, say what I like. Well, Mary, you may be
sure of this: you had better be anywhere but here.'
'I'll be sure of one thing,' she returned: 'I'll be where my duty
'You forget, you have a duty to yourself,' I said.
'Ay, man?' she replied, pounding at the dough; 'will you have found
that in the Bible, now?'
'Mary,' I said solemnly, 'you must not laugh at me just now. God
knows I am in no heart for laughing. If we could get your father
with us, it would be best; but with him or without him, I want you
far away from here, my girl; for your own sake, and for mine, ay,
and for your father's too, I want you far - far away from here. I
came with other thoughts; I came here as a man comes home; now it
is all changed, and I have no desire nor hope but to flee - for
that's the word - flee, like a bird out of the fowler's snare, from
this accursed island.'
She had stopped her work by this time.
'And do you think, now,' said she, 'do you think, now, I have
neither eyes nor ears? Do ye think I havenae broken my heart to
have these braws (as he calls them, God forgive him!) thrown into
the sea? Do ye think I have lived with him, day in, day out, and
not seen what you saw in an hour or two? No,' she said, 'I know
there's wrong in it; what wrong, I neither know nor want to know.
There was never an ill thing made better by meddling, that I could
hear of. But, my lad, you must never ask me to leave my father.
While the breath is in his body, I'll be with him. And he's not
long for here, either: that I can tell you, Charlie - he's not long
for here. The mark is on his brow; and better so - maybe better
I was a while silent, not knowing what to say; and when I roused my
head at last to speak, she got before me.
'Charlie,' she said, 'what's right for me, neednae be right for
you. There's sin upon this house and trouble; you are a stranger;
take your things upon your back and go your ways to better places
and to better folk, and if you were ever minded to come back,
though it were twenty years syne, you would find me aye waiting.'
'Mary Ellen,' I said, 'I asked you to be my wife, and you said as
good as yes. That's done for good. Wherever you are, I am; as I
shall answer to my God.'
As I said the words, the wind suddenly burst out raving, and then
seemed to stand still and shudder round the house of Aros. It was
the first squall, or prologue, of the coming tempest, and as we
started and looked about us, we found that a gloom, like the
approach of evening, had settled round the house.
'God pity all poor folks at sea!' she said. 'We'll see no more of
my father till the morrow's morning.'
And then she told me, as we sat by the fire and hearkened to the
rising gusts, of how this change had fallen upon my uncle. All
last winter he had been dark and fitful in his mind. Whenever the
Roost ran high, or, as Mary said, whenever the Merry Men were
dancing, he would lie out for hours together on the Head, if it
were at night, or on the top of Aros by day, watching the tumult of
the sea, and sweeping the horizon for a sail. After February the
tenth, when the wealth-bringing wreck was cast ashore at Sandag, he
had been at first unnaturally gay, and his excitement had never
fallen in degree, but only changed in kind from dark to darker. He
neglected his work, and kept Rorie idle. They two would speak
together by the hour at the gable end, in guarded tones and with an
air of secrecy and almost of guilt; and if she questioned either,
as at first she sometimes did, her inquiries were put aside with
confusion. Since Rorie had first remarked the fish that hung about
the ferry, his master had never set foot but once upon the mainland
of the Ross. That once - it was in the height of the springs - he
had passed dryshod while the tide was out; but, having lingered
overlong on the far side, found himself cut off from Aros by the
returning waters. It was with a shriek of agony that he had leaped
across the gut, and he had reached home thereafter in a fever-fit
of fear. A fear of the sea, a constant haunting thought of the
sea, appeared in his talk and devotions, and even in his looks when
he was silent.
Rorie alone came in to supper; but a little later my uncle
appeared, took a bottle under his arm, put some bread in his
pocket, and set forth again to his outlook, followed this time by
Rorie. I heard that the schooner was losing ground, but the crew
were still fighting every inch with hopeless ingenuity and course;
and the news filled my mind with blackness.
A little after sundown the full fury of the gale broke forth, such
a gale as I have never seen in summer, nor, seeing how swiftly it
had come, even in winter. Mary and I sat in silence, the house
quaking overhead, the tempest howling without, the fire between us
sputtering with raindrops. Our thoughts were far away with the
poor fellows on the schooner, or my not less unhappy uncle,
houseless on the promontory; and yet ever and again we were
startled back to ourselves, when the wind would rise and strike the
gable like a solid body, or suddenly fall and draw away, so that
the fire leaped into flame and our hearts bounded in our sides.
Now the storm in its might would seize and shake the four corners
of the roof, roaring like Leviathan in anger. Anon, in a lull,
cold eddies of tempest moved shudderingly in the room, lifting the
hair upon our heads and passing between us as we sat. And again
the wind would break forth in a chorus of melancholy sounds,
hooting low in the chimney, wailing with flutelike softness round
the house.
It was perhaps eight o'clock when Rorie came in and pulled me
mysteriously to the door. My uncle, it appeared, had frightened
even his constant comrade; and Rorie, uneasy at his extravagance,
prayed me to come out and share the watch. I hastened to do as I
was asked; the more readily as, what with fear and horror, and the
electrical tension of the night, I was myself restless and disposed
for action. I told Mary to be under no alarm, for I should be a
safeguard on her father; and wrapping myself warmly in a plaid, I
followed Rorie into the open air.
The night, though we were so little past midsummer, was as dark as
January. Intervals of a groping twilight alternated with spells of
utter blackness; and it was impossible to trace the reason of these
changes in the flying horror of the sky. The wind blew the breath
out of a man's nostrils; all heaven seemed to thunder overhead like
one huge sail; and when there fell a momentary lull on Aros, we
could hear the gusts dismally sweeping in the distance. Over all
the lowlands of the Ross, the wind must have blown as fierce as on
the open sea; and God only knows the uproar that was raging around
the head of Ben Kyaw. Sheets of mingled spray and rain were driven
in our faces. All round the isle of Aros the surf, with an
incessant, hammering thunder, beat upon the reefs and beaches. Now
louder in one place, now lower in another, like the combinations of
orchestral music, the constant mass of sound was hardly varied for
a moment. And loud above all this hurly-burly I could hear the
changeful voices of the Roost and the intermittent roaring of the
Merry Men. At that hour, there flashed into my mind the reason of
the name that they were called. For the noise of them seemed
almost mirthful, as it out-topped the other noises of the night; or
if not mirthful, yet instinct with a portentous joviality. Nay,
and it seemed even human. As when savage men have drunk away their
reason, and, discarding speech, bawl together in their madness by
the hour; so, to my ears, these deadly breakers shouted by Aros in
the night.
Arm in arm, and staggering against the wind, Rorie and I won every
yard of ground with conscious effort. We slipped on the wet sod,
we fell together sprawling on the rocks. Bruised, drenched,
beaten, and breathless, it must have taken us near half an hour to
get from the house down to the Head that overlooks the Roost.
There, it seemed, was my uncle's favourite observatory. Right in
the face of it, where the cliff is highest and most sheer, a hump
of earth, like a parapet, makes a place of shelter from the common
winds, where a man may sit in quiet and see the tide and the mad
billows contending at his feet. As he might look down from the
window of a house upon some street disturbance, so, from this post,
he looks down upon the tumbling of the Merry Men. On such a night,
of course, he peers upon a world of blackness, where the waters
wheel and boil, where the waves joust together with the noise of an
explosion, and the foam towers and vanishes in the twinkling of an
eye. Never before had I seen the Merry Men thus violent. The
fury, height, and transiency of their spoutings was a thing to be
seen and not recounted. High over our heads on the cliff rose
their white columns in the darkness; and the same instant, like
phantoms, they were gone. Sometimes three at a time would thus
aspire and vanish; sometimes a gust took them, and the spray would
fall about us, heavy as a wave. And yet the spectacle was rather
maddening in its levity than impressive by its force. Thought was
beaten down by the confounding uproar - a gleeful vacancy possessed
the brains of men, a state akin to madness; and I found myself at
times following the dance of the Merry Men as it were a tune upon a
jigging instrument.
I first caught sight of my uncle when we were still some yards away
in one of the flying glimpses of twilight that chequered the pitch
darkness of the night. He was standing up behind the parapet, his
head thrown back and the bottle to his mouth. As he put it down,
he saw and recognised us with a toss of one hand fleeringly above
his head.
'Has he been drinking?' shouted I to Rorie.
'He will aye be drunk when the wind blaws,' returned Rorie in the
same high key, and it was all that I could do to hear him.
'Then - was he so - in February?' I inquired.
Rorie's 'Ay' was a cause of joy to me. The murder, then, had not
sprung in cold blood from calculation; it was an act of madness no
more to be condemned than to be pardoned. My uncle was a dangerous
madman, if you will, but he was not cruel and base as I had feared.
Yet what a scene for a carouse, what an incredible vice, was this
that the poor man had chosen! I have always thought drunkenness a
wild and almost fearful pleasure, rather demoniacal than human; but
drunkenness, out here in the roaring blackness, on the edge of a
cliff above that hell of waters, the man's head spinning like the
Roost, his foot tottering on the edge of death, his ear watching
for the signs of ship-wreck, surely that, if it were credible in
any one, was morally impossible in a man like my uncle, whose mind
was set upon a damnatory creed and haunted by the darkest
superstitions. Yet so it was; and, as we reached the bight of
shelter and could breathe again, I saw the man's eyes shining in
the night with an unholy glimmer.
'Eh, Charlie, man, it's grand!' he cried. 'See to them!' he
continued, dragging me to the edge of the abyss from whence arose
that deafening clamour and those clouds of spray; 'see to them
dancin', man! Is that no wicked?'
He pronounced the word with gusto, and I thought it suited with the
'They're yowlin' for thon schooner,' he went on, his thin, insane
voice clearly audible in the shelter of the bank, 'an' she's comin'
aye nearer, aye nearer, aye nearer an' nearer an' nearer; an' they
ken't, the folk kens it, they ken wool it's by wi' them. Charlie,
lad, they're a' drunk in yon schooner, a' dozened wi' drink. They
were a' drunk in the CHRIST-ANNA, at the hinder end. There's nane
could droon at sea wantin' the brandy. Hoot awa, what do you ken?'
with a sudden blast of anger. 'I tell ye, it cannae be; they droon
withoot it. Ha'e,' holding out the bottle, 'tak' a sowp.'
I was about to refuse, but Rorie touched me as if in warning; and
indeed I had already thought better of the movement. I took the
bottle, therefore, and not only drank freely myself, but contrived
to spill even more as I was doing so. It was pure spirit, and
almost strangled me to swallow. My kinsman did not observe the
loss, but, once more throwing back his head, drained the remainder
to the dregs. Then, with a loud laugh, he cast the bottle forth
among the Merry Men, who seemed to leap up, shouting to receive it.
'Ha'e, bairns!' he cried, 'there's your han'sel. Ye'll get bonnier
nor that, or morning.'
Suddenly, out in the black night before us, and not two hundred
yards away, we heard, at a moment when the wind was silent, the
clear note of a human voice. Instantly the wind swept howling down
upon the Head, and the Roost bellowed, and churned, and danced with
a new fury. But we had heard the sound, and we knew, with agony,
that this was the doomed ship now close on ruin, and that what we
had heard was the voice of her master issuing his last command.
Crouching together on the edge, we waited, straining every sense,
for the inevitable end. It was long, however, and to us it seemed
like ages, ere the schooner suddenly appeared for one brief
instant, relieved against a tower of glimmering foam. I still see
her reefed mainsail flapping loose, as the boom fell heavily across
the deck; I still see the black outline of the hull, and still
think I can distinguish the figure of a man stretched upon the
tiller. Yet the whole sight we had of her passed swifter than
lightning; the very wave that disclosed her fell burying her for
ever; the mingled cry of many voices at the point of death rose and
was quenched in the roaring of the Merry Men. And with that the
tragedy was at an end. The strong ship, with all her gear, and the
lamp perhaps still burning in the cabin, the lives of so many men,
precious surely to others, dear, at least, as heaven to themselves,
had all, in that one moment, gone down into the surging waters.
They were gone like a dream. And the wind still ran and shouted,
and the senseless waters in the Roost still leaped and tumbled as
How long we lay there together, we three, speechless and
motionless, is more than I can tell, but it must have been for
long. At length, one by one, and almost mechanically, we crawled
back into the shelter of the bank. As I lay against the parapet,
wholly wretched and not entirely master of my mind, I could hear my
kinsman maundering to himself in an altered and melancholy mood.
Now he would repeat to himself with maudlin iteration, 'Sic a fecht
as they had - sic a sair fecht as they had, puir lads, puir lads!'
and anon he would bewail that 'a' the gear was as gude's tint,'
because the ship had gone down among the Merry Men instead of
stranding on the shore; and throughout, the name - the CHRIST-ANNA
- would come and go in his divagations, pronounced with shuddering
awe. The storm all this time was rapidly abating. In half an hour
the wind had fallen to a breeze, and the change was accompanied or
caused by a heavy, cold, and plumping rain. I must then have
fallen asleep, and when I came to myself, drenched, stiff, and
unrefreshed, day had already broken, grey, wet, discomfortable day;
the wind blew in faint and shifting capfuls, the tide was out, the
Roost was at its lowest, and only the strong beating surf round all
the coasts of Aros remained to witness of the furies of the night.
Rorie set out for the house in search of warmth and breakfast; but
my uncle was bent upon examining the shores of Aros, and I felt it
a part of duty to accompany him throughout. He was now docile and
quiet, but tremulous and weak in mind and body; and it was with the
eagerness of a child that he pursued his exploration. He climbed
far down upon the rocks; on the beaches, he pursued the retreating
breakers. The merest broken plank or rag of cordage was a treasure
in his eyes to be secured at the peril of his life. To see him,
with weak and stumbling footsteps, expose himself to the pursuit of
the surf, or the snares and pitfalls of the weedy rock, kept me in
a perpetual terror. My arm was ready to support him, my hand
clutched him by the skirt, I helped him to draw his pitiful
discoveries beyond the reach of the returning wave; a nurse
accompanying a child of seven would have had no different
Yet, weakened as he was by the reaction from his madness of the
night before, the passions that smouldered in his nature were those
of a strong man. His terror of the sea, although conquered for the
moment, was still undiminished; had the sea been a lake of living
flames, he could not have shrunk more panically from its touch; and
once, when his foot slipped and he plunged to the midleg into a
pool of water, the shriek that came up out of his soul was like the
cry of death. He sat still for a while, panting like a dog, after
that; but his desire for the spoils of shipwreck triumphed once
more over his fears; once more he tottered among the curded foam;
once more he crawled upon the rocks among the bursting bubbles;
once more his whole heart seemed to be set on driftwood, fit, if it
was fit for anything, to throw upon the fire. Pleased as he was
with what he found, he still incessantly grumbled at his illfortune.
'Aros,' he said, 'is no a place for wrecks ava' - no ava'. A' the
years I've dwalt here, this ane maks the second; and the best o'
the gear clean tint!'
'Uncle,' said I, for we were now on a stretch of open sand, where
there was nothing to divert his mind, 'I saw you last night, as I
never thought to see you - you were drunk.'
'Na, na,' he said, 'no as bad as that. I had been drinking,
though. And to tell ye the God's truth, it's a thing I cannae
mend. There's nae soberer man than me in my ordnar; but when I
hear the wind blaw in my lug, it's my belief that I gang gyte.'
'You are a religious man,' I replied, 'and this is sin'.
'Ou,' he returned, 'if it wasnae sin, I dinnae ken that I would
care for't. Ye see, man, it's defiance. There's a sair spang o'
the auld sin o' the warld in you sea; it's an unchristian business
at the best o't; an' whiles when it gets up, an' the wind skreights
- the wind an' her are a kind of sib, I'm thinkin' - an' thae Merry
Men, the daft callants, blawin' and lauchin', and puir souls in the
deid thraws warstlin' the leelang nicht wi' their bit ships - weel,
it comes ower me like a glamour. I'm a deil, I ken't. But I think
naething o' the puir sailor lads; I'm wi' the sea, I'm just like
ane o' her ain Merry Men.'
I thought I should touch him in a joint of his harness. I turned
me towards the sea; the surf was running gaily, wave after wave,
with their manes blowing behind them, riding one after another up
the beach, towering, curving, falling one upon another on the
trampled sand. Without, the salt air, the scared gulls, the
widespread army of the sea-chargers, neighing to each other, as
they gathered together to the assault of Aros; and close before us,
that line on the flat sands that, with all their number and their
fury, they might never pass.
'Thus far shalt thou go,' said I, 'and no farther.' And then I
quoted as solemnly as I was able a verse that I had often before
fitted to the chorus of the breakers:-
But yet the Lord that is on high,
Is more of might by far,
Than noise of many waters is,
As great sea billows are.
'Ay,' said my kinsinan, 'at the hinder end, the Lord will triumph;
I dinnae misdoobt that. But here on earth, even silly men-folk
daur Him to His face. It is nae wise; I am nae sayin' that it's
wise; but it's the pride of the eye, and it's the lust o' life, an'
it's the wale o' pleesures.'
I said no more, for we had now begun to cross a neck of land that
lay between us and Sandag; and I withheld my last appeal to the
man's better reason till we should stand upon the spot associated
with his crime. Nor did he pursue the subject; but he walked
beside me with a firmer step. The call that I had made upon his
mind acted like a stimulant, and I could see that he had forgotten
his search for worthless jetsam, in a profound, gloomy, and yet
stirring train of thought. In three or four minutes we had topped
the brae and begun to go down upon Sandag. The wreck had been
roughly handled by the sea; the stem had been spun round and
dragged a little lower down; and perhaps the stern had been forced
a little higher, for the two parts now lay entirely separate on the
beach. When we came to the grave I stopped, uncovered my head in
the thick rain, and, looking my kinsman in the face, addressed him.
'A man,' said I, 'was in God's providence suffered to escape from
mortal dangers; he was poor, he was naked, he was wet, he was
weary, he was a stranger; he had every claim upon the bowels of
your compassion; it may be that he was the salt of the earth, holy,
helpful, and kind; it may be he was a man laden with iniquities to
whom death was the beginning of torment. I ask you in the sight of
heaven: Gordon Darnaway, where is the man for whom Christ died?'
He started visibly at the last words; but there came no answer, and
his face expressed no feeling but a vague alarm.
'You were my father's brother,' I continued; 'You, have taught me
to count your house as if it were my father's house; and we are
both sinful men walking before the Lord among the sins and dangers
of this life. It is by our evil that God leads us into good; we
sin, I dare not say by His temptation, but I must say with His
consent; and to any but the brutish man his sins are the beginning
of wisdom. God has warned you by this crime; He warns you still by
the bloody grave between our feet; and if there shall follow no
repentance, no improvement, no return to Him, what can we look for
but the following of some memorable judgment?'
Even as I spoke the words, the eyes of my uncle wandered from my
face. A change fell upon his looks that cannot be described; his
features seemed to dwindle in size, the colour faded from his
cheeks, one hand rose waveringly and pointed over my shoulder into
the distance, and the oft-repeated name fell once more from his
lips: 'The CHRIST-ANNA!'
I turned; and if I was not appalled to the same degree, as I return
thanks to Heaven that I had not the cause, I was still startled by
the sight that met my eyes. The form of a man stood upright on the
cabin-hutch of the wrecked ship; his back was towards us; he
appeared to be scanning the offing with shaded eyes, and his figure
was relieved to its full height, which was plainly very great,
against the sea and sky. I have said a thousand times that I am
not superstitious; but at that moment, with my mind running upon
death and sin, the unexplained appearance of a stranger on that
sea-girt, solitary island filled me with a surprise that bordered
close on terror. It seemed scarce possible that any human soul
should have come ashore alive in such a sea as had rated last night
along the coasts of Aros; and the only vessel within miles had gone
down before our eyes among the Merry Men. I was assailed with
doubts that made suspense unbearable, and, to put the matter to the
touch at once, stepped forward and hailed the figure like a ship.
He turned about, and I thought he started to behold us. At this my
courage instantly revived, and I called and signed to him to draw
near, and he, on his part, dropped immediately to the sands, and
began slowly to approach, with many stops and hesitations. At each
repeated mark of the man's uneasiness I grew the more confident
myself; and I advanced another step, encouraging him as I did so
with my head and hand. It was plain the castaway had heard
indifferent accounts of our island hospitality; and indeed, about
this time, the people farther north had a sorry reputation.
'Why,' I said, 'the man is black!'
And just at that moment, in a voice that I could scarce have
recognised, my kinsman began swearing and praying in a mingled
stream. I looked at him; he had fallen on his knees, his face was
agonised; at each step of the castaway's the pitch of his voice
rose, the volubility of his utterance and the fervour of his
language redoubled. I call it prayer, for it was addressed to God;
but surely no such ranting incongruities were ever before addressed
to the Creator by a creature: surely if prayer can be a sin, this
mad harangue was sinful. I ran to my kinsman, I seized him by the
shoulders, I dragged him to his feet.
'Silence, man,' said I, 'respect your God in words, if not in
action. Here, on the very scene of your transgressions, He sends
you an occasion of atonement. Forward and embrace it; welcome like
a father yon creature who comes trembling to your mercy.'
With that, I tried to force him towards the black; but he felled me
to the ground, burst from my grasp, leaving the shoulder of his
jacket, and fled up the hillside towards the top of Aros like a
deer. I staggered to my feet again, bruised and somewhat stunned;
the negro had paused in surprise, perhaps in terror, some halfway
between me and the wreck; my uncle was already far away, bounding
from rock to rock; and I thus found myself torn for a time between
two duties. But I judged, and I pray Heaven that I judged rightly,
in favour of the poor wretch upon the sands; his misfortune was at
least not plainly of his own creation; it was one, besides, that I
could certainly relieve; and I had begun by that time to regard my
uncle as an incurable and dismal lunatic. I advanced accordingly
towards the black, who now awaited my approach with folded arms,
like one prepared for either destiny. As I came nearer, he reached
forth his hand with a great gesture, such as I had seen from the
pulpit, and spoke to me in something of a pulpit voice, but not a
word was comprehensible. I tried him first in English, then in
Gaelic, both in vain; so that it was clear we must rely upon the
tongue of looks and gestures. Thereupon I signed to him to follow
me, which he did readily and with a grave obeisance like a fallen
king; all the while there had come no shade of alteration in his
face, neither of anxiety while he was still waiting, nor of relief
now that he was reassured; if he were a slave, as I supposed, I
could not but judge he must have fallen from some high place in his
own country, and fallen as he was, I could not but admire his
bearing. As we passed the grave, I paused and raised my hands and
eyes to heaven in token of respect and sorrow for the dead; and he,
as if in answer, bowed low and spread his hands abroad; it was a
strange motion, but done like a thing of common custom; and I
supposed it was ceremonial in the land from which he came. At the
same time he pointed to my uncle, whom we could just see perched
upon a knoll, and touched his head to indicate that he was mad.
We took the long way round the shore, for I feared to excite my
uncle if we struck across the island; and as we walked, I had time
enough to mature the little dramatic exhibition by which I hoped to
satisfy my doubts. Accordingly, pausing on a rock, I proceeded to
imitate before the negro the action of the man whom I had seen the
day before taking bearings with the compass at Sandag. He
understood me at once, and, taking the imitation out of my hands,
showed me where the boat was, pointed out seaward as if to indicate
the position of the schooner, and then down along the edge of the
rock with the words 'Espirito Santo,' strangely pronounced, but
clear enough for recognition. I had thus been right in my
conjecture; the pretended historical inquiry had been but a cloak
for treasure-hunting; the man who had played on Dr. Robertson was
the same as the foreigner who visited Grisapol in spring, and now,
with many others, lay dead under the Roost of Aros: there had their
greed brought them, there should their bones be tossed for
evermore. In the meantime the black continued his imitation of the
scene, now looking up skyward as though watching the approach of
the storm now, in the character of a seaman, waving the rest to
come aboard; now as an officer, running along the rock and entering
the boat; and anon bending over imaginary oars with the air of a
hurried boatman; but all with the same solemnity of manner, so that
I was never even moved to smile. Lastly, he indicated to me, by a
pantomime not to be described in words, how he himself had gone up
to examine the stranded wreck, and, to his grief and indignation,
had been deserted by his comrades; and thereupon folded his arms
once more, and stooped his head, like one accepting fate.
The mystery of his presence being thus solved for me, I explained
to him by means of a sketch the fate of the vessel and of all
aboard her. He showed no surprise nor sorrow, and, with a sudden
lifting of his open hand, seemed to dismiss his former friends or
masters (whichever they had been) into God's pleasure. Respect
came upon me and grew stronger, the more I observed him; I saw he
had a powerful mind and a sober and severe character, such as I
loved to commune with; and before we reached the house of Aros I
had almost forgotten, and wholly forgiven him, his uncanny colour.
To Mary I told all that had passed without suppression, though I
own my heart failed me; but I did wrong to doubt her sense of
'You did the right,' she said. 'God's will be done.' And she set
out meat for us at once.
As soon as I was satisfied, I bade Rorie keep an eye upon the
castaway, who was still eating, and set forth again myself to find
my uncle. I had not gone far before I saw him sitting in the same
place, upon the very topmost knoll, and seemingly in the same
attitude as when I had last observed him. From that point, as I
have said, the most of Aros and the neighbouring Ross would be
spread below him like a map; and it was plain that he kept a bright
look-out in all directions, for my head had scarcely risen above
the summit of the first ascent before he had leaped to his feet and
turned as if to face me. I hailed him at once, as well as I was
able, in the same tones and words as I had often used before, when
I had come to summon him to dinner. He made not so much as a
movement in reply. I passed on a little farther, and again tried
parley, with the same result. But when I began a second time to
advance, his insane fears blazed up again, and still in dead
silence, but with incredible speed, he began to flee from before me
along the rocky summit of the hill. An hour before, he had been
dead weary, and I had been comparatively active. But now his
strength was recruited by the fervour of insanity, and it would
have been vain for me to dream of pursuit. Nay, the very attempt,
I thought, might have inflamed his terrors, and thus increased the
miseries of our position. And I had nothing left but to turn
homeward and make my sad report to Mary.
She heard it, as she had heard the first, with a concerned
composure, and, bidding me lie down and take that rest of which I
stood so much in need, set forth herself in quest of her misguided
father. At that age it would have been a strange thing that put me
from either meat or sleep; I slept long and deep; and it was
already long past noon before I awoke and came downstairs into the
kitchen. Mary, Rorie, and the black castaway were seated about the
fire in silence; and I could see that Mary had been weeping. There
was cause enough, as I soon learned, for tears. First she, and
then Rorie, had been forth to seek my uncle; each in turn had found
him perched upon the hill-top, and from each in turn he had
silently and swiftly fled. Rorie had tried to chase him, but in
vain; madness lent a new vigour to his bounds; he sprang from rock
to rock over the widest gullies; he scoured like the wind along the
hill-tops; he doubled and twisted like a hare before the dogs; and
Rorie at length gave in; and the last that he saw, my uncle was
seated as before upon the crest of Aros. Even during the hottest
excitement of the chase, even when the fleet-footed servant had
come, for a moment, very near to capture him, the poor lunatic had
uttered not a sound. He fled, and he was silent, like a beast; and
this silence had terrified his pursuer.
There was something heart-breaking in the situation. How to
capture the madman, how to feed him in the meanwhile, and what to
do with him when he was captured, were the three difficulties that
we had to solve.
'The black,' said I, 'is the cause of this attack. It may even be
his presence in the house that keeps my uncle on the hill. We have
done the fair thing; he has been fed and warmed under this roof;
now I propose that Rorie put him across the bay in the coble, and
take him through the Ross as far as Grisapol.'
In this proposal Mary heartily concurred; and bidding the black
follow us, we all three descended to the pier. Certainly, Heaven's
will was declared against Gordon Darnaway; a thing had happened,
never paralleled before in Aros; during the storm, the coble had
broken loose, and, striking on the rough splinters of the pier, now
lay in four feet of water with one side stove in. Three days of
work at least would be required to make her float. But I was not
to be beaten. I led the whole party round to where the gut was
narrowest, swam to the other side, and called to the black to
follow me. He signed, with the same clearness and quiet as before,
that he knew not the art; and there was truth apparent in his
signals, it would have occurred to none of us to doubt his truth;
and that hope being over, we must all go back even as we came to
the house of Aros, the negro walking in our midst without
All we could do that day was to make one more attempt to
communicate with the unhappy madman. Again he was visible on his
perch; again he fled in silence. But food and a great cloak were
at least left for his comfort; the rain, besides, had cleared away,
and the night promised to be even warm. We might compose
ourselves, we thought, until the morrow; rest was the chief
requisite, that we might be strengthened for unusual exertions; and
as none cared to talk, we separated at an early hour.
I lay long awake, planning a campaign for the morrow. I was to
place the black on the side of Sandag, whence he should head my
uncle towards the house; Rorie in the west, I on the east, were to
complete the cordon, as best we might. It seemed to me, the more I
recalled the configuration of the island, that it should be
possible, though hard, to force him down upon the low ground along
Aros Bay; and once there, even with the strength of his madness,
ultimate escape was hardly to be feared. It was on his terror of
the black that I relied; for I made sure, however he might run, it
would not be in the direction of the man whom he supposed to have
returned from the dead, and thus one point of the compass at least
would be secure.
When at length I fell asleep, it was to be awakened shortly after
by a dream of wrecks, black men, and submarine adventure; and I
found myself so shaken and fevered that I arose, descended the
stair, and stepped out before the house. Within, Rorie and the
black were asleep together in the kitchen; outside was a wonderful
clear night of stars, with here and there a cloud still hanging,
last stragglers of the tempest. It was near the top of the flood,
and the Merry Men were roaring in the windless quiet of the night.
Never, not even in the height of the tempest, had I heard their
song with greater awe. Now, when the winds were gathered home,
when the deep was dandling itself back into its summer slumber, and
when the stars rained their gentle light over land and sea, the
voice of these tide-breakers was still raised for havoc. They
seemed, indeed, to be a part of the world's evil and the tragic
side of life. Nor were their meaningless vociferations the only
sounds that broke the silence of the night. For I could hear, now
shrill and thrilling and now almost drowned, the note of a human
voice that accompanied the uproar of the Roost. I knew it for my
kinsman's; and a great fear fell upon me of God's judgments, and
the evil in the world. I went back again into the darkness of the
house as into a place of shelter, and lay long upon my bed,
pondering these mysteries.
It was late when I again woke, and I leaped into my clothes and
hurried to the kitchen. No one was there; Rorie and the black had
both stealthily departed long before; and my heart stood still at
the discovery. I could rely on Rorie's heart, but I placed no
trust in his discretion. If he had thus set out without a word, he
was plainly bent upon some service to my uncle. But what service
could he hope to render even alone, far less in the company of the
man in whom my uncle found his fears incarnated? Even if I were
not already too late to prevent some deadly mischief, it was plain
I must delay no longer. With the thought I was out of the house;
and often as I have run on the rough sides of Aros, I never ran as
I did that fatal morning. I do not believe I put twelve minutes to
the whole ascent.
My uncle was gone from his perch. The basket had indeed been torn
open and the meat scattered on the turf; but, as we found
afterwards, no mouthful had been tasted; and there was not another
trace of human existence in that wide field of view. Day had
already filled the clear heavens; the sun already lighted in a rosy
bloom upon the crest of Ben Kyaw; but all below me the rude knolls
of Aros and the shield of sea lay steeped in the clear darkling
twilight of the dawn.
'Rorie!' I cried; and again 'Rorie!' My voice died in the silence,
but there came no answer back. If there were indeed an enterprise
afoot to catch my uncle, it was plainly not in fleetness of foot,
but in dexterity of stalking, that the hunters placed their trust.
I ran on farther, keeping the higher spurs, and looking right and
left, nor did I pause again till I was on the mount above Sandag.
I could see the wreck, the uncovered belt of sand, the waves idly
beating, the long ledge of rocks, and on either hand the tumbled
knolls, boulders, and gullies of the island. But still no human
At a stride the sunshine fell on Aros, and the shadows and colours
leaped into being. Not half a moment later, below me to the west,
sheep began to scatter as in a panic. There came a cry. I saw my
uncle running. I saw the black jump up in hot pursuit; and before
I had time to understand, Rorie also had appeared, calling
directions in Gaelic as to a dog herding sheep.
I took to my heels to interfere, and perhaps I had done better to
have waited where I was, for I was the means of cutting off the
madman's last escape. There was nothing before him from that
moment but the grave, the wreck, and the sea in Sandag Bay. And
yet Heaven knows that what I did was for the best.
My uncle Gordon saw in what direction, horrible to him, the chase
was driving him. He doubled, darting to the right and left; but
high as the fever ran in his veins, the black was still the
swifter. Turn where he would, he was still forestalled, still
driven toward the scene of his crime. Suddenly he began to shriek
aloud, so that the coast re-echoed; and now both I and Rorie were
calling on the black to stop. But all was vain, for it was written
otherwise. The pursuer still ran, the chase still sped before him
screaming; they avoided the grave, and skimmed close past the
timbers of the wreck; in a breath they had cleared the sand; and
still my kinsman did not pause, but dashed straight into the surf;
and the black, now almost within reach, still followed swiftly
behind him. Rorie and I both stopped, for the thing was now beyond
the hands of men, and these were the decrees of God that came to
pass before our eyes. There was never a sharper ending. On that
steep beach they were beyond their depth at a bound; neither could
swim; the black rose once for a moment with a throttling cry; but
the current had them, racing seaward; and if ever they came up
again, which God alone can tell, it would be ten minutes after, at
the far end of Aros Roost, where the seabirds hover fishing.
THE Mill here Will lived with his adopted parents stood in a
falling valley between pinewoods and great mountains. Above, hill
after hill, soared upwards until they soared out of the depth of
the hardiest timber, and stood naked against the sky. Some way up,
a long grey village lay like a seam or a ray of vapour on a wooded
hillside; and when the wind was favourable, the sound of the church
bells would drop down, thin and silvery, to Will. Below, the
valley grew ever steeper and steeper, and at the same time widened
out on either hand; and from an eminence beside the mill it was
possible to see its whole length and away beyond it over a wide
plain, where the river turned and shone, and moved on from city to
city on its voyage towards the sea. It chanced that over this
valley there lay a pass into a neighbouring kingdom; so that, quiet
and rural as it was, the road that ran along beside the river was a
high thoroughfare between two splendid and powerful societies. All
through the summer, travelling-carriages came crawling up, or went
plunging briskly downwards past the mill; and as it happened that
the other side was very much easier of ascent, the path was not
much frequented, except by people going in one direction; and of
all the carriages that Will saw go by, five-sixths were plunging
briskly downwards and only one-sixth crawling up. Much more was
this the case with foot-passengers. All the light-footed tourists,
all the pedlars laden with strange wares, were tending downward
like the river that accompanied their path. Nor was this all; for
when Will was yet a child a disastrous war arose over a great part
of the world. The newspapers were full of defeats and victories,
the earth rang with cavalry hoofs, and often for days together and
for miles around the coil of battle terrified good people from
their labours in the field. Of all this, nothing was heard for a
long time in the valley; but at last one of the commanders pushed
an army over the pass by forced marches, and for three days horse
and foot, cannon and tumbril, drum and standard, kept pouring
downward past the mill. All day the child stood and watched them
on their passage - the rhythmical stride, the pale, unshaven faces
tanned about the eyes, the discoloured regimentals and the tattered
flags, filled him with a sense of weariness, pity, and wonder; and
all night long, after he was in bed, he could hear the cannon
pounding and the feet trampling, and the great armament sweeping
onward and downward past the mill. No one in the valley ever heard
the fate of the expedition, for they lay out of the way of gossip
in those troublous times; but Will saw one thing plainly, that not
a man returned. Whither had they all gone? Whither went all the
tourists and pedlars with strange wares? whither all the brisk
barouches with servants in the dicky? whither the water of the
stream, ever coursing downward and ever renewed from above? Even
the wind blew oftener down the valley, and carried the dead leaves
along with it in the fall. It seemed like a great conspiracy of
things animate and inanimate; they all went downward, fleetly and
gaily downward, and only he, it seemed, remained behind, like a
stock upon the wayside. It sometimes made him glad when he noticed
how the fishes kept their heads up stream. They, at least, stood
faithfully by him, while all else were posting downward to the
unknown world.
One evening he asked the miller where the river went.
'It goes down the valley,' answered he, 'and turns a power of mills
- six score mills, they say, from here to Unterdeck - and is none
the wearier after all. And then it goes out into the lowlands, and
waters the great corn country, and runs through a sight of fine
cities (so they say) where kings live all alone in great palaces,
with a sentry walling up and down before the door. And it goes
under bridges with stone men upon them, looking down and smiling so
curious it the water, and living folks leaning their elbows on the
wall and looking over too. And then it goes on and on, and down
through marshes and sands, until at last it falls into the sea,
where the ships are that bring parrots and tobacco from the Indies.
Ay, it has a long trot before it as it goes singing over our weir,
bless its heart!'
'And what is the sea?' asked Will.
'The sea!' cried the miller. 'Lord help us all, it is the greatest
thing God made! That is where all the water in the world runs down
into a great salt lake. There it lies, as flat as my hand and as
innocent-like as a child; but they do say when the wind blows it
gets up into water-mountains bigger than any of ours, and swallows
down great ships bigger than our mill, and makes such a roaring
that you can hear it miles away upon the land. There are great
fish in it five times bigger than a bull, and one old serpent as
lone as our river and as old as all the world, with whiskers like a
man, and a crown of silver on her head.'
Will thought he had never heard anything like this, and he kept on
asking question after question about the world that lay away down
the river, with all its perils and marvels, until the old miller
became quite interested himself, and at last took him by the hand
and led him to the hilltop that overlooks the valley and the plain.
The sun was near setting, and hung low down in a cloudless sky.
Everything was defined and glorified in golden light. Will had
never seen so great an expanse of country in his life; he stood and
gazed with all his eyes. He could see the cities, and the woods
and fields, and the bright curves of the river, and far away to
where the rim of the plain trenched along the shining heavens. An
over-mastering emotion seized upon the boy, soul and body; his
heart beat so thickly that he could not breathe; the scene swam
before his eyes; the sun seemed to wheel round and round, and throw
off, as it turned, strange shapes which disappeared with the
rapidity of thought, and were succeeded by others. Will covered
his face with his hands, and burst into a violent fit of tears; and
the poor miller, sadly disappointed and perplexed, saw nothing
better for it than to take him up in his arms and carry him home in
From that day forward Will was full of new hopes and longings.
Something kept tugging at his heart-strings; the running water
carried his desires along with it as he dreamed over its fleeting
surface; the wind, as it ran over innumerable tree-tops, hailed him
with encouraging words; branches beckoned downward; the open road,
as it shouldered round the angles and went turning and vanishing
fast and faster down the valley, tortured him with its
solicitations. He spent long whiles on the eminence, looking down
the rivershed and abroad on the fat lowlands, and watched the
clouds that travelled forth upon the sluggish wind and trailed
their purple shadows on the plain; or he would linger by the
wayside, and follow the carriages with his eyes as they rattled
downward by the river. It did not matter what it was; everything
that went that way, were it cloud or carriage, bird or brown water
in the stream, he felt his heart flow out after it in an ecstasy of
We are told by men of science that all the ventures of mariners on
the sea, all that counter-marching of tribes and races that
confounds old history with its dust and rumour, sprang from nothing
more abstruse than the laws of supply and demand, and a certain
natural instinct for cheap rations. To any one thinking deeply,
this will seem a dull and pitiful explanation. The tribes that
came swarming out of the North and East, if they were indeed
pressed onward from behind by others, were drawn at the same time
by the magnetic influence of the South and West. The fame of other
lands had reached them; the name of the eternal city rang in their
ears; they were not colonists, but pilgrims; they travelled towards
wine and gold and sunshine, but their hearts were set on something
higher. That divine unrest, that old stinging trouble of humanity
that makes all high achievements and all miserable failure, the
same that spread wings with Icarus, the same that sent Columbus
into the desolate Atlantic, inspired and supported these barbarians
on their perilous march. There is one legend which profoundly
represents their spirit, of how a flying party of these wanderers
encountered a very old man shod with iron. The old man asked them
whither they were going; and they answered with one voice: 'To the
Eternal City!' He looked upon them gravely. 'I have sought it,'
he said, 'over the most part of the world. Three such pairs as I
now carry on my feet have I worn out upon this pilgrimage, and now
the fourth is growing slender underneath my steps. And all this
while I have not found the city.' And he turned and went his own
way alone, leaving them astonished.
And yet this would scarcely parallel the intensity of Will's
feeling for the plain. If he could only go far enough out there,
he felt as if his eyesight would be purged and clarified, as if his
hearing would grow more delicate, and his very breath would come
and go with luxury. He was transplanted and withering where he
was; he lay in a strange country and was sick for home. Bit by
bit, he pieced together broken notions of the world below: of the
river, ever moving and growing until it sailed forth into the
majestic ocean; of the cities, full of brisk and beautiful people,
playing fountains, bands of music and marble palaces, and lighted
up at night from end to end with artificial stars of gold; of the
great churches, wise universities, brave armies, and untold money
lying stored in vaults; of the high-flying vice that moved in the
sunshine, and the stealth and swiftness of midnight murder. I have
said he was sick as if for home: the figure halts. He was like
some one lying in twilit, formless preexistence, and stretching out
his hands lovingly towards many-coloured, many-sounding life. It
was no wonder he was unhappy, he would go and tell the fish: they
were made for their life, wished for no more than worms and running
water, and a hole below a falling bank; but he was differently
designed, full of desires and aspirations, itching at the fingers,
lusting with the eyes, whom the whole variegated world could not
satisfy with aspects. The true life, the true bright sunshine, lay
far out upon the plain. And O! to see this sunlight once before he
died! to move with a jocund spirit in a golden land! to hear the
trained singers and sweet church bells, and see the holiday
gardens! 'And O fish!' he would cry, 'if you would only turn your
noses down stream, you could swim so easily into the fabled waters
and see the vast ships passing over your head like clouds, and hear
the great water-hills making music over you all day long!' But the
fish kept looking patiently in their own direction, until Will
hardly knew whether to laugh or cry.
Hitherto the traffic on the road had passed by Will, like something
seen in a picture: he had perhaps exchanged salutations with a
tourist, or caught sight of an old gentleman in a travelling cap at
a carriage window; but for the most part it had been a mere symbol,
which he contemplated from apart and with something of a
superstitious feeling. A time came at last when this was to be
changed. The miller, who was a greedy man in his way, and never
forewent an opportunity of honest profit, turned the mill-house
into a little wayside inn, and, several pieces of good fortune
falling in opportunely, built stables and got the position of post
master on the road. It now became Will's duty to wait upon people,
as they sat to break their fasts in the little arbour at the top of
the mill garden; and you may be sure that he kept his ears open,
and learned many new things about the outside world as he brought
the omelette or the wine. Nay, he would often get into
conversation with single guests, and by adroit questions and polite
attention, not only gratify his own curiosity, but win the goodwill
of the travellers. Many complimented the old couple on their
serving-boy; and a professor was eager to take him away with him,
and have him properly educated in the plain. The miller and his
wife were mightily astonished and even more pleased. They thought
it a very good thing that they should have opened their inn. 'You
see,' the old man would remark, 'he has a kind of talent for a
publican; he never would have made anything else!' And so life
wagged on in the valley, with high satisfaction to all concerned
but Will. Every carriage that left the inn-door seemed to take a
part of him away with it; and when people jestingly offered him a
lift, he could with difficulty command his emotion. Night after
night he would dream that he was awakened by flustered servants,
and that a splendid equipage waited at the door to carry him down
into the plain; night after night; until the dream, which had
seemed all jollity to him at first, began to take on a colour of
gravity, and the nocturnal summons and waiting equipage occupied a
place in his mind as something to be both feared and hoped for.
One day, when Will was about sixteen, a fat young man arrived at
sunset to pass the night. He was a contented-looking fellow, with
a jolly eye, and carried a knapsack. While dinner was preparing,
he sat in the arbour to read a book; but as soon as he had begun to
observe Will, the book was laid aside; he was plainly one of those
who prefer living people to people made of ink and paper. Will, on
his part, although he had not been much interested in the stranger
at first sight, soon began to take a great deal of pleasure in his
talk, which was full of good nature and good sense, and at last
conceived a great respect for his character and wisdom. They sat
far into the night; and about two in the morning Will opened his
heart to the young man, and told him how he longed to leave the
valley and what bright hopes he had connected with the cities of
the plain. The young man whistled, and then broke into a smile.
'My young friend,' he remarked, 'you are a very curious little
fellow to be sure, and wish a great many things which you will
never get. Why, you would feel quite ashamed if you knew how the
little fellows in these fairy cities of yours are all after the
same sort of nonsense, and keep breaking their hearts to get up
into the mountains. And let me tell you, those who go down into
the plains are a very short while there before they wish themselves
heartily back again. The air is not so light nor so pure; nor is
the sun any brighter. As for the beautiful men and women, you
would see many of them in rags and many of them deformed with
horrible disorders; and a city is so hard a place for people who
are poor and sensitive that many choose to die by their own hand.'
'You must think me very simple,' answered Will. 'Although I have
never been out of this valley, believe me, I have used my eyes. I
know how one thing lives on another; for instance, how the fish
hangs in the eddy to catch his fellows; and the shepherd, who makes
so pretty a picture carrying home the lamb, is only carrying it
home for dinner. I do not expect to find all things right in your
cities. That is not what troubles me; it might have been that once
upon a time; but although I live here always, I have asked many
questions and learned a great deal in these last years, and
certainly enough to cure me of my old fancies. But you would not
have me die like a dog and not see all that is to be seen, and do
all that a man can do, let it be good or evil? you would not have
me spend all my days between this road here and the river, and not
so much as make a motion to be up and live my life? - I would
rather die out of hand,' he cried, 'than linger on as I am doing.'
'Thousands of people,' said the young man, 'live and die like you,
and are none the less happy.'
'Ah!' said Will, 'if there are thousands who would like, why should
not one of them have my place?'
It was quite dark; there was a hanging lamp in the arbour which lit
up the table and the faces of the speakers; and along the arch, the
leaves upon the trellis stood out illuminated against the night
sky, a pattern of transparent green upon a dusky purple. The fat
young man rose, and, taking Will by the arm, led him out under the
open heavens.
'Did you ever look at the stars?' he asked, pointing upwards.
'Often and often,' answered Will.
'And do you know what they are?'
'I have fancied many things.'
'They are worlds like ours,' said the young man. 'Some of them
less; many of them a million times greater; and some of the least
sparkles that you see are not only worlds, but whole clusters of
worlds turning about each other in the midst of space. We do not
know what there may be in any of them; perhaps the answer to all
our difficulties or the cure of all our sufferings: and yet we can
never reach them; not all the skill of the craftiest of men can fit
out a ship for the nearest of these our neighbours, nor would the
life of the most aged suffice for such a journey. When a great
battle has been lost or a dear friend is dead, when we are hipped
or in high spirits, there they are unweariedly shining overhead.
We may stand down here, a whole army of us together, and shout
until we break our hearts, and not a whisper reaches them. We may
climb the highest mountain, and we are no nearer them. All we can
do is to stand down here in the garden and take off our hats; the
starshine lights upon our heads, and where mine is a little bald, I
dare say you can see it glisten in the darkness. The mountain and
the mouse. That is like to be all we shall ever have to do with
Arcturus or Aldebaran. Can you apply a parable?' he added, laying
his hand upon Will's shoulder. 'It is not the same thing as a
reason, but usually vastly more convincing.'
Will hung his head a little, and then raised it once more to
heaven. The stars seemed to expand and emit a sharper brilliancy;
and as he kept turning his eyes higher and higher, they seemed to
increase in multitude under his gaze.
'I see,' he said, turning to the young man. 'We are in a rattrap.'
'Something of that size. Did you ever see a squirrel turning in a
cage? and another squirrel sitting philosophically over his nuts?
I needn't ask you which of them looked more of a fool.'
After some years the old people died, both in one winter, very
carefully tended by their adopted son, and very quietly mourned
when they were gone. People who had heard of his roving fancies
supposed he would hasten to sell the property, and go down the
river to push his fortunes. But there was never any sign of such
in intention on the part of Will. On the contrary, he had the inn
set on a better footing, and hired a couple of servants to assist
him in carrying it on; and there he settled down, a kind,
talkative, inscrutable young man, six feet three in his stockings,
with an iron constitution and a friendly voice. He soon began to
take rank in the district as a bit of an oddity: it was not much to
be wondered at from the first, for he was always full of notions,
and kept calling the plainest common-sense in question; but what
most raised the report upon him was the odd circumstance of his
courtship with the parson's Marjory.
The parson's Marjory was a lass about nineteen, when Will would be
about thirty; well enough looking, and much better educated than
any other girl in that part of the country, as became her
parentage. She held her head very high, and had already refused
several offers of marriage with a grand air, which had got her hard
names among the neighbours. For all that she was a good girl, and
one that would have made any man well contented.
Will had never seen much of her; for although the church and
parsonage were only two miles from his own door, he was never known
to go there but on Sundays. It chanced, however, that the
parsonage fell into disrepair, and had to be dismantled; and the
parson and his daughter took lodgings for a month or so, on very
much reduced terms, at Will's inn. Now, what with the inn, and the
mill, and the old miller's savings, our friend was a man of
substance; and besides that, he had a name for good temper and
shrewdness, which make a capital portion in marriage; and so it was
currently gossiped, among their ill-wishers, that the parson and
his daughter had not chosen their temporary lodging with their eyes
shut. Will was about the last man in the world to be cajoled or
frightened into marriage. You had only to look into his eyes,
limpid and still like pools of water, and yet with a sort of clear
light that seemed to come from within, and you would understand at
once that here was one who knew his own mind, and would stand to it
immovably. Marjory herself was no weakling by her looks, with
strong, steady eyes and a resolute and quiet bearing. It might be
a question whether she was not Will's match in stedfastness, after
all, or which of them would rule the roast in marriage. But
Marjory had never given it a thought, and accompanied her father
with the most unshaken innocence and unconcern.
The season was still so early that Will's customers were few and
far between; but the lilacs were already flowering, and the weather
was so mild that the party took dinner under the trellice, with the
noise of the river in their ears and the woods ringing about them
with the songs of birds. Will soon began to take a particular
pleasure in these dinners. The parson was rather a dull companion,
with a habit of dozing at table; but nothing rude or cruel ever
fell from his lips. And as for the parson's daughter, she suited
her surroundings with the best grace imaginable; and whatever she
said seemed so pat and pretty that Will conceived a great idea of
her talents. He could see her face, as she leaned forward, against
a background of rising pinewoods; her eyes shone peaceably; the
light lay around her hair like a kerchief; something that was
hardly a smile rippled her pale cheeks, and Will could not contain
himself from gazing on her in an agreeable dismay. She looked,
even in her quietest moments, so complete in herself, and so quick
with life down to her finger tips and the very skirts of her dress,
that the remainder of created things became no more than a blot by
comparison; and if Will glanced away from her to her surroundings,
the trees looked inanimate and senseless, the clouds hung in heaven
like dead things, and even the mountain tops were disenchanted.
The whole valley could not compare in looks with this one girl.
Will was always observant in the society of his fellow-creatures;
but his observation became almost painfully eager in the case of
Marjory. He listened to all she uttered, and read her eyes, at the
same time, for the unspoken commentary. Many kind, simple, and
sincere speeches found an echo in his heart. He became conscious
of a soul beautifully poised upon itself, nothing doubting, nothing
desiring, clothed in peace. It was not possible to separate her
thoughts from her appearance. The turn of her wrist, the still
sound of her voice, the light in her eyes, the lines of her body,
fell in tune with her grave and gentle words, like the
accompaniment that sustains and harmonises the voice of the singer.
Her influence was one thing, not to be divided or discussed, only
to he felt with gratitude and joy. To Will, her presence recalled
something of his childhood, and the thought of her took its place
in his mind beside that of dawn, of running water, and of the
earliest violets and lilacs. It is the property of things seen for
the first time, or for the first time after long, like the flowers
in spring, to reawaken in us the sharp edge of sense and that
impression of mystic strangeness which otherwise passes out of life
with the coming of years; but the sight of a loved face is what
renews a man's character from the fountain upwards.
One day after dinner Will took a stroll among the firs; a grave
beatitude possessed him from top to toe, and he kept smiling to
himself and the landscape as he went. The river ran between the
stepping-stones with a pretty wimple; a bird sang loudly in the
wood; the hill-tops looked immeasurably high, and as he glanced at
them from time to time seemed to contemplate his movements with a
beneficent but awful curiosity. His way took him to the eminence
which overlooked the plain; and there he sat down upon a stone, and
fell into deep and pleasant thought. The plain lay abroad with its
cities and silver river; everything was asleep, except a great eddy
of birds which kept rising and falling and going round and round in
the blue air. He repeated Marjory's name aloud, and the sound of
it gratified his ear. He shut his eyes, and her image sprang up
before him, quietly luminous and attended with good thoughts. The
river might run for ever; the birds fly higher and higher till they
touched the stars. He saw it was empty bustle after all; for here,
without stirring a feet, waiting patiently in his own narrow
valley, he also had attained the better sunlight.
The next day Will made a sort of declaration across the dinnertable,
while the parson was filling his pipe.
'Miss Marjory,' he said, 'I never knew any one I liked so well as
you. I am mostly a cold, unkindly sort of man; not from want of
heart, but out of strangeness in my way of thinking; and people
seem far away from me. 'Tis as if there were a circle round me,
which kept every one out but you; I can hear the others talking and
laughing; but you come quite close. Maybe, this is disagreeable to
you?' he asked.
Marjory made no answer.
'Speak up, girl,' said the parson.
'Nay, now,' returned Will, 'I wouldn't press her, parson. I feel
tongue-tied myself, who am not used to it; and she's a woman, and
little more than a child, when all is said. But for my part, as
far as I can understand what people mean by it, I fancy I must be
what they call in love. I do not wish to be held as committing
myself; for I may be wrong; but that is how I believe things are
with me. And if Miss Marjory should feel any otherwise on her
part, mayhap she would be so kind as shake her head.'
Marjory was silent, and gave no sign that she had heard.
'How is that, parson?' asked Will.
'The girl must speak,' replied the parson, laying down his pipe.
'Here's our neighbour who says he loves you, Madge. Do you love
him, ay or no?'
'I think I do,' said Marjory, faintly.
'Well then, that's all that could be wished!' cried Will, heartily.
And he took her hand across the table, and held it a moment in both
of his with great satisfaction.
'You must marry,' observed the parson, replacing his pipe in his
'Is that the right thing to do, think you?' demanded Will.
'It is indispensable,' said the parson.
'Very well,' replied the wooer.
Two or three days passed away with great delight to Will, although
a bystander might scarce have found it out. He continued to take
his meals opposite Marjory, and to talk with her and gaze upon her
in her father's presence; but he made no attempt to see her alone,
nor in any other way changed his conduct towards her from what it
had been since the beginning. Perhaps the girl was a little
disappointed, and perhaps not unjustly; and yet if it had been
enough to be always in the thoughts of another person, and so
pervade and alter his whole life, she might have been thoroughly
contented. For she was never out of Will's mind for an instant.
He sat over the stream, and watched the dust of the eddy, and the
poised fish, and straining weeds; he wandered out alone into the
purple even, with all the blackbirds piping round him in the wood;
he rose early in the morning, and saw the sky turn from grey to
gold, and the light leap upon the hill-tops; and all the while he
kept wondering if he had never seen such things before, or how it
was that they should look so different now. The sound of his own
mill-wheel, or of the wind among the trees, confounded and charmed
his heart. The most enchanting thoughts presented themselves
unbidden in his mind. He was so happy that he could not sleep at
night, and so restless, that he could hardly sit still out of her
company. And yet it seemed as if he avoided her rather than sought
her out.
One day, as he was coming home from a ramble, Will found Marjory in
the garden picking flowers, and as he came up with her, slackened
his pace and continued walking by her side.
'You like flowers?' he said.
'Indeed I love them dearly,' she replied. 'Do you?'
'Why, no,' said he, 'not so much. They are a very small affair,
when all is done. I can fancy people caring for them greatly, but
not doing as you are just now.'
'How?' she asked, pausing and looking up at him.
'Plucking them,' said he. 'They are a deal better off where they
are, and look a deal prettier, if you go to that.'
'I wish to have them for my own,' she answered, 'to carry them near
my heart, and keep them in my room. They tempt me when they grow
here; they seem to say, "Come and do something with us;" but once I
have cut them and put them by, the charm is laid, and I can look at
them with quite an easy heart.'
'You wish to possess them,' replied Will, 'in order to think no
more about them. It's a bit like killing the goose with the golden
eggs. It's a bit like what I wished to do when I was a boy.
Because I had a fancy for looking out over the plain, I wished to
go down there - where I couldn't look out over it any longer. Was
not that fine reasoning? Dear, dear, if they only thought of it,
all the world would do like me; and you would let your flowers
alone, just as I stay up here in the mountains.' Suddenly he broke
off sharp. 'By the Lord!' he cried. And when she asked him what
was wrong, he turned the question off and walked away into the
house with rather a humorous expression of face.
He was silent at table; and after the night hid fallen and the
stars had come out overhead, he walked up and down for hours in the
courtyard and garden with an uneven pace. There was still a light
in the window of Marjory's room: one little oblong patch of orange
in a world of dark blue hills and silver starlight. Will's mind
ran a great deal on the window; but his thoughts were not very
lover-like. 'There she is in her room,' he thought, 'and there are
the stars overhead: - a blessing upon both!' Both were good
influences in his life; both soothed and braced him in his profound
contentment with the world. And what more should he desire with
either? The fat young man and his councils were so present to his
mind, that he threw back his head, and, putting his hands before
his mouth, shouted aloud to the populous heavens. Whether from the
position of his head or the sudden strain of the exertion, he
seemed to see a momentary shock among the stars, and a diffusion of
frosty light pass from one to another along the sky. At the same
instant, a corner of the blind was lifted and lowered again at
once. He laughed a loud ho-ho! 'One and another!' thought Will.
'The stars tremble, and the blind goes up. Why, before Heaven,
what a great magician I must be! Now if I were only a fool, should
not I be in a pretty way?' And he went off to bed, chuckling to
himself: 'If I were only a fool!'
The next morning, pretty early, he saw her once more in the garden,
and sought her out.
'I have been thinking about getting married,' he began abruptly;
'and after having turned it all over, I have made up my mind it's
not worthwhile.'
She turned upon him for a single moment; but his radiant, kindly
appearance would, under the circumstances, have disconcerted an
angel, and she looked down again upon the ground in silence. He
could see her tremble.
'I hope you don't mind,' he went on, a little taken aback. 'You
ought not. I have turned it all over, and upon my soul there's
nothing in it. We should never be one whit nearer than we are just
now, and, if I am a wise man, nothing like so happy.'
'It is unnecessary to go round about with me,' she said. 'I very
well remember that you refused to commit yourself; and now that I
see you were mistaken, and in reality have never cared for me, I
can only feel sad that I have been so far misled.'
'I ask your pardon,' said Will stoutly; 'you do not understand my
meaning. As to whether I have ever loved you or not, I must leave
that to others. But for one thing, my feeling is not changed; and
for another, you may make it your boast that you have made my whole
life and character something different from what they were. I mean
what I say; no less. I do not think getting married is worth
while. I would rather you went on living with your father, so that
I could walk over and see you once, or maybe twice a week, as
people go to church, and then we should both be all the happier
between whiles. That's my notion. But I'll marry you if you
will,' he added.
'Do you know that you are insulting me?' she broke out.
'Not I, Marjory,' said he; 'if there is anything in a clear
conscience, not I. I offer all my heart's best affection; you can
take it or want it, though I suspect it's beyond either your power
or mine to change what has once been done, and set me fancy-free.
I'll marry you, if you like; but I tell you again and again, it's
not worth while, and we had best stay friends. Though I am a quiet
man I have noticed a heap of things in my life. Trust in me, and
take things as I propose; or, if you don't like that, say the word,
and I'll marry you out of hand.'
There was a considerable pause, and Will, who began to feel uneasy,
began to grow angry in consequence.
'It seems you are too proud to say your mind,' he said. 'Believe
me that's a pity. A clean shrift makes simple living. Can a man
be more downright or honourable, to a woman than I have been? I
have said my say, and given you your choice. Do you want me to
marry you? or will you take my friendship, as I think best? or have
you had enough of me for good? Speak out for the dear God's sake!
You know your father told you a girl should speak her mind in these
She seemed to recover herself at that, turned without a word,
walked rapidly through the garden, and disappeared into the house,
leaving Will in some confusion as to the result. He walked up and
down the garden, whistling softly to himself. Sometimes he stopped
and contemplated the sky and hill-tops; sometimes he went down to
the tail of the weir and sat there, looking foolishly in the water.
All this dubiety and perturbation was so foreign to his nature and
the life which he had resolutely chosen for himself, that he began
to regret Marjory's arrival. 'After all,' he thought, 'I was as
happy as a man need be. I could come down here and watch my fishes
all day long if I wanted: I was as settled and contented as my old
Marjory came down to dinner, looking very trim and quiet; and no
sooner were all three at table than she made her father a speech,
with her eyes fixed upon her plate, but showing no other sign of
embarrassment or distress.
'Father,' she began, 'Mr. Will and I have been talking things over.
We see that we have each made a mistake about our feelings, and he
has agreed, at my request, to give up all idea of marriage, and be
no more than my very good friend, as in the past. You see, there
is no shadow of a quarrel, and indeed I hope we shall see a great
deal of him in the future, for his visits will always be welcome in
our house. Of course, father, you will know best, but perhaps we
should do better to leave Mr. Will's house for the present. I
believe, after what has passed, we should hardly be agreeable
inmates for some days.'
Will, who had commanded himself with difficulty from the first,
broke out upon this into an inarticulate noise, and raised one hand
with an appearance of real dismay, as if he were about to interfere
and contradict. But she checked him at once looking up at him with
a swift glance and an angry flush upon her cheek.
'You will perhaps have the good grace,' she said, 'to let me
explain these matters for myself.'
Will was put entirely out of countenance by her expression and the
ring of her voice. He held his peace, concluding that there were
some things about this girl beyond his comprehension, in which he
was exactly right.
The poor parson was quite crestfallen. He tried to prove that this
was no more than a true lovers' tiff, which would pass off before
night; and when he was dislodged from that position, he went on to
argue that where there was no quarrel there could be no call for a
separation; for the good man liked both his entertainment and his
host. It was curious to see how the girl managed them, saying
little all the time, and that very quietly, and yet twisting them
round her finger and insensibly leading them wherever she would by
feminine tact and generalship. It scarcely seemed to have been her
doing - it seemed as if things had merely so fallen out - that she
and her father took their departure that same afternoon in a farmcart,
and went farther down the valley, to wait, until their own
house was ready for them, in another hamlet. But Will had been
observing closely, and was well aware of her dexterity and
resolution. When he found himself alone he had a great many
curious matters to turn over in his mind. He was very sad and
solitary, to begin with. All the interest had gone out of his
life, and he might look up at the stars as long as he pleased, he
somehow failed to find support or consolation. And then he was in
such a turmoil of spirit about Marjory. He had been puzzled and
irritated at her behaviour, and yet he could not keep himself from
admiring it. He thought he recognised a fine, perverse angel in
that still soul which he had never hitherto suspected; and though
he saw it was an influence that would fit but ill with his own life
of artificial calm, he could not keep himself from ardently
desiring to possess it. Like a man who has lived among shadows and
now meets the sun, he was both pained and delighted.
As the days went forward he passed from one extreme to another; now
pluming himself on the strength of his determination, now despising
his timid and silly caution. The former was, perhaps, the true
thought of his heart, and represented the regular tenor of the
man's reflections; but the latter burst forth from time to time
with an unruly violence, and then he would forget all
consideration, and go up and down his house and garden or walk
among the fir-woods like one who is beside himself with remorse.
To equable, steady-minded Will this state of matters was
intolerable; and he determined, at whatever cost, to bring it to an
end. So, one warm summer afternoon he put on his best clothes,
took a thorn switch in his hand, and set out down the valley by the
river. As soon as he had taken his determination, he had regained
at a bound his customary peace of heart, and he enjoyed the bright
weather and the variety of the scene without any admixture of alarm
or unpleasant eagerness. It was nearly the same to him how the
matter turned out. If she accepted him he would have to marry her
this time, which perhaps was, all for the best. If she refused
him, he would have done his utmost, and might follow his own way in
the future with an untroubled conscience. He hoped, on the whole,
she would refuse him; and then, again, as he saw the brown roof
which sheltered her, peeping through some willows at an angle of
the stream, he was half inclined to reverse the wish, and more than
half ashamed of himself for this infirmity of purpose.
Marjory seemed glad to see him, and gave him her hand without
affectation or delay.
'I have been thinking about this marriage,' he began.
'So have I,' she answered. 'And I respect you more and more for a
very wise man. You understood me better than I understood myself;
and I am now quite certain that things are all for the best as they
'At the same time - ,' ventured Will.
'You must be tired,' she interrupted. 'Take a seat and let me
fetch you a glass of wine. The afternoon is so warm; and I wish
you not to be displeased with your visit. You must come quite
often; once a week, if you can spare the time; I am always so glad
to see my friends.'
'O, very well,' thought Will to himself. 'It appears I was right
after all.' And he paid a very agreeable visit, walked home again
in capital spirits, and gave himself no further concern about the
For nearly three years Will and Marjory continued on these terms,
seeing each other once or twice a week without any word of love
between them; and for all that time I believe Will was nearly as
happy as a man can be. He rather stinted himself the pleasure of
seeing her; and he would often walk half-way over to the parsonage,
and then back again, as if to whet his appetite. Indeed there was
one corner of the road, whence he could see the church-spire wedged
into a crevice of the valley between sloping firwoods, with a
triangular snatch of plain by way of background, which he greatly
affected as a place to sit and moralise in before returning
homewards; and the peasants got so much into the habit of finding
him there in the twilight that they gave it the name of 'Will o'
the Mill's Corner.'
At the end of the three years Marjory played him a sad trick by
suddenly marrying somebody else. Will kept his countenance
bravely, and merely remarked that, for as little as he knew of
women, he had acted very prudently in not marrying her himself
three years before. She plainly knew very little of her own mind,
and, in spite of a deceptive manner, was as fickle and flighty as
the rest of them. He had to congratulate himself on an escape, he
said, and would take a higher opinion of his own wisdom in
consequence. But at heart, he was reasonably displeased, moped a
good deal for a month or two, and fell away in flesh, to the
astonishment of his serving-lads.
It was perhaps a year after this marriage that Will was awakened
late one night by the sound of a horse galloping on the road,
followed by precipitate knocking at the inn-door. He opened his
window and saw a farm servant, mounted and holding a led horse by
the bridle, who told him to make what haste he could and go along
with him; for Marjory was dying, and had sent urgently to fetch him
to her bedside. Will was no horseman, and made so little speed
upon the way that the poor young wife was very near her end before
he arrived. But they had some minutes' talk in private, and he was
present and wept very bitterly while she breathed her last.
Year after year went away into nothing, with great explosions and
outcries in the cities on the plain: red revolt springing up and
being suppressed in blood, battle swaying hither and thither,
patient astronomers in observatory towers picking out and
christening new stars, plays being performed in lighted theatres,
people being carried into hospital on stretchers, and all the usual
turmoil and agitation of men's lives in crowded centres. Up in
Will's valley only the winds and seasons made an epoch; the fish
hung in the swift stream, the birds circled overhead, the pine-tops
rustled underneath the stars, the tall hills stood over all; and
Will went to and fro, minding his wayside inn, until the snow began
to thicken on his head. His heart was young and vigorous; and if
his pulses kept a sober time, they still beat strong and steady in
his wrists. He carried a ruddy stain on either cheek, like a ripe
apple; he stooped a little, but his step was still firm; and his
sinewy hands were reached out to all men with a friendly pressure.
His face was covered with those wrinkles which are got in open air,
and which rightly looked at, are no more than a sort of permanent
sunburning; such wrinkles heighten the stupidity of stupid faces;
but to a person like Will, with his clear eyes and smiling mouth,
only give another charm by testifying to a simple and easy life.
His talk was full of wise sayings. He had a taste for other
people; and other people had a taste for him. When the valley was
full of tourists in the season, there were merry nights in Will's
arbour; and his views, which seemed whimsical to his neighbours,
were often enough admired by learned people out of towns and
colleges. Indeed, he had a very noble old age, and grew daily
better known; so that his fame was heard of in the cities of the
plain; and young men who had been summer travellers spoke together
in CAFES of Will o' the Mill and his rough philosophy. Many and
many an invitation, you may be sure, he had; but nothing could
tempt him from his upland valley. He would shake his head and
smile over his tobacco-pipe with a deal of meaning. 'You come too
late,' he would answer. 'I am a dead man now: I have lived and
died already. Fifty years ago you would have brought my heart into
my mouth; and now you do not even tempt me. But that is the object
of long living, that man should cease to care about life.' And
again: 'There is only one difference between a long life and a good
dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last.' Or once more:
'When I was a boy, I was a bit puzzled, and hardly knew whether it
was myself or the world that was curious and worth looking into.
Now, I know it is myself, and stick to that.'
He never showed any symptom of frailty, but kept stalwart and firm
to the last; but they say he grew less talkative towards the end,
and would listen to other people by the hour in an amused and
sympathetic silence. Only, when he did speak, it was more to the
point and more charged with old experience. He drank a bottle of
wine gladly; above all, at sunset on the hill-top or quite late at
night under the stars in the arbour. The sight of something
attractive and unatttainable seasoned his enjoyment, he would say;
and he professed he had lived long enough to admire a candle all
the more when he could compare it with a planet.
One night, in his seventy-second year, he awoke in bed in such
uneasiness of body and mind that he arose and dressed himself and
went out to meditate in the arbour. It was pitch dark, without a
star; the river was swollen, and the wet woods and meadows loaded
the air with perfume. It had thundered during the day, and it
promised more thunder for the morrow. A murky, stifling night for
a man of seventy-two! Whether it was the weather or the
wakefulness, or some little touch of fever in his old limbs, Will's
mind was besieged by tumultuous and crying memories. His boyhood,
the night with the fat young man, the death of his adopted parents,
the summer days with Marjory, and many of those small
circumstances, which seem nothing to another, and are yet the very
gist of a man's own life to himself - things seen, words heard,
looks misconstrued - arose from their forgotten corners and usurped
his attention. The dead themselves were with him, not merely
taking part in this thin show of memory that defiled before his
brain, but revisiting his bodily senses as they do in profound and
vivid dreams. The fat young man leaned his elbows on the table
opposite; Marjory came and went with an apronful of flowers between
the garden and the arbour; he could hear the old parson knocking
out his pipe or blowing his resonant nose. The tide of his
consciousness ebbed and flowed: he was sometimes half-asleep and
drowned in his recollections of the past; and sometimes he was
broad awake, wondering at himself. But about the middle of the
night he was startled by the voice of the dead miller calling to
him out of the house as he used to do on the arrival of custom.
The hallucination was so perfect that Will sprang from his seat and
stood listening for the summons to be repeated; and as he listened
he became conscious of another noise besides the brawling of the
river and the ringing in his feverish ears. It was like the stir
of horses and the creaking of harness, as though a carriage with an
impatient team had been brought up upon the road before the
courtyard gate. At such an hour, upon this rough and dangerous
pass, the supposition was no better than absurd; and Will dismissed
it from his mind, and resumed his seat upon the arbour chair; and
sleep closed over him again like running water. He was once again
awakened by the dead miller's call, thinner and more spectral than
before; and once again he heard the noise of an equipage upon the
road. And so thrice and four times, the same dream, or the same
fancy, presented itself to his senses: until at length, smiling to
himself as when one humours a nervous child, he proceeded towards
the gate to set his uncertainty at rest.
From the arbour to the gate was no great distance, and yet it took
Will some time; it seemed as if the dead thickened around him in
the court, and crossed his path at every step. For, first, he was
suddenly surprised by an overpowering sweetness of heliotropes; it
was as if his garden had been planted with this flower from end to
end, and the hot, damp night had drawn forth all their perfumes in
a breath. Now the heliotrope had been Marjory's favourite flower,
and since her death not one of them had ever been planted in Will's
'I must be going crazy,' he thought. 'Poor Marjory and her
And with that he raised his eyes towards the window that had once
been hers. If he had been bewildered before, he was now almost
terrified; for there was a light in the room; the window was an
orange oblong as of yore; and the corner of the blind was lifted
and let fall as on the night when he stood and shouted to the stars
in his perplexity. The illusion only endured an instant; but it
left him somewhat unmanned, rubbing his eyes and staring at the
outline of the house and the black night behind it. While he thus
stood, and it seemed as if he must have stood there quite a long
time, there came a renewal of the noises on the road: and he turned
in time to meet a stranger, who was advancing to meet him across
the court. There was something like the outline of a great
carriage discernible on the road behind the stranger, and, above
that, a few black pine-tops, like so many plumes.
'Master Will?' asked the new-comer, in brief military fashion.
'That same, sir,' answered Will. 'Can I do anything to serve you?'
'I have heard you much spoken of, Master Will,' returned the other;
'much spoken of, and well. And though I have both hands full of
business, I wish to drink a bottle of wine with you in your arbour.
Before I go, I shall introduce myself.'
Will led the way to the trellis, and got a lamp lighted and a
bottle uncorked. He was not altogether unused to such
complimentary interviews, and hoped little enough from this one,
being schooled by many disappointments. A sort of cloud had
settled on his wits and prevented him from remembering the
strangeness of the hour. He moved like a person in his sleep; and
it seemed as if the lamp caught fire and the bottle came uncorked
with the facility of thought. Still, he had some curiosity about
the appearance of his visitor, and tried in vain to turn the light
into his face; either he handled the lamp clumsily, or there was a
dimness over his eyes; but he could make out little more than a
shadow at table with him. He stared and stared at this shadow, as
he wiped out the glasses, and began to feel cold and strange about
the heart. The silence weighed upon him, for he could hear nothing
now, not even the river, but the drumming of his own arteries in
his ears.
'Here's to you,' said the stranger, roughly.
'Here is my service, sir,' replied Will, sipping his wine, which
somehow tasted oddly.
'I understand you are a very positive fellow,' pursued the
Will made answer with a smile of some satisfaction and a little
'So am I,' continued the other; 'and it is the delight of my heart
to tramp on people's corns. I will have nobody positive but
myself; not one. I have crossed the whims, in my time, of kings
and generals and great artists. And what would you say,' he went
on, 'if I had come up here on purpose to cross yours?'
Will had it on his tongue to make a sharp rejoinder; but the
politeness of an old innkeeper prevailed; and he held his peace and
made answer with a civil gesture of the hand.
'I have,' said the stranger. 'And if I did not hold you in a
particular esteem, I should make no words about the matter. It
appears you pride yourself on staying where you are. You mean to
stick by your inn. Now I mean you shall come for a turn with me in
my barouche; and before this bottle's empty, so you shall.'
'That would be an odd thing, to be sure,' replied Will, with a
chuckle. 'Why, sir, I have grown here like an old oak-tree; the
Devil himself could hardly root me up: and for all I perceive you
are a very entertaining old gentleman, I would wager you another
bottle you lose your pains with me.'
The dimness of Will's eyesight had been increasing all this while;
but he was somehow conscious of a sharp and chilling scrutiny which
irritated and yet overmastered him.
'You need not think,' he broke out suddenly, in an explosive,
febrile manner that startled and alarmed himself, 'that I am a
stay-at-home, because I fear anything under God. God knows I am
tired enough of it all; and when the time comes for a longer
journey than ever you dream of, I reckon I shall find myself
The stranger emptied his glass and pushed it away from him. He
looked down for a little, and then, leaning over the table, tapped
Will three times upon the forearm with a single finger. 'The time
has come!' he said solemnly.
An ugly thrill spread from the spot he touched. The tones of his
voice were dull and startling, and echoed strangely in Will's
'I beg your pardon,' he said, with some discomposure. 'What do you
'Look at me, and you will find your eyesight swim. Raise your
hand; it is dead-heavy. This is your last bottle of wine, Master
Will, and your last night upon the earth.'
'You are a doctor?' quavered Will.
'The best that ever was,' replied the other; 'for I cure both mind
and body with the same prescription. I take away all plain and I
forgive all sins; and where my patients have gone wrong in life, I
smooth out all complications and set them free again upon their
'I have no need of you,' said Will.
'A time comes for all men, Master Will,' replied the doctor, 'when
the helm is taken out of their hands. For you, because you were
prudent and quiet, it has been long of coming, and you have had
long to discipline yourself for its reception. You have seen what
is to be seen about your mill; you have sat close all your days
like a hare in its form; but now that is at an end; and,' added the
doctor, getting on his feet, 'you must arise and come with me.'
'You are a strange physician,' said Will, looking steadfastly upon
his guest.
'I am a natural law,' he replied, 'and people call me Death.'
'Why did you not tell me so at first?' cried Will. 'I have been
waiting for you these many years. Give me your hand, and welcome.'
'Lean upon my arm,' said the stranger, 'for already your strength
abates. Lean on me as heavily as you need; for though I am old, I
am very strong. It is but three steps to my carriage, and there
all your trouble ends. Why, Will,' he added, 'I have been yearning
for you as if you were my own son; and of all the men that ever I
came for in my long days, I have come for you most gladly. I am
caustic, and sometimes offend people at first sight; but I am a
good friend at heart to such as you.'
'Since Marjory was taken,' returned Will, 'I declare before God you
were the only friend I had to look for.' So the pair went arm-inarm
across the courtyard.
One of the servants awoke about this time and heard the noise of
horses pawing before he dropped asleep again; all down the valley
that night there was a rushing as of a smooth and steady wind
descending towards the plain; and when the world rose next morning,
sure enough Will o' the Mill had gone at last upon his travels.
'YES,' said the dealer, 'our windfalls are of various kinds. Some
customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior
knowledge. Some are dishonest,' and here he held up the candle, so
that the light fell strongly on his visitor, 'and in that case,' he
continued, 'I profit by my virtue.'
Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his
eyes had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness
in the shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence
of the flame, he blinked painfully and looked aside.
The dealer chuckled. 'You come to me on Christmas Day,' he
resumed, 'when you know that I am alone in my house, put up my
shutters, and make a point of refusing business. Well, you will
have to pay for that; you will have to pay for my loss of time,
when I should be balancing my books; you will have to pay, besides,
for a kind of manner that I remark in you to-day very strongly. I
am the essence of discretion, and ask no awkward questions; but
when a customer cannot look me in the eye, he has to pay for it.'
The dealer once more chuckled; and then, changing to his usual
business voice, though still with a note of irony, 'You can give,
as usual, a clear account of how you came into the possession of
the object?' he continued. 'Still your uncle's cabinet? A
remarkable collector, sir!'
And the little pale, round-shouldered dealer stood almost on tiptoe,
looking over the top of his gold spectacles, and nodding his
head with every mark of disbelief. Markheim returned his gaze with
one of infinite pity, and a touch of horror.
'This time,' said he, 'you are in error. I have not come to sell,
but to buy. I have no curios to dispose of; my uncle's cabinet is
bare to the wainscot; even were it still intact, I have done well
on the Stock Exchange, and should more likely add to it than
otherwise, and my errand to-day is simplicity itself. I seek a
Christmas present for a lady,' he continued, waxing more fluent as
he struck into the speech he had prepared; 'and certainly I owe you
every excuse for thus disturbing you upon so small a matter. But
the thing was neglected yesterday; I must produce my little
compliment at dinner; and, as you very well know, a rich marriage
is not a thing to be neglected.'
There followed a pause, during which the dealer seemed to weigh
this statement incredulously. The ticking of many clocks among the
curious lumber of the shop, and the faint rushing of the cabs in a
near thoroughfare, filled up the interval of silence.
'Well, sir,' said the dealer, 'be it so. You are an old customer
after all; and if, as you say, you have the chance of a good
marriage, far be it from me to be an obstacle. Here is a nice
thing for a lady now,' he went on, 'this hand glass - fifteenth
century, warranted; comes from a good collection, too; but I
reserve the name, in the interests of my customer, who was just
like yourself, my dear sir, the nephew and sole heir of a
remarkable collector.'
The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting voice, had
stooped to take the object from its place; and, as he had done so,
a shock had passed through Markheim, a start both of hand and foot,
a sudden leap of many tumultuous passions to the face. It passed
as swiftly as it came, and left no trace beyond a certain trembling
of the hand that now received the glass.
'A glass,' he said hoarsely, and then paused, and repeated it more
clearly. 'A glass? For Christmas? Surely not?'
'And why not?' cried the dealer. 'Why not a glass?'
Markheim was looking upon him with an indefinable expression. 'You
ask me why not?' he said. 'Why, look here - look in it - look at
yourself! Do you like to see it? No! nor I - nor any man.'
The little man had jumped back when Markheim had so suddenly
confronted him with the mirror; but now, perceiving there was
nothing worse on hand, he chuckled. 'Your future lady, sir, must
be pretty hard favoured,' said he.
'I ask you,' said Markheim, 'for a Christmas present, and you give
me this - this damned reminder of years, and sins and follies -
this hand-conscience! Did you mean it? Had you a thought in your
mind? Tell me. It will be better for you if you do. Come, tell
me about yourself. I hazard a guess now, that you are in secret a
very charitable man?'
The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very odd,
Markheim did not appear to be laughing; there was something in his
face like an eager sparkle of hope, but nothing of mirth.
'What are you driving at?' the dealer asked.
'Not charitable?' returned the other, gloomily. Not charitable;
not pious; not scrupulous; unloving, unbeloved; a hand to get
money, a safe to keep it. Is that all? Dear God, man, is that
'I will tell you what it is,' began the dealer, with some
sharpness, and then broke off again into a chuckle. 'But I see
this is a love match of yours, and you have been drinking the
lady's health.'
'Ah!' cried Markheim, with a strange curiosity. 'Ah, have you been
in love? Tell me about that.'
'I,' cried the dealer. 'I in love! I never had the time, nor have
I the time to-day for all this nonsense. Will you take the glass?'
'Where is the hurry?' returned Markheim. 'It is very pleasant to
stand here talking; and life is so short and insecure that I would
not hurry away from any pleasure - no, not even from so mild a one
as this. We should rather cling, cling to what little we can get,
like a man at a cliff's edge. Every second is a cliff, if you
think upon it - a cliff a mile high - high enough, if we fall, to
dash us out of every feature of humanity. Hence it is best to talk
pleasantly. Let us talk of each other: why should we wear this
mask? Let us be confidential. Who knows, we might become
'I have just one word to say to you,' said the dealer. 'Either
make your purchase, or walk out of my shop!'
'True true,' said Markheim. 'Enough, fooling. To business. Show
me something else.'
The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the glass upon
the shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes as he did so.
Markheim moved a little nearer, with one hand in the pocket of his
greatcoat; he drew himself up and filled his lungs; at the same
time many different emotions were depicted together on his face -
terror, horror, and resolve, fascination and a physical repulsion;
and through a haggard lift of his upper lip, his teeth looked out.
'This, perhaps, may suit,' observed the dealer: and then, as he
began to re-arise, Markheim bounded from behind upon his victim.
The long, skewerlike dagger flashed and fell. The dealer struggled
like a hen, striking his temple on the shelf, and then tumbled on
the floor in a heap.
Time had some score of small voices in that shop, some stately and
slow as was becoming to their great age; others garrulous and
hurried. All these told out the seconds in an intricate, chorus of
tickings. Then the passage of a lad's feet, heavily running on the
pavement, broke in upon these smaller voices and startled Markheim
into the consciousness of his surroundings. He looked about him
awfully. The candle stood on the counter, its flame solemnly
wagging in a draught; and by that inconsiderable movement, the
whole room was filled with noiseless bustle and kept heaving like a
sea: the tall shadows nodding, the gross blots of darkness swelling
and dwindling as with respiration, the faces of the portraits and
the china gods changing and wavering like images in water. The
inner door stood ajar, and peered into that leaguer of shadows with
a long slit of daylight like a pointing finger.
From these fear-stricken rovings, Markheim's eyes returned to the
body of his victim, where it lay both humped and sprawling,
incredibly small and strangely meaner than in life. In these poor,
miserly clothes, in that ungainly attitude, the dealer lay like so
much sawdust. Markheim had feared to see it, and, lo! it was
nothing. And yet, as he gazed, this bundle of old clothes and pool
of blood began to find eloquent voices. There it must lie; there
was none to work the cunning hinges or direct the miracle of
locomotion - there it must lie till it was found. Found! ay, and
then? Then would this dead flesh lift up a cry that would ring
over England, and fill the world with the echoes of pursuit. Ay,
dead or not, this was still the enemy. 'Time was that when the
brains were out,' he thought; and the first word struck into his
mind. Time, now that the deed was accomplished - time, which had
closed for the victim, had become instant and momentous for the
The thought was yet in his mind, when, first one and then another,
with every variety of pace and voice - one deep as the bell from a
cathedral turret, another ringing on its treble notes the prelude
of a waltz-the clocks began to strike the hour of three in the
The sudden outbreak of so many tongues in that dumb chamber
staggered him. He began to bestir himself, going to and fro with
the candle, beleaguered by moving shadows, and startled to the soul
by chance reflections. In many rich mirrors, some of home design,
some from Venice or Amsterdam, he saw his face repeated and
repeated, as it were an army of spies; his own eyes met and
detected him; and the sound of his own steps, lightly as they fell,
vexed the surrounding quiet. And still, as he continued to fill
his pockets, his mind accused him with a sickening iteration, of
the thousand faults of his design. He should have chosen a more
quiet hour; he should have prepared an alibi; he should not have
used a knife; he should have been more cautious, and only bound and
gagged the dealer, and not killed him; he should have been more
bold, and killed the servant also; he should have done all things
otherwise: poignant regrets, weary, incessant toiling of the mind
to change what was unchangeable, to plan what was now useless, to
be the architect of the irrevocable past. Meanwhile, and behind
all this activity, brute terrors, like the scurrying of rats in a
deserted attic, filled the more remote chambers of his brain with
riot; the hand of the constable would fall heavy on his shoulder,
and his nerves would jerk like a hooked fish; or he beheld, in
galloping defile, the dock, the prison, the gallows, and the black
Terror of the people in the street sat down before his mind like a
besieging army. It was impossible, he thought, but that some
rumour of the struggle must have reached their ears and set on edge
their curiosity; and now, in all the neighbouring houses, he
divined them sitting motionless and with uplifted ear - solitary
people, condemned to spend Christmas dwelling alone on memories of
the past, and now startingly recalled from that tender exercise;
happy family parties struck into silence round the table, the
mother still with raised finger: every degree and age and humour,
but all, by their own hearths, prying and hearkening and weaving
the rope that was to hang him. Sometimes it seemed to him he could
not move too softly; the clink of the tall Bohemian goblets rang
out loudly like a bell; and alarmed by the bigness of the ticking,
he was tempted to stop the clocks. And then, again, with a swift
transition of his terrors, the very silence of the place appeared a
source of peril, and a thing to strike and freeze the passer-by;
and he would step more boldly, and bustle aloud among the contents
of the shop, and imitate, with elaborate bravado, the movements of
a busy man at ease in his own house.
But he was now so pulled about by different alarms that, while one
portion of his mind was still alert and cunning, another trembled
on the brink of lunacy. One hallucination in particular took a
strong hold on his credulity. The neighbour hearkening with white
face beside his window, the passer-by arrested by a horrible
surmise on the pavement - these could at worst suspect, they could
not know; through the brick walls and shuttered windows only sounds
could penetrate. But here, within the house, was he alone? He
knew he was; he had watched the servant set forth sweet-hearting,
in her poor best, 'out for the day' written in every ribbon and
smile. Yes, he was alone, of course; and yet, in the bulk of empty
house above him, he could surely hear a stir of delicate footing -
he was surely conscious, inexplicably conscious of some presence.
Ay, surely; to every room and corner of the house his imagination
followed it; and now it was a faceless thing, and yet had eyes to
see with; and again it was a shadow of himself; and yet again
behold the image of the dead dealer, reinspired with cunning and
At times, with a strong effort, he would glance at the open door
which still seemed to repel his eyes. The house was tall, the
skylight small and dirty, the day blind with fog; and the light
that filtered down to the ground story was exceedingly faint, and
showed dimly on the threshold of the shop. And yet, in that strip
of doubtful brightness, did there not hang wavering a shadow?
Suddenly, from the street outside, a very jovial gentleman began to
beat with a staff on the shop-door, accompanying his blows with
shouts and railleries in which the dealer was continually called
upon by name. Markheim, smitten into ice, glanced at the dead man.
But no! he lay quite still; he was fled away far beyond earshot of
these blows and shoutings; he was sunk beneath seas of silence; and
his name, which would once have caught his notice above the howling
of a storm, had become an empty sound. And presently the jovial
gentleman desisted from his knocking, and departed.
Here was a broad hint to hurry what remained to be done, to get
forth from this accusing neighbourhood, to plunge into a bath of
London multitudes, and to reach, on the other side of day, that
haven of safety and apparent innocence - his bed. One visitor had
come: at any moment another might follow and be more obstinate. To
have done the deed, and yet not to reap the profit, would be too
abhorrent a failure. The money, that was now Markheim's concern;
and as a means to that, the keys.
He glanced over his shoulder at the open door, where the shadow was
still lingering and shivering; and with no conscious repugnance of
the mind, yet with a tremor of the belly, he drew near the body of
his victim. The human character had quite departed. Like a suit
half-stuffed with bran, the limbs lay scattered, the trunk doubled,
on the floor; and yet the thing repelled him. Although so dingy
and inconsiderable to the eye, he feared it might have more
significance to the touch. He took the body by the shoulders, and
turned it on its back. It was strangely light and supple, and the
limbs, as if they had been broken, fell into the oddest postures.
The face was robbed of all expression; but it was as pale as wax,
and shockingly smeared with blood about one temple. That was, for
Markheim, the one displeasing circumstance. It carried him back,
upon the instant, to a certain fair-day in a fishers' village: a
gray day, a piping wind, a crowd upon the street, the blare of
brasses, the booming of drums, the nasal voice of a ballad singer;
and a boy going to and fro, buried over head in the crowd and
divided between interest and fear, until, coming out upon the chief
place of concourse, he beheld a booth and a great screen with
pictures, dismally designed, garishly coloured: Brown-rigg with her
apprentice; the Mannings with their murdered guest; Weare in the
death-grip of Thurtell; and a score besides of famous crimes. The
thing was as clear as an illusion; he was once again that little
boy; he was looking once again, and with the same sense of physical
revolt, at these vile pictures; he was still stunned by the
thumping of the drums. A bar of that day's music returned upon his
memory; and at that, for the first time, a qualm came over him, a
breath of nausea, a sudden weakness of the joints, which he must
instantly resist and conquer.
He judged it more prudent to confront than to flee from these
considerations; looking the more hardily in the dead face, bending
his mind to realise the nature and greatness of his crime. So
little a while ago that face had moved with every change of
sentiment, that pale mouth had spoken, that body had been all on
fire with governable energies; and now, and by his act, that piece
of life had been arrested, as the horologist, with interjected
finger, arrests the beating of the clock. So he reasoned in vain;
he could rise to no more remorseful consciousness; the same heart
which had shuddered before the painted effigies of crime, looked on
its reality unmoved. At best, he felt a gleam of pity for one who
had been endowed in vain with all those faculties that can make the
world a garden of enchantment, one who had never lived and who was
now dead. But of penitence, no, not a tremor.
With that, shaking himself clear of these considerations, he found
the keys and advanced towards the open door of the shop. Outside,
it had begun to rain smartly; and the sound of the shower upon the
roof had banished silence. Like some dripping cavern, the chambers
of the house were haunted by an incessant echoing, which filled the
ear and mingled with the ticking of the clocks. And, as Markheim
approached the door, he seemed to hear, in answer to his own
cautious tread, the steps of another foot withdrawing up the stair.
The shadow still palpitated loosely on the threshold. He threw a
ton's weight of resolve upon his muscles, and drew back the door.
The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and
stairs; on the bright suit of armour posted, halbert in hand, upon
the landing; and on the dark wood-carvings, and framed pictures
that hung against the yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was
the beating of the rain through all the house that, in Markheim's
ears, it began to be distinguished into many different sounds.
Footsteps and sighs, the tread of regiments marching in the
distance, the chink of money in the counting, and the creaking of
doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to mingle with the patter of
the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of the water in the
pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to the verge
of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by presences.
He heard them moving in the upper chambers; from the shop, he heard
the dead man getting to his legs; and as he began with a great
effort to mount the stairs, feet fled quietly before him and
followed stealthily behind. If he were but deaf, he thought, how
tranquilly he would possess his soul! And then again, and
hearkening with ever fresh attention, he blessed himself for that
unresting sense which held the outposts and stood a trusty sentinel
upon his life. His head turned continually on his neck; his eyes,
which seemed starting from their orbits, scouted on every side, and
on every side were half-rewarded as with the tail of something
nameless vanishing. The four-and-twenty steps to the first floor
were four-and-twenty agonies.
On that first storey, the doors stood ajar, three of them like
three ambushes, shaking his nerves like the throats of cannon. He
could never again, he felt, be sufficiently immured and fortified
from men's observing eyes, he longed to be home, girt in by walls,
buried among bedclothes, and invisible to all but God. And at that
thought he wondered a little, recollecting tales of other murderers
and the fear they were said to entertain of heavenly avengers. It
was not so, at least, with him. He feared the laws of nature,
lest, in their callous and immutable procedure, they should
preserve some damning evidence of his crime. He feared tenfold
more, with a slavish, superstitions terror, some scission in the
continuity of man's experience, some wilful illegality of nature.
He played a game of skill, depending on the rules, calculating
consequence from cause; and what if nature, as the defeated tyrant
overthrew the chess-board, should break the mould of their
succession? The like had befallen Napoleon (so writers said) when
the winter changed the time of its appearance. The like might
befall Markheim: the solid walls might become transparent and
reveal his doings like those of bees in a glass hive; the stout
planks might yield under his foot like quicksands and detain him in
their clutch; ay, and there were soberer accidents that might
destroy him: if, for instance, the house should fall and imprison
him beside the body of his victim; or the house next door should
fly on fire, and the firemen invade him from all sides. These
things he feared; and, in a sense, these things might be called the
hands of God reached forth against sin. But about God himself he
was at ease; his act was doubtless exceptional, but so were his
excuses, which God knew; it was there, and not among men, that he
felt sure of justice.
When he had got safe into the drawing-room, and shut the door
behind him, he was aware of a respite from alarms. The room was
quite dismantled, uncarpeted besides, and strewn with packing cases
and incongruous furniture; several great pier-glasses, in which he
beheld himself at various angles, like an actor on a stage; many
pictures, framed and unframed, standing, with their faces to the
wall; a fine Sheraton sideboard, a cabinet of marquetry, and a
great old bed, with tapestry hangings. The windows opened to the
floor; but by great good fortune the lower part of the shutters had
been closed, and this concealed him from the neighbours. Here,
then, Markheim drew in a packing case before the cabinet, and began
to search among the keys. It was a long business, for there were
many; and it was irksome, besides; for, after all, there might be
nothing in the cabinet, and time was on the wing. But the
closeness of the occupation sobered him. With the tail of his eye
he saw the door - even glanced at it from time to time directly,
like a besieged commander pleased to verify the good estate of his
defences. But in truth he was at peace. The rain falling in the
street sounded natural and pleasant. Presently, on the other side,
the notes of a piano were wakened to the music of a hymn, and the
voices of many children took up the air and words. How stately,
how comfortable was the melody! How fresh the youthful voices!
Markheim gave ear to it smilingly, as he sorted out the keys; and
his mind was thronged with answerable ideas and images; churchgoing
children and the pealing of the high organ; children afield,
bathers by the brookside, ramblers on the brambly common, kiteflyers
in the windy and cloud-navigated sky; and then, at another
cadence of the hymn, back again to church, and the somnolence of
summer Sundays, and the high genteel voice of the parson (which he
smiled a little to recall) and the painted Jacobean tombs, and the
dim lettering of the Ten Commandments in the chancel.
And as he sat thus, at once busy and absent, he was startled to his
feet. A flash of ice, a flash of fire, a bursting gush of blood,
went over him, and then he stood transfixed and thrilling. A step
mounted the stair slowly and steadily, and presently a hand was
laid upon the knob, and the lock clicked, and the door opened.
Fear held Markheim in a vice. What to expect he knew not, whether
the dead man walking, or the official ministers of human justice,
or some chance witness blindly stumbling in to consign him to the
gallows. But when a face was thrust into the aperture, glanced
round the room, looked at him, nodded and smiled as if in friendly
recognition, and then withdrew again, and the door closed behind
it, his fear broke loose from his control in a hoarse cry. At the
sound of this the visitant returned.
'Did you call me?' he asked, pleasantly, and with that he entered
the room and closed the door behind him.
Markheim stood and gazed at him with all his eyes. Perhaps there
was a film upon his sight, but the outlines of the new comer seemed
to change and waver like those of the idols in the wavering candlelight
of the shop; and at times he thought he knew him; and at
times he thought he bore a likeness to himself; and always, like a
lump of living terror, there lay in his bosom the conviction that
this thing was not of the earth and not of God.
And yet the creature had a strange air of the commonplace, as he
stood looking on Markheim with a smile; and when he added: 'You are
looking for the money, I believe?' it was in the tones of everyday
Markheim made no answer.
'I should warn you,' resumed the other, 'that the maid has left her
sweetheart earlier than usual and will soon be here. If Mr.
Markheim be found in this house, I need not describe to him the
'You know me?' cried the murderer.
The visitor smiled. 'You have long been a favourite of mine,' he
said; 'and I have long observed and often sought to help you.'
'What are you?' cried Markheim: 'the devil?'
'What I may be,' returned the other, 'cannot affect the service I
propose to render you.'
'It can,' cried Markheim; 'it does! Be helped by you? No, never;
not by you! You do not know me yet; thank God, you do not know
'I know you,' replied the visitant, with a sort of kind severity or
rather firmness. 'I know you to the soul.'
'Know me!' cried Markheim. 'Who can do so? My life is but a
travesty and slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature.
All men do; all men are better than this disguise that grows about
and stifles them. You see each dragged away by life, like one whom
bravos have seized and muffled in a cloak. If they had their own
control - if you could see their faces, they would be altogether
different, they would shine out for heroes and saints! I am worse
than most; myself is more overlaid; my excuse is known to me and
God. But, had I the time, I could disclose myself.'
'To me?' inquired the visitant.
'To you before all,' returned the murderer. 'I supposed you were
intelligent. I thought - since you exist - you would prove a
reader of the heart. And yet you would propose to judge me by my
acts! Think of it; my acts! I was born and I have lived in a land
of giants; giants have dragged me by the wrists since I was born
out of my mother - the giants of circumstance. And you would
judge me by my acts! But can you not look within? Can you not
understand that evil is hateful to me? Can you not see within me
the clear writing of conscience, never blurred by any wilful
sophistry, although too often disregarded? Can you not read me for
a thing that surely must be common as humanity - the unwilling
'All this is very feelingly expressed,' was the reply, 'but it
regards me not. These points of consistency are beyond my
province, and I care not in the least by what compulsion you may
have been dragged away, so as you are but carried in the right
direction. But time flies; the servant delays, looking in the
faces of the crowd and at the pictures on the hoardings, but still
she keeps moving nearer; and remember, it is as if the gallows
itself was striding towards you through the Christmas streets!
Shall I help you; I, who know all? Shall I tell you where to find
the money?'
'For what price?' asked Markheim.
'I offer you the service for a Christmas gift,' returned the other.
Markheim could not refrain from smiling with a kind of bitter
triumph. 'No,' said he, 'I will take nothing at your hands; if I
were dying of thirst, and it was your hand that put the pitcher to
my lips, I should find the courage to refuse. It may be credulous,
but I will do nothing to commit myself to evil.'
'I have no objection to a death-bed repentance,' observed the
'Because you disbelieve their efficacy!' Markheim cried.
'I do not say so,' returned the other; 'but I look on these things
from a different side, and when the life is done my interest falls.
The man has lived to serve me, to spread black looks under colour
of religion, or to sow tares in the wheat-field, as you do, in a
course of weak compliance with desire. Now that he draws so near
to his deliverance, he can add but one act of service - to repent,
to die smiling, and thus to build up in confidence and hope the
more timorous of my surviving followers. I am not so hard a
master. Try me. Accept my help. Please yourself in life as you
have done hitherto; please yourself more amply, spread your elbows
at the board; and when the night begins to fall and the curtains to
be drawn, I tell you, for your greater comfort, that you will find
it even easy to compound your quarrel with your conscience, and to
make a truckling peace with God. I came but now from such a
deathbed, and the room was full of sincere mourners, listening to
the man's last words: and when I looked into that face, which had
been set as a flint against mercy, I found it smiling with hope.'
'And do you, then, suppose me such a creature?' asked Markheim.
'Do you think I have no more generous aspirations than to sin, and
sin, and sin, and, at the last, sneak into heaven? My heart rises
at the thought. Is this, then, your experience of mankind? or is
it because you find me with red hands that you presume such
baseness? and is this crime of murder indeed so impious as to dry
up the very springs of good?'
'Murder is to me no special category,' replied the other. 'All
sins are murder, even as all life is war. I behold your race, like
starving mariners on a raft, plucking crusts out of the hands of
famine and feeding on each other's lives. I follow sins beyond the
moment of their acting; I find in all that the last consequence is
death; and to my eyes, the pretty maid who thwarts her mother with
such taking graces on a question of a ball, drips no less visibly
with human gore than such a murderer as yourself. Do I say that I
follow sins? I follow virtues also; they differ not by the
thickness of a nail, they are both scythes for the reaping angel of
Death. Evil, for which I live, consists not in action but in
character. The bad man is dear to me; not the bad act, whose
fruits, if we could follow them far enough down the hurtling
cataract of the ages, might yet be found more blessed than those of
the rarest virtues. And it is not because you have killed a
dealer, but because you are Markheim, that I offer to forward your
'I will lay my heart open to you,' answered Markheim. 'This crime
on which you find me is my last. On my way to it I have learned
many lessons; itself is a lesson, a momentous lesson. Hitherto I
have been driven with revolt to what I would not; I was a bondslave
to poverty, driven and scourged. There are robust virtues
that can stand in these temptations; mine was not so: I had a
thirst of pleasure. But to-day, and out of this deed, I pluck both
warning and riches - both the power and a fresh resolve to be
myself. I become in all things a free actor in the world; I begin
to see myself all changed, these hands the agents of good, this
heart at peace. Something comes over me out of the past; something
of what I have dreamed on Sabbath evenings to the sound of the
church organ, of what I forecast when I shed tears over noble
books, or talked, an innocent child, with my mother. There lies my
life; I have wandered a few years, but now I see once more my city
of destination.'
'You are to use this money on the Stock Exchange, I think?'
remarked the visitor; 'and there, if I mistake not, you have
already lost some thousands?'
'Ah,' said Markheim, 'but this time I have a sure thing.'
'This time, again, you will lose,' replied the visitor quietly.
'Ah, but I keep back the half!' cried Markheim.
'That also you will lose,' said the other.
The sweat started upon Markheim's brow. 'Well, then, what matter?'
he exclaimed. 'Say it be lost, say I am plunged again in poverty,
shall one part of me, and that the worse, continue until the end to
override the better? Evil and good run strong in me, haling me
both ways. I do not love the one thing, I love all. I can
conceive great deeds, renunciations, martyrdoms; and though I be
fallen to such a crime as murder, pity is no stranger to my
thoughts. I pity the poor; who knows their trials better than
myself? I pity and help them; I prize love, I love honest
laughter; there is no good thing nor true thing on earth but I love
it from my heart. And are my vices only to direct my life, and my
virtues to lie without effect, like some passive lumber of the
mind? Not so; good, also, is a spring of acts.'
But the visitant raised his finger. 'For six-and-thirty years that
you have been in this world,' said be, 'through many changes of
fortune and varieties of humour, I have watched you steadily fall.
Fifteen years ago you would have started at a theft. Three years
back you would have blenched at the name of murder. Is there any
crime, is there any cruelty or meanness, from which you still
recoil? - five years from now I shall detect you in the fact!
Downward, downward, lies your way; nor can anything but death avail
to stop you.'
'It is true,' Markheim said huskily, 'I have in some degree
complied with evil. But it is so with all: the very saints, in the
mere exercise of living, grow less dainty, and take on the tone of
their surroundings.'
'I will propound to you one simple question,' said the other; 'and
as you answer, I shall read to you your moral horoscope. You have
grown in many things more lax; possibly you do right to be so - and
at any account, it is the same with all men. But granting that,
are you in any one particular, however trifling, more difficult to
please with your own conduct, or do you go in all things with a
looser rein?'
'In any one?' repeated Markheim, with an anguish of consideration.
'No,' he added, with despair, 'in none! I have gone down in all.'
'Then,' said the visitor, 'content yourself with what you are, for
you will never change; and the words of your part on this stage are
irrevocably written down.'
Markheim stood for a long while silent, and indeed it was the
visitor who first broke the silence. 'That being so,' he said,
'shall I show you the money?'
'And grace?' cried Markheim.
'Have you not tried it?' returned the other. 'Two or three years
ago, did I not see you on the platform of revival meetings, and was
not your voice the loudest in the hymn?'
'It is true,' said Markheim; 'and I see clearly what remains for me
by way of duty. I thank you for these lessons from my soul; my
eyes are opened, and I behold myself at last for what I am.'
At this moment, the sharp note of the door-bell rang through the
house; and the visitant, as though this were some concerted signal
for which he had been waiting, changed at once in his demeanour.
'The maid!' he cried. 'She has returned, as I forewarned you, and
there is now before you one more difficult passage. Her master,
you must say, is ill; you must let her in, with an assured but
rather serious countenance - no smiles, no overacting, and I
promise you success! Once the girl within, and the door closed,
the same dexterity that has already rid you of the dealer will
relieve you of this last danger in your path. Thenceforward you
have the whole evening - the whole night, if needful - to ransack
the treasures of the house and to make good your safety. This is
help that comes to you with the mask of danger. Up!' he cried;
'up, friend; your life hangs trembling in the scales: up, and act!'
Markheim steadily regarded his counsellor. 'If I be condemned to
evil acts,' he said, 'there is still one door of freedom open - I
can cease from action. If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it
down. Though I be, as you say truly, at the beck of every small
temptation, I can yet, by one decisive gesture, place myself beyond
the reach of all. My love of good is damned to barrenness; it may,
and let it be! But I have still my hatred of evil; and from that,
to your galling disappointment, you shall see that I can draw both
energy and courage.'
The features of the visitor began to undergo a wonderful and lovely
change: they brightened and softened with a tender triumph, and,
even as they brightened, faded and dislimned. But Markheim did not
pause to watch or understand the transformation. He opened the
door and went downstairs very slowly, thinking to himself. His
past went soberly before him; he beheld it as it was, ugly and
strenuous like a dream, random as chance-medley - a scene of
defeat. Life, as he thus reviewed it, tempted him no longer; but
on the further side he perceived a quiet haven for his bark. He
paused in the passage, and looked into the shop, where the candle
still burned by the dead body. It was strangely silent. Thoughts
of the dealer swarmed into his mind, as he stood gazing. And then
the bell once more broke out into impatient clamour.
He confronted the maid upon the threshold with something like a
'You had better go for the police,' said he: 'I have killed your
THE Reverend Murdoch Soulis was long minister of the moorland
parish of Balweary, in the vale of Dule. A severe, bleak-faced old
man, dreadful to his hearers, he dwelt in the last years of his
life, without relative or servant or any human company, in the
small and lonely manse under the Hanging Shaw. In spite of the
iron composure of his features, his eye was wild, scared, and
uncertain; and when he dwelt, in private admonitions, on the future
of the impenitent, it seemed as if his eye pierced through the
storms of time to the terrors of eternity. Many young persons,
coming to prepare themselves against the season of the Holy
Communion, were dreadfully affected by his talk. He had a sermon
on lst Peter, v. and 8th, 'The devil as a roaring lion,' on the
Sunday after every seventeenth of August, and he was accustomed to
surpass himself upon that text both by the appalling nature of the
matter and the terror of his bearing in the pulpit. The children
were frightened into fits, and the old looked more than usually
oracular, and were, all that day, full of those hints that Hamlet
deprecated. The manse itself, where it stood by the water of Dule
among some thick trees, with the Shaw overhanging it on the one
side, and on the other many cold, moorish hilltops rising towards
the sky, had begun, at a very early period of Mr. Soulis's
ministry, to be avoided in the dusk hours by all who valued
themselves upon their prudence; and guidmen sitting at the clachan
alehouse shook their heads together at the thought of passing late
by that uncanny neighbourhood. There was one spot, to be more
particular, which was regarded with especial awe. The manse stood
between the high road and the water of Dule, with a gable to each;
its back was towards the kirk-town of Balweary, nearly half a mile
away; in front of it, a bare garden, hedged with thorn, occupied
the land between the river and the road. The house was two stories
high, with two large rooms on each. It opened not directly on the
garden, but on a causewayed path, or passage, giving on the road on
the one hand, and closed on the other by the tall willows and
elders that bordered on the stream. And it was this strip of
causeway that enjoyed among the young parishioners of Balweary so
infamous a reputation. The minister walked there often after dark,
sometimes groaning aloud in the instancy of his unspoken prayers;
and when he was from home, and the manse door was locked, the more
daring schoolboys ventured, with beating hearts, to 'follow my
leader' across that legendary spot.
This atmosphere of terror, surrounding, as it did, a man of God of
spotless character and orthodoxy, was a common cause of wonder and
subject of inquiry among the few strangers who were led by chance
or business into that unknown, outlying country. But many even of
the people of the parish were ignorant of the strange events which
had marked the first year of Mr. Soulis's ministrations; and among
those who were better informed, some were naturally reticent, and
others shy of that particular topic. Now and again, only, one of
the older folk would warm into courage over his third tumbler, and
recount the cause of the minister's strange looks and solitary
Fifty years syne, when Mr. Soulis cam first into Ba'weary, he was
still a young man - a callant, the folk said - fu' o' book learnin'
and grand at the exposition, but, as was natural in sae young a
man, wi' nae leevin' experience in religion. The younger sort were
greatly taken wi' his gifts and his gab; but auld, concerned,
serious men and women were moved even to prayer for the young man,
whom they took to be a self-deceiver, and the parish that was like
to be sae ill-supplied. It was before the days o' the moderates -
weary fa' them; but ill things are like guid - they baith come bit
by bit, a pickle at a time; and there were folk even then that said
the Lord had left the college professors to their ain devices, an'
the lads that went to study wi' them wad hae done mair and better
sittin' in a peat-bog, like their forbears of the persecution, wi'
a Bible under their oxter and a speerit o' prayer in their heart.
There was nae doubt, onyway, but that Mr. Soulis had been ower lang
at the college. He was careful and troubled for mony things
besides the ae thing needful. He had a feck o' books wi' him -
mair than had ever been seen before in a' that presbytery; and a
sair wark the carrier had wi' them, for they were a' like to have
smoored in the Deil's Hag between this and Kilmackerlie. They were
books o' divinity, to be sure, or so they ca'd them; but the
serious were o' opinion there was little service for sae mony, when
the hail o' God's Word would gang in the neuk of a plaid. Then he
wad sit half the day and half the nicht forbye, which was scant
decent - writin', nae less; and first, they were feared he wad read
his sermons; and syne it proved he was writin' a book himsel',
which was surely no fittin' for ane of his years an' sma'
Onyway it behoved him to get an auld, decent wife to keep the manse
for him an' see to his bit denners; and he was recommended to an
auld limmer - Janet M'Clour, they ca'd her - and sae far left to
himsel' as to be ower persuaded. There was mony advised him to the
contrar, for Janet was mair than suspeckit by the best folk in
Ba'weary. Lang or that, she had had a wean to a dragoon; she
hadnae come forrit (4) for maybe thretty year; and bairns had seen
her mumblin' to hersel' up on Key's Loan in the gloamin', whilk was
an unco time an' place for a God-fearin' woman. Howsoever, it was
the laird himsel' that had first tauld the minister o' Janet; and
in thae days he wad have gane a far gate to pleesure the laird.
When folk tauld him that Janet was sib to the deil, it was a'
superstition by his way of it; an' when they cast up the Bible to
him an' the witch of Endor, he wad threep it doun their thrapples
that thir days were a' gane by, and the deil was mercifully
Weel, when it got about the clachan that Janet M'Clour was to be
servant at the manse, the folk were fair mad wi' her an' him
thegether; and some o' the guidwives had nae better to dae than get
round her door cheeks and chairge her wi' a' that was ken't again
her, frae the sodger's bairn to John Tamson's twa kye. She was nae
great speaker; folk usually let her gang her ain gate, an' she let
them gang theirs, wi', neither Fair-guid-een nor Fair-guid-day; but
when she buckled to, she had a tongue to deave the miller. Up she
got, an' there wasnae an auld story in Ba'weary but she gart
somebody lowp for it that day; they couldnae say ae thing but she
could say twa to it; till, at the hinder end, the guidwives up and
claught haud of her, and clawed the coats aff her back, and pu'd
her doun the clachan to the water o' Dule, to see if she were a
witch or no, soum or droun. The carline skirled till ye could hear
her at the Hangin' Shaw, and she focht like ten; there was mony a
guidwife bure the mark of her neist day an' mony a lang day after;
and just in the hettest o' the collieshangie, wha suld come up (for
his sins) but the new minister.
'Women,' said he (and he had a grand voice), 'I charge you in the
Lord's name to let her go.'
Janet ran to him - she was fair wud wi' terror - an' clang to him,
an' prayed him, for Christ's sake, save her frae the cummers; an'
they, for their pairt, tauld him a' that was ken't, and maybe mair.
'Woman,' says he to Janet, 'is this true?'
'As the Lord sees me,' says she, 'as the Lord made me, no a word
o't. Forbye the bairn,' says she, 'I've been a decent woman a' my
'Will you,' says Mr. Soulis, 'in the name of God, and before me,
His unworthy minister, renounce the devil and his works?'
Weel, it wad appear that when he askit that, she gave a girn that
fairly frichtit them that saw her, an' they could hear her teeth
play dirl thegether in her chafts; but there was naething for it
but the ae way or the ither; an' Janet lifted up her hand and
renounced the deil before them a'.
'And now,' says Mr. Soulis to the guidwives, 'home with ye, one and
all, and pray to God for His forgiveness.'
And he gied Janet his arm, though she had little on her but a sark,
and took her up the clachan to her ain door like a leddy of the
land; an' her scrieghin' and laughin' as was a scandal to be heard.
There were mony grave folk lang ower their prayers that nicht; but
when the morn cam' there was sic a fear fell upon a' Ba'weary that
the bairns hid theirsels, and even the men folk stood and keekit
frae their doors. For there was Janet comin' doun the clachan -
her or her likeness, nane could tell - wi' her neck thrawn, and her
heid on ae side, like a body that has been hangit, and a girn on
her face like an unstreakit corp. By an' by they got used wi' it,
and even speered at her to ken what was wrang; but frae that day
forth she couldnae speak like a Christian woman, but slavered and
played click wi' her teeth like a pair o' shears; and frae that day
forth the name o' God cam never on her lips. Whiles she wad try to
say it, but it michtnae be. Them that kenned best said least; but
they never gied that Thing the name o' Janet M'Clour; for the auld
Janet, by their way o't, was in muckle hell that day. But the
minister was neither to haud nor to bind; he preached about
naething but the folk's cruelty that had gi'en her a stroke of the
palsy; he skelpt the bairns that meddled her; and he had her up to
the manse that same nicht, and dwalled there a' his lane wi' her
under the Hangin' Shaw.
Weel, time gaed by: and the idler sort commenced to think mair
lichtly o' that black business. The minister was weel thocht o';
he was aye late at the writing, folk wad see his can'le doon by the
Dule water after twal' at e'en; and he seemed pleased wi' himsel'
and upsitten as at first, though a' body could see that he was
dwining. As for Janet she cam an' she gaed; if she didnae speak
muckle afore, it was reason she should speak less then; she meddled
naebody; but she was an eldritch thing to see, an' nane wad hae
mistrysted wi' her for Ba'weary glebe.
About the end o' July there cam' a spell o' weather, the like o't
never was in that country side; it was lown an' het an' heartless;
the herds couldnae win up the Black Hill, the bairns were ower
weariet to play; an' yet it was gousty too, wi' claps o' het wund
that rumm'led in the glens, and bits o' shouers that slockened
naething. We aye thocht it but to thun'er on the morn; but the
morn cam, an' the morn's morning, and it was aye the same uncanny
weather, sair on folks and bestial. Of a' that were the waur, nane
suffered like Mr. Soulis; he could neither sleep nor eat, he tauld
his elders; an' when he wasnae writin' at his weary book, he wad be
stravaguin' ower a' the countryside like a man possessed, when a'
body else was blythe to keep caller ben the house.
Abune Hangin' Shaw, in the bield o' the Black Hill, there's a bit
enclosed grund wi' an iron yett; and it seems, in the auld days,
that was the kirkyaird o' Ba'weary, and consecrated by the Papists
before the blessed licht shone upon the kingdom. It was a great
howff o' Mr. Soulis's, onyway; there he would sit an' consider his
sermons; and indeed it's a bieldy bit. Weel, as he cam ower the
wast end o' the Black Hill, ae day, he saw first twa, an syne
fower, an' syne seeven corbie craws fleein' round an' round abune
the auld kirkyaird. They flew laigh and heavy, an' squawked to
ither as they gaed; and it was clear to Mr. Soulis that something
had put them frae their ordinar. He wasnae easy fleyed, an' gaed
straucht up to the wa's; an' what suld he find there but a man, or
the appearance of a man, sittin' in the inside upon a grave. He
was of a great stature, an' black as hell, and his e'en were
singular to see. (5) Mr. Soulis had heard tell o' black men,
mony's the time; but there was something unco about this black man
that daunted him. Het as he was, he took a kind o' cauld grue in
the marrow o' his banes; but up he spak for a' that; an' says he:
'My friend, are you a stranger in this place?' The black man
answered never a word; he got upon his feet, an' begude to hirsle
to the wa' on the far side; but he aye lookit at the minister; an'
the minister stood an' lookit back; till a' in a meenute the black
man was ower the wa' an' rinnin' for the bield o' the trees. Mr.
Soulis, he hardly kenned why, ran after him; but he was sair
forjaskit wi' his walk an' the het, unhalesome weather; and rin as
he likit, he got nae mair than a glisk o' the black man amang the
birks, till he won doun to the foot o' the hill-side, an' there he
saw him ance mair, gaun, hap, step, an' lowp, ower Dule water to
the manse.
Mr. Soulis wasnae weel pleased that this fearsome gangrel suld mak'
sae free wi' Ba'weary manse; an' he ran the harder, an', wet shoon,
ower the burn, an' up the walk; but the deil a black man was there
to see. He stepped out upon the road, but there was naebody there;
he gaed a' ower the gairden, but na, nae black man. At the hinder
end, and a bit feared as was but natural, he lifted the hasp and
into the manse; and there was Janet M'Clour before his een, wi' her
thrawn craig, and nane sae pleased to see him. And he aye minded
sinsyne, when first he set his een upon her, he had the same cauld
and deidly grue.
'Janet,' says he, 'have you seen a black man?'
'A black man?' quo' she. 'Save us a'! Ye're no wise, minister.
There's nae black man in a Ba'weary.'
But she didnae speak plain, ye maun understand; but yam-yammered,
like a powney wi' the bit in its moo.
'Weel,' says he, 'Janet, if there was nae black man, I have spoken
with the Accuser of the Brethren.'
And he sat down like ane wi' a fever, an' his teeth chittered in
his heid.
'Hoots,' says she, 'think shame to yoursel', minister;' an' gied
him a drap brandy that she keept aye by her.
Syne Mr. Soulis gaed into his study amang a' his books. It's a
lang, laigh, mirk chalmer, perishin' cauld in winter, an' no very
dry even in the tap o' the simmer, for the manse stands near the
burn. Sae doun he sat, and thocht of a' that had come an' gane
since he was in Ba'weary, an' his hame, an' the days when he was a
bairn an' ran daffin' on the braes; and that black man aye ran in
his heid like the ower-come of a sang. Aye the mair he thocht, the
mair he thocht o' the black man. He tried the prayer, an' the
words wouldnae come to him; an' he tried, they say, to write at his
book, but he could nae mak' nae mair o' that. There was whiles he
thocht the black man was at his oxter, an' the swat stood upon him
cauld as well-water; and there was other whiles, when he cam to
himsel' like a christened bairn and minded naething.
The upshot was that he gaed to the window an' stood glowrin' at
Dule water. The trees are unco thick, an' the water lies deep an'
black under the manse; an' there was Janct washin' the cla'es wi'
her coats kilted. She had her back to the minister, an' he, for
his pairt, hardly kenned what he was lookin' at. Syne she turned
round, an' shawed her face; Mr. Soulis had the same cauld grue as
twice that day afore, an' it was borne in upon him what folk said,
that Janet was deid lang syne, an' this was a bogle in her claycauld
flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly.
She was tramp-trampin' in the cla'es, croonin' to hersel'; and eh!
Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face. Whiles she sang louder,
but there was nae man born o' woman that could tell the words o'
her sang; an' whiles she lookit side-lang doun, but there was
naething there for her to look at. There gaed a scunner through
the flesh upon his banes; and that was Heeven's advertisement. But
Mr. Soulis just blamed himsel', he said, to think sae ill of a
puir, auld afflicted wife that hadnae a freend forbye himsel'; an'
he put up a bit prayer for him and her, an' drank a little caller
water - for his heart rose again the meat - an' gaed up to his
naked bed in the gloaming.
That was a nicht that has never been forgotten in Ba'weary, the
nicht o' the seeventeenth of August, seventeen hun'er' an twal'.
It had been het afore, as I hae said, but that nicht it was hetter
than ever. The sun gaed doun amang unco-lookin' clouds; it fell as
mirk as the pit; no a star, no a breath o' wund; ye couldnae see
your han' afore your face, and even the auld folk cuist the covers
frae their beds and lay pechin' for their breath. Wi' a' that he
had upon his mind, it was gey and unlikely Mr. Soulis wad get
muckle sleep. He lay an' he tummled; the gude, caller bed that he
got into brunt his very banes; whiles he slept, and whiles he
waukened; whiles he heard the time o' nicht, and whiles a tyke
yowlin' up the muir, as if somebody was deid; whiles he thocht he
heard bogles claverin' in his lug, an' whiles he saw spunkies in
the room. He behoved, he judged, to be sick; an' sick he was -
little he jaloosed the sickness.
At the hinder end, he got a clearness in his mind, sat up in his
sark on the bed-side, and fell thinkin' ance mair o' the black man
an' Janet. He couldnae weel tell how - maybe it was the cauld to
his feet - but it cam' in upon him wi' a spate that there was some
connection between thir twa, an' that either or baith o' them were
bogles. And just at that moment, in Janet's room, which was neist
to his, there cam' a stramp o' feet as if men were wars'lin', an'
then a loud bang; an' then a wund gaed reishling round the fower
quarters of the house; an' then a' was aince mair as seelent as the
Mr. Soulis was feared for neither man nor deevil. He got his
tinder-box, an' lit a can'le, an' made three steps o't ower to
Janet's door. It was on the hasp, an' he pushed it open, an'
keeked bauldly in. It was a big room, as big as the minister's
ain, an' plenished wi' grand, auld, solid gear, for he had naething
else. There was a fower-posted bed wi' auld tapestry; and a braw
cabinet of aik, that was fu' o' the minister's divinity books, an'
put there to be out o' the gate; an' a wheen duds o' Janet's lying
here and there about the floor. But nae Janet could Mr. Soulis
see; nor ony sign of a contention. In he gaed (an' there's few
that wad ha'e followed him) an' lookit a' round, an' listened. But
there was naethin' to be heard, neither inside the manse nor in a'
Ba'weary parish, an' naethin' to be seen but the muckle shadows
turnin' round the can'le. An' then a' at aince, the minister's
heart played dunt an' stood stock-still; an' a cauld wund blew
amang the hairs o' his heid. Whaten a weary sicht was that for the
puir man's een! For there was Janat hangin' frae a nail beside the
auld aik cabinet: her heid aye lay on her shoother, her een were
steeked, the tongue projekit frae her mouth, and her heels were twa
feet clear abune the floor.
'God forgive us all!' thocht Mr. Soulis; 'poor Janet's dead.'
He cam' a step nearer to the corp; an' then his heart fair whammled
in his inside. For by what cantrip it wad ill-beseem a man to
judge, she was hingin' frae a single nail an' by a single wursted
thread for darnin' hose.
It's an awfu' thing to be your lane at nicht wi' siccan prodigies
o' darkness; but Mr. Soulis was strong in the Lord. He turned an'
gaed his ways oot o' that room, and lockit the door ahint him; and
step by step, doon the stairs, as heavy as leed; and set doon the
can'le on the table at the stairfoot. He couldnae pray, he
couldnae think, he was dreepin' wi' caul' swat, an' naething could
he hear but the dunt-dunt-duntin' o' his ain heart. He micht maybe
have stood there an hour, or maybe twa, he minded sae little; when
a' o' a sudden, he heard a laigh, uncanny steer upstairs; a foot
gaed to an' fro in the cha'mer whaur the corp was hingin'; syne the
door was opened, though he minded weel that he had lockit it; an'
syne there was a step upon the landin', an' it seemed to him as if
the corp was lookin' ower the rail and doun upon him whaur he
He took up the can'le again (for he couldnae want the licht), and
as saftly as ever he could, gaed straucht out o' the manse an' to
the far end o' the causeway. It was aye pit-mirk; the flame o' the
can'le, when he set it on the grund, brunt steedy and clear as in a
room; naething moved, but the Dule water seepin' and sabbin' doon
the glen, an' yon unhaly footstep that cam' ploddin doun the stairs
inside the manse. He kenned the foot over weel, for it was
Janet's; and at ilka step that cam' a wee thing nearer, the cauld
got deeper in his vitals. He commanded his soul to Him that made
an' keepit him; 'and O Lord,' said he, 'give me strength this night
to war against the powers of evil.'
By this time the foot was comin' through the passage for the door;
he could hear a hand skirt alang the wa', as if the fearsome thing
was feelin' for its way. The saughs tossed an' maned thegether, a
lang sigh cam' ower the hills, the flame o' the can'le was blawn
aboot; an' there stood the corp of Thrawn Janet, wi' her grogram
goun an' her black mutch, wi' the heid aye upon the shouther, an'
the girn still upon the face o't - leevin', ye wad hae said - deid,
as Mr. Soulis weel kenned - upon the threshold o' the manse.
It's a strange thing that the saul of man should be that thirled
into his perishable body; but the minister saw that, an' his heart
didnae break.
She didnae stand there lang; she began to move again an' cam'
slowly towards Mr. Soulis whaur he stood under the saughs. A' the
life o' his body, a' the strength o' his speerit, were glowerin'
frae his een. It seemed she was gaun to speak, but wanted words,
an' made a sign wi' the left hand. There cam' a clap o' wund, like
a cat's fuff; oot gaed the can'le, the saughs skrieghed like folk;
an' Mr. Soulis kenned that, live or die, this was the end o't.
'Witch, beldame, devil!' he cried, 'I charge you, by the power of
God, begone - if you be dead, to the grave - if you be damned, to
An' at that moment the Lord's ain hand out o' the Heevens struck
the Horror whaur it stood; the auld, deid, desecrated corp o' the
witch-wife, sae lang keepit frae the grave and hirsled round by
deils, lowed up like a brunstane spunk and fell in ashes to the
grund; the thunder followed, peal on dirling peal, the rairing rain
upon the back o' that; and Mr. Soulis lowped through the garden
hedge, and ran, wi' skelloch upon skelloch, for the clachan.
That same mornin', John Christie saw the Black Man pass the Muckle
Cairn as it was chappin' six; before eicht, he gaed by the changehouse
at Knockdow; an' no lang after, Sandy M'Lellan saw him gaun
linkin' doun the braes frae Kilmackerlie. There's little doubt but
it was him that dwalled sae lang in Janet's body; but he was awa'
at last; and sinsyne the deil has never fashed us in Ba'weary.
But it was a sair dispensation for the minister; lang, lang he lay
ravin' in his bed; and frae that hour to this, he was the man ye
ken the day.
'Now,' said the doctor, 'my part is done, and, I may say, with some
vanity, well done. It remains only to get you out of this cold and
poisonous city, and to give you two months of a pure air and an
easy conscience. The last is your affair. To the first I think I
can help you. It fells indeed rather oddly; it was but the other
day the Padre came in from the country; and as he and I are old
friends, although of contrary professions, he applied to me in a
matter of distress among some of his parishioners. This was a
family - but you are ignorant of Spain, and even the names of our
grandees are hardly known to you; suffice it, then, that they were
once great people, and are now fallen to the brink of destitution.
Nothing now belongs to them but the residencia, and certain leagues
of desert mountain, in the greater part of which not even a goat
could support life. But the house is a fine old place, and stands
at a great height among the hills, and most salubriously; and I had
no sooner heard my friend's tale, than I remembered you. I told
him I had a wounded officer, wounded in the good cause, who was now
able to make a change; and I proposed that his friends should take
you for a lodger. Instantly the Padre's face grew dark, as I had
maliciously foreseen it would. It was out of the question, he
said. Then let them starve, said I, for I have no sympathy with
tatterdemalion pride. There-upon we separated, not very content
with one another; but yesterday, to my wonder, the Padre returned
and made a submission: the difficulty, he said, he had found upon
enquiry to be less than he had feared; or, in other words, these
proud people had put their pride in their pocket. I closed with
the offer; and, subject to your approval, I have taken rooms for
you in the residencia. The air of these mountains will renew your
blood; and the quiet in which you will there live is worth all the
medicines in the world.'
'Doctor,' said I, 'you have been throughout my good angel, and your
advice is a command. But tell me, if you please, something of the
family with which I am to reside.'
'I am coming to that,' replied my friend; 'and, indeed, there is a
difficulty in the way. These beggars are, as I have said, of very
high descent and swollen with the most baseless vanity; they have
lived for some generations in a growing isolation, drawing away, on
either hand, from the rich who had now become too high for them,
and from the poor, whom they still regarded as too low; and even
to-day, when poverty forces them to unfasten their door to a guest,
they cannot do so without a most ungracious stipulation. You are
to remain, they say, a stranger; they will give you attendance, but
they refuse from the first the idea of the smallest intimacy.'
I will not deny that I was piqued, and perhaps the feeling
strengthened my desire to go, for I was confident that I could
break down that barrier if I desired. 'There is nothing offensive
in such a stipulation,' said I; 'and I even sympathise with the
feeling that inspired it.'
'It is true they have never seen you,' returned the doctor
politely; 'and if they knew you were the handsomest and the most
pleasant man that ever came from England (where I am told that
handsome men are common, but pleasant ones not so much so), they
would doubtless make you welcome with a better grace. But since
you take the thing so well, it matters not. To me, indeed, it
seems discourteous. But you will find yourself the gainer. The
family will not much tempt you. A mother, a son, and a daughter;
an old woman said to be halfwitted, a country lout, and a country
girl, who stands very high with her confessor, and is, therefore,'
chuckled the physician, 'most likely plain; there is not much in
that to attract the fancy of a dashing officer.'
'And yet you say they are high-born,' I objected.
'Well, as to that, I should distinguish,' returned the doctor.
'The mother is; not so the children. The mother was the last
representative of a princely stock, degenerate both in parts and
fortune. Her father was not only poor, he was mad: and the girl
ran wild about the residencia till his death. Then, much of the
fortune having died with him, and the family being quite extinct,
the girl ran wilder than ever, until at last she married, Heaven
knows whom, a muleteer some say, others a smuggler; while there are
some who uphold there was no marriage at all, and that Felipe and
Olalla are bastards. The union, such as it was, was tragically
dissolved some years ago; but they live in such seclusion, and the
country at that time was in so much disorder, that the precise
manner of the man's end is known only to the priest - if even to
'I begin to think I shall have strange experiences,' said I.
'I would not romance, if I were you,' replied the doctor; 'you will
find, I fear, a very grovelling and commonplace reality. Felipe,
for instance, I have seen. And what am I to say? He is very
rustic, very cunning, very loutish, and, I should say, an innocent;
the others are probably to match. No, no, senor commandante, you
must seek congenial society among the great sights of our
mountains; and in these at least, if you are at all a lover of the
works of nature, I promise you will not be disappointed.'
The next day Felipe came for me in a rough country cart, drawn by a
mule; and a little before the stroke of noon, after I had said
farewell to the doctor, the innkeeper, and different good souls who
had befriended me during my sickness, we set forth out of the city
by the Eastern gate, and began to ascend into the Sierra. I had
been so long a prisoner, since I was left behind for dying after
the loss of the convoy, that the mere smell of the earth set me
smiling. The country through which we went was wild and rocky,
partially covered with rough woods, now of the cork-tree, and now
of the great Spanish chestnut, and frequently intersected by the
beds of mountain torrents. The sun shone, the wind rustled
joyously; and we had advanced some miles, and the city had already
shrunk into an inconsiderable knoll upon the plain behind us,
before my attention began to be diverted to the companion of my
drive. To the eye, he seemed but a diminutive, loutish, well-made
country lad, such as the doctor had described, mighty quick and
active, but devoid of any culture; and this first impression was
with most observers final. What began to strike me was his
familiar, chattering talk; so strangely inconsistent with the terms
on which I was to be received; and partly from his imperfect
enunciation, partly from the sprightly incoherence of the matter,
so very difficult to follow clearly without an effort of the mind.
It is true I had before talked with persons of a similar mental
constitution; persons who seemed to live (as he did) by the senses,
taken and possessed by the visual object of the moment and unable
to discharge their minds of that impression. His seemed to me (as
I sat, distantly giving ear) a kind of conversation proper to
drivers, who pass much of their time in a great vacancy of the
intellect and threading the sights of a familiar country. But this
was not the case of Felipe; by his own account, he was a homekeeper;
'I wish I was there now,' he said; and then, spying a tree
by the wayside, he broke off to tell me that he had once seen a
crow among its branches.
'A crow?' I repeated, struck by the ineptitude of the remark, and
thinking I had heard imperfectly.
But by this time he was already filled with a new idea; hearkening
with a rapt intentness, his head on one side, his face puckered;
and he struck me rudely, to make me hold my peace. Then he smiled
and shook his head.
'What did you hear?' I asked.
'O, it is all right,' he said; and began encouraging his mule with
cries that echoed unhumanly up the mountain walls.
I looked at him more closely. He was superlatively well-built,
light, and lithe and strong; he was well-featured; his yellow eyes
were very large, though, perhaps, not very expressive; take him
altogether, he was a pleasant-looking lad, and I had no fault to
find with him, beyond that he was of a dusky hue, and inclined to
hairyness; two characteristics that I disliked. It was his mind
that puzzled, and yet attracted me. The doctor's phrase - an
innocent - came back to me; and I was wondering if that were, after
all, the true description, when the road began to go down into the
narrow and naked chasm of a torrent. The waters thundered
tumultuously in the bottom; and the ravine was filled full of the
sound, the thin spray, and the claps of wind, that accompanied
their descent. The scene was certainly impressive; but the road
was in that part very securely walled in; the mule went steadily
forward; and I was astonished to perceive the paleness of terror in
the face of my companion. The voice of that wild river was
inconstant, now sinking lower as if in weariness, now doubling its
hoarse tones; momentary freshets seemed to swell its volume,
sweeping down the gorge, raving and booming against the barrier
walls; and I observed it was at each of these accessions to the
clamour, that my driver more particularly winced and blanched.
Some thoughts of Scottish superstition and the river Kelpie, passed
across my mind; I wondered if perchance the like were prevalent in
that part of Spain; and turning to Felipe, sought to draw him out.
'What is the matter?' I asked.
'O, I am afraid,' he replied.
'Of what are you afraid?' I returned. 'This seems one of the
safest places on this very dangerous road.'
'It makes a noise,' he said, with a simplicity of awe that set my
doubts at rest.
The lad was but a child in intellect; his mind was like his body,
active and swift, but stunted in development; and I began from that
time forth to regard him with a measure of pity, and to listen at
first with indulgence, and at last even with pleasure, to his
disjointed babble.
By about four in the afternoon we had crossed the summit of the
mountain line, said farewell to the western sunshine, and began to
go down upon the other side, skirting the edge of many ravines and
moving through the shadow of dusky woods. There rose upon all
sides the voice of falling water, not condensed and formidable as
in the gorge of the river, but scattered and sounding gaily and
musically from glen to glen. Here, too, the spirits of my driver
mended, and he began to sing aloud in a falsetto voice, and with a
singular bluntness of musical perception, never true either to
melody or key, but wandering at will, and yet somehow with an
effect that was natural and pleasing, like that of the of birds.
As the dusk increased, I fell more and more under the spell of this
artless warbling, listening and waiting for some articulate air,
and still disappointed; and when at last I asked him what it was he
sang - 'O,' cried he, 'I am just singing!' Above all, I was taken
with a trick he had of unweariedly repeating the same note at
little intervals; it was not so monotonous as you would think, or,
at least, not disagreeable; and it seemed to breathe a wonderful
contentment with what is, such as we love to fancy in the attitude
of trees, or the quiescence of a pool.
Night had fallen dark before we came out upon a plateau, and drew
up a little after, before a certain lump of superior blackness
which I could only conjecture to be the residencia. Here, my
guide, getting down from the cart, hooted and whistled for a long
time in vain; until at last an old peasant man came towards us from
somewhere in the surrounding dark, carrying a candle in his hand.
By the light of this I was able to perceive a great arched doorway
of a Moorish character: it was closed by iron-studded gates, in one
of the leaves of which Felipe opened a wicket. The peasant carried
off the cart to some out-building; but my guide and I passed
through the wicket, which was closed again behind us; and by the
glimmer of the candle, passed through a court, up a stone stair,
along a section of an open gallery, and up more stairs again, until
we came at last to the door of a great and somewhat bare apartment.
This room, which I understood was to be mine, was pierced by three
windows, lined with some lustrous wood disposed in panels, and
carpeted with the skins of many savage animals. A bright fire
burned in the chimney, and shed abroad a changeful flicker; close
up to the blaze there was drawn a table, laid for supper; and in
the far end a bed stood ready. I was pleased by these
preparations, and said so to Felipe; and he, with the same
simplicity of disposition that I held already remarked in him,
warmly re-echoed my praises. 'A fine room,' he said; 'a very fine
room. And fire, too; fire is good; it melts out the pleasure in
your bones. And the bed,' he continued, carrying over the candle
in that direction - 'see what fine sheets - how soft, how smooth,
smooth;' and he passed his hand again and again over their texture,
and then laid down his head and rubbed his cheeks among them with a
grossness of content that somehow offended me. I took the candle
from his hand (for I feared he would set the bed on fire) and
walked back to the supper-table, where, perceiving a measure of
wine, I poured out a cup and called to him to come and drink of it.
He started to his feet at once and ran to me with a strong
expression of hope; but when he saw the wine, he visibly shuddered.
'Oh, no,' he said, 'not that; that is for you. I hate it.'
'Very well, Senor,' said I; 'then I will drink to your good health,
and to the prosperity of your house and family. Speaking of
which,' I added, after I had drunk, 'shall I not have the pleasure
of laying my salutations in person at the feet of the Senora, your
But at these words all the childishness passed out of his face, and
was succeeded by a look of indescribable cunning and secrecy. He
backed away from me at the same time, as though I were an animal
about to leap or some dangerous fellow with a weapon, and when he
had got near the door, glowered at me sullenly with contracted
pupils. 'No,' he said at last, and the next moment was gone
noiselessly out of the room; and I heard his footing die away
downstairs as light as rainfall, and silence closed over the house.
After I had supped I drew up the table nearer to the bed and began
to prepare for rest; but in the new position of the light, I was
struck by a picture on the wall. It represented a woman, still
young. To judge by her costume and the mellow unity which reigned
over the canvas, she had long been dead; to judge by the vivacity
of the attitude, the eyes and the features, I might have been
beholding in a mirror the image of life. Her figure was very slim
and strong, and of a just proportion; red tresses lay like a crown
over her brow; her eyes, of a very golden brown, held mine with a
look; and her face, which was perfectly shaped, was yet marred by a
cruel, sullen, and sensual expression. Something in both face and
figure, something exquisitely intangible, like the echo of an echo,
suggested the features and bearing of my guide; and I stood awhile,
unpleasantly attracted and wondering at the oddity of the
resemblance. The common, carnal stock of that race, which had been
originally designed for such high dames as the one now looking on
me from the canvas, had fallen to baser uses, wearing country
clothes, sitting on the shaft and holding the reins of a mule cart,
to bring home a lodger. Perhaps an actual link subsisted; perhaps
some scruple of the delicate flesh that was once clothed upon with
the satin and brocade of the dead lady, now winced at the rude
contact of Felipe's frieze.
The first light of the morning shone full upon the portrait, and,
as I lay awake, my eyes continued to dwell upon it with growing
complacency; its beauty crept about my heart insidiously, silencing
my scruples one after another; and while I knew that to love such a
woman were to sign and seal one's own sentence of degeneration, I
still knew that, if she were alive, I should love her. Day after
day the double knowledge of her wickedness and of my weakness grew
clearer. She came to be the heroine of many day-dreams, in which
her eyes led on to, and sufficiently rewarded, crimes. She cast a
dark shadow on my fancy; and when I was out in the free air of
heaven, taking vigorous exercise and healthily renewing the current
of my blood, it was often a glad thought to me that my enchantress
was safe in the grave, her wand of beauty broken, her lips closed
in silence, her philtre spilt. And yet I had a half-lingering
terror that she might not be dead after all, but re-arisen in the
body of some descendant.
Felipe served my meals in my own apartment; and his resemblance to
the portrait haunted me. At times it was not; at times, upon some
change of attitude or flash of expression, it would leap out upon
me like a ghost. It was above all in his ill tempers that the
likeness triumphed. He certainly liked me; he was proud of my
notice, which he sought to engage by many simple and childlike
devices; he loved to sit close before my fire, talking his broken
talk or singing his odd, endless, wordless songs, and sometimes
drawing his hand over my clothes with an affectionate manner of
caressing that never failed to cause in me an embarrassment of
which I was ashamed. But for all that, he was capable of flashes
of causeless anger and fits of sturdy sullenness. At a word of
reproof, I have seen him upset the dish of which I was about to
eat, and this not surreptitiously, but with defiance; and similarly
at a hint of inquisition. I was not unnaturally curious, being in
a strange place and surrounded by string people; but at the shadow
of a question, he shrank back, lowering and dangerous. Then it was
that, for a fraction of a second, this rough lad might have been
the brother of the lady in the frame. But these humours were swift
to pass; and the resemblance died along with them.
In these first days I saw nothing of any one but Felipe, unless the
portrait is to be counted; and since the lad was plainly of weak
mind, and had moments of passion, it may be wondered that I bore
his dangerous neighbourhood with equanimity. As a matter of fact,
it was for some time irksome; but it happened before long that I
obtained over him so complete a mastery as set my disquietude at
It fell in this way. He was by nature slothful, and much of a
vagabond, and yet he kept by the house, and not only waited upon my
wants, but laboured every day in the garden or small farm to the
south of the residencia. Here he would be joined by the peasant
whom I had seen on the night of my arrival, and who dwelt at the
far end of the enclosure, about half a mile away, in a rude outhouse;
but it was plain to me that, of these two, it was Felipe who
did most; and though I would sometimes see him throw down his spade
and go to sleep among the very plants he had been digging, his
constancy and energy were admirable in themselves, and still more
so since I was well assured they were foreign to his disposition
and the fruit of an ungrateful effort. But while I admired, I
wondered what had called forth in a lad so shuttle-witted this
enduring sense of duty. How was it sustained? I asked myself, and
to what length did it prevail over his instincts? The priest was
possibly his inspirer; but the priest came one day to the
residencia. I saw him both come and go after an interval of close
upon an hour, from a knoll where I was sketching, and all that time
Felipe continued to labour undisturbed in the garden.
At last, in a very unworthy spirit, I determined to debauch the lad
from his good resolutions, and, way-laying him at the gate, easily
pursuaded him to join me in a ramble. It was a fine day, and the
woods to which I led him were green and pleasant and sweet-smelling
and alive with the hum of insects. Here he discovered himself in a
fresh character, mounting up to heights of gaiety that abashed me,
and displaying an energy and grace of movement that delighted the
eye. He leaped, he ran round me in mere glee; he would stop, and
look and listen, and seem to drink in the world like a cordial; and
then he would suddenly spring into a tree with one bound, and hang
and gambol there like one at home. Little as he said to me, and
that of not much import, I have rarely enjoyed more stirring
company; the sight of his delight was a continual feast; the speed
and accuracy of his movements pleased me to the heart; and I might
have been so thoughtlessly unkind as to make a habit of these
wants, had not chance prepared a very rude conclusion to my
pleasure. By some swiftness or dexterity the lad captured a
squirrel in a tree top. He was then some way ahead of me, but I
saw him drop to the ground and crouch there, crying aloud for
pleasure like a child. The sound stirred my sympathies, it was so
fresh and innocent; but as I bettered my pace to draw near, the cry
of the squirrel knocked upon my heart. I have heard and seen much
of the cruelty of lads, and above all of peasants; but what I now
beheld struck me into a passion of anger. I thrust the fellow
aside, plucked the poor brute out of his hands, and with swift
mercy killed it. Then I turned upon the torturer, spoke to him
long out of the heat of my indignation, calling him names at which
he seemed to wither; and at length, pointing toward the residencia,
bade him begone and leave me, for I chose to walk with men, not
with vermin. He fell upon his knees, and, the words coming to him
with more cleanness than usual, poured out a stream of the most
touching supplications, begging me in mercy to forgive him, to
forget what he had done, to look to the future. 'O, I try so
hard,' he said. 'O, commandante, bear with Felipe this once; he
will never be a brute again!' Thereupon, much more affected than I
cared to show, I suffered myself to be persuaded, and at last shook
hands with him and made it up. But the squirrel, by way of
penance, I made him bury; speaking of the poor thing's beauty,
telling him what pains it had suffered, and how base a thing was
the abuse of strength. 'See, Felipe,' said I, 'you are strong
indeed; but in my hands you are as helpless as that poor thing of
the trees. Give me your hand in mine. You cannot remove it. Now
suppose that I were cruel like you, and took a pleasure in pain. I
only tighten my hold, and see how you suffer.' He screamed aloud,
his face stricken ashy and dotted with needle points of sweat; and
when I set him free, he fell to the earth and nursed his hand and
moaned over it like a baby. But he took the lesson in good part;
and whether from that, or from what I had said to him, or the
higher notion he now had of my bodily strength, his original
affection was changed into a dog-like, adoring fidelity.
Meanwhile I gained rapidly in health. The residencia stood on the
crown of a stony plateau; on every side the mountains hemmed it
about; only from the roof, where was a bartizan, there might be
seen between two peaks, a small segment of plain, blue with extreme
distance. The air in these altitudes moved freely and largely;
great clouds congregated there, and were broken up by the wind and
left in tatters on the hilltops; a hoarse, and yet faint rumbling
of torrents rose from all round; and one could there study all the
ruder and more ancient characters of nature in something of their
pristine force. I delighted from the first in the vigorous scenery
and changeful weather; nor less in the antique and dilapidated
mansion where I dwelt. This was a large oblong, flanked at two
opposite corners by bastion-like projections, one of which
commanded the door, while both were loopholed for musketry. The
lower storey was, besides, naked of windows, so that the building,
if garrisoned, could not be carried without artillery. It enclosed
an open court planted with pomegranate trees. From this a broad
flight of marble stairs ascended to an open gallery, running all
round and resting, towards the court, on slender pillars. Thence
again, several enclosed stairs led to the upper storeys of the
house, which were thus broken up into distinct divisions. The
windows, both within and without, were closely shuttered; some of
the stone-work in the upper parts had fallen; the roof, in one
place, had been wrecked in one of the flurries of wind which were
common in these mountains; and the whole house, in the strong,
beating sunlight, and standing out above a grove of stunted corktrees,
thickly laden and discoloured with dust, looked like the
sleeping palace of the legend. The court, in particular, seemed
the very home of slumber. A hoarse cooing of doves haunted about
the eaves; the winds were excluded, but when they blew outside, the
mountain dust fell here as thick as rain, and veiled the red bloom
of the pomegranates; shuttered windows and the closed doors of
numerous cellars, and the vacant, arches of the gallery, enclosed
it; and all day long the sun made broken profiles on the four
sides, and paraded the shadow of the pillars on the gallery floor.
At the ground level there was, however, a certain pillared recess,
which bore the marks of human habitation. Though it was open in
front upon the court, it was yet provided with a chimney, where a
wood fire would he always prettily blazing; and the tile floor was
littered with the skins of animals.
It was in this place that I first saw my hostess. She had drawn
one of the skins forward and sat in the sun, leaning against a
pillar. It was her dress that struck me first of all, for it was
rich and brightly coloured, and shone out in that dusty courtyard
with something of the same relief as the flowers of the
pomegranates. At a second look it was her beauty of person that
took hold of me. As she sat back - watching me, I thought, though
with invisible eyes - and wearing at the same time an expression of
almost imbecile good-humour and contentment, she showed a
perfectness of feature and a quiet nobility of attitude that were
beyond a statue's. I took off my hat to her in passing, and her
face puckered with suspicion as swiftly and lightly as a pool
ruffles in the breeze; but she paid no heed to my courtesy. I went
forth on my customary walk a trifle daunted, her idol-like
impassivity haunting me; and when I returned, although she was
still in much the same posture, I was half surprised to see that
she had moved as far as the next pillar, following the sunshine.
This time, however, she addressed me with some trivial salutation,
civilly enough conceived, and uttered in the same deep-chested, and
yet indistinct and lisping tones, that had already baffled the
utmost niceness of my hearing from her son. I answered rather at a
venture; for not only did I fail to take her meaning with
precision, but the sudden disclosure of her eyes disturbed me.
They were unusually large, the iris golden like Felipe's, but the
pupil at that moment so distended that they seemed almost black;
and what affected me was not so much their size as (what was
perhaps its consequence) the singular insignificance of their
regard. A look more blankly stupid I have never met. My eyes
dropped before it even as I spoke, and I went on my way upstairs to
my own room, at once baffled and embarrassed. Yet, when I came
there and saw the face of the portrait, I was again reminded of the
miracle of family descent. My hostess was, indeed, both older and
fuller in person; her eyes were of a different colour; her face,
besides, was not only free from the ill-significance that offended
and attracted me in the painting; it was devoid of either good or
bad - a moral blank expressing literally naught. And yet there was
a likeness, not so much speaking as immanent, not so much in any
particular feature as upon the whole. It should seem, I thought,
as if when the master set his signature to that grave canvas, he
had not only caught the image of one smiling and false-eyed woman,
but stamped the essential quality of a race.
From that day forth, whether I came or went, I was sure to find the
Senora seated in the sun against a pillar, or stretched on a rug
before the fire; only at times she would shift her station to the
top round of the stone staircase, where she lay with the same
nonchalance right across my path. In all these days, I never knew
her to display the least spark of energy beyond what she expended
in brushing and re-brushing her copious copper-coloured hair, or in
lisping out, in the rich and broken hoarseness of her voice, her
customary idle salutations to myself. These, I think, were her two
chief pleasures, beyond that of mere quiescence. She seemed always
proud of her remarks, as though they had been witticisms: and,
indeed, though they were empty enough, like the conversation of
many respectable persons, and turned on a very narrow range of
subjects, they were never meaningless or incoherent; nay, they had
a certain beauty of their own, breathing, as they did, of her
entire contentment. Now she would speak of the warmth, in which
(like her son) she greatly delighted; now of the flowers of the
pomegranate trees, and now of the white doves and long-winged
swallows that fanned the air of the court. The birds excited her.
As they raked the eaves in their swift flight, or skimmed sidelong
past her with a rush of wind, she would sometimes stir, and sit a
little up, and seem to awaken from her doze of satisfaction. But
for the rest of her days she lay luxuriously folded on herself and
sunk in sloth and pleasure. Her invincible content at first
annoyed me, but I came gradually to find repose in the spectacle,
until at last it grew to be my habit to sit down beside her four
times in the day, both coming and going, and to talk with her
sleepily, I scarce knew of what. I had come to like her dull,
almost animal neighbourhood; her beauty and her stupidity soothed
and amused me. I began to find a kind of transcendental good sense
in her remarks, and her unfathomable good nature moved me to
admiration and envy. The liking was returned; she enjoyed my
presence half-unconsciously, as a man in deep meditation may enjoy
the babbling of a brook. I can scarce say she brightened when I
came, for satisfaction was written on her face eternally, as on
some foolish statue's; but I was made conscious of her pleasure by
some more intimate communication than the sight. And one day, as I
set within reach of her on the marble step, she suddenly shot forth
one of her hands and patted mine. The thing was done, and she was
back in her accustomed attitude, before my mind had received
intelligence of the caress; and when I turned to look her in the
face I could perceive no answerable sentiment. It was plain she
attached no moment to the act, and I blamed myself for my own more
uneasy consciousness.
The sight and (if I may so call it) the acquaintance of the mother
confirmed the view I had already taken of the son. The family
blood had been impoverished, perhaps by long inbreeding, which I
knew to be a common error among the proud and the exclusive. No
decline, indeed, was to be traced in the body, which had been
handed down unimpaired in shapeliness and strength; and the faces
of to-day were struck as sharply from the mint, as the face of two
centuries ago that smiled upon me from the portrait. But the
intelligence (that more precious heirloom) was degenerate; the
treasure of ancestral memory ran low; and it had required the
potent, plebeian crossing of a muleteer or mountain contrabandista
to raise, what approached hebetude in the mother, into the active
oddity of the son. Yet of the two, it was the mother I preferred.
Of Felipe, vengeful and placable, full of starts and shyings,
inconstant as a hare, I could even conceive as a creature possibly
noxious. Of the mother I had no thoughts but those of kindness.
And indeed, as spectators are apt ignorantly to take sides, I grew
something of a partisan in the enmity which I perceived to smoulder
between them. True, it seemed mostly on the mother's part. She
would sometimes draw in her breath as he came near, and the pupils
of her vacant eyes would contract as if with horror or fear. Her
emotions, such as they were, were much upon the surface and readily
shared; and this latent repulsion occupied my mind, and kept me
wondering on what grounds it rested, and whether the son was
certainly in fault.
I had been about ten days in the residencia, when there sprang up a
high and harsh wind, carrying clouds of dust. It came out of
malarious lowlands, and over several snowy sierras. The nerves of
those on whom it blew were strung and jangled; their eyes smarted
with the dust; their legs ached under the burthen of their body;
and the touch of one hand upon another grew to be odious. The
wind, besides, came down the gullies of the hills and stormed about
the house with a great, hollow buzzing and whistling that was
wearisome to the ear and dismally depressing to the mind. It did
not so much blow in gusts as with the steady sweep of a waterfall,
so that there was no remission of discomfort while it blew. But
higher upon the mountain, it was probably of a more variable
strength, with accesses of fury; for there came down at times a
far-off wailing, infinitely grievous to hear; and at times, on one
of the high shelves or terraces, there would start up, and then
disperse, a tower of dust, like the smoke of in explosion.
I no sooner awoke in bed than I was conscious of the nervous
tension and depression of the weather, and the effect grew stronger
as the day proceeded. It was in vain that I resisted; in vain that
I set forth upon my customary morning's walk; the irrational,
unchanging fury of the storm had soon beat down my strength and
wrecked my temper; and I returned to the residencia, glowing with
dry heat, and foul and gritty with dust. The court had a forlorn
appearance; now and then a glimmer of sun fled over it; now and
then the wind swooped down upon the pomegranates, and scattered the
blossoms, and set the window shutters clapping on the wall. In the
recess the Senora was pacing to and fro with a flushed countenance
and bright eyes; I thought, too, she was speaking to herself, like
one in anger. But when I addressed her with my customary
salutation, she only replied by a sharp gesture and continued her
walk. The weather had distempered even this impassive creature;
and as I went on upstairs I was the less ashamed of my own
All day the wind continued; and I sat in my room and made a feint
of reading, or walked up and down, and listened to the riot
overhead. Night fell, and I had not so much as a candle. I began
to long for some society, and stole down to the court. It was now
plunged in the blue of the first darkness; but the recess was redly
lighted by the fire. The wood had been piled high, and was crowned
by a shock of flames, which the draught of the chimney brandished
to and fro. In this strong and shaken brightness the Senora
continued pacing from wall to wall with disconnected gestures,
clasping her hands, stretching forth her arms, throwing back her
head as in appeal to heaven. In these disordered movements the
beauty and grace of the woman showed more clearly; but there was a
light in her eye that struck on me unpleasantly; and when I had
looked on awhile in silence, and seemingly unobserved, I turned
tail as I had come, and groped my way back again to my own chamber.
By the time Felipe brought my supper and lights, my nerve was
utterly gone; and, had the lad been such as I was used to seeing
him, I should have kept him (even by force had that been necessary)
to take off the edge from my distasteful solitude. But on Felipe,
also, the wind had exercised its influence. He had been feverish
all day; now that the night had come he was fallen into a low and
tremulous humour that reacted on my own. The sight of his scared
face, his starts and pallors and sudden harkenings, unstrung me;
and when he dropped and broke a dish, I fairly leaped out of my
'I think we are all mad to-day,' said I, affecting to laugh.
'It is the black wind,' he replied dolefully. 'You feel as if you
must do something, and you don't know what it is.'
I noted the aptness of the description; but, indeed, Felipe had
sometimes a strange felicity in rendering into words the sensations
of the body. 'And your mother, too,' said I; 'she seems to feel
this weather much. Do you not fear she may be unwell?'
He stared at me a little, and then said, 'No,' almost defiantly;
and the next moment, carrying his hand to his brow, cried out
lamentably on the wind and the noise that made his head go round
like a millwheel. 'Who can be well?' he cried; and, indeed, I
could only echo his question, for I was disturbed enough myself.
I went to bed early, wearied with day-long restlessness, but the
poisonous nature of the wind, and its ungodly and unintermittent
uproar, would not suffer me to sleep. I lay there and tossed, my
nerves and senses on the stretch. At times I would doze, dream
horribly, and wake again; and these snatches of oblivion confused
me as to time. But it must have been late on in the night, when I
was suddenly startled by an outbreak of pitiable and hateful cries.
I leaped from my bed, supposing I had dreamed; but the cries still
continued to fill the house, cries of pain, I thought, but
certainly of rage also, and so savage and discordant that they
shocked the heart. It was no illusion; some living thing, some
lunatic or some wild animal, was being foully tortured. The
thought of Felipe and the squirrel flashed into my mind, and I ran
to the door, but it had been locked from the outside; and I might
shake it as I pleased, I was a fast prisoner. Still the cries
continued. Now they would dwindle down into a moaning that seemed
to be articulate, and at these times I made sure they must be
human; and again they would break forth and fill the house with
ravings worthy of hell. I stood at the door and gave ear to them,
till at, last they died away. Long after that, I still lingered
and still continued to hear them mingle in fancy with the storming
of the wind; and when at last I crept to my bed, it was with a
deadly sickness and a blackness of horror on my heart.
It was little wonder if I slept no more. Why had I been locked in?
What had passed? Who was the author of these indescribable and
shocking cries? A human being? It was inconceivable. A beast?
The cries were scarce quite bestial; and what animal, short of a
lion or a tiger, could thus shake the solid walls of the
residencia? And while I was thus turning over the elements of the
mystery, it came into my mind that I had not yet set eyes upon the
daughter of the house. What was more probable than that the
daughter of the Senora, and the sister of Felipe, should be herself
insane? Or, what more likely than that these ignorant and halfwitted
people should seek to manage an afflicted kinswoman by
violence? Here was a solution; and yet when I called to mind the
cries (which I never did without a shuddering chill) it seemed
altogether insufficient: not even cruelty could wring such cries
from madness. But of one thing I was sure: I could not live in a
house where such a thing was half conceivable, and not probe the
matter home and, if necessary, interfere.
The next day came, the wind had blown itself out, and there was
nothing to remind me of the business of the night. Felipe came to
my bedside with obvious cheerfulness; as I passed through the
court, the Senora was sunning herself with her accustomed
immobility; and when I issued from the gateway, I found the whole
face of nature austerely smiling, the heavens of a cold blue, and
sown with great cloud islands, and the mountain-sides mapped forth
into provinces of light and shadow. A short walk restored me to
myself, and renewed within me the resolve to plumb this mystery;
and when, from the vantage of my knoll, I had seen Felipe pass
forth to his labours in the garden, I returned at once to the
residencia to put my design in practice. The Senora appeared
plunged in slumber; I stood awhile and marked her, but she did not
stir; even if my design were indiscreet, I had little to fear from
such a guardian; and turning away, I mounted to the gallery and
began my exploration of the house.
All morning I went from one door to another, and entered spacious
and faded chambers, some rudely shuttered, some receiving their
full charge of daylight, all empty and unhomely. It was a rich
house, on which Time had breathed his tarnish and dust had
scattered disillusion. The spider swung there; the bloated
tarantula scampered on the cornices; ants had their crowded
highways on the floor of halls of audience; the big and foul fly,
that lives on carrion and is often the messenger of death, had set
up his nest in the rotten woodwork, and buzzed heavily about the
rooms. Here and there a stool or two, a couch, a bed, or a great
carved chair remained behind, like islets on the bare floors, to
testify of man's bygone habitation; and everywhere the walls were
set with the portraits of the dead. I could judge, by these
decaying effigies, in the house of what a great and what a handsome
race I was then wandering. Many of the men wore orders on their
breasts and had the port of noble offices; the women were all
richly attired; the canvases most of them by famous hands. But it
was not so much these evidences of greatness that took hold upon my
mind, even contrasted, as they were, with the present depopulation
and decay of that great house. It was rather the parable of family
life that I read in this succession of fair faces and shapely
bodies. Never before had I so realised the miracle of the
continued race, the creation and recreation, the weaving and
changing and handing down of fleshly elements. That a child should
be born of its mother, that it should grow and clothe itself (we
know not how) with humanity, and put on inherited looks, and turn
its head with the manner of one ascendant, and offer its hand with
the gesture of another, are wonders dulled for us by repetition.
But in the singular unity of look, in the common features and
common bearing, of all these painted generations on the walls of
the residencia, the miracle started out and looked me in the face.
And an ancient mirror falling opportunely in my way, I stood and
read my own features a long while, tracing out on either hand the
filaments of descent and the bonds that knit me with my family.
At last, in the course of these investigations, I opened the door
of a chamber that bore the marks of habitation. It was of large
proportions and faced to the north, where the mountains were most
wildly figured. The embers of a fire smouldered and smoked upon
the hearth, to which a chair had been drawn close. And yet the
aspect of the chamber was ascetic to the degree of sternness; the
chair was uncushioned; the floor and walls were naked; and beyond
the books which lay here and there in some confusion, there was no
instrument of either work or pleasure. The sight of books in the
house of such a family exceedingly amazed me; and I began with a
great hurry, and in momentary fear of interruption, to go from one
to another and hastily inspect their character. They were of all
sorts, devotional, historical, and scientific, but mostly of a
great age and in the Latin tongue. Some I could see to bear the
marks of constant study; others had been torn across and tossed
aside as if in petulance or disapproval. Lastly, as I cruised
about that empty chamber, I espied some papers written upon with
pencil on a table near the window. An unthinking curiosity led me
to take one up. It bore a copy of verses, very roughly metred in
the original Spanish, and which I may render somewhat thus -
Pleasure approached with pain and shame,
Grief with a wreath of lilies came.
Pleasure showed the lovely sun;
Jesu dear, how sweet it shone!
Grief with her worn hand pointed on,
Jesu dear, to thee!
Shame and confusion at once fell on me; and, laying down the paper,
I beat an immediate retreat from the apartment. Neither Felipe nor
his mother could have read the books nor written these rough but
feeling verses. It was plain I had stumbled with sacrilegious feet
into the room of the daughter of the house. God knows, my own
heart most sharply punished me for my indiscretion. The thought
that I had thus secretly pushed my way into the confidence of a
girl so strangely situated, and the fear that she might somehow
come to hear of it, oppressed me like guilt. I blamed myself
besides for my suspicions of the night before; wondered that I
should ever have attributed those shocking cries to one of whom I
now conceived as of a saint, spectral of mien, wasted with
maceration, bound up in the practices of a mechanical devotion, and
dwelling in a great isolation of soul with her incongruous
relatives; and as I leaned on the balustrade of the gallery and
looked down into the bright close of pomegranates and at the gaily
dressed and somnolent woman, who just then stretched herself and
delicately licked her lips as in the very sensuality of sloth, my
mind swiftly compared the scene with the cold chamber looking
northward on the mountains, where the daughter dwelt.
That same afternoon, as I sat upon my knoll, I saw the Padre enter
the gates of the residencia. The revelation of the daughter's
character had struck home to my fancy, and almost blotted out the
horrors of the night before; but at sight of this worthy man the
memory revived. I descended, then, from the knoll, and making a
circuit among the woods, posted myself by the wayside to await his
passage. As soon as he appeared I stepped forth and introduced
myself as the lodger of the residencia. He had a very strong,
honest countenance, on which it was easy to read the mingled
emotions with which he regarded me, as a foreigner, a heretic, and
yet one who had been wounded for the good cause. Of the family at
the residencia he spoke with reserve, and yet with respect. I
mentioned that I had not yet seen the daughter, whereupon he
remarked that that was as it should be, and looked at me a little
askance. Lastly, I plucked up courage to refer to the cries that
had disturbed me in the night. He heard me out in silence, and
then stopped and partly turned about, as though to mark beyond
doubt that he was dismissing me.
'Do you take tobacco powder?' said he, offering his snuff-box; and
then, when I had refused, 'I am an old man,' he added, 'and I may
be allowed to remind you that you are a guest.'
'I have, then, your authority,' I returned, firmly enough, although
I flushed at the implied reproof, 'to let things take their course,
and not to interfere?'
He said 'yes,' and with a somewhat uneasy salute turned and left me
where I was. But he had done two things: he had set my conscience
at rest, and he had awakened my delicacy. I made a great effort,
once more dismissed the recollections of the night, and fell once
more to brooding on my saintly poetess. At the same time, I could
not quite forget that I had been locked in, and that night when
Felipe brought me my supper I attacked him warily on both points of
'I never see your sister,' said I casually.
'Oh, no,' said he; 'she is a good, good girl,' and his mind
instantly veered to something else.
'Your sister is pious, I suppose?' I asked in the next pause.
'Oh!' he cried, joining his hands with extreme fervour, 'a saint;
it is she that keeps me up.'
'You are very fortunate,' said I, 'for the most of us, I am afraid,
and myself among the number, are better at going down.'
'Senor,' said Felipe earnestly, 'I would not say that. You should
not tempt your angel. If one goes down, where is he to stop?'
'Why, Felipe,' said I, 'I had no guess you were a preacher, and I
may say a good one; but I suppose that is your sister's doing?'
He nodded at me with round eyes.
'Well, then,' I continued, 'she has doubtless reproved you for your
sin of cruelty?'
'Twelve times!' he cried; for this was the phrase by which the odd
creature expressed the sense of frequency. 'And I told her you had
done so - I remembered that,' he added proudly - 'and she was
'Then, Felipe,' said I, 'what were those cries that I heard last
night? for surely they were cries of some creature in suffering.'
'The wind,' returned Felipe, looking in the fire.
I took his hand in mine, at which, thinking it to be a caress, he
smiled with a brightness of pleasure that came near disarming my
resolve. But I trod the weakness down. 'The wind,' I repeated;
'and yet I think it was this hand,' holding it up, 'that had first
locked me in.' The lad shook visibly, but answered never a word.
'Well,' said I, 'I am a stranger and a guest. It is not my part
either to meddle or to judge in your affairs; in these you shall
take your sister's counsel, which I cannot doubt to be excellent.
But in so far as concerns my own I will be no man's prisoner, and I
demand that key.' Half an hour later my door was suddenly thrown
open, and the key tossed ringing on the floor.
A day or two after I came in from a walk a little before the point
of noon. The Senora was lying lapped in slumber on the threshold
of the recess; the pigeons dozed below the eaves like snowdrifts;
the house was under a deep spell of noontide quiet; and only a
wandering and gentle wind from the mountain stole round the
galleries, rustled among the pomegranates, and pleasantly stirred
the shadows. Something in the stillness moved me to imitation, and
I went very lightly across the court and up the marble staircase.
My foot was on the topmost round, when a door opened, and I found
myself face to face with Olalla. Surprise transfixed me; her
loveliness struck to my heart; she glowed in the deep shadow of the
gallery, a gem of colour; her eyes took hold upon mine and clung
there, and bound us together like the joining of hands; and the
moments we thus stood face to face, drinking each other in, were
sacramental and the wedding of souls. I know not how long it was
before I awoke out of a deep trance, and, hastily bowing, passed on
into the upper stair. She did not move, but followed me with her
great, thirsting eyes; and as I passed out of sight it seemed to me
as if she paled and faded.
In my own room, I opened the window and looked out, and could not
think what change had come upon that austere field of mountains
that it should thus sing and shine under the lofty heaven. I had
seen her - Olalla! And the stone crags answered, Olalla! and the
dumb, unfathomable azure answered, Olalla! The pale saint of my
dreams had vanished for ever; and in her place I beheld this maiden
on whom God had lavished the richest colours and the most exuberant
energies of life, whom he had made active as a deer, slender as a
reed, and in whose great eyes he had lighted the torches of the
soul. The thrill of her young life, strung like a wild animal's,
had entered into me; the force of soul that had looked out from her
eyes and conquered mine, mantled about my heart and sprang to my
lips in singing. She passed through my veins: she was one with me.
I will not say that this enthusiasm declined; rather my soul held
out in its ecstasy as in a strong castle, and was there besieged by
cold and sorrowful considerations. I could not doubt but that I
loved her at first sight, and already with a quivering ardour that
was strange to my experience. What then was to follow? She was
the child of an afflicted house, the Senora's daughter, the sister
of Felipe; she bore it even in her beauty. She had the lightness
and swiftness of the one, swift as an arrow, light as dew; like the
other, she shone on the pale background of the world with the
brilliancy of flowers. I could not call by the name of brother
that half-witted lad, nor by the name of mother that immovable and
lovely thing of flesh, whose silly eyes and perpetual simper now
recurred to my mind like something hateful. And if I could not
marry, what then? She was helplessly unprotected; her eyes, in
that single and long glance which had been all our intercourse, had
confessed a weakness equal to my own; but in my heart I knew her
for the student of the cold northern chamber, and the writer of the
sorrowful lines; and this was a knowledge to disarm a brute. To
flee was more than I could find courage for; but I registered a vow
of unsleeping circumspection.
As I turned from the window, my eyes alighted on the portrait. It
had fallen dead, like a candle after sunrise; it followed me with
eyes of paint. I knew it to be like, and marvelled at the tenacity
of type in that declining race; but the likeness was swallowed up
in difference. I remembered how it had seemed to me a thing
unapproachable in the life, a creature rather of the painter's
craft than of the modesty of nature, and I marvelled at the
thought, and exulted in the image of Olalla. Beauty I had seen
before, and not been charmed, and I had been often drawn to women,
who were not beautiful except to me; but in Olalla all that I
desired and had not dared to imagine was united.
I did not see her the next day, and my heart ached and my eyes
longed for her, as men long for morning. But the day after, when I
returned, about my usual hour, she was once more on the gallery,
and our looks once more met and embraced. I would have spoken, I
would have drawn near to her; but strongly as she plucked at my
heart, drawing me like a magnet, something yet more imperious
withheld me; and I could only bow and pass by; and she, leaving my
salutation unanswered, only followed me with her noble eyes.
I had now her image by rote, and as I conned the traits in memory
it seemed as if I read her very heart. She was dressed with
something of her mother's coquetry, and love of positive colour.
Her robe, which I know she must have made with her own hands, clung
about her with a cunning grace. After the fashion of that country,
besides, her bodice stood open in the middle, in a long slit, and
here, in spite of the poverty of the house, a gold coin, hanging by
a ribbon, lay on her brown bosom. These were proofs, had any been
needed, of her inborn delight in life and her own loveliness. On
the other hand, in her eyes that hung upon mine, I could read depth
beyond depth of passion and sadness, lights of poetry and hope,
blacknesses of despair, and thoughts that were above the earth. It
was a lovely body, but the inmate, the soul, was more than worthy
of that lodging. Should I leave this incomparable flower to wither
unseen on these rough mountains? Should I despise the great gift
offered me in the eloquent silence of her eyes? Here was a soul
immured; should I not burst its prison? All side considerations
fell off from me; were she the child of Herod I swore I should make
her mine; and that very evening I set myself, with a mingled sense
of treachery and disgrace, to captivate the brother. Perhaps I
read him with more favourable eyes, perhaps the thought of his
sister always summoned up the better qualities of that imperfect
soul; but he had never seemed to me so amiable, and his very
likeness to Olalla, while it annoyed, yet softened me.
A third day passed in vain - an empty desert of hours. I would not
lose a chance, and loitered all afternoon in the court where (to
give myself a countenance) I spoke more than usual with the Senora.
God knows it was with a most tender and sincere interest that I now
studied her; and even as for Felipe, so now for the mother, I was
conscious of a growing warmth of toleration. And yet I wondered.
Even while I spoke with her, she would doze off into a little
sleep, and presently awake again without embarrassment; and this
composure staggered me. And again, as I marked her make
infinitesimal changes in her posture, savouring and lingering on
the bodily pleasure of the movement, I was driven to wonder at this
depth of passive sensuality. She lived in her body; and her
consciousness was all sunk into and disseminated through her
members, where it luxuriously dwelt. Lastly, I could not grow
accustomed to her eyes. Each time she turned on me these great
beautiful and meaningless orbs, wide open to the day, but closed
against human inquiry - each time I had occasion to observe the
lively changes of her pupils which expanded and contracted in a
breath - I know not what it was came over me, I can find no name
for the mingled feeling of disappointment, annoyance, and distaste
that jarred along my nerves. I tried her on a variety of subjects,
equally in vain; and at last led the talk to her daughter. But
even there she proved indifferent; said she was pretty, which (as
with children) was her highest word of commendation, but was
plainly incapable of any higher thought; and when I remarked that
Olalla seemed silent, merely yawned in my face and replied that
speech was of no great use when you had nothing to say. 'People
speak much, very much,' she added, looking at me with expanded
pupils; and then again yawned and again showed me a mouth that was
as dainty as a toy. This time I took the hint, and, leaving her to
her repose, went up into my own chamber to sit by the open window,
looking on the hills and not beholding them, sunk in lustrous and
deep dreams, and hearkening in fancy to the note of a voice that I
had never heard.
I awoke on the fifth morning with a brightness of anticipation that
seemed to challenge fate. I was sure of myself, light of heart and
foot, and resolved to put my love incontinently to the touch of
knowledge. It should lie no longer under the bonds of silence, a
dumb thing, living by the eye only, like the love of beasts; but
should now put on the spirit, and enter upon the joys of the
complete human intimacy. I thought of it with wild hopes, like a
voyager to El Dorado; into that unknown and lovely country of her
soul, I no longer trembled to adventure. Yet when I did indeed
encounter her, the same force of passion descended on me and at
once submerged my mind; speech seemed to drop away from me like a
childish habit; and I but drew near to her as the giddy man draws
near to the margin of a gulf. She drew back from me a little as I
came; but her eyes did not waver from mine, and these lured me
forward. At last, when I was already within reach of her, I
stopped. Words were denied me; if I advanced I could but clasp her
to my heart in silence; and all that was sane in me, all that was
still unconquered, revolted against the thought of such an accost.
So we stood for a second, all our life in our eyes, exchanging
salvos of attraction and yet each resisting; and then, with a great
effort of the will, and conscious at the same time of a sudden
bitterness of disappointment, I turned and went away in the same
What power lay upon me that I could not speak? And she, why was
she also silent? Why did she draw away before me dumbly, with
fascinated eyes? Was this love? or was it a mere brute attraction,
mindless and inevitable, like that of the magnet for the steel? We
had never spoken, we were wholly strangers: and yet an influence,
strong as the grasp of a giant, swept us silently together. On my
side, it filled me with impatience; and yet I was sure that she was
worthy; I had seen her books, read her verses, and thus, in a
sense, divined the soul of my mistress. But on her side, it struck
me almost cold. Of me, she knew nothing but my bodily favour; she
was drawn to me as stones fall to the earth; the laws that rule the
earth conducted her, unconsenting, to my arms; and I drew back at
the thought of such a bridal, and began to be jealous for myself.
It was not thus that I desired to be loved. And then I began to
fall into a great pity for the girl herself. I thought how sharp
must be her mortification, that she, the student, the recluse,
Felipe's saintly monitress, should have thus confessed an
overweening weakness for a man with whom she had never exchanged a
word. And at the coming of pity, all other thoughts were swallowed
up; and I longed only to find and console and reassure her; to tell
her how wholly her love was returned on my side, and how her
choice, even if blindly made, was not unworthy.
The next day it was glorious weather; depth upon depth of blue
over-canopied the mountains; the sun shone wide; and the wind in
the trees and the many falling torrents in the mountains filled the
air with delicate and haunting music. Yet I was prostrated with
sadness. My heart wept for the sight of Olalla, as a child weeps
for its mother. I sat down on a boulder on the verge of the low
cliffs that bound the plateau to the north. Thence I looked down
into the wooded valley of a stream, where no foot came. In the
mood I was in, it was even touching to behold the place untenanted;
it lacked Olalla; and I thought of the delight and glory of a life
passed wholly with her in that strong air, and among these rugged
and lovely surroundings, at first with a whimpering sentiment, and
then again with such a fiery joy that I seemed to grow in strength
and stature, like a Samson.
And then suddenly I was aware of Olalla drawing near. She appeared
out of a grove of cork-trees, and came straight towards me; and I
stood up and waited. She seemed in her walking a creature of such
life and fire and lightness as amazed me; yet she came quietly and
slowly. Her energy was in the slowness; but for inimitable
strength, I felt she would have run, she would have flown to me.
Still, as she approached, she kept her eyes lowered to the ground;
and when she had drawn quite near, it was without one glance that
she addressed me. At the first note of her voice I started. It
was for this I had been waiting; this was the last test of my love.
And lo, her enunciation was precise and clear, not lisping and
incomplete like that of her family; and the voice, though deeper
than usual with women, was still both youthful and womanly. She
spoke in a rich chord; golden contralto strains mingled with
hoarseness, as the red threads were mingled with the brown among
her tresses. It was not only a voice that spoke to my heart
directly; but it spoke to me of her. And yet her words immediately
plunged me back upon despair.
'You will go away,' she said, 'to-day.'
Her example broke the bonds of my speech; I felt as lightened of a
weight, or as if a spell had been dissolved. I know not in what
words I answered; but, standing before her on the cliffs, I poured
out the whole ardour of my love, telling her that I lived upon the
thought of her, slept only to dream of her loveliness, and would
gladly forswear my country, my language, and my friends, to live
for ever by her side. And then, strongly commanding myself, I
changed the note; I reassured, I comforted her; I told her I had
divined in her a pious and heroic spirit, with which I was worthy
to sympathise, and which I longed to share and lighten. 'Nature,'
I told her, 'was the voice of God, which men disobey at peril; and
if we were thus humbly drawn together, ay, even as by a miracle of
love, it must imply a divine fitness in our souls; we must be
made,' I said - 'made for one another. We should be mad rebels,' I
cried out - 'mad rebels against God, not to obey this instinct.'
She shook her head. 'You will go to-day,' she repeated, and then
with a gesture, and in a sudden, sharp note - 'no, not to-day,' she
cried, 'to-morrow!'
But at this sign of relenting, power came in upon me in a tide. I
stretched out my arms and called upon her name; and she leaped to
me and clung to me. The hills rocked about us, the earth quailed;
a shock as of a blow went through me and left me blind and dizzy.
And the next moment she had thrust me back, broken rudely from my
arms, and fled with the speed of a deer among the cork-trees.
I stood and shouted to the mountains; I turned and went back
towards the residencia, waltzing upon air. She sent me away, and
yet I had but to call upon her name and she came to me. These were
but the weaknesses of girls, from which even she, the strangest of
her sex, was not exempted. Go? Not I, Olalla - O, not I, Olalla,
my Olalla! A bird sang near by; and in that season, birds were
rare. It bade me be of good cheer. And once more the whole
countenance of nature, from the ponderous and stable mountains down
to the lightest leaf and the smallest darting fly in the shadow of
the groves, began to stir before me and to put on the lineaments of
life and wear a face of awful joy. The sunshine struck upon the
hills, strong as a hammer on the anvil, and the hills shook; the
earth, under that vigorous insulation, yielded up heady scents; the
woods smouldered in the blaze. I felt the thrill of travail and
delight run through the earth. Something elemental, something
rude, violent, and savage, in the love that sang in my heart, was
like a key to nature's secrets; and the very stones that rattled
under my feet appeared alive and friendly. Olalla! Her touch had
quickened, and renewed, and strung me up to the old pitch of
concert with the rugged earth, to a swelling of the soul that men
learn to forget in their polite assemblies. Love burned in me like
rage; tenderness waxed fierce; I hated, I adored, I pitied, I
revered her with ecstasy. She seemed the link that bound me in
with dead things on the one hand, and with our pure and pitying God
upon the other: a thing brutal and divine, and akin at once to the
innocence and to the unbridled forces of the earth.
My head thus reeling, I came into the courtyard of the residencia,
and the sight of the mother struck me like a revelation. She sat
there, all sloth and contentment, blinking under the strong
sunshine, branded with a passive enjoyment, a creature set quite
apart, before whom my ardour fell away like a thing ashamed. I
stopped a moment, and, commanding such shaken tones as I was able,
said a word or two. She looked at me with her unfathomable
kindness; her voice in reply sounded vaguely out of the realm of
peace in which she slumbered, and there fell on my mind, for the
first time, a sense of respect for one so uniformly innocent and
happy, and I passed on in a kind of wonder at myself, that I should
be so much disquieted.
On my table there lay a piece of the same yellow paper I had seen
in the north room; it was written on with pencil in the same hand,
Olalla's hand, and I picked it up with a sudden sinking of alarm,
and read, 'If you have any kindness for Olalla, if you have any
chivalry for a creature sorely wrought, go from here to-day; in
pity, in honour, for the sake of Him who died, I supplicate that
you shall go.' I looked at this awhile in mere stupidity, then I
began to awaken to a weariness and horror of life; the sunshine
darkened outside on the bare hills, and I began to shake like a man
in terror. The vacancy thus suddenly opened in my life unmanned me
like a physical void. It was not my heart, it was not my
happiness, it was life itself that was involved. I could not lose
her. I said so, and stood repeating it. And then, like one in a
dream, I moved to the window, put forth my hand to open the
casement, and thrust it through the pane. The blood spurted from
my wrist; and with an instantaneous quietude and command of myself,
I pressed my thumb on the little leaping fountain, and reflected
what to do. In that empty room there was nothing to my purpose; I
felt, besides, that I required assistance. There shot into my mind
a hope that Olalla herself might be my helper, and I turned and
went down stairs, still keeping my thumb upon the wound.
There was no sign of either Olalla or Felipe, and I addressed
myself to the recess, whither the Senora had now drawn quite back
and sat dozing close before the fire, for no degree of heat
appeared too much for her.
'Pardon me,' said I, 'if I disturb you, but I must apply to you for
She looked up sleepily and asked me what it was, and with the very
words I thought she drew in her breath with a widening of the
nostrils and seemed to come suddenly and fully alive.
'I have cut myself,' I said, 'and rather badly. See!' And I held
out my two hands from which the blood was oozing and dripping.
Her great eyes opened wide, the pupils shrank into points; a veil
seemed to fall from her face, and leave it sharply expressive and
yet inscrutable. And as I still stood, marvelling a little at her
disturbance, she came swiftly up to me, and stooped and caught me
by the hand; and the next moment my hand was at her mouth, and she
had bitten me to the bone. The pang of the bite, the sudden
spurting of blood, and the monstrous horror of the act, flashed
through me all in one, and I beat her back; and she sprang at me
again and again, with bestial cries, cries that I recognised, such
cries as had awakened me on the night of the high wind. Her
strength was like that of madness; mine was rapidly ebbing with the
loss of blood; my mind besides was whirling with the abhorrent
strangeness of the onslaught, and I was already forced against the
wall, when Olalla ran betwixt us, and Felipe, following at a bound,
pinned down his mother on the floor.
A trance-like weakness fell upon me; I saw, heard, and felt, but I
was incapable of movement. I heard the struggle roll to and fro
upon the floor, the yells of that catamount ringing up to Heaven as
she strove to reach me. I felt Olalla clasp me in her arms, her
hair falling on my face, and, with the strength of a man, raise and
half drag, half carry me upstairs into my own room, where she cast
me down upon the bed. Then I saw her hasten to the door and lock
it, and stand an instant listening to the savage cries that shook
the residencia. And then, swift and light as a thought, she was
again beside me, binding up my hand, laying it in her bosom,
moaning and mourning over it with dove-like sounds. They were not
words that came to her, they were sounds more beautiful than
speech, infinitely touching, infinitely tender; and yet as I lay
there, a thought stung to my heart, a thought wounded me like a
sword, a thought, like a worm in a flower, profaned the holiness of
my love. Yes, they were beautiful sounds, and they were inspired
by human tenderness; but was their beauty human?
All day I lay there. For a long time the cries of that nameless
female thing, as she struggled with her half-witted whelp,
resounded through the house, and pierced me with despairing sorrow
and disgust. They were the death-cry of my love; my love was
murdered; was not only dead, but an offence to me; and yet, think
as I pleased, feel as I must, it still swelled within me like a
storm of sweetness, and my heart melted at her looks and touch.
This horror that had sprung out, this doubt upon Olalla, this
savage and bestial strain that ran not only through the whole
behaviour of her family, but found a place in the very foundations
and story of our love - though it appalled, though it shocked and
sickened me, was yet not of power to break the knot of my
When the cries had ceased, there came a scraping at the door, by
which I knew Felipe was without; and Olalla went and spoke to him -
I know not what. With that exception, she stayed close beside me,
now kneeling by my bed and fervently praying, now sitting with her
eyes upon mine. So then, for these six hours I drank in her
beauty, and silently perused the story in her face. I saw the
golden coin hover on her breaths; I saw her eyes darken and
brighter, and still speak no language but that of an unfathomable
kindness; I saw the faultless face, and, through the robe, the
lines of the faultless body. Night came at last, and in the
growing darkness of the chamber, the sight of her slowly melted;
but even then the touch of her smooth hand lingered in mine and
talked with me. To lie thus in deadly weakness and drink in the
traits of the beloved, is to reawake to love from whatever shock of
disillusion. I reasoned with myself; and I shut my eyes on
horrors, and again I was very bold to accept the worst. What
mattered it, if that imperious sentiment survived; if her eyes
still beckoned and attached me; if now, even as before, every fibre
of my dull body yearned and turned to her? Late on in the night
some strength revived in me, and I spoke:-
'Olalla,' I said, 'nothing matters; I ask nothing; I am content; I
love you.'
She knelt down awhile and prayed, and I devoutly respected her
devotions. The moon had begun to shine in upon one side of each of
the three windows, and make a misty clearness in the room, by which
I saw her indistinctly. When she rearose she made the sign of the
'It is for me to speak,' she said, 'and for you to listen. I know;
you can but guess. I prayed, how I prayed for you to leave this
place. I begged it of you, and I know you would have granted me
even this; or if not, O let me think so!'
'I love you,' I said.
'And yet you have lived in the world,' she said; after a pause,
'you are a man and wise; and I am but a child. Forgive me, if I
seem to teach, who am as ignorant as the trees of the mountain; but
those who learn much do but skim the face of knowledge; they seize
the laws, they conceive the dignity of the design - the horror of
the living fact fades from their memory. It is we who sit at home
with evil who remember, I think, and are warned and pity. Go,
rather, go now, and keep me in mind. So I shall have a life in the
cherished places of your memory: a life as much my own, as that
which I lead in this body.'
'I love you,' I said once more; and reaching out my weak hand, took
hers, and carried it to my lips, and kissed it. Nor did she
resist, but winced a little; and I could see her look upon me with
a frown that was not unkindly, only sad and baffled. And then it
seemed she made a call upon her resolution; plucked my hand towards
her, herself at the same time leaning somewhat forward, and laid it
on the beating of her heart. 'There,' she cried, 'you feel the
very footfall of my life. It only moves for you; it is yours. But
is it even mine? It is mine indeed to offer you, as I might take
the coin from my neck, as I might break a live branch from a tree,
and give it you. And yet not mine! I dwell, or I think I dwell
(if I exist at all), somewhere apart, an impotent prisoner, and
carried about and deafened by a mob that I disown. This capsule,
such as throbs against the sides of animals, knows you at a touch
for its master; ay, it loves you! But my soul, does my soul? I
think not; I know not, fearing to ask. Yet when you spoke to me
your words were of the soul; it is of the soul that you ask - it is
only from the soul that you would take me.'
'Olalla,' I said, 'the soul and the body are one, and mostly so in
love. What the body chooses, the soul loves; where the body
clings, the soul cleaves; body for body, soul to soul, they come
together at God's signal; and the lower part (if we can call aught
low) is only the footstool and foundation of the highest.'
'Have you,' she said, 'seen the portraits in the house of my
fathers? Have you looked at my mother or at Felipe? Have your
eyes never rested on that picture that hangs by your bed? She who
sat for it died ages ago; and she did evil in her life. But, lookagain:
there is my hand to the least line, there are my eyes and my
hair. What is mine, then, and what am I? If not a curve in this
poor body of mine (which you love, and for the sake of which you
dotingly dream that you love me) not a gesture that I can frame,
not a tone of my voice, not any look from my eyes, no, not even now
when I speak to him I love, but has belonged to others? Others,
ages dead, have wooed other men with my eyes; other men have heard
the pleading of the same voice that now sounds in your ears. The
hands of the dead are in my bosom; they move me, they pluck me,
they guide me; I am a puppet at their command; and I but reinform
features and attributes that have long been laid aside from evil in
the quiet of the grave. Is it me you love, friend? or the race
that made me? The girl who does not know and cannot answer for the
least portion of herself? or the stream of which she is a
transitory eddy, the tree of which she is the passing fruit? The
race exists; it is old, it is ever young, it carries its eternal
destiny in its bosom; upon it, like waves upon the sea, individual
succeeds to individual, mocked with a semblance of self-control,
but they are nothing. We speak of the soul, but the soul is in the
'You fret against the common law,' I said. 'You rebel against the
voice of God, which he has made so winning to convince, so
imperious to command. Hear it, and how it speaks between us! Your
hand clings to mine, your heart leaps at my touch, the unknown
elements of which we are compounded awake and run together at a
look; the clay of the earth remembers its independent life and
yearns to join us; we are drawn together as the stars are turned
about in space, or as the tides ebb and flow, by things older and
greater than we ourselves.'
'Alas!' she said, 'what can I say to you? My fathers, eight
hundred years ago, ruled all this province: they were wise, great,
cunning, and cruel; they were a picked race of the Spanish; their
flags led in war; the king called them his cousin; the people, when
the rope was slung for them or when they returned and found their
hovels smoking, blasphemed their name. Presently a change began.
Man has risen; if he has sprung from the brutes, he can descend
again to the same level. The breath of weariness blew on their
humanity and the cords relaxed; they began to go down; their minds
fell on sleep, their passions awoke in gusts, heady and senseless
like the wind in the gutters of the mountains; beauty was still
handed down, but no longer the guiding wit nor the human heart; the
seed passed on, it was wrapped in flesh, the flesh covered the
bones, but they were the bones and the flesh of brutes, and their
mind was as the mind of flies. I speak to you as I dare; but you
have seen for yourself how the wheel has gone backward with my
doomed race. I stand, as it were, upon a little rising ground in
this desperate descent, and see both before and behind, both what
we have lost and to what we are condemned to go farther downward.
And shall I - I that dwell apart in the house of the dead, my body,
loathing its ways - shall I repeat the spell? Shall I bind another
spirit, reluctant as my own, into this bewitched and tempest-broken
tenement that I now suffer in? Shall I hand down this cursed
vessel of humanity, charge it with fresh life as with fresh poison,
and dash it, like a fire, in the faces of posterity? But my vow
has been given; the race shall cease from off the earth. At this
hour my brother is making ready; his foot will soon be on the
stair; and you will go with him and pass out of my sight for ever.
Think of me sometimes as one to whom the lesson of life was very
harshly told, but who heard it with courage; as one who loved you
indeed, but who hated herself so deeply that her love was hateful
to her; as one who sent you away and yet would have longed to keep
you for ever; who had no dearer hope than to forget you, and no
greater fear than to be forgotten.'
She had drawn towards the door as she spoke, her rich voice
sounding softer and farther away; and with the last word she was
gone, and I lay alone in the moonlit chamber. What I might have
done had not I lain bound by my extreme weakness, I know not; but
as it was there fell upon me a great and blank despair. It was not
long before there shone in at the door the ruddy glimmer of a
lantern, and Felipe coming, charged me without a word upon his
shoulders, and carried me down to the great gate, where the cart
was waiting. In the moonlight the hills stood out sharply, as if
they were of cardboard; on the glimmering surface of the plateau,
and from among the low trees which swung together and sparkled in
the wind, the great black cube of the residencia stood out bulkily,
its mass only broken by three dimly lighted windows in the northern
front above the gate. They were Olalla's windows, and as the cart
jolted onwards I kept my eyes fixed upon them till, where the road
dipped into a valley, they were lost to my view forever. Felipe
walked in silence beside the shafts, but from time to time he would
cheek the mule and seem to look back upon me; and at length drew
quite near and laid his hand upon my head. There was such kindness
in the touch, and such a simplicity, as of the brutes, that tears
broke from me like the bursting of an artery.
'Felipe,' I said, 'take me where they will ask no questions.'
He said never a word, but he turned his mule about, end for end,
retraced some part of the way we had gone, and, striking into
another path, led me to the mountain village, which was, as we say
in Scotland, the kirkton of that thinly peopled district. Some
broken memories dwell in my mind of the day breaking over the
plain, of the cart stopping, of arms that helped me down, of a bare
room into which I was carried, and of a swoon that fell upon me
like sleep.
The next day and the days following the old priest was often at my
side with his snuff-box and prayer book, and after a while, when I
began to pick up strength, he told me that I was now on a fair way
to recovery, and must as soon as possible hurry my departure;
whereupon, without naming any reason, he took snuff and looked at
me sideways. I did not affect ignorance; I knew he must have seen
Olalla. 'Sir,' said I, 'you know that I do not ask in wantonness.
What of that family?'
He said they were very unfortunate; that it seemed a declining
race, and that they were very poor and had been much neglected.
'But she has not,' I said. 'Thanks, doubtless, to yourself, she is
instructed and wise beyond the use of women.'
'Yes,' he said; 'the Senorita is well-informed. But the family has
been neglected.'
'The mother?' I queried.
'Yes, the mother too,' said the Padre, taking snuff. 'But Felipe
is a well-intentioned lad.'
'The mother is odd?' I asked.
'Very odd,' replied the priest.
'I think, sir, we beat about the bush,' said I. 'You must know
more of my affairs than you allow. You must know my curiosity to
be justified on many grounds. Will you not be frank with me?'
'My son,' said the old gentleman, 'I will be very frank with you on
matters within my competence; on those of which I know nothing it
does not require much discretion to be silent. I will not fence
with you, I take your meaning perfectly; and what can I say, but
that we are all in God's hands, and that His ways are not as our
ways? I have even advised with my superiors in the church, but
they, too, were dumb. It is a great mystery.'
'Is she mad?' I asked.
'I will answer you according to my belief. She is not,' returned
the Padre, 'or she was not. When she was young - God help me, I
fear I neglected that wild lamb - she was surely sane; and yet,
although it did not run to such heights, the same strain was
already notable; it had been so before her in her father, ay, and
before him, and this inclined me, perhaps, to think too lightly of
it. But these things go on growing, not only in the individual but
in the race.'
'When she was young,' I began, and my voice failed me for a moment,
and it was only with a great effort that I was able to add, 'was
she like Olalla?'
'Now God forbid!' exclaimed the Padre. 'God forbid that any man
should think so slightingly of my favourite penitent. No, no; the
Senorita (but for her beauty, which I wish most honestly she had
less of) has not a hair's resemblance to what her mother was at the
same age. I could not bear to have you think so; though, Heaven
knows, it were, perhaps, better that you should.'
At this, I raised myself in bed, and opened my heart to the old
man; telling him of our love and of her decision, owning my own
horrors, my own passing fancies, but telling him that these were at
an end; and with something more than a purely formal submission,
appealing to his judgment.
He heard me very patiently and without surprise; and when I had
done, he sat for some time silent. Then he began: 'The church,'
and instantly broke off again to apologise. 'I had forgotten, my
child, that you were not a Christian,' said he. 'And indeed, upon
a point so highly unusual, even the church can scarce be said to
have decided. But would you have my opinion? The Senorita is, in
a matter of this kind, the best judge; I would accept her
On the back of that he went away, nor was he thenceforward so
assiduous in his visits; indeed, even when I began to get about
again, he plainly feared and deprecated my society, not as in
distaste but much as a man might be disposed to flee from the
riddling sphynx. The villagers, too, avoided me; they were
unwilling to be my guides upon the mountain. I thought they looked
at me askance, and I made sure that the more superstitious crossed
themselves on my approach. At first I set this down to my
heretical opinions; but it began at length to dawn upon me that if
I was thus redoubted it was because I had stayed at the residencia.
All men despise the savage notions of such peasantry; and yet I was
conscious of a chill shadow that seemed to fall and dwell upon my
love. It did not conquer, but I may not deify that it restrained
my ardour.
Some miles westward of the village there was a gap in the sierra,
from which the eye plunged direct upon the residencia; and thither
it became my daily habit to repair. A wood crowned the summit; and
just where the pathway issued from its fringes, it was overhung by
a considerable shelf of rock, and that, in its turn, was surmounted
by a crucifix of the size of life and more than usually painful in
design. This was my perch; thence, day after day, I looked down
upon the plateau, and the great old house, and could see Felipe, no
bigger than a fly, going to and fro about the garden. Sometimes
mists would draw across the view, and be broken up again by
mountain winds; sometimes the plain slumbered below me in unbroken
sunshine; it would sometimes be all blotted out by rain. This
distant post, these interrupted sights of the place where my life
had been so strangely changed, suited the indecision of my humour.
I passed whole days there, debating with myself the various
elements of our position; now leaning to the suggestions of love,
now giving an ear to prudence, and in the end halting irresolute
between the two.
One day, as I was sitting on my rock, there came by that way a
somewhat gaunt peasant wrapped in a mantle. He was a stranger, and
plainly did not know me even by repute; for, instead of keeping the
other side, he drew near and sat down beside me, and we had soon
fallen in talk. Among other things he told me he had been a
muleteer, and in former years had much frequented these mountains;
later on, he had followed the army with his mules, had realised a
competence, and was now living retired with his family.
'Do you know that house?' I inquired, at last, pointing to the
residencia, for I readily wearied of any talk that kept me from the
thought of Olalla.
He looked at me darkly and crossed himself.
'Too well,' he said, 'it was there that one of my comrades sold
himself to Satan; the Virgin shield us from temptations! He has
paid the price; he is now burning in the reddest place in Hell!'
A fear came upon me; I could answer nothing; and presently the man
resumed, as if to himself: 'Yes,' he said, 'O yes, I know it. I
have passed its doors. There was snow upon the pass, the wind was
driving it; sure enough there was death that night upon the
mountains, but there was worse beside the hearth. I took him by
the arm, Senor, and dragged him to the gate; I conjured him, by all
he loved and respected, to go forth with me; I went on my knees
before him in the snow; and I could see he was moved by my
entreaty. And just then she came out on the gallery, and called
him by his name; and he turned, and there was she standing with a
lamp in her hand and smiling on him to come back. I cried out
aloud to God, and threw my arms about him, but he put me by, and
left me alone. He had made his choice; God help us. I would pray
for him, but to what end? there are sins that not even the Pope can
'And your friend,' I asked, 'what became of him?'
'Nay, God knows,' said the muleteer. 'If all be true that we hear,
his end was like his sin, a thing to raise the hair.'
'Do you mean that he was killed?' I asked.
'Sure enough, he was killed,' returned the man. 'But how? Ay,
how? But these are things that it is sin to speak of.'
'The people of that house . . . ' I began.
But he interrupted me with a savage outburst. 'The people?' he
cried. 'What people? There are neither men nor women in that
house of Satan's! What? have you lived here so long, and never
heard?' And here he put his mouth to my ear and whispered, as if
even the fowls of the mountain might have over-heard and been
stricken with horror.
What he told me was not true, nor was it even original; being,
indeed, but a new edition, vamped up again by village ignorance and
superstition, of stories nearly as ancient as the race of man. It
was rather the application that appalled me. In the old days, he
said, the church would have burned out that nest of basilisks; but
the arm of the church was now shortened; his friend Miguel had been
unpunished by the hands of men, and left to the more awful judgment
of an offended God. This was wrong; but it should be so no more.
The Padre was sunk in age; he was even bewitched himself; but the
eyes of his flock were now awake to their own danger; and some day
- ay, and before long - the smoke of that house should go up to
He left me filled with horror and fear. Which way to turn I knew
not; whether first to warn the Padre, or to carry my ill-news
direct to the threatened inhabitants of the residencia. Fate was
to decide for me; for, while I was still hesitating, I beheld the
veiled figure of a woman drawing near to me up the pathway. No
veil could deceive my penetration; by every line and every movement
I recognised Olalla; and keeping hidden behind a corner of the
rock, I suffered her to gain the summit. Then I came forward. She
knew me and paused, but did not speak; I, too, remained silent; and
we continued for some time to gaze upon each other with a
passionate sadness.
'I thought you had gone,' she said at length. 'It is all that you
can do for me - to go. It is all I ever asked of you. And you
still stay. But do you know, that every day heaps up the peril of
death, not only on your head, but on ours? A report has gone about
the mountain; it is thought you love me, and the people will not
suffer it.'
I saw she was already informed of her danger, and I rejoiced at it.
'Olalla,' I said, 'I am ready to go this day, this very hour, but
not alone.'
She stepped aside and knelt down before the crucifix to pray, and I
stood by and looked now at her and now at the object of her
adoration, now at the living figure of the penitent, and now at the
ghastly, daubed countenance, the painted wounds, and the projected
ribs of the image. The silence was only broken by the wailing of
some large birds that circled sidelong, as if in surprise or alarm,
about the summit of the hills. Presently Olalla rose again, turned
towards me, raised her veil, and, still leaning with one hand on
the shaft of the crucifix, looked upon me with a pale and sorrowful
'I have laid my hand upon the cross,' she said. 'The Padre says
you are no Christian; but look up for a moment with my eyes, and
behold the face of the Man of Sorrows. We are all such as He was -
the inheritors of sin; we must all bear and expiate a past which
was not ours; there is in all of us - ay, even in me - a sparkle of
the divine. Like Him, we must endure for a little while, until
morning returns bringing peace. Suffer me to pass on upon my way
alone; it is thus that I shall be least lonely, counting for my
friend Him who is the friend of all the distressed; it is thus that
I shall be the most happy, having taken my farewell of earthly
happiness, and willingly accepted sorrow for my portion.'
I looked at the face of the crucifix, and, though I was no friend
to images, and despised that imitative and grimacing art of which
it was a rude example, some sense of what the thing implied was
carried home to my intelligence. The face looked down upon me with
a painful and deadly contraction; but the rays of a glory encircled
it, and reminded me that the sacrifice was voluntary. It stood
there, crowning the rock, as it still stands on so many highway
sides, vainly preaching to passers-by, an emblem of sad and noble
truths; that pleasure is not an end, but an accident; that pain is
the choice of the magnanimous; that it is best to suffer all things
and do well. I turned and went down the mountain in silence; and
when I looked back for the last time before the wood closed about
my path, I saw Olalla still leaning on the crucifix.
They had sent for the doctor from Bourron before six. About eight
some villagers came round for the performance, and were told how
matters stood. It seemed a liberty for a mountebank to fall ill
like real people, and they made off again in dudgeon. By ten
Madame Tentaillon was gravely alarmed, and had sent down the street
for Doctor Desprez.
The Doctor was at work over his manuscripts in one corner of the
little dining-room, and his wife was asleep over the fire in
another, when the messenger arrived.
'Sapristi!' said the Doctor, 'you should have sent for me before.
It was a case for hurry.' And he followed the messenger as he was,
in his slippers and skull-cap.
The inn was not thirty yards away, but the messenger did not stop
there; he went in at one door and out by another into the court,
and then led the way by a flight of steps beside the stable, to the
loft where the mountebank lay sick. If Doctor Desprez were to live
a thousand years, he would never forget his arrival in that room;
for not only was the scene picturesque, but the moment made a date
in his existence. We reckon our lives, I hardly know why, from the
date of our first sorry appearance in society, as if from a first
humiliation; for no actor can come upon the stage with a worse
grace. Not to go further back, which would be judged too curious,
there are subsequently many moving and decisive accidents in the
lives of all, which would make as logical a period as this of
birth. And here, for instance, Doctor Desprez, a man past forty,
who had made what is called a failure in life, and was moreover
married, found himself at a new point of departure when he opened
the door of the loft above Tentaillon's stable,
It was a large place, lighted only by a single candle set upon the
floor. The mountebank lay on his back upon a pallet; a large man,
with a Quixotic nose inflamed with drinking. Madame Tentaillon
stooped over him, applying a hot water and mustard embrocation to
his feet; and on a chair close by sat a little fellow of eleven or
twelve, with his feet dangling. These three were the only
occupants, except the shadows. But the shadows were a company in
themselves; the extent of the room exaggerated them to a gigantic
size, and from the low position of the candle the light struck
upwards and produced deformed foreshortenings. The mountebank's
profile was enlarged upon the wall in caricature, and it was
strange to see his nose shorten and lengthen as the flame was blown
about by draughts. As for Madame Tentaillon, her shadow was no
more than a gross hump of shoulders, with now and again a
hemisphere of head. The chair legs were spindled out as long as
stilts, and the boy set perched atop of them, like a cloud, in the
corner of the roof.
It was the boy who took the Doctor's fancy. He had a great arched
skull, the forehead and the hands of a musician, and a pair of
haunting eyes. It was not merely that these eyes were large, or
steady, or the softest ruddy brown. There was a look in them,
besides, which thrilled the Doctor, and made him half uneasy. He
was sure he had seen such a look before, and yet he could not
remember how or where. It was as if this boy, who was quite a
stranger to him, had the eyes of an old friend or an old enemy.
And the boy would give him no peace; he seemed profoundly
indifferent to what was going on, or rather abstracted from it in a
superior contemplation, beating gently with his feet against the
bars of the chair, and holding his hands folded on his lap. But,
for all that, his eyes kept following the Doctor about the room
with a thoughtful fixity of gaze. Desprez could not tell whether
he was fascinating the boy, or the boy was fascinating him. He
busied himself over the sick man: he put questions, he felt the
pulse, he jested, he grew a little hot and swore: and still,
whenever he looked round, there were the brown eyes waiting for his
with the same inquiring, melancholy gaze.
At last the Doctor hit on the solution at a leap. He remembered
the look now. The little fellow, although he was as straight as a
dart, had the eyes that go usually with a crooked back; he was not
at all deformed, and yet a deformed person seemed to be looking at
you from below his brows. The Doctor drew a long breath, he was so
much relieved to find a theory (for he loved theories) and to
explain away his interest.
For all that, he despatched the invalid with unusual haste, and,
still kneeling with one knee on the floor, turned a little round
and looked the boy over at his leisure. The boy was not in the
least put out, but looked placidly back at the Doctor.
'Is this your father?' asked Desprez.
'Oh, no,' returned the boy; 'my master.'
'Are you fond of him?' continued the Doctor.
'No, sir,' said the boy.
Madame Tentaillon and Desprez exchanged expressive glances.
'That is bad, my man,' resumed the latter, with a shade of
sternness. 'Every one should be fond of the dying, or conceal
their sentiments; and your master here is dying. If I have watched
a bird a little while stealing my cherries, I have a thought of
disappointment when he flies away over my garden wall, and I see
him steer for the forest and vanish. How much more a creature such
as this, so strong, so astute, so richly endowed with faculties!
When I think that, in a few hours, the speech will be silenced, the
breath extinct, and even the shadow vanished from the wall, I who
never saw him, this lady who knew him only as a guest, are touched
with some affection.'
The boy was silent for a little, and appeared to be reflecting.
'You did not know him,' he replied at last, 'he was a bad man.'
'He is a little pagan,' said the landlady. 'For that matter, they
are all the same, these mountebanks, tumblers, artists, and what
not. They have no interior.'
But the Doctor was still scrutinising the little pagan, his
eyebrows knotted and uplifted.
'What is your name?' he asked.
'Jean-Marie,' said the lad.
Desprez leaped upon him with one of his sudden flashes of
excitement, and felt his head all over from an ethnological point
of view.
'Celtic, Celtic!' he said.
'Celtic!' cried Madame Tentaillon, who had perhaps confounded the
word with hydrocephalous. 'Poor lad! is it dangerous?'
'That depends,' returned the Doctor grimly. And then once more
addressing the boy: 'And what do you do for your living, Jean-
Marie?' he inquired.
'I tumble,' was the answer.
'So! Tumble?' repeated Desprez. 'Probably healthful. I hazard
the guess, Madame Tentaillon, that tumbling is a healthful way of
life. And have you never done anything else but tumble?'
'Before I learned that, I used to steal,' answered Jean-Marie
'Upon my word!' cried the doctor. 'You are a nice little man for
your age. Madame, when my CONFRERE comes from Bourron, you will
communicate my unfavourable opinion. I leave the case in his
hands; but of course, on any alarming symptom, above all if there
should be a sign of rally, do not hesitate to knock me up. I am a
doctor no longer, I thank God; but I have been one. Good night,
madame. Good sleep to you, Jean-Marie.'
DOCTOR DESPREZ always rose early. Before the smoke arose, before
the first cart rattled over the bridge to the day's labour in the
fields, he was to be found wandering in his garden. Now he would
pick a bunch of grapes; now he would eat a big pear under the
trellice; now he would draw all sorts of fancies on the path with
the end of his cane; now he would go down and watch the river
running endlessly past the timber landing-place at which he moored
his boat. There was no time, he used to say, for making theories
like the early morning. 'I rise earlier than any one else in the
village,' he once boasted. 'It is a fair consequence that I know
more and wish to do less with my knowledge.'
The Doctor was a connoisseur of sunrises, and loved a good
theatrical effect to usher in the day. He had a theory of dew, by
which he could predict the weather. Indeed, most things served him
to that end: the sound of the bells from all the neighbouring
villages, the smell of the forest, the visits and the behaviour of
both birds and fishes, the look of the plants in his garden, the
disposition of cloud, the colour of the light, and last, although
not least, the arsenal of meteorological instruments in a louvreboarded
hutch upon the lawn. Ever since he had settled at Gretz,
he had been growing more and more into the local meteorologist, the
unpaid champion of the local climate. He thought at first there
was no place so healthful in the arrondissement. By the end of the
second year, he protested there was none so wholesome in the whole
department. And for some time before he met Jean-Marie he had been
prepared to challenge all France and the better part of Europe for
a rival to his chosen spot.
'Doctor,' he would say - 'doctor is a foul word. It should not be
used to ladies. It implies disease. I remark it, as a flaw in our
civilisation, that we have not the proper horror of disease. Now
I, for my part, have washed my hands of it; I have renounced my
laureation; I am no doctor; I am only a worshipper of the true
goddess Hygieia. Ah, believe me, it is she who has the cestus!
And here, in this exiguous hamlet, has she placed her shrine: here
she dwells and lavishes her gifts; here I walk with her in the
early morning, and she shows me how strong she has made the
peasants, how fruitful she has made the fields, how the trees grow
up tall and comely under her eyes, and the fishes in the river
become clean and agile at her presence. - Rheumatism!' he would
cry, on some malapert interruption, 'O, yes, I believe we do have a
little rheumatism. That could hardly be avoided, you know, on a
river. And of course the place stands a little low; and the
meadows are marshy, there's no doubt. But, my dear sir, look at
Bourron! Bourron stands high. Bourron is close to the forest;
plenty of ozone there, you would say. Well, compared with Gretz,
Bourron is a perfect shambles.'
The morning after he had been summoned to the dying mountebank, the
Doctor visited the wharf at the tail of his garden, and had a long
look at the running water. This he called prayer; but whether his
adorations were addressed to the goddess Hygieia or some more
orthodox deity, never plainly appeared. For he had uttered
doubtful oracles, sometimes declaring that a river was the type of
bodily health, sometimes extolling it as the great moral preacher,
continually preaching peace, continuity, and diligence to man's
tormented spirits. After he had watched a mile or so of the clear
water running by before his eyes, seen a fish or two come to the
surface with a gleam of silver, and sufficiently admired the long
shadows of the trees falling half across the river from the
opposite bank, with patches of moving sunlight in between, he
strolled once more up the garden and through his house into the
street, feeling cool and renovated.
The sound of his feet upon the causeway began the business of the
day; for the village was still sound asleep. The church tower
looked very airy in the sunlight; a few birds that turned about it,
seemed to swim in an atmosphere of more than usual rarity; and the
Doctor, walking in long transparent shadows, filled his lungs
amply, and proclaimed himself well contented with the morning.
On one of the posts before Tentaillon's carriage entry he espied a
little dark figure perched in a meditative attitude, and
immediately recognised Jean-Marie.
'Aha!' he said, stopping before him humorously, with a hand on
either knee. 'So we rise early in the morning, do we? It appears
to me that we have all the vices of a philosopher.'
The boy got to his feet and made a grave salutation.
'And how is our patient?' asked Desprez.
It appeared the patient was about the same.
'And why do you rise early in the morning?' he pursued.
Jean-Marie, after a long silence, professed that he hardly knew.
'You hardly know?' repeated Desprez. 'We hardly know anything, my
man, until we try to learn. Interrogate your consciousness. Come,
push me this inquiry home. Do you like it?'
'Yes,' said the boy slowly; 'yes, I like it.'
'And why do you like it?' continued the Doctor. '(We are now
pursuing the Socratic method.) Why do you like it?'
'It is quiet,' answered Jean-Marie; 'and I have nothing to do; and
then I feel as if I were good.'
Doctor Desprez took a seat on the post at the opposite side. He
was beginning to take an interest in the talk, for the boy plainly
thought before he spoke, and tried to answer truly. 'It appears
you have a taste for feeling good,' said the Doctor. 'Now, there
you puzzle me extremely; for I thought you said you were a thief;
and the two are incompatible.'
'Is it very bad to steal?' asked Jean-Marie.
'Such is the general opinion, little boy,' replied the Doctor.
'No; but I mean as I stole,' explained the other. 'For I had no
choice. I think it is surely right to have bread; it must be right
to have bread, there comes so plain a want of it. And then they
beat me cruelly if I returned with nothing,' he added. 'I was not
ignorant of right and wrong; for before that I had been well taught
by a priest, who was very kind to me.' (The Doctor made a horrible
grimace at the word 'priest.') 'But it seemed to me, when one had
nothing to eat and was beaten, it was a different affair. I would
not have stolen for tartlets, I believe; but any one would steal
for baker's bread.'
'And so I suppose,' said the Doctor, with a rising sneer, 'you
prayed God to forgive you, and explained the case to Him at
'Why, sir?' asked Jean-Marie. 'I do not see.'
'Your priest would see, however,' retorted Desprez.
'Would he?' asked the boy, troubled for the first time. 'I should
have thought God would have known.'
'Eh?' snarled the Doctor.
'I should have thought God would have understood me,' replied the
other. 'You do not, I see; but then it was God that made me think
so, was it not?'
'Little boy, little boy,' said Dr. Desprez, 'I told you already you
had the vices of philosophy; if you display the virtues also, I
must go. I am a student of the blessed laws of health, an observer
of plain and temperate nature in her common walks; and I cannot
preserve my equanimity in presence of a monster. Do you
'No, sir,' said the boy.
'I will make my meaning clear to you,' replied the doctor. 'Look
there at the sky - behind the belfry first, where it is so light,
and then up and up, turning your chin back, right to the top of the
dome, where it is already as blue as at noon. Is not that a
beautiful colour? Does it not please the heart? We have seen it
all our lives, until it has grown in with our familiar thoughts.
Now,' changing his tone, 'suppose that sky to become suddenly of a
live and fiery amber, like the colour of clear coals, and growing
scarlet towards the top - I do not say it would be any the less
beautiful; but would you like it as well?'
'I suppose not,' answered Jean-Marie.
'Neither do I like you,' returned the Doctor, roughly. 'I hate all
odd people, and you are the most curious little boy in all the
Jean-Marie seemed to ponder for a while, and then he raised his
head again and looked over at the Doctor with an air of candid
inquiry. 'But are not you a very curious gentleman?' he asked.
The Doctor threw away his stick, bounded on the boy, clasped him to
his bosom, and kissed him on both cheeks. 'Admirable, admirable
imp!' he cried. 'What a morning, what an hour for a theorist of
forty-two! No,' he continued, apostrophising heaven, 'I did not
know such boys existed; I was ignorant they made them so; I had
doubted of my race; and now! It is like,' he added, picking up his
stick, 'like a lovers' meeting. I have bruised my favourite staff
in that moment of enthusiasm. The injury, however, is not grave.'
He caught the boy looking at him in obvious wonder, embarrassment,
and alarm. 'Hullo!' said he, 'why do you look at me like that?
Egad, I believe the boy despises me. Do you despise me, boy?'
'O, no,' replied Jean-Marie, seriously; 'only I do not understand.'
'You must excuse me, sir,' returned the Doctor, with gravity; 'I am
still so young. O, hang him!' he added to himself. And he took
his seat again and observed the boy sardonically. 'He has spoiled
the quiet of my morning,' thought he. 'I shall be nervous all day,
and have a febricule when I digest. Let me compose myself.' And
so he dismissed his pre-occupations by an effort of the will which
he had long practised, and let his soul roam abroad in the
contemplation of the morning. He inhaled the air, tasting it
critically as a connoisseur tastes a vintage, and prolonging the
expiration with hygienic gusto. He counted the little flecks of
cloud along the sky. He followed the movements of the birds round
the church tower - making long sweeps, hanging poised, or turning
airy somersaults in fancy, and beating the wind with imaginary
pinions. And in this way he regained peace of mind and animal
composure, conscious of his limbs, conscious of the sight of his
eyes, conscious that the air had a cool taste, like a fruit, at the
top of his throat; and at last, in complete abstraction, he began
to sing. The Doctor had but one air - , 'Malbrouck s'en va-t-en
guerre;' even with that he was on terms of mere politeness; and his
musical exploits were always reserved for moments when he was alone
and entirely happy.
He was recalled to earth rudely by a pained expression on the boy's
face. 'What do you think of my singing?' he inquired, stopping in
the middle of a note; and then, after he had waited some little
while and received no answer, 'What do you think of my singing?' he
repeated, imperiously.
'I do not like it,' faltered Jean-Marie.
'Oh, come!' cried the Doctor. 'Possibly you are a performer
'I sing better than that,' replied the boy.
The Doctor eyed him for some seconds in stupefaction. He was aware
that he was angry, and blushed for himself in consequence, which
made him angrier. 'If this is how you address your master!' he
said at last, with a shrug and a flourish of his arms.
'I do not speak to him at all,' returned the boy. 'I do not like
'Then you like me?' snapped Doctor Desprez, with unusual eagerness.
'I do not know,' answered Jean-Marie.
The Doctor rose. 'I shall wish you a good morning,' he said. 'You
are too much for me. Perhaps you have blood in your veins, perhaps
celestial ichor, or perhaps you circulate nothing more gross than
respirable air; but of one thing I am inexpugnably assured:- that
you are no human being. No, boy' - shaking his stick at him - 'you
are not a human being. Write, write it in your memory - "I am not
a human being - I have no pretension to be a human being - I am a
dive, a dream, an angel, an acrostic, an illusion - what you
please, but not a human being." And so accept my humble
salutations and farewell!'
And with that the Doctor made off along the street in some emotion,
and the boy stood, mentally gaping, where he left him.
MADAME DESPREZ, who answered to the Christian name of Anastasie,
presented an agreeable type of her sex; exceedingly wholesome to
look upon, a stout BRUNE, with cool smooth cheeks, steady, dark
eyes, and hands that neither art nor nature could improve. She was
the sort of person over whom adversity passes like a summer cloud;
she might, in the worst of conjunctions, knit her brows into one
vertical furrow for a moment, but the next it would be gone. She
had much of the placidity of a contented nun; with little of her
piety, however; for Anastasie was of a very mundane nature, fond of
oysters and old wine, and somewhat bold pleasantries, and devoted
to her husband for her own sake rather than for his. She was
imperturbably good-natured, but had no idea of self-sacrifice. To
live in that pleasant old house, with a green garden behind and
bright flowers about the window, to eat and drink of the best, to
gossip with a neighbour for a quarter of an hour, never to wear
stays or a dress except when she went to Fontainebleau shopping, to
be kept in a continual supply of racy novels, and to be married to
Doctor Desprez and have no ground of jealousy, filled the cup of
her nature to the brim. Those who had known the Doctor in bachelor
days, when he had aired quite as many theories, but of a different
order, attributed his present philosophy to the study of Anastasie.
It was her brute enjoyment that he rationalised and perhaps vainly
Madame Desprez was an artist in the kitchen, and made coffee to a
nicety. She had a knack of tidiness, with which she had infected
the Doctor; everything was in its place; everything capable of
polish shone gloriously; and dust was a thing banished from her
empire. Aline, their single servant, had no other business in the
world but to scour and burnish. So Doctor Desprez lived in his
house like a fatted calf, warmed and cosseted to his heart's
The midday meal was excellent. There was a ripe melon, a fish from
the river in a memorable Bearnaise sauce, a fat fowl in a
fricassee, and a dish of asparagus, followed by some fruit. The
Doctor drank half a bottle PLUS one glass, the wife half a bottle
MINUS the same quantity, which was a marital privilege, of an
excellent Cote-Rotie, seven years old. Then the coffee was
brought, and a flask of Chartreuse for madame, for the Doctor
despised and distrusted such decoctions; and then Aline left the
wedded pair to the pleasures of memory and digestion.
'It is a very fortunate circumstance, my cherished one,' observed
the Doctor - 'this coffee is adorable - a very fortunate
circumstance upon the whole - Anastasie, I beseech you, go without
that poison for to-day; only one day, and you will feel the
benefit, I pledge my reputation.'
'What is this fortunate circumstance, my friend?' inquired
Anastasie, not heeding his protest, which was of daily recurrence.
'That we have no children, my beautiful,' replied the Doctor. 'I
think of it more and more as the years go on, and with more and
more gratitude towards the Power that dispenses such afflictions.
Your health, my darling, my studious quiet, our little kitchen
delicacies, how they would all have suffered, how they would all
have been sacrificed! And for what? Children are the last word of
human imperfection. Health flees before their face. They cry, my
dear; they put vexatious questions; they demand to be fed, to be
washed, to be educated, to have their noses blown; and then, when
the time comes, they break our hearts, as I break this piece of
sugar. A pair of professed egoists, like you and me, should avoid
offspring, like an infidelity.'
'Indeed!' said she; and she laughed. 'Now, that is like you - to
take credit for the thing you could not help.'
'My dear,' returned the Doctor, solemnly, 'we might have adopted.'
'Never!' cried madame. 'Never, Doctor, with my consent. If the
child were my own flesh and blood, I would not say no. But to take
another person's indiscretion on my shoulders, my dear friend, I
have too much sense.'
'Precisely,' replied the Doctor. 'We both had. And I am all the
better pleased with our wisdom, because - because - ' He looked at
her sharply.
'Because what?' she asked, with a faint premonition of danger.
'Because I have found the right person,' said the Doctor firmly,
'and shall adopt him this afternoon.'
Anastasie looked at him out of a mist. 'You have lost your
reason,' she said; and there was a clang in her voice that seemed
to threaten trouble.
'Not so, my dear,' he replied; 'I retain its complete exercise. To
the proof: instead of attempting to cloak my inconsistency, I have,
by way of preparing you, thrown it into strong relief. You will
there, I think, recognise the philosopher who has the ecstasy to
call you wife. The fact is, I have been reckoning all this while
without an accident. I never thought to find a son of my own.
Now, last night, I found one. Do not unnecessarily alarm yourself,
my dear; he is not a drop of blood to me that I know. It is his
mind, darling, his mind that calls me father.'
'His mind!' she repeated with a titter between scorn and hysterics.
'His mind, indeed! Henri, is this an idiotic pleasantry, or are
you mad? His mind! And what of my mind?'
'Truly,' replied the Doctor with a shrug, 'you have your finger on
the hitch. He will be strikingly antipathetic to my ever beautiful
Anastasie. She will never understand him; he will never understand
her. You married the animal side of my nature, dear and it is on
the spiritual side that I find my affinity for Jean-Marie. So much
so, that, to be perfectly frank, I stand in some awe of him myself.
You will easily perceive that I am announcing a calamity for you.
Do not,' he broke out in tones of real solicitude - 'do not give
way to tears after a meal, Anastasie. You will certainly give
yourself a false digestion.'
Anastasie controlled herself. 'You know how willing I am to humour
you,' she said, 'in all reasonable matters. But on this point - '
'My dear love,' interrupted the Doctor, eager to prevent a refusal,
'who wished to leave Paris? Who made me give up cards, and the
opera, and the boulevard, and my social relations, and all that was
my life before I knew you? Have I been faithful? Have I been
obedient? Have I not borne my doom with cheerfulness? In all
honesty, Anastasie, have I not a right to a stipulation on my side?
I have, and you know it. I stipulate my son.'
Anastasie was aware of defeat; she struck her colours instantly.
'You will break my heart,' she sighed.
'Not in the least,' said he. 'You will feel a trifling
inconvenience for a month, just as I did when I was first brought
to this vile hamlet; then your admirable sense and temper will
prevail, and I see you already as content as ever, and making your
husband the happiest of men.'
'You know I can refuse you nothing,' she said, with a last flicker
of resistance; 'nothing that will make you truly happier. But will
this? Are you sure, my husband? Last night, you say, you found
him! He may be the worst of humbugs.'
'I think not,' replied the Doctor. 'But do not suppose me so
unwary as to adopt him out of hand. I am, I flatter myself, a
finished man of the world; I have had all possibilities in view; my
plan is contrived to meet them all. I take the lad as stable boy.
If he pilfer, if he grumble, if he desire to change, I shall see I
was mistaken; I shall recognise him for no son of mine, and send
him tramping.'
'You will never do so when the time comes,' said his wife; 'I know
your good heart.'
She reached out her hand to him, with a sigh; the Doctor smiled as
he took it and carried it to his lips; he had gained his point with
greater ease than he had dared to hope; for perhaps the twentieth
time he had proved the efficacy of his trusty argument, his
Excalibur, the hint of a return to Paris. Six months in the
capital, for a man of the Doctor's antecedents and relations,
implied no less a calamity than total ruin. Anastasie had saved
the remainder of his fortune by keeping him strictly in the
country. The very name of Paris put her in a blue fear; and she
would have allowed her husband to keep a menagerie in the back
garden, let alone adopting a stable-boy, rather than permit the
question of return to be discussed.
About four of the afternoon, the mountebank rendered up his ghost;
he had never been conscious since his seizure. Doctor Desprez was
present at his last passage, and declared the farce over. Then he
took Jean-Marie by the shoulder and led him out into the inn garden
where there was a convenient bench beside the river. Here he sat
him down and made the boy place himself on his left.
'Jean-Marie,' he said very gravely, 'this world is exceedingly
vast; and even France, which is only a small corner of it, is a
great place for a little lad like you. Unfortunately it is full of
eager, shouldering people moving on; and there are very few bakers'
shops for so many eaters. Your master is dead; you are not fit to
gain a living by yourself; you do not wish to steal? No. Your
situation then is undesirable; it is, for the moment, critical. On
the other hand, you behold in me a man not old, though elderly,
still enjoying the youth of the heart and the intelligence; a man
of instruction; easily situated in this world's affairs; keeping a
good table:- a man, neither as friend nor host, to be despised. I
offer you your food and clothes, and to teach you lessons in the
evening, which will be infinitely more to the purpose for a lad of
your stamp than those of all the priests in Europe. I propose no
wages, but if ever you take a thought to leave me, the door shall
be open, and I will give you a hundred francs to start the world
upon. In return, I have an old horse and chaise, which you would
very speedily learn to clean and keep in order. Do not hurry
yourself to answer, and take it or leave it as you judge aright.
Only remember this, that I am no sentimentalist or charitable
person, but a man who lives rigorously to himself; and that if I
make the proposal, it is for my own ends - it is because I perceive
clearly an advantage to myself. And now, reflect.'
'I shall be very glad. I do not see what else I can do. I thank
you, sir, most kindly, and I will try to be useful,' said the boy.
'Thank you,' said the Doctor warmly, rising at the same time and
wiping his brow, for he had suffered agonies while the thing hung
in the wind. A refusal, after the scene at noon, would have placed
him in a ridiculous light before Anastasie. 'How hot and heavy is
the evening, to be sure! I have always had a fancy to be a fish in
summer, Jean-Marie, here in the Loing beside Gretz. I should lie
under a water-lily and listen to the bells, which must sound most
delicately down below. That would be a life - do you not think so
'Yes,' said Jean-Marie.
'Thank God you have imagination!' cried the Doctor, embracing the
boy with his usual effusive warmth, though it was a proceeding that
seemed to disconcert the sufferer almost as much as if he had been
an English schoolboy of the same age. 'And now,' he added, 'I will
take you to my wife.'
Madame Desprez sat in the dining-room in a cool wrapper. All the
blinds were down, and the tile floor had been recently sprinkled
with water; her eyes were half shut, but she affected to be reading
a novel as the they entered. Though she was a bustling woman, she
enjoyed repose between whiles and had a remarkable appetite for
The Doctor went through a solemn form of introduction, adding, for
the benefit of both parties, 'You must try to like each other for
my sake.'
'He is very pretty,' said Anastasie. 'Will you kiss me, my pretty
little fellow?'
The Doctor was furious, and dragged her into the passage. 'Are you
a fool, Anastasie?' he said. 'What is all this I hear about the
tact of women? Heaven knows, I have not met with it in my
experience. You address my little philosopher as if he were an
infant. He must be spoken to with more respect, I tell you; he
must not be kissed and Georgy-porgy'd like an ordinary child.'
'I only did it to please you, I am sure,' replied Anastasie; 'but I
will try to do better.'
The Doctor apologised for his warmth. 'But I do wish him,' he
continued, 'to feel at home among us. And really your conduct was
so idiotic, my cherished one, and so utterly and distantly out of
place, that a saint might have been pardoned a little vehemence in
disapproval. Do, do try - if it is possible for a woman to
understand young people - but of course it is not, and I waste my
breath. Hold your tongue as much as possible at least, and observe
my conduct narrowly; it will serve you for a model.'
Anastasie did as she was bidden, and considered the Doctor's
behaviour. She observed that he embraced the boy three times in
the course of the evening, and managed generally to confound and
abash the little fellow out of speech and appetite. But she had
the true womanly heroism in little affairs. Not only did she
refrain from the cheap revenge of exposing the Doctor's errors to
himself, but she did her best to remove their ill-effect on Jean-
Marie. When Desprez went out for his last breath of air before
retiring for the night, she came over to the boy's side and took
his hand.
'You must not be surprised nor frightened by my husband's manners,'
she said. 'He is the kindest of men, but so clever that he is
sometimes difficult to understand. You will soon grow used to him,
and then you will love him, for that nobody can help. As for me,
you may be sure, I shall try to make you happy, and will not bother
you at all. I think we should be excellent friends, you and I. I
am not clever, but I am very good-natured. Will you give me a
He held up his face, and she took him in her arms and then began to
cry. The woman had spoken in complaisance; but she had warmed to
her own words, and tenderness followed. The Doctor, entering,
found them enlaced: he concluded that his wife was in fault; and he
was just beginning, in an awful voice, 'Anastasie - ,' when she
looked up at him, smiling, with an upraised finger; and he held his
peace, wondering, while she led the boy to his attic.
THE installation of the adopted stable-boy was thus happily
effected, and the wheels of life continued to run smoothly in the
Doctor's house. Jean-Marie did his horse and carriage duty in the
morning; sometimes helped in the housework; sometimes walked abroad
with the Doctor, to drink wisdom from the fountain-head; and was
introduced at night to the sciences and the dead tongues. He
retained his singular placidity of mind and manner; he was rarely
in fault; but he made only a very partial progress in his studies,
and remained much of a stranger in the family.
The Doctor was a pattern of regularity. All forenoon he worked on
his great book, the 'Comparative Pharmacopoeia, or Historical
Dictionary of all Medicines,' which as yet consisted principally of
slips of paper and pins. When finished, it was to fill many
personable volumes, and to combine antiquarian interest with
professional utility. But the Doctor was studious of literary
graces and the picturesque; an anecdote, a touch of manners, a
moral qualification, or a sounding epithet was sure to be preferred
before a piece of science; a little more, and he would have written
the 'Comparative Pharmacopoeia' in verse! The article 'Mummia,'
for instance, was already complete, though the remainder of the
work had not progressed beyond the letter A. It was exceedingly
copious and entertaining, written with quaintness and colour,
exact, erudite, a literary article; but it would hardly have
afforded guidance to a practising physician of to-day. The
feminine good sense of his wife had led her to point this out with
uncompromising sincerity; for the Dictionary was duly read aloud to
her, betwixt sleep and waning, as it proceeded towards an
infinitely distant completion; and the Doctor was a little sore on
the subject of mummies, and sometimes resented an allusion with
After the midday meal and a proper period of digestion, he walked,
sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by Jean-Marie; for madame
would have preferred any hardship rather than walk.
She was, as I have said, a very busy person, continually occupied
about material comforts, and ready to drop asleep over a novel the
instant she was disengaged. This was the less objectionable, as
she never snored or grew distempered in complexion when she slept.
On the contrary, she looked the very picture of luxurious and
appetising ease, and woke without a start to the perfect possession
of her faculties. I am afraid she was greatly an animal, but she
was a very nice animal to have about. In this way, she had little
to do with Jean-Marie; but the sympathy which had been established
between them on the first night remained unbroken; they held
occasional conversations, mostly on household matters; to the
extreme disappointment of the Doctor, they occasionally sallied off
together to that temple of debasing superstition, the village
church; madame and he, both in their Sunday's best, drove twice a
month to Fontainebleau and returned laden with purchases; and in
short, although the Doctor still continued to regard them as
irreconcilably anti-pathetic, their relation was as intimate,
friendly, and confidential as their natures suffered.
I fear, however, that in her heart of hearts, madame kindly
despised and pitied the boy. She had no admiration for his class
of virtues; she liked a smart, polite, forward, roguish sort of
boy, cap in hand, light of foot, meeting the eye; she liked
volubility, charm, a little vice - the promise of a second Doctor
Desprez. And it was her indefeasible belief that Jean-Marie was
dull. 'Poor dear boy,' she had said once, 'how sad it is that he
should be so stupid!' She had never repeated that remark, for the
Doctor had raged like a wild bull, denouncing the brutal bluntness
of her mind, bemoaning his own fate to be so unequally mated with
an ass, and, what touched Anastasie more nearly, menacing the table
china by the fury of his gesticulations. But she adhered silently
to her opinion; and when Jean-Marie was sitting, stolid, blank, but
not unhappy, over his unfinished tasks, she would snatch her
opportunity in the Doctor's absence, go over to him, put her arms
about his neck, lay her cheek to his, and communicate her sympathy
with his distress. 'Do not mind,' she would say; 'I, too, am not
at all clever, and I can assure you that it makes no difference in
The Doctor's view was naturally different. That gentleman never
wearied of the sound of his own voice, which was, to say the truth,
agreeable enough to hear. He now had a listener, who was not so
cynically indifferent as Anastasie, and who sometimes put him on
his mettle by the most relevant objections. Besides, was he not
educating the boy? And education, philosophers are agreed, is the
most philosophical of duties. What can be more heavenly to poor
mankind than to have one's hobby grow into a duty to the State?
Then, indeed, do the ways of life become ways of pleasantness.
Never had the Doctor seen reason to be more content with his
endowments. Philosophy flowed smoothly from his lips. He was so
agile a dialectician that he could trace his nonsense, when
challenged, back to some root in sense, and prove it to be a sort
of flower upon his system. He slipped out of antinomies like a
fish, and left his disciple marvelling at the rabbi's depth.
Moreover, deep down in his heart the Doctor was disappointed with
the ill-success of his more formal education. A boy, chosen by so
acute an observer for his aptitude, and guided along the path of
learning by so philosophic an instructor, was bound, by the nature
of the universe, to make a more obvious and lasting advance. Now
Jean-Marie was slow in all things, impenetrable in others; and his
power of forgetting was fully on a level with his power to learn.
Therefore the Doctor cherished his peripatetic lectures, to which
the boy attended, which he generally appeared to enjoy, and by
which he often profited.
Many and many were the talks they had together; and health and
moderation proved the subject of the Doctor's divagations. To
these he lovingly returned.
'I lead you,' he would say, 'by the green pastures. My system, my
beliefs, my medicines, are resumed in one phrase - to avoid excess.
Blessed nature, healthy, temperate nature, abhors and exterminates
excess. Human law, in this matter, imitates at a great distance
her provisions; and we must strive to supplement the efforts of the
law. Yes, boy, we must be a law to ourselves and for ourselves and
for our neighbours - lex armata - armed, emphatic, tyrannous law.
If you see a crapulous human ruin snuffing, dash from him his box!
The judge, though in a way an admission of disease, is less
offensive to me than either the doctor or the priest. Above all
the doctor - the doctor and the purulent trash and garbage of his
pharmacopoeia! Pure air - from the neighbourhood of a pinetum for
the sake of the turpentine - unadulterated wine, and the
reflections of an unsophisticated spirit in the presence of the
works of nature - these, my boy, are the best medical appliances
and the best religious comforts. Devote yourself to these. Hark!
there are the bells of Bourron (the wind is in the north, it will
be fair). How clear and airy is the sound! The nerves are
harmonised and quieted; the mind attuned to silence; and observe
how easily and regularly beats the heart! Your unenlightened
doctor would see nothing in these sensations; and yet you yourself
perceive they are a part of health. - Did you remember your
cinchona this morning? Good. Cinchona also is a work of nature;
it is, after all, only the bark of a tree which we might gather for
ourselves if we lived in the locality. - What a world is this!
Though a professed atheist, I delight to bear my testimony to the
world. Look at the gratuitous remedies and pleasures that surround
our path! The river runs by the garden end, our bath, our
fishpond, our natural system of drainage. There is a well in the
court which sends up sparkling water from the earth's very heart,
clean, cool, and, with a little wine, most wholesome. The district
is notorious for its salubrity; rheumatism is the only prevalent
complaint, and I myself have never had a touch of it. I tell you -
and my opinion is based upon the coldest, clearest processes of
reason - if I, if you, desired to leave this home of pleasures, it
would be the duty, it would be the privilege, of our best friend to
prevent us with a pistol bullet.'
One beautiful June day they sat upon the hill outside the village.
The river, as blue as heaven, shone here and there among the
foliage. The indefatigable birds turned and flickered about Gretz
church tower. A healthy wind blew from over the forest, and the
sound of innumerable thousands of tree-tops and innumerable
millions on millions of green leaves was abroad in the air, and
filled the ear with something between whispered speech and singing.
It seemed as if every blade of grass must hide a cigale; and the
fields rang merrily with their music, jingling far and near as with
the sleigh-bells of the fairy queen. From their station on the
slope the eye embraced a large space of poplar'd plain upon the one
hand, the waving hill-tops of the forest on the other, and Gretz
itself in the middle, a handful of roofs. Under the bestriding
arch of the blue heavens, the place seemed dwindled to a toy. It
seemed incredible that people dwelt, and could find room to turn or
air to breathe, in such a corner of the world. The thought came
home to the boy, perhaps for the first time, and he gave it words.
'How small it looks!' he sighed.
'Ay,' replied the Doctor, 'small enough now. Yet it was once a
walled city; thriving, full of furred burgesses and men in armour,
humming with affairs; - with tall spires, for aught that I know,
and portly towers along the battlements. A thousand chimneys
ceased smoking at the curfew bell. There were gibbets at the gate
as thick as scarecrows. In time of war, the assault swarmed
against it with ladders, the arrows fell like leaves, the defenders
sallied hotly over the drawbridge, each side uttered its cry as
they plied their weapons. Do you know that the walls extended as
far as the Commanderie? Tradition so reports. Alas, what a long
way off is all this confusion - nothing left of it but my quiet
words spoken in your ear - and the town itself shrunk to the hamlet
underneath us! By-and-by came the English wars - you shall hear
more of the English, a stupid people, who sometimes blundered into
good - and Gretz was taken, sacked, and burned. It is the history
of many towns; but Gretz never rose again; it was never rebuilt;
its ruins were a quarry to serve the growth of rivals; and the
stones of Gretz are now erect along the streets of Nemours. It
gratifies me that our old house was the first to rise after the
calamity; when the town had come to an end, it inaugurated the
'I, too, am glad of that,' said Jean-Marie.
'It should be the temple of the humbler virtues,' responded the
Doctor with a savoury gusto. 'Perhaps one of the reasons why I
love my little hamlet as I do, is that we have a similar history,
she and I. Have I told you that I was once rich?'
'I do not think so,' answered Jean-Marie. 'I do not think I should
have forgotten. I am sorry you should have lost your fortune.'
'Sorry?' cried the Doctor. 'Why, I find I have scarce begun your
education after all. Listen to me! Would you rather live in the
old Gretz or in the new, free from the alarms of war, with the
green country at the door, without noise, passports, the exactions
of the soldiery, or the jangle of the curfew-bell to send us off to
bed by sundown?'
'I suppose I should prefer the new,' replied the boy.
'Precisely,' returned the Doctor; 'so do I. And, in the same way,
I prefer my present moderate fortune to my former wealth. Golden
mediocrity! cried the adorable ancients; and I subscribe to their
enthusiasm. Have I not good wine, good food, good air, the fields
and the forest for my walk, a house, an admirable wife, a boy whom
I protest I cherish like a son? Now, if I were still rich, I
should indubitably make my residence in Paris - you know Paris -
Paris and Paradise are not convertible terms. This pleasant noise
of the wind streaming among leaves changed into the grinding Babel
of the street, the stupid glare of plaster substituted for this
quiet pattern of greens and greys, the nerves shattered, the
digestion falsified - picture the fall! Already you perceive the
consequences; the mind is stimulated, the heart steps to a
different measure, and the man is himself no longer. I have
passionately studied myself - the true business of philosophy. I
know my character as the musician knows the ventages of his flute.
Should I return to Paris, I should ruin myself gambling; nay, I go
further - I should break the heart of my Anastasie with
This was too much for Jean-Marie. That a place should so transform
the most excellent of men transcended his belief. Paris, he
protested, was even an agreeable place of residence. 'Nor when I
lived in that city did I feel much difference,' he pleaded.
'What!' cried the Doctor. 'Did you not steal when you were there?'
But the boy could never be brought to see that he had done anything
wrong when he stole. Nor, indeed, did the Doctor think he had; but
that gentleman was never very scrupulous when in want of a retort.
'And now,' he concluded, 'do you begin to understand? My only
friends were those who ruined me. Gretz has been my academy, my
sanatorium, my heaven of innocent pleasures. If millions are
offered me, I wave them back: RETRO, SATHANAS! - Evil one, begone!
Fix your mind on my example; despise riches, avoid the debasing
influence of cities. Hygiene - hygiene and mediocrity of fortune -
these be your watchwords during life!'
The Doctor's system of hygiene strikingly coincided with his
tastes; and his picture of the perfect life was a faithful
description of the one he was leading at the time. But it is easy
to convince a boy, whom you supply with all the facts for the
discussion. And besides, there was one thing admirable in the
philosophy, and that was the enthusiasm of the philosopher. There
was never any one more vigorously determined to be pleased; and if
he was not a great logician, and so had no right to convince the
intellect, he was certainly something of a poet, and had a
fascination to seduce the heart. What he could not achieve in his
customary humour of a radiant admiration of himself and his
circumstances, he sometimes effected in his fits of gloom.
'Boy,' he would say, 'avoid me to-day. If I were superstitious, I
should even beg for an interest in your prayers. I am in the black
fit; the evil spirit of King Saul, the hag of the merchant Abudah,
the personal devil of the mediaeval monk, is with me - is in me,'
tapping on his breast. 'The vices of my nature are now uppermost;
innocent pleasures woo me in vain; I long for Paris, for my
wallowing in the mire. See,' he would continue, producing a
handful of silver, 'I denude myself, I am not to be trusted with
the price of a fare. Take it, keep it for me, squander it on
deleterious candy, throw it in the deepest of the river - I will
homologate your action. Save me from that part of myself which I
disown. If you see me falter, do not hesitate; if necessary, wreck
the train! I speak, of course, by a parable. Any extremity were
better than for me to reach Paris alive.'
Doubtless the Doctor enjoyed these little scenes, as a variation in
his part; they represented the Byronic element in the somewhat
artificial poetry of his existence; but to the boy, though he was
dimly aware of their theatricality, they represented more. The
Doctor made perhaps too little, the boy possibly too much, of the
reality and gravity of these temptations.
One day a great light shone for Jean-Marie. 'Could not riches be
used well?' he asked.
'In theory, yes,' replied the Doctor. 'But it is found in
experience that no one does so. All the world imagine they will be
exceptional when they grow wealthy; but possession is debasing, new
desires spring up; and the silly taste for ostentation eats out the
heart of pleasure.'
'Then you might be better if you had less,' said the boy.
'Certainly not,' replied the Doctor; but his voice quavered as he
'Why?' demanded pitiless innocence.
Doctor Desprez saw all the colours of the rainbow in a moment; the
stable universe appeared to be about capsizing with him.
'Because,' said he - affecting deliberation after an obvious pause
- 'because I have formed my life for my present income. It is not
good for men of my years to be violently dissevered from their
That was a sharp brush. The Doctor breathed hard, and fell into
taciturnity for the afternoon. As for the boy, he was delighted
with the resolution of his doubts; even wondered that he had not
foreseen the obvious and conclusive answer. His faith in the
Doctor was a stout piece of goods. Desprez was inclined to be a
sheet in the wind's eye after dinner, especially after Rhone wine,
his favourite weakness. He would then remark on the warmth of his
feeling for Anastasie, and with inflamed cheeks and a loose,
flustered smile, debate upon all sorts of topics, and be feebly and
indiscreetly witty. But the adopted stable-boy would not permit
himself to entertain a doubt that savoured of ingratitude. It is
quite true that a man may be a second father to you, and yet take
too much to drink; but the best natures are ever slow to accept
such truths.
The Doctor thoroughly possessed his heart, but perhaps he
exaggerated his influence over his mind. Certainly Jean-Marie
adopted some of his master's opinions, but I have yet to learn that
he ever surrendered one of his own. Convictions existed in him by
divine right; they were virgin, unwrought, the brute metal of
decision. He could add others indeed, but he could not put away;
neither did he care if they were perfectly agreed among themselves;
and his spiritual pleasures had nothing to do with turning them
over or justifying them in words. Words were with him a mere
accomplishment, like dancing. When he was by himself, his
pleasures were almost vegetable. He would slip into the woods
towards Acheres, and sit in the mouth of a cave among grey birches.
His soul stared straight out of his eyes; he did not move or think;
sunlight, thin shadows moving in the wind, the edge of firs against
the sky, occupied and bound his faculties. He was pure unity, a
spirit wholly abstracted. A single mood filled him, to which all
the objects of sense contributed, as the colours of the spectrum
merge and disappear in white light.
So while the Doctor made himself drunk with words, the adopted
stable-boy bemused himself with silence.
THE Doctor's carriage was a two-wheeled gig with a hood; a kind of
vehicle in much favour among country doctors. On how many roads
has one not seen it, a great way off between the poplars! - in how
many village streets, tied to a gate-post! This sort of chariot is
affected - particularly at the trot - by a kind of pitching
movement to and fro across the axle, which well entitles it to the
style of a Noddy. The hood describes a considerable arc against
the landscape, with a solemnly absurd effect on the contemplative
pedestrian. To ride in such a carriage cannot be numbered among
the things that appertain to glory; but I have no doubt it may be
useful in liver complaint. Thence, perhaps, its wide popularity
among physicians.
One morning early, Jean-Marie led forth the Doctor's noddy, opened
the gate, and mounted to the driving-seat. The Doctor followed,
arrayed from top to toe in spotless linen, armed with an immense
flesh-coloured umbrella, and girt with a botanical case on a
baldric; and the equipage drove off smartly in a breeze of its own
provocation. They were bound for Franchard, to collect plants,
with an eye to the 'Comparative Pharmacopoeia.'
A little rattling on the open roads, and they came to the borders
of the forest and struck into an unfrequented track; the noddy
yawed softly over the sand, with an accompaniment of snapping
twigs. There was a great, green, softly murmuring cloud of
congregated foliage overhead. In the arcades of the forest the air
retained the freshness of the night. The athletic bearing of the
trees, each carrying its leafy mountain, pleased the mind like so
many statues; and the lines of the trunk led the eye admiringly
upward to where the extreme leaves sparkled in a patch of azure.
Squirrels leaped in mid air. It was a proper spot for a devotee of
the goddess Hygieia.
'Have you been to Franchard, Jean-Marie?' inquired the Doctor. 'I
fancy not.'
'Never,' replied the boy.
'It is ruin in a gorge,' continued Desprez, adopting his expository
voice; 'the ruin of a hermitage and chapel. History tells us much
of Franchard; how the recluse was often slain by robbers; how he
lived on a most insufficient diet; how he was expected to pass his
days in prayer. A letter is preserved, addressed to one of these
solitaries by the superior of his order, full of admirable hygienic
advice; bidding him go from his book to praying, and so back again,
for variety's sake, and when he was weary of both to stroll about
his garden and observe the honey bees. It is to this day my own
system. You must often have remarked me leaving the
"Pharmacopoeia" - often even in the middle of a phrase - to come
forth into the sun and air. I admire the writer of that letter
from my heart; he was a man of thought on the most important
subjects. But, indeed, had I lived in the Middle Ages (I am
heartily glad that I did not) I should have been an eremite myself
- if I had not been a professed buffoon, that is. These were the
only philosophical lives yet open: laughter or prayer; sneers, we
might say, and tears. Until the sun of the Positive arose, the
wise man had to make his choice between these two.'
'I have been a buffoon, of course,' observed Jean-Marie.
'I cannot imagine you to have excelled in your profession,' said
the Doctor, admiring the boy's gravity. 'Do you ever laugh?'
'Oh, yes,' replied the other. 'I laugh often. I am very fond of
'Singular being!' said Desprez. 'But I divagate (I perceive in a
thousand ways that I grow old). Franchard was at length destroyed
in the English wars, the same that levelled Gretz. But - here is
the point - the hermits (for there were already more than one) had
foreseen the danger and carefully concealed the sacrificial
vessels. These vessels were of monstrous value, Jean-Marie -
monstrous value - priceless, we may say; exquisitely worked, of
exquisite material. And now, mark me, they have never been found.
In the reign of Louis Quatorze some fellows were digging hard by
the ruins. Suddenly - tock! - the spade hit upon an obstacle.
Imagine the men fooling one to another; imagine how their hearts
bounded, how their colour came and went. It was a coffer, and in
Franchard the place of buried treasure! They tore it open like
famished beasts. Alas! it was not the treasure; only some priestly
robes, which, at the touch of the eating air, fell upon themselves
and instantly wasted into dust. The perspiration of these good
fellows turned cold upon them, Jean-Marie. I will pledge my
reputation, if there was anything like a cutting wind, one or other
had a pneumonia for his trouble.'
'I should like to have seen them turning into dust,' said Jean-
Marie. 'Otherwise, I should not have cared so greatly.'
'You have no imagination,' cried the Doctor. 'Picture to yourself
the scene. Dwell on the idea - a great treasure lying in the earth
for centuries: the material for a giddy, copious, opulent existence
not employed; dresses and exquisite pictures unseen; the swiftest
galloping horses not stirring a hoof, arrested by a spell; women
with the beautiful faculty of smiles, not smiling; cards, dice,
opera singing, orchestras, castles, beautiful parks and gardens,
big ships with a tower of sailcloth, all lying unborn in a coffin -
and the stupid trees growing overhead in the sunlight, year after
year. The thought drives one frantic.'
'It is only money,' replied Jean-Marie. 'It would do harm.'
'O, come!' cried Desprez, 'that is philosophy; it is all very fine,
but not to the point just now. And besides, it is not "only
money," as you call it; there are works of art in the question; the
vessels were carved. You speak like a child. You weary me
exceedingly, quoting my words out of all logical connection, like a
'And at any rate, we have nothing to do with it,' returned the boy
They struck the Route Ronde at that moment; and the sudden change
to the rattling causeway combined, with the Doctor's irritation, to
keep him silent. The noddy jigged along; the trees went by,
looking on silently, as if they had something on their minds. The
Quadrilateral was passed; then came Franchard. They put up the
horse at the little solitary inn, and went forth strolling. The
gorge was dyed deeply with heather; the rocks and birches standing
luminous in the sun. A great humming of bees about the flowers
disposed Jean-Marie to sleep, and he sat down against a clump of
heather, while the Doctor went briskly to and fro, with quick
turns, culling his simples.
The boy's head had fallen a little forward, his eyes were closed,
his fingers had fallen lax about his knees, when a sudden cry
called him to his feet. It was a strange sound, thin and brief; it
fell dead, and silence returned as though it had never been
interrupted. He had not recognised the Doctor's voice; but, as
there was no one else in all the valley, it was plainly the Doctor
who had given utterance to the sound. He looked right and left,
and there was Desprez, standing in a niche between two boulders,
and looking round on his adopted son with a countenance as white as
'A viper!' cried Jean-Marie, running towards him. 'A viper! You
are bitten!'
The Doctor came down heavily out of the cleft, and, advanced in
silence to meet the boy, whom he took roughly by the shoulder.
'I have found it,' he said, with a gasp.
'A plant?' asked Jean-Marie.
Desprez had a fit of unnatural gaiety, which the rocks took up and
mimicked. 'A plant!' he repeated scornfully. 'Well - yes - a
plant. And here,' he added suddenly, showing his right hand, which
he had hitherto concealed behind his back - 'here is one of the
Jean-Marie saw a dirty platter, coated with earth.
'That?' said he. 'It is a plate!'
'It is a coach and horses,' cried the Doctor. 'Boy,' he continued,
growing warmer, 'I plucked away a great pad of moss from between
these boulders, and disclosed a crevice; and when I looked in, what
do you suppose I saw? I saw a house in Paris with a court and
garden, I saw my wife shining with diamonds, I saw myself a deputy,
I saw you - well, I - I saw your future,' he concluded, rather
feebly. 'I have just discovered America,' he added.
'But what is it?' asked the boy.
'The Treasure of Franchard,' cried the Doctor; and, throwing his
brown straw hat upon the ground, he whooped like an Indian and
sprang upon Jean-Marie, whom he suffocated with embraces and
bedewed with tears. Then he flung himself down among the heather
and once more laughed until the valley rang.
But the boy had now an interest of his own, a boy's interest. No
sooner was he released from the Doctor's accolade than he ran to
the boulders, sprang into the niche, and, thrusting his hand into
the crevice, drew forth one after another, encrusted with the earth
of ages, the flagons, candlesticks, and patens of the hermitage of
Franchard. A casket came last, tightly shut and very heavy.
'O what fun!' he cried.
But when he looked back at the Doctor, who had followed close
behind and was silently observing, the words died from his lips.
Desprez was once more the colour of ashes; his lip worked and
trembled; a sort of bestial greed possessed him.
'This is childish,' he said. 'We lose precious time. Back to the
inn, harness the trap, and bring it to yon bank. Run for your
life, and remember - not one whisper. I stay here to watch.'
Jean-Marie did as he was bid, though not without surprise. The
noddy was brought round to the spot indicated; and the two
gradually transported the treasure from its place of concealment to
the boot below the driving seat. Once it was all stored the Doctor
recovered his gaiety.
'I pay my grateful duties to the genius of this dell,' he said.
'O, for a live coal, a heifer, and a jar of country wine! I am in
the vein for sacrifice, for a superb libation. Well, and why not?
We are at Franchard. English pale ale is to be had - not
classical, indeed, but excellent. Boy, we shall drink ale.'
'But I thought it was so unwholesome,' said Jean-Marie, 'and very
dear besides.'
'Fiddle-de-dee!' exclaimed the Doctor gaily. 'To the inn!'
And he stepped into the noddy, tossing his head, with an elastic,
youthful air. The horse was turned, and in a few seconds they drew
up beside the palings of the inn garden.
'Here,' said Desprez - 'here, near the table, so that we may keep
an eye upon things.'
They tied the horse, and entered the garden, the Doctor singing,
now in fantastic high notes, now producing deep reverberations from
his chest. He took a seat, rapped loudly on the table, assailed
the waiter with witticisms; and when the bottle of Bass was at
length produced, far more charged with gas than the most delirious
champagne, he filled out a long glassful of froth and pushed it
over to Jean-Marie. 'Drink,' he said; 'drink deep.'
'I would rather not,' faltered the boy, true to his training.
'What?' thundered Desprez.
'I am afraid of it,' said Jean-Marie: 'my stomach - '
'Take it or leave it,' interrupted Desprez fiercely; 'but
understand it once for all - there is nothing so contemptible as a
Here was a new lesson! The boy sat bemused, looking at the glass
but not tasting it, while the Doctor emptied and refilled his own,
at first with clouded brow, but gradually yielding to the sun, the
heady, prickling beverage, and his own predisposition to be happy.
'Once in a way,' he said at last, by way of a concession to the
boy's more rigorous attitude, 'once in a way, and at so critical a
moment, this ale is a nectar for the gods. The habit, indeed, is
debasing; wine, the juice of the grape, is the true drink of the
Frenchman, as I have often had occasion to point out; and I do not
know that I can blame you for refusing this outlandish stimulant.
You can have some wine and cakes. Is the bottle empty? Well, we
will not be proud; we will have pity on your glass.'
The beer being done, the Doctor chafed bitterly while Jean-Marie
finished his cakes. 'I burn to be gone,' he said, looking at his
watch. 'Good God, how slow you eat!' And yet to eat slowly was
his own particular prescription, the main secret of longevity!
His martyrdom, however, reached an end at last; the pair resumed
their places in the buggy, and Desprez, leaning luxuriously back,
announced his intention of proceeding to Fontainebleau.
'To Fontainebleau?' repeated Jean-Marie.
'My words are always measured,' said the Doctor. 'On!'
The Doctor was driven through the glades of paradise; the air, the
light, the shining leaves, the very movements of the vehicle,
seemed to fall in tune with his golden meditations; with his head
thrown back, he dreamed a series of sunny visions, ale and pleasure
dancing in his veins. At last he spoke.
'I shall telegraph for Casimir,' he said. 'Good Casimir! a fellow
of the lower order of intelligence, Jean-Marie, distinctly not
creative, not poetic; and yet he will repay your study; his fortune
is vast, and is entirely due to his own exertions. He is the very
fellow to help us to dispose of our trinkets, find us a suitable
house in Paris, and manage the details of our installation.
Admirable Casimir, one of my oldest comrades! It was on his
advice, I may add, that I invested my little fortune in Turkish
bonds; when we have added these spoils of the mediaeval church to
our stake in the Mahometan empire, little boy, we shall positively
roll among doubloons, positively roll! Beautiful forest,' he
cried, 'farewell! Though called to other scenes, I will not forget
thee. Thy name is graven in my heart. Under the influence of
prosperity I become dithyrambic, Jean-Marie. Such is the impulse
of the natural soul; such was the constitution of primaeval man.
And I - well, I will not refuse the credit - I have preserved my
youth like a virginity; another, who should have led the same
snoozing, countryfied existence for these years, another had become
rusted, become stereotype; but I, I praise my happy constitution,
retain the spring unbroken. Fresh opulence and a new sphere of
duties find me unabated in ardour and only more mature by
knowledge. For this prospective change, Jean-Marie - it may
probably have shocked you. Tell me now, did it not strike you as
an inconsistency? Confess - it is useless to dissemble - it pained
'Yes,' said the boy.
'You see,' returned the Doctor, with sublime fatuity, 'I read your
thoughts! Nor am I surprised - your education is not yet complete;
the higher duties of men have not been yet presented to you fully.
A hint - till we have leisure - must suffice. Now that I am once
more in possession of a modest competence; now that I have so long
prepared myself in silent meditation, it becomes my superior duty
to proceed to Paris. My scientific training, my undoubted command
of language, mark me out for the service of my country. Modesty in
such a case would be a snare. If sin were a philosophical
expression, I should call it sinful. A man must not deny his
manifest abilities, for that is to evade his obligations. I must
be up and doing; I must be no skulker in life's battle.'
So he rattled on, copiously greasing the joint of his inconsistency
with words; while the boy listened silently, his eyes fixed on the
horse, his mind seething. It was all lost eloquence; no array of
words could unsettle a belief of Jean-Marie's; and he drove into
Fontainebleau filled with pity, horror, indignation, and despair.
In the town Jean-Marie was kept a fixture on the driving-seat, to
guard the treasure; while the Doctor, with a singular, slightly
tipsy airiness of manner, fluttered in and out of cafes, where he
shook hands with garrison officers, and mixed an absinthe with the
nicety of old experience; in and out of shops, from which he
returned laden with costly fruits, real turtle, a magnificent piece
of silk for his wife, a preposterous cane for himself, and a kepi
of the newest fashion for the boy; in and out of the telegraph
office, whence he despatched his telegram, and where three hours
later he received an answer promising a visit on the morrow; and
generally pervaded Fontainebleau with the first fine aroma of his
divine good humour.
The sun was very low when they set forth again; the shadows of the
forest trees extended across the broad white road that led them
home; the penetrating odour of the evening wood had already arisen,
like a cloud of incense, from that broad field of tree-tops; and
even in the streets of the town, where the air had been baked all
day between white walls, it came in whiffs and pulses, like a
distant music. Half-way home, the last gold flicker vanished from
a great oak upon the left; and when they came forth beyond the
borders of the wood, the plain was already sunken in pearly
greyness, and a great, pale moon came swinging skyward through the
filmy poplars.
The Doctor sang, the Doctor whistled, the Doctor talked. He spoke
of the woods, and the wars, and the deposition of dew; he
brightened and babbled of Paris; he soared into cloudy bombast on
the glories of the political arena. All was to be changed; as the
day departed, it took with it the vestiges of an outworn existence,
and to-morrow's sun was to inaugurate the new. 'Enough,' he cried,
'of this life of maceration!' His wife (still beautiful, or he was
sadly partial) was to be no longer buried; she should now shine
before society. Jean-Marie would find the world at his feet; the
roads open to success, wealth, honour, and post-humous renown.
'And O, by the way,' said he, 'for God's sake keep your tongue
quiet! You are, of course, a very silent fellow; it is a quality I
gladly recognise in you - silence, golden silence! But this is a
matter of gravity. No word must get abroad; none but the good
Casimir is to be trusted; we shall probably dispose of the vessels
in England.'
'But are they not even ours?' the boy said, almost with a sob - it
was the only time he had spoken.
'Ours in this sense, that they are nobody else's,' replied the
Doctor. 'But the State would have some claim. If they were
stolen, for instance, we should be unable to demand their
restitution; we should have no title; we should be unable even to
communicate with the police. Such is the monstrous condition of
the law. (6) It is a mere instance of what remains to be done, of
the injustices that may yet be righted by an ardent, active, and
philosophical deputy.'
Jean-Marie put his faith in Madame Desprez; and as they drove
forward down the road from Bourron, between the rustling poplars,
he prayed in his teeth, and whipped up the horse to an unusual
speed. Surely, as soon as they arrived, madame would assert her
character, and bring this waking nightmare to an end.
Their entrance into Gretz was heralded and accompanied by a most
furious barking; all the dogs in the village seemed to smell the
treasure in the noddy. But there was no one in the street, save
three lounging landscape painters at Tentaillon's door. Jean-Marie
opened the green gate and led in the horse and carriage; and almost
at the same moment Madame Desprez came to the kitchen threshold
with a lighted lantern; for the moon was not yet high enough to
clear the garden walls.
'Close the gates, Jean-Marie!' cried the Doctor, somewhat
unsteadily alighting. 'Anastasie, where is Aline?'
'She has gone to Montereau to see her parents,' said madame.
'All is for the best!' exclaimed the Doctor fervently. 'Here,
quick, come near to me; I do not wish to speak too loud,' he
continued. 'Darling, we are wealthy!'
'Wealthy!' repeated the wife.
'I have found the treasure of Franchard,' replied her husband.
'See, here are the first fruits; a pineapple, a dress for my everbeautiful
- it will suit her - trust a husband's, trust a lover's,
taste! Embrace me, darling! This grimy episode is over; the
butterfly unfolds its painted wings. To-morrow Casimir will come;
in a week we may be in Paris - happy at last! You shall have
diamonds. Jean-Marie, take it out of the boot, with religious
care, and bring it piece by piece into the dining-room. We shall
have plate at table! Darling, hasten and prepare this turtle; it
will be a whet - it will be an addition to our meagre ordinary. I
myself will proceed to the cellar. We shall have a bottle of that
little Beaujolais you like, and finish with the Hermitage; there
are still three bottles left. Worthy wine for a worthy occasion.'
'But, my husband; you put me in a whirl,' she cried. 'I do not
'The turtle, my adored, the turtle!' cried the doctor; and he
pushed her towards the kitchen, lantern and all.
Jean-Marie stood dumfounded. He had pictured to himself a
different scene - a more immediate protest, and his hope began to
dwindle on the spot.
The Doctor was everywhere, a little doubtful on his legs, perhaps,
and now and then taking the wall with his shoulder; for it was long
since he had tasted absinthe, and he was even then reflecting that
the absinthe had been a misconception. Not that he regretted
excess on such a glorious day, but he made a mental memorandum to
beware; he must not, a second time, become the victim of a
deleterious habit. He had his wine out of the cellar in a
twinkling; he arranged the sacrificial vessels, some on the white
table-cloth, some on the sideboard, still crusted with historic
earth. He was in and out of the kitchen, plying Anastasie with
vermouth, heating her with glimpses of the future, estimating their
new wealth at ever larger figures; and before they sat down to
supper, the lady's virtue had melted in the fire of his enthusiasm,
her timidity had disappeared; she, too, had begun to speak
disparagingly of the life at Gretz; and as she took her place and
helped the soup, her eyes shone with the glitter of prospective
All through the meal, she and the Doctor made and unmade fairy
plans. They bobbed and bowed and pledged each other. Their faces
ran over with smiles; their eyes scattered sparkles, as they
projected the Doctor's political honours and the lady's drawingroom
'But you will not be a Red!' cried Anastasie.
'I am Left Centre to the core,' replied the Doctor.
'Madame Gastein will present us - we shall find ourselves
forgotten,' said the lady.
'Never,' protested the Doctor. 'Beauty and talent leave a mark.'
'I have positively forgotten how to dress,' she sighed.
'Darling, you make me blush,' cried he. 'Yours has been a tragic
'But your success - to see you appreciated, honoured, your name in
all the papers, that will be more than pleasure - it will be
heaven!' she cried.
'And once a week,' said the Doctor, archly scanning the syllables,
'once a week - one good little game of baccarat?'
'Only once a week?' she questioned, threatening him with a finger.
'I swear it by my political honour,' cried he.
'I spoil you,' she said, and gave him her hand.
He covered it with kisses.
Jean-Marie escaped into the night. The moon swung high over Gretz.
He went down to the garden end and sat on the jetty. The river ran
by with eddies of oily silver, and a low, monotonous song. Faint
veils of mist moved among the poplars on the farther side. The
reeds were quietly nodding. A hundred times already had the boy
sat, on such a night, and watched the streaming river with
untroubled fancy. And this perhaps was to be the last. He was to
leave this familiar hamlet, this green, rustling country, this
bright and quiet stream; he was to pass into the great city; his
dear lady mistress was to move bedizened in saloons; his good,
garrulous, kind-hearted master to become a brawling deputy; and
both be lost for ever to Jean-Marie and their better selves. He
knew his own defects; he knew he must sink into less and less
consideration in the turmoil of a city life, sink more and more
from the child into the servant. And he began dimly to believe the
Doctor's prophecies of evil. He could see a change in both. His
generous incredulity failed him for this once; a child must have
perceived that the Hermitage had completed what the absinthe had
begun. If this were the first day, what would be the last? 'If
necessary, wreck the train,' thought he, remembering the Doctor's
parable. He looked round on the delightful scene; he drank deep of
the charmed night air, laden with the scent of hay. 'If necessary,
wreck the train,' he repeated. And he rose and returned to the
THE next morning there was a most unusual outcry, in the Doctor's
house. The last thing before going to bed, the Doctor had locked
up some valuables in the dining-room cupboard; and behold, when he
rose again, as he did about four o'clock, the cupboard had been
broken open, and the valuables in question had disappeared. Madame
and Jean-Marie were summoned from their rooms, and appeared in
hasty toilets; they found the Doctor raving, calling the heavens to
witness and avenge his injury, pacing the room bare-footed, with
the tails of his night-shirt flirting as he turned.
'Gone!' he said; 'the things are gone, the fortune gone! We are
paupers once more. Boy! what do you know of this? Speak up, sir,
speak up. Do you know of it? Where are they?' He had him by the
arm, shaking him like a bag, and the boy's words, if he had any,
were jolted forth in inarticulate murmurs. The Doctor, with a
revulsion from his own violence, set him down again. He observed
Anastasie in tears. 'Anastasie,' he said, in quite an altered
voice, 'compose yourself, command your feelings. I would not have
you give way to passion like the vulgar. This - this trifling
accident must be lived down. Jean-Marie, bring me my smaller
medicine chest. A gentle laxative is indicated.'
And he dosed the family all round, leading the way himself with a
double quantity. The wretched Anastasie, who had never been ill in
the whole course of her existence, and whose soul recoiled from
remedies, wept floods of tears as she sipped, and shuddered, and
protested, and then was bullied and shouted at until she sipped
again. As for Jean-Marie, he took his portion down with stoicism.
'I have given him a less amount,' observed the Doctor, 'his youth
protecting him against emotion. And now that we have thus parried
any morbid consequences, let us reason.'
'I am so cold,' wailed Anastasie.
'Cold!' cried the Doctor. 'I give thanks to God that I am made of
fierier material. Why, madam, a blow like this would set a frog
into a transpiration. If you are cold, you can retire; and, by the
way, you might throw me down my trousers. It is chilly for the
'Oh, no!' protested Anastasie; 'I will stay with you.'
'Nay, madam, you shall not suffer for your devotion,' said the
Doctor. 'I will myself fetch you a shawl.' And he went upstairs
and returned more fully clad and with an armful of wraps for the
shivering Anastasie. 'And now,' he resumed, 'to investigate this
crime. Let us proceed by induction. Anastasie, do you know
anything that can help us?' Anastasie knew nothing. 'Or you,
'Not I,' replied the boy steadily.
'Good,' returned the Doctor. 'We shall now turn our attention to
the material evidences. (I was born to be a detective; I have the
eye and the systematic spirit.) First, violence has been employed.
The door was broken open; and it may be observed, in passing, that
the lock was dear indeed at what I paid for it: a crow to pluck
with Master Goguelat. Second, here is the instrument employed, one
of our own table-knives, one of our best, my dear; which seems to
indicate no preparation on the part of the gang - if gang it was.
Thirdly, I observe that nothing has been removed except the
Franchard dishes and the casket; our own silver has been minutely
respected. This is wily; it shows intelligence, a knowledge of the
code, a desire to avoid legal consequences. I argue from this fact
that the gang numbers persons of respectability - outward, of
course, and merely outward, as the robbery proves. But I argue,
second, that we must have been observed at Franchard itself by some
occult observer, and dogged throughout the day with a skill and
patience that I venture to qualify as consummate. No ordinary man,
no occasional criminal, would have shown himself capable of this
combination. We have in our neighbourhood, it is far from
improbable, a retired bandit of the highest order of intelligence.'
'Good heaven!' cried the horrified Anastasie. 'Henri, how can
'My cherished one, this is a process of induction,' said the
Doctor. 'If any of my steps are unsound, correct me. You are
silent? Then do not, I beseech you, be so vulgarly illogical as to
revolt from my conclusion. We have now arrived,' he resumed, 'at
some idea of the composition of the gang - for I incline to the
hypothesis of more than one - and we now leave this room, which can
disclose no more, and turn our attention to the court and garden.
(Jean-Marie, I trust you are observantly following my various
steps; this is an excellent piece of education for you.) Come with
me to the door. No steps on the court; it is unfortunate our court
should be paved. On what small matters hang the destiny of these
delicate investigations! Hey! What have we here? I have led on
to the very spot,' he said, standing grandly backward and
indicating the green gate. 'An escalade, as you can now see for
yourselves, has taken place.'
Sure enough, the green paint was in several places scratched and
broken; and one of the panels preserved the print of a nailed shoe.
The foot had slipped, however, and it was difficult to estimate the
size of the shoe, and impossible to distinguish the pattern of the
'The whole robbery,' concluded the Doctor, 'step by step, has been
reconstituted. Inductive science can no further go.'
'It is wonderful,' said his wife. 'You should indeed have been a
detective, Henri. I had no idea of your talents.'
'My dear,' replied Desprez, condescendingly, 'a man of scientific
imagination combines the lesser faculties; he is a detective just
as he is a publicist or a general; these are but local applications
of his special talent. But now,' he continued, 'would you have me
go further? Would you have me lay my finger on the culprits - or
rather, for I cannot promise quite so much, point out to you the
very house where they consort? It may be a satisfaction, at least
it is all we are likely to get, since we are denied the remedy of
law. I reach the further stage in this way. In order to fill my
outline of the robbery, I require a man likely to be in the forest
idling, I require a man of education, I require a man superior to
considerations of morality. The three requisites all centre in
Tentaillon's boarders. They are painters, therefore they are
continually lounging in the forest. They are painters, therefore
they are not unlikely to have some smattering of education.
Lastly, because they are painters, they are probably immoral. And
this I prove in two ways. First, painting is an art which merely
addresses the eye; it does not in any particular exercise the moral
sense. And second, painting, in common with all the other arts,
implies the dangerous quality of imagination. A man of imagination
is never moral; he outsoars literal demarcations and reviews life
under too many shifting lights to rest content with the invidious
distinctions of the law!'
'But you always say - at least, so I understood you' - said madame,
'that these lads display no imagination whatever.'
'My dear, they displayed imagination, and of a very fantastic
order, too,' returned the Doctor, 'when they embraced their
beggarly profession. Besides - and this is an argument exactly
suited to your intellectual level - many of them are English and
American. Where else should we expect to find a thief? - And now
you had better get your coffee. Because we have lost a treasure,
there is no reason for starving. For my part, I shall break my
fast with white wine. I feel unaccountably heated and thirsty today.
I can only attribute it to the shock of the discovery. And
yet, you will bear me out, I supported the emotion nobly.'
The Doctor had now talked himself back into an admirable humour;
and as he sat in the arbour and slowly imbibed a large allowance of
white wine and picked a little bread and cheese with no very
impetuous appetite, if a third of his meditations ran upon the
missing treasure, the other two-thirds were more pleasingly busied
in the retrospect of his detective skill.
About eleven Casimir arrived; he had caught an early train to
Fontainebleau, and driven over to save time; and now his cab was
stabled at Tentaillon's, and he remarked, studying his watch, that
he could spare an hour and a half. He was much the man of
business, decisively spoken, given to frowning in an intellectual
manner. Anastasie's born brother, he did not waste much sentiment
on the lady, gave her an English family kiss, and demanded a meal
without delay.
'You can tell me your story while we eat,' he observed. 'Anything
good to-day, Stasie?'
He was promised something good. The trio sat down to table in the
arbour, Jean-Marie waiting as well as eating, and the Doctor
recounted what had happened in his richest narrative manner.
Casimir heard it with explosions of laughter.
'What a streak of luck for you, my good brother,' he observed, when
the tale was over. 'If you had gone to Paris, you would have
played dick-duck-drake with the whole consignment in three months.
Your own would have followed; and you would have come to me in a
procession like the last time. But I give you warning - Stasie may
weep and Henri ratiocinate - it will not serve you twice. Your
next collapse will be fatal. I thought I had told you so, Stasie?
Hey? No sense?'
The Doctor winced and looked furtively at Jean-Marie; but the boy
seemed apathetic.
'And then again,' broke out Casimir, 'what children you are -
vicious children, my faith! How could you tell the value of this
trash? It might have been worth nothing, or next door.'
'Pardon me,' said the Doctor. 'You have your usual flow of
spirits, I perceive, but even less than your usual deliberation. I
am not entirely ignorant of these matters.'
'Not entirely ignorant of anything ever I heard of,' interrupted
Casimir, bowing, and raising his glass with a sort of pert
'At least,' resumed the Doctor, 'I gave my mind to the subject -
that you may be willing to believe - and I estimated that our
capital would be doubled.' And he described the nature of the
'My word of honour!' said Casimir, 'I half believe you! But much
would depend on the quality of the gold.'
'The quality, my dear Casimir, was - ' And the Doctor, in default
of language, kissed his finger-tips.
'I would not take your word for it, my good friend,' retorted the
man of business. 'You are a man of very rosy views. But this
robbery,' he continued - 'this robbery is an odd thing. Of course
I pass over your nonsense about gangs and landscape-painters. For
me, that is a dream. Who was in the house last night?'
'None but ourselves,' replied the Doctor.
'And this young gentleman?' asked Casimir, jerking a nod in the
direction of Jean-Marie.
'He too' - the Doctor bowed.
'Well; and if it is a fair question, who is he?' pursued the
'Jean-Marie,' answered the Doctor, 'combines the functions of a son
and stable-boy. He began as the latter, but he rose rapidly to the
more honourable rank in our affections. He is, I may say, the
greatest comfort in our lives.'
'Ha!' said Casimir. 'And previous to becoming one of you?'
'Jean-Marie has lived a remarkable existence; his experience his
been eminently formative,' replied Desprez. 'If I had had to
choose an education for my son, I should have chosen such another.
Beginning life with mountebanks and thieves, passing onward to the
society and friendship of philosophers, he may be said to have
skimmed the volume of human life.'
'Thieves?' repeated the brother-in-law, with a meditative air.
The Doctor could have bitten his tongue out. He foresaw what was
coming, and prepared his mind for a vigorous defence.
'Did you ever steal yourself?' asked Casimir, turning suddenly on
Jean-Marie, and for the first time employing a single eyeglass
which hung round his neck.
'Yes, sir,' replied the boy, with a deep blush.
Casimir turned to the others with pursed lips, and nodded to them
meaningly. 'Hey?' said he; 'how is that?'
'Jean-Marie is a teller of the truth,' returned the Doctor,
throwing out his bust.
'He has never told a lie,' added madame. 'He is the best of boys.'
'Never told a lie, has he not?' reflected Casimir. 'Strange, very
strange. Give me your attention, my young friend,' he continued.
'You knew about this treasure?'
'He helped to bring it home,' interposed the Doctor.
'Desprez, I ask you nothing but to hold your tongue,' returned
Casimir. 'I mean to question this stable-boy of yours; and if you
are so certain of his innocence, you can afford to let him answer
for himself. Now, sir,' he resumed, pointing his eyeglass straight
at Jean-Marie. 'You knew it could be stolen with impunity? You
knew you could not be prosecuted? Come! Did you, or did you not?'
'I did,' answered Jean-Marie, in a miserable whisper. He sat there
changing colour like a revolving pharos, twisting his fingers
hysterically, swallowing air, the picture of guilt.
'You knew where it was put?' resumed the inquisitor.
'Yes,' from Jean-Marie.
'You say you have been a thief before,' continued Casimir. 'Now
how am I to know that you are not one still? I suppose you could
climb the green gate?'
'Yes,' still lower, from the culprit.
'Well, then, it was you who stole these things. You know it, and
you dare not deny it. Look me in the face! Raise your sneak's
eyes, and answer!'
But in place of anything of that sort Jean-Marie broke into a
dismal howl and fled from the arbour. Anastasie, as she pursued to
capture and reassure the victim, found time to send one Parthian
arrow - 'Casimir, you are a brute!'
'My brother,' said Desprez, with the greatest dignity, 'you take
upon yourself a licence - '
'Desprez,' interrupted Casimir, 'for Heaven's sake be a man of the
world. You telegraph me to leave my business and come down here on
yours. I come, I ask the business, you say "Find me this thief!"
Well, I find him; I say "There he is! You need not like it, but
you have no manner of right to take offence.'
'Well,' returned the Doctor, 'I grant that; I will even thank you
for your mistaken zeal. But your hypothesis was so extravagantly
monstrous - '
'Look here,' interrupted Casimir; 'was it you or Stasie?'
'Certainly not,' answered the Doctor.
'Very well; then it was the boy. Say no more about it,' said the
brother-in-law, and he produced his cigar-case.
'I will say this much more,' returned Desprez: 'if that boy came
and told me so himself, I should not believe him; and if I did
believe him, so implicit is my trust, I should conclude that he had
acted for the best.'
'Well, well,' said Casimir, indulgently. 'Have you a light? I
must be going. And by the way, I wish you would let me sell your
Turks for you. I always told you, it meant smash. I tell you so
again. Indeed, it was partly that that brought me down. You never
acknowledge my letters - a most unpardonable habit.'
'My good brother,' replied the Doctor blandly, 'I have never denied
your ability in business; but I can perceive your limitations.'
'Egad, my friend, I can return the compliment,' observed the man of
business. 'Your limitation is to be downright irrational.'
'Observe the relative position,' returned the Doctor with a smile.
'It is your attitude to believe through thick and thin in one man's
judgment - your own. I follow the same opinion, but critically and
with open eyes. Which is the more irrational? - I leave it to
'O, my dear fellow!' cried Casimir, 'stick to your Turks, stick to
your stable-boy, go to the devil in general in your own way and be
done with it. But don't ratiocinate with me - I cannot bear it.
And so, ta-ta. I might as well have stayed away for any good I've
done. Say good-bye from me to Stasie, and to the sullen hang-dog
of a stable-boy, if you insist on it; I'm off.'
And Casimir departed. The Doctor, that night, dissected his
character before Anastasie. 'One thing, my beautiful,' he said,
'he has learned one thing from his lifelong acquaintance with your
husband: the word RATIOCINATE. It shines in his vocabulary, like a
jewel in a muck-heap. And, even so, he continually misapplies it.
For you must have observed he uses it as a sort of taunt, in the
sense of to ERGOTISE, implying, as it were - the poor, dear fellow!
- a vein of sophistry. As for his cruelty to Jean-Marie, it must
be forgiven him - it is not his nature, it is the nature of his
life. A man who deals with money, my dear, is a man lost.'
With Jean-Marie the process of reconciliation had been somewhat
slow. At first he was inconsolable, insisted on leaving the
family, went from paroxysm to paroxysm of tears; and it was only
after Anastasie had been closeted for an hour with him, alone, that
she came forth, sought out the Doctor, and, with tears in her eyes,
acquainted that gentleman with what had passed.
'At first, my husband, he would hear of nothing,' she said.
'Imagine! if he had left us! what would the treasure be to that?
Horrible treasure, it has brought all this about! At last, after
he has sobbed his very heart out, he agrees to stay on a condition
- we are not to mention this matter, this infamous suspicion, not
even to mention the robbery. On that agreement only, the poor,
cruel boy will consent to remain among his friends.'
'But this inhibition,' said the Doctor, 'this embargo - it cannot
possibly apply to me?'
'To all of us,' Anastasie assured him.
'My cherished one,' Desprez protested, 'you must have
misunderstood. It cannot apply to me. He would naturally come to
'Henri,' she said, 'it does; I swear to you it does.'
'This is a painful, a very painful circumstance,' the Doctor said,
looking a little black. 'I cannot affect, Anastasie, to be
anything but justly wounded. I feel this, I feel it, my wife,
'I knew you would,' she said. 'But if you had seen his distress!
We must make allowances, we must sacrifice our feelings.'
'I trust, my dear, you have never found me averse to sacrifices,'
returned the Doctor very stiffly.
'And you will let me go and tell him that you have agreed? It will
be like your noble nature,' she cried.
So it would, he perceived - it would be like his noble nature! Up
jumped his spirits, triumphant at the thought. 'Go, darling,' he
said nobly, 'reassure him. The subject is buried; more - I make an
effort, I have accustomed my will to these exertions - and it is
A little after, but still with swollen eyes and looking mortally
sheepish, Jean-Marie reappeared and went ostentatiously about his
business. He was the only unhappy member of the party that sat
down that night to supper. As for the Doctor, he was radiant. He
thus sang the requiem of the treasure:-
'This has been, on the whole, a most amusing episode,' he said.
'We are not a penny the worse - nay, we are immensely gainers. Our
philosophy has been exercised; some of the turtle is still left -
the most wholesome of delicacies; I have my staff, Anastasie has
her new dress, Jean-Marie is the proud possessor of a fashionable
kepi. Besides, we had a glass of Hermitage last night; the glow
still suffuses my memory. I was growing positively niggardly with
that Hermitage, positively niggardly. Let me take the hint: we had
one bottle to celebrate the appearance of our visionary fortune;
let us have a second to console us for its occultation. The third
I hereby dedicate to Jean-Marie's wedding breakfast.'
THE Doctor's house has not yet received the compliment of a
description, and it is now high time that the omission were
supplied, for the house is itself an actor in the story, and one
whose part is nearly at an end. Two stories in height, walls of a
warm yellow, tiles of an ancient ruddy brown diversified with moss
and lichen, it stood with one wall to the street in the angle of
the Doctor's property. It was roomy, draughty, and inconvenient.
The large rafters were here and there engraven with rude marks and
patterns; the handrail of the stair was carved in countrified
arabesque; a stout timber pillar, which did duty to support the
dining-room roof, bore mysterious characters on its darker side,
runes, according to the Doctor; nor did he fail, when he ran over
the legendary history of the house and its possessors, to dwell
upon the Scandinavian scholar who had left them. Floors, doors,
and rafters made a great variety of angles; every room had a
particular inclination; the gable had tilted towards the garden,
after the manner of a leaning tower, and one of the former
proprietors had buttressed the building from that side with a great
strut of wood, like the derrick of a crane. Altogether, it had
many marks of ruin; it was a house for the rats to desert; and
nothing but its excellent brightness - the window-glass polished
and shining, the paint well scoured, the brasses radiant, the very
prop all wreathed about with climbing flowers - nothing but its air
of a well-tended, smiling veteran, sitting, crutch and all, in the
sunny corner of a garden, marked it as a house for comfortable
people to inhabit. In poor or idle management it would soon have
hurried into the blackguard stages of decay. As it was, the whole
family loved it, and the Doctor was never better inspired than when
he narrated its imaginary story and drew the character of its
successive masters, from the Hebrew merchant who had re-edified its
walls after the sack of the town, and past the mysterious engraver
of the runes, down to the long-headed, dirty-handed boor from whom
he had himself acquired it at a ruinous expense. As for any alarm
about its security, the idea had never presented itself. What had
stood four centuries might well endure a little longer.
Indeed, in this particular winter, after the finding and losing of
the treasure, the Desprez' had an anxiety of a very different
order, and one which lay nearer their hearts. Jean-Marie was
plainly not himself. He had fits of hectic activity, when he made
unusual exertions to please, spoke more and faster, and redoubled
in attention to his lessons. But these were interrupted by spells
of melancholia and brooding silence, when the boy was little better
than unbearable.
'Silence,' the Doctor moralised - 'you see, Anastasie, what comes
of silence. Had the boy properly unbosomed himself, the little
disappointment about the treasure, the little annoyance about
Casimir's incivility, would long ago have been forgotten. As it
is, they prey upon him like a disease. He loses flesh, his
appetite is variable and, on the whole, impaired. I keep him on
the strictest regimen, I exhibit the most powerful tonics; both in
'Don't you think you drug him too much?' asked madame, with an
irrepressible shudder.
'Drug?' cried the Doctor; 'I drug? Anastasie, you are mad!'
Time went on, and the boy's health still slowly declined. The
Doctor blamed the weather, which was cold and boisterous. He
called in his CONFRERE from Bourron, took a fancy for him,
magnified his capacity, and was pretty soon under treatment himself
- it scarcely appeared for what complaint. He and Jean-Marie had
each medicine to take at different periods of the day. The Doctor
used to lie in wait for the exact moment, watch in hand. 'There is
nothing like regularity,' he would say, fill out the doses, and
dilate on the virtues of the draught; and if the boy seemed none
the better, the Doctor was not at all the worse.
Gunpowder Day, the boy was particularly low. It was scowling,
squally weather. Huge broken companies of cloud sailed swiftly
overhead; raking gleams of sunlight swept the village, and were
followed by intervals of darkness and white, flying rain. At times
the wind lifted up its voice and bellowed. The trees were all
scourging themselves along the meadows, the last leaves flying like
The Doctor, between the boy and the weather, was in his element; he
had a theory to prove. He sat with his watch out and a barometer
in front of him, waiting for the squalls and noting their effect
upon the human pulse. 'For the true philosopher,' he remarked
delightedly, 'every fact in nature is a toy.' A letter came to
him; but, as its arrival coincided with the approach of another
gust, he merely crammed it into his pocket, gave the time to Jean-
Marie, and the next moment they were both counting their pulses as
if for a wager.
At nightfall the wind rose into a tempest. It besieged the hamlet,
apparently from every side, as if with batteries of cannon; the
houses shook and groaned; live coals were blown upon the floor.
The uproar and terror of the night kept people long awake, sitting
with pallid faces giving ear.
It was twelve before the Desprez family retired. By half-past one,
when the storm was already somewhat past its height, the Doctor was
awakened from a troubled slumber, and sat up. A noise still rang
in his ears, but whether of this world or the world of dreams he
was not certain. Another clap of wind followed. It was
accompanied by a sickening movement of the whole house, and in the
subsequent lull Desprez could hear the tiles pouring like a
cataract into the loft above his head. He plucked Anastasie bodily
out of bed.
'Run!' he cried, thrusting some wearing apparel into her hands;
'the house is falling! To the garden!'
She did not pause to be twice bidden; she was down the stair in an
instant. She had never before suspected herself of such activity.
The Doctor meanwhile, with the speed of a piece of pantomime
business, and undeterred by broken shins, proceeded to rout out
Jean-Marie, tore Aline from her virgin slumbers, seized her by the
hand, and tumbled downstairs and into the garden, with the girl
tumbling behind him, still not half awake.
The fugitives rendezvous'd in the arbour by some common instinct.
Then came a bull's-eye flash of struggling moonshine, which
disclosed their four figures standing huddled from the wind in a
raffle of flying drapery, and not without a considerable need for
more. At the humiliating spectacle Anastasie clutched her
nightdress desperately about her and burst loudly into tears. The
Doctor flew to console her; but she elbowed him away. She
suspected everybody of being the general public, and thought the
darkness was alive with eyes.
Another gleam and another violent gust arrived together; the house
was seen to rock on its foundation, and, just as the light was once
more eclipsed, a crash which triumphed over the shouting of the
wind announced its fall, and for a moment the whole garden was
alive with skipping tiles and brickbats. One such missile grazed
the Doctor's ear; another descended on the bare foot of Aline, who
instantly made night hideous with her shrieks.
By this time the hamlet was alarmed, lights flashed from the
windows, hails reached the party, and the Doctor answered, nobly
contending against Aline and the tempest. But this prospect of
help only awakened Anastasie to a more active stage of terror.
'Henri, people will be coming,' she screamed in her husband's ear.
'I trust so,' he replied.
'They cannot. I would rather die,' she wailed.
'My dear,' said the Doctor reprovingly, 'you are excited. I gave
you some clothes. What have you done with them?'
'Oh, I don't know - I must have thrown them away! Where are they?'
she sobbed.
Desprez groped about in the darkness. 'Admirable!' he remarked;
'my grey velveteen trousers! This will exactly meet your
'Give them to me!' she cried fiercely; but as soon as she had them
in her hands her mood appeared to alter - she stood silent for a
moment, and then pressed the garment back upon the Doctor. 'Give
it to Aline,' she said - 'poor girl.'
'Nonsense!' said the Doctor. 'Aline does not know what she is
about. Aline is beside herself with terror; and at any rate, she
is a peasant. Now I am really concerned at this exposure for a
person of your housekeeping habits; my solicitude and your
fantastic modesty both point to the same remedy - the pantaloons.'
He held them ready.
'It is impossible. You do not understand,' she said with dignity.
By this time rescue was at hand. It had been found impracticable
to enter by the street, for the gate was blocked with masonry, and
the nodding ruin still threatened further avalanches. But between
the Doctor's garden and the one on the right hand there was that
very picturesque contrivance - a common well; the door on the
Desprez' side had chanced to be unbolted, and now, through the
arched aperture a man's bearded face and an arm supporting a
lantern were introduced into the world of windy darkness, where
Anastasie concealed her woes. The light struck here and there
among the tossing apple boughs, it glinted on the grass; but the
lantern and the glowing face became the centre of the world.
Anastasie crouched back from the intrusion.
'This way!' shouted the man. 'Are you all safe?' Aline, still
screaming, ran to the new comer, and was presently hauled headforemost
through the wall.
'Now, Anastasie, come on; it is your turn,' said the husband.
'I cannot,' she replied.
'Are we all to die of exposure, madame?' thundered Doctor Desprez.
'You can go!' she cried. 'Oh, go, go away! I can stay here; I am
quite warm.'
The Doctor took her by the shoulders with an oath.
'Stop!' she screamed. 'I will put them on.'
She took the detested lendings in her hand once more; but her
repulsion was stronger than shame. 'Never!' she cried, shuddering,
and flung them far away into the night.
Next moment the Doctor had whirled her to the well. The man was
there and the lantern; Anastasie closed her eyes and appeared to
herself to be about to die. How she was transported through the
arch she knew not; but once on the other side she was received by
the neighbour's wife, and enveloped in a friendly blanket.
Beds were made ready for the two women, clothes of very various
sizes for the Doctor and Jean-Marie; and for the remainder of the
night, while madame dozed in and out on the borderland of
hysterics, her husband sat beside the fire and held forth to the
admiring neighbours. He showed them, at length, the causes of the
accident; for years, he explained, the fall had been impending; one
sign had followed another, the joints had opened, the plaster had
cracked, the old walls bowed inward; last, not three weeks ago, the
cellar door had begun to work with difficulty in its grooves. 'The
cellar!' he said, gravely shaking his head over a glass of mulled
wine. 'That reminds me of my poor vintages. By a manifest
providence the Hermitage was nearly at an end. One bottle - I lose
but one bottle of that incomparable wine. It had been set apart
against Jean-Marie's wedding. Well, I must lay down some more; it
will be an interest in life. I am, however, a man somewhat
advanced in years. My great work is now buried in the fall of my
humble roof; it will never be completed - my name will have been
writ in water. And yet you find me calm - I would say cheerful.
Can your priest do more?'
By the first glimpse of day the party sallied forth from the
fireside into the street. The wind had fallen, but still charioted
a world of troubled clouds; the air bit like frost; and the party,
as they stood about the ruins in the rainy twilight of the morning,
beat upon their breasts and blew into their hands for warmth. The
house had entirely fallen, the walls outward, the roof in; it was a
mere heap of rubbish, with here and there a forlorn spear of broken
rafter. A sentinel was placed over the ruins to protect the
property, and the party adjourned to Tentaillon's to break their
fast at the Doctor's expense. The bottle circulated somewhat
freely; and before they left the table it had begun to snow.
For three days the snow continued to fall, and the ruins, covered
with tarpaulin and watched by sentries, were left undisturbed. The
Desprez' meanwhile had taken up their abode at Tentaillon's.
Madame spent her time in the kitchen, concocting little delicacies,
with the admiring aid of Madame Tentaillon, or sitting by the fire
in thoughtful abstraction. The fall of the house affected her
wonderfully little; that blow had been parried by another; and in
her mind she was continually fighting over again the battle of the
trousers. Had she done right? Had she done wrong? And now she
would applaud her determination; and anon, with a horrid flush of
unavailing penitence, she would regret the trousers. No juncture
in her life had so much exercised her judgment. In the meantime
the Doctor had become vastly pleased with his situation. Two of
the summer boarders still lingered behind the rest, prisoners for
lack of a remittance; they were both English, but one of them spoke
French pretty fluently, and was, besides, a humorous, agile-minded
fellow, with whom the Doctor could reason by the hour, secure of
comprehension. Many were the glasses they emptied, many the topics
they discussed.
'Anastasie,' the Doctor said on the third morning, 'take an example
from your husband, from Jean-Marie! The excitement has done more
for the boy than all my tonics, he takes his turn as sentry with
positive gusto. As for me, you behold me. I have made friends
with the Egyptians; and my Pharaoh is, I swear it, a most agreeable
companion. You alone are hipped. About a house - a few dresses?
What are they in comparison to the "Pharmacopoeia" - the labour of
years lying buried below stones and sticks in this depressing
hamlet? The snow falls; I shake it from my cloak! Imitate me.
Our income will be impaired, I grant it, since we must rebuild; but
moderation, patience, and philosophy will gather about the hearth.
In the meanwhile, the Tentaillons are obliging; the table, with
your additions, will pass; only the wine is execrable - well, I
shall send for some to-day. My Pharaoh will be gratified to drink
a decent glass; aha! and I shall see if he possesses that acme of
organisation - a palate. If he has a palate, he is perfect.'
'Henri,' she said, shaking her head, 'you are a man; you cannot
understand my feelings; no woman could shake off the memory of so
public a humiliation.' The Doctor could not restrain a titter.
'Pardon me, darling,' he said; 'but really, to the philosophical
intelligence, the incident appears so small a trifle. You looked
extremely well - '
'Henri!' she cried.
'Well, well, I will say no more,' he replied. 'Though, to be sure,
if you had consented to indue - A PROPOS,' he broke off, 'and my
trousers! They are lying in the snow - my favourite trousers!'
And he dashed in quest of Jean-Marie.
Two hours afterwards the boy returned to the inn with a spade under
one arm and a curious sop of clothing under the other.
The Doctor ruefully took it in his hands. 'They have been!' he
said. 'Their tense is past. Excellent pantaloons, you are no
more! Stay, something in the pocket,' and he produced a piece of
paper. 'A letter! ay, now I mind me; it was received on the
morning of the gale, when I was absorbed in delicate
investigations. It is still legible. From poor, dear Casimir! It
is as well,' he chuckled, 'that I have educated him to patience.
Poor Casimir and his correspondence - his infinitesimal, timorous,
idiotic correspondence!'
He had by this time cautiously unfolded the wet letter; but, as he
bent himself to decipher the writing, a cloud descended on his
'BIGRE!' he cried, with a galvanic start.
And then the letter was whipped into the fire, and the Doctor's cap
was on his head in the turn of a hand.
'Ten minutes! I can catch it, if I run,' he cried. 'It is always
late. I go to Paris. I shall telegraph.'
'Henri! what is wrong?' cried his wife.
'Ottoman Bonds!' came from the disappearing Doctor; and Anastasie
and Jean-Marie were left face to face with the wet trousers.
Desprez had gone to Paris, for the second time in seven years; he
had gone to Paris with a pair of wooden shoes, a knitted spencer, a
black blouse, a country nightcap, and twenty francs in his pocket.
The fall of the house was but a secondary marvel; the whole world
might have fallen and scarce left his family more petrified.
ON the morning of the next day, the Doctor, a mere spectre of
himself, was brought back in the custody of Casimir. They found
Anastasie and the boy sitting together by the fire; and Desprez,
who had exchanged his toilette for a ready-made rig-out of poor
materials, waved his hand as he entered, and sank speechless on the
nearest chair. Madame turned direct to Casimir.
'What is wrong?' she cried.
'Well,' replied Casimir, 'what have I told you all along? It has
come. It is a clean shave, this time; so you may as well bear up
and make the best of it. House down, too, eh? Bad luck, upon my
'Are we - are we - ruined?' she gasped.
The Doctor stretched out his arms to her. 'Ruined,' he replied,
'you are ruined by your sinister husband.'
Casimir observed the consequent embrace through his eyeglass; then
he turned to Jean-Marie. 'You hear?' he said. 'They are ruined;
no more pickings, no more house, no more fat cutlets. It strikes
me, my friend, that you had best be packing; the present
speculation is about worked out.' And he nodded to him meaningly.
'Never!' cried Desprez, springing up. 'Jean-Marie, if you prefer
to leave me, now that I am poor, you can go; you shall receive your
hundred francs, if so much remains to me. But if you will consent
to stay ' - the Doctor wept a little - 'Casimir offers me a place -
as clerk,' he resumed. 'The emoluments are slender, but they will
be enough for three. It is too much already to have lost my
fortune; must I lose my son?'
Jean-Marie sobbed bitterly, but without a word.
'I don't like boys who cry,' observed Casimir. 'This one is always
crying. Here! you clear out of this for a little; I have business
with your master and mistress, and these domestic feelings may be
settled after I am gone. March!' and he held the door open.
Jean-Marie slunk out, like a detected thief.
By twelve they were all at table but Jean-Marie.
'Hey?' said Casimir. 'Gone, you see. Took the hint at once.'
'I do not, I confess,' said Desprez, 'I do not seek to excuse his
absence. It speaks a want of heart that disappoints me sorely.'
'Want of manners,' corrected Casimir. 'Heart, he never had. Why,
Desprez, for a clever fellow, you are the most gullible mortal in
creation. Your ignorance of human nature and human business is
beyond belief. You are swindled by heathen Turks, swindled by
vagabond children, swindled right and left, upstairs and
downstairs. I think it must be your imagination. I thank my stars
I have none.'
'Pardon me,' replied Desprez, still humbly, but with a return of
spirit at sight of a distinction to be drawn; 'pardon me, Casimir.
You possess, even to an eminent degree, the commercial imagination.
It was the lack of that in me - it appears it is my weak point -
that has led to these repeated shocks. By the commercial
imagination the financier forecasts the destiny of his investments,
marks the falling house - '
'Egad,' interrupted Casimir: 'our friend the stable-boy appears to
have his share of it.'
The Doctor was silenced; and the meal was continued and finished
principally to the tune of the brother-in-law's not very
consolatory conversation. He entirely ignored the two young
English painters, turning a blind eyeglass to their salutations,
and continuing his remarks as if he were alone in the bosom of his
family; and with every second word he ripped another stitch out of
the air balloon of Desprez's vanity. By the time coffee was over
the poor Doctor was as limp as a napkin.
'Let us go and see the ruins,' said Casimir.
They strolled forth into the street. The fall of the house, like
the loss of a front tooth, had quite transformed the village.
Through the gap the eye commanded a great stretch of open snowy
country, and the place shrank in comparison. It was like a room
with an open door. The sentinel stood by the green gate, looking
very red and cold, but he had a pleasant word for the Doctor and
his wealthy kinsman.
Casimir looked at the mound of ruins, he tried the quality of the
tarpaulin. 'H'm,' he said, 'I hope the cellar arch has stood. If
it has, my good brother, I will give you a good price for the
'We shall start digging to-morrow,' said the sentry. 'There is no
more fear of snow.'
'My friend,' returned Casimir sententiously, 'you had better wait
till you get paid.'
The Doctor winced, and began dragging his offensive brother-in-law
towards Tentaillon's. In the house there would be fewer auditors,
and these already in the secret of his fall.
'Hullo!' cried Casimir, 'there goes the stable-boy with his
luggage; no, egad, he is taking it into the inn.'
And sure enough, Jean-Marie was seen to cross the snowy street and
enter Tentaillon's, staggering under a large hamper.
The Doctor stopped with a sudden, wild hope.
'What can he have?' he said. 'Let us go and see.' And he hurried
'His luggage, to be sure,' answered Casimir. 'He is on the move -
thanks to the commercial imagination.'
'I have not seen that hamper for - for ever so long,' remarked the
'Nor will you see it much longer,' chuckled Casimir; 'unless,
indeed, we interfere. And by the way, I insist on an examination.'
'You will not require,' said Desprez, positively with a sob; and,
casting a moist, triumphant glance at Casimir, he began to run.
'What the devil is up with him, I wonder?' Casimir reflected; and
then, curiosity taking the upper hand, he followed the Doctor's
example and took to his heels.
The hamper was so heavy and large, and Jean-Marie himself so little
and so weary, that it had taken him a great while to bundle it
upstairs to the Desprez' private room; and he had just set it down
on the floor in front of Anastasie, when the Doctor arrived, and
was closely followed by the man of business. Boy and hamper were
both in a most sorry plight; for the one had passed four months
underground in a certain cave on the way to Acheres, and the other
had run about five miles as hard as his legs would carry him, half
that distance under a staggering weight.
'Jean-Marie,' cried the Doctor, in a voice that was only too
seraphic to be called hysterical, 'is it - ? It is!' he cried.
'O, my son, my son!' And he sat down upon the hamper and sobbed
like a little child.
'You will not go to Paris now,' said Jean-Marie sheepishly.
'Casimir,' said Desprez, raising his wet face, 'do you see that
boy, that angel boy? He is the thief; he took the treasure from a
man unfit to be entrusted with its use; he brings it back to me
when I am sobered and humbled. These, Casimir, are the Fruits of
my Teaching, and this moment is the Reward of my Life.'
'TIENS,' said Casimir.
(1) Boggy.
(2) Clock
(3) Enjoy.
(4) To come forrit - to offer oneself as a communicant.
(5) It was a common belief in Scotland that the devil appeared as a
black man. This appears in several witch trials and I think in
Law's MEMORIALS, that delightful store-house of the quaint and
(6) Let it be so, for my tale!

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