Part 2 out of 3
showed out as the straining muscles pressed on the old cicatrices.
'So you would like to know! It would please your pride to feel that your
sister was truly married! Well, you shall not know. That was my revenge
on you, and I do not mean to change it by a hair's breadth. I have come
here tonight simply to let you know that I am alive, so that if any
violence be done me where I am going there may be a witness.'
'Where are you going?' demanded her brother.
'That is my affair! and. I have not the least intention of letting you
know!' Wykham stood up, but the drink was on him and he reeled and fell.
As he lay on the floor he announced his intention of following his
sister; and with an outburst of splenetic humour told her that he would
follow her through the darkness by the light of her hair, and of her
beauty. At this she turned on him, and said that there were others
beside him that would rue her hair and her beauty too. 'As he will,' she
hissed; 'for the hair remains though the beauty be gone. When he
withdrew the lynch-pin and sent us over the precipice into the torrent,
he had little thought of my beauty. Perhaps his beauty would be scarred
like mine were he whirled, as I was, among the rocks of the Visp, and
frozen on the ice pack in the drift of the river. But let him beware!
His time is coming!' and with a fierce gesture she flung open the door
and passed out into the night.
* * * * *
Later on that night, Mrs. Brent, who was but half-asleep, became
suddenly awake and spoke to her husband:
'Geoffrey, was not that the click of a lock somewhere below our window?'
But Geoffrey--though she thought that he, too, had started at the
noise--seemed sound asleep, and breathed heavily. Again Mrs. Brent
dozed; but this time awoke to the fact that her husband had arisen and
was partially dressed. He was deadly pale, and when the light of the
lamp which he had in his hand fell on his face, she was frightened at
the look in his eyes.
'What is it, Geoffrey? What dost thou?' she asked.
'Hush! little one,' he answered, in a strange, hoarse voice. 'Go to
sleep. I am restless, and wish to finish some work I left undone.'
'Bring it here, my husband,' she said; 'I am lonely and I fear when thou
For reply he merely kissed her and went out, closing the door behind
him. She lay awake for awhile, and then nature asserted itself, and she
Suddenly she started broad awake with the memory in her ears of a
smothered cry from somewhere not far off. She jumped up and ran to the
door and listened, but there was no sound. She grew alarmed for her
husband, and called out: 'Geoffrey! Geoffrey!'
After a few moments the door of the great hall opened, and Geoffrey
appeared at it, but without his lamp.
'Hush!' he said, in a sort of whisper, and his voice was harsh and
stern. 'Hush! Get to bed! I am working, and must not be disturbed. Go to
sleep, and do not wake the house!'
With a chill in her heart--for the harshness of her husband's voice was
new to her--she crept back to bed and lay there trembling, too
frightened to cry, and listened to every sound. There was a long pause
of silence, and then the sound of some iron implement striking muffled
blows! Then there came a clang of a heavy stone falling, followed by a
muffled curse. Then a dragging sound, and then more noise of stone on
stone. She lay all the while in an agony of fear, and her heart beat
dreadfully. She heard a curious sort of scraping sound; and then there
was silence. Presently the door opened gently, and Geoffrey appeared.
His wife pretended to be asleep; but through her eyelashes she saw him
wash from his hands something white that looked like lime.
In the morning he made no allusion to the previous night, and she was
afraid to ask any question.
From that day there seemed some shadow over Geoffrey Brent. He neither
ate nor slept as he had been accustomed, and his former habit of turning
suddenly as though someone were speaking from behind him revived. The
old hall seemed to have some kind of fascination for him. He used to go
there many times in the day, but grew impatient if anyone, even his
wife, entered it. When the builder's foreman came to inquire about
continuing his work Geoffrey was out driving; the man went into the
hall, and when Geoffrey returned the servant told him of his arrival and
where he was. With a frightful oath he pushed the servant aside and
hurried up to the old hall. The workman met him almost at the door; and
as Geoffrey burst into the room he ran against him. The man apologised:
'Beg pardon, sir, but I was just going out to make some enquiries. I
directed twelve sacks of lime to be sent here, but I see there are only
'Damn the ten sacks and the twelve too!' was the ungracious and
The workman looked surprised, and tried to turn the conversation.
'I see, sir, there is a little matter which our people must have done;
but the governor will of course see it set right at his own cost.'
'What do you mean?'
'That 'ere 'arth-stone, sir: Some idiot must have put a scaffold pole on
it and cracked it right down the middle, and it's thick enough you'd
think to stand hanythink.' Geoffrey was silent for quite a minute, and
then said in a constrained voice and with much gentler manner:
'Tell your people that I am not going on with the work in the hall at
present. I want to leave it as it is for a while longer.'
'All right sir. I'll send up a few of our chaps to take away these poles
and lime bags and tidy the place up a bit.'
'No! No!' said Geoffrey, 'leave them where they are. I shall send and
tell you when you are to get on with the work.' So the foreman went
away, and his comment to his master was:
'I'd send in the bill, sir, for the work already done. 'Pears to me that
money's a little shaky in that quarter.'
Once or twice Delandre tried to stop Brent on the road, and, at last,
finding that he could not attain his object rode after the carriage,
'What has become of my sister, your wife?' Geoffrey lashed his horses
into a gallop, and the other, seeing from his white face and from his
wife's collapse almost into a faint that his object was attained, rode
away with a scowl and a laugh.
That night when Geoffrey went into the hall he passed over to the great
fireplace, and all at once started back with a smothered cry. Then with
an effort he pulled himself together and went away, returning with a
light. He bent down over the broken hearth-stone to see if the moonlight
falling through the storied window had in any way deceived him. Then
with a groan of anguish he sank to his knees.
There, sure enough, through the crack in the broken stone were
protruding a multitude of threads of golden hair just tinged with grey!
He was disturbed by a noise at the door, and looking round, saw his wife
standing in the doorway. In the desperation of the moment he took action
to prevent discovery, and lighting a match at the lamp, stooped down and
burned away the hair that rose through the broken stone. Then rising
nonchalantly as he could, he pretended surprise at seeing his wife
For the next week he lived in an agony; for, whether by accident or
design, he could not find himself alone in the hall for any length of
time. At each visit the hair had grown afresh through the crack, and he
had to watch it carefully lest his terrible secret should be discovered.
He tried to find a receptacle for the body of the murdered woman outside
the house, but someone always interrupted him; and once, when he was
coming out of the private doorway, he was met by his wife, who began to
question him about it, and manifested surprise that she should not have
before noticed the key which he now reluctantly showed her. Geoffrey
dearly and passionately loved his wife, so that any possibility of her
discovering his dread secrets, or even of doubting him, filled him with
anguish; and after a couple of days had passed, he could not help coming
to the conclusion that, at least, she suspected something.
That very evening she came into the hall after her drive and found him
there sitting moodily by the deserted fireplace. She spoke to him
'Geoffrey, I have been spoken to by that fellow Delandre, and he says
horrible things. He tells to me that a week ago his sister returned to
his house, the wreck and ruin of her former self, with only her golden
hair as of old, and announced some fell intention. He asked me where she
is--and oh, Geoffrey, she is dead, she is dead! So how can she have
returned? Oh! I am in dread, and I know not where to turn!'
For answer, Geoffrey burst into a torrent of blasphemy which made her
shudder. He cursed Delandre and his sister and all their kind, and in
especial he hurled curse after curse on her golden hair.
'Oh, hush! hush!' she said, and was then silent, for she feared her
husband when she saw the evil effect of his humour. Geoffrey in the
torrent of his anger stood up and moved away from the hearth; but
suddenly stopped as he saw a new look of terror in his wife's eyes. He
followed their glance, and then he too, shuddered--for there on the
broken hearth-stone lay a golden streak as the point of the hair rose
though the crack.
'Look, look!' she shrieked. 'Is it some ghost of the dead! Come
away--come away!' and seizing her husband by the wrist with the frenzy
of madness, she pulled him from the room.
That night she was in a raging fever. The doctor of the district
attended her at once, and special aid was telegraphed for to London.
Geoffrey was in despair, and in his anguish at the danger of his young
wife almost forgot his own crime and its consequences. In the evening
the doctor had to leave to attend to others; but he left Geoffrey in
charge of his wife. His last words were:
'Remember, you must humour her till I come in the morning, or till some
other doctor has her case in hand. What you have to dread is another
attack of emotion. See that she is kept warm. Nothing more can be done.'
Late in the evening, when the rest of the household had retired,
Geoffrey's wife got up from her bed and called to her husband.
'Come!' she said. 'Come to the old hall! I know where the gold comes
from! I want to see it grow!'
Geoffrey would fain have stopped her, but he feared for her life or
reason on the one hand, and lest in a paroxysm she should shriek out her
terrible suspicion, and seeing that it was useless to try to prevent
her, wrapped a warm rug around her and went with her to the old hall.
When they entered, she turned and shut the door and locked it.
'We want no strangers amongst us three tonight!' she whispered with a
'We three! nay we are but two,' said Geoffrey with a shudder; he feared
to say more.
'Sit here,' said his wife as she put out the light. 'Sit here by the
hearth and watch the gold growing. The silver moonlight is jealous! See,
it steals along the floor towards the gold--our gold!' Geoffrey looked
with growing horror, and saw that during the hours that had passed the
golden hair had protruded further through the broken hearth-stone. He
tried to hide it by placing his feet over the broken place; and his
wife, drawing her chair beside him, leant over and laid her head on his
'Now do not stir, dear,' she said; 'let us sit still and watch. We shall
find the secret of the growing gold!' He passed his arm round her and
sat silent; and as the moonlight stole along the floor she sank to
He feared to wake her; and so sat silent and miserable as the hours
Before his horror-struck eyes the golden-hair from the broken stone grew
and grew; and as it increased, so his heart got colder and colder, till
at last he had not power to stir, and sat with eyes full of terror
watching his doom.
* * * * *
In the morning when the London doctor came, neither Geoffrey nor his
wife could be found. Search was made in all the rooms, but without
avail. As a last resource the great door of the old hall was broken
open, and those who entered saw a grim and sorry sight.
There by the deserted hearth Geoffrey Brent and his young wife sat cold
and white and dead. Her face was peaceful, and her eyes were closed in
sleep; but his face was a sight that made all who saw it shudder, for
there was on it a look of unutterable horror. The eyes were open and
stared glassily at his feet, which were twined with tresses of golden
hair, streaked with grey, which came through the broken hearth-stone.
The Gipsy Prophecy
'I really think,' said the Doctor, 'that, at any rate, one of us should
go and try whether or not the thing is an imposture.'
'Good!' said Considine. 'After dinner we will take our cigars and stroll
over to the camp.'
Accordingly, when the dinner was over, and the _La Tour_ finished,
Joshua Considine and his friend, Dr Burleigh, went over to the east side
of the moor, where the gipsy encampment lay. As they were leaving, Mary
Considine, who had walked as far as the end of the garden where it
opened into the laneway, called after her husband:
'Mind, Joshua, you are to give them a fair chance, but don't give them
any clue to a fortune--and don't you get flirting with any of the gipsy
maidens--and take care to keep Gerald out of harm.'
For answer Considine held up his hand, as if taking a stage oath, and
whistled the air of the old song, 'The Gipsy Countess.' Gerald joined in
the strain, and then, breaking into merry laughter, the two men passed
along the laneway to the common, turning now and then to wave their
hands to Mary, who leaned over the gate, in the twilight, looking after
It was a lovely evening in the summer; the very air was full of rest and
quiet happiness, as though an outward type of the peacefulness and joy
which made a heaven of the home of the young married folk. Considine's
life had not been an eventful one. The only disturbing element which he
had ever known was in his wooing of Mary Winston, and the long-continued
objection of her ambitious parents, who expected a brilliant match for
their only daughter. When Mr. and Mrs. Winston had discovered the
attachment of the young barrister, they had tried to keep the young
people apart by sending their daughter away for a long round of visits,
having made her promise not to correspond with her lover during her
absence. Love, however, had stood the test. Neither absence nor neglect
seemed to cool the passion of the young man, and jealousy seemed a thing
unknown to his sanguine nature; so, after a long period of waiting, the
parents had given in, and the young folk were married.
They had been living in the cottage a few months, and were just
beginning to feel at home. Gerald Burleigh, Joshua's old college chum,
and himself a sometime victim of Mary's beauty, had arrived a week
before, to stay with them for as long a time as he could tear himself
away from his work in London.
When her husband had quite disappeared Mary went into the house, and,
sitting down at the piano, gave an hour to Mendelssohn.
It was but a short walk across the common, and before the cigars
required renewing the two men had reached the gipsy camp. The place was
as picturesque as gipsy camps--when in villages and when business is
good--usually are. There were some few persons round the fire, investing
their money in prophecy, and a large number of others, poorer or more
parsimonious, who stayed just outside the bounds but near enough to see
all that went on.
As the two gentlemen approached, the villagers, who knew Joshua, made
way a little, and a pretty, keen-eyed gipsy girl tripped up and asked to
tell their fortunes. Joshua held out his hand, but the girl, without
seeming to see it, stared at his face in a very odd manner. Gerald
'You must cross her hand with silver,' he said. 'It is one of the most
important parts of the mystery.' Joshua took from his pocket a
half-crown and held it out to her, but, without looking at it, she
'You have to cross the gipsy's hand with gold.'
Gerald laughed. 'You are at a premium as a subject,' he said. Joshua was
of the kind of man--the universal kind--who can tolerate being stared at
by a pretty girl; so, with some little deliberation, he answered:
'All right; here you are, my pretty girl; but you must give me a real
good fortune for it,' and he handed her a half sovereign, which she
'It is not for me to give good fortune or bad, but only to read what the
Stars have said.' She took his right hand and turned it palm upward; but
the instant her eyes met it she dropped it as though it had been red
hot, and, with a startled look, glided swiftly away. Lifting the curtain
of the large tent, which occupied the centre of the camp, she
'Sold again!' said the cynical Gerald. Joshua stood a little amazed, and
not altogether satisfied. They both watched the large tent. In a few
moments there emerged from the opening not the young girl, but a stately
looking woman of middle age and commanding presence.
The instant she appeared the whole camp seemed to stand still. The
clamour of tongues, the laughter and noise of the work were, for a
second or two, arrested, and every man or woman who sat, or crouched, or
lay, stood up and faced the imperial looking gipsy.
'The Queen, of course,' murmured Gerald. 'We are in luck tonight.' The
gipsy Queen threw a searching glance around the camp, and then, without
hesitating an instant, came straight over and stood before Joshua.
'Hold out your hand,' she said in a commanding tone.
Again Gerald spoke, _sotto voce_: 'I have not been spoken to in that way
since I was at school.'
'Your hand must be crossed with gold.'
'A hundred per cent, at this game,' whispered Gerald, as Joshua laid
another half sovereign on his upturned palm.
The gipsy looked at the hand with knitted brows; then suddenly looking
up into his face, said:
'Have you a strong will--have you a true heart that can be brave for one
'I hope so; but I am afraid I have not vanity enough to say "yes".'
'Then I will answer for you; for I read resolution in your
face--resolution desperate and determined if need be. You have a wife
'Then leave her at once--never see her face again. Go from her now,
while love is fresh and your heart is free from wicked intent. Go
quick--go far, and never see her face again!'
Joshua drew away his hand quickly, and said, 'Thank you!' stiffly but
sarcastically, as he began to move away.
'I say!' said Gerald, 'you're not going like that, old man; no use in
being indignant with the Stars or their prophet--and, moreover, your
sovereign--what of it? At least, hear the matter out.'
'Silence, ribald!' commanded the Queen, 'you know not what you do. Let
him go--and go ignorant, if he will not be warned.'
Joshua immediately turned back. 'At all events, we will see this thing
out,' he said. 'Now, madam, you have given me advice, but I paid for a
'Be warned!' said the gipsy. 'The Stars have been silent for long; let
the mystery still wrap them round.'
'My dear madam, I do not get within touch of a mystery every day, and I
prefer for my money knowledge rather than ignorance. I can get the
latter commodity for nothing when I want any of it.'
Gerald echoed the sentiment. 'As for me I have a large and unsaleable
stock on hand.'
The gipsy Queen eyed the two men sternly, and then said: 'As you wish.
You have chosen for yourself, and have met warning with scorn, and
appeal with levity. On your own heads be the doom!'
'Amen!' said Gerald.
With an imperious gesture the Queen took Joshua's hand again, and began
to tell his fortune.
'I see here the flowing of blood; it will flow before long; it is
running in my sight. It flows through the broken circle of a severed
'Go on!' said Joshua, smiling. Gerald was silent.
'Must I speak plainer?'
'Certainly; we commonplace mortals want something definite. The Stars
are a long way off, and their words get somewhat dulled in the message.'
The gipsy shuddered, and then spoke impressively. 'This is the hand of a
murderer--the murderer of his wife!' She dropped the hand and turned
Joshua laughed. 'Do you know,' said he, 'I think if I were you I should
prophesy some jurisprudence into my system. For instance, you say "this
hand is the hand of a murderer." Well, whatever it may be in the
future--or potentially--it is at present not one. You ought to give your
prophecy in such terms as "the hand which will be a murderer's", or,
rather, "the hand of one who will be the murderer of his wife". The
Stars are really not good on technical questions.'
The gipsy made no reply of any kind, but, with drooping head and
despondent mien, walked slowly to her tent, and, lifting the curtain,
Without speaking the two men turned homewards, and walked across the
moor. Presently, after some little hesitation, Gerald spoke.
'Of course, old man, this is all a joke; a ghastly one, but still a
joke. But would it not be well to keep it to ourselves?'
'How do you mean?'
'Well, not tell your wife. It might alarm her.'
'Alarm her! My dear Gerald, what are you thinking of? Why, she would not
be alarmed or afraid of me if all the gipsies that ever didn't come from
Bohemia agreed that I was to murder her, or even to have a hard thought
of her, whilst so long as she was saying "Jack Robinson."'
Gerald remonstrated. 'Old fellow, women are superstitious--far more than
we men are; and, also they are blessed--or cursed--with a nervous system
to which we are strangers. I see too much of it in my work not to
realise it. Take my advice and do not let her know, or you will frighten
Joshua's lips unconsciously hardened as he answered: 'My dear fellow, I
would not have a secret from my wife. Why, it would be the beginning of
a new order of things between us. We have no secrets from each other. If
we ever have, then you may begin to look out for something odd between
'Still,' said Gerald, 'at the risk of unwelcome interference, I say
again be warned in time.'
'The gipsy's very words,' said Joshua. 'You and she seem quite of one
accord. Tell me, old man, is this a put-up thing? You told me of the
gipsy camp--did you arrange it all with Her Majesty?' This was said with
an air of bantering earnestness. Gerald assured him that he only heard
of the camp that morning; but he made fun of every answer of his friend,
and, in the process of this raillery, the time passed, and they entered
Mary was sitting at the piano but not playing. The dim twilight had
waked some very tender feelings in her breast, and her eyes were full of
gentle tears. When the men came in she stole over to her husband's side
and kissed him. Joshua struck a tragic attitude.
'Mary,' he said in a deep voice, 'before you approach me, listen to the
words of Fate. The Stars have spoken and the doom is sealed.'
'What is it, dear? Tell me the fortune, but do not frighten me.'
'Not at all, my dear; but there is a truth which it is well that you
should know. Nay, it is necessary so that all your arrangements can be
made beforehand, and everything be decently done and in order.'
'Go on, dear; I am listening.'
'Mary Considine, your effigy may yet be seen at Madame Tussaud's. The
juris-imprudent Stars have announced their fell tidings that this hand
is red with blood--your blood. Mary! Mary! my God!' He sprang forward,
but too late to catch her as she fell fainting on the floor.
'I told you,' said Gerald. 'You don't know them as well as I do.'
After a little while Mary recovered from her swoon, but only to fall
into strong hysterics, in which she laughed and wept and raved and
cried, 'Keep him from me--from me, Joshua, my husband,' and many other
words of entreaty and of fear.
Joshua Considine was in a state of mind bordering on agony, and when at
last Mary became calm he knelt by her and kissed her feet and hands and
hair and called her all the sweet names and said all the tender things
his lips could frame. All that night he sat by her bedside and held her
hand. Far through the night and up to the early morning she kept waking
from sleep and crying out as if in fear, till she was comforted by the
consciousness that her husband was watching beside her.
Breakfast was late the next morning, but during it Joshua received a
telegram which required him to drive over to Withering, nearly twenty
miles. He was loth to go; but Mary would not hear of his remaining, and
so before noon he drove off in his dog-cart alone.
When he was gone Mary retired to her room. She did not appear at lunch,
but when afternoon tea was served on the lawn under the great weeping
willow, she came to join her guest. She was looking quite recovered from
her illness of the evening before. After some casual remarks, she said
to Gerald: 'Of course it was very silly about last night, but I could
not help feeling frightened. Indeed I would feel so still if I let
myself think of it. But, after all these people may only imagine things,
and I have got a test that can hardly fail to show that the prediction
is false--if indeed it be false,' she added sadly.
'What is your plan?' asked Gerald.
'I shall go myself to the gipsy camp, and have my fortune told by the
'Capital. May I go with you?'
'Oh, no! That would spoil it. She might know you and guess at me, and
suit her utterance accordingly. I shall go alone this afternoon.'
When the afternoon was gone Mary Considine took her way to the gipsy
encampment. Gerald went with her as far as the near edge of the common,
and returned alone.
Half-an-hour had hardly elapsed when Mary entered the drawing-room,
where he lay on a sofa reading. She was ghastly pale and was in a state
of extreme excitement. Hardly had she passed over the threshold when she
collapsed and sank moaning on the carpet. Gerald rushed to aid her, but
by a great effort she controlled herself and motioned him to be silent.
He waited, and his ready attention to her wish seemed to be her best
help, for, in a few minutes, she had somewhat recovered, and was able to
tell him what had passed.
'When I got to the camp,' she said, 'there did not seem to be a soul
about, I went into the centre and stood there. Suddenly a tall woman
stood beside me. "Something told me I was wanted!" she said. I held out
my hand and laid a piece of silver on it. She took from her neck a small
golden trinket and laid it there also; and then, seizing the two, threw
them into the stream that ran by. Then she took my hand in hers and
spoke: "Naught but blood in this guilty place," and turned away. I
caught hold of her and asked her to tell me more. After some hesitation,
she said: "Alas! alas! I see you lying at your husband's feet, and his
hands are red with blood".'
Gerald did not feel at all at ease, and tried to laugh it off. 'Surely,'
he said, 'this woman has a craze about murder.'
'Do not laugh,' said Mary, 'I cannot bear it,' and then, as if with a
sudden impulse, she left the room.
Not long after Joshua returned, bright and cheery, and as hungry as a
hunter after his long drive. His presence cheered his wife, who seemed
much brighter, but she did not mention the episode of the visit to the
gipsy camp, so Gerald did not mention it either. As if by tacit consent
the subject was not alluded to during the evening. But there was a
strange, settled look on Mary's face, which Gerald could not but
In the morning Joshua came down to breakfast later than usual. Mary had
been up and about the house from an early hour; but as the time drew on
she seemed to get a little nervous and now and again threw around an
Gerald could not help noticing that none of those at breakfast could get
on satisfactorily with their food. It was not altogether that the chops
were tough, but that the knives were all so blunt. Being a guest, he, of
course, made no sign; but presently saw Joshua draw his thumb across the
edge of his knife in an unconscious sort of way. At the action Mary
turned pale and almost fainted.
After breakfast they all went out on the lawn. Mary was making up a
bouquet, and said to her husband, 'Get me a few of the tea-roses, dear.'
Joshua pulled down a cluster from the front of the house. The stem bent,
but was too tough to break. He put his hand in his pocket to get his
knife; but in vain. 'Lend me your knife, Gerald,' he said. But Gerald
had not got one, so he went into the breakfast room and took one from
the table. He came out feeling its edge and grumbling. 'What on earth
has happened to all the knives--the edges seem all ground off?' Mary
turned away hurriedly and entered the house.
Joshua tried to sever the stalk with the blunt knife as country cooks
sever the necks of fowl--as schoolboys cut twine. With a little effort
he finished the task. The cluster of roses grew thick, so he determined
to gather a great bunch.
He could not find a single sharp knife in the sideboard where the
cutlery was kept, so he called Mary, and when she came, told her the
state of things. She looked so agitated and so miserable that he could
not help knowing the truth, and, as if astounded and hurt, asked her:
'Do you mean to say that _you_ have done it?'
She broke in, 'Oh, Joshua, I was so afraid.'
He paused, and a set, white look came over his face. 'Mary!' said he,
'is this all the trust you have in me? I would not have believed it.'
'Oh, Joshua! Joshua!' she cried entreatingly, 'forgive me,' and wept
Joshua thought a moment and then said: 'I see how it is. We shall better
end this or we shall all go mad.'
He ran into the drawing-room.
'Where are you going?' almost screamed Mary.
Gerald saw what he meant--that he would not be tied to blunt instruments
by the force of a superstition, and was not surprised when he saw him
come out through the French window, bearing in his hand a large Ghourka
knife, which usually lay on the centre table, and which his brother had
sent him from Northern India. It was one of those great hunting-knives
which worked such havoc, at close quarters with the enemies of the loyal
Ghourkas during the mutiny, of great weight but so evenly balanced in
the hand as to seem light, and with an edge like a razor. With one of
these knives a Ghourka can cut a sheep in two.
When Mary saw him come out of the room with the weapon in his hand she
screamed in an agony of fright, and the hysterics of last night were
Joshua ran toward her, and, seeing her falling, threw down the knife and
tried to catch her.
However, he was just a second too late, and the two men cried out in
horror simultaneously as they saw her fall upon the naked blade.
When Gerald rushed over he found that in falling her left hand had
struck the blade, which lay partly upwards on the grass. Some of the
small veins were cut through, and the blood gushed freely from the
wound. As he was tying it up he pointed out to Joshua that the wedding
ring was severed by the steel.
They carried her fainting to the house. When, after a while, she came
out, with her arm in a sling, she was peaceful in her mind and happy.
She said to her husband:
'The gipsy was wonderfully near the truth; too near for the real thing
ever to occur now, dear.'
Joshua bent over and kissed the wounded hand.
The Coming of Abel Behenna
The little Cornish port of Pencastle was bright in the early April, when
the sun had seemingly come to stay after a long and bitter winter.
Boldly and blackly the rock stood out against a background of shaded
blue, where the sky fading into mist met the far horizon. The sea was of
true Cornish hue--sapphire, save where it became deep emerald green in
the fathomless depths under the cliffs, where the seal caves opened
their grim jaws. On the slopes the grass was parched and brown. The
spikes of furze bushes were ashy grey, but the golden yellow of their
flowers streamed along the hillside, dipping out in lines as the rock
cropped up, and lessening into patches and dots till finally it died
away all together where the sea winds swept round the jutting cliffs and
cut short the vegetation as though with an ever-working aerial shears.
The whole hillside, with its body of brown and flashes of yellow, was
just like a colossal yellow-hammer.
The little harbour opened from the sea between towering cliffs, and
behind a lonely rock, pierced with many caves and blow-holes through
which the sea in storm time sent its thunderous voice, together with a
fountain of drifting spume. Hence, it wound westwards in a serpentine
course, guarded at its entrance by two little curving piers to left and
right. These were roughly built of dark slates placed endways and held
together with great beams bound with iron bands. Thence, it flowed up
the rocky bed of the stream whose winter torrents had of old cut out its
way amongst the hills. This stream was deep at first, with here and
there, where it widened, patches of broken rock exposed at low water,
full of holes where crabs and lobsters were to be found at the ebb of
the tide. From amongst the rocks rose sturdy posts, used for warping in
the little coasting vessels which frequented the port. Higher up, the
stream still flowed deeply, for the tide ran far inland, but always
calmly for all the force of the wildest storm was broken below. Some
quarter mile inland the stream was deep at high water, but at low tide
there were at each side patches of the same broken rock as lower down,
through the chinks of which the sweet water of the natural stream
trickled and murmured after the tide had ebbed away. Here, too, rose
mooring posts for the fishermen's boats. At either side of the river was
a row of cottages down almost on the level of high tide. They were
pretty cottages, strongly and snugly built, with trim narrow gardens in
front, full of old-fashioned plants, flowering currants, coloured
primroses, wallflower, and stonecrop. Over the fronts of many of them
climbed clematis and wisteria. The window sides and door posts of all
were as white as snow, and the little pathway to each was paved with
light coloured stones. At some of the doors were tiny porches, whilst at
others were rustic seats cut from tree trunks or from old barrels; in
nearly every case the window ledges were filled with boxes or pots of
flowers or foliage plants.
Two men lived in cottages exactly opposite each other across the stream.
Two men, both young, both good-looking, both prosperous, and who had
been companions and rivals from their boyhood. Abel Behenna was dark
with the gypsy darkness which the Phoenician mining wanderers left in
their track; Eric Sanson--which the local antiquarian said was a
corruption of Sagamanson--was fair, with the ruddy hue which marked the
path of the wild Norseman. These two seemed to have singled out each
other from the very beginning to work and strive together, to fight for
each other and to stand back to back in all endeavours. They had now put
the coping-stone on their Temple of Unity by falling in love with the
same girl. Sarah Trefusis was certainly the prettiest girl in Pencastle,
and there was many a young man who would gladly have tried his fortune
with her, but that there were two to contend against, and each of these
the strongest and most resolute man in the port--except the other. The
average young man thought that this was very hard, and on account of it
bore no good will to either of the three principals: whilst the average
young woman who had, lest worse should befall, to put up with the
grumbling of her sweetheart, and the sense of being only second best
which it implied, did not either, be sure, regard Sarah with friendly
eye. Thus it came, in the course of a year or so, for rustic courtship
is a slow process, that the two men and woman found themselves thrown
much together. They were all satisfied, so it did not matter, and Sarah,
who was vain and something frivolous, took care to have her revenge on
both men and women in a quiet way. When a young woman in her 'walking
out' can only boast one not-quite-satisfied young man, it is no
particular pleasure to her to see her escort cast sheep's eyes at a
better-looking girl supported by two devoted swains.
At length there came a time which Sarah dreaded, and which she had tried
to keep distant--the time when she had to make her choice between the
two men. She liked them both, and, indeed, either of them might have
satisfied the ideas of even a more exacting girl But her mind was so
constituted that she thought more of what she might lose, than of what
she might gain; and whenever she thought she had made up her mind she
became instantly assailed with doubts as to the wisdom of her choice.
Always the man whom she had presumably lost became endowed afresh with a
newer and more bountiful crop of advantages than had ever arisen from
the possibility of his acceptance. She promised each man that on her
birthday she would give him his answer, and that day, the 11th of April,
had now arrived. The promises had been given singly and confidentially,
but each was given to a man who was not likely to forget. Early in the
morning she found both men hovering round her door. Neither had taken
the other into his confidence, and each was simply seeking an early
opportunity of getting his answer, and advancing his suit if necessary.
Damon, as a rule, does not take Pythias with him when making a proposal;
and in the heart of each man his own affairs had a claim far above any
requirements of friendship. So, throughout the day, they kept seeing
each other out. The position was doubtless somewhat embarrassing to
Sarah, and though the satisfaction of her vanity that she should be thus
adored was very pleasing, yet there were moments when she was annoyed
with both men for being so persistent. Her only consolation at such
moments was that she saw, through the elaborate smiles of the other
girls when in passing they noticed her door thus doubly guarded, the
jealousy which filled their hearts. Sarah's mother was a person of
commonplace and sordid ideas, and, seeing all along the state of
affairs, her one intention, persistently expressed to her daughter in
the plainest words, was to so arrange matters that Sarah should get all
that was possible out of both men. With this purpose she had cunningly
kept herself as far as possible in the background in the matter of her
daughter's wooings, and watched in silence. At first Sarah had been
indignant with her for her sordid views; but, as usual, her weak nature
gave way before persistence, and she had now got to the stage of
acceptance. She was not surprised when her mother whispered to her in
the little yard behind the house:--
'Go up the hillside for a while; I want to talk to these two. They're
both red-hot for ye, and now's the time to get things fixed!' Sarah
began a feeble remonstrance, but her mother cut her short.
'I tell ye, girl, that my mind is made up! Both these men want ye, and
only one can have ye, but before ye choose it'll be so arranged that
ye'll have all that both have got! Don't argy, child! Go up the
hillside, and when ye come back I'll have it fixed--I see a way quite
easy!' So Sarah went up the hillside through the narrow paths between
the golden furze, and Mrs. Trefusis joined the two men in the
living-room of the little house.
She opened the attack with the desperate courage which is in all mothers
when they think for their children, howsoever mean the thoughts may be.
'Ye two men, ye're both in love with my Sarah!'
Their bashful silence gave consent to the barefaced proposition. She
'Neither of ye has much!' Again they tacitly acquiesced in the soft
'I don't know that either of ye could keep a wife!' Though neither said
a word their looks and bearing expressed distinct dissent. Mrs. Trefusis
'But if ye'd put what ye both have together ye'd make a comfortable home
for one of ye--and Sarah!' She eyed the men keenly, with her cunning
eyes half shut, as she spoke; then satisfied from her scrutiny that the
idea was accepted she went on quickly, as if to prevent argument:
'The girl likes ye both, and mayhap it's hard for her to choose. Why
don't ye toss up for her? First put your money together--ye've each got
a bit put by, I know. Let the lucky man take the lot and trade with it a
bit, and then come home and marry her. Neither of ye's afraid, I
suppose! And neither of ye'll say that he won't do that much for the
girl that ye both say ye love!'
Abel broke the silence:
'It don't seem the square thing to toss for the girl! She wouldn't like
it herself, and it doesn't seem--seem respectful like to her--' Eric
interrupted. He was conscious that his chance was not so good as Abel's
in case Sarah should wish to choose between them:
'Are ye afraid of the hazard?'
'Not me!' said Abel, boldly. Mrs. Trefusis, seeing that her idea was
beginning to work, followed up the advantage.
'It is settled that ye put yer money together to make a home for her,
whether ye toss for her or leave it for her to choose?'
'Yes,' said Eric quickly, and Abel agreed with equal sturdiness. Mrs.
Trefusis' little cunning eyes twinkled. She heard Sarah's step in the
yard, and said:
'Well! here she comes, and I leave it to her.' And she went out.
During her brief walk on the hillside Sarah had been trying to make up
her mind. She was feeling almost angry with both men for being the cause
of her difficulty, and as she came into the room said shortly:
'I want to have a word with you both--come to the Flagstaff Rock, where
we can be alone.' She took her hat and went out of the house up the
winding path to the steep rock crowned with a high flagstaff, where once
the wreckers' fire basket used to burn. This was the rock which formed
the northern jaw of the little harbour. There was only room on the path
for two abreast, and it marked the state of things pretty well when, by
a sort of implied arrangement, Sarah went first, and the two men
followed, walking abreast and keeping step. By this time, each man's
heart was boiling with jealousy. When they came to the top of the rock,
Sarah stood against the flagstaff, and the two young men stood opposite
her. She had chosen her position with knowledge and intention, for there
was no room for anyone to stand beside her. They were all silent for a
while; then Sarah began to laugh and said:--
'I promised the both of you to give you an answer to-day. I've been
thinking and thinking and thinking, till I began to get angry with you
both for plaguing me so; and even now I don't seem any nearer than ever
I was to making up my mind.' Eric said suddenly:
'Let us toss for it, lass!' Sarah showed no indignation whatever at the
proposition; her mother's eternal suggestion had schooled her to the
acceptance of something of the kind, and her weak nature made it easy to
her to grasp at any way out of the difficulty. She stood with downcast
eyes idly picking at the sleeve of her dress, seeming to have tacitly
acquiesced in the proposal. Both men instinctively realising this pulled
each a coin from his pocket, spun it in the air, and dropped his other
hand over the palm on which it lay. For a few seconds they remained
thus, all silent; then Abel, who was the more thoughtful of the men,
'Sarah! is this good?' As he spoke he removed the upper hand from the
coin and placed the latter back in his pocket. Sarah was nettled.
'Good or bad, it's good enough for me! Take it or leave it as you like,'
she said, to which he replied quickly:
'Nay lass! Aught that concerns you is good enow for me. I did but think
of you lest you might have pain or disappointment hereafter. If you love
Eric better nor me, in God's name say so, and I think I'm man enow to
stand aside. Likewise, if I'm the one, don't make us both miserable for
life!' Face to face with a difficulty, Sarah's weak nature proclaimed
itself; she put her hands before her face and began to cry, saying--
'It was my mother. She keeps telling me!' The silence which followed was
broken by Eric, who said hotly to Abel:
'Let the lass alone, can't you? If she wants to choose this way, let
her. It's good enough for me--and for you, too! She's said it now, and
must abide by it!' Hereupon Sarah turned upon him in sudden fury, and
'Hold your tongue! what is it to you, at any rate?' and she resumed her
crying. Eric was so flabbergasted that he had not a word to say, but
stood looking particularly foolish, with his mouth open and his hands
held out with the coin still between them. All were silent till Sarah,
taking her hands from her face laughed hysterically and said:
'As you two can't make up your minds, I'm going home!' and she turned to
'Stop,' said Abel, in an authoritative voice. 'Eric, you hold the coin,
and I'll cry. Now, before we settle it, let us clearly understand: the
man who wins takes all the money that we both have got, brings it to
Bristol and ships on a voyage and trades with it. Then he comes back and
marries Sarah, and they two keep all, whatever there may be, as the
result of the trading. Is this what we understand?'
'Yes,' said Eric.
'I'll marry him on my next birthday,' said Sarah. Having said it the
intolerably mercenary spirit of her action seemed to strike her, and
impulsively she turned away with a bright blush. Fire seemed to sparkle
in the eyes of both men. Said Eric: 'A year so be! The man that wins is
to have one year.'
'Toss!' cried Abel, and the coin spun in the air. Eric caught it, and
again held it between his outstretched hands.
'Heads!' cried Abel, a pallor sweeping over his face as he spoke. As he
leaned forward to look Sarah leaned forward too, and their heads almost
touched. He could feel her hair blowing on his cheek, and it thrilled
through him like fire. Eric lifted his upper band; the coin lay with its
head up. Abel stepped forward and took Sarah in his arms. With a curse
Eric hurled the coin far into the sea. Then he leaned against the
flagstaff and scowled at the others with his hands thrust deep into his
pockets. Abel whispered wild words of passion and delight into Sarah's
ears, and as she listened she began to believe that fortune had rightly
interpreted the wishes of her secret heart, and that she loved Abel
Presently Abel looked up and caught sight of Eric's face as the last ray
of sunset struck it. The red light intensified the natural ruddiness of
his complexion, and he looked as though he were steeped in blood. Abel
did not mind his scowl, for now that his own heart was at rest he could
feel unalloyed pity for his friend. He stepped over meaning to comfort
him, and held out his hand, saying:
'It was my chance, old lad. Don't grudge it me. I'll try to make Sarah a
happy woman, and you shall be a brother to us both!'
'Brother be damned!' was all the answer Eric made, as he turned away.
When he had gone a few steps down the rocky path he turned and came
back. Standing before Abel and Sarah, who had their arms round each
other, he said:
'You have a year. Make the most of it! And be sure you're in time to
claim your wife! Be back to have your banns up in time to be married on
the 11th April. If you're not, I tell you I shall have my banns up, and
you may get back too late.'
'What do you mean, Eric? You are mad!'
'No more mad than you are, Abel Behenna. You go, that's your chance! I
stay, that's mine! I don't mean to let the grass grow under my feet.
Sarah cared no more for you than for me five minutes ago, and she may
come back to that five minutes after you're gone! You won by a point
only--the game may change.'
'The game won't change!' said Abel shortly. 'Sarah, you'll be true to
me? You won't marry till I return?'
'For a year!' added Eric, quickly, 'that's the bargain.'
'I promise for the year,' said Sarah. A dark look came over Abel's face,
and he was about to speak, but he mastered himself and smiled.
'I mustn't be too hard or get angry tonight! Come, Eric! we played and
fought together. I won fairly. I played fairly all the game of our
wooing! You know that as well as I do; and now when I am going away, I
shall look to my old and true comrade to help me when I am gone!'
'I'll help you none,' said Eric, 'so help me God!'
'It was God helped me,' said Abel simply.
'Then let Him go on helping you,' said Eric angrily. 'The Devil is good
enough for me!' and without another word he rushed down the steep path
and disappeared behind the rocks.
When he had gone Abel hoped for some tender passage with Sarah, but the
first remark she made chilled him.
'How lonely it all seems without Eric!' and this note sounded till he
had left her at home--and after.
Early on the next morning Abel heard a noise at his door, and on going
out saw Eric walking rapidly away: a small canvas bag full of gold and
silver lay on the threshold; on a small slip of paper pinned to it was
'Take the money and go. I stay. God for you! The Devil for me! Remember
the 11th of April.--ERIC SANSON.' That afternoon Abel went off to
Bristol, and a week later sailed on the _Star of the Sea_ bound for
Pahang. His money--including that which had been Eric's--was on board in
the shape of a venture of cheap toys. He had been advised by a shrewd
old mariner of Bristol whom he knew, and who knew the ways of the
Chersonese, who predicted that every penny invested would be returned
with a shilling to boot.
As the year wore on Sarah became more and more disturbed in her mind.
Eric was always at hand to make love to her in his own persistent,
masterful manner, and to this she did not object. Only one letter came
from Abel, to say that his venture had proved successful, and that he
had sent some two hundred pounds to the bank at Bristol, and was trading
with fifty pounds still remaining in goods for China, whither the _Star
of the Sea_ was bound and whence she would return to Bristol. He
suggested that Eric's share of the venture should be returned to him
with his share of the profits. This proposition was treated with anger
by Eric, and as simply childish by Sarah's mother.
More than six months had since then elapsed, but no other letter had
come, and Eric's hopes which had been dashed down by the letter from
Pahang, began to rise again. He perpetually assailed Sarah with an 'if!'
If Abel did not return, would she then marry him? If the 11th April went
by without Abel being in the port, would she give him over? If Abel had
taken his fortune, and married another girl on the head of it, would she
marry him, Eric, as soon as the truth were known? And so on in an
endless variety of possibilities. The power of the strong will and the
determined purpose over the woman's weaker nature became in time
manifest. Sarah began to lose her faith in Abel and to regard Eric as a
possible husband; and a possible husband is in a woman's eye different
to all other men. A new affection for him began to arise in her breast,
and the daily familiarities of permitted courtship furthered the growing
affection. Sarah began to regard Abel as rather a rock in the road of
her life, and had it not been for her mother's constantly reminding her
of the good fortune already laid by in the Bristol Bank she would have
tried to have shut her eyes altogether to the fact of Abel's existence.
The 11th April was Saturday, so that in order to have the marriage on
that day it would be necessary that the banns should be called on
Sunday, 22nd March. From the beginning of that month Eric kept
perpetually on the subject of Abel's absence, and his outspoken opinion
that the latter was either dead or married began to become a reality to
the woman's mind. As the first half of the month wore on Eric became
more jubilant, and after church on the 15th he took Sarah for a walk to
the Flagstaff Rock. There he asserted himself strongly:
'I told Abel, and you too, that if he was not here to put up his banns
in time for the eleventh, I would put up mine for the twelfth. Now the
time has come when I mean to do it. He hasn't kept his word'--here Sarah
struck in out of her weakness and indecision:
'He hasn't broken it yet!' Eric ground his teeth with anger.
'If you mean to stick up for him,' he said, as he smote his hands
savagely on the flagstaff, which sent forth a shivering murmur, 'well
and good. I'll keep my part of the bargain. On Sunday I shall give
notice of the banns, and you can deny them in the church if you will. If
Abel is in Pencastle on the eleventh, he can have them cancelled, and
his own put up; but till then, I take my course, and woe to anyone who
stands in my way!' With that he flung himself down the rocky pathway,
and Sarah could not but admire his Viking strength and spirit, as,
crossing the hill, he strode away along the cliffs towards Bude.
During the week no news was heard of Abel, and on Saturday Eric gave
notice of the banns of marriage between himself and Sarah Trefusis. The
clergyman would have remonstrated with him, for although nothing formal
had been told to the neighbours, it had been understood since Abel's
departure that on his return he was to marry Sarah; but Eric would not
discuss the question.
'It is a painful subject, sir,' he said with a firmness which the
parson, who was a very young man, could not but be swayed by. 'Surely
there is nothing against Sarah or me. Why should there be any bones made
about the matter?' The parson said no more, and on the next day he read
out the banns for the first time amidst an audible buzz from the
congregation. Sarah was present, contrary to custom, and though she
blushed furiously enjoyed her triumph over the other girls whose banns
had not yet come. Before the week was over she began to make her wedding
dress. Eric used to come and look at her at work and the sight thrilled
through him. He used to say all sorts of pretty things to her at such
times, and there were to both delicious moments of love-making.
The banns were read a second time on the 29th, and Eric's hope grew more
and more fixed though there were to him moments of acute despair when he
realised that the cup of happiness might be dashed from his lips at any
moment, right up to the last. At such times he was full of
passion--desperate and remorseless--and he ground his teeth and clenched
his hands in a wild way as though some taint of the old Berserker fury
of his ancestors still lingered in his blood. On the Thursday of that
week he looked in on Sarah and found her, amid a flood of sunshine,
putting finishing touches to her white wedding gown. His own heart was
full of gaiety, and the sight of the woman who was so soon to be his own
so occupied, filled him with a joy unspeakable, and he felt faint with
languorous ecstasy. Bending over he kissed Sarah on the mouth, and then
whispered in her rosy ear--
'Your wedding dress, Sarah! And for me!' As he drew back to admire her
she looked up saucily, and said to him--
'Perhaps not for you. There is more than a week yet for Abel!' and then
cried out in dismay, for with a wild gesture and a fierce oath Eric
dashed out of the house, banging the door behind him. The incident
disturbed Sarah more than she could have thought possible, for it awoke
all her fears and doubts and indecision afresh. She cried a little, and
put by her dress, and to soothe herself went out to sit for a while on
the summit of the Flagstaff Rock. When she arrived she found there a
little group anxiously discussing the weather. The sea was calm and the
sun bright, but across the sea were strange lines of darkness and light,
and close in to shore the rocks were fringed with foam, which spread out
in great white curves and circles as the currents drifted. The wind had
backed, and came in sharp, cold puffs. The blow-hole, which ran under
the Flagstaff Rock, from the rocky bay without to the harbour within,
was booming at intervals, and the seagulls were screaming ceaselessly as
they wheeled about the entrance of the port.
'It looks bad,' she heard an old fisherman say to the coastguard. 'I
seen it just like this once before, when the East Indiaman _Coromandel_
went to pieces in Dizzard Bay!' Sarah did not wait to hear more. She was
of a timid nature where danger was concerned, and could not bear to hear
of wrecks and disasters. She went home and resumed the completion of her
dress, secretly determined to appease Eric when she should meet him with
a sweet apology--and to take the earliest opportunity of being even with
him after her marriage. The old fisherman's weather prophecy was
justified. That night at dusk a wild storm came on. The sea rose and
lashed the western coasts from Skye to Scilly and left a tale of
disaster everywhere. The sailors and fishermen of Pencastle all turned
out on the rocks and cliffs and watched eagerly. Presently, by a flash
of lightning, a 'ketch' was seen drifting under only a jib about
half-a-mile outside the port. All eyes and all glasses were concentrated
on her, waiting for the next flash, and when it came a chorus went up
that it was the _Lovely Alice_, trading between Bristol and Penzance,
and touching at all the little ports between. 'God help them!' said the
harbour-master, 'for nothing in this world can save them when they are
between Bude and Tintagel and the wind on shore!' The coastguards
exerted themselves, and, aided by brave hearts and willing hands, they
brought the rocket apparatus up on the summit of the Flagstaff Rock.
Then they burned blue lights so that those on board might see the
harbour opening in case they could make any effort to reach it. They
worked gallantly enough on board; but no skill or strength of man could
avail. Before many minutes were over the _Lovely Alice_ rushed to her
doom on the great island rock that guarded the mouth of the port. The
screams of those on board were faintly borne on the tempest as they
flung themselves into the sea in a last chance for life. The blue lights
were kept burning, and eager eyes peered into the depths of the waters
in case any face could be seen; and ropes were held ready to fling out
in aid. But never a face was seen, and the willing arms rested idle.
Eric was there amongst his fellows. His old Icelandic origin was never
more apparent than in that wild hour. He took a rope, and shouted in the
ear of the harbour-master:
'I shall go down on the rock over the seal cave. The tide is running up,
and someone may drift in there!'
'Keep back, man!' came the answer. 'Are you mad? One slip on that rock
and you are lost: and no man could keep his feet in the dark on such a
place in such a tempest!'
'Not a bit,' came the reply. 'You remember how Abel Behenna saved me
there on a night like this when my boat went on the Gull Rock. He
dragged me up from the deep water in the seal cave, and now someone may
drift in there again as I did,' and he was gone into the darkness. The
projecting rock hid the light on the Flagstaff Rock, but he knew his way
too well to miss it. His boldness and sureness of foot standing to him,
he shortly stood on the great round-topped rock cut away beneath by the
action of the waves over the entrance of the seal cave, where the water
was fathomless. There be stood in comparative safety, for the concave
shape of the rock beat back the waves with their own force, and though
the water below him seemed to boil like a seething cauldron, just beyond
the spot there was a space of almost calm. The rock, too, seemed here to
shut off the sound of the gale, and he listened as well as watched. As
he stood there ready, with his coil of rope poised to throw, he thought
he heard below him, just beyond the whirl of the water, a faint,
despairing cry. He echoed it with a shout that rang into the night Then
he waited for the flash of lightning, and as it passed flung his rope
out into the darkness where he had seen a face rising through the swirl
of the foam. The rope was caught, for he felt a pull on it, and he
shouted again in his mighty voice:
'Tie it round your waist, and I shall pull you up.' Then when he felt
that it was fast he moved along the rock to the far side of the sea
cave, where the deep water was something stiller, and where he could get
foothold secure enough to drag the rescued man on the overhanging rock.
He began to pull, and shortly he knew from the rope taken in that the
man he was now rescuing must soon be close to the top of the rock. He
steadied himself for a moment, and drew a long breath, that he might at
the next effort complete the rescue. He had just bent his back to the
work when a flash of lightning revealed to each other the two men--the
rescuer and the rescued.
Eric Sanson and Abel Behenna were face to face--and none knew of the
meeting save themselves; and God.
On the instant a wave of passion swept through Eric's heart. All his
hopes were shattered, and with the hatred of Cain his eyes looked out.
He saw in the instant of recognition the joy in Abel's face that his was
the hand to succour him, and this intensified his hate. Whilst the
passion was on him he started back, and the rope ran out between his
hands. His moment of hate was followed by an impulse of his better
manhood, but it was too late.
Before he could recover himself, Abel encumbered with the rope that
should have aided him, was plunged with a despairing cry back into the
darkness of the devouring sea.
Then, feeling all the madness and the doom of Cain upon him, Eric rushed
back over the rocks, heedless of the danger and eager only for one
thing--to be amongst other people whose living noises would shut out
that last cry which seemed to ring still in his ears. When he regained
the Flagstaff Rock the men surrounded him, and through the fury of the
storm he heard the harbour-master say:--
'We feared you were lost when we heard a cry! How white you are! Where
is your rope? Was there anyone drifted in?'
'No one,' he shouted in answer, for he felt that he could never explain
that he had let his old comrade slip back into the sea, and at the very
place and under the very circumstances in which that comrade had saved
his own life. He hoped by one bold lie to set the matter at rest for
ever. There was no one to bear witness--and if he should have to carry
that still white face in his eyes and that despairing cry in his ears
for evermore--at least none should know of it. 'No one,' he cried, more
loudly still. 'I slipped on the rock, and the rope fell into the sea!'
So saying he left them, and, rushing down the steep path, gained his own
cottage and locked himself within.
The remainder of that night he passed lying on his bed--dressed and
motionless--staring upwards, and seeming to see through the darkness a
pale face gleaming wet in the lightning, with its glad recognition
turning to ghastly despair, and to hear a cry which never ceased to echo
in his soul.
In the morning the storm was over and all was smiling again, except that
the sea was still boisterous with its unspent fury. Great pieces of
wreck drifted into the port, and the sea around the island rock was
strewn with others. Two bodies also drifted into the harbour--one the
master of the wrecked ketch, the other a strange seaman whom no one
Sarah saw nothing of Eric till the evening, and then he only looked in
for a minute. He did not come into the house, but simply put his head in
through the open window.
'Well, Sarah,' he called out in a loud voice, though to her it did not
ring truly, 'is the wedding dress done? Sunday week, mind! Sunday week!'
Sarah was glad to have the reconciliation so easy; but, womanlike, when
she saw the storm was over and her own fears groundless, she at once
repeated the cause of offence.
'Sunday so be it,' she said without looking up, 'if Abel isn't there on
Saturday!' Then she looked up saucily, though her heart was full of fear
of another outburst on the part of her impetuous lover. But the window
was empty; Eric had taken himself off, and with a pout she resumed her
work. She saw Eric no more till Sunday afternoon, after the banns had
been called the third time, when he came up to her before all the people
with an air of proprietorship which half-pleased and half-annoyed her.
'Not yet, mister!' she said, pushing him away, as the other girls
giggled. 'Wait till Sunday next, if you please--the day after Saturday!'
she added, looking at him saucily. The girls giggled again, and the
young men guffawed. They thought it was the snub that touched him so
that he became as white as a sheet as he turned away. But Sarah, who
knew more than they did, laughed, for she saw triumph through the spasm
of pain that overspread his face.
The week passed uneventfully; however, as Saturday drew nigh Sarah had
occasional moments of anxiety, and as to Eric he went about at
night-time like a man possessed. He restrained himself when others were
by, but now and again he went down amongst the rocks and caves and
shouted aloud. This seemed to relieve him somewhat, and he was better
able to restrain himself for some time after. All Saturday he stayed in
his own house and never left it. As he was to be married on the morrow,
the neighbours thought it was shyness on his part, and did not trouble
or notice him. Only once was he disturbed, and that was when the chief
boatman came to him and sat down, and after a pause said:
'Eric, I was over in Bristol yesterday. I was in the ropemaker's getting
a coil to replace the one you lost the night of the storm, and there I
saw Michael Heavens of this place, who is a salesman there. He told me
that Abel Behenna had come home the week ere last on the _Star of the
Sea_ from Canton, and that he had lodged a sight of money in the Bristol
Bank in the name of Sarah Behenna. He told Michael so himself--and that
he had taken passage on the _Lovely Alice_ to Pencastle. 'Bear up, man,'
for Eric had with a groan dropped his head on his knees, with his face
between his hands. 'He was your old comrade, I know, but you couldn't
help him. He must have gone down with the rest that awful night. I
thought I'd better tell you, lest it might come some other way, and you
might keep Sarah Trefusis from being frightened. They were good friends
once, and women take these things to heart. It would not do to let her
be pained with such a thing on her wedding day!' Then he rose and went
away, leaving Eric still sitting disconsolately with his head on his
'Poor fellow!' murmured the chief boatman to himself; 'he takes it to
heart. Well, well! right enough! They were true comrades once, and Abel
The afternoon of that day, when the children had left school, they
strayed as usual on half-holidays along' the quay and the paths by the
cliffs. Presently some of them came running in a state of great
excitement to the harbour, where a few men were unloading a coal ketch,
and a great many were superintending the operation. One of the children
'There is a porpoise in the harbour mouth! We saw it come through the
blow-hole! It had a long tail, and was deep under the water!'
'It was no porpoise,' said another; 'it was a seal; but it had a long
tail! It came out of the seal cave!' The other children bore various
testimony, but on two points they were unanimous--it, whatever 'it' was,
had come through the blow-hole deep under the water, and had a long,
thin tail--a tail so long that they could not see the end of it. There
was much unmerciful chaffing of the children by the men on this point,
but as it was evident that they had seen something, quite a number of
persons, young and old, male and female, went along the high paths on
either side of the harbour mouth to catch a glimpse of this new addition
to the fauna of the sea, a long-tailed porpoise or seal. The tide was
now coming in. There was a slight breeze, and the surface of the water
was rippled so that it was only at moments that anyone could see clearly
into the deep water. After a spell of watching a woman called out that
she saw something moving up the channel, just below where she was
standing. There was a stampede to the spot, but by the time the crowd
had gathered the breeze had freshened, and it was impossible to see with
any distinctness below the surface of the water. On being questioned the
woman described what she had seen, but in such an incoherent way that
the whole thing was put down as an effect of imagination; had it not
been for the children's report she would not have been credited at all.
Her semi-hysterical statement that what she saw was 'like a pig with the
entrails out' was only thought anything of by an old coastguard, who
shook his head but did not make any remark. For the remainder of the
daylight this man was seen always on the bank, looking into the water,
but always with disappointment manifest on his face.
Eric arose early on the next morning--he had not slept all night, and it
was a relief to him to move about in the light. He shaved himself with a
hand that did not tremble, and dressed himself in his wedding clothes.
There was a haggard look on his face, and he seemed as though he had
grown years older in the last few days. Still there was a wild, uneasy
light of triumph in his eyes, and he kept murmuring to himself over and
'This is my wedding-day! Abel cannot claim her now--living or
dead!--living or dead! Living or dead!' He sat in his arm-chair, waiting
with an uncanny quietness for the church hour to arrive. When the bell
began to ring he arose and passed out of his house, closing the door
behind him. He looked at the river and saw the tide had just turned. In
the church he sat with Sarah and her mother, holding Sarah's hand
tightly in his all the time, as though he feared to lose her. When the
service was over they stood up together, and were married in the
presence of the entire congregation; for no one left the church. Both
made the responses clearly--Eric's being even on the defiant side. When
the wedding was over Sarah took her husband's arm, and they walked away
together, the boys and younger girls being cuffed by their elders into a
decorous behaviour, for they would fain have followed close behind their
The way from the church led down to the back of Eric's cottage, a narrow
passage being between it and that of his next neighbour. When the bridal
couple had passed through this the remainder of the congregation, who
had followed them at a little distance, were startled by a long, shrill
scream from the bride. They rushed through the passage and found her on
the bank with wild eyes, pointing to the river bed opposite Eric
The falling tide had deposited there the body of Abel Behenna stark upon
the broken rocks. The rope trailing from its waist had been twisted by
the current round the mooring post, and had held it back whilst the tide
had ebbed away from it. The right elbow had fallen in a chink in the
rock, leaving the hand outstretched toward Sarah, with the open palm
upward as though it were extended to receive hers, the pale drooping
fingers open to the clasp.
All that happened afterwards was never quite known to Sarah Sanson.
Whenever she would try to recollect there would become a buzzing in her
ears and a dimness in her eyes, and all would pass away. The only thing
that she could remember of it all--and this she never forgot--was Eric's
breathing heavily, with his face whiter than that of the dead man, as he
muttered under his breath:
'Devil's help! Devil's faith! Devil's price!'
The Burial of the Rats
Leaving Paris by the Orleans road, cross the Enceinte, and, turning to
the right, you find yourself in a somewhat wild and not at all savoury
district. Right and left, before and behind, on every side rise great
heaps of dust and waste accumulated by the process of time.
Paris has its night as well as its day life, and the sojourner who
enters his hotel in the Rue de Rivoli or the Rue St. Honore late at
night or leaves it early in the morning, can guess, in coming near
Montrouge--if he has not done so already--the purpose of those great
waggons that look like boilers on wheels which he finds halting
everywhere as he passes.
Every city has its peculiar institutions created out of its own needs;
and one of the most notable institutions of Paris is its rag-picking
population. In the early morning--and Parisian life commences at an
early hour--may be seen in most streets standing on the pathway opposite
every court and alley and between every few houses, as still in some
American cities, even in parts of New York, large wooden boxes into
which the domestics or tenement-holders empty the accumulated dust of
the past day. Round these boxes gather and pass on, when the work is
done, to fresh fields of labour and pastures new, squalid hungry-looking
men and women, the implements of whose craft consist of a coarse bag or
basket slung over the shoulder and a little rake with which they turn
over and probe and examine in the minutest manner the dustbins. They
pick up and deposit in their baskets, by aid of their rakes, whatever
they may find, with the same facility as a Chinaman uses his chopsticks.
Paris is a city of centralisation--and centralisation and classification
are closely allied. In the early times, when centralisation is becoming
a fact, its forerunner is classification. All things which are similar
or analogous become grouped together, and from the grouping of groups
rises one whole or central point. We see radiating many long arms with
innumerable tentaculae, and in the centre rises a gigantic head with a
comprehensive brain and keen eyes to look on every side and ears
sensitive to hear--and a voracious mouth to swallow.
Other cities resemble all the birds and beasts and fishes whose
appetites and digestions are normal. Paris alone is the analogical
apotheosis of the octopus. Product of centralisation carried to an _ad
absurdum_, it fairly represents the devil fish; and in no respects is
the resemblance more curious than in the similarity of the digestive
Those intelligent tourists who, having surrendered their individuality
into the hands of Messrs. Cook or Gaze, 'do' Paris in three days, are
often puzzled to know how it is that the dinner which in London would
cost about six shillings, can be had for three francs in a cafe in the
Palais Royal. They need have no more wonder if they will but consider
the classification which is a theoretic speciality of Parisian life, and
adopt all round the fact from which the chiffonier has his genesis.
The Paris of 1850 was not like the Paris of to-day, and those who see
the Paris of Napoleon and Baron Hausseman can hardly realise the
existence of the state of things forty-five years ago.
Amongst other things, however, which have not changed are those
districts where the waste is gathered. Dust is dust all the world over,
in every age, and the family likeness of dustheaps is perfect. The
traveller, therefore, who visits the environs of Montrouge can go go
back in fancy without difficulty to the year 1850.
In this year I was making a prolonged stay in Paris. I was very much in
love with a young lady who, though she returned my passion, so far
yielded to the wishes of her parents that she had promised not to see me
or to correspond with me for a year. I, too, had been compelled to
accede to these conditions under a vague hope of parental approval.
During the term of probation I had promised to remain out of the country
and not to write to my dear one until the expiration of the year.
Naturally the time went heavily with me. There was not one of my own
family or circle who could tell me of Alice, and none of her own folk
had, I am sorry to say, sufficient generosity to send me even an
occasional word of comfort regarding her health and well-being. I spent
six months wandering about Europe, but as I could find no satisfactory
distraction in travel, I determined to come to Paris, where, at least, I
would be within easy hail of London in case any good fortune should call
me thither before the appointed time. That 'hope deferred maketh the
heart sick' was never better exemplified than in my case, for in
addition to the perpetual longing to see the face I loved there was
always with me a harrowing anxiety lest some accident should prevent me
showing Alice in due time that I had, throughout the long period of
probation, been faithful to her trust and my own love. Thus, every
adventure which I undertook had a fierce pleasure of its own, for it was
fraught with possible consequences greater than it would have ordinarily
Like all travellers I exhausted the places of most interest in the first
month of my stay, and was driven in the second month to look for
amusement whithersoever I might. Having made sundry journeys to the
better-known suburbs, I began to see that there was a _terra incognita_,
in so far as the guide book was concerned, in the social wilderness
lying between these attractive points. Accordingly I began to
systematise my researches, and each day took up the thread of my
exploration at the place where I had on the previous day dropped it.
In the process of time my wanderings led me near Montrouge, and I saw
that hereabouts lay the Ultima Thule of social exploration--a country as
little known as that round the source of the White Nile. And so I
determined to investigate philosophically the chiffonier--his habitat,
his life, and his means of life.
The job was an unsavoury one, difficult of accomplishment, and with
little hope of adequate reward. However, despite reason, obstinacy
prevailed, and I entered into my new investigation with a keener energy
than I could have summoned to aid me in any investigation leading to any
end, valuable or worthy.
One day, late in a fine afternoon, toward the end of September, I
entered the holy of holies of the city of dust. The place was evidently
the recognised abode of a number of chiffoniers, for some sort of
arrangement was manifested in the formation of the dust heaps near the
road. I passed amongst these heaps, which stood like orderly sentries,
determined to penetrate further and trace dust to its ultimate location.
As I passed along I saw behind the dust heaps a few forms that flitted
to and fro, evidently watching with interest the advent of any stranger
to such a place. The district was like a small Switzerland, and as I
went forward my tortuous course shut out the path behind me.
Presently I got into what seemed a small city or community of
chiffoniers. There were a number of shanties or huts, such as may be met
with in the remote parts of the Bog of Allan--rude places with wattled
walls, plastered with mud and roofs of rude thatch made from stable
refuse--such places as one would not like to enter for any
consideration, and which even in water-colour could only look
picturesque if judiciously treated. In the midst of these huts was one
of the strangest adaptations--I cannot say habitations--I had ever seen.
An immense old wardrobe, the colossal remnant of some boudoir of Charles
VII, or Henry II, had been converted into a dwelling-house. The double
doors lay open, so that the entire menage was open to public view. In
the open half of the wardrobe was a common sitting-room of some four
feet by six, in which sat, smoking their pipes round a charcoal brazier,
no fewer than six old soldiers of the First Republic, with their
uniforms torn and worn threadbare. Evidently they were of the _mauvais
sujet_ class; their bleary eyes and limp jaws told plainly of a common
love of absinthe; and their eyes had that haggard, worn look of
slumbering ferocity which follows hard in the wake of drink. The other
side stood as of old, with its shelves intact, save that they were cut
to half their depth, and in each shelf of which there were six, was a
bed made with rags and straw. The half-dozen of worthies who inhabited
this structure looked at me curiously as I passed; and when I looked
back after going a little way I saw their heads together in a whispered
conference. I did not like the look of this at all, for the place was
very lonely, and the men looked very, very villainous. However, I did
not see any cause for fear, and went on my way, penetrating further and
further into the Sahara. The way was tortuous to a degree, and from
going round in a series of semi-circles, as one goes in skating with the
Dutch roll, I got rather confused with regard to the points of the
When I had penetrated a little way I saw, as I turned the corner of a
half-made heap, sitting on a heap of straw an old soldier with
'Hallo!' said I to myself; 'the First Republic is well represented here
in its soldiery.'
As I passed him the old man never even looked up at me, but gazed on the
ground with stolid persistency. Again I remarked to myself: 'See what a
life of rude warfare can do! This old man's curiosity is a thing of the
When I had gone a few steps, however, I looked back suddenly, and saw
that curiosity was not dead, for the veteran had raised his head and was
regarding me with a very queer expression. He seemed to me to look very
like one of the six worthies in the press. When he saw me looking he
dropped his head; and without thinking further of him I went on my way,
satisfied that there was a strange likeness between these old warriors.
Presently I met another old soldier in a similar manner. He, too, did
not notice me whilst I was passing.
By this time it was getting late in the afternoon, and I began to think
of retracing my steps. Accordingly I turned to go back, but could see a
number of tracks leading between different mounds and could not
ascertain which of them I should take. In my perplexity I wanted to see
someone of whom to ask the way, but could see no one. I determined to go
on a few mounds further and so try to see someone--not a veteran.
I gained my object, for after going a couple of hundred yards I saw
before me a single shanty such as I had seen before--with, however, the
difference that this was not one for living in, but merely a roof with
three walls open in front. From the evidences which the neighbourhood
exhibited I took it to be a place for sorting. Within it was an old
woman wrinkled and bent with age; I approached her to ask the way.
She rose as I came close and I asked her my way. She immediately
commenced a conversation; and it occurred to me that here in the very
centre of the Kingdom of Dust was the place to gather details of the
history of Parisian rag-picking--particularly as I could do so from the
lips of one who looked like the oldest inhabitant.
I began my inquiries, and the old woman gave me most interesting
answers--she had been one of the ceteuces who sat daily before the
guillotine and had taken an active part among the women who signalised
themselves by their violence in the revolution. While we were talking
she said suddenly: 'But m'sieur must be tired standing,' and dusted a
rickety old stool for me to sit down. I hardly liked to do so for many
reasons; but the poor old woman was so civil that I did not like to run
the risk of hurting her by refusing, and moreover the conversation of
one who had been at the taking of the Bastille was so interesting that I
sat down and so our conversation went on.
While we were talking an old man--older and more bent and wrinkled even
than the woman--appeared from behind the shanty. 'Here is Pierre,' said
she. 'M'sieur can hear stories now if he wishes, for Pierre was in
everything, from the Bastille to Waterloo.' The old man took another
stool at my request and we plunged into a sea of revolutionary
reminiscences. This old man, albeit clothed like a scarecrow, was like
any one of the six veterans.
I was now sitting in the centre of the low hut with the woman on my left
hand and the man on my right, each of them being somewhat in front of
me. The place was full of all sorts of curious objects of lumber, and of
many things that I wished far away. In one corner was a heap of rags
which seemed to move from the number of vermin it contained, and in the
other a heap of bones whose odour was something shocking. Every now and
then, glancing at the heaps, I could see the gleaming eyes of some of
the rats which infested the place. These loathsome objects were bad
enough, but what looked even more dreadful was an old butcher's axe with
an iron handle stained with clots of blood leaning up against the wall
on the right hand side. Still, these things did not give me much
concern. The talk of the two old people was so fascinating that I stayed
on and on, till the evening came and the dust heaps threw dark shadows
over the vales between them.
After a time I began to grow uneasy. I could not tell how or why, but
somehow I did not feel satisfied. Uneasiness is an instinct and means
warning. The psychic faculties are often the sentries of the intellect,
and when they sound alarm the reason begins to act, although perhaps not
This was so with me. I began to bethink me where I was and by what
surrounded, and to wonder how I should fare in case I should be
attacked; and then the thought suddenly burst upon me, although without
any overt cause, that I was in danger. Prudence whispered: 'Be still and
make no sign,' and so I was still and made no sign, for I knew that four
cunning eyes were on me. 'Four eyes--if not more.' My God, what a
horrible thought! The whole shanty might be surrounded on three sides
with villains! I might be in the midst of a band of such desperadoes as
only half a century of periodic revolution can produce.
With a sense of danger my intellect and observation quickened, and I
grew more watchful than was my wont. I noticed that the old woman's eyes
were constantly wandering towards my hands. I looked at them too, and
saw the cause--my rings. On my left little finger I had a large signet
and on the right a good diamond.
I thought that if there was any danger my first care was to avert
suspicion. Accordingly I began to work the conversation round to
rag-picking--to the drains--of the things found there; and so by easy
stages to jewels. Then, seizing a favourable opportunity, I asked the
old woman if she knew anything of such things. She answered that she
did, a little. I held out my right hand, and, showing her the diamond,
asked her what she thought of that. She answered that her eyes were bad,
and stooped over my hand. I said as nonchalantly as I could: 'Pardon me!
You will see better thus!' and taking it off handed it to her. An unholy
light came into her withered old face, as she touched it. She stole one
glance at me swift and keen as a flash of lightning.
She bent over the ring for a moment, her face quite concealed as though
examining it. The old man looked straight out of the front of the shanty
before him, at the same time fumbling in his pockets and producing a
screw of tobacco in a paper and a pipe, which he proceeded to fill. I
took advantage of the pause and the momentary rest from the searching
eyes on my face to look carefully round the place, now dim and shadowy
in the gloaming. There still lay all the heaps of varied reeking
foulness; there the terrible blood-stained axe leaning against the wall
in the right hand corner, and everywhere, despite the gloom, the baleful
glitter of the eyes of the rats. I could see them even through some of
the chinks of the boards at the back low down close to the ground. But
stay! these latter eyes seemed more than usually large and bright and
For an instant my heart stood still, and I felt in that whirling
condition of mind in which one feels a sort of spiritual drunkenness,
and as though the body is only maintained erect hi that there is no time
for it to fall before recovery. Then, in another second, I was calm
--coldly calm, with all my energies in full vigour, with a self-control
which I felt to be perfect and with all my feeling and instincts alert.
Now I knew the full extent of my danger: I was watched and surrounded by
desperate people! I could not even guess at how many of them were lying
there on the ground behind the shanty, waiting for the moment to strike.
I knew that I was big and strong, and they knew it, too. They knew also,
as I did, that I was an Englishman and would make a fight for it; and so
we waited. I had, I felt, gained an advantage in the last few seconds,
for I knew my danger and understood the situation. Now, I thought, is
the test of my courage--the enduring test: the fighting test may come
The old woman raised her head and said to me in a satisfied kind of way:
'A very fine ring, indeed--a beautiful ring! Oh, me! I once had such
rings, plenty of them, and bracelets and earrings! Oh! for in those fine
days I led the town a dance! But they've forgotten me now! They've
forgotten me! They? Why they never heard of me! Perhaps their
grandfathers remember me, some of them!' and she laughed a harsh,
croaking laugh. And then I am bound to say that she astonished me, for
she handed me back the ring with a certain suggestion of old-fashioned
grace which was not without its pathos.
The old man eyed her with a sort of sudden ferocity, half rising from
his stool, and said to me suddenly and hoarsely:
'Let me see!'
I was about to hand the ring when the old woman said:
'No! no, do not give it to Pierre! Pierre is eccentric. He loses things;
and such a pretty ring!'
'Cat!' said the old man, savagely. Suddenly the old woman said, rather
more loudly than was necessary:
'Wait! I shall tell you something about a ring.' There was something in
the sound of her voice that jarred upon me. Perhaps it was my
hyper-sensitiveness, wrought up as I was to such a pitch of nervous
excitement, but I seemed to think that she was not addressing me. As I
stole a glance round the place I saw the eyes I of the rats in the bone
heaps, but missed the eyes along the back. But even as I looked I saw
them again appear. The old woman's 'Wait!' had given me a respite from
attack, and the men had sunk back to their reclining posture.
'I once lost a ring--a beautiful diamond hoop that belonged to a queen,
and which was given to me by a farmer of the taxes, who afterwards cut
his throat because I sent him away. I thought it must have been stolen,
and taxed my people; but I could get no trace. The police came and
suggested that it had found its way to the drain. We descended--I in my
fine clothes, for I would not trust them with my beautiful ring! I know
more of the drains since then, and of rats, too! but I shall never
forget the horror of that place--alive with blazing eyes, a wall of them
just outside the light of our torches. Well, we got beneath my house. We
searched the outlet of the drain, and there in the filth found my ring,
and we came out.
'But we found something else also before we came! As we were coming
toward the opening a lot of sewer rats--human ones this time--came
towards us. They told the police that one of their number had gone into
the drain, but had not returned. He had gone in only shortly before we
had, and, if lost, could hardly be far off. They asked help to seek him,
so we turned back. They tried to prevent me going, but I insisted. It
was a new excitement, and had I not recovered my ring? Not far did we go
till we came on something. There was but little water, and the bottom of
the drain was raised with brick, rubbish, and much matter of the kind.
He had made a fight for it, even when his torch had gone out. But they
were too many for him! They had not been long about it! The bones were
still warm; but they were picked clean. They had even eaten their own
dead ones and there were bones of rats as well as of the man. They took
it cool enough those other--the human ones--and joked of their comrade
when they found him dead, though they would have helped him living. Bah!
what matters it--life or death?'
'And had you no fear?' I asked her.
'Fear!' she said with a laugh. 'Me have fear? Ask Pierre! But I was
younger then, and, as I came through that horrible drain with its wall
of greedy eyes, always moving with the circle of the light from the
torches, I did not feel easy. I kept on before the men, though! It is a
way I have! I never let the men get it before me. All I want is a chance
and a means! And they ate him up--took every trace away except the
bones; and no one knew it, nor no sound of him was ever heard!' Here she
broke into a chuckling fit of the ghastliest merriment which it was ever
my lot to hear and see. A great poetess describes her heroine singing:
'Oh! to see or hear her singing! Scarce I know which is the divinest.'
And I can apply the same idea to the old crone--in all save the
divinity, for I scarce could tell which was the most hellish--the harsh,
malicious, satisfied, cruel laugh, or the leering grin, and the horrible
square opening of the mouth like a tragic mask, and the yellow gleam of
the few discoloured teeth in the shapeless gums. In that laugh and with
that grin and the chuckling satisfaction I knew as well as if it had
been spoken to me in words of thunder that my murder was settled, and
the murderers only bided the proper time for its accomplishment. I could
read between the lines of her gruesome story the commands to her
accomplices. 'Wait,' she seemed to say, 'bide your time. I shall strike
the first blow. Find the weapon for me, and I shall make the
opportunity! He shall not escape! Keep him quiet, and then no one will
be wiser. There will be no outcry, and the rats will do their work!'
It was growing darker and darker; the night was coming. I stole a glance
round the shanty, still all the same! The bloody axe in the corner, the
heaps of filth, and the eyes on the bone heaps and in the crannies of
Pierre had been still ostensibly filling his pipe; he now struck a light
and began to puff away at it. The old woman said:
'Dear heart, how dark it is! Pierre, like a good lad, light the lamp!'
Pierre got up and with the lighted match in his hand touched the wick of
a lamp which hung at one side of the entrance to the shanty, and which
had a reflector that threw the light all over the place. It was
evidently that which was used for their sorting at night.
'Not that, stupid! Not that! the lantern!' she called out to him.
He immediately blew it out, saying: 'All right, mother I'll find it,'
and he hustled about the left corner of the room--the old woman saying
through the darkness:
The lantern! the lantern! Oh! That is the light that is most useful to
us poor folks. The lantern was the friend of the revolution! It is the
friend of the chiffonier! It helps us when all else fails.'
Hardly had she said the word when there was a kind of creaking of the
whole place, and something was steadily dragged over the roof.
Again I seemed to read between the lines of her words. I knew the lesson
of the lantern.
'One of you get on the roof with a noose and strangle him as he passes
out if we fail within.'
As I looked out of the opening I saw the loop of a rope outlined black
against the lurid sky. I was now, indeed, beset!
Pierre was not long in finding the lantern. I kept my eyes fixed through
the darkness on the old woman. Pierre struck his light, and by its flash
I saw the old woman raise from the ground beside her where it had
mysteriously appeared, and then hide in the folds of her gown, a long
sharp knife or dagger. It seemed to be like a butcher's sharpening iron
fined to a keen point.
The lantern was lit.
'Bring it here, Pierre,' she said. 'Place it in the doorway where we can
see it. See how nice it is! It shuts out the darkness from us; it is
Just right for her and her purposes! It threw all its light on my face,
leaving in gloom the faces of both Pierre and the woman, who sat outside
of me on each side.
I felt that the time of action was approaching, but I knew now that the
first signal and movement would come from the woman, and so watched her.
I was all unarmed, but I had made up my mind what to do. At the first
movement I would seize the butcher's axe in the right-hand corner and
fight my way out. At least, I would die hard. I stole a glance round to
fix its exact locality so that I could not fail to seize it at the first
effort, for then, if ever, time and accuracy would be precious.
Good God! It was gone! All the horror of the situation burst upon me;
but the bitterest thought of all was that if the issue of the terrible
position should be against me Alice would infallibly suffer. Either she
would believe me false--and any lover, or any one who has ever been one,
can imagine the bitterness of the thought--or else she would go on
loving long after I had been lost to her and to the world, so that her
life would be broken and embittered, shattered with disappointment and
despair. The very magnitude of the pain braced me up and nerved me to
bear the dread scrutiny of the plotters.
I think I did not betray myself. The old woman was watching me as a cat
does a mouse; she had her right hand hidden in the folds of her gown,
clutching, I knew, that long, cruel-looking dagger. Had she seen any
disappointment in my face she would, I felt, have known that the moment
had come, and would have sprung on me like a tigress, certain of taking
I looked out into the night, and there I saw new cause for danger.
Before and around the hut were at a little distance some shadowy forms;
they were quite still, but I knew that they were all alert and on guard.
Small chance for me now in that direction.
Again I stole a glance round the place. In moments of great excitement
and of great danger, which is excitement, the mind works very quickly,
and the keenness of the faculties which depend on the mind grows in
proportion. I now felt this. In an instant I took in the whole
situation. I saw that the axe had been taken through a small hole made
in one of the rotten boards. How rotten they must be to allow of such a
thing being done without a particle of noise.
The hut was a regular murder-trap, and was guarded all around. A
garroter lay on the roof ready to entangle me with his noose if I should
escape the dagger of the old hag. In front the way was guarded by I know
not how many watchers. And at the back was a row of desperate men--I had
seen their eyes still through the crack in the boards of the floor, when
last I looked--as they lay prone waiting for the signal to start erect.
If it was to be ever, now for it!
As nonchalantly as I could I turned slightly on my stool so as to get my
right leg well under me. Then with a sudden jump, turning my head, and
guarding it with my hands, and with the fighting instinct of the knights
of old, I breathed my lady's name, and hurled myself against the back
wall of the hut.
Watchful as they were, the suddenness of my movement surprised both
Pierre and the old woman. As I crashed through the rotten timbers I saw
the old woman rise with a leap like a tiger and heard her low gasp of
baffled rage. My feet lit on something that moved, and as I jumped away
I knew that I had stepped on the back of one of the row of men lying on
their faces outside the hut. I was torn with nails and splinters, but
otherwise unhurt. Breathless I rushed up the mound in front of me,
hearing as I went the dull crash of the shanty as it collapsed into a
It was a nightmare climb. The mound, though but low, was awfully steep,
and with each step I took the mass of dust and cinders tore down with me
and gave way under my feet. The dust rose and choked me; it was
sickening, foetid, awful; but my climb was, I felt, for life or death,
and I struggled on. The seconds seemed hours; but the few moments I had
in starting, combined with my youth and strength, gave me a great
advantage, and, though several forms struggled after me hi deadly
silence which was more dreadful than any sound, I easily reached the
top. Since then I have climbed the cone of Vesuvius, and as I struggled
up that dreary steep amid the sulphurous fumes the memory of that awful
night at Montrouge came back to me so vividly that I almost grew faint.
The mound was one of the tallest in the region of dust, and as I
struggled to the top, panting for breath and with my heart beating like
a sledge-hammer, I saw away to my left the dull red gleam of the sky,
and nearer still the flashing of lights. Thank God! I knew where I was
now and where lay the road to Paris!
For two or three seconds I paused and looked back. My pursuers were
still well behind me, but struggling up resolutely, and in deadly
silence. Beyond, the shanty was a wreck--a mass of timber and moving
forms. I could see it well, for flames were already bursting out; the
rags and straw had evidently caught fire from the lantern. Still silence
there! Not a sound! These old wretches could die game, anyhow.
I had no time for more than a passing glance, for as I cast an eye round
the mound preparatory to making my descent I saw several dark forms
rushing round on either side to cut me off on my way. It was now a race
for life. They were trying to head me on my way to Paris, and with the
instinct of the moment I dashed down to the right-hand side. I was just
in time, for, though I came as it seemed to me down the steep in a few
steps, the wary old men who were watching me turned back, and one, as I
rushed by into the opening between the two mounds in front, almost
struck me a blow with that terrible butcher's axe. There could surely
not be two such weapons about!
Then began a really horrible chase. I easily ran ahead of the old men,
and even when some younger ones and a few women joined in the hunt I
easily distanced them. But I did not know the way, and I could not even
guide myself by the light in the sky, for I was running away from it. I
had heard that, unless of conscious purpose, hunted men turn always to
the left, and so I found it now; and so, I suppose, knew also my
pursuers, who were more animals than men, and with cunning or instinct
had found out such secrets for themselves: for on finishing a quick
spurt, after which I intended to take a moment's breathing space, I
suddenly saw ahead of me two or three forms swiftly passing behind a
mound to the right.
I was in the spider's web now indeed! But with the thought of this new
danger came the resource of the hunted, and so I darted down the next
turning to the right. I continued in this direction for some hundred
yards, and then, making a turn to the left again, felt certain that I
had, at any rate, avoided the danger of being surrounded.
But not of pursuit, for on came the rabble after me, steady, dogged,
relentless, and still in grim silence.
In the greater darkness the mounds seemed now to be somewhat smaller
than before, although--for the night was closing--they looked bigger in
proportion. I was now well ahead of my pursuers, so I made a dart up the
mound in front.
Oh joy of joys! I was close to the edge of this inferno of dustheaps.
Away behind me the red light of Paris was in the sky, and towering up
behind rose the heights of Montmarte--a dim light, with here and there
brilliant points like stars.
Restored to vigour in a moment, I ran over the few remaining mounds of
decreasing size, and found myself on the level land beyond. Even then,
however, the prospect was not inviting. All before me was dark and
dismal, and I had evidently come on one of those dank, low-lying waste
places which are found here and there in the neighbourhood of great
cities. Places of waste and desolation, where the space is required for
the ultimate agglomeration of all that is noxious, and the ground is so
poor as to create no desire of occupancy even in the lowest squatter.
With eyes accustomed to the gloom of the evening, and away now from the
shadows of those dreadful dustheaps, I could see much more easily than I
could a little while ago. It might have been, of course, that the glare
in the sky of the lights of Paris, though the city was some miles away,
was reflected here. Howsoever it was, I saw well enough to take bearings
for certainly some little distance around me.
In front was a bleak, flat waste that seemed almost dead level, with
here and there the dark shimmering of stagnant pools. Seemingly far off
on the right, amid a small cluster of scattered lights, rose a dark mass
of Fort Montrouge, and away to the left in the dim distance, pointed
with stray gleams from cottage windows, the lights in the sky showed the
locality of Bicetre. A moment's thought decided me to take to the right
and try to reach Montrouge. There at least would be some sort of safety,
and I might possibly long before come on some of the cross roads which I
knew. Somewhere, not far off, must lie the strategic road made to
connect the outlying chain of forts circling the city.
Then I looked back. Coming over the mounds, and outlined black against
the glare of the Parisian horizon, I saw several moving figures, and
still a way to the right several more deploying out between me and my
destination. They evidently meant to cut me off in this direction, and
so my choice became constricted; it lay now between going straight ahead
or turning to the left. Stooping to the ground, so as to get the
advantage of the horizon as a line of sight, I looked carefully in this
direction, but could detect no sign of my enemies. I argued that as they
had not guarded or were not trying to guard that point, there was
evidently danger to me there already. So I made up my mind to go
straight on before me.
It was not an inviting prospect, and as I went on the reality grew
worse. The ground became soft and oozy, and now and again gave way
beneath me in a sickening kind of way. I seemed somehow to be going
down, for I saw round me places seemingly more elevated than where I
was, and this in a place which from a little way back seemed dead level.
I looked around, but could see none of my pursuers. This was strange,
for all along these birds of the night had followed me through the
darkness as well as though it was broad daylight. How I blamed myself
for coming out in my light-coloured tourist suit of tweed. The silence,
and my not being able to see my enemies, whilst I felt that they were
watching me, grew appalling, and in the hope of some one not of this
ghastly crew hearing me I raised my voice and shouted several times.