Part 2 out of 5
tourists and pedlars with strange wares? whither all the brisk
barouches with servants in the dicky? whither the water of the
stream, ever coursing downward and ever renewed from above? Even
the wind blew oftener down the valley, and carried the dead leaves
along with it in the fall. It seemed like a great conspiracy of
things animate and inanimate; they all went downward, fleetly and
gaily downward, and only he, it seemed, remained behind, like a
stock upon the wayside. It sometimes made him glad when he noticed
how the fishes kept their heads up stream. They, at least, stood
faithfully by him, while all else were posting downward to the
One evening he asked the miller where the river went.
'It goes down the valley,' answered he, 'and turns a power of mills
- six score mills, they say, from here to Unterdeck - and is none
the wearier after all. And then it goes out into the lowlands, and
waters the great corn country, and runs through a sight of fine
cities (so they say) where kings live all alone in great palaces,
with a sentry walling up and down before the door. And it goes
under bridges with stone men upon them, looking down and smiling so
curious it the water, and living folks leaning their elbows on the
wall and looking over too. And then it goes on and on, and down
through marshes and sands, until at last it falls into the sea,
where the ships are that bring parrots and tobacco from the Indies.
Ay, it has a long trot before it as it goes singing over our weir,
bless its heart!'
'And what is the sea?' asked Will.
'The sea!' cried the miller. 'Lord help us all, it is the greatest
thing God made! That is where all the water in the world runs down
into a great salt lake. There it lies, as flat as my hand and as
innocent-like as a child; but they do say when the wind blows it
gets up into water-mountains bigger than any of ours, and swallows
down great ships bigger than our mill, and makes such a roaring
that you can hear it miles away upon the land. There are great
fish in it five times bigger than a bull, and one old serpent as
lone as our river and as old as all the world, with whiskers like a
man, and a crown of silver on her head.'
Will thought he had never heard anything like this, and he kept on
asking question after question about the world that lay away down
the river, with all its perils and marvels, until the old miller
became quite interested himself, and at last took him by the hand
and led him to the hilltop that overlooks the valley and the plain.
The sun was near setting, and hung low down in a cloudless sky.
Everything was defined and glorified in golden light. Will had
never seen so great an expanse of country in his life; he stood and
gazed with all his eyes. He could see the cities, and the woods
and fields, and the bright curves of the river, and far away to
where the rim of the plain trenched along the shining heavens. An
over-mastering emotion seized upon the boy, soul and body; his
heart beat so thickly that he could not breathe; the scene swam
before his eyes; the sun seemed to wheel round and round, and throw
off, as it turned, strange shapes which disappeared with the
rapidity of thought, and were succeeded by others. Will covered
his face with his hands, and burst into a violent fit of tears; and
the poor miller, sadly disappointed and perplexed, saw nothing
better for it than to take him up in his arms and carry him home in
From that day forward Will was full of new hopes and longings.
Something kept tugging at his heart-strings; the running water
carried his desires along with it as he dreamed over its fleeting
surface; the wind, as it ran over innumerable tree-tops, hailed him
with encouraging words; branches beckoned downward; the open road,
as it shouldered round the angles and went turning and vanishing
fast and faster down the valley, tortured him with its
solicitations. He spent long whiles on the eminence, looking down
the rivershed and abroad on the fat lowlands, and watched the
clouds that travelled forth upon the sluggish wind and trailed
their purple shadows on the plain; or he would linger by the
wayside, and follow the carriages with his eyes as they rattled
downward by the river. It did not matter what it was; everything
that went that way, were it cloud or carriage, bird or brown water
in the stream, he felt his heart flow out after it in an ecstasy of
We are told by men of science that all the ventures of mariners on
the sea, all that counter-marching of tribes and races that
confounds old history with its dust and rumour, sprang from nothing
more abstruse than the laws of supply and demand, and a certain
natural instinct for cheap rations. To any one thinking deeply,
this will seem a dull and pitiful explanation. The tribes that
came swarming out of the North and East, if they were indeed
pressed onward from behind by others, were drawn at the same time
by the magnetic influence of the South and West. The fame of other
lands had reached them; the name of the eternal city rang in their
ears; they were not colonists, but pilgrims; they travelled towards
wine and gold and sunshine, but their hearts were set on something
higher. That divine unrest, that old stinging trouble of humanity
that makes all high achievements and all miserable failure, the
same that spread wings with Icarus, the same that sent Columbus
into the desolate Atlantic, inspired and supported these barbarians
on their perilous march. There is one legend which profoundly
represents their spirit, of how a flying party of these wanderers
encountered a very old man shod with iron. The old man asked them
whither they were going; and they answered with one voice: 'To the
Eternal City!' He looked upon them gravely. 'I have sought it,'
he said, 'over the most part of the world. Three such pairs as I
now carry on my feet have I worn out upon this pilgrimage, and now
the fourth is growing slender underneath my steps. And all this
while I have not found the city.' And he turned and went his own
way alone, leaving them astonished.
And yet this would scarcely parallel the intensity of Will's
feeling for the plain. If he could only go far enough out there,
he felt as if his eyesight would be purged and clarified, as if his
hearing would grow more delicate, and his very breath would come
and go with luxury. He was transplanted and withering where he
was; he lay in a strange country and was sick for home. Bit by
bit, he pieced together broken notions of the world below: of the
river, ever moving and growing until it sailed forth into the
majestic ocean; of the cities, full of brisk and beautiful people,
playing fountains, bands of music and marble palaces, and lighted
up at night from end to end with artificial stars of gold; of the
great churches, wise universities, brave armies, and untold money
lying stored in vaults; of the high-flying vice that moved in the
sunshine, and the stealth and swiftness of midnight murder. I have
said he was sick as if for home: the figure halts. He was like
some one lying in twilit, formless preexistence, and stretching out
his hands lovingly towards many-coloured, many-sounding life. It
was no wonder he was unhappy, he would go and tell the fish: they
were made for their life, wished for no more than worms and running
water, and a hole below a falling bank; but he was differently
designed, full of desires and aspirations, itching at the fingers,
lusting with the eyes, whom the whole variegated world could not
satisfy with aspects. The true life, the true bright sunshine, lay
far out upon the plain. And O! to see this sunlight once before he
died! to move with a jocund spirit in a golden land! to hear the
trained singers and sweet church bells, and see the holiday
gardens! 'And O fish!' he would cry, 'if you would only turn your
noses down stream, you could swim so easily into the fabled waters
and see the vast ships passing over your head like clouds, and hear
the great water-hills making music over you all day long!' But the
fish kept looking patiently in their own direction, until Will
hardly knew whether to laugh or cry.
Hitherto the traffic on the road had passed by Will, like something
seen in a picture: he had perhaps exchanged salutations with a
tourist, or caught sight of an old gentleman in a travelling cap at
a carriage window; but for the most part it had been a mere symbol,
which he contemplated from apart and with something of a
superstitious feeling. A time came at last when this was to be
changed. The miller, who was a greedy man in his way, and never
forewent an opportunity of honest profit, turned the mill-house
into a little wayside inn, and, several pieces of good fortune
falling in opportunely, built stables and got the position of post
master on the road. It now became Will's duty to wait upon people,
as they sat to break their fasts in the little arbour at the top of
the mill garden; and you may be sure that he kept his ears open,
and learned many new things about the outside world as he brought
the omelette or the wine. Nay, he would often get into
conversation with single guests, and by adroit questions and polite
attention, not only gratify his own curiosity, but win the goodwill
of the travellers. Many complimented the old couple on their
serving-boy; and a professor was eager to take him away with him,
and have him properly educated in the plain. The miller and his
wife were mightily astonished and even more pleased. They thought
it a very good thing that they should have opened their inn. 'You
see,' the old man would remark, 'he has a kind of talent for a
publican; he never would have made anything else!' And so life
wagged on in the valley, with high satisfaction to all concerned
but Will. Every carriage that left the inn-door seemed to take a
part of him away with it; and when people jestingly offered him a
lift, he could with difficulty command his emotion. Night after
night he would dream that he was awakened by flustered servants,
and that a splendid equipage waited at the door to carry him down
into the plain; night after night; until the dream, which had
seemed all jollity to him at first, began to take on a colour of
gravity, and the nocturnal summons and waiting equipage occupied a
place in his mind as something to be both feared and hoped for.
One day, when Will was about sixteen, a fat young man arrived at
sunset to pass the night. He was a contented-looking fellow, with
a jolly eye, and carried a knapsack. While dinner was preparing,
he sat in the arbour to read a book; but as soon as he had begun to
observe Will, the book was laid aside; he was plainly one of those
who prefer living people to people made of ink and paper. Will, on
his part, although he had not been much interested in the stranger
at first sight, soon began to take a great deal of pleasure in his
talk, which was full of good nature and good sense, and at last
conceived a great respect for his character and wisdom. They sat
far into the night; and about two in the morning Will opened his
heart to the young man, and told him how he longed to leave the
valley and what bright hopes he had connected with the cities of
the plain. The young man whistled, and then broke into a smile.
'My young friend,' he remarked, 'you are a very curious little
fellow to be sure, and wish a great many things which you will
never get. Why, you would feel quite ashamed if you knew how the
little fellows in these fairy cities of yours are all after the
same sort of nonsense, and keep breaking their hearts to get up
into the mountains. And let me tell you, those who go down into
the plains are a very short while there before they wish themselves
heartily back again. The air is not so light nor so pure; nor is
the sun any brighter. As for the beautiful men and women, you
would see many of them in rags and many of them deformed with
horrible disorders; and a city is so hard a place for people who
are poor and sensitive that many choose to die by their own hand.'
'You must think me very simple,' answered Will. 'Although I have
never been out of this valley, believe me, I have used my eyes. I
know how one thing lives on another; for instance, how the fish
hangs in the eddy to catch his fellows; and the shepherd, who makes
so pretty a picture carrying home the lamb, is only carrying it
home for dinner. I do not expect to find all things right in your
cities. That is not what troubles me; it might have been that once
upon a time; but although I live here always, I have asked many
questions and learned a great deal in these last years, and
certainly enough to cure me of my old fancies. But you would not
have me die like a dog and not see all that is to be seen, and do
all that a man can do, let it be good or evil? you would not have
me spend all my days between this road here and the river, and not
so much as make a motion to be up and live my life? - I would
rather die out of hand,' he cried, 'than linger on as I am doing.'
'Thousands of people,' said the young man, 'live and die like you,
and are none the less happy.'
'Ah!' said Will, 'if there are thousands who would like, why should
not one of them have my place?'
It was quite dark; there was a hanging lamp in the arbour which lit
up the table and the faces of the speakers; and along the arch, the
leaves upon the trellis stood out illuminated against the night
sky, a pattern of transparent green upon a dusky purple. The fat
young man rose, and, taking Will by the arm, led him out under the
'Did you ever look at the stars?' he asked, pointing upwards.
'Often and often,' answered Will.
'And do you know what they are?'
'I have fancied many things.'
'They are worlds like ours,' said the young man. 'Some of them
less; many of them a million times greater; and some of the least
sparkles that you see are not only worlds, but whole clusters of
worlds turning about each other in the midst of space. We do not
know what there may be in any of them; perhaps the answer to all
our difficulties or the cure of all our sufferings: and yet we can
never reach them; not all the skill of the craftiest of men can fit
out a ship for the nearest of these our neighbours, nor would the
life of the most aged suffice for such a journey. When a great
battle has been lost or a dear friend is dead, when we are hipped
or in high spirits, there they are unweariedly shining overhead.
We may stand down here, a whole army of us together, and shout
until we break our hearts, and not a whisper reaches them. We may
climb the highest mountain, and we are no nearer them. All we can
do is to stand down here in the garden and take off our hats; the
starshine lights upon our heads, and where mine is a little bald, I
dare say you can see it glisten in the darkness. The mountain and
the mouse. That is like to be all we shall ever have to do with
Arcturus or Aldebaran. Can you apply a parable?' he added, laying
his hand upon Will's shoulder. 'It is not the same thing as a
reason, but usually vastly more convincing.'
Will hung his head a little, and then raised it once more to
heaven. The stars seemed to expand and emit a sharper brilliancy;
and as he kept turning his eyes higher and higher, they seemed to
increase in multitude under his gaze.
'I see,' he said, turning to the young man. 'We are in a rat-
'Something of that size. Did you ever see a squirrel turning in a
cage? and another squirrel sitting philosophically over his nuts?
I needn't ask you which of them looked more of a fool.'
CHAPTER II. THE PARSON'S MARJORY.
After some years the old people died, both in one winter, very
carefully tended by their adopted son, and very quietly mourned
when they were gone. People who had heard of his roving fancies
supposed he would hasten to sell the property, and go down the
river to push his fortunes. But there was never any sign of such
in intention on the part of Will. On the contrary, he had the inn
set on a better footing, and hired a couple of servants to assist
him in carrying it on; and there he settled down, a kind,
talkative, inscrutable young man, six feet three in his stockings,
with an iron constitution and a friendly voice. He soon began to
take rank in the district as a bit of an oddity: it was not much to
be wondered at from the first, for he was always full of notions,
and kept calling the plainest common-sense in question; but what
most raised the report upon him was the odd circumstance of his
courtship with the parson's Marjory.
The parson's Marjory was a lass about nineteen, when Will would be
about thirty; well enough looking, and much better educated than
any other girl in that part of the country, as became her
parentage. She held her head very high, and had already refused
several offers of marriage with a grand air, which had got her hard
names among the neighbours. For all that she was a good girl, and
one that would have made any man well contented.
Will had never seen much of her; for although the church and
parsonage were only two miles from his own door, he was never known
to go there but on Sundays. It chanced, however, that the
parsonage fell into disrepair, and had to be dismantled; and the
parson and his daughter took lodgings for a month or so, on very
much reduced terms, at Will's inn. Now, what with the inn, and the
mill, and the old miller's savings, our friend was a man of
substance; and besides that, he had a name for good temper and
shrewdness, which make a capital portion in marriage; and so it was
currently gossiped, among their ill-wishers, that the parson and
his daughter had not chosen their temporary lodging with their eyes
shut. Will was about the last man in the world to be cajoled or
frightened into marriage. You had only to look into his eyes,
limpid and still like pools of water, and yet with a sort of clear
light that seemed to come from within, and you would understand at
once that here was one who knew his own mind, and would stand to it
immovably. Marjory herself was no weakling by her looks, with
strong, steady eyes and a resolute and quiet bearing. It might be
a question whether she was not Will's match in stedfastness, after
all, or which of them would rule the roast in marriage. But
Marjory had never given it a thought, and accompanied her father
with the most unshaken innocence and unconcern.
The season was still so early that Will's customers were few and
far between; but the lilacs were already flowering, and the weather
was so mild that the party took dinner under the trellice, with the
noise of the river in their ears and the woods ringing about them
with the songs of birds. Will soon began to take a particular
pleasure in these dinners. The parson was rather a dull companion,
with a habit of dozing at table; but nothing rude or cruel ever
fell from his lips. And as for the parson's daughter, she suited
her surroundings with the best grace imaginable; and whatever she
said seemed so pat and pretty that Will conceived a great idea of
her talents. He could see her face, as she leaned forward, against
a background of rising pinewoods; her eyes shone peaceably; the
light lay around her hair like a kerchief; something that was
hardly a smile rippled her pale cheeks, and Will could not contain
himself from gazing on her in an agreeable dismay. She looked,
even in her quietest moments, so complete in herself, and so quick
with life down to her finger tips and the very skirts of her dress,
that the remainder of created things became no more than a blot by
comparison; and if Will glanced away from her to her surroundings,
the trees looked inanimate and senseless, the clouds hung in heaven
like dead things, and even the mountain tops were disenchanted.
The whole valley could not compare in looks with this one girl.
Will was always observant in the society of his fellow-creatures;
but his observation became almost painfully eager in the case of
Marjory. He listened to all she uttered, and read her eyes, at the
same time, for the unspoken commentary. Many kind, simple, and
sincere speeches found an echo in his heart. He became conscious
of a soul beautifully poised upon itself, nothing doubting, nothing
desiring, clothed in peace. It was not possible to separate her
thoughts from her appearance. The turn of her wrist, the still
sound of her voice, the light in her eyes, the lines of her body,
fell in tune with her grave and gentle words, like the
accompaniment that sustains and harmonises the voice of the singer.
Her influence was one thing, not to be divided or discussed, only
to he felt with gratitude and joy. To Will, her presence recalled
something of his childhood, and the thought of her took its place
in his mind beside that of dawn, of running water, and of the
earliest violets and lilacs. It is the property of things seen for
the first time, or for the first time after long, like the flowers
in spring, to reawaken in us the sharp edge of sense and that
impression of mystic strangeness which otherwise passes out of life
with the coming of years; but the sight of a loved face is what
renews a man's character from the fountain upwards.
One day after dinner Will took a stroll among the firs; a grave
beatitude possessed him from top to toe, and he kept smiling to
himself and the landscape as he went. The river ran between the
stepping-stones with a pretty wimple; a bird sang loudly in the
wood; the hill-tops looked immeasurably high, and as he glanced at
them from time to time seemed to contemplate his movements with a
beneficent but awful curiosity. His way took him to the eminence
which overlooked the plain; and there he sat down upon a stone, and
fell into deep and pleasant thought. The plain lay abroad with its
cities and silver river; everything was asleep, except a great eddy
of birds which kept rising and falling and going round and round in
the blue air. He repeated Marjory's name aloud, and the sound of
it gratified his ear. He shut his eyes, and her image sprang up
before him, quietly luminous and attended with good thoughts. The
river might run for ever; the birds fly higher and higher till they
touched the stars. He saw it was empty bustle after all; for here,
without stirring a feet, waiting patiently in his own narrow
valley, he also had attained the better sunlight.
The next day Will made a sort of declaration across the dinner-
table, while the parson was filling his pipe.
'Miss Marjory,' he said, 'I never knew any one I liked so well as
you. I am mostly a cold, unkindly sort of man; not from want of
heart, but out of strangeness in my way of thinking; and people
seem far away from me. 'Tis as if there were a circle round me,
which kept every one out but you; I can hear the others talking and
laughing; but you come quite close. Maybe, this is disagreeable to
you?' he asked.
Marjory made no answer.
'Speak up, girl,' said the parson.
'Nay, now,' returned Will, 'I wouldn't press her, parson. I feel
tongue-tied myself, who am not used to it; and she's a woman, and
little more than a child, when all is said. But for my part, as
far as I can understand what people mean by it, I fancy I must be
what they call in love. I do not wish to be held as committing
myself; for I may be wrong; but that is how I believe things are
with me. And if Miss Marjory should feel any otherwise on her
part, mayhap she would be so kind as shake her head.'
Marjory was silent, and gave no sign that she had heard.
'How is that, parson?' asked Will.
'The girl must speak,' replied the parson, laying down his pipe.
'Here's our neighbour who says he loves you, Madge. Do you love
him, ay or no?'
'I think I do,' said Marjory, faintly.
'Well then, that's all that could be wished!' cried Will, heartily.
And he took her hand across the table, and held it a moment in both
of his with great satisfaction.
'You must marry,' observed the parson, replacing his pipe in his
'Is that the right thing to do, think you?' demanded Will.
'It is indispensable,' said the parson.
'Very well,' replied the wooer.
Two or three days passed away with great delight to Will, although
a bystander might scarce have found it out. He continued to take
his meals opposite Marjory, and to talk with her and gaze upon her
in her father's presence; but he made no attempt to see her alone,
nor in any other way changed his conduct towards her from what it
had been since the beginning. Perhaps the girl was a little
disappointed, and perhaps not unjustly; and yet if it had been
enough to be always in the thoughts of another person, and so
pervade and alter his whole life, she might have been thoroughly
contented. For she was never out of Will's mind for an instant.
He sat over the stream, and watched the dust of the eddy, and the
poised fish, and straining weeds; he wandered out alone into the
purple even, with all the blackbirds piping round him in the wood;
he rose early in the morning, and saw the sky turn from grey to
gold, and the light leap upon the hill-tops; and all the while he
kept wondering if he had never seen such things before, or how it
was that they should look so different now. The sound of his own
mill-wheel, or of the wind among the trees, confounded and charmed
his heart. The most enchanting thoughts presented themselves
unbidden in his mind. He was so happy that he could not sleep at
night, and so restless, that he could hardly sit still out of her
company. And yet it seemed as if he avoided her rather than sought
One day, as he was coming home from a ramble, Will found Marjory in
the garden picking flowers, and as he came up with her, slackened
his pace and continued walking by her side.
'You like flowers?' he said.
'Indeed I love them dearly,' she replied. 'Do you?'
'Why, no,' said he, 'not so much. They are a very small affair,
when all is done. I can fancy people caring for them greatly, but
not doing as you are just now.'
'How?' she asked, pausing and looking up at him.
'Plucking them,' said he. 'They are a deal better off where they
are, and look a deal prettier, if you go to that.'
'I wish to have them for my own,' she answered, 'to carry them near
my heart, and keep them in my room. They tempt me when they grow
here; they seem to say, "Come and do something with us;" but once I
have cut them and put them by, the charm is laid, and I can look at
them with quite an easy heart.'
'You wish to possess them,' replied Will, 'in order to think no
more about them. It's a bit like killing the goose with the golden
eggs. It's a bit like what I wished to do when I was a boy.
Because I had a fancy for looking out over the plain, I wished to
go down there - where I couldn't look out over it any longer. Was
not that fine reasoning? Dear, dear, if they only thought of it,
all the world would do like me; and you would let your flowers
alone, just as I stay up here in the mountains.' Suddenly he broke
off sharp. 'By the Lord!' he cried. And when she asked him what
was wrong, he turned the question off and walked away into the
house with rather a humorous expression of face.
He was silent at table; and after the night hid fallen and the
stars had come out overhead, he walked up and down for hours in the
courtyard and garden with an uneven pace. There was still a light
in the window of Marjory's room: one little oblong patch of orange
in a world of dark blue hills and silver starlight. Will's mind
ran a great deal on the window; but his thoughts were not very
lover-like. 'There she is in her room,' he thought, 'and there are
the stars overhead: - a blessing upon both!' Both were good
influences in his life; both soothed and braced him in his profound
contentment with the world. And what more should he desire with
either? The fat young man and his councils were so present to his
mind, that he threw back his head, and, putting his hands before
his mouth, shouted aloud to the populous heavens. Whether from the
position of his head or the sudden strain of the exertion, he
seemed to see a momentary shock among the stars, and a diffusion of
frosty light pass from one to another along the sky. At the same
instant, a corner of the blind was lifted and lowered again at
once. He laughed a loud ho-ho! 'One and another!' thought Will.
'The stars tremble, and the blind goes up. Why, before Heaven,
what a great magician I must be! Now if I were only a fool, should
not I be in a pretty way?' And he went off to bed, chuckling to
himself: 'If I were only a fool!'
The next morning, pretty early, he saw her once more in the garden,
and sought her out.
'I have been thinking about getting married,' he began abruptly;
'and after having turned it all over, I have made up my mind it's
She turned upon him for a single moment; but his radiant, kindly
appearance would, under the circumstances, have disconcerted an
angel, and she looked down again upon the ground in silence. He
could see her tremble.
'I hope you don't mind,' he went on, a little taken aback. 'You
ought not. I have turned it all over, and upon my soul there's
nothing in it. We should never be one whit nearer than we are just
now, and, if I am a wise man, nothing like so happy.'
'It is unnecessary to go round about with me,' she said. 'I very
well remember that you refused to commit yourself; and now that I
see you were mistaken, and in reality have never cared for me, I
can only feel sad that I have been so far misled.'
'I ask your pardon,' said Will stoutly; 'you do not understand my
meaning. As to whether I have ever loved you or not, I must leave
that to others. But for one thing, my feeling is not changed; and
for another, you may make it your boast that you have made my whole
life and character something different from what they were. I mean
what I say; no less. I do not think getting married is worth
while. I would rather you went on living with your father, so that
I could walk over and see you once, or maybe twice a week, as
people go to church, and then we should both be all the happier
between whiles. That's my notion. But I'll marry you if you
will,' he added.
'Do you know that you are insulting me?' she broke out.
'Not I, Marjory,' said he; 'if there is anything in a clear
conscience, not I. I offer all my heart's best affection; you can
take it or want it, though I suspect it's beyond either your power
or mine to change what has once been done, and set me fancy-free.
I'll marry you, if you like; but I tell you again and again, it's
not worth while, and we had best stay friends. Though I am a quiet
man I have noticed a heap of things in my life. Trust in me, and
take things as I propose; or, if you don't like that, say the word,
and I'll marry you out of hand.'
There was a considerable pause, and Will, who began to feel uneasy,
began to grow angry in consequence.
'It seems you are too proud to say your mind,' he said. 'Believe
me that's a pity. A clean shrift makes simple living. Can a man
be more downright or honourable, to a woman than I have been? I
have said my say, and given you your choice. Do you want me to
marry you? or will you take my friendship, as I think best? or have
you had enough of me for good? Speak out for the dear God's sake!
You know your father told you a girl should speak her mind in these
She seemed to recover herself at that, turned without a word,
walked rapidly through the garden, and disappeared into the house,
leaving Will in some confusion as to the result. He walked up and
down the garden, whistling softly to himself. Sometimes he stopped
and contemplated the sky and hill-tops; sometimes he went down to
the tail of the weir and sat there, looking foolishly in the water.
All this dubiety and perturbation was so foreign to his nature and
the life which he had resolutely chosen for himself, that he began
to regret Marjory's arrival. 'After all,' he thought, 'I was as
happy as a man need be. I could come down here and watch my fishes
all day long if I wanted: I was as settled and contented as my old
Marjory came down to dinner, looking very trim and quiet; and no
sooner were all three at table than she made her father a speech,
with her eyes fixed upon her plate, but showing no other sign of
embarrassment or distress.
'Father,' she began, 'Mr. Will and I have been talking things over.
We see that we have each made a mistake about our feelings, and he
has agreed, at my request, to give up all idea of marriage, and be
no more than my very good friend, as in the past. You see, there
is no shadow of a quarrel, and indeed I hope we shall see a great
deal of him in the future, for his visits will always be welcome in
our house. Of course, father, you will know best, but perhaps we
should do better to leave Mr. Will's house for the present. I
believe, after what has passed, we should hardly be agreeable
inmates for some days.'
Will, who had commanded himself with difficulty from the first,
broke out upon this into an inarticulate noise, and raised one hand
with an appearance of real dismay, as if he were about to interfere
and contradict. But she checked him at once looking up at him with
a swift glance and an angry flush upon her cheek.
'You will perhaps have the good grace,' she said, 'to let me
explain these matters for myself.'
Will was put entirely out of countenance by her expression and the
ring of her voice. He held his peace, concluding that there were
some things about this girl beyond his comprehension, in which he
was exactly right.
The poor parson was quite crestfallen. He tried to prove that this
was no more than a true lovers' tiff, which would pass off before
night; and when he was dislodged from that position, he went on to
argue that where there was no quarrel there could be no call for a
separation; for the good man liked both his entertainment and his
host. It was curious to see how the girl managed them, saying
little all the time, and that very quietly, and yet twisting them
round her finger and insensibly leading them wherever she would by
feminine tact and generalship. It scarcely seemed to have been her
doing - it seemed as if things had merely so fallen out - that she
and her father took their departure that same afternoon in a farm-
cart, and went farther down the valley, to wait, until their own
house was ready for them, in another hamlet. But Will had been
observing closely, and was well aware of her dexterity and
resolution. When he found himself alone he had a great many
curious matters to turn over in his mind. He was very sad and
solitary, to begin with. All the interest had gone out of his
life, and he might look up at the stars as long as he pleased, he
somehow failed to find support or consolation. And then he was in
such a turmoil of spirit about Marjory. He had been puzzled and
irritated at her behaviour, and yet he could not keep himself from
admiring it. He thought he recognised a fine, perverse angel in
that still soul which he had never hitherto suspected; and though
he saw it was an influence that would fit but ill with his own life
of artificial calm, he could not keep himself from ardently
desiring to possess it. Like a man who has lived among shadows and
now meets the sun, he was both pained and delighted.
As the days went forward he passed from one extreme to another; now
pluming himself on the strength of his determination, now despising
his timid and silly caution. The former was, perhaps, the true
thought of his heart, and represented the regular tenor of the
man's reflections; but the latter burst forth from time to time
with an unruly violence, and then he would forget all
consideration, and go up and down his house and garden or walk
among the fir-woods like one who is beside himself with remorse.
To equable, steady-minded Will this state of matters was
intolerable; and he determined, at whatever cost, to bring it to an
end. So, one warm summer afternoon he put on his best clothes,
took a thorn switch in his hand, and set out down the valley by the
river. As soon as he had taken his determination, he had regained
at a bound his customary peace of heart, and he enjoyed the bright
weather and the variety of the scene without any admixture of alarm
or unpleasant eagerness. It was nearly the same to him how the
matter turned out. If she accepted him he would have to marry her
this time, which perhaps was, all for the best. If she refused
him, he would have done his utmost, and might follow his own way in
the future with an untroubled conscience. He hoped, on the whole,
she would refuse him; and then, again, as he saw the brown roof
which sheltered her, peeping through some willows at an angle of
the stream, he was half inclined to reverse the wish, and more than
half ashamed of himself for this infirmity of purpose.
Marjory seemed glad to see him, and gave him her hand without
affectation or delay.
'I have been thinking about this marriage,' he began.
'So have I,' she answered. 'And I respect you more and more for a
very wise man. You understood me better than I understood myself;
and I am now quite certain that things are all for the best as they
'At the same time - ,' ventured Will.
'You must be tired,' she interrupted. 'Take a seat and let me
fetch you a glass of wine. The afternoon is so warm; and I wish
you not to be displeased with your visit. You must come quite
often; once a week, if you can spare the time; I am always so glad
to see my friends.'
'O, very well,' thought Will to himself. 'It appears I was right
after all.' And he paid a very agreeable visit, walked home again
in capital spirits, and gave himself no further concern about the
For nearly three years Will and Marjory continued on these terms,
seeing each other once or twice a week without any word of love
between them; and for all that time I believe Will was nearly as
happy as a man can be. He rather stinted himself the pleasure of
seeing her; and he would often walk half-way over to the parsonage,
and then back again, as if to whet his appetite. Indeed there was
one corner of the road, whence he could see the church-spire wedged
into a crevice of the valley between sloping firwoods, with a
triangular snatch of plain by way of background, which he greatly
affected as a place to sit and moralise in before returning
homewards; and the peasants got so much into the habit of finding
him there in the twilight that they gave it the name of 'Will o'
the Mill's Corner.'
At the end of the three years Marjory played him a sad trick by
suddenly marrying somebody else. Will kept his countenance
bravely, and merely remarked that, for as little as he knew of
women, he had acted very prudently in not marrying her himself
three years before. She plainly knew very little of her own mind,
and, in spite of a deceptive manner, was as fickle and flighty as
the rest of them. He had to congratulate himself on an escape, he
said, and would take a higher opinion of his own wisdom in
consequence. But at heart, he was reasonably displeased, moped a
good deal for a month or two, and fell away in flesh, to the
astonishment of his serving-lads.
It was perhaps a year after this marriage that Will was awakened
late one night by the sound of a horse galloping on the road,
followed by precipitate knocking at the inn-door. He opened his
window and saw a farm servant, mounted and holding a led horse by
the bridle, who told him to make what haste he could and go along
with him; for Marjory was dying, and had sent urgently to fetch him
to her bedside. Will was no horseman, and made so little speed
upon the way that the poor young wife was very near her end before
he arrived. But they had some minutes' talk in private, and he was
present and wept very bitterly while she breathed her last.
CHAPTER III. DEATH
Year after year went away into nothing, with great explosions and
outcries in the cities on the plain: red revolt springing up and
being suppressed in blood, battle swaying hither and thither,
patient astronomers in observatory towers picking out and
christening new stars, plays being performed in lighted theatres,
people being carried into hospital on stretchers, and all the usual
turmoil and agitation of men's lives in crowded centres. Up in
Will's valley only the winds and seasons made an epoch; the fish
hung in the swift stream, the birds circled overhead, the pine-tops
rustled underneath the stars, the tall hills stood over all; and
Will went to and fro, minding his wayside inn, until the snow began
to thicken on his head. His heart was young and vigorous; and if
his pulses kept a sober time, they still beat strong and steady in
his wrists. He carried a ruddy stain on either cheek, like a ripe
apple; he stooped a little, but his step was still firm; and his
sinewy hands were reached out to all men with a friendly pressure.
His face was covered with those wrinkles which are got in open air,
and which rightly looked at, are no more than a sort of permanent
sunburning; such wrinkles heighten the stupidity of stupid faces;
but to a person like Will, with his clear eyes and smiling mouth,
only give another charm by testifying to a simple and easy life.
His talk was full of wise sayings. He had a taste for other
people; and other people had a taste for him. When the valley was
full of tourists in the season, there were merry nights in Will's
arbour; and his views, which seemed whimsical to his neighbours,
were often enough admired by learned people out of towns and
colleges. Indeed, he had a very noble old age, and grew daily
better known; so that his fame was heard of in the cities of the
plain; and young men who had been summer travellers spoke together
in CAFES of Will o' the Mill and his rough philosophy. Many and
many an invitation, you may be sure, he had; but nothing could
tempt him from his upland valley. He would shake his head and
smile over his tobacco-pipe with a deal of meaning. 'You come too
late,' he would answer. 'I am a dead man now: I have lived and
died already. Fifty years ago you would have brought my heart into
my mouth; and now you do not even tempt me. But that is the object
of long living, that man should cease to care about life.' And
again: 'There is only one difference between a long life and a good
dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last.' Or once more:
'When I was a boy, I was a bit puzzled, and hardly knew whether it
was myself or the world that was curious and worth looking into.
Now, I know it is myself, and stick to that.'
He never showed any symptom of frailty, but kept stalwart and firm
to the last; but they say he grew less talkative towards the end,
and would listen to other people by the hour in an amused and
sympathetic silence. Only, when he did speak, it was more to the
point and more charged with old experience. He drank a bottle of
wine gladly; above all, at sunset on the hill-top or quite late at
night under the stars in the arbour. The sight of something
attractive and unatttainable seasoned his enjoyment, he would say;
and he professed he had lived long enough to admire a candle all
the more when he could compare it with a planet.
One night, in his seventy-second year, he awoke in bed in such
uneasiness of body and mind that he arose and dressed himself and
went out to meditate in the arbour. It was pitch dark, without a
star; the river was swollen, and the wet woods and meadows loaded
the air with perfume. It had thundered during the day, and it
promised more thunder for the morrow. A murky, stifling night for
a man of seventy-two! Whether it was the weather or the
wakefulness, or some little touch of fever in his old limbs, Will's
mind was besieged by tumultuous and crying memories. His boyhood,
the night with the fat young man, the death of his adopted parents,
the summer days with Marjory, and many of those small
circumstances, which seem nothing to another, and are yet the very
gist of a man's own life to himself - things seen, words heard,
looks misconstrued - arose from their forgotten corners and usurped
his attention. The dead themselves were with him, not merely
taking part in this thin show of memory that defiled before his
brain, but revisiting his bodily senses as they do in profound and
vivid dreams. The fat young man leaned his elbows on the table
opposite; Marjory came and went with an apronful of flowers between
the garden and the arbour; he could hear the old parson knocking
out his pipe or blowing his resonant nose. The tide of his
consciousness ebbed and flowed: he was sometimes half-asleep and
drowned in his recollections of the past; and sometimes he was
broad awake, wondering at himself. But about the middle of the
night he was startled by the voice of the dead miller calling to
him out of the house as he used to do on the arrival of custom.
The hallucination was so perfect that Will sprang from his seat and
stood listening for the summons to be repeated; and as he listened
he became conscious of another noise besides the brawling of the
river and the ringing in his feverish ears. It was like the stir
of horses and the creaking of harness, as though a carriage with an
impatient team had been brought up upon the road before the
courtyard gate. At such an hour, upon this rough and dangerous
pass, the supposition was no better than absurd; and Will dismissed
it from his mind, and resumed his seat upon the arbour chair; and
sleep closed over him again like running water. He was once again
awakened by the dead miller's call, thinner and more spectral than
before; and once again he heard the noise of an equipage upon the
road. And so thrice and four times, the same dream, or the same
fancy, presented itself to his senses: until at length, smiling to
himself as when one humours a nervous child, he proceeded towards
the gate to set his uncertainty at rest.
From the arbour to the gate was no great distance, and yet it took
Will some time; it seemed as if the dead thickened around him in
the court, and crossed his path at every step. For, first, he was
suddenly surprised by an overpowering sweetness of heliotropes; it
was as if his garden had been planted with this flower from end to
end, and the hot, damp night had drawn forth all their perfumes in
a breath. Now the heliotrope had been Marjory's favourite flower,
and since her death not one of them had ever been planted in Will's
'I must be going crazy,' he thought. 'Poor Marjory and her
And with that he raised his eyes towards the window that had once
been hers. If he had been bewildered before, he was now almost
terrified; for there was a light in the room; the window was an
orange oblong as of yore; and the corner of the blind was lifted
and let fall as on the night when he stood and shouted to the stars
in his perplexity. The illusion only endured an instant; but it
left him somewhat unmanned, rubbing his eyes and staring at the
outline of the house and the black night behind it. While he thus
stood, and it seemed as if he must have stood there quite a long
time, there came a renewal of the noises on the road: and he turned
in time to meet a stranger, who was advancing to meet him across
the court. There was something like the outline of a great
carriage discernible on the road behind the stranger, and, above
that, a few black pine-tops, like so many plumes.
'Master Will?' asked the new-comer, in brief military fashion.
'That same, sir,' answered Will. 'Can I do anything to serve you?'
'I have heard you much spoken of, Master Will,' returned the other;
'much spoken of, and well. And though I have both hands full of
business, I wish to drink a bottle of wine with you in your arbour.
Before I go, I shall introduce myself.'
Will led the way to the trellis, and got a lamp lighted and a
bottle uncorked. He was not altogether unused to such
complimentary interviews, and hoped little enough from this one,
being schooled by many disappointments. A sort of cloud had
settled on his wits and prevented him from remembering the
strangeness of the hour. He moved like a person in his sleep; and
it seemed as if the lamp caught fire and the bottle came uncorked
with the facility of thought. Still, he had some curiosity about
the appearance of his visitor, and tried in vain to turn the light
into his face; either he handled the lamp clumsily, or there was a
dimness over his eyes; but he could make out little more than a
shadow at table with him. He stared and stared at this shadow, as
he wiped out the glasses, and began to feel cold and strange about
the heart. The silence weighed upon him, for he could hear nothing
now, not even the river, but the drumming of his own arteries in
'Here's to you,' said the stranger, roughly.
'Here is my service, sir,' replied Will, sipping his wine, which
somehow tasted oddly.
'I understand you are a very positive fellow,' pursued the
Will made answer with a smile of some satisfaction and a little
'So am I,' continued the other; 'and it is the delight of my heart
to tramp on people's corns. I will have nobody positive but
myself; not one. I have crossed the whims, in my time, of kings
and generals and great artists. And what would you say,' he went
on, 'if I had come up here on purpose to cross yours?'
Will had it on his tongue to make a sharp rejoinder; but the
politeness of an old innkeeper prevailed; and he held his peace and
made answer with a civil gesture of the hand.
'I have,' said the stranger. 'And if I did not hold you in a
particular esteem, I should make no words about the matter. It
appears you pride yourself on staying where you are. You mean to
stick by your inn. Now I mean you shall come for a turn with me in
my barouche; and before this bottle's empty, so you shall.'
'That would be an odd thing, to be sure,' replied Will, with a
chuckle. 'Why, sir, I have grown here like an old oak-tree; the
Devil himself could hardly root me up: and for all I perceive you
are a very entertaining old gentleman, I would wager you another
bottle you lose your pains with me.'
The dimness of Will's eyesight had been increasing all this while;
but he was somehow conscious of a sharp and chilling scrutiny which
irritated and yet overmastered him.
'You need not think,' he broke out suddenly, in an explosive,
febrile manner that startled and alarmed himself, 'that I am a
stay-at-home, because I fear anything under God. God knows I am
tired enough of it all; and when the time comes for a longer
journey than ever you dream of, I reckon I shall find myself
The stranger emptied his glass and pushed it away from him. He
looked down for a little, and then, leaning over the table, tapped
Will three times upon the forearm with a single finger. 'The time
has come!' he said solemnly.
An ugly thrill spread from the spot he touched. The tones of his
voice were dull and startling, and echoed strangely in Will's
'I beg your pardon,' he said, with some discomposure. 'What do you
'Look at me, and you will find your eyesight swim. Raise your
hand; it is dead-heavy. This is your last bottle of wine, Master
Will, and your last night upon the earth.'
'You are a doctor?' quavered Will.
'The best that ever was,' replied the other; 'for I cure both mind
and body with the same prescription. I take away all plain and I
forgive all sins; and where my patients have gone wrong in life, I
smooth out all complications and set them free again upon their
'I have no need of you,' said Will.
'A time comes for all men, Master Will,' replied the doctor, 'when
the helm is taken out of their hands. For you, because you were
prudent and quiet, it has been long of coming, and you have had
long to discipline yourself for its reception. You have seen what
is to be seen about your mill; you have sat close all your days
like a hare in its form; but now that is at an end; and,' added the
doctor, getting on his feet, 'you must arise and come with me.'
'You are a strange physician,' said Will, looking steadfastly upon
'I am a natural law,' he replied, 'and people call me Death.'
'Why did you not tell me so at first?' cried Will. 'I have been
waiting for you these many years. Give me your hand, and welcome.'
'Lean upon my arm,' said the stranger, 'for already your strength
abates. Lean on me as heavily as you need; for though I am old, I
am very strong. It is but three steps to my carriage, and there
all your trouble ends. Why, Will,' he added, 'I have been yearning
for you as if you were my own son; and of all the men that ever I
came for in my long days, I have come for you most gladly. I am
caustic, and sometimes offend people at first sight; but I am a
good friend at heart to such as you.'
'Since Marjory was taken,' returned Will, 'I declare before God you
were the only friend I had to look for.' So the pair went arm-in-
arm across the courtyard.
One of the servants awoke about this time and heard the noise of
horses pawing before he dropped asleep again; all down the valley
that night there was a rushing as of a smooth and steady wind
descending towards the plain; and when the world rose next morning,
sure enough Will o' the Mill had gone at last upon his travels.
'YES,' said the dealer, 'our windfalls are of various kinds. Some
customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior
knowledge. Some are dishonest,' and here he held up the candle, so
that the light fell strongly on his visitor, 'and in that case,' he
continued, 'I profit by my virtue.'
Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his
eyes had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness
in the shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence
of the flame, he blinked painfully and looked aside.
The dealer chuckled. 'You come to me on Christmas Day,' he
resumed, 'when you know that I am alone in my house, put up my
shutters, and make a point of refusing business. Well, you will
have to pay for that; you will have to pay for my loss of time,
when I should be balancing my books; you will have to pay, besides,
for a kind of manner that I remark in you to-day very strongly. I
am the essence of discretion, and ask no awkward questions; but
when a customer cannot look me in the eye, he has to pay for it.'
The dealer once more chuckled; and then, changing to his usual
business voice, though still with a note of irony, 'You can give,
as usual, a clear account of how you came into the possession of
the object?' he continued. 'Still your uncle's cabinet? A
remarkable collector, sir!'
And the little pale, round-shouldered dealer stood almost on tip-
toe, looking over the top of his gold spectacles, and nodding his
head with every mark of disbelief. Markheim returned his gaze with
one of infinite pity, and a touch of horror.
'This time,' said he, 'you are in error. I have not come to sell,
but to buy. I have no curios to dispose of; my uncle's cabinet is
bare to the wainscot; even were it still intact, I have done well
on the Stock Exchange, and should more likely add to it than
otherwise, and my errand to-day is simplicity itself. I seek a
Christmas present for a lady,' he continued, waxing more fluent as
he struck into the speech he had prepared; 'and certainly I owe you
every excuse for thus disturbing you upon so small a matter. But
the thing was neglected yesterday; I must produce my little
compliment at dinner; and, as you very well know, a rich marriage
is not a thing to be neglected.'
There followed a pause, during which the dealer seemed to weigh
this statement incredulously. The ticking of many clocks among the
curious lumber of the shop, and the faint rushing of the cabs in a
near thoroughfare, filled up the interval of silence.
'Well, sir,' said the dealer, 'be it so. You are an old customer
after all; and if, as you say, you have the chance of a good
marriage, far be it from me to be an obstacle. Here is a nice
thing for a lady now,' he went on, 'this hand glass - fifteenth
century, warranted; comes from a good collection, too; but I
reserve the name, in the interests of my customer, who was just
like yourself, my dear sir, the nephew and sole heir of a
The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting voice, had
stooped to take the object from its place; and, as he had done so,
a shock had passed through Markheim, a start both of hand and foot,
a sudden leap of many tumultuous passions to the face. It passed
as swiftly as it came, and left no trace beyond a certain trembling
of the hand that now received the glass.
'A glass,' he said hoarsely, and then paused, and repeated it more
clearly. 'A glass? For Christmas? Surely not?'
'And why not?' cried the dealer. 'Why not a glass?'
Markheim was looking upon him with an indefinable expression. 'You
ask me why not?' he said. 'Why, look here - look in it - look at
yourself! Do you like to see it? No! nor I - nor any man.'
The little man had jumped back when Markheim had so suddenly
confronted him with the mirror; but now, perceiving there was
nothing worse on hand, he chuckled. 'Your future lady, sir, must
be pretty hard favoured,' said he.
'I ask you,' said Markheim, 'for a Christmas present, and you give
me this - this damned reminder of years, and sins and follies -
this hand-conscience! Did you mean it? Had you a thought in your
mind? Tell me. It will be better for you if you do. Come, tell
me about yourself. I hazard a guess now, that you are in secret a
very charitable man?'
The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very odd,
Markheim did not appear to be laughing; there was something in his
face like an eager sparkle of hope, but nothing of mirth.
'What are you driving at?' the dealer asked.
'Not charitable?' returned the other, gloomily. Not charitable;
not pious; not scrupulous; unloving, unbeloved; a hand to get
money, a safe to keep it. Is that all? Dear God, man, is that
'I will tell you what it is,' began the dealer, with some
sharpness, and then broke off again into a chuckle. 'But I see
this is a love match of yours, and you have been drinking the
'Ah!' cried Markheim, with a strange curiosity. 'Ah, have you been
in love? Tell me about that.'
'I,' cried the dealer. 'I in love! I never had the time, nor have
I the time to-day for all this nonsense. Will you take the glass?'
'Where is the hurry?' returned Markheim. 'It is very pleasant to
stand here talking; and life is so short and insecure that I would
not hurry away from any pleasure - no, not even from so mild a one
as this. We should rather cling, cling to what little we can get,
like a man at a cliff's edge. Every second is a cliff, if you
think upon it - a cliff a mile high - high enough, if we fall, to
dash us out of every feature of humanity. Hence it is best to talk
pleasantly. Let us talk of each other: why should we wear this
mask? Let us be confidential. Who knows, we might become
'I have just one word to say to you,' said the dealer. 'Either
make your purchase, or walk out of my shop!'
'True true,' said Markheim. 'Enough, fooling. To business. Show
me something else.'
The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the glass upon
the shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes as he did so.
Markheim moved a little nearer, with one hand in the pocket of his
greatcoat; he drew himself up and filled his lungs; at the same
time many different emotions were depicted together on his face -
terror, horror, and resolve, fascination and a physical repulsion;
and through a haggard lift of his upper lip, his teeth looked out.
'This, perhaps, may suit,' observed the dealer: and then, as he
began to re-arise, Markheim bounded from behind upon his victim.
The long, skewerlike dagger flashed and fell. The dealer struggled
like a hen, striking his temple on the shelf, and then tumbled on
the floor in a heap.
Time had some score of small voices in that shop, some stately and
slow as was becoming to their great age; others garrulous and
hurried. All these told out the seconds in an intricate, chorus of
tickings. Then the passage of a lad's feet, heavily running on the
pavement, broke in upon these smaller voices and startled Markheim
into the consciousness of his surroundings. He looked about him
awfully. The candle stood on the counter, its flame solemnly
wagging in a draught; and by that inconsiderable movement, the
whole room was filled with noiseless bustle and kept heaving like a
sea: the tall shadows nodding, the gross blots of darkness swelling
and dwindling as with respiration, the faces of the portraits and
the china gods changing and wavering like images in water. The
inner door stood ajar, and peered into that leaguer of shadows with
a long slit of daylight like a pointing finger.
From these fear-stricken rovings, Markheim's eyes returned to the
body of his victim, where it lay both humped and sprawling,
incredibly small and strangely meaner than in life. In these poor,
miserly clothes, in that ungainly attitude, the dealer lay like so
much sawdust. Markheim had feared to see it, and, lo! it was
nothing. And yet, as he gazed, this bundle of old clothes and pool
of blood began to find eloquent voices. There it must lie; there
was none to work the cunning hinges or direct the miracle of
locomotion - there it must lie till it was found. Found! ay, and
then? Then would this dead flesh lift up a cry that would ring
over England, and fill the world with the echoes of pursuit. Ay,
dead or not, this was still the enemy. 'Time was that when the
brains were out,' he thought; and the first word struck into his
mind. Time, now that the deed was accomplished - time, which had
closed for the victim, had become instant and momentous for the
The thought was yet in his mind, when, first one and then another,
with every variety of pace and voice - one deep as the bell from a
cathedral turret, another ringing on its treble notes the prelude
of a waltz-the clocks began to strike the hour of three in the
The sudden outbreak of so many tongues in that dumb chamber
staggered him. He began to bestir himself, going to and fro with
the candle, beleaguered by moving shadows, and startled to the soul
by chance reflections. In many rich mirrors, some of home design,
some from Venice or Amsterdam, he saw his face repeated and
repeated, as it were an army of spies; his own eyes met and
detected him; and the sound of his own steps, lightly as they fell,
vexed the surrounding quiet. And still, as he continued to fill
his pockets, his mind accused him with a sickening iteration, of
the thousand faults of his design. He should have chosen a more
quiet hour; he should have prepared an alibi; he should not have
used a knife; he should have been more cautious, and only bound and
gagged the dealer, and not killed him; he should have been more
bold, and killed the servant also; he should have done all things
otherwise: poignant regrets, weary, incessant toiling of the mind
to change what was unchangeable, to plan what was now useless, to
be the architect of the irrevocable past. Meanwhile, and behind
all this activity, brute terrors, like the scurrying of rats in a
deserted attic, filled the more remote chambers of his brain with
riot; the hand of the constable would fall heavy on his shoulder,
and his nerves would jerk like a hooked fish; or he beheld, in
galloping defile, the dock, the prison, the gallows, and the black
Terror of the people in the street sat down before his mind like a
besieging army. It was impossible, he thought, but that some
rumour of the struggle must have reached their ears and set on edge
their curiosity; and now, in all the neighbouring houses, he
divined them sitting motionless and with uplifted ear - solitary
people, condemned to spend Christmas dwelling alone on memories of
the past, and now startingly recalled from that tender exercise;
happy family parties struck into silence round the table, the
mother still with raised finger: every degree and age and humour,
but all, by their own hearths, prying and hearkening and weaving
the rope that was to hang him. Sometimes it seemed to him he could
not move too softly; the clink of the tall Bohemian goblets rang
out loudly like a bell; and alarmed by the bigness of the ticking,
he was tempted to stop the clocks. And then, again, with a swift
transition of his terrors, the very silence of the place appeared a
source of peril, and a thing to strike and freeze the passer-by;
and he would step more boldly, and bustle aloud among the contents
of the shop, and imitate, with elaborate bravado, the movements of
a busy man at ease in his own house.
But he was now so pulled about by different alarms that, while one
portion of his mind was still alert and cunning, another trembled
on the brink of lunacy. One hallucination in particular took a
strong hold on his credulity. The neighbour hearkening with white
face beside his window, the passer-by arrested by a horrible
surmise on the pavement - these could at worst suspect, they could
not know; through the brick walls and shuttered windows only sounds
could penetrate. But here, within the house, was he alone? He
knew he was; he had watched the servant set forth sweet-hearting,
in her poor best, 'out for the day' written in every ribbon and
smile. Yes, he was alone, of course; and yet, in the bulk of empty
house above him, he could surely hear a stir of delicate footing -
he was surely conscious, inexplicably conscious of some presence.
Ay, surely; to every room and corner of the house his imagination
followed it; and now it was a faceless thing, and yet had eyes to
see with; and again it was a shadow of himself; and yet again
behold the image of the dead dealer, reinspired with cunning and
At times, with a strong effort, he would glance at the open door
which still seemed to repel his eyes. The house was tall, the
skylight small and dirty, the day blind with fog; and the light
that filtered down to the ground story was exceedingly faint, and
showed dimly on the threshold of the shop. And yet, in that strip
of doubtful brightness, did there not hang wavering a shadow?
Suddenly, from the street outside, a very jovial gentleman began to
beat with a staff on the shop-door, accompanying his blows with
shouts and railleries in which the dealer was continually called
upon by name. Markheim, smitten into ice, glanced at the dead man.
But no! he lay quite still; he was fled away far beyond earshot of
these blows and shoutings; he was sunk beneath seas of silence; and
his name, which would once have caught his notice above the howling
of a storm, had become an empty sound. And presently the jovial
gentleman desisted from his knocking, and departed.
Here was a broad hint to hurry what remained to be done, to get
forth from this accusing neighbourhood, to plunge into a bath of
London multitudes, and to reach, on the other side of day, that
haven of safety and apparent innocence - his bed. One visitor had
come: at any moment another might follow and be more obstinate. To
have done the deed, and yet not to reap the profit, would be too
abhorrent a failure. The money, that was now Markheim's concern;
and as a means to that, the keys.
He glanced over his shoulder at the open door, where the shadow was
still lingering and shivering; and with no conscious repugnance of
the mind, yet with a tremor of the belly, he drew near the body of
his victim. The human character had quite departed. Like a suit
half-stuffed with bran, the limbs lay scattered, the trunk doubled,
on the floor; and yet the thing repelled him. Although so dingy
and inconsiderable to the eye, he feared it might have more
significance to the touch. He took the body by the shoulders, and
turned it on its back. It was strangely light and supple, and the
limbs, as if they had been broken, fell into the oddest postures.
The face was robbed of all expression; but it was as pale as wax,
and shockingly smeared with blood about one temple. That was, for
Markheim, the one displeasing circumstance. It carried him back,
upon the instant, to a certain fair-day in a fishers' village: a
gray day, a piping wind, a crowd upon the street, the blare of
brasses, the booming of drums, the nasal voice of a ballad singer;
and a boy going to and fro, buried over head in the crowd and
divided between interest and fear, until, coming out upon the chief
place of concourse, he beheld a booth and a great screen with
pictures, dismally designed, garishly coloured: Brown-rigg with her
apprentice; the Mannings with their murdered guest; Weare in the
death-grip of Thurtell; and a score besides of famous crimes. The
thing was as clear as an illusion; he was once again that little
boy; he was looking once again, and with the same sense of physical
revolt, at these vile pictures; he was still stunned by the
thumping of the drums. A bar of that day's music returned upon his
memory; and at that, for the first time, a qualm came over him, a
breath of nausea, a sudden weakness of the joints, which he must
instantly resist and conquer.
He judged it more prudent to confront than to flee from these
considerations; looking the more hardily in the dead face, bending
his mind to realise the nature and greatness of his crime. So
little a while ago that face had moved with every change of
sentiment, that pale mouth had spoken, that body had been all on
fire with governable energies; and now, and by his act, that piece
of life had been arrested, as the horologist, with interjected
finger, arrests the beating of the clock. So he reasoned in vain;
he could rise to no more remorseful consciousness; the same heart
which had shuddered before the painted effigies of crime, looked on
its reality unmoved. At best, he felt a gleam of pity for one who
had been endowed in vain with all those faculties that can make the
world a garden of enchantment, one who had never lived and who was
now dead. But of penitence, no, not a tremor.
With that, shaking himself clear of these considerations, he found
the keys and advanced towards the open door of the shop. Outside,
it had begun to rain smartly; and the sound of the shower upon the
roof had banished silence. Like some dripping cavern, the chambers
of the house were haunted by an incessant echoing, which filled the
ear and mingled with the ticking of the clocks. And, as Markheim
approached the door, he seemed to hear, in answer to his own
cautious tread, the steps of another foot withdrawing up the stair.
The shadow still palpitated loosely on the threshold. He threw a
ton's weight of resolve upon his muscles, and drew back the door.
The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and
stairs; on the bright suit of armour posted, halbert in hand, upon
the landing; and on the dark wood-carvings, and framed pictures
that hung against the yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was
the beating of the rain through all the house that, in Markheim's
ears, it began to be distinguished into many different sounds.
Footsteps and sighs, the tread of regiments marching in the
distance, the chink of money in the counting, and the creaking of
doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to mingle with the patter of
the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of the water in the
pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to the verge
of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by presences.
He heard them moving in the upper chambers; from the shop, he heard
the dead man getting to his legs; and as he began with a great
effort to mount the stairs, feet fled quietly before him and
followed stealthily behind. If he were but deaf, he thought, how
tranquilly he would possess his soul! And then again, and
hearkening with ever fresh attention, he blessed himself for that
unresting sense which held the outposts and stood a trusty sentinel
upon his life. His head turned continually on his neck; his eyes,
which seemed starting from their orbits, scouted on every side, and
on every side were half-rewarded as with the tail of something
nameless vanishing. The four-and-twenty steps to the first floor
were four-and-twenty agonies.
On that first storey, the doors stood ajar, three of them like
three ambushes, shaking his nerves like the throats of cannon. He
could never again, he felt, be sufficiently immured and fortified
from men's observing eyes, he longed to be home, girt in by walls,
buried among bedclothes, and invisible to all but God. And at that
thought he wondered a little, recollecting tales of other murderers
and the fear they were said to entertain of heavenly avengers. It
was not so, at least, with him. He feared the laws of nature,
lest, in their callous and immutable procedure, they should
preserve some damning evidence of his crime. He feared tenfold
more, with a slavish, superstitions terror, some scission in the
continuity of man's experience, some wilful illegality of nature.
He played a game of skill, depending on the rules, calculating
consequence from cause; and what if nature, as the defeated tyrant
overthrew the chess-board, should break the mould of their
succession? The like had befallen Napoleon (so writers said) when
the winter changed the time of its appearance. The like might
befall Markheim: the solid walls might become transparent and
reveal his doings like those of bees in a glass hive; the stout
planks might yield under his foot like quicksands and detain him in
their clutch; ay, and there were soberer accidents that might
destroy him: if, for instance, the house should fall and imprison
him beside the body of his victim; or the house next door should
fly on fire, and the firemen invade him from all sides. These
things he feared; and, in a sense, these things might be called the
hands of God reached forth against sin. But about God himself he
was at ease; his act was doubtless exceptional, but so were his
excuses, which God knew; it was there, and not among men, that he
felt sure of justice.
When he had got safe into the drawing-room, and shut the door
behind him, he was aware of a respite from alarms. The room was
quite dismantled, uncarpeted besides, and strewn with packing cases
and incongruous furniture; several great pier-glasses, in which he
beheld himself at various angles, like an actor on a stage; many
pictures, framed and unframed, standing, with their faces to the
wall; a fine Sheraton sideboard, a cabinet of marquetry, and a
great old bed, with tapestry hangings. The windows opened to the
floor; but by great good fortune the lower part of the shutters had
been closed, and this concealed him from the neighbours. Here,
then, Markheim drew in a packing case before the cabinet, and began
to search among the keys. It was a long business, for there were
many; and it was irksome, besides; for, after all, there might be
nothing in the cabinet, and time was on the wing. But the
closeness of the occupation sobered him. With the tail of his eye
he saw the door - even glanced at it from time to time directly,
like a besieged commander pleased to verify the good estate of his
defences. But in truth he was at peace. The rain falling in the
street sounded natural and pleasant. Presently, on the other side,
the notes of a piano were wakened to the music of a hymn, and the
voices of many children took up the air and words. How stately,
how comfortable was the melody! How fresh the youthful voices!
Markheim gave ear to it smilingly, as he sorted out the keys; and
his mind was thronged with answerable ideas and images; church-
going children and the pealing of the high organ; children afield,
bathers by the brookside, ramblers on the brambly common, kite-
flyers in the windy and cloud-navigated sky; and then, at another
cadence of the hymn, back again to church, and the somnolence of
summer Sundays, and the high genteel voice of the parson (which he
smiled a little to recall) and the painted Jacobean tombs, and the
dim lettering of the Ten Commandments in the chancel.
And as he sat thus, at once busy and absent, he was startled to his
feet. A flash of ice, a flash of fire, a bursting gush of blood,
went over him, and then he stood transfixed and thrilling. A step
mounted the stair slowly and steadily, and presently a hand was
laid upon the knob, and the lock clicked, and the door opened.
Fear held Markheim in a vice. What to expect he knew not, whether
the dead man walking, or the official ministers of human justice,
or some chance witness blindly stumbling in to consign him to the
gallows. But when a face was thrust into the aperture, glanced
round the room, looked at him, nodded and smiled as if in friendly
recognition, and then withdrew again, and the door closed behind
it, his fear broke loose from his control in a hoarse cry. At the
sound of this the visitant returned.
'Did you call me?' he asked, pleasantly, and with that he entered
the room and closed the door behind him.
Markheim stood and gazed at him with all his eyes. Perhaps there
was a film upon his sight, but the outlines of the new comer seemed
to change and waver like those of the idols in the wavering candle-
light of the shop; and at times he thought he knew him; and at
times he thought he bore a likeness to himself; and always, like a
lump of living terror, there lay in his bosom the conviction that
this thing was not of the earth and not of God.
And yet the creature had a strange air of the commonplace, as he
stood looking on Markheim with a smile; and when he added: 'You are
looking for the money, I believe?' it was in the tones of everyday
Markheim made no answer.
'I should warn you,' resumed the other, 'that the maid has left her
sweetheart earlier than usual and will soon be here. If Mr.
Markheim be found in this house, I need not describe to him the
'You know me?' cried the murderer.
The visitor smiled. 'You have long been a favourite of mine,' he
said; 'and I have long observed and often sought to help you.'
'What are you?' cried Markheim: 'the devil?'
'What I may be,' returned the other, 'cannot affect the service I
propose to render you.'
'It can,' cried Markheim; 'it does! Be helped by you? No, never;
not by you! You do not know me yet; thank God, you do not know
'I know you,' replied the visitant, with a sort of kind severity or
rather firmness. 'I know you to the soul.'
'Know me!' cried Markheim. 'Who can do so? My life is but a
travesty and slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature.
All men do; all men are better than this disguise that grows about
and stifles them. You see each dragged away by life, like one whom
bravos have seized and muffled in a cloak. If they had their own
control - if you could see their faces, they would be altogether
different, they would shine out for heroes and saints! I am worse
than most; myself is more overlaid; my excuse is known to me and
God. But, had I the time, I could disclose myself.'
'To me?' inquired the visitant.
'To you before all,' returned the murderer. 'I supposed you were
intelligent. I thought - since you exist - you would prove a
reader of the heart. And yet you would propose to judge me by my
acts! Think of it; my acts! I was born and I have lived in a land
of giants; giants have dragged me by the wrists since I was born
out of my mother - the giants of circumstance. And you would
judge me by my acts! But can you not look within? Can you not
understand that evil is hateful to me? Can you not see within me
the clear writing of conscience, never blurred by any wilful
sophistry, although too often disregarded? Can you not read me for
a thing that surely must be common as humanity - the unwilling
'All this is very feelingly expressed,' was the reply, 'but it
regards me not. These points of consistency are beyond my
province, and I care not in the least by what compulsion you may
have been dragged away, so as you are but carried in the right
direction. But time flies; the servant delays, looking in the
faces of the crowd and at the pictures on the hoardings, but still
she keeps moving nearer; and remember, it is as if the gallows
itself was striding towards you through the Christmas streets!
Shall I help you; I, who know all? Shall I tell you where to find
'For what price?' asked Markheim.
'I offer you the service for a Christmas gift,' returned the other.
Markheim could not refrain from smiling with a kind of bitter
triumph. 'No,' said he, 'I will take nothing at your hands; if I
were dying of thirst, and it was your hand that put the pitcher to
my lips, I should find the courage to refuse. It may be credulous,
but I will do nothing to commit myself to evil.'
'I have no objection to a death-bed repentance,' observed the
'Because you disbelieve their efficacy!' Markheim cried.
'I do not say so,' returned the other; 'but I look on these things
from a different side, and when the life is done my interest falls.
The man has lived to serve me, to spread black looks under colour
of religion, or to sow tares in the wheat-field, as you do, in a
course of weak compliance with desire. Now that he draws so near
to his deliverance, he can add but one act of service - to repent,
to die smiling, and thus to build up in confidence and hope the
more timorous of my surviving followers. I am not so hard a
master. Try me. Accept my help. Please yourself in life as you
have done hitherto; please yourself more amply, spread your elbows
at the board; and when the night begins to fall and the curtains to
be drawn, I tell you, for your greater comfort, that you will find
it even easy to compound your quarrel with your conscience, and to
make a truckling peace with God. I came but now from such a
deathbed, and the room was full of sincere mourners, listening to
the man's last words: and when I looked into that face, which had
been set as a flint against mercy, I found it smiling with hope.'
'And do you, then, suppose me such a creature?' asked Markheim.
'Do you think I have no more generous aspirations than to sin, and
sin, and sin, and, at the last, sneak into heaven? My heart rises
at the thought. Is this, then, your experience of mankind? or is
it because you find me with red hands that you presume such
baseness? and is this crime of murder indeed so impious as to dry
up the very springs of good?'
'Murder is to me no special category,' replied the other. 'All
sins are murder, even as all life is war. I behold your race, like
starving mariners on a raft, plucking crusts out of the hands of
famine and feeding on each other's lives. I follow sins beyond the
moment of their acting; I find in all that the last consequence is
death; and to my eyes, the pretty maid who thwarts her mother with
such taking graces on a question of a ball, drips no less visibly
with human gore than such a murderer as yourself. Do I say that I
follow sins? I follow virtues also; they differ not by the
thickness of a nail, they are both scythes for the reaping angel of
Death. Evil, for which I live, consists not in action but in
character. The bad man is dear to me; not the bad act, whose
fruits, if we could follow them far enough down the hurtling
cataract of the ages, might yet be found more blessed than those of
the rarest virtues. And it is not because you have killed a
dealer, but because you are Markheim, that I offer to forward your
'I will lay my heart open to you,' answered Markheim. 'This crime
on which you find me is my last. On my way to it I have learned
many lessons; itself is a lesson, a momentous lesson. Hitherto I
have been driven with revolt to what I would not; I was a bond-
slave to poverty, driven and scourged. There are robust virtues
that can stand in these temptations; mine was not so: I had a
thirst of pleasure. But to-day, and out of this deed, I pluck both
warning and riches - both the power and a fresh resolve to be
myself. I become in all things a free actor in the world; I begin
to see myself all changed, these hands the agents of good, this
heart at peace. Something comes over me out of the past; something
of what I have dreamed on Sabbath evenings to the sound of the
church organ, of what I forecast when I shed tears over noble
books, or talked, an innocent child, with my mother. There lies my
life; I have wandered a few years, but now I see once more my city
'You are to use this money on the Stock Exchange, I think?'
remarked the visitor; 'and there, if I mistake not, you have
already lost some thousands?'
'Ah,' said Markheim, 'but this time I have a sure thing.'
'This time, again, you will lose,' replied the visitor quietly.
'Ah, but I keep back the half!' cried Markheim.
'That also you will lose,' said the other.
The sweat started upon Markheim's brow. 'Well, then, what matter?'
he exclaimed. 'Say it be lost, say I am plunged again in poverty,
shall one part of me, and that the worse, continue until the end to
override the better? Evil and good run strong in me, haling me
both ways. I do not love the one thing, I love all. I can
conceive great deeds, renunciations, martyrdoms; and though I be
fallen to such a crime as murder, pity is no stranger to my
thoughts. I pity the poor; who knows their trials better than
myself? I pity and help them; I prize love, I love honest
laughter; there is no good thing nor true thing on earth but I love
it from my heart. And are my vices only to direct my life, and my
virtues to lie without effect, like some passive lumber of the
mind? Not so; good, also, is a spring of acts.'
But the visitant raised his finger. 'For six-and-thirty years that
you have been in this world,' said be, 'through many changes of
fortune and varieties of humour, I have watched you steadily fall.
Fifteen years ago you would have started at a theft. Three years
back you would have blenched at the name of murder. Is there any
crime, is there any cruelty or meanness, from which you still
recoil? - five years from now I shall detect you in the fact!
Downward, downward, lies your way; nor can anything but death avail
to stop you.'
'It is true,' Markheim said huskily, 'I have in some degree
complied with evil. But it is so with all: the very saints, in the
mere exercise of living, grow less dainty, and take on the tone of
'I will propound to you one simple question,' said the other; 'and
as you answer, I shall read to you your moral horoscope. You have
grown in many things more lax; possibly you do right to be so - and
at any account, it is the same with all men. But granting that,
are you in any one particular, however trifling, more difficult to
please with your own conduct, or do you go in all things with a
'In any one?' repeated Markheim, with an anguish of consideration.
'No,' he added, with despair, 'in none! I have gone down in all.'
'Then,' said the visitor, 'content yourself with what you are, for
you will never change; and the words of your part on this stage are
irrevocably written down.'
Markheim stood for a long while silent, and indeed it was the
visitor who first broke the silence. 'That being so,' he said,
'shall I show you the money?'
'And grace?' cried Markheim.
'Have you not tried it?' returned the other. 'Two or three years
ago, did I not see you on the platform of revival meetings, and was
not your voice the loudest in the hymn?'
'It is true,' said Markheim; 'and I see clearly what remains for me
by way of duty. I thank you for these lessons from my soul; my
eyes are opened, and I behold myself at last for what I am.'
At this moment, the sharp note of the door-bell rang through the
house; and the visitant, as though this were some concerted signal
for which he had been waiting, changed at once in his demeanour.
'The maid!' he cried. 'She has returned, as I forewarned you, and
there is now before you one more difficult passage. Her master,
you must say, is ill; you must let her in, with an assured but
rather serious countenance - no smiles, no overacting, and I
promise you success! Once the girl within, and the door closed,
the same dexterity that has already rid you of the dealer will
relieve you of this last danger in your path. Thenceforward you
have the whole evening - the whole night, if needful - to ransack
the treasures of the house and to make good your safety. This is
help that comes to you with the mask of danger. Up!' he cried;
'up, friend; your life hangs trembling in the scales: up, and act!'
Markheim steadily regarded his counsellor. 'If I be condemned to
evil acts,' he said, 'there is still one door of freedom open - I
can cease from action. If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it
down. Though I be, as you say truly, at the beck of every small
temptation, I can yet, by one decisive gesture, place myself beyond
the reach of all. My love of good is damned to barrenness; it may,
and let it be! But I have still my hatred of evil; and from that,
to your galling disappointment, you shall see that I can draw both
energy and courage.'
The features of the visitor began to undergo a wonderful and lovely
change: they brightened and softened with a tender triumph, and,
even as they brightened, faded and dislimned. But Markheim did not
pause to watch or understand the transformation. He opened the
door and went downstairs very slowly, thinking to himself. His
past went soberly before him; he beheld it as it was, ugly and
strenuous like a dream, random as chance-medley - a scene of
defeat. Life, as he thus reviewed it, tempted him no longer; but
on the further side he perceived a quiet haven for his bark. He
paused in the passage, and looked into the shop, where the candle
still burned by the dead body. It was strangely silent. Thoughts
of the dealer swarmed into his mind, as he stood gazing. And then
the bell once more broke out into impatient clamour.
He confronted the maid upon the threshold with something like a
'You had better go for the police,' said he: 'I have killed your
THE Reverend Murdoch Soulis was long minister of the moorland
parish of Balweary, in the vale of Dule. A severe, bleak-faced old
man, dreadful to his hearers, he dwelt in the last years of his
life, without relative or servant or any human company, in the
small and lonely manse under the Hanging Shaw. In spite of the
iron composure of his features, his eye was wild, scared, and
uncertain; and when he dwelt, in private admonitions, on the future
of the impenitent, it seemed as if his eye pierced through the
storms of time to the terrors of eternity. Many young persons,
coming to prepare themselves against the season of the Holy
Communion, were dreadfully affected by his talk. He had a sermon
on lst Peter, v. and 8th, 'The devil as a roaring lion,' on the
Sunday after every seventeenth of August, and he was accustomed to
surpass himself upon that text both by the appalling nature of the
matter and the terror of his bearing in the pulpit. The children
were frightened into fits, and the old looked more than usually
oracular, and were, all that day, full of those hints that Hamlet
deprecated. The manse itself, where it stood by the water of Dule
among some thick trees, with the Shaw overhanging it on the one
side, and on the other many cold, moorish hilltops rising towards
the sky, had begun, at a very early period of Mr. Soulis's
ministry, to be avoided in the dusk hours by all who valued
themselves upon their prudence; and guidmen sitting at the clachan
alehouse shook their heads together at the thought of passing late
by that uncanny neighbourhood. There was one spot, to be more
particular, which was regarded with especial awe. The manse stood
between the high road and the water of Dule, with a gable to each;
its back was towards the kirk-town of Balweary, nearly half a mile
away; in front of it, a bare garden, hedged with thorn, occupied
the land between the river and the road. The house was two stories
high, with two large rooms on each. It opened not directly on the
garden, but on a causewayed path, or passage, giving on the road on
the one hand, and closed on the other by the tall willows and
elders that bordered on the stream. And it was this strip of
causeway that enjoyed among the young parishioners of Balweary so
infamous a reputation. The minister walked there often after dark,
sometimes groaning aloud in the instancy of his unspoken prayers;
and when he was from home, and the manse door was locked, the more
daring schoolboys ventured, with beating hearts, to 'follow my
leader' across that legendary spot.
This atmosphere of terror, surrounding, as it did, a man of God of
spotless character and orthodoxy, was a common cause of wonder and
subject of inquiry among the few strangers who were led by chance
or business into that unknown, outlying country. But many even of
the people of the parish were ignorant of the strange events which
had marked the first year of Mr. Soulis's ministrations; and among
those who were better informed, some were naturally reticent, and
others shy of that particular topic. Now and again, only, one of
the older folk would warm into courage over his third tumbler, and
recount the cause of the minister's strange looks and solitary
Fifty years syne, when Mr. Soulis cam first into Ba'weary, he was
still a young man - a callant, the folk said - fu' o' book learnin'
and grand at the exposition, but, as was natural in sae young a
man, wi' nae leevin' experience in religion. The younger sort were
greatly taken wi' his gifts and his gab; but auld, concerned,
serious men and women were moved even to prayer for the young man,
whom they took to be a self-deceiver, and the parish that was like
to be sae ill-supplied. It was before the days o' the moderates -
weary fa' them; but ill things are like guid - they baith come bit
by bit, a pickle at a time; and there were folk even then that said
the Lord had left the college professors to their ain devices, an'
the lads that went to study wi' them wad hae done mair and better
sittin' in a peat-bog, like their forbears of the persecution, wi'
a Bible under their oxter and a speerit o' prayer in their heart.
There was nae doubt, onyway, but that Mr. Soulis had been ower lang
at the college. He was careful and troubled for mony things
besides the ae thing needful. He had a feck o' books wi' him -
mair than had ever been seen before in a' that presbytery; and a
sair wark the carrier had wi' them, for they were a' like to have
smoored in the Deil's Hag between this and Kilmackerlie. They were
books o' divinity, to be sure, or so they ca'd them; but the
serious were o' opinion there was little service for sae mony, when
the hail o' God's Word would gang in the neuk of a plaid. Then he
wad sit half the day and half the nicht forbye, which was scant
decent - writin', nae less; and first, they were feared he wad read
his sermons; and syne it proved he was writin' a book himsel',
which was surely no fittin' for ane of his years an' sma'
Onyway it behoved him to get an auld, decent wife to keep the manse
for him an' see to his bit denners; and he was recommended to an
auld limmer - Janet M'Clour, they ca'd her - and sae far left to
himsel' as to be ower persuaded. There was mony advised him to the
contrar, for Janet was mair than suspeckit by the best folk in
Ba'weary. Lang or that, she had had a wean to a dragoon; she
hadnae come forrit (4) for maybe thretty year; and bairns had seen
her mumblin' to hersel' up on Key's Loan in the gloamin', whilk was
an unco time an' place for a God-fearin' woman. Howsoever, it was
the laird himsel' that had first tauld the minister o' Janet; and
in thae days he wad have gane a far gate to pleesure the laird.
When folk tauld him that Janet was sib to the deil, it was a'
superstition by his way of it; an' when they cast up the Bible to
him an' the witch of Endor, he wad threep it doun their thrapples
that thir days were a' gane by, and the deil was mercifully
Weel, when it got about the clachan that Janet M'Clour was to be
servant at the manse, the folk were fair mad wi' her an' him
thegether; and some o' the guidwives had nae better to dae than get
round her door cheeks and chairge her wi' a' that was ken't again
her, frae the sodger's bairn to John Tamson's twa kye. She was nae
great speaker; folk usually let her gang her ain gate, an' she let
them gang theirs, wi', neither Fair-guid-een nor Fair-guid-day; but
when she buckled to, she had a tongue to deave the miller. Up she
got, an' there wasnae an auld story in Ba'weary but she gart
somebody lowp for it that day; they couldnae say ae thing but she
could say twa to it; till, at the hinder end, the guidwives up and
claught haud of her, and clawed the coats aff her back, and pu'd
her doun the clachan to the water o' Dule, to see if she were a
witch or no, soum or droun. The carline skirled till ye could hear
her at the Hangin' Shaw, and she focht like ten; there was mony a
guidwife bure the mark of her neist day an' mony a lang day after;
and just in the hettest o' the collieshangie, wha suld come up (for
his sins) but the new minister.
'Women,' said he (and he had a grand voice), 'I charge you in the
Lord's name to let her go.'
Janet ran to him - she was fair wud wi' terror - an' clang to him,
an' prayed him, for Christ's sake, save her frae the cummers; an'
they, for their pairt, tauld him a' that was ken't, and maybe mair.
'Woman,' says he to Janet, 'is this true?'
'As the Lord sees me,' says she, 'as the Lord made me, no a word
o't. Forbye the bairn,' says she, 'I've been a decent woman a' my
'Will you,' says Mr. Soulis, 'in the name of God, and before me,
His unworthy minister, renounce the devil and his works?'
Weel, it wad appear that when he askit that, she gave a girn that
fairly frichtit them that saw her, an' they could hear her teeth
play dirl thegether in her chafts; but there was naething for it
but the ae way or the ither; an' Janet lifted up her hand and
renounced the deil before them a'.
'And now,' says Mr. Soulis to the guidwives, 'home with ye, one and
all, and pray to God for His forgiveness.'
And he gied Janet his arm, though she had little on her but a sark,
and took her up the clachan to her ain door like a leddy of the
land; an' her scrieghin' and laughin' as was a scandal to be heard.
There were mony grave folk lang ower their prayers that nicht; but
when the morn cam' there was sic a fear fell upon a' Ba'weary that
the bairns hid theirsels, and even the men folk stood and keekit
frae their doors. For there was Janet comin' doun the clachan -
her or her likeness, nane could tell - wi' her neck thrawn, and her
heid on ae side, like a body that has been hangit, and a girn on
her face like an unstreakit corp. By an' by they got used wi' it,
and even speered at her to ken what was wrang; but frae that day
forth she couldnae speak like a Christian woman, but slavered and
played click wi' her teeth like a pair o' shears; and frae that day
forth the name o' God cam never on her lips. Whiles she wad try to
say it, but it michtnae be. Them that kenned best said least; but
they never gied that Thing the name o' Janet M'Clour; for the auld
Janet, by their way o't, was in muckle hell that day. But the
minister was neither to haud nor to bind; he preached about
naething but the folk's cruelty that had gi'en her a stroke of the
palsy; he skelpt the bairns that meddled her; and he had her up to
the manse that same nicht, and dwalled there a' his lane wi' her
under the Hangin' Shaw.
Weel, time gaed by: and the idler sort commenced to think mair
lichtly o' that black business. The minister was weel thocht o';
he was aye late at the writing, folk wad see his can'le doon by the
Dule water after twal' at e'en; and he seemed pleased wi' himsel'
and upsitten as at first, though a' body could see that he was
dwining. As for Janet she cam an' she gaed; if she didnae speak
muckle afore, it was reason she should speak less then; she meddled
naebody; but she was an eldritch thing to see, an' nane wad hae
mistrysted wi' her for Ba'weary glebe.
About the end o' July there cam' a spell o' weather, the like o't
never was in that country side; it was lown an' het an' heartless;
the herds couldnae win up the Black Hill, the bairns were ower
weariet to play; an' yet it was gousty too, wi' claps o' het wund
that rumm'led in the glens, and bits o' shouers that slockened
naething. We aye thocht it but to thun'er on the morn; but the
morn cam, an' the morn's morning, and it was aye the same uncanny
weather, sair on folks and bestial. Of a' that were the waur, nane
suffered like Mr. Soulis; he could neither sleep nor eat, he tauld
his elders; an' when he wasnae writin' at his weary book, he wad be
stravaguin' ower a' the countryside like a man possessed, when a'
body else was blythe to keep caller ben the house.
Abune Hangin' Shaw, in the bield o' the Black Hill, there's a bit
enclosed grund wi' an iron yett; and it seems, in the auld days,
that was the kirkyaird o' Ba'weary, and consecrated by the Papists
before the blessed licht shone upon the kingdom. It was a great
howff o' Mr. Soulis's, onyway; there he would sit an' consider his
sermons; and indeed it's a bieldy bit. Weel, as he cam ower the
wast end o' the Black Hill, ae day, he saw first twa, an syne
fower, an' syne seeven corbie craws fleein' round an' round abune
the auld kirkyaird. They flew laigh and heavy, an' squawked to
ither as they gaed; and it was clear to Mr. Soulis that something
had put them frae their ordinar. He wasnae easy fleyed, an' gaed
straucht up to the wa's; an' what suld he find there but a man, or
the appearance of a man, sittin' in the inside upon a grave. He
was of a great stature, an' black as hell, and his e'en were
singular to see. (5) Mr. Soulis had heard tell o' black men,
mony's the time; but there was something unco about this black man
that daunted him. Het as he was, he took a kind o' cauld grue in
the marrow o' his banes; but up he spak for a' that; an' says he:
'My friend, are you a stranger in this place?' The black man
answered never a word; he got upon his feet, an' begude to hirsle
to the wa' on the far side; but he aye lookit at the minister; an'
the minister stood an' lookit back; till a' in a meenute the black
man was ower the wa' an' rinnin' for the bield o' the trees. Mr.
Soulis, he hardly kenned why, ran after him; but he was sair
forjaskit wi' his walk an' the het, unhalesome weather; and rin as
he likit, he got nae mair than a glisk o' the black man amang the
birks, till he won doun to the foot o' the hill-side, an' there he
saw him ance mair, gaun, hap, step, an' lowp, ower Dule water to
Mr. Soulis wasnae weel pleased that this fearsome gangrel suld mak'
sae free wi' Ba'weary manse; an' he ran the harder, an', wet shoon,
ower the burn, an' up the walk; but the deil a black man was there
to see. He stepped out upon the road, but there was naebody there;
he gaed a' ower the gairden, but na, nae black man. At the hinder
end, and a bit feared as was but natural, he lifted the hasp and
into the manse; and there was Janet M'Clour before his een, wi' her
thrawn craig, and nane sae pleased to see him. And he aye minded
sinsyne, when first he set his een upon her, he had the same cauld
and deidly grue.
'Janet,' says he, 'have you seen a black man?'
'A black man?' quo' she. 'Save us a'! Ye're no wise, minister.
There's nae black man in a Ba'weary.'
But she didnae speak plain, ye maun understand; but yam-yammered,
like a powney wi' the bit in its moo.
'Weel,' says he, 'Janet, if there was nae black man, I have spoken
with the Accuser of the Brethren.'
And he sat down like ane wi' a fever, an' his teeth chittered in
'Hoots,' says she, 'think shame to yoursel', minister;' an' gied
him a drap brandy that she keept aye by her.
Syne Mr. Soulis gaed into his study amang a' his books. It's a
lang, laigh, mirk chalmer, perishin' cauld in winter, an' no very
dry even in the tap o' the simmer, for the manse stands near the
burn. Sae doun he sat, and thocht of a' that had come an' gane
since he was in Ba'weary, an' his hame, an' the days when he was a
bairn an' ran daffin' on the braes; and that black man aye ran in
his heid like the ower-come of a sang. Aye the mair he thocht, the
mair he thocht o' the black man. He tried the prayer, an' the
words wouldnae come to him; an' he tried, they say, to write at his
book, but he could nae mak' nae mair o' that. There was whiles he
thocht the black man was at his oxter, an' the swat stood upon him
cauld as well-water; and there was other whiles, when he cam to
himsel' like a christened bairn and minded naething.
The upshot was that he gaed to the window an' stood glowrin' at
Dule water. The trees are unco thick, an' the water lies deep an'
black under the manse; an' there was Janct washin' the cla'es wi'
her coats kilted. She had her back to the minister, an' he, for
his pairt, hardly kenned what he was lookin' at. Syne she turned
round, an' shawed her face; Mr. Soulis had the same cauld grue as
twice that day afore, an' it was borne in upon him what folk said,
that Janet was deid lang syne, an' this was a bogle in her clay-
cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly.
She was tramp-trampin' in the cla'es, croonin' to hersel'; and eh!
Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face. Whiles she sang louder,
but there was nae man born o' woman that could tell the words o'
her sang; an' whiles she lookit side-lang doun, but there was
naething there for her to look at. There gaed a scunner through
the flesh upon his banes; and that was Heeven's advertisement. But
Mr. Soulis just blamed himsel', he said, to think sae ill of a
puir, auld afflicted wife that hadnae a freend forbye himsel'; an'
he put up a bit prayer for him and her, an' drank a little caller
water - for his heart rose again the meat - an' gaed up to his
naked bed in the gloaming.
That was a nicht that has never been forgotten in Ba'weary, the
nicht o' the seeventeenth of August, seventeen hun'er' an twal'.
It had been het afore, as I hae said, but that nicht it was hetter
than ever. The sun gaed doun amang unco-lookin' clouds; it fell as
mirk as the pit; no a star, no a breath o' wund; ye couldnae see
your han' afore your face, and even the auld folk cuist the covers
frae their beds and lay pechin' for their breath. Wi' a' that he
had upon his mind, it was gey and unlikely Mr. Soulis wad get
muckle sleep. He lay an' he tummled; the gude, caller bed that he
got into brunt his very banes; whiles he slept, and whiles he
waukened; whiles he heard the time o' nicht, and whiles a tyke
yowlin' up the muir, as if somebody was deid; whiles he thocht he
heard bogles claverin' in his lug, an' whiles he saw spunkies in
the room. He behoved, he judged, to be sick; an' sick he was -
little he jaloosed the sickness.