Part 3 out of 11
left it far behind, I glanced back more than once ere its
towering branches were lost to my view.
So I walked on through the shadows, past trees that were not
trees, and hedges that were not hedges, but frightful phantoms,
rather, lifting menacing arms above my head, and reaching after
me with clutching fingers. Time and again, ashamed of such
weakness, I cursed myself for an imaginative fool, but kept well
in the middle of the road, and grasped my staff firmly,
I had gone, perhaps, some mile or so in this way, alternately
rating and reasoning with myself, when I suddenly fancied I heard
a step behind me, and swung round upon my heel, with ready stick;
but the road stretched away empty as far as I could see. Having
looked about me on all sides, I presently went on again, yet,
immediately, it seemed that the steps began also, keeping time
with my own, now slow, now fast, now slow again; but, whenever I
turned, the road behind was apparently as empty and desolate as
I can conceive of few things more nerve-racking than the
knowledge that we are being dogged by something which we can only
guess at, and that all our actions are watched by eyes which we
cannot see. Thus, with every step, I found the situation grow
more intolerable, for though I kept a close watch behind me and
upon the black gloom of the hedges, I could see nothing. At
length, however, I came upon a gap in the hedge where was a gate,
and beyond this, vaguely outlined against a glimmer of sky, I saw
a dim figure.
Hereupon, running forward, I set my hand upon the gate, and
leaping over, found myself face to face with a man who carried a
gun across his arm. If I was startled at this sudden encounter
he was no less so, and thus we stood eyeing each other as well as
we might in the half light.
"Well," I demanded, at last, "what do you mean by following me
"I aren't follered ye," retorted the man.
"But I heard your steps behind me."
"Not mine, master. I've sat and waited 'ere 'arf a
hour, or more, for a poachin' cove--"
"But some one was following me."
"Well, it weren't I. A keeper I be, a-lookin' for a poachin'
cove just about your size, and it's precious lucky for you as you
are a-wearin' that there bell-crowned 'at!"
"Because, if you 'adn't 'appened to be a-wearin' that there
bell-crowner, and I 'adn't 'appened to be of a argifyin' and
inquirin' turn o' mind, I should ha' filled you full o' buckshot."
"Oh?" said I.
"Yes," said he, nodding, while I experienced a series of cold
chills up my spine, "not a blessed doubt of it. Poachers," he
went on, "don't wear bell-crowned 'ats as a rule--I never seed
one as did; and so, while I was a-watchin' of you be'ind this
'ere 'edge, I argies the matter in my mind. 'Robert,' I says to
meself, 'Robert,' I sez, 'did you ever 'appen to see a poachin'
cove in a bell-crowner afore? No, you never did,' sez I. 'But,
on the other 'and, this 'ere cove is the very spit o' the
poachin' cove as I'm a-lookin' for. True!' sez I to meself,
'but this 'ere cove is a-wearin' of a bell-crowner 'at, but the
poachin' cove never wore a bell-crowner--nor never will.' Still,
I must say I come very near pullin' trigger on ye--just to make
sure. So ye see it were precious lucky for you as you was
a-wearin' o' that there--"
"It certainly was," said I, turning away.
"--that there bell-crowner, and likewise as I'm a man of a
nat'ral gift for argiment, and of a inquirin'--"
"Without doubt," said I, vaulting over the gate into the road
"--turn o' mind, because if I 'adn't 'a' been, and you 'adn't 'a'
wore that there bell-crowner--"
"The consequences are unpleasantly obvious!" said I, over my
shoulder, as I walked on down the road.
"--I should ha' shot ye--like a dog!" he shouted, hanging over
the gate to do so.
And, when I had gone on some distance, I took off that which the
man had called a "bell-crowner," and bestowed upon it a touch,
and looked at it as I had never done before; and there was
gratitude in look and touch, for tonight it had, indeed, stood my
Slowly, slowly the moon, at whose advent the starry host "paled
their ineffectual fires," mounted into a cloudless heaven, higher
and higher, in queenly majesty, until the dark world was filled
with her glory, and the road before me became transformed into a
silver track splashed here and there with the inky shadow of
hedge and trees, and leading away into a land of "Faerie."
Indeed, to my mind, there is nothing more delightful than to walk
upon a country road, beneath a midsummer moon, when there is no
sound to break the stillness, save, perhaps, the murmur of wind
in trees, or the throbbing melody of some hidden brook. At such
times the world of every day--the world of Things Material, the
hard, hard world of Common-sense--seems to vanish quite, and we
walk within the fair haven of our dreams, where Imagination
meets, and kisses us upon the brow. And, at his touch, the
Impossible straightway becomes the Possible; the Abstract becomes
the Concrete; our fondest hopes are realized; our most cherished
visions take form, and stand before us; surely, at such an hour,
the gods come down to walk with us awhile.
From this ecstasy I was suddenly aroused by hearing once more
the sound of a footstep upon the road behind me. So distinct and
unmistakable was it that I turned sharp about, and, though the
road seemed as deserted as ever, I walked back, looking into
every patch of shadow, and even thrust into the denser parts of
the hedges with my staff; but still I found no one. And yet I
knew that I was being followed persistently, step by step, but by
whom, and for what reason?
A little farther on, upon one side of the way, was a small wood
or coppice, and now I made towards this, keeping well in the
shadow of the hedge. The trees were somewhat scattered, but the
underbrush was very dense, and amongst this I hid myself where I
could watch the road, and waited. Minute after minute elapsed,
and, losing patience, I was about to give up all hope of thus
discovering my unknown pursuer, when a stick snapped sharply
near by, and, glancing round, I thought I saw a head vanish
behind the bole of an adjacent tree; wherefore I made quickly
towards that tree, but ere I reached it, a man stepped out. A
tall, loose-limbed fellow he was, clad in rough clothes (that
somehow had about them a vague suggestion of ships and the sea),
and with a moth-eaten, fur cap crushed down upon his head. His
face gleamed pale, and his eyes were deep-sunken, and very bright;
also, I noticed that one hand was hidden in the pocket of his
coat. But most of all, I was struck by the extreme pallor of his
face, and the burning brilliancy of his eyes.
And, with the glance that showed me all this, I recognized the
HOW I TALKED WITH A MADMAN IN A WOOD BY MOONLIGHT
"Good evening, sir!" he said, in a strange, hurried sort of way,
"the moon, you will perceive, is very nearly at the full to-night."
And his voice, immediately, struck me as being at odds with his
"Why do you stand and peer at me?" said I sharply.
"Peer at you, sir?"
"Yes, from behind the tree, yonder." As I spoke, he craned his
head towards me, and I saw his pale lips twitch suddenly. "And
why have you dogged me; why have you followed me all the way from
"Why, sir, surely there is nothing so strange in that. I am a
"What do you mean by 'a shadow'?"
"Sir, I am a shadow cast by neither sun, nor moon, nor star, that
moves on unceasingly in dark as in light. Sir, it is my fate
(in common with my kind), to be ever upon the move--a stranger
everywhere without friends or kindred. I have been, during the
past year, all over England, east, and west, and north, and
south; within the past week, for instance, I have travelled from
London to Epsom, from Epsom to Brighton, from Brighton back again
to London, and from London here. And I peer at you, sir, because
I wished to make certain what manner of man you were before I
spoke, and though the moon is bright, yet your hat-brim left your
face in shade."
"Well, are you satisfied?"
"So much so, sir, so very much so, that I should like to talk
with you, to--to ask you a question," he answered, passing his
hand--a thin, white hand--across his brow, and up over the fur
cap that was so out of keeping with the pale face below.
"If you will be so obliging as to listen, sir; let us sit awhile,
for I am very weary." And with the words he sank down upon the
grass. After a momentary hesitation, I followed his example, for
my curiosity was piqued by the fellow's strange manner; yet, when
we were sitting opposite each other, I saw that his hand was
still hidden in the pocket of his coat.
"Perhaps, sir," said he, in his nervous, hurried manner, "perhaps
you would be better able to answer my question were I first to
tell you a story--an ordinary, a very commonplace one, I fear,
but with the virtue that it is short, and soon told."
"My time is entirely my own," said I, leaning with my shoulders
against the tree behind me; "proceed with your story."
"First, then, my name is Strickland--John Strickland!"
Here he paused, and, though his head was bent, I saw him watching
me beneath his brows.
"Well?" said I.
"I am a supercargo."
Again he paused expectantly, but seeing I merely nodded, he
"Upon one of my voyages, our vessel was wrecked, and, so far as I
know, all save myself and six others--four seamen and two
passengers--were drowned. The passengers I speak of were an old
merchant--and his daughter, a very beautiful girl; her name was
Once again he paused and again he eyed me narrowly.
"Well?" said I.
"Well, sir," he resumed, speaking in a low, repressed voice, "we
seven, after two miserable days in a drifting boat, reached an
island where, that same night, the old merchant died. Sir, the
sailors were wild, rough men; the island was a desolate one from
whence there was seemingly no chance of escape, it lying out of
the usual track of ships, and this girl was, as I have said, very
beautiful. Under such conditions her fate would have been
unspeakable degradation, and probably death; but, sir, I fought
and bled for her, not once but many times, and eventually I
killed one of them with my sheath-knife, and I remember, to this
hour, how his blood gushed over my hands and arms, and sickened
me. After that they waited hourly to avenge his death, and get
me out of their way once and for all, but I had my long knife,
and they but such rude weapons as they could devise. Day after
day, and night after night, I watched for an opportunity to
escape with the boat, until at last, one day while they were all
three gone inland, not dreaming of any such attempt, for the sea
was very dangerous and high, with the girl's help I managed to
launch the boat, and so stood out to sea. And I remember those
three sailors came running with great shouts and cries, and flung
themselves down upon the beach, and crawled upon their knees,
praying to be taken off along with us, and begging us not to
leave them to perish. After three days' buffeting at the mercy
of the seas, we were picked up by a brig bound for Portsmouth,
and, six months later, were in England. Sir, it is impossible
for a man to have lived beside a beautiful woman day by day, to
have fought for and suffered with her, not to love her also.
Thus, seeing her friendless and penniless, I wooed and won her to
wife. We came to London, and for a year our life was perfect,
until, through stress of circumstances, I was forced to take
another position aboard ship. Well, sir, I bade farewell to my
wife, and we set sail. The voyage, which was to have lasted but
three months, was lengthened out through one misadventure after
another, so that it was a year before I saw my wife again, At
first I noticed little difference in her save that she was paler,
but, gradually, I came to see that she was unhappy. Often I have
wakened in the night to find her weeping silently.
"Oh, sir!" he broke out, "I do not think there is anything more
terrible than to witness in one we love a sorrow we are unable to
reach!" Here he paused, and I saw that the sweat stood out upon
his brow, and that his hand was tight clenched as he drew it
across his temples. "At last, sir," he went on, speaking once
more in a low, repressed tone, "returning home one day, I found
"Gone?" said I.
"And she left no trace--no letter?"
"No, she left no letter, sir, but I did find something--a
something that had rolled into a corner of the room."
"And what was that?"
"This, sir!" As he spoke, his burning eyes never leaving mine,
he thrust a hand into his bosom--his left hand, for his right was
where it had been all along, hidden in his pocket--and held out
to me a gold seal such as gentlemen wear at their fobs.
"Ah!" I exclaimed.
"Take it!" said the man, thrusting it towards me; "look at it!"
Obediently I took the trinket from him, and, examining it as well
as I might, saw that a letter was engraved upon it, one of those
ornamental initials surrounded by rococo scrolls and flourishes.
"What letter does it bear?" asked the man in a strangled voice.
"It looks very like the letter 'Y,'" I answered
"The letter 'Y'!" cried the man, and then, with a gesture sudden
and fierce, he snatched the seal from me, and, thrusting it back
into his bosom, laughed strangely.
"Why do you laugh?" said I.
"To be sure," said he harshly, "the light might be better, and
yet--well! well! my story is nearly done. I lived on in my
lonely house from day to day, and month to month, hoping and
waiting for her to come back to me. And one day she did come
back to me--just about this hour it was, sir, and on just such
another evening; and that same night--she died."
"Good God!" I exclaimed. "Poor fellow!" And, leaning forward, I
laid my hand upon his knee, but, at my touch, he drew back so
quickly, and with a look so evil, that I was startled.
"Hands off!" said he, and so sat staring at me with his
"Are you mad?" said I, and sprang to my feet.
"Not yet," he answered, and once again he passed his hand up, and
over his face and brow; "no, not yet, sir." Here he rose, and
stood facing me, and I noticed that one hand was still hidden in
his pocket, and, thereafter, while I listened to him, I kept my
eyes directed thither. "That night--before she--died, sir," he
continued, "she told me the name of the man who had destroyed
her, and killed my soul; and I have been searching for him ever
since--east, and west, and north, and south. Now, sir, here is
my question: If I should ever meet that man face to face, as I
now see you, should I not be justified in--killing him?"
For a moment I stood with bent head, yet conscious all the while
of the burning eyes that scanned my face, then:
"Yes," said I.
The man stood utterly still, his mouth opened as if he would
have spoken, but no word came. All at once he turned about, and
walked unsteadily five or six paces. Now, as I looked, I saw him
suddenly draw his hand from his pocket, then, as he wheeled, I
knew, and hurled myself face downward as the pistol flashed.
"Madman!" I cried, and next moment was on my feet; but, with a
sound that was neither a groan nor a scream, and yet something of
both, he leapt into the thickest part of the underbrush, and made
off. And standing there, dazed by the suddenness of it all, I
heard the snapping of twigs grow fainter and fainter as he
crashed through in headlong flight.
Twigs whipped my face, thorns and brambles dragged at my clothes,
hidden obstacles lay in wait for my feet, for the wood grew
denser as I advanced, but I pushed on, heedless alike of these
and of what direction I took. But, as luck would have it, I
presently blundered upon a path which, in a short time, brought
me out very suddenly into what appeared to be a small tavern
yard, for on either hand was a row of tumble-down stables and
barns, while before me was a low, rambling structure which I
judged was the tavern itself. I was yet standing looking about
me when a man issued from the stables upon my right, bearing a
hammer in one hand and a lanthorn in the other.
"Hallo!" said he, staring at me.
"Hallo!" said I, staring at him.
"You don't chance to 'ave a axle-bolt about you, I suppose?"
"No," said I.
"Humph!" he grunted, and, lowering his lanthorn, began searching
among the cobblestones.
"Is this it?" I inquired, picking up a rusty screw-bolt at my
"Ah!" said he, taking it from me with a nod, "know'd I dropped it
'ere some'eres. Ye see," he went on, "couldn't get another round
'ere to-night, and that cussed axle's got to be in place
"Yes?" said I.
"Ah!" nodded the man; "chaise come in 'ere 'arf-an-hour ago wi'
two gentlemen and a lady, in the Lord's own 'urry too. 'Mend
this axle, me man,' says one on 'em--a top-sawyer be the looks
on 'im--'mend this axle, and quick about it.' 'Can't be done,
my lord,' says I. 'W'y not?' says 'e, showin' 'is teeth
savage-like. 'Because it can't,' says I, 'not no'ow, me lord,'
says I. Well, after cussin' 'isself well-nigh black in the face,
'e orders me to have it ready fust thing to-morra, and if you
'adn't found that there bolt for me it wouldn't have been ready
fust thing to-morra, which would ha' been mighty bad for me, for
this 'ere gentleman's a fire-and-fury out-and-outer, and no error."
"Can I have a bed here, do you think?" I inquired.
"Ah," said he, "I think you can."
"For how much, do you suppose?"
"Why, that seems reasonable," said I.
"It are," nodded the man, "and a fine feather bed too! But then,
Lord, one good turn deserves another--"
"This 'ere bolt."
"Are you the landlord, then?"
"I be; and if you feel inclined for a mug o' good ale say the
"Most willingly," said I, "but what of the axle?"
"Plenty o' time for th' axle," nodded the landlord, and setting
down his hammer upon a bench hard by, he led the way into the
tap. The ale was very strong and good; indeed this lovely county
of Kent is justly famous for such. Finding myself very hungry,
the landlord forthwith produced a mighty round of beef, upon
which we both fell to, and ate with a will. Which done, I pulled
out my negro-head pipe, and the landlord fetching himself
another, we sat awhile smoking. And presently, learning I was
from London, he began plying me with all manner of questions
concerning the great city, of which it seemed he could not hear
enough, and I, to describe its wonders as well as I might. At
length, bethinking him of his axle, he rose with a sigh. Upon my
requesting to be shown my room, he lighted a candle, and led the
way up a somewhat rickety stair, along a narrow passage, and
throwing open a door at the end, I found myself in a fair-sized
chamber with a decent white bed, which he introduced to my notice
by the one word, feathers." Hereupon he pinched off the snuff of
the candle with an expression of ponderous thought.
"And so the Tower o' London ain't a tower?" he inquired at last.
"No," I answered; "it is composed of several towers surrounded by
very strong, battlemented walls."
"Ah--to--be--sure," said he, "ah, to be sure! And me 'ave allus
thought on it like it was a great big tower standin' in the midst
o' the city, as 'igh as a mountain. Humph--not a tower--ha!
disapp'inted I be. Humph! Good night, master. Disapp'inted I
be--yes." And having nodded his head ponderously several times,
he turned and went ponderously along the passage and down the
At the end of my chamber was a long, low casement, and, drawn
thither by the beauty of the night, I flung open the lattice and
leaned out. I looked down upon a narrow, deeply-rutted lane, one
of those winding, inconsequent byways which it seems out of all
possibility can ever lead the traveler anywhere, and I was idly
wondering what fool had troubled to build a tavern in such a
remote, out-of-the-way spot, when my ears were saluted by the
sound of voices. Now, immediately beneath my window there was a
heavy porch, low and squat, from which jutted a beam with a
broken sign-board, and it was from beneath this porch that the
voices proceeded, the one loud and hectoring, the other gruff and
sullen. I was about to turn away when a man stepped out into the
moonlight. His face was hidden in the shadow of his hat-brim,
but from his general air and appearance I judged him to be one of
the gentlemen whose chaise had broken down. As I watched him he
walked slowly round the angle of the house and disappeared. In a
little while, I drew in my head from the casement, and, having
removed my dusty boots, together with my knapsack and coat, blew
out the candle, and composed myself to sleep.
Now it seemed to me that I was back upon the road, standing once
more beside the great oak-tree. And, as I watched, a small,
hunched figure crept from the jagged opening in the trunk, a
figure with a jingling pack upon its back, at sight of which I
turned and ran, filled with an indescribable terror. But, as I
went, the Tinker's pack jingled loud behind me, and when I
glanced back, I saw that he ran with head dangling in most
hideous fashion, and that his right hand grasped a razor. On I
sped faster and faster, but with the Tinker ever at my heels,
until I had reached this tavern; the door crashed to, behind me,
only just in time, and I knew, as I lay there, that he was
standing outside, in the moonlight, staring up at my casement
with his horrible, dead face.
Here I very mercifully awoke, and lay, for a while, blinking in
the ghostly radiance of the moon, which was flooding in at the
window directly upon me. Now whether it was owing to the
vividness of my dream, I know not, but as I lay, there leapt up
within me a sudden conviction that somebody was indeed standing
outside in the lane, staring up at my window. So firmly was I
convinced of this that, moved by a sudden impulse, I rose, and,
cautiously approaching the window, peered out. And there, sure
enough, his feet planted wide apart, his hands behind his back,
stood a man staring up at my window. His head was thrown back so
that I could see his face distinctly a fleshy face with small,
close-set eyes and thick lips, behind which I caught the gleam of
big, white teeth. This was no tinker, but as I looked, I
recognized him as the slenderer of the two "Corinthians" with
whom I had fallen out at "The Chequers." Hereupon I got me back
to bed, drowsily wondering what should bring the fellow hanging
about a dilapidated hedge-tavern at such an hour. But gradually
my thoughts grew less coherent, my eyes closed, and in another
moment I should have been asleep, when I suddenly came to my
elbow, broad awake and listening, for I had heard two sounds, the
soft creak of a window opened cautiously near by, and a stealthy
footstep outside my door.
IN WHICH I BECOME A SQUIRE OF DAMES
Who does not recognize the solemn majesty of Night--that season
of awesome stillness when tired mankind lies supine in that
strange inertia so like death; when the soul, quitting the
wearied body for a space, flies hence--but whither?
What wonder is it if, at such an hour as this, we are prone to
magnify trifles, or that the most insignificant thing becomes an
omen full of ghastly meaning and possibilities? The creak of a
door in the silence, a rustle in the dark, become to us of
infinitely greater moment than the crash of falling empires.
Thus, for a space, I lay, with ears on the stretch, and every
nerve tingling, waiting for--I knew not what.
In a little, I became conscious of yet another sound,
indescribably desolate: the low, repressed sound of a woman's
Once more I rose, and looking down into the lane, found it
deserted; the watcher had vanished. I also noticed that the
casement next to mine had been opened wide, and it was from here,
as it seemed, that the weeping proceeded.
After some little hesitation, I knocked softly upon the wall, at
which the weeping was checked abruptly, save for an occasional sob,
whereupon I presently rapped again. At this, after a moment or so,
I saw a very small, white hand appear at the neighboring window,
and next moment was looking into a lovely, flushed face framed in
bright hair, with eyes woefully swelled by tears--but a glance
showed me that she was young, and of a rare and gentle beauty.
Before I could speak, she laid her finger upon her lip with a
"Help me--oh, help me!" she whispered hurriedly; "they have
locked me in here, and I dare not go to bed, and--and--oh, what
shall I do?"
"Locked you in?" I exclaimed.
"Oh, what shall I do?" she sobbed. "I tell you I am afraid of
him--his hateful, wicked eyes!" Here a tremor seemed to shake
her, and she covered her face with her hands. "To-night, when I
found the key gone from the door, and remembered his look as he
bade me 'Good night,' I thought I should have died. I waited
here, close beside the window--listening, listening. Once I
thought I heard a step outside my door, and opened the casement
to throw myself out; he shall not find me here when he comes."
"No," said I, "he shall not find you here when he comes."
All this she had imparted to me in broken whispers, and with her
face still hidden, but, at my words, she peeped at me through her
"You must run away."
"But the door is locked."
"There remains the window."
"The window!" she repeated, trembling.
"You would find it easy enough with my help."
"Quick, then!" she exclaimed, and held out her hand.
"Wait," said I, and turned back into my room. Hereupon, having
locked the door, I got into my boots, slipped on my coat and
knapsack, and, last of all, threw my blackthorn staff out of the
window (where I was sure of finding it) and climbed out after it.
The porch I have mentioned, upon which I now stood, sloped
steeply down upon two sides, so that I had no little difficulty
in maintaining my foothold; on the other hand, it was no great
distance from the ground, and I thought that it would be easy
enough of descent.
At this moment the lady reappeared at the lattice.
"What is it?" I whispered, struck by the terror in her face.
"Quick!" she cried, forgetting all prudence in her fear, "quick
--they are coming--I hear some one upon the stair. Oh, you are
too late!" and, sinking upon her knees, she covered her face with
her hands. Without more ado I swung myself up, and clambered
over the sill into the room beside her. I was looking round
for something that might serve me for a weapon, when my eye
encountered a tall oak press, a heavy, cumbersome affair, but,
save the bed, the only furniture the room possessed. Setting my
shoulder to it therefore, I began to urge it towards the door.
But it was soon apparent that I could not get it there in time,
for the creeping footstep was already close outside, and, next
moment, a key was softly inserted in the lock.
"Quick! hide yourself!" I whispered, over my shoulder, and,
stepping back from the door to give myself room, I clenched my
fists. There was a faint creak as the key turned, the door was
opened cautiously, and a man's dim figure loomed upon the
He had advanced two or three paces on tiptoe before he discovered
my presence, for the room was in shadow, and I heard his breath
catch, suddenly, and hiss between his teeth; then, without a
word, he sprang at me. But as he came, I leapt aside, and my
fist took him full and squarely beneath the ear. He pitched
sideways, and, falling heavily, rolled over upon his back, and
As I leaned above him, however (for the blow had been a heavy
one), he uttered a groaning oath, whereupon, pinning him
forthwith by the collar, I dragged him out into the passage, and,
whipping the key from the lock, transferred it to the inside and
locked the door. Waiting for no more, I scrambled back through
the casement, and reached up my hand to the lady.
"Come," said I, and (almost as quickly as it takes to set it down
here) she was beside me upon the roof of the porch, clinging to
my arm. Exactly how it was managed I am unable to say; all that
I remember being the vision of a slender foot and ankle, and an
excellently shaped leg.
Our farther descent to the ground proved much more difficult than
I had supposed, but, though I could feel her trembling, my
companion obeyed my whispered instructions, and yielded herself
implicitly to my guidance, so that we were soon standing in the
lane before the house, safe and sound except for a few rents to
"What is it?" she whispered, seeing me searching about in the
"My staff," said I, "a faithful friend; I would not lose it."
"But they will be here in a minute--we shall be seen."
"I cannot lose my staff," said I.
"Oh, hurry! hurry!" she cried, wringing her hands. And, in a
little while, having found my staff, we turned our backs upon the
tavern and began to run up the lane, side by side. As we went,
came the slam of a door behind us--a sudden clamor of voices,
followed, a moment later, by the sharp report of a pistol, and,
in that same fraction of time, I stumbled over some unseen
obstacle, and my hat was whisked from my head.
"Are you hurt?" panted my companion.
"No," said I, "but it was a very excellent shot nevertheless!"
For, as I picked up my hat, I saw a small round hole that pierced
it through and through, midway between crown and brim.
The lane wound away between high hedges, which rendered our going
very dark, for the moon was getting low, and difficult by reason
of the deep wheel-ruts; but we hurried forward notwithstanding,
urged on by the noise of the chase. We had traversed some half
mile thus, when my ears warned me that our pursuers were gaining
upon us, and I was inwardly congratulating myself that I had
stopped to find my staff, and wondering how much execution such a
weapon might reasonably be capable of, when I found that my
companion was no longer at my side. As I paused, irresolute, her
voice reached me from the shadow of the hedge.
"This way," she panted.
"Where?" said I.
"Here!" and, as she spoke, her hand slipped into mine, and so she
led me through a small gate, into a broad, open meadow beyond.
But to attempt crossing this would be little short of madness,
for (as I pointed out) we could not go a yard without being seen.
"No, no," she returned, her breath still laboring, "wait--wait
till they are past." And so, hand in hand, we stood there in the
shadow, screened very effectively from the lane by the thick
hedge, while the rush of our pursuers' feet drew nearer and
nearer; until we could hear a voice that panted out curses upon
the dark lane, ourselves, and everything concerned; at sound of
which my companion seemed to fall into a shivering fit, her clasp
tightened upon my hand, and she drew closer to me. Thus we
remained until voices and footsteps had grown faint with
distance, but, even then, I could feel that she was trembling
still. Suddenly she drew her fingers from mine, and covered her
face with her hands.
"Oh, that man!" she exclaimed, in a whisper, "I didn't quite
realize till now--what I have escaped. Oh, that beast!"
"Sir Harry Mortimer?" said I.
"You know him?" she cried.
"Heaven forbid!" I answered, "but I have seen him once before at
'The Chequers' inn at Tonbridge, and I never forget names or
faces--especially such as his."
"How I hate him!" she whispered.
"An unpleasant animal, to be sure," said I. "But come, it were
wiser to get as far from here as possible, they will doubtless be
So we started off again, running in the shadow of the hedge. We
had thus doubled back upon our pursuers, and, leaving the tavern
upon our left, soon gained the kindly shadow of those woods
through which I had passed in the early evening.
Borne to us upon the gentle wind was the haunting perfume of
hidden flowers, and the sinking moon sent long shafts of silvery
light to pierce the leafy gloom, and make the shadows more
The path we followed was very narrow, so that sometimes my
companion's knee touched mine, or her long, silken hair brushed
my brow or cheek, as I stooped to lift some trailing branch that
barred her way, or open a path for her through the leaves.
So we journeyed on through the mysteries of the woods together.
CONCERNING DAEMONS IN GENERAL AND ONE IN PARTICULAR
In certain old books you shall find strange mention of witches,
warlocks, succubae, spirits, daemons, and a thousand other powers
of darkness, whose pronounced vocation was the plague of poor
humanity. Within these books you may read (if you will) divers
wondrous accounts, together with many learned disquisitions
upon the same, and most minute and particular descriptions of
witch-marks and the like.
Aforetime, when a man committed some great offence against laws
human or divine, he was said to be possessed of a daemon--that is
to say, he became the medium and instrument through, and by
which, the evil was wrought; thus, when in due season he came to
be hanged, tortured, or burned, it was inflicted not so much as a
punishment upon him, the man, as to exorcise, once and for all,
the devil which possessed him.
In these material, common-sense days, we are wont to smile the
superior smile at the dark superstitions and deplorable ignorance
of our forefathers; yet life is much the same now as then, the
devil goeth up and down in the world, spirits, daemons, and the
thousand powers of darkness abide with us still, though to-day
they go by different names, for there is no man in this smug,
complacent age of ours, but carries within him a power of evil
greater or less, according to his intellect. Scratch off the
social veneer, lift but a corner of the very decent cloak of our
civilization, and behold! there stands the Primal Man in all his
old, wild savagery, and with the devil leering upon his shoulder.
Indeed, to-day as surely as in the dim past, we are all possessed
of a devil great or small, weaker or stronger as the case may be;
a demon which, though he sometimes seems to slumber, is yet
watchful and ever ready to spring up and possess us, to the
undoing of ourselves and others.
Thus, as I followed my companion through the wood, I was
conscious of a Daemon that ran beside me, leaping and gambolling
at my elbow, though I kept my eyes straight before me. Anon, his
clutching fingers were upon my arm, and fain I would have shaken
him off, but could not; while, as I watched the swing and grace
of the lithe, feminine body before me, from the little foot to
the crowning glory of her hair, she seemed a thousand times more
beautiful than I had supposed. And I had saved her tonight--from
what? There had been the fear of worse than death in her eyes
when that step had sounded outside her chamber door. Hereupon,
as I walked, I began to recall much that I had read in the old
romances of the gratitude of rescued ladies.
"Truly," said I to myself, "in olden days a lady well knew how to
reward her rescuer!"
"Woman is woman--the same to-day as then--try her, try her!"
chuckled the Daemon. And now, as I looked more fully at this
Damon, he seemed no daemon at all, but rather, a jovial companion
who nodded, and winked, and nudged me slyly with his elbow.
"What are pretty faces for but to be admired?" said he in my ear;
"what are slender waists for but to be pressed; and as for a kiss
or two in a dark wood, with no one to spy--they like it, you dog,
they like it!"
So we traversed the alleys of the wood, now in shadow, now in
moonlight, the Lady, the Daemon, and I, and always the perfume of
hidden flowers seemed sweeter and stronger, the gleam of her hair
and the sway of her body the more alluring, and always the voice
at my ear whispered: "Try her, you dog, try her."
At last, being come to a broad, grassy glade, the lady paused,
and, standing in the full radiance of the dying moon, looked up
at me with a smile on her red lips.
"They can never find us now!" she said.
"No, they can never find us now," I repeated, while the Daemon at
my elbow chuckled again.
"And--oh, sir! I can never, never thank you," she began.
"Don't," said I, not looking at her; "don't thank me till--we are
out of the wood."
"I think," she went on slowly, "that you--can guess from--from
what you saved me, and can understand something of my gratitude,
for I can never express it all."
"Indeed," said I, "indeed you overestimate my service."
"You risked your life for me, sir," said she, her eyes
glistening, "surely my thanks are due to you for that? And I do
thank you--from my heart!" And with a swift, impulsive gesture,
she stretched out her hands to me. For a brief moment I
hesitated, then seized them, and, drew her close. But, even as I
stooped above her, she repulsed me desperately; her loosened hair
brushed my eyes and lips--blinded, maddened me; my hat fell off,
and all at once her struggles ceased.
"Sir Maurice Vibart!" she panted, and I saw a hopeless terror in
her face. But the Daemon's jovial voice chuckled in my ear:
"Ho, Peter Vibart, act up to your cousin's reputation; who's to
know the difference?" My arms tightened about her, then I loosed
her suddenly, and, turning, smote my clenched fist against a
tree; which done, I stooped and picked up my hat and blackthorn
"Madam," said I, looking down upon my bleeding knuckles, "I am
not Sir Maurice Vibart. It seems my fate to be mistaken for him
wherever I go. My name is Peter, plain and unvarnished, and I am
very humbly your servant." Now as I spoke, it seemed that the
Daemon, no longer the jovial companion, was himself again, horns,
hoof, and tail--nay, indeed, he seemed a thousand times more foul
and hideous than before, as he mouthed and jibed at me in baffled
fury; wherefore, I smiled and turned my back upon him.
"Come," said I, extending my hand to the trembling girl, "let us
get out of these dismal woods." For a space she hesitated,
looking up at me beneath her lashes, then reached out, and laid
her fingers in mine; and, as we turned away, I knew that the
Daemon had cast himself upon the ground, and was tearing at the
grass in a paroxysm of rage and bafflement.
"It is strange," said I, after we had gone some little distance,
"very strange that you should only have discovered this
resemblance here, and now, for surely you saw my face plainly
enough at the inn."
"No; you see, I hardly looked at you."
"And, now that you do look at me, am I so very much like Sir
"Not now," she answered, shaking her head, "for though you are of
his height, and though your features are much the same as his,
your expression is different. But--a moment ago--when your hat
"Yes?" said I.
"Your expression--your face looked--"
"Demoniac?" I suggested.
"Yes," she answered.
"Yes?" said I.
So we went upon our way, nor paused until we had left the Daemon
and the dark woods behind us. Then I looked from the beauty of
the sweet, pure earth to the beauty of her who stood beside me,
and I saw that her glance rested upon the broken knuckles of my
right hand. Meeting my eyes, her own drooped, and a flush crept
into her cheeks, and, though of course she could not have seen
the Daemon, yet I think that she understood.
"JOURNEYS END IN LOVERS' MEETINGS"
The moon was fast sinking below the treetops to our left, what
time we reached a road, or rather cart-track that wound away up a
hill. Faint and far a church clock slowly chimed the hour of
three, the solemn notes coming sweet and silvery with distance.
"What chimes are those?" I inquired.
"Is it far to Cranbrook?"
"One mile this way, but two by the road yonder."
"You seem very well acquainted with these parts," said I.
"I have lived here all my life; those are the Cambourne Woods
"Cambourne Woods!" said I.
"Part of the Sefton estates," she continued; "Cambourne village
lies to the right, beyond."
"The Lady Sophia Sefton of Cambourne!" said I thoughtfully.
"My dearest friend," nodded my companion.
"They say she is very handsome," said I.
"Then they speak truth, sir."
"She has been described to me," I went on, "as a Peach, a
Goddess, and a Plum; which should you consider the most proper
term? "My companion shot an arch glance at me from the corners
of her eyes, and I saw a dimple come and go, beside the curve of
"Goddess, to be sure," said she; "peaches have such rough skins,
and plums are apt to be sticky."
"And goddesses," I added, "were all very well upon Olympus, but,
in this matter-of-fact age, must be sadly out of place. Speaking
"Have you ever seen this particular Goddess?" inquired my
"Then wait until you have, sir."
The moon was down now, yet the summer sky was wonderfully
luminous and in the east I almost fancied I could detect the
first faint gleam of day. And after we had traversed some
distance in silence, my companion suddenly spoke, but without
looking at me.
"You have never once asked who I am," she said, almost
reproachfully I thought, "nor how I came to be shut up in such a
place--with such a man."
"Why, as to that," I answered, "I make it a general rule to avoid
awkward subjects when I can, and never to ask questions that it
will be difficult to answer."
"I should find not the least difficulty in answering either,"
"Besides," I continued, "it is no affair of mine, after all."
"Oh!" said she, turning away from me; and then, very slowly: "No,
I suppose not."
"Certainly not," I added; "how should it be?"
"How indeed!" said she, over her shoulder. And then I saw that
she was angry, and wondered.
"And yet," I went on, after a lapse of silence, "I think I could
have answered both questions the moment I saw you at your
"Oh!" said she--this time in a tone of surprise, and her anger
all gone again, for I saw that she was smiling; and again I
"Yes," I nodded.
"Then," said she, seeing I was silent, "whom do you suppose me?"
"You are, to the best of my belief, the Lady Helen Dunstan." My
companion stood still, and regarded me for a moment in wide-eyed
"And how, air, pray, did you learn all this?" she demanded, with
the dimple once more peeping at me slyly from the corner of her
"By the very simple method of adding two and two together," I
answered; "moreover, no longer ago than yesterday I broke bread
with a certain Mr. Beverley--"
I heard her breath come in a sudden gasp, and next moment she was
peering up into my face while her hands beat upon my breast with
soft, quick little taps.
"Beverley!" she whispered. "Beverley!--no, no--why, they told
me--Sir Harry told me that Peregrine lay dying--at Tonbridge."
"Then Sir Harry Mortimer lied to you," said I, "for no longer ago
than yesterday afternoon I sat in a ditch eating bread and cheese
with a Mr. Peregrine Beverley."
"Oh!--are you sure--are you sure?"
"Quite sure. And, as we ate, he told me many things, and among
them of a life of wasted opportunities--of foolish riot, and
prodigal extravagance, and of its logical consequence--want."
"My poor Perry!" she murmured.
"He spoke also of his love for a very beautiful and good woman,
and its hopelessness."
"My dear, dear Perry!" said she again.
"And yet," said I, "all this is admittedly his own fault, and, as
I think Heraclitus says: 'Suffering is the inevitable consequence
of Sin, or Folly.'"
"And he is well?" she asked; "quite--quite well?"
"He is," said I.
"Thank God!" she whispered. "Tell me," she went on, "is he so
very, very poor--is he much altered? I have not seen him for a
whole, long year."
"Why, a year is apt to change a man," I answered. "Adversity is
a hard school, but, sometimes, a very good one."
"Were he changed, no matter how--were be a beggar upon the roads,
I should love him--always!" said she, speaking in that soft,
caressing voice which only the best of women possess.
"Yes, I had guessed as much," said I, and found myself sighing.
"A year is a long, long time, and we were to have been married
this month, but my father quarrelled with him and forbade him the
house, so poor Perry went back to London. Then we heard he was
ruined, and I almost died with grief--you see, his very poverty
only made me love him the more. Yesterday--that man--"
"Sir Harry Mortimer?" said I.
"Yes (he was a friend of whom I had often heard Perry speak); and
he told me that my Perry lay at Tonbridge, dying, and begging to
see me before the end. He offered to escort me to him, assuring
me that I could reach home again long before dusk. My father,
who I knew would never permit me to go, was absent, and so--I ran
away. Sir Harry had a carriage waiting, but, almost as soon as
the door was closed upon us, and we had started, I began to be
afraid of him and--and--"
"Sir Harry, as I said before, is an unpleasant animal," I nodded.
"Thank Heaven," she pursued, "we had not gone very far before the
chaise broke down! And--the rest you know."
The footpath we had been following now led over a stile into a
narrow lane or byway. Very soon we came to a high stone wall
wherein was set a small wicket. Through this she led me, and we
entered a broad park where was an avenue of fine old trees,
beyond which I saw the gables of a house, for the stars had long
since paled to the dawn, and there was a glory in the east.
"Your father will be rejoiced to have you safe back again," said
"Yes," she nodded, "but he will be very angry." And, hereupon,
she stopped and began to pull, and twist, and pat her shining
hair with dexterous white fingers, talking thus the while:
"My mother died at my birth, and since then father has worshipped
her memory, and his face always grows wonderfully gentle when he
looks upon her portrait. They say I'm greatly like her--though
she was a famous beauty in her day. And, indeed, I think there
must be some truth in it, for, no matter how I may put him out,
my father can never be very angry when my hair is dressed so."
With the word, she turned, and truly, I thought the face peeping
out from its clustered curls even more lovely and bewitching than
"I very much doubt if any man could," said I.
As we approached the house, I saw that the smooth gravel was much
cut up as though by the coming and going of many wheels and
horses, and also that one of the windows still shone with a
bright light, and it was towards this window that my companion
led me. In a while, having climbed the terrace steps, I noticed
that this was one of those French windows opening to the ground.
Now, looking through into the room beyond, I beheld an old man
who sat bowed down at a table, with his white head pillowed upon
his arms, sitting so very still that he might have been asleep
but for the fierce grip of his twitching hands. Now, upon the
table, at no great distance from him, between the guttering
candles, lay a hat--a very ill-used, battered-looking object
--which I thought I recognized; wherefore, looking about, I
presently espied its owner leaning against the mantel. He was
powdered with dust from head to foot, and his worn garments
looked more ragged than ever; and, as he stood there, in the
droop of his head and the listless set of his shoulders, there
was an air of the most utter dejection and hopelessness, while
upon his thin cheek I saw the glisten of a great, solitary tear.
But, as I looked, the window was burst suddenly open:
Love, surprise, joy, pity--all were summed up in that one short
word--yet deeper than all was love. And, at that cry, the white
head was raised, raised in time to see a vision of loveliness
caught up in two ragged arms.
And now the three heads--the white, the golden, and the black
--were drawn down together, drawn, and held close in an embrace
that was indeed reunion.
Then, seeing my presence was become wholly unnecessary, I turned
away, and was soon once more deep among the trees. Yet, as I
went, I suddenly heard voices that called upon my name, but I
kept on, and, in due season, came out upon the broad highway.
And, in a little, as I went, very full of thought, the sun rose
up. So I walked along through a world all glorious with morning.
IN WHICH I MEET WITH A LITERARY TINKER
Even in that drowsy, semi-conscious state, that most delightful
borderland which lies midway between sleeping and waking, I knew
it could not be the woodpecker who, as I judged from sundry
manifest signs, lodged in the tree above me. No woodpecker that
ever pecked could originate such sounds as these--two quick,
light strokes, followed by another, and heavier, thus: Tap,
tap--TAP; a pause, and then, tap, tap--TAP again, and so on.
Whatever doubts I may have yet harbored on the subject, however,
were presently dispelled by a fragrance sweeter, to the nostrils
of a hungry man, than the breath of flowers, the spices of the
East, or all the vaunted perfumes of Arabia--in a word, the odor
of frying bacon.
Hereupon, I suddenly realized how exceedingly keen was my
appetite, and sighed, bethinking me that I must first find a
tavern before I could satisfy my craving, when a voice reached me
from no great distance, a full, rich, sonorous voice, singing a
song. And the words of the song were these:
"A tinker I am, O a tinker am I,
A tinker I'll live, and a tinker I'll die;
If the King in his crown would change places wi' me
I'd laugh so I would, and I'd say unto he:
'A tinker I am, O a tinker am I.
A tinker I'll live, and a tinker I'll die.'"
It was a quaint air, with a shake at the end of the first two and
last two lines, which, altogether, I thought very pleasing. I
advanced, guided by the voice, until I came out into a grassy
lane. Seated upon an artfully-contrived folding stool, was a
man. He was a very small man despite his great voice, who held a
kettle between his knees, and a light hammer in his hand, while a
little to one side of him there blazed a crackling fire of twigs
upon which a hissing frying-pan was balanced. But what chiefly
drew and held my attention was the man's face; narrow and peaked,
with little, round, twinkling eyes set deep in his head, close
black hair, grizzled at the temples, and a long, blue chin.
And presently, as I stood staring at him, he finished his song,
and chancing to raise his eyes stared back at me.
"Good morning!" said he at last, with a bright nod.
"So then you didn't cut your throat in the Hollow Oak, after
all?" said I.
"Nor likely to either, master," he answered, shaking his head.
"Lord love your eyes and limbs, no!"
"But," said I, "some day or so ago I met a man--"
"Ah!" nodded the Tinker, "to be sure you did."
"A pedler of brooms, and ribands--"
"'Gabbing' Dick!" nodded the Tinker.
"Who told me very seriously--"
"That I'd been found in the big holler oak wi' my throat cut,"
nodded the Tinker.
"But what did he mean by it?"
"Why, y' see," explained the Tinker, leaning over to turn a
frizzling bacon-rasher very dexterously with the blade of a
jack-knife, "y' see, 'Gabbing' Dick is oncommon fond of murders,
hangings, sooicides, and such like--it's just a way he's got."
"A very unpleasant way!" said I.
"But very harmless when all's done and said," added the Tinker.
"A leetle weak up here," explained the Tinker, tapping his
forehead with the handle of the jack-knife. "His father was
murdered the day afore he were born, d'ye see, which druv his
poor mother out of her mind, which conditions is apt to make a
man a leetle strange."
"Poor fellow!" said I, while the Tinker began his tap-tapping
"Are you hungry?" he inquired suddenly, glancing up at me with
his hammer poised.
"Very hungry!" said I. Hereupon he set down his hammer, and,
turning to a pack at his side, proceeded to extract therefrom a
loaf of bread, a small tin of butter, and a piece of bacon, from
which last he cut sundry slices with the jack-knife. He now
lifted the hissing rashers from the pan to a tin plate, which he
set upon the grass at my feet, together with the bread and the
butter; and, having produced a somewhat battered knife and fork,
handed them to me with another bright nod.
"You are very kind!" said I.
"Why, I'm a man as is fond o' company, y' see--especially of one
who can think, and talk, and you have the face of both. I am--as
you might say--a literary cove, being fond o' books, nov-els, and
such like." And in a little while, the bacon being done to his
liking, we sat down together, and began to eat.
"That was a strange song of yours," said I, after a while.
"Did you like it?" he inquired, with a quick tilt of his head.
"Both words and tune," I answered.
"I made the words myself," said the Tinker.
"And do you mean it?"
"Mean what?" asked the Tinker.
"That you would rather be a tinker than a king?"
"Why, to be sure I would," he rejoined. "Bein' a literary
cove I know summat o' history, and a king's life weren't all
lavender--not by no manner o' means, nor yet a bed o' roses."
"Yet there's much to be said for a king."
"Very little, I think," said the Tinker.
"A king has great advantages."
"Which he generally abuses," said the Tinker.
"There have been some great and noble kings."
"But a great many more bad 'uns!" said the Tinker.
"And then, look how often they got theirselves pisoned, or
stabbed, or 'ad their 'eads chopped off! No--if you axes me, I
prefer to tinker a kettle under a hedge."
"Then you are contented?"
"Not quite," he answered, his face falling; "me being a literary
cove (as I think I've mentioned afore), it has always been my
wish to be a scholar."
"Far better be a tinker," said I.
"Young fellow," said the Tinker, shaking his head reprovingly,
"you're off the mark there--knowledge is power; why, Lord love my
eyes and limbs! what's finer than to be able to read in the Greek
"To possess the capacity of earning an honest livelihood," said
"Why, I tell you," continued the Tinker, unheeding my remark,
"I'd give this here left hand o' mine to be able to read the very
words of such men as Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Xenophon, and
all the rest of 'em."
"There are numerous translations," said I.
"Ah, to be sure!" sighed the Tinker, "but then, they are
"There are good translations as well as bad," said I.
"Maybe," returned the Tinker, "maybe, but a translation's only a
echo, after all, however good it be." As he spoke, he dived into
his pack and brought forth a book, which he handed to me. It was
a smallish volume in battered leathern covers, and had evidently
seen much long and hard service. Opening it at the title-page, I
Made English from the Greek
George Stanhope, late Fellow
Of King's College in Camb.
Printed for Richard Sare at Gray's Inn Gate in Holborn
And Joseph Hindmarsh against the Exchange in Cornhill.
"You've read Epictetus, perhaps?" inquired the Tinker.
"Not in the Greek, of course."
"Yes," said I, smiling, "though by dint of much labor."
The Tinker stopped chewing to stare at me wide-eyed, then
swallowed his mouthful at one gulp.
"Lord love me!" he exclaimed, "and you so young, too!"
"No," said I; "I'm twenty-five."
"And Latin, now--don't tell me you can read the Latin."
"But I can't make a kettle, or even mend one, for that matter,"
"But you are a scholar, and it's a fine thing to be a scholar!"
"And I tell you again, it is better to be a tinker," said I.
"It is a healthier life, in the first place," said I.
"That, I can believe," nodded the Tinker.
"It is a happier life, in the second place."
"That, I doubt," returned the Tinker.
"And, in the third place, it pays much better."
"That, I don't believe," said the Tinker.
"Nevertheless," said I, "speaking for myself, I have, in the
course of my twenty-five years, earned but ten shillings, and
that--but by the sale of my waistcoat."
"Lord love me!" exclaimed the Tinker, staring.
"A man," I pursued, "may be a far better scholar than I--may be
full of the wisdom of the Ancients, and the teachings of all the
great thinkers and philosophers, and yet starve to death--indeed
frequently does; but who ever heard of a starving Tinker?"
"But a scholar may write great books," said the Tinker.
"A scholar rarely writes a great book," said I, shaking my head,
"probably for the good and sufficient reason that great books
never _are_ written."
"Young fellow," said the Tinker, staring, "what do you mean by
"I mean that truly great books only happen, and very rarely."
"But a scholar may happen to write a great book," said the
"To be sure--he may; a book that nobody will risk publishing, and
if so--a book that nobody will trouble to read, nowadays."
"Because this is an eminently unliterary age, incapable of
thought, and therefore seeking to be amused. Whereas the writing
of books was once a painful art, it has of late become a trick
very easy of accomplishment, requiring no regard for probability,
and little thought, so long as it is packed sufficiently full of
impossible incidents through which a ridiculous heroine and a
more absurd hero duly sigh their appointed way to the last
chapter. Whereas books were once a power, they are, of late,
degenerated into things of amusement with which to kill an idle
hour, and be promptly forgotten the next."
"Yet the great books remain," said the Tinker.
"Yes," said I; "but who troubles their head over Homer or Virgil
these days--who cares to open Steele's 'Tatler,' or Addison's
'Spectator,' while there is the latest novel to be had, or
'Bell's Life' to be found on any coffee-house table?"
"And why," said the Tinker, looking at me over a piece of bacon
skewered upon the point of his jack-knife, "why don't you write a
"I probably shall some day," I answered.
"And supposing," said the Tinker, eyeing the piece of bacon
thoughtfully, "supposing nobody ever reads it?"
"The worse for them!" said I.
Thus we talked of books, and the making of books (something of
which I have already set down in another place) until our meal
was at an end.
"You are a rather strange young man, I think," said the Tinker,
as, having duly wiped knife, and fork, and plate upon a handful
of grass, I handed them back.
"Yet you are a stranger tinker."
"Why, who ever heard of a tinker who wrote verses, and worked
with a copy of Epictetus at his elbow?"
"Which I don't deny as I'm a great thinker," nodded the Tinker;
"to be sure, I think a powerful lot."
"A dangerous habit," said I, shaking my head, "and a most unwise
"Eh?" cried the Tinker, staring.
"Your serious, thinking man," I explained, "is seldom happy--as a
rule has few friends, being generally regarded askance, and is
always misunderstood by his fellows. All the world's great
thinkers, from Christ down, were generally misunderstood, looked
at askance, and had very few friends."
"But these were all great men," said the Tinker.
"We think so now, but in their day they were very much despised,
and who was more hated, by the very people He sought to aid, than
"By the evil-doers, yes," nodded the Tinker.
"On the contrary," said I, "his worst enemies were men of
learning, good citizens, and patterns of morality, who looked
upon him as a dangerous zealot, threatening the destruction of
the old order of things; hence they killed him--as an agitator.
Things are much the same to-day. History tells us that Christ,
or the spirit of Christ, has entered into many men who have
striven to enlighten and better the conditions of their kind, and
they have generally met with violent deaths, for Humanity is very
gross and blind."
The Tinker slowly wiped his clasp-knife upon the leg of his
breeches, closed it, and slipped it into his pocket.
"Nevertheless," said he at last, "I am convinced that you are a
very strange young man."
"Be that as it may," said I, "the bacon was delicious. I have
never enjoyed a meal so much--except once at an inn called 'The
"I know it," nodded the Tinker; "a very poor house."
"But the ham and eggs are beyond praise," said I; "still, my meal
here under the trees with you will long remain a pleasant
"Good-by, then," said the Tinker. "Good-by, young man, and I
wish you happiness."
"What is happiness?" said I. The Tinker removed his hat, and,
having scratched his head, put it on again.
"Happiness," said he, "happiness is the state of being content
with one's self, the world, and everything in general."
"Then," said I, "I fear I can never be happy."
"And why not?"
"Because, supposing I ever became contented with the world, and
everything in general, which is highly improbable, I shall never,
never be contented with myself."
CONCERNING HAPPINESS, A PLOUGHMAN, AND SILVER BUTTONS
Now as I went, pondering on true happiness, and the nature of it,
I beheld a man ploughing in a field hard by, and, as he ploughed,
he whistled lustily. And drawing near to the field, I sat down
upon a gate and watched, for there are few sights and sounds I am
fonder of than the gleam of the ploughshare and the sighing
whisper it makes as it turns the fragrant loam.
"A truly noble occupation!" said I to myself, "dignified by the
ages--ay--old, well nigh, as the green earth itself; no man need
be ashamed to guide a plough."
And indeed a fine sight it made, the straining horses, the
stalwart figure of the Ploughman, with the blue sky, the long,
brown furrows, and, away and beyond, the tender green of leaves;
while the jingle of the harness, the clear, merry, whistled
notes, and the song of a skylark, high above our heads, all
blended into a chorus it was good to hear.
As he came up to where I sat upon the gate, the Ploughman
stopped, and, wiping the glistening moisture from his brow,
"A fine morning!" said I.
"So it be, sir, now you come to mention it, it do be a fine day
"You, at least seem happy," said I.
"Happy?" he exclaimed, staring.
"Yes," said I.
"Well, I bean't."
"And why not?" The Ploughman scratched his ear, and carried his
glance from my face up to the sky, and down again.
"I dunno," he answered, "but I bean't."
"Yet you whistle gayly enough."
"Why, a man must do summat."
"Then, you seem strong and healthy."
"Yes, I do be fine an' hearty."
"And sleep well?"
"Like a blessed log."
"And eat well?"
"Eat!" he exclaimed, with a mighty laugh. "Lord! I should think
so--why, I'm always eatin' or thinkin' of it. Oh, I'm a fine
eater, I am--an' I bean't no chicken at drinkin', neither."
"Then you ought to be happy."
"Ah!--but I bean't!" he repeated, shaking his head.
"Have you any troubles?"
"None as I can think on."
"You earn good money every week?"
"You are not married?"
"Then," said I, "you must be happy." The Ploughman pulled at his
ear again, looked slowly all round the field, and, finally, shook
"Well," said he, "I bean't."
"But why not?" His eye roved slowly up from my boots to the
buttons on my coat.
"Them be fine buttons!" said he.
"Do you think so?"
"Look like silver!"
"They are silver," said I.
"Lord!" he exclaimed, "you wouldn't part wi' they buttons, I
"On how much you would give for them." The Ploughman thrust a
hand into a deep pocket, and brought up five shillings.
"I were a-goin' to buy a pair o' boots, on my way 'ome," he
explained, "but I'd rayther 'ave they buttons, if five shillin'
'll buy 'em."
"The boots would be more serviceable," said I.
"Maybe, sir, but then, everybody wears boots, but there bean't
many as can show buttons the like o' them--so if you're willin'--"
"Lend me your knife," said I. And, forthwith, I sawed off the
eight silver buttons and dropped them into his palm, whereupon he
handed me the money with great alacrity.
"And now," said I, "tell me why you are not happy."
"Well," returned the Ploughman, back at his ear again, "ye see it
bein' as you ask so sudden-like, I can't 'zack'ly say, but if you
was to pass by in a day or two, why, maybe I could tell ye."
So, pocketing the buttons, he whooped cheerily to his horses, and
plodded off, whistling more merrily than ever.
WHICH INTRODUCES THE READER TO THE ANCIENT
The sun was high when I came to a place where the ways divided,
and, while I stood hesitating which road to take, I heard the
cool plash and murmur of a brook at no great distance.
Wherefore, being hot and thirsty, I scrambled through the hedge,
and, coming to the brook, threw myself face down beside it, and,
catching up the sweet pure water in my hands, drank my fill;
which done, I bathed my feet, and hands, and face, and became
much heartened and refreshed thereby. Now because I have ever
loved the noise of running waters, in a little while, I rose and
walked on beside the stream, listening to its blithesome melody.
So, by devious ways, for the brook wound prodigiously, I came at
length to a sudden declivity down which the water plunged in a
miniature cascade, sparkling in the sun, and gleaming with a
thousand rainbow hues. On I went, climbing down as best I might,
until I found myself in a sort of green basin, very cool after
the heat and glare of the roads, for the high, tree-clad sides
afforded much shade. On I went, past fragrant thickets and
bending willows, with soft lush grass underfoot and leafy arches
overhead, and the brook singing and chattering at my side; albeit
a brook of changeful mood, now laughing and dimpling in some
fugitive ray of sunshine, now sighing and whispering in the
shadows, but ever moving upon its appointed way, and never quite
silent. So I walked on beside the brook, watching the fish that
showed like darting shadows on the bottom, until, chancing to
raise my eyes, I stopped. And there, screened by leaves, shut in
among the green, stood a small cottage, or hut. My second glance
showed it to be tenantless, for the thatch was partly gone, the
windows were broken, and the door had long since fallen from its
hinges. Yet, despite its forlornness and desolation, despite the
dilapidation of broken door and fallen chimney, there was
something in the air of the place that drew me strangely. It was
somewhat roughly put together, but still very strong, and seemed,
save for the roof, weatherfast.
"A man might do worse than live here," thought I, "with the birds
for neighbors, and the brook to sing him to sleep at night.
Indeed, a man might live very happily in such a place."
I was still looking at the hut, with this in my mind, when I was
startled by hearing a thin, quavering voice behind me:
"Be you 'm a-lookin' at t' cottage, master?"
Turning sharp round, I beheld a very ancient man in a smock
frock, who carried a basket on one arm, and leaned upon a stick.
"Yes," I answered; "I was wondering how it came to be built in
such an out-of-the-world spot."
"Why, 't were built by a wanderin' man o' the roads."
"It's very lonely!" said I.
"Ye may well say so, sir--haunted it be, tu."
"Haunted?" said I.
"Haunted as ever was!" answered the old man, with a sprightly nod
strangely contrasting with his wrinkled face and tremulous limbs.
"No one ventur's nigh the place arter dark, an' few enough in the
daytime, for that matter."
"On account of the ghost?"
"Ah!" nodded the Ancient, "moans 'e du, an' likewise groans.
Theer's some as says 'e twitters tu, an' shakes chains."
"Then nobody has lived here of late?"
"Bless 'ee no--nor wouldn't, no, not if ye paid 'em tu. Nobody's
come a-nigh the place, you may say, since 't were built by the
wanderin' man. Lived 'ere all alone, 'e did--killed 'isself 'ere
"Killed himself!" said I.
"Ah--! 'ung 'isself--be'ind th' door yonder, sixty an' six year
ago come August, an' 't were me as found 'im. Ye see," said the
old man, setting down his basket, and seating himself with great
nicety on the moss-grown doorstep, "ye see, 't were a tur'ble
storm that night--rain, and wind, wi' every now an' then a gert,
cracklin' flame o' lightnin'. I mind I'd been up to th' farm
a-courtin' o' Nancy Brent--she 'm dead now, poor lass, years an'
years ago, but she were a fine, buxom maid in those days, d'ye
see. Well, I were comin' 'ome, and what wi' one thing an' another,
I lost my way. An' presently, as I were stumblin' along in the
dark, comes another crackle o' lightnin', an' lookin' up, what
should I see but this 'ere cottage. 'T were newer-lookin' then,
wi' a door an' winders, but the door was shut an' the winders
was dark--so theer I stood in the rain, not likin' to disturb the
stranger, for 'e were a gert, fierce, unfriendly kind o' chap, an'
uncommon fond o' bein' left alone. Hows'ever, arter a while, up I
goes to th' door, an' knocks (for I were a gert, strong, strappin',
well-lookin' figure o' a man myself, in those days, d'ye see, an'
could give a good buffet an' tak one tu), so up I goes to th' door,
an' knocks wi' my fist clenched, all ready (an' a tidy, sizable
fist it were in those days) but Lord! nobody answered, so, at last,
I lifted the latch." Here the Ancient paused to draw a snuff-box
from his pocket, with great deliberation, noting my awakened
interest with a twinkling eye.
"Well?" I inquired.
"Well," he continued slowly, "I lifted th' latch, an' give a push
to the door, but it would only open a little way--an inch,
p'r'aps, an' stuck." Here he tapped, and opened his snuff-box.
"Well?" I inquired again.
"Well," he went on, "I give it a gert, big push wi' my shoulder
(I were a fine, strong chap in those days), an', just as it flew
open, comes another flash o' lightnin', an' the fust thing I seen
"A boot!" I exclaimed.
"A boot as ever was," nodded the Ancient, and took a pinch of
snuff with great apparent gusto.
"Go on," said I, "go on."
"Oh!--it's a fine story, a fine story!" he chuckled. "Theer bean't
many men o' my age as 'as fund a 'ung man in a thunderstorm! Well,
as I tell ye, I seen a boot, likewise a leg, an' theer were this
'ere wanderin' man o' the roads a-danglin' be'ind th' door from a
stapil--look ye!" he exclaimed, rising with some little difficulty,
and hobbling into the hut, "theer be th' very stapil, so it be!"
and he pointed up to a rusty iron staple that had been driven
deep into the beam above the door.
"And why," said I, "why did he hang himself?"
"Seein' e' 'ad no friends, and never told nobody--nobody never
knowed," answered the old man, shaking his head, "but on that
theer stapil 'e 'ung 'isself, an' on that theer stapil I fund
'im, on a stormy night sixty and six year ago come August."
"You have a wonderful memory!" said I.
"Ay, to be sure; a wunnerful mem'ry, a wunnerful mem'ry!"
"Sixty and six years is an age," said I.
"So it be," nodded the Ancient. "I were a fine young chap in
those days, tall I were, an' straight as a arrer, I be a bit
"Why, you are getting old," said I.
"So 's t' stapil yonder, but t' stapil looks nigh as good as
"Iron generally wears better than flesh and blood," said I; "it's
"Ay, but 'e can't last forever," said the Ancient, frowning, and
shaking his head at the rusty staple. "I've watched un, month in
an' month out, all these years, an' seen un growin' rustier an'
rustier. I'll last 'ee out yet,' I've said to un--'e knows it--'e
've heerd me many an' many a time. 'I'll last 'ee out yet!' I've
said, an' so I will, to--'e can't last forever an' I be a vig'rus
man--a mortal vig'rus man--bean't I?"
"Wonderfully!" said I.
"An' so strong as a bull?"
"To be sure."
"An' t' stapil can't last much longer--eh, maister? so old an'
rusty as 'e be?"
"One would hardly think so."
"Not so long as a tur'ble vig'rus man, like I be?" he inquired,
with a certain wistful appeal in his eyes.
"No," I answered impulsively.
"I knowed it--I knowed it," he chuckled, feebly brandishing his
stick, "such a poor old stapil as 'tis, all eat up wi' rust.
Every time I come 'ere a-gatherin' watercress, I come in an' give
un a look, an' watch un rustin' away, an' rustin' away; I'll see
un go fust, arter all, so I will!" and, with another nod at the
staple, he turned, and hobbled out into the sunshine.
And seeing how, despite his brave showing, he labored to carry
the heavy basket, I presently took it from him, disregarding his
protests, and set off by his side; yet, as we went, I turned once
to look back at the deserted hut.
"You 'm thinkin' 'tis a tur'ble bad place at night?" said the
"On the contrary," I answered, "I was thinking it might suit a
homeless man like me very well indeed."
"D'ye mean--to live there?" exclaimed the Ancient.
"Yes," said I.
"Then you bean't afraid o' the ghost?"
"No," I answered.
"P'r'aps you be one o' they fules as think theer bean't no
"As to that," I answered, "I don't know, but I don't think I
should be much afraid, and it is a great blessing to have some
spot on this unfriendly world that we can call 'home'--even
though it be but a hut, and haunted."
In a little while the path we followed led up a somewhat steep
ascent which, though not so precipitous as the place where I had
entered the hollow, was a difficult climb, notwithstanding;
seeing which, I put out a hand to aid my aged companion. But he
repulsed me almost sharply:
"Let be," he panted, "let be, nobody's never 'elped me up this
'ere path, an' nobody never shall!" So up we went, the Ancient
and I, side by side, and very slowly, until, the summit being
reached, he seated himself, spent and breathless, upon a fallen
tree, which had doubtless served this purpose many times before,
and mopped at his wrinkled brow with a trembling hand.
"Ye see," he cried, as soon as he had recovered his breath
sufficiently, "ye see, I be wunnerful spry an' active--could
dance ye a hornpipe any day, if I was so minded."
"On my word," said I, "I believe you could! But where are you
"How far is that?"
"'Bout a mile acrost t' fields, you can see the pint o' Joel
Amos's oast-'ouse above the trees yonder."
"Is there a good inn at Sissinghurst?"
"Ay, theer's 'The Bull,' comfortable, an' draws fine ale!"
"Then I will go to Sissinghurst."
"Ay, ay," nodded the old man, "if it be good ale an' a
comfortable inn you want you need seek no further nor
Siss'n'urst; ninety an' one years I've lived there, an' I know."
"Ninety-one years!" I repeated.
"As ever was!" returned the Ancient, with another nod. "I be the
oldest man in these parts 'cept David Relf, an' 'e died last
"Why then, if he's dead, you must be the oldest," said I.
"No," said the Ancient, shaking his head,--"ye see it be this
way: David were my brother, an' uncommon proud 'e were o' bein'
the oldest man in these parts, an' now that 'e be dead an' gone
it du seem a poor thing--ah! a very poor thing!--to tak' 'vantage
of a dead man, an' him my own brother!" Saying which, the
Ancient rose, and we went on together, side by side, towards
OF BLACK GEORGE, THE SMITH, AND HOW WE THREW THE HAMMER
"The Bull" is a plain, square, whitewashed building, with a
sloping roof, and before the door an open portico, wherein are
set two seats on which one may sit of a sunny afternoon with a
mug of ale at one's elbow and watch the winding road, the
thatched cottages bowered in roses, or the quiver of distant
trees where the red, conical roof of some oast-house makes a
vivid note of color amid the green. Or one may close one's eyes
and hark to the chirp of the swallows under the eaves, the
distant lowing of cows, or the clink of hammers from the smithy
across the way.
And presently, as we sat there drowsing in the sun, to us came
one from the "tap," a bullet-headed fellow, small of eye, and
nose, but great of jaw, albeit he was become somewhat fat and
fleshy--who, having nodded to me, sat him down beside the
Ancient, and addressed him as follows:
"Black Jarge be 'took' again, Gaffer!"
"Ah! I knowed 'twould come soon or late, Simon," said the
Ancient, shaking his head, "I knowed as 'e'd never last the month
"Seemed goin' on all quiet and reg'lar, though," said the
bullet-headed man, whom I discovered to be the landlord of "The
Bull"--"seemed nice and quiet, and nothin' out o' the way, when,
'bout an hour ago it were, 'e ups and heaves Sam out into the road."
"Ah!" said the old man, nodding his head again, "to be sure, I've
noticed, Simon, as 'tis generally about the twentieth o' the
month as Jarge gets 'took.'"
"'E 've got a wonderful 'ead, 'ave the Gaffer!" said Simon,
turning to me.
"Yes," said I, "but who is Black George; how comes he to be
'taken,' and by what?"
"Gaffer," said the Innkeeper, "you tell un."
"Why, then," began the Ancient, nothing loth, "Black Jarge be a
gert, big, strong man--the biggest, gertest, and strongest in the
South Country, d'ye see (a'most as fine a man as I were in my
time), and, off and on, gets took wi' tearin's and rages, at
which times 'e don't mind who 'e 'its--"
"No--nor Wheer!" added the Innkeeper.
"Oh, 'e be a bad man, be Black Jarge when 'e's took, for 'e 'ave
a knack, d'ye see, of takin' 'old o' the one nighest to un, and
a-heavin' of un over 'is 'ead'."
"Extremely unpleasant!" said I.
"Just what he done this marnin' wi' Sam," nodded the Innkeeper
--"hove un out into the road, 'e did."