Part 4 out of 11
"And what did Sam do?" I inquired.
"Oh! Sam were mighty glad to get off so easy."
"Sam must be a very remarkable fellow--undoubtedly a
philosopher," said I.
"'E be nowt to look at!" said the Ancient.
Now at this moment there came a sudden deep bellow, a hoarse,
bull-like roar from somewhere near by, and, looking round in some
perplexity, through the wide doorway of the smithy opposite, I
saw a man come tumbling, all arms and legs, who, having described
a somersault, fell, rolled over once or twice, and sitting up in
the middle of the road, stared about him in a dazed sort of
"That's Job!" nodded the Ancient.
"Poor fellow!" said I, and rose to go to his assistance.
"Oh, that weren't nothin'," said the Ancient, laying, a
restraining hand upon my arm, "nothin' at all. Job bean't 'urt;
why, I've seen 'em fall further nor that afore now, but y' see
Job be pretty heavy handlin'--even for Black Jarge."
And, in a little while, Job arose from where he sat in the dust,
and limping up, sat himself down on the opposite bench, very
black of brow and fierce of eye. And, after he had sat there
silent for maybe five minutes, I said that I hoped he wasn't
'Urt?" he repeated, with a blank stare. "'Ow should I be 'urt?"
"Why, you seemed to fall rather heavily," said I.
At this Job regarded me with a look half resentful, half
reproachful, and immediately turned his back upon me; from which,
and sundry winks and nods and shakes of the head from the others,
it seemed that my remark had been ill-judged. And after we had
sat silent for maybe another five minutes, the Ancient appeared
to notice Job's presence for the first time.
"Why, you bean't workin' 's arternoon then, Job?" he inquired
"Goin' to tak' a 'olleyday, p'r'aps?"
"Ah! I'm done wi' smithin'--leastways, for Black Jarge."
"And him wi' all that raft o' work in, Job? Pretty fix 'e'll be
in wi' no one to strike for 'im!" said Simon.
"Sarves un right tu!" retorted Job, furtively rubbing his left
"But what'll 'e do wi'out a 'elper?" persisted Simon.
"Lord knows!" returned the Ancient; "unless Job thinks better of
"Not me," said that individual, feeling his right elbow with
tender solicitude. "I'm done wi' Black Jarge, I am. 'E nigh
broke my back for me once afore, but this is the last time; I
never swing a sledge for Black Jarge again--danged if I du!"
"And 'im to mend th' owd church screen up to Cranbrook Church,"
sighed the Ancient; "a wunnerful screen, a wunnerful screen!
older nor me--ah! a sight older hunneds and hunneds o' years
older--they wouldn't let nobody touch it but Black Jarge."
"'E be the best smith in the South Country!" nodded Simon.
"Ay, an' a bad man to work for as ever was!" growled Job. "I'll
work for 'e no more; my mind's made up, an' when my mind's made
up theer bean't no movin' me--like a rock I be!"
"'Twould ha' been a fine thing for a Siss'n'urst man to ha'
mended t' owd screen!" said the Ancient.
"'Twould that!" nodded Simon, "a shame it is as it should go to
Hereupon, having finished my ale, I rose.
"Be you'm a-goin', young maister?" inquired the Ancient.
"Why, that depends," said I. "I understand that this man, Black
George, needs a helper, so I have decided to go and offer my
"You!" exclaimed Job, staring in open-mouthed amazement, as did
also the other two.
"Why not?" I rejoined. "Black George needs a helper, and I need
"My chap," said Job warningly, "don't ye do it. You be a tidy,
sizable chap, but Black Jarge ud mak' no more o' you than I
should of a babby--don't ye do it."
"Better not," said Simon.
"On the contrary," I returned, "better run a little bodily risk
and satisfy one's hunger, rather than lie safe but famishing
beneath some hedge or rick--what do you think, Ancient?"
The old man leaned forward and peered up at me sharply beneath
his hanging brows.
"Well?" said I.
"You'm right!" he nodded, "and a man wi' eyes the like o' yourn
bean't one as 'tis easy to turn aside, even though it do be Black
Jarge as tries."
"Then," said Job, as I took up my staff, "if your back's broke,
my chap--why, don't go for to blame me, that's all! You be a
sight too cocksure--ah, that you be!"
"I'm thinkin' Black Jarge would find this chap a bit different to
Job," remarked the Ancient. "What do 'ee think, Simon?"
"Looks as if 'e might take a good blow, ah! and give one,
for that matter," returned the Innkeeper, studying me with
half-closed eyes, and his head to one side, as I have seen
artists look at pictures. "He be pretty wide in the shoulders,
and full in the chest, and, by the look of him, quick on 'is
"You've been a fightin' man, Simon, and you ought to know--but
he've got summat better still."
"And what might that be, Gaffer?" inquired the Innkeeper.
"A good, straight, bright eye, Simon, wi' a look in it as says,
"Ah! but what o' Jarge?" cried Job. "Black Jarge don't mind a
man's eyes, 'cept to black frequent; 'e don't mind nothin', nor
"Job," said the Ancient, tapping his snuff-box, "theer's some
things as is better nor gert, big muscles, and gert, strong
fists--if you wasn't a danged fule you'd know what I mean.
Young man," he went on, turning to me, "you puts me in mind o'
what I were at your age though, to be sure, I were taller 'n you
by about five or six inches, maybe more--but don't go for to be
too cock-sure for all that. Black Jarge aren't to be sneezed
"And, if you must 'it un," added the Innkeeper, "why, go for the
chin--theer aren't a better place to 'it a man than on the chin,
if so be you can thump it right--and 'ard enough. I mind 't was
so I put out Tom Brock o' Bedford--a sweet, pretty blow it were
too, though I do say it."
"Thank you!" said I; "should it come to fighting, which Heaven
forfend, I shall certainly remember your advice." Saying which,
I turned away, and crossed the road to the open door of the
smithy, very conscious of the three pairs of eyes that watched me
as I went.
Upon the threshold of the forge I paused to look about me, and
there, sure enough, was the smith. Indeed a fine, big fellow he
was, with great shoulders, and a mighty chest, and arms whose
bulging muscles showed to advantage in the red glow of the fire.
In his left hand he grasped a pair of tongs wherein was set a
glowing iron scroll, upon which he beat with the hammer in his
right. I stood watching until, having beaten out the glow from
the iron, he plunged the scroll back into the fire, and fell to
blowing with the bellows. But now, as I looked more closely at
him, I almost doubted if this could be Black George, after all,
for this man's hair was of a bright gold, and curled in tight
rings upon his brow, while, instead of the black, scowling visage
I had expected, I beheld a ruddy, open, well-featured face out of
which looked a pair of eyes of a blue you may sometimes see in a
summer sky at evening. And yet again, his massive size would
seem to proclaim him the famous Black George, and no other. It
was with something of doubt in my mind, nevertheless, that I
presently stepped into the smithy and accosted him.
"Are you Black George?" I inquired. At the sound of my voice, he
let go the handle of the bellows, and turned; as I watched, I saw
his brows draw suddenly together, while the golden hairs of his
beard seemed to curl upward.
"Suppose I be?"
"Then I wish to speak with you."
"Be that what you'm come for?"
"Be you come far?"
"That's a pity."
"'Cause you'll 'ave a good way to go back again."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, for one thing, I means as I don't like your looks, my
And why don't you like my looks?"
"Lord!" exclaimed the smith, "'ow should I know--but I don't--of
that I'm sartin sure."
"Which reminds me," said I, "of a certain unpopular gentleman of
the name of Fell, or Pell, or Snell."
"Eh?" said the smith, staring.
"There is a verse, I remember, which runs, I think, in this wise:
"'I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, or Pell, or Snell,
For reasons which I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, or Pell, or Snell.'"
"So you'm a poet, eh?"
"No," said I, shaking my head.
"Then I'm sorry for it; a man don't meet wi' poets every day,"
saying which, he drew the scroll from the fire, and laid it,
glowing, upon the anvil. "You was wishful to speak wi' me, I
think?" he inquired.
"Yes," I answered.
"Ah!"'nodded the smith, "to be sure," and, forthwith, began to
sing most lustily, marking the time very cleverly with his
"If," I began, a little put out at this, "if you will listen to
what I have to say" But he only hammered away harder than ever,
and roared his song the louder; and, though it sounded ill enough
at the time, it was a song I came to know well later, the words
of which are these:
"Strike! ding! ding!
Strike! ding! ding!
The iron glows,
And loveth good blows
As fire doth bellows.
Strike! ding! ding!"
Now seeing he was determined to give me no chance to speak, I
presently seated myself close by, and fell to singing likewise.
Oddly enough, the only thing I could recall, on the moment, was
the Tinker's song, and that but very imperfectly; yet it served
my purpose well enough. Thus we fell to it with a will, the
different notes clashing, and filling the air with a most vile
discord, and the words all jumbled up together, something in this
"Strike! ding! ding!
A tinker I am, O
Strike! ding! ding!
A tinker am I
The iron it glows,
A tinker I'll live
And loveth good blows,
And a tinker I'll die.
As fire doth bellows.
If the King in his crown
Strike! ding! ding!
Would change places with me
Strike! ding! ding!" And so forth.
The louder he roared, the louder roared I, until the place fairly
rang with the din, in so much that, chancing to look through the
open doorway, I saw the Ancient, with Simon, Job, and several
others, on the opposite side of the way, staring, open-mouthed,
as well they might. But still the smith and I continued to howl
at each other with unabated vigor until he stopped, all at once,
and threw down his hammer with a clang.
"Dang me if I like that voice o' yourn!" he exclaimed.
"Why, to be sure, I don't sing very often," I answered.
"Which, I mean to say, is a very good thing; ah! a very good
"Nor do I pretend to sing--"
"Then why do 'ee try now?"
"For company's sake."
"Well, I don't like it; I've 'ad enough of it."
"Then," said I, "suppose you listen to what I have to say?"
"Not by no manner o' means."
"Then what do you propose to do?"
"Why," said the smith, rising and stretching himself, "since you
ax me, I'm a-goin' to pitch you out o' yon door."
"You may try, of course," said I, measuring the distance between
us with my eye, "but if you do, seeing you are so much the bigger
and stronger man, I shall certainly fetch you a knock with this
staff of mine which I think you will remember for many a day."
So saying, I rose and stepped out into the middle of the floor.
Black George eyed me slowly up from the soles of my boots to the
crown of my hat and down again, picked up his hammer in an
undecided fashion, looked it over as if he had never seen such a
thing before, tossed it into a corner, and, seating himself on
the anvil, folded his arms. All at once a merry twinkle leapt
into the blue depths of his eyes, and I saw the swift gleam of a
"What do 'ee want--man?" said he.
Now hereupon, with a sudden gesture, I pitched my staff out
through the open doorway into the road, and folded my arms across
my chest, even as he.
"Why did 'ee do that?" he inquired, staring.
"Because I don't think I shall need it, after all."
"But suppose I was to come for 'ee now?"
"But you won't."
"You be a strange sort o' chap!" said he, shaking his head.
"So they tell me."
"And what does the likes o' you want wi' the likes o' me?"
"Know anythin' about smithin'?"
"Not a thing."
"Then why do 'ee come 'ere?"
"More fool you!" said the smith.
"Because smithin' is 'ard work, and dirty work, and hot work, and
work as is badly paid nowadays."
"Then why are you a smith?"
"My feyther was a smith afore me."
"And is that your only reason?"
"My only reason."
"Then you are the greater fool."
"You think so, do ye?"
"Supposin'," said Black George, stroking his golden beard
reflectively, "supposin' I was to get up and break your neck for
"Then you would, at least, save me from the folly of becoming a
"I don't," said Black George, shaking his head, "no, I do not
"I am sorry for that."
"Because," he went on, "you've got the gift o' the gab, and a
gabbing man is worse than a gabbing woman."
"You can gab your share, if it comes to that," said I.
"My chap," he growled, holding up a warning hand, "go easy now,
go easy; don't get me took again."
"Not if I can help it," I returned.
"I be a quiet soul till I gets took--a very quiet soul--lambs
bean't quieter, but I won't answer for that neck o' yourn if I do
get took--so look out!"
"I understand you have an important piece of work on hand," said
I, changing the subject.
"Th' owd church screen, yes."
"And are in need of a helper?"
"Ah! to be sure--but you aren't got the look o' a workin' cove.
I never see a workin' cove wi' 'ands the like o' yourn, so white
as a woman's they be."
"I have worked hard enough in my time, nevertheless," said I.
"What might you 'ave done, now?"
"I have translated Petronius Arbiter, also Quintilian, with a
literal rendering into the English of the Memoires of the Sieur
"Oh," exclaimed the smith, "that sounds a lot! anything more?"
"Yes," I answered; "I won the High Jump, and Throwing the
"Throwin' th' 'ammer!" repeated Black George musingly; "was it
anything like that theer?" And he pointed to a sledge near, by.
"Something," I answered.
"And you want work?"
"Tell 'ee what, my fellow, if you can throw that theer 'ammer
further nor me, then I'll say, 'Done,' and you can name your own
wages, but if I beat you, and I'm fair sure I can, then you must
stand up to me for ten minutes, and I'll give 'ee a good
trouncin' to ease my mind--what d'ye say?"
After a momentary hesitation, I nodded my head.
"Done!" said I.
"More fool you!" grinned the smith, and, catching up his
sledge-hammer, he strode out into the road.
Before "The Bull" a small crowd had gathered, all newly come from
field or farmyard, for most of them carried rake or pitchfork,
having doubtless been drawn thither by the hellish outcry of
Black George and myself. Now I noticed that while they listened
to the Ancient, who was holding forth, snuff-box in hand, yet
every eye was turned towards the smithy, and in every eye was
expectation. At our appearance, however, I thought they seemed,
one and all, vastly surprised and taken aback, for heads were
shaken, and glances wandered from the smith and myself to the
Ancient, and back again.
"Well, I'll be danged!" exclaimed Job.
"I knowed it! I knowed it!" cried the Ancient, rubbing his hands
"Knowed what, Gaffer?" inquired Black George, as we came up.
"Why, I knowed as this young chap would come out a-walkin' 'pon
his own two legs, and not like Job, a-rollin' and a-wallerin' in
the dust o' th' road--like a hog."
"Why, y' see, Gaffer," began the smith, almost apologetically it
seemed to me, "it do come sort o' nat'ral to heave the likes o'
Job about a bit--Job's made for it, y' might say, but this chap
"So 'e be, Jarge--so 'e be!" nodded the Ancient.
"Though, mark me, Gaffer, I aren't nohow in love wi' this chap
neither--'e gabs too much to suit me, by a long sight!"
"'E do that!" chimed in Job, edging nearer; "what I sez is, if 'e
do get 'is back broke, 'e aren't got nobody to blame but 'isself
--so cocksure as 'e be."
"Job," said the Ancient, "hold thee tongue."
"I sez 'e's a cocksure cove," repeated Job doggedly, "an' a
cocksure cove 'e be; what do 'ee think, Jarge?"
"Job," returned the smith, "I don't chuck a man into t' road and
talk wi' 'im both in the same day."
In this conversation I bore no part, busying myself in drawing
out a wide circle in the dust, a proceeding watched by the others
with much interest, and not a few wondering comments.
"What be goin' to du wi' 'ammer, Jarge?" inquired the Ancient.
"Why," explained the smith, "this chap thinks 'e can throw it
further nor me." At this there was a general laugh. "If so be
'e can," pursued Black George, "then 'e comes to work for me at
'is own price, but if I beat 'im, then 'e must stand up to me wi'
'is fists for ten minutes."
"Ten minutes!" cried a voice; "'e won't last five--see if 'e do."
"Feel sorry for un," said a second, "'e do be so pale as a sheet
"So would you be if you was in 'is shoes!" chimed in a third;
whereat there was a general laugh.
Indeed, as, I looked round the ring of grinning, unresponsive
faces, it was plain to see that all sympathy was against the
stranger, as is the way of bird, beast, fish, but especially man,
the world over--and I experienced a sudden sense of loneliness
which was, I think, only natural. Yet, as I put up my hand to
loose the strap of my knapsack, I encountered another already
there, and, turning, beheld Simon the Innkeeper.
"If it do come to fightin'," he whispered close in my ear, "if it
do come to fightin', and I'm fair sure it will, keep away as much
as you can; you look quick on your pins. Moreover, whatever you
do, watch 'is right, and when you do see a chance to strike, go
for 'is chin--a little to one side--and strike danged 'ard!"
"Many thanks for your friendly advice," said I, with a grateful
nod and, slipping off my coat, would have handed it to him but
that the Ancient hobbled up, and, taking it from me, folded it
ostentatiously across his arm.
"Mark my words, Simon," said he, "this young chap is as like what
I were at his age as one pea is to another--I says so, and I
"Come," said Black George, at this juncture, "I've work waitin'
to be done, and my forge fire will be out."
"I'm quite ready," said I, stepping forward. It was now arranged
that, standing alternately within the circle, we should each have
three throws--whoever should make the two best throws to win.
Hereupon, the smith took his place within the circle, hammer in
"Wait," said I, "the advantage usually lies with the last
thrower, it would be fairer to you were we to toss for it."
"No," answered Black George, motioning the onlookers to stand
back, "I've got th' 'ammer, and I'll throw first."
Now, as probably every one knows, it is one thing to swing a
sledge-hammer in the ordinary way but quite another to throw it
any distance, for there is required, beside the bodily strength,
a certain amount of knowledge, without which a man is necessarily
handicapped. Thus, despite my opponent's great strength of arm,
I was fairly sanguine of the result.
Black George took a fresh grip upon the hammer-shaft, twirled it
lightly above his head, swung it once, twice, thrice--and let it
With a shout, Job and two or three others ran down the road to
mark where it had fallen, and presently returned, pacing out the
"Fifty-nine!" they announced.
"Can 'ee beat that?" inquired Black George complacently.
"I think I can," I answered as, taking up the hammer, I, in turn,
stepped into the ring. Gripping the shaft firmly, I whirled it
aloft, and began to swing it swifter and swifter, gaining greater
impetus every moment, till, like a flash, it flew from my grasp.
Panting, I watched it rise, rise, rise, and then plunge down to
earth in a smother of dust.
"'E've beat it!" cried the Ancient, flourishing his stick
excitedly. "Lord love me, 'e've beat it!"
"Ay, 'e've beat it, sure-ly," said a man who carried a rake that
was forever getting in everybody's way.
"An' by a goodish bit to!" shouted another.
"Ah! but Jarge aren't got 'is arm in yet," retorted a third;
"Jarge can do better nor that by a long sight!"
But now all voices were hushed as Job paced up.
"Eighty-two!" he announced. Black George looked hard at me, but,
without speaking, stepped sulkily into the ring, moistened his
palms, looked at me again, and seizing the hammer, began to whirl
it as he had seen me. Round and round it went, faster and
faster, till, with a sudden lurch, he hurled it up and away.
Indeed it was a mighty throw! Straight and strong it flew,
describing a wide parabola ere it thudded into the road.
The excitement now waxed high, and many started off to measure
the distance for themselves, shouting one to another as they
went. As for the smith, he stood beside me, whistling, and I saw
that the twinkle was back in his eyes again.
"One hunner and twenty!" cried half-a-dozen voices.
"And a half," corrected Job, thrusting the hammer into my hand,
"Can 'ee beat that?" inquired Black George again.
"Ay, can 'ee beat that?" echoed the crowd.
"It was a marvellous throw!" said I, shaking my head. And
indeed, in my heart I knew I could never hope to equal, much less
beat, such a mighty cast. I therefore decided on strategy, and,
with this in mind, proceeded, in a leisurely fashion, once more
to mark out the circle, which was obliterated in places, to
flatten the surface underfoot, to roll up my sleeves, and tighten
my belt; in fine, I observed all such precautions as a man might
be expected to take before some supreme effort.
At length, having done everything I could think of to impress
this idea upon the onlookers, I took up the hammer.
"Means to do it this time!" cried the man with the rake; knocking
off Job's hat in his excitement, as, with a tremendous swing, I
made my second throw. There was a moment's breathless silence as
the hammer hurtled through the air, then, like an echo to its
fall, came a shout of laughter, for the distance was palpably far
short of the giant smith's last. A moment later Job came pacing
up, and announced:
"Eighty-seven!" Hereupon arose a very babel of voices:
"You've got un beat a'ready, Jarge!"
"Well, I knowed it from the start!"
"Let un alone," cried Simon, "'e've got another chance yet."
"Much good it'll do 'im!"
"Ah! might as well give in now, and take 'is thrashin' and ha'
done wi' it."
That my ruse had succeeded with the crowd was evident; they--to a
man--believed I had done my best, and already regarded me as
hopelessly beaten. My chance of winning depended upon whether
the smith, deluded into a like belief, should content himself
with just beating my last throw, for, should he again exert his
mighty strength to the uttermost, I felt that my case was indeed
It was with a beating heart, therefore, that I watched him take
his place for the last throw. His face wore a confident smile,
but nevertheless he took up the hammer with such a businesslike
air that my heart sank, and, feeling a touch upon my arm, I was
glad to turn away. "I be goin' to fetch a sponge and water,"
"A sponge and water!"
"Ah! Likewise some vinegar--theer's nothin' like 'vinegar--and
remember--the chin, a little to one side preferred."
"So then you think I shall be beaten?"
"Why, I don't say that, but it's best to be prepared, aren't it
And, with a friendly nod, the Innkeeper turned away. In that
same minute there arose another shout from the crowd as they
greeted Black George's last throw, and Job, striding up,
Then, while the air still echoed with their plaudits, I stepped
into the ring, and, catching up the hammer, swung it high above
my head, and, at the full length of my arms, began to wheel it.
The iron spun faster and faster till, setting my teeth, with the
whole force of every fibre, every nerve, and muscle of my body, I
let it fly.
The blood was throbbing at my temples and my breath coming fast
as I watched its curving flight. And now all voices were hushed
so that the ring of the iron could be plainly heard as it struck
the hard road, and all eyes watched Job, as he began pacing
towards us. As he drew nearer I could hear him counting to
"Ninety-one, ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five,
ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred,
one hundred and one, one hundred and two--one hundred and two!"
Next moment, as it seemed to me, an inarticulate Ancient was
desperately trying to force me into my coat, wrong side first,
and Simon was shaking my hand.
"You tricked me!" cried a voice, and turning, I found Black
George confronting me, with clenched fists.
"And how did I trick you?"
"I could ha' chucked farther nor that."
"Then why didn't you?"
"Because I thought you was beat. I say you tricked me."
"And I tell you the match was a fair one from start to finish!"
"Put up your hands!" said the smith, advancing in a threatening
"No," said I, "a bargain is a bargain," and turning my back upon
him, I fell to watching the man with the rake, who, not content
with Job's word, was busily pacing out the distance for himself.
"Put up your hands!" repeated Black George hoarsely.
"For the last time, no," said I over my shoulder. "Strike me if
you will," I went on, seeing him raise his fist, "I shall not
defend myself, but I tell you this, Black George, the first blow
you strike will brand you coward, and no honest man."
"Coward, is it?" cried he, and, with the word, had seized me in a
grip that crushed my flesh, and nigh swung me off my feet;
"coward is it?" he repeated.
"Yes," said I, "none but a coward would attack an unresisting
man." So, for a full minute we stood thus, staring into each
other's eyes, and once again I saw the hairs of his golden beard
curl up, and outwards.
What would have been the end I cannot say, but there came upon
the stillness the sound of flying footsteps, the crowd was burst
asunder, and a girl stood before us, a tall, handsome girl with
raven hair, and great, flashing black eyes.
"Oh!--you, Jarge, think shame on yourself--think shame on
yourself, Black Jarge. Look!" she cried, pointing a finger at
him, "look at the great, strong man--as is a coward!"
I felt the smith's grip relax, his arms dropped to his sides,
while a deep, red glow crept up his cheeks till it was lost in
the clustering curls of gleaming, yellow hair.
"Why, Prue--" he began, in a strangely altered voice, and
stopped. The fire was gone from his eyes as they rested upon
her, and he made a movement as though he would have reached out
his hand to her, but checked himself.
"Why, Prue--" he said again, but choked suddenly, and, turning
away, strode back towards his forge without another word. On he
went, looking neither to right nor left, and I thought there was
something infinitely woebegone and pitiful in the droop of his
Now as I looked from his forlorn figure to the beautiful, flushed
face of the girl, I saw her eyes grow wonderfully soft and sweet,
and brim over with tears. And, when Black George had betaken
himself back to his smithy, she also turned, and, crossing
swiftly to the inn, vanished through its open doorway.
"She 've a fine sperrit, 'ave that darter o' yourn, Simon, a fine
sperrit. Oh! a fine sperrit as ever was!" chuckled the Ancient.
"Prue aren't afeard o' Black Jarge--never was," returned Simon;
"she can manage un--allus could; you'll mind she could allus tame
Black Jarge wi' a look, Gaffer."
"Ah! she 'm a gran'darter to be proud on, be Prue," nodded the
Ancient, "an' proud I be to!"
"What," said I, "is she your daughter, Simon?"
"Ay, for sure."
"And your granddaughter, Ancient?"
"Ay, that she be, that she be."
"Why, then, Simon must be your son."
"Son as ever was!" nodded the old man, "and a goodish son 'e be
to--oh, I've seen worse."
"And now," added Simon, "come in, and you shall taste as fine a
jug of ale as there be in all Kent."
"Wait," said the old man, laying his hand upon my arm, "I've took
to you, young chap, took to you amazin'; what might your name
"Peter," I answered.
"A good name, a fine name," nodded the old man.
"Peter--Simon," said he, glancing from one to the other of us.
"Simon--Peter; minds me o' the disciple of our blessed Lord, it
du; a fine name be Peter."
So Peter I became to him thenceforth, and to the whole village.
WHEREIN I LEARN MORE CONCERNING THE GHOST OF THE RUINED HUT
And after the Ancient and Simon and I had, very creditably,
emptied the jug between us, I rose to depart.
"Peter," said the Ancient, "wheer be goin'?"
"Home!" said I.
"And wheer be that?"
"The cottage in the Hollow," said I.
"What--th' 'aunted cottage?" he cried, staring.
"Yes," I nodded; "from what I saw of it, I think, with a little
repairing, it might suit me very well."
"But the ghost?" cried the old man; "have ye forgot the ghost?"
"Why, I never heard of a ghost really harming any one yet," I
"Peter," said Simon, quietly, "I wouldn't be too sure o' that. I
wouldn't go a-nigh the place, myself; once is enough for me."
"Simon," said I, "what do you mean by 'once'?"
Now when I asked him this, Simon breathed hard, and shuffled
uneasily in his chair.
"I mean, Peter, as I've heerd un," he replied slowly.
"Heard him!" I repeated incredulously; "you? Are you sure?"
"Sure as death, Peter. I've heerd un a-shriekin' and a-groanin'
to 'isself, same as Gaffer 'as, and lots of others. Why, Lord
bless 'ee! theer be scarce a man in these parts but 'as 'eerd um
one time or another."
"Ay--I've 'eerd un, and seen un tu!" croaked the Ancient
excitedly. "A gert, tall think 'e be, wi' a 'orn on 'is 'ead,
and likewise a tail; some might ha' thought 't was the Wanderin'
Man o' the Roads as I found 'angin' on t' stapil--some on 'em du,
but I knowed better--I knowed 't were Old Nick 'isself, all
flame, and brimstone, an' wi' a babby under 'is arm!"
"A baby?" I repeated.
"A babby as ever was," nodded the Ancient.
"And you say you have heard it too, Simon?" said I.
"Ay," nodded the Innkeeper; "I went down into th' 'Oller one
evenin'--'bout six months ago, wi' Black Jarge, for we 'ad a mind
to knock th' owd place to pieces, and get rid o' the ghost that
way. Well, Jarge ups wi' 'is 'ammer, and down comes the rotten
old door wi' a crash. Jarge 'ad strung up 'is 'ammer for another
blow when, all at once, theer comes a scream." Here Simon
shivered involuntarily, and glanced uneasily over his shoulder,
and round the room.
"A scream?" said I.
"Ah!" nodded Simon, "but 'twere worse nor that." Here he paused
again, and looking closer at him, I was surprised to see that his
broad, strong hands were shaking, and that his brow glistened
"What was it like?" I inquired, struck by this apparent weakness
in one so hardy and full of health.
"'Twere a scream wi' a bubble in it," he answered, speaking with
an effort, "'twere like somebody shriekin' out wi' 'is throat
choked up wi' blood. Jarge and me didn't wait for no more; we
run. And as we run, it follered, groanin' arter us till we was
out upon the road, and then it shrieked at us from the bushes.
Ecod! it do make me cold to talk of it, even now. Jarge left 'is
best sledge be'ind 'im, and I my crowbar, and we never went back
for them, nor never shall, no." Here Simon paused to mop the
grizzled hair at his temples. "I tell 'ee, Peter, that place
aren't fit for no man at night. If so be you'm lookin' for a
bed, my chap, theer's one you can 'are at 'The Bull,' ready and
"An' gratus!" added the Ancient, tapping his snuffbox.
"Thank you," said I, "both of you, for the offer, but I have a
strange fancy to hear, and, if possible, see this ghost for
"Don't 'ee du it," admonished the Ancient, "so dark an' lonesome
as it be, don't 'ee du it, Peter."
"Why, Ancient," said I, "it isn't that I doubt your word, but my
mind is set on the adventure. So, if Simon will let me have
threepenny worth of candles, and some bread and meat--no matter
what--I'll be off, for I should like to get there before dusk."
Nodding gloomily, Simon rose and went out, whereupon the Ancient
leaned over and laid a yellow, clawlike hand upon my arm.
"Peter," said he, "Peter, I've took to you amazin"; just a few
inches taller--say a couple--an' you'd be the very spit o' what
I were at your age--the very spit."
"Thank you, Ancient!" said I, laying my hand on his.
"Now, Peter, 'twould be a hijious thing--a very hijious thing if,
when I come a-gatherin' watercress in the marnin', I should find
you a-danglin' on t' stapil, cold and stiff--like t' other, or
lyin' a corp wi' your throat cut; 'twould be a hijious--hijious
thing, Peter, but oh! 'twould mak' a fine story in the tellin'."
In a little while Simon returned with the candles, a tinder-box,
and a parcel of bread and meat, for which be gloomily but
persistently refused payment. Last of all he produced a small,
brass-bound pistol, which he insisted on my taking.
"Not as it'll be much use again' a ghost," said he, with a gloomy
shake of the head, "but a pistol's a comfortable thing to 'ave in
a lonely place--'specially if that place be very dark." Which last,
if something illogical, may be none the less true.
So, having shaken each by the hand, I bade them good night, and
set off along the darkening road.
WHICH TELLS HOW AND IN WHAT MANNER I SAW THE GHOST
Now, as I went, my mind was greatly exercised as to a feasible
explanation of what I had just heard. That a man so old as the
Ancient should "see things" I could readily believe, by reason of
his years, for great age is often subject to such hallucinations,
but with Simon, a man in the prime of his life, it was a different
matter altogether. That he had been absolutely sincere in his
story I had read in his dilating eye and the involuntary shiver
that had passed over him while he spoke. Here indeed, though I
scouted all idea of supernatural agency, there lay a mystery that
piqued my curiosity not a little.
Ghosts!--pshaw! What being, endowed with a reasoning mind, could
allow himself to think, let alone believe in such folly? Ghosts
Yet here, and all at once, like an enemy from the dark, old
stories leaped at and seized me by the throat: old tales of
spectres grim and bloody, of goblins, and haunted houses from
whose dim desolation strange sounds would come; tales long since
heard, and forgot--till now.
Ghosts! Why, the road was full of them; they crowded upon my
heels, they peered over my shoulders; I felt them brush my
elbows, and heard them gibbering at me from the shadows.
And the sun was setting already!
Ghosts! And why not? "There are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamed of in your philosophy."
Involuntarily I hastened my steps, but the sun had set ere I
reached the Hollow. Yes, the sun had set, and the great basin
below me was already brimful of shadows which, as I watched,
seemed to assume shapes--vast, nebulous, and constantly changing
--down there amid the purple gloom of the trees. Indeed, it
looked an unholy place in the half light, a pit framed for
murders, and the safe hiding of tell-tale corpses, the very haunt
of horrid goblins and spectres, grim and ghastly.
So evilly did the place impress me that it needed an effort of
will ere I could bring myself to descend the precipitous slope.
Bats flitted to and fro across my path, now and then, emitting
their sharp, needlelike note, while, from somewhere in the
dimness beyond, an owl hooted.
By the time I reached the cottage, it had fallen quite dark, here
in the Hollow, though the light still lingered in the world
above. So I took out my tinder-box, and one of the candles,
which, after several failures, I succeeded in lighting, and,
stepping into the cottage, began to look about me.
The place was small, as I think I have before said, and comprised
two rooms shut off from each other by a strong partition with a
door midway. Lifting the candle, I glanced at the staple on
which the builder of the cottage had choked out his life so many
years ago, and, calling to mind the Ancient's fierce desire to
outlast it, I even reached up my hand and gave it a shake. But,
despite the rust of years, the iron felt as strong and rigid as
ever, so that it seemed the old man's innocent wish must go
unsatisfied after all. The second room appeared much the same
size as the first, and like it in all respects, till, looking
upwards, I noticed a square trap door in a corner, while
underneath, against the wall, hung a rough ladder. This I
proceeded to lift down, and mounting, cautiously lifted the trap.
Holding the candle above my head to survey this chamber, or
rather garret, the first object my eye encountered was a small
tin pannikin, and beyond that a stone jar, or demijohn. Upon
closer inspection I found this last to be nearly full of water
quite sweet and fresh to the taste, which, of itself, was
sufficient evidence that some one had been here very lately.
I now observed a bundle of hay in one corner, which had clearly
served for a bed, beside which were a cracked mug, a tin plate,
a pair of shoes, and an object I took to be part of a flute or
wind instrument of some kind. But what particularly excited my
interest were the shoes, which had evidently seen long and hard
service, for they were much worn, and had been roughly patched
here and there. Very big they were, and somewhat clumsy,
thick-soled, and square of toe, and with a pair of enormous
These evidences led me to believe that whoever had been here
before was likely to return, and, not doubting that this must be
he who had played the part of ghost so well, I determined to be
ready for him.
So, leaving all things as I found them, I descended, and, having
closed the trap, hung up the ladder as I had found it.
In the first of the rooms there was a rough fireplace built into
one corner, and as the air struck somewhat damp and chill, I went
out and gathered a quantity of twigs and dry wood, and had soon
built a cheerful, crackling fire. I now set about collecting
armfuls of dry leaves, which I piled against the wall for a bed.
By the time this was completed to my satisfaction, the moon was
peeping above the treetops, filling the Hollow with far-flung
I now lay down upon my leafy couch, and fell to watching the fire
and listening to the small, soft song of the brook outside. In
the opposite wall was a window, the glass of which was long
since gone, through which I could see a square of sky, and the
glittering belt of Orion. My eyes wandered from this to the glow
of the fire many times, but gradually my head grew heavier and
heavier, until, at length, the stars became confused with the
winking sparks upon the hearth, and the last that I remember was
that the crackle of the fire sounded strangely like the voice of
the Ancient croaking:
"A hijious thing, Peter, a hijious thing!"
I must have slept for an hour, or nearer two (for the room was
dark, save for a few glowing embers on the hearth, and the faint
light of the stars at the window), when I suddenly sat bolt
upright, with every tingling nerve straining as if to catch
something which had, but that very moment, eluded me. I was yet
wondering what this could be, when, from somewhere close outside
the cottage, there rose a sudden cry--hideous and appalling--a
long-drawn-out, bubbling scream (no other words can describe it),
that died slowly down to a wail only to rise again higher and
higher, till it seemed to pierce my very brain. Then all at once
it was gone, and silence rushed in upon me--a silence fraught
with fear and horror unimaginable.
I lay rigid, the blood in my veins jumping with every throb of my
heart till it seemed to shake me from head to foot. And then the
cry began again, deep and hoarse at first, but rising, rising
until the air thrilled with a scream such as no earthly lips
Now the light at the window grew stronger and stronger, and, all
at once, a feeble shaft of moonlight crept across the floor. I
was watching this most welcome beam when it was again obscured by
a something, indefinable at first, but which I gradually made out
to be very like a human head peering in at me; but, if this was
so, it seemed a head hideously misshapen--and there, sure enough,
rising from the brow, was a long, pointed horn.
As I lay motionless, staring at this thing, my hand, by some most
fortunate chance, encountered the pistol in my pocket; and, from
the very depths of my soul, I poured benedictions upon the honest
head of Simon the Innkeeper, for its very contact seemed to
restore my benumbed faculties. With a single bound I was upon my
feet, and had the weapon levelled at the window.
"Speak!" said I, "speak, or I'll shoot." There was a moment of
tingling suspense, and then:
"Oh, man, dinna do that!" said a voice.
"Then come in and show yourself!"
Herewith the head incontinently disappeared, there was the sound
of a heavy step, and a tall figure loomed in the doorway.
"Wait!" said I, as, fumbling about, I presently found tinder-box
and candle, having lighted which I turned and beheld a man--an
exceedingly tall man--clad in the full habit of a Scottish
Highlander. By his side hung a long, straight, basket-hilted
sword, beneath one arm he carried a bagpipe, while upon his head
was--not a horn--but a Scot's bonnet with a long eagle's feather.
"Oh, man," said he, eyeing me with a somewhat wry smile, "I'm
juist thinkin' ye're no' afeared o' bogles, whateffer!"
THE HIGHLAND PIPER
"Who are you?" said I, in no very gentle tone.
"Donal's my name, sir, an' if ye had an e'e for the tartan, ye'd
ken I was a Stuart."
"And what do you want here, Donald Stuart?"
"The verra question she'd be askin' ye'sel'--wha' gars ye tae
come gowkin' an' spierin' aboot here at sic an hour?"
"It is my intention to live here, for the future," said I.
"Hoot toot! ye'll be no meanin' it?"
"But I do mean it," said I.
"Eh, man! but ye maun ken the place is no canny, what wi' pixies,
an' warlocks, an' kelpies, forbye--"
"Indeed, they told me it was haunted, but I determined to see for
"Well, I am glad to find it haunted by nothing worse than a
wandering Scots piper."
The Highlander smiled his wry smile, and taking out a snuff-box,
inhaled a pinch, regarding me the while.
"Ye're the first as ever stayed--after they'd heard the first
bit squeakie, tae find out if 't were a real bogle or no."
"But how in the world did you make such awful sounds?"
"I'm thinkin' it's the bit squeakie ye'll be meanin'?" he
"Yes; how did you do it?"
"Oh, it's juist the pipes!" he answered, patting them
affectionately, "will I show ye the noo?"
"Pray do," said I. Hereupon he set the mouthpiece to his lips,
inflated the bag, stopped the vents with his fingers, and
immediately the air vibrated with the bubbling scream I have
already attempted to describe.
"Oh, man!" he exclaimed, laying the still groaning instrument
gently aside, "oh, man! is it no juist won'erful?"
"But what has been your object in terrifying people out of their
wits in this manner?"
"Sir, it's a' on account o' the snuff."
"Snuff!" I repeated.
"Juist that!" he nodded.
"Snuff," said I again; "what do you mean?"
The Piper smiled again--a slow smile, that seemingly dawned only
to vanish again; it was, indeed, if I may so express it, a grave
and solemn smile, and his nearest approach to mirth, for not once
in the days which followed did I ever see him give vent to a
laugh. I here also take the opportunity to say that I have
greatly modified his speech in the writing, for it was so broad
that I had much ado to grasp his meaning at times.
The Piper smiled, then, and, unwinding the plaid from his
shoulder, spread it upon the floor, and sat down.
"Ye maun ken," he began, "that I hae muckle love for the snuff,
an' snuff is unco expenseeve in these parts."
"Well?" said I.
"Ye maun ken, in the second place, that ma brither Alan canna'
abide the snuff."
"Your brother Alan!" said I wondering.
"Ma brither Alan," he nodded gravely.
"But what of him, what has he to do with--"
"Man, bide a wee. I'm comin' tae that."
"Go on, then," said I, "I'm listening."
"Weel, I'd hae ye tae ken I'm a braw, bonnie piper, an' ma
brither Alan, he's a bonnie piper too--no sic a fair graund piper
as me, bein' somewhat uncertain wi' his 'warblers,' ye ken, but a
bonnie piper, whateffer. Aweel, mebbe a year syne, I fell in
love wi' a lassie, which wad ha' been a' richt if ma brither Alan
hadna' fallen in love wi' her too, so that she, puir lassie,
didna' ken which tae tak'. 'Donal,' says Alan, 'can ye no love
anither lassie; she can no marry the twa o' us, that's sure!'
'Then, Alan,' says I, 'we'll juist play for her.' Which I think
ye'll own was a graund idee, only the lassie couldna' juist mak'
up her mind which o' us piped the best. So the end of it was we
agreed, ma brither Alan an' I, to pipe oor way through England
for a year, an' the man wha came back wi' the maist siller should
wed the lassie."
"And a very fair proposal," said I, "but--"
"Wheest, man! juist here's where we come to the snuff, for,
look ye, every time I bought a paper o' snuff I minded me that ma
brither Alan, not takkin' it himself, was so much siller tae the
gude--an'--oh, man! it used tae grieve me sair--till, one day, I
lighted on this bit hoosie."
"Well?" said I.
"What, d'ye no see it?"
"No, indeed," I answered.
"Eh, man! ma brither Alan doesna' buy the snuff, but he must hae
a roof tae shelter him an' a bed tae lie in o' nights, an' pay
for it too, ye ken, fourpence, or a bawbee, or a shillin', as the
case may be, whiles here I hae baith for the takkin'. An', oh,
man! many's the nicht I've slept the sweeter for thinkin' o'
that saxpence or shillin' that Alan's apartin' wi' for a bed
little better than mine. So, wishfu' tae keep this bit hoosie
tae mysel'--seein' 't was haunted as they ca' it--I juist kep'
up the illusion on account o' trampers, wanderin' gypsies, an'
sic-like dirty tykes. Eh! but 'twas fair graund tae see 'em
rinnin' awa' as if the de'il were after them, spierin' back o'er
their shoulders, an' a' by reason of a bit squeakie o' the pipes,
here. An' so, sir, ye hae it."
I now proceeded to build and relight the fire, during which the
Scot drew a packet of bread and cheese from his sporran, together
with a flask which, having uncorked, he held out to me with the
one word, "Whuskey!"
"Thank you, Donald, but I rarely drink anything stronger than
ale," said I.
"Aweel!" said he, "if ye winna', ye winna', an' there's but a
wee drappie left, tae be sure." Whereupon, after--two or three
generous gulps, he addressed himself to his bread and cheese, and
I, following his example, took out the edibles Simon had provided.
"An' ye're minded tae bide here, ye tell me?" he inquired after a
"Yes," I nodded, "but that need not interfere with you--two can
live here as easily as one, and, now that I have had a good look
at you, I think we might get along very well together."
"Sir," said he solemnly, "my race is royal--I am a Stuart--here's
a Stuart's hand," and he reached out his hand to me across the
hearth with a gesture that was full of a reposeful dignity.
Indeed, I never remember to have seen Donald anything but
"How do you find life in these parts?" I inquired.
"Indeefferent, sir--vera indeefferent! Tae be sure, at fairs an'
sic-like I've often had as much as ten shillin' in 'ma bonnet at
a time; but it's juist the kilties that draw em; they hae no real
love for the pipes, whateffer! A rantin' reel pleases 'em well
eneugh, but eh! they hae no hankerin' for the gude music."
"That is a question open to argument, Donald," said I; "can any
one play real music on a bagpipe, think you?"
"Sir," returned the Scot, setting down the empty flask and
frowning darkly at the fire, "the pipes is the king of a'
instruments, 'tis the sweetest, the truest, the oldest,
"True, it is very old," said I thoughtfully; "it was known, I
believe, to the Greeks, and we find mention of it in the Latin as
'tibia utricularia;' Suetonius tells us that Nero promised to
appear publicly as a bagpiper. Then, too, Chaucer's Miller
played a bagpipe, and Shakespeare frequently mentions the 'drone
of a Lincolnshire Bagpipe.' Yes, it is certainly a very old,
and, I think, a very barbarous instrument."
"Hoot toot! the man talks like a muckle fule," said Donald,
nodding to the fire.
"For instance," I continued, "there can be no comparison between
a bagpipe and a--fiddle, say."
"A fiddle!" exclaimed Donald in accents of withering scorn, and
still addressing the fire. "Ye can juist tell him tae gang tae
the de'il wi' his fiddle."
"Music is, I take it, the expression of one's mood or thought, a
dream translated into sound," said I thoughtfully, "therefore--"
"Hae ye ever heard the pipes?"
"Why, yes, but long ago."
"Then," said Donald, "ye shall juist hear 'em again." So saying,
he wiped his mouth, took up his instrument, and began slowly
Then, all at once, from drones and chanter there rushed forth
such a flood of melody as seemed to sweep me away upon its tide.
First I seemed to hear a roar of wind through desolate glens, a
moan of trees, and a rush of sounding waters; yet softly, softly
there rises above the flood of sound a little rippling melody
which comes, and goes, and comes again, growing ever sweeter with
repetition. And now the roar of wind is changed to the swing of
marching feet, the tread of a mighty host whose step is strong
and free; and lo! they are singing, as they march, and the song
is bold and wild, wild, wild. Again and again, beneath the song,
beneath the rhythm of marching feet, the melody rises, very sweet
but infinitely sad, like a silver pipe or an angel's voice
tremulous with tears. Once again the theme changes, and it is
battle, and death, sudden, and sharp; there is the rush and shock
of charging ranks, and the surge and tumult of conflict, above
whose thunder, loud and clear and shrill, like some battle-cry,
the melody swells, one moment triumphant, and the next lost again.
But the thunder rolls away, distant and more distant--the day
is lost, and won; but, sudden and clear, the melody rings out
once more, fuller now, richer, and complete; the silver pipe
has become a golden trumpet. And yet, what sorrow, what
anguish unspeakable rings through it, the weeping and wailing
of a nation! So the melody sinks slowly, to die away in one
long-drawn, minor note, and Donald is looking across at me with
his grave smile, and I will admit both his face and figure are
"Donald," said I, after a little, "Donald, I will never speak
against the pipes again; they are indeed the king of all
instruments--played as you play them."
"Ou ay, I'm a bonnie piper, I'll no deny it!" he answered. "I'm
glad ye like it, for, Sassenach though ye be, it proves ye hae
the music. 'Tis a bit pibroch I made tae Wullie Wallace--him as
the damned Sassenach murtiered--black be their fa'. Aweel!
'twas done afore your time or mine--so--gude-nict tae ye,
Southeron!" Saying which, he rose, saluted me stiffly, and
stalked majestically to bed.
HOW BLACK GEORGE AND I SHOOK HANDS
The world was full of sunshine, the blithe song of birds, and the
sweet, pure breath of waking flowers as I rose next morning, and,
coming to the stream, threw myself down beside it and plunged my
hands and arms and head into the limpid water whose contact
seemed to fill me with a wondrous gladness in keeping with the
world about me.
In a little while I rose, with the water dripping from me, and
having made shift to dry myself upon my neckcloth, nothing else
being available, returned to the cottage.
Above my head I could hear a gentle sound rising and falling with
a rhythmic measure, that told me Donald still slept; so, clapping
on my hat and coat, I started out to my first day's work at the
forge, breakfastless, for the good and sufficient reason that
there was none to be had, but full of the glad pure beauty of the
morning. And I bethought me of the old Psalmist's deathless
"Though sorrow endure for a night, yet joy cometh in the morning"
(brave, true words which shall go ringing down the ages to bear
hope and consolation to many a wearied, troubled soul); for now,
as I climbed the steep path where bats had hovered last night,
and turned to look back at the pit which had seemed a place of
horror--behold! it was become a very paradise of quivering green,
spangled with myriad jewels where the dew yet clung.
Indeed, if any man would experience the full ecstasy of being
alive--the joi de vivre as the French have it--let him go out
into the early morning, when the sun is young, and look about him
with a seeing eye.
So, in a little while, with the golden song of a blackbird in my
ears, I turned village-wards, very hungry, yet, nevertheless,
Long before I reached the smithy I could hear the ring of Black
George's hammer, though the village was not yet astir, and it was
with some trepidation as to my reception that I approached the
There he stood, busy at his anvil, goodly to look upon in his
bare-armed might, and with the sun shining in his yellow hair, a
veritable son of Anak. He might have been some hero, or demigod
come back from that dim age when angels wooed the daughters of
men, rather than a village blacksmith, and a very sulky one at
that; for though he must have been aware of my presence, he never
glanced up or gave the slightest sign of welcome, or the reverse.
Now, as I watched, I noticed a certain slowness--a heaviness in
all his movements--together with a listless, slipshod air which,
I judged, was very foreign to him; moreover, as he worked, I
thought he hung his head lower than was quite necessary.
"George!" George went on hammering. "George!" said I again. He
raised the hammer for another stroke, hesitated, then lifted his
head with a jerk, and immediately I knew why he had avoided my eye.
"What do 'ee want wi' me?"
"I have come for two reasons," said I; "one is to begin work--"
"Then ye'd best go away again," he broke in; "ye'll get no work
"And the second," I went on, "is to offer you my hand. Will you
take it, George, and let bygones be bygones?"
"No," he burst out vehemently. "No, I tell 'ee. Ye think to
come 'ere an' crow o'er me, because ye beat me, by a trick, and
because ye heerd--her--" His voice broke, and, dropping his
hammer, he turned his back upon me. "Called me 'coward'! she
did," he went on after a little while. "You heerd her--they all
heerd her! I've been a danged fule!" he said, more as if
speaking his thoughts aloud than addressing me, "but a man can't
help lovin' a lass--like Prue, and when 'e loves 'e can't 'elp
hopin'. I've hoped these three years an' more, and last night
--she called me--coward." Something bright and glistening
splashed down upon the anvil, and there ensued a silence broken
only by the piping of the birds and the stirring of the leaves
"A fule I be!" said Black George at last, shaking his head, "no
kind o' man for the likes o' her; too big I be--and rough. And
yet--if she'd only given me the chance!"
Again there fell a silence wherein, mingled with the bird-chorus,
came the tap, tapping of a stick upon the hard road, and the
sound of approaching footsteps; whereupon George seized the
handle of the bellows and fell to blowing the fire vigorously;
yet once I saw him draw the back of his hand across his eyes with
a quick, furtive gesture. A moment after, the Ancient appeared,
a quaint, befrocked figure, framed in the yawning doorway and
backed by the glory of the morning. He stood awhile to lean upon
his stick and peer about, his old eyes still dazzled by the
sunlight he had just left, owing to which he failed to see me
where I sat in the shadow of the forge.
"Marnin', Jarge!" said he, with his quick, bright nod. The
smith's scowl was blacker and his deep voice gruffer than usual
as he returned the greeting; but the old man seemed to heed it
not at all, but, taking his snuff-box from the lining of his
tall, broad-brimmed hat (its usual abiding place), he opened it,
with his most important air.
"Jarge," said he, "I'm thinkin' ye'd better tak' Job back to
strike for ye again if you'm goin' to mend t' owd screen."
"What d'ye mean?" growled Black George.
"Because," continued the old man, gathering a pinch of snuff with
great deliberation, "because, Jarge, the young feller as beat ye
at the throwin'--'im as was to 'ave worked for ye at 'is own
"What!" cried Black George, starting.
"Dead!" nodded the old man, "a corp' 'e be--eh! such a fine,
promisin' young chap, an' now--a corp'." Here the Ancient nodded
solemnly again, three times, and inhaled his pinch of snuff with
great apparent zest and enjoyment.
"Why--" began the amazed George, "what--" and broke off to stare,
"Last night, as ever was," continued the old man, "'e went down
to th' 'aunted cottage--'t weren't no manner o' use tryin' to
turn 'im, no, not if I'd gone down to 'im on my marrer-bones--'e
were that set on it; so off he goes, 'bout sundown, to sleep in
th' 'aunted cottage--I knows, Jarge, 'cause I follered un, an'
seen for myself; so now I'm a-goin' down to find 'is corp'--"
He had reached thus far, when his eye, accustomed to the shadows,
chancing to meet mine, he uttered a gasp, and stood staring at me
with dropped jaw.
"Peter!" he stammered at last. "Peter--be that you, Peter?"
"To be sure it is," said I.
"Bean't ye--dead, then?"
"I never felt more full of life."
"But ye slep' in th' 'aunted cottage last night."
"But--but--the ghost, Peter?"
"Is a wandering Scotsman."
"Why then I can't go down and find ye corp' arter all?"
"I fear not, Ancient."
The old man slowly closed his snuff-box, shaking his head as he
"Ah, well! I won't blame ye, Peter," said he magnanunously, "it
bean't your fault, lad, no--but what's come to the ghost!"
"The ghost," I answered, "is nothing more dreadful than a
"Scotsman!" exclaimed the Ancient sharply. "Scotsman!"
"You'm mazed, Peter--ah! mazed ye be! What, aren't I heerd un
moanin' an' groanin' to 'isself--ah! an' twitterin' to?"
"As to that," said I, "those shrieks and howls he made with his
bagpipe, very easy for a skilled player such as he."
Some one was drawing water from a well across the road, for I
heard the rattle of the bucket, and the creak of the winch, in
the pause which now ensued, during which the Ancient, propped
upon his stick, surveyed me with an expression that was not
exactly anger, nor contempt, nor sorrow, and yet something of all
three. At length he sighed, and shook his head at me mournfully.
"Peter," said he, "Peter, I didn't think as you'd try to tak'
'vantage of a old man wi' a tale the like o' that such a very,
very old man, Peter--such a old, old man!"
"But I assure you, it's the truth," said I earnestly.
"Peter, I seen Scotchmen afore now," said he, with a reproachful
look, "ah! that I 'ave, many's the time, an' Scotchmen don't go
about wi' tails, nor yet wi' 'orns on their 'eads--leastways I've
never seen one as did. An', Peter, I know what a bagpipe is;
I've heerd 'em often an' often--squeak they do, yes, but a squeak
bean't a scream, Peter, nor yet a groan--no." Having delivered
himself of which, the Ancient shook his head at me again, and,
turning his back, hobbled away.
When I turned to look at George, it was to find him regarding me
with a very strange expression.
"Sir," said he ponderously, "did you sleep in th' 'aunted cottage
"Yes, though, as I have tried to explain, and unsuccessfully it
seems, it is haunted by nothing more alarming than a Scots
"Sir," said George, in the same slow, heavy way, "I--couldn't go
a-nigh the place myself--'specially arter dark--I'd be--ah! I'd be
afeard to! I did go once, and then not alone, and I ran away.
Sir, you'm a better man nor me; you done what I durstn't do.
Sir, if so be as you 'm in the same mind about it--I should like
to--to shake your hand."
So there, across the anvil which was to link our lives together
thenceforth, Black George and I clasped hands, looking into each
"George," said I at last, "I've had no breakfast."
"Nor I!" said George.
"And I'm mightily hungry!"
"So am I," said George.
"Then come, and let us eat," and I turned to the door.
"Why, so we will--but not at--'The Bull'--she be theer. Come to
my cottage--it be close by--that is, if you care to, sir?"
"With all my heart!" said I, "and my name is Peter."
"What do you say to 'am and eggs--Peter?"
"Ham and eggs will be most excellent!" said I.
IN WHICH I FORSWEAR MYSELF AND AM ACCUSED OF POSSESSING THE "EVIL EYE"
Smithing is a sturdy, albeit a very black art; yet its black is a
good, honest black, very easily washed off, which is more than
can be said for many other trades, arts, and professions.
Yes, a fine, free, manly art is smithing, and those who labor at
the forge would seem, necessarily, to reflect these virtues.
Since old Tubal Cain first taught man how to work in brass and
iron, who ever heard of a sneaking, mean-spirited, cowardly
blacksmith? To find such an one were as hard a matter as to
discover the Fourth Dimension, methinks, or the carcass of a dead
Your true blacksmith is usually a strong man, something bowed of
shoulder, perhaps; a man slow of speech, bold of eye, kindly of
thought, and, lastly--simple-hearted.
Riches, Genius, Power--all are fair things; yet Riches is never
satisfied, Power is ever upon the wing, and when was Genius ever
happy? But, as for this divine gift of Simpleness of Heart, who
shall say it is not the best of all?
Black George himself was no exception to his kind; what wonder
was it, then, that, as the days lengthened into weeks, my liking
for him ripened into friendship?
To us, sometimes lonely, voyagers upon this Broad Highway of
life, journeying on, perchance through desolate places, yet
hoping and dreaming ever of a glorious beyond, how sweet and how
blessed a thing it is to meet some fellow wayfarer, and find in
him a friend, honest, and loyal, and brave, to walk with us in
the sun, whose voice may comfort us in the shadow, whose hand is
stretched out to us in the difficult places to aid us, or be
aided. Indeed, I say again, it is a blessed thing, for though
the way is sometimes very long, such meetings and friendships be
very few and far between.
So, as I say, there came such friendship between Black George and
myself, and I found him a man, strong, simple and lovable, and as
such I honor him to this day.
The Ancient, on the contrary, seemed to have set me in his "black
books;" he would no longer sit with me over a tankard outside
"The Bull" of an evening, nor look in at the forge, with a cheery
nod and word, as had been his wont; he seemed rather to shun my
society, and, if I did meet him by chance, would treat me with
the frigid dignity of a Grand Seigneur. Indeed, the haughtiest
duke that ever rolled in his chariot is far less proud than your
plain English rustic, and far less difficult to propitiate.
Thus, though I had once had the temerity to question him as to
his altered treatment of me, the once had sufficed. He was
sitting, I remember, on the bench before "The Bull," his hands
crossed upon his stick and his chin resting upon his hands.
"Peter," he had answered, regarding me with a terrible eye,
"Peter, I be disapp'inted in ye!" Hereupon rising, he had rapped
loudly upon his snuff-box and hobbled stiffly away. And that
ended the matter, so far as I was concerned, though, to be sure,
Simon had interceded in my behalf with no better success; and
thus I was still left wondering.
One day, however, as George and I were hard at work, I became
aware of some one standing in the doorway behind me, but at first
paid no heed (for it was become the custom for folk to come to
look at the man who lived all alone in the haunted cottage), so,
as I say, I worked on heedlessly.
"Peter?" said a voice at last and, turning, I beheld the old man
leaning upon his stick and regarding me beneath his lowered brows.
"Why, Ancient!" I exclaimed, and held out my hand. But he
checked me with a gesture, and fumblingly took out his snuff-box.
"Peter," said he, fixing me with his eye, "were it a Scotchman or
were it not?"
"Why, to be sure it was," I answered, "a Scotch piper, as I told
"Peter," said the Ancient, tapping his snuff-box, "it weren't no
ghost, then--ay or no."
"No," said I, "nothing but a--"
"Peter!" said the Ancient, nodding solemnly, "Peter, I 'ates ye!"
and, turning sharp about, he tottered away upon his stick.
"So--that's it!" said I, staring after the old man's retreating
"Why, ye see," said George, somewhat diffidently, "ye see, Peter,
Gaffer be so old!--and all 'is friends be dead, and he've come
to look on this 'ere ghost as belongin' to 'im a'most. Loves to
sit an' tell about it, 'e do; it be all 'e've got left to live
for, as ve might say, and now you've been and gone and said as
theer bean't no ghost arter all, d'ye see?"
"Ah, yes, I see," I nodded, "I see. But you don't still, believe
in this ghost, do you, George?"
"N-o-o-o--not 'xactly," answered George, hesitating upon the
word, "can't say as I believe 'xactly, and yet, Lord! 'ow should
"Then you do still believe in the ghost?"
"Why, y' see, Peter, we do know as a man 'ung 'isself theer,
'cause Gaffer found un--likewise I've heerd it scream--but as for
believin' in it, since you say contrarywise--why, 'ow should I
"But why should I deny it, George; why should I tell you all of a
"Why, y' see, Peter," said George, in his heavy way, "you be such
a strange sort o' chap!"
"George," said I, "let us get back to work."
Yet, in a little while, I set aside the hammer, and turned to the
"Peter, wheer be goin'?"
"To try and make my peace with the Ancient," I answered, and
forthwith crossed the road to "The Bull." But with my foot on
the step I paused, arrested by the sound of voices and laughter
within the tap, and, loudest of all, was the voice of the pseudo
"If I were only a bit younger!" the Ancient was saying. Now,
peeping in through the casement, a glance at his dejected
attitude, and the blatant bearing of the others, explained to me
the situation then and there.
"Ah! but you ain't," retorted old Amos, "you 'm a old, old man
an' gettin' older wi' every tick o' the clock, you be, an'
gettin' mazed-like wi' years."
"Haw! haw!" laughed Job and the five or six others.
"Oh, you--Job! if my b'y Simon was 'ere 'e'd pitch 'ee out into
the road, so 'e would--same as Black Jarge done," quavered the
"P'r'aps, Gaffer, p'r'aps!" returned Job, "but I sez again, I
believe what Peter sez, an' I don't believe there never was no
ghost at all."
"Ay, lad, but I tell 'ee theer was--I seed un!" cried the old man
eagerly, "seed un wi' these two eyes, many's the time. You,
Joel Amos--you've 'eerd un a-moanin' an' a-groanin'--you believe
as I seed un, don't 'ee now come?"
"He! he!" chuckled Old Amos, "I don't know if I du, Gaffer--ye
see you 'm gettin' that old--"
"But I did--I did--oh, you chaps, I tell 'ee I did!"
"You 'm gettin' old, Gaffer," repeated Amos, dwelling upon the
theme with great unction, "very, very old--"
"But so strong as a bull, I be!" added the Ancient, trying
manfully to steady the quaver in his voice.
"Haw! haw!" laughed Job and the others, while Old Amos chuckled
"But I tell 'ee I did see un, I--I see'd un plain as plain,"
quavered the Ancient, in sudden distress. "Old Nick it were, wi'
'orns, an' a tail."
"Why, Peter told us 'twere only a Scottish man wi' a bagpipe,"
"Ay, for sure," nodded Old Amos, "so 'e did."
"A lie, it be--a lie, a lie!" cried the Ancient, "'twere Old
Nick, I see un--plain as I see you."
"Why, ye see, you 'm gettin' dre'fful old an' 'elpless, Gaffer,"
chuckled Old Amos again, "an' your eyes plays tricks wi' you."
"Ah, to be sure they do!" added Job; whereupon Old Amos chuckled
so much that he was taken by a violent fit of coughing.
"Oh! you chaps, you as I've seen grow up from babbies--aren't
theer one o' ye to tak' the old man's word an' believe as I seen
un?" The cracked old voice sounded more broken than usual, and I
saw a tear crawling slowly down the Ancient's furrowed cheek.
Nobody answered, and there fell a silence broken only by the
shuffle and scrape of heavy boots and the setting down of
"Why, ye see, Gaffer," said Job at last, "theer's been a lot o'
talk o' this 'ere ghost, an' some 'as even said as they 'eerd it,
but, come to think on it, nobody's never laid eyes on it but you,
"There you are wrong, my fellow," said I, stepping into the room.
"I also have seen it."
"You?" exclaimed Job, while half-a-dozen pairs of eyes stared at
me in slow wonderment.
"Certainly I have."
"But you said as it were a Scotchman, wi' a bagpipe, I heerd
ye--we all did."
"And believed it--like fools!"
"Peter!" cried the Ancient, rising up out of his chair, "Peter,
do 'ee mean it?"
"To be sure I do."
"Do 'ee mean it were a ghost, Peter, do 'ee?"
"Why, of course it was," I nodded, "a ghost, or the devil
himself, hoof, horns, tail, and all--to say nothing of the fire
"Peter," said the Ancient, straightening his bent old back proudly,
"oh, Peter!--tell 'em I'm a man o' truth, an' no liar--tell 'em,
"They know that," said I; "they know it without my telling them,
"But," said Job, staring at me aghast, "do 'ee mean to say as you
live in a place as is 'aunted by the--devil 'isself?"
"Oh, Lord bless 'ee!" cried the old man, laying his hand upon my
arm, "Peter don't mind Old Nick no more 'n I do--Peter aren't
afeard of 'im. 'Cause why? 'Cause 'e 'ave a clean 'eart, 'ave
Peter. You don't mind Old Nick, do 'ee, lad?
"Not in the least," said I, whereupon those nearest instinctively
shrank farther from me, while Old Amos rose and shuffled towards
"I've heerd o' folk sellin' theirselves to the devil afore now."
"You be a danged fule, Joel Amos!" exclaimed the Ancient angrily.
"Fule or no--I never see a chap wi' such a tur'ble dark-lookin'
face afore, an' wi' such eyes--so black, an' sharp, an' piercin'
as needles, they be--ah! goes through a man like two gimblets, they
do!" Now, as he spoke, Old Amos stretched out one arm towards me
with his first and second fingers crossed: which fingers he now
opened wide apart, making what I believe is called "the horns," and
an infallible safeguard against this particular form of evil.
"It's the 'Evil Eye,'" said he in a half whisper, "the 'Evil
Eye'!" and, turning about, betook himself away.
One by one the others followed, and, as they passed me, each man
averted his eyes and I saw that each had his fingers crossed.
So it came to pass that I was, thenceforward, regarded askance,
if not openly avoided, by the whole village, with--the exception
of Simon and the Ancient, as one in league with the devil, and
possessed of the "Evil Eye."
IN WHICH DONALD BIDS ME FAREWELL
Halcyon days! my masters, happy, care-free, halcyon days! To
waken to the glory of a summer's morning, and shaking off dull
sleep, like a mantle, to stride out into a world all green and
gold, breathing a fragrant air laden with sweet, earthy smells.
To plunge within the clear, cool waters of the brook whose magic
seemed to fill one's blood with added life and lust of living.
Anon, with Gargantuan appetite, to sit and eat until even Donald
would fall a-marvelling; and so, through shady coppice and sunny
meadow, betimes to work.
Halcyon days! my masters, happy, care-free, halcyon days! with
the ringing hammers, the dancing sparks mounting upon the smoke,
the sweat, the toil, yet all lightened with laugh and song and
And then, the labor done, the fire dead--Black George to his
lonely cottage, and I to "The Bull"--there to sit between Simon
and the Ancient, waited upon by the dexterous hands of sweet-eyed
Prudence. What mighty rounds of juicy beef, washed down by
draughts of good brown ale! What pies and puddings, prepared
by those same slender, dexterous hands! And later, pipe in
mouth, what grave discussions upon men and things--peace and
war--the dead and the living--the rise and fall of nations--and
Simon's new litter of pigs! At last, the "Good nights" being
said--homeward through the twilit lanes, often pausing to look
upon the shadowy woods, to watch some star, or hearken to the
mournful note of a night jar, soft with distance.
What wonder if, at this time, my earlier dreams and ambitions
faded from my ken; what wonder that Petronius Arbiter, and the
jolly Sieur de Brantome lay neglected in my dusty knapsack.
Go to! Petronius, go to! How "stale, flat, and unprofitable"
were all thy vaunted pleasures, compared with mine. Alas! for
thy noble intellect draggled in the mire to pander to an Imperial
Swine, and for all thy power and wise statecraft which yet could
not save thee from untimely death.
And thou, Brantome! old gossip, with all thy scandalous stories
of ladies, always and ever "tres belle, et fort honnete," couldst
not find time among them all to note the glories of the world
wherein they lived, and moved, and had their "fort honnete"
But let it not be thought my leisure hours were passed in idle
dreaming and luxurious ease; on the contrary, I had, with much
ado, rethatched the broken roof of my cottage as well as I might,
mended the chimney, fitted glass to the casements and a new door
upon its hinges. This last was somewhat clumsily contrived, I
grant you, and of a vasty strength quite unnecessary, yet a very,
excellent door I considered it, nevertheless.
Having thus rendered my cottage weather-proof, I next turned my
attention to furnishing it. To which end I, in turn, and with
infinite labor, constructed a bedstead, two elbow-chairs, and a
table; all to the profound disgust of Donald, who could by no
means abide the rasp of my saw, so that, reaching for his pipes,
he would fill the air with eldrich shrieks and groans, or drown
me in a torrent of martial melody.
It was about this time--that is to say, my second bedstead was
nearing completion, and I was seriously considering the building
of a press with cupboards to hold my crockery, also a shelf for
my books--when, chancing to return home somewhat earlier than
usual, I was surprised to see Donald sitting upon the bench I had
set up beside the door, polishing the buckles of that identical
pair of square-toed shoes that had once so piqued my curiosity.
As I approached he rose, and came to meet me with the brogues in
"Man, Peter," said he, "I maun juist be gangin'."
'"Going!" I repeated; "going where?"
"Back tae Glenure--the year is a'most up, ye ken, an' I wadna'
hae ma brither Alan afore me wi' the lassie, forbye he's an unco
braw an' sonsy man, ye ken, an' a lassie's mind is aye a kittle
"True," I answered, "what little I know of woman would lead me to
suppose so; and yet--Heaven knows! I shall be sorry to lose you,
"Ay--I ken that fine, an' ye'll be unco lonesome wi'out me an'
the pipes, I'm thinkin'."
"Eh, Peter, man! if it wasna' for the lassie, I'd no hae the
heart tae leave ye. Ye'll no be forgettin' the 'Wullie Wallace
"Never!" said I.
"Oh, man, Peter! it's in my mind ye'll no hear sic pipin' again,
forbye there's nae man--Hielander nor Lowlander--has juist the
trick o' the 'warblers' like me, an' it's no vera like we shall
e'er meet again i' this warld, man, Peter. But I'll aye think o'
ye--away there in Glenure, when I play the 'Wullie Wallace' bit
tune--I'll aye think o' ye, Peter, man."
After this we stood awhile, staring past each other into the