Part 5 out of 11
"Peter," said he at last, "it's no a vera genteel present tae be
makin' ye, I doot," and he held up the battered shoes. "They're
unco worn, an' wi' a clout here an' there, ye'll notice, but the
buckles are guid siller, an' I hae naething else to gi'e ye. Ay,
man! but it's many a weary mile I've marched in these at the head
o' the Ninety-Second, an' it's mony a stark fecht they've been
through--Vittoria, Salamanca, Talavera, tae Quatre Bras an'
Waterloo; tak' 'em, Peter, tak' 'em--tae mind ye sometimes o'
Donal' Stuart. An' now--gi'e us a grup o' ye hand. Gude keep
ye, Peter, man!"
So saying, he thrust the brogues upon me, caught and squeezed my
hand, and turning sharp about, strode away through the shadows,
his kilt swaying, and tartans streaming gallantly.
And, presently, I went and sat me down upon the bench beside the
door, with the war-worn shoes upon my knee. Suddenly, as I sat
there, faint and fainter with distance, and unutterably sad, came
the slow, sweet music of Donald's pipes playing the "Wallace
Lament." Softly the melody rose and fell, until it died away in
one long-drawn, wailing note.
Now, as it ended, I rose, and uncovered my head, for I knew this
was Donald's last farewell.
Much more I might have told of this strange yet lovable man who
was by turns the scarred soldier, full of stirring tales of camp
and battlefield; the mischievous child delighting in tricks and
rogueries of all sorts; and the stately Hieland gentleman. Many
wild legends he told me of his native glens, with strange tales
of the "second sight"--but here, perforce, must be no place for
such. So here then I leave Donald and hurry on with my
IN WHICH THIS FIRST BOOK BEGINS TO DRAW TO A CLOSE
"Strike! ding! ding!
Strike! ding! ding!
The iron glows,
And loveth good blows
As fire doth bellows.
Strike! ding! ding!"
Out beyond the smithy door a solitary star twinkles low down in
the night sky, like some great jewel; but we have no time for
star-gazing, Black George and I, for to-night we are at work on
the old church screen, which must be finished to-morrow.
And so the bellows roar hoarsely, the hammers clang, and the
sparks fly, while the sooty face of Black George, now in shadow,
now illumed by the fire, seems like the face of some Fire-god or
Salamander. In the corner, perched securely out of reach of
stray sparks, sits the Ancient, snuff-box in hand as usual.
To my mind, a forge is at its best by night, for, in the red,
fiery glow, the blackened walls, the shining anvil, and the smith
himself, bare-armed and bare of chest, are all magically
transfigured, while, in the hush of night, the drone of the
bellows sounds more impressive, the stroke of the hammers more
sonorous and musical, and the flying sparks mark plainly their
individual courses, ere they vanish.
I stand, feet well apart, and swing the great "sledge" to whose
diapason George's hand-hammer beats a tinkling melody, coming in
after each stroke with a ring and clash exact and true, as is,
and has been, the way of masters of the smithing craft all the
world over from time immemorial.
"George," said I, during a momentary lull, leaning my hands upon
the long hammer-shaft, "you don't sing."
"No, No, Peter."
"And why not?"
"I think, Peter."
"But surely you can both think and sing, George?"
"Not always, Peter."
"What's your trouble, George?"
"No trouble, Peter," said he, above the roar of the bellows.
"Then sing, George."
"Ay, Jarge, sing," nodded the Ancient; "'tis a poor 'eart as
never rejices, an' that's in the Scripters--so, sing, Jarge."
George did not answer, but, with a turn of his mighty wrist, drew
the glowing iron from the fire. And once more the sparks fly,
the air is full of the clink of hammers, and the deep-throated
Song of the Anvil, in which even the Ancient joins, in a voice
somewhat quavery, and generally a note or two behind, but with
great gusto and goodwill notwithstanding:
"Strike! ding! ding!
Strike! ding! ding!"
in the middle of which I was aware of one entering to us, and
presently, turning round, espied Prudence with a great basket on
her arm. Hereupon hammers were thrown aside, and we straightened
our backs, for in that basket was our supper.
Very fair and sweet Prudence looked, lithe and vigorous, and
straight as a young poplar, with her shining black hair curling
into little tight rings about her ears, and with great, shy eyes,
and red, red mouth. Surely a man might seek very far ere he
found such another maid as this brown-cheeked, black-eyed village
"Good evening, Mr. Peter!" said she, dropping me a curtesy with a
grace that could not have been surpassed by any duchess in the
land; but, as for poor George, she did not even notice him,
neither did he raise his curly head nor glance toward her.
"You come just when you are most needed, Prudence," said I,
relieving her of the heavy basket, "for here be two hungry men."
"Three!" broke in the Ancient; "so 'ungry as a lion, _I_ be!"
"Three hungry men, Prudence, who have been hearkening for your
step this half-hour and more."
Quoth Prudence shyly: "For the sake of my basket?"
"Ay, for sure!" croaked the Ancient; "so ravenous as a tiger I be!"
"No," said I, shaking my head, "basket or no basket, you are
equally welcome, Prudence--how say you, George?" But George only
mumbled in his beard. The Ancient and I now set to work putting
up an extemporized table, but as for George, he stood staring
down moodily into the yet glowing embers of the forge.
Having put up the table, I crossed to where Prudence was busy
unpacking her basket.
"Prudence," said I, "are you still at odds with George?"
"But," said I, "he is such a splendid fellow! His outburst the
other day was quite natural, under the circumstances; surely you
can forgive him, Prudence."
"There be more nor that betwixt us, Mr. Peter," sighed Prue,
"'Tis his drinkin'; six months ago he promised me never to touch
another drop--an' he broke his word wi' me."
"But surely good ale, in moderation, will harm no man--nay, on
"But Jarge bean't like other men, Mr. Peter!"
"No; he is much bigger, and stronger!" said I, "and I never saw a
"Yes," nodded the girl, "so strong as a giant, an' so weak as a
"Indeed, Prudence," said I, leaning nearer to her in my
earnestness, "I think you are a little unjust to him. So far as
I know him, George is anything but weak-minded, or liable to be
led into anything--"
Hearing the Ancient chuckle gleefully, I glanced up to find him
nodding and winking to Black George, who stood with folded arms
and bent head, watching us from beneath his brows, and, as his
eyes met mine, I thought they gleamed strangely in the firelight.
"Come, Prue," said the Ancient, bustling forward, "table's
ready--let's sit down an' eat--faintin' an' famishin' away, I be!"
So we presently sat down, all three of us, while Prudence carved
and supplied our wants, as only Prudence could.
And after a while, our hunger being appeased, I took out my
pipe, as did the Ancient and George theirs likewise, and together
we filled them, slowly and carefully, as pipes should be filled,
while Prudence folded a long, paper spill wherewith to light them,
the which she proceeded to do, beginning at her grandfather's
churchwarden. Now, while she was lighting mine, Black George
suddenly rose, and, crossing to the forge, took thence a glowing
coal with the tongs, thus doing the office for himself. All at
once I saw Prue's hand was trembling, and the spill was dropped
or ever my tobacco was well alight; then she turned swiftly away,
and began replacing the plates and knives and forks in her basket.
"Be you'm a-goin', Prue?" inquired the Ancient mumblingly, for
his pipe was in full blast.
"Then tell Simon as I'll be along in 'arf an hour or so, will
"Yes, gran'fer!" Always with her back to us.
"Then kiss ye old grandfeyther as loves 'ee, an' means for to see
'ee well bestowed, an' wed, one o' these fine days!" Prudence
stooped and pressed her fresh, red lips to his wrinkled old cheek
and, catching up her basket, turned to the door, yet not so
quickly but that I had caught the gleam of tears beneath her
lashes. Black George half rose from his seat, and stretched out
his hand towards her burden, then sat down again as, with a hasty
"Good night," she vanished through the yawning doorway. And,
sitting there, we listened to her quick, light footstep cross the
road to "The Bull."
"She'll make some man a fine wife, some day!" exclaimed the
Ancient, blowing out a cloud of smoke, "ay, she'll mak' some man
as fine a wife as ever was, some day."
"You speak my very thought, Ancient," said I, "she will indeed;
what do you think, George?" But George's answer was to choke
suddenly, and, thereafter, to fall a-coughing.
"Smoke go t' wrong way, Jarge?" inquired the Ancient, fixing him
with his bright eye.
"Ay," nodded George.
"Ha!" said the old man, and we smoked for a time in silence.
"So 'andsome as a picter she be!" said the Ancient suddenly.
"She is fairer than any picture," said I impulsively, "and what
is better still, her nature is as sweet and beautiful as her
"'Ow do 'ee know that?" said George, turning sharply upon me.
"My eyes and ears tell me so, as yours surely must have done long
ago," I answered.
"Ye do think as she be a purty lass, then, Peter?" inquired the
"I think," said I, "that she is the prettiest lass I ever saw;
don't you think so, George?" But again George's only answer was
"Smoke again, Jarge?" inquired the Ancient.
"Ay," said George, as before.
"'Tis a fine thing to be young," said the Ancient, after a
somewhat lengthy pause, and with a wave of his long pipe-stem, "a
very fine thing!"
"It is," said I, "though we generally realize it all too late."
As for George, he went on smoking.
"When you are young," pursued the Ancient, "you eats well, an'
enjys it, you sleeps well an' enjys it; your legs is strong, your
arms is strong, an' you bean't afeard o' nothin' nor nobody. Oh!
life's a very fine thing when you're young; but youth's tur'ble
quick agoin'--the years roll slow at first, but gets quicker 'n
quicker, till, one day, you wakes to find you 'm an old man; an'
when you'm old, the way gets very 'ard, an' toilsome, an'
"But there is always memory," said I.
"You 'm right theer, Peter, so theer be--so theer be why, I be a
old, old man, wi' more years than 'airs on my 'ead, an' yet it
seems but yesterday as I were a-holdin' on to my mother's skirt,
an' wonderin' 'ow the moon got lighted. Life be very short,
Peter, an' while we 'ave it 'tis well to get all the 'appiness
out of it we can."
"The wisest men of all ages preached the same," said I, "only
they all disagreed as to how happiness was to be gained."
"More fules they!" said the Ancient.
"Eh?" I exclaimed, sitting up.
"More fules they!" repeated the old man with a solemn nod.
"Why, then, do you know how true happiness may be found?'
"To be sure I du, Peter."
"By marriage, Peter, an' 'ard work!--an' they allus goes
"Marriage!" said I.
"Marriage as ever was, Peter."
"There I don't agree with you," said I.
"That," retorted the Ancient, stabbing at me with his pipe-stem,
"that's because you never was married, Peter."
"Marriage!" said I; "marriage brings care, and great
responsibility, and trouble for one's self means trouble for
"What o' that?" exclaimed the Ancient. "'Tis care and 'sponsibility
as mak' the man, an' if you marry a good wife she'll share the
burden wi' ye, an' ye'll find what seemed your troubles is a blessin'
arter all. When sorrer comes, 'tis a sweet thing--oh! a very sweet
thing--to 'ave a woman to comfort ye an' 'old your 'and in the dark
hour--an' theer's no sympathy so tender as a woman's, Peter. Then,
when ye be old, like me, an' full o' years 'tis a fine thing to 'ave
a son o' your own--like Simon an' a granddarter--like my Prue--'tis
worth 'aving lived for, Peter, ay, well worth it. It's a man's
dooty to marry, Peter, 'is dooty to 'isself an' the world. Don't
the Bible say summat about it not bein' good for a man to live
alone? Every man as is a man should marry the sooner the better."
"But," said I, "to every happy marriage there are scores of
"'Cause why, Peter? 'Cause people is in too much o' a hurry to
marry, as a rule. If a man marries a lass arter knowin' 'er a
week--'ow is 'e goin' to know if she'll suit 'im all 'is days?
Nohow, Peter, it aren't natral--woman tak's a lot o' knowin'.
'Marry in 'aste, an' repent in leisure!' That aren't in the
Bible, but it ought to be."
"And your own marriage was a truly happy one, Ancient?"
"Ah! that it were, Peter, 'appy as ever was--but then, ye see,
there was a Providence in it. I were a fine young chap in them
days, summat o' your figure only bigger--ah! a sight bigger--an'
I were sweet on several lassies, an' won't say as they wer'n't
sweet on me--three on 'em most especially so. One was a tall,
bouncin' wench wi' blue eyes, an' golden 'air--like sunshine it
were, but it wer'n't meant as I should buckle up wi' 'er."
"'Cause, it so 'appened as she married summun else."
"And the second?"
"The second were a fine, pretty maid tu, but I couldn't marry
"'Cause, Peter, she went an' took an' died afore I could ax 'er."
"And the third, you married."
"No, Peter, though it come to the same thing in the end--she
married I. Ye see, though I were allus at 'er beck an' call, I
could never pluck the courage to up an' ax 'er right out. So
things went on for a year or so, maybe, till one day--she were
makin' apple dumplings, Peter--'Martin,' says she, lookin' at
me sideways out of 'er black eyes--just like Prue's they were
--'Martin,' says she, 'you 'm uncommon fond o' apple-dumplings?'
'For sure,' says I, which I were, Peter. 'Martin,' says she,
'shouldn't 'ee like to eat of 'em whenever you wanted to, at your
very own table, in a cottage o' your own?' 'Ah! if you'd mak'
'em!' says I, sharp like. 'I would if you'd ax me, Martin,' says
she. An' so we was married, Peter, an' as you see, theer was a
Providence in it, for, if the first one 'adn't married some 'un
else, an' the second 'adn't died, I might ha' married one o'
they, an' repented it all my days, for I were young then, an'
fulish, Peter, fulish." So saying, the Ancient rose, sighing,
and knocked the ashes from his pipe.
"Talkin' 'bout Prue," said he, taking up his hat and removing his
snuff-box therefrom ere he set it upon his head, "talkin' 'bout
Prue," he repeated, with a pinch of snuff at his nostrils.
"Well?" The word seemed shot out of George involuntarily.
"Talkin' 'bout Prue," said the Ancient again, glancing at each of
us in turn, "theer was some folks as used to think she were sweet
on Jarge theer, but I, bein' 'er lawful gran'feyther knowed
different--didn't I, Jarge?"
"Ay," nodded the smith.
"Many's the time I've said to you a-sittin' in this very corner,
'Jarge,' I've said, 'mark my words, Jarge--if ever my Prue does
marry some'un--which she will--that there some 'un won't be you.'
Them be my very words, bean't they, Jarge?"
"Your very words, Gaffer," nodded George.
"Well then," continued the old man, "'ere's what I was a-comin'
to--Prue 's been an' fell in love wi' some 'un at last."
Black George's pipe shivered to fragments on the floor, and as he
leaned forward I saw that his great hands were tightly clenched.
"Gaffer," said he, in a strangled voice, "what do 'ee mean?"
"I means what I says, Jarge."
"How do 'ee know?"
"Bean't I the lass's gran'feyther?"
"Be ye sure, Gaffer--quite sure?"
"Ay--sartin sure--twice this week, an' once the week afore she
forgot to put any salt in the soup--an' that speaks wollums,
Jarge, wollums!" Here, having replaced his snuff-box, the
Ancient put on his hat, nodded, and bobbled away. As for Black
George, he sat there, staring blindly before him long after the
tapping of the Ancient's stick had died away, nor did he heed me
when I spoke, wherefore I laid my hand upon his shoulder.
"Come, George," said I, "another hour, and the screen will be
finished." He started, and, drawing from my hand, looked up at
me very strangely.
"No, Peter," he mumbled, "I aren't a-goin' to work no more
tonight," and as he spoke he rose to his feet.
"What--are you going?" said I, as be crossed to the door.
"Ay, I'm a-goin'." Now, as he went towards his cottage, I saw
him reel, and stagger, like a drunken man.
IN WHICH WE DRAW YET NEARER TO THE END OF THIS FIRST BOOK
It is not my intention to chronicle all those minor happenings
that befell me, now or afterward, lest this history prove
wearisome to the reader (on the which head I begin to entertain
grave doubts already). Suffice it then that as the days grew
into weeks, and the weeks into months, by perseverance I became
reasonably expert at my trade, so that, some two months after my
meeting with Black George, I could shoe a horse with any smith in
But, more than this, the people with whom I associated day by
day--honest, loyal, and simple-hearted as they were, contented
with their lot, and receiving all things so unquestioningly and
thankfully, filled my life, and brought a great calm to a mind
that had, hitherto, been somewhat self-centred and troubled by
pessimistic doubts and fantastic dreams culled from musty pages.
What book is there to compare with the great Book of Life--whose
pages are forever a-turning, wherein are marvels and wonders
undreamed; things to weep over, and some few to laugh at, if one
but has eyes in one's head to see withal?
To walk through the whispering cornfields, or the long, green
alleys of the hop-gardens with Simon, who combines innkeeping
with farming, to hear him tell of fruit and flower, of bird and
beast, is better than to read the Georgics of Virgil.
To sit in the sunshine and watch the Ancient, pipe in mouth, to
hearken to his animadversions upon Life, and Death, and Humanity,
is better than the cynical wit of Rochefoucauld, or a page out of
honest old Montaigne.
To see the proud poise of sweet Prue's averted head, and the
tender look in her eyes when George is near, and the surge of the
mighty chest and the tremble of the strong man's hand at the
sound of her light footfall, is more enthralling than any written
romance, old or new.
In regard to these latter, I began, at this time, to contrive
schemes and to plot plots for bringing them together--to bridge
over the difficulty which separated them, for, being happy, I
would fain see them happy also. Now, how I succeeded in this
self-imposed task, the reader (if he trouble to read far enough)
shall see for himself.
"George," said I, on a certain Saturday morning, as I washed the
grime from my face and hands, "are you going to the Fair this
"No, Peter, I aren't."
"But Prudence is going," said I, drying myself vigorously upon
"And how," inquired the smith, bending in turn above the bucket
in which we performed our ablutions, "and how might you know
"Because she told me so."
"Told you so, did she?" said George, and immediately plunged his
head into the bucket.
"She did," I answered.
"And supposin'," said George, coming up very red in the face, and
with the water streaming from his sodden curls, "supposin' she is
goin' to the Fair, what's that to me? I don't care wheer she
comes, no, nor wheer she goes, neither!" and he shook the water
from him as a dog might.
"Are you quite sure, George?"
"Ah! sartin sure. I've been sure of it now ever since she called
"Pooh, nonsense, man! she didn't mean it--women especially young
ones--often say things they do not mean--at least, so I am given
"Ay, but she did mean it," said George, frowning and nodding his
head; "but it ain't that, Peter, no, it aren't that, it's the
knowin' as she spoke truth when she called me 'coward,' and
despisin' me for it in 'er heart, that's wheer it is, Peter."
"Nevertheless, I'm sure she never meant it, George."
"Then let 'er come and tell me so."
"I don't think she'll do that," said I.
"No more do I, Peter." Saying which, he fell to work with the
towel even as I had done.
"George," said I after a silence.
"Has it ever struck you that Prudence is an uncommonly handsome
"To be sure it 'as, Peter--I were blind else."
"And that other men may see this too?"
"And some one--even tell her so?" His answer was a long time
coming, but come it did at last:
"And--ask her to marry him, George?" This time he was silent so
long that I had tied my neckerchief and drawn on my coat ere he
spoke, very heavily and slowly, and without looking at me.
"Why, then, Peter, let 'im. I've told 'ee afore, I don't care
wheer she comes nor wheer she goes, she bean't nothin' to me no
more, nor I to she. If so be some man 'as a mind to ax 'er for
'isself, all open an' aboveboard, I say again--let 'im. And now,
let's talk o' summat else."
"Willingly. There's to be boxing, and single-stick, and
wrestling at the Fair, I understand."
"And, they tell me, there is a famous wrestler coming all the way
from Cornwall to wrestle the best man for ten guineas."
"Ay, so there be."
"They were talking about it at 'The Bull' last night--"
"'The Bull'--to be sure--you was at 'The Bull' last night--well?"
"They were saying that you were a mighty wrestler, George, that
you were the only man in these parts who could stand up to this
"Ay, I can wrastle a bit, Peter," he replied, speaking in the
same heavy, listless manner; "what then?"
"Why then, George, get into your coat, and let's be off."
"The Fair." Black George shook his head.
"What, you won't?"
"And why not?"
"Because I aren't got the mind to--because I aren't never goin'
to wrastle no more, Peter--so theer's an end on 't." Yet, in the
doorway I paused and looked back.
"Won't you come--for friendship's sake?"
Black George picked up his coat, looked at it, and put it down
WHICH DESCRIBES SUNDRY HAPPENINGS AT THE FAIR, AND ENDS THIS FIRST BOOK
"I say, young cove, where are you a-pushing of?"
The speaker was a very tall individual whose sharp-pointed elbow
had, more than once, obtruded itself into my ribs. He was
extremely thin and bony, with a long, drooping nose set very much
to one side, and was possessed of a remarkable pair of eyes--that
is to say, one eyelid hung continually lower than the other, thus
lending to his otherwise sinister face an air of droll and
unexpected waggery that was quite startling to behold.
All about us were jostling throngs of men and women in snowy
smock frocks, and holiday gowns, who pushed, or were pushed,
laughed, or frowned, according to their several natures; while
above the merry hubbub rose the blare of trumpets, the braying of
horns, and the crash, and rattle of drums--in a word, I was in
the middle of an English Country Fair.
"Now then, young cove," repeated the man I have alluded to,
"where are you a-pushing of? Don't do it again, or mind your
eye!" And, saying this, he glared balefully at me with one eye
and leered jocosely with the other, and into my ribs came his
"You seem to be able to do something in that way yourself," I
"Yes," said I; "suppose you take your elbow out of my waistcoat."
"'Elber,'" repeated the man, "what d'ye mean by 'elber'?"
"This," said I, catching his arm in no very gentle grip.
"If it's a fight you're wantin'--" began the man.
"It isn't!" said I.
"Then leggo my arm!"
"Then keep your elbow to yourself."
"'Cod! I never see such a hot-headed cove!"
"Nor I a more bad-tempered one."
This altercation had taken place as we swayed to and fro in the
crowd, from which we now slowly won free, owing chiefly to the
dexterous use of the man's bony elbows, until we presently found
ourselves in a veritable jungle of carts and wagons of all kinds
and sorts, where we stopped, facing each other.
"I'm inclined to think, young cove, as you'd be short-tempered if
you been shied at by your feller-man from your youth up," said
"What do you mean by 'shied at'?"
"What I sez!--some perfessions is easy, and some is 'ard--like
"And what is yours?"
"I'm a perfessional Sambo."
"Well--a 'Nigger-head' then,--blacks my face--sticks my 'ead
through a 'ole, and lets 'em shy at me--three shies a penny--them
as 'its me gets a cigar--a big 'un--them as don't--don't!"
"Yours is a very unpleasant profession," said I.
"A man must live!"
"But," said I, "supposing you get hit?"
"Them as 'its me gets a cigar!"
"Doesn't it hurt you?"
"Oh! you gets used to it--though, to be sure, they don't 'it me
very often, or it would be a loss; cigars is expensive--leastways
they costs money."
"But surely a wooden image would serve your turn just as well."
"A wooden image!" exclaimed the man disgustedly. "James!--you
must be a fool, you must! Who wants to throw at a wooden image
--you can't 'urt a wooden image, can you--if you throwed 'eavens
'ard at a wooden image that there wooden image wouldn't flinch,
would it? When a man throws at anything 'e likes to 'it it
--that's 'uman--and when 'e 'its it 'e likes to see it flinch
--that's 'uman too, and when it flinches, why--'e rubs 'is 'ands,
and takes another shot--and that's the 'umanest of all. So you
see, young cove, you're a fool with your wooden image."
Now, as he ended, I stooped, very suddenly, and caught hold of
his wrist--and then I saw that he held my purse in his hand. It
was a large hand with bony knuckles, and very long fingers, upon
one of which was a battered ring. He attempted, at first, to
free himself of my grip, but, finding this useless, stood
glowering at me with one eye and leering with the other.
"Ha!" said I.
"Hallo!" said he.
"A purse!" said I.
"Why, so it is," he nodded; leastways, it looks uncommonly like
one, don't it?"
"What's more, it looks like mine!"
"I could swear to it anywhere."
"Then p'r'aps you'd better take it, young cove, and very welcome,
"So you've been picking my pocket!" said I.
"Never picked a pocket in my life--should scorn to."
I put away my recovered property, and straightway shifted my grip
to the fellow's collar.
"Now," said I, "come on."
"Why, what are you a-doing of?"
"What does one generally do with a pickpocket?"
But I had hardly uttered the words when, with a sudden cunning
twist, he broke my hold, and, my foot catching in a guy-rope, I
tripped, and fell heavily, and ere I could rise he had made good
his escape. I got to my feet, somewhat shaken by the fall, yet
congratulating myself on the recovery of my purse, and, threading
my way among the tents, was soon back among the crowd. Here were
circuses and shows of all kinds, where one might behold divers
strange beasts, the usual Fat Women and Skeleton Men (who ever
heard of the order being reversed?); and before the shows were
fellows variously attired, but each being purplish of visage, and
each possessing the lungs of a Stentor--more especially one, a
round-bellied, bottle-nosed fellow in a white hat, who alternately
roared and beat upon a drum--a red-haired man he was, with a fiery
eye, which eye, chancing to single me out in the crowd, fixed
itself pertinaciously upon me, thenceforth, so that he seemed to
address himself exclusively to me, thus:
"O my stars! [young man]." (Bang goes the drum.) "The wonderful
wild, 'airy, and savage man from Bonhoola, as eats snakes alive,
and dresses hisself in sheeny serpents! O my eye! step up! [young
man]." (Bang!) "Likewise the ass-tonishin' and beautiful Lady
Paulinolotti, as will swaller swords, sabres, bay'nets, also
chewin' up glass, and bottles quicker than you can wink [young
man]." (Bang!) "Not to mention Catamaplasus, the Fire Fiend,
what burns hisself with red-hot irons, and likes it, drinks
liquid fire with gusto--playfully spittin' forth the same,
together with flame and sulphurous smoke, and all for sixpence
[young man]." (Bang!) "O my stars! step up [young man] and all
for a tanner." (Bang!)
Presently, his eye being off me for the moment, I edged my way
out of the throng and so came to where a man stood mounted upon a
cart. Beside him was a fellow in a clown's habit who blew loudly
three times upon a trumpet, which done, the man took off his hat
and began to harangue the crowd, something in this wise:
"I come before you, ladies and gentlemen, not for vulgar gain--or,
as I might say--kudos, which is Eyetalian for the same--not to put
my hands into your pockets and rifle 'em of your honestly earned
money; no, I come before you for the good of each one of you, for
the easing of suffering mankind--as I might say--the ha-melioration
of stricken humanity. In a word, I am here to introduce to you
what I call my Elixir Anthropos--Anthropos, ladies and gentlemen,
is an old and very ancient Egyptian word meaning man--or woman, for
that matter," etc.
During this exordium I had noticed a venerable man in a fine blue
surtout and a wide-brimmed hat, who sat upon the shaft of a cart
and puffed slowly at a great pipe. And as he puffed, he listened
intently to the quack-salver's address, and from time to time his
eyes would twinkle and his lips curve in an ironic smile. The
cart, upon the shaft of which he sat, stood close to a very
small, dirty, and disreputable-looking tent, towards which the
old gentleman's back was turned. Now, as I watched, I saw the
point of a knife gleam through the dirty canvas, which,
vanishing, gave place to a hand protruded through the slit thus
made--a very large hand with bony knuckles, and long fingers,
upon one of which was a battered ring. For an instant the hand
hovered undecidedly, then darted forward--the long skirts of the
old gentleman's coat hardly stirred, yet, even as I watched, I
saw the hand vanish with a fat purse in its clutches.
Skirting the tent, I came round to the opening, and stooping,
peered cautiously inside. There, sure enough, was my pickpocket
gazing intently into the open purse, and chuckling as he gazed.
Then he slipped it into his pocket, and out he came--where I
immediately pinned him by the neckerchief.
And, after a while, finding he could not again break my hold, he
lay still, beneath me, panting, and, as he lay, his one eye
glared more balefully and his other leered more waggishly than
ever, as I, thrusting my hand into his pocket, took thence the
purse, and transferred it to my own.
"Halves, mate!" he panted, "halves, and we'll cry 'quits.'"
"By no means," said I, rising to my feet, but keeping my grip
"Then what's your game?"
"I intend to hand you over as a pickpocket."
"That means 'Transportation'!" said he, wiping the blood from his
face, for the struggle, though short, had been sharp enough.
"Well?" said I.
"It'll go 'ard with the babby."
"Baby!" I exclaimed.
"Ah!--or the hinfant, if you like it better--one as I found in a
shawl, a-laying on the steps o' my van one night, sleeping like a
alderman--and it were snowing too."
"Yet you are a thief!"
"We calls it 'faking.'"
"And ought to be given up to the authorities."
"And who's to look arter the babby?"
"Are you married?"
"Where is the baby?"
"In my van."
"And where is that?"
"Yonder!" and he pointed to a gayly-painted caravan that stood
near by. "'e's asleep now, but if you'd like to take a peep at
"I should," said I. Whereupon the fellow led me to his van, and,
following him up the steps, I entered a place which, though
confined, was wonderfully neat and clean, with curtains at the
open windows, a rug upon the floor, and an ornamental; brass lamp
pendent from the roof. At the far end was a bed, or rather,
berth, curtained with chintz, and upon this bed, his chubby face
pillowed upon a dimpled fist, lay a very small man indeed. And,
looking up from him to the very large, bony man, bending over
him, I surprised a look upon the hardened face--a tenderness that
seemed very much out of place.
"Nice and fat, ain't 'e?" said the man, touching the baby's
applelike cheek with a grimy finger.
"Ah--and so 'e should be, James! But 'you should see 'im eat, a
alderman's nothing to Lewis--I calls 'im Lewis, for 'twere at
Lewisham I found 'im, on a Christmas Eve--snowing it was, but, by
James! it didn't bother 'im--not a bit."
"And why did you keep him?--there was the parish."
"Parish!" repeated the man bitterly. "I were brought up by the
parish myself--and a nice job they made o' me!"
"Don't you find him a great trouble?"
"Trouble!" exclaimed the man. "Lewis ain't no trouble--not a
bit--never was, and he's great company when I'm on the move from
one town to another larning to talk a'ready."
"Now," said I, when we had descended from the van, "I propose to
return this purse to the owner, if he is to be found; if not, I
shall hand it to the proper authorities."
"Walker!" exclaimed the man.
"You shall yourself witness the restitution," said I, unheeding
his remark, "after which--"
"Well!" said he, glancing back toward his caravan, and moistening
his lips as I tightened my grip upon his arm, "what about me?"
"You can go--for Lewis's sake--if you will give me your word to
live honestly henceforth."
"You have it, sir--I swear it--on the Bible if you like."
"Then let us seek the owner of this purse." So, coming in a
while to where the quack doctor was still holding forth--there,
yet seated upon the shaft of the cart, puffing at his great pipe,
was the venerable man. At sight of him the pickpocket stopped
and caught my arm.
"Come, master," said he, "come, you never mean to give up all
that good money--there's fifty guineas, and more, in that purse!"
"All the more reason to return it," said I.
"No, don't--don't go a-wasting good money like that--it's like
throwing it away!" But shaking off the fellow's importunate
hand, I approached, and saluted the venerable man.
"Sir," said I, "you have had your pocket picked."
He turned and regarded me with a pair of deep-set, very bright
eyes, and blew a whiff of smoke slowly into the air.
"Sir," he replied, "I found that out five minutes ago."
"The fact seems to trouble you very little," said I.
"There, sir, being young, and judging exteriorly, you are wrong.
There is recounted somewhere in the classics an altogether
incredible story of a Spartan youth and a fox: the boy, with the
animal hid beneath his cloak, preserved an unruffled demeanor
despite the animal's tearing teeth, until he fell down and died.
In the same way, young sir, no man can lose fifty-odd guineas
from his pocket and remain unaffected by the loss."
"Then, sir," said I, "I am happy to be able to return your purse
to you." He took it, opened it, glanced over its contents,
looked at me, took out two guineas, looked at me again, put the
money back, closed the purse, and, dropping it into his pocket,
bowed his acknowledgment. Having done which, he made room for me
to sit beside him.
"Sir," said he, chuckling, "hark to that lovely rascal in the
cart, yonder--hark to him; Galen was an ass and Hippocrates a
dunce beside this fellow--hark to him."
"There's nothing like pills!" the Quack-salver was saying at the
top of his voice; "place one upon the tip o' the tongue--in this
fashion--take a drink o' water, beer, or wine, as the case may
be, give a couple o' swallers, and there you are. Oh, there's
nothing in the world like pills, and there's nothing like my
Elixir Anthropos for coughs, colds, and the rheumatics, for sore
throats, sore eyes, sore backs--good for the croup, measles, and
chicken-pox--a certain cure for dropsy, scurvy, and the king's
evil; there's no disease or ailment, discovered or invented, as
my pills won't soothe, heal, ha-meliorate, and charm away, and
all I charge is one shilling a box. Hand 'em round, Jonas."
Whereupon the fellow in the clown's dress, stepping down from the
cart, began handing out the boxes of pills and taking in the
shillings as fast as he conveniently could.
"A thriving trade!" said my venerable companion; "it always has
been, and always will, for Humanity is a many-headed fool, and
loves to be 'bamboozled.' These honest folk are probably paying
for bread pellets compounded with a little soap, yet will go
home, swallow them in all good faith, and think themselves a
great deal better for them."
"And therefore," said I, "probably derive as much benefit from
them as from any drug yet discovered."
"Young man," said my companion, giving me a sharp glance, "what
do you mean?"
"Plainly, sir, that a man who believes himself cured of a disease
is surely on the high road to recovery."
"But a belief in the efficacy of that rascal's bread pellets
cannot make them anything but bread pellets."
"No," said I, "but it may effect great things with the disease."
"Young man, don't tell me that you are a believer in Faith
Healing, and such-like tomfoolery; disease is a great and
terrible reality, and must be met and overcome by a real means."
"On the contrary, sir, may it not be rather the outcome of a
preconceived idea--of a belief that has been held universally for
many ages and generations of men? I do not deny disease--who
could? but suffering and disease have been looked upon from the
earliest days as punishments wrought out upon a man for his sins.
Now, may not the haunting fear of this retributive justice be
greatly responsible for suffering and disease of all kinds, since
the mind unquestionably reacts upon the body?"
"Probably, sir, probably, but since disease is with us, how would
you propose to remedy it?"
"By disbelieving in it; by regarding it as something abnormal and
utterly foreign to the divine order of things."
"Pooh!" exclaimed my venerable companion. "Bah!--quite, quite
"They say the same of 'The Sermon on the Mount,' sir," I retorted.
"Can a man, wasting away in a decline, discredit the fact that he
is dying with every breath he draws?"
"Had you, or I, or any man, the Christ-power to teach him a
disbelief in his sickness, then would he be hale and well. The
Great Physician healed all diseases thus, without the aid of
drugs, seeking only to implant in the mind of each sufferer the
knowledge that he was whole and sound--that is to say, a total
disbelief in his malady. How many times do we read the words:
'Thy faith hath made thee whole'? All He demanded of them was
faith--or, as I say, a disbelief in their disease."
"Then the cures of Christ were not miracles?"
"No more so than any great and noble work is a miracle."
"And do you," inquired my companion, removing his pipe from his
lips, and staring at me very hard, "do you believe that Jesus
Christ was the Son of God?"
"Yes," said I, "in the same way that you and I are, and the
"But was He divine?"
"Surely a mighty thinker--a great teacher whose hand points the
higher way, whose words inspire Humanity to nobler ends and aims,
is, of necessity, divine."
"You are a very bold young man, and talk, I think, a little
"Heterodoxy has been styled so before, sir."
"And a very young, young man."
"That, sir, will be amended by time." Here, puffing at his pipe,
and finding it gone out, he looked at me in surprise.
"Remarkable!" said he.
"What is, sir?"
"While I listened to you I have actually let my pipe go out--a
thing which rarely happens with me." As he spoke he thrust one
hand into his pocket, when he glance slowly all round, and back
once more to me. "Remarkable!" said he again.
"What now, sir?"
"My purse has gone again!"
"What!--gone!" I ejaculated.
"Vanished!" said he, and, to prove his words, turned inside out
first one pocket and then the other.
"Come with me," said I, springing up, "there is yet a chance that
we may possibly recover it." Forthwith I led him to where had
stood a certain gayly-painted caravan, but it was gone--vanished
as utterly as my companion's purse.
"Most annoying!" said he, shaking his venerable head, "really
most exasperating--I particularly wished to secure a sample of
that fellow's pills--the collection of quack remedies is a fad of
mine--as it is--"
"My purse is entirely at your disposal, sir," said I, "though,
to be sure, a very--" But there I stopped, staring, in my turn,
blankly at him.
"Ha?" he exclaimed, his eyes twinkling.
"Yes," I nodded, "the rascal made off with my purse also; we are
companions in misfortune."
"Then as such, young sir, come and dine with me, my habitation is
but a little way off."
"Thank you, sir, but I am half expecting to meet with certain
good friends of mine, though I am none the less honored by your
"So be it, young sir; then permit me to wish you a very, 'Good
day!'" and, touching the brim of his hat with the long stem of
his pipe, the Venerable Man turned and left me.
Howbeit, though I looked diligently on all hands, I saw nothing
of Simon or the Ancient; thus evening was falling as, bending my
steps homeward, I came to a part of the Fair where drinking-booths
had been set up, and where they were preparing to roast an ox
whole, as is the immemorial custom. Drinking was going on,
with its usual accompaniment of boisterous merriment and rough
horseplay--the vulgarity of which ever annoys me. Two or three
times I was rudely jostled as I made my way along, so that my
temper was already something the worse, when, turning aside to
avoid all this, I came full upon two fellows, well-to-do farmers,
by their look, who held a struggling girl between them--to each
of whom I reached out a hand, and, gripping them firmly by
their collars, brought their two heads together with a sounding
crack--and then I saw that the girl was Prudence. Next moment
we were running, hand in hand, with the two fellows roaring in
pursuit. But Prudence was wonderfully fleet and light of foot,
wherefore, doubling and turning among carts, tents, and booths,
we had soon outstripped our pursuers, and rid ourselves of them
altogether. In spite of which Prudence still ran on till,
catching her foot in some obstacle, she tripped, and would have
fallen but for my arm.
And looking down into her flushed face, glowing through the sweet
disorder of her glossy curls, I could not but think how lovely
she was. But, as I watched, the color fled from her cheeks, her
eyes dilated, and she started away from me.
Now, turning hastily, I saw that we were standing close by a
certain small, dirty, and disreputable-looking tent, the canvas
of which had been slit with a knife--and my movement had been
quick enough to enable me to see a face vanish through the
canvas. And, fleeting though the glimpse had been, yet, in the
lowering brow, the baleful glare of the eye, and the set of the
great jaw, I had seen Death.
And, after we had walked on a while together, looking at Prue, I
noticed that she trembled.
"Oh, Mr. Peter," she whispered, glancing back over her shoulder,
"did ye see?"
"Yes, Prudence, I saw." And, speaking, I also glanced back
towards the villainous little tent, and though the face appeared
no more, I was aware, nevertheless, of a sudden misgiving that
was almost like a foreboding of evil to come; for in those
features, disfigured though they were with black rage and
passion, I had recognized the face of Black George.
A WORD TO THE READER
Remembering the very excellent advice of my friend the Tinker as
to the writing of a good "nov-el," I am perturbed, and not a
little discouraged, upon looking over these pages, to find that I
have, as yet, described no desperate hand-to-hand encounters, no
hairbreadth escapes (unless a bullet through one's hat may be
justly so regarded), and, above all--not one word of LOVE!
You, sir, who have expectantly borne with me thus far, may be
tempted to close the book in a huff, and, hurling it from you,
with a deep-voiced anathema, clap on your hat, and sally forth
into the sunshine.
Or you, madam, breathing a sigh o'er hopes deferred, may take up
needle, and silk, and turn you, once again, to that embroidery
which has engaged your dainty fingers this twelvemonth and more,
yet which, like Penelope's web, would seem no nearer completion.
Ah well, sir! exercise, especially walking, is highly beneficial
to the liver, they tell me--and nothing, madam, believe me
(unless it be playing the harp), can show off a pretty hand, or
the delicate curves of a shapely wrist and arm to such advantage
as that selfsame embroidery. But since needlework (like books
and all sublunary things) is apt to grow monotonous, you may,
perchance, for lack of better occupation, be driven to address
yourself, once more, to this, my Narrative.
And since you, sir, no matter how far you walk, must, of
necessity, return to your chair and chimney-corner, it is
possible that, having dined adequately, and lighted your pipe
(and being therefore in a more charitable and temperate frame of
mind), you may lift my volume from the dusty corner where it has
lain all this while, and (though probably with sundry grunts and
snorts, indicative that the thing is done under protest, as it
were) reopen these pages.
In the which hope, dear madam, and you, noble sir, I here
commence this, my Second Book--which, as you see, is headed thus:
OF STORM, AND TEMPEST, AND OF THE COMING OF CHARMIAN
I was at sea in an open boat. Out of the pitch-black heaven
there rushed a mighty wind, and the pitch-black seas above me
rose high, and ever higher, flecked with hissing white; wherefore
I cast me face downwards in my little boat, that I might not
behold the horror of the waters; and above their ceaseless,
surging thunder there rose a long-drawn cry:
I stood upon a desolate moor, and the pitiless rain lashed me,
and the fierce wind buffeted me; and, out of the gloom where
frowning earth and heaven met--there rose a long-drawn cry:
I started up in bed, broad awake, and listening; yet the tumult
was all about me still--the hiss and beat of rain, and the sound
of a rushing, mighty wind--a wind that seemed to fill the earth--a
wind that screamed about me, that howled above me, and filled the
woods, near and far, with a deep booming, pierced, now and then,
by the splintering crash of snapping bough or falling tree. And
yet, somewhere in this frightful pandemonium of sound, blended in
with it, yet not of it, it seemed to me that the cry still faintly
So appalling was all this to my newly-awakened senses, that I
remained, for a time, staring into the darkness as one dazed.
Presently, however, I rose, and, donning some clothes, mended the
fire which still smouldered upon the hearth, and, having filled
and lighted my pipe, sat down to listen to the awful voices of
What brain could conceive--what pen describe that elemental
chorus, like the mighty voice of persecuted Humanity, past and
present, crying the woes and ills, the sorrows and torments,
endured of all the ages? To-night, surely, the souls of the
unnumbered dead rode within the storm, and this was the voice of
From the red mire of battlefields are they come, from the flame
and ravishment of fair cities, from dim and reeking dungeons,
from the rack, the stake, and the gibbet, to pierce the heavens
once more with the voice of their agony.
Since the world was made, how many have lived and suffered, and
died, unlettered and unsung--snatched by a tyrant's whim from
life to death, in the glory of the sun, in the gloom of night, in
blood and flame, and torment? Indeed, their name is "Legion."
But there is a great and awful Book, whose leaves are countless,
yet every leaf of which is smirched with blood and fouled with
nameless sins, a record, howsoever brief and inadequate, of human
suffering, wherein as "through a glass, darkly," we may behold
horrors unimagined; where Murder stalks, and rampant Lust; where
Treachery creeps with curving back, smiling mouth, and sudden,
deadly hand; where Tyranny, fierce-eyed, and iron-lipped, grinds
the nations beneath a bloody heel. Truly, man hath no enemy like
man. And Christ is there, and Socrates, and Savonarola--and
there, too, is a cross of agony, a bowl of hemlock, and a
Oh, noble martyrs! by whose blood and agony the world is become a
purer and better place for us, and those who shall come after us
--Oh glorious, innumerable host! thy poor, maimed bodies were dust
ages since, but thy souls live on in paradise, and thy memory
abides, and shall abide in the earth, forever.
Ye purblind, ye pessimists, existing with no hope of a
resurrection, bethink you of these matters; go, open the great
and awful Book, and read and behold these things for yourselves
--for what student of history is there but must be persuaded of
man's immortality--that, though this poor flesh be mangled, torn
asunder, burned to ashes, yet the soul, rising beyond the
tyrant's reach, soars triumphant above death and this sorry
world, to the refuge of "the everlasting arms;" for God is a just
Now, in a while, becoming conscious that my pipe was smoked out
and cold, I reached up my hand to my tobacco-box upon the
mantelshelf. Yet I did not reach it down, for, even as my
fingers closed upon it, above the wailing of the storm, above the
hiss and patter of driven rain, there rose a long-drawn cry:
So, remembering the voice I had seemed to hear calling in my
dream, I sat there with my hand stretched up to my tobacco-box,
and my face screwed round to the casement behind me, that, as I
watched, shook and rattled beneath each wind-gust, as if some
hand strove to pluck it open.
How long I remained thus, with my hand stretched up to my
tobacco-box, and my eyes upon this window, I am unable to say,
but, all at once, the door of the cottage burst open with a
crash, and immediately the quiet room was full of rioting wind
and tempest; such a wind as stopped my breath, and sent up a
swirl of smoke and sparks from the fire. And, borne upon this
wind, like some spirit of the storm, was a woman with flying
draperies and long, streaming hair, who turned, and, with knee
and shoulder, forced to the door, and so leaned there, panting.
Tall she was, and nobly shaped, for her wet gown clung,
disclosing the sinuous lines of her waist and the bold, full
curves of hip and thigh. Her dress, too, had been wrenched and
torn at the neck, and, through the shadow of her fallen hair, I
caught the ivory gleam of her shoulder, and the heave and tumult
of her bosom.
Here I reached down my tobacco-box and mechanically began to fill
my pipe, watching her the while.
Suddenly she started, and seemed to listen. Then, with a swift,
stealthy movement, she slipped from before the door, and I
noticed that she hid one hand behind her.
The woman crouched back against the wall, with her eyes towards
the door, and always her right hand was hidden in the folds of
her petticoat. So we remained, she watching the door, and I,
The voice was very near now, and, almost immediately after, there
came a loud "view hallo," and a heavy fist pounded upon the door.
"Oh, Charmian, you're there--yes, yes--inside--I know you are. I
swore you should never escape me, and you sha'n't--by God!" A
hand fumbled upon the latch, the door swung open, and a man
entered. As he did so I leapt forward, and caught the woman's
wrist. There was a blinding flash, a loud report, and a bullet
buried itself somewhere in the rafters overhead. With a strange,
repressed cry, she turned upon me so fiercely that I fell back
The newcomer, meantime, had closed the door, latching it very
carefully, and now, standing before it, folded his arms, staring
at her with bent head. He was a very tall man, with a rain-sodden,
bell-crowned hat crushed low upon his brows, and wrapped in a long,
many-caged overcoat, the skirts of which were woefully mired and
torn. All at once he laughed, very softly and musically.
"So, you would have killed me, would you, Charmian--shot me--like
a dog?" His tone was soft as his laugh and equally musical, and
yet neither was good to hear. "So you thought you had lost me,
did you, when you gave me the slip, a while ago? Lose me?
Escape me? Why, I tell you, I would search for you day and
night--hunt the world over until I found you, Charmian--until I
found you," said he, nodding his head and speaking almost in a
whisper. "I would, by God!"
The woman neither moved nor uttered a word, only her breath came
thick and fast, and her eyes gleamed in the shadow of her hair.
They stood facing each other, like two adversaries, each
measuring the other's strength, without appearing to be conscious
of my presence; indeed, the man had not so much as looked toward
me even when I had struck up the pistol.
Now, with every minute I was becoming more curious to see this
man's face, hidden as it was in the shadow of his dripping hat
brim. Yet the fire had burned low.
"You always were a spitfire, weren't you, Charmian?" he went on
in the same gentle voice; "hot, and fierce, and proud--the flame
beneath the ice--I knew that, and loved you the better for it;
and so I determined to win you, Charmian--to win you whether you
would or no. And--you are so strong--so tall, and glorious, and
His voice had sunk to a murmur again, and he drew a slow step
nearer to her.
"How wonderful you are, Charmian! I always loved your shoulders
and that round, white throat. Loved? Worshipped them,
worshipped them! And to-night--" He paused, and I felt, rather
than saw, that he was smiling. "And to-night you would have
killed me, Charmian--shot me--like a dog! But I would not have
it different. You have flouted, coquetted, scorned, and mocked
me--for three years, Charmian, and to-night you would have
killed me--and I--would not have it otherwise, for surely you can
see that this of itself must make your final surrender--even
With a gesture utterly at variance with his voice, so sudden,
fierce, and passionate was it, he sprang toward her with
outstretched arms. But, quick as he, she eluded him, and, before
he could reach her, I stepped between them.
"Sir," said I, "a word with you."
"Out of my way, bumpkin!" he retorted, and, brushing one aside,
made after her. I caught him by the skirts of his long, loose
coat, but, with a dexterous twist, he had left it in my grasp.
Yet the check, momentary though it was, enabled her to slip
through the door of that room which had once been Donald's, and,
before he could reach it, I stood upon the threshold. He
regarded me for a moment beneath his hat brim, and seemed
undecided how to act.
"My good fellow," said he at last, "I will buy your cottage of
you--for to-night--name your price."
I shook my head. Hereupon he drew a thick purse from his pocket,
and tossed it, chinking, to my feet.
"There are two hundred guineas, bumpkin, maybe more--pick them
up, and--go," and turning, he flung open the door.
Obediently I stooped, and, taking up the purse, rolled it in the
coat which I still held, and tossed both out of the cottage.
"Sir," said I, "be so very obliging as to follow your property."
"Ah!" he murmured, "very pretty, on my soul!" And, in that same
moment, his knuckles caught me fairly between the eyes, and he
was upon me swift, and fierce, and lithe as a panther.
I remember the glint of his eyes and the flash of his bared
teeth, now to one side of me, now to the other, as we swayed to
and fro, overturning the chairs, and crashing into unseen
obstacles. In that dim and narrow place small chance was there
for feint or parry; it was blind, brutal work, fierce, and grim,
and silent. Once he staggered and fell heavily, carrying the
table crashing with him, and I saw him wipe blood from his face
as he rose; and once I was beaten to my knees, but was up before
he could reach me again, though the fire upon the hearth spun
giddily round and round, and the floor heaved oddly beneath my
Then, suddenly, hands were upon my throat, and I could feel the
hot pant of his breath in my face, breath that hissed and
whistled between clenched teeth. Desperately I strove to break
his hold, to tear his hands asunder, and could not; only the
fingers tightened and tightened.
Up and down the room we staggered, grim and voiceless--out
through the open door--out into the whirling blackness of the
storm. And there, amid the tempest, lashed by driving rain and
deafened by the roaring rush of wind, we fought--as our savage
forefathers may have done, breast to breast, and knee to knee
--stubborn and wild, and merciless--the old, old struggle for
supremacy and life.
I beat him with my fists, but his head was down between his arms;
I tore at his wrists, but he gripped my throat the tighter; and
now we were down, rolling upon the sodden grass, and now we were
up, stumbling and slipping, but ever the gripping fingers sank
the deeper, choking the strength and life out of me. My eyes
stared up into a heaven streaked with blood and fire, there was
the taste of sulphur in my mouth, my arms grew weak and
nerveless, and the roar of wind seemed a thousand times more
loud. Then--something clutched and dragged us by the feet, we
tottered, swayed helplessly, and plunged down together. But, as
we fell, the deadly, gripping fingers slackened for a moment, and
in that moment I had broken free, and, rolling clear, stumbled up
to my feet. Yet even then I was sill encumbered, and, stooping
down, found the skirts of the overcoat twisted tightly about my
foot and ankle. Now, as I loosed it, I inwardly blessed that
tattered garment, for it seemed that to it I owed my life.
So I stood, panting, and waited for the end. I remember a blind
groping in the dark, a wild hurly-burly of random blows, a sudden
sharp pain in my right hand--a groan, and I was standing with the
swish of the rain about me, and the moaning of the wind in the
How long I remained thus I cannot tell, for I was as one in a
dream, but the cool rain upon my face refreshed me, and the
strong, clean wind in my nostrils was wonderfully grateful.
Presently, raising my arm stiffly, I brushed the wet hair from my
eyes, and stared round me into the pitchy darkness, in quest of
"Where are you?" said I at last, and this was the first word
uttered during the struggle; "where are you?"
Receiving no answer, I advanced cautiously (for it was, as I have
said, black dark), and so, presently, touched something yielding
with my foot.
"Come--get up!" said I, stooping to lay a hand upon him, "get up,
I say." But he never moved; he was lying upon his face, and, as
I raised his head, my fingers encountered a smooth, round stone,
buried in the grass, and the touch of that stone thrilled me from
head to foot with sudden dread. Hastily I tore open waistcoat
and shirt, and pressed nay hand above his heart. In that one
moment I lived an age of harrowing suspense, then breathed a sigh
of relief, and, rising, took him beneath the arms and began to
half drag, half carry him towards the cottage.
I had proceeded thus but some dozen yards or so when, during a
momentary lull in the storm, I thought I heard a faint "Hallo,"
and looking about, saw a twinkling light that hovered to and fro,
coming and going, yet growing brighter each moment. Setting down
my burden, therefore, I hollowed my hands about my mouth, and
"This way!" I called; "this way!"
"Be that you, sir?" cried a man's voice at no great distance.
"This way!" I called again, "this way!" The words seemed to
reassure the fellow, for the light advanced once more, and as he
came up, I made him out to be a postilion by his dress, and the
light he carried was the lanthorn of a chaise.
"Why--sir!" he began, looking me up and down, by the light of his
lanthorn, "strike me lucky if I'd ha' knowed ye! you looks as if
"What is it?" said I, wiping the rain from my eyes again. The
Postilion's answer was to lower his lanthorn towards the face of
him who lay on the ground between us, and point. Now, looking
where he pointed, I started suddenly backwards, and shivered,
with a strange stirring of the flesh.
For I saw a pale face with a streak of blood upon the cheek
--there was blood upon my own; a face framed in lank hair, thick
and black--as was my own; a pale, aquiline face, with a prominent
nose, and long, cleft chin--even as my own. So, as I stood
looking down upon this face, my breath caught, and my flesh
crept, for indeed, I might have been looking into a mirror--the
face was the face of myself.
"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Postilion, and fell back a step.
"Well?" said I, meeting his astonished look as carelessly as I
"Lord love me!" said the Postilion.
"What now?" I inquired.
"I never see such a thing as this 'ere," said he, alternately
glancing from me down to the outstretched figure at my feet, "if
it's bewitchments, or only enchantments, I don't like it--strike
me pink if I do!"
"What do you mean?"
"Eyes," continued the Postilion slowly and heavily, and with his
glance wandering still--"eyes, same--nose, identical--mouth, when
not bloody, same--hair, same--figure, same--no, I don't like it
--it's onnat'ral! tha' 's what it is."
"Come, come," I broke in, somewhat testily, "don't stand there
staring like a fool--you see this gentleman is hurt."
"Onnat'ral 's the word!" went on the Postilion, more as though
speaking his thoughts aloud than addressing me, "it's a onnat'ral
night to begin with--seed a many bad uns in my time, but nothing
to ekal this 'ere, that I lost my way aren't to be wondered at;
then him, and her a-jumping out o' the chaise and a-running off
into the thick o' the storm--that's onnat'ral in the second
place! and then, his face, and your face--that's the most
onnat'rallest part of it all--likewise, I never see one man in
two suits o' clothes afore, nor yet a-standing up, and a-laying
down both at the same i-dentical minute--onnat'ral's the word
"Stop!" said I, as he began to move away.
"Not on no account!"
"Then I must make you," said I, and doubled my fists.
The Postilion eyed me over from head to foot, and paused,
"What might you be wanting with a peaceable, civil-spoke cove
like me?" he inquired.
"Where is your chaise?"
"Up in the lane, som'eres over yonder," answered he, with a vague
jerk of his thumb over his shoulder.
"Then, if you will take this gentleman's heels we can carry him
well enough between us--it's no great distance."
"Easy!" said the Postilion, backing away again, "easy, now--what
might be the matter with him, if I might make so bold--ain't
dead, is he?"
"Dead--no, fool!" I rejoined angrily.
"Voice like his, too!" muttered the Postilion, backing away still
farther; "yes, onnat'ral's the word--strike me dumb if it ain't!"
"Come, will you do as I ask, or must I make you?"
"Why, I ain't got no objection to taking the gent's 'eels, if
that's all you ask, though mind ye, if ever I see such damned
onnat'ralness as this 'ere in all my days, why--drownd me!"
So, after some delay, I found the overcoat and purse (which
latter I thrust into the pocket ere wrapping the garment about
him), and lifting my still unconscious antagonist between us, we
started for the lane; which we eventually reached, with no little
labor and difficulty. Here, more by good fortune than anything
else, we presently stumbled upon a chaise and horses, drawn up in
the gloom of sheltering trees, in which we deposited our limp
burden as comfortably as might be, and where I made some shift to
tie up the gash in his brow.
"It would be a fine thing," said the Postilion moodily, as I, at
length, closed the chaise door, "it would be a nice thing if 'e
was to go a-dying."
"By the looks of him," said I, "he will be swearing your head off
in the next ten minutes or so."
Without another word the Postilion set the lanthorn back in its
socket, and swung himself into the saddle.
"Your best course would be to make for Tonbridge, bearing to the
right when you strike the high road."
The Postilion nodded, and, gathering up the reins, turned to
stare at me once more, while I stood in the gleam of the lanthorn.
"Well?" I inquired.
"Eyes," said he, rubbing his chin very hard, as one at a loss,
"eyes, i-dentical--nose, same--mouth, when not bloody, same
--'air, same--everything, same--Lord love me!"
"Pembry would be nearer," said I, "and the sooner he is between
the sheets the better."
"Ah!" exclaimed the Postilion with a slow nod, and drawing out
the word unduly, "and talking o' sheets and beds--what about my
second passenger? I started wi' two, and 'ere's only one--what
about Number Two what about--'er?"
"Her!" I repeated.
"'Er as was with 'im--Number One--'er what was a-quarrelling wi'
Number One all the way from London 'er as run away from Number
One into the wood, yonder, what about Number Two--'er?"
"Why, to be sure--I had forgotten her!"
"Forgotten?" repeated the Postilion, "Oh, Lord, yes!" and leaning
over, he winked one eye, very deliberately; "forgotten 'er--ah!
--to be sure--of course!" and he winked again.
"What do you mean?" I demanded, nettled by the fellow's manner.
"Mean?" said he, "I means as of all the damned onnat'ralness as
come on a honest, well-meaning, civil-spoke cove--why, I'm that
there cove, so 'elp me!" Saying which, he cracked his whip, the
horses plunged forward, and, almost immediately, as it seemed,
horses, chaise, and Postilion had lurched into the black murk of
the night and vanished.
WHICH BEARS AMPLE TESTIMONY TO THE STRENGTH OF THE GENTLEMAN'S FISTS
Considering all that had befallen during the last half-hour or
so, it was not very surprising, I think, that I should have
forgotten the very existence of this woman Charmian, even though
she had been chiefly instrumental in bringing it all about, and
to have her recalled to my recollection thus suddenly (and,
moreover, the possibility that I must meet with and talk to her)
perturbed me greatly, and I remained, for some time, quite
oblivious to wind and rain, all engrossed by the thought of this
"A dark, fierce, Amazonian creature!" I told myself, who had
(abhorrent thought) already attempted one man's life to-night;
furthermore, a tall woman, and strong (therefore unmaidenly),
with eyes that gleamed wild in the shadow of her hair. And yet
my dismay arose not so much from any of these as from the fact
that she was a woman, and, consequently, beyond my ken.
Hitherto I had regarded the sex very much from a distance, and a
little askance, as creatures naturally illogical, and given to
unreasoning impulse; delicate, ethereal beings whose lives were
made up of petty trifles and vanities, who were sent into this
gross world to be admired, petted, occasionally worshipped, and
Indeed, my education, in this direction, had been shockingly
neglected thus far, not so much from lack of inclination (for who
can deny the fascination of the Sex?) as for lack of time and
opportunity; for when, as a young gentleman of means and great
expectations, I should have been writing sonnets to the eyebrow
of some "ladye fayre," or surreptitiously wooing some farmer's
daughter, in common with my kind, I was hearkening to the plaint
of some Greek or Roman lover, or chuckling over old Brantome.
Thus, women were to me practically an unknown quantity, as yet,
and hence it was with no little trepidation that I now started
out for the cottage, and this truly Amazonian Charmian, unless
she had disappeared as suddenly as she had come (which I found
myself devoutly hoping).
As I went, I became conscious that I was bleeding copiously above
the brow, that my throat was much swollen, and that the thumb of
my right hand pained exceedingly at the least touch; added to
which was a dizziness of the head, and a general soreness of
body, that testified to the strength of my opponent's fists.
On I stumbled, my head bent low against the stinging rain, and
with uncertain, clumsy feet, for reaction had come, and with it a
deadly faintness. Twigs swung out of the darkness to lash at and
catch me as I passed, invisible trees creaked and groaned above
and around me, and once, as I paused to make more certain of my
direction, a dim, vague mass plunged down athwart my path with a
On I went (wearily enough, and with the faintness growing upon
me, a sickness that would not be fought down), guiding my course
by touch rather than sight, until, finding myself at fault, I
stopped again, staring about me beneath my hand. Yet, feeling
the faintness increase with inaction, I started forward, groping
before me as I went; I had gone but a few paces, however, when I
tripped over some obstacle, and fell heavily. It wanted but this
to complete my misery, and I lay where I was, overcome by a
Now presently, as I lay thus, spent and sick, I became aware of a
soft glow, a brightness that seemingly played all around me,
wherefore, lifting my heavy head, I beheld a ray of light that
pierced the gloom, a long, gleaming vista jewelled by falling
raindrops, whose brilliance was blurred, now and then, by the
flitting shapes of wind-tossed branches. At sight of this my
strength revived, and rising, I staggered on towards this welcome
light, and thus I saw that it streamed from the window of my
cottage. Even then, it seemed, I journeyed miles before I felt
the latch beneath my fingers, and fumbling, opened the door,
stumbled in, and closed it after me.
For a space I stood dazed by the sudden light, and then, little
by little, noticed that the table and chairs had been righted,
that the fire had been mended, and that candles burned brightly
upon the mantel. All this I saw but dimly, for there was a mist
before my eyes; yet I was conscious that the girl had leapt up on
my entrance, and now stood fronting me across the table.
"You!" said she, in a low, repressed voice--"you?"
Now, as she spoke, I saw the glitter of steel in her hand.
"Keep back!" she said, in the same subdued tone, "keep back--I
warn you!" But I only leaned there against the door, even as she
had done; indeed, I doubt if I could have moved just then, had I
tried. And, as I stood thus, hanging my head, and not answering
her, she stamped her foot suddenly, and laughed a short, fierce
"So--he has hurt you?" she cried; "you are all blood--it is
running down your face--the Country Bumpkin has hurt you! Oh, I
am glad! glad! glad!" and she laughed again. "I might have run
away," she went on mockingly, "but you see--I was prepared for
you," and she held up the knife, "prepared for you--and now--you
are pale, and hurt, and faint--yes, you are faint--the Country
Bumpkin has done his work well. I shall not need this, after
all--see!" And she flung the knife upon the table.
"Yes--it is better--there," said I, "and I think--madam--is
"Mistaken?" she cried, with a sudden catch in her voice, "what
--what do you mean?"
"That I--am--the Bumpkin!" said I.
Now, as I spoke, a black mist enveloped all things, my knees
loosened suddenly, and stumbling forward, I sank into a chair.
"I am--very--tired!" I sighed, and so, as it seemed, fell asleep.
WHICH, AMONG OTHER MATTERS, HAS TO DO WITH BRUISES AND BANDAGES
She was on her knees beside me, bathing my battered face, talking
all the while in a soft voice that I thought wonderfully sweet to
"Poor boy!" she was saying, over and over again, "poor boy!" And
after she had said it, perhaps a dozen times, I opened my eyes
and looked at her.
"Madam, I am twenty-five!" said I. Hereupon, sponge in hand, she
drew back and looked at me.
A wonderful face--low-browed, deep-eyed, full-lipped. The eyes
were dark and swiftly changeful, and there was a subtle witchery
in the slanting shadow of their lashes.
"Twenty-five!" she repeated, "can it really be?"
"Why not, madam?"
"So very young?"
"Why--" I began, greatly taken aback. "Indeed, I--that is--"
But here she laughed and then she sighed, and sighing, shook her
"Poor boy!" said she, "poor boy!" And, when I would have
retorted, she stopped me with the sponge.
"Your mouth is cut," said she, after a while, "and there is a
great gash in your brow."
"But the water feels delicious!" said I.
"And your throat is all scratched and swollen!"
"But your hands are very gentle and soothing!"
"I don't hurt you, then?"
"On the contrary, the--the pain is very trifling, thank you."
"Yet you fainted a little while ago."
"Then it was very foolish of me."
"Poor--" she hesitated, and looking up at her through the
trickling water, I saw that she was smiling.
"--fellow!" said she. And her lips were very sweet, and her eyes
very soft and tender--for an Amazon.
And, when she had washed the blood from my face, she went to
fetch clean water from where I kept it in a bucket in the corner.
Now, at my elbow, upon the table, lay the knife, a heavy, clumsy
contrivance I had bought to use in my carpentry, and I now,
mechanically, picked it up. As I did so the light gleamed evilly
upon its long blade.
"Put it down!" she commanded; "put it away--it is a hateful
"For a woman's hand," I added, "so hideously unfeminine!"
"Some men are so hatefully--hideously--masculine!" she retorted,
her lip curling. "I expected--him--and you are terribly like him."
"As to that," said I, "I may have the same colored eyes and hair,
and be something of the same build--"
"Yes," she nodded, "it was your build, and the color of your eyes
and hair that--startled me."
"But, after all," said I, "the similarity is only skin-deep, and
goes no farther."
"No," she answered, kneeling beside me again; "no, you are--only
twenty-five!" And, as she said this, her eyes were hidden by her
"Twenty-five is--twenty-five!" said I, more sharply than before.
"Why do you smile?"
"The water is all dripping from your nose and chin!--stoop lower
over the basin."
"And yet," said I, as well as I could on account of the trickling
water, for she was bathing my face again, "and yet, you must be
years younger than I."
"But then, some women always feel older than a man--more especially
if he is hurt."
"Thank you," said I, "thank you; with the exception of a scratch,
or so, I am very well!" But, as I moved, I caught my thumb
clumsily against the table-edge, and winced with the sudden pain
"What is it--your hand?"
"Let me see?" Obediently I stretched out my hand to her.
"Is it broken?"
"Dislocated, I think."
"It is greatly swollen!"
"Yes," said I, and taking firm hold of it with my left hand, I
gave it a sudden pull which started the sweat upon my temples,
but sent it back into joint.
"Well?" said I, as she hesitated.
"--man!" said she, and touched the swollen hand very tenderly
with her fingers.
"You do not fear me any longer?"
"In spite of my eyes and hair?"
"In spite of your eyes and hair--you see, a woman knows
instinctively whom she must fear and whom not to fear."
"And you are one I do not fear, and, I think, never should."
"Hum!" said I, rubbing my chin, "I am only twenty-five!"
"Twenty-five is--twenty-five!" said she demurely.
"And yet, I am very like--him--you said so yourself!"
"Him!" she exclaimed, starting. "I had forgotten all about him.
Where is he--what has become of him?" and she glanced apprehensively
towards the door.
"Half way to Tonbridge--or should be by now."
"Tonbridge!" said she, in a tone of amazement, and turned to look
at me again.
"Tonbridge!" I repeated.
"But he is not the man to--to run away," said she doubtfully
--"even from you."
"No, indeed!" said I, shaking my head, "he certainly did not run
away, but circumstances--and a stone, were too much--even for him."
"Upon which he--happened to fall, and strike his head--very
fortunately for me."
"Was he--much hurt?"
"Stunned only," I answered.
She was still kneeling beside my chair, but now she sat back, and
turned to stare into the fire. And, as she sat, I noticed how
full and round and white her arms were, for her sleeves were
rolled high, and that the hand, which yet held the sponge, was