Part 8 out of 11
Yet, as I went, I found that the knife had cut my chin, and that
I was bleeding.
O Blind, and more than blind! Surely this was a warning, an omen
to heed--to shiver over, despite the warm sun!
But, seeing the blood, I laughed, and strode villagewards, blithe
of heart and light of foot.
O Blind, and more than blind!
IN WHICH I HEAR NEWS OF SIR MAURICE VIBART
"Which I says--Lord love me!"
I plunged the iron back into the fire, and, turning my head,
espied a figure standing in the doorway; and, though the leather
hat and short, round jacket had been superseded by a smart
groom's livery, I recognized the Postilion.
"So 'elp me, Bob, if this ain't a piece o' luck!" he exclaimed,
and, with the words, he removed his hat and fell to combing his
short, thick hair with the handle of his whip.
"I'm glad you think so," said I.
"You can drownd me if it ain't!" said he.
"And, pray, how is the gentleman who--happened to fall and hurt
himself, if you remember--in the storm?"
"'Appened to fall an' 'urt 'isself?" repeated the Postilion,
winking knowingly, "'urt 'isself,' says you 'Walker!' says I,
'Walker!'" with which he laid his forefinger against the side of
his nose and winked again.
"What might you be pleased to mean?"
"I means as a gent 'appenin' to fall in the dark may p'r'aps cut
'is 'ead open--but 'e don't give 'isself two black eyes, a bloody
nose, a split lip, an' three broken ribs, all at once--it ain't
nat'ral, w'ich if you says contrairy, I remarks--'Walker!' Lord!"
continued the Postilion, seeing I did not speak, "Lord! it must
'a' been a pretty warm go while it lasted--you put 'im to sleep
sound enough; it took me over a hour to Tonbridge, an' 'e never
moved till 'e'd been put to bed at 'The Chequers' an' a doctor
sent for. Ah! an' a nice time I 'ad of it, what wi' chamber-maids
a-runnin' up an' down stairs to see the 'poor gentleman,' an'
everybody a-starin' at me, an' a-shakin' their 'eads, an' all
a-axin' questions, one atop o' the other, till the doctor come.
"Ow did this 'appen, me man?' says 'e. 'A haccident!' says I.
'A haccident?' says the doctor, wi' a look in 'is eye as I didn't
just like. 'Ah!' says I, 'fell on 'is 'ead--out o' the chaise,'
says I, 'struck a stone, or summ'at,' says I. 'Did 'e fall of
'is own accord?' says the doctor. 'Ah, for sure!' says I.
'Humph!' says the doctor, 'what wi' 'is eyes, an' 'is nose, an'
'is lip, looks to me as if some one 'ad 'elped 'im.' 'Then you
must be a dam' fool!' says a voice, an' there's my gentleman
--Number One, you know, a-sittin' up in bed an' doin' 'is 'ardest
to frown. 'Sir?' says the doctor. 'Sir! to you,' says my
gentleman, 'this honest fellow tells the truth. I did fall out
o' the accursed chaise--an' be damned to you!' says 'e. 'Don't
excite yourself,' says the doctor; 'in your present condition it
would be dangerous.' 'Then be so good as to go to the devil!'
says my gentleman. 'I will!' says the doctor, an' off 'e goes.
'Hi, there, you,' says my gentleman, callin' to me as soon as we
were alone, 'this accursed business 'as played the devil with me,
an' I need a servant. 'Ow much do you want to stay wi' me?'
'Twenty-five shillin' a week,' says I, doin' myself proud while I
'ad the chance. 'I'll give ye thirty,' says 'e; 'wot's ye name?'
'Jacob Trimble, sir,' says I. 'An' a most accursed name it is!
--I'll call you Parks,' says 'e, 'an' when I ring let no one answer
but yourself. You can go, Parks--an', Parks--get me another
doctor.' Well," pursued the Postilion, seating himself near by,
"we'd been there a couple o' weeks, an' though 'e was better, an'
'is face near well again, 'e still kept to 'is room, when, one
day, a smart phaeton an' blood 'osses drives up, an' out steps a
fine gentleman--one o' them pale, sleepy sort. I was a-standin'
in the yard, brushin' my master's coat--a bottle-green wi' silver
buttons, each button 'avin' what they calls a monneygram stamped
onto it. 'Ha, me man!' says the sleepy gent, steppin' up to me,
'a fine coat--doocid fashionable cut, curse me!--your master's?'
'Yes, sir,' says I, brushin' away. 'Silver buttons too!' says
the gent, 'let me see--ah yes!--a V, yes, to be sure--'ave the
goodness to step to your master an' say as a gentleman begs to
see 'im.' 'Can't be done, sir,' says I; 'me master ain't seein'
nobody, bein' in indifferent 'ealth.' 'Nonsense!' says the
gentleman, yawnin' an' slippin' a guinea into me 'and. 'Just
run, like a good feller, an' tell 'im as I bear a message from
George!' 'From 'oo?' says I. 'From George,' says the gent,
smilin' an' yawnin'--'just say from George.' So, to come to the
end of it, up I goes, an' finds me master walkin' up an' down an'
aswearin' to 'isself as usual. 'A gentleman to see you, sir,'
says I. 'Why, devil burn your miserable carcass!' say 'e,
'didn't I tell you as I'd see nobody?' 'Ay, but this 'ere gent's
a-sayin' 'e 'as a message from George, sir.' My master raised
both clenched fists above 'is 'ead an' swore--ah! better than I'd
heard for many a long day. 'Ows'ever, downstairs 'e goes,
cursin' on every stair. In a time 'e comes back. 'Parks,' says
'e, 'do you remember that--that place where we got lost--in the
storm, Parks?' 'Ah, sir,' says I. 'Well, go there at once,'
says 'e,' an','--well--'e give me certain orders--jumps into the
phaeton wi' the sleepy gentleman, an' they drive off together--an'
accordin' to orders--'ere I am."
"A very interesting story!" said I. "And so you are a groom now?"
"Ah!--an' you are a blacksmith, eh?"
"Well, if it don't beat everything as ever I heard--I'm a stiff
'un, that's all!"
"What do you mean?"
"I means my droppin' in on you, like this 'ere, just as if you
wasn't the one man in all England as I was 'opeful to drop in on."
"And you find me very busy!" said I.
"Lord love me!" said the Postilion, combing his hair so very hard
that it wrinkled his brow. "I comes up from Tonbridge this 'ere
very afternoon, an', 'avin' drunk a pint over at 'The Bull'
yonder, an' axed questions as none o' they chawbacons could give
a answer to, I 'ears the chink o' your 'ammer, an' comin' over
'ere, chance like, I finds--you; I'll be gormed if it ain't
"'Cos you was the very i-dentical chap as I come up from
Tonbridge to find."
"Were you sent to find me?"
"Easy a bit--you're a blacksmith, a'n't you?"
"I told you so before."
"Wot's more, you looks a blacksmith in that there leather apron,
an' wi' your face all smutty. To be sure, you're powerful like
'im--Number One as was--my master as now is--"
"Did he send you to find me?"
"Some folks might take you for a gentleman, meetin' you off'and
like, but I knows different."
"Well, I never 'eard of a gentleman turnin' 'isself into a
blacksmith, afore, for one thing--"
"Still, one might," I ventured.
"No," answered the Postilion, with a decisive shake of the head,
"it's ag'in' natur'; when a gentleman gets down in the world, an'
'as to do summ'at for a livin', 'e generally shoots 'isself--ah!
an' I've knowed 'em do it too! An' then I've noticed as you
don't swear, nor yet curse--not even a damn."
"Seldom," said I; "but what of that?"
"I've seed a deal o' the quality in my time, one way or another
--many's the fine gentleman as I've druv, or groomed for, an'
never a one on 'em as didn't curse me--ah!" said the Postilion,
sighing and shaking his head, "_'ow_ they _did_ curse me!--'specially
one--a young lord--oncommon fond o' me 'e were too, in 'is way,
to the day 'is 'oss fell an' rolled on 'im. 'Jacob,' says 'e,
short like, for 'e were agoin' fast. 'Jacob!' says 'e, 'damn
your infernally ugly mug!' says 'e; 'you bet me as that cursed
brute would do for me.' 'I did, my lord,' says I, an' I remember
as the tears was a-runnin' down all our faces as we carried 'im
along on the five-barred gate, that bein' 'andiest. 'Well, devil
take your soul, you was right, Jacob, an' be damned to you!' says
'e; 'you'll find a tenner in my coat pocket 'ere, you've won it,
for I sha'n't last the day out, Jacob.' An' 'e didn't either,
for 'e died afore we got 'im 'ome, an' left me a 'undred pound in
'is will. Ah! gentlemen as is gents is all the same. Lord love
you! there never was one on 'em but damned my legs, or my liver,
or the chaise, or the 'osses, or the road, or the inns, or all on
'em together. If you was to strip me as naked as the palm o'
your 'and, an' to strip a lord, or a earl, or a gentleman as
naked as the palm o' your 'and, an' was to place us side by side
--where'd be the difference? We're both men, both flesh and
blood, a'n't we?--then where 'd be the difference? 'Oo's to
tell which is the lord an' which is the postilion?"
"Who indeed?" said I, setting down my hammer. "Jack is often as
good as his master--and a great deal better."
"Why, nobody!" nodded the Postilion, "not a soul till we opened
our mouths; an' then 'twould be easy enough, for my lord, or
earl, or gentleman, bein' naked, an' not likin' it (which would
only be nat'ral), would fall a-swearin' 'eavens 'ard, damning
everybody an' cursin' everything, an' never stop to think, while
I--not bein' born to it--should stand there a-shiverin' an'
tryin' a curse or two myself, maybe--but Lord! mine wouldn't
amount to nothin' at all, me not bein' nat'rally gifted, nor yet
born to it--an' this brings me round to 'er!"
"Ah--'er! Number Two--'er as quarrelled wi' Number One all the
way from London--'er as run away from Number One--wot about--'er?"
Here he fell to combing his hair again with his whip-handle,
while his quick, bright eyes dodged from my face to the glowing
forge and back again, and his clean-shaven lips pursed themselves
in a soundless whistle. And, as I watched him, it seemed to me
that this was the question that had been in his mind all along.
"Seeing she did manage to run away from him--Number One--she is
probably very well," I answered.
"Ah--to be sure! very well, you say?--ah, to be sure!" said the
Postilion, apparently lost in contemplation of the bellows; "an'
--where might she be, now?"
"That I am unable to tell you," said I, and began to blow up the
fire while the Postilion watched me, sucking the handle of his
"You work oncommon 'ard--drownd me if you don't!"
"Pretty hard!" I nodded.
"An' gets well paid for it, p'r'aps?"
"Not so well as I could wish," said I.
"Not so well as 'e could wish," nodded the Postilion, apparently
addressing the sledge-hammer, for his gaze was fixed upon it.
"Of course not--the 'arder a man works the wuss 'e gets paid--'ow
much did you say you got a week?"
"I named no sum," I replied.
"Well--'ow much might you be gettin' a week?"
"Gets ten shillin' a week!" he nodded to the sledgehammer, "that
ain't much for a chap like 'im--kick me, if it is!"
"Yet I make it do very well!"
The Postilion became again absorbed in contemplation of the
bellows; indeed he studied them so intently, viewing them with
his head now on one side, now on the other, that I fell to
watching him, under my brows, and so, presently, caught him
furtively watching me. Hereupon he drew his whip from his mouth
"Supposing--" said he, and stopped.
"Well?" I inquired, and, leaning upon my hammer, I looked him
square in the eye.
"Supposing--wot are you a-staring at, my feller?"
"You have said 'supposing' twice--well?"
"Well," said he, fixing his eye upon the bellows again,
"supposing you was to make a guinea over an' above your wages
"I should be very much surprised," said I.
"I certainly should."
"Then--why not surprise yourself?"
"You must speak more plainly," said I.
"Well then," said the Postilion, still with his gaze abstracted,
"supposin' I was to place a guinea down on that there anvil o'
yours--would that 'elp you to remember where Number Two--'er
"A guinea's a lot o' money!"
"It is," I nodded.
"An' you say it wouldn't?"
"It would not!" said I.
"Then say--oh! say two pun' ten an' 'ave done with it."
"No!" said I, shaking my head.
"What--not--d'ye say 'no' to two pun' ten?"
"Well, let's say three pound."
I shook my head and, drawing the iron from the fire, began to
hammer at it.
"Well then," shouted the Postilion, for I was making as much din
as possible, "say four--five--ten--fifteen--twenty-five--fifty!"
Here I ceased hammering.
"Tell me when you've done!" said I.
"You're a cool customer, you are--ah! an' a rum un' at that--I
never see a rummer."
"Other people have thought the same," said I, examining the
half-finished horseshoe ere I set it back in the fire.
"Sixty guineas!" said the Postilion gloomily.
"Come again!" said I.
"Seventy then!" said he, his gloom deepening.
"Once more!" said I.
"A 'undred--one 'undred guineas!" said he, removing his hat to
mop at his brow.
"Any more?" I inquired.
"No!" returned the Postilion sulkily, putting on his hat, "I'm
"Did he set the figure at a hundred guineas?" said I.
"'Im--oh! 'e's mad for 'er, 'e is--'e'd ruin 'isself, body and
soul, for 'er, 'e would, but I ain't goin' to ofer no more; no
woman as ever breathed--no matter 'ow 'andsome an' up-standin'
--is worth more 'n a 'undred guineas--it ain't as if she was a
blood-mare--an' I'm done!"
"Then I wish you good-day!"
"But--just think--a 'undred guineas is a fortun'!"
"It is!" said I.
"Come, think it over," said the Postilion persuasively, "think it
"Let me fully understand you then," said I; "you propose to pay
me one hundred guineas on behalf of your master, known heretofore
as Number One, for such information as shall enable him to
discover the whereabouts of a certain person known as Her, Number
Two--is that how the matter stands?"
"Ah! that's 'ow it stands," nodded the Postilion, "the money to
be yours as soon as ever 'e lays 'ands on 'er--is it a go?"
"W'y, you must be stark, starin' mad--that you must--unless
you're sweet on 'er yourself--"
"You talk like a fool!" said I angrily.
"So you are sweet on 'er then?"
"Ass!" said I. "Fool!" And, dropping my hammer, I made towards
him, but he darted nimbly to the door, where, seeing I did not
pursue, he paused.
"I may be a hass," he nodded, "an' I may be a fool--but I don't go
a-fallin' in love wi' ladies as is above me, an' out o' my reach,
and don't chuck away a 'undred guineas for one as ain't likely to
look my way--not me! Which I begs leave to say--hass yourself,
an' likewise fool--bah!" With which expletive he set his thumb
to his nose, spread out his fingers, wagged them and swaggered off.
Above me, and out of my reach! One not likely to look my way!
And, in due season, having finished the horseshoe, having set
each tool in its appointed place in the racks, and raked out the
clinkers from the fire, I took my hat and coat, and, closing the
door behind me, set out for the Hollow.
HOW I MET BLACK GEORGE AGAIN, AND WHEREIN THE PATIENT READER
SHALL FIND A "LITTLE BLOOD"
It was evening--that time before the moon is up and when the
earth is dark, as yet, and full of shadows. Now as I went, by
some chance there recurred to me the words of an old song I had
read somewhere, years ago, words written in the glorious, brutal,
knightly days of Edward the First, of warlike memory; and the
words ran thus:
"For her love I carke, and care,
For her love I droop, and dare,
For her love my bliss is bare.
And I wax wan!"
"I wonder what poor, love-sick, long-dead-and-forgotten fool
wrote that?" said I aloud.
"For her love, in sleep I slake,
For her love, all night I wake,
For her love, I mourning make
More than any man!"
Some doughty squire-at-arms, or perhaps some wandering knight
(probably of a dark, unlovely look), who rode the forest ways
with his thoughts full of Her, and dreaming of Her loveliness.
"Howbeit, he was, beyond all doubt, a fool and a great one!" said
I, "for it is to be inferred, from these few words he has left
us, that his love was hopeless. She was, perhaps, proud and of a
high estate, one who was above him, and far beyond his reach--who
was not likely even to look his way. Doubtless she was
beautiful, and therefore haughty and disdainful, for disdainful
pride is an attribute of beauty, and ever was and ever will be
--and hence it came that our misfortunate squire, or knight-errant,
was scorned for his pains, poor fool! Which yet was his own
fault, after all, and, indeed, his just reward, for what has any
squire-at-arms or lusty knight, with the world before him, and
glory yet unachieved--to do with love? Love is a bauble--a toy,
a pretty pastime for idle folk who have no thought above such
--away with it!--Bah!" And, in my mind--that is to say, mentally
--I set my thumb to my nose, and spread my fingers, and wagged
them--even as the Postilion had done. And yet, despite this, the
words of the old song recurred again and again, pathetically
insistent, voicing themselves in my footsteps so that, to banish
them, I presently stood still.
And in that very moment a gigantic figure came bursting through
the hedge, clearing the ditch in a single bound--and Black George
Haggard of face, with hair and beard matted and unkempt, his
clothes all dusty and torn, he presented a very wild and terrible
appearance; and beneath one arm he carried two bludgeons. The
Pedler had spoken truly, then, and, as I met the giant's
smouldering eye, I felt my mouth become suddenly parched and dry,
and the palms of my hands grew moist and clammy.
For a moment neither of us spoke, only we looked at each other
steadily in the eye; and I saw the hair of his beard bristle, and
he raised one great hand to the collar of his shirt, and tore it
open as if it were strangling him.
"George!" said I at last, and held out my hand
George never stirred.
"Won't you shake hands, George?"
His lips opened, but no words came.
"Had I known where to look for you, I should have sought you out
days ago," I went on; "as it is I have been wishing to meet you,
hoping to set matters right."
Once again his lips opened, but still no word came.
"You see, Prudence is breaking her heart over you."
A laugh burst from him, sudden, and harsh.
"You 'm a liar!" said he, and his voice quavered strangely.
"I speak gospel truth!" said I.
"I be nowt to Prue since the day you beat me at th' 'ammer-throwin'
--an' ye know it."
"Prudence loves you, and always has," said I. "Go back to her,
George, go back to her, and to your work be the man I know you are;
go back to her--she loves you. If you still doubt my word--here,
read that!" and I held out his own letter, the letter on which
Prudence had written those four words: "George, I love you."
He took it from me--crumpled it slowly in his hand and tossed it
into the ditch.
"You 'm a liar!" said he again, "an' a--coward!"
"And you," said I, "you are a fool, a blind, gross, selfish fool,
who, in degrading yourself--in skulking about the woods and
lanes--is bringing black shame and sorrow to as sweet a maid as
"It don't need you to tell me what she be an' what she bean't,"
said Black George, in a low, repressed voice. "I knowed 'er long
afore you ever set eyes on 'er--grew up wi' 'er, I did, an' I
bean't deaf nor blind. Ye see, I loved 'er--all my life--that's
why one o' us two's a-goin' to lie out 'ere all night--ah! an'
all to-morrow, likewise, if summun don't chance to find us,"
saying which, he forced a cudgel into my hand.
"What do you mean, George?"
"I means as if you don't do for me, then I be a-goin' to do for
"But why?" I cried; "in God's name--why?"
"I be slow, p'r'aps, an' thick p'raps, but I bean't a fule--come,
man--if she be worth winnin' she be worth fightin' for."
"But I tell you she loves Black George, and no other she never
had any thought of me, or I of her--this is madness--and worse!"
and I tossed the cudgel aside.
"An' I tell 'ee," broke in the smith, his repression giving way
before a fury as fierce as it was sudden, "I tell 'ee--you be a
liar, an' a coward--I know, I know--I've heerd an' I've seen
--your lyin', coward's tongue sha'n't save 'ee--oh, ecod! wi'
your white face an' tremblin' 'ands--you be a shame to the woman
as loves ye, an' the woman as bore ye!--stand up, I say, or by
God! I'll do for 'ee!" and he raised his weapon.
Without another word I picked up the cudgel, and, pointing to a
gate a little farther along the road, I led the way into the
meadow beyond. On the other side of this meadow ran the lane I
have mentioned before, and beyond the lane was the Hollow, and
glancing thitherward, I bethought me that supper would be ready,
and Charmian waiting for me, just about now, and I sighed, I
remember, as I drew off my coat, and laid it, together with my
hat, under the hedge.
The moon was beginning to rise, casting the magic of her pale
loveliness upon the world, and, as I rolled up my sleeves, I
glanced round about me with an eye that strove to take in the
beauty of all things--of hedge and tree and winding road, the
gloom of wood, the sheen of water, and the far, soft sweep of
hill and dale. Over all these my glance lingered yearningly, for
it seemed to me that this look might be my last. And now, as I
stooped and gripped my weapon, I remembered how I had, that
morning, kissed her fingers, and I was strangely comforted and
The night air, which had been warm heretofore, struck chilly now,
and, as I stood up fronting Black George, I shivered, seeing
which he laughed, short and fierce, and, with the laugh, came at
me, striking downwards at my head as he came, and tough wood met
tough wood with a shock that jarred me from wrist to shoulder.
To hit him upon the arm, and disable him, was my one thought and
object. I therefore watched for an opening, parrying his swift
strokes and avoiding his rushes as well as I might. Time and
again our weapons crashed together, now above my head, now to
right, or left, sometimes rattling in quick succession, sometimes
with pauses between strokes, pauses filled in with the sound of
heavy breathing and the ceaseless thud of feet upon the sward. I
was already bruised in half-a-dozen places, my right hand and arm
felt numb, and with a shooting pain in the shoulder, that grew
more acute with every movement; my breath also was beginning to
labor. Yet still Black George pressed on, untiring, relentless,
showering blow on blow, while my arm grew ever weaker and weaker,
and the pain in my shoulder throbbed more intensely.
How long had we fought? five minutes--ten--half-an-hour--an hour?
I could see the sweat gleaming upon his cheek, his eyes were wild,
his mouth gaped open, and he drew his breath in great sobbing
pants. But, as I looked, his cudgel broke through my tired guard,
and, taking me full upon the brow, drove me reeling back; my
weapon slipped from my grasp, and, blinded with blood, I staggered
to and fro, like a drunken man, and presently slipped to the grass.
And how sweet it was to lie thus, with my cheek upon kind mother
earth, to stretch my aching body, and with my weary limbs at rest.
But Black George stood above me, panting, and, as his eyes met
mine, he laughed--a strange-sounding, broken laugh, and whirled
up his cudgel--to beat out my brains--even as the Pedler had
foretold--to-morrow the blackbird would sing upon my motionless
breast, and, looking into Black George's eyes--I smiled.
"Get up!" he panted, and lowered the cudgel. "Get up--or, by
God--I'll do--for 'ee!"
Sighing, I rose, and took the cudgel he held out to me, wiping
the blood from my eyes as I did so.
And now, as I faced him once more, all things vanished from my
ken save the man before me--he filled the universe, and, even as
he leaped upon me, I leaped upon him, and struck with all my
strength; there was a jarring, splintering shock, and Black
George was beaten down upon his knees, but as, dropping my
weapon, I stepped forward, he rose, and stood panting, and
staring at the broker cudgel in his hand.
"George!" said I.
"You 'm a-bleedin', Peter!"
"For that matter, so are you."
"Blood-lettin' be--good for a man--sometimes eases un."
"It does," I panted; "perhaps you are--willing to hear reason--now?"
"We be--even so fur--but fists be better nor--sticks any day--an'
I--be goin'--to try ye--wi' fists!"
"Have we not bled each other sufficiently?"
"No," cried George, between set teeth, "theer be more nor
blood-lettin' 'twixt you an' me--I said as 'ow one on us would lie
out 'ere all night--an' so 'e shall--by God!--come on--fists be
best arter all!"
This was the heyday of boxing, and, while at Oxford I had earned
some small fame at the sport. But it was one thing to spar with
a man my own weight in a padded ring, with limited rounds governed
by a code of rules, and quite another to fight a man like Black
George, in a lonely meadow, by light of moon. Moreover, he was
well acquainted with the science, as I could see from the way he
"shaped," the only difference between us being that whereas he
fought with feet planted square and wide apart, I balanced myself
upon my toes, which is (I think) to be commended as being quicker,
and more calculated to lessen the impact of a blow.
Brief though the respite had been, it had served me to recover my
breath, and, though my head yet rung from the cudgel-stroke, and
the blood still flowed freely, getting, every now and then, into
my eyes, my brain was clear as we fronted each other for what we
both knew must be the decisive bout.
The smith stood with his mighty shoulders stooped something
forward, his left arm drawn back, his right flung across his
chest, and, so long as we fought, I watched that great fist and
knotted forearm, for, though he struck oftener with his left, it
was in that passive right that I thought my danger really lay.
It is not my intention to chronicle this fight blow by blow;
enough, and more than enough, has already been said in that
regard; suffice it then, that as the fight progressed I found
that I was far the quicker, as I had hoped, and that the majority
of his blows I either blocked or avoided easily enough.
Time after time his fist shot over my shoulder, or over my head,
and time after time I countered heavily--now on his body, now on
his face; once he staggered, and once I caught a momentary
glimpse of his features convulsed with pain; he was smeared with
blood from the waist up, but still he came on.
I fought desperately now, savagely, taking advantage of every
opening, for though I struck him four times to his once, yet his
blows had four times the weight of mine; my forearms were bruised
to either elbow, and my breath came in gasps; and always I
watched that deadly "right." And presently it came, with arm
and shoulder and body behind it--quick as a flash, and resistless
as a cannonball; but I was ready, and, as I leaped, I struck, and
struck him clean and true upon the angle of the jaw; and,
spinning round, Black George fell, and lay with his arms wide
stretched, and face buried in the grass.
Slowly, slowly he got upon his knees, and thence to his feet, and
so stood panting, hideous with blood and sweat, bruised and cut
and disfigured, staring at me, as one in amaze.
Now, as I looked, my heart went out to him, and I reached forth
my right hand.
"George!" I panted. "Oh, George!"
But Black George only looked at me, and shook his head, and
"Oh, Peter!" said he, "you be a man, Peter! I've fou't--ah! many
's the time, an' no man ever knocked me down afore. Oh, Peter!
I--I could love 'ee for it if I didn't hate the very sight of
'ee--come on, an' let's get it over an' done wi'."
So once again fists were clenched and jaws set--once again came
the trampling of feet, the hiss of breath, and the thudding shock
of blows given and taken.
A sudden, jarring impact--the taste of sulphur on my tongue--a
gathering darkness before my eyes, and, knowing this was the end,
I strove desperately to close with him; but I was dazed, blind
--my arms fell paralyzed, and, in that moment, the Smith's right
fist drove forward. A jagged flame shot up to heaven--the earth
seemed to rush up towards me--a roaring blackness engulfed me,
HOW I CAME UP OUT OF THE DARK
Some one was calling to me, a long way off.
Some one was leaning down from a great height to call to me in
the depths; and the voice was wonderfully sweet, but faint,
faint, because the height was so very high, and the depths so
And still the voice called and called, and I felt sorry that I
could not answer, because, as I say, the voice was troubled, and
And, little by little, it seemed that it grew nearer, this voice;
was it descending to me in these depths of blackness, or was I
being lifted up to the heights where, I knew, blackness could not
be? Ay, indeed, I was being lifted, for I could feel a hand upon
my brow--a smooth, cool hand that touched my cheek, and brushed
the hair from my forehead; a strong, gentle hand it was, with
soft fingers, and it was lifting me up and up from the loathly
depths which seemed more black and more horrible the farther I
drew from them.
And so I heard the voice nearer, and ever nearer, until I could
distinguish words, and the voice had tears in it, and the words
were very tender.
"Peter--speak!--speak to me, Peter!"
"Charmian?" said I, within myself; "why, truly, whose hand but
hers could have lifted me out of that gulf of death, back to
light and life?" Yet I did not speak aloud, for I had no mind
to, yet a while.
"Ah! speak to me--speak to me, Peter! How can you lie there so
still and pale?"
And now her arms were about me, strong and protecting, and my
head was drawn down upon her bosom.
"Oh, Peter!--my Peter!"
Nay, but was this Charmian, the cold, proud Charmian? Truly I
had never heard that thrill in her voice before--could this indeed
be Charmian? And lying thus, with my head on this sweet pillow,
I could hear her heart whispering to me, and it seemed that it
was striving to tell me something--striving, striving to tell me
something, could I but understand--ah! could I but understand!
"I waited for you so long--so long, Peter--and the supper is all
spoiled--a rabbit, Peter--you liked rabbit, and--and oh, God! I
want you--don't you hear me, Peter--I want you--want you!" and
now her cheek was pressed to mine, and her lips were upon my hair,
and upon my brow--her lips! Was this indeed Charmian, and was I
Peter Vibart? Ah, if I could but know what it was her heart was
trying to tell me, so quickly and passionately!
And while I lay listening, listening, something hot splashed down
upon my cheek, and then another, and another; her bosom heaved
tumultuously, and instinctively, raising my arms, I clasped them
"Don't!" I said, and my voice was a whisper; "don't, Charmian!"
For a moment her clasp tightened about me, she was all tenderness
and clinging warmth; then I heard a sudden gasp, her arms
loosened and fell away, and so I presently raised my head, and,
supporting myself upon my hand, looked at her. And then I saw
that her cheeks were burning.
"Did you--" She paused, plucking nervously at the grass, and
looking away from me.
"Did you--hear--" Again she broke off, and still her head was
"I heard your voice calling to me from a great way off, and so--I
"Were you conscious when--when I--found you?"
"No," I answered; "I was lying in a very deep, black, pit." Here
she looked at me again.
"I--I thought you--were--dead, Peter."
"My soul was out of my body--until you recalled it."
"You were lying upon your back, by the hedge here, and--oh, Peter!
your face was white and shining in the moonlight--and there
was--blood upon it, and you looked like one that is--dead!" and
"And you have brought me back to life," said I, rising; but, being
upon my feet, I staggered giddily, to hide which, I laughed, and
leaned against a tree. "Indeed," said I, "I am very much alive
still, and monstrously hungry--you spoke of a rabbit, I think--"
"A rabbit!" said Charmian in a whisper, and as I met her eye I
would have given much to have recalled that thoughtless speech.
"I--I think you did mention a rabbit," said I, floundering
"So, then--you deceived me, you lay there and deceived me--with
your eyes shut, and your ears open, taking advantage of my pity--"
"No, no--indeed, no--I thought myself still dreaming; it--it all
seemed so unreal, so--so beyond all belief and possibility and--"
I stopped, aghast at my crass folly, for, with a cry, she sprang
to her feet, and hid her face in her hands, while I stood
dumbfounded, like the fool I was. When she looked up, her eyes
seemed to, scorch me.
"And I thought Mr. Vibart a man of honor--like a knight of his
old-time romances, high and chivalrous--oh! I thought him a
"Instead of which," said I, speaking (as it were), despite
myself, "instead of which, you find me only a blacksmith--a low,
despicable fellow eager to take advantage of your unprotected
womanhood." She did not speak standing tall and straight, her
head thrown back; wherefore, reading her scorn of me in her eyes,
seeing the proud contempt of her mouth, a very demon seemed
suddenly to possess me, for certainly the laugh that rang from my
lip, proceeded from no volition of mine.
"And yet, madam," my voice went on, "this despicable blacksmith
fellow refused one hundred guineas for you to-day."
"Peter!" she cried, and shrank away from me as if I had
threatened to strike her.
"Ah!--you start at that--your proud lip trembles--do not fear,
madam--the sum did not tempt him--though a large one."
"Peter!" she cried again, and now there was a note of appeal in
"Indeed, madam, even so degraded a fellow as this blacksmith
could not very well sell that which he does not possess--could
he? And so the hundred guineas go a-begging, and you are still
--unsold!" Long before I had done she had covered her face again,
and, coming near, I saw the tears running out between her fingers
and sparkling as they fell. And once again the devil within me
laughed loud and harsh. But, while it still echoed, I had flung
myself down at her feet.
"Charmian," I cried, "forgive me--you will, you must!" and,
kneeling before her, I strove to catch her gown, and kiss its
hem, but she drew it close about her, and, turning, fled from me
through the shadows.
Heedless of all else but that she was leaving me, I stumbled to
my feet and followed. The trees seemed to beset me as I ran, and
bushes to reach out arms to stay me, but I burst from them,
running wildly, blunderingly, for she was going--Charmian was
leaving me. And so, spent and panting, I reached the cottage,
and met Charmian at the door. She was clad in the long cloak she
had worn when she came, and the hood was drawn close about her
I stood panting in the doorway, barring her exit.
"Let me pass, Peter."
"By God--no!" I cried, and, entering, closed the door, and leaned
my back against it.
And, after we had stood thus awhile, each looking upon the other,
I reached out my hands to her, and my hands were torn and bloody.
"Don't go, Charmian," I mumbled, "don't go! Oh, Charmian--I'm
hurt--I didn't want you to know, but you mustn't leave me--I am
not--well; it is my head, I think. I met Black George, and he
was too strong for me. I'm deaf, Charmian, and half blinded--oh,
don't leave me--I'm afraid, Charmian!" Her figure grew more
blurred and indistinct, and I sank down upon my knees; but in the
dimness I reached out and found her hands, and clasped them, and
bowed my aching head upon them, and remained thus a great while,
as it seemed to me.
And presently, through the mist, her voice reached me.
"Oh, Peter! I will not leave you--lean on me there--there!"
And, little by little, those strong, gentle hands drew me up once
more to light and life. And so she got me to a chair, and brought
cool water, and washed the blood and sweat from me, as she had
once before, only now my hurts were deeper, for my head grew
beyond my strength to support, and hung upon my breast, and my
brain throbbed with fire, and the mist was ever before my eyes.
"Are you in much pain, Peter?"
"My head--only my head, Charmian--there is a bell ringing there,
no--it is a hammer, beating." And indeed I remembered little for
a while, save the touch of her hands and the soothing murmur of
her voice, until I found she was kneeling beside me, feeding me
with broth from a spoon. Wherefore I presently took the basin
from her and emptied it at a gulp, and, finding myself greatly
revived thereby, made some shift to eat of the supper she set
So she presently came and sat beside me and ate also, watching me
at each morsel.
"Your poor hands!" said she, and, looking down at them, I saw
that my knuckles were torn and broken, and the fingers much
swelled. "And yet," said Charmian, "except for the cut in your
head, you are quite unmarked, Peter."
"He fought mostly for the body," I answered, "and I managed to
keep my face out of the way; but he caught me twice--once upon
the chin, lightly, and once up behind the ear, heavily; had his
fist landed fairly I don't think even you could have brought me
back from those loathly depths, Charmian."
And in a while, supper being done, she brought my pipe, and
filled it, and held the light for me. But my head throbbed
woefully and for once the tobacco was flavorless; so I sighed,
and laid the pipe by.
"Why, Peter!" said Charmian, regarding me with an anxious frown,
"can't you smoke?"
"Not just now, Charmian," said I, and leaning my head in my
hands, fell into a sort of coma, till, feeling her touch upon my
shoulder, I started, and looked up.
"You must go to bed, Peter."
"No," said I.
"Very well, Charmian, yes--I will go to bed," and I rose.
"Do you feel better now, Peter?"
"Thank you, yes--much better."
"Then why do you hold on to the chair?"
"I am still a little giddy--but it will pass." And "Charmian
"Yes--yes, don't--don't look at me like that, Peter--and--oh,
good night!--foolish boy!"
"I am--twenty-five, Charmian!" But as she turned away I saw that
there were tears in her eyes.
Dressed as I was, I lay down upon my bed, and, burying my head in
the pillow, groaned, for my pain was very sore; indeed I was to
feel the effects of George's fist for many a day to come, and it
seems to me now that much of the morbid imaginings, the nightly
horrors, and black despair, that I endured in the time which
immediately followed, was chiefly owing to that terrible blow
upon the head.
OF THE OPENING OF THE DOOR, AND HOW CHARMIAN BLEW OUT THE LIGHT
He bestrode a powerful black charger, and his armor glittered
through the green. And, as he rode beneath the leafy arches of
the wood, he lifted up his voice, and sang, and the song was
mournful, and of a plaintive seeming, and rang loud behind his
visor-bars; therefore, as I sat beside the freshet, I hearkened
to his song:
"For her love I carke, and care,
For her love I droop, and dare,
For her love my bliss is bare.
And I wax wan!"
Forth he rode from the shadowy woodland, pacing very solemn and
slow; and thrice he struck his iron hand upon his iron breast.
"For her love, in sleep I slake,
For her love, all night I wake,
For her love, I mourning make
More than any man!"
Now, being come to where I sat beside the brook, he checked his
horse, and gazed full long upon me, and his eyes shone from the
gloom of his helmet.
"Messire," quoth be; "how like you my song?"
"But little, sir--to be plain with you, not a whit," I answered.
"And, beseech you--wherefore?"
"Because it is folly--away with it, for, if your head be full of
such, how shall you achieve any lasting good--Glory, Learning,
Power?" But, sighing, he shook his head; quoth he:
"O Blind One!--Glory is but a name, Learning but a yearning
emptiness, and whither leadeth Ambition? Man is a mote dancing
in a sun-ray--the world, a speck hanging in space. All things
vanish and pass utterly away save only True-love, and that
abideth everlastingly; 'tis sweeter than Life, and stronger than
Death, and reacheth up beyond the stars; and thus it is I pray
you tell me--where is she?"
"She whom ye love?"
"I love no woman," said I.
"Liar!" cried he, in a terrible voice, and the voice was the
voice of Black George.
"And who are you that says so?" I demanded, and stood upon my
"Look--behold and know thyself, O Blind and more than blind!"
And, leaning down, he raised his visor so that the moonlight fell
upon his face, and the face I looked upon was my own; and, while
I gazed, he lifted up his voice, and cried:
"Ye Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye--who is he that rideth in
the green, dreaming ever of her beauty, and sighing forth his
love everlastingly, Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye?"
And out of the gloom of the wood, from every rustling leaf and
opening bud, came a little voice that rose and blended in a soft,
hushed chorus, crying:
"Peter Vibart--Peter Vibart!"
"Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye--who is he that walketh to and
fro in the world, and having eyes, seeth not, and ears, heareth
not--a very Fool of Love?"
Once again the voices cried in answer:
"Peter Vibart!--Peter Vibart!"
"Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye--who is he that shall love with
a love mightier than most--who shall suffer greatly for love and
because of it--who shall think of it by day, and dream of it o'
nights--who is he that must die to find love and the fulness of
life?--O Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye!"
And again from out the green came the soft, hushed chorus:
"Peter Vibart--Peter Vibart!"
But, even as I laughed, came one from the wood, with a horse and
armor. And the armor he girded on me, and the horse I mounted.
And there, in the moonlit glade, we fought, and strove together,
my Other Self and I. And, sudden and strong he smote me, so that
I fell down from my horse, and lay there dead, with my blood
soaking and soaking into the grass. And, as I watched, there
came a blackbird that perched upon my breast, carolling
gloriously. Yet, little by little, this bird changed, and lo! in
its place was a new Peter Vibart standing upon the old; and the
New trampled the Old down into the grass, and--it was gone.
Then, with his eyes on the stars, the new Peter Vibart fell
a-singing, and the words I sang were these:
"For her love I carke, and care,
For her love I droop, and dare,
For her love my bliss is bare.
And I wax wan!"
And thus there came into my heart that which had been all
unknown--undreamed of hitherto, yet which, once there, could
never pass away.
"O Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye--who is he that counteth
True-love sweeter than Life--greater than Wisdom--stronger than
Death? O Spirits of the Wood, I charge ye!"
And the hushed voices chorused softly.
"Peter Vibart--Peter Vibart!" And, while I listened, one by one
the voices ceased, till there but one remained--calling, calling,
but ever soft and far away, and when I would have gone toward
this voice--lo! there stood a knife quivering in the ground before
me, that grew and grew until its haft touched heaven, yet still
the voice called upon my name very softly:
"Peter!--Peter!--oh, Peter, I want you!--oh, Peter!--wake! wake!"
I sat up in bed, and, as I listened, grew suddenly sick, and a
fit of trembling shook me violently, for the whisper was still
in my ears, and in the whisper was an agony of fear and dread
"Peter!--oh, Peter, I am afraid!--wake! wake!"
A cold sweat broke out upon me and I glared helplessly, towards
"Quick, Peter!--come to me--oh, God!"
I strove to move, but still I could not. And now, in the
darkness, hands were shaking me wildly, and Charmian's voice was
speaking in my ear.
"The door!" it whispered, "the door!"
Then I arose, and was in the outer room, with Charmian close
beside me in the dark, and my eyes were upon the door. And then
I beheld a strange thing, for a thin line of white light
traversed the floor from end to end. Now, as I watched this
narrow line, I saw that it was gradually widening and widening;
very slowly, and with infinite caution, the door was being opened
from without. In this remote place, in this still, dead hour of
the night, full of the ghostly hush that ever precedes the dawn
--there was something devilish--something very like murder in its
stealthy motion. I heard Charmian's breath catch, and, in the
dark, her hand came and crept into mine and her fingers were cold
And now a great anger came upon me, and I took a quick step
forward, but Charmian restrained me.
"No, Peter!" she breathed; "not yet--wait!" and wound her arms
In a corner near by stood that same trusty staff that had been
the companion of my wanderings, and now I reached, and took it
up, balancing it in my hand. And all the time I watched that
line of light upon the floor widening and widening, growing ever
broader and more broad. The minutes dragged slowly by, while the
line grew into a streak, and the streak into a lane, and upon the
lane came a blot that slowly resolved itself into the shadow of a
hand upon the latch. Slowly, slowly, to the hand came a wrist,
and to the wrist an arm--another minute, and this maddening
suspense would be over. Despite Charmian's restraining clasp, I
crept a long pace nearer the softly moving door.
The sharp angle of the elbow was growing obtuse as the shadowy
arm straightened itself. Thirty seconds more! I began to count,
and, gripping my staff, braced myself for what might be, when
--with a sudden cry, Charmian sprang forward, and, hurling herself
against the door, shut it with a crash.
"Quick, Peter!" she panted. I was beside her almost as she
spoke, and had my hand upon the latch.
"I must see who this was," said I.
"You are mad!" she cried.
"Let me open the door, Charmian."
"No, no--I say no!"
"Whoever it was must not escape--open the door!"
"Never! never--I tell you--death is outside--there's murder in
the very air; I feel it--and--dear God--the door has no bolt."
"They are gone now--whoever they were," said I reassuringly; "the
danger is over--if danger it could be called."
"Danger!" cried Charmian. "I tell you--it was death."
"Yet, after all, it may have been only some homeless wanderer."
"Then why that deadly, silent caution?"
"True!" said I, becoming thoughtful.
"Bring the table, Peter, and set it across the door."
"Surely the table is too light to--"
"But it will give sufficient warning--not that I shall sleep
again to-night. Oh, Peter! had I not been dreaming, and happened
to wake--had I not chanced to look towards the door, it would
have opened--wide, and then--oh, horrible!"
"You were dreaming?"
"A hateful, hateful dream, and awoke in terror, and, being
afraid, glanced towards the door, and saw it opening--and now
--bring the table, Peter."
Now, groping about, my hand encountered one of the candles, and
taking out my tinder-box, all unthinking, I lighted it.
Charmian was leaning against the door, clad in a flowing white
garment--a garment that was wonderfully stitched--all dainty
frills and laces, with here and there a bow of blue riband,
disposed, it would seem, by the hand of chance, and yet most
wonderfully. And up from this foam of laces her shoulders rose,
white, and soft, and dimpled, sweeping up in noble lines to the
smooth round column of her throat. But as I stared at all this
loveliness she gave a sudden gasp, and stooped her head, and
crossed her hands upon her bosom, while up over the snow of
shoulder, over neck and cheek and brow ebbed that warm, crimson
tide; and I could only gaze and gaze--till, with a movement swift
and light, she crossed to that betraying candle and, stooping,
blew out the light.
Then I set the table across the door, having done which I stood
looking towards where she yet stood.
"Charmian," said I.
"I will make a bar to hold the door."
"Two bars would be better, perhaps?"
"You would feel safe, then--safer than ever?"
"Safer than ever, Peter."
IN WHICH THE ANCIENT DISCOURSES ON LOVE
I am forging a bar for my cottage door: such a bar as might give
check to an army, or resist a battering-ram; a bar that shall
defy all the night-prowlers that ever prowled; a stout, solid
bar, broad as my wrist, and thick as my two fingers; that,
looking upon it as it lies in its sockets across the door,
Charmian henceforth may sleep and have no fear.
The Ancient sat perched on his stool in the corner, but for once
we spoke little, for I was very busy; also my mind was plunged in
a profound reverie.
And of whom should I be thinking but of Charmian, and of the
dimple in her shoulder?
"'Tis bewitched you be, Peter!" said the old man suddenly,
prodding me softly with his stick, "bewitched as ever was," and
"Bewitched!" said I, starting.
"Ah!--theer you stand wi' your 'ammer in your 'and--a-starin' an'
a-starin' at nobody, nor nothin'--leastways not as 'uman eye can
see, an' a-sighin', an' a-sighin'--"
"Did I indeed sigh, Ancient?"
"Ah--that ye did--like a cow, Peter, or a 'orse 'eavy an' tired
like. An' slow you be, an' dreamy--you as was so bright an'
spry; theer's some--fools, like Joel Amos, as might think as
'twere the work o' ghostes, or demons, a-castin' their spells on
ye, or that some vampire 'ad bit ye in the night, an' sucked your
blood as ye lay asleep, but I know different--you 'm just
bewitched, Peter!" and he chuckled again.
"Who knows?--perhaps I am, but it will pass, whatever it is, it
"Don't ye be too sure o' that--theer's bewitchments an'
Hereupon the smithy became full of the merry din of my hammer,
and while I worked the Ancient smoked his pipe and watched me,
informing me, between whiles, that the Jersey cow was "in calf,"
that the hops seemed more than usually forward, and that he had
waked that morning with a "touch o' the rheumatics," but,
otherwise, he was unusually silent; moreover, each time that I
happened to glance up, it was to find him regarding me with a
certain fixity of eye, which at another time would have struck me
"Ye be palish this marnin', Peter!" said he, dabbing at me
suddenly with his pipe-stem; "shouldn't wonder if you was to tell
me as your appetite was bad; come now--ye didn't eat much of a
breakfus' this marnin', did ye?"
"I don't think I did, Ancient."
"A course not!" said the--old man, with a nod of profound
approval--" it aren't to be expected. Let's see, it be all o'
four months since I found ye, bean't it?"
"Four months and a few odd days," I nodded, and fell to work upon
my glowing iron bar:
"Ye'll make a tidy smith one o' these days, Peter," said the old
man encouragingly, as I straightened my back and plunged the iron
back into the fire.
"Thank you, Ancient."
"Ay--you've larned to use a 'ammer purty well, considerin',
though you be wastin' your opportoonities shameful, Peter,
"Am I, Ancient?"
"Ay, that ye be--moon can't last much longer--she be on the wane
"Moon?" said I, staring.
"Ah, moon!" nodded the old man; "theer's nowt like a moon, Peter,
an' if she be at the full so much the better."
"But what have the moon and I to do with each other, Ancient?"
"Old I be, Peter, a old, old man, but I were young once, an' I
tell 'ee the moon 'as a lot more to do wi' it than some folks
think--why, Lord love 'ee! theer wouldn't be near so many
children a-playin' in the sun if it wasn't for the moon!"
"Ancient," said I, "what might you be driving at?"
"Love!" said I, letting go the handle of the bellows.
"An' marriage, Peter."
"What in the world--put--such thoughts into your head?"
"You did, Peter."
"Ah!--some men is born lovers, Peter, an' you be one. I never
see such eyes as yourn afore, so burnin' 'ot they be. Ah, Peter!
some maid will see the lovelight aflame in 'em some day, an'
droop 'er 'ead an' blush an' tremble--for she'll know, Peter,
she'll know; maids was made to be loved, Peter--"
"But, Ancient, I am not the kind of man women would be attracted
by. I love books and solitude, and am called a--pedant! and,
besides, I am not of a loving sort--"
"Some men, Peter, falls in love as easy as they falls out; it
comes to some soft an' quiet--like the dawn of a summer's day,
Peter; but to others it comes like a gert an' tur'ble storm--oh,
that it do! Theer's a fire ready to burn up inside o' ye at the
touch o' some woman's 'and, or the peep o' 'er eye--ah! a fire
as'll burn, an' burn, an' never go out again--not even if you
should live to be as old as I be--an' you'll be strong an' wild
an' fierce wi' it--an' some day you'll find 'er, Peter, an'
she'll find you--"
"And," said I, staring away into the distance, "do you think
that, by any possible chance, she might love me, this woman?"
"Ay, for sure," said the Ancient, "for sure she will; why don't
'ee up an ax 'er? Wi' a fine round moon over-'ead, an' a pretty
maid at your elber, it's easy enough to tell 'er you love 'er,
"Indeed, yes," said I, beginning to rub my chin, "very easy!" and
"An' when you looks into a pair o' sweet eyes, an' sees the shine
o' the moon in 'em--why, it aren't so very fur to 'er lips, are
"No," said I, rubbing my chin harder than ever; "no--and there's
the danger of it."
"Wheer's t' danger, Peter?"
"Everywhere!" I answered; "in her eyes, in her thick, soft hair,
the warmth of her breath, the touch of her hand, the least
contact of her garments--her very step!"
"I knowed it!" cried the Ancient joyfully, peering at me under
his brows; "I knowed it!"
"You be in love--good lad! good lad!" and he flourished his pipe
in the air.
"In love!" I exclaimed; "in love--I?"
"Sure as sure!"
"But love, according to Aristotle, is--"
"Love, Peter, is what makes a man forget 'is breakfus', an' 'is
work, an' 'is--"
"But I work very hard--besides--"
"Love is what makes a man so brave as a lion, Peter, an' fall
a-tremblin' like a coward when She stands a-lookin' up at 'im;
love makes the green earth greener, an' the long road short--ah!
almost too short, sometimes, the love of a woman comes betwixt a
man an' all evils an' dangers--why don't 'ee up an' ax 'er, Peter?"
"She'd laugh at me, Ancient."
"That soft, low laugh of hers."
"Well, what o' that?"
"Besides, she hardly knows me!"
The Ancient took out his snuff-box and gave two loud double
knocks upon the lid.
"A woman knows a man sooner than a man knows a woman--ah, a sight
sooner! Why, Lord bless ye, Peter, she 'as 'im all reckoned up
long afore 'e knows for sure if 'er eyes be--black 'uns or brown
'uns--that she 'as." Here he extracted a pinch of snuff. "As
for Prudence--she loves 'ee wi' all 'er 'eart an' soul!"
"Prudence?" said I, staring.
"Ah! Prudence--I be 'er grandfeyther, an' I know."
"Prudence!" said I again.
"She 'm a 'andsome lass, an' so pretty as a picter--you said so
yourself, an' what's more, she 'm a sensible lass, an' 'll make
ye as fine a wife as ever was if only--"
"If only she loved me, Ancient."
"To be sure, Peter."
"But, you see, she doesn't."
"Eh--what? What, Peter?"
"Prudence doesn't love me!"
"Not by any means."
"But I--I be all took aback--mazed I be--not love ye, an' me wi'
my 'eart set on it--are ye sure?"
"'Ow d'ye know?"
"She told me so."
"But--why--why shouldn't she love ye?"
"Why should she?"
"But I--I'd set my 'eart on it, Peter."
"It is very unfortunate!" said I, and began blowing up the fire.
"Do 'ee love she?"
"No, Ancient." The old man rose, and, hobbling forward, tapped
me upon the breast with the handle of his stick. "Then who was
you a-talkin' of, a while back--'bout 'er eyes, an' 'er 'air, an'
'er dress, an' bein' afraid o' them?"
"To be exact, I don't know, Ancient."
"Oh, Peter!" exclaimed the old man, shaking his head, "I wonders
at ye; arter me a-thinkin' an' a-thinkin', an' a-plannin' an'
a-plannin' all these months--arter me a-sendin' Black Jarge about
"Ancient, what do you mean?"
"Why, didn't I out an' tell un as you was sweet on Prue--"
"Did you tell him that?" I cried.
"Ay, to be sure I did; an' what's more, I says to un often an'
often, when you wasn't by: 'Jarge,' I'd say, 'Prue's a lovely
maid, an' Peter's a fine young chap, an' they 'm beginnin' to
find each other out, they be all'us a-talkin' to each other an'
a-lookin' at each other, mornin', noon an' night!' I says; 'like
as not we'll 'ave 'em marryin' each other afore very long!' an'
Jarge 'ud just wrinkle up 'is brows, an' walk away, an' never say
a word. But now--it be tur'ble 'ard to be disapp'inted like this,
Peter arter I'd set my 'eart on it--an' me such a old man such a
very ancient man. Oh, Peter! you be full o' disapp'intments, an'
all manner o' contrariness; sometimes I a'most wishes as I'd never
took the trouble to find ye at all!"
And, with this Parthian shot, the old man sighed, and turned his
back upon me, and tottered out of the forge.
HOW GABBING DICK, THE PEDLER, SET A HAMMER GOING IN MY HEAD
Having finished my bars, with four strong brackets to hold them,
I put away my tools, and donned hat and coat.
It was yet early, and there was, besides, much work waiting to be
done, but I felt unwontedly tired and out of sorts, wherefore,
with my bars and brackets beneath my arm, I set out for the
From the hedges, on either side of me, came the sweet perfume of
the honeysuckle, and beyond the hedges the fields stood high with
ripening corn--a yellow, heavy-headed host, nodding and swaying
lazily. I stood awhile to listen to its whisper as the gentle
wind swept over it, and to look down the long green alleys of the
hop-gardens beyond; and at the end of one of these straight
arched vistas there shone a solitary, great star.
And presently, lifting my eyes to the sky, already deepening to
evening, and remembering how I had looked round me ere I faced
Black George, I breathed a sigh of thankfulness that I was yet
alive with strength to walk within a world so beautiful.
Now, as I stood thus, I heard a voice hailing me, and, glancing
about, espied one, some distance up the road, who sat beneath the
hedge, whom, upon approaching, I recognized as Gabbing Dick, the
He nodded and grinned as I came up, but in both there was a vague
unpleasantness, as also in the manner in which he eyed me slowly
up and down.
"You've stood a-lookin' up into the sky for a good ten minutes!"
"And what if I have?"
"Nothin," said the Pedler, "nothin' at all--though if the moon
'ad been up, a cove might ha' thought as you was dreamin' of some
Eve or other; love-sick folk always stares at the moon--leastways,
so they tell me. Any one as stares at the moon when 'e might be
doin' summ'at better is a fool, as great a fool as any man as
stares at a Eve, for a Eve never brought any man nothin' but
trouble and sorrer, and never will, no'ow? Don't frown, young
cove, nor shake your 'ead, for it's true; wot's caused more
sorrer an' blood than them Eves? Blood?--ah! rivers of it!
Oceans of good blood's been spilt all along o' women, from the
Eve as tricked old Adam to the Eve as tricks the like o' me, or
say--yourself." Here he regarded me with so evil a leer that I
turned my back in disgust.
"Don't go, young cove; I ain't done yet, and I got summ'at to
"Then tell it!" said I, stopping again, struck by the fellow's
manner, "and tell it quickly."
"I'm a-comin' to it as fast as I can, ain't I? Very well then!
You're a fine, up-standin' young cove, and may 'ave white 'ands
(which I don't see myself, but no matter) and may likewise be
chock-full o' taking ways (which, though not noticin', I won't go
for to deny)--but a Eve's a Eve, and always will be--you'll mind
as I warned you again' 'em last time I see ye?--very well then!"
"Well?" said I impatiently.
"Well," nodded the Pedler, and his eyes twinkled malevolently.
"I says it again--I warns you again. You're a nice, civil-spoke
young cove, and quiet (though I don't like the cock o' your eye),
and, mind, I don't bear you no ill-will--though you did turn me
from your door on a cold, dark night--"
"It was neither a cold nor a dark night!" said I.
"Well, it might ha' been, mightn't it?--very well then! Still, I
don't," said the Pedler, spitting dejectedly into the ditch, "I
don't bear you no 'ard feelin's for it, no'ow--me always makin'
it a pint to forgive them as woefully oppresses me, likewise them
as despitefully uses me--it might ha' been cold, and dark, wi'
ice and snow, and I might ha' froze to death--but we won't say no
more about it."
"You've said pretty well, I think," said I; "supposing you tell
me what you have to tell me--otherwise--good night!"
"Very well then!" said the Pedler, "let's talk o' summ'at else;
still livin' in the 'Oller, I suppose?"
"Ah, well! I come through there today," said he, grinning, and
again his eyes grew malevolent.
"Ah!--indeed! I come through this 'ere very arternoon, and
uncommon pretty everythin' was lookin', wi' the grass so green,
and the trees so--so--"
"Shady's the word!" nodded the Pedler, glancing up at me through
his narrowed eyelids, and chuckling. "A paradise you might call
it--ah! a paradise or a--garden of Eden, wi' Eve and the serpent
and all!" and he broke out into a cackling laugh. And, in the
look and the laugh, indeed about his whole figure, there was
something so repellent, so evil, that I was minded to kick and
trample him down into the ditch, yet the leering triumph in his
eyes held me.
"Yes?" said I.
"Ye see, bein' by, I 'appened to pass the cottage--and very
pretty that looked too, and nice and neat inside!"
"Yes?" said I.
"And, bein' so near, I 'appened to glance in at the winder, and
there, sure enough, I see--'er--as you might say, Eve in the
gardin. And a fine figure of a Eve she be, and 'andsome wi' it
--'t ain't often as you see a maid the likes o' 'er, so proud
and 'aughty like."
"Well, just as I 'appened to look in at the winder, she 'appened
to be standin' wi' an open book in 'er 'and--a old, leather book
wi' a broken cover."
"Yes?" said I.
"And she was a-laughin'--and a pretty, soft, Eve's laugh it were,
"Yes?" said I.
"And--_'e_ were a-lookin' at the book-over 'er shoulder!" The
irons slipped from my grasp, and fell with a harsh clang.
"Ketches ye, does it?" said the Pedler. I did not speak, but,
meeting my eye, he scrambled hastily to his feet, and, catching
up his pack, retreated some little way down the road.
"Ketches ye, does it, my cove?" he repeated; "turn me away from
your door on a cold, dark night, would ye (not as I bears you any
ill-will for it, bein' of a forgivin' natur')? But I says to
you, I says--look out!--a fine 'andsome lass she be, wi' 'er soft
eyes and red lips, and long, white arms--the eyes and lips and
arms of a Eve; and Eve tricked Adam, didn't she?--and you ain't a
better man nor Adam, are ye?--very well then!" saying which, he
spat once more into the ditch, and, shouldering his pack, strode
And, after some while, I took up my iron bars, and trudged on
towards the cottage. As I went, I repeated to myself, over and
over again, the word "Liar." Yet my step was very slow and heavy,
and my feet dragged in the dust; and, somewhere in my head, a
small hammer had begun to beat, soft and slow and regular, but
beating, beating upon my brain.
Now the upper cover of my Virgil book was broken!
THE VIRGIL BOOK
A man was leaning in the shadow of a tree, looking down into the
I could not see him very distinctly because, though evening had
scarcely fallen, the shadows, where he stood, were very dense,
but he was gazing down into the Hollow in the attitude of one who
waits. For what?--for whom?
A sudden fit of shivering shook me from head to foot, and, while
I yet shivered, I grew burning hot; the blood throbbed at my
temples, the small hammer was drumming much faster now, and the
cool night air seemed to be stifling me.
Very cautiously I began creeping nearer the passive figure, while
the hammer beat so loud that it seemed he must hear it where he
stood: a shortish, broad-shouldered figure, clad in a blue coat.
He held his hat in his hand, and he leaned carelessly against the
tree, and his easy assurance of air maddened me the more.
As he stood thus, looking always down into the Hollow, his neck
gleamed at me above the collar of his coat, wherefore I stooped
and, laying my irons in the grass, crept on, once more, and, as I
went, I kept my eyes upon his neck.
A stick snapped sharp and loud beneath my tread, the lounging
back stiffened and grew rigid, the face showed for an instant
over the shoulder, and, with a spring, he had vanished into the
It was a vain hope to find a man in such a dense tangle of boughs
and underbrush, yet I ran forward, nevertheless; but, though I
sought eagerly upon all sides, he had made good his escape. So,
after a while, I retraced my steps to where I had left my irons
and brackets, and taking them up, turned aside to that precipitous
path which, as I have already said, leads down into the Hollow.
Now, as I went, listening to the throb of the hammer in my head,
whom should I meet but Charmian, coming gayly through the green,
and singing as she came. At sight of me she stopped, and the
song died upon her lip.
"Why--why, Peter--you look pale--dreadfully pale--"
"Thank you, I am very well!" said I.
"You have not been--fighting again?"
"Why should I have been fighting, Charmian?"
"Your eyes are wild--and fierce, Peter."
"Were you coming to--to--meet me, Charmian?"
"Yes, Peter." Now, watching beneath my brows, it almost seemed
that her color had changed, and that her eyes, of set purpose,
avoided mine. Could it be that she was equivocating?
"But I--am much before my usual time, to-night, Charmian."
"Then there will be no waiting for supper, and I am ravenous,
And as she led the way along the path she began to sing again.
Being come to the cottage, I set down my bars and brackets, with
"These," said I, in answer to her look, "are the bars I promised
to make for the door."
"Do you always keep your promises, Peter?"
"I hope so."
"Then," said she, coming to look at the great bars, with a fork
in her hand, for she was in the middle of dishing up, "then, if
you promise me always to come home by the road, and never through
the coppice--you will do so, won't you?"
"Why should I?" I inquired, turning sharply to look at her.
"Because the coppice is so dark and lonely, and if--I say, if I
should take it into my head to come and meet you sometimes, there
would be no chance of my missing you." And so she looked at me
and smiled, and, going back to her cooking, fell once more
a-singing, the while I sat and watched her beneath my brows.
Surely, surely no woman whose heart was full of deceit could sing
so blithely and happily, or look at one with such sweet candor in
And yet the supper was a very ghost of a meal, for when I
remembered the man who had watched and waited, the very food grew
nauseous and seemed to choke me. "She's a Eve--a Eve!" rang a
voice in my ear; "Eve tricked Adam, didn't she, and you ain't a
better man nor Adam; she's a Eve--a Eve!"
"Peter, you eat nothing."
"Yes, indeed!" said I, staring unseeingly down at my plate, and
striving to close my ears against the fiendish voice.
"And you are very pale!"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Peter--look at me."
I looked up obediently.
"Yes, you are frightfully pale--are you ill again--is it your
head; Peter--what is it?" and, with a sudden, half-shy gesture,
she stretched her hand to me across the table. And as I looked
from the mute pity of her eyes to the mute pity of that would-be
comforting hand, I had a great impulse to clasp it close in mine,
to speak, and tell her all my base and unworthy suspicions, and,
once more, to entreat her pardon and forgiveness. The words were
upon my lips, but I checked them, madman that I was, and shook my
"It is nothing," I answered, "unless it be that I have not yet
recovered from Black George's fist; it is nothing!" And so the
meal drew to an end, and though, feeling my thoughts base, I sat
with my head on my hand and my eyes upon the cloth, yet I knew
she watched me, and more than once I heard her sigh. A man who
acts on impulse may sometimes be laughed at for his mistakes, but
he will frequently attain to higher things, and be much better
loved by his fellows than the colder, more calculating logician
who rarely makes a blunder; and Simon Peter was a man of impulse.
Supper being over and done, Charmian must needs take my coat,
despite my protests, and fall to work upon its threadbare
shabbiness, mending a great rent in the sleeve. And, watching
her through the smoke of my pipe, noting the high mould of her
features, the proud poise of her head, the slender elegance of
her hands, I was struck sharply by her contrast to the rough,
bare walls that were my home, and the toil-worn, unlovely garment
beneath her fingers. As I looked, she seemed to be suddenly
removed from me--far above and beyond my reach.
"That is the fourth time, Peter."
"That is the fourth time you have sighed since you lighted your
pipe, and it is out, and you never noticed it!"
"Yes" said I, and laid the pipe upon the table and sighed again,
before I could stop myself. Charmian raised her head, and looked
at me with a laugh in her eyes.
"Oh, most philosophical, dreamy blacksmith! where be your
"I was thinking how old and worn and disreputable my coat looked."
"Indeed, sir," said Charmian, holding it up and regarding it with
a little frown, "forsooth it is ancient, and hath seen better
"Like its wearer!" said I, and sighed again.
"Hark to this ancient man!" she laughed, "this hoary-headed
blacksmith of ours, who sighs, and forever sighs; if it could
possibly be that he had met any one sufficiently worthy--I should
think that he had fallen--philosophically--in love; how think
you, Sir Knight of the Rueful Countenance?"
"I remember," said I, "that, among other things, you once called
me 'Superior Mr. Smith.'" Charmian laughed and nodded her head
"You had been describing to me some quite impossible, idealistic
creature, alone worthy of your regard, sir."
"Do you still think me 'superior,' Charmian?"
"Do you still dream of your impalpable, bloodlessly-perfect
"No," I answered; "no, I think I have done with dreaming."
"And I have done with this, thy coat, for behold! it is
finished," and rising, she folded it over the back of my chair.
Now, as she stood thus behind me, her hand fell and, for a
moment, rested lightly upon my shoulder.
"I wish, yes, I do wish that you were either much younger or
very much older."
"Because you wouldn't be quite so--so cryptic--such a very
abstruse problem. Sometimes I think I understand you better than
you do yourself, and sometimes I am utterly lost; now, if you
were younger I could read you easily for myself, and, if you were
older, you would read yourself for me."
"I was never very young!" said I.
"No, you were always too repressed, Peter."
"Yes, perhaps I was."
"Repression is good up to a certain point, but beyond that it is
dangerous," said she, with a portentous shake of the head.
"Heigho! was it a week or a year ago that you avowed yourself
happy, and couldn't tell why?"
"I was the greater fool!" said I.
"For not knowing why, Peter?"
"For thinking myself happy!"
"Peter, what is happiness?"
"An idea," said I, "possessed generally of fools!"
"And what is misery?"
"Misery is also an idea."
"Possessed only by the wise, Peter; surely he is wiser who
"Neither happiness nor misery comes from choice."
"But--if one seeks happiness, Peter?"
"One will assuredly find misery!" said I, and, sighing, rose, and
taking my hammer from its place above my bookshelf, set to work
upon my brackets, driving them deep into the heavy framework of
the door. All at once I stopped, with my hammer poised, and,
for no reason in the world, looked back at Charmian, over my
shoulder; looked to find her watching me with eyes that were (if
it could well be) puzzled, wistful, shy, and glad at one and the
same time; eyes that veiled themselves swiftly before my look,
yet that shot one last glance, between their lashes, in which
were only joy and laughter.
"Yes?" said I, answering the look. But she only stooped her head
and went on sewing; yet the color was bright in her cheeks.
And, having driven in the four brackets, or staples, and closed
the door, I took up the bars and showed her how they were to lie
crosswise across the door, resting in the brackets.
"We shall be safe now, Peter," said she; "those bars would
"I think they would," I nodded; "but there is yet something more."
Going to my shelf of books I took thence the silver-mounted pistol
she had brought with her, and balanced it in my hand. "To-morrow
I will take this to Cranbrook, and buy bullets to fit it."
"Why, there are bullets there--in one of the old shoes, Peter."
"They are too large; this is an unusually small calibre, and yet
it would be deadly enough at close range. I will load it for
you, Charmian, and give it into your keeping, in case you should
ever--grow afraid again, when I am not by; this is a lonely
place--for a woman--at all times."
"Yes, Peter." She was busily employed upon a piece of
embroidery, and began to sing softly to herself again as she
worked,--that old song which worthy Mr. Pepys mentions having
heard from the lips of mischievous-eyed Nell Gwynn:
"In Scarlet town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin',
Made every youth cry Well-a-way!
Her name was Barbara Allen."
"Are you so happy, Charmian?"
"Oh, sir, indifferent well, I thank you.
"'All in the merry month of May
When green buds they were swellin',
Young Jemmy Grove on his death-bed lay,
For love of Barbara Allen.'
"Are you so--miserable, Peter?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because you sigh, and sigh, like--poor Jemmy Grove in the song."
"He was a fool!" said I.