Part 4 out of 6
obsequious attendants, also clad in silk. Kwan Yung-jin, as I came
to know his name, was a YANG-BAN, or noble; also he was what might
be called magistrate or governor of the district or province. This
means that his office was appointive, and that he was a tithe-
squeezer or tax-farmer.
Fully a hundred soldiers were also landed and marched into the
village. They were armed with three-pronged spears, slicing spears,
and chopping spears, with here and there a matchlock of so heroic
mould that there were two soldiers to a matchlock, one to carry and
set the tripod on which rested the muzzle, the other to carry and
fire the gun. As I was to learn, sometimes the gun went off,
sometimes it did not, all depending upon the adjustment of the fire-
punk and the condition of the powder in the flash-pan.
So it was that Kwan-Yung-jin travelled. The headmen of the village
were cringingly afraid of him, and for good reason, as we were not
overlong in finding out. I stepped forward as interpreter, for
already I had the hang of several score of Korean words. He scowled
and waved me aside. But what did I reek? I was as tall as he,
outweighed him by a full two stone, and my skin was white, my hair
golden. He turned his back and addressed the head man of the
village while his six silken satellites made a cordon between us.
While he talked more soldiers from the ship carried up several
shoulder-loads of inch-planking. These planks were about six feet
long and two feet wide, and curiously split in half lengthwise.
Nearer one end than the other was a round hole larger than a man's
Kwan Yung-jin gave a command. Several of the soldiers approached
Tromp, who was sitting on the ground nursing a felon. Now Tromp was
a rather stupid, slow-thinking, slow-moving cuny, and before he knew
what was doing one of the planks, with a scissors-like opening and
closing, was about his neck and clamped. Discovering his
predicament, he set up a bull-roaring and dancing, till all had to
back away to give him clear space for the flying ends of his plank.
Then the trouble began, for it was plainly Kwan Yung-jin's intention
to plank all of us. Oh, we fought, bare-fisted, with a hundred
soldiers and as many villagers, while Kwan Yung-jin stood apart in
his silks and lordly disdain. Here was where I earned my name Yi
Yong-ik, the Mighty. Long after our company was subdued and planked
I fought on. My fists were of the hardness of topping-mauls, and I
had the muscles and will to drive them.
To my joy, I quickly learned that the Koreans did not understand a
fist-blow and were without the slightest notion of guarding. They
went down like tenpins, fell over each other in heaps. But Kwan
Yung-jin was my man, and all that saved him when I made my rush was
the intervention of his satellites. They were flabby creatures. I
made a mess of them and a muss and muck of their silks ere the
multitude could return upon me. There were so many of them. They
clogged my blows by the sneer numbers of them, those behind shoving
the front ones upon me. And how I dropped them! Toward the end
they were squirming three-deep under my feet. But by the time the
crews of the three junks and most of the village were on top of me I
was fairly smothered. The planking was easy.
"God in heaven, what now!" asked Vandervoot, another cuny, when we
had been bundled aboard a junk.
We sat on the open deck, like so many trussed fowls, when he asked
the question, and the next moment, as the junk heeled to the breeze,
we shot down the deck, planks and all, fetching up in the lee-
scuppers with skinned necks. And from the high poop Kwan Yung-jin
gazed down at us as if he did not see us. For many years to come
Vandervoot was known amongst us as "What-Now Vandervoot." Poor
devil! He froze to death one night on the streets of Keijo; with
every door barred against him.
To the mainland we were taken and thrown into a stinking, vermin-
infested prison. Such was our introduction to the officialdom of
Cho-Sen. But I was to be revenged for all of us on Kwan Yung-jin,
as you shall see, in the days when the Lady Om was kind and power
In prison we lay for many days. We learned afterward the reason.
Kwan Yung-jin had sent a dispatch to Keijo, the capital, to find
what royal disposition was to be made of us. In the meantime we
were a menagerie. From dawn till dark our barred windows were
besieged by the natives, for no member of our race had they ever
seen before. Nor was our audience mere rabble. Ladies, borne in
palanquins on the shoulders of coolies, came to see the strange
devils cast up by the sea, and while their attendants drove back the
common folk with whips, they would gaze long and timidly at us. Of
them we saw little, for their faces were covered, according to the
custom of the country. Only dancing girls, low women, and granddams
ever were seen abroad with exposed faces.
I have often thought that Kwan Yung-jin suffered from indigestion,
and that when the attacks were acute he took it out on us. At any
rate, without rhyme or reason, whenever the whim came to him, we
were all taken out on the street before the prison and well beaten
with sticks to the gleeful shouts of the multitude. The Asiatic is
a cruel beast, and delights in spectacles of human suffering.
At any rate we were pleased when an end to our beatings came. This
was caused by the arrival of Kim. Kim? All I can say, and the best
I can say, is that he was the whitest man I ever encountered in Cho-
Sen. He was a captain of fifty men when I met him. He was in
command of the palace guards before I was done doing my best by him.
And in the end he died for the Lady Om's sake and for mine. Kim--
well, Kim was Kim.
Immediately he arrived the planks were taken from our necks and we
were lodged in the beet inn the place boasted. We were still
prisoners, but honourable prisoners, with a guard of fifty mounted
soldiers. The next day we were under way on the royal highroad,
fourteen sailormen astride the dwarf horses that obtain in Cho-Sen,
and bound for Keijo itself. The Emperor, so Kim told me, had
expressed a desire to gaze upon the strangeness of the sea devils.
It was a journey of many days, half the length of Cho-Sen, north and
south as it lies. It chanced, at the first off-saddling, that I
strolled around to witness the feeding of the dwarf horses. And
what I witnessed set me bawling, "What now, Vandervoot?" till all
our crew came running. As I am a living man what the horses were
feeding on was bean soup, hot bean soup at that, and naught else did
they have on all the journey but hot bean soup. It was the custom
of the country.
They were truly dwarf horses. On a wager with Kim I lifted one,
despite his squeals and struggles, squarely across my shoulders, so
that Kim's men, who had already heard my new name, called me Yi
Yong-ik, the Mighty One. Kim was a large man as Koreans go, and
Koreans are a tall muscular race, and Kim fancied himself a bit.
But, elbow to elbow and palm to palm, I put his arm down at will.
And his soldiers and the gaping villagers would look on and murmur
In a way we were a travelling menagerie. The word went on ahead, so
that all the country folk flocked to the roadside to see us pass.
It was an unending circus procession. In the towns at night our
inns were besieged by multitudes, so that we got no peace until the
soldiers drove them off with lance-pricks and blows. But first Kim
would call for the village strong men and wrestlers for the fun of
seeing me crumple them and put them in the dirt.
Bread there was none, but we ate white rice (the strength of which
resides in one's muscles not long), a meat which we found to be dog
(which animal is regularly butchered for food in Cho-Sen), and the
pickles ungodly hot but which one learns to like exceeding well.
And there was drink, real drink, not milky slush, but white, biting
stuff distilled from rice, a pint of which would kill a weakling and
make a strong man mad and merry. At the walled city of Chong-ho I
put Kim and the city notables under the table with the stuff--or on
the table, rather, for the table was the floor where we squatted to
cramp-knots in my hams for the thousandth time. And again all
muttered "Yi Yong-ik," and the word of my prowess passed on before
even to Keijo and the Emperor's Court.
I was more an honoured guest than a prisoner, and invariably I rode
by Kim's side, my long legs near reaching the ground, and, where the
going was deep, my feet scraping the muck. Kim was young. Kim was
human. Kim was universal. He was a man anywhere in any country.
He and I talked and laughed and joked the day long and half the
night. And I verify ate up the language. I had a gift that way
anyway. Even Kim marvelled at the way I mastered the idiom. And I
learned the Korean points of view, the Korean humour, the Korean
soft places, weak places, touchy places. Kim taught me flower
songs, love songs, drinking songs. One of the latter was his own,
of the end of which I shall give you a crude attempt at translation.
Kim and Pak, in their youth, swore a pact to abstain from drinking,
which pact was speedily broken. In old age Kim and Pak sing:
"No, no, begone! The merry bowl
Again shall bolster up my soul
Against itself. What, good man, hold!
Canst tell me where red wine is sold?
Nay, just beyond yon peach-tree? There?
Good luck be thine; I'll thither fare."
Hendrik Hamel, scheming and crafty, ever encouraged and urged me in
my antic course that brought Kim's favour, not alone to me, but
through me to Hendrik Hamel and all our company. I here mention
Hendrik Hamel as my adviser, for it has a bearing on much that
followed at Keijo in the winning of Yunsan's favour, the Lady Om's
heart, and the Emperor's tolerance. I had the will and the
fearlessness for the game I played, and some of the wit; but most of
the wit I freely admit was supplied me by Hendrik Hamel.
And so we journeyed up to Keijo, from walled city to walled city
across a snowy mountain land that was hollowed with innumerable fat
farming valleys. And every evening, at fall of day, beacon fires
sprang from peak to peak and ran along the land. Always Kim watched
for this nightly display. From all the coasts of Cho-Sen, Kim told
me, these chains of fire-speech ran to Keijo to carry their message
to the Emperor. One beacon meant the land was in peace. Two
beacons meant revolt or invasion. We never saw but one beacon. And
ever, as we rode, Vandervoot brought up the rear, wondering, "God in
heaven, what now?"
Keijo we found a vast city where all the population, with the
exception of the nobles or yang-bans, dressed in the eternal white.
This, Kim explained, was an automatic determination and
advertisement of caste. Thus, at a glance, could one tell, the
status of an individual by the degrees of cleanness or of filthiness
of his garments. It stood to reason that a coolie, possessing but
the clothes he stood up in, must be extremely dirty. And to reason
it stood that the individual in immaculate white must possess many
changes and command the labour of laundresses to keep his changes
immaculate. As for the yang-bans who wore the pale, vari-coloured
silks, they were beyond such common yardstick of place.
After resting in an inn for several days, during which time we
washed our garments and repaired the ravages of shipwreck and
travel, we were summoned before the Emperor. In the great open
space before the palace wall were colossal stone dogs that looked
more like tortoises. They crouched on massive stone pedestals of
twice the height of a tall man. The walls of the palace were huge
and of dressed stone. So thick were these walls that they could
defy a breach from the mightiest of cannon in a year-long siege.
The mere gateway was of the size of a palace in itself, rising
pagoda-like, in many retreating stories, each story fringed with
tile-roofing. A smart guard of soldiers turned out at the gateway.
These, Kim told me, were the Tiger Hunters of Pyeng-yang, the
fiercest and most terrible fighting men of which Cho-Sen could
But enough. On mere description of the Emperor's palace a thousand
pages of my narrative could be worthily expended. Let it suffice
that here we knew power in all its material expression. Only a
civilization deep and wide and old and strong could produce this
far-walled, many-gabled roof of kings.
To no audience-hall were we sea-cunies led, but, as we took it, to a
feasting-hall. The feasting was at its end, and all the throng was
in a merry mood. And such a throng! High dignitaries, princes of
the blood, sworded nobles, pale priests, weather-tanned officers of
high command, court ladies with faces exposed, painted KI-SANG or
dancing girls who rested from entertaining, and duennas, waiting
women, eunuchs, lackeys, and palace slaves a myriad of them.
All fell away from us, however, when the Emperor, with a following
of intimates, advanced to look us over. He was a merry monarch,
especially so for an Asiatic. Not more than forty, with a clear,
pallid skin that had never known the sun, he was paunched and weak-
legged. Yet he had once been a fine man. The noble forehead
attested that. But the eyes were bleared and weak-lidded, the lips
twitching and trembling from the various excesses in which he
indulged, which excesses, as I was to learn, were largely devised
and pandered by Yunsan, the Buddhist priest, of whom more anon.
In our sea-garments we mariners were a motley crew, and motley was
the cue of our reception. Exclamations of wonder at our strangeness
gave way to laughter. The ki-sang invaded us, dragging us about,
making prisoners of us, two or three of them to one of us, leading
us about like go many dancing boars and putting us through our
antics. It was offensive, true, but what could poor sea-cunies do?
What could old Johannes Maartens do, with a bevy of laughing girls
about him, tweaking his nose, pinching his arms, tickling his ribs
till he pranced? To escape such torment Hans Amden cleared a space
and gave a clumsy-footed Hollandish breakdown till all the Court
roared its laughter.
It was offensive to me who had been equal and boon companion of Kim
for many days. I resisted the laughing ki-sang. I braced my legs
and stood upright with folded arms; nor could pinch or tickle bring
a quiver from me. Thus they abandoned me for easier prey.
"For God's sake, man, make an impression," Hendrik Hamel, who had
struggled to me with three ki-sang dragging behind, mumbled.
Well might he mumble, for whenever he opened his mouth to speak they
crammed it with sweets.
"Save us from this folly," he persisted, ducking his head about to
avoid their sweet-filled palms. "We must have dignity, understand,
dignity. This will ruin us. They are making tame animals of us,
playthings. When they grow tired of us they will throw us out.
You're doing the right thing. Stick to it. Stand them off.
Command respect, respect for all of us--"
The last was barely audible, for by this time the ki-sang had
stuffed his mouth to speechlessness.
As I have said, I had the will and the fearlessness, and I racked my
sea-cuny brains for the wit. A palace eunuch, tickling my neck with
a feather from behind, gave me my start. I had already drawn
attention by my aloofness and imperviousness to the attacks of the
ki-sang, so that many were looking on at the eunuch's baiting of me.
I gave no sign, made no move, until I had located him and distanced
him. Then, like a shot, without turning head or body, merely by my
arm I fetched him an open, back-handed slap. My knuckles landed
flat on his cheek and jaw. There was a crack like a spar parting in
a gale. He was bowled clean over, landing in a heap on the floor a
dozen feet away.
There was no laughter, only cries of surprise and murmurings and
whisperings of "Yi Yong-ik." Again I folded my arms and stood with
a fine assumption of haughtiness. I do believe that I, Adam Strang,
had among other things the soul of an actor in me. For see what
follows. I was now the most significant of our company. Proud-
eyed, disdainful, I met unwavering the eyes upon me and made them
drop, or turn away--all eyes but one. These were the eyes of a
young woman, whom I judged, by richness of dress and by the half-
dozen women fluttering at her back, to be a court lady of
distinction. In truth, she was the Lady Om, princess of the house
of Min. Did I say young? She was fully my own age, thirty, and for
all that and her ripeness and beauty a princess still unmarried, as
I was to learn.
She alone looked me in the eyes without wavering until it was I who
turned away. She did not look me down, for there was neither
challenge nor antagonism in her eyes--only fascination. I was loth
to admit this defeat by one small woman, and my eyes, turning aside,
lighted on the disgraceful rout of my comrades and the trailing ki-
sang and gave me the pretext. I clapped my hands in the Asiatic
fashion when one gives command.
"Let be!" I thundered in their own language, and in the form one
Oh, I had a chest and a throat, and could bull-roar to the hurt of
ear-drums. I warrant so loud a command had never before cracked the
sacred air of the Emperor's palace.
The great room was aghast. The women were startled, and pressed
toward one another as for safety. The ki-sang released the cunies
and shrank away giggling apprehensively. Only the Lady Om made no
sign nor motion but continued to gaze wide-eyed into my eyes which
had returned to hers.
Then fell a great silence, as if all waited some word of doom. A
multitude of eyes timidly stole back and forth from the Emperor to
me and from me to the Emperor. And I had wit to keep the silence
and to stand there, arms folded, haughty and remote.
"He speaks our language," quoth the Emperor at the last; and I swear
there was such a relinquishment of held breaths that the whole room
was one vast sigh.
"I was born with this language," I replied, my cuny wits running
rashly to the first madness that prompted. "I spoke it at my
mother's breast. I was the marvel of my land. Wise men journeyed
far to see me and to hear. But no man knew the words I spoke. In
the many years since I have forgotten much, but now, in Cho-Sen, the
words come back like long-lost friends."
An impression I certainly made. The Emperor swallowed and his lips
twitched ere he asked:
"How explain you this?"
"I am an accident," I answered, following the wayward lead my wit
had opened. "The gods of birth were careless, and I was mislaid in
a far land and nursed by an alien people. I am Korean, and now, at
last, I have come to my home."
What an excited whispering and conferring took place. The Emperor
himself interrogated Kim.
"He was always thus, our speech in his mouth, from the time he came
out of the sea," Kim lied like the good fellow he was.
"Bring me yang-ban's garments as befits me," I interrupted, "and you
shall see." As I was led away in compliance, I turned on the ki-
sang. "And leave my slaves alone. They have journeyed far and are
weary. They are my faithful slaves."
In another room Kim helped me change, sending the lackeys away; and
quick and to the point was the dress-rehearsal he gave me. He knew
no more toward what I drove than did I, but he was a good fellow.
The funny thing, once back in the crowd and spouting Korean which I
claimed was rusty from long disuse, was that Hendrik Hamel and the
rest, too stubborn-tongued to learn new speech, did not know a word
"I am of the blood of the house of Koryu," I told the Emperor, "that
ruled at Songdo many a long year agone when my house arose on the
ruins of Silla."
Ancient history, all, told me by Kim on the long ride, and he
struggled with his face to hear me parrot his teaching.
"These," I said, when the Emperor had asked me about my company,
"these are my slaves, all except that old churl there"--I indicated
Johannes Maartens--"who is the son of a freed man." I told Hendrik
Hamel to approach. "This one," I wantoned on, "was born in my
father's house of a seed slave who was born there before him. He is
very close to me. We are of an age, born on the same day, and on
that day my father gave him me."
Afterwards, when Hendrik Hamel was eager to know all that I had
said, and when I told him, he reproached me and was in a pretty
"The fat's in the fire, Hendrik," quoth I. "What I have done has
been out of witlessness and the need to be saying something. But
done it is. Nor you nor I can pluck forth the fat. We must act our
parts and make the best of it."
Taiwun, the Emperor's brother, was a sot of sots, and as the night
wore on he challenged me to a drinking. The Emperor was delighted,
and commanded a dozen of the noblest sots to join in the bout. The
women were dismissed, and we went to it, drink for drink, measure
for measure. Kim I kept by me, and midway along, despite Hendrik
Hamel's warning scowls, dismissed him and the company, first
requesting, and obtaining, palace lodgment instead of the inn.
Next day the palace was a-buzz with my feast, for I had put Taiwun
and all his champions snoring on the mats and walked unaided to my
bed. Never, in the days of vicissitude that came later, did Taiwun
doubt my claim of Korean birth. Only a Korean, he averred, could
possess so strong a head.
The palace was a city in itself, and we were lodged in a sort of
summer-house that stood apart. The princely quarters were mine, of
course, and Hamel and Maartens, with the rest of the grumbling
cunies, had to content themselves with what remained.
I was summoned before Yunsan, the Buddhist priest I have mentioned.
It was his first glimpse of me and my first of him. Even Kim he
dismissed from me, and we sat alone on deep mats in a twilight room.
Lord, Lord, what a man and a mind was Yunsan! He made to probe my
soul. He knew things of other lands and places that no one in Cho-
Sen dreamed to know. Did he believe my fabled birth? I could not
guess, for his face was less changeful than a bowl of bronze.
What Yunsan's thoughts were only Yunsan knew. But in him, this
poor-clad, lean-bellied priest, I sensed the power behind power in
all the palace and in all Cho-Sen. I sensed also, through the drift
of speech, that he had use of me. Now was this use suggested by the
Lady Om?--a nut I gave Hendrik Hamel to crack. I little knew, and
less I cared, for I lived always in the moment and let others
forecast, forfend, and travail their anxiety.
I answered, too, the summons of the Lady Om, following a sleek-
faced, cat-footed eunuch through quiet palace byways to her
apartments. She lodged as a princess of the blood should lodge.
She, too, had a palace to herself, among lotus ponds where grow
forests of trees centuries old but so dwarfed that they reached no
higher than my middle. Bronze bridges, so delicate and rare that
they looked as if fashioned by jewel-smiths, spanned her lily ponds,
and a bamboo grove screened her palace apart from all the palace.
My head was awhirl. Sea-cuny that I was, I was no dolt with women,
and I sensed more than idle curiosity in her sending for me. I had
heard love-tales of common men and queens, and was a-wondering if
now it was my fortune to prove such tales true.
The Lady Om wasted little time. There were women about her, but she
regarded their presence no more than a carter his horses. I sat
beside her on deep mats that made the room half a couch, and wine
was given me and sweets to nibble, served on tiny, foot-high tables
inlaid with pearl.
Lord, Lord, I had but to look into her eyes--But wait. Make no
mistake. The Lady Om was no fool. I have said she was of my own
age. All of thirty she was, with the poise of her years. She knew
what she wanted. She knew what she did not want. It was because of
this she had never married, although all pressure that an Asiatic
court could put upon a woman had been vainly put upon her to compel
her to marry Chong Mong-ju. He was a lesser cousin of the great Min
family, himself no fool, and grasping so greedily for power as to
perturb Yunsan, who strove to retain all power himself and keep the
palace and Cho-Sen in ordered balance. Thus Yunsan it was who in
secret allied himself with the Lady Om, saved her from her cousin,
used her to trim her cousin's wings. But enough of intrigue. It
was long before I guessed a tithe of it, and then largely through
the Lady Om's confidences and Hendrik Hamel's conclusions.
The Lady Om was a very flower of woman. Women such as she are born
rarely, scarce twice a century the whole world over. She was
unhampered by rule or convention. Religion, with her, was a series
of abstractions, partly learned from Yunsan, partly worked out for
herself. Vulgar religion, the public religion, she held, was a
device to keep the toiling millions to their toil. She had a will
of her own, and she had a heart all womanly. She was a beauty--yes,
a beauty by any set rule of the world. Her large black eyes were
neither slitted nor slanted in the Asiatic way. They were long,
true, but set squarely, and with just the slightest hint of
obliqueness that was all for piquancy.
I have said she was no fool. Behold! As I palpitated to the
situation, princess and sea-cuny and love not a little that
threatened big, I racked my cuny's brains for wit to carry the thing
off with manhood credit. It chanced, early in this first meeting,
that I mentioned what I had told all the Court, that I was in truth
a Korean of the blood of the ancient house of Koryu.
"Let be," she said, tapping my lips with her peacock fan. "No
child's tales here. Know that with me you are better and greater
than of any house of Koryu. You are . . ."
She paused, and I waited, watching the daring grow in her eyes.
"You are a man," she completed. "Not even in my sleep have I ever
dreamed there was such a man as you on his two legs upstanding in
Lord, Lord! and what could a poor sea-cuny do? This particular sea-
cuny, I admit, blushed through his sea tan till the Lady Om's eyes
were twin pools of roguishness in their teasing deliciousness and my
arms were all but about her. And she laughed tantalizingly and
alluringly, and clapped her hands for her women, and I knew that the
audience, for this once, was over. I knew, also, there would be
other audiences, there must be other audiences.
Back to Hamel, my head awhirl.
"The woman," said he, after deep cogitation. He looked at me and
sighed an envy I could not mistake. "It is your brawn, Adam Strang,
that bull throat of yours, your yellow hair. Well, it's the game,
man. Play her, and all will be well with us. Play her, and I shall
teach you how."
I bristled. Sea-cuny I was, but I was man, and to no man would I be
beholden in my way with women. Hendrik Hamel might be one time
part-owner of the old Sparwehr, with a navigator's knowledge of the
stars and deep versed in books, but with women, no, there I would
not give him better.
He smiled that thin-lipped smile of his, and queried:
"How like you the Lady Om?"
"In such matters a cuny is naught particular," I temporized.
"How like you her?" he repeated, his beady eyes boring into me.
"Passing well, ay, and more than passing well, if you will have it."
"Then win to her," he commanded, "and some day we will get ship and
escape from this cursed land. I'd give half the silks of the Indies
for a meal of Christian food again."
He regarded me intently.
"Do you think you can win to her?" he questioned.
I was half in the air at the challenge. He smiled his satisfaction.
"But not too quickly," he advised. "Quick things are cheap things.
Put a prize upon yourself. Be chary of your kindnesses. Make a
value of your bull throat and yellow hair, and thank God you have
them, for they are of more worth in a woman's eyes than are the
brains of a dozen philosophers."
Strange whirling days were those that followed, what of my audiences
with the Emperor, my drinking bouts with Taiwun, my conferences with
Yunsan, and my hours with the Lady Om. Besides, I sat up half the
nights, by Hamel's command, learning from Kim all the minutiae of
court etiquette and manners, the history of Korea and of gods old
and new, and the forms of polite speech, noble speech, and coolie
speech. Never was sea-cuny worked so hard. I was a puppet--puppet
to Yunsan, who had need of me; puppet to Hamel, who schemed the wit
of the affair that was so deep that alone I should have drowned.
Only with the Lady Om was I man, not puppet . . . and yet, and yet,
as I look back and ponder across time, I have my doubts. I think
the Lady Om, too, had her will with me, wanting me for her heart's
desire. Yet in this she was well met, for it was not long ere she
was my heart's desire, and such was the immediacy of my will that
not her will, nor Hendrik Hamel's, nor Yunsan's, could hold back my
arms from about her.
In the meantime, however, I was caught up in a palace intrigue I
could not fathom. I could catch the drift of it, no more, against
Chong Mong-ju, the princely cousin of the Lady Om. Beyond my
guessing there were cliques and cliques within cliques that made a
labyrinth of the palace and extended to all the Seven Coasts. But I
did not worry. I left that to Hendrik Hamel. To him I reported
every detail that occurred when he was not with me; and he, with
furrowed brows, sitting darkling by the hour, like a patient spider
unravelled the tangle and spun the web afresh. As my body slave he
insisted upon attending me everywhere; being only barred on occasion
by Yunsan. Of course I barred him from my moments with the Lady Om,
but told him in general what passed, with exception of tenderer
incidents that were not his business.
I think Hamel was content to sit back and play the secret part. He
was too cold-blooded not to calculate that the risk was mine. If I
prospered, he prospered. If I crashed to ruin, he might creep out
like a ferret. I am convinced that he so reasoned, and yet it did
not save him in the end, as you shall see.
"Stand by me," I told Kim, "and whatsoever you wish shall be yours.
Have you a wish?"
"I would command the Tiger Hunters of Pyeng-Yang, and so command the
palace guards," he answered.
"Wait," said I, "and that will you do. I have said it."
The how of the matter was beyond me. But he who has naught can
dispense the world in largess; and I, who had naught, gave Kim
captaincy of the palace guards. The best of it is that I did fulfil
my promise. Kim did come to command the Tiger Hunters, although it
brought him to a sad end.
Scheming and intriguing I left to Hamel and Yunsan, who were the
politicians. I was mere man and lover, and merrier than theirs was
the time I had. Picture it to yourself--a hard-bitten, joy-loving
sea-cuny, irresponsible, unaware ever of past or future, wining and
dining with kings, the accepted lover of a princess, and with brains
like Hamel's and Yunsan's to do all planning and executing for me.
More than once Yunsan almost divined the mind behind my mind; but
when he probed Hamel, Hamel proved a stupid slave, a thousand times
less interested in affairs of state and policy than was he
interested in my health and comfort and garrulously anxious about my
drinking contests with Taiwun. I think the Lady Om guessed the
truth and kept it to herself; wit was not her desire, but, as Hamel
had said, a bull throat and a man's yellow hair.
Much that pawed between us I shall not relate, though the Lady Om is
dear dust these centuries. But she was not to be denied, nor was I;
and when a man and woman will their hearts together heads may fall
and kingdoms crash and yet they will not forgo.
Came the time when our marriage was mooted--oh, quietly, at first,
most quietly, as mere palace gossip in dark corners between eunuchs
and waiting-women. But in a palace the gossip of the kitchen
scullions will creep to the throne. Soon there was a pretty to-do.
The palace was the pulse of Cho-Sen, and when the palace rocked,
Cho-Sen trembled. And there was reason for the rocking. Our
marriage would be a blow straight between the eyes of Chong Mong-ju.
He fought, with a show of strength for which Yunsan was ready.
Chong Mong-ju disaffected half the provincial priesthood, until they
pilgrimaged in processions a mile long to the palace gates and
frightened the Emperor into a panic.
But Yunsan held like a rock. The other half of the provincial
priesthood was his, with, in addition, all the priesthood of the
great cities such as Keijo, Fusan, Songdo, Pyen-Yang, Chenampo, and
Chemulpo. Yunsan and the Lady Om, between them, twisted the Emperor
right about. As she confessed to me afterward, she bullied him with
tears and hysteria and threats of a scandal that would shake the
throne. And to cap it all, at the psychological moment, Yunsan
pandered the Emperor to novelties of excess that had been long
"You must grow your hair for the marriage knot," Yunsan warned me
one day, with the ghost of a twinkle in his austere eyes, more
nearly facetious and human than I had ever beheld him.
Now it is not meet that a princess espouse a sea-cuny, or even a
claimant of the ancient blood of Koryu, who is without power, or
place, or visible symbols of rank. So it was promulgated by
imperial decree that I was a prince of Koryu. Next, after breaking
the bones and decapitating the then governor of the five provinces,
himself an adherent of Chong Mong-ju, I was made governor of the
seven home provinces of ancient Koryu. In Cho-Sen seven is the
magic number. To complete this number two of the provinces were
taken over from the hands of two more of Chong Mong-ju's adherents.
Lord, Lord, a sea-cuny . . . and dispatched north over the Mandarin
Road with five hundred soldiers and a retinue at my back! I was a
governor of seven provinces, where fifty thousand troops awaited me.
Life, death, and torture, I carried at my disposal. I had a
treasury and a treasurer, to say nothing of a regiment of scribes.
Awaiting me also was a full thousand of tax-farmers; who squeezed
the last coppers from the toiling people.
The seven provinces constituted the northern march. Beyond lay what
is now Manchuria, but which was known by us as the country of the
Hong-du, or "Red Heads." They were wild raiders, on occasion
crossing the Yalu in great masses and over-running northern Cho-Sen
like locusts. It was said they were given to cannibal practices. I
know of experience that they were terrible fighters, most difficult
to convince of a beating.
A whirlwind year it was. While Yunsan and the Lady Om at Keijo
completed the disgrace of Chong Mong-ju, I proceeded to make a
reputation for myself. Of course it was really Hendrik Hamel at my
back, but I was the fine figure-head that carried it off. Through
me Hamel taught our soldiers drill and tactics and taught the Red
Heads strategy. The fighting was grand, and though it took a year,
the year's end saw peace on the northern border and no Red Heads but
dead Red Heads on our side the Yalu.
I do not know if this invasion of the Red Heads is recorded in
Western history, but if so it will give a clue to the date of the
times of which I write. Another clue: when was Hideyoshi the
Shogun of Japan? In my time I heard the echoes of the two
invasions, a generation before, driven by Hideyoshi through the
heart of Cho-Sen from Fusan in the south to as far north as Pyeng-
Yang. It was this Hideyoshi who sent back to Japan a myriad tubs of
pickled ears and noses of Koreans slain in battle. I talked with
many old men and women who had seen the fighting and escaped the
Back to Keijo and the Lady Om. Lord, Lord, she was a woman. For
forty years she was my woman. I know. No dissenting voice was
raised against the marriage. Chong Mong-ju, clipped of power, in
disgrace, had retired to sulk somewhere on the far north-east coast.
Yunsan was absolute. Nightly the single beacons flared their
message of peace across the land. The Emperor grew more weak-legged
and blear-eyed what of the ingenious deviltries devised for him by
Yunsan. The Lady Om and I had won to our hearts' desires. Kim was
in command of the palace guards. Kwan Yung-jin, the provincial
governor who had planked and beaten us when we were first cast away,
I had shorn of power and banished for ever from appearing within the
walls of Keijo.
Oh, and Johannes Maartens. Discipline is well hammered into a sea-
cuny, and, despite my new greatness, I could never forget that he
had been my captain in the days we sought new Indies in the
Sparwehr. According to my tale first told in Court, he was the only
free man in my following. The rest of the cunies, being considered
my slaves, could not aspire to office of any sort under the crown.
But Johannes could, and did. The sly old fox! I little guessed his
intent when he asked me to make him governor of the paltry little
province of Kyong-ju. Kyong-ju had no wealth of farms or fisheries.
The taxes scarce paid the collecting, and the governorship was
little more than an empty honour. The place was in truth a
graveyard--a sacred graveyard, for on Tabong Mountain were shrined
and sepultured the bones of the ancient kings of Silla. Better
governor of Kyong-ju than retainer of Adam Strang, was what I
thought was in his mind; nor did I dream that it was except for fear
of loneliness that caused him to take four of the cunies with him.
Gorgeous were the two years that followed. My seven provinces I
governed mainly though needy yang-bans selected for me by Yunsan.
An occasional inspection, done in state and accompanied by the Lady
Om, was all that was required of me. She possessed a summer palace
on the south coast, which we frequented much. Then there were man's
diversions. I became patron of the sport of wrestling, and revived
archery among the yang-bans. Also, there was tiger-hunting in the
A remarkable thing was the tides of Cho-Sen. On our north-east
coast there was scarce a rise and fall of a foot. On our west coast
the neap tides ran as high as sixty feet. Cho-Sen had no commerce,
no foreign traders. There was no voyaging beyond her coasts, and no
voyaging of other peoples to her coasts. This was due to her
immemorial policy of isolation. Once in a decade or a score of
years Chinese ambassadors arrived, but they came overland, around
the Yellow Sea, across the country of the Hong-du, and down the
Mandarin Road to Keijo. The round trip was a year-long journey.
Their mission was to exact from our Emperor the empty ceremonial of
acknowledgment of China's ancient suzerainty.
But Hamel, from long brooding, was ripening for action. His plans
grew apace. Cho-Sen was Indies enough for him could he but work it
right. Little he confided, but when he began to play to have me
made admiral of the Cho-Sen navy of junks, and to inquire more than
casually of the details of the store-places of the imperial
treasury, I could put two and two together.
Now I did not care to depart from Cho-Sen except with the Lady Om.
When I broached the possibility of it she told me, warm in my arms,
that I was her king and that wherever I led she would follow. As
you shall see it was truth, full truth, that she uttered.
It was Yunsan's fault for letting Chong Mong-ju live. And yet it
was not Yunsan's fault. He had not dared otherwise. Disgraced at
Court, nevertheless Chong Mong-ju had been too popular with the
provincial priesthood. Yunsan had been compelled to hold his hand,
and Chong Mong-ju, apparently sulking on the north-east coast, had
been anything but idle. His emissaries, chiefly Buddhist priests,
were everywhere, went everywhere, gathering in even the least of the
provincial magistrates to allegiance to him. It takes the cold
patience of the Asiatic to conceive and execute huge and complicated
conspiracies. The strength of Chong Mong-ju's palace clique grew
beyond Yunsan's wildest dreaming. Chong Mong-ju corrupted the very
palace guards, the Tiger Hunters of Pyeng-Yang whom Kim commanded.
And while Yunsan nodded, while I devoted myself to sport and to the
Lady Om, while Hendrik Hamel perfected plans for the looting of the
Imperial treasury, and while Johannes Maartens schemed his own
scheme among the tombs of Tabong Mountain, the volcano of Chong
Mong-ju's devising gave no warning beneath us.
Lord, Lord, when the storm broke! It was stand out from under, all
hands, and save your necks. And there were necks that were not
saved. The springing of the conspiracy was premature. Johannes
Maartens really precipitated the catastrophe, and what he did was
too favourable for Chong Mong-ju not to advantage by.
For, see. The people of Cho-Sen are fanatical ancestor-worshippers,
and that old pirate of a booty-lusting Dutchman, with his four
cunies, in far Kyong-ju, did no less a thing than raid the tombs of
the gold-coffined, long-buried kings of ancient Silla. The work was
done in the night, and for the rest of the night they travelled for
the sea-coast. But the following day a dense fog lay over the land
and they lost their way to the waiting junk which Johannes Maartens
had privily outfitted. He and the cunies were rounded in by Yi Sun-
sin, the local magistrate, one of Chong Mong-ju's adherents. Only
Herman Tromp escaped in the fog, and was able, long after, to tell
me of the adventure.
That night, although news of the sacrilege was spreading through
Cho-Sen and half the northern provinces had risen on their
officials, Keijo and the Court slept in ignorance. By Chong Mong-
ju's orders the beacons flared their nightly message of peace. And
night by night the peace-beacons flared, while day and night Chong
Mong-ju's messengers killed horses on all the roads of Cho-Sen. It
was my luck to see his messenger arrive at Keijo. At twilight, as I
rode out through the great gate of the capital, I saw the jaded
horse fall and the exhausted rider stagger in on foot; and I little
dreamed that that man carried my destiny with him into Keijo.
His message sprang the palace revolution. I was not due to return
until midnight, and by midnight all was over. At nine in the
evening the conspirators secured possession of the Emperor in his
own apartments. They compelled him to order the immediate
attendance of the heads of all departments, and as they presented
themselves, one by one, before his eyes, they were cut down.
Meantime the Tiger Hunters were up and out of hand. Yunsan and
Hendrik Hamel were badly beaten with the flats of swords and made
prisoners. The seven other cunies escaped from the palace along
with the Lady Om. They were enabled to do this by Kim, who held the
way, sword in hand, against his own Tiger Hunters. They cut him
down and trod over him. Unfortunately he did not die of his wounds.
Like a flaw of wind on a summer night the revolution, a palace
revolution of course, blew and was past. Chong Mong-ju was in the
saddle. The Emperor ratified whatever Chong Mong-ju willed. Beyond
gasping at the sacrilege of the king's tombs and applauding Chong
Mong-ju, Cho-Sen was unperturbed. Heads of officials fell
everywhere, being replaced by Chong Mong-ju's appointees; but there
were no risings against the dynasty.
And now to what befell us. Johannes Maartens and his three cunies,
after being exhibited to be spat upon by the rabble of half the
villages and walled cities of Cho-Sen, were buried to their necks in
the ground of the open space before the palace gate. Water was
given them that they might live longer to yearn for the food,
steaming hot and savoury and changed hourly, that was place
temptingly before them. They say old Johannes Maartens lived
longest, not giving up the ghost for a full fifteen days.
Kim was slowly crushed to death, bone by bone and joint by joint, by
the torturers, and was a long time in dying. Hamel, whom Chong
Mong-ju divined as my brains, was executed by the paddle--in short,
was promptly and expeditiously beaten to death to the delighted
shouts of the Keijo populace. Yunsan was given a brave death. He
was playing a game of chess with the jailer, when the Emperor's, or,
rather, Chong Mong-ju's, messenger arrived with the poison-cup.
"Wait a moment," said Yunsan. "You should be better-mannered than
to disturb a man in the midst of a game of chess. I shall drink
directly the game is over." And while the messenger waited Yunsan
finished the game, winning it, then drained the cup.
It takes an Asiatic to temper his spleen to steady, persistent,
life-long revenge. This Chong Mong-ju did with the Lady Om and me.
He did not destroy us. We were not even imprisoned. The Lady Om
was degraded of all rank and divested of all possessions. An
imperial decree was promulgated and posted in the last least village
of Cho-Sen to the effect that I was of the house of Koryu and that
no man might kill me. It was further declared that the eight sea-
cunies who survived must not be killed. Neither were they to be
favoured. They were to be outcasts, beggars on the highways. And
that is what the Lady Om and I became, beggars on the highways.
Forty long years of persecution followed, for Chong Mong-ju's hatred
of the Lady Om and me was deathless. Worse luck, he was favoured
with long life as well as were we cursed with it. I have said the
Lady Om was a wonder of a woman. Beyond endlessly repeating that
statement, words fail me, with which to give her just appreciation.
Somewhere I have heard that a great lady once said to her lover: "A
tent and a crust of bread with you." In effect that is what the
Lady Om said to me. More than to say it, she lived the last letter
of it, when more often than not crusts were not plentiful and the
sky itself was our tent.
Every effort I made to escape beggary was in the end frustrated by
Chong Mong-ju. In Song-do I became a fuel-carrier, and the Lady Om
and I shared a hut that was vastly more comfortable than the open
road in bitter winter weather. But Chong Mong-ju found me out, and
I was beaten and planked and put out upon the road. That was a
terrible winter, the winter poor "What-Now" Vandervoot froze to
death on the streets of Keijo.
In Pyeng-yang I became a water-carrier, for know that that old city,
whose walls were ancient even in the time of David, was considered
by the people to be a canoe, and that, therefore, to sink a well
inside the walls would be to scupper the city. So all day long
thousands of coolies, water-jars yoked to their shoulders, tramp out
the river gate and back. I became one of these, until Chong Mong-ju
sought me out, and I was beaten and planked and set upon the
Ever it was the same. In far Wiju I became a dog-butcher, killing
the brutes publicly before my open stall, cutting and hanging the
caresses for sale, tanning the hides under the filth of the feet of
the passers-by by spreading the hides, raw-side up, in the muck of
the street. But Chong Mong-ju found me out. I was a dyer's helper
in Pyonhan, a gold-miner in the placers of Kang-wun, a rope-maker
and twine-twister in Chiksan. I plaited straw hats in Padok,
gathered grass in Whang-hai, and in Masenpo sold myself to a rice
farmer to toil bent double in the flooded paddies for less than a
coolie's pay. But there was never a time or place that the long arm
of Chong Mong-ju did not reach out and punish and thrust me upon the
The Lady Om and I searched two seasons and found a single root of
the wild mountain ginseng, which is esteemed so rare and precious a
thing by the doctors that the Lady Om and I could have lived a year
in comfort from the sale of our one root. But in the selling of it
I was apprehended, the root confiscated, and I was better beaten and
longer planked than ordinarily.
Everywhere the wandering members of the great Peddlers' Guild
carried word of me, of my comings and goings and doings, to Chong
Mong-ju at Keijo. Only twice, in all the days after my downfall,
did I meet Chong Mong-ju face to face. The first time was a wild
winter night of storm in the high mountains of Kang-wun. A few
hoarded coppers had bought for the Lady Om and me sleeping space in
the dirtiest and coldest corner of the one large room of the inn.
We were just about to begin on our meagre supper of horse-beans and
wild garlic cooked into a stew with a scrap of bullock that must
have died of old age, when there was a tinkling of bronze pony bells
and the stamp of hoofs without. The doors opened, and entered Chong
Mong-ju, the personification of well-being, prosperity and power,
shaking the snow from his priceless Mongolian furs. Place was made
for him and his dozen retainers, and there was room for all without
crowding, when his eyes chanced to light on the Lady Om and me.
"The vermin there in the corner--clear it out," he commanded.
And his horse-boys lashed us with their whips and drove us out into
the storm. But there was to be another meeting, after long years,
as you shall see.
There was no escape. Never was I permitted to cross the northern
frontier. Never was I permitted to put foot to a sampan on the sea.
The Peddlers' Guild carried these commands of Chong Mong-ju to every
village and every soul in all Cho-Sen. I was a marked man.
Lord, Lord, Cho-Sen, I know your every highway and mountain path,
all your walled cities and the least of your villages. For two-
score years I wandered and starved over you, and the Lady Om ever
wandered and starved with me. What we in extremity have eaten!--
Leavings of dog's flesh, putrid and unsaleable, flung to us by the
mocking butchers; MINARI, a water-cress gathered from stagnant pools
of slime; spoiled KIMCHI that would revolt the stomachs of peasants
and that could be smelled a mile. Ay--I have stolen bones from
curs, gleaned the public road for stray grains of rice, robbed
ponies of their steaming bean-soup on frosty nights.
It is not strange that I did not die. I knew and was upheld by two
things: the first, the Lady Om by my side; the second, the certain
faith that the time would come when my thumbs and fingers would
fast-lock in the gullet of Chong Mong-ju.
Turned always away at the city gates of Keijo, where I sought Chong
Mong-ju, we wandered on, through seasons and decades of seasons,
across Cho-Sen, whose every inch of road was an old story to our
sandals. Our history and identity were wide-scattered as the land
was wide. No person breathed who did not know us and our
punishment. There were coolies and peddlers who shouted insults at
the Lady Om and who felt the wrath of my clutch in their topknots,
the wrath of my knuckles in their faces. There were old women in
far mountain villages who looked on the beggar woman by my side, the
lost Lady Om, and sighed and shook their heads while their eyes
dimmed with tears. And there were young women whose faces warmed
with compassion as they gazed on the bulk of my shoulders, the blue
of my eyes, and my long yellow hair--I who had once been a prince of
Koryu and the ruler of provinces. And there were rabbles of
children that tagged at our heels, jeering and screeching, pelting
us with filth of speech and of the common road.
Beyond the Yalu, forty miles wide, was the strip of waste that
constituted the northern frontier and that ran from sea to sea. It
was not really waste land, but land that had been deliberately made
waste in carrying out Cho-Sen's policy of isolation. On this forty-
mile strip all farms, villages and cities had been destroyed. It
was no man's land, infested with wild animals and traversed by
companies of mounted Tiger Hunters whose business was to kill any
human being they found. That way there was no escape for us, nor
was there any escape for us by sea.
As the years passed my seven fellow-cunies came more to frequent
Fusan. It was on the south-east coast where the climate was milder.
But more than climate, it lay nearest of all Cho-Sen to Japan.
Across the narrow straits, just farther than the eye can see, was
the one hope of escape Japan, where doubtless occasional ships of
Europe came. Strong upon me is the vision of those seven ageing men
on the cliffs of Fusan yearning with all their souls across the sea
they would never sail again.
At times junks of Japan were sighted, but never lifted a familiar
topsail of old Europe above the sea-rim. Years came and went, and
the seven cunies and myself and the Lady Om, passing through middle
life into old age, more and more directed our footsteps to Fusan.
And as the years came and went, now one, now another failed to
gather at the usual place. Hans Amden was the first to die. Jacob
Brinker, who was his road-mate, brought the news. Jacob Brinker was
the last of the seven, and he was nearly ninety when he died,
outliving Tromp a scant two years. I well remember the pair of
them, toward the last, worn and feeble, in beggars' rags, with
beggars' bowls, sunning themselves side by side on the cliffs,
telling old stories and cackling shrill-voiced like children. And
Tromp would maunder over and over of how Johannes Maartens and the
cunies robbed the kings on Tabong Mountain, each embalmed in his
golden coffin with an embalmed maid on either side; and of how these
ancient proud ones crumbled to dust within the hour while the cunies
cursed and sweated at junking the coffins.
As sure as loot is loot, old Johannes Maartens would have got away
and across the Yellow Sea with his booty had it not been for the fog
next day that lost him. That cursed fog! A song was made of it,
that I heard and hated through all Cho-Sen to my dying day. Here
run two lines of it:
"Yanggukeni chajin anga
Wheanpong tora deunda,
The thick fog of the Westerners
Broods over Whean peak."
For forty years I was a beggar of Cho-Sen. Of the fourteen of us
that were cast away only I survived. The Lady Om was of the same
indomitable stuff, and we aged together. She was a little,
weazened, toothless old woman toward the last; but ever she was the
wonder woman, and she carried my heart in hers to the end. For an
old man, three score and ten, I still retained great strength. My
face was withered, my yellow hair turned white, my broad shoulders
shrunken, and yet much of the strength of my sea-cuny days resided
in the muscles left me.
Thus it was that I was able to do what I shall now relate. It was a
spring morning on the cliffs of Fusan, hard by the highway, that the
Lady Om and I sat warming in the sun. We were in the rags of
beggary, prideless in the dust, and yet I was laughing heartily at
some mumbled merry quip of the Lady Om when a shadow fell upon us.
It was the great litter of Chong Mong-ju, borne by eight coolies,
with outriders before and behind and fluttering attendants on either
Two emperors, civil war, famine, and a dozen palace revolutions had
come and gone; and Chong Mong-ju remained, even then the great power
at Keijo. He must have been nearly eighty that spring morning on
the cliffs when he signalled with palsied hand for his litter to be
rested down that he might gaze upon us whom he had punished for so
"Now, O my king," the Lady Om mumbled low to me, then turned to
whine an alms of Chong Mong-ju, whom she affected not to recognize.
And I knew what was her thought. Had we not shared it for forty
years? And the moment of its consummation had come at last. So I,
too, affected not to recognize my enemy, and, putting on an idiotic
senility, I, too, crawled in the dust toward the litter whining for
mercy and charity.
The attendants would have driven me back, but with age-quavering
cackles Chong Mong-ju restrained them. He lifted himself on a
shaking elbow, and with the other shaking hand drew wider apart the
silken curtains. His withered old face was transfigured with
delight as he gloated on us.
"O my king," the Lady Om whined to me in her beggar's chant; and I
knew all her long-tried love and faith in my emprise were in that
And the red wrath was up in me, ripping and tearing at my will to be
free. Small wonder that I shook with the effort to control. The
shaking, happily, they took for the weakness of age. I held up my
brass begging bowl, and whined more dolefully, and bleared my eyes
to hide the blue fire I knew was in them, and calculated the
distance and my strength for the leap.
Then I was swept away in a blaze of red. There was a crashing of
curtains and curtain-poles and a squawking and squalling of
attendants as my hands closed on Chong Mong-ju's throat. The litter
over-turned, and I scarce knew whether I was heads or heels, but my
clutch never relaxed.
In the confusion of cushions and quilts and curtains, at first few
of the attendants' blows found me. But soon the horsemen were in,
and their heavy whip-butts began to fall on my head, while a
multitude of hands clawed and tore at me. I was dizzy, but not
unconscious, and very blissful with my old fingers buried in that
lean and scraggly old neck I had sought for so long. The blows
continued to rain on my head, and I had whirling thoughts in which I
likened myself to a bulldog with jaws fast-locked. Chong Mong-ju
could not escape me, and I know he was well dead ere darkness, like
that of an anaesthetic, descended upon me there on the cliffs of
Fusan by the Yellow Sea.
Warden Atherton, when he thinks of me, must feel anything but pride.
I have taught him what spirit is, humbled him with my own spirit
that rose invulnerable, triumphant, above all his tortures. I sit
here in Folsom, in Murderers' Row, awaiting my execution; Warden
Atherton still holds his political job and is king over San Quentin
and all the damned within its walls; and yet, in his heart of
hearts, he knows that I am greater than he.
In vain Warden Atherton tried to break my spirit. And there were
times, beyond any shadow of doubt, when he would have been glad had
I died in the jacket. So the long inquisition went on. As he had
told me, and as he told me repeatedly, it was dynamite or curtains.
Captain Jamie was a veteran in dungeon horrors, yet the time came
when he broke down under the strain I put on him and on the rest of
my torturers. So desperate did he become that he dared words with
the Warden and washed his hands of the affair. From that day until
the end of my torturing he never set foot in solitary.
Yes, and the time came when Warden Atherton grew afraid, although he
still persisted in trying to wring from me the hiding-place of the
non-existent dynamite. Toward the last he was badly shaken by Jake
Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was fearless and outspoken. He had passed
unbroken through all their prison hells, and out of superior will
could beard them to their teeth. Morrell rapped me a full account
of the incident. I was unconscious in the jacket at the time.
"Warden," Oppenheimer had said, "you've bitten off more than you can
chew. It ain't a case of killing Standing. It's a case of killing
three men, for as sure as you kill him, sooner or later Morrell and
I will get the word out and what you have done will be known from
one end of California to the other. You've got your choice. You've
either got to let up on Standing or kill all three of us.
Standing's got your goat. So have I. So has Morrell. You are a
stinking coward, and you haven't got the back-bone and guts to carry
out the dirty butcher's work you'd like to do."
Oppenheimer got a hundred hours in the jacket for it, and, when he
was unlaced, spat in the Warden's face and received a second hundred
hours on end. When he was unlaced this time, the Warden was careful
not to be in solitary. That he was shaken by Oppenheimer's words
there is no doubt.
But it was Doctor Jackson who was the arch-fiend. To him I was a
novelty, and he was ever eager to see how much more I could stand
before I broke.
"He can stand twenty days off the bat," he bragged to the Warden in
"You are conservative," I broke in. "I can stand forty days.
Pshaw! I can stand a hundred when such as you administer it." And,
remembering my sea-cuny's patience of forty years' waiting ere I got
my hands on Chong Mong-ju's gullet, I added: "You prison curs, you
don't know what a man is. You think a man is made in your own
cowardly images. Behold, I am a man. You are feeblings. I am your
master. You can't bring a squeal out of me. You think it
remarkable, for you know how easily you would squeal."
Oh, I abused them, called them sons of toads, hell's scullions,
slime of the pit. For I was above them, beyond them. They were
slaves. I was free spirit. My flesh only lay pent there in
solitary. I was not pent. I had mastered the flesh, and the
spaciousness of time was mine to wander in, while my poor flesh, not
even suffering, lay in the little death in the jacket.
Much of my adventures I rapped to my two comrades. Morrell
believed, for he had himself tasted the little death. But
Oppenheimer, enraptured with my tales, remained a sceptic to the
end. His regret was naive, and at times really pathetic, in that I
had devoted my life to the science of agriculture instead of to
"But, man," I reasoned with him, "what do I know of myself about
this Cho-Sen? I am able to identify it with what is to-day called
Korea, and that is about all. That is as far as my reading goes.
For instance, how possibly, out of my present life's experience,
could I know anything about kimchi? Yet I know kimchi. It is a
sort of sauerkraut. When it is spoiled it stinks to heaven. I tell
you, when I was Adam Strang, I ate kimchi thousands of times. I
know good kimchi, bad kimchi, rotten kimchi. I know the best kimchi
is made by the women of Wosan. Now how do I know that? It is not
in the content of my mind, Darrell Standing's mind. It is in the
content of Adam Strang's mind, who, through various births and
deaths, bequeathed his experiences to me, Darrell Standing, along
with the rest of the experiences of those various other lives that
intervened. Don't you see, Jake? That is how men come to be, to
grow, how spirit develops."
"Aw, come off," he rapped back with the quick imperative knuckles I
knew so well. "Listen to your uncle talk now. I am Jake
Oppenheimer. I always have been Jake Oppenheimer. No other guy is
in my makings. What I know I know as Jake Oppenheimer. Now what do
I know? I'll tell you one thing. I know kimchi. Kimchi is a sort
of sauerkraut made in a country that used to be called Cho-Sen. The
women of Wosan make the best kimchi, and when kimchi is spoiled it
stinks to heaven. You keep out of this, Ed. Wait till I tie the
"Now, professor, how do I know all this stuff about kimchi? It is
not in the content of my mind."
"But it is," I exulted. "I put it there."
"All right, old boss. Then who put it into your mind?"
"Not on your tintype. Adam Strang is a pipe-dream. You read it
"Never," I averred. "The little I read of Korea was the war
correspondence at the time of the Japanese-Russian War."
"Do you remember all you read?" Oppenheimer queried.
"Some you forget?"
"That's all, thank you," he interrupted, in the manner of a lawyer
abruptly concluding a cross-examination after having extracted a
fatal admission from a witness.
It was impossible to convince Oppenheimer of my sincerity. He
insisted that I was making it up as I went along, although he
applauded what he called my "to-be-continued-in-our-next," and, at
the times they were resting me up from the jacket, was continually
begging and urging me to run off a few more chapters.
"Now, professor, cut out that high-brow stuff," he would interrupt
Ed Morrell's and my metaphysical discussions, "and tell us more
about the ki-sang and the cunies. And, say, while you're about it,
tell us what happened to the Lady Om when that rough-neck husband of
hers choked the old geezer and croaked."
How often have I said that form perishes. Let me repeat. Form
perishes. Matter has no memory. Spirit only remembers, as here, in
prison cells, after the centuries, knowledge of the Lady Om and
Chong Mong-ju persisted in my mind, was conveyed by me into Jake
Oppenheimer's mind, and by him was reconveyed into my mind in the
argot and jargon of the West. And now I have conveyed it into your
mind, my reader. Try to eliminate it from your mind. You cannot.
As long as you live what I have told will tenant your mind. Mind?
There is nothing permanent but mind. Matter fluxes, crystallizes,
and fluxes again, and forms are never repeated. Forms disintegrate
into the eternal nothingness from which there is no return. Form is
apparitional and passes, as passed the physical forms of the Lady Om
and Chong Mong-ju. But the memory of them remains, shall always
remain as long as spirit endures, and spirit is indestructible.
"One thing sticks out as big as a house," was Oppenheimer's final
criticism of my Adam Strang adventure. "And that is that you've
done more hanging around Chinatown dumps and hop-joints than was
good for a respectable college professor. Evil communications, you
know. I guess that's what brought you here."
Before I return to my adventures I am compelled to tell one
remarkable incident that occurred in solitary. It is remarkable in
two ways. It shows the astounding mental power of that child of the
gutters, Jake Oppenheimer; and it is in itself convincing proof of
the verity of my experiences when in the jacket coma.
"Say, professor," Oppenheimer tapped to me one day. "When you was
spieling that Adam Strang yarn, I remember you mentioned playing
chess with that royal souse of an emperor's brother. Now is that
chess like our kind of chess?"
Of course I had to reply that I did not know, that I did not
remember the details after I returned to my normal state. And of
course he laughed good-naturedly at what he called my foolery. Yet
I could distinctly remember that in my Adam Strang adventure I had
frequently played chess. The trouble was that whenever I came back
to consciousness in solitary, unessential and intricate details
faded from my memory.
It must be remembered that for convenience I have assembled my
intermittent and repetitional jacket experiences into coherent and
consecutive narratives. I never knew in advance where my journeys
in time would take me. For instance, I have a score of different
times returned to Jesse Fancher in the wagon-circle at Mountain
Meadows. In a single ten-days' bout in the jacket I have gone back
and back, from life to life, and often skipping whole series of
lives that at other times I have covered, back to prehistoric time,
and back of that to days ere civilization began.
So I resolved, on my next return from Adam Strang's experiences,
whenever it might be, that I should, immediately, I on resuming
consciousness, concentrate upon what visions and memories. I had
brought back of chess playing. As luck would have it, I had to
endure Oppenheimer's chaffing for a full month ere it happened. And
then, no sooner out of jacket and circulation restored, than I
started knuckle-rapping the information.
Further, I taught Oppenheimer the chess Adam Strang had played in
Cho-Sen centuries agone. It was different from Western chess, and
yet could not but be fundamentally the same, tracing back to a
common origin, probably India. In place of our sixty-four squares
there are eighty-one squares. We have eight pawns on a side; they
have nine; and though limited similarly, the principle of moving is
Also, in the Cho-Sen game, there are twenty pieces and pawns against
our sixteen, and they are arrayed in three rows instead of two.
Thus, the nine pawns are in the front row; in the middle row are two
pieces resembling our castles; and in the back row, midway, stands
the king, flanked in order on either side by "gold money," "silver
money," "knight," and "spear." It will be observed that in the Cho-
Sen game there is no queen. A further radical variation is that a
captured piece or pawn is not removed from the board. It becomes
the property of the captor and is thereafter played by him.
Well, I taught Oppenheimer this game--a far more difficult
achievement than our own game, as will be admitted, when the
capturing and recapturing and continued playing of pawns and pieces
is considered. Solitary is not heated. It would be a wickedness to
ease a convict from any spite of the elements. And many a dreary
day of biting cold did Oppenheimer and I forget that and the
following winter in the absorption of Cho-Sen chess.
But there was no convincing him that I had in truth brought this
game back to San Quentin across the centuries. He insisted that I
had read about it somewhere, and, though I had forgotten the
reading, the stuff of the reading was nevertheless in the content of
my mind, ripe to be brought out in any pipe-dream. Thus he turned
the tenets and jargon of psychology back on me.
"What's to prevent your inventing it right here in solitary?" was
his next hypothesis. "Didn't Ed invent the knuckle-talk? And ain't
you and me improving on it right along? I got you, bo. You
invented it. Say, get it patented. I remember when I was night-
messenger some guy invented a fool thing called Pigs in Clover and
made millions out of it."
"There's no patenting this," I replied. "Doubtlessly the Asiatics
have been playing it for thousands of years. Won't you believe me
when I tell you I didn't invent it?"
"Then you must have read about it, or seen the Chinks playing it in
some of those hop-joints you was always hanging around," was his
But I have a last word. There is a Japanese murderer here in
Folsom--or was, for he was executed last week. I talked the matter
over with him; and the game Adam Strang played, and which I taught
Oppenheimer, proved quite similar to the Japanese game. They are
far more alike than is either of them like the Western game.
You, my reader, will remember, far back at the beginning of this
narrative, how, when a little lad on the Minnesota farm, I looked at
the photographs of the Holy Land and recognized places and pointed
out changes in places. Also you will remember, as I described the
scene I had witnessed of the healing of the lepers, I told the
missionary that I was a big man with a big sword, astride a horse
and looking on.
That childhood incident was merely a trailing cloud of glory, as
Wordsworth puts it. Not in entire forgetfulness had I, little
Darrell Standing, come into the world. But those memories of other
times and places that glimmered up to the surface of my child
consciousness soon failed and faded. In truth, as is the way with
all children, the shades of the prison-house closed about me, and I
remembered my mighty past no more. Every man born of woman has a
past mighty as mine. Very few men born of women have been fortunate
enough to suffer years of solitary and strait-jacketing. That was
my good fortune. I was enabled to remember once again, and to
remember, among other things, the time when I sat astride a horse
and beheld the lepers healed.
My name was Ragnar Lodbrog. I was in truth a large man. I stood
half a head above the Romans of my legion. But that was later,
after the time of my journey from Alexandria to Jerusalem, that I
came to command a legion. It was a crowded life, that. Books and
books, and years of writing could not record it all. So I shall
briefen and no more than hint at the beginnings of it.
Now all is clear and sharp save the very beginning. I never knew my
mother. I was told that I was tempest-born, on a beaked ship in the
Northern Sea, of a captured woman, after a sea fight and a sack of a
coastal stronghold. I never heard the name of my mother. She died
at the height of the tempest. She was of the North Danes, so old
Lingaard told me. He told me much that I was too young to remember,
yet little could he tell. A sea fight and a sack, battle and
plunder and torch, a flight seaward in the long ships to escape
destruction upon the rocks, and a killing strain and struggle
against the frosty, foundering seas--who, then, should know aught or
mark a stranger woman in her hour with her feet fast set on the way
of death? Many died. Men marked the living women, not the dead.
Sharp-bitten into my child imagination are the incidents immediately
after my birth, as told me by old Lingaard. Lingaard, too old to
labour at the sweeps, had been surgeon, undertaker, and midwife of
the huddled captives in the open midships. So I was delivered in
storm, with the spume of the cresting seas salt upon me.
Not many hours old was I when Tostig Lodbrog first laid eyes on me.
His was the lean ship, and his the seven other lean ships that had
made the foray, fled the rapine, and won through the storm. Tostig
Lodbrog was also called Muspell, meaning "The Burning"; for he was
ever aflame with wrath. Brave he was, and cruel he was, with no
heart of mercy in that great chest of his. Ere the sweat of battle
had dried on him, leaning on his axe, he ate the heart of Ngrun
after the fight at Hasfarth. Because of mad anger he sold his son,
Garulf, into slavery to the Juts. I remember, under the smoky
rafters of Brunanbuhr, how he used to call for the skull of Guthlaf
for a drinking beaker. Spiced wine he would have from no other cup
than the skull of Guthlaf.
And to him, on the reeling deck after the storm was past, old
Lingaard brought me. I was only hours old, wrapped naked in a salt-
crusted wolfskin. Now it happens, being prematurely born, that I
was very small.
"Ho! ho!--a dwarf!" cried Tostig, lowering a pot of mead half-
drained from his lips to stare at me.
The day was bitter, but they say he swept me naked from the
wolfskin, and by my foot, between thumb and forefinger, dangled me
to the bite of the wind.
"A roach!" he ho-ho'd. "A shrimp! A sea-louse!" And he made to
squash me between huge forefinger and thumb, either of which,
Lingaard avers, was thicker than my leg or thigh.
But another whim was upon him.
"The youngling is a-thirst. Let him drink."
And therewith, head-downward, into the half-pot of mead he thrust
me. And might well have drowned in this drink of men--I who had
never known a mother's breast in the briefness of time I had lived--
had it not been for Lingaard. But when he plucked me forth from the
brew, Tostig Lodbrog struck him down in a rage. We rolled on the
deck, and the great bear hounds, captured in the fight with the
North Danes just past, sprang upon us.
"Ho! ho!" roared Tostig Lodbrog, as the old man and I and the
wolfskin were mauled and worried by the dogs.
But Lingaard gained his feet, saving me but losing the wolfskin to
Tostig Lodbrog finished the mead and regarded me, while Lingaard
knew better than to beg for mercy where was no mercy.
"Hop o' my thumb," quoth Tostig. "By Odin, the women of the North
Danes are a scurvy breed. They birth dwarfs, not men. Of what use
is this thing? He will never make a man. Listen you, Lingaard,
grow him to be a drink-boy at Brunanbuhr. And have an eye on the
dogs lest they slobber him down by mistake as a meat-crumb from the
I knew no woman. Old Lingaard was midwife and nurse, and for
nursery were reeling decks and the stamp and trample of men in
battle or storm. How I survived puling infancy, God knows. I must
have been born iron in a day of iron, for survive I did, to give the
lie to Tostig's promise of dwarf-hood. I outgrew all beakers and
tankards, and not for long could he half-drown me in his mead pot.
This last was a favourite feat of his. It was his raw humour, a
sally esteemed by him delicious wit.
My first memories are of Tostig Lodbrog's beaked ships and fighting
men, and of the feast hall at Brunanbuhr when our boats lay beached
beside the frozen fjord. For I was made drink-boy, and amongst my
earliest recollections are toddling with the wine-filled skull of
Guthlaf to the head of the table where Tostig bellowed to the
rafters. They were madmen, all of madness, but it seemed the common
way of life to me who knew naught else. They were men of quick
rages and quick battling. Their thoughts were ferocious; so was
their eating ferocious, and their drinking. And I grew like them.
How else could I grow, when I served the drink to the bellowings of
drunkards and to the skalds singing of Hialli, and the bold Hogni,
and of the Niflung's gold, and of Gudrun's revenge on Atli when she
gave him the hearts of his children and hers to eat while battle
swept the benches, tore down the hangings raped from southern
coasts, and, littered the feasting board with swift corpses.
Oh, I, too, had a rage, well tutored in such school. I was but
eight when I showed my teeth at a drinking between the men of
Brunanbuhr and the Juts who came as friends with the jarl Agard in
his three long ships. I stood at Tostig Lodbrog's shoulder, holding
the skull of Guthlaf that steamed and stank with the hot, spiced
wine. And I waited while Tostig should complete his ravings against
the North Dane men. But still he raved and still I waited, till he
caught breath of fury to assail the North Dane woman. Whereat I
remembered my North Dane mother, and saw my rage red in my eyes, and
smote him with the skull of Guthlaf, so that he was wine-drenched,
and wine-blinded, and fire-burnt. And as he reeled unseeing,
smashing his great groping clutches through the air at me, I was in
and short-dirked him thrice in belly, thigh and buttock, than which
I could reach no higher up the mighty frame of him.
And the jarl Agard's steel was out, and his Juts joining him as he
"A bear cub! A bear cub! By Odin, let the cub fight!"
And there, under that roaring roof of Brunanbuhr, the babbling
drink-boy of the North Danes fought with mighty Lodbrog. And when,
with one stroke, I was flung, dazed and breathless, half the length
of that great board, my flying body mowing down pots and tankards,
Lodbrog cried out command:
"Out with him! Fling him to the hounds!"
But the jarl would have it no, and clapped Lodbrog on the shoulder,
and asked me as a gift of friendship.
And south I went, when the ice passed out of the fjord, in Jarl
Agard's ships. I was made drink-boy and sword-bearer to him, and in
lieu of other name was called Ragnar Lodbrog. Agard's country was
neighbour to the Frisians, and a sad, flat country of fog and fen it
was. I was with him for three years, to his death, always at his
back, whether hunting swamp wolves or drinking in the great hall
where Elgiva, his young wife, often sat among her women. I was with
Agard in south foray with his ships along what would be now the
coast of France, and there I learned that still south were warmer
seasons and softer climes and women.
But we brought back Agard wounded to death and slow-dying. And we
burned his body on a great pyre, with Elgiva, in her golden
corselet, beside him singing. And there were household slaves in
golden collars that burned of a plenty there with her, and nine
female thralls, and eight male slaves of the Angles that were of
gentle birth and battle-captured. And there were live hawks so
burned, and the two hawk-boys with their birds.
But I, the drink-boy, Ragnar Lodbrog, did not burn. I was eleven,
and unafraid, and had never worn woven cloth on my body. And as the
flames sprang up, and Elgiva sang her death-song, and the thralls
and slaves screeched their unwillingness to die, I tore away my
fastenings, leaped, and gained the fens, the gold collar of my
slavehood still on my neck, footing it with the hounds loosed to
tear me down.
In the fens were wild men, masterless men, fled slaves, and outlaws,
who were hunted in sport as the wolves were hunted.
For three years I knew never roof nor fire, and I grew hard as the
frost, and would have stolen a woman from the Juts but that the
Frisians by mischance, in a two days' hunt, ran me down. By them I
was looted of my gold collar and traded for two wolf-hounds to Edwy,
of the Saxons, who put an iron collar on me, and later made of me
and five other slaves a present to Athel of the East Angles. I was
thrall and fighting man, until, lost in an unlucky raid far to the
east beyond our marches, I was sold among the Huns, and was a
swineherd until I escaped south into the great forests and was taken
in as a freeman by the Teutons, who were many, but who lived in
small tribes and drifted southward before the Hun advance.
And up from the south into the great forests came the Romans,
fighting men all, who pressed us back upon the Huns. It was a
crushage of the peoples for lack of room; and we taught the Romans
what fighting was, although in truth we were no less well taught by
But always I remembered the sun of the south-land that I had
glimpsed in the ships of Agard, and it was my fate, caught in this
south drift of the Teutons, to be captured by the Romans and be
brought back to the sea which I had not seen since I was lost away
from the East Angles. I was made a sweep-slave in the galleys, and
it was as a sweep-slave that at last I came to Rome.
All the story is too long of how I became a free-man, a citizen, and
a soldier, and of how, when I was thirty, I journeyed to Alexandria,
and from Alexandria to Jerusalem. Yet what I have told from the
time when I was baptized in the mead-pot of Tostig Lodbrog I have
been compelled to tell in order that you may understand what manner
of man rode in through the Jaffa Gate and drew all eyes upon him.
Well might they look. They were small breeds, lighter-boned and
lighter-thewed, these Romans and Jews, and a blonde like me they had
never gazed upon. All along the narrow streets they gave before me
but stood to stare wide-eyed at this yellow man from the north, or
from God knew where so far as they knew aught of the matter.
Practically all Pilate's troops were auxiliaries, save for a handful
of Romans about the palace and the twenty Romans who rode with me.
Often enough have I found the auxiliaries good soldiers, but never
so steadily dependable as the Romans. In truth they were better
fighting men the year round than were we men of the North, who
fought in great moods and sulked in great moods. The Roman was
invariably steady and dependable.
There was a woman from the court of Antipas, who was a friend of
Pilate's wife and whom I met at Pilate's the night of my arrival. I
shall call her Miriam, for Miriam was the name I loved her by. If
it were merely difficult to describe the charm of women, I would
describe Miriam. But how describe emotion in words? The charm of
woman is wordless. It is different from perception that culminates
in reason, for it arises in sensation and culminates in emotion,
which, be it admitted, is nothing else than super-sensation.
In general, any woman has fundamental charm for any man. When this
charm becomes particular, then we call it love. Miriam had this
particular charm for me. Verily I was co-partner in her charm.
Half of it was my own man's life in me that leapt and met her wide-
armed and made in me all that she was desirable plus all my desire
Miriam was a grand woman. I use the term advisedly. She was fine-
bodied, commanding, over and above the average Jewish woman in
stature and in line. She was an aristocrat in social caste; she was
an aristocrat by nature. All her ways were large ways, generous
ways. She had brain, she had wit, and, above all, she had
womanliness. As you shall see, it was her womanliness that betrayed
her and me in they end. Brunette, olive-skinned, oval-faced, her
hair was blue-black with its blackness and her eyes were twin wells
of black. Never were more pronounced types of blonde and brunette
in man and woman met than in us.
And we met on the instant. There was no self-discussion, no
waiting, wavering, to make certain. She was mine the moment I
looked upon her. And by the same token she knew that I belonged to
her above all men. I strode to her. She half-lifted from her couch
as if drawn upward to me. And then we looked with all our eyes,
blue eyes and black, until Pilate's wife, a thin, tense, overwrought
woman, laughed nervously. And while I bowed to the wife and gave
greeting, I thought I saw Pilate give Miriam a significant glance,
as if to say, "Is he not all I promised?" For he had had word of my
coming from Sulpicius Quirinius, the legate of Syria. As well had
Pilate and I been known to each other before ever he journeyed out
to be procurator over the Semitic volcano of Jerusalem.
Much talk we had that night, especially Pilate, who spoke in detail
of the local situation, and who seemed lonely and desirous to share
his anxieties with some one and even to bid for counsel. Pilate was
of the solid type of Roman, with sufficient imagination
intelligently to enforce the iron policy of Rome, and not unduly
excitable under stress.
But on this night it was plain that he was worried. The Jews had
got on his nerves. They were too volcanic, spasmodic, eruptive.
And further, they were subtle. The Romans had a straight,
forthright way of going about anything. The Jews never approached
anything directly, save backwards, when they were driven by
compulsion. Left to themselves, they always approached by
indirection. Pilate's irritation was due, as he explained, to the
fact that the Jews were ever intriguing to make him, and through him
Rome, the catspaw in the matter of their religious dissensions. As
was well known to me, Rome did not interfere with the religious
notions of its conquered peoples; but the Jews were for ever
confusing the issues and giving a political cast to purely
Pilate waxed eloquent over the diverse sects and the fanatic
uprisings and riotings that were continually occurring
"Lodbrog," he said, "one can never tell what little summer cloud of
their hatching may turn into a thunder-storm roaring and rattling
about one's ears. I am here to keep order and quiet. Despite me
they make the place a hornets' nest. Far rather would I govern
Scythians or savage Britons than these people who are never at peace
about God. Right now there is a man up to the north, a fisherman
turned preacher, and miracle-worker, who as well as not may soon
have all the country by the ears and my recall on its way from
This was the first I had heard of the man called Jesus, and I little
remarked it at the time. Not until afterward did I remember him,
when the little summer cloud had become a full-fledged thunderstorm.
"I have had report of him," Pilate went on. "He is not political.
There is no doubt of that. But trust Caiaphas, and Hanan behind
Caiaphas, to make of this fisherman a political thorn with which to
prick Rome and ruin me."
"This Caiaphas, I have heard of him as high priest, then who is this
Hanan?" I asked.
"The real high priest, a cunning fox," Pilate explained. "Caiaphas
was appointed by Gratus, but Caiaphas is the shadow and the
mouthpiece of Hanan."
"They have never forgiven you that little matter of the votive
shields," Miriam teased.
Whereupon, as a man will when his sore place is touched, Pilate
launched upon the episode, which had been an episode, no more, at
the beginning, but which had nearly destroyed him. In all innocence
before his palace he had affixed two shields with votive
inscriptions. Ere the consequent storm that burst on his head had
passed the Jews had written their complaints to Tiberius, who
approved them and reprimanded Pilate. I was glad, a little later,
when I could have talk with Miriam. Pilate's wife had found
opportunity to tell me about her. She was of old royal stock. Her
sister was wife of Philip, tetrarch of Gaulonitis and Batanaea. Now
this Philip was brother to Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea,
and both were sons of Herod, called by the Jews the "Great."
Miriam, as I understood, was at home in the courts of both
tetrarchs, being herself of the blood. Also, when a girl, she had
been betrothed to Archelaus at the time he was ethnarch of
Jerusalem. She had a goodly fortune in her own right, so that
marriage had not been compulsory. To boot, she had a will of her
own, and was doubtless hard to please in so important a matter as
It must have been in the very air we breathed, for in no time Miriam
and I were at it on the subject of religion. Truly, the Jews of
that day battened on religion as did we on fighting and feasting.
For all my stay in that country there was never a moment when my
wits were not buzzing with the endless discussions of life and
death, law, and God. Now Pilate believed neither in gods, nor
devils, nor anything. Death, to him, was the blackness of unbroken
sleep; and yet, during his years in Jerusalem, he was ever vexed
with the inescapable fuss and fury of things religious. Why, I had
a horse-boy on my trip into Idumaea, a wretched creature that could
never learn to saddle and who yet could talk, and most learnedly,
without breath, from nightfall to sunrise, on the hair-splitting
differences in the teachings of all the rabbis from Shemaiah to
But to return to Miriam.
"You believe you are immortal," she was soon challenging me. "Then
why do you fear to talk about it?"
"Why burden my mind with thoughts about certainties?" I countered.
"But are you certain?" she insisted. "Tell me about it. What is it
And when I had told her of Niflheim and Muspell, of the birth of the
giant Ymir from the snowflakes, of the cow Andhumbla, and of Fenrir
and Loki and the frozen Jotuns--as I say, when I had told her of all
this, and of Thor and Odin and our own Valhalla, she clapped her
hands and cried out, with sparkling eyes:
"Oh, you barbarian! You great child! You yellow giant-thing of the
frost! You believer of old nurse tales and stomach satisfactions!
But the spirit of you, that which cannot die, where will it go when
your body is dead?"
"As I have said, Valhalla," I answered. "And my body shall be
"And loving," I added. "We must have our women in heaven, else what
is heaven for?"
"I do not like your heaven," she said. "It is a mad place, a beast
place, a place of frost and storm and fury."
"And your heaven?" I questioned.
"Is always unending summer, with the year at the ripe for the fruits
and flowers and growing things."
I shook my head and growled:
"I do not like your heaven. It is a sad place, a soft place, a
place for weaklings and eunuchs and fat, sobbing shadows of men."
My remarks must have glamoured her mind, for her eyes continued to
sparkle, and mine was half a guess that she was leading me on.
"My heaven," she said, "is the abode of the blest."
"Valhalla is the abode of the blest," I asserted. "For look you,
who cares for flowers where flowers always are? in my country, after
the iron winter breaks and the sun drives away the long night, the
first blossoms twinkling on the melting ice-edge are things of joy,
and we look, and look again.
"And fire!" I cried out. "Great glorious fire! A fine heaven yours
where a man cannot properly esteem a roaring fire under a tight roof
with wind and snow a-drive outside."
"A simple folk, you," she was back at me. "You build a roof and a
fire in a snowbank and call it heaven. In my heaven we do not have
to escape the wind and snow."
"No," I objected. "We build roof and fire to go forth from into the
frost and storm and to return to from the frost and storm. Man's
life is fashioned for battle with frost and storm. His very fire
and roof he makes by his battling. I know. For three years, once,
I knew never roof nor fire. I was sixteen, and a man, ere ever I
wore woven cloth on my body. I was birthed in storm, after battle,
and my swaddling cloth was a wolfskin. Look at me and see what
manner of man lives in Valhalla."
And look she did, all a-glamour, and cried out:
"You great, yellow giant-thing of a man!" Then she added pensively,
"Almost it saddens me that there may not be such men in my heaven."
"It is a good world," I consoled her. "Good is the plan and wide.
There is room for many heavens. It would seem that to each is given
the heaven that is his heart's desire. A good country, truly, there
beyond the grave. I doubt not I shall leave our feast halls and
raid your coasts of sun and flowers, and steal you away. My mother
was so stolen."
And in the pause I looked at her, and she looked at me, and dared to
look. And my blood ran fire. By Odin, this was a woman!
What might have happened I know not, for Pilate, who had ceased from
his talk with Ambivius and for some time had sat grinning, broke the
"A rabbi, a Teutoberg rabbi!" he gibed. "A new preacher and a new
doctrine come to Jerusalem. Now will there be more dissensions, and
riotings, and stonings of prophets. The gods save us, it is a mad-
house. Lodbrog, I little thought it of you. Yet here you are,
spouting and fuming as wildly as any madman from the desert about
what shall happen to you when you are dead. One life at a time,
Lodbrog. It saves trouble. It saves trouble."
"Go on, Miriam, go on," his wife cried.
She had sat entranced during the discussion, with hands tightly
clasped, and the thought flickered up in my mind that she had
already been corrupted by the religious folly of Jerusalem. At any
rate, as I was to learn in the days that followed, she was unduly
bent upon such matters. She was a thin woman, as if wasted by
fever. Her skin was tight-stretched. Almost it seemed I could look
through her hands did she hold them between me and the light. She
was a good woman, but highly nervous, and, at times, fancy-flighted
about shades and signs and omens. Nor was she above seeing visions
and hearing voices. As for me, I had no patience with such
weaknesses. Yet was she a good woman with no heart of evil.
I was on a mission for Tiberius, and it was my ill luck to see
little of Miriam. On my return from the court of Antipas she had
gone into Batanaea to Philip's court, where was her sister. Once
again I was back in Jerusalem, and, though it was no necessity of my
business to see Philip, who, though weak, was faithful to Roman
will, I journeyed into Batanaea in the hope of meeting with Miriam.
Then there was my trip into Idumaea. Also, I travelled into Syria
in obedience to the command of Sulpicius Quirinius, who, as imperial
legate, was curious of my first-hand report of affairs in Jerusalem.
Thus, travelling wide and much, I had opportunity to observe the
strangeness of the Jews who were so madly interested in God. It was
their peculiarity. Not content with leaving such matters to their
priests, they were themselves for ever turning priests and preaching
wherever they could find a listener. And listeners they found a-
They gave up their occupations to wander about the country like
beggars, disputing and bickering with the rabbis and Talmudists in
the synagogues and temple porches. It was in Galilee, a district of
little repute, the inhabitants of which were looked upon as witless,
that I crossed the track of the man Jesus. It seems that he had
been a carpenter, and after that a fisherman, and that his fellow-
fishermen had ceased dragging their nets and followed him in his
wandering life. Some few looked upon him as a prophet, but the most
contended that he was a madman. My wretched horse-boy, himself
claiming Talmudic knowledge second to none, sneered at Jesus,
calling him the king of the beggars, calling his doctrine Ebionism,
which, as he explained to me, was to the effect that only the poor
should win to heaven, while the rich and powerful were to burn for
ever in some lake of fire.
It was my observation that it was the custom of the country for
every man to call every other man a madman. In truth, in my
judgment, they were all mad. There was a plague of them. They cast
out devils by magic charms, cured diseases by the laying on of
hands, drank deadly poisons unharmed, and unharmed played with
deadly snakes--or so they claimed. They ran away to starve in the
deserts. They emerged howling new doctrine, gathering crowds about
them, forming new sects that split on doctrine and formed more
"By Odin," I told Pilate, "a trifle of our northern frost and snow
would cool their wits. This climate is too soft. In place of
building roofs and hunting meat, they are ever building doctrine."
"And altering the nature of God," Pilate corroborated sourly. "A
curse on doctrine."
"So say I," I agreed. "If ever I get away with unaddled wits from
this mad land, I'll cleave through whatever man dares mention to me
what may happen after I am dead."
Never were such trouble makers. Everything under the sun was pious
or impious to them. They, who were so clever in hair-splitting
argument, seemed incapable of grasping the Roman idea of the State.
Everything political was religious; everything religious was
political. Thus every procurator's hands were full. The Roman
eagles, the Roman statues, even the votive shields of Pilate, were
deliberate insults to their religion.
The Roman taking of the census was an abomination. Yet it had to be
done, for it was the basis of taxation. But there it was again.
Taxation by the State was a crime against their law and God. Oh,
that Law! It was not the Roman law. It was their law, what they
called God's law. There were the zealots, who murdered anybody who
broke this law. And for a procurator to punish a zealot caught red-
handed was to raise a riot or an insurrection.
Everything, with these strange people, was done in the name of God.
There were what we Romans called the THAUMATURGI. They worked
miracles to prove doctrine. Ever has it seemed to me a witless
thing to prove the multiplication table by turning a staff into a
serpent, or even into two serpents. Yet these things the
thaumaturgi did, and always to the excitement of the common people.
Heavens, what sects and sects! Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees--a
legion of them! No sooner did they start with a new quirk when it
turned political. Coponius, procurator fourth before Pilate, had a
pretty time crushing the Gaulonite sedition which arose in this
fashion and spread down from Gamala.
In Jerusalem, that last time I rode in, it was easy to note the
increasing excitement of the Jews. They ran about in crowds,
chattering and spouting. Some were proclaiming the end of the
world. Others satisfied themselves with the imminent destruction of
the Temple. And there were rank revolutionises who announced that
Roman rule was over and the new Jewish kingdom about to begin.
Pilate, too, I noted, showed heavy anxiety. That they were giving
him a hard time of it was patent. But I will say, as you shall see,
that he matched their subtlety with equal subtlety; and from what I
saw of him I have little doubt but what he would have confounded
many a disputant in the synagogues.
"But half a legion of Romans," he regretted to me, "and I would take
Jerusalem by the throat . . . and then be recalled for my pains, I
Like me, he had not too much faith in the auxiliaries; and of Roman
soldiers we had but a scant handful.
Back again, I lodged in the palace, and to my great joy found Miriam
there. But little satisfaction was mine, for the talk ran long on
the situation. There was reason for this, for the city buzzed like
the angry hornets' nest it was. The fast called the Passover--a
religious affair, of course--was near, and thousands were pouring in
from the country, according to custom, to celebrate the feast in
Jerusalem. These newcomers, naturally, were all excitable folk,
else they would not be bent on such pilgrimage. The city was packed
with them, so that many camped outside the walls. As for me, I
could not distinguish how much of the ferment was due to the
teachings of the wandering fisherman, and how much of it was due to
Jewish hatred for Rome.
"A tithe, no more, and maybe not so much, is due to this Jesus,"
Pilate answered my query. "Look to Caiaphas and Hanan for the main
cause of the excitement. They know what they are about. They are
stirring it up, to what end who can tell, except to cause me
"Yes, it is certain that Caiaphas and Hanan are responsible," Miriam
said, "but you, Pontius Pilate, are only a Roman and do not
understand. Were you a Jew, you would realize that there is a
greater seriousness at the bottom of it than mere dissension of the
sectaries or trouble-making for you and Rome. The high priests and
Pharisees, every Jew of place or wealth, Philip, Antipas, myself--we
are all fighting for very life.
"This fisherman may be a madman. If so, there is a cunning in his
madness. He preaches the doctrine of the poor. He threatens our
law, and our law is our life, as you have learned ere this. We are
jealous of our law, as you would be jealous of the air denied your
body by a throttling hand on your throat. It is Caiaphas and Hanan
and all they stand for, or it is the fisherman. They must destroy
him, else he will destroy them."
"Is it not strange, so simple a man, a fisherman?" Pilate's wife
breathed forth. "What manner of man can he be to possess such
power? I would that I could see him. I would that with my own eyes
I could see so remarkable a man."
Pilate's brows corrugated at her words, and it was clear that to the
burden on his nerves was added the overwrought state of his wife's
"If you would see him, beat up the dens of the town," Miriam laughed
spitefully. "You will find him wine-bibbing or in the company of
nameless women. Never so strange a prophet came up to Jerusalem."
"And what harm in that?" I demanded, driven against my will to take
the part of the fisherman. "Have I not wine-guzzled a-plenty and
passed strange nights in all the provinces? The man is a man, and
his ways are men's ways, else am I a madman, which I here deny."
Miriam shook her head as she spoke.
"He is not mad. Worse, he is dangerous. All Ebionism is dangerous.
He would destroy all things that are fixed. He is a revolutionist.
He would destroy what little is left to us of the Jewish state and
Here Pilate shook his head.
"He is not political. I have had report of him. He is a visionary.
There is no sedition in him. He affirms the Roman tax even."
"Still you do not understand," Miriam persisted. "It is not what he
plans; it is the effect, if his plans are achieved, that makes him a
revolutionist. I doubt that he foresees the effect. Yet is the man
a plague, and, like any plague, should be stamped out."
"From all that I have heard, he is a good-hearted, simple man with
no evil in him," I stated.
And thereat I told of the healing of the ten lepers I had witnessed
in Samaria on my way through Jericho.
Pilate's wife sat entranced at what I told. Came to our ears
distant shoutings and cries of some street crowd, and we knew the
soldiers were keeping the streets cleared.
"And you believe this wonder, Lodbrog?" Pilate demanded. "You
believe that in the flash of an eye the festering sores departed
from the lepers?"