Part 2 out of 4
that the Home Secretary had got very drunk at Caerlaverock House,
and still under the influence of liquor had addressed the Young
Liberals at Oldham. He was now in an Inebriates' Home, and would
not return to the House that session. I confess I trembled when
I heard this story, for it was altogether too libellous to pass
unnoticed. I believed that soon it would reach the ear of
Cargill, fishing quietly at Tomandhoul, and that then there would
be the deuce to pay.
Nor was I wrong. A few days later I went to see my aunt to find
out how the land lay. She was very bitter, I remember, about
Claudia Barriton. "I expected sympathy and help from her, and
she never comes near me. I can understand her being absorbed in
her engagement, but I cannot understand the frivolous way she
spoke when I saw her yesterday. She had the audacity to say that
both Mr. Vennard and Mr. Cargill had gone up in her estimation.
Young people can be so heartless."
I would have defended Miss Barriton, but at this moment an
astonishing figure was announced. It was Mrs. Cargill in
travelling dress, with a purple bonnet and a green motor-veil.
Her face was scarlet, whether from excitement or the winds of
Tomandhoul, and she charged down on us like a young bull.
"We have come back," she said, "to meet our accusers. "
"Accusers!" cried my aunt.
"Yes, accusers!" said the lady. "The abominable rumour about
Alexander has reached our ears. At this moment he is with the
Prime Minister, demanding an official denial. I have come to
you, because it was here, at your table, that Alexander is said
to have fallen."
"I really don't know what you mean, Mrs. Cargill."
"I mean that Alexander is said to have become drunk while dining
here, to have been drunk when he spoke at Oldham, and to be now
in a Drunkard's Home." The poor lady broke down, "Alexander,"
she cried, "who has been a teetotaller from his youth, and for
thirty years an elder in the U.P. Church! No form of intoxicant
has ever been permitted at our table. Even in illness the thing
has never passed our lips."
My aunt by this time had pulled herself together. "If this
outrageous story is current, Mrs. Cargill, there was nothing for
it but to come back. Your friends know that it is a gross libel.
The only denial necessary is for Mr. Cargill to resume his work.
I trust his health is better."
"He is well, but heartbroken. His is a sensitive nature, Lady
Caerlaverock, and he feels a stain like a wound."
"There is no stain," said my aunt briskly. "Every public man is
a target for scandals, but no one but a fool believes them. They
will die a natural death when he returns to work. An official
denial would make everybody look ridiculous, and encourage the
ordinary person to think that there may have been something in
them. Believe me, dear Mrs. Cargill, there is nothing to be
anxious about now that you are back in London again."
On the contrary, I thought, there was more cause for anxiety than
ever. Cargill was back in the House and the illness game could
not be played a second time. I went home that night acutely
sympathetic towards the worries of the Prime Minister. Mulross
would be abroad in a day or two, and Vennard and Cargill were
volcanoes in eruption. The Government was in a parlous state,
with three demented Ministers on the loose.
The same night I first heard the story of The Bill. Vennard had
done more than play golf at Littlestone. His active mind--for
his bitterest enemies never denied his intellectual energy--had
been busy on a great scheme. At that time, it will be
remembered, a serious shrinkage of unskilled labour existed not
only in the Transvaal, but in the new copper fields of East
Africa. Simultaneously a famine was scourging Behar, and
Vennard, to do him justice, had made manful efforts to cope with
it. He had gone fully into the question, and had been slowly
coming to the conclusion that Behar was hopelessly overcrowded.
In his new frame of mind--unswervingly logical, utterly
unemotional, and wholly unbound by tradition--he had come to
connect the African and Indian troubles, and to see in one the
relief of the other. The first fruit of his meditations was a
letter to The Times. In it he laid down a new theory of
emigration. The peoples of the Empire, he said, must be mobile,
shifting about to suit economic conditions. But if this was true
of the white man, it was equally true for the dark races under
our tutelage. He referred to the famine and argued that the
recurrence of such disasters was inevitable, unless we assisted
the poverty-stricken ryot to emigrate and sell his labour to
advantage. He proposed indentures and terminable contracts, for
he declared he had no wish to transplant for good. All that was
needed was a short season of wage-earning abroad, that the
labourer might return home with savings which would set him for
the future on a higher economic plane. The letter was temperate
and academic in phrasing, the speculation of a publicist rather
than the declaration of a Minister. But in Liberals, who
remembered the pandemonium raised over the Chinese in South
Africa, it stirred up the gloomiest forebodings.
Then, whispered from mouth to mouth, came the news of the Great
Bill. Vennard, it was said, intended to bring in a measure at
the earliest possible date to authorise a scheme of enforced and
State-aided emigration to the African mines. It would apply at
first only to the famine districts, but power would be given to
extend its working by proclamation to other areas. Such was the
rumour, and I need not say it was soon magnified. Questions were
asked in the House which the Speaker ruled out of order. Furious
articles, inviting denial, appeared in the Liberal Press; but
Vennard took not the slightest notice. He spent his time between
his office in Whitehall and the links at Littlestone, dropping
into the House once or twice for half an hour's slumber while a
colleague was speaking. His Under Secretary in the Lords--a
young gentleman who had joined the party for a bet, and to his
immense disgust had been immediately rewarded with office--lost
his temper under cross-examination and swore audibly at the
Opposition. In a day or two the story universally believed was
that the Secretary for India was about to transfer the bulk of
the Indian people to work as indentured labourers for South
It was this popular version, I fancy, which reached the ears of
Ram Singh, and the news came on him like a thunderclap. He
thought that what Vennard proposed Vennard could do. He saw his
native province stripped of its people, his fields left
unploughed, and his cattle untended; nay, it was possible, his
own worthy and honourable self sent to a far country to dig in a
hole. It was a grievous and intolerable prospect. He walked
home to Gloucester Road in heavy preoccupation, and the first
thing he did was to get out the mysterious brass box in which he
kept his valuables. From a pocket-book he took a small silk
packet, opened it, and spilled a few clear grains on his hand.
It was the antidote.
He waited two days, while on all sides the rumour of the Bill
grew stronger and its provisions more stringent. Then he
hesitated no longer, but sent for Lord Caerlaverock's cook.
I conceive that the drug did not create new opinions, but
elicited those which had hitherto lain dormant. Every man has a
creed, but in his soul he knows that that creed has another side,
possibly not less logical, which it does not suit him to produce.
Our most honest convictions are not the children of pure reason,
but of temperament, environment, necessity, and interest. Most
of us take sides in life and forget the one we reject. But our
conscience tells us it is there, and we can on occasion state it
with a fairness and fulness which proves that it is not wholly
repellent to our reason. During the crisis I write of, the
attitude of Cargill and Vennard was not that of roysterers out
for irresponsible mischief. They were eminently reasonable and
wonderfully logical, and in private conversation they gave their
opponents a very bad time. Cargill, who had hitherto been the
hope of the extreme Free-traders, wrote an article for the
Quarterly on Tariff Reform. It was set up, but long before it
could be used it was cancelled and the type scattered. I have
seen a proof of it, however, and I confess I have never read a
more brilliant defence of a doctrine which the author had
hitherto described as a childish heresy. Which proves my
contention--that Cargill all along knew that there was a case
against Free Trade, but naturally did not choose to admit it, his
allegiance being vowed elsewhere. The drug altered temperament,
and with it the creed which is based mainly on temperament. It
scattered current convictions, roused dormant speculations, and
without damaging the reason switched it on to a new track.
I can see all this now, but at the time I saw only stark madness
and the horrible ingenuity of the lunatic. While Vennard was
ruminating on his Bill, Cargill was going about London arguing
like a Scotch undergraduate. The Prime Minister had seen from
the start that the Home Secretary was the worse danger. Vennard
might talk of his preposterous Bill, but the Cabinet would have
something to say to it before its introduction, and he was
mercifully disinclined to go near St. Stephen's. But Cargill was
assiduous in his attendance at the House, and at any moment might
blow the Government sky-high. His colleagues were detailed in
relays to watch him. One would hale him to luncheon, and keep
him till question time was over. Another would insist on taking
him for a motor ride, which would end in a break-down about
Brentford. Invitations to dinner were showered upon him, and
Cargill, who had been unknown in society, found the whole social
machinery of his party set at work to make him a lion. The
result was that he was prevented from speaking in public, but
given far too much encouragement to talk in private. He talked
incessantly, before, at, and after dinner, and he did enormous
harm. He was horribly clever, too, and usually got the best of
an argument, so that various eminent private Liberals had their
tempers ruined by his dialectic. In his rich and unabashed
accent--he had long discarded his Edinburgh-English--he dissected
their arguments and ridiculed their character. He had once been
famous for his soapy manners: now he was as rough as a Highland
Things could not go on in this fashion: the risk was too great.
It was just a fortnight, I think, after the Caerlaverock
dinner-party, when the Prime Minister resolved to bring matters
to a head. He could not afford to wait for ever on a return of
sanity. He consulted Caerlaverock, and it was agreed that
Vennard and Cargill should be asked, or rather commanded to dine
on the following evening at Caerlaverock House. Mulross, whose
sanity was not suspected, and whose ankle was now well again, was
also invited, as were three other members of the Cabinet and
myself as amicus curiae. It was understood that after dinner
there would be a settling-up with the two rebels. Either they
should recant and come to heel, or they should depart from the
fold to swell the wolf-pack of the Opposition. The Prime
Minister did not conceal the loss which his party would suffer,
but he argued very sensibly that anything was better than a brace
of vipers in its bosom.
I have never attended a more lugubrious function. When I arrived
I found Caerlaverock, the Prime Minister, and the three other
members of the Cabinet standing round a small fire in attitudes
of nervous dejection. I remember it was a raw wet evening, but
the gloom out of doors was sunshine compared to the gloom within.
Caerlaverock's viceregal air had sadly altered. The Prime
Minister, once famous for his genial manners, was pallid and
preoccupied. We exchanged remarks about the weather and the
duration of the session. Then we fell silent till Mulross
He did not look as if he had come from a sickbed. He came in as
jaunty as a boy, limping just a little from his accident. He was
greeted by his colleagues with tender solicitude,--solicitude, I
fear, completely wasted on him.
"Devilish silly thing to do to get run over," he said. "I was
in a brown study when a cab came round a corner. But I don't
regret it, you know. During the last fortnight I have had
leisure to go into this Bosnian Succession business, and I see
now that Von Kladow has been playing one big game of bluff. Very
well; it has got to stop. I am going to prick the bubble before
I am many days older."
The Prime Minister looked anxious. "Our policy towards Bosnia
has been one of non-interference. It is not for us, I should
have thought, to read Germany a lesson."
"Oh, come now," Mulross said, slapping--yes, actually slapping--
his leader on the back; "we may drop that nonsense when we are
alone. You know very well that there are limits to our game of
non-interference. If we don't read Germany a lesson, she will
read us one--and a damned long unpleasant one too. The sooner we
give up all this milk-blooded, blue-spectacled, pacificist talk
the better. However, you will see what I have got to say
to-morrow in the House."
The Prime Minister's face lengthened. Mulross was not the pillar
he had thought him, but a splintering reed. I saw that he agreed
with me that this was the most dangerous of the lot.
Then Cargill and Vennard came in together. Both looking
uncommonly fit, younger, trimmer, cleaner. Vennard, instead of
his sloppy clothes and shaggy hair, was groomed like a Guardsman;
had a large pearl-and-diamond solitaire in his shirt, and a white
waistcoat with jewelled buttons. He had lost all his
self-consciousness, grinned cheerfully at the others, warmed his
hands at the fire, and cursed the weather. Cargill, too, had
lost his sanctimonious look. There was a bloom of rustic health
on his cheek, and a sparkle in his eye, so that he had the
appearance of some rosy Scotch laird of Raeburn's painting. Both
men wore an air of purpose and contentment .
Vennard turned at once on the Prime Minister. "Did you get my
letter?" he asked. "No? Well, you'll find it waiting when
you get home. We're all friends here, so I can tell you its
contents. We must get rid of this ridiculous Radical 'tail.'
They think they have the whip-hand of us; well, we have got to
prove that we can do very well without them. They are a
collection of confounded, treacherous, complacent prigs, but they
have no grit in them, and will come to heel if we tackle them
firmly. I respect an honest fanatic, but I do not respect those
sentiment-mongers. They have the impudence to say that the
country is with them. I tell you it is rank nonsense. If you
take a strong hand with them, you'll double your popularity, and
we'll come back next year with an increased majority. Cargill
agrees with me."
The Prime Minister looked grave. "I am not prepared to discuss
any policy of ostracism. What you call our 'tail' is a vital
section of our party. Their creed may be one-sided, but it is
none the less part of our mandate from the people."
"I want a leader who governs as well as reigns," said Vennard. "I
believe in discipline, and you know as well as I do that the
Rump is infernally out of hand."
"They are not the only members who fail in discipline."
Vennard grinned. "I suppose you mean Cargill and myself. But we
are following the central lines of British policy. We are on
your side, and we want to make your task easier."
Cargill suddenly began to laugh. "I don't want any ostracism.
Leave them alone, and Vennard and I will undertake to give them
such a time in the House that they will wish they had never been
born. We'll make them resign in batches."
Dinner was announced, and, laughing uproariously, the two rebels
went arm-in-arm into the dining-room.
Cargill was in tremendous form. He began to tell Scotch stories,
memories of his old Parliament House days. He told them
admirably, with a raciness of idiom which I had thought beyond
him. They were long tales, and some were as broad as they were
long, but Mr. Cargill disarmed criticism. His audience, rather
scandalised at the start, were soon captured, and political
troubles were forgotten in old-fashioned laughter. Even the Prime
Minister's anxious face relaxed.
This lasted till the entree, the famous Caerlaverock curry.
As I have said, I was not in the secret, and did not detect the
transition. As I partook of the dish I remember feeling a sudden
giddiness and a slight nausea. The antidote, to those who had
not taken the drug, must have been, I suppose, in the nature of a
mild emetic. A mist seemed to obscure the faces of my
fellow-guests, and slowly the tide of conversation ebbed away.
First Vennard, then Cargill, became silent. I was feeling rather
sick, and I noticed with some satisfaction that all our faces
were a little green. I wondered casually if I had been poisoned.
The sensation passed, but the party had changed. More especially
I was soon conscious that something had happened to the three
Ministers. I noticed Mulross particularly, for he was my
neighbour. The look of keenness and vitality had died out of
him, and suddenly he seemed a rather old, rather tired man, very
weary about the eyes.
I asked him if he felt seedy.
"No, not specially," he replied, "but that accident gave me a
"You should go off for a change," I said.
"I almost thimk I will," was the answer. "I had not meant to
leave town till just before the Twelth but I think I had better
get away to Marienbad for a fortnight. There is nothing doing in
the House, and work at the Office is at a standstill. Yes, I
fancy I'll go abroad before the end of the week."
I caught the Prime Minister's eye and saw that he had forgotten
the purpose of the dinner, being dimly conscious that that
purpose was now idle. Cargill and Vennard had ceased to talk
like rebels. The Home Secretary had subsided into his old,
suave, phrasing self. The humour had gone out of his eye, and
the looseness had returned to his lips. He was an older and more
commonplace man, but harmless, quite harmless. Vennard, too,
wore a new air, or rather had recaptured his old one. He was
saying little, but his voice had lost its crispness and recovered
its half-plaintive unction; his shoulders had a droop in them;
once more he bristled with self-consciousness.
We others were still shaky from that detestable curry, and were
so puzzled as to be acutely uncomfortable. Relief would come
later, no doubt; for the present we were uneasy at this weird
transformation. I saw the Prime Minister examining the two faces
intently, and the result seemed to satisfy him. He sighed and
looked at Caerlaverock, who smiled and nodded.
"What about that Bill of yours, Vennard?" he asked. "There
have been a lot of stupid rumours."
"Bill?" Vennard said. "I know of no Bill. Now that my
departmental work is over, I can give my whole soul to Cargill's
Small Holdings. Do you mean that?"
"Yes, of course. There was some confusion in the popular mind,
but the old arrangement holds. You and Cargill will put it
through between you."
They began to talk about those weariful small holdings, and I
ceased to listen. We left the dining-room and drifted to the
lihrary, where a fire tried to dispel the gloom of the weather.
There was a feeling of deadly depression abroad, so that, for all
its awkwardness, I would really have preferred the former
Caerlaverock dinner. The Prime Minister was whispering to his
host. I heard him say something about there being "the devil of
a lot of explaining" before him.
Vennard and Cargill came last to the library, arm-in-arm as
"I should count it a greater honour," Vennard was saying, "to
sweeten the lot of one toiler in England than to add a million
miles to our territory. While one English household falls below
the minimum scale of civic wellbeing, all talk of Empire is sin
and folly." "Excellent!" said Mr. Cargill. Then I knew for
certain that at last peace had descended upon the vexed tents of
THE SHORTER CATECHISM
When I was young and herdit sheep
I read auld tales o' Wallace wight;
My held was fou o' sangs and threip
O' folk that feared nae mortal might.
But noo I'm auld, and weel I ken
We're made alike o' gowd and mire;
There's saft bits in the stievest men,
The bairnliest's got a spunk o' fire.
Sae hearken to me, lads,
It's truth that I tell:
There's nae man a' courage--
I ken by mysel'.
I've been an elder forty year:
I've tried to keep the narrow way:
I've walked afore the Lord in fear:
I've never missed the kirk a day.
I've read the Bible in and oot,
(I ken the feck o't clean by hert).
But, still and on, I sair misdoot
I'm better noo than at the stert.
Sae hearken to me, lads,
It's truth I maintain:
Man's works are but rags, for
I ken by my ain.
I hae a name for decent trade:
I'll wager a' the countryside
Wad sweer nae trustier man was made,
The ford to soom, the bent to bide.
But when it comes to coupin' horse,
I'm just like a' that e'er was born;
I fling my heels and tak' my course;
I'd sell the minister the morn.
Sae hearken to me, lads,
It's truth that I tell:
There's nae man deid honest--
I ken by mysel'.
He pushed the matted locks from his brow as he peered into the
mist. His hair was thick with salt, and his eyes smarted from
the greenwood fire on the poop. The four slaves who crouched
beside the thwarts-Carians with thin birdlike faces-were in a
pitiable case, their hands blue with oar-weals and the lash marks
on their shoulders beginning to gape from sun and sea. The
Lemnian himself bore marks of ill usage. His cloak was still
sopping, his eyes heavy with watching, and his lips black and
cracked with thirst. Two days before the storm had caught him
and swept his little craft into mid-Aegean. He was a sailor,
come of sailor stock, and he had fought the gale manfully and
well. But the sea had burst his waterjars, and the torments of
drought had been added to his toil. He had been driven south
almost to Scyros, but had found no harbour. Then a weary day
with the oars had brought him close to the Euboean shore, when a
freshet of storm drove him seaward again. Now at last in this
northerly creek of Sciathos he had found shelter and a spring.
But it was a perilous place, for there were robbers in the bushy
hills-mainland men who loved above all things to rob an islander:
and out at sea, as he looked towards Pelion, there seemed
something adoing which boded little good. There was deep water
beneath a ledge of cliff, half covered by a tangle of wildwood.
So Atta lay in the bows, looking through the trails of vine at
the racing tides now reddening in the dawn.
The storm had hit others besides him it seemed. The channel was
full of ships, aimless ships that tossed between tide and wind.
Looking closer, he saw that they were all wreckage. There had
been tremendous doings in the north, and a navy of some sort had
come to grief. Atta was a prudent man, and knew that a broken
fleet might be dangerous. There might be men lurking in the
maimed galleys who would make short work of the owner of a
battered but navigable craft. At first he thought that the ships
were those of the Hellenes. The troublesome fellows were
everywhere in the islands, stirring up strife and robbing the old
lords. But the tides running strongly from the east were
bringing some of the wreckage in an eddy into the bay. He lay
closer and watched the spars and splintered poops as they neared
him. These were no galleys of the Hellenes. Then came a drowned
man, swollen and horrible: then another-swarthy, hooknosed
fellows, all yellow with the sea. Atta was puzzled. They must
be the men from the East about whom he had been hearing. Long
ere he left Lemnos there had been news about the Persians. They
were coming like locusts out of the dawn, swarming over Ionia and
Thrace, men and ships numerous beyond telling. They meant no ill
to honest islanders: a little earth and water were enough to win
their friendship. But they meant death to the hubris of the
Hellenes. Atta was on the side of the invaders; he wished them
well in their war with his ancient foes. They would eat them up,
Athenians, Lacedaemonians, Corinthians, Aeginetans, men of Argos
and Elis, and none would be left to trouble him. But in the
meantime something had gone wrong. Clearly there had been no
battle. As the bodies butted against the side of the galley he
hooked up one or two and found no trace of a wound. Poseidon had
grown cranky, and had claimed victims. The god would be appeased
by this time, and all would go well.
Danger being past, he bade the men get ashore and fill the
water-skins. "God's curse on all Hellenes," he said, as he
soaked up the cold water from the spring in the thicket.
About noon he set sail again. The wind sat in the north-east,
but the wall of Pelion turned it into a light stern breeze which
carried him swiftly westward. The four slaves, still leg-weary
and arm-weary, lay like logs beside the thwarts. Two slept; one
munched some salty figs; the fourth, the headman, stared wearily
forward, with ever and again a glance back at his master. But
the Lemnian never looked his way. His head was on his breast, as
he steered, and he brooded on the sins of the Hellenes. He was
of the old Pelasgian stock, the first bords of the land, who had
come out of the soil at the call of God. The pillaging northmen
had crushed his folk out of the mainlands and most of the
islands, but in Lemnos they had met their match. It was a family
story how every grown male had been slain, and how the women long
after had slaughtered their conquerors in the night. "Lemnian
deeds," said the Hellenes, when they wished to speak of some
shameful thing: but to Atta the shame was a glory to be
cherished for ever. He and his kind were the ancient people, and
the gods loved old things, as those new folk would find. Very
especially he hated the men of Athens. Had not one of their
captains, Militades, beaten the Lemnians and brought the island
under Athenian sway? True, it was a rule only in name, for any
Athenian who came alone to Lemnos would soon be cleaving the air
from the highest cliff-top. But the thought irked his pride, and
he gloated over the Persians' coming. The Great King from beyond
the deserts would smite those outrageous upstarts. Atta would
willingly give earth and water. It was the whim of a fantastic
barbarian, and would be well repaid if the bastard Hellenes were
destroyed. They spoke his own tongue, and worshipped his own
gods, and yet did evil. Let the nemesis of Zeus devour them!
The wreckage pursued him everywhere. Dead men shouldered the
sides of the galley, and the straits were stuck full of things
like monstrous buoys, where tall ships had foundered. At
Artemision he thought he saw signs of an anchored fleet with the
low poops of the Hellenes, and sheered off to the northern
shores. There, looking towards Oeta and the Malian Gulf, he
found an anchorage at sunset. The waters were ugly and the times
ill, and he had come on an enterprise bigger than he had dreamed.
The Lemnian was a stout fellow, but he had no love for needless
danger. He laughed mirthlessly as he thought of his errand, for
he was going to Hellas, to the shrine of the Hellenes.
It was a woman's doing, like most crazy enterprises. Three years
ago his wife had laboured hard in childbirth, and had had the
whims of labouring women. Up in the keep of Larisa, on the windy
hillside, there had been heart-searching and talk about the gods.
The little olive-wood Hermes, the very private and particular god
of Atta's folk, was good enough in simple things like a lambing
or a harvest, but he was scarcely fit for heavy tasks. Atta's
wife declared that her lord lacked piety. There were mainland
gods who repaid worship, but his scorn of all Hellenes made him
blind to the merits of those potent divinities. At first Atta
resisted. There was Attic blood in his wife, and he strove to
argue with her unorthodox craving. But the woman persisted, and
a Lemnian wife, as she is beyond other wives in virtue and
comeliness, excels them in stubbornness of temper. A second time
she was with child, and nothing would content her but that Atta
should make his prayers to the stronger gods. Dodona was far
away, and long ere he reached it his throat would be cut in the
hills. But Delphi was but two days' journey from the Malian
coast, and the god of Delphi, the Far-Darter had surprising
gifts, if one were to credit travellers' tales. Atta yielded
with an ill grace, and out of his wealth devised an offering to
Apollo. So on this July day he found himself looking across the
gulf to Kallidromos bound for a Hellenic shrine, but hating all
Hellenes in his soul. A verse of Homer consoled him-the words
which Phocion spoke to Achilles. "Verily even the gods may be
turned, they whose excellence and honour and strength are greater
than thine; yet even these do men, when they pray, turn from
their purpose with offerings of incense and pleasant vows." The
Far-Darter must hate the hubris of those Hellenes, and be the
more ready to avenge it since they dared to claim his
countenance. "No race has ownership in the gods," a Lemnian
song-maker had said when Atta had been questioning the ways of
The following dawn found him coasting past the north end of
Euboea in the thin fog of a windless summer morn. He steered by
the peak of Othrys and a spur of Oeta, as he had learnt from a
slave who had travelled the road. Presently he was in the muddy
Malian waters, and the sun was scattering the mist on the
landward side. And then he became aware of a greater commotion
than Poseidon's play with the ships off Pelion. A murmur like a
winter's storm came seawards. He lowered the sail, which he had
set to catch a chance breeze, and bade the men rest on their
oars. An earthquake seemed to be tearing at the roots of the
The mist rolled up, and his hawk eyes saw a strange sight. The
water was green and still around him, but shoreward it changed
its colour. It was a dirty red, and things bobbed about in it
like the Persians in the creek of Sciathos. On the strip of
shore, below the sheer wall of Kallidromos, men were
fighting-myriads of men, for away towards Locris they stretched
in ranks and banners and tents till the eye lost them in the
haze. There was no sail on the queer, muddy-red-edged sea;
there was no man on the hills: but on that one flat ribbon of
sand all the nations of the earth were warring. He remembered
about the place: Thermopylae they called it, the Gate of the Hot
Springs. The Hellenes were fighting the Persians in the pass for
Atta was prudent and loved not other men's quarrels. He gave the
word to the rowers to row seaward. In twenty strokes they were
in the mist again...
Atta was prudent, but he was also stubborn. He spent the day in
a creek on the northern shore of the gulf, listening to the weird
hum which came over the waters out of the haze. He cursed the
delay. Up on Kallidromos would be clear dry air and the path to
Delphi among the oak woods. The Hellenes could not be fighting
everywhere at once. He might find some spot on the shore, far in
their rear, where he could land and gain the hills. There was
danger indeed, but once on the ridge he would be safe; and by
the time he came back the Great King would have swept the
defenders into the sea, and be well on the road for Athens. He
asked himself if it were fitting that a Lemnian should be stayed
in his holy task by the struggles of Hellene and Barbarian. His
thoughts flew to his steading at Larisa, and the dark-eyed wife
who was awaiting his homecoming. He could not return without
Apollo's favour: his manhood and the memory of his lady's eyes
forbade it. So late in the afternoon he pushed off again and
steered his galley for the south.
About sunset the mist cleared from the sea; but the dark falls
swiftly in the shadow of the high hills, and Atta had no fear.
With the night the hum sank to a whisper; it seemed that the
invaders were drawing off to camp, for the sound receded to the
west. At the last light the Lemnian touched a rock-point well to
the rear of the defence. He noticed that the spume at the tide's
edge was reddish and stuck to his hands like gum. Of a surety
much blood was flowing on that coast.
He bade his slaves return to the north shore and lie hidden to
await him. When he came back he would light a signal fire on the
topmost bluff of Kallidromos. Let them watch for it and come to
take him off. Then he seized his bow and quiver, and his short
hunting-spear, buckled his cloak about him, saw that the gift to
Apollo was safe in the folds of it, and marched sturdily up the
The moon was in her first quarter, a slim horn which at her rise
showed only the faint outline of the hill. Atta plodded
steadfastly on, but he found the way hard. This was not like the
crisp sea-turf of Lemnos, where among the barrows of the ancient
dead, sheep and kine could find sweet fodder. Kallidromos ran up
as steep as the roof of a barn. Cytisus and thyme and juniper
grew rank, but above all the place was strewn with rocks,
leg-twisting boulders, and great cliffs where eagles dwelt.
Being a seaman, Atta had his bearings. The path to Delphi left
the shore road near the Hot Springs, and went south by a rift of
the mountain. If he went up the slope in a beeline he must
strike it in time and find better going. Still it was an eerie
place to be tramping after dark. The Hellenes had strange gods
of the thicket and hillside, and he had no wish to intrude upon
their sanctuaries. He told himself that next to the Hellenes he
hated this country of theirs, where a man sweltered in hot
jungles or tripped among hidden crags. He sighed for the cool
beaches below Larisa, where the surf was white as the snows of
Samothrace, and the fisherboys sang round their smoking
Presently he found a path. It was not the mule road, worn by
many feet, that he had looked for, but a little track which
twined among the boulders. Still it eased his feet, so he
cleared the thorns from his sandals, strapped his belt tighter,
and stepped out more confidently. Up and up he went, making odd
detours among the crags. Once he came to a promontory, and,
looking down, saw lights twinkling from the Hot Springs. He had
thought the course lay more southerly, but consoled himself by
remembering that a mountain path must have many windings. The
great matter was that he was ascending, for he knew that he must
cross the ridge of Oeta before he struck the Locrian glens that
led to the Far-Darter's shrine.
At what seemed the summit of the first ridge he halted for
breath, and, prone on the thyme, looked back to sea. The Hot
Springs were hidden, but across the gulf a single light shone
from the far shore. He guessed that by this time his galley had
been beached and his slaves were cooking supper. The thought
made him homesick. He had beaten and cursed these slaves of his
times without number, but now in this strange land he felt them
kinsfolk, men of his own household. Then he told himself he was
no better than a woman. Had he not gone sailing to Chalcedon and
distant Pontus, many months' journey from home while this was but
a trip of days? In a week he would be welcomed by a smiling
wife, with a friendly god behind him.
The track still bore west, though Delphi lay in the south.
Moreover, he had come to a broader road running through a little
tableland. The highest peaks of Oeta were dark against the sky,
and around him was a flat glade where oaks whispered in the night
breezes. By this time he judged from the stars that midnight had
passed, and he began to consider whether, now that he was beyond
the fighting, he should not sleep and wait for dawn. He made up
his mind to find a shelter, and, in the aimless way of the night
traveller, pushed on and on in the quest of it. The truth is his
mind was on Lemnos, and a dark-eyed, white-armed dame spinning in
the evening by the threshold. His eyes roamed among the
oaktrees, but vacantly and idly, and many a mossy corner was
passed unheeded. He forgot his ill temper, and hummed cheerfully
the song his reapers sang in the barley-fields below his orchard.
It was a song of seamen turned husbandmen, for the gods it called
on were the gods of the sea....
Suddenly he found himself crouching among the young oaks, peering
and listening. There was something coming from the west. It was
like the first mutterings of a storm in a narrow harbour, a
steady rustling and whispering. It was not wind; he knew winds
too well to be deceived. It was the tramp of light-shod feet
among the twigs--many feet, for the sound remained steady, while
the noise of a few men will rise and fall. They were coming fast
and coming silently. The war had reached far up Kallidromos.
Atta had played this game often in the little island wars. Very
swiftly he ran back and away from the path up the slope which he
knew to be the first ridge of Kallidromos. The army, whatever it
might be, was on the Delphian road. Were the Hellenes about to
turn the flank of the Great King?
A moment later he laughed at his folly. For the men began to
appear, and they were crossing to meet him, coming from the west.
Lying close in the brushwood he could see them clearly. It was
well he had left the road, for they stuck to it, following every
winding-crouching, too, like hunters after deer. The first man
he saw was a Hellene, but the ranks behind were no Hellenes.
There was no glint of bronze or gleam of fair skin. They were
dark, long-haired fellows, with spears like his own, and round
Eastern caps, and egg-shaped bucklers. Then Atta rejoiced. It
was the Great King who was turning the flank of the Hellenes.
They guarded the gate, the fools, while the enemy slipped through
He did not rejoice long. The van of the army was narrow and kept
to the path, but the men behind were straggling all over the
hillside. Another minute and he would be discovered. The thought
was cheerless. It was true that he was an islander and friendly
to the Persian, but up on the heights who would listen to his
tale? He would be taken for a spy, and one of those thirsty
spears would drink his blood. It must be farewell to Delphi for
the moment, he thought, or farewell to Lemnos for ever.
Crouching low, he ran back and away from the path to the crest of
the sea-ridge of Kallidromos.
The men came no nearer him. They were keeping roughly to the
line of the path, and drifted through the oak wood before him, an
army without end. He had scarcely thought there were so many
fighting men in the world. He resolved to lie there on the
crest, in the hope that ere the first light they would be gone.
Then he would push on to Delphi, leaving them to settle their
quarrels behind him. These were the hard times for a pious
But another noise caught his ear from the right. The army had
flanking squadrons, and men were coming along the ridge. Very
bitter anger rose in Atta's heart. He had cursed the Hellenes,
and now he cursed the Barbarians no less. Nay, he cursed all
war, that spoiled the errands of peaceful folk. And then,
seeking safety, he dropped over the crest on to the steep
shoreward face of the mountain.
In an instant his breath had gone from him. He slid down a long
slope of screes, and then with a gasp found himself falling sheer
into space. Another second and he was caught in a tangle of
bush, and then dropped once more upon screes, where he clutched
desperately for handhold. Breathless and bleeding he came to
anchor on a shelf of greensward and found himself blinking up at
the crest which seemed to tower a thousand feet above. There
were men on the crest now. He heard them speak and felt that
they were looking down.
The shock kept him still till the men had passed. Then the
terror of the place gripped him, and he tried feverishly to
retrace his steps. A dweller all his days among gentle downs, he
grew dizzy with the sense of being hung in space. But the only
fruit of his efforts was to set him slipping again. This time he
pulled up at the root of gnarled oak, which overhung the sheerest
cliff on Kallidromos. The danger brought his wits back. He
sullenly reviewed his case, and found it desperate.
He could not go back, and, even if he did, he would meet the
Persians. If he went on he would break his neck, or at the best
fall into the Hellenes' hands. Oddly enough he feared his old
enemies less than his friends. He did not think that the
Hellenes would butcher him. Again, he might sit perched in his
eyrie till they settled their quarrel, or he fell off. He
rejected this last way. Fall off he should for certain, unless
he kept moving. Already he was retching with the vertigo of the
heights. It was growing lighter. Suddenly he was looking not
into a black world, but to a pearl-grey floor far beneath him.
It was the sea, the thing he knew and loved. The sight screwed
up his courage. He remembered that he was Lemnian and a
seafarer. He would be conquered neither by rock, nor by Hellene,
nor by the Great King. Least of all by the last, who was a
barbarian. Slowly, with clenched teeth and narrowed eyes, he
began to clamber down a ridge which flanked the great cliffs of
Kallidromos. His plan was to reach the shore and take the road
to the east before the Persians completed their circuit. Some
instinct told him that a great army would not take the track he
had mounted by. There must be some longer and easier way
debouching farther down the coast. He might yet have the good
luck to slip between them and the sea.
The two hours which followed tried his courage hard. Thrice he
fell, and only a juniper-root stood between him and death. His
hands grew ragged, and his nails were worn to the quick. He had
long ago lost his weapons; his cloak was in shreds, all save the
breast-fold which held the gift to Apollo. The heavens
brightened, but he dared not look around. He knew he was
traversing awesome places, where a goat could scarcely tread.
Many times he gave up hope of life. His head was swimming, and
he was so deadly sick that often he had to lie gasping on some
shoulder of rock less steep than the rest. But his anger kept
him to his purpose. He was filled with fury at the Hellenes. It
was they and their folly that had brought him these mischances.
Some day ....
He found himself sitting blinking on the shore of the sea. A
furlong off the water was lapping on the reefs. A man, larger
than human in the morning mist, was standing above him.
"Greeting, stranger," said the voice. "By Hermes, you choose
the difficult roads to travel."
Atta felt for broken bones, and, reassured, struggled to his
"God's curse upon all mountains," he said. He staggered to the
edge of the tide and laved his brow. The savour of salt revived
him. He turned to find the tall man at his elbow, and noted how
worn and ragged he was, and yet how upright. "When a pigeon is
flushed from the rocks, there is a hawk near," said the voice.
Atta was angry. "A hawk!" he cried. "Nay, an army of eagles.
There will be some rare flushing of Hellenes before evening."
"What frightened you, Islander?" the stranger asked. "Did a
wolf bark up on the hillside?"
"Ay, a wolf. The wolf from the East with a multitude of
wolflings. There will be fine eating soon in the pass."
The man's face grew dark. He put his hand to his mouth and
called. Half a dozen sentries ran to join him. He spoke to them
in the harsh Lacedaemonian speech which made Atta sick to hear.
They talked with the back of the throat and there was not an "s"
in their words.
"There is mischief in the hills," the first man said. "This
islander has been frightened down over the rocks. The Persian is
stealing a march on us."
The sentries laughed. One quoted a proverb about island courage.
Atta's wrath flared and he forgot himself. He had no wish to
warn the Hellenes, but it irked his pride to be thought a liar.
He began to tell his story hastily, angrily, confusedly; and the
men still laughed.
Then he turned eastward and saw the proof before him. The light
had grown and the sun was coming up over Pelion. The first beam
fell on the eastern ridge of Kallidromos, and there, clear on the
sky-line, was the proof. The Persian was making a wide circuit,
but moving shoreward. In a little he would be at the coast, and
by noon at the Hellenes' rear.
His hearers doubted no more. Atta was hurried forward through
the lines of the Greeks to the narrow throat of the pass, where
behind a rough rampart of stones lay the Lacedaemonian
headquarters. He was still giddy from the heights, and it was in
a giddy dream that he traversed the misty shingles of the beach
amid ranks of sleeping warriors. It was a grim place, for there
were dead and dying in it, and blood on every stone. But in the
lee of the wall little fires were burning and slaves were cooking
breakfast. The smell of roasting flesh came pleasantly to his
nostrils, and he remembered that he had had no meal since he
crossed the gulf.
Then he found himself the centre of a group who had the air of
kings. They looked as if they had been years in war. Never had
he seen faces so worn and so terribly scarred. The hollows in
their cheeks gave them the air of smiling, and yet they were
grave. Their scarlet vests were torn and muddled, and the armour
which lay near was dinted like the scrap-iron before a smithy
door. But what caught his attention were the eyes of the men.
They glittered as no eyes he had ever seen before glittered. The
sight cleared his bewilderment and took the pride out of his
heart. He could not pretend to despise a folk who looked like
Ares fresh from the wars of the Immortals.
They spoke among themselves in quiet voices. Scouts came and
went, and once or twice one of the men, taller than the rest,
asked Atta a question. The Lemnian sat in the heart of the
group, sniffing the smell of cooking, and looking at the rents in
his cloak and the long scratches on his legs. Something was
pressing on his breast, and he found that it was Apollo's gift.
He had forgotten all about it. Delphi seemed beyond the moon,
and his errand a child's dream.
Then the King, for so he thought of the tall man, spoke--
"You have done us a service, Islander. The Persian is at our
back and front, and there will be no escape for those who stay.
Our allies are going home, for they do not share our vows. We of
Lacedaemon wait in the pass. If you go with the men of Corinth
you will find a place of safety before noon. No doubt in the
Euripus there is some boat to take you to your own land."
He spoke courteously, not in the rude Athenian way; and somehow
the quietness of his voice and his glittering eyes roused wild
longings in Atta's heart. His island pride was face to face with
a greater-greater than he had ever dreamed of.
"Bid yon cooks give me some broth," he said gruffly. "I am
faint. After I have eaten I will speak with you."
He was given food, and as he ate he thought. He was on trial
before these men of Lacedaemon. More, the old faith of the
islands, the pride of the first masters, was at stake in his
hands. He had boasted that he and his kind were the last of the
men; now these Hellenes of Lacedaemon were preparing a great
deed, and they deemed him unworthy to share in it. They offered
him safety. Could he brook the insult? He had forgotten that
the cause of the Persian was his; that the Hellenes were the
foes of his race. He saw only that the last test of manhood was
preparing and the manhood in him rose to greet the trial. An odd
wild ecstasy surged in his veins. It was not the lust of battle,
for he had no love of slaying, or hate for the Persian, for he
was his friend. It was the sheer joy of proving that the Lemnian
stock had a starker pride than these men of Lacedamon. They
would die for their fatherland, and their vows; but he, for a
whim, a scruple, a delicacy of honour. His mind was so clear
that no other course occurred to him. There was only one way for
a man. He, too, would be dying for his fatherland, for through
him the island race would be ennobled in the eyes of gods and
Troops were filing fast to the east--Thebans, Corinthians. "Time
flies, Islander," said the King's voice. "The hours of safety
are slipping past." Atta looked up carelessly. "I will stay,"
he said. "God's curse on all Hellenes! Little I care for your
quarrels. It is nothing to me if your Hellas is under the heels
of the East. But I care much for brave men. It shall never be
said that a man of Lemnos, a son of the old race, fell back when
Death threatened. I stay with you, men of Lacedaemon.
The King's eyes glittered; they seemed to peer into his heart.
"It appears they breed men in the islands," he said. "But you
err. Death does not threaten. Death awaits us.
"It is all one," said Atta. "But I crave a boon. Let me fight
my last fight by your side. I am of older stock than you, and a
king in my own country. I would strike my last blow among
There was an hour of respite before battle was joined, and Atta
spent it by the edge of the sea. He had been given arms, and in
girding himself for the fight he had found Apollo's offering in
his breastfold. He was done with the gods of the Hellenes. His
offering should go to the gods of his own people. So, calling
upon Poseidon, he flung the little gold cup far out to sea. It
flashed in the sunlight, and then sank in the soft green tides so
noiselessly that it seemed as if the hand of the Sea-god had been
stretched to take it. "Hail, Poseidon!" the Lemnian cried. "I am
bound this day for the Ferryman. To you only I make prayer, and
to the little Hermes of Larisa. Be kind to my kin when they
travel the sea, and keep them islanders and seafarers for ever.
Hail and farewell, God of my own folk!"
Then, while the little waves lapped on the white sand, Atta
made a song. He was thinking of the homestead far up in the
green downs, looking over to the snows of Samothrace. At this
hour in the morning there would be a tinkle of sheep-bells as the
flocks went down to the low pastures. Cool wind would be
blowing, and the noise of the surf below the cliffs would come
faint to the ear. In the hall the maids mould be spinning, while
their dark-haired mistress would be casting swift glances to the
doorway, lest it might be filled any moment by the form of her
returning lord. Outside in the chequered sunlight of the orchard
the child would be playing with his nurse, crooning in childish
syllables the chanty his father had taught him. And at the
thought of his home a great passion welled up in Atta's heart.
It was not regret, but joy and pride and aching love. In his
antique island creed the death he was awaiting was not other than
a bridal. He was dying for the things he loved, and by his death
they would be blessed eternally. He would not have long to wait
before bright eyes came to greet him in the House of Shadows.
So Atta made the Song of Atta, and sang it then, and later in the
press of battle. It was a simple song, like the lays of
seafarers. It put into rough verse the thought which cheers the
heart of all adventurers--nay, which makes adventure possible for
those who have much to leave. It spoke of the shining pathway of
the sea which is the Great Uniter. A man may lie dead in Pontus
or beyond the Pillars of Herakles, but if he dies on the shore
there is nothing between him and his fatherland. It spoke of a
battle all the long dark night in a strange place--a place of
marshes and black cliffs and shadowy terrors.
"In the dawn the sweet light comes," said the song, "and the salt
winds and the tides will bear me home..."
When in the evening the Persians took toll of the dead, they
found one man who puzzled them. He lay among the tall
Lacedaemonians on the very lip of the sea, and around him were
swathes of their countrymen. It looked as if he had been
fighting his way to the water, and had been overtaken by death as
his feet reached the edge. Nowhere in the pass did the dead lie
so thick, and yet he was no Hellene. He was torn like a deer
that the dogs have worried, but the little left of his garments
and his features spoke of Eastern race. The survivors could tell
nothing except that he had fought like a god and had been singing
all the while.
The matter came to the ear of the Great King who was sore enough
at the issue of the day. That one of his men had performed feats
of valeur beyond the Hellenes was a pleasant tale to tell. And
so his captains reported it. Accordingly when the fleet from
Artemision arrived next morning, and all but a few score Persians
were shovelled into holes, that the Hellenes might seem to have
been conquered by a lesser force, Atta's body was laid out with
pomp in the midst of the Lacedaemonians. And the seamen rubbed
their eyes and thanked their strange gods that one man of the
East had been found to match those terrible warriors whose name
was a nightmare. Further, the Great King gave orders that the
body of Atta should be embalmed and carried with the army, and
that his name and kin should be sought out and duly honoured.
This latter was a task too hard for the staff, and no more was
heard of it till months later, when the King, in full flight
after Salamis, bethought him of the one man who had not played
him false. Finding that his lieutenants had nothing to tell him,
he eased five of them of their heads.
As it happened, the deed was not quite forgotten. An islander, a
Lesbian and a cautious man, had fought at Therrnopylae in the
Persian ranks, and had heard Atta's singing and seen how he fell.
Long afterwards some errand took this man to Lemnos, and in the
evening, speaking with the Elders, he told his tale and repeated
something of the song. There was that in the words which gave
the Lemnians a clue, the mention, I think, of the olive-wood
Hermes and the snows of Samothrace. So Atta came to great honour
among his own people, and his memory and his words were handed
down to the generations. The song became a favourite island lay,
and for centuries throughout the Aegean seafaring men sang it
when they turned their prows to wild seas. Nay, it travelled
farther, for you will find part of it stolen by Euripides and put
in a chorus of the Andromache. There are echoes of it in some of
the epigrams of the Anthology; and, though the old days have
gone, the simple fisher-folk still sing snatches in their
barbarous dialect. The Klephts used to make a catch of it at
night round their fires in the hills, and only the other day I
met a man in Scyros who had collected a dozen variants, and was
publishing them in a dull book on island folklore.
In the centuries which followed the great fight, the sea fell
away from the roots of the cliffs and left a mile of marshland.
About fifty years ago a peasant, digging in a rice-field, found
the cup which Atta bad given to Poseidon. There was much talk
about the discovery, and scholars debated hotly about its origin.
To-day it is in the Berlin Museum, and according to the new
fashion in archaeology it is labelled "Minoan," and kept in the
Cretan Section. But any one who looks carefully will see behind
the rim a neat little carving of a dolphin; and I happen to
know that that was the private badge of Atta's house.
I will sing of thee, Great Sea-Mother,
Whose white arms gather
Thy sons in the ending:
And draw them homeward
From far sad marches--
Wild lands in the sunset,
Bitter shores of the morning--
Soothe them and guide them
By shining pathways
Homeward to thee.
All day I have striven in dark glens
With parched throat and dim eyes,
Where the red crags choke the stream
And dank thickets hide the spear.
I have spilled the blood of my foes
And their wolves have torn my flanks.
I am faint, O Mother,
Faint and aweary.
I have longed for thy cool winds
And thy kind grey eyes
And thy lover's arms.
At the even I came
To a land of terrors,
Of hot swamps where the feet mired
And waters that flowerd red with blood
There I strove with thousands,
Wild-eyed and lost,
As a lion among serpents.
--But sudden before me
I saw the flash
Of the sweet wide waters
That wash my homeland
And mirror the stars of home.
Then sang I for joy,
For I knew the Preserver,
Thee, the Uniter,
The great Sea-Mother.
Soon will the sweet light come,
And the salt winds and the tides
Will bear me home.
Far in the sunrise,
Nestled in thy bosom,
Lies my own green isle.
Thither wilt thou bear me.
To where, above the sea-cliffs,
Stretch mild meadows, flower-decked, thyme-scented,
Crisp with sea breezes.
There my flocks feed
On sunny uplands,
Looking over thy waters
To where the mount Saos
Raises purl snows to God.
Hermes, guide of souls,
I made thee a shrine in my orchard,
And round thy olive-wood limbs
The maidens twined Spring blossoms-
Violet and helichryse
And the pale wind flowers.
Keep thou watch for me,
For I am coming.
Tell to my lady
And to all my kinsfolk
That I who have gone from them
Tarry not long, but come swift o'er the sea-path,
My feet light with joy,
My eyes bright with longing.
For little it matters
Where a man may fall,
If he fall by the sea-shore;
The kind waters await him,
The white arms are around him,
And the wise Mother of Men
Will carry him home.
I who sing
Wait joyfully on the morning.
Ten thousand beset me
And their spears ache for my heart.
They will crush me and grind me to mire,
So that none will know the man that once was me.
But at the first light I shall be gone,
Singing, flitting, o'er the grey waters,
To thee, the Preserver,
Thee, the Uniter,
Mother the Sea.
"Est impossibile? Certum est."
Leithen told me this story one evening in early September as we
sat beside the pony track which gropes its way from Glenvalin up
the Correi na Sidhe. I had arrived that afternoon from the
south, while he had been taking an off-day from a week's
stalking, so we had walked up the glen together after tea to get
the news of the forest. A rifle was out on the Correi na Sidhe
beat, and a thin spire of smoke had risen from the top of Sgurr
Dearg to show that a stag had been killed at the burnhead. The
lumpish hill pony with its deer-saddle had gone up the Correi in
a gillie's charge while we followed at leisure, picking our way
among the loose granite rocks and the patches of wet bogland.
The track climbed high on one of the ridges of Sgurr Dearg, till
it hung over a caldron of green glen with the Alt-na-Sidhe
churning in its linn a thousand feet below. It was a breathless
evening, I remember, with a pale-blue sky just clearing from the
haze of the day. West-wind weather may make the North, even in
September, no bad imitation of the Tropics, and I sincerely
pitied the man who all these stifling hours had been toiling on
the screes of Sgurr Dearg. By-and-by we sat down on a bank of
heather, and idly watched the trough swimming at our feet. The
clatter of the pony's hoofs grew fainter, the drone of bees had
gone, even the midges seemed to have forgotten their calling. No
place on earth can be so deathly still as a deer-forest early in
the season before the stags have begun roaring, for there are no
sheep with their homely noises, and only the rare croak of a
raven breaks the silence. The hillside was far from sheer-one
could have walked down with a little care-but something in the
shape of the hollow and the remote gleam of white water gave it
an extraordinary depth and space. There was a shimmer left from
the day's heat, which invested bracken and rock and scree with a
curious airy unreality. One could almost have believed that the
eye had tricked the mind, that all was mirage, that five yards
from the path the solid earth fell away into nothingness. I have
a bad head, and instinctively I drew farther back into the
heather. Leithen's eyes were looking vacantly before him.
"Did you ever know Hollond?" he asked.
Then he laughed shortly. "I don't know why I asked that, but
somehow this place reminded me of Hollond. That glimmering
hollow looks as if it were the beginning of eternity. It must be
eerie to live with the feeling always on one."
Leithen seemed disinclined for further exercise. He lit a pipe
and smoked quietly for a little. "Odd that you didn't know
Hollond. You must have heard his name. I thought you amused
yourself with metaphysics."
Then I remembered. There had been an erratic genius who had
written some articles in Mind on that dreary subject, the
mathematical conception of infinity. Men had praised them to me,
but I confess I never quite understood their argument. "Wasn't
he some sort of mathematical professor?" I asked.
"He was, and, in his own way, a tremendous swell. He wrote a
book on Number which has translations in every European language.
He is dead now, and the Royal Society founded a medal in his
honour. But I wasn't thinking of that side of him."
It was the time and place for a story, for the pony would not be
back for an hour. So I asked Leithen about the other side of
Hollond which was recalled to him by Correi na Sidhe. He seemed
a little unwilling to speak...
"I wonder if you will understand it. You ought to, of course,
better than me, for you know something of philosophy. But it
took me a long time to get the hang of it, and I can't give you
any kind of explanation. He was my fag at Eton, and when I began
to get on at the Bar I was able to advise him on one or two
private matters, so that he rather fancied my legal ability. He
came to me with his story because he had to tell someone, and he
wouldn't trust a colleague. He said he didn't want a scientist
to know, for scientists were either pledged to their own theories
and wouldn't understand, or, if they understood, would get ahead
of him in his researches. He wanted a lawyer, he said, who was
accustomed to weighing evidence. That was good sense, for
evidence must always be judged by the same laws, and I suppose in
the long-run the most abstruse business comes down to a fairly
simple deduction from certain data. Anyhow, that was the way he
used to talk, and I listened to him, for I liked the man, and had
an enormous respect for his brains. At Eton he sluiced down all
the mathematics they could give him, and he was an astonishing
swell at Cambridge. He was a simple fellow, too, and talked no
more jargon than he could help. I used to climb with him in the
Alps now and then, and you would never have guessed that he had
any thoughts beyond getting up steep rocks.
"It was at Chamonix, I remember, that I first got a hint of the
matter that was filling his mind. We had been taking an off-day,
and were sitting in the hotel garden, watching the Aiguilles
getting purple in the twilight. Chamonix always makes me choke a
little-it is so crushed in by those great snow masses. I said
something about it--said I liked the open spaces like the
Gornegrat or the Bel Alp better. He asked me why: if it was the
difference of the air, or merely the wider horizon? I said it
was the sense of not being crowded, of living in an empty world.
He repeated the word 'empty' and laughed.
"'By "empty" you mean,' he said,'where things don't knock up
I told him No. I mean just empty, void, nothing but blank
"You don't knock up against things here, and the air is as good
as you want. It can't be the lack of ordinary emptiness you
"I agreed that the word needed explaining. 'I suppose it is
mental restlessness,' I said. 'I like to feel that for a
tremendous distance there is nothing round me. Why, I don't
know. Some men are built the other way and have a terror of
"He said that that was better. 'It is a personal fancy, and
depends on your KNOWING that there is nothing between you and the
top of the Dent Blanche. And you know because your eyes tell you
there is nothing. Even if you were blind, you might have a sort
of sense about adjacent matter. Blind men often have it. But in
any case, whether got from instinct or sight, the KNOWLEDGE is
"Hollond was embarking on a Socratic dialogue in which I could
see little point. I told him so, and he laughed. "'I am not
sure that I am very clear myself. But yes--there IS a point.
Supposing you knew-not by sight or by instinct, but by sheer
intellectual knowledge, as I know the truth of a mathematical
proposition--that what we call empty space was full, crammed.
Not with lumps of what we call matter like hills and houses, but
with things as real--as real to the mind. Would you still
"'No,' I said, 'I don't think so. It is only what we call matter
that signifies. It would be just as well not to feel crowded by
the other thing, for there would be no escape from it. But what
are you getting at? Do you mean atoms or electric currents or
"He said he wasn't thinking about that sort of thing, and began
to talk of another subject.
"Next night, when we were pigging it at the Geant cabane, he
started again on the same tack. He asked me how I accounted for
the fact that animals could find their way back over great tracts
of unknown country. I said I supposed it was the homing
"'Rubbish, man,' he said. 'That's only another name for the
puzzle, not an explanation. There must be some reason for it.
They must KNOW something that we cannot understand. Tie a cat in
a bag and take it fifty miles by train and it will make its way
home. That cat has some clue that we haven't.'
"I was tired and sleepy, and told him that I did not care a rush
about the psychology of cats. But he was not to be snubbed, and
went on talking.
"'How if Space is really full of things we cannot see and as yet
do not know? How if all animals and some savages have a cell in
their brain or a nerve which responds to the invisible world?
How if all Space be full of these landmarks, not material in our
sense, but quite real? A dog barks at nothing, a wild beast
makes an aimless circuit. Why? Perhaps because Space is made up
of corridors and alleys, ways to travel and things to shun? For
all we know, to a greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont
Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus.'
"But at that point I fell asleep and left Hollond to repeat his
questions to a guide who knew no English and a snoring porter.
"Six months later, one foggy January afternoon, Hollond rang me
up at the Temple and proposed to come to see me that night after
dinner. I thought he wanted to talk Alpine shop, but he turned
up in Duke Street about nine with a kit-bag full of papers. He
was an odd fellow to look at--a yellowish face with the skin
stretched tight on the cheek-bones, clean-shaven, a sharp chin
which he kept poking forward, and deep-set, greyish eyes. He was
a hard fellow, too, always in pretty good condition, which was
remarkable considering how he slaved for nine months out of the
twelve. He had a quiet, slow-spoken manner, but that night I saw
that he was considerably excited.
"He said that he had come to me because we were old friends. He
proposed to tell me a tremendous secret. 'I must get another
mind to work on it or I'll go crazy. I don't want a scientist.
I want a plain man.'
"Then he fixed me with a look like a tragic actor's. 'Do you
remember that talk we had in August at Chamonix--about Space? I
daresay you thought I was playing the fool. So I was in a sense,
but I was feeling my way towards something which has been in my
mind for ten years. Now I have got it, and you must hear about
it. You may take my word that it's a pretty startling
"I lit a pipe and told him to go ahead, warning him that I knew
about as much science as the dustman.
"I am bound to say that it took me a long time to understand
what he meant. He began by saying that everybody thought of
Space as an 'empty homogeneous medium.' 'Never mind at present
what the ultimate constituents of that medium are. We take it as
a finished product, and we think of it as mere extension,
something without any quality at all. That is the view of
civilised man. You will find all the philosophers taking it for
granted. Yes, but every living thing does not take that view.
An animal, for instance. It feels a kind of quality in Space.
It can find its way over new country, because it perceives
certain landmarks, not necessarily material, but perceptible, or
if you like intelligible. Take an Australian savage. He has the
same power, and, I believe, for the same reason. He is conscious
of intelligible landmarks.'
"'You mean what people call a sense of direction,' I put in.
"'Yes, but what in Heaven's name is a sense of direction? The
phrase explains nothing. However incoherent the mind of the
animal or the savage may be, it is there somewhere, working on
some data. I've been all through the psychological and
anthropological side of the business, and after you eliminate the
clues from sight and hearing and smell and half-conscious memory
there remains a solid lump of the inexplicable.'
"Hollond's eye had kindled, and he sat doubled up in his chair,
dominating me with a finger.
"'Here, then is a power which man is civilising himself out of.
Call it anything you like, but you must admit that it is a power.
Don't you see that it is a perception of another kind of reality
that we are leaving behind us? ', Well, you know the way nature
works. The wheel comes full circle, and what we think we have
lost we regain in a higher form. So for a long time I have been
wondering whether the civilised mind could not recreate for
itself this lost gift, the gift of seeing the quality of Space.
I mean that I wondered whether the scientific modern brain could
not get to the stage of realising that Space is not an empty
homogeneous medium, but full of intricate differences,
intelligible and real, though not with our common reality.'
"I found all this very puzzling and he had to repeat it several
times before I got a glimpse of what he was talking about.
"'I've wondered for a long time he went on 'but now quite
suddenly, I have begun to know.' He stopped and asked me abruptly
if I knew much about mathematics.
"'It's a pity,' he said,'but the main point is not technical,
though I wish you could appreciate the beauty of some of my
proofs. Then he began to tell me about his last six months'
work. I should have mentioned that he was a brilliant physicist
besides other things. All Hollond's tastes were on the
borderlands of sciences, where mathematics fades into metaphysics
and physics merges in the abstrusest kind of mathematics. Well,
it seems he had been working for years at the ultimate problem of
matter, and especially of that rarefied matter we call aether or
space. I forget what his view was-atoms or molecules or electric
waves. If he ever told me I have forgotten, but I'm not certain
that I ever knew. However, the point was that these ultimate
constituents were dynamic and mobile, not a mere passive medium
but a medium in constant movement and change. He claimed to have
discovered--by ordinary inductive experiment--that the
constituents of aether possessed certain functions, and moved in
certain figures obedient to certain mathematical laws. Space, I
gathered, was perpetually 'forming fours' in some fancy way.
"Here he left his physics and became the mathematician. Among
his mathematical discoveries had been certain curves or figures
or something whose behaviour involved a new dimension. I
gathered that this wasn't the ordinary Fourth Dimension that
people talk of, but that fourth-dimensional inwardness or
involution was part of it. The explanation lay in the pile of
manuscripts he left with me, but though I tried honestly I
couldn't get the hang of it. My mathematics stopped with
desperate finality just as he got into his subject.
"His point was that the constituents of Space moved according to
these new mathematical figures of his. They were always
changing, but the principles of their change were as fixed as the
law of gravitation. Therefore, if you once grasped these
principles you knew the contents of the void. What do you make
I said that it seemed to me a reasonable enough argument, but
that it got one very little way forward. "A man," I said, "might
know the contents of Space and the laws of their arrangement and
yet be unable to see anything more than his fellows. It is a
purely academic knowledge. His mind knows it as the result of
many deductions, but his senses perceive nothing."
Leithen laughed. "Just what I said to Hollond. He asked the
opinion of my legal mind. I said I could not pronounce on his
argument but that I could point out that he had established no
trait d'union between the intellect which understood and the
senses which perceived. It was like a blind man with immense
knowledge but no eyes, and therefore no peg to hang his knowledge
on and make it useful. He had not explained his savage or his
cat. 'Hang it, man,' I said, 'before you can appreciate the
existence of your Spacial forms you have to go through elaborate
experiments and deductions. You can't be doing that every
minute. Therefore you don't get any nearer to the USE of the
sense you say that man once possessed, though you can explain it
"What did he say?" I asked.
"The funny thing was that he never seemed to see my difficulty.
When I kept bringing him back to it he shied off with a new wild
theory of perception. He argued that the mind can live in a
world of realities without any sensuous stimulus to connect them
with the world of our ordinary life. Of course that wasn't my
point. I supposed that this world of Space was real enough to
him, but I wanted to know how he got there. He never answered
me. He was the typical Cambridge man, you know--dogmatic about
uncertainties, but curiously diffident about the obvious. He
laboured to get me to understand the notion of his mathematical
forms, which I was quite willing to take on trust from him. Some
queer things he said, too. He took our feeling about Left and
Right as an example of our instinct for the quality of Space.
But when I objected that Left and Right varied with each object,
and only existed in connection with some definite material thing,
he said that that was exactly what he meant. It was an example
of the mobility of the Spacial forms. Do you see any sense in
I shook my head. It seemed to me pure craziness.
"And then he tried to show me what he called the 'involution of
Space,' by taking two points on a piece of paper. The points
were a foot away when the paper was flat, they coincided when it
was doubled up. He said that there were no gaps between the
figures, for the medium was continuous, and he took as an
illustration the loops on a cord. You are to think of a cord
always looping and unlooping itself according to certain
mathematical laws. Oh, I tell you, I gave up trying to follow
him. And he was so desperately in earnest all the time. By his
account Space was a sort of mathematical pandemonium."
Leithen stopped to refill his pipe, and I mused upon the ironic
fate which had compelled a mathematical genius to make his sole
confidant of a philistine lawyer, and induced that lawyer to
repeat it confusedly to an ignoramus at twilight on a Scotch
hill. As told by Leithen it was a very halting tale.
"But there was one thing I could see very clearly," Leithen went
on, "and that was Hollond's own case. This crowded world of
Space was perfectly real to him. How he had got to it I do not
know. Perhaps his mind, dwelling constantly on the problem, had
unsealed some atrophied cell and restored the old instinct.
Anyhow, he was living his daily life with a foot in each world.
"He often came to see me, and after the first hectic discussions
he didn't talk much. There was no noticeable change in him--a
little more abstracted perhaps. He would walk in the street or
come into a room with a quick look round him, and sometimes for
no earthly reason he would swerve. Did you ever watch a cat
crossing a room? It sidles along by the furniture and walks
over an open space of carpet as if it were picking its way among
obstacles. Well, Hollond behaved like that, but he had always
been counted a little odd, and nobody noticed it but me.
"I knew better than to chaff him, and had stopped argument, so
there wasn't much to be said. But sometimes he would give me
news about his experiences. The whole thing was perfectly clear
and scientific and above board, and nothing creepy about it. You
know how I hate the washy supernatural stuff they give us
nowadays. Hollond was well and fit, with an appetite like a
hunter. But as he talked, sometimes--well, you know I haven't
much in the way of nerves or imagination--but I used to get a
little eerie. Used to feel the solid earth dissolving round me.
It was the opposite of vertigo, if you understand me--a sense of
airy realities crowding in on you-crowding the mind, that is, not
"I gathered from Hollond that he was always conscious of
corridors and halls and alleys in Space, shifting, but shifting
according to inexorable laws. I never could get quite clear as
to what this consciousness was like. When I asked he used to
look puzzled and worried and helpless. I made out from him that
one landmark involved a sequence, and once given a bearing from
an object you could keep the direction without a mistake. He
told me he could easily, if he wanted, go in a dirigible from the
top of Mont Blanc to the top of Snowdon in the thickest fog and
without a compass, if he were given the proper angle to start
from. I confess I didn't follow that myself. Material objects
had nothing to do with the Spacial forms, for a table or a bed in
our world might be placed across a corridor of Space. The forms
played their game independent of our kind of reality. But the
worst of it was, that if you kept your mind too much in one world
you were apt to forget about the other and Hollond was always
barking his shins on stones and chairs and things.
"He told me all this quite simply and frankly. Remember his
mind and no other part of him lived in his new world. He said it
gave him an odd sense of detachment to sit in a room among
people, and to know that nothing there but himself had any
relation at all to the infinite strange world of Space that
flowed around them. He would listen, he said, to a great man
talking, with one eye on the cat on the rug, thinking to himself
how much more the cat knew than the man."
"How long was it before he went mad?" I asked.
It was a foolish question, and made Leithen cross. "He never
went mad in your sense. My dear fellow, you're very much wrong
if you think there was anything pathological about him--then.
The man was brilliantly sane. His mind was as keen is a keen
sword. I couldn't understand him, but I could judge of his
sanity right enough."
I asked if it made him happy or miserable.
"At first I think it made him uncomfortable. He was restless
because he knew too much and too little. The unknown pressed in
on his mind as bad air weighs on the lungs. Then it lightened
and he accepted the new world in the same sober practical way
that he took other things. I think that the free exercise of his
mind in a pure medium gave him a feeling of extraordinary power
and ease. His eyes used to sparkle when he talked. And another
odd thing he told me. He was a keen rockclimber, but, curiously
enough, he had never a very good head. Dizzy heights always
worried him, though he managed to keep hold on himself. But now
all that had gone. The sense of the fulness of Space made him as
happy--happier I believe--with his legs dangling into eternity,
as sitting before his own study fire.
"I remember saying that it was all rather like the mediaeval
wizards who made their spells by means of numbers and figures.
"He caught me up at once. 'Not numbers,' he said. "Number has
no place in Nature. It is an invention of the human mind to
atone for a bad memory. But figures are a different matter. All
the mysteries of the world are in them, and the old magicians
knew that at least, if they knew no more.'
"He had only one grievance. He complained that it was terribly
lonely. 'It is the Desolation,' he would quote, 'spoken of by
Daniel the prophet.' He would spend hours travelling those eerie
shifting corridors of Space with no hint of another human soul.
How could there be? It was a world of pure reason, where human
personality had no place. What puzzled me was why he should feel
the absence of this. One wouldn't you know, in an intricate
problem of geometry or a game of chess. I asked him, but he
didn't understand the question. I puzzled over it a good deal,
for it seemed to me that if Hollond felt lonely, there must be
more in this world of his than we imagined. I began to wonder if
there was any truth in fads like psychical research. Also, I was
not so sure that he was as normal as I had thought: it looked as
if his nerves might be going bad.
"Oddly enough, Hollond was getting on the same track himself.
He had discovered, so he said, that in sleep everybody now and
then lived in this new world of his. You know how one dreams of
triangular railway platforms with trains running simultaneously
down all three sides and not colliding. Well, this sort of
cantrip was 'common form,' as we say at the Bar, in Hollond's
Space, and he was very curious about the why and wherefore of
Sleep. He began to haunt psychological laboratories, where they
experiment with the charwoman and the odd man, and he used to go
up to Cambridge for seances. It was a foreign atmosphere to him,
and I don't think he was very happy in it. He found so many
charlatans that he used to get angry, and declare he would be
better employed at Mother's Meetings!"
From far up the Glen came the sound of the pony's hoofs. The
stag had been loaded up and the gillies were returning. Leithen
looked at his watch. "We'd better wait and see the beast," he
"... Well, nothing happened for more than a year. Then one
evening in May he burst into my rooms in high excitement. You
understand quite clearly that there was no suspicion of horror or
fright or anything unpleasant about this world he had discovered.
It was simply a series of interesting and difficult problems.
All this time Hollond had been rather extra well and cheery. But
when he came in I thought I noticed a different look in his eyes,
something puzzled and diffident and apprehensive .
"'There's a queer performance going on in the other world,' he
said. 'It's unbelievable. I never dreamed of such a thing. I--
I don't quite know how to put it, and I don't know how to explain
it, but--but I am becoming aware that there are other beings--
other minds--moving in Space besides mine.'
"I suppose I ought to have realised then that things were
beginning to go wrong. But it was very difficult, he was so
rational and anxious to make it all clear. I asked him how he
knew. 'There could, of course, on his own showing be no CHANGE
in that world, for the forms of Space moved and existed under
inexorable laws. He said he found his own mind failing him at
points. There would come over him a sense of fear--intellectual
fear--and weakness, a sense of something else, quite alien to
Space, thwarting him. Of course he could only describe his
impressions very lamely, for they were purely of the mind, and he
had no material peg to hang them on, so that I could realise
them. But the gist of it was that he had been gradually becoming
conscious of what he called 'Presences' in his world. They had
no effect on Space--did not leave footprints in its corridors,
for instance--but they affected his mind. There was some
mysterious contact established between him and them. I asked him
if the affection was unpleasant and he said 'No, not exactly.'
But I could see a hint of fear in his eyes.
"Think of it. Try to realise what intellectual fear is. I
can't, but it is conceivable. To you and me fear implies pain to
ourselves or some other, and such pain is always in the last
resort pain of the flesh. Consider it carefully and you will see
that it is so. But imagine fear so sublimated and transmuted as
to be the tension of pure spirit. I can't realise it, but I
think it possible. I don't pretend to understand how Hollond got
to know about these Presences. But there was no doubt about the
fact. He was positive, and he wasn't in the least mad--not in
our sense. In that very month he published his book on Number,
and gave a German professor who attacked it a most tremendous
"I know what you are going to say,--that the fancy was a
weakening of the mind from within. I admit I should have thought
of that but he looked so confoundedly sane and able that it
seemed ridiculous. He kept asking me my opinion, as a lawyer, on
the facts he offered. It was the oddest case ever put before me,
but I did my best for him. I dropped all my own views of sense
and nonsense. I told him that, taking all that he had told me as
fact, the Prescences might be either ordinary minds traversing
Space in sleep; or minds such as his which had independently
captured the sense of Space's quality; or, finally, the spirits
of just men made perfect, behaving as psychical researchers think
they do. It was a ridiculous task to set a prosaic man, and I
wasn't quite serious. But Holland was serious enough.
"He admitted that all three explanations were conceivable, but he
was very doubtful about the first. The projection of the spirit
into Space during sleep, he thought, was a faint and feeble
thing, and these were powerful Presences. With the second and
the third he was rather impressed. I suppose I should have seen
what was happening and tried to stop it; at least, looking back
that seems to have been my duty. But it was difficult to think
that anything was wrong with Hollond; indeed the odd thing is
that all this time the idea of madness never entered my head. I
rather backed him up. Somehow the thing took my fancy, though I
thought it moonshine at the bottom of my heart. I enlarged on
the pioneering before him. 'Think,' I told him, 'what may be
waiting for you. You may discover the meaning of Spirit. You
may open up a new world, as rich as the old one, but
imperishable. You may prove to mankind their immortality and
deliver them for ever from the fear of death. Why, man, you are
picking at the lock of all the world's mysteries.'
"But Hollond did not cheer up. He seemed strangely languid and
dispirited. 'That is all true enough,' he said,'if you are
right, if your alternatives are exhaustive. But suppose they are
something else, something .... What that 'something' might be he
had apparently no idea, and very soon he went away.
"He said another thing before he left. We asked me if I ever
read poetry, and I said, not often. Nor did he: but he had
picked up a little book somewhere and found a man who knew about
the Presences. I think his name was Traherne, one of the
seventeenth-century fellows. He quoted a verse which stuck to my
fly-paper memory. It ran something like
'Within the region of the air,
Compassed about with Heavens fair,
Great tracts of lands there may be found,
Where many numerous hosts,
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.'
Hollond was positive he did not mean angels or anything of the
sort. I told him that Traherne evidently took a cheerful view of
them. He admitted that, but added: 'He had religion, you see.
He believed that everything was for the best. I am not a man of
faith, and can only take comfort from what I understand. I'm in
the dark, I tell you...'
"Next week I was busy with the Chilian Arbitration case, and saw
nobody for a couple of months. Then one evening I ran against
Hollond on the Embankment, and thought him looking horribly ill.
He walked back with me to my rooms, and hardly uttered one word
all the way. I gave him a stiff whisky-and-soda, which he gulped
down absent-mindedly. There was that strained, hunted look in
his eyes that you see in a frightened animal's. He was always
lean, but now he had fallen away to skin and bone.
"'I can't stay long,' he told me, 'for I'm off to the Alps
to-morrow and I have a lot to do.' Before then he used to plunge
readily into his story, but now he seemed shy about beginning.
Indeed I had to ask him a question.
"'Things are difficult,' he said hesitatingly, and rather
distressing. Do you know, Leithen, I think you were wrong
about--about what I spoke to you of. You said there must be one
of three explanations. I am beginning to think that there is a
"He stopped for a second or two, then suddenly leaned forward and
gripped my knee so fiercely that I cried out. 'That world is the
Desolation,' he said in a choking voice, 'and perhaps I am
getting near the Abomination of the Desolation that the old
prophet spoke of. I tell you, man, I am on the edge of a terror,
a terror,' he almost screamed, 'that no mortal can think of and
You can imagine that I was considerably startled. It was
lightning out of a clear sky. How the devil could one associate
horror with mathematics? I don't see it yet... At any rate, I--
You may he sure I cursed my folly for ever pretending to take him
seriously. The only way would have been to have laughed him out
of it at the start. And yet I couldn't, you know--it was too
real and reasonable. Anyhow, I tried a firm tone now, and told
him the whole thing was arrant raving bosh. I bade him be a man
and pull himself together. I made him dine with me, and took him
home, and got him into a better state of mind before he went to
bed. Next morning I saw him off at Charing Cross, very haggard
still, but better. He promised to write to me pretty often...."
The pony, with a great eleven-pointer lurching athwart its back,
was abreast of us, and from the autumn mist came the sound of
soft Highland voices. Leithen and I got up to go, when we heard
that the rifle had made direct for the Lodge by a short cut past
the Sanctuary. In the wake of the gillies we descended the
Correi road into a glen all swimming with dim purple shadows.
The pony minced and boggled; the stag's antlers stood out sharp
on the rise against a patch of sky, looking like a skeleton tree.
Then we dropped into a covert of birches and emerged on the white
Leithen's story had bored and puzzled me at the start, but now it
had somehow gripped my fancy. Space a domain of endless
corridors and Presences moving in them! The world was not quite
the same as an hour ago. It was the hour, as the French say,
"between dog and wolf," when the mind is disposed to marvels. I
thought of my stalking on the morrow, and was miserably conscious
that I would miss my stag. Those airy forms would get in the
way. Confound Leithen and his yarns!
"I want to hear the end of your story," I told him, as the
lights of the Lodge showed half a mile distant.
"The end was a tragedy," he said slowly. "I don't much care to
talk about it. But how was I to know? I couldn't see the nerve
going. You see I couldn't believe it was all nonsense. If I
could I might have seen. But I still think there was something
in it--up to a point. Oh, I agree he went mad in the end. It is
the only explanation. Something must have snapped in that fine
brain, and he saw the little bit more which we call madness.
Thank God, you and I are prosaic fellows...
"I was going out to Chamonix myself a week later. But before I
started I got a post-card from Hollond, the only word from him.
He had printed my name and address, and on the other side had
scribbled six words--' I know at last--God's mercy.--H.G.H' The
handwriting was like a sick man of ninety. I knew that things
must be pretty bad with my friend.
"I got to Chamonix in time for his funeral. An ordinary climbing
accident--you probably read about it in the papers. The Press
talked about the toll which the Alps took from intellectuals--the
usual rot. There was an inquiry, but the facts were quite
simple. The body was only recognised by the clothes. He had
fallen several thousand feet.
"It seems that he had climbed for a few days with one of the
Kronigs and Dupont, and they had done some hair-raising things on
the Aiguilles. Dupont told me that they had found a new route up
the Montanvert side of the Charmoz. He said that Hollond climbed
like a 'diable fou' and if you know Dupont's standard of madness
you will see that the pace must have been pretty hot. 'But
monsieur was sick,' he added; 'his eyes were not good. And I and
Franz, we were grieved for him and a little afraid. We were glad
when he left us.'
"He dismissed the guides two days before his death. The next
day he spent in the hotel, getting his affairs straight. He left
everything in perfect order, but not a line to a soul, not even
to his sister. The following day he set out alone about three in
the morning for the Grepon. He took the road up the Nantillons
glacier to the Col, and then he must have climbed the Mummery
crack by himself. After that he left the ordinary route and
tried a new traverse across the Mer de Glace face. Somewhere
near the top he fell, and next day a party going to the Dent du
Requin found him on the rocks thousands of feet below.
"He had slipped in attempting the most foolhardy course on
earth, and there was a lot of talk about the dangers of guideless
climbing. But I guessed the truth, and I am sure Dupont knew,
though he held his tongue....
We were now on the gravel of the drive, and I was feeling better.
The thought of dinner warmed my heart and drove out the eeriness
of the twilight glen. The hour between dog and wolf was passing.
After all, there was a gross and jolly earth at hand for wise men
who had a mind to comfort.
Leithen, I saw, did not share my mood. He looked glum and
puzzled, as if his tale had aroused grim memories. He finished
it at the Lodge door.
"... For, of course, he had gone out that day to die. He had
seen the something more, the little bit too much, which plucks a
man from his moorings. He had gone so far into the land of pure
spirit that he must needs go further and shed the fleshly
envelope that cumbered him. God send that he found rest! I
believe that he chose the steepest cliff in the Alps for a
purpose. He wanted to be unrecognisable. He was a brave man and
a good citizen. I think he hoped that those who found him might
not see the look in his eyes."
STOCKS AND STONES
[The Chief Topaiwari replieth to Sir Walter Raleigh who
upbraideth him for idol worship]
My gods, you say, are idols dumb,
Which men have wrought from wood or clay,
Carven with chisel, shaped with thumb,
A morning's task, an evening's play.
You bid me turn my face on high
Where the blue heaven the sun enthrones,
And serve a viewless deity,
Nor make my bow to stocks and stones.
My lord, I am not skilled in wit
Nor wise in priestcraft, but I know
That fear to man is spur and bit
To jog and curb his fancies' flow.
He fears and loves, for love and awe
In mortal souls may well unite
To fashion forth the perfect law
Where Duty takes to wife Delight.
But on each man one Fear awaits
And chills his marrow like the dead.--
He cannot worship what he hates
Or make a god of naked Dread.
The homeless winds that twist and race,
The heights of cloud that veer and roll,
The unplumb'd Abyss, the drift of Space--
These are the fears that drain the soul.
Ye dauntless ones from out the sea
Fear nought. Perchance your gods are strong
To rule the air where grim things be,
And quell the deeps with all their throng.
For me, I dread not fire nor steel,
Nor aught that walks in open light,
But fend me from the endless Wheel,
The voids of Space, the gulfs of Night.
Wherefore my brittle gods I make
Of friendly clay and kindly stone,--
Wrought with my hands, to serve or break,
From crown to toe my work, my own.
My eyes can see, my nose can smell,
My fingers touch their painted face,
They weave their little homely spell
To warm me from the cold of Space.
My gods are wrought of common stuff
For human joys and mortal tears;
Weakly, perchance, yet staunch enough
To build a barrier 'gainst my fears,
Where, lowly but secure, I wait
And hear without the strange winds blow.--
I cannot worship what I hate,
Or serve a god I dare not know.
STREAMS OF WATER IN THE SOUTH
" As streams of water in the south, Our bondage, Lord, recall.
-PSALM cxxvi. (Scots Metrical Version).
It was at the ford of the Clachlands Water in a tempestuous
August, that I, an idle boy, first learned the hardships of the
Lammas droving. The shepherd of the Redswirehead, my very good
friend, and his three shaggy dogs, were working for their lives
in an angry water. The path behind was thronged with scores of
sheep bound for the Gledsmuir market, and beyond it was possible
to discern through the mist the few dripping dozen which had made
the passage. Between raged yards of brown foam coming down from
murky hills, and the air echoed with the yelp of dogs and the
perplexed cursing of men.
Before I knew I was helping in the task, with water lipping round
my waist and my arms filled with a terrified sheep. It was no
light task, for though the water was no more than three feet deep
it was swift and strong, and a kicking hogg is a sore burden.
But this was the only road; the stream might rise higher at any
moment; and somehow or other those bleating flocks had to be
transferred to their fellows beyond. There were six men at the
labour, six men and myself and all were cross and wearied and
heavy with water.
I made my passages side by side with my friend the shepherd, and
thereby felt much elated. This was a man who had dwelt all his
days in the wilds and was familiar with torrents as with his own
doorstep. Now and then a swimming dog would bark feebly as he
was washed against us, and flatter his fool's heart that he was
aiding the work. And so we wrought on, till by midday I was
dead-beat, and could scarce stagger through the surf, while all
the men had the same gasping faces. I saw the shepherd look with
longing eye up the long green valley, and mutter disconsolately
in his beard.
"Is the water rising?" I asked.
"It's no rising," said he, " but I likena the look o' yon big
black clud upon Cairncraw. I doubt there's been a shoor up the