Part 3 out of 4
muirs, and a shoor there means twae mair feet o' water in the
Clachlands. God help Sandy Jamieson's lambs, if there is."
"How many are left?" I asked.
"Three, fower,--no abune a score and a half," said he, running
his eye over the lessened flocks. "I maun try to tak twae at a
time." So for ten minutes he struggled with a double burden, and
panted painfully at each return. Then with a sudden swift look
up-stream he broke off and stood up. "Get ower the water, every
yin o' ye, and leave the sheep," he said, and to my wonder every
man of the five obeyed his word.
And then I saw the reason of his command, for with a sudden swift
leap forward the Clachlands rose, and flooded up to where I stood
an instant before high and dry.
"It's come," said the shepherd in a tone of fate, "and there's
fifteen no ower yet, and Lord kens how they'll dae't. They'll
hae to gang roond by Gledsmuir Brig, and that's twenty mile o' a
differ. 'Deed, it's no like that Sandy Jamieson will get a guid
price the morn for sic sair forfochen beasts."
Then with firmly gripped staff he marched stoutly into the tide
till it ran hissing below his armpits. "I could dae't alone," he
cried, "but no wi' a burden. For, losh, if ye slippit, ye'd be
in the Manor Pool afore ye could draw breath."
And so we waited with the great white droves and five angry men
beyond, and the path blocked by a surging flood. For half an
hour we waited, holding anxious consultation across the stream,
when to us thus busied there entered a newcomer, a helper from
the ends of the earth.
He was a man of something over middle size, but with a stoop
forward that shortened him to something beneath it. His dress
was ragged homespun, the cast-off clothes of some sportsman, and
in his arms he bore a bundle of sticks and heather-roots which
marked his calling. I knew him for a tramp who long had wandered
in the place, but I could not account for the whole-voiced shout
of greeting which met him as he stalked down the path. He lifted
his eyes and looked solemnly and long at the scene. Then
something of delight came into his eye, his face relaxed, and
flinging down his burden he stripped his coat and came toward us.
"Come on, Yeddie, ye're sair needed," said the shepherd, and I
watched with amazement this grizzled, crooked man seize a sheep
by the fleece and drag it to the water. Then he was in the
midst, stepping warily, now up, now down the channel, but always
nearing the farther bank. At last with a final struggle he
landed his charge, and turned to journey back. Fifteen times did
he cross that water, and at the end his mean figure had wholly
changed. For now he was straighter and stronger, his eye
flashed, and his voice, as he cried out to the drovers, had in it
a tone of command. I marvelled at the transformation; and when
at length he had donned once more his ragged coat and shouldered
his bundle, I asked the shepherd his name.
"They ca' him Adam Logan," said my friend, his face still bright
with excitement, "but maist folk ca' him 'Streams o' Water.'"
"Ay," said I, "and why 'Streams of Water'?"
"Juist for the reason ye see," said he.
Now I knew the shepherd's way, and I held my peace, for it was
clear that his mind was revolving other matters, concerned most
probably with the high subject of the morrow's prices. But in a
little, as we crossed the moor toward his dwelling, his thoughts
relaxed and he remembered my question. So he answered me thus:
"Oh, ay; as ye were sayin', he's a queer man Yeddie-aye been;
guid kens whaur he cam frae first, for he's been trampin' the
countryside since ever I mind, and that's no yesterday. He maun
be sixty year, and yet he's as fresh as ever. If onything, he's
a thocht dafter in his ongaein's, mair silent-like. But ye'll
hae heard tell o' him afore?" I owned ignorance.
"Tut," said he, "ye ken nocht. But Yeddie had aye a queer
crakin' for waters. He never gangs on the road. Wi' him it's
juist up yae glen and doon anither and aye keepin' by the
burn-side. He kens every water i' the warld, every bit sheuch
and burnie frae Gallowa' to Berwick. And then he kens the way o'
spates the best I ever seen, and I've heard tell o' him fordin'
waters when nae ither thing could leeve i' them. He can weyse
and wark his road sae cunnin'ly on the stanes that the roughest
flood, if it's no juist fair ower his heid, canna upset him.
Mony a sheep has he saved to me, and it's mony a guid drove wad
never hae won to Gledsmuir market but for Yeddie."
I listened with a boy's interest in any romantic narration.
Somehow, the strange figure wrestling in the brown stream took
fast hold on my mind, and I asked the shepherd for further tales.
"There's little mair to tell," he said, "for a gangrel life is
nane o' the liveliest. But d'ye ken the langnebbit hill that
cocks its tap abune the Clachlands heid? Weel, he's got a wee
bit o' grund on the tap frae the Yerl, and there he's howkit a
grave for himsel'. He's sworn me and twae-three ithers to bury
him there, wherever he may dee. It's a queer fancy in the auld
So the shepherd talked, and as at evening we stood by his door we
saw a figure moving into the gathering shadows. I knew it at
once, and did not need my friend's "There gangs 'Streams o'
Water'" to recognise it. Something wild and pathetic in the old
man's face haunted me like a dream, and as the dusk swallowed him
up, he seemed like some old Druid recalled of the gods to his
ancient habitation of the moors.
Two years passed, and April came with her suns and rains and
again the waters brimmed full in the valleys. Under the clear,
shining sky the lambing went on, and the faint bleat of sheep
brooded on the hills. In a land of young heather and green
upland meads, of faint odours of moor-burn, and hill-tops falling
in clear ridges to the sky-line, the veriest St. Anthony would
not abide indoors; so I flung all else to the winds and went
At the first pool on the Callowa, where the great flood sweeps
nobly round a ragged shoulder of hill, and spreads into broad
deeps beneath a tangle of birches, I began my toils. The turf
was still wet with dew and the young leaves gleamed in the glow
of morning. Far up the stream rose the grim hills which hem the
mosses and tarns of that tableland, whence flow the greater
waters of the countryside. An ineffable freshness, as of the
morning alike of the day and the seasons, filled the clear
hill-air, and the remote peaks gave the needed touch of
But as I fished I came on a man sitting in a green dell, busy at
the making of brooms. I knew his face and dress, for who could
forget such eclectic raggedness?--and I remembered that day two
years before when he first hobbled into my ken. Now, as I saw
him there, I was captivated by the nameless mystery of his
appearance. There was something startling to one accustomed to
the lack-lustre gaze of town-bred folk, in the sight of an eye as
keen and wild as a hawk's from sheer solitude and lonely
travelling. He was so bent and scarred with weather that he
seemed as much a part of that woodland place as the birks
themselves, and the noise of his labours did not startle the
birds that hopped on the branches.
Little by little I won his acquaintance--by a chance
reminiscence, a single tale, the mention of a friend. Then he
made me free of his knowledge, and my fishing fared well that
day. He dragged me up little streams to sequestered pools, where
I had astonishing success; and then back to some great swirl in
the Callowa where he had seen monstrous takes. And all the while
he delighted me with his talk, of men and things, of weather and
place, pitched high in his thin, old voice, and garnished with
many tones of lingering sentiment. He spoke in a broad, slow
Scots, with so quaint a lilt in his speech that one seemed to be
in an elder time among people of a quieter life and a quainter
Then by chance I asked him of a burn of which I had heard, and
how it might he reached. I shall never forget the tone of his
answer as his face grew eager and he poured forth his knowledge.
"Ye'll gang up the Knowe Burn, which comes down into the
Cauldshaw. It's a wee tricklin' thing, trowin' in and out o'
pools i' the rock, and comin' doun out o' the side o' Caerfraun.
Yince a merrymaiden bided there, I've heard folks say, and used
to win the sheep frae the Cauldshaw herd, and bile them i' the
muckle pool below the fa'. They say that there's a road to the
ill Place there, and when the Deil likit he sent up the lowe and
garred the water faem and fizzle like an auld kettle. But if
ye're gaun to the Colm Burn ye maun haud atower the rig o' the
hill frae the Knowe heid, and ye'll come to it wimplin' among
green brae faces. It's a bonny bit, rale lonesome, but awfu'
bonny, and there's mony braw trout in its siller flow."
Then I remembered all I had heard of the old man's craze, and I
humoured him. "It's a fine countryside for burns," I said.
"Ye may say that," said he gladly, "a weel-watered land. But a'
this braw south country is the same. I've traivelled frae the
Yeavering Hill in the Cheviots to the Caldons in Galloway, and
it's a' the same. When I was young, I've seen me gang north to
the Hielands and doun to the English lawlands, but now that I'm
gettin' auld I maun bide i' the yae place. There's no a burn in
the South I dinna ken, and I never cam to the water I couldna
"No?" said I. "I've seen you at the ford o' Clachlands in
the Lammas floods."
"Often I've been there," he went on, speaking like one calling
up vague memories. "Yince, when Tam Rorison was drooned, honest
man. Yince again, when the brigs were ta'en awa', and the Black
House o' Clachlands had nae bread for a week. But oh, Clachlands
is a bit easy water. But I've seen the muckle Aller come roarin'
sae high that it washed awa' a sheepfold that stood weel up on
the hill. And I've seen this verra burn, this bonny clear
Callowa, lyin' like a loch for miles i' the haugh. But I never
heeds a spate, for if a man just kens the way o't it's a canny,
hairmless thing. I couldna wish to dee better than just be
happit i' the waters o' my ain countryside, when my legs fail and
I'm ower auld for the trampin'."
Something in that queer figure in the setting of the hills struck
a note of curious pathos. And towards evening as we returned
down the glen the note grew keener. A spring sunset of gold and
crimson flamed in our backs and turned the clear pools to fire.
Far off down the vale the plains and the sea gleamed half in
shadow. Somehow in the fragrance and colour and the delectable
crooning of the stream, the fantastic and the dim seemed tangible
and present, and high sentiment revelled for once in my prosaic
And still more in the breast of my companion. He stopped and
sniffed the evening air, as he looked far over hill and dale and
then back to the great hills above us. "Yen's Crappel, and
Caerdon, and the Laigh Law," he said, lingering with relish over
each name, "and the Gled comes doun atween them. I haena been
there for a twalmonth, and I maun hae anither glisk o't, for it's
a braw place." And then some bitter thought seemed to seize him,
and his mouth twitched. "I'm an auld man," he cried, " and I
canna see ye a' again. There's burns and mair burns in the high
hills that I'll never win to." Then he remembered my presence,
and stopped. "Ye maunna mind me," he said huskily, " but the
sicht o' a' thae lang blue hills makes me daft, now that I've
faun i' the vale o' years. Yince I was young and could get where
I wantit, but now I am auld and maun bide i' the same bit. And
I'm aye thinkin' o' the waters I've been to, and the green heichs
and howes and the linns that I canna win to again. I maun e'en
be content wi' the Callowa, which is as guid as the best."
And then I left him, wandering down by the streamside and telling
his crazy meditations to himself.
A space of years elapsed ere I met him, for fate had carried me
far from the upland valleys. But once again I was afoot on the
white moor-roads; and, as I swung along one autumn afternoon up
the path which leads from the Glen of Callowa to the Gled, I saw
a figure before me which I knew for my friend. When I overtook
him, his appearance puzzled and troubled me. Age seemed to have
come on him at a bound, and in the tottering figure and the stoop
of weakness I had difficulty in recognising the hardy frame of
the man as I had known him. Something, too, had come over his
face. His brow was clouded, and the tan of weather stood out
hard and cruel on a blanched cheek. His eye seemed both wilder
and sicklier, and for the first time I saw him with none of the
appurtenances of his trade. He greeted me feebly and dully, and
showed little wish to speak. He walked with slow, uncertain
step, and his breath laboured with a new panting. Every now and
then he would look at me sidewise, and in his feverish glance I
could detect none of the free kindliness of old. The man was ill
in body and mind.
I asked him how he had done since I saw him last.
"It's an ill world now," he said in a slow, querulous voice.
"There's nae need for honest men, and nae leevin'. Folk dinna
heed me ava now. They dinna buy my besoms, they winna let me
bide a nicht in their byres, and they're no like the kind canty
folk in the auld times. And a' the countryside is changin'.
Doun by Goldieslaw they're makkin' a dam for takin' water to the
toun, and they're thinkin' o' daein' the like wi' the Callowa.
Guid help us, can they no let the works o' God alane? Is there
no room for them in the dirty lawlands that they maun file the
hills wi' their biggins?"
I conceived dimly that the cause of his wrath was a scheme for
waterworks at the border of the uplands, but I had less concern
for this than his strangely feeble health.
"You are looking ill," I said. "What has come over you?"
"Oh, I canna last for aye," he said mournfully. "My auld body's
about dune. I've warkit it ower sair when I had it, and it's
gaun to fail on my hands. Sleepin' out o' wat nichts and gangin'
lang wantin' meat are no the best ways for a long life"; and he
smiled the ghost of a smile.
And then he fell to wild telling of the ruin of the place and the
hardness of the people, and I saw that want and bare living had
gone far to loosen his wits. I knew the countryside, and I
recognised that change was only in his mind. And a great pity
seized me for this lonely figure toiling on in the bitterness of
regret. I tried to comfort him, but my words were useless, for
he took no heed of me; with bent head and faltering step he
mumbled his sorrows to himself.
Then of a sudden we came to the crest of the ridge where the road
dips from the hill-top to the sheltered valley. Sheer from the
heather ran the white streak till it lost itself among the
reddening rowans and the yellow birks of the wood. The land was
rich in autumn colour, and the shining waters dipped and fell
through a pageant of russet and gold. And all around hills
huddled in silent spaces, long brown moors crowned with cairns,
or steep fortresses of rock and shingle rising to foreheads of
steel-like grey. The autumn blue faded in the far sky-line to
white, and lent distance to the farther peaks. The hush of the
wilderness, which is far different from the hush of death,
brooded over the scene, and like faint music came the sound of a
distant scytheswing, and the tinkling whisper which is the flow
of a hundred streams.
I am an old connoisseur in the beauties of the uplands, but I
held my breath at the sight. And when I glanced at my companion,
he, too, had raised his head, and stood with wide nostrils and
gleaming eye revelling in this glimpse of Arcady. Then he found
his voice, and the weakness and craziness seemed for one moment
to leave him.
"It's my ain land," he cried, "and I'll never leave it. D'ye see
yon broun hill wi' the lang cairn?" and he gripped my arm
fiercely and directed my gaze. "Yon's my bit. I howkit it richt
on the verra tap, and ilka year I gang there to make it neat and
ordlerly. I've trystit wi' fower men in different pairishes that
whenever they hear o' my death, they'll cairry me up yonder and
bury me there. And then I'll never leave it, but be still and
quiet to the warld's end. I'll aye hae the sound o' water in my
ear, for there's five burns tak' their rise on that hillside, and
on a' airts the glens gang doun to the Gled and the Aller."
Then his spirit failed him, his voice sank, and he was almost the
feeble gangrel once more. But not yet, for again his eye swept
the ring of hills, and he muttered to himself names which I knew
for streams, lingeringly, lovingly, as of old affections. "Aller
and Gled and Callowa," he crooned, "braw names, and Clachlands
and Cauldshaw and the Lanely Water. And I maunna forget the
Stark and the Lin and the bonny streams o' the Creran. And what
mair? I canna mind a' the burns, the Howe and the Hollies and
the Fawn and the links o' the Manor. What says the Psalmist
'As streams o' water in the South,
Our bondage Lord, recall.'
Ay, but yen's the name for them. 'Streams o' water in the
And as we went down the slopes to the darkening vale I heard him
crooning to himself in a high, quavering voice the single
distich; then in a little his weariness took him again, and he
plodded on with no thought save for his sorrows.
The conclusion of this tale belongs not to me, but to the
shepherd of the Redswirehead, and I heard it from him in his
dwelling, as I stayed the night, belated on the darkening
moors. He told me it after supper in a flood of misty Doric, and
his voice grew rough at times, and he poked viciously at the
In the last back-end I was at Gledfoot wi' sheep, and a weary job
I had and little credit. Ye ken the place, a lang dreich shore
wi' the wind swirlin' and bitin' to the bane, and the broun Gled
water choked wi' Solloway sand. There was nae room in ony inn in
the town, so I bude to gang to a bit public on the Harbour Walk,
where sailor-folk and fishermen feucht and drank, and nae dacent
men frae the hills thocht of gangin'. I was in a gey ill way,
for I had sell't my beasts dooms cheap, and I thocht o' the lang
miles hame in the wintry weather. So after a bite o' meat I
gangs out to get the air and clear my heid, which was a' rammled
wi' the auction-ring.
And whae did I find, sittin' on a bench at the door, but the auld
man Yeddie. He was waur changed than ever. His lang hair was
hingin' over his broo, and his face was thin and white as a
ghaist's. His claes fell loose about him, and he sat wi' his
hand on his auld stick and his chin on his hand, hearin' nocht
and glowerin' afore him. He never saw nor kenned me till I shook
him by the shoulders, and cried him by his name.
"Whae are ye?" says he, in a thin voice that gaed to my hert.
"Ye ken me fine, ye auld fule," says I. "I'm Jock Rorison o'
the Redswirehead, whaur ye've stoppit often."
"Redswirehead," he says, like a man in a dream. "Redswirehead!
That's at the tap o' the Clachlands Burn as ye gang ower to the
"And what are ye daein' here? It's no your countryside ava, and
ye're no fit noo for lang trampin'."
"No," says he, in the same weak voice and wi' nae fushion in
him, "but they winna hae me up yonder noo. I'm ower auld and
useless. Yince a'body was gled to see me, and wad keep me as
lang's I wantit, and had aye a gud word at meeting and pairting.
Noo it's a' changed, and my wark's dune."
I saw fine that the man was daft, but what answer could I gie to
his havers? Folk in the Callowa Glens are as kind as afore, but
ill weather and auld age had put queer notions intil his heid.
Forbye, he was seeck, seeck unto death, and I saw mair in his een
than I likit to think.
"Come in-by and get some meat, man," I said. "Ye're famishin'
wi' cauld and hunger."
"I canna eat," he says, and his voice never changed. "It's lang
since I had a bite, for I'm no hungry. But I'm awfu' thirsty. I
cam here yestreen, and I can get nae water to drink like the
water in the hills. I maun be settin' out back the morn, if the
Lord spares me."
I mindit fine that the body wad tak nae drink like an honest man,
but maun aye draibble wi' burn water, and noo he had got the
thing on the brain. I never spak a word, for the maitter was bye
ony mortal's aid.
For lang he sat quiet. Then he lifts his heid and looks awa ower
the grey sea. A licht for a moment cam intil his een.
"Whatna big water's yon?" he said, wi' his puir mind aye
rinnin' on waters.
"That's the Solloway," says I.
"The Solloway," says he; " it's a big water, and it wad be an
ill job to ford it."
"Nae man ever fordit it," I said.
"But I never yet cam to the water I couldna ford," says he. "But
what's that queer smell i' the air? Something snell and cauld and
"That's the salt, for we're at the sea here, the mighty ocean.
He keepit repeatin' the word ower in his mouth. "The salt, the
salt, I've heard tell o' it afore, but I dinna like it. It's
terrible cauld and unhamely."
By this time an onding o' rain was coming up' frae the water, and
I bade the man come indoors to the fire. He followed me, as
biddable as a sheep, draggin' his legs like yin far gone in
seeckness. I set him by the fire, and put whisky at his elbow,
but he wadna touch it.
"I've nae need o' it," said he. "I'm find and warm"; and he
sits staring at the fire, aye comin' ower again and again, "The
Solloway, the Solloway. It's a guid name and a muckle water."
But sune I gaed to my bed, being heavy wi' sleep, for I had
traivelled for twae days.
The next morn I was up at six and out to see the weather. It was
a' changed. The muckle tides lay lang and still as our ain Loch
o' the Lee, and far ayont I saw the big blue hills o' England
shine bricht and clear. I thankit Providence for the day, for it
was better to tak the lang miles back in sic a sun than in a
blast o' rain.
But as I lookit I saw some folk comin' up frae the beach carryin'
something atween them. My hert gied a loup, and " some puir,
drooned sailor-body," says I to mysel', "whae has perished in
yesterday's storm." But as they cam nearer I got a glisk which
made me run like daft, and lang ere I was up on them I saw it was
He lay drippin' and white, wi' his puir auld hair lyin' back frae
his broo and the duds clingin' to his legs. But out o' the face
there had gane a' the seeckness and weariness. His een were
stelled, as if he had been lookin' forrit to something, and his
lips were set like a man on a lang errand. And mair, his stick
was grippit sae firm in his hand that nae man could loose it, so
they e'en let it be.
Then they tell't me the tale o't, how at the earliest licht they
had seen him wanderin' alang the sands, juist as they were
putting out their boats to sea. They wondered and watched him,
till of a sudden he turned to the water and wadit in, keeping
straucht on till he was oot o' sicht. They rowed a' their pith
to the place, but they were ower late. Yince they saw his heid
appear abune water, still wi' his face to the other side; and
then they got his body, for the tide was rinnin' low in the
mornin'. I tell't them a' I kenned o' him, and they were sair
affected. "Puir cratur," said yin, "he's shurely better now."
So we brocht him up to the house and laid him there till the folk
i' the town had heard o' the business. Syne the
procurator-fiscal came and certifeed the death and the rest was
left tae me. I got a wooden coffin made and put him in it, juist
as he was, wi' his staff in his hand and his auld duds about him.
I mindit o' my sworn word, for I was yin o' the four that had
promised, and I ettled to dae his bidding. It was saxteen mile
to the hills, and yin and twenty to the lanely tap whaur he had
howkit his grave. But I never heedit it. I'm a strong man,
weel-used to the walkin' and my hert was sair for the auld body.
Now that he had gotten deliverance from his affliction, it was
for me to leave him in the place he wantit. Forbye, he wasna
muckle heavier than a bairn.
It was a long road, a sair road, but I did it, and by seven
o'clock I was at the edge o' the muirlands. There was a braw
mune, and a the glens and taps stood out as clear as midday. Bit
by bit, for I was gey tired, I warstled ower the rigs and up the
cleuchs to the Gled-head; syne up the stany Gled-cleuch to the
lang grey hill which they ca' the Hurlybackit. By ten I had come
to the cairn, and black i' the mune I saw the grave. So there I
buried him, and though I'm no a releegious man, I couldna help
sayin' ower him the guid words o' the Psalmist--
"As streams of water in the South,
Our bondage, Lord, recall."
So if you go from the Gled to the Aller, and keep far over the
north side of the Muckle Muneraw, you will come in time to a
stony ridge which ends in a cairn. There you will see the whole
hill country of the south, a hundred lochs, a myriad streams, and
a forest of hill-tops. There on the very crest lies the old man,
in the heart of his own land, at the fountain-head of his many
waters. If you listen you will hear a hushed noise as of the
swaying in trees or a ripple on the sea. It is the sound of the
rising of burns, which, innumerable and unnumbered, flow thence
to the silent glens for evermore.
THE GIPSY'S SONG TO THE LADY CASSILIS
"Whereupon the Faas, coming down fron the Gates of Galloway, did
so bewitch my lady that she forgat husband and kin, and followed
the tinkler's piping." --Chap-book of the Raid of Cassilis.
The door is open to the wall,
The air is bright and free;
Adown the stair, across the hall,
And then-the world and me;
The bare grey bent, the running stream,
The fire beside the shore;
And we will bid the hearth farewell,
And never seek it more, My love,
And never seek it more.
And you shall wear no silken gown,
No maid shall bind your hair;
The yellow broom shall be your gem,
Your braid the heather rare.
Athwart the moor, adown the hill,
Across the world away;
The path is long for happy hearts
That sing to greet the day, My love,
That sing to greet the day.
When morning cleaves the eastern grey,
And the lone hills are red
When sunsets light the evening way
And birds are quieted;
In autumn noon and springtide dawn,
By hill and dale and sea,
The world shall sing its ancient song
Of hope and joy for thee, My love,
Of hope and joy for thee.
And at the last no solemn stole
Shall on thy breast be laid;
No mumbling priest shall speed thy soul,
No charnel vault thee shade.
But by the shadowed hazel copse,
Aneath the greenwood tree,
Where airs are soft and waters sing,
Thou'lt ever sleep by me, My love,
Thou'lt ever sleep by me.
THE GROVE OF ASHTAROTH
"C'est enfin que dans leurs prunelles
Rit et pleure-fastidieux--
L'amour des choses eternelles
Des vieux morts et des anciens dieux!"
We were sitting around the camp fire, some thirty miles north of
a place called Taqui, when Lawson announced his intention of
finding a home. He had spoken little the last day or two, and I
had guessed that he had struck a vein of private reflection. I
thought it might be a new mine or irrigation scheme, and I was
surprised to find that it was a country house.
"I don't think I shall go back to England," he said, kicking a
sputtering log into place. "I don't see why I should. For
business purposes I am far more useful to the firm in South
Africa than in Throgmorton Street. I have no relation left
except a third cousin, and I have never cared a rush for living
in town. That beastly house of mine in Hill Street will fetch
what I gave for it,--Isaacson cabled about it the other day,
offering for furniture and all. I don't want to go into
Parliament, and I hate shooting little birds and tame deer. I am
one of those fellows who are born Colonial at heart, and I don't
see why I shouldn't arrange my life as I please. Besides, for
ten years I have been falling in love with this country, and now
I am up to the neck."
He flung himself back in the camp-chair till the canvas creaked,
and looked at me below his eyelids. I remember glancing at the
lines of him, and thinking what a fine make of a man he was. In
his untanned field-boots, breeches, and grey shirt, he looked the
born wilderness hunter, though less than two months before he had
been driving down to the City every morning in the sombre
regimentals of his class. Being a fair man, he was gloriously
tanned, and there was a clear line at his shirt-collar to mark
the limits of his sunburn. I had first known him years ago, when
he was a broker's clerk working on half-commission. Then he had
gone to South Africa, and soon I heard he was a partner in a
mining house which was doing wonders with some gold areas in the
North. The next step was his return to London as the new
millionaire,--young, good-looking, wholesome in mind and body,
and much sought after by the mothers of marriageable girls. We
played polo together, and hunted a little in the season, but
there were signs that he did not propose to become the
conventional English gentleman. He refused to buy a place in the
country, though half the Homes of England were at his disposal.
He was a very busy man, he declared, and had not time to be a
squire. Besides, every few months he used to rush out to South
Africa. I saw that he was restless, for he was always badgering
me to go big-game hunting with him in some remote part of the
earth. There was that in his eyes, too, which marked him out
from the ordinary blond type of our countrymen. They were large
and brown and mysterious, and the light of another race was in
their odd depths.
To hint such a thing would have meant a breach of friendship, for
Lawson was very proud of his birth. When he first made his
fortune he had gone to the Heralds to discover his family, and
these obliging gentlemen had provided a pedigree. It appeared
that he was a scion of the house of Lowson or Lowieson, an
ancient and rather disreputable clan on the Scottish side of the
Border. He took a shooting in Teviotdale on the strength of it,
and used to commit lengthy Border ballads to memory. But I had
known his father, a financial journalist who never quite
succeeded, and I had heard of a grandfather who sold antiques in
a back street at Brighton. The latter, I think, had not changed
his name, and still frequented the synagogue. The father was a
progressive Christian, and the mother had been a blonde Saxon
from the Midlands. In my mind there was no doubt, as I caught
Lawson's heavy-lidded eyes fixed on me. My friend was of a more
ancient race than the Lowsons of the Border.
"Where are you thinking of looking for your house?" I asked. "In
Natal or in the Cape Peninsula? You might get the Fishers'
place if you paid a price."
"The Fishers' place be hanged!" he said crossly. "I don't want
any stuccoed, over-grown Dutch farm. I might as well be at
Roehampton as in the Cape."
He got up and walked to the far side of the fire, where a lane
ran down through the thornscrub to a gully of the hills. The
moon was silvering the bush of the plains, forty miles off and
three thousand feet below us.
"I am going to live somewhere hereabouts," he answered at last.
I whistled. "Then you've got to put your hand in your pocket,
old man. You'll have to make everything, including a map of the
"I know," he said; "that's where the fun comes in. Hang it
all, why shouldn't I indulge my fancy? I'm uncommonly well off,
and I haven't chick or child to leave it to. Supposing I'm a
hundred miles from rail-head, what about it? I'll make a
motor-road and fix up a telephone. I'll grow most of my
supplies, and start a colony to provide labour. When you come
and stay with me, you'll get the best food and drink on earth,
and sport that will make your mouth water. I'll put Lochleven
trout in these streams,--at 6,000 feet you can do anything.
We'll have a pack of hounds, too, and we can drive pig in the
woods, and if we want big game there are the Mangwe flats at our
feet. I tell you I'll make such a country-house as nobody ever
dreamed of. A man will come plumb out of stark savagery into
lawns and rose-gardens." Lawson flung himself into his chair
again and smiled dreamily at the fire.
"But why here, of all places?" I persisted. I was not feeling
very well and did not care for the country.
"I can't quite explain. I think it's the sort of land I have
always been looking for. I always fancied a house on a green
plateau in a decent climate looking down on the tropics. I like
heat and colour, you know, but I like hills too, and greenery,
and the things that bring back Scotland. Give me a cross between
Teviotdale and the Orinoco, and, by Gad! I think I've got it
I watched my friend curiously, as with bright eyes and eager
voice he talked of his new fad. The two races were very clear in
him--the one desiring gorgeousness, the other athirst for the
soothing spaces of the North. He began to plan out the house.
He would get Adamson to design it, and it was to grow out of the
landscape like a stone on the hillside. There would be wide
verandahs and cool halls, but great fireplaces against winter
time. It would all be very simple and fresh--"clean as morning"
was his odd phrase; but then another idea supervened, and he
talked of bringing the Tintorets from Hill Street. "I want it to
be a civilised house, you know. No silly luxury, but the best
pictures and china and books. I'll have all the furniture made
after the old plain English models out of native woods. I don't
want second-hand sticks in a new country. Yes, by Jove, the
Tintorets are a great idea, and all those Ming pots I bought. I
had meant to sell them, but I'll have them out here."
He talked for a good hour of what he would do, and his dream grew
richer as he talked, till by the time we went to bed he had
sketched something more like a palace than a country-house.
Lawson was by no means a luxurious man. At present he was well
content with a Wolseley valise, and shaved cheerfully out of a
tin mug. It struck me as odd that a man so simple in his habits
should have so sumptuous a taste in bric-a-brac. I told myself,
as I turned in, that the Saxon mother from the Midlands had done
little to dilute the strong wine of the East.
It drizzled next morning when we inspanned, and I mounted my
horse in a bad temper. I had some fever on me, I think, and I
hated this lush yet frigid tableland, where all the winds on
earth lay in wait for one's marrow. Lawson was, as usual, in
great spirits. We were not hunting, but shifting our
hunting-ground, so all morning we travelled fast to the north
along the rim of the uplands.
At midday it cleared, and the afternoon was a pageant of pure
colour. The wind sank to a low breeze; the sun lit the
infinite green spaces, and kindled the wet forest to a jewelled
coronal. Lawson gaspingly admired it all, as he cantered
bareheaded up a bracken-clad slope. "God's country," he said
twenty times. "I've found it." Take a piece of Sussex downland;
put a stream in every hollow and a patch of wood; and at the
edge, where the cliffs at home would fall to the sea, put a cloak
of forest muffling the scarp and dropping thousands of feet to
the blue plains. Take the diamond air of the Gornergrat, and the
riot of colour which you get by a West Highland lochside in late
September. Put flowers everywhere, the things we grow in
hothouses, geraniums like sun-shades and arums like trumpets.
That will give you a notion of the countryside we were in. I
began to see that after all it was out of the common.
And just before sunset we came over a ridge and found something
better. It was a shallow glen, half a mile wide, down which ran
a blue-grey stream in lings like the Spean, till at the edge of
the plateau it leaped into the dim forest in a snowy cascade.
The opposite side ran up in gentle slopes to a rocky knell, from
which the eye had a noble prospect of the plains. All down the
glen were little copses, half moons of green edging some silvery
shore of the burn, or delicate clusters of tall trees nodding on
the hill brow. The place so satisfied the eye that for the sheer
wonder of its perfection we stopped and stared in silence for
Then "The House," I said, and Lawson replied softly, "The
We rode slowly into the glen in the mulberry gloaming. Our
transport waggons were half an hour behind, so we had time to
explore. Lawson dismounted and plucked handfuls of flowers from
the water meadows. He was singing to himself all the time--an
old French catch about Cadet Rousselle and his Trois maisons.
"Who owns it?" I asked.
"My firm, as like as not. We have miles of land about here.
But whoever the man is, he has got to sell. Here I build my
tabernacle, old man. Here, and nowhere else!"
In the very centre of the glen, in a loop of the stream, was one
copse which even in that half light struck me as different from
the others. It was of tall, slim, fairy-like trees, the kind of
wood the monks painted in old missals. No, I rejected the
thought. It was no Christian wood. It was not a copse, but a
"grove,"--one such as Artemis may have flitted through in the
moonlight. It was small, forty or fifty yards in diameter, and
there was a dark something at the heart of it which for a second
I thought was a house.
We turned between the slender trees, and--was it fancy?--an odd
tremor went through me. I felt as if I were penetrating the
temenos of some strange and lovely divinity, the goddess of this
pleasant vale. There was a spell in the air, it seemed, and an
odd dead silence.
Suddenly my horse started at a flutter of light wings. A flock
of doves rose from the branches, and I saw the burnished green of
their plumes against the opal sky. Lawson did not seem to notice
them. I saw his keen eyes staring at the centre of the grove and
what stood there.
It was a little conical tower, ancient and lichened, but, so far
as I could judge, quite flawless. You know the famous Conical
Temple at Zimbabwe, of which prints are in every guidebook. This
was of the same type, but a thousandfold more perfect. It stood
about thirty feet high, of solid masonry, without door or window
or cranny, as shapely as when it first came from the hands of the
old builders. Again I had the sense of breaking in on a
sanctuary. What right had I, a common vulgar modern, to be
looking at this fair thing, among these delicate trees, which
some white goddess had once taken for her shrine?
Lawson broke in on my absorption. "Let's get out of this," he
said hoarsely and he took my horse's bridle (he had left his own
beast at the edge) and led him back to the open. But I noticed
that his eyes were always turning back and that his hand
"That settles it," I said after supper. "What do you want with
your mediaeval Venetians and your Chinese pots now? You will
have the finest antique in the world in your garden--a temple as
old as time, and in a land which they say has no history. You
had the right inspiration this time."
I think I have said that Lawson had hungry eyes. In his
enthusiasm they used to glow and brighten; but now, as he sat
looking down at the olive shades of the glen, they seemed
ravenous in their fire. He had hardly spoken a word since we
left the wood.
"Where can I read about these things?" he asked, and I gave
him the names of books. Then, an hour later, he asked me who
were the builders. I told him the little I knew about Phoenician
and Sabaen wanderings, and the ritual of Sidon and Tyre. He
repeated some names to himself and went soon to bed.
As I turned in, I had one last look over the glen, which lay
ivory and black in the moon. I seemed to hear a faint echo of
wings, and to see over the little grove a cloud of light
visitants. "The Doves of Ashtaroth have come back," I said to
myself. "It is a good omen. They accept the new tenant." But
as I fell asleep I had a sudden thought that I was saying
something rather terrible.
Three years later, pretty nearly to a day, I came back to see
what Lawson had made of his hobby. He had bidden me often to
Welgevonden, as he chose to call it--though I do not know why he
should have fixed a Dutch name to a countryside where Boer never
trod. At the last there had been some confusion about dates, and
I wired the time of my arrival, and set off without an answer. A
motor met me at the queer little wayside station of Taqui, and
after many miles on a doubtful highway I came to the gates of the
park, and a road on which it was a delight to move. Three years
had wrought little difference in the landscape. Lawson had done
some planting,--conifers and flowering shrubs and suchlike,--but
wisely he had resolved that Nature had for the most part
forestalled him. All the same, he must have spent a mint of
money. The drive could not have been beaten in England, and
fringes of mown turf on either hand had been pared out of the
lush meadows. When we came over the edge of the hill and looked
down on the secret glen, I could not repress a cry of pleasure.
The house stood on the farther ridge, the viewpoint of the whole
neighbourhood; and its brown timbers and white rough-cast walls
melted into the hillside as if it had been there from the
beginning of things. The vale below was ordered in lawns and
gardens. A blue lake received the rapids of the stream, and its
banks were a maze of green shades and glorious masses of blossom.
I noticed, too, that the little grove we had explored on our
first visit stood alone in a big stretch of lawn, so that its
perfection might be clearly seen. Lawson had excellent taste, or
he had had the best advice.
The butler told me that his master was expected home shortly, and
took me into the library for tea. Lawson had left his Tintorets
and Ming pots at home after all. It was a long, low room,
panelled in teak half-way up the walls, and the shelves held a
multitude of fine bindings. There were good rugs on the parquet
door, but no ornaments anywhere, save three. On the carved
mantelpiece stood two of the old soapstone birds which they used
to find at Zimbabwe, and between, on an ebony stand, a half moon
of alabaster, curiously carved with zodiacal figures. My host
had altered his scheme of furnishing, but I approved the change.
He came in about half-past six, after I had consumed two cigars
and all but fallen asleep. Three years make a difference in most
men, but I was not prepared for the change in Lawson. For one
thing, he had grown fat. In place of the lean young man I had
known, I saw a heavy, flaccid being, who shuffled in his gait,
and seemed tired and listless. His sunburn had gone, and his
face was as pasty as a city clerk's. He had been walking, and
wore shapeless flannel clothes, which hung loose even on his
enlarged figure. And the worst of it was, that he did not seem
over-pleased to see me. He murmured something about my journey,
and then flung himself into an arm-chair and looked out of the
I asked him if he had been ill.
"Ill! No!" he said crossly. "Nothing of the kind. I'm
"You don't look as fit as this place should make you. What do
you do with yourself? Is the shooting as good as you hoped?"
He did not answer, but I thought I heard him mutter something
like "shooting be damned."
Then I tried the subject of the house. I praised it
extravagantly, but with conviction. "There can be no place like
it in the world," I said.
He turned his eyes on me at last, and I saw that they were as
deep and restless as ever. With his pallid face they made him
look curiously Semitic. I had been right in my theory about his
"Yes," he said slowly, "there is no place like it--in the world."
Then he pulled himself to his feet. "I'm going to change," he
said. "Dinner is at eight. Ring for Travers, and he'll show you
I dressed in a noble bedroom, with an outlook over the
garden-vale and the escarpment to the far line of the plains, now
blue and saffron in the sunset. I dressed in an ill temper, for
I was seriously offended with Lawson, and also seriously alarmed.
He was either very unwell or going out of his mind, and it was
clear, too, that he would resent any anxiety on his account. I
ransacked my memory for rumours, but found none. I had heard
nothing of him except that he had been extraordinarily successful
in his speculations, and that from his hill-top he directed his
firm's operations with uncommon skill. If Lawson was sick or
mad, nobody knew of it.
Dinner was a trying ceremony. Lawson, who used to be rather
particular in his dress, appeared in a kind of smoking suit with
a flannel collar. He spoke scarcely a word to me, but cursed the
servants with a brutality which left me aghast. A wretched
footman in his nervousness spilt some sauce over his sleeve.
Lawson dashed the dish from his hand and volleyed abuse with a
sort of epileptic fury. Also he, who had been the most
abstemious of men, swallowed disgusting quantities of champagne
and old brandy.
He had given up smoking, and half an hour after we left the
dining-room he announced his intention of going to bed. I
watched him as he waddled upstairs with a feeling of angry
bewilderment. Then I went to the library and lit a pipe. I
would leave first thing in the morning--on that I was determined.
But as I sat gazing at the moon of alabaster and the soapstone
birds my anger evaporated, and concern took its place. I
remembered what a fine fellow Lawson had been, what good times we
had had together. I remembered especially that evening when we
had found this valley and given rein to our fancies. What horrid
alchemy in the place had turned a gentleman into a brute? I
thought of drink and drugs and madness and insomnia, but I could
fit none of them into my conception of my friend. I did not
consciously rescind my resolve to depart, but I had a notion that
I would not act on it.
The sleepy butler met me as I went to bed. "Mr. Lawson's room
is at the end of your corridor, sir," he said. "He don't sleep
over well, so you may hear him stirring in the night. At what
hour would you like breakfast, sir? Mr. Lawson mostly has his
My room opened from the great corridor, which ran the full length
of the front of the house. So far as I could make out, Lawson
was three rooms off, a vacant bedroom and his servant's room
being between us. I felt tired and cross, and tumbled into bed
as fast as possible. Usually I sleep well, but now I was soon
conscious that my drowsiness was wearing off and that I was in
for a restless night. I got up and laved my face, turned the
pillows, thought of sheep coming over a hill and clouds crossing
the sky; but none of the old devices were of any use. After
about an hour of make-believe I surrendered myself to facts, and,
lying on my back, stared at the white ceiling and the patches of
moonshine on the walls.
It certainly was an amazing night. I got up, put on a
dressing-gown, and drew a chair to the window. The moon was
almost at its full, and the whole plateau swam in a radiance of
ivory and silver. The banks of the stream were black, but the
lake had a great belt of light athwart it, which made it seem
like a horizon and the rim of land beyond it like a contorted
cloud. Far to the right I saw the delicate outlines of the
little wood which I had come to think of as the Grove of
Ashtaroth. I listened. There was not a sound in the air. The
land seemed to sleep peacefully beneath the moon, and yet I had a
sense that the peace was an illusion. The place was feverishly
I could have given no reason for my impression but there it was.
Something was stirring in the wide moonlit landscape under its
deep mask of silence. I felt as I had felt on the evening three
years ago when I had ridden into the grove. I did not think that
the influence, whatever it was, was maleficent. I only knew that
it was very strange, and kept me wakeful.
By-and-by I bethought me of a book. There was no lamp in the
corridor save the moon, but the whole house was bright as I
slipped down the great staircase and across the hall to the
library. I switched on the lights and then switched them off.
They seemed profanation, and I did not need them.
I found a French novel, but the place held me and I stayed. I
sat down in an arm-chair before the fireplace and the stone
birds. Very odd those gawky things, like prehistoric Great Auks,
looked in the moonlight. I remember that the alabaster moon
shimmered like translucent pearl, and I fell to wondering about
its history. Had the old Sabaens used such a jewel in their
rites in the Grove of Ashtaroth?
Then I heard footsteps pass the window. A great house like this
would have a watchman, but these quick shuffling footsteps were
surely not the dull plod of a servant. They passed on to the
grass and died away. I began to think of getting back to my
In the corridor I noticed that Lawson's door was ajar, and that a
light had been left burning. I had the unpardonable curiosity to
peep in. The room was empty, and the bed had not been slept in.
Now I knew whose were the footsteps outside the library window.
I lit a reading-lamp and tried to interest myself in "La Cruelle
Enigme." But my wits were restless, and I could not keep my eyes
on the page. I flung the book aside and sat down again by the
window. The feeling came over me that I was sitting in a box at
some play. The glen was a huge stage, and at any moment the
players might appear on it. My attention was strung as high as
if I had been waiting for the advent of some world-famous
actress. But nothing came. Only the shadows shifted and
lengthened as the moon moved across the sky.
Then quite suddenly the restlessness left me and at the same
moment the silence was broken by the crow of a cock and the
rustling of trees in a light wind. I felt very sleepy, and was
turning to bed when again I heard footsteps without. From the
window I could see a figure moving across the garden towards the
house. It was Lawson, got up in the sort of towel dressing-gown
that one wears on board ship. He was walking slowly and
painfully, as if very weary. I did not see his face, but the
man's whole air was that of extreme fatigue and dejection. I
tumbled into bed and slept profoundly till long after daylight.
The man who valeted me was Lawson's own servant. As he was
laying out my clothes I asked after the health of his master, and
was told that he had slept ill and would not rise till late.
Then the man, an anxious-faced Englishman, gave me some
information on his own account. Mr. Lawson was having one of his
bad turns. It would pass away in a day or two, but till it had
gone he was fit for nothing. He advised me to see Mr. Jobson,
the factor, who would look to my entertainment in his master's
Jobson arrived before luncheon, and the sight of him was the
first satisfactory thing about Welgevonden. He was a big, gruff
Scot from Roxburghshire, engaged, no doubt, by Lawson as a duty
to his Border ancestry. He had short grizzled whiskers, a
weatherworn face, and a shrewd, calm blue eye. I knew now why
the place was in such perfect order.
We began with sport, and Jobson explained what I could have in
the way of fishing and shooting. His exposition was brief and
business-like, and all the while I could see his eye searching
me. It was clear that he had much to say on other matters than
I told him that I had come here with Lawson three years before,
when he chose the site. Jobson continued to regard me curiously.
"I've heard tell of ye from Mr. Lawson. Ye're an old friend of
his, I understand."
"The oldest," I said. "And I am sorry to find that the place
does not agree with him. Why it doesn't I cannot imagine, for
you look fit enough. Has he been seedy for long?"
"It comes and it goes," said Mr. Jobson. "Maybe once a month
he has a bad turn. But on the whole it agrees with him badly.
He's no' the man he was when I first came here."
Jobson was looking at me very seriously and frankly. I risked a
"What do you suppose is the matter?"
He did not reply at once, but leaned forward and tapped my knee.
"I think it's something that doctors canna cure. Look at me,
sir. I've always been counted a sensible man, but if I told you
what was in my head you would think me daft. But I have one word
for you. Bide till to-night is past and then speir your
question. Maybe you and me will be agreed."
The factor rose to go. As he left the room he flung me back a
remark over his shoulder--"Read the eleventh chapter of the First
Book of Kings."
After luncheon I went for a walk. First I mounted to the crown
of the hill and feasted my eyes on the unequalled loveliness of
the view. I saw the far hills in Portuguese territory, a hundred
miles away, lifting up thin blue fingers into the sky. The wind
blew light and fresh, and the place was fragrant with a thousand
delicate scents. Then I descended to the vale, and followed the
stream up through the garden. Poinsettias and oleanders were
blazing in coverts, and there was a paradise of tinted
water-lilies in the slacker reaches. I saw good trout rise at
the fly, but I did not think about fishing. I was searching my
memory for a recollection which would not come. By-and-by I
found myself beyond the garden, where the lawns ran to the fringe
of Ashtaroth's Grove.
It was like something I remembered in an old Italian picture.
Only, as my memory drew it, it should have been peopled with
strange figures-nymphs dancing on the sward, and a prick-eared
faun peeping from the covert. In the warm afternoon sunlight it
stood, ineffably gracious and beautiful, tantalising with a sense
of some deep hidden loveliness. Very reverently I walked between
the slim trees, to where the little conical tower stood half in
the sun and half in shadow. Then I noticed something new. Round
the tower ran a narrow path, worn in the grass by human feet.
There had been no such path on my first visit, for I remembered
the grass growing tall to the edge of the stone. Had the Kaffirs
made a shrine of it, or were there other and strange votaries?
When I returned to the house I found Travers with a message for
me. Mr. Lawson was still in bed, but he would like me to go to
him. I found my friend sitting up and drinking strong tea,--a
bad thing, I should have thought, for a man in his condition. I
remember that I looked about the room for some sign of the
pernicious habit of which I believed him a victim. But the place
was fresh and clean, with the windows wide open, and, though I
could not have given my reasons, I was convinced that drugs or
drink had nothing to do with the sickness.
He received me more civilly, but I was shocked by his looks.
There were great bags below his eyes, and his skin had the
wrinkled puffy appearance of a man in dropsy. His voice, too,
was reedy and thin. Only his great eyes burned with some
"I am a shocking bad host," he said, "but I'm going to be still
more inhospitable. I want you to go away. I hate anybody here
when I'm off colour."
"Nonsense," I said; "you want looking after. I want to know
about this sickness. Have you had a doctor?"
He smiled wearily. "Doctors are no earthly use to me. There's
nothing much the matter I tell you. I'll be all right in a day
or two, and then you can come back. I want you to go off with
Jobson and hunt in the plains till the end of the week. It will
be better fun for you, and I'll feel less guilty."
Of course I pooh-poohed the idea, and Lawson got angry. "Damn
it, man," he cried, "why do you force yourself on me when I
don't want you? I tell you your presence here makes me worse.
In a week I'll be as right as the mail and then I'll be thankful
for you. But get away now; get away, I tell you."
I saw that he was fretting himself into a passion. "All right,"
I said soothingly; "Jobson and I will go off hunting. But I am
horribly anxious about you, old man."
He lay back on his pillows. "You needn't trouble. I only want
a little rest. Jobson will make all arrangements, and Travers
will get you anything you want. Good-bye."
I saw it was useless to stay longer, so I left the room. Outside
I found the anxious-faced servant "Look here," I said, "Mr.
Lawson thinks I ought to go, but I mean to stay. Tell him I'm
gone if he asks you. And for Heaven's sake keep him in bed."
The man promised, and I thought I saw some relief in his face.
I went to the library, and on the way remembered Jobson's remark
about Ist Kings. With some searching I found a Bible and turned
up the passage. It was a long screed about the misdeeds of
Solomon, and I read it through without enlightenment. I began to
re-read it, and a word suddenly caught my attention--
"For Solomon went after Ashtaroth, the goddess of the
That was all, but it was like a key to a cipher. Instantly there
flashed over my mind all that I had heard or read of that strange
ritual which seduced Israel to sin. I saw a sunburnt land and a
people vowed to the stern service of Jehovah. But I saw, too,
eyes turning from the austere sacrifice to lonely hill-top groves
and towers and images, where dwelt some subtle and evil mystery.
I saw the fierce prophets, scourging the votaries with rods, and
a nation Penitent before the Lord; but always the backsliding
again, and the hankering after forbidden joys. Ashtaroth was the
old goddess of the East. Was it not possible that in all Semitic
blood there remained transmitted through the dim generations,
some craving for her spell? I thought of the grandfather in the
back street at Brighten and of those burning eyes upstairs.
As I sat and mused my glance fell on the inscrutable stone birds.
They knew all those old secrets of joy and terror. And that moon
of alabaster! Some dark priest had worn it on his forehead when
he worshipped, like Ahab, "all the host of Heaven." And then I
honestly began to be afraid. I, a prosaic, modern Christian
gentleman, a half-believer in casual faiths, was in the presence
of some hoary mystery of sin far older than creeds or
Christendom. There was fear in my heart--a kind of uneasy
disgust, and above all a nervous eerie disquiet. Now I wanted to
go away and yet I was ashamed of the cowardly thought. I
pictured Ashtaroth's Grove with sheer horror. What tragedy was
in the air? What secret awaited twilight? For the night was
coming, the night of the Full Moon, the season of ecstasy and
I do not know how I got through that evening. I was disinclined
for dinner, so I had a cutlet in the library and sat smoking till
my tongue ached. But as the hours passed a more manly resolution
grew up in my mind. I owed it to old friendship to stand by
Lawson in this extremity. I could not interfere--God knows, his
reason seemed already rocking, but I could be at hand in case my
chance came. I determined not to undress, but to watch through
the night. I had a bath, and changed into light flannels and
slippers. Then I took up my position in a corner of the library
close to the window, so that I could not fail to hear Lawson's
footsteps if he passed.
Fortunately I left the lights unlit, for as I waited I grew
drowsy, and fell asleep. When I woke the moon had risen, and I
knew from the feel of the air that the hour was late. I sat very
still, straining my ears, and as I listened I caught the sound of
steps. They were crossing the hall stealthily, and nearing the
library door. I huddled into my corner as Lawson entered.
He wore the same towel dressing-gown, and he moved swiftly and
silently as if in a trance. I watched him take the alabaster
moon from the mantelpiece and drop it in his pocket. A glimpse
of white skin showed that the gown was his only clothing. Then
he moved past me to the window, opened it and went out.
Without any conscious purpose I rose and followed, kicking off my
slippers that I might go quietly. He was running, running fast,
across the lawns in the direction of the Grove--an odd shapeless
antic in the moonlight. I stopped, for there was no cover, and I
feared for his reason if he saw me. When I looked again he had
disappeared among the trees.
I saw nothing for it but to crawl, so on my belly I wormed my way
over the dripping sward. There was a ridiculous suggestion of
deer-stalking about the game which tickled me and dispelled my
uneasiness. Almost I persuaded myself I was tracking an ordinary
sleep-walker. The lawns were broader than I imagined, and it
seemed an age before I reached the edge of the Grove. The world
was so still that I appeared to be making a most ghastly amount
of noise. I remember that once I heard a rustling in the air,
and looked up to see the green doves circling about the
There was no sign of Lawson. On the edge of the Grove I think
that all my assurance vanished. I could see between the trunks
to the little tower, but it was quiet as the grave, save for the
wings above. Once more there came over me the unbearable sense
of anticipation I had felt the night before. My nerves tingled
with mingled expectation and dread. I did not think that any
harm would come to me, for the powers of the air seemed not
malignant. But I knew them for powers, and felt awed and abased.
I was in the presence of the "host of Heaven," and I was no
stern Israelitish prophet to prevail against them.
I must have lain for hours waiting in that spectral place, my
eyes riveted on the tower and its golden cap of moonshine. I
remember that my head felt void and light, as if my spirit were
becoming disembodied and leaving its dew-drenched sheath far
below. But the most curious sensation was of something drawing
me to the tower, something mild and kindly and rather feeble, for
there was some other and stronger force keeping me back. I
yearned to move nearer, but I could not drag my limbs an inch.
There was a spell somewhere which I could not break. I do not
think I was in any way frightened now. The starry influence was
playing tricks with me, but my mind was half asleep. Only I
never took my eyes from the little tower. I think I could not,
if I had wanted to.
Then suddenly from the shadows came Lawson. He was stark-naked,
and he wore, bound across his brow, the half-moon of alabaster.
He had something, too, in his hand,--something which glittered.
He ran round the tower, crooning to himself, and flinging wild
arms to the skies. Sometimes the crooning changed to a shrill
cry of passion, such as a manad may have uttered in the train of
Bacchus. I could make out no words, but the sound told its own
tale. He was absorbed in some infernal ecstasy. And as he ran,
he drew his right hand across his breast and arms, and I saw that
it held a knife.
I grew sick with disgust,--not terror, but honest physical
loathing. Lawson, gashing his fat body, affected me with an
overpowering repugnance. I wanted to go forward and stop him,
and I wanted, too, to be a hundred miles away. And the result
was that I stayed still. I believe my own will held me there,
but I doubt if in any case I could have moved my legs.
The dance grew swifter and fiercer. I saw the blood dripping
from Lawson's body, and his face ghastly white above his scarred
breast. And then suddenly the horror left me; my head swam;
and for one second--one brief second--I seemed to peer into a new
world. A strange passion surged up in my heart. I seemed to see
the earth peopled with forms not human, scarcely divine, but more
desirable than man or god. The calm face of Nature broke up for
me into wrinkles of wild knowledge. I saw the things which brush
against the soul in dreams, and found them lovely. There seemed
no cruelty in the knife or the blood. It was a delicate mystery
of worship, as wholesome as the morning song of birds. I do not
know how the Semites found Ashtaroth's ritual; to them it may
well have been more rapt and passionate than it seemed to me.
For I saw in it only the sweet simplicity of Nature, and all
riddles of lust and terror soothed away as a child's nightmares
are calmed by a mother. I found my legs able to move, and I
think I took two steps through the dusk towards the tower.
And then it all ended. A cock crew, and the homely noises of
earth were renewed. While I stood dazed and shivering, Lawson
plunged through the Grove toward me. The impetus carried him to
the edge, and he fell fainting just outside the shade.
My wits and common-sense came back to me with my bodily strength.
I got my friend on my back, and staggered with him towards the
house. I was afraid in real earnest now, and what frightened me
most was the thought that I had not been afraid sooner. I had
come very near the "abomination of the Zidonians."
At the door I found the scared valet waiting. He had apparently
done this sort of thing before
"Your master has been sleep-walking and has had a fall," I said.
"We must get him to bed at once."
We bathed the wounds as he lay in a deep stupor, and I dressed
them as well as I could. The only danger lay in his utter
exhaustion, for happily the gashes were not serious, and no
artery had been touched. Sleep and rest would make him well, for
he had the constitution of a strong man. I was leaving the room
when he opened his eyes and spoke. He did not recognize me, but
I noticed that his face had lost its strangeness, and was once
more that of the friend I had known. Then I suddenly bethought
me of an old hunting remedy which he and I always carried on our
expeditions. It is a pill made up from an ancient Portuguese
prescription. One is an excellent specific for fever. Two are
invaluable if you are lost in the bush, for they send a man for
many hours into a deep sleep, which prevents suffering and
madness, till help comes. Three give a painless death. I went
to my room and found the little box in my jewel-case. Lawson
swallowed two, and turned wearily on his side. I bade his man
let him sleep till he woke, and went off in search of food.
I had business on hand which would not wait. By seven, Jobson,
who had been sent for, was waiting for me in the library. I knew
by his grim face that here I had a very good substitute for a
prophet of the Lord.
"You were right," I said. "I have read the IIth chapter of Ist
Kings, and I have spent such a night as I pray God I shall never
"I thought you would," he replied. "I've had the same experience
"The Grove?" I said.
"Ay, the wud," was the answer in broad Scots.
I wanted to see how much he understood. "Mr. Lawson's family
is from the Scottish Border?"
"Ay. I understand they come off Borthwick Water side," he
replied, but I saw by his eyes that he knew what I meant.
"Mr. Lawson is my oldest friend," I went on, "and I am going
to take measures to cure him. For what I am going to do I take
the sole responsibility. I will make that plain to your master.
But if I am to succeed I want your help. Will you give it me? It
sounds like madness and you are a sensible man and may like to
keep out of it. I leave it to your discretion."
Jobson looked me straight in the face. "Have no fear for me," he
said; "there is an unholy thing in that place, and if I have the
strength in me I will destroy it. He has been a good master to
me, and, forbye I am a believing Christian. So say on, sir."
There was no mistaking the air. I had found my Tishbite.
"I want men," I said, "--as many as we can get."
Jobson mused. "The Kaffirs will no' gang near the place, but
there's some thirty white men on the tobacco farm. They'll do
your will, if you give them an indemnity in writing."
"Good," said I. "Then we will take our instructions from the
only authority which meets the case. We will follow the example
of King Josiah. I turned up the 23rd chapter of end Kings, and
"And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on
the right hand of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon the king
of Israel had builded for Ashtaroth the abomination of the
Zidonians ... did the king defile.
"And he brake in Pieces the images, and cut down the groves.
and filled their places with the bones of men....'
"Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, and the high place which
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both
that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high
place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove."
Jobson nodded. "It'll need dinnymite. But I've plenty of yon
down at the workshops. I'll be off to collect the lads."
Before nine the men had assembled at Jobson's house. They were a
hardy lot of young farmers from home, who took their instructions
docilely from the masterful factor. On my orders they had
brought their shotguns. We armed them with spades and woodmen's
axes, and one man wheeled some coils of rope in a handcart.
In the clear, windless air of morning the Grove, set amid its
lawns, looked too innocent and exquisite for ill. I had a pang
of regret that a thing so fair should suffer; nay, if I had
come alone, I think I might have repented. But the men were
there, and the grim-faced Jobson was waiting for orders. I
placed the guns, and sent beaters to the far side. I told them
that every dove must be shot.
It was only a small flock, and we killed fifteen at the first
drive. The poor birds flew over the glen to another spinney, but
we brought them back over the guns and seven fell. Four more
were got in the trees, and the last I killed myself with a long
shot. In half an hour there was a pile of little green bodies on
Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were
an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they
toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became
conscious of a strange emotion.
It was as if someone were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not
threatening, but pleading--something too fine for the sensual
ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was
and distant that I could think of no personality behind it.
Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable
vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the
heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It
seemed a woman's voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing
but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me
was that I was destroying her last shelter.
That was the pathos of it--the voice was homeless. As the axes
flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle
spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It
seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and
pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly-won shelter, and a
peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was
nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrong-doing. The spell,
which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of
the Northern race, only delicate and rare and beautiful. Jobson
and the rest did not feel it, I with my finer senses caught
nothing but the hopeless sadness of it. That which had stirred
the passion in Lawson was only wringing my heart. It was almost
too pitiful to bear. As the trees crashed down and the men wiped
the sweat from their brows, I seemed to myself like the murderer
of fair women and innocent children. I remember that the tears
were running over my cheeks. More than once I opened my mouth to
countermand the work, but the face of Jobson, that grim Tishbite,
held me back.
I knew now what gave the Prophets of the Lord their mastery, and
I knew also why the people sometimes stoned them.
The last tree fell, and the little tower stood like a ravished
shrine, stripped of all defence against the world. I heard
Jobson's voice speaking. "We'd better blast that stane thing
now. We'll trench on four sides and lay the dinnymite. Ye're
no' looking weel, sir.!Ye'd better go and sit down on the
I went up the hillside and lay down. Below me, in the waste of
shorn trunks, men were running about, and I saw the mining begin.
It all seemed like an aimless dream in which I had no part. The
voice of that homeless goddess was still pleading. It was the
innocence of it that tortured me Even so must a merciful
Inquisitor have suffered from the plea of some fair girl with the
aureole of death on her hair. I knew I was killing rare and
unrecoverable beauty. As I sat dazed and heartsick, the whole
loveliness of Nature seemed to plead for its divinity. The sun
in the heavens, the mellow lines of upland, the blue mystery of
the far plains, were all part of that soft voice. I felt bitter
scorn for myself. I was guilty of blood; nay, I was guilty of
the sin against light which knows no forgiveness. I was
murdering innocent gentleness--and there would be no peace on
earth for me. Yet I sat helpless. The power of a sterner will
constrained me. And all the while the voice was growing fainter
and dying away into unutterable sorrow.
Suddenly a great flame sprang to heaven, and a pall of smoke. I
heard men crying out, and fragments of stone fell around the
ruins of the grove. When the air cleared, the little tower had
gone out of sight.
The voice had ceased and there seemed to me to be a bereaved
silence in the world. The shock moved me to my feet, and I ran
down the slope to where Jobson stood rubbing his eyes.
"That's done the job. Now we maun get up the tree roots. We've
no time to howk. We'll just blast the feck o' them."
The work of destruction went on, but I was coming back to my
senses. I forced myself to be practical and reasonable. I
thought of the night's experience and Lawson's haggard eyes, and
I screwed myself into a determination to see the thing through.
I had done the deed; it was my business to make it complete. A
text in Jeremiah came into my head:
"Their children remember their altars and their groves by the
green trees upon the high hills."
I would see to it that this grove should be utterly forgotten.
We blasted the tree-roots, and, yolking oxen, dragged the debris
into a great heap. Then the men set to work with their spades,
and roughly levelled the ground. I was getting back to my old
self, and Jobson's spirit was becoming mine.
"There is one thing more," I told him "Get ready a couple of
ploughs. We will improve upon King Josiah." My brain was a
medley of Scripture precedents, and I was determined that no
safeguard should be wanting.
We yoked the oxen again and drove the ploughs over the site of
the grove. It was rough ploughing, for the place was thick with
bits of stone from the tower, but the slow Afrikaner oxen plodded
on, and sometime in the afternoon the work was finished. Then I
sent down to the farm for bags of rock-salt, such as they use for
cattle. Jobson and I took a sack apiece, and walked up and down
the furrows, sowing them with salt.
The last act was to set fire to the pile of tree trunks. They
burned well, and on the top we flung the bodies of the green
doves. The birds of Ashtaroth had an honourable pyre.
Then I dismissed the much-perplexed men, and gravely shook hands
with Jobson. Black with dust and smoke I went back to the house,
where I bade Travers pack my bags and order the motor. I found
Lawson's servant, and heard from him that his master was sleeping
peacefully. I gave him some directions, and then went to wash
Before I left I wrote a line to Lawson. I began by transcribing
the verses from the 23rd chapter of 2nd Kings. I told him what I
had done, and my reason. "I take the whole responsibility upon
myself," I wrote. "No man in the place had anything to do with
it but me. I acted as I did for the sake of our old friendship,
and you will believe it was no easy task for me. I hope you will
understand. Whenever you are able to see me send me word, and I
will come back and settle with you. But I think you will realise
that I have saved your soul."
The afternoon was merging into twilight as I left the house on
the road to Taqui. The great fire, where the Grove had been, was
still blazing fiercely, and the smoke made a cloud over the upper
glen, and filled all the air with a soft violet haze. I knew
that I had done well for my friend, and that he would come to his
senses and be grateful. My mind was at ease on that score, and
in something like comfort I faced the future. But as the car
reached the ridge I looked back to the vale I had outraged. The
moon was rising and silvering the smoke, and through the gaps I
could see the tongues of fire. Somehow, I know not why, the
lake, the stream, the garden-coverts, even the green slopes of
hill, wore an air of loneliness and desecration. And then my
heartache returned, and I knew that I had driven something lovely
and adorable from its last refuge on earth.
I will walk warily in the wise woods on the fringes of eventide,
For the covert is full of noises and the stir of nameless things.
I have seen in the dusk of the beeches the shapes of the lords
And down in the marish hollow I have heard the lady who sings.
And once in an April gleaming I met a maid on the sward,
All marble-white and gleaming and tender and wild of eye;--
I, Jehan the hunter, who speak am a grown man, middling hard,
But I dreamt a month of the maid, and wept I knew not why.
Down by the edge of the firs, in a coppice of heath and vine,
Is an old moss-grown altar, shaded by briar and bloom,
Denys, the priest, hath told me 'twas the lord Apollo's shrine
In the days ere Christ came down from God to the Virgin's womb.
I never go past but I doff my cap and avert my eyes-
(Were Denys to catch me I trow I'd do penance for half a year)--
For once I saw a flame there and the smoke of a sacrifice,
And a voice spake out of the thicket that froze my soul with
Wherefore to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
Mary the Blessed Mother, and the kindly Saints as well,
I will give glory and praise, and them I cherish the most,
For they have the keys of Heaven, and save the soul from Hell.
But likewise I will spare for the Lord Apollo a grace,
And a bow for the lady Venus-as a friend but not as a thrall.
'Tis true they are out of Heaven, but some day they may win the
For gods are kittle cattle, and a wise man honours them all.
THE RIDING OF NINEMILEBURN
Sim bent over the meal ark and plumbed its contents with his
fist. Two feet and more remained: provender--with care--for a
month, till he harvested the waterside corn and ground it at
Ashkirk mill. He straightened his back better pleased; and, as
he moved, the fine dust flew into his throat and set him
coughing. He choked back the sound till his face crimsoned.
But the mischief was done. A woman's voice, thin and weary, came
from the ben-end. The long man tiptoed awkwardly to her side.
"Canny, lass," he crooned. "It's me back frae the hill.
There's a mune and a clear sky, and I'll hae the lave under thack
and rape the morn. Syne I'm for Ninemileburn, and the coo 'ill
be i' the byre by Setterday. Things micht be waur, and we'll
warstle through yet. There was mair tint at Flodden."
The last rays of October daylight that filtered through the straw
lattice showed a woman's head on the pillow. The face was white
and drawn, and the great black eyes--she had been an Oliver out
of Megget--were fixed in the long stare of pain. Her voice had
the high lilt and the deep undertones of the Forest.
"The bairn 'ill be gone ere ye ken, Sim," she said wearily. "He
canna live without milk, and I've nane to gie him. Get the coo
back or lose the son I bore ye. If I were my ordinar' I wad
hae't in the byre, though I had to kindle Ninemileburn ower Wat's
She turned miserably on her pillow and the babe beside her set up
a feeble crying. Sim busied himself with re-lighting the peat
fire. He knew too well that he would never see the milk-cow till
he took with him the price of his debt or gave a bond on
harvested crops. He had had a bad lambing, and the wet summer
had soured his shallow lands. The cess to Branksome was due, and
he had had no means to pay it. His father's cousin of the
Ninemileburn was a brawling fellow, who never lacked beast in
byre or corn in bin, and to him he had gone for the loan. But
Wat was a hard man, and demanded surety; so the one cow had
travelled the six moorland miles and would not return till the
bond was cancelled. As well might he try to get water from stone
as move Wat by any tale of a sick wife and dying child.
The peat smoke got into his throat and brought on a fresh fit of
coughing. The wet year had played havoc with his chest and his
lean shoulders shook with the paroxysms. An anxious look at the
bed told him that Marion was drowsing, so he slipped to the door.
Outside, as he had said, the sky was clear. From the plashy
hillside came the rumour of swollen burns. Then he was aware of
a man's voice shouting.
"Sim," it cried, "Sim o' the Cleuch ... Sim." A sturdy figure
came down through the scrog of hazel and revealed itself as his
neighbour of the Dodhead. Jamie Telfer lived five miles off in
Ettrick, but his was the next house to the Cleuch shieling.
Telfer was running, and his round red face shone with sweat.
"Dod, man, Sim, ye're hard o' hearing. I was routin' like to
wake the deid, and ye never turned your neck. It's the fray I
bring ye. Mount and ride to the Carewoodrig. The word's frae
Branksome. I've but Ranklehope to raise, and then me and
William's Tam will be on the road to join ye."
"Whatna fray?" Sim asked blankly.
"Ninemileburn. Bewcastle's marching. They riped the place at
cockcrow, and took twenty-six kye, five horse and a walth o'
plenishing. They were seen fordin' Teviot at ten afore noon, but
they're gaun round by Ewes Water, for they durstna try the
Hermitage Slack. Forbye they move slow, for the bestial's heavy
wark to drive. They shut up Wat in the auld peel, and he didna
win free till bye midday. Syne he was off to Branksome, and the
word frae Branksome is to raise a' Ettrick, Teviotdale, Ale
Water, and the Muirs o' Esk. We look to win up wi' the lads long
ere they cross Liddel, and that at the speed they gang will be
gey an' near sunrise. It's a braw mune for the job."
Jarnie Telfer lay on his face by the burn and lapped up water
like a dog. Then without another word he trotted off across the
hillside beyond which lay the Ranklehope.
Sim had a fit of coughing and looked stupidly at the sky. Here
was the last straw. He was dog-tired, for he had had little
sleep the past week. There was no one to leave with Marion, and
Marion was too weak to tend herself. The word was from
Branksome, and at another time Branksome was to be obeyed. But
now the thing was past reason. What use was there for a
miserable careworn man to ride among the swank, well-fed lads in
the Bewcastle chase? And then he remembered his cow. She would
be hirpling with the rest of the Ninemileburn beasts on the road
to the Border. The case was more desperate than he had thought.
She was gone for ever unless he helped Wat to win her back. And
if she went, where was the milk for the child?
He stared hopelessly up at a darkening sky. Then he went to the
lean-to where his horse was stalled. The beast was fresh, for it
had not been out for two days--a rough Forest shelty with shaggy
fetlocks and a mane like a thicket. Sim set his old saddle on
it, and went back to the house.
His wife was still asleep, breathing painfully. He put water on
the fire to boil, and fetched a handful of meal from the ark.
With this he made a dish of gruel, and set it by the bedside. He
drew a pitcher of water from the well, for she might be thirsty.
Then he banked up the fire and steeked the window. When she
woke she would find food and drink, and he would be back before
the next darkening. He dared not look at the child.
The shelty shied at a line of firelight from the window, as Sim
flung himself wearily on its back. He had got his long ash spear
from its place among the rafters, and donned his leather jacket
with the iron studs on breast and shoulder. One of the seams
gaped. His wife had been mending it when her pains took her.
He had ridden by Commonside and was high on the Caerlanrig before
he saw signs of men. The moon swam in a dim dark sky, and the
hills were as yellow as corn. The round top of the Wisp made a
clear mark to ride by. Sim was a nervous man, and at another
time would never have dared to ride alone by the ruined shieling
of Chasehope, where folk said a witch had dwelt long ago and the
Devil still came in the small hours. But now he was too full of
his cares to have room for dread. With his head on his breast he
let the shelty take its own road through the mosses.
But on the Caerlanrig he came on a troop of horse. They were a
lusty crowd, well-mounted and armed, with iron basnets and
corselets that jingled as they rode. Harden's men, he guessed,
with young Harden at the head of them. They cried him greeting
as he fell in at the tail. "It's Long Sim o' the Cleuch," one
said; "he's sib to Wat or he wadna be here. Sim likes his ain
fireside better than the 'Bateable Land'."
The companionship of others cheered him. There had been a time,
before he brought Marion from Megget, when he was a well kenned
figure on the Borders, a good man at weaponshows and a fierce
fighter when his blood was up. Those days were long gone; but
the gusto of them returned. No man had ever lightlied him
without paying scot. He held up his head and forgot his cares
and his gaping jackets. In a little they had topped the hill,and
were looking down on the young waters of Ewes.
The company grew, as men dropped in from left and right. Sim
recognised the wild hair of Charlie of Geddinscleuch, and the
square shoulders of Adam of Frodslaw. They passed Mosspaul, a
twinkle far down in the glen, and presently came to the long
green slope which is called the Carewoodrig, and which makes a
pass from Ewes to Hermitage. To Sim it seemed that an army had
encamped on it. Fires had been lit in a howe, and wearied men
slept by them. These were the runners, who all day had been
warning the dales. By one fire stood the great figure of Wat o'
the Ninemileburn, blaspheming to the skies and counting his
losses. He had girded on a long sword, and for better precaution
had slung an axe on his back. At the sight of young Harden he
held his peace. The foray was Branksome's and a Scott must lead.
Dimly and stupidly, for he was very weary, Sim heard word of the
enemy. The beasts had travelled slow, and would not cross Liddel
till sunrise. Now they were high up on Tarras water, making for
Liddel at a ford below the Castletown. There had been no time to
warn the Elliots, but the odds were that Lariston and Mangerton
would be out by morning.
"Never heed the Elliots," cried young Harden. "We can redd our
ain frays, lads. Haste and ride, and we'll hae Geordie Musgrave
long ere he wins to the Ritterford, Borrowstonemoss is the bit
for us." And with a light Scott laugh he was in the saddle.
They were now in a land of low hills, which made ill-going. A
companion gave Sim the news. Bewcastle and five-score men and
the Scots four-score and three. "It's waur to haul than to win,"
said the man. " Ae man can take ten beasts when three 'ill no
keep them. There'll be bluidy war on Tarras side ere the nicht's
Sim was feeling his weariness too sore for speech. He remembered
that he had tasted no food for fifteen hours. He found his
meal-poke and filled his mouth, but the stuff choked him. It
only made him cough fiercely, so that Wat o' the Ninemileburn,
riding before him, cursed him for a broken-winded fool. Also he
was remembering about Marion, lying sick in the darkness twenty
miles over the hills.
The moon was clouded, for an east wind was springing up. It was
ill riding on the braeface, and Sim and his shelty floundered
among the screes. He was wondering how long it would all last.
Soon he must fall down and be the scorn of the Border men. The
thought put Marion out of his head again. He set his mind on
tending his horse and keeping up with his fellows.
Suddenly a whistle from Harden halted the company. A man came
running back from the crown of the rig. A whisper went about
that Bewcastle was on the far side, in the little glen called the
Brunt Burn. The men held their breath,and in the stillness they
heard far off the sound of hooves on stones and the heavy
breathing of cattle.
It was a noble spot for an ambuscade. The Borderers scattered
over the hillside, some riding south to hold the convoy as it
came down the glen. Sim's weariness lightened. His blood ran
quicker; he remembered that the cow, his child's one hope, was
there before him. He found himself next his cousin Wat, who
chewed curses in his great beard. When they topped the rig they
saw a quarter of a mile below them the men they sought. The
cattle were driven in the centre, with horsemen in front and rear
and flankers on the braeside.
"Hae at them, lads," cried Wat o' the Ninemileburn, as he dug
spurs into his grey horse. From farther down the glen he was
answered with a great shout of "Branksome".
Somehow or other Sim and his shelty got down the steep braeface.
The next he knew was that the raiders had turned to meet him--to
meet him alone, it seemed; the moon had come out again, and
their faces showed white in it. The cattle, as the driving
ceased, sank down wearily in the moss. A man with an iron ged
turned, cursing to receive Wat's sword on his shoulder-bone. A
light began to blaze from down the burn--Sim saw the glitter of
it out of the corner of an eye--but the men in front were dark
figures with white faces.
The Bewcastle lads were stout fellows, well used to hold as well
as take. They closed up in line around the beasts, and the moon
lit the tops of their spears. Sim brandished his ash-shaft,
which had weighed heavily these last hours, and to his surprise
found it light. He found his voice, too, and fell a-roaring like
Before he knew he was among the cattle. Wat had broken the ring,
and men were hacking and slipping among the slab sides of the
wearied beasts. The shelty came down over the rump of a red
buliock, and Sim was sprawling on his face in the trampled grass.
He struggled to rise, and some one had him by the throat.
Anger fired his slow brain. He reached out his long arms and
grappled a leather jerkin. His nails found a seam and rent it,
for he had mighty fingers. Then he was gripping warm flesh,
tearing it like a wild beast, and his assailant with a cry
slackened his hold. "Whatna wull-cat..." he began, but he got
no further. The hoof of Wat's horse came down on his head and
brained him. A splatter of blood fell on Sim's face.
The man was half wild. His shelty had broken back for the hill,
but his spear lay a yard off. He seized it and got to his feet,
to find that Wat had driven the English over the burn. The
cattle were losing their weariness in panic, and tossing wild
manes among the Scots. It was like a fight in a winter's byre.
The glare on the right grew fiercer, and young Harden's voice
rose, clear as a bell, above the tumult. He was swearing by the
cross of his sword.
On foot, in the old Border way, Sim followed in Wat's wake,into
the bog and beyond the burn. He laired to his knees, but he
scarcely heeded it. There was a big man before him, a foolish,
red-haired fellow, who was making great play with a cudgel. He
had shivered two spears and was singing low to himself. Farther
off Wat had his axe in hand and was driving the enemy to the
brae. There were dead men in the moss. Sim stumbled over a soft
body, and a hand caught feebly at his heel. "To me, lads," cried
Wat. "Anither birse and we hae them broken."
But something happened. Harden was pushing the van of the
raiders up the stream, and a press of them surged in from the
right. Wat found himself assailed on his flank, and gave ground.
The big man with the cudgel laughed loud and ran down the hill,
and the Scots fell back on Sim. Men tripped over him, and as he
rose he found the giant above him with his stick in the air.
The blow fell, glancing from the ash-shaft to Sim's side.
Something cracked and his left arm hung limp. But the furies of
hell had hold of him now. He rolled over, gripped his spear
short, and with a swift turn struck upwards. The big man gave a
sob and toppled down into a pool of the burn.
Sim struggled to his feet, and saw that the raiders were
beginning to hough the cattle One man was driving a red spear
into a helpless beast. It might have been the Cleuch cow. The
sight maddened him, and like a destroying angel he was among
them. One man he caught full in the throat, and had to set a
foot on breast before he could tug the spear out. Then the head
shivered on a steel corselet, and Sim played quarterstaff with
the shaft. The violence,of his onslaught turned the tide. Those
whom Harden drove up were caught in a vice, and squeezed out,
wounded and dying and mad with fear, on to the hill above the
burn. Both sides were weary men, or there would have been a grim
slaughter. As it was, none followed the runners, and every now
and again a Scot would drop like a log, not from wounds but from
Harden's flare was dying down. Dawn was breaking and Sim's wild
eyes cleared. Here a press of cattle, dazed with fright, and the
red and miry heather. Queer black things were curled and
stretched athwart it. He noticed a dead man beside him, perhaps
of his own slaying. It was a shabby fellow, in a jacket that
gaped like Sim's. His face was thin and patient, and his eyes,
even in death, looked puzzled and reproachful. He would be one
of the plain folk who had to ride, willy-nilly, on bigger men's
quarrels. Sim found himself wondering if he, also, had a
famished wife and child at home. The fury of the night had gone,
and Sim began to sob from utter tiredness.
He slept in what was half a swoon. When he woke the sun was well
up in the sky and the Scots were cooking food. His arm irked
him, and his head burned like fire. He felt his body and found
nothing worse than bruises, and one long shallow scar where his
jacket was torn.
A Teviotdale man brought him a cog of brose. Sim stared at it
and sickened: he was too far gone for food. Young Harden
passed, and looked curiously at him. "Here's a man that has na
spared himsel'," he said. "A drop o' French cordial is the thing
for you, Sim." And out of a leathern flask he poured a little
draught which he bade Sim swallow.
The liquor ran through his veins and lightened the ache of his
head. He found strength to rise and look round. Surely they
were short of men. If these were all that were left Bewcastle
had been well avenged.
Jamie Telfer enlightened him. "When we had gotten the victory,
there were some o' the lads thocht that Bewcastle sud pay scot in
beasts as weel as men. Sae Wat and a score mair rade off to
lowse Geordie Musgrave's kye. The road's clear, and they'll be
back ower Liddell by this time. Dod, there'll be walth o'
plenishin' at the Ninemileburn."
Sim was cheered by the news. If Wat got back more than his own
he might be generous. They were cooking meat round the fire, the
flesh of the cattle killed in the fight. He went down to the
nearest blaze, and was given a strip of roast which he found he
"How mony beasts were killed?" he asked incuriously, and was
told three. Saugh poles had been set up to hang the skins on. A
notion made Sim stagger to his feet and go to inspect them.
There could be no mistake. There hung the brindled hide of
Wat returned in a cloud of glory, driving three-and-twenty
English beasts before him--great white fellows that none could
match on the Scottish side. He and his lads clamoured for food,
so more flesh was roasted, till the burnside smelt like a
kitchen. The Scots had found better than cattle, for five big
skins of ale bobbed on their saddles. Wat summoned all to come
and drink, and Harden, having no fear of reprisals, did not
Sim was becoming a man again. He had bathed his bruises and
scratches in the burn, and Will o' Phawhope, who had skill as a
leech, had set his arm and bound it to his side in splints of ash
and raw hide. He had eaten grossly of flesh--the first time
since the spring, and then it had only been braxy lamb. The ale
had warmed his blood and quickened his wits. He began to feel
pleased with himself. He had done well in the fray--had not
young Harden praised him?--and surly Wat had owned that the
salvage of so many beasts was Sim's doing. "Man, Sim, ye wrocht
michtily at the burnside," he had said. "The heids crackit like
nits when ye garred your staff sing. Better you wi' a stick than
anither tnan wi' a sword." It was fine praise, and warmed Sim's
chilly soul. For a year he had fought bitterly for bread, and
now glory had come to him without asking.
Men were drawn by lot to drive the cattle, and others to form a
rearguard. The rest set off for their homes by the nearest road.
The shelty had been recovered, and Sim to his pride found himself
riding in the front with Wat and young Harden and others of the
Scott and Elliot gentry.
The company rode fast over the green hills in the clear autumn
noon. Harden's blue eyes danced, and he sang snatches in his gay
voice. Wat rumbled his own praises and told of the raid over
Liddel. Sim felt a new being from the broken man who the night
before had wearily jogged on the same road. He told himself he
took life too gravely and let care ride him too hard. He was too