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  • 1913
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the castle–a measured mile–coming round at intervals like a circumambulating column of infantry. Doubtless such a column has passed this way in its time, but the only columns which enter in these latter days are the columns of sheep and oxen that are sometimes seen here now; while the only semblance of heroic voices heard are the utterances of such, and of the many winds which make their passage through the ravines.

The expected lightning radiates round, and a rumbling as from its subterranean vaults–if there are any–fills the castle. The lightning repeats itself, and, coming after the aforesaid thoughts of martial men, it bears a fanciful resemblance to swords moving in combat. It has the very brassy hue of the ancient weapons that here were used. The so sudden entry upon the scene of this metallic flame is as the entry of a presiding exhibitor who unrolls the maps, uncurtains the pictures, unlocks the cabinets, and effects a transformation by merely exposing the materials of his science, unintelligibly cloaked till then. The abrupt configuration of the bluffs and mounds is now for the first time clearly revealed–mounds whereon, doubtless, spears and shields have frequently lain while their owners loosened their sandals and yawned and stretched their arms in the sun. For the first time, too, a glimpse is obtainable of the true entrance used by its occupants of old, some way ahead.

There, where all passage has seemed to be inviolably barred by an almost vertical facade, the ramparts are found to overlap each other like loosely clasped fingers, between which a zigzag path may be followed–a cunning construction that puzzles the uninformed eye. But its cunning, even where not obscured by dilapidation, is now wasted on the solitary forms of a few wild badgers, rabbits, and hares. Men must have often gone out by those gates in the morning to battle with the Roman legions under Vespasian; some to return no more, others to come back at evening, bringing with them the noise of their heroic deeds. But not a page, not a stone, has preserved their fame.

Acoustic perceptions multiply to-night. We can almost hear the stream of years that have borne those deeds away from us. Strange articulations seem to float on the air from that point, the gateway, where the animation in past times must frequently have concentrated itself at hours of coming and going, and general excitement. There arises an ineradicable fancy that they are human voices; if so, they must be the lingering air-borne vibrations of conversations uttered at least fifteen hundred years ago. The attention is attracted from mere nebulous imaginings about yonder spot by a real moving of something close at hand.

I recognize by the now moderate flashes of lightning, which are sheet-like and nearly continuous, that it is the gradual elevation of a small mound of earth. At first no larger than a man’s fist it reaches the dimensions of a hat, then sinks a little and is still. It is but the heaving of a mole who chooses such weather as this to work in from some instinct that there will be nobody abroad to molest him. As the fine earth lifts and lifts and falls loosely aside fragments of burnt clay roll out of it–clay that once formed part of cups or other vessels used by the inhabitants of the fortress.

The violence of the storm has been counterbalanced by its transitoriness. From being immersed in well-nigh solid media of cloud and hail shot with lightning, I find myself uncovered of the humid investiture and left bare to the mild gaze of the moon, which sparkles now on every wet grass-blade and frond of moss.

But I am not yet inside the fort, and the delayed ascent of the third and last escarpment is now made. It is steeper than either. The first was a surface to walk up, the second to stagger up, the third can only be ascended on the hands and toes. On the summit obtrudes the first evidence which has been met with in these precincts that the time is really the nineteenth century; it is in the form of a white notice-board on a post, and the wording can just be discerned by the rays of the setting moon:

CAUTION.–Any Person found removing Relics, Skeletons, Stones, Pottery, Tiles, or other Material from this Earthwork, or cutting up the Ground, will be Prosecuted as the Law directs.

Here one observes a difference underfoot from what has gone before: scraps of Roman tile and stone chippings protrude through the grass in meagre quantity, but sufficient to suggest that masonry stood on the spot. Before the eye stretches under the moonlight the interior of the fort. So open and so large is it as to be practically an upland plateau, and yet its area lies wholly within the walls of what may be designated as one building. It is a long-violated retreat; all its corner-stones, plinths, and architraves were carried away to build neighbouring villages even before mediaeval or modern history began. Many a block which once may have helped to form a bastion here rests now in broken and diminished shape as part of the chimney- corner of some shepherd’s cottage within the distant horizon, and the corner-stones of this heathen altar may form the base-course of some adjoining village church.

Yet the very bareness of these inner courts and wards, their condition of mere pasturage, protects what remains of them as no defences could do. Nothing is left visible that the hands can seize on or the weather overturn, and a permanence of general outline at least results, which no other condition could ensure.

The position of the castle on this isolated hill bespeaks deliberate and strategic choice exercised by some remote mind capable of prospective reasoning to a far extent. The natural configuration of the surrounding country and its bearing upon such a stronghold were obviously long considered and viewed mentally before its extensive design was carried into execution. Who was the man that said, ‘Let it be built here!’–not on that hill yonder, or on that ridge behind, but on this best spot of all? Whether he were some great one of the Belgae, or of the Durotriges, or the travelling engineer of Britain’s united tribes, must for ever remain time’s secret; his form cannot be realized, nor his countenance, nor the tongue that he spoke, when he set down his foot with a thud and said, ‘Let it be here!’

Within the innermost enclosure, though it is so wide that at a superficial glance the beholder has only a sense of standing on a breezy down, the solitude is rendered yet more solitary by the knowledge that between the benighted sojourner herein and all kindred humanity are those three concentric walls of earth which no being would think of scaling on such a night as this, even were he to hear the most pathetic cries issuing hence that could be uttered by a spectre-chased soul. I reach a central mound or platform–the crown and axis of the whole structure. The view from here by day must be of almost limitless extent. On this raised floor, dais, or rostrum, harps have probably twanged more or less tuneful notes in celebration of daring, strength, or cruelty; of worship, superstition, love, birth, and death; of simple loving-kindness perhaps never. Many a time must the king or leader have directed his keen eyes hence across the open lands towards the ancient road, the Icening Way, still visible in the distance, on the watch for armed companies approaching either to succour or to attack.

I am startled by a voice pronouncing my name. Past and present have become so confusedly mingled under the associations of the spot that for a time it has escaped my memory that this mound was the place agreed on for the aforesaid appointment. I turn and behold my friend. He stands with a dark lantern in his hand and a spade and light pickaxe over his shoulder. He expresses both delight and surprise that I have come. I tell him I had set out before the bad weather began.

He, to whom neither weather, darkness, nor difficulty seems to have any relation or significance, so entirely is his soul wrapped up in his own deep intentions, asks me to take the lantern and accompany him. I take it and walk by his side. He is a man about sixty, small in figure, with grey old-fashioned whiskers cut to the shape of a pair of crumb-brushes. He is entirely in black broadcloth–or rather, at present, black and brown, for he is bespattered with mud from his heels to the crown of his low hat. He has no consciousness of this–no sense of anything but his purpose, his ardour for which causes his eyes to shine like those of a lynx, and gives his motions, all the elasticity of an athlete’s.

‘Nobody to interrupt us at this time of night!’ he chuckles with fierce enjoyment.

We retreat a little way and find a sort of angle, an elevation in the sod, a suggested squareness amid the mass of irregularities around. Here, he tells me, if anywhere, the king’s house stood. Three months of measurement and calculation have confirmed him in this conclusion.

He requests me now to open the lantern, which I do, and the light streams out upon the wet sod. At last divining his proceedings I say that I had no idea, in keeping the tryst, that he was going to do more at such an unusual time than meet me for a meditative ramble through the stronghold. I ask him why, having a practicable object, he should have minded interruptions and not have chosen the day? He informs me, quietly pointing to his spade, that it was because his purpose is to dig, then signifying with a grim nod the gaunt notice- post against the sky beyond. I inquire why, as a professed and well- known antiquary with capital letters at the tail of his name, he did not obtain the necessary authority, considering the stringent penalties for this sort of thing; and he chuckles fiercely again with suppressed delight, and says, ‘Because they wouldn’t have given it!’

He at once begins cutting up the sod, and, as he takes the pickaxe to follow on with, assures me that, penalty or no penalty, honest men or marauders, he is sure of one thing, that we shall not be disturbed at our work till after dawn.

I remember to have heard of men who, in their enthusiasm for some special science, art, or hobby, have quite lost the moral sense which would restrain them from indulging it illegitimately; and I conjecture that here, at last, is an instance of such an one. He probably guesses the way my thoughts travel, for he stands up and solemnly asserts that he has a distinctly justifiable intention in this matter; namely, to uncover, to search, to verify a theory or displace it, and to cover up again. He means to take away nothing– not a grain of sand. In this he says he sees no such monstrous sin. I inquire if this is really a promise to me? He repeats that it is a promise, and resumes digging. My contribution to the labour is that of directing the light constantly upon the hole. When he has reached something more than a foot deep he digs more cautiously, saying that, be it much or little there, it will not lie far below the surface; such things never are deep. A few minutes later the point of the pickaxe clicks upon a stony substance. He draws the implement out as feelingly as if it had entered a man’s body. Taking up the spade he shovels with care, and a surface, level as an altar, is presently disclosed. His eyes flash anew; he pulls handfuls of grass and mops the surface clean, finally rubbing it with his handkerchief. Grasping the lantern from my hand he holds it close to the ground, when the rays reveal a complete mosaic–a pavement of minute tesserae of many colours, of intricate pattern, a work of much art, of much time, and of much industry. He exclaims in a shout that he knew it always–that it is not a Celtic stronghold exclusively, but also a Roman; the former people having probably contributed little more than the original framework which the latter took and adapted till it became the present imposing structure.

I ask, What if it is Roman?

A great deal, according to him. That it proves all the world to be wrong in this great argument, and himself alone to be right! Can I wait while he digs further?

I agree–reluctantly; but he does not notice my reluctance. At an adjoining spot he begins flourishing the tools anew with the skill of a navvy, this venerable scholar with letters after his name. Sometimes he falls on his knees, burrowing with his hands in the manner of a hare, and where his old-fashioned broadcloth touches the sides of the hole it gets plastered with the damp earth. He continually murmurs to himself how important, how very important, this discovery is! He draws out an object; we wash it in the same primitive way by rubbing it with the wet grass, and it proves to be a semi-transparent bottle of iridescent beauty, the sight of which draws groans of luxurious sensibility from the digger. Further and further search brings out a piece of a weapon. It is strange indeed that by merely peeling off a wrapper of modern accumulations we have lowered ourselves into an ancient world. Finally a skeleton is uncovered, fairly perfect. He lays it out on the grass, bone to its bone.

My friend says the man must have fallen fighting here, as this is no place of burial. He turns again to the trench, scrapes, feels, till from a corner he draws out a heavy lump–a small image four or five inches high. We clean it as before. It is a statuette, apparently of gold, or, more probably, of bronze-gilt–a figure of Mercury, obviously, its head being surmounted with the petasus or winged hat, the usual accessory of that deity. Further inspection reveals the workmanship to be of good finish and detail, and, preserved by the limy earth, to be as fresh in every line as on the day it left the hands of its artificer.

We seem to be standing in the Roman Forum and not on a hill in Wessex. Intent upon this truly valuable relic of the old empire of which even this remote spot was a component part, we do not notice what is going on in the present world till reminded of it by the sudden renewal of the storm. Looking up I perceive that the wide extinguisher of cloud has again settled down upon the fortress-town, as if resting upon the edge of the inner rampart, and shutting out the moon. I turn my back to the tempest, still directing the light across the hole. My companion digs on unconcernedly; he is living two thousand years ago, and despises things of the moment as dreams. But at last he is fairly beaten, and standing up beside me looks round on what he has done. The rays of the lantern pass over the trench to the tall skeleton stretched upon the grass on the other side. The beating rain has washed the bones clean and smooth, and the forehead, cheek-bones, and two-and-thirty teeth of the skull glisten in the candle-shine as they lie.

This storm, like the first, is of the nature of a squall, and it ends as abruptly as the other. We dig no further. My friend says that it is enough–he has proved his point. He turns to replace the bones in the trench and covers them. But they fall to pieces under his touch: the air has disintegrated them, and he can only sweep in the fragments. The next act of his plan is more than difficult, but is carried out. The treasures are inhumed again in their respective holes: they are not ours. Each deposition seems to cost him a twinge; and at one moment I fancied I saw him slip his hand into his coat pocket.

‘We must re-bury them ALL,’ say I.

‘O yes,’ he answers with integrity. ‘I was wiping my hand.’

The beauties of the tesselated floor of the governor’s house are once again consigned to darkness; the trench is filled up; the sod laid smoothly down; he wipes the perspiration from his forehead with the same handkerchief he had used to mop the skeleton and tesserae clean; and we make for the eastern gate of the fortress.

Dawn bursts upon us suddenly as we reach the opening. It comes by the lifting and thinning of the clouds that way till we are bathed in a pink light. The direction of his homeward journey is not the same as mine, and we part under the outer slope.

Walking along quickly to restore warmth I muse upon my eccentric friend, and cannot help asking myself this question: Did he really replace the gilded image of the god Mercurius with the rest of the treasures? He seemed to do so; and yet I could not testify to the fact. Probably, however, he was as good as his word.

* * *

It was thus I spoke to myself, and so the adventure ended. But one thing remains to be told, and that is concerned with seven years after. Among the effects of my friend, at that time just deceased, was found, carefully preserved, a gilt statuette representing Mercury, labelled ‘Debased Roman.’ No record was attached to explain how it came into his possession. The figure was bequeathed to the Casterbridge Museum.

Detroit Post,
March 1885.


The genial Justice of the Peace–now, alas, no more–who made himself responsible for the facts of this story, used to begin in the good old-fashioned way with a bright moonlight night and a mysterious figure, an excellent stroke for an opening, even to this day, if well followed up.

The Christmas moon (he would say) was showing her cold face to the upland, the upland reflecting the radiance in frost-sparkles so minute as only to be discernible by an eye near at hand. This eye, he said, was the eye of a shepherd lad, young for his occupation, who stood within a wheeled hut of the kind commonly in use among sheep- keepers during the early lambing season, and was abstractedly looking through the loophole at the scene without.

The spot was called Lambing Corner, and it was a sheltered portion of that wide expanse of rough pastureland known as the Marlbury Downs, which you directly traverse when following the turnpike-road across Mid-Wessex from London, through Aldbrickham, in the direction of Bath and Bristol. Here, where the hut stood, the land was high and dry, open, except to the north, and commanding an undulating view for miles. On the north side grew a tall belt of coarse furze, with enormous stalks, a clump of the same standing detached in front of the general mass. The clump was hollow, and the interior had been ingeniously taken advantage of as a position for the before-mentioned hut, which was thus completely screened from winds, and almost invisible, except through the narrow approach. But the furze twigs had been cut away from the two little windows of the hut, that the occupier might keep his eye on his sheep.

In the rear, the shelter afforded by the belt of furze bushes was artificially improved by an inclosure of upright stakes, interwoven with boughs of the same prickly vegetation, and within the inclosure lay a renowned Marlbury-Down breeding flock of eight hundred ewes.

To the south, in the direction of the young shepherd’s idle gaze, there rose one conspicuous object above the uniform moonlit plateau, and only one. It was a Druidical trilithon, consisting of three oblong stones in the form of a doorway, two on end, and one across as a lintel. Each stone had been worn, scratched, washed, nibbled, split, and otherwise attacked by ten thousand different weathers; but now the blocks looked shapely and little the worse for wear, so beautifully were they silvered over by the light of the moon. The ruin was locally called the Devil’s Door.

An old shepherd presently entered the hut from the direction of the ewes, and looked around in the gloom. ‘Be ye sleepy?’ he asked in cross accents of the boy.

The lad replied rather timidly in the negative.

‘Then,’ said the shepherd, ‘I’ll get me home-along, and rest for a few hours. There’s nothing to be done here now as I can see. The ewes can want no more tending till daybreak–’tis beyond the bounds of reason that they can. But as the order is that one of us must bide, I’ll leave ‘ee, d’ye hear. You can sleep by day, and I can’t. And you can be down to my house in ten minutes if anything should happen. I can’t afford ‘ee candle; but, as ’tis Christmas week, and the time that folks have hollerdays, you can enjoy yerself by falling asleep a bit in the chair instead of biding awake all the time. But mind, not longer at once than while the shade of the Devil’s Door moves a couple of spans, for you must keep an eye upon the ewes.’

The boy made no definite reply, and the old man, stirring the fire in the stove with his crook-stem, closed the door upon his companion and vanished.

As this had been more or less the course of events every night since the season’s lambing had set in, the boy was not at all surprised at the charge, and amused himself for some time by lighting straws at the stove. He then went out to the ewes and new-born lambs, re- entered, sat down, and finally fell asleep. This was his customary manner of performing his watch, for though special permission for naps had this week been accorded, he had, as a matter of fact, done the same thing on every preceding night, sleeping often till awakened by a smack on the shoulder at three or four in the morning from the crook-stem of the old man.

It might have been about eleven o’clock when he awoke. He was so surprised at awaking without, apparently, being called or struck, that on second thoughts he assumed that somebody must have called him in spite of appearances, and looked out of the hut window towards the sheep. They all lay as quiet as when he had visited them, very little bleating being audible, and no human soul disturbing the scene. He next looked from the opposite window, and here the case was different. The frost-facets glistened under the moon as before; an occasional furze bush showed as a dark spot on the same; and in the foreground stood the ghostly form of the trilithon. But in front of the trilithon stood a man.

That he was not the shepherd or any one of the farm labourers was apparent in a moment’s observation,–his dress being a dark suit, and his figure of slender build and graceful carriage. He walked backwards and forwards in front of the trilithon.

The shepherd lad had hardly done speculating on the strangeness of the unknown’s presence here at such an hour, when he saw a second figure crossing the open sward towards the locality of the trilithon and furze-clump that screened the hut. This second personage was a woman; and immediately on sight of her the male stranger hastened forward, meeting her just in front of the hut window. Before she seemed to be aware of his intention he clasped her in his arms.

The lady released herself and drew back with some dignity.

‘You have come, Harriet–bless you for it!’ he exclaimed, fervently.

‘But not for this,’ she answered, in offended accents. And then, more good-naturedly, ‘I have come, Fred, because you entreated me so! What can have been the object of your writing such a letter? I feared I might be doing you grievous ill by staying away. How did you come here?’

‘I walked all the way from my father’s.’

‘Well, what is it? How have you lived since we last met?’

‘But roughly; you might have known that without asking. I have seen many lands and many faces since I last walked these downs, but I have only thought of you.’

‘Is it only to tell me this that you have summoned me so strangely?’

A passing breeze blew away the murmur of the reply and several succeeding sentences, till the man’s voice again became audible in the words, ‘Harriet–truth between us two! I have heard that the Duke does not treat you too well.’

‘He is warm-tempered, but he is a good husband.’

‘He speaks roughly to you, and sometimes even threatens to lock you out of doors.’

‘Only once, Fred! On my honour, only once. The Duke is a fairly good husband, I repeat. But you deserve punishment for this night’s trick of drawing me out. What does it mean?’

‘Harriet, dearest, is this fair or honest? Is it not notorious that your life with him is a sad one–that, in spite of the sweetness of your temper, the sourness of his embitters your days. I have come to know if I can help you. You are a Duchess, and I am Fred Ogbourne; but it is not impossible that I may be able to help you . . . By God! the sweetness of that tongue ought to keep him civil, especially when there is added to it the sweetness of that face!’

‘Captain Ogbourne!’ she exclaimed, with an emphasis of playful fear. ‘How can such a comrade of my youth behave to me as you do? Don’t speak so, and stare at me so! Is this really all you have to say? I see I ought not to have come. ‘Twas thoughtlessly done.’

Another breeze broke the thread of discourse for a time.

‘Very well. I perceive you are dead and lost to me,’ he could next be heard to say, ‘”Captain Ogbourne” proves that. As I once loved you I love you now, Harriet, without one jot of abatement; but you are not the woman you were–you once were honest towards me; and now you conceal your heart in made-up speeches. Let it be: I can never see you again.’

‘You need not say that in such a tragedy tone, you silly. You may see me in an ordinary way–why should you not? But, of course, not in such a way as this. I should not have come now, if it had not happened that the Duke is away from home, so that there is nobody to check my erratic impulses.’

‘When does he return?’

‘The day after to-morrow, or the day after that.’

‘Then meet me again to-morrow night.’

‘No, Fred, I cannot.’

‘If you cannot to-morrow night, you can the night after; one of the two before he comes please bestow on me. Now, your hand upon it! To-morrow or next night you will see me to bid me farewell!’ He seized the Duchess’s hand.

‘No, but Fred–let go my hand! What do you mean by holding me so? If it be love to forget all respect to a woman’s present position in thinking of her past, then yours may be so, Frederick. It is not kind and gentle of you to induce me to come to this place for pity of you, and then to hold me tight here.’

‘But see me once more! I have come two thousand miles to ask it.’

‘O, I must not! There will be slanders–Heaven knows what! I cannot meet you. For the sake of old times don’t ask it.’

‘Then own two things to me; that you did love me once, and that your husband is unkind to you often enough now to make you think of the time when you cared for me.’

‘Yes–I own them both,’ she answered faintly. ‘But owning such as that tells against me; and I swear the inference is not true.’

‘Don’t say that; for you have come–let me think the reason of your coming what I like to think it. It can do you no harm. Come once more!’

He still held her hand and waist. ‘Very well, then,’ she said. ‘Thus far you shall persuade me. I will meet you to-morrow night or the night after. Now, let me go.’

He released her, and they parted. The Duchess ran rapidly down the hill towards the outlying mansion of Shakeforest Towers, and when he had watched her out of sight, he turned and strode off in the opposite direction. All then was silent and empty as before.

Yet it was only for a moment. When they had quite departed, another shape appeared upon the scene. He came from behind the trilithon. He was a man of stouter build than the first, and wore the boots and spurs of a horseman. Two things were at once obvious from this phenomenon: that he had watched the interview between the Captain and the Duchess; and that, though he probably had seen every movement of the couple, including the embrace, he had been too remote to hear the reluctant words of the lady’s conversation–or, indeed, any words at all–so that the meeting must have exhibited itself to his eye as the assignation of a pair of well-agreed lovers. But it was necessary that several years should elapse before the shepherd-boy was old enough to reason out this.

The third individual stood still for a moment, as if deep in meditation. He crossed over to where the lady and gentleman had stood, and looked at the ground; then he too turned and went away in a third direction, as widely divergent as possible from those taken by the two interlocutors. His course was towards the highway; and a few minutes afterwards the trot of a horse might have been heard upon its frosty surface, lessening till it died away upon the ear.

The boy remained in the hut, confronting the trilithon as if he expected yet more actors on the scene, but nobody else appeared. How long he stood with his little face against the loophole he hardly knew; but he was rudely awakened from his reverie by a punch in his back, and in the feel of it he familiarly recognized the stem of the old shepherd’s crook.

‘Blame thy young eyes and limbs, Bill Mills–now you have let the fire out, and you know I want it kept in! I thought something would go wrong with ‘ee up here, and I couldn’t bide in bed no more than thistledown on the wind, that I could not! Well, what’s happened, fie upon ‘ee?’


‘Ewes all as I left ’em?’


‘Any lambs want bringing in?’


The shepherd relit the fire, and went out among the sheep with a lantern, for the moon was getting low. Soon he came in again.

‘Blame it all–thou’st say that nothing have happened; when one ewe have twinned and is like to go off, and another is dying for want of half an eye of looking to! I told ‘ee, Bill Mills, if anything went wrong to come down and call me; and this is how you have done it.’

‘You said I could go to sleep for a hollerday, and I did.’

‘Don’t you speak to your betters like that, young man, or you’ll come to the gallows-tree! You didn’t sleep all the time, or you wouldn’t have been peeping out of that there hole! Now you can go home, and be up here again by breakfast-time. I be an old man, and there’s old men that deserve well of the world; but no I–must rest how I can!’

The elder shepherd then lay down inside the hut, and the boy went down the hill to the hamlet where he dwelt.


When the next night drew on the actions of the boy were almost enough to show that he was thinking of the meeting he had witnessed, and of the promise wrung from the lady that she would come there again. As far as the sheep-tending arrangements were concerned, to-night was but a repetition of the foregoing one. Between ten and eleven o’clock the old shepherd withdrew as usual for what sleep at home he might chance to get without interruption, making up the other necessary hours of rest at some time during the day; the boy was left alone.

The frost was the same as on the night before, except perhaps that it was a little more severe. The moon shone as usual, except that it was three-quarters of an hour later in its course; and the boy’s condition was much the same, except that he felt no sleepiness whatever. He felt, too, rather afraid; but upon the whole he preferred witnessing an assignation of strangers to running the risk of being discovered absent by the old shepherd.

It was before the distant clock of Shakeforest Towers had struck eleven that he observed the opening of the second act of this midnight drama. It consisted in the appearance of neither lover nor Duchess, but of the third figure–the stout man, booted and spurred– who came up from the easterly direction in which he had retreated the night before. He walked once round the trilithon, and next advanced towards the clump concealing the hut, the moonlight shining full upon his face and revealing him to be the Duke. Fear seized upon the shepherd-boy: the Duke was Jove himself to the rural population, whom to offend was starvation, homelessness, and death, and whom to look at was to be mentally scathed and dumbfoundered. He closed the stove, so that not a spark of light appeared, and hastily buried himself in the straw that lay in a corner.

The Duke came close to the clump of furze and stood by the spot where his wife and the Captain had held their dialogue; he examined the furze as if searching for a hiding-place, and in doing so discovered the hut. The latter he walked round and then looked inside; finding it to all seeming empty, he entered, closing the door behind him and taking his place at the little circular window against which the boy’s face had been pressed just before.

The Duke had not adopted his measures too rapidly, if his object were concealment. Almost as soon as he had stationed himself there eleven o’clock struck, and the slender young man who had previously graced the scene promptly reappeared from the north quarter of the down. The spot of assignation having, by the accident of his running forward on the foregoing night, removed itself from the Devil’s Door to the clump of furze, he instinctively came thither, and waited for the Duchess where he had met her before.

But a fearful surprise was in store for him to-night, as well as for the trembling juvenile. At his appearance the Duke breathed more and more quickly, his breathings being distinctly audible to the crouching boy. The young man had hardly paused when the alert nobleman softly opened the door of the hut, and, stepping round the furze, came full upon Captain Fred.

‘You have dishonoured her, and you shall die the death you deserve!’ came to the shepherd’s ears, in a harsh, hollow whisper through the boarding of the hut.

The apathetic and taciturn boy was excited enough to run the risk of rising and looking from the window, but he could see nothing for the intervening furze boughs, both the men having gone round to the side. What took place in the few following moments he never exactly knew. He discerned portion of a shadow in quick muscular movement; then there was the fall of something on the grass; then there was stillness.

Two or three minutes later the Duke became visible round the corner of the hut, dragging by the collar the now inert body of the second man. The Duke dragged him across the open space towards the trilithon. Behind this ruin was a hollow, irregular spot, overgrown with furze and stunted thorns, and riddled by the old holes of badgers, its former inhabitants, who had now died out or departed. The Duke vanished into this depression with his burden, reappearing after the lapse of a few seconds. When he came forth he dragged nothing behind him.

He returned to the side of the hut, cleansed something on the grass, and again put himself on the watch, though not as before, inside the hut, but without, on the shady side. ‘Now for the second!’ he said.

It was plain, even to the unsophisticated boy, that he now awaited the other person of the appointment–his wife, the Duchess–for what purpose it was terrible to think. He seemed to be a man of such determined temper that he would scarcely hesitate in carrying out a course of revenge to the bitter end. Moreover–though it was what the shepherd did not perceive–this was all the more probable, in that the moody Duke was labouring under the exaggerated impression which the sight of the meeting in dumb show had conveyed.

The jealous watcher waited long, but he waited in vain. From within the hut the boy could hear his occasional exclamations of surprise, as if he were almost disappointed at the failure of his assumption that his guilty Duchess would surely keep the tryst. Sometimes he stepped from the shade of the furze into the moonlight, and held up his watch to learn the time.

About half-past eleven he seemed to give up expecting her. He then went a second time to the hollow behind the trilithon, remaining there nearly a quarter of an hour. From this place he proceeded quickly over a shoulder of the declivity, a little to the left, presently returning on horseback, which proved that his horse had been tethered in some secret place down there. Crossing anew the down between the hut and the trilithon, and scanning the precincts as if finally to assure himself that she had not come, he rode slowly downwards in the direction of Shakeforest Towers.

The juvenile shepherd thought of what lay in the hollow yonder; and no fear of the crook-stem of his superior officer was potent enough to detain him longer on that hill alone. Any live company, even the most terrible, was better than the company of the dead; so, running with the speed of a hare in the direction pursued by the horseman, he overtook the revengeful Duke at the second descent (where the great western road crossed before you came to the old park entrance on that side–now closed up and the lodge cleared away, though at the time it was wondered why, being considered the most convenient gate of all).

Once within the sound of the horse’s footsteps, Bill Mills felt comparatively comfortable; for, though in awe of the Duke because of his position, he had no moral repugnance to his companionship on account of the grisly deed he had committed, considering that powerful nobleman to have a right to do what he chose on his own lands. The Duke rode steadily on beneath his ancestral trees, the hoofs of his horse sending up a smart sound now that he had reached the hard road of the drive, and soon drew near the front door of his house, surmounted by parapets with square-cut battlements that cast a notched shade upon the gravelled terrace. These outlines were quite familiar to little Bill Mills, though nothing within their boundary had ever been seen by him.

When the rider approached the mansion a small turret door was quickly opened and a woman came out. As soon as she saw the horseman’s outlines she ran forward into the moonlight to meet him.

‘Ah dear–and are you come?’ she said. ‘I heard Hero’s tread just when you rode over the hill, and I knew it in a moment. I would have come further if I had been aware–‘

‘Glad to see me, eh?’

‘How can you ask that?’

‘Well; it is a lovely night for meetings.’

‘Yes, it is a lovely night.’

The Duke dismounted and stood by her side. ‘Why should you have been listening at this time of night, and yet not expecting me?’ he asked.

‘Why, indeed! There is a strange story attached to that, which I must tell you at once. But why did you come a night sooner than you said you would come? I am rather sorry–I really am!’ (shaking her head playfully) ‘for as a surprise to you I had ordered a bonfire to be built, which was to be lighted on your arrival to-morrow; and now it is wasted. You can see the outline of it just out there.’

The Duke looked across to a spot of rising glade, and saw the faggots in a heap. He then bent his eyes with a bland and puzzled air on the ground, ‘What is this strange story you have to tell me that kept you awake?’ he murmured.

‘It is this–and it is really rather serious. My cousin Fred Ogbourne–Captain Ogbourne as he is now–was in his boyhood a great admirer of mine, as I think I have told you, though I was six years his senior. In strict truth, he was absurdly fond of me.’

‘You have never told me of that before.’

‘Then it was your sister I told–yes, it was. Well, you know I have not seen him for many years, and naturally I had quite forgotten his admiration of me in old times. But guess my surprise when the day before yesterday, I received a mysterious note bearing no address, and found on opening it that it came from him. The contents frightened me out of my wits. He had returned from Canada to his father’s house, and conjured me by all he could think of to meet him at once. But I think I can repeat the exact words, though I will show it to you when we get indoors.

“MY DEAR COUSIN HARRIET,” the note said, “After this long absence you will be surprised at my sudden reappearance, and more by what I am going to ask. But if my life and future are of any concern to you at all, I beg that you will grant my request. What I require of you, is, dear Harriet, that you meet me about eleven to-night by the Druid stones on Marlbury Downs, about a mile or more from your house. I cannot say more, except to entreat you to come. I will explain all when you are there. The one thing is, I want to see you. Come alone. Believe me, I would not ask this if my happiness did not hang upon it–God knows how entirely! I am too agitated to say more– Yours. FRED.”

‘That was all of it. Now, of course I ought have gone, as it turned out, but that I did not think of then. I remembered his impetuous temper, and feared that something grievous was impending over his head, while he had not a friend in the world to help him, or any one except myself to whom he would care to make his trouble known. So I wrapped myself up and went to Marlbury Downs at the time he had named. Don’t you think I was courageous?’


‘When I got there–but shall we not walk on; it is getting cold?’ The Duke, however, did not move. ‘When I got there he came, of course, as a full grown man and officer, and not as the lad that I had known him. When I saw him I was sorry I had come. I can hardly tell you how he behaved. What he wanted I don’t know even now; it seemed to be no more than the mere meeting with me. He held me by the hand and waist–O so tight–and would not let me go till I had promised to meet him again. His manner was so strange and passionate that I was afraid of him in such a lonely place, and I promised to come. Then I escaped–then I ran home–and that’s all. When the time drew on this evening for the appointment–which, of course, I never intended to keep, I felt uneasy, lest when he found I meant to disappoint him he would come on to the house; and that’s why I could not sleep. But you are so silent!’

‘I have had a long journey.’

‘Then let us get into the house. Why did you come alone and unattended like this?’

‘It was my humour.’

After a moment’s silence, during which they moved on, she said, ‘I have thought of something which I hardly like to suggest to you. He said that if I failed to come to-night he would wait again to-morrow night. Now, shall we to-morrow night go to the hill together–just to see if he is there; and if he is, read him a lesson on his foolishness in nourishing this old passion, and sending for me so oddly, instead of coming to the house?’

‘Why should we see if he’s there?’ said her husband moodily.

‘Because I think we ought to do something in it. Poor Fred! He would listen to you if you reasoned with him, and set our positions in their true light before him. It would be no more than Christian kindness to a man who unquestionably is very miserable from some cause or other. His head seems quite turned.’

By this time they had reached the door, rung the bell, and waited. All the house seemed to be asleep; but soon a man came to them, the horse was taken away, and the Duke and Duchess went in.


There was no help for it. Bill Mills was obliged to stay on duty, in the old shepherd’s absence, this evening as before, or give up his post and living. He thought as bravely as he could of what lay behind the Devil’s Door, but with no great success, and was therefore in a measure relieved, even if awe-stricken, when he saw the forms of the Duke and Duchess strolling across the frosted greensward. The Duchess was a few yards in front of her husband and tripped on lightly.

‘I tell you he has not thought it worth while to come again!’ the Duke insisted, as he stood still, reluctant to walk further.

‘He is more likely to come and wait all night; and it would be harsh treatment to let him do it a second time.’

‘He is not here; so turn and come home.’

‘He seems not to be here, certainly; I wonder if anything has happened to him. If it has, I shall never forgive myself!’

The Duke, uneasily, ‘O, no. He has some other engagement.’

‘That is very unlikely.’

‘Or perhaps he has found the distance too far.’

‘Nor is that probable.’

‘Then he may have thought better of it.’

‘Yes, he may have thought better of it; if, indeed, he is not here all the time–somewhere in the hollow behind the Devil’s Door. Let us go and see; it will serve him right to surprise him.’

‘O, he’s not there.’

‘He may be lying very quiet because of you,’ she said archly.

‘O, no–not because of me!’

‘Come, then. I declare, dearest, you lag like an unwilling schoolboy to-night, and there’s no responsiveness in you! You are jealous of that poor lad, and it is quite absurd of you.’

‘I’ll come! I’ll come! Say no more, Harriet!’ And they crossed over the green.

Wondering what they would do, the young shepherd left the hut, and doubled behind the belt of furze, intending to stand near the trilithon unperceived. But, in crossing the few yards of open ground he was for a moment exposed to view.

‘Ah, I see him at last!’ said the Duchess.

‘See him!’ said the Duke. ‘Where?’

‘By the Devil’s Door; don’t you notice a figure there? Ah, my poor lover-cousin, won’t you catch it now?’ And she laughed half- pityingly. ‘But what’s the matter?’ she asked, turning to her husband.

‘It is not he!’ said the Duke hoarsely. ‘It can’t be he!’

‘No, it is not he. It is too small for him. It is a boy.’

‘Ah, I thought so! Boy, come here.’

The youthful shepherd advanced with apprehension.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Keeping sheep, your Grace.’

‘Ah, you know me! Do you keep sheep here every night?’

‘Off and on, my Lord Duke.’

‘And what have you seen here to-night or last night?’ inquired the Duchess. ‘Any person waiting or walking about?’

The boy was silent.

‘He has seen nothing,’ interrupted her husband, his eyes so forbiddingly fixed on the boy that they seemed to shine like points of fire. ‘Come, let us go. The air is too keen to stand in long.’

When they were gone the boy retreated to the hut and sheep, less fearful now than at first–familiarity with the situation having gradually overpowered his thoughts of the buried man. But he was not to be left alone long. When an interval had elapsed of about sufficient length for walking to and from Shakeforest Towers, there appeared from that direction the heavy form of the Duke. He now came alone.

The nobleman, on his part, seemed to have eyes no less sharp than the boy’s, for he instantly recognized the latter among the ewes, and came straight towards him.

‘Are you the shepherd lad I spoke to a short time ago?’

‘I be, my Lord Duke.’

‘Now listen to me. Her Grace asked you what you had seen this last night or two up here, and you made no reply. I now ask the same thing, and you need not be afraid to answer. Have you seen anything strange these nights you have been watching here?’

‘My Lord Duke, I be a poor heedless boy, and what I see I don’t bear in mind.’

‘I ask you again,’ said the Duke, coming nearer, ‘have you seen anything strange these nights you have been watching here?’

‘O, my Lord Duke! I be but the under-shepherd boy, and my father he was but your humble Grace’s hedger, and my mother only the cinder- woman in the back-yard! I fall asleep when left alone, and I see nothing at all!’

The Duke grasped the boy by the shoulder, and, directly impending over him, stared down into his face, ‘Did you see anything strange done here last night, I say?’

‘O, my Lord Duke, have mercy, and don’t stab me!’ cried the shepherd, falling on his knees. ‘I have never seen you walking here, or riding here, or lying-in-wait for a man, or dragging a heavy load!’

‘H’m!’ said his interrogator, grimly, relaxing his hold. ‘It is well to know that you have never seen those things. Now, which would you rather–SEE ME DO THOSE THINGS NOW, or keep a secret all your life?’

‘Keep a secret, my Lord Duke!’

‘Sure you are able?’

‘O, your Grace, try me!’

‘Very well. And now, how do you like sheep-keeping?’

‘Not at all. ‘Tis lonely work for them that think of spirits, and I’m badly used.’

‘I believe you. You are too young for it. I must do something to make you more comfortable. You shall change this smock-frock for a real cloth jacket, and your thick boots for polished shoes. And you shall be taught what you have never yet heard of; and be put to school, and have bats and balls for the holidays, and be made a man of. But you must never say you have been a shepherd boy, and watched on the hills at night, for shepherd boys are not liked in good company.

‘Trust me, my Lord Duke.’

‘The very moment you forget yourself, and speak of your shepherd days–this year, next year, in school, out of school, or riding in your carriage twenty years hence–at that moment my help will be withdrawn, and smash down you come to shepherding forthwith. You have parents, I think you say?’

‘A widowed mother only, my Lord Duke.’

‘I’ll provide for her, and make a comfortable woman of her, until you speak of–what?’

‘Of my shepherd days, and what I saw here.’

‘Good. If you do speak of it?’

‘Smash down she comes to widowing forthwith!’

‘That’s well–very well. But it’s not enough. Come here.’ He took the boy across to the trilithon, and made him kneel down.

‘Now, this was once a holy place,’ resumed the Duke. ‘An altar stood here, erected to a venerable family of gods, who were known and talked of long before the God we know now. So that an oath sworn here is doubly an oath. Say this after me: “May all the host above- -angels and archangels, and principalities and powers–punish me; may I be tormented wherever I am–in the house or in the garden, in the fields or in the roads, in church or in chapel, at home or abroad, on land or at sea; may I be afflicted in eating and in drinking, in growing up and in growing old, in living and dying, inwardly and outwardly, and for always, if I ever speak of my life as a shepherd boy, or of what I have seen done on this Marlbury Down. So be it, and so let it be. Amen and amen.” Now kiss the stone.’

The trembling boy repeated the words, and kissed the stone, as desired.

The Duke led him off by the hand. That night the junior shepherd slept in Shakeforest Towers, and the next day he was sent away for tuition to a remote village. Thence he went to a preparatory establishment, and in due course to a public school.


On a winter evening many years subsequent to the above-mentioned occurrences, the ci-devant shepherd sat in a well-furnished office in the north wing of Shakeforest Towers in the guise of an ordinary educated man of business. He appeared at this time as a person of thirty-eight or forty, though actually he was several years younger. A worn and restless glance of the eye now and then, when he lifted his head to search for some letter or paper which had been mislaid, seemed to denote that his was not a mind so thoroughly at ease as his surroundings might have led an observer to expect.

His pallor, too, was remarkable for a countryman. He was professedly engaged in writing, but he shaped not word. He had sat there only a few minutes, when, laying down his pen and pushing back his chair, he rested a hand uneasily on each of the chair-arms and looked on the floor.

Soon he arose and left the room. His course was along a passage which ended in a central octagonal hall; crossing this he knocked at a door. A faint, though deep, voice told him to come in. The room he entered was the library, and it was tenanted by a single person only–his patron the Duke.

During this long interval of years the Duke had lost all his heaviness of build. He was, indeed, almost a skeleton; his white hair was thin, and his hands were nearly transparent. ‘Oh–Mills?’ he murmured. ‘Sit down. What is it?’

‘Nothing new, your Grace. Nobody to speak of has written, and nobody has called.’

‘Ah–what then? You look concerned.’

‘Old times have come to life, owing to something waking them.’

‘Old times be cursed–which old times are they?’

‘That Christmas week twenty-two years ago, when the late Duchess’s cousin Frederick implored her to meet him on Marlbury Downs. I saw the meeting–it was just such a night as this–and I, as you know, saw more. She met him once, but not the second time.’

‘Mills, shall I recall some words to you–the words of an oath taken on that hill by a shepherd-boy?’

‘It is unnecessary. He has strenuously kept that oath and promise. Since that night no sound of his shepherd life has crossed his lips– even to yourself. But do you wish to hear more, or do you not, your Grace?’

‘I wish to hear no more,’ said the Duke sullenly.

‘Very well; let it be so. But a time seems coming–may be quite near at hand–when, in spite of my lips, that episode will allow itself to go undivulged no longer.’

‘I wish to hear no more!’ repeated the Duke.

‘You need be under no fear of treachery from me,’ said the steward, somewhat bitterly. ‘I am a man to whom you have been kind–no patron could have been kinder. You have clothed and educated me; have installed me here; and I am not unmindful. But what of it–has your Grace gained much by my stanchness? I think not. There was great excitement about Captain Ogbourne’s disappearance, but I spoke not a word. And his body has never been found. For twenty-two years I have wondered what you did with him. Now I know. A circumstance that occurred this afternoon recalled the time to me most forcibly. To make it certain to myself that all was not a dream, I went up there with a spade; I searched, and saw enough to know that something decays there in a closed badger’s hole.’

‘Mills, do you think the Duchess guessed?’

‘She never did, I am sure, to the day of her death.’

‘Did you leave all as you found it on the hill?’

‘I did.’

‘What made you think of going up there this particular afternoon?’

‘What your Grace says you don’t wish to be told.’

The Duke was silent; and the stillness of the evening was so marked that there reached their ears from the outer air the sound of a tolling bell.

‘What is that bell tolling for?’ asked the nobleman.

‘For what I came to tell you of, your Grace.’

‘You torment me it is your way!’ said the Duke querulously. ‘Who’s dead in the village?’

‘The oldest man–the old shepherd.’

‘Dead at last–how old is he?’


‘And I am only seventy. I have four-and-twenty years to the good!’

‘I served under that old man when I kept sheep on Marlbury Downs. And he was on the hill that second night, when I first exchanged words with your Grace. He was on the hill all the time; but I did not know he was there–nor did you.’

‘Ah!’ said the Duke, starting up. ‘Go on–I yield the point–you may tell!’

‘I heard this afternoon that he was at the point of death. It was that which set me thinking of that past time–and induced me to search on the hill for what I have told you. Coming back I heard that he wished to see the Vicar to confess to him a secret he had kept for more than twenty years–“out of respect to my Lord the Duke”–something that he had seen committed on Marlbury Downs when returning to the flock on a December night twenty-two years ago. I have thought it over. He had left me in charge that evening; but he was in the habit of coming back suddenly, lest I should have fallen asleep. That night I saw nothing of him, though he had promised to return. He must have returned, and–found reason to keep in hiding. It is all plain. The next thing is that the Vicar went to him two hours ago. Further than that I have not heard.’

‘It is quite enough. I will see the Vicar at daybreak to-morrow.’

‘What to do?’

‘Stop his tongue for four-and-twenty years–till I am dead at ninety- four, like the shepherd.’

‘Your Grace–while you impose silence on me, I will not speak, even though nay neck should pay the penalty. I promised to be yours, and I am yours. But is this persistence of any avail?’

‘I’ll stop his tongue, I say!’ cried the Duke with some of his old rugged force. ‘Now, you go home to bed, Mills, and leave me to manage him.’

The interview ended, and the steward withdrew. The night, as he had said, was just such an one as the night of twenty-two years before, and the events of the evening destroyed in him all regard for the season as one of cheerfulness and goodwill. He went off to his own house on the further verge of the park, where he led a lonely life, scarcely calling any man friend. At eleven he prepared to retire to bed–but did not retire. He sat down and reflected. Twelve o’clock struck; he looked out at the colourless moon, and, prompted by he knew not what, put on his hat and emerged into the air. Here William Mills strolled on and on, till he reached the top of Marlbury Downs, a spot he had not visited at this hour of the night during the whole score-and-odd years.

He placed himself, as nearly as he could guess, on the spot where the shepherd’s hut had stood. No lambing was in progress there now, and the old shepherd who had used him so roughly had ceased from his labours that very day. But the trilithon stood up white as ever; and, crossing the intervening sward, the steward fancifully placed his mouth against the stone. Restless and self-reproachful as he was, he could not resist a smile as he thought of the terrifying oath of compact, sealed by a kiss upon the stones of a Pagan temple. But he had kept his word, rather as a promise than as a formal vow, with much worldly advantage to himself, though not much happiness; till increase of years had bred reactionary feelings which led him to receive the news of to-night with emotions akin to relief.

While leaning against the Devil’s Door and thinking on these things, he became conscious that he was not the only inhabitant of the down. A figure in white was moving across his front with long, noiseless strides. Mills stood motionless, and when the form drew quite near he perceived it to be that of the Duke himself in his nightshirt– apparently walking in his sleep. Not to alarm the old man, Mills clung close to the shadow of the stone. The Duke went straight on into the hollow. There he knelt down, and began scratching the earth with his hands like a badger. After a few minutes he arose, sighed heavily, and retraced his steps as he had come.

Fearing that he might harm himself, yet unwilling to arouse him, the steward followed noiselessly. The Duke kept on his path unerringly, entered the park, and made for the house, where he let himself in by a window that stood open–the one probably by which he had come out. Mills softly closed the window behind his patron, and then retired homeward to await the revelations of the morning, deeming it unnecessary to alarm the house.

However, he felt uneasy during the remainder of the night, no less on account of the Duke’s personal condition than because of that which was imminent next day. Early in the morning he called at Shakeforest Towers. The blinds were down, and there was something singular upon the porter’s face when he opened the door. The steward inquired for the Duke.

The man’s voice was subdued as he replied: ‘Sir, I am sorry to say that his Grace is dead! He left his room some time in the night, and wandered about nobody knows where. On returning to the upper floor he lost his balance and fell downstairs.’

The steward told the tale of the Down before the Vicar had spoken. Mills had always intended to do so after the death of the Duke. The consequences to himself he underwent cheerfully; but his life was not prolonged. He died, a farmer at the Cape, when still somewhat under forty-nine years of age.

The splendid Marlbury breeding flock is as renowned as ever, and, to the eye, seems the same in every particular that it was in earlier times; but the animals which composed it on the occasion of the events gathered from the Justice are divided by many ovine generations from its members now. Lambing Corner has long since ceased to be used for lambing purposes, though the name still lingers on as the appellation of the spot. This abandonment of site may be partly owing to the removal of the high furze bushes which lent such convenient shelter at that date. Partly, too, it may be due to another circumstance. For it is said by present shepherds in that district that during the nights of Christmas week flitting shapes are seen in the open space around the trilithon, together with the gleam of a weapon, and the shadow of a man dragging a burden into the hollow. But of these things there is no certain testimony.

Christmas 1881.


We had been talking of the Georgian glories of our old-fashioned watering-place, which now, with its substantial russet-red and dun brick buildings in the style of the year eighteen hundred, looks like one side of a Soho or Bloomsbury Street transported to the shore, and draws a smile from the modern tourist who has no eye for solidity of build. The writer, quite a youth, was present merely as a listener. The conversation proceeded from general subjects to particular, until old Mrs. H–, whose memory was as perfect at eighty as it had ever been in her life, interested us all by the obvious fidelity with which she repeated a story many times related to her by her mother when our aged friend was a girl–a domestic drama much affecting the life of an acquaintance of her said parent, one Mademoiselle V–, a teacher of French. The incidents occurred in the town during the heyday of its fortunes, at the time of our brief peace with France in 1802-3.

‘I wrote it down in the shape of a story some years ago, just after my mother’s death,’ said Mrs. H–. ‘It is locked up in my desk there now.’

‘Read it!’ said we.

‘No,’ said she; ‘the light is bad, and I can remember it well enough, word for word, flourishes and all.’ We could not be choosers in the circumstances, and she began.

‘There are two in it, of course, the man and the woman, and it was on an evening in September that she first got to know him. There had not been such a grand gathering on the Esplanade all the season. His Majesty King George the Third was present, with all the princesses and royal dukes, while upwards of three hundred of the general nobility and other persons of distinction were also in the town at the time. Carriages and other conveyances were arriving every minute from London and elsewhere; and when among the rest a shabby stage- coach came in by a by-route along the coast from Havenpool, and drew up at a second-rate tavern, it attracted comparatively little notice.

‘From this dusty vehicle a man alighted, left his small quantity of luggage temporarily at the office, and walked along the street as if to look for lodgings.

‘He was about forty-five–possibly fifty–and wore a long coat of faded superfine cloth, with a heavy collar, and a hunched-up neckcloth. He seemed to desire obscurity.

‘But the display appeared presently to strike him, and he asked of a rustic he met in the street what was going on; his accent being that of one to whom English pronunciation was difficult.

‘The countryman looked at him with a slight surprise, and said, “King Jarge is here and his royal Cwort.”

‘The stranger inquired if they were going to stay long.

‘”Don’t know, Sir. Same as they always do, I suppose.”

‘”How long is that?”

‘”Till some time in October. They’ve come here every summer since eighty-nine.”

‘The stranger moved onward down St. Thomas Street, and approached the bridge over the harbour backwater, that then, as now, connected the old town with the more modern portion. The spot was swept with the rays of a low sun, which lit up the harbour lengthwise, and shone under the brim of the man’s hat and into his eyes as he looked westward. Against the radiance figures were crossing in the opposite direction to his own; among them this lady of my mother’s later acquaintance, Mademoiselle V–. She was the daughter of a good old French family, and at that date a pale woman, twenty-eight or thirty years of age, tall and elegant in figure, but plainly dressed and wearing that evening (she said) a small muslin shawl crossed over the bosom in the fashion of the time, and tied behind.

‘At sight of his face, which, as she used to tell us, was unusually distinct in the peering sunlight, she could not help giving a little shriek of horror, for a terrible reason connected with her history, and after walking a few steps further, she sank down against the parapet of the bridge in a fainting fit.

‘In his preoccupation the foreign gentleman had hardly noticed her, but her strange collapse immediately attracted his attention. He quickly crossed the carriageway, picked her up, and carried her into the first shop adjoining the bridge, explaining that she was a lady who had been taken ill outside.

‘She soon revived; but, clearly much puzzled, her helper perceived that she still had a dread of him which was sufficient to hinder her complete recovery of self-command. She spoke in a quick and nervous way to the shopkeeper, asking him to call a coach.

‘This the shopkeeper did, Mademoiselle V– and the stranger remaining in constrained silence while he was gone. The coach came up, and giving the man the address, she entered it and drove away.

‘”Who is that lady?” said the newly arrived gentleman.

‘”She’s of your nation, as I should make bold to suppose,” said the shopkeeper. And he told the other that she was Mademoiselle V–, governess at General Newbold’s, in the same town.

‘”You have many foreigners here?” the stranger inquired.

‘”Yes, though mostly Hanoverians. But since the peace they are learning French a good deal in genteel society, and French instructors are rather in demand.”

‘”Yes, I teach it,” said the visitor. “I am looking for a tutorship in an academy.”

‘The information given by the burgess to the Frenchman seemed to explain to the latter nothing of his countrywoman’s conduct–which, indeed, was the case–and he left the shop, taking his course again over the bridge and along the south quay to the Old Rooms Inn, where he engaged a bedchamber.

‘Thoughts of the woman who had betrayed such agitation at sight of him lingered naturally enough with the newcomer. Though, as I stated, not much less than thirty years of age, Mademoiselle V–, one of his own nation, and of highly refined and delicate appearance, had kindled a singular interest in the middle-aged gentleman’s breast, and her large dark eyes, as they had opened and shrunk from him, exhibited a pathetic beauty to which hardly any man could have been insensible.

‘The next day, having written some letters, he went out and made known at the office of the town “Guide” and of the newspaper, that a teacher of French and calligraphy had arrived, leaving a card at the bookseller’s to the same effect. He then walked on aimlessly, but at length inquired the way to General Newbold’s. At the door, without giving his name, he asked to see Mademoiselle V–, and was shown into a little back parlour, where she came to him with a gaze of surprise.

‘”My God! Why do you intrude here, Monsieur?” she gasped in French as soon as she saw his face.

‘”You were taken ill yesterday. I helped you. You might have been run over if I had not picked you up. It was an act of simple humanity certainly; but I thought I might come to ask if you had recovered?”

‘She had turned aside, and had scarcely heard a word of his speech. “I hate you, infamous man!” she said. “I cannot bear your helping me. Go away!”

‘”But you are a stranger to me.”

‘”I know you too well!”

‘”You have the advantage then, Mademoiselle. I am a newcomer here. I never have seen you before to my knowledge; and I certainly do not, could not, hate you.”

‘”Are you not Monsieur B–?”

‘He flinched. “I am–in Paris,” he said. “But here I am Monsieur G- -.”

‘”That is trivial. You are the man I say you are.”

‘”How did you know my real name, Mademoiselle?”

‘”I saw you in years gone by, when you did not see me. You were formerly Member of the Committee of Public Safety, under the Convention.”

“I was.”

‘”You guillotined my father, my brother, my uncle–all my family, nearly, and broke my mother’s heart. They had done nothing but keep silence. Their sentiments were only guessed. Their headless corpses were thrown indiscriminately into the ditch of the Mousseaux Cemetery, and destroyed with lime.”

‘He nodded.

‘”You left me without a friend, and here I am now, alone in a foreign land.”

‘”I am sorry for you,” said be. “Sorry for the consequence, not for the intent. What I did was a matter of conscience, and, from a point of view indiscernible by you, I did right. I profited not a farthing. But I shall not argue this. You have the satisfaction of seeing me here an exile also, in poverty, betrayed by comrades, as friendless as yourself.”

‘”It is no satisfaction to me, Monsieur.”

‘”Well, things done cannot be altered. Now the question: are you quite recovered?”

‘”Not from dislike and dread of you–otherwise, yes.”

‘”Good morning, Mademoiselle.”

‘”Good morning.”

‘They did not meet again till one evening at the theatre (which my mother’s friend was with great difficulty induced to frequent, to perfect herself in English pronunciation, the idea she entertained at that time being to become a teacher of English in her own country later on). She found him sitting next to her, and it made her pale and restless.

‘”You are still afraid of me?”

‘”I am. O cannot you understand!”

‘He signified the affirmative.

‘”I follow the play with difficulty,” he said, presently.

‘”So do I–NOW,” said she.

‘He regarded her long, and she was conscious of his look; and while she kept her eyes on the stage they filled with tears. Still she would not move, and the tears ran visibly down her cheek, though the play was a merry one, being no other than Mr. Sheridan’s comedy of “The Rivals,” with Mr. S. Kemble as Captain Absolute. He saw her distress, and that her mind was elsewhere; and abruptly rising from his seat at candle-snuffing time he left the theatre.

‘Though he lived in the old town, and she in the new, they frequently saw each other at a distance. One of these occasions was when she was on the north side of the harbour, by the ferry, waiting for the boat to take her across. He was standing by Cove Row, on the quay opposite. Instead of entering the boat when it arrived she stepped back from the quay; but looking to see if he remained she beheld him pointing with his finger to the ferry-boat.

‘”Enter!” he said, in a voice loud enough to reach her.

‘Mademoiselle V– stood still.

‘”Enter!” he said, and, as she did not move, he repeated the word a third time.

‘She had really been going to cross, and now approached and stepped down into the boat. Though she did not raise her eyes she knew that he was watching her over. At the landing steps she saw from under the brim of her hat a hand stretched down. The steps were steep and slippery.

‘”No, Monsieur,” she said. “Unless, indeed, you believe in God, and repent of your evil past!”

‘”I am sorry you were made to suffer. But I only believe in the god called Reason, and I do not repent. I was the instrument of a national principle. Your friends were not sacrificed for any ends of mine.”

‘She thereupon withheld her hand, and clambered up unassisted. He went on, ascending the Look-out Hill, and disappearing over the brow. Her way was in the same direction, her errand being to bring home the two young girls under her charge, who had gone to the cliff for an airing. When she joined them at the top she saw his solitary figure at the further edge, standing motionless against the sea. All the while that she remained with her pupils he stood without turning, as if looking at the frigates in the roadstead, but more probably in meditation, unconscious where he was. In leaving the spot one of the children threw away half a sponge-biscuit that she had been eating. Passing near it he stooped, picked it up carefully, and put it in his pocket.

‘Mademoiselle V– came homeward, asking herself, “Can he be starving?”

‘From that day he was invisible for so long a time that she thought he had gone away altogether. But one evening a note came to her, and she opened it trembling.

‘”I am here ill,” it said, “and, as you know, alone. There are one or two little things I want done, in case my death should occur,–and I should prefer not to ask the people here, if it could be avoided. Have you enough of the gift of charity to come and carry out my wishes before it is too late?”

‘Now so it was that, since seeing him possess himself of the broken cake, she had insensibly begun to feel something that was more than curiosity, though perhaps less than anxiety, about this fellow- countryman of hers; and it was not in her nervous and sensitive heart to resist his appeal. She found his lodging (to which he had removed from the Old Rooms inn for economy) to be a room over a shop, half- way up the steep and narrow street of the old town, to which the fashionable visitors seldom penetrated. With some misgiving she entered the house, and was admitted to the chamber where he lay.

‘”You are too good, too good,” he murmured. And presently, “You need not shut the door. You will feel safer, and they will not understand what we say.”

‘”Are you in want, Monsieur? Can I give you–“

‘”No, no. I merely want you to do a trifling thing or two that I have not strength enough to do myself. Nobody in the town but you knows who I really am–unless you have told?”

‘”I have not told . . . I thought you MIGHT have acted from principle in those sad days, even–“

‘”You are kind to concede that much. However, to the present. I was able to destroy my few papers before I became so weak . . . But in the drawer there you will find some pieces of linen clothing–only two or three–marked with initials that may be recognized. Will you rip them out with a penknife?”

‘She searched as bidden, found the garments, cut out the stitches of the lettering, and replaced the linen as before. A promise to post, in the event of his death, a letter he put in her hand, completed all that he required of her.

‘He thanked her. “I think you seem sorry for me,” he murmured. “And I am surprised. You are sorry?”

‘She evaded the question. “Do you repent and believe?” she asked.


‘Contrary to her expectations and his own he recovered, though very slowly; and her manner grew more distant thenceforward, though his influence upon her was deeper than she knew. Weeks passed away, and the month of May arrived. One day at this time she met him walking slowly along the beach to the northward.

‘”You know the news?” he said.

‘”You mean of the rupture between France and England again?”

‘”Yes; and the feeling of antagonism is stronger than it was in the last war, owing to Bonaparte’s high-handed arrest of the innocent English who were travelling in our country for pleasure. I feel that the war will be long and bitter; and that my wish to live unknown in England will be frustrated. See here.”

‘He took from his pocket a piece of the single newspaper which circulated in the county in those days, and she read –

“The magistrates acting under the Alien Act have been requested to direct a very scrutinizing eye to the Academies in our towns and other places, in which French tutors are employed, and to all of that nationality who profess to be teachers in this country. Many of them are known to be inveterate Enemies and Traitors to the nation among whose people they have found a livelihood and a home.”

‘He continued: “I have observed since the declaration of war a marked difference in the conduct of the rougher class of people here towards me. If a great battle were to occur–as it soon will, no doubt–feeling would grow to a pitch that would make it impossible for me, a disguised man of no known occupation, to stay here. With you, whose duties and antecedents are known, it may be less difficult, but still unpleasant. Now I propose this. You have probably seen how my deep sympathy with you has quickened to a warm feeling; and what I say is, will you agree to give me a title to protect you by honouring me with your hand? I am older than you, it is true, but as husband and wife we can leave England together, and make the whole world our country. Though I would propose Quebec, in Canada, as the place which offers the best promise of a home.”

‘”My God! You surprise me!” said she.

‘”But you accept my proposal?”

‘”No, no!”

‘”And yet I think you will, Mademoiselle, some day!”

‘”I think not.”

‘”I won’t distress you further now.”

‘”Much thanks . . . I am glad to see you looking better, Monsieur; I mean you are looking better.”

‘”Ah, yes. I am improving. I walk in the sun every day.”

‘And almost every day she saw him–sometimes nodding stiffly only, sometimes exchanging formal civilities. “You are not gone yet,” she said on one of these occasions.

‘”No. At present I don’t think of going without you.”

‘”But you find it uncomfortable here?”

‘”Somewhat. So when will you have pity on me?”

‘She shook her head and went on her way. Yet she was a little moved. “He did it on principle,” she would murmur. “He had no animosity towards them, and profited nothing!”

‘She wondered how he lived. It was evident that he could not be so poor as she had thought; his pretended poverty might be to escape notice. She could not tell, but she knew that she was dangerously interested in him.

‘And he still mended, till his thin, pale face became more full and firm. As he mended she had to meet that request of his, advanced with even stronger insistency.

‘The arrival of the King and Court for the season as usual brought matters to a climax for these two lonely exiles and fellow country- people. The King’s awkward preference for a part of the coast in such dangerous proximity to France made it necessary that a strict military vigilance should be exercised to guard the royal residents. Half-a-dozen frigates were every night posted in a line across the bay, and two lines of sentinels, one at the water’s edge and another behind the Esplanade, occupied the whole sea-front after eight every night. The watering-place was growing an inconvenient residence even for Mademoiselle V– herself, her friendship for this strange French tutor and writing-master who never had any pupils having been observed by many who slightly knew her. The General’s wife, whose dependent she was, repeatedly warned her against the acquaintance; while the Hanoverian and other soldiers of the Foreign Legion, who had discovered the nationality of her friend, were more aggressive than the English military gallants who made it their business to notice her.

‘In this tense state of affairs her answers became more agitated. “O Heaven, how can I marry you!” she would say.

‘”You will; surely you will!” he answered again. “I don’t leave without you. And I shall soon be interrogated before the magistrates if I stay here; probably imprisoned. You will come?”

‘She felt her defences breaking down. Contrary to all reason and sense of family honour she was, by some abnormal craving, inclining to a tenderness for him that was founded on its opposite. Sometimes her warm sentiments burnt lower than at others, and then the enormity of her conduct showed itself in more staring hues.

‘Shortly after this he came with a resigned look on his face. “It is as I expected,” he said. “I have received a hint to go. In good sooth, I am no Bonapartist–I am no enemy to England; but the presence of the King made it impossible for a foreigner with no visible occupation, and who may be a spy, to remain at large in the town. The authorities are civil, but firm. They are no more than reasonable. Good. I must go. You must come also.”

‘She did not speak. But she nodded assent, her eyes drooping.

‘On her way back to the house on the Esplanade she said to herself, “I am glad, I am glad! I could not do otherwise. It is rendering good for evil!” But she knew how she mocked herself in this, and that the moral principle had not operated one jot in her acceptance of him. In truth she had not realized till now the full presence of the emotion which had unconsciously grown up in her for this lonely and severe man, who, in her tradition, was vengeance and irreligion personified. He seemed to absorb her whole nature, and, absorbing, to control it.

‘A day or two before the one fixed for the wedding there chanced to come to her a letter from the only acquaintance of her own sex and country she possessed in England, one to whom she had sent intelligence of her approaching marriage, without mentioning with whom. This friend’s misfortunes had been somewhat similar to her own, which fact had been one cause of their intimacy; her friend’s sister, a nun of the Abbey of Montmartre, having perished on the scaffold at the hands of the same Comite de Salut Public which had numbered Mademoiselle V–‘s affianced among its members. The writer had felt her position much again of late, since the renewal of the war, she said; and the letter wound up with a fresh denunciation of the authors of their mutual bereavement and subsequent troubles.

‘Coming just then, its contents produced upon Mademoiselle V– the effect of a pail of water upon a somnambulist. What had she been doing in betrothing herself to this man! Was she not making herself a parricide after the event? At this crisis in her feelings her lover called. He beheld her trembling, and, in reply to his question, she told him of her scruples with impulsive candour.

‘She had not intended to do this, but his attitude of tender command coerced her into frankness. Thereupon he exhibited an agitation never before apparent in him. He said, “But all that is past. You are the symbol of Charity, and we are pledged to let bygones be.”

‘His words soothed her for the moment, but she was sadly silent, and he went away.

‘That night she saw (as she firmly believed to the end of her life) a divinely sent vision. A procession of her lost relatives–father, brother, uncle, cousin–seemed to cross her chamber between her bed and the window, and when she endeavoured to trace their features she perceived them to be headless, and that she had recognized them by their familiar clothes only. In the morning she could not shake off the effects of this appearance on her nerves. All that day she saw nothing of her wooer, he being occupied in making arrangements for their departure. It grew towards evening–the marriage eve; but, in spite of his re-assuring visit, her sense of family duty waxed stronger now that she was left alone. Yet, she asked herself, how could she, alone and unprotected, go at this eleventh hour and reassert to an affianced husband that she could not and would not marry him while admitting at the same time that she loved him? The situation dismayed her. She had relinquished her post as governess, and was staying temporarily in a room near the coach-office, where she expected him to call in the morning to carry out the business of their union and departure.

‘Wisely or foolishly, Mademoiselle V– came to a resolution: that her only safety lay in flight. His contiguity influenced her too sensibly; she could not reason. So packing up her few possessions and placing on the table the small sum she owed, she went out privately, secured a last available seat in the London coach, and, almost before she had fully weighed her action, she was rolling out of the town in the dusk of the September evening.

‘Having taken this startling step she began to reflect upon her reasons. He had been one of that tragic Committee the sound of whose name was a horror to the civilized world; yet he had been only one of several members, and, it seemed, not the most active. He had marked down names on principle, had felt no personal enmity against his victims, and had enriched himself not a sou out of the office he had held. Nothing could change the past. Meanwhile he loved her, and her heart inclined to as much of him as she could detach from that past. Why not, as he had suggested, bury memories, and inaugurate a new era by this union? In other words, why not indulge her tenderness, since its nullification could do no good.

‘Thus she held self-communion in her seat in the coach, passing through Casterbridge, and Shottsford, and on to the White Hart at Melchester, at which place the whole fabric of her recent intentions crumbled down. Better be staunch having got so far; let things take their course, and marry boldly the man who had so impressed her. How great he was; how small was she! And she had presumed to judge him! Abandoning her place in the coach with the precipitancy that had characterized her taking it, she waited till the vehicle had driven off, something in the departing shapes of the outside passengers against the starlit sky giving her a start, as she afterwards remembered. Presently the down coach, “The Morning Herald,” entered the city, and she hastily obtained a place on the top.

‘”I’ll be firm–I’ll be his–if it cost me my immortal soul!” she said. And with troubled breathings she journeyed back over the road she had just traced.

‘She reached our royal watering-place by the time the day broke, and her first aim was to get back to the hired room in which her last few days had been spent. When the landlady appeared at the door in response to Mademoiselle V–‘s nervous summons, she explained her sudden departure and return as best she could; and no objection being offered to her re-engagement of the room for one day longer she ascended to the chamber and sat down panting. She was back once more, and her wild tergiversations were a secret from him whom alone they concerned.

‘A sealed letter was on the mantelpiece. “Yes, it is directed to you, Mademoiselle,” said the woman who had followed her. “But we were wondering what to do with it. A town messenger brought it after you had gone last night.”

‘When the landlady had left, Mademoiselle V– opened the letter and read –

“MY DEAR AND HONOURED FRIEND.–You have been throughout our acquaintance absolutely candid concerning your misgivings. But I have been reserved concerning mine. That is the difference between us. You probably have not guessed that every qualm you have felt on the subject of our marriage has been paralleled in my heart to the full. Thus it happened that your involuntary outburst of remorse yesterday, though mechanically deprecated by me in your presence, was a last item in my own doubts on the wisdom of our union, giving them a force that I could no longer withstand. I came home; and, on reflection, much as I honour and adore you, I decide to set you free.

“As one whose life has been devoted, and I may say sacrificed, to the cause of Liberty, I cannot allow your judgment (probably a permanent one) to be fettered beyond release by a feeling which may be transient only.

“It would be no less than excruciating to both that I should announce this decision to you by word of mouth. I have therefore taken the less painful course of writing. Before you receive this I shall have left the town by the evening coach for London, on reaching which city my movements will be revealed to none.

“Regard me, Mademoiselle, as dead, and accept my renewed assurances of respect, remembrance, and affection.”

‘When she had recovered from her shock of surprise and grief, she remembered that at the starting of the coach out of Melchester before dawn, the shape of a figure among the outside passengers against the starlit sky had caused her a momentary start, from its resemblance to that of her friend. Knowing nothing of each other’s intentions, and screened from each other by the darkness, they had left the town by the same conveyance. “He, the greater, persevered; I, the smaller, returned!” she said.

‘Recovering from her stupor, Mademoiselle V– bethought herself again of her employer, Mrs. Newbold, whom recent events had estranged. To that lady she went with a full heart, and explained everything. Mrs. Newbold kept to herself her opinion of the episode, and reinstalled the deserted bride in her old position as governess to the family.

‘A governess she remained to the end of her days. After the final peace with France she became acquainted with my mother, to whom by degrees she imparted these experiences of hers. As her hair grew white, and her features pinched, Mademoiselle V– would wonder what nook of the world contained her lover, if he lived, and if by any chance she might see him again. But when, some time in the ‘twenties, death came to her, at no great age, that outline against the stars of the morning remained as the last glimpse she ever obtained of her family’s foe and her once affianced husband.’



In the earliest and mustiest volume of the Havenpool marriage registers (said the thin-faced gentleman) this entry may still be read by any one curious enough to decipher the crabbed handwriting of the date. I took a copy of it when I was last there; and it runs thus (he had opened his pocket-book, and now read aloud the extract; afterwards handing round the book to us, wherein we saw transcribed the following) –

Mastr John Horseleigh, Knyght, of the p’ysshe of Clyffton was maryd to Edith the wyffe late off John Stocker, m’chawnte of Havenpool the xiiij daje of December be p’vylegge gevyn by our sup’me hedd of the chyrche of Ingelonde Kynge Henry the viii th 1539.

Now, if you turn to the long and elaborate pedigree of the ancient family of the Horseleighs of Clyfton Horseleigh, you will find no mention whatever of this alliance, notwithstanding the privilege given by the Sovereign and head of the Church; the said Sir John being therein chronicled as marrying, at a date apparently earlier than the above, the daughter and heiress of Richard Phelipson, of Montislope, in Nether Wessex, a lady who outlived him, of which marriage there were issue two daughters and a son, who succeeded him in his estates. How are we to account for these, as it would seem, contemporaneous wives? A strange local tradition only can help us, and this can be briefly told.

One evening in the autumn of the year 1540 or 1541, a young sailor, whose Christian name was Roger, but whose surname is not known, landed at his native place of Havenpool, on the South Wessex coast, after a voyage in the Newfoundland trade, then newly sprung into existence. He returned in the ship Primrose with a cargo of ‘trayne oyle brought home from the New Founde Lande,’ to quote from the town records of the date. During his absence of two summers and a winter, which made up the term of a Newfoundland ‘spell,’ many unlooked-for changes had occurred within the quiet little seaport, some of which closely affected Roger the sailor. At the time of his departure his only sister Edith had become the bride of one Stocker, a respectable townsman, and part owner of the brig in which Roger had sailed; and it was to the house of this couple, his only relatives, that the young man directed his steps. On trying the door in Quay Street he found it locked, and then observed that the windows were boarded up. Inquiring of a bystander, he learnt for the first time of the death of his brother-in-law, though that event had taken place nearly eighteen months before.

‘And my sister Edith?’ asked Roger.

‘She’s married again–as they do say, and hath been so these twelve months. I don’t vouch for the truth o’t, though if she isn’t she ought to be.’

Roger’s face grew dark. He was a man with a considerable reserve of strong passion, and he asked his informant what he meant by speaking thus.

The man explained that shortly after the young woman’s bereavement a stranger had come to the port. He had seen her moping on the quay, had been attracted by her youth and loneliness, and in an extraordinarily brief wooing had completely fascinated her–had carried her off, and, as was reported, had married her. Though he had come by water, he was supposed to live no very great distance off by land. They were last heard of at Oozewood, in Upper Wessex, at the house of one Wall, a timber-merchant, where, he believed, she still had a lodging, though her husband, if he were lawfully that much, was but an occasional visitor to the place.

‘The stranger?’ asked Roger. ‘Did you see him? What manner of man was he?’

‘I liked him not,’ said the other. ‘He seemed of that kind that hath something to conceal, and as he walked with her he ever and anon turned his head and gazed behind him, as if he much feared an unwelcome pursuer. But, faith,’ continued he, ‘it may have been the man’s anxiety only. Yet did I not like him.’

‘Was he older than my sister?’ Roger asked.

‘Ay–much older; from a dozen to a score of years older. A man of some position, maybe, playing an amorous game for the pleasure of the hour. Who knoweth but that he have a wife already? Many have done the thing hereabouts of late.’

Having paid a visit to the graves of his relatives, the sailor next day went along the straight road which, then a lane, now a highway, conducted to the curious little inland town named by the Havenpool man. It is unnecessary to describe Oozewood on the South-Avon. It has a railway at the present day; but thirty years of steam traffic past its precincts have hardly modified its original features. Surrounded by a sort of fresh-water lagoon, dividing it from meadows and coppice, its ancient thatch and timber houses have barely made way even in the front street for the ubiquitous modern brick and slate. It neither increases nor diminishes in size; it is difficult to say what the inhabitants find to do, for, though trades in woodware are still carried on, there cannot be enough of this class of work nowadays to maintain all the householders, the forests around having been so greatly thinned and curtailed. At the time of this tradition the forests were dense, artificers in wood abounded, and the timber trade was brisk. Every house in the town, without exception, was of oak framework, filled in with plaster, and covered with thatch, the chimney being the only brick portion of the structure. Inquiry soon brought Roger the sailor to the door of Wall, the timber-dealer referred to, but it was some time before he was able to gain admission to the lodging of his sister, the people having plainly received directions not to welcome strangers.

She was sitting in an upper room on one of the lath-backed, willow- bottomed ‘shepherd’s’ chairs, made on the spot then as to this day, and as they were probably made there in the days of the Heptarchy. In her lap was an infant, which she had been suckling, though now it had fallen asleep; so had the young mother herself for a few minutes, under the drowsing effects of solitude. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, she awoke, started up with a glad cry, and ran to the door, opening which she met her brother on the threshold.

‘O, this is merry; I didn’t expect ‘ee!’ she said. ‘Ah, Roger–I thought it was John.’ Her tones fell to disappointment.

The sailor kissed her, looked at her sternly for a few moments, and pointing to the infant, said, ‘You mean the father of this?’

‘Yes, my husband,’ said Edith.