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Title:      Collected Supernatural Stories
Author:     John Buchan
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Title:      Collected Supernatural Stories
Author:     John Buchan



The Keeper of Cademuir (Glasgow University Magazine, 1894)
A Journey of Little Profit (The Yellow Book, 1898)
The Outgoing of the Tide (Atlantic Monthly, 1902)
No-man's-land (Blackwood's Magazine, 1899)
The Watcher by the Threshold (Atlantic Magazine, 1900)
The Grove of Ashtaroth (Blackwood's Magazine, 1910)
Space (Blackwood's Magazine, 1911)
Basilissa (Blackwood's Magazine, 1914)
Fullcircle (Atlantic Magazine, 1920)
The Magic Walking Stick (Sails of Gold, 1927)
The Strange Adventure of Mr. Andrew Hawthorn (The Silver Ship, 1932)




THE KEEPER OF CADEMUIR

The gamekeeper of Cademuir strode in leisurely fashion over the green
side of the hill. The bright chilly morning was past, and the heat had
all but begun; but he had lain long a-bed, deeming that life was too
short at the best, and there was little need to hurry it over. He was a
man of a bold carriage, with the indescribable air of one whose life is
connected with sport and rough moors. A steady grey eye and a clean chin
were his best features; otherwise, he was of the ordinary make of a man,
looking like one born for neither good nor evil in any high degree. The
sunlight danced around him, and flickered among the brackens; and though
it was an everyday sight with him, he was pleased, and felt cheerful,
just like any wild animal on a bright day. If he had had his dog with
him, he would have sworn at it to show his pleasure; as it was, he
contented himself with whistling 'The Linton Ploughman', and setting his
heels deep into the soft green moss.

The day was early and his way was long, for he purposed to go up Manor
Water to the shepherd's house about a matter of some foxes. It might be
ten miles, it might be more; and the keeper was in no great haste, for
there was abundant time to get his dinner and a smoke with the herd, and
then come back in the cool of the evening; for it was summer-time, when
men of his class have their holiday. Two miles more, and he would strike
the highway; he could see it even now coiling beneath the straight sides
of the glen. There it was easy walking, and he would get on quickly; but
now he might take his time. So he lit his pipe, and looked complacently
around him.

At the turn of the hill, where a strip of wood runs up the slope, he
stopped, and a dark shadow came over his face. This was the place where,
not two weeks ago, he had chased a poacher, and but for the fellow's
skill in doubling, would have caught him. He cursed the whole tribe in
his heart. They were the bane of his easy life. They came at night, and
took him out on the bleak hillside when he should have been in his bed.
They might have a trap there even now. He would go and see, for it was
not two hundred yards from his path.

So he climbed up the little howe in the hill beside the firwood, where
the long thickets of rushes, and the rabbit-warrens made a happy
hunting-ground for the enemies of the law. A snipe or two flew up as he
approached, and a legion of rabbits scurried into their holes. He had
all but given up the quest, when the gleam of something among the long
grass caught his attention, and in a trice he had pulled back the
herbage, and disclosed a neatly set and well-constructed trap.

It was a very admirable trap. He had never seenone like it; so in a sort
of angry exultation, as he thought of how he would spoil this fine game,
he knelt down to examine it. It was no mere running noose, but of strong
steel, and firmly fixed to the trunk of an old tree. No unhappy pheasant
would ever move it, were its feet once caught in its strong teeth. He
felt the iron with his hand, feeling down the sides for the spring; when
suddenly with a horrid snap the thing closed on him, pinning his hand
below the mid-finger, and he was powerless.

The pain was terrible, agonising. His hand burned like white fire, and
every nerve of his body tingled. With his left hand he attempted to
loosen it, but the spring was so well concealed, that he could not find
it. Perhaps, too, he may have lost his wits, for in any great suffering
the brain is seldom clear. After a few minutes of feeble searching and
tugging, every motion of which gave agony to his imprisoned hand, he
gave it up, and in something very like panic, sought for his knife to
try to cut the trap loose from the trunk. And now a fresh terror awaited
him, for he found that he had no knife; he had left it in another coat,
which was in his room at home. With a sigh of infinite pain, he stopped
the search, and stared drearily before him.

He confusedly considered his position. He was fixed with no possibility
of escape, some two miles from the track of any chance passer-by. They
would not look for him at home until the evening, and the shepherd at
Manor did not know of his coming. Someone might be on the hill, but then
this howe was on a remote side where few ever came, unless their duty
brought them. Below him in the valley was the road with some white
cottages beside it. There were women in those houses, living and moving
not far from him; they might see him if he were to wave something as a
signal. But then, he reflected with a groan, that though he could see
their dwellings, they could not see him, for he was hidden by the
shoulder of the hill.

Once more he made one frantic effort to escape, but it was unsuccessful.
Then he leant back upon the heather, gnawing his lips to help him to
endure the agony of the wound. He was a strong man, broad and sinewy,
and where a weaker might have swooned, he was left to endure the burden
of a painful consciousness. Again he thought of escape. The man who had
set the trap must come to see it, but it might not be that day, nor the
next. He pictured his friends hunting up and down Manor Water, every
pool and wood; passing and re-passing not two hundred yards from where
he was lying dead, or worse than dead. His mind grew sick at the
thought, and he had almost fainted in spite of his strength.

Then he fell into a panic, the terror of rough 'hard-handed men, which
never laboured in their mind.' His brain whirled, his eyes were stelled,
and a shiver shook him like a reed. He puzzled over his past life,
feeling, in a dim way, that it had not been as it should be. He had been
drunk often; he had not been over-careful of the name of the Almighty;
was not this some sort of retribution? He strove to pray, but he could
think of no words. He had been at church last Sunday, and he tried to
think of what he had heard; but try as he would, nothing came to his
mind, but the chorus of a drinking-song he had often heard sung in the
public-house at Peebles:

When the hoose is rinnin' round about,
It's time eneuch to flit;
For we've lippened aye to Providence,
And sae will we yet.

The irony of the words did not strike him; but fervently, feverishly, he
repeated them, as if for the price of his soul.

The fit passed, and a wild frenzy of rage took him. He cursed like a
fiend, and yelled horrible menaces upon the still air. If he had the man
who set this trap, he would strangle the life out of him here on this
spot. No, that was too merciful. He would force his arm into the trap,
and take him to some lonely place where never a human being came from
one year's end to the other. Then he would let him die, and come to
gloat over his suffering. With every turn of his body he wrenched his
hand, and with every wrench, he yelled more madly, till he lay back
exhausted, and the green hills were left again in peace.

Then he slept a sleep which was half a swoon, for maybe an hour, though
to him it seemed like ages. He seemed to be dead, and in torment; and
the place of his torment was this same hillside. On the brae face, a
thousand evil spirits were mocking his anguish, and not only his hand,
but his whole body was imprisoned in a remorseless trap. He felt the
keen steel crush through his bones, like a spade through a frosted
turnip. He woke screaming with nameless dread, looking on every side for
the infernal faces of his dreams, but seeing nothing but a little
chaffinch hopping across the turf.

Then came for him a long period of slow, despairing agony. The hot
air glowed, and the fierce sun beat upon his face. A thousand insects
hummed about him, bees and butterflies and little hillmoths. The
wholesome smell of thyme and bent was all about him, and every now and
then a little breeze broke the stillness, and sent a ripple over the
grass. The genial warmth seemed stifling; his head ached, and his breath
came in sudden gasps. An overpowering thirst came upon him, and his
tongue was like a burnt stick in his mouth. Not ten feet off, a little
burn danced over a minute cascade. He could see the dust of spray, which
wet the cool green rushes. The pleasant tinkle sang in his ears, and
mocked his fever. He tried to think of snow and ice and cold water, but
his brain refused to do its part, and he could get nothing but an
intolerable void.

Far across the valley, the great forehead of Dollar Law raised itself,
austere and lofty. To his unquiet sight, it seemed as if it rolled over
on Scrape, and the two played pranks among the lower hills beyond. The
idea came to him, how singularly unpleasant it would be for the people
there--among them a shepherd to whom he owed two pounds. He would be
crushed to powder, and there would be no more of the debt at any rate.
Then a text from the Scriptures came to haunt him, something, he could
scarce tell exactly, about the hills and mountains leaping like rams.
Here it was realised before his very eyes. Below him, in the peaceful
valley, Manor Water seemed to be wrinkled across it, like a scrawl from
the pen of a bad writer. When a bird flew past, or a hare started from
its form, he screamed with terror, and all the wholesome sights of a
summer day were wrought by his frenzied brain into terrible phantoms. So
true is it that Natura Benigna and Natura Maligna may walk hand in hand
upon the same hillside.

Then came the time when the strings of the reason are all but snapped,
and a man becomes maudlin. He thought of his young wife, not six weeks
married, and grieved over her approaching sorrow. He wept unnatural
tears, which, if any one had been there to see him, would have been far
more terrible than his frantic ravings. He pictured to himself in
gruesome detail, the finding of his body, how his wife would sob, and
his friends would shake their heads, and swear that he had been an
honest fellow, and that it was a pity that he was away. The place would
soon forget him; his wife would marry again; his dogs would get a new
master, and he--ay, that was the question, where would he be? and a new
dread took him, as he thought of the fate which might await him. The
unlettered man, in his times of dire necessity, has nothing to go back
upon but a mind full of vivid traditions, which are the most merciless
of things.

It might be about three or four o'clock, but by the clock in his brain it
was weeks later, that he suffered that last and awful pain, which any
one who has met it once, would walk to the end of the earth to avoid.
The world shrank away from him; his wits forsook him; and he cried out,
till the lonely rocks rang, and the whaups mingled their startled cries
with his. With a last effort, he crushed down his head with his
unwounded hand upon the tree-trunk, till blessed unconsciousness took
him into her merciful embrace.

* * * * *

At nine o'clock that evening, a ragged, unshorn man, with the look of
one not well at ease with the world, crept up the little plantation. He
had a sack on his back for his ill-gotten plunder, and a mighty stick in
case of a chance encounter. He visited his traps, hidden away in little
nooks, where no man might find them, and it would have seemed as if
trade were brisk, for his sack was heavy, and his air was cheerful. He
looked out from behind the dyke at his last snare carefully, as behoved
one in danger; and then with a start he crouched, for he saw the figure
of a man.

There was no doubt about it; it was his bitterest enemy, the keeper of
Cademuir. He made as if to crawl away, when by chance he looked again.
The man lay very still. A minute later he had rushed forward with a
white face, and was working as if for his life.

In half an hour two men might have been seen in that little glen. One,
with a grey, sickened face, was gazing vacantly around him, with the
look of some one awakened from a long sleep. By dint of much toil, and
half a bottle of brandy, he had been brought back from what was like to
have been the longest sleep he had ever taken. Beside him on the grass,
with wild eyes, sat the poacher, shedding hysterical tears. 'Dae
onything ye like wi' me,' he was saying, 'kick me or kill me, an' am
ready. I'll gang to jail wi' ye, to Peebles or the Calton, an' no say a
word. But oh--! ma God, I thocht ye were bye wi't.'




JOURNEY OF LITTLE PROFIT

The Devil he sang, the Devil he played
High and fast and free.
And this was ever the song he made,
As it was told to me.
Oh, I am the king of the air and the ground,
And lord of the seasons' roll,
And I will give you a hundred pound,
If you will give me your soul!

   The Ballad of Grey Weather

THE cattle market of Inverforth is, as all men know north of the Tweed,
the greatest market of the kind in the land. For days in the late Autumn
there is the lowing of oxen and the bleating of sheep among its high
wooden pens, and in the rickety sale-rings the loud clamour of
auctioneers and the talk of farmers. In the open yard where are the
drovers and the butchers, a race always ungodly and law-despising, there
is such a Babel of cries and curses as might wake the Seven Sleepers.
From twenty different adjacent eating-houses comes the clatter of
knives, where the country folk eat their dinner of beef and potatoes,
with beer for sauce, and the collies grovel on the ground for stray
morsels. Hither come a hundred types of men from the Highland cateran
with scarce a word of English, and the shentleman-farmer of Inverness
and Ross, to lowland graziers and city tradesmen, not to speak of
blackguards of many nationalities and more professions.

It was there I first met Duncan Stewart of Clachamharstan, in the Moor
of Rannoch, and there I heard this story. He was an old man when I knew
him, grizzled and wind-beaten; a prosperous man, too, with many herds
like Jacob and much pasture. He had come down from the North with
kyloes, and as he waited on the Englishmen with whom he had trysted, he
sat with me through the long day and beguiled the time with many
stories. He had been a drover in his youth, and had travelled on foot
the length and breadth of Scotland; and his memory went back hale and
vigorous to times which are now all but historical. This tale I heard
among many others as we sat on a pen amid the smell of beasts and the
jabber of Gaelic:


'When I was just turned of twenty-five I was a wild young lad as ever
was heard of. I had taken to the droving for the love of a wild life,
and a wild life I led. My father's heart would be broken long syne with
my doings, and well for my mother that she was in her grave since I was
six years old. I paid no heed to the ministrations of godly Mr.
Macdougall of the Isles, who bade me turn from the error of my ways, but
went on my own evil course, making siller, for I was a brawl lad at the
work and a trusted, and knowing the inside of every public from the pier
of Cromarty to the streets of York. I was a wild drinker, caring in my
cups for neither God nor man, a great hand with the cards, and fond of
the lasses past all telling. It makes me shameful to this day to think
on my evil life when I was twenty-five.

'Well, it chanced that in the back of the month of September I found
myself in the city of Edinburgh with a flock of fifty sheep which I had
bought as a venture from a drunken bonnet-laird and was thinking of
selling somewhere wast the country. They were braw beasts, Leicester
every one of them, well-fed and dirt-cheap at the price I gave. So it
was with a light heart that I drove them out of the town by the
Merchiston Road along by the face of the Pentlands. Two or three friends
came with me, all like myself for folly, but maybe a little bit poorer.
Indeed, I cared little for them, and they valued me only for the whisky
which I gave them to drink my health in at the parting. They left me on
the near side of Colinton, and I went on my way alone.

'Now, if you'll be remembering the road, you will mind that at the place
called Kirk Newton, just afore the road begins to twine over the Big
Muir and almost at the head of the Water o' Leith, there is a verra fine
public. Indeed, it would be no lee to call it the best public between
Embro' and Glesca. The good wife, Lucky Craik by name, was an old friend
of mine, for many a good gill of her prandy have I bought; so what would
I be doing but just turning aside for refreshment? She met me at the
door, verra pleased-like to see me, and soon I had my legs aneath her
table and a basin of toddy on the board before me. And whom did I find
in the same place but my old comrade Toshie Maclean from the backside of
Glen-Lyon. Toshie and I were acquaintances so old that it did not
behoove us to be parting quick. Forbye the day was chill without; and
within the fire was grand and the crack of the best.

'Then Toshie and I got on quarrelling about the price of Lachlan
Farawa's beasts that he sold at Falkirk; and, the drink having aye a
bad effect on my temper, I was for giving him the lie and coming off in
a great rage. It was about six o'clock in the evening and an hour to
nightfall, so Mistress Craik comes in to try and keep me. 'Losh,
Duncan,' says she, 'yell never try and win ower the muir the nicht. It's
mae than ten mile to Carnwath, and there's nocht atween it and this but
whaups and heathery braes.' But when I am roused I will be more
obstinate than ten mules, so I would be going, though I knew not under
Heaven where I was going till. I was too full of good liquor and good
meat to be much worth at thinking, so I got my sheep on the road an a
big bottle in my pouch and set off into the heather. I knew not what my
purpose was, whether I thought to reach the shieling of Carnwath, or
whether I expected some house of entertainment to spring up by the
wayside. But my fool's mind was set on my purpose of getting some miles
further in my journey ere the coming of darkness.

'For some time I jogged happily on, with my sheep running well before me
and my dogs trotting at my heels. We left the trees behind and struck
out on the proad grassy path which bands the moor like the waist-strap
of a sword. It was most dreary and lonesome with never a house in view,
only bogs and grey hillsides and ill-looking waters. It was stony, too,
and this more than aught else caused my Dutch courage to fail me, for I
soon fell wearied, since much whisky is bad travelling fare, and began
to curse my folly. Had my pride no kept me back, I would have returned
to Lucky Craik's; but I was like the devil, for stiff-neckedness and
thought of nothing but to push on.

'I own that I was verra well tired and quite spiritless when I first saw
the House. I had scarce been an hour on the way, and the light was not
quite gone; but still it was geyan dark, and the place sprang somewhat
suddenly on my sight. For, looking a little to the left, I saw over a
little strip of grass a big square dwelling with many outhouses, half
farm and half pleasure-house. This, I thought, is the verra place I have
been seeking and made sure of finding; so whistling a gay tune, I drove
my flock toward it.

'When I came to the gate of the court, I saw better of what sort was the
building I had arrived at. There was a square yard with monstrous high
walls, at the left of which was the main block of the house, and on the
right what I took to be the byres and stables. The place looked ancient,
and the stone in many places was crumbling away; but the style was of
yesterday and in no way differing from that of a hundred steadings in
the land. There were some kind of arms above the gateway, and a bit of
an iron stanchion; and when I had my sheep inside of it, I saw that the
court was all grown up with green grass. And what seemed queer in that
dusky half-light was the want of sound.

'There was no neichering of horses, nor routing of kye, nor clack of
hens, but all as still as the top of Ben Cruachan. It was warm and
pleasant too, though the night was chill without.

'I had no sooner entered the place than a row of sheep-pens caught my
eye, fixed against the wall in front. This I thought mighty convenient,
so I made all haste to put my beasts into them; and finding that there
was a good supply of hay within, I leff them easy in my mind, and turned
about to look for the door of the house.

'To my wonder, when I found it, it was open wide to the wall; so, being
confident with much whisky, I never took thought to knock, but walked
boldly in. There's some careless folk here, thinks Ito myself, and I
much misdoubt if the man knows aught about farming. He'll maybe just be
a town's body taking the air on the muirs.

'The place I entered upon was a hall, not like a muirland farmhouse, but
more fine than I had ever seen. It was laid with a verra fine carpet,
all red and blue and gay colours, and in the corner in a fireplace a
great fire crackled. There were chairs, too, and a walth of old rusty
arms on the walls, and all manner of whigmaleeries that folk think
ornamental. But nobody was there, so I made for the staircase which was
at the further side, and went up it stoutly. I made scarce any noise so
thickly was it carpeted, and I will own it kind of terrified me to be
walking in such a place. But when a man has drunk well he is troubled
not overmuckle with modesty or fear, so I e'en stepped out and soon came
to a landing where was a door.

'Now, thinks I, at last I have won to the habitable parts of the house;
so laying my finger on the sneck I lifted it and entered. And there
before me was the finest room in all the world; indeed I abate not a jot
of the phrase, for I cannot think of anything finer. It was hung with
braw pictures and lined with big bookcases of oak well-filled with books
in fine bindings. The furnishing seemed carved by a skilled hand, and
the cushions and curtains were soft velvet. But the best thing was the
table, which was covered with a clean white cloth and set with all kind
of good meat and drink. The dishes were of silver and as bright as Loch
Awe water in an April sun. Eh, but it was a braw braw sight for a
drover! And there at the far end, with a great pottle of wine before
him, sat the master.

'He rose as I entered, and I saw him to be dressed in the pink of town
fashion, a man of maybe fifty years, but hale and well-looking, with a
peaked beard and trimmed moustache and thick eyebrows. His eyes were
slanted a thought, which is a thing I hate in any man, but his whole
appearance was pleasing.

'"Mr. Stewart?" says he courteously, looking at me. "Is it Mr. Duncan
Stewart that I will be indebted to for the honour of this visit?"

'I stared at him blankly, for how did he ken my name?

'"That is my name," I said, "but who the tevil tell't you about it?"

'"Oh, my name is Stewart myself," says he, "and all Stewarts should be
well acquaint."

'"True," said I, "though I don't mind your face before. But now I am
here, I think you have a most gallant place, Mr. Stewart."

'"Well enough. But how have you come to't? We've few visitors."

'So I told him where I had come from, and where I was going, and why I
was forwandered at this time of night among the muirs. He listened
keenly, and when I had finished, he says verra friendly-like, "Then
you'll bide all night and take supper with me. It would never be doing
to let one of the clan go away without breaking bread. Sit ye down, Mr.
Duncan."

'I sat down gladly enough, though I own that at first I did not
half-like the whole business. There was something unchristian about the
place, and for certain it was not seemly that the man's name should be
the same as my own, and that he should be so well posted in my doings.
But he seemed so well-disposed that my misgivings soon vanished.

'So I seated myself at the table opposite my entertainer. There was a
place laid ready for me, and beside the knife and fork a long
horn-handled spoon. I had never seen a spoon so long and queer, and I
asked the man what it meant. "Oh," says he, "the broth in this house is
very often hot, so we need a long spoon to sup it. It is a common enough
thing, is it not?"

'I could answer nothing to this, though it did not seem to me sense, and
I had an inkling of something I had heard about long spoons which I
thought was not good; but my wits were not clear, as I have told you
already. A serving man brought me a great bowl of soup and set it before
me. I had hardly plunged spoon intil it, when Mr. Stewart cries out from
the other end: "Now, Mr. Duncan, I call you to witness that you sit down
to supper of your own accord. I've an ill name in these parts for
compelling folk to take meat with me when they dinna want it. But you'll
bear me witness that you're willing."

'"Yes, by God, I am that," I said, for the savoury smell of the broth was
rising to my nostrils. The other smiled at this as if well-pleased.

'I have tasted many soups, but I swear there never was one like that. It
was as if all the good things in the world were mixed thegether--whisky
and kale and shortbread and cocky-leeky and honey and salmon. The taste
of it was enough to make a body's heart loup with fair gratitude. The
smell of it was like the spicy winds of Arabia, that you read about in
the Bible, and when you had taken a spoonful you felt as happy as if you
had sellt a hundred yowes at twice their reasonable worth. Oh, it was
grand soup!

'"What Stewarts did you say you comed from," I asked my entertainer.

'"Oh," he says, "I'm connected with them all, Athole Stewarts, Appin
Stewarts, Rannoch Stewarts; and a' I've a heap o' land thereaways."

'"Whereabouts?" says I, wondering. "Is't at the Blair o' Athole, or along
by Tummel side, or wast the Loch o' Rannoch, or on the Muir, or in
Mamore?"

'"In all the places you name," says he.

'"Got damn," says I, "then what for do you not bide there instead of in
these stinking lawlands?"

'At this he laughed softly to himself. "Why, for maybe the same reason
as yoursel, Mr. Duncan. You know the proverb, 'A' Stewarts are sib to
the Deil."'

'I laughed loudly; "Oh, you've been a wild one, too, have you? Then
you're not worse than mysel. I ken the inside of every public in the
Cowgate and Cannongate, and there's no another drover on the road my
match at fechting and drinking and dicing." And I started on a long
shameless catalogue of my misdeeds. Mr. Stewart meantime listened with a
satisfied smirk on his face.

'"Yes, I've heard tell of you, Mr. Duncan," he says. "But here's
something more, and you'll doubtless be hungry."

'And now there was set on the table a round of beef garnished with
pot-herbs, all most delicately fine to the taste. From a great cupboard
were brought many bottles of wine, and in a massive silver bowl at the
table's head were put whisky and lemons and sugar. I do not know well
what I drank, but whatever it might be it was the best ever brewed. It
made you scarce feel the earth round about you, and you were so happy
you could scarce keep from singing. I wad give much siller to this day
for the receipt.

'Now, the wine made me talk, and I began to boast of my own great
qualities, the things I had done and the things I was going to do. I was
a drover just now, but it was not long that I would be being a drover. I
had bought a flock of my own, and would sell it for a hundred pounds, no
less; with that I would buy a bigger one till I had made money enough to
stock a farm; and then I would leave the road and spend my days in
peace, seeing to my land and living in good company. Was not my father,
I cried, own cousin, thrice removed, to the Macleans o' Duart, and my
mother's uncle's wife a Rory of Balnacroy? And I am a scholar too, said
I, for I was a matter of two years at Embro' College, and might have
been roaring in the pulpit, if I hadna liked the drink and the lassies
too well.

'"See," said I, "I will prove it to you;" and I rose from the table and
went to one of the bookcases. There were all manner of books, Latin and
Greek, poets and philosophers, but in the main, divinity. For there I
saw Richard Baxter's 'Call to the Unconverted,' and Thomas Boston of
Ettrick's 'Fourfold State,' not to speak of the Sermons of half a
hundred auld ministers, and the 'Hind let Loose,' and many books of the
covenanting folk.

'"Faith," I says, "you've a fine collection, Mr. What's-your-name," for
the wine had made me free in my talk. "There is many a minister and
professor in the Kirk, I'll warrant, who has a less godly library. I
begin to suspect you of piety, sir."

'"Does it not behoove us," he answered in an unctuous voice, "to mind the
words of Holy Writ that evil communications corrupt good manners, and
have an eye to our company? These are all the company I have, except
when some stranger such as you honours me--with a visit."

'I had meantime been opening a book of plays, I think by the famous
William Shakespeare, and I here proke into a loud laugh. "Ha, ha, Mr.
Stewart," I says, "here's a sentence I've lighted on which is hard on
you. Listen! 'The Devil can quote Scripture to advantage.'"

'The other laughed long. "He who wrote that was a shrewd man," he said,
"but I'll warrant if you'll open another volume, you'll find some quip
on yourself."

'I did as I was bidden, and picked up a white-backed book, and opening
it at random, read: "There be many who spend their days in evil and
wine-bibbing, in lusting and cheating, who think to mend while yet there
is time; but the opportunity is to them for ever awanting, and they go
down open-mouthed to the great fire."

'"Psa," I cried, "some wretched preaching book, I will have none of them.
Good wine will be better than bad theology." So I sat down once more at
the table.

'"You're a clever man, Mr. Duncan," he says, "and a well-read one. I
commend your spirit in breaking away from the bands of the kirk and the
college, though your father was so thrawn against you."

'"Enough of that," I said, "though 4 don't know who telled you;" I was
angry to hear my father spoken of, as though the grieving him was a
thing to be proud of.

'"Oh, as you please," he says; "I was just going to say that I commended
your spirit in sticking the knife into the man ih the Pleasaunce, the
time you had to hide for a month about the backs o' Leith."

'"How do you ken that," I asked hotly, "you've heard more about me than
ought to be repeated, let me tell you."

'"Don't be angry," he said sweetly; "I like you well for these things,
and you mind the lassie in Athole that was so fond of you. You treated
her well, did you not?"

'I made no answer, being too much surprised at his knowledge of things
which I thought none knew but myself.

'"Oh yes, Mr. Duncan. I could tell you what you were doing to-day, how
you cheated Jock Gallowa out of six pounds, and sold a horse to the
fanner of Haypath that was scarce fit to carry him home. And I know what
you are meaning to do the morn at Glesca, and I wish you well of it."

'"I think you must be the Devil," I said blankly.

'"The same, at your service," said he, still smiling.

'I looked at him in terror, and even as I looked I kenned by something
in his eyes and the twitch of his lips that he was speaking the truth.
"And what place is this, you..." I stammered.

'"Call me Mr. S.," he says gently, "and enjoy your stay while you are
here and don't concern yourself about the lawing."

'"The lawing!" I cried in astonishment, "and is this a house of public
entertainment?"

'"To be sure, else how is a poor man to live?"

'"Name it," said I, "and I will pay and be gone."

'"Well," said he, "I make it a habit to give a man his choice. In your
case it will be your wealth or your chances hereafter, in plain English
your flock or your--"

'"My immortal soul," I gasped.

'"Your soul," said Mr. S., bowing, "though I think you call it by too
flattering an adjective."

'"You damned thief," I roared, "you would entice a man into your accursed
house and then strip him bare."

'"Hold hard," said he, "don't let us spoil our good fellowship by
incivilities. And, mind you, I took you to witness to begin with that
you sat down of your own accord."

'"So you did," said I, and could say no more.

'"Come, come," he says, "don't take it so bad. You may keep all your gear
and yet part from here in safety. You've but to sign your name, which is
no hard task to a college-bred man, and go on living as you live just
now to the end. And let me tell you, Mr. Duncan Stewart, that you should
take it as a great obligement that I am willing to take your bit soul
instead of fifty sheep. There's no many would value it so high."

'"Maybe no, maybe no," I said sadly, "but it's all I have. D'ye no see
that if I gave it up, there would be no chance left of mending? And I'm
sure I do not want your company to all eternity."

'"Faith, that's uncivil," he says; "I was just about to say that we had
had a very pleasant evening."

'I sat back in my chair very down-hearted. I must leave this place as
poor as a kirk-mouse, and begin again with little but the clothes on my
back. I was strongly tempted to sign the bit paper thing and have done
with it all, but somehow I could not bring myself to do it. So at last I
says to him: "Well, I've made up my mind. I'll give you my sheep, sorry
though I be to lose them, and I hope I may never come near this place
again as long as I live."

'"On the contrary," he said, "I hope often to have the pleasure of your
company. And seeing that you've paid well for your lodging, I hope
you'll make the best of it. Don't be sparing on the drink."

'I looked hard at him for a second. "You've an ill name, and an ill
trade, but you're no a bad sort yoursel, and, do you ken, I like you."

'"I'm much obliged to you for the character," says he, "and I'll take
your hand on't."

'So I filled up my glass and we set to, and such an evening I never mind
of. We never got fou, but just in a fine good temper and very
entertaining. The stories we telled and the jokes we cracked are still a
kind of memory with me, though I could not come over one of them. And
then, when I got sleepy, I was shown to the brawest bedroom, all hung
with pictures and looking-glasses, and with bed-clothes of the finest
linen and a coverlet of silk. I bade Mr. S. good-night, and my head was
scarce on the pillow ere I was sound asleep.

'When I awoke the sun was just newly risen, and the frost of a September
morning was on my clothes. I was lying among green braes with nothing
near me but crying whaups and heathery hills, and my two dogs running
round about and howling as they were mad.'




THE OUTGOING OF THE TIDE [*]

[* From the unpublished Remains of the Reverend John Dennistoun. Sometime
Minister of the Gospel in the Parish of Caulds, and Author of Satan's
Artifices against the Elect.]

'Between the hours of twelve and one, even at the turning of the tide.'


Men come from distant parts to admire the tides of Solway, which race in
at flood and retreat at ebb with a greater speed than a horse can
follow. But nowhere are there queerer waters than in our own parish of
Caulds, at the place called the Sker Bay, where between two horns of
land a shallow estuary receives the stream of the Sker. I never daunder
by its shores and see the waters hurrying like messengers from the great
deep without solemn thoughts, and a memory of Scripture words on the
terror of the sea. The vast Atlantic may be fearful in its wrath, but
with us it is no clean open rage, but the deceit of the creature, the
unholy ways of quicksands when the waters are gone, and their stealthy
return like a thief in the night watches. But in times of which I write
there were more awful fears than any from the violence of nature. It was
before the day of my ministry in Caulds, for then I was a tot callant in
short clothes in my native parish of Lesmahagow; but the worthy Dr.
Chrystal, who had charge of spiritual things, has told me often of the
power of Satan and his emissaries in that lonely place. It was the day
of warlocks and apparitions, now happily driven out by the zeal of the
General Assembly. Witches pursued their wanchancy calling, bairns were
spirited away, young lassies selled their souls to the Evil One, and the
Accuser of the Brethren, in the shape of a black tyke, was seen about
cottage doors in the gloaming. Many and earnest were the prayers of good
Dr. Chrystal, but the evil thing, in spite of his wrestling, grew and
flourished in his midst. The parish stank of idolatry, abominable rites
were practiced in secret, and in all the bounds there was no one had a
more evil name for the black traffic than one Alison Sempill, who bode
at the Skerburnfoot.

The cottage stood nigh the burn, in a little garden, with lilyoaks and
grosart bushes lining the pathway. The Sker ran by in a line among
rowand trees, and the noise of its waters was ever about the place. The
highroad on the other side was frequented by few, for a nearer-hand way
to the west had been made through the lower Moss. Sometimes a herd from
the hills would pass by with sheep, sometimes a tinkler or a wandering
merchant, and once in a long while the laird of Heriotside on his grey
horse riding to Gledsmuir. And they who passed would see Alion trupling
in her garden, speaking to herself like the ill wife she was, or sitting
on a cutty-stool by the doorside, with her eyes on other than mortal
sights. Where she came from no man could tell. There were some said she
was no woman, but a ghost haunting some mortal tenement. Others would
threep she was gentrice, come of a persecuting family in the west, who
had been ruined in the Revolution wars. She never seemed to want for
siller; the house was as bright as a new preen, the yaird better delved
than the manse garden; and there was routh of fowls and doos about the
small steading, forbye a whee sheep and milk-kye in the fields. No man
ever saw Alison at any market in the countryside, and yet the
Skerburnfoot was plenished yearly in all proper order. One man only
worked on the place, a doited lad who had long been a charge to the
parish, and who had not the sense to fear danger or the wit to
understand it. Upon all others the sight of Alison, were it but for a
moment, cast a cold grue, not to be remembered without terror. It seems
she was not ordinarily ill-famed, as men use the word. She was maybe
sixty years in age, small and trig, with her grey hair folded neatly
under her mutch. But the sight of her eyes was not a thing to forget.
John Dodds said they were the een of a deer with the Devil ahint them;
and indeed, they would so appal an onlooker that a sudden unreasoning
terror came into his heart, while his feet would impel him to flight.
Once John, being overtaken in drink on the roadside by the cottage, and
dreaming that he was burning in hell, awoke and saw the old wife
hobbling toward him. Thereupon he fled soberly to the hills, and from
that day became a quiet-living, humble-minded Christian. She moved about
the country like a ghost, gathering herbs in dark loanings, lingering in
kirkyairds, and casting a blight on innocent bairns. Once Robert Smellie
found her in a ruinous kirk on the Lang Muir, where of old the
idolatrous rites of Rome were practiced. It was a hot day, and in the
quiet place the flies buzzed in clouds, and he noted that she sat
clothed in them as with a garment, yet suffering no discomfort. Then he,
having mind of Beelzebub, the god of flies, fled without a halt
homewards; but, falling in the coo's loan, broke two ribs and a collar
bone, the whilk misfortune was much blessed to his soul. And there were
darker tales in the countryside, of weans stolen, of lassies misguided,
of innocent beasts cruelly tortured, and in one and all there came
in the name of the wife of the Skerburnfoot. It was noted by them
that kenned best that her cantrips were at their worst when the
tides in the Sker Bay ebbed between the hours of twelve and one.
At this season of the night the tides of mortality run lowest,
and when the outgoing of these unco waters fell in with the
setting of the current of life, then indeed was the hour for
unholy revels. While honest men slept in their beds, the auld rudas
carlines took their pleasure. That there is a delight in sin no man
denies, but to most it is but a broken glint in the pauses of their
conscience. But what must be the hellish joy of those lost beings who
have forsworn God, and trysted with the Prince of Darkness, it is not
for a Christian to say. Certain it is that it must be great, though
their master waits at the end of the road to claim the wizened things
they call their souls. Serious men--notably Gidden Scott in the Bach of
the Hill, and Simon Wanch in the Sheilin of Chasehope--have seen Alison
wandering on the wet sands, dancing to no earthy musick, while the
heavens, they said, were full of lights and sounds which betokened--the
presence of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. It was a season of
heart-searching for God's saints in Caulds, and the dispensation was
blessed to not a few.

It will seem strange that in all this time the Presbytery was idle, and
no effort was made to rid the place of so fell an influence. But there
was a reason, and the reason, as in most like cases, was a lassie.
Forbye Alison there lived at the Skerburnfoot a young maid, Ailie
Sempill, who by all accounts was as good and bonnie as the other was
evil. She passed for a daughter of Alison's--whether born in wedlock or
not I cannot tell; but there were some said she was no kin to the auld
witch wife, but some bairn spirited away from honest parents. She was
young and blithe, with a face like an April morning, and a voice in her
that put the laverocks to shame. When she sang in the kirk, folk have
told me that they had a foretaste of the musick of the New Jerusalem,
and when she came in by the village of Caulds old men stottered to their
doors to look at her. Moreover, from her earliest days the bairn had
some glimmerings of grace. Though no minister would visit the
Skerburnfoot, or, if he went, departed quicker than he came, the girl
Ailie attended regular at the catechising at the mains of Sker. It may
be that Alison thought she would be a better offering for the Devil if
she were given the chance of forswearing God, or it may be that she was
so occupied in her own dark business that she had no care of the bairn.
Meanwhile, the lass grew up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I
have heard Dr. Chrystal say that he never had a communicant
more full of the things of the Spirit. From the day when she first
declared her wish to come forward to the hour when she broke bread at
the table, she walked like one in a dream. The lads of the parish might
cast admiring eyes on her bright cheeks and yellow hair, as she sat in
her white gown in the kirk, but well they knew she was not for them. To
be the bride of Christ was the thought that filled her heart; and when,
at the fencing of the table, Dr. Chrystal preached from Matthew nine and
fifteen, 'Can the children of the bridechamber mourn as long as the
bridegroom is with them?' it was remarked by sundry that Ailie's face
was liker the countenance of an angel than of a mortal lass.

It is with the day of her first communion that this narrative of mine
begins. As she walked home, after the morning table, she communed in
secret, and her heart sang within her. She had mind of God's mercies in
the past; how he had kept her feet from the snares of evil doers which
had been spread around her youth. She had been told unholy charms like
the Seven South Streams and the Nine Rowand Berries, and it was noted,
when she went first to the catechising, that she prayed, 'Our Father
which wert in heaven,' the prayer which the ill wife Alison had taught
her; meaning by it Lucifer, who had been in heaven, and had been cast
out therefrom. But when she had come to years of discretion, she had
freely chosen the better part, and evil had ever been repelled from her
soul like gled water from the stones of Gled brig. Now she was in a
rapture of holy content. The Druchen Bell--for the ungodly fashion
lingered in Caulds--was ringing in her ears as she left the village, but
to her it was but a kirk bell and a goodly sound. As she went through
the woods where the primroses and the whitethorn were blossoming, the
place seemed as the land of Elim, wherein there were twelve wells and
threescore and ten palm trees. And then, as it might be, another thought
came into her head, for it is ordained that frail mortality cannot long
continue in holy joy. In the kirk she had been only the bride of Christ,
but as she came through the wood, with the birds lilting and the winds
of the world blowing, she had mind of another lover; for this lass,
though so cold to men, had not escaped the common fate. It seems that
the young Heriotside, riding by one day, stopped to speir something or
other, and got a glisk of Ailie's face which caught his fancy. He passed
the road again many times, and then he would meet her in the gloaming,
or of a morning in the field as she went to fetch the kye. 'Blue are the
hills that are far away,' is an owercome in the countryside, and while
at first on his side it may have been but a young man's fancy, to her he
was like the god Apollo descending from the skies. He was good to look
on, brawly dressed, and with a tongue in his head that would have wiled
the bird from the tree. Moreover, he was of gentle kin, and she was a
poor lass biding in a cot house with an ill-reputed mother. It seems
that in time the young man, who had begun the affair with no good
intentions, fell honestly in love, while she went singing about the
doors as innocent as a bairn, thinking of him when her thoughts were not
on higher things. So it came about that long ere Ailie reached home it
was on young Heriotside that her mind dwelled, and it was the love of
him that made her eyes glow and her cheeks redden.

Now it chanced that at that very hour her master had been with Alison,
and the pair of them were preparing a deadly pit. Let no man say that
the Devil is not a cruel tyrant. He may give his folk some scrapings of
unhallowed pleasure, but he will exact tithes, yea, of anise and cummin,
in return, and there is aye the reckoning to pay at the hinder end. It
seems that now he was driving Alison hard. She had been remiss of
late--fewer souls sent to hell, less zeal in quenching the Spirit, and,
above all, the crowning offense that her bairn had communicated in
Christ's kirk. She had waited overlong, and now it was like that Ailie
would escape her toils. I have no skill of fancy to tell of that dark
collogue, but the upshot was that Alison swore by her lost soul and the
pride of sin to bring the lass into thrall to her master. The fiend had
bare departed when Ailie came over the threshold to find the auld
carline glunching over the fire.

It was plain she was in the worst of tempers. She flyted on the lass
till the poor thing's cheek paled. 'There you gang,' she cries, 'broking
wi' thae wearifu' Pharisees o' Caulds, whae daurna darken your mither's
door! A bonnie dutiful child, quotha! Wumman, hae ye nae pride, or even
the excuse o' a tinkler-lass?' And then she changed her voice and would
be as saft as honey: 'My puir wee Ailie, was I thrawn till ye? Never
mind, my bonnie. You and me are a' that's left, and we maunna be ill to
ither.' And then the two had their dinner, and all the while the auld
wife was crooning over the lass. 'We maun 'gree weel,' she says, 'for we
're like to be our lee-lane for the rest o' our days. They tell me
Heriotside is seeking Joan o' the Croft, and they're sune to be cried in
Gledsmuir's kirk.'

It was the first the lass had heard of it, and you may fancy she was
struck dumb. And so with one thing and other the auld witch raised the
fiends of jealousy in that innocent heart. She would cry out that
Heriotside was an ill-doing wastrel, and had no business to come and
flatter honest lassies. And then she would speak of his gentle birth and
his leddy mother, and say it was indeed presumption to hope that so
great a gentleman could mean all that he said. Before long Ailie was
silent and white, while her mother rimed on about men and their ways.
And then she could thole it no longer, but must go out and walk by the
burn to cool her hot brow and calm her thoughts, while the witch indoors
laughed to herself at her devices.

For days Ailie had an absent eye and a sad face, and it so fell out that
in all that time young Heriotside, who had scarce missed a day, was laid
up with a broken arm and never came near her. So in a week's time she
was beginning to hearken to her mother when she spoke of incantations
and charms for restoring love. She kenned it was sin, but though not
seven days syne she had sat at the Lord's table, so strong is love in a
young heart that she was on the very brink of it. But the grace of God
was stronger than her weak will. She would have none of her mother's
runes and philters, though her soul cried out for them. Always when she
was most disposed to listen some merciful power stayed her consent.
Alison grew thrawner as the hours passed. She kenned of Heriotside's
broken arm, and she feared that any day he might recover and put her
stratagems to shame. And then it seems that she collogued with her
master and heard word of a subtler device. For it was approaching that
uncanny time of year, the festival of Beltane, when the auld pagans were
wont to sacrifice to their god Baal. In this season warlocks and
carlines have a special dispensation to do evil, and Alison waited on
its coming with graceless joy. As it happened, the tides in the Sker Bay
ebbed at this time between the hours of twelve and one, and, as I have
said, this was the hour above all others when the Powers of Darkness
were most potent. Would the lass but consent to go abroad in the
unhallowed place at this awful season and hour of the night, she was as
firmly handfasted to the Devil as if she had signed a bond with her own
blood; for then, it seemed, the forces of good fled far away, the world
for one hour was given over to its ancient prince, and the man or woman
who willingly sought the spot was his bondservant forever. There are
deadly sins from which God's people may recover. A man may even
communicate unworthily, and yet, so be it he sin not against the Holy
Ghost, he may find forgiveness. But it seems that for the Beltane sin
there could be no pardon, and I can testify from my own knowledge that
they who once committed it became lost souls from that day. James
Denchar, once a promising professor, fell thus out of sinful bravery and
died blaspheming; and of Kate Mallison, who went the same road, no man
can tell. Here indeed was the witch wife's chance; and she was the more
keen, for her master had warned her that this was her last chance.
Either Ailie's soul would be his, or her auld wrunkled body and black
heart would be flung from this pleasant world to their apportioned
place.

Some days later it happened that young Heriotside was stepping home over
the Lang Muir about ten at night, it being his first jaunt from home
since his arm had mended. He had been to the supper of the Forest Club
at the Cross Keys in Gledsmuir, a clamjamphry of wild young blades who
passed the wine and played at cartes once a fortnight. It seems he had
drunk well, so that the world ran round about and he was in the best of
tempers. The moon came down and bowed to him, and he took off his hat to
it. For every step he traveled miles, so that in a little he was beyond
Scotland altogether and pacing the Arabian desert. He thought he was the
Pope of Rome, so he held out his foot to be kissed, and rolled twenty
yards to the bottom of a small brae. Syne he was the king of France, and
fought hard with a whin bush till he had banged it to pieces. After that
nothing would content him but he must be a bogle, for he found his head
dunting on the stars and his legs were knocking the hills together. He
thought of the mischief he was doing to the auld earth, and sat down and
cried at his wickedness. Then he went on, and maybe the steep road to
the Moss Rig helped him, for he began to get soberer and ken his
whereabouts.

On a sudden he was aware of a man linking along at his side. He cried a
fine night, and the man replied. Syne, being merry from his cups, he
tried to slap him on the back. The next he kenned he was rolling on the
grass, for his hand had gone clean through the body and found nothing
but air.

His head was so thick with wine that he found nothing droll in this.
'Faith, friend,' he says, 'that was a nasty fall for a fellow that has
supped weel. Where might your road be gaun to?'

'To the World's End,' said the man, 'but I stop at the Skerburnfoot.'
'Bide the night at Heriotside,' says he. 'It's a thought out of your
way, but it's a comfortable bit.'

'There's mair comfort at the Skerburnfoot,' said the dark man.

Now the mention of the Skerburnfoot brought back to him only the thought
of Ailie, and not of the witch wife, her mother. So he jaloused no ill,
for at the best he was slow in the uptake.

The two of them went on together for a while, Heriotside's fool head
filled with the thought of the lass. Then the dark man broke silence.
'Ye 're thinkin' o' the maid Ailie Sempill,' says he.

'How ken ye that?' asked Heriotside.

'It is my business to read the hearts o' men,' said the other. 'And who
may ye be?' said Heriotside, growing eerie.

'Just an auld packman,' says he, 'nae name ye wad ken, but kin to mony
gentle houses.'

'And what about Ailie, you that ken sae muckle?' asked the young man.

Naething,' was the answer,--'naething that concerns you, for ye'll
never get the lass.'

'By God and I will!' says Heriotside, for he was a profane swearer.
'That's the wrong name to seek her in, ony way,' said the man.

At this the young laird struck a great blow at him with his stick, but
found nothing to resist him but the hill wind.

When they had gone on a bit the dark man spoke again. 'The lassie is
thirled to holy things,' says he; 'she has nae care for flesh and
blood,--only for devout contemplation.'

'She loves me,' says Heriotside.

Not you,' says the other, 'but a shadow in your stead.'

At this the young man's heart began to tremble, for it seemed that there
was truth in what his companion said, and he was owerdrunk to think
gravely.

'I kenna whatna man ye are,' he says, 'but ye have the skill of lassies'
hearts. Tell me truly, is there no way to win her to common love?'

'One way there is,' said the man, 'and for our friendship's sake I will
tell you it. If ye can ever tryst wi' her on Beltane's E'en on the Sker
sands, at the green link o' the burn where the sands begin, on the ebb
o' the tide when the midnight is by, but afore cockcrow, she'll be
yours, body and soul, for this world and forever.'

And then it appeared to the young man that he was walking his love up
the grass walk of Heriotside, with the house close by him. He thought no
more of the stranger he had met, but the word stuck in his heart.

It seems that about this very time Alison was telling the same tale to
poor Ailie. She cast up to her every idle gossip she could think of.
'It's Joan o' the Croft,' was aye her owercome, and she would threep
that they were to be cried in kirk on the first Sabbath of May. And then
she would rime on about the black cruelty of it, and cry down curses on
the lover, so that her daughter's heart grew cauld with fear. It is
terrible to think of the power of the world even in a redeemed soul.
Here was a maid who had drunk of the well of grace and tasted of God's
mercies, and yet there were moments when she was ready to renounce her
hope. At those awful seasons God seemed far off and the world very nigh,
and to sell her soul for love looked a fair bargain; at other times she
would resist the Devil and comfort herself with prayer; but aye when she
awoke there was the sore heart, and when she went to sleep there were
the weary eyes. There was no comfort in the goodliness of spring or the
bright sunshine weather, and she who had been wont to go about the doors
lightfoot and blithe was now as dowie as a widow woman.

And then one afternoon in the hinder end of April came young Heriotside
riding to the Skerburnfoot. His arm was healed, he had got him a fine
new suit of green, and his horse was a mettle beast that well set off
his figure. Ailie was standing by the doorstep as he came down the road,
and her heart stood still with joy. But a second thought gave her
anguish. This man, so gallant and braw, would never be for her;
doubtless the fine suit and the capering horse were for Joan o' the
Croft's pleasure. And he, in turn, when he remarked her wan cheeks and
dowie eyes, had mind to what the dark man said on the muir, and saw in
her a maid sworn to no mortal love. Yet his passion for her had grown
fiercer than ever, and he swore to himself that he would win her back
from her phantasies. She, one may believe, was ready enough to listen.
As she walked with him by the Sker water his words were like musick to
her ears, and Alison within doors laughed to herself and saw her devices
prosper.

He spoke to her of love and his own heart, and the girl hearkened
gladly. Syne he rebuked her coldness and cast scorn upon her piety, and
so far was she beguiled that she had no answer. Then from one thing and
another he spoke of some true token of their love. He said he was
jealous, and craved something to ease his care. 'It's but a small thing
I ask,' says he, 'but it will make me a happy man, and nothing ever
shall come atween us. Tryst wi' me for Beltane's E'en on the Sker sands,
at the green link o' the burn where the sands begin, on the ebb o' the
tide when midnight is by, but afore cockcrow. For,' said he, 'that was
our forbears' tryst for true lovers, and wherefore no for you and me?'

The lassie had grace given her to refuse, but with a woeful heart, and
Heriotside rode off in black discontent, leaving poor Ailie to sigh her
love. He came back the next day and the next, but aye he got the same
answer. A season of great doubt fell upon her soul. She had no clearness
in her hope, nor any sense of God's promises. The Scriptures were an
idle tale to her, prayer brought her no refreshment, and she was
convicted in her conscience of the unpardonable sin. Had she been less
full of pride, she would have taken her troubles to good Dr. Chrystal
and got comfort; but her grief made her silent and timorous, and she
found no help anywhere. Her mother was ever at her side, seeking with
coaxings and evil advice to drive her to the irrevocable step. And all
the while there was her love for the man riving in her bosom, and giving
her no ease by night or day. She believed she had driven him away, and
repented her denial. Only her pride held her back from going to
Heriotside and seeking him herself. She watched the road hourly for a
sight of his face, and when the darkness came she would sit in a corner
brooding over her sorrows.

At last he came, speiring the old question. He sought the same tryst,
but now he had a further tale. It seemed he was eager to get her away
from the Skerburnside and auld Alison. His aunt, Lady Balerynie, would
receive her gladly at his request till the day of their marriage; let
her but tryst with him at the hour and place he named, and he would
carry her straight to Balerynie, where she would be safe and happy. He
named that hour, he said, to escape men's observation, for the sake of
her own good name. He named that place, for it was near her dwelling,
and on the road between Balerynie and Heriotside, which fords the Sker
Burn. The temptation was more than mortal heart could resist. She gave
him the promise he sought, stifling the voice of conscience; and as she
clung to his neck it seemed to her that heaven was a poor thing compared
with a man's love.

Three days remained till Beltane's E'en, and throughout this time it was
noted that Heriotside behaved like one possessed. It may be that his
conscience pricked him, or that he had a glimpse of his sin and its
coming punishment. Certain it is that if he had been daft before, he now
ran wild in his pranks, and an evil report of him was in every mouth. He
drank deep at the Cross Keys, and fought two battles with young lads
that had angered him. One he let off with a touch on the shoulder; the
other goes lame to this day from a wound he got in the groin. There was
word of the procurator fiscal taking note of his doings, and troth, if
they had continued long he must have fled the country. For a wager he
rode his horse down the Dow Craig, wherefore the name of the place has
been the Horseman's Craig ever since. He laid a hundred guineas with the
laird of Slofferfield that he would drive four horses through the
Slofferfield loch, and in the prank he had his bit chariot dung to
pieces and a good mare killed. And all men observed that his eyes were
wild and the face grey and thin, and that his hand would twitch, as he
held the glass, like one with the palsy.

The Eve of Beltane was lower and hot in the low country, with fire
hanging in the clouds and thunder grumbling about the heavens. It seems
that up in the hills it had been an awesome deluge of rain, but on the
coast it was still dry and lowering. It is a long road from Heriotside
to the Skerburnfoot. First you go down the Heriot water, and syne over
the Lang Muir to the edge of Mucklewhan. When you pass the steadings of
Mirehope and Cockmalane, you turn to the right and ford the Mire Burn.
That brings you on to the turnpike road, which you will ride till it
bends inland, while you keep on straight over the Whinny Knowes to the
Sker Bay. There, if you are in luck, you will find the tide out and the
place fordable dryshod for a man on a horse. But if the tide runs, you
will do well to sit down on the sands and content yourself till it turn,
or it will be the solans and scarts of the Solway that will be seeing
the next of you. On this Beltane's E'en, the young man, after supping
with some wild young blades, bade his horse be saddled about ten
o'clock. The company were eager to ken his errand, but he waved them
back. 'Bide here,' he says, 'and boil the wine till I return. This is a
ploy of my own on which no man follows me.' And there was that in his
face, as he spoke, which chilled the wildest, and left them well content
to keep to the good claret and the saft seat, and let the daft laird go
his own ways.

Well and on he rode down the bridle path in the wood, along the top of
the Heriot glen, and as he rode he was aware of a great noise beneath
him. It was not wind, for there was none, and it was not the sound of
thunder; and aye as he speired at himself what it was it grew the
louder, till he came to a break in the trees. And then he saw the cause,
for Heriot was coming down in a furious flood, sixty yards wide, tearing
at the roots of the aiks and flinging red waves against the drystone
dykes. It was a sight and sound to solemnise a man's mind, deep calling
unto deep, the great waters of the hills running to meet with the great
waters of the sea. But Heriotside recked nothing of it, for his heart
had but one thought and the eye of his fancy one figure. Never had he
been so filled with love of the lass; and yet it was not happiness, but
a deadly, secret fear.

As he came to the Lang Muir it was gey and dark, though there was a moon
somewhere behind the clouds. It was little he could see of the road, and
ere long he had tried many moss pools and sloughs, as his braw new coat
bare witness. Aye in front of him was the great hill of Mucklewhan,
where the road turned down by the Mire. The noise of the Heriot had not
long fallen behind him ere another began, the same eerie sound of burns
crying to ither in the darkness. It seemed that the whole earth was
overrun with waters. Every little runnel in the bay was astir, and yet
the land around him was as dry as flax, and no drop of rain had fallen.
As he rode on the din grew louder, and as he came over the top of
Mirehope he kenned by the mighty rushing noise that something uncommon
was happening with the Mire Burn. The light from Mirehope Sheilin
twinkled on his left, and had the man not been dozened with his fancies
he might have observed that the steading was deserted and men were
crying below in the fields. But he rode on, thinking of but one thing,
till he came to the cot house of Cockmalane, which is nigh the fords of
the Mire.

John Dodds, the herd who bode in the place, was standing at the door,
and he looked to see who was on the road so late.

'Stop!' says he,--'stop, Laird Heriotside! I kenna what your errand is,
but it is to no holy purpose that ye're out on Beltane E'en. D' ye no
hear the warring o' the waters?'

And then in the still night came the sound of Mire like the clash of
armies.

'I must win over the ford,' says the laird quickly, thinking of another
thing.

'Ford!' cried John, in scorn. 'There'll be nae ford for you the nicht
unless it was the ford o' the river Jordan. The burns are up and bigger
than man ever saw them. It'll be a Beltane's E'en that a' folk will
remember. They tell me that Gled valley is like a loch, and that there's
an awesome heap o' folk drouned in the hills. Gin ye were ower the Mire,
what about crossin' the Caulds and the Sker?' says he, for he jaloused
he was going to Gledsmuir.

And then it seemed that that word brought the laird to his senses. He
looked the airt the rain was coming from, and he saw it was the airt the
Sker flowed. In a second, he has told me, the works of the Devil were
revealed to him. He saw himself a tool in Satan's hands; he saw his
tryst a device for the destruction of the body as it was assuredly meant
for the destruction of the soul; and there came black on his mind the
picture of an innocent lass borne down by the waters, with no place for
repentance. His heart grew cold in his breast. He had but one
thought,--a sinful and reckless one: to get to her side, that the two
might go together to their account. He heard the roar of the Mire as in
a dream, and when John Dodds laid hands on his bridle he felled him to
the earth. And the next seen of it was the laird riding the floods like
a man possessed.

The horse was the grey stallion he aye rode, the very beast he had
ridden for many a wager with the wild lads of the Cross Keys. No man but
himself durst back it, and it had lamed many a hostler lad and broke two
necks in its day. But it seems it had the mettle for any flood, and took
the Mire with little spurring. The herds on the hillside looked to see
man and steed swept into eternity; but though the red waves were
breaking about his shoulders, and he was swept far down, he aye held on
for the shore. The next thing the watchers saw was the laird struggling
up the far bank and casting his coat from him, so that he rode in his
sark. And then he set off like a wildfire across the muir toward the
turnpike road. Two men saw him on the road, and have recorded their
experience. One was a gangrel, by name McNab, who was travelling from
Gledsmuir to Allerkirk with a heavy pack on his back and a bowed head. He
heard a sound like wind afore him, and, looking up, saw coming down the
road a grey horse stretched out to a wild gallop, and a man on its back
with a face like a soul in torment. He kenned not whether it was devil
or mortal, but flung himself on the roadside and lay like a corp for an
hour or more, till the rain aroused him. The other was one Sim
Doolittle, the fish hawker from Allerfoot, jogging home in his fish cart
from Gledsmuir fair. He had drunk more than was fit for him, and he was
singing some light song, when he saw approaching, as he said, the pale
horse mentioned in the Revelation, with Death seated as the rider.
Thought of his sins came on him like a thunderclap; fear loosened his
knees. He leaped from the cart to the road, and from the road to the
back of a dyke; thence he flew to the hills, and was found the next
morning far up among the Mire Craigs, while his horse and cart were
gotten on the Aller sands, the horse lamed and the cart without the
wheels.

At the tollhouse the road turns inland to Gledsmuir, and he who goes to
the Sker Bay must leave it and cross the wild land called the Whinny
Knowes, a place rough with bracken and foxes' holes and old stone
cairns. The toll-man, John Gilzean, was opening the window to get a
breath of air in the lower night, when he heard or saw the approaching
horse. He kenned the beast for Heriotside's, and, being a friend of the
laird's, he ran down in all haste to open the yen, wondering to himself
about the laird's errand on this night. A voice came down the road to
him bidding him hurry; but John's old fingers were slow with the keys,
and so it happened that the horse had to stop, and John had time to look
up at the gast and woeful face.

'Where away the nicht sae late, laird?' says John.

'I go to save a soul from hell,' was the answer.

And then it seems that through the open door there came the chapping of
a clock.

Whatna hour is that?' asks Heriotside.

'Midnicht,' says John, trembling, for he did not like the look of
things.

There was no answer but a groan, and horse and man went racing down the
dark hollows of the Whinny Knowes.

How he escaped a broken neck in that dreadful place no human being will
ever ken. The sweat, he has told me, stood in cold drops upon his
forehead; he scarcely was aware of the saddle in which he sat, and his
eyes were stelled in his head so that he saw nothing but the sky ayont
him. The night was growing colder, and there was a small sharp wind
stirring from the east. But hot or cold, it was all one to him, who was
already cold as death. He heard not the sound of the sea nor the
peeseweeps startled by his horse, for the sound that ran in his ears was
the roaring Sker water and a girl's cry. The thought kept goading him,
and he spurred the grey horse till the creature was madder than himself.
It leaped the hole which they call the Devil's Mull as I would step over
a thristle, and the next he kenned he was on the edge of the Sker Bay.

It lay before him white and ghaistly, with mist blowing in wafts across
it and a slow swaying of the tides. It was the better part of a mile
wide, but save for some fathoms in the middle, where the Sker current
ran, it was no deeper even at flood than a horse's fetlocks. It looks
eerie at bright midday, when the sun is shining and whaups are crying
among the seaweeds; but think what it was on that awesome night, with
the Powers of Darkness brooding over it like a cloud! The rider's heart
quailed for a moment in natural fear. He stepped his beast a few feet
in, still staring afore him like a daft man. And then something in the
sound or the feel of the waters made him look down, and he perceived
that the ebb had begun and the tide was flowing out to sea.

He kenned that all was lost, and the knowledge drove him to stark
despair. His sins came in his face like birds of night, and his heart
shrunk like a pea. He knew himself for a lost soul, and all that he
loved in the world was out in the tides. There, at any rate, he could
go, too, and give back that gift of life he had so blackly misused. He
cried small and saft like a bairn, and drove the grey out into the
water. And aye as he spurred it the foam should have been flying as high
as his head, but in that uncanny hour there was no foam; only the waves
running sleek like oil. It was not long ere he had come to the Sker
channel, where the red moss waters were roaring to the sea,--an ill
place to ford in midsummer heat, and certain death, as folk reputed it,
at the smallest spate. The grey was swimming; but it seemed the Lord had
other purposes for him than death, for neither man nor horse could
droun. He tried to leave the saddle, but he could not; he flung the
bridle from him, but the grey held on as if some strong hand were
guiding. He cried out upon the Devil to help his own; he renounced his
Maker and his God: but whatever his punishment, he was not to be
drouned. And then he was silent, for something was coming down the tide.

It came down as quiet as a sleeping bairn, straight for him as he sat
with his horse breasting the waters; and as it came the moon crept out
of a cloud, and he saw a glint of yellow hair. And then his madness died
away, and he was himself again, a weary and stricken man. He hung down
over the tide and caught the body in his arms, and then let the grey
make for the shallows. He cared no more for the Devil and all his
myrmidons, for he kenned brawly he was damned. It seemed to him that his
soul had gone from him, and he was as toom as a hazel shell. His breath
rattled in his throat, the tears were dried up in his head, his body had
lost its strength, and yet he clung to the drouned maid as to a hope of
salvation. And then he noted something at which he marvelled dumbly. Her
hair was drookit back from her clay-cold brow, her eyes were shut, but
in her face there was the peace of a child; it seemed even that her lips
were smiling. Here, certes, was no lost soul, but one who had gone
joyfully to meet her Lord. It may be in that dark hour at the burn-foot,
before the spate caught her, she had been given grace to resist her
adversary and fling herself upon God's mercy. And it would seem that it
had been granted; for when he came to the Skerburnfoot, there in the
corner sat the weird wife Alison, dead as a stone.

For days Heriotside wandered the country, or sat in his own house with
vacant eye and trembling hands. Conviction of sin held him like a vice:
he saw the lassie's death laid at his door; her face haunted him by day
and night, and the word of the Lord dirled in his ears, telling of wrath
and punishment. The greatness of his anguish wore him to a shadow, and
at last he was stretched on his bed and like to perish. In his extremity
worthy Dr. Chrystal went to him unasked, and strove to comfort him.
Long, long the good man wrestled, but it seemed as if his ministrations
were to be of no avail. The fever left his body, and he rose to stotter
about the doors; but he was still in his torments, and the mercy-seat
was far from him. At last in the back end of the year came Mungo
Muirhead to Caulds to the autumn communion, and nothing would serve him
but he must try his hand at the storm-tossed soul. He spoke with power
and unction, and a blessing came with his words: the black cloud lifted
and showed a glimpse of grace, and in a little the man had some
assurance of salvation. He became a pillar of Christ's kirk, prompt to
check abominations, notably the sin of witchcraft; foremost in good
works, but with it all a humble man who walked contritely till his
death. When I came first to Caulds I sought to prevail upon him to
accept the eldership, but he aye put me by, and when I heard his tale I
saw that he had done wisely. I mind him well as he sat in his chair or
daundered through Caulds, a kind word for every one and sage counsel in
time of distress, but withal a severe man to himself and a crucifier of
the body. It seems that this severity weakened his frame, for three
years syne come Martinmas he was taken ill with a fever of the bowels,
and after a week's sickness he went to his account, where I trust he is
accepted.



NO-MAN'S-LAND


I The Shieling of Farawa

It was with a light heart and a pleasing consciousness of holiday that I
set out from the inn at Allermuir to tramp my fifteen miles into the
unknown. I walked slowly, for I carried my equipment on my back--my
basket, fly-books and rods, my plaid of Grant tartan (for I boast myself
a distant kinsman of that house), and my great staff, which had tried
ere then the front of the steeper Alps. A small valise with books and
some changes of linen clothing had been sent on ahead in the shepherd's
own hands. It was yet early April, and before me lay four weeks of
freedom--twenty-eight blessed days in which to take fish and smoke the
pipe of idleness. The Lent term had pulled me down, a week of modest
enjoyment thereafter in town had finished the work; and I drank in the
sharp moorish air like a thirsty man who has been forwandered among
deserts.

I am a man of varied tastes and a score of interests. As an
undergraduate I had been filled with the old mania for the complete
life. I distinguished myself in the Schools, rowed in my college eight,
and reached the distinction of practising for three weeks in the Trials.
I had dabbled in a score of learned activities, and when the time came
that I won the inevitable St. Chad's fellowship on my chaotic
acquirements, and I found myself compelled to select if I would pursue a
scholar's life, I had some toil in finding my vocation. In the end I
resolved that the ancient life of the North, of the Celts and the
Northmen and the unknown Pictish tribes, held for me the chief
fascination. I had acquired a smattering of Gaelic, having been brought
up as a boy in Lochaber, and now I set myself to increase my store of
languages. I mastered Erse and Icelandic, and my first book--a monograph
on the probable Celtic elements in the Eddie songs--brought me the
praise of scholars and the deputy-professor's chair of Northern
Antiquities. So much for Oxford. My vacations had been spent mainly in
the North--in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isles, in Scandinavia and
Iceland, once even in the far limits of Finland. I was a keen sportsman
of a sort, an old-experienced fisher, a fair shot with gun and rifle,
and in my hillcraft I might well stand comparison with most men. April
has ever seemed to me the finest season of the year even in our cold
northern altitudes, and the memory of many bright Aprils had brought me
up from the South on the night before to Allerfoot, whence a dogcart had
taken me up Glen Aller to the inn at Allermuir; and now the same desire
had set me on the heather with my face to the cold brown hills.

You are to picture a sort of plateau, benty and rock-strewn, running
ridge-wise above a chain of little peaty lochs and a vast tract of
inexorable bog. In a mile the ridge ceased in a shoulder of hill, and
over this lay the head of another glen, with the same doleful
accompaniment of sunless lochs, mosses, and a shining and resolute
water. East and west and north, in every direction save the south, rose
walls of gashed and serrated hills. It was a grey day with blinks of
sun, and when a ray chanced to fall on one of the great dark faces,
lines of light and colour sprang into being which told of mica and
granite. I was in high spirits, as on the eve of holiday; I had
breakfasted excellently on eggs and salmon-steaks; I had no cares to
speak of, and my prospects were not uninviting. But in spite of myself
the landscape began to take me in thrall and crush me. The silent
vanished peoples of the hills seemed to be stirring; dark primeval faces
seemed to stare at me from behind boulders and jags of rock. The place
was so still, so free from the cheerful clamour of nesting birds, that
it seemed a temenos sacred to some old-world god. At my feet the lochs
lapped ceaselessly; but the waters were so dark that one could not see
bottom a foot from the edge. On my right the links of green told of
snakelike mires waiting to crush the unwary wanderer. It seemed to me
for the moment a land of death, where the tongues of the dead cried
aloud for recognition.

My whole morning's walk was full of such fancies. I lit a pipe to cheer
me, but the things would not be got rid of. I thought of the Gaels who
had held those fastnesses; I thought of the Britons before them, who
yielded to their advent. They were all strong peoples in their day, and
now they had gone the way of the earth. They had left their mark on the
levels of the glens and on the more habitable uplands, both in names and
in actual forts, and graves where men might still dig curios. But the
hills--that black stony amphitheatre before me--it seemed strange that
the hills bore no traces of them. And then with some uneasiness I
reflected on that older and stranger race who were said to have held the
hill-tops. The Picts, the Picti--what in the name of goodness were they?
They had troubled me in all my studies, a sort of blank wall to put an
end to speculation. We knew nothing of them save certain strange
names which men called Pictish, the names of those hills in front of
me--the Muneraw, the Yirnie, the Calmarton. They were the corpus vile
for learned experiment; but Heaven alone knew what dark abyss of
savagery once yawned in the midst of the desert.

And then I remembered the crazy theories of a pupil of mine at St.
Chad's, the son of a small landowner on the Aller, a young gentleman who
had spent his substance too freely at Oxford, and was now dreeing his
weird in the Backwoods. He had been no scholar; but a certain
imagination marked all his doings, and of a Sunday night he would come
and talk to me of the North. The Picts were his special subject, and his
ideas were mad. 'Listen to me,' he would say, when I had mixed him toddy
and given him one of my cigars; 'I believe there are traces--ay, and
more than traces--of an old culture lurking in those hills and waiting
to be discovered. We never hear of the Picts being driven from the
hills. The Britons drove them from the lowlands, the Gaels from Ireland
did the same for the Britons; but the hills were left unmolested. We
hear of no one going near them except outlaws and tinklers. And in that
very place you have the strangest mythology. Take the story of the
Brownie. What is that but the story of a little swart man of uncommon
strength and cleverness, who does good and ill indiscriminately, and
then disappears. There are many scholars, as you yourself confess, who
think that the origin of the Brownie was in some mad belief in the old
race of the Picts, which still survived somewhere in the hills. And do
we not hear of the Brownie in authentic records right down to the year
1756? After that, when people grew more incredulous, it is natural that
the belief should have begun to die out; but I do not see why stray
traces should not have survived till late.'

'Do you not see what that means?' I had said in mock gravity. 'Those
same hills are, if anything, less known now than they were a hundred
years ago. Why should not your Picts or Brownies be living to this day?'

'Why not, indeed?' he had rejoined, in all seriousness.

I laughed, and he went to his rooms and returned with a large
leather-bound book. It was lettered, in the rococo style of a young
man's taste, 'Glimpses of the Unknown,' and some of the said glimpses he
proceeded to impart to me. It was not pleasant reading; indeed, I had
rarely heard anything so well fitted to shatter sensitive nerves. The
early part consisted of folk-tales and folk-sayings, some of them wholly
obscure, some of them with a glint of meaning, but all of them with some
hint of a mystery in the hills. I heard the Brownie story in countless
versions. Now the thing was a friendly little man, who wore grey
breeches and lived on brose; now he was a twisted being, the sight of
which made the ewes miscarry in the lambing-time. But the second part was
the stranger, for it was made up of actual tales, most of them with date
and place appended. It was a most Bedlamite catalogue of horrors, which,
if true, made the wholesome moors a place instinct with tragedy. Some
told of children carried away from villages, even from towns, on the
verge of the uplands. In almost every case they were girls, and the
strange fact was their utter disappearance. Two little girls would be
coming home from school, would be seen last by a neighbour just where
the road crossed a patch of heath or entered a wood, and then--no human
eye ever saw them again. Children's cries had startled outlying
shepherds in the night, and when they had rushed to the door they could
hear nothing but the night wind. The instances of such disappearances
were not very common--perhaps once in twenty years--but they were
confined to this one tract of country, and came in a sort of fixed
progression from the middle of last century, when the record began. But
this was only one side of the history. The latter part was all devoted
to a chronicle of crimes which had gone unpunished, seeing that no hand
had ever been traced. The list was fuller in last century; in the
earlier years of the present it had dwindled; then came a revival about
the 'fifties; and now again in our own time it had sunk low. At the
little cottage of Auchterbrean, on the roadside in Glen Aller, a
labourer's wife had been found pierced to the heart. It was thought to
be a case of a woman's jealousy, and her neighbour was accused,
convicted, and hanged. The woman, to be sure, denied the charge with her
last breath; but circumstantial evidence seemed sufficiently strong
against her. Yet some people in the glen believed her guiltless. In
particular, the carrier who had found the dead woman declared that the
way in which her neighbour received the news was a sufficient proof of
innocence; and the doctor who was first summoned professed himself
unable to tell with what instrument the wound had been given. But this
was all before the days of expert evidence, so the woman had been hanged
without scruple. Then there had been another story of peculiar horror,
telling of the death of an old man at some little lonely shieling called
Carrickfey. But at this point I had risen in protest, and made to drive
the young idiot from my room.

'It was my grandfather who collected most of them,' he said. 'He had
theories,[*] but people called him mad, so he was wise enough to hold his
tongue. My father declares the whole thing mania; but I rescued the book
had it bound, and added to the collection. It is a queer hobby; but,
as I say, I have theories, and there are more things in heaven and
earth--' But at this he heard a friend's voice in the Quad., and dived out,
leaving the banal quotation unfinished.

[* In the light of subsequent events I have jotted down the materials to
which I refer. The last authentic record of the Brownie is in the
narrative of the shepherd of Clachlands, taken down towards the close of
last century by the Reverend Mr. Gillespie, minister of Allerkirk, and
included by him in his 'Songs and Legends of Glen Aller'.

The authorities on the strange carrying-away of children are to be found
in a series of articles in a local paper, the Allerfoot Advertiser',
September and October 1878, and a curious book published anonymously at
Edinburgh in 1848, entitled 'The Weathergaw'. The records of the
unexplained murders in the same neighbourhood are all contained in Mr.
Fordoun's 'Theory of Expert Evidence', and an attack on the book in the
'Law Review' for June 1881. The Carrickfey case has a pamphlet to
itself--now extremely rare--a copy of which was recently obtained in a
bookseller's shop in Dumfries by a well-known antiquary, and presented
to the library of the Supreme Court in Edinburgh.]

Strange though it may seem, this madness kept coming back to me as I
crossed the last few miles of moor. I was now on a rough tableland, the
watershed between two lochs, and beyond and above me rose the stony
backs of the hills. The burns fell down in a chaos of granite boulders,
and huge slabs of grey stone lay flat and tumbled in the heather. The
full waters looked prosperously for my fishing, and I began to forget
all fancies in anticipation of sport.

Then suddenly in a hollow of land I came on a ruined cottage. It had
been a very small place, but the walls were still half-erect, and the
little moorland garden was outlined on the turf. A lonely apple-tree,
twisted and gnarled with winds, stood in the midst.

From higher up on the hill I heard a loud roar, and I knew my excellent
friend the shepherd of Farawa, who had come thus far to meet me. He
greeted me with the boisterous embarrassment which was his way of
prefacing hospitality. A grave reserved man at other times, on such
occasions he thought it proper to relapse into hilarity. I fell into
step with him, and we set off for his dwelling. But first I had the
curiosity to look back to the tumble-down cottage and ask him its name.

A queer look came into his eyes. 'They ca' the place Carrickfey,' he
said. Naebody has daured to bide there this twenty year sin'--but I see
ye ken the story.' And, as if glad to leave the subject, he hastened to
discourse on fishing.



II Tells of an Evening's Talk

The shepherd was a masterful man; tall, save for the stoop which belongs
to all moorland folk, and active as a wild goat. He was not a new
importation, nor did he belong to the place; for his people had
lived in the remote Borders, and he had come as a boy to this shieling
of Farawa. He was unmarried, but an elderly sister lived with him and
cooked his meals. He was reputed to be extraordinarily skilful in his
trade; I know for a fact that he was in his way a keen sportsman; and
his few neighbours gave him credit for a sincere piety. Doubtless this
last report was due in part to his silence, for after his first greeting
he was wont to relapse into a singular taciturnity. As we strode across
the heather he gave me a short outline of his year's lambing. 'Five pair
o' twins yestreen, twae this morn; that makes thirty-five yowes that hae
lambed since the Sabbath. I'll dae weel if God's willin'.' Then, as I
looked towards the hill-tops whence the thin mist of morn was trailing,
he followed my gaze. 'See,' he said with uplifted crook--'see that
sicht. Is that no what is written of in the Bible when it says, "The
mountains do smoke".' And with this piece of apologeties he finished his
talk, and in a little we were at the cottage.

It was a small enough dwelling in truth, and yet large for a moorland
house, for it had a garret below the thatch, which was given up to my
sole enjoyment. Below was the wide kitchen with box-beds, and next to it
the inevitable second room, also with its cupboard sleeping-places. The
interior was very clean, and yet I remember to have been struck with the
faint musty smell which is inseparable from moorland dwellings. The
kitchen pleased me best, for there the great rafters were black with
peat-reek, and the uncovered stone floor, on which the fire gleamed
dully, gave an air of primeval simplicity. But the walls spoiled all,
for tawdry things of to-day had penetrated even there. Some grocers'
almanacs--years old--hung in places of honour, and an extraordinary
lithograph of the Royal Family in its youth. And this, mind you, between
crooks and fishing-rods and old guns, and horns of sheep and deer.

The life for the first day or two was regular and placid. I was up
early, breakfasted on porridge (a dish which I detest), and then off to
the lochs and streams. At first my sport prospered mightily. With a
drake-wing I killed a salmon of seventeen pounds, and the next day had a
fine basket of trout from a hill-burn. Then for no earthly reason the
weather changed. A bitter wind came out of the north-east, bringing
showers of snow and stinging hail, and lashing the waters into storm. It
was now farewell to fly-fishing. For a day or two I tried trolling with
the minnow on the lochs, but it was poor sport, for I had no boat, and
the edges were soft and mossy. Then in disgust I gave up the attempt,
went back to the cottage, lit my biggest pipe, and sat down with a book
to await the turn of the weather.

The shepherd was out from morning till night at his work, and when
he came in at last, dog-tired, his face would be set and hard, and his
eyes heavy with sleep. The strangeness of the man grew upon me. He had a
shrewd brain beneath his thatch of hair, for I had tried him once or
twice, and found him abundantly intelligent. He had some smattering of
an education, like all Scottish peasants, and, as I have said, he was
deeply religious. I set him down as a fine type of his class, sober,
serious, keenly critical, free from the bondage of superstition. But I
rarely saw him, and our talk was chiefly in monosyllables--short
interjected accounts of the number of lambs dead or alive on the hill.
Then he would produce a pencil and notebook, and be immersed in some
calculation; and finally he would be revealed sleeping heavily in his
chair, till his sister wakened him, and he stumbled off to bed.

So much for the ordinary course of life; but one day--the second I think
of the bad weather--the extraordinary happened. The storm had passed in
the afternoon into a resolute and blinding snow, and the shepherd,
finding it hopeless on the hill, came home about three o'clock. I could
make out from his way of entering that he was in a great temper. He
kicked his feet savagely against the door-post. Then he swore at his
dogs, a thing I had never heard him do before. 'Hell!' he cried, 'can ye
no keep out o' my road, ye britts?' Then he came sullenly into the
kitchen, thawed his numbed hands at the fire, and sat down to his meal.

I made some aimless remark about the weather.

'Death to man and beast,' he grunted. 'I hae got the sheep doun frae the
hill, but the lambs will never thole this. We maun pray that it will no
last.'

His sister came in with some dish. 'Margit,' he cried, 'three lambs away
this morning, and three deid wi' the hole in the throat.'

The woman's face visibly paled. 'Guid help us, Adam; that hasna happened
this three year.'

'It has happened noo,' he said, surlily. 'But, by God! if it happens
again I'll gang mysel' to the Scarts o' the Muneraw.'

'0 Adam!' the woman cried shrilly, 'haud your tongue. Ye kenna wha hears
ye.' And with a frightened glance at me she left the room.

I asked no questions, but waited till the shepherd's anger should cool.
But the cloud did not pass so lightly. When he had finished his dinner
he pulled his chair to the fire and sat staring moodily. He made some
sort of apology to me for his conduct. 'I'm sore troubled, sir; but I'm
vexed ye should see me like this. Maybe things will be better the morn.'
And then, lighting his short black pipe, he resigned himself to his
meditations.

But he could not keep quiet. Some nervous unrest seemed to have
possessed the man. He got up with a start and went to the window, where
the snow was drifting, unsteadily past. As he stared out into the storm
I heard him mutter to himself, 'Three away, God help me, and three wi'
the hole in the throat.'

Then he turned round to me abruptly. I was jotting down notes for an
article I contemplated in the 'Revue Celtique,' so my thoughts were far
away from the present. The man recalled me by demanding fiercely. 'Do ye
believe in God?'

I gave him some sort of answer in the affirmative.

'Then do ye believe in the Devil?' he asked.

The reply must have been less satisfactory, for he came forward, and
flung himself violently into the chair before me.

'What do ye ken about it?' he cried. 'You that bides in a southern toun,
what can ye ken o' the God that works in thae hills and the Devil--ay,
the manifold devils--that He suffers to bide here? I tell ye, man, that
if ye had seen what I have seen ye wad be on your knees at this moment
praying to God to pardon your unbelief. There are devils at the back o'
every stane and hidin' in every cleuch, and it's by the grace o' God
alone that a man is alive upon the earth.' His voice had risen high and
shrill, and then suddenly he cast a frightened glance towards the window
and was silent.

I began to think that the man's wits were unhinged, and the thought did
not give me satisfaction. I had no relish for the prospect of being left
alone in this moorland dwelling with the cheerful company of a maniac.
But his next movements reassured me. He was clearly only dead-tired, for
he fell sound asleep in his chair, and by the time his sister brought
tea and wakened him, he seemed to have got the better of his excitement.

When the window was shuttered and the lamp lit, I set myself again to
the completion of my notes. The shepherd had got out his Bible, and was
solemnly reading with one great finger travelling down the lines. He was
smoking, and whenever some text came home to him with power he would
make pretence to underline it with the end of the stem. Soon I had
finished the work I desired, and, my mind being full of my pet hobby, I
fell into an inquisitive frame of mind, and began to question the solemn
man opposite on the antiquities of the place.

He stared stupidly at me when I asked him concerning monuments or
ancient weapons.

'I kenna,' said he. 'There's a heap o' queer things in the hills.'

'This place should be a centre for such relics. You know that the name
of the hill behind the house, as far as I can make it out, means the
"Place of the Little Men." It is a good Gaelic word, though there is
some doubt about its exact interpretation. But clearly the Gaelic
peoples did not speak of themselves when they gave the name; they must
have referred to some older and stranger population.'

The shepherd looked at me dully, as not understanding.

'It is partly this fact--besides the fishing, of course--which interests
me in this countryside,' said I, gaily.

Again he cast the same queer frightened glance towards the window. 'If
tak the advice of an aulder man,' he said, slowly, 'yell let well alane
and no meddle wi' uncanny things.'

I laughed pleasantly, for at last I had found out my hard-headed host in
a piece of childishness. 'Why, I thought that you of all men would be
free from superstition.'

'What do ye call supersteetion?' he asked.

'A belief in old wives' tales,' said I, 'a trust in the crude
supernatural and the patently impossible.'

He looked at me beneath his shaggy brows. 'How do ye ken what is
impossible? Mind ye, sir, ye're no in the toun just now, but in the
thick of the wild hills.'

'But, hang it all, man,' I cried, 'you don't mean to say that you
believe in that sort of thing? I am prepared for many things up here,
but not for the Brownie,--though, to be sure, if one could meet him in
the flesh, it would be rather pleasant than otherwise, for he was a
companionable sort of fellow.'

'When a thing pits the fear o' death on a man he aye speaks well of it.'

It was true--the Eumenides and the Good Folk over again; and I awoke
with interest to the fact that the conversation was getting into strange
channels.

The shepherd moved uneasily in his chair. 'I am a man that fears God,
and has nae time for daft stories; but I havena traivelled the hills for
twenty years wi' my een shut. If I say that I could tell ye stories o'
faces seen in the mist, and queer things that have knocked against me in
the snaw, wad ye believe me? I wager ye wadna. Ye wad say I had been
drunk, and yet I am a God-fearing temperate man.'

He rose and went to a cupboard, unlocked it, and brought out something
in his hand, which he held out to me. I took it with some curiosity, and
found that it was a flint arrow-head.

Clearly a flint arrow-head, and yet like none that I had ever seen in
any collection. For one thing it was larger, and the barb less clumsily
thick. More, the chipping was new, or comparatively so; this thing had
not stood the wear of fifteen hundred years among the stones of the
hillside. Now there are, I regret to say, institutions which
manufacture primitive relics; but it is not hard for a practised eye to
see the difference. The chipping has either a regularity and a balance
which is unknown in the real thing, or the rudeness has been overdone,
and the result is an implement incapable of harming a mortal creature.
But this was the real thing if it ever existed; and yet--I was prepared
to swear on my reputation that it was not half a century old.

'Where did you get this?' I asked with some nervousness.

'I hae a story about that,' said the shepherd. 'Outside the door there
ye can see a muckle flat stane aside the buchts. One simmer nicht I was
sitting there smoking till the dark, and I wager there was naething on
the stane then. But that same nicht I awoke wi' a queer thocht, as if
there were folk moving around the hoose--folk that didna mak' muckle
noise. I mind o' lookin' out o' the windy, and I could hae sworn I saw
something black movin' amang the heather and intil the buchts. Now I had
maybe threescore o' lambs there that nicht, for I had to tak' them many
miles off in the early morning. Weel, when I gets up about four o'clock
and gangs out, as I am passing the muckle stane I finds this bit errow.
"That's come here in the nicht," says I, and I wunnered a wee and put it
in my pouch. But when I came to my faulds what did I see? Five o' my
best hoggs were away, and three mair were lying deid wi' a hole in their
throat.'

'Who in the world--?' I began.

Dinna ask,' said he. 'If I aince sterted to speir about thae maitters, I
wadna keep my reason.'

'Then that was what happened on the hill this morning?'

'Even sae, and it has happened mair than aince sin' that time. It's the
most uncanny slaughter, for sheep-stealing I can understand, but no this
pricking o' the puir beasts' wizands. I kenna how they dae't either, for
it's no wi' a knife or ony common tool.'

'Have you never tried to follow the thieves?'

'Have I no?' he asked, grimly. 'Hit had been common sheep-stealers I wad
hae had them by the heels, though I had followed them a hundred miles.
But this is no common. I've tracked them, and it's ill they are to
track; but I never got beyond ae place, and that was the Scarts o' the
Muneraw that ye've heard me speak o'.'

'But who in Heaven's name are the people? Tinklers or poachers or what?'

'Ay,' said he, drily. 'Even so. Tinklers and poachers whae wark wi'
stane errows and kill sheep by a hole in their throat. Lord, I kenna
what they are, unless the Muckle Deil himsel'.'

The conversation had passed beyond my comprehension. In this prosaic
hard-headed man I had come on the dead-rock of superstition and
blind fear.

'That is only the story of the Brownie over again, and he is an exploded
myth,' I said, laughing.

'Are ye the man that exploded it?' said the shepherd, rudely. 'I trow
no, neither you nor ony ither. My bonny man, if ye lived a twalmonth in
thae hills, ye wad sing safter about exploded myths, as ye call them.'

'I tell you what I would do,' said I. 'If I lost sheep as you lose them,
I would go up the Scarts of the Muneraw and never rest till I had
settled the question once and for all.' I spoke hotly, for I was vexed
by the man's childish fear.

'I daresay ye wad,' he said, slowly. 'But then I am no you, and maybe I
ken mair o' what is in the Scarts o' the Muneraw. Maybe I ken that
whilk, if ye kenned it, wad send ye back to the South Country wi' your
hert in your mouth. But, as I say, I am no sae brave as you, for I saw
something in the first year o' my herding here which put the terror o'
God on me, and makes me a fearfu' man to this day. Ye ken the story o'
the gudeman o' Carrickfey?'

I nodded.

Weel, I was the man that fand him. I had seen the deid afore and I've
seen them since. But never have I seen aucht like the look in that man's
een. What he saw at his death I may see the morn, so I walk before the
Lord in fear.'

Then he rose and stretched himself. 'It's bedding-time, for I maun be up
at three,' and with a short good night he left the room.



III The Scarts of the Muneraw

The next morning was fine, for the snow had been intermittent, and had
soon melted except in the high corries. True, it was deceptive weather,
for the wind had gone to the rainy south-west, and the masses of cloud
on that horizon boded ill for the afternoon. But some days' inaction had
made me keen for a chance of sport, so I rose with the shepherd and set
out for the day.

He asked me where I proposed to begin.

I told him the tarn called the Loch o' the Threshes, which lies over the
back of the Muneraw on another watershed. It is on the ground of the
Rhynns Forest, and I had fished it of old from the Forest House. I knew
the merits of the trout, and I knew its virtues in a south-west wind, so
I had resolved to go thus far afield.

The shepherd heard the name in silence. 'Your best road will be ower
that rig, and syne on to the water o' Caulds. Keep abune the moss till
ye come to the place they ca' the Nick o' the Threshes. That will take
ye to the very lochside, but it's a lang road and a sair.'

The morning was breaking over the bleak hills. Little clouds drifted
athwart the corries, and wisps of haze fluttered from the peaks. A great
rosy flush lay over one side of the glen, which caught the edge of the
sluggish bog-pools and turned them to fire. Never before had I seen the
mountain-land so clear, for far back into the east and west I saw
mountain-tops set as close as flowers in a border, black crags seamed
with silver lines which I knew for mighty waterfalls, and below at my
feet the lower slopes fresh with the dewy green of spring. A name stuck
in my memory from the last night's talk.

'Where are the Scarts of the Muneraw?' I asked.

The shepherd pointed to the great hill which bears the name, and which
lies, a huge mass, above the watershed.

'D'ye see yon corrie at the east that runs straucht up the side? It
looks a bit scart, but it's sae deep that it's aye derk at the bottom
o't. Weel, at the tap o' the rig it meets anither corrie that runs doun
the ither side, and that one they ca' the Scarts. There is a sort o'
burn in it that flows intil the Dule and sae intil the Aller, and,
indeed, if ye were gaun there it wad be from Aller Glen that your best
road wad lie. But it's an ill bit, and ye'll be sair guidit if ye
try't.'

There he left me and went across the glen, while I struck upwards over
the ridge. At the top I halted and looked down on the wide glen of the
Caulds, which there is little better than a bog, but lower down grows
into a green pastoral valley. The great Muneraw still dominated the
landscape, and the black scaur on its side seemed blacker than before.
The place fascinated me, for in that fresh morning air the shepherd's
fears seemed monstrous. 'Some day,' said I to myself, 'I will go and
explore the whole of that mighty hill.' Then I descended and struggled
over the moss, found the Nick, and in two hours' time was on the loch's
edge.

I have little in the way of good to report of the fishing. For perhaps
one hour the trout took well; after that they sulked steadily for the
day. The promise, too, of fine weather had been deceptive. By midday the
rain was falling in that soft soaking fashion which gives no hope of
clearing. The mist was down to the edge of the water, and I cast my
flies into a blind sea of white. It was hopeless work, and yet from a
sort of ill-temper I stuck to it long after my better judgment had
warned me of its folly. At last, about three in the afternoon, I struck
my camp, and prepared myself for a long and toilsome retreat.

And long and toilsome it was beyond anything I had ever encountered. Had
I had a vestige of sense I would have followed the burn from the loch
down to the Forest House. The place was shut up, but the keeper would
gladly have given me shelter for the night. But foolish pride was too
strong in me. I had found my road in mist before, and could do it again.

Before I got to the top of the hill I had repented my decision; when I
got there I repented it more. For below me was a dizzy chaos of grey;
there was no landmark visible; and before me I knew was the bog through
which the Caulds Water twined. I had crossed it with some trouble in the
morning, but then I had light to pick my steps. Now I could only stumble
on, and in five minutes I might be in a bog-hole, and in five more in a
better world.

But there was no help to be got from hesitation, so with a rueful
courage I set off. The place was if possible worse than I had feared.
Wading up to the knees with nothing before you but a blank wall of mist
and the cheerful consciousness that your next step may be your
last--such was my state for one weary mile. The stream itself was high,
and rose to my armpits, and once and again I only saved myself by a
violent leap backwards from a pitiless green slough. But at last it was
past, and I was once more on the solid ground of the hillside.

Now, in the thick weather I had crossed the glen much lower down than in
the morning, and the result was that the hill on which I stood was one
of the giants which, with the Muneraw for centre, guard the watershed.
Had I taken the proper way, the Nick o' the Threshes would have led me
to the Caulds, and then once over the bog a little ridge was all that
stood between me and the glen of Farawa. But instead I had come a wild
cross-country road, and was now, though I did not know it, nearly as far
from my destination as at the start.

Well for me that I did not know, for I was wet and dispirited, and had I
not fancied myself all but home, I should scarcely have had the energy
to make this last ascent. But soon I found it was not the little ridge I
had expected. I looked at my watch and saw that it was five o'clock.
When, after the weariest climb, I lay on a piece of level ground which
seemed the top, I was not surprised to find that it was now seven. The
darkening must be at hand, and sure enough the mist seemed to be
deepening into a greyish black. I began to grow desperate. Here was I on
the summit of some infernal mountain, without any certainty where my
road lay. I was lost with a vengeance, and at the thought I began to be
acutely afraid.

I took what seemed to me the way I had come, and began to descend
steeply. Then something made me halt, and the next instant I was lying on
my face trying painfully to retrace my steps. For I had found myself
slipping, and before I could stop, my feet were dangling over a
precipice with Heaven alone knows how many yards of sheer mist between
me and the bottom. Then I tried keeping the ridge, and took that to the
right, which I thought would bring me nearer home. It was no good trying
to think out a direction, for in the fog my brain was running round, and
I seemed to stand on a pin-point of space where the laws of the compass
had ceased to hold.

It was the roughest sort of walking, now stepping warily over acres of
loose stones, now crawling down the face of some battered rock, and now
wading in the long dripping heather. The soft rain had begun to fall
again, which completed my discomfort. I was now seriously tired, and,
like all men who in their day have bent too much over books, I began to
feel it in my back. My spine ached, and my breath came in short broken
pants. It was a pitiable state of affairs for an honest man who had
never encountered much grave discomfort. To ease myself I was compelled
to leave my basket behind me, trusting to return and find it, if I
should ever reach safety and discover on what pathless hill I had been
strayed. My rod I used as a staff, but it was of little use, for my
fingers were getting too numb to hold it.

Suddenly from the blankness I heard a sound as of human speech. At first
I thought it mere craziness--the cry of a weasel or a hill-bird distorted
by my ears. But again it came, thick and faint, as through acres of
mist, and yet clearly the sound of 'articulate-speaking men.' In a
moment I lost my despair and cried out in answer. This was some
forwandered traveller like myself, and between us we could surely find
some road to safety. So I yelled back at the pitch of my voice and
waited intently.

But the sound ceased, and there was utter silence again. Still I waited,
and then from some place much nearer came the same soft mumbling speech.
I could make nothing of it. Heard in that drear place it made the nerves
tense and the heart timorous. It was the strangest jumble of vowels and
consonants I had ever met.

A dozen solutions flashed through my brain. It was some maniac talking
Jabberwock to himself. It was some belated traveller whose wits had
given out in fear. Perhaps it was only some shepherd who was amusing
himself thus, and whiling the way with nonsense. Once again I cried out
and waited.

Then suddenly in the hollow trough of mist before me, where things could
still be half discerned, there appeared a figure. It was little and
squat and dark; naked, apparently, but so rough with hair that it wore
the appearance of a skin-covered being. It crossed my line of vision,
not staying for a moment, but in its face and eyes there seemed to lurk
an elder world of mystery and barbarism, a troll-like life which was too
horrible for words.

The shepherd's fear came back on me like a thunderclap. For one awful
instant my legs failed me, and I had almost fallen. The next I had
turned and ran shrieking up the hill.

If he who may read this narrative has never felt the force of an
overmastering terror, then let him thank his Maker and pray that he
never may. I am no weak child, but a strong grown man, accredited in
general with sound sense and little suspected of hysterics. And yet I
went up that brae-face with my heart fluttering like a bird and my
throat aching with fear. I screamed in short dry gasps; involuntarily,
for my mind was beyond any purpose. I felt that beast-like clutch at my
throat; those red eyes seemed to be staring at me from the mist; I heard
ever behind and before and on all sides the patter of those inhuman
feet.

Before I knew I was down, slipping over a rock and falling some dozen
feet into a soft marshy hollow. I was conscious of lying still for a
second and whimpering like a child. But as I lay there I awoke to the
silence of the place. There was no sound of pursuit; perhaps they had
lost my track and given up. My courage began to return, and from this it
was an easy step to hope. Perhaps after all it had been merely an
illusion, for folk do not see clearly in the mist, and I was already
done with weariness.

But even as I lay in the green moss and began to hope, the faces of my
pursuers grew up through the mist. I stumbled madly to my feet; but I
was hemmed in, the rock behind and my enemies before. With a cry I
rushed forward, and struck wildly with my rod at the first dark body. It
was as if I had struck an animal, and the next second the thing was
wrenched from my grasp. But still they came no nearer. I stood trembling
there in the centre of those malignant devils, my brain a mere
weathercock, and my heart crushed shapeless with horror. At last the end
came, for with the vigour of madness I flung myself on the nearest, and
we rolled on the ground. Then the monstrous things seemed to close over
me, and with a choking cry I passed into unconsciousness.



IV The Darkness that is Under the Earth

There is an unconsciousness that is not wholly dead, where a man feels
numbly and the body lives without the brain. I was beyond speech or
thought, and yet I felt the upward or downward motion as 'the way lay in
hill or glen, and I most assuredly knew when the open air was changed
for the close underground. I could feel dimly that lights were
flared in my face, and that I was laid in some bed on the earth. Then
with the stopping of movement the real sleep of weakness seized me, and
for long I knew nothing of this mad world.


Morning came over the moors with bird-song and the glory of fine
weather. The streams were still rolling in spate, but the hill-pastures
were alight with dawn, and the little seams of snow glistened like white
fire. A ray from the sunrise cleft its path somehow into the abyss, and
danced on the wall above my couch. It caught my eye as I wakened, and
for long I lay crazily wondering what it meant. My head was splitting
with pain, and in my heart was the same fluttering nameless fear. I did
not wake to full consciousness; not till the twinkle of sun from the
clean bright out-of-doors caught my senses did I realise that I lay in a
great dark place with a glow of dull firelight in the middle.

In time things rose and moved around me, a few ragged shapes of men,
without clothing, shambling with their huge feet and looking towards me
with curved beast-like glances. I tried to marshal my thoughts, and
slowly, bit by bit, I built up the present. There was no question to my
mind of dreaming; the past hours had scored reality upon my brain. Yet I
cannot say that fear was my chief feeling. The first crazy terror had
subsided, and now I felt mainly a sickened disgust with just a tinge of
curiosity. I found that my knife, watch, flask, and money had gone, but
they had left me a map of the countryside. It seemed strange to look at
the calico, with the name of a London printer stamped on the back, and
lines of railway and highroad running through every shire. Decent and
comfortable civilisation! And here was I a prisoner in this den of
nameless folk, and in the midst of a life which history knew not.

Courage is a virtue which grows with reflection and the absence of the
immediate peril. I thought myself into some sort of resolution, and lo!
when the Folk approached me and bound my feet I was back at once in the
most miserable terror. They tied me all but my hands with some strong
cord, and carried me to the centre,' where the fire was glowing. Their
soft touch was the acutest torture to my nerves, but I stifled my cries
lest some one should lay his hand on my mouth. Had that happened, I am
convinced my reason would have failed me.

So there I lay in the shine of the fire, with the circle of unknown
things around me. There seemed but three or four, but I took no note of
number. They talked huskily among themselves in a tongue which sounded
all gutturals. Slowly my fear became less an emotion than a habit, and I
had room for the smallest shade of curiosity. I strained my ear to catch
a word, but it was a mere chaos of sound. The thing ran and thundered in
my brain as I stared dumbly into the vacant air. Then I thought that
unless I spoke I should certainly go crazy, for my head was beginning
to swim at the strange cooing noise.

I spoke a word or two in my best Gaelic, and they closed round me
inquiringly. Then I was sorry I had spoken, for my words had brought
them nearer, and I shrank at the thought. But as the faint echoes of my
speech hummed in the rock-chamber, I was struck by a curious kinship of
sound. Mine was sharper, more distinct, and staccato; theirs was
blurred, formless, but still with a certain root-resemblance.

Then from the back there came an older being, who seemed to have heard
my words. He was like some foul grey badger, his red eyes sightless, and
his hands trembling on a stump of bog-oak. The others made way for him
with such deference as they were capable of, and the thing squatted down
by me and spoke.

To my amazement his words were familiar. It was some manner of speech
akin to the Gaelic, but broadened, lengthened, coarsened. I remembered
an old book-tongue, commonly supposed to be an impure dialect once used
in Brittany, which I had met in the course of my researches. The words
recalled it, and as far as I could remember the thing, I asked him who
he was and where the place might be.

He answered me in the same speech--still more broadened, lengthened,
coarsened. I lay back with sheer amazement. I had found the key to this
unearthly life.--

For a little an insatiable curiosity, the ardour of the scholar,
prevailed. I forgot the horror of the place, and thought only of the
fact that here before me was the greatest find that scholarship had ever
made. I was precipitated into the heart of the past. Here must be the
fountainhead of all legends, the chrysalis of all beliefs. I actually
grew light-hearted. This strange folk around me were now no more
shapeless things of terror, but objects of research and experiment. I
almost came to think them not unfriendly.

For an hour I enjoyed the highest of earthly pleasures. In that strange
conversation I heard--in fragments and suggestions--the history of the
craziest survival the world has ever seen. I heard of the struggles with
invaders, preserved as it were in a sort of shapeless poetry. There were
bitter words against the Gaelic oppressor, bitterer words against the
Saxon stranger, and for a moment ancient hatreds flared into life. Then
there came the tale of the hill-refuge, the morbid hideous existence
preserved for centuries amid a changing world. I heard fragments of old
religions, primeval names of god and goddess, half-understood by the
Folk, but to me the key to a hundred puzzles. Tales which survive to us
in broken disjointed riddles were intact here in living form. I lay on my
elbow and questioned feverishly. At any moment they might become morose
and refuse to speak. Clearly it was my duty to make the most of a brief
good fortune.

And then the tale they told me grew more hideous. I heard of the
circumstances of the life itself and their daily shifts for existence.
It was a murderous chronicle--a history of lust and rapine and
unmentionable deeds in the darkness. One thing they had early
recognised--that the race could not be maintained within itself; so that
ghoulish carrying away of little girls from the lowlands began, which I
had heard of but never credited. Shut up in those dismal holes, the
girls soon died, and when the new race had grown up the plunder had been
repeated. Then there were bestial murders in lonely cottages, done for
God knows what purpose. Sometimes the occupant had seen more than was
safe, sometimes the deed was the mere exuberance of a lust of slaying.
As they abbled their tales my heart's blood froze, and I lay back in the
agonie of fear. If they had used the others thus, what way of escape was
op n for myself? I had been brought to this place, and not murdered on
the spot. Clearly there was torture before death in store for me, and I
confess I quailed at the thought.

But none molested me. The elders continued to jabber out their stories,
while I lay tense and deaf. Then to my amazement food was brought and
placed beside me--almost with respect. Clearly my murder was not a thing
of the immediate future. The meal was some form of mutton--perhaps the
shepherd's lost ewes--and a little smoking was all the cooking it had
got. I strove to eat, but the tasteless morsels choked me. Then they set
drink before me in a curious cup, which I seized on eagerly, for my
mouth was dry with thirst. The vessel was of gold, rudely formed, but of
the pure metal, and a coarse design in circles ran round the middle.
This surprised me enough, but a greater wonder awaited me. The liquor
was not water, as I had guessed, but a sort of sweet ale, a miracle of
flavour. The taste was curious, but somehow familiar; it was like no
wine I had ever drunk, and yet I had known that flavour all my life. I
sniffed at the brim, and there rose a faint fragrance of thyme and
heather honey and the sweet things of the moorland. I almost dropped the
thing in my surprise; for here in this rude place I had stumbled upon
that lost delicacy of the North, the heather ale.

For a second I was entranced with my discovery, and then the wonder of
the cup claimed my attention. Was it a mere relic of pillage, or had
this folk some hidden mine of the precious metal? Gold had once been
common in these hills. There were the traces of mines on Cairnsmore;
shepherds had found it in the gravel of the Gled Water; and the name
of a house at the head of the Clachlands meant the 'Home of Gold.'

Once more I began my questions, and they answered them willingly. There
and then I heard that secret for which many had died in old time, the
secret of the heather ale. They told of the gold in the hills, of
corries where the sand gleamed and abysses where the rocks were veined.
All this they told me, freely, without a scruple. And then, like a clap,
came the awful thought that this, too, spelled death. These were secrets
which this race aforetime had guarded with their lives; they told them
generously to me because there was no fear of betrayal. I should go no
more out from this place.

The thought put me into a new sweat of terror--not at death, mind you,
but at the unknown horrors which might precede the final suffering. I
lay silent, and after binding my hands they began to leave me and go off
to other parts of the cave. I dozed in the horrible half-swoon of fear,
conscious only of my shaking limbs, and the great dull glow of the fire
in the centre. Then I became calmer. After all, they had treated me with
tolerable kindness: I had spoken their language, which few of their
victims could have done for many a century; it might be that I found
favour in their eyes. For a little I comforted myself with this
delusion, till I caught sight of a wooden box in a corner. It was of
modern make, one such as grocers use to pack provisions in. It had some
address nailed on it, and an aimless curiosity compelled me to creep
thither and read it. A torn and weather-stained scrap of paper, with the
nails at the corner rusty with age; but something of the address might
still be made out. Amid the stains my feverish eyes read, 'To Mr.
M--Carrickfey, by Allerfoot Station.'

The ruined cottage in the hollow of the waste with the single gnarled
apple-tree was before me in a twinkling. I remembered the shepherd's
shrinking from the place and the name, and his wild eyes when he told me
of the thing that had happened there. I seemed to see the old man in his
moorland cottage, thinking no evil; the sudden entry of the nameless
things; and then the eyes glazed in unspeakable terror. I felt my lips
dry and burning. Above me was the vault of rock; in the distance I saw
the fire-glow and the shadows of shapes moving around it. My fright was
too great for inaction, so I crept from the couch, and silently,
stealthily, with tottering steps and bursting heart, I began to
reconnoitre.

But I was still bound, my arms tightly, my legs more loosely, but yet
firm enough to hinder flight. I could not get my hands at my leg-straps,
still less could I undo the manacles. I rolled on the floor, seeking
some sharp edge of rock, but all had been worn smooth by the use
of centuries. Then suddenly an idea came upon me like an inspiration. The
sounds from the fire seemed to have ceased, and I could hear them
repeated from another and more distant part of the cave. The Folk had
left their orgy round the blaze, and at the end of the long tunnel I saw
its glow fall unimpeded upon the floor. Once there, I might burn off my
fetters and be free to turn my thoughts to escape.

I crawled a little way with much labour. Then suddenly I came abreast an
opening in the wall, through which a path went. It was a long straight
rock-cutting, and at the end I saw a gleam of pale light. It must be the
open air; the way of escape was prepared for me; and with a prayer I
made what speed I could towards the fire.

I rolled on the verge, but the fuel was peat, and the warm ashes would
not burn the cords. In desperation I went farther, and my clothes began
to singe, while my face ached beyond endurance. But yet I got no nearer
my object. The strips of hide warped and cracked, but did not burn. Then
in a last effort I thrust my wrists bodily into the glow and held them
there. In an instant I drew them out with a groan of pain, scarred and
sore, but to my joy with the band snapped in one place. Weak as I was,
it was now easy to free myself, and then came the untying of my legs. My
hands trembled, my eyes were dazed with hurry, and I was longer over the
job than need have been. But at length I had loosed my cramped knees and
stood on my feet, a free man once more.

I kicked off my boots, and fled noiselessly down the passage to the
tunnel mouth. Apparently it was close on evening, for the white light
had faded to a pale yellow. But it was daylight, and that was all I
sought, and I ran for it as eagerly as ever runner ran to a goal. I came
out on a rock-shelf, beneath which a moraine of boulders fell away in a
chasm to a dark loch. It was all but night, but I could see the gnarled
and fortressed rocks rise in ramparts above, and below the unknown
screes and cliffs which make the side of the Muneraw a place only for
foxes and the fowls of the air.

The first taste of liberty is an intoxication, and assuredly I was mad
when I leaped down among the boulders. Happily at the top of the gully
the stones were large and stable, else the noise would certainly have
discovered me. Down I went, slipping, praying, my charred wrists aching,
and my stockinged feet wet with blood. Soon I was in the jaws of the
cleft, and a pale star rose before me. I have always been timid in the
face of great rocks, and now, had not an awful terror been dogging my
footsteps, no power on earth could have driven me to that descent. Soon
I left the boulders behind, and came to long spouts of little stones,
which moved with me till the hillside seemed sinking under my feet.
Sometimes I was face downwards, once and again I must have fallen
for yards. Had there been a cliff at the foot, I should have gone over
it without resistance; but by the providence of God the spout ended in a
long curve into the heather of the bog.

When I found my feet once more on soft boggy earth, my strength was
renewed within me. A great hope of escape sprang up in my heart. For a
second I looked back. There was a great line of shingle with the cliffs
beyond, and above all the unknown blackness of the cleft. There lay my
terror, and I set off running across the bog for dear life. My mind was
clear enough to know my road. If I held round the loch in front I should
come to a burn which fed the Farawa stream, on whose banks stood the
shepherd's cottage. The loch could not be far; once at the Farawa I
would have the light of the shieling clear before me.

Suddenly I heard behind me, as if coming from the hillside, the patter
of feet. It was the sound which white hares make in the winter-time on a
noiseless frosty day as they patter over the snow. I have heard the same
soft noise from a herd of deer when they changed their pastures. Strange
that so kindly a sound should put the very fear of death in my heart. I
ran madly, blindly, yet thinking shrewdly. The loch was before me.
Somewhere I had read or heard, I do not know where, that the brutish
aboriginal races of the North could not swim. I myself swam powerfully;
could I but cross the loch I should save two miles of a desperate
country.

There was no time to lose, for the patter was coming nearer, and I was
almost at the loch's edge. I tore off my coat and rushed in. The bottom
was mossy, and I had to struggle far before I found any depth. Something
plashed in the water before me, and then something else a little behind.
The thought that I was a mark for unknown missiles made me crazy with
fright, and I struck fiercely out for the other shore. A gleam of
moonlight was on the water at the burn's exit, and thither I guided
myself. I found the thing difficult enough in itself, for my hands
ached, and I was numb with my bonds. But my fancy raised a thousand
phantoms to vex me. Swimming in that black bog water, pursued by those
nameless things, I seemed to be in a world of horror far removed from
the kindly world of men. My strength seemed inexhaustible from my
terror. Monsters at the bottom of the water seemed to bite at my feet,
and the pain of my wrists made me believe that the loch was boiling hot,
and that I was in some hellish place of torment.

I came out on a spit of gravel above the burn mouth, and set off down
the ravine of the burn. It was a strait place, strewn with rocks; but
now and then the hill turf came in stretches, and eased my wounded feet.
Soon the fall became more abrupt, and I was slippingdown a hillside,
with the water on my left making great cascades in the granite. And then
I was out in the wider vale where the Farawa water flowed among links of
moss.

Far in front, a speck in the blue darkness shone the light of the
cottage. I panted forward, my breath coming in gasps and my back shot
with fiery pains. Happily the land was easier for the feet as long as I
kept on the skirts of the bog. My ears were sharp as a wild beast's with
fear, as I listened for the noise of pursuit. Nothing came but the
rustle of the gentlest hill-wind and the chatter of the falling streams.

Then suddenly the light began to waver and move athwart the window. I
knew what it meant. In a minute or two the household at the cottage
would retire to rest, and the lamp would be put out. True, I might find
the place in the dark, for there was a moon of sorts and the road was
not desperate. But somehow in that hour the lamplight gave a promise of
safety which I clung to despairingly.

And then the last straw was added to my misery. Behind me came the pad
of feet, the pat-patter, soft, eerie, incredibly swift. I choked with
fear, and flung myself forward in a last effort. I give my word it was
sheer mechanical shrinking that drove me on. God knows I would have lain
down to die in the heather, had the things behind me been a common
terror of life.

I ran as man never ran before, leaping hags, scrambling through green
well-heads, straining towards the fast-dying light. A quarter of a mile
and the patter sounded nearer. Soon I was not two hundred yards off, and
the noise seemed almost at my elbow. The light went out, and the black
mass of the cottage loomed in the dark.

Then, before I knew, I was at the door, battering it wearily and yelling
for help. I heard steps within and a hand on the bolt. Then something
shot past me with lightning force and buried itself in the wood. The
dreadful hands were almost at my throat, when the door was opened and I
stumbled in, hearing with a gulp of joy the key turn and the bar fall
behind me.



V The Troubles of a Conscience

My body and senses slept, for I was utterly tired, but my brain all the
night was on fire with horrid fancies. Again I was in that accursed
cave; I was torturing my hands in the fire; I was slipping barefoot
among jagged boulders; and then with bursting heart I was toiling the
last mile with the cottage light--now grown to a great fire in the
heavens--blazing before me.

It was broad daylight when I awoke, and I thanked God for the
comfortable rays of the sun. I had been laid in a box-bed off the inner
room, and my first sight was the shepherd sitting with folded arms in a
chair regarding me solemnly. I rose and began to dress, feeling my legs
and arms still tremble with weariness. The shepherd's sister bound up my
scarred wrists and put an ointment on my burns; and limping like an old
man, I went into the kitchen.

I could eat little breakfast, for my throat seemed dry and narrow; but
they gave me some brandy-and-milk, which put strength into my body. All
the time the brother and sister sat in silence, regarding me with covert
glances.

'Ye have been delivered from the jaws o' the Pit,' said the man at
length. 'See that,' and he held out to me a thin shaft of flint. 'I fand
that in the door this morning.'

I took it, let it drop, and stared vacantly at the window. My nerves had
been too much tried to be roused by any new terror. Out of doors it was
fair weather, flying gleams of April sunlight and the soft colours of
spring. I felt dazed, isolated, cut off from my easy past and pleasing
future, a companion of horrors and the sport of nameless things. Then
suddenly my eye fell on my books heaped on a table, and the old distant
civilisation seemed for the moment inexpressibly dear.

'I must go--at once. And you must come too. You cannot stay here. I tell
you it is death. If you knew what I know you would be crying out with
fear. How far is it to Allermuir? Eight, fifteen miles; and then ten
down Glen Aller to Allerfoot, and then the railway. We must go together
while it is daylight, and perhaps we may be untouched. But quick, there
is not a moment to lose.' And I was on my shaky feet, and bustling among
my possessions.

'I'll gang wi' ye to the station,' said the shepherd, 'for ye're clearly
no fit to look after yourself. My sister will bide and keep the house.
If naething has touched us this ten year, naething will touch us the
day.'

'But you cannot stay. You are mad,' I began; but he cut me short with
the words, 'I trust in God.'

'In any case let your sister come with us. I dare not think of a woman
alone in this place.'

'I'll bide,' said she. 'I'm no feared as lang as I'm indoors and there's
steeks on the windies.'

So I packed my few belongings as best I could, tumbled my books into a
haversack, and, gripping the shepherd's arm nervously, crossed the
threshold. The glen was full of sunlight. There lay the long shining
links of the Farawa burn, the rough hills tumbled beyond, and far
over all the scarred and distant forehead of the Muneraw. I had always
looked on moorland country as the freshest on earth--clean, wholesome,
and homely. But now the fresh uplands seemed like a horrible pit. When I
looked to the hills my breath choked in my throat, and the feel of soft
heather below my feet set my heart trembling.

It was a slow journey to the inn at Allermuir. For one thing, no power
on earth would draw me within sight of the shieling of Carrickfey, so we
had to cross a shoulder of hill and make our way down a difficult glen,
and then over a treacherous moss. The lochs were now gleaming like
fretted silver, but to me, in my dreadful knowledge, they seemed more
eerie than on that grey day when I came. At last my eyes were cheered by
the sight of a meadow and a fence; then we were on a little byroad; and
soon the fir-woods and cornlands of Allercleuch were plain before us.

The shepherd came no farther, but with brief good-bye turned his solemn
face hillwards. I hired a trap and a man to drive, and down the ten
miles of Glen Aller I struggled to keep my thoughts from the past. I
thought of the kindly South Country, of Oxford, of anything comfortable
and civilised. My driver pointed out the objects of interest as in duty
bound, but his words fell on unheeding ears. At last he said something
which roused me indeed to interest--the interest of the man who hears
the word he fears most in the world. On the left side of the river there
suddenly sprang into view a long gloomy cleft in the hills, with a vista
of dark mountains behind, down which a stream of considerable size
poured its waters.

'That is the Water o' Dule,' said the man in a reverent voice. 'A graund
water to fish, but dangerous to life, for it's a' linns. Awa' at the
heid they say there's a terrible wild place called the Scarts o'
Muneraw,--that's a shouther o' the muckle hill itsel' that ye see,--but
I've never been there, and I never kent ony man that had either.'

At the station, which is a mile from the village of Allerfoot, I found I
had some hours to wait on my train for the south. I dared not trust
myself for one moment alone, so I hung about the goods-shed, talked
vacantly to the porters, and when one went to the village for tea I
accompanied him, and to his wonder entertained him at the inn. When I
returned I found on the platform a stray bagman who was that evening
going to London. If there is one class of men in the world which I
heartily detest it is this; but such was my state that I hailed him as a
brother, and besought his company. I paid the difference for a
first-class fare, and had him in the carriage with me. He must have
thought me an amiable maniac, for I talked in fits and starts, and when
he fell asleep I would wake him up and beseech him to speak to me. At
wayside stations I would pull down the blinds in case of recognition,
for to my unquiet mind the world seemed full of spies sent by that
terrible Folk of the Hills. When the train crossed a stretch of moor I
would lie down on the seat in case of shafts fired from the heather. And
then at last with utter weariness I fell asleep, and woke screaming
about midnight to find myself well down in the cheerful English
midlands, and red blast-furnaces blinking by the railway-side.

In the morning I breakfasted in my rooms at St. Chad's with a dawning
sense of safety. I was in a different and calmer world. The lawn-like
quadrangles, the great trees, the cawing of rooks, and the homely
twitter of sparrows--all seemed decent and settled and pleasing. Indoors
the oak-panelled walls, the shelves of books, the pictures, the faint
fragrance of tobacco, were very different from the gimcrack adornments
and the accursed smell of peat and heather in that deplorable cottage.
It was still vacation-time, so most of my friends were down; but I spent
the day hunting out the few cheerful pedants to whom term and vacation
were the same. It delighted me to hear again their precise talk, to hear
them make a boast of their work, and narrate the childish little
accidents of their life. I yearned for the childish once more; I craved
for women's drawing-rooms, and women's chatter, and everything which
makes life an elegant game. God knows I had had enough of the other
thing for a lifetime!

That night I shut myself in my rooms, barred my windows, drew my
curtains, and made a great destruction. All books or pictures which
recalled to me the moorlands were ruthlessly doomed. Novels, poems,
treatises I flung into an old box, for sale to the second-hand
bookseller. Some prints and water-colour sketches I tore to pieces with
my own hands. I ransacked my fishing-book, and condemned all tackle for
moorland waters to the flames. I wrote a letter to my solicitors,
bidding them to go no further in the purchase of a place in Lorne I had
long been thinking of. Then, and not till then, did I feel the bondage
of the past a little loosed from my shoulders. I made myself a night-cap
of rum-punch instead of my usual whisky-toddy, that all associations
with that dismal land might be forgotten, and to complete the
renunciation I returned to cigars and flung my pipe into a drawer.

But when I woke in the morning I found that it is hard to get rid of
memories. My feet were still sore and wounded, and when I felt my arms
cramped and reflected on the causes, there was that black memory always
near to vex me.

In a little, term began, and my duties--as deputy-professor of Northern
Antiquities--were once more clamorous. I can well believe that my
hearers found my lectures strange, for instead of dealing with my
favourite subjects and matters, which I might modestly say I had made my
own, I confined myself to recondite and distant themes, treating even
these cursorily and dully. For the truth is, my heart was no more in my
subject. I hated--or I thought that I hated--all things Northern with
the virulence of utter fear. My reading was confined to science of the
most recent kind, to abstruse philosophy, and to foreign classics.
Anything which savoured of romance or mystery was abhorrent; I pined for
sharp outlines and the tangibility of a high civilisation.

All the term I threw myself into the most frivolous life of the place.
My Harrow schooldays seemed to have come back to me. I had once been a
fair cricketer, so I played again for my college, and made decent
scores. I coached an indifferent crew on the river. I fell into the
slang of the place, which I had hitherto detested. My former friends
looked on me askance, as if some freakish changeling had possessed me.
Formerly I had been ready for pedantic discussion, I had been absorbed
in my work, men had spoken of me as a rising scholar. Now I fled the
very mention of things I had once delighted in. The Professor of
Northern Antiquities, a scholar of European reputation, meeting me once
in the parks, embarked on an account of certain novel rings recently
found in Scotland, and to his horror found that, when he had got well
under weigh, I had slipped off unnoticed. I heard afterwards that the
good old man was found by a friend walking disconsolately with bowed
head in the middle of the High Street. Being rescued from among the
horses' feet, he could only murmur, 'I am thinking of Graves, poor man!
And a year ago he was as sane as I am!'


But a man may not long deceive himself. I kept up the illusion valiantly
for the term; but I felt instinctively that the fresh schoolboy life,
which seemed to me the extreme opposite to the ghoulish North, and as
such the most desirable of things, was eternally cut off from me. No
cunning affectation could ever dispel my real nature or efface the
memory of a week. I realised miserably that sooner or later I must fight
it out with my conscience. I began to call myself a coward. The chief
thoughts of my mind began to centre themselves more and more round that
unknown life waiting to be explored among the unfathomable wilds.

One day I met a friend--an official in the British Museum--who was full
of some new theory about primitive habitations. To me it seemed
inconceivably absurd; but he was strong in his confidence, and without
flaw in his evidence. The man irritated me, and I burned to prove him
wrong, but I could think of no argument which was final against his.
Then it flashed upon me that my own experience held the disproof;
and without more words I left him, hot, angry with myself, and
tantalised by the unattainable.

I might relate my bona-fide experience, but would men believe me? I must
bring proofs, I must complete my researches, so as to make them
incapable of disbelief. And there in those deserts was waiting the key.
There lay the greatest discovery of the century--nay, of the millennium.
There, too, lay the road to wealth such as I had never dreamed of. Could
I succeed, I should be famous for ever. I would revolutionise history
and anthropology; I would systematise folk-lore; I would show the world
of men the pit whence they were digged and the rock whence they were
hewn.

And then began a game of battledore between myself and my conscience.

'You are a coward,' said my conscience.

'I am sufficiently brave,' I would answer. 'I have seen things and yet
lived. The terror is more than mortal, and I cannot face it.'

'You are a coward,' said my conscience.

'I am not bound to go there again. It would be purely for my own
aggrandisement if I went, and not for any matter of duty.'

'Nevertheless you are a coward,' said my conscience.

'In any case the matter can wait.'

'You are a coward.'

Then came one awful midsummer night, when I lay sleepless and fought the
thing out with myself. I knew that the strife was hopeless, that I
should have no peace in this world again unless I made the attempt. The
dawn was breaking when I came to the final resolution; and when I rose
and looked at my face in a mirror, lo! it was white and lined and drawn
like a man of sixty.



VI Summer on the Moors

The next morning I packed a bag with some changes of clothing and a
collection of notebooks, and went up to town. The first thing I did was
to pay a visit to my solicitors. 'I am about to travel,' said I, 'and I
wish to have all things settled in case any accident should happen to
me.' So I arranged for the disposal of my property in case of death, and
added a codicil which puzzled the lawyers. If I did not return within
six months, communications were to be entered into with the shepherd at
the shieling of Farawa--post-town Allerfoot. If he could produce any
papers, they were to be put into the hands of certain friends,
published, and the cost charged to my estate. From my solicitors, I went
to a gunmaker's in Regent Street and bought an ordinary six-chambered
revolver, feeling much as a man must feel who proposed to cross the
Atlantic in a skiff and purchased a small life-belt as a precaution.

I took the night express to the North, and, for a marvel, I slept. When
I woke about four we were on the verge of Westmoreland, and stony hills
blocked the horizon. At first I hailed the mountain-land gladly; sleep
for the moment had caused forgetfulness of my terrors. But soon a turn
of the line brought me in full view of a heathery moor, running far to a
confusion of distant peaks. I remembered my mission and my fate, and if
ever condemned criminal felt a more bitter regret I pity his case. Why
should I alone among the millions of this happy isle be singled out as
the repository of a ghastly secret, and be cursed by a conscience which
would not let it rest?

I came to Allerfoot early in the forenoon, and got a trap to drive me up
the valley. It was a lowering grey day, hot and yet sunless. A sort of
heathaze cloaked the hills, and every now and then a smurr of rain would
meet us on the road, and in a minute be over. I felt wretchedly
dispirited; and when at last the whitewashed kirk of Allermuir came into
sight and the broken-backed bridge of Aller, man's eyes seemed to have
looked on no drearier scene since time began.

I ate what meal I could get, for, fears or no, I was voraciously hungry.
Then I asked the landlord to find me some man who would show me the road
to Farawa. I demanded company, not for protection--for what could two
men do against such brutish strength?--but to keep my mind from its own
thoughts.

The man looked at me anxiously.

'Are ye acquaint wi' the folks, then?' he asked.

I said I was, that I had often stayed in the cottage.

'Ye ken that they've a name for being queer. The man never comes here
forbye once or twice a-year, and he has few dealings wi' other herds.
He's got an ill name, too, for losing sheep. I dinna like the country
ava. Up by yon Muneraw--no that I've ever been there, but I've seen it
afar off--is enough to put a man daft for the rest o' his days. What's
taking ye thereaways? It's no the time for the fishing?'

I told him that I was a botanist going to explore certain hill-crevices
for rare ferns. He shook his head, and then after some delay found me an
ostler who would accompany me to the cottage.

The man was a shock-headed, long-limbed fellow, with fierce red hair and
a humorous eye. He talked sociably about his life, answered my
hasty questions with deftness, and beguiled me for the moment out of
myself. I passed the melancholy lochs, and came in sight of the great
stony hills without the trepidation I had expected. Here at my side was
one who found some humour even in those uplands. But one thing I noted
which brought back the old uneasiness. He took the road which led us
farthest from Carrickfey, and when to try him I proposed the other, he
vetoed it with emphasis.

After this his good spirits departed, and he grew distrustful.

'What mak's ye a freend o' the herd at Farawa?' he demanded a dozen
times.

Finally, I asked him if he knew the man, and had seen him lately.

'I dinna ken him, and I hadna seen him for years till a fortnicht syne,
when a' Allermuir saw him. He cam doun one afternoon to the
public-hoose, and begood to drink. He had aye been kenned for a terrible
godly kind o' a man, so ye may believe folk wondered at this. But when
he had stuck to the drink for twae days, and filled himsel' blind-fou
half-a-dozen o' times, he took a fit o' repentance, and raved and
blethered about siccan a life as he led in the muirs. There was some
said he was speakin' serious, but maist thocht it was juist daftness.'

'And what did he speak about?' I asked sharply.

'I canna verra weel tell ye. It was about some kind o' bogle that lived
in the Muneraw--that's the shouthers o't ye see yonder--and it seems
that the bogle killed his sheep and frichted himsel'. He was aye
bletherin', too, about something or somebody ca'd Grave; but oh! The man
wasna wise.' And my companion shook a contemptuous head.

And then below us in the valley we saw the shieling, with a thin shaft
of smoke rising into the rainy grey weather. The man left me, sturdily
refusing any fee. 'I wantit my legs stretched as weel as you. A walk in
the hills is neither here nor there to a stoot man. When will ye be
back, sir?'

The question was well-timed. 'To-morrow fortnight,' I said, 'and I want
somebody from Allermuir to come out here in the morning and carry some
baggage. Will you see to that?'

He said 'Ay,' and went off, while I scrambled down the hill to the
cottage. Nervousness possessed me, and though it was broad daylight and
the whole place lay plain before me, I ran pell-mell, and did not stop
till I reached the door.

The place was utterly empty. Unmade beds, unwashed dishes, a hearth
strewn with the ashes of peat, and dust thick on everything, proclaimed
the absence of inmates. I began to be horribly frightened. Had the
shepherd and his sister, also, disappeared? Was I left alone in the
bleak place, with a dozen lonely miles between me and human dwellings? I
could not return alone; better this horrible place than the unknown
perils of the out-of-doors. Hastily I barricaded the door, and to the
best of my power shuttered the windows; and then with dreary forebodings
I sat down to wait on fortune.

In a little I heard a long swinging step outside and the sound of dogs.
Joyfully I opened the latch, and there was the shepherd's grim face
waiting stolidly on what might appear.

At the sight of me he stepped back. 'What in the Lord's name are ye
daein' here?' he asked. 'Didna ye get enough afore?'

'Come in,' I said, sharply. 'I want to talk.'

In he came with those blessed dogs,--what a comfort it was to look on
their great honest faces! He sat down on the untidy bed and waited.

'I came because I could not stay away. I saw too much to give me any
peace elsewhere. I must go back, even though I risk my life for it. The
cause of scholarship demands it as well as the cause of humanity.' 'Is
that a' the news ye hae?' he said. Weel, I've mair to tell ye. Three
weeks syne my sister Margit was lost, and I've never seen her mair.' My
jaw fell, and I could only stare at him.

'I cam hame from the hill at nightfa' and she was gone. I lookit for her
up hill and doun, but I couldna find her. Syne I think I went daft. I
went to the Scarts and huntit them up and doun, but no sign could I see.
The folk can bide quiet enough when they want. Syne I went to Allermuir
and drank mysel' blind,--me, that's a God-fearing man and a saved soul;
but the Lord help me, I didna ken what I was at. That's my news, and day
and nicht I wander thae hills, seekin' for what I canna find.'

'But, man, are you mad?' I cried. 'Surely there are neighbours to help
you. There is a law in the land, and you had only to find the nearest
police-office and compel them to assist you.'

'What guid can man dae?' he asked. 'An army o' sodgers couldna find that
hidy-hole. Forby, when I went into Allermuir wi' my story the folk
thocht me daft. It was that set me drinking for--the Lord forgive me!--I
wasna my ain maister. I threepit till I was hairse, but the bodies just
lauch'd.' And he lay back on the bed like a man mortally tired.

Grim though the tidings were, I can only say that my chief feeling was
of comfort. Pity for the new tragedy had swallowed up my fear. I had now
a purpose, and a purpose, too, not of curiosity but of mercy.

'I go to-morrow morning to the Muneraw. But first I want to give you
something to do.' And I drew roughly a chart of the place on the back of a
letter. 'Go into Allermuir to-morrow, and give this paper to the landlord
at the inn. The letter will tell him what to do. He is to raise at once
all the men he can get, and come to the place on the chart marked with a
cross. Tell him life depends on his hurry.'

The shepherd nodded. 'D'ye ken the Folk are watching for you? They let
me pass without trouble, for they've nae use for me, but I see fine
they're seeking you. Ye'll no gang half a mile the morn afore they
grip ye.'

'So much the better,' I said. 'That will take me quicker to the place I
want to be at.'

'And I'm to gang to Allemuir the morn,' he repeated, with the air of a
child conning a lesson. 'But what if they'll no believe me?' 'They'll
believe the letter.'

'Maybe,' he said, and relapsed into a doze.

I set myself to put that house in order, to rouse the fire, and prepare
some food. It was dismal work; and meantime outside the night darkened,
and a great wind rose, which howled round the walls and lashed the rain
on the windows.



VII In tuas manus, Domine!

I had not got twenty yards from the cottage door ere I knew I was
watched. I had left the shepherd still dozing, in the half-conscious
state of a dazed and broken man. All night the wind had wakened me at
intervals, and now in the half-light of morn the weather seemed more
vicious than ever. The wind cut my ears, the whole firmament was full of
the rendings and thunders of the storm. Rain fell in blinding sheets,
the heath was a marsh, and it was the most I could do to struggle
against the hurricane which stopped my breath. And all the while I knew
I was not alone in the desert.

All men know--in imagination or in experience--the sensation of being
spied on. The nerves tingle, the skin grows hot and prickly, and there
is a queer sinking of the heart. Intensify this common feeling a
hundredfold, and you get a tenth part of what I suffered. I am telling a
plain tale, and record bare physical facts. My lips stood out from my
teeth as I heard, or felt, a rustle in the heather, a scraping among
stones. Some subtle magnetic link seemed established between my body and
the mysterious world around. I became sick--acutely sick--with the
ceaseless apprehension.

My fright became so complete that when I turned a corner of rock, or
stepped in deep heather, I seemed to feel a body rub against me. This
continued all the way up the Farawa water, and then up its feeder to the
little lonely loch. It kept me from looking forward; but it likewise
kept me in such a sweat of fright that I was ready to faint. Then
thenotion came upon me to test this fancy of mine. If I was tracked thus
closely, clearly the trackers would bar my way if I turned back. So I
wheeled round and walked a dozen paces down the glen.

Nothing stopped me. I was about to turn again, when something made me
take six more paces. At the fourth something rustled in the heather, and
my neck was gripped as in a vice. I had already made up my mind on what
I would do. I would be perfectly still, I would conquer my fear, and let
them do as they pleased with me so long as they took me to their
dwelling. But at the touch of the hands my resolutions fled. I struggled
and screamed. Then something was clapped on my mouth, speech and
strength went from me, and once more I was back in the maudlin childhood
of terror.


In the cave it was always a dusky twilight. I seemed to be lying in the
same place, with the same dull glare of firelight far off, and the same
close stupefying smell. One of the creatures was standing silently at my
side, and I asked him some trivial question. He turned and shambled down
the passage, leaving me alone.

Then he returned with another, and they talked their guttural talk to
me. I scarcely listened till I remembered that in a sense I was here of
my own accord, and on a definite mission. The purport of their speech
seemed to be that, now I had returned, I must beware of a second flight.
Once I had been spared; a second time I should be killed without mercy.

I assented gladly. The Folk, then, had some use for me. I felt my errand
prospering.

Then the old creature which I had seen before crept out of some corner
and squatted beside me. He put a claw on my shoulder, a horrible,
corrugated, skeleton thing, hairy to the finger-tips and nailless. He
grinned, too, with toothless gums, and his hideous old voice was like a
file on sandstone.

I asked questions, but he would only grin and jabber, looking now and
then furtively over his shoulder towards the fire.

I coaxed and humoured him, till he launched into a narrative of which I
could make nothing. It seemed a mere string of names, with certain words
repeated at fixed intervals. Then it flashed on me that this might be a
religious incantation. I had discovered remnants of a ritual and a
mythology among them. It was possible that these were sacred days, and
that I had stumbled upon some rude celebration.

I caught a word or two and repeated them. He looked at me curiously.
Then I asked him some leading question, and he replied with clearness.
My guess was right. The midsummer week was the holy season of the year,
when sacrifices were offered to the gods.

The notion of sacrifices disquieted me, and I would fain have asked
further. But the creature would speak no more. He hobbled off, and left
me alone in the rock-chamber to listen to a strange sound which hung
ceaselessly about me. It must be the storm without, like a pack of
artillery rattling among the crags. A storm of storms surely, for the
place echoed and hummed, and to my unquiet eye the very rock of the roof
seemed to shake!

Apparently my existence was forgotten, for I lay long before any one
returned. Then it was merely one who brought food, the same strange meal
as before, and left hastily. When I had eaten I rose and stretched
myself. My hands and knees still quivered nervously; but I was strong
and perfectly well in body. The empty, desolate, tomb-like place was
eerie enough to scare any one; but its emptiness was comfort when I
thought of its inmates. Then I wandered down the passage towards the
fire which was burning in loneliness. Where had the Folk gone? I puzzled
over their disappearance.

Suddenly sounds began to break on my ear, coming from some inner chamber
at the end of that in which the fire burned. I could scarcely see for
the smoke; but I began to make my way towards the noise, feeling along
the sides of rock. Then a second gleam of light seemed to rise before
me, and I came to an aperture in the wall which gave entrance to another
room.

This in turn was full of smoke and glow--a murky orange glow, as if from
some strange flame of roots. There were the squat moving figures,
running in wild antics round the fire. I crouched in the entrance,
terrified and yet curious, till I saw something beyond the blaze which
held me dumb. Apart from the others and tied to some stake in the wall
was a woman's figure, and the face was the face of the shepherd's
sister.

My first impulse was flight. I must get away and think,--plan, achieve
some desperate way of escape. I sped back to the silent chamber as if
the gang were at my heels. It was still empty, and I stood helplessly in
the centre, looking at the impassable walls of rock as a wearied beast
may look at the walls of its cage. I bethought me of the way I had
escaped before and rushed thither, only to find it blocked by a huge
contrivance of stone. Yards and yards of solid rock were between me and
the upper air, and yet through it all came the crash and whistle of the
storm. If I were at my wits' end in this inner darkness, there was also
high commotion among the powers of the air in that upper world.

As I stood I heard the soft steps of my tormentors. They seemed to think
I was meditating escape, for they flung themselves on me and bore me to
the ground. I did not struggle, and when they saw me quiet, they
squatted round and began to speak. They told me of the holy season and
its sacrifices. At first I could not follow them; then when I caught
familiar words I found some clue, and they became intelligible. They
spoke of a woman, and I asked, 'What woman?' With all frankness they
told me of the custom which prevailed--how every twentieth summer a
woman was sacrificed to some devilish god, and by the hand of one of the
stranger race. I said nothing, but my whitening face must have told them
a tale, though I strove hard to keep my composure. I asked if they had
found the victims. 'She is in this place,' they said; 'and as for the
man, thou art he.' And with this they left me.

I had still some hours; so much I gathered from their talk, for the
sacrifice was at sunset. Escape was cut off for ever. I have always been
something of a fatalist, and at the prospect of the irrevocable end my
cheerfulness returned. I had my pistol, for they had taken nothing from
me. I took out the little weapon and fingered it lovingly. Hope of the
lost, refuge of the vanquished, ease to the coward--blessed be he who
first conceived it!

The time dragged on, the minutes grew to hours, and still I was left
solitary. Only the mad violence of the storm broke the quiet. It had
increased in violence, for the stones at the mouth of the exit by which
I had formerly escaped seemed to rock with some external pressure, and
cutting shafts of wind slipped past and cleft the heat of the passage.
What a sight the ravine outside must be, I thought, set in the forehead
of a great hill, and swept clean by every breeze! Then came a crashing,
and the long hollow echo of a fall. The rocks are splitting, said I; the
road down the corrie will be impassable now and for evermore.

I began to grow weak with the nervousness of the waiting, and by-and-by
I lay down and fell into a sort of doze. When I next knew consciousness
I was being roused by two of the Folk, and bidden get ready. I stumbled
to my feet, felt for the pistol in the hollow of my sleeve, and prepared
to follow.

When we came out into the wider chamber the noise of the storm was
deafening. The roof rang like a shield which has been struck. I noticed,
perturbed as I was, that my guards cast anxious eyes around them,
alarmed, like myself, at the murderous din. Nor was the world quieter
when we entered the last chamber, where the fire burned and the remnant
of the Folk waited. Wind had found an entrance from somewhere or other,
and the flames blew here and there, and the smoke gyrated in odd
circles. At the back, and apart from the rest, I saw the dazed eyes and
the white old drawn face of the woman.

They led me up beside her to a place where there was a rude flat
stone, hollowed in the centre, and on it a rusty iron knife, which
seemed once to have formed part of a scythe-blade. Then I saw the
ceremonial which was marked out for me. It was the very rite which I had
dimly figured as current among a rude people, and even in that moment I
had something of the scholar's satisfaction.

The oldest of the Folk, who seemed to be a sort of priest, came to my
side and mumbled a form of words. His fetid breath sickened me; his dull
eyes, glassy like a brute's with age, brought my knees together. He put
the knife in my hands, dragged the terror-stricken woman forward to the
altar, and bade me begin.

I began by sawing her bonds through. When she felt herself free she
would have fled back, but stopped when I bade her. At that moment there
came a noise of rending and crashing as if the hills were falling, and
for one second the eyes of the Folk were averted from the frustrated
sacrifice.

Only for a moment. The next they saw what I had done, and with one
impulse rushed towards me. Then began the last scene in the play. I sent
a bullet through the right eye of the first thing that came on. The
second shot went wide; but the third shattered the hand of an elderly
ruffian with a cruel club. Never for an instant did they stop, and now
they were clutching at me. I pushed the woman behind, and fired three
rapid shots in blind panic, and then, clutching the scythe, I struck
right and left like a madman.

Suddenly I saw the foreground sink before my eyes. The roof sloped down,
and with a sickening hiss a mountain of rock and earth seemed to
precipitate itself on my assailants. One, nipped in the middle by a
rock, caught my eye by his hideous writhings. Two only remained in what
was now a little suffocating chamber, with embers from the fire still
smoking on the floor.

The woman caught me by the hand and drew me with her, while the two
seemed mute with fear. 'There's a road at the back,' she screamed. 'I
ken it. I fand it out.' And she pulled me up a narrow hole in the rock.


How long we climbed I do not know. We were both fighting for air, with
the tightness of throat and chest, and the craziness of limb which mean
suffocation. I cannot tell when we first came to the surface, but I
remember the woman, who seemed, to have the strength of extreme terror,
pulling me from the edge of a crevasse and laying me on a flat rock. It
seemed to be the depth of winter, with sheer-falling rain and a wind
that shook the hills.

Then I was once more myself and could look about me. From my feet yawned
a sheer abyss, where once had been a hill-shoulder. Some great mass of
rock on the brow of the mountain had been loosened by the storm, and in
its fall had caught the lips of the ravine and swept the nest of
dwellings into a yawning pit. Beneath a mountain of rubble lay buried
that life on which I had thought to build my fame.

My feeling--Heaven help me!--was not thankfulness for God's mercy and my
escape, but a bitter mad regret. I rushed frantically to the edge, and
when I saw only the blackness of darkness I wept weak tears. All the
time the storm was tearing at my body, and I had to grip hard by hand
and foot to keep my place.

Suddenly on the brink of the ravine I saw a third figure. We two were
not the only fugitives. One of the Folk had escaped.

The thought put new life into me, for I had lost the first fresh
consciousness of terror. There still remained a relic of the vanished
life. Could I but make the thing my prisoner, there would be proof in my
hands to overcome a sceptical world.

I ran to it, and to my surprise the thing as soon as it saw me rushed to
meet me. At first I thought it was with some instinct of
self-preservation, but when I saw its eyes I knew the purpose of fight.
Clearly one or other should go no more from the place.

We were some ten yards from the brink when I grappled with it. Dimly I
heard the woman scream with fright, and saw her scramble across the
hillside. Then we were tugging in a death-throe, the hideous smell-of
the thing in my face, its red eyes burning into mine, and its hoarse
voice muttering. Its strength seemed incredible; but I, too, am no
weakling. We tugged and strained, its nails biting into my flesh, while
I choked its throat unsparingly. Every second I dreaded lest we should
plunge together over the ledge, for it was thither my adversary tried to
draw me. I caught my heel in a nick of rock, and pulled madly against
it.

And then, while I was beginning to glory with the pride of conquest, my
hope was dashed in pieces. The thing seemed to break from my arms, and,
as if in despair, cast itself headlong into the impenetrable darkness. I
stumbled blindly after it, saved myself on the brink, and fell back,
sick and ill, into a merciful swoon.



VIII Note in conclusion by the Editor

At this point the narrative of my unfortunate friend, Mr. Graves of St
Chad's, breaks off abruptly. He wrote it shortly before his death, and
was prevented from completing it by the shock of apoplexy which
carried him off. In accordance with the instructions in his will, I have
prepared it for publication, and now in much fear and hesitation give it
to the world. First, however, I must supplement it by such facts as fall
within my knowledge.

The shepherd seems to have gone to Allermuir and by the help of the
letter convinced the inhabitants. A body of men was collected under the
landlord, and during the afternoon set out for the hills. But
unfortunately the great midsummer storm--the most terrible of recent
climatic disturbances--had filled the mosses and streams, and they found
themselves unable to proceed by any direct road. Ultimately late in the
evening they arrived at the cottage of Farawa, only to find there a
raving woman, the shepherd's sister, who seemed crazy with brain-fever.
She told some rambling story about her escape, but her narrative said
nothing of Mr. Graves. So they treated her with what skill they
possessed, and sheltered for the night in and around the cottage. Next
morning the storm had abated a little, and the woman had recovered
something of her wits. From her they learned that Mr. Graves was lying
in a ravine on the side of the Muneraw in imminent danger of his life. A
body set out to find him; but so immense was the landslip, and so
dangerous the whole mountain, that it was nearly evening when they
recovered him from the ledge of rock. He was alive, but unconscious, and
on bringing him back to the cottage it was clear that he was, indeed,
very ill. There he lay for three months, while the best skill that could
be got was procured for him. By dint of an uncommon toughness of
constitution he survived; but it was an old and feeble man who returned
to Oxford in the early winter.

The shepherd and his sister immediately left the countryside, and were
never more heard of, unless they are the pair of unfortunates who are at
present in a Scottish pauper asylum, incapable of remembering even their
names. The people who last spoke with them declared that their minds
seemed weakened by a great shock, and that it was hopeless to try to get
any connected or rational statement.

The career of my poor friend from that hour was little short of a
tragedy. He awoke from his illness to find the world incredulous; even
the countryfolk of Allermuir set down the story to the shepherd's
craziness and my friend's credulity. In Oxford his argument was received
with polite scorn. An account of his experiences which he drew up for
the 'Times' was refused by the editor; and an article on 'Primitive
Peoples of the North,' embodying what he believed to be the result of
his discoveries, was unanimously rejected by every responsible journal
in Europe. Whether he was soured by such treatment, or whether his brain
had already been weakened, he became a morose silent man, and for the two
years before his death had few friends and no society. From the obituary
notice in the 'Times' I take the following paragraph, which shows in
what light the world had come to look upon him:


'At the, outset of his career he was regarded as a rising scholar in one
department of archaeology, and his Taffert lectures were a real
contribution to an obscure subject. But in after-life he was led into
fantastic speculations; and when he found himself unable to convince his
colleagues, he gradually retired into himself, and lived practically a
hermit's life till his death. His career, thus broken short, is a sad
instance of the fascination which the recondite and the quack can
exercise even on men of approved ability.'


And now his own narrative is published, and the world can judge as it
pleases about the amazing romance. The view which will doubtless find
general acceptance is that the whole is a figment of the brain, begotten
of some harmless moorland adventure and the company of such religious
maniacs as the shepherd and his sister. But some who knew the former
sobriety and calmness of my friend's mind may be disposed timorously and
with deep hesitation to another verdict. They may accept the narrative,
and believe that somewhere in those moorlands he met with a horrible
primitive survival, passed through the strangest adventure, and had his
finger on an epoch-making discovery. In this case they will be inclined
to sympathise with the loneliness and misunderstanding of his latter
days. It is not for me to decide the question. That which alone could
bring proof is buried beneath a thousand tons of rock in the midst of an
untrodden desert.




THE WATCHER BY THE THRESHOLD

A chill evening in the early October of the year 189--found me driving
in a dogcart through the belts of antique woodland which form the
lowland limits of the hilly parish of More. The Highland express, which
brought me from the north, took me no farther than Perth. Thence it had
been a slow journey in a disjointed local train, till I emerged on the
platform at Morefoot, with a bleak prospect of pot stalks, coal heaps,
certain sour corn lands, and far to the west a line of moor where the
sun was setting. A neat groom and a respectable trap took the edge off
my discomfort, and soon I had forgotten my sacrifice and found eyes for
the darkening landscape. We were driving through a land of thick woods,
cut at rare intervals by old long-frequented highways. The More, which
at Morefoot is an open sewer, became a sullen woodland stream, where the
brown leaves of the season drifted. At times we would pass an ancient
lodge, and through a gap in the trees would come a glimpse of chipped
crowstep gable. The names of such houses, as told me by my companion,
were all famous. This one had been the home of a drunken Jacobite
laird, and a king of north country Medmenham. Unholy revels had
waked the old halls, and the devil had been toasted at many a
hell-fire dinner. The next was the property of a great Scots law
family, and there the old Lord of Session, who built the place,
in his frouzy wig and carpet slippers, had laid down the canons
of Taste for his day and society. The whole country had the air of faded
and bygone gentility. The mossy roadside walls had stood for two hundred
years; the few wayside houses were toll bars or defunct hostelries. The
names, too, were great: Scots baronial with a smack of France,--Chatelray
and Riverslaw, Black Holm and Fountainblue. The place had a cunning
charm, mystery dwelt in every, cranny, and yet it did not please me.
The earth smelt heavy and raw; the roads were red underfoot; all
was old, sorrowful, and uncanny. Compared with the fresh Highland
glen I had left, where wind and sun and flying showers were never
absent, all was chilly and dull and dead. Even when the sun sent a
shiver of crimson over the crests of certain firs, I felt no delight
in the prospect. I admitted shamefacedly to myself that I was in a
very bad temper.

I had been staying at Glenaicill with the Clanroydens, and for a week
had found the proper pleasure in life. You know the house with its old
rooms and gardens, and the miles of heather which defend it from the
world. The shooting had been extraordinary for a wild place late in the
season; for there are few partridges, and the woodcock are notoriously
late. I had done respectably in my stalking, more than respectably on
the river, and creditably on the moors. Moreover, there were pleasant
people in the house--and there were the Clanroydens. I had had a hard
year's work, sustained to the last moment of term, and a fortnight in
Norway had been disastrous. It was therefore with real comfort that I
had settled myself down for another ten days in Glenaicill, when all my
plans were shattered by Sibyl's letter. Sibyl is my cousin and my very
good friend, and in old days when I was briefless I had fallen in love
with her many times. But she very sensibly chose otherwise, and married
a man Ladlaw--Robert John Ladlaw, who had been at school with me. He was
a cheery, good-humoured fellow, a great sportsman, a justice of the
peace, and deputy lieutenant for his county, and something of an
antiquary in a mild way. He had a box in Leicestershire to which he went
in the hunting season, but from February till October he lived in his
moorland home. The place was called the House of More, and I had shot at
it once or twice in recent years. I remembered its loneliness and its
comfort, the charming diffident Sibyl, and Ladlaw's genial welcome. And
my recollections set me puzzling again over the letter which that
morning had broken into my comfort. 'You promised us a visit this
autumn,' Sibyl had written, 'and I wish you would come as soon as you
can.' So far common politeness. But she had gone on to reveal the fact
that Ladlaw was ill; she did not know how, exactly, but something, she
thought, about his heart. Then she had signed herself my affectionate
cousin, and then had come a short, violent postscript, in which, as it
were, the fences of convention had been laid low. 'For Heaven's sake,
come and see us,' she scrawled below. 'Bob is terribly ill, and I am
crazy. Come at once.' To cap it she finished with an afterthought:
'Don't bother about bringing doctors. It is not their business.'

She had assumed that I would come, and dutifully I set out. I could not
regret my decision, but I took leave to upbraid my luck. The thought of
Glenaicill, with the woodcock beginning to arrive and the Clanroydens
imploring me to stay, saddened my journey in the morning, and the murky,
coaly, midland country of the afternoon completed my depression. The
drive through the woodlands of More failed to raise my spirits.
I was anxious about Sibyl and Ladlaw, and this accursed country
had always given me a certain eeriness on my first approaching it.
You may call it silly, but I have no nerves and am little susceptible
to vague sentiment. It was sheer physical dislike of the rich
deep soil, the woody and antique smells, the melancholy roads
and trees, and the flavor of old mystery. I am aggressively healthy and
wholly Philistine. I love clear outlines and strong colors, and More
with its half tints and hazy distances depressed me miserably. Even when
the road crept uphill and the trees ended, I found nothing to hearten me
in the moorland which succeeded. It was genuine moorland, close on eight
hundred feet above the sea, and through it ran this old grass-grown
coach road. Low hills rose to the left, and to the right, after some
miles of peat, flared the chimneys of pits and oil works. Straight in
front the moor ran out into the horizon, and there in the centre was the
last dying spark of the sun. The place was as still as the grave save
for the crunch of our wheels on the grassy road, but the flaring lights
to the north seemed to endow it with life. I have rarely had so keenly
the feeling of movement in the inanimate world. It was an unquiet place,
and I shivered nervously. Little gleams of loch came from the hollows,
the burns were brown with peat, and every now and then there rose in the
moor jags of sickening red stone. I remembered that Ladlaw had talked
about the place as the old Manann, the holy land of the ancient races. I
had paid little attention at the time, but now it struck me that the old
peoples had been wise in their choice. There was something uncanny in
this soil and air. Framed in dank mysterious woods and a country of coal
and ironstone, at no great distance from the capital city, it was a
sullen relic of a lost barbarism. Over the low hills lay a green
pastoral country with bright streams and valleys, but here, in this
peaty desert, there were few sheep and little cultivation. The House of
More was the only dwelling, and, save for the ragged village, the
wilderness was given over to the wild things of the hills. The shooting
was good, but the best shooting on earth would not persuade me to make
my abode in such a place. Ladlaw was ill; well, I did not wonder. You
can have uplands without air, moors that are not health-giving, and a
country life which is more arduous than a townsman's. I shivered again,
for I seemed to have passed in a few hours from the open noon to a kind
of dank twilight.

We passed the village and entered the lodge gates. Here there were trees
again--little innocent new-planted firs, which flourished ill. Some
large plane trees grew near the house, and there were thickets upon
thickets of the ugly elderberry. Even in the half darkness I could see
that the lawns were trim and the flower beds respectable for the season;
doubtless Sibyl looked after the gardeners. The oblong whitewashed
house, more like a barrack than ever, opened suddenly on my sight, and I
experienced my first sense of comfort since I left Glenaicill. Here I
should find warmth and company; and sure enough, the hall door was wide
open, and in the great flood of light which poured from it Sibyl stood
to welcome me.

She ran down the steps as I dismounted, and, with a word to the groom,
caught my arm and drew me into the shadow. 'Oh, Henry, it was so good of
you to come. You mustn't let Bob think that you know he is ill. We don't
talk about it. I'll tell you afterwards. I want you to cheer him up. Now
we must go in, for he is in the hall expecting you.'

While I stood blinking in the light, Ladlaw came forward with
outstretched hand and his usual cheery greeting. I looked at him and saw
nothing unusual in his appearance; a little drawn at the lips, perhaps,
and heavy below the eyes, but still fresh-colored and healthy. It was
Sibyl who showed change. She was very pale, her pretty eyes were
deplorably mournful, and in place of her delightful shyness there were
the self-confidence and composure of pain. I was honestly shocked, and
as I dressed my heart was full of hard thoughts about Ladlaw. What could
his illness mean? He seemed well and cheerful, while Sibyl was pale; and
yet it was Sibyl who had written the postscript. As I warmed myself by
the fire, I resolved that this particular family difficulty was my
proper business.

* * * * *

The Ladlaws were waiting for me in the drawing-room. I noticed something
new and strange in Sibyl's demeanor. She looked to her husband with a
motherly, protective air, while Ladlaw, who had been the extreme of
masculine independence, seemed to cling to his wife with a curious
appealing fidelity. In conversation he did little more than echo her
words. Till dinner was announced he spoke of the weather, the shooting,
and Mabel Clanroyden. Then he did a queer thing; for when I was about to
offer my arm to Sibyl he forestalled me, and clutching her right arm
with his left hand led the way to the dining room, leaving me to follow
in some bewilderment.

I have rarely taken part in a more dismal meal. The House of More has a
pretty Georgian paneling through most of the rooms, but in the dining
room the walls are level and painted a dull stone color. Abraham offered
up Isaac in a ghastly picture in front of me. Some photographs of the
Quorn hung over the mantelpiece, and five or six drab ancestors filled
up the remaining space. But one thing was new and startling. A great
marble bust, a genuine antique, frowned on me from a pedestal. The
head was in the late Roman style, clearly of some emperor, and in
its commonplace environment the great brows, the massive neck,
and the mysterious solemn lips had a surprising effect. I nodded
toward the thing, and asked what it represented.

Ladlaw grunted something which I took for 'Justinian,' but he never
raised his eyes from his plate. By accident I caught Sibyl's glance. She
looked toward the bust, and laid a finger on her lips.

The meal grew more doleful as it advanced. Sibyl scarcely touched a
dish, but her husband ate ravenously of everything. He was a strong,
thickset man, with a square kindly face burned brown by the sun. Now he
seemed to have suddenly coarsened. He gobbled with undignified haste,
and his eye was extraordinarily vacant. A question made him start, and
he would turn on me a face so strange and inert that I repented the
interruption.

I asked him about the autumn's sport. He collected his wits with
difficulty. He thought it had been good, on the whole, but he had shot
badly. He had not been quite so fit as usual. No, he had had nobody
staying with him. Sibyl had wanted to be alone. He was afraid the moor
might have been undershot, but he would make a big day with keepers and
farmers before the winter.

'Bob has done pretty well,' Sibyl said. 'He hasn't been out often, for
the weather has been very bad here. You can have no idea, Henry, how
horrible this moorland place of ours can be when it tries. It is one
great sponge sometimes, with ugly red burns and mud to the ankles.'

'I don't think it's healthy,' said I.

Ladlaw lifted his face. 'Nor do I. I think it's intolerable, but I am so
busy I can't get away.'

Once again I caught Sibyl's warning eye as I was about to question him
on his business.

Clearly the man's brain had received a shock, and he was beginning to
suffer from hallucinations. This could be the only explanation, for he
had always led a temperate life. The distrait, wandering manner was the
only sign of his malady, for otherwise he seemed normal and mediocre as
ever. My heart grieved for Sibyl, alone with him in this wilderness.

Then he broke the silence. He lifted his head and looked nervously
around till his eye fell on the Roman bust.

'Do you know that this countryside is the old Manann?' he said.

It was an odd turn to the conversation, but I was glad of a sign of
intelligence. I answered that I had heard so.

'It's a queer name,' he said oracularly, 'but the thing it stood for
was queerer, Manann, Manaw,' he repeated, rolling the words on his
tongue. As he spoke, he glanced sharply, and, as it seemed to me,
fearfully, at his left side.

The movement of his body made his napkin slip from his left knee and
fall on the floor. It leaned against his leg, and he started from its
touch as if he had been bitten by a snake. I have never seen a more
sheer and transparent terror on a man's face. He got to his feet, his
strong frame shaking like a rush. Sibyl ran round to his side, picked up
the napkin and flung it on a sideboard. Then she stroked his hair as one
would stroke a frightened horse. She called him by his old boy's name of
Robin, and at her touch and voice he became quiet. But the particular
course then in progress was removed, untasted.

In a few minutes he seemed to have forgotten his behavior, for he took
up the former conversation. For a time he spoke well and briskly. 'You
lawyers,' he said, 'understand only the dry framework of the past. You
cannot conceive the rapture, which only the antiquary can feel, of
constructing in every detail an old culture. Take this Manann. If I
could explore the secret of these moors, I would write the world's
greatest book. I would write of that prehistoric life when man was knit
close to nature. I would describe the people who were brothers of the
red earth and the red rock and the red streams of the hills. Oh, it
would be horrible, but superb, tremendous! It would be more than a piece
of history; it would be a new gospel, a new theory of life. It would
kill materialism once and for all. Why, man, all the poets who have
deified and personified nature would not do an eighth part of my work. I
would show you the unknown, the hideous, shrieking mystery at the back
of this simple nature. Men would see the profundity of the old crude
faiths which they affect to despise. I would make a picture of our
shaggy, sombre-eyed forefather, who heard strange things in the hill
silences. I would show him brutal and terror-stricken, but wise, wise,
God alone knows how wise! The Romans knew it, and they learned what they
could from him, though he did not tell them much. But we have some of
his blood in us, and we may go deeper. Manann! A queer land nowadays! I
sometimes love it and sometimes hate it, but I always fear it. It is
like that statue, inscrutable.'

I would have told him that he was talking mystical nonsense, but I had
looked toward the bust, and my rudeness was checked on my lips. The moor
might be a common piece of ugly waste land, but the statue was
inscrutable,--of that there was no doubt. I hate your cruel
heavy-mouthed Roman busts; to me they have none of the beauty of life,
and little of the interest of art. But my eyes were fastened on this as
they had never before looked on marble. The oppression of the
heavy woodlands, the mystery of the silent moor, seemed to be caught and
held in this face. It was the intangible mystery of culture on the verge
of savagery--a cruel, lustful wisdom, and yet a kind of bitter austerity
which laughed at the game of life and stood aloof. There was no weakness
in the heavy-veined brow and slumbrous eyelids. It was the face of one
who had conquered the world, and found it dust and ashes; one who had
eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and scorned human
wisdom. And at the same time, it was the face of one who knew uncanny
things, a man who was the intimate of the half-world and the dim
background of life. Why on earth I should connect the Roman grandee[*]
with the moorland parish of More I cannot say, but the fact remains that
there was that in the face which I knew had haunted me through the
woodlands and bogs of the place--a sleepless, dismal, incoherent
melancholy.

[* I have identified the bust, which, when seen under other
circumstances, had little power to affect me. It was a copy of the head
of Justinian in the Tesci Museum at Venice, and several duplicates
exist, dating apparently from the seventh century, and showing traces of
Byzantine decadence in the scroll work on the hair. It is engraved in M.
Delacroix's Byzantium, and, I think, in Windscheid's Pandektenlehrbuch.]

'I bought that at Colenzo's,' Ladlaw said, 'because it took my fancy. It
matches well with this place?'

I thought it matched very ill with his drab walls and Quorn photographs,
but I held my peace.

'Do you know who it is?' he asked. 'It is the head of the greatest man
the world has ever seen. You are a lawyer and know your Justinian.'

The Pandects are scarcely part of the daily work of a common-law
barrister. I had not looked into them since I left college.

'I know that he married an actress,' I said, 'and was a sort of
all-round genius. He made law, and fought battles, and had rows with the
Church. A curious man! And wasn't there some story about his selling his
soul to the devil, and getting law in exchange? Rather a poor bargain!'

I chattered away, sillily enough, to dispel the gloom of that dinner
table. The result of my words was unhappy. Ladlaw gasped and caught at
his left side, as if in pain. Sibyl, with tragic eyes, had been making
signs to me to hold my peace. Now she ran round to her husband's side
and comforted him like a child. As she passed me, she managed to whisper
in my ear to talk to her only, and let her husband alone.

For the rest of dinner I obeyed my orders to the letter. Ladlaw ate his
food in gloomy silence, while I spoke to Sibyl of our relatives and
friends, of London, Glenaicill, and any random subject. The poor girl
was dismally forgetful, and her eye would wander to her husband with
wifely anxiety. I remember being suddenly overcome by the comic
aspect of it all. Here were we three fools alone in the dank
upland: one of us sick and nervous, talking out-of-the-way nonsense
about Manann and Justinian, gobbling his food and getting scared at his
napkin; another gravely anxious; and myself at my wits' end for a
solution. It was a Mad Tea-Party with a vengeance: Sibyl the melancholy
little Dormouse, and Ladlaw the incomprehensible Hatter. I laughed
aloud, but checked myself when I caught my cousin's eye. It was really
no case for finding humor. Ladlaw was very ill, and Sibyl's face was
getting deplorably thin.

I welcomed the end of that meal with unmannerly joy, for I wanted to
speak seriously with my host. Sibyl told the butler to have the lamps
lighted in the library. Then she leaned over toward me and spoke low and
rapidly: 'I want you to talk with Bob. I'm sure you can do him good.
You'll have to be very patient with him, and very gentle. Oh, please try
to find out what is wrong with him. He won't tell me, and I can only
guess.'

The butler returned with word that the library was ready to receive us,
and Sibyl rose to go. Ladlaw half rose, protesting, making the most
curious feeble clutches to his side. His wife quieted him. 'Henry will
look after you, dear,' she said. 'You are going into the library to
smoke.' Then she slipped from the room, and we were left alone.

He caught my arm fiercely with his left hand, and his grip nearly made
me cry out. As we walked down the hall, I could feel his arm twitching
from the elbow to the shoulder. Clearly he was in pain, and I set it
down to some form of cardiac affection, which might possibly issue in
paralysis.

I settled him in the biggest armchair, and took one of his cigars. The
library is the pleasantest room in the house, and at night, when a peat
fire burned on the old hearth and the great red curtains were drawn, it
used to be the place for comfort and good talk. Now I noticed changes.
Ladlaw's bookshelves had been filled with the Proceedings of antiquarian
societies and many light-hearted works on sport. But now the Badminton
library had been cleared out of a shelf where it stood most convenient
to the hand, and its place taken by an old Leyden reprint of Justinian.
There were books on Byzantine subjects of which I never dreamed he had
heard the names; there were volumes of history and speculation, all of a
slightly bizarre kind; and to crown everything, there were several bulky
medical works with gaudily colored plates. The old atmosphere of sport
and travel had gone from the room with the medley of rods, whips, and
gun cases which used to cumber the tables. Now the place was moderately
tidy and somewhat learned, and I did not like it.

Ladlaw refused to smoke, and sat for a little while in silence. Then of
his own accord he broke the tension.

'It was devilish good of you to come, Harry. This is a lonely place for
a man who is a bit seedy.'

'I thought you might be alone,' I said, 'so I looked you up on my way
down from Glenaicill. I'm sorry to find you feeling ill.'

'Do you notice it?' he asked sharply.

'It's tolerably patent,' I said. 'Have you seen a doctor?'

He said something uncomplimentary about doctors, and kept looking at me
with his curious dull eyes.

I remarked the strange posture in which he sat, his head screwed round
to his right shoulder, and his whole body a protest against something at
his left hand.

'It looks like a heart,' I said. 'You seem to have pains in your left
side.'

Again a spasm of fear. I went over to him and stood at the back of his
chair.

'Now for goodness' sake, my dear fellow, tell me what is wrong. You're
scaring Sibyl to death. It's lonely work for the poor girl, and I wish
you would let me help you.'

He was lying back in his chair now, with his eyes half shut, and
shivering like a frightened colt. The extraordinary change in one who
had been the strongest of the strong kept me from realizing his gravity.
I put a hand on his shoulder, but he flung it off.

Tor God's sake, sit down!' he said hoarsely. 'I'm going to tell you, but
I'll never make you understand.'

I sat down promptly opposite him.

'It's the devil,' he said very solemnly.

I am afraid that I was rude enough to laugh. He took no notice, but sat,
with the same tense, miserable air, staring over my head.

'Right,' said I. 'Then it is the devil. It's a new complaint, so it's as
well I did not bring a doctor. How does it affect you?'

He made the old impotent clutch at the air with his left hand. I had the
sense to become grave at once. Clearly this was some serious mental
affection, some hallucination born of physical pain.

Then he began to talk in a low voice, very rapidly, with his head bent
forward like a hunted animal's. I am not going to set down what he told
me in his own words, for they were incoherent often, and there was much
repetition. But I am going to write the gist of the odd story which took
my sleep away on that autumn night, with such explanations and additions
I think needful. The fire died down, the wind arose, the hour grew late,
and still he went on in his mumbling recitative. I forgot to smoke,
forgot my comfort--everything but the odd figure of my friend and his
inconceivable romance. And the night before I had been in cheerful
Glenaicill!


He had returned to the House of More, he said, in the latter part of May,
and shortly after he fell ill. It was a trifling sickness,--influenza
or something,--but he had never quite recovered. The rainy weather
of June depressed him, and the extreme heat of July made him listless
and weary. A kind of insistent sleepiness hung over him, and he
suffered much from nightmare. Toward the end of July his former
health returned, but he was haunted with a curious oppression. He
seemed to himself to have lost the art of being alone. There was a
perpetual sound in his left ear, a kind of moving and rustling at his
left side, which never left him by night or day. In addition, he had
become the prey of nerves and an insensate dread of the unknown.

Ladlaw, as I have explained, was a commonplace man, with fair talents, a
mediocre culture, honest instincts, and the beliefs and incredulities of
his class. On abstract grounds, I should have declared him an unlikely
man to be the victim of an hallucination. He had a kind of dull
bourgeois rationalism, which used to find reasons for all things in
heaven and earth. At first he controlled his dread with proverbs. He
told himself it was the sequel of his illness or the light-headedness of
summer heat on the moors. But it soon outgrew his comfort. It became a
living second presence, an alter ego which dogged his footsteps. He grew
acutely afraid of it. He dared not be alone for a moment, and clung to
Sibyl's company despairingly. She went off for a week's visit in the
beginning of August, and he endured for seven days the tortures of the
lost. The malady advanced upon him with swift steps. The presence became
more real daily. In the early dawning, in the twilight, and in the first
hour of the morning it seemed at times to take a visible bodily form. A
kind of amorphous featureless shadow would run from his side into the
darkness, and he would sit palsied with terror. Sometimes, in lonely
places, his footsteps sounded double, and something would brush elbows
with him. Human society alone exorcised it. With Sibyl at his side he
was happy; but as soon as she left him, the thing came slinking back
from the unknown to watch by him. Company might have saved him, but
joined to his affliction was a crazy dread of his fellows. He would not
leave his moorland home, but must bear his burden alone among the wild
streams and mosses of that dismal place.

The 12th came, and he shot wretchedly, for his nerve had gone to
pieces. He stood exhaustion badly, and became a dweller about the doors.
But with this bodily inertness came an extraordinary intellectual
revival. He read widely in a blundering way, and he speculated
unceasingly. It was characteristic of the man that as soon as he left
the paths of the prosaic he should seek his supernatural in a very
concrete form. He assumed that he was haunted by the devil--the visible
personal devil in whom our fathers believed. He waited hourly for the
shape at his side to speak, but no words came. The Accuser of the
Brethren in all but tangible form was his ever present companion. He
felt, he declared, the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his
blood. He sold his soul many times over, and yet there was no
possibility of resistance. It was a Visitation more undeserved than
Job's, and a thousandfold more awful.

For a week or more he was tortured with a kind of religious mania. When
a man of a healthy secular mind finds himself adrift on the terrible
ocean of religious troubles he is peculiarly helpless, for he has not
the most rudimentary knowledge of the winds and tides. It was useless to
call up his old carelessness; he had suddenly dropped into a new world
where old proverbs did not apply. And all the while, mind you, there was
the shrinking terror of it--an intellect all alive to the torture and
the most unceasing physical fear. For a little he was on the far edge of
idiocy.

Then by accident it took a new form. While sitting with Sibyl one day in
the library, he began listlessly to turn over the leaves of an old book.
He read a few pages, and found the hint to a story like his own. It was
some French Life of Justinian, one of the unscholarly productions of
last century, made up of stories from Procopius and tags of Roman law.
Here was his own case written down in black and white; and the man had
been a king of kings. This was a new comfort, and for a little--strange
though it may seem--he took a sort of pride in his affliction. He
worshiped the great Emperor, and read every scrap he could find on him,
not excepting the Pandects and the Digest. He sent for the bust in the
dining room, paying a fabulous price. Then he settled himself to study
his imperial prototype, and the study became an idolatry. As I have
said, Ladlaw was a man of ordinary talents, and certainly of meagre
imaginative power. And yet from the lies of the Secret History and the
crudities of German legalists he had constructed a marvelous portrait of
a man. Sitting there in the half-lighted room, he drew the picture: the
quiet cold man with his inheritance of Dacian mysticism, holding the
great world in fee, giving it law and religion, fighting its wars,
building its churches, and yet all the while intent upon his own private
work of making his peace with his soul--the churchman and warrior whom
all the world worshiped, and yet one going through life with his lip
quivering. He Watched by the Threshold ever at the left side. Sometimes
at night, in the great Brazen Palace, warders heard the Emperor walking
in the dark corridors, alone, and yet not alone; for once, when a
servant entered with a lamp, he saw his master with a face as of another
world, and something beside him which had no face or shape, but which he
knew to be that hoary Evil which is older than the stars.

Crazy nonsense! I had to rub my eyes to assure myself that I was not
sleeping. No! There was my friend with his suffering face, and it was
the library of More.

And then he spoke of Theodora,--actress, harlot, devote, empress. For
him the lady was but another part of the uttermost horror, a form of the
shapeless thing at his side. I felt myself falling under the
fascination. I have no nerves and little imagination, but in a flash I
seemed to realize something of that awful featureless face, crouching
ever at a man's hand, till darkness and loneliness come, and it rises to
its mastery. I shivered as I looked at the man in the chair before me.
These dull eyes of his were looking upon things I could not see, and I
saw their terror. I realized that it was grim earnest for him. Nonsense
or no, some devilish fancy had usurped the place of his sanity, and he
was being slowly broken upon the wheel. And then, when his left hand
twitched, I almost cried out. I had thought it comic before; now it
seemed the last proof of tragedy.

He stopped, and I got up with loose knees and went to the window. Better
the black night than the intangible horror within. I flung up the sash
and looked out across the moor. There was no light; nothing but an inky
darkness and the uncanny rustle of elder bushes. The sound chilled me,
and I closed the window.

'The land is the old Manann,' Ladlaw was saying. 'We are beyond the pale
here. Do you hear the wind?'

I forced myself back into sanity and looked at my watch. It was nearly
one o'clock.

'What ghastly idiots we are!' I said. 'I am off to bed.'

Ladlaw looked at me helplessly. 'For God's sake, don't leave me alone!'
he moaned. 'Get Sibyl.'

We went together back to the hall, while he kept the same feverish grasp
on my arm. Some one was sleeping in a chair by the hall fire, and to my
distress I recognized my hostess. The poor child must have been sadly
wearied. She came forward with her anxious face.

'I'm afraid Bob has kept you very late, Henry,' she said. 'I hope you
will sleep well. Breakfast at nine, you know.' And then I left them.

* * * * *

Over my bed there was a little picture, a reproduction of some Italian
work, of Christ and the Demoniac. Some impulse made me hold my candle up
to it. The madman's face was torn with passion and suffering, and his
eye had the pained furtive expression which I had come to know. And by
his left side there was a dim shape crouching.

I got into bed hastily, but not to sleep. I felt that my reason must be
going. I had been pitchforked from our clear and cheerful modern life
into the mists of old superstition. Old tragic stories of my Calvinist
upbringing returned to haunt me. The man dwelt in by a devil was no new
fancy, but I believed that science had docketed and analyzed and
explained the devil out of the world. I remembered my dabblings in the
occult before I settled down to law--the story of Donisarius, the monk
of Padua, the unholy legend of the Face of Proserpine, the tales of
succubi and incubi, the Leannain Sith and the Hidden Presence. But here
was something stranger still. I had stumbled upon that very possession
which fifteen hundred years ago had made the monks of New Rome tremble
and cross themselves. Some devilish occult force, lingering through the
ages, had come to life after a long sleep. God knows what earthly
connection there was between the splendid Emperor of the World and my
prosaic friend, or between the glittering shores of the Bosporus and
this moorland parish! But the land was the old Manann! The spirit may
have lingered in the earth and air, a deadly legacy from Pict and Roman.
I had felt the uncanniness of the place; I had augured ill of it from
the first. And then in sheer disgust I rose and splashed my face with
cold water.

I lay down again, laughing miserably at my credulity. That I, the sober
and rational, should believe in this crazy fable was too palpably
absurd. I would steel my mind resolutely against such harebrained
theories. It was a mere bodily ailment--liver out of order, weak heart,
bad circulation, or something of that sort. At the worst it might be
some affection of the brain, to be treated by a specialist. I vowed to
myself that next morning the best doctor in Edinburgh should be brought
to More.

The worst of it was that my duty compelled me to stand my ground. I
foresaw the few remaining weeks of my holiday blighted. I should be tied
to this moorland prison, a sort of keeper and nurse in one, tormented by
silly fancies. It was a charming prospect, and the thought of Glenaicill
and the woodcock made me bitter against Ladlaw. But there was no way out
of it. I might do Ladlaw good, and I could not have Sibyl worn to death
by his vagaries.

My ill nature comforted me, and I forgot the horror of the thing in its
vexation. After that I think I fell asleep and dozed uneasily till
morning. When I woke I was in a better frame of mind. The early sun had
worked wonders with the moorland. The low hills stood out fresh-colored
and clear against a pale October sky; the elders sparkled with frost;
the raw film of morn was rising from the little loch in tiny clouds. It
was a cold, rousing day, and I dressed in good spirits and went down to
breakfast.

I found Ladlaw looking ruddy and well; very different from the broken
man I remembered of the night before. We were alone, for Sibyl was
breakfasting in bed. I remarked on his ravenous appetite, and he smiled
cheerily. He made two jokes during the meal; he laughed often, and I
began to forget the events of the previous day. It seemed to me that I
might still flee from More with a clear conscience. He had forgotten
about his illness. When I touched distantly upon the matter he showed a
blank face.

It might be that the affection had passed; on the other hand, it might
return to him at the darkening. I had no means to decide. His manner was
still a trifle distrait and peculiar, and I did not like the dullness in
his eye. At any rate, I should spend the day in his company, and the
evening would decide the question.

I proposed shooting, which he promptly vetoed. He was no good at
walking, he said, and the birds were wild. This seriously limited the
possible occupations. Fishing there was none, and hill-climbing was out
of the question. He proposed a game at billiards, and I pointed to the
glory of the morning. It would have been sacrilege to waste such
sunshine in knocking balls about. Finally we agreed to drive somewhere
and have lunch, and he ordered the dogcart.

In spite of all forebodings I enjoyed the day. We drove in the opposite
direction from the woodland parts, right away across the moor to the
coal country beyond. We lunched at the little mining town of Borrowmuir,
in a small and noisy public house. The roads made bad going, the country
was far from pretty, and yet the drive did not bore me. Ladlaw talked
incessantly--talked as I had never heard man talk before. There was
something indescribable in all he said, a different point of view, a
lost groove of thought, a kind of innocence and archaic shrewdness in
one. I can only give you a hint of it, by saying that it was like the
mind of an early ancestor placed suddenly among modern surroundings. It
was wise with a remote wisdom, and silly (now and then) with a quite
antique and distant silliness.

I will give instances of both. He provided me with a theory of certain
early fortifications, which must be true, which commends itself to the
mind with overwhelming conviction, and yet which is so out of the way of
common speculation that no man could have guessed it. I do not propose
to set down the details, for I am working at it on my own account.
Again, he told me the story of an old marriage custom, which till
recently survived in this district--told it with full circumstantial
detail and constant allusions to other customs which he could not
possibly have known of. Now for the other side. He explained why well
water is in winter warmer than a running stream, and this was his
explanation: at the antipodes our winter is summer, consequently, the
water of a well which comes through from the other side of the earth
must be warm in winter and cold in summer, since in our summer it is
winter there. You perceive what this is. It is no mere silliness, but a
genuine effort of an early mind, which had just grasped the fact of the
antipodes, to use it in explanation.

Gradually I was forced to the belief that it was not Ladlaw who was
talking to me, but something speaking through him, something at once
wiser and simpler. My old fear of the devil began to depart. This
spirit, the exhalation, whatever it was, was ingenuous in its way, at
least in its daylight aspect. For a moment I had an idea that it was a
real reflex of Byzantine thought, and that by cross-examining I might
make marvelous discoveries. The ardor of the scholar began to rise in
me, and I asked a question about that much-debated point, the legal
status of the apocrisiarii. To my vexation he gave no response. Clearly
the intelligence of this familiar had its limits.

It was about three in the afternoon, and we had gone half of our
homeward journey, when signs of the old terror began to appear. I was
driving, and Ladlaw sat on my left. I noticed him growing nervous and
silent, shivering at the flick of the whip, and turning halfway round
toward me. Then he asked me to change places, and I had the unpleasant
work of driving from the wrong side. After that I do not think he spoke
once till we arrived at More, but sat huddled together, with the driving
rug almost up to his chin--an eccentric figure of a man.

I foresaw another such night as the last, and I confess my heart sank. I
had no stomach for more mysteries, and somehow with the approach of
twilight the confidence of the day departed. The thing appeared in
darker colors, and I found it in my mind to turn coward. Sibyl alone
deterred me. I could not bear to think of her alone with this demented
being. I remembered her shy timidity, her innocence. It was monstrous
that the poor thing should be called on thus to fight alone with
phantoms.

When we came to the House it was almost sunset. Ladlaw got out very
carefully on the right side, and for a second stood by the horse. The
sun was making our shadows long, and as I stood beyond him it seemed for
a moment that his shadow was double. It may have been mere fancy, for I
had not time to look twice. He was standing, as I have said, with his
left side next the horse. Suddenly the harmless elderly cob fell into a
very panic of fright, reared upright, and all but succeeded in killing
its master. I was in time to pluck Ladlaw from under its feet, but the
beast had become perfectly unmanageable, and we left a groom struggling
to quiet it.

In the hall the butler gave me a telegram. It was from my clerk,
summoning me back at once to an important consultation.

* * * * *

Here was a prompt removal of my scruples. There could be no question of
my remaining, for the case was one of the first importance, which I had
feared might break off my holiday. The consultation fell in vacation
time to meet the convenience of certain people who were going abroad,
and there was the most instant demand for my presence. I must go, and at
once; and, as I hunted in the time-table, I found that in three hours'
time a night train for the south would pass Borrowmuir which might be
stopped by special wire.

But I had no pleasure in my freedom. I was in despair about Sibyl, and I
hated myself for my cowardly relief. The dreary dining room, the
sinister bust, and Ladlaw crouching and quivering--the recollection, now
that escape was before me, came back on my mind with the terror of a
nightmare. My first thought was to persuade the Ladlaws to come away
with me. I found them both in the drawing-room--Sibyl very fragile and
pale, and her husband sitting as usual like a frightened child in the
shadow of her skirts. A sight of him was enough to dispel my hope. The
man was fatally ill, mentally, bodily; and who was I to attempt to
minister to a mind diseased?

But Sibyl--she might be saved from the martyrdom. The servants would
take care of him, and, if need be, a doctor might be got from Edinburgh
to live in the house. So while he sat with vacant eyes staring into the
twilight, I tried to persuade Sibyl to think of herself. I am frankly a
sun worshiper. I have no taste for arduous duty, and the quixotic is my
abhorrence. I labored to bring my cousin to this frame of mind. I told
her that her first duty was to herself, and that this vigil of hers was
beyond human endurance. But she had no ears for my arguments.

'While Bob is ill I must stay with him,' she said always in answer, and
then she thanked me for my visit, till I felt a brute and a coward. I
strove to quiet my conscience, but it told me always that I was fleeing
from my duty; and then, when I was on the brink of a nobler resolution,
a sudden overmastering terror would take hold of me, and I would listen
hysterically for the sound of the dogcart on the gravel.

At last it came, and in a sort of fever I tried to say the conventional
farewells. I shook hands with Ladlaw, and when I dropped his hand it
fell numbly on his knee. Then I took my leave, muttering hoarse nonsense
about having had a 'charming visit,' and 'hoping soon to see them both
in town.' As I backed to the door, I knocked over a lamp on a small
table. It crashed on the floor and went out, and at the sound Ladlaw
gave a curious childish cry. I turned like a coward, and ran across the
hall to the front door, and scrambled into the dogcart.

The groom would have driven me sedately through the park, but I must
have speed or go mad. I took the reins from him and put the horse into a
canter. We swung through the gates and out into the moor road, for I
could have no peace till the ghoulish elder world was exchanged for the
homely ugliness of civilization. Once only I looked back, and there
against the sky line, with a solitary lit window, the House of More
stood lonely in the red desert.



THE GROVE OF ASHTAROTH

We were sitting around the camp fire, some thirty miles north of a place
called Taqui, when Lawson announced his intention of finding a home. He
had spoken little the last day or two, and I had guessed that he had
struck a vein of private reflection. I thought it might be a new mine or
irrigation scheme, and I was surprised to find that it was a country
house.

'I don't think I shall go back to England,' he said, kicking a
sputtering log into place. 'I don't see why I should. For business
purposes I am far more useful to the firm in South Africa than in
Throgmorton Street. I have no relations left except a third cousin, and
I have never cared a rush for living in town. That beastly house of mine
in Hill Street will fetch what I gave for it,--Isaacson cabled about it
the other day, offering for furniture and all. I don't want to go into
Parliament, and I hate shooting little birds and tame deer. I am one of
those fellows who are born Colonial at heart, and I don't see why I
shouldn't arrange my life as I please. Besides, for ten years I have
been falling in love with this country, and now I am up to the neck.'

He flung himself back in the camp-chair till the canvas creaked, and
looked at me below his eyelids. I remember glancing at the lines of him,
and thinking what a fine make of a man he was. In his untanned,
field-boots, breeches, and grey shirt he looked the born
wilderness-hunter, though less than two months before he had been
driving down to the City every morning in the sombre regimentals of his
class. Being a fair man, he was gloriously tanned, and there was a clear
line at his shirt-collar to mark the limits of his sunburn. I had first
known him years ago, when he was a broker's clerk working on half
commission. Then he had gone to South Africa, and soon I heard he was a
partner in a mining house which was doing wonders with some gold areas
in the North. The next step was his return to London as the new
millionaire--young, good-looking, wholesome in mind and body, and much
sought after by the mothers of marriageable girls. We played polo
together, and hunted a little in the season, but there were signs
that he did not propose to become the conventional English gentleman. He
refused to buy a place in the country, though half the Homes of England
were at his disposal. He was a very busy man, he declared, and had not
time to be a squire. Besides, every few months he used to rush out to
South Africa. I saw that he was restless, for he was always badgering me
to go big-game hunting with him in some remote part of the earth. There
was that in his eyes, too, which marked him out from the ordinary blonde
type of our countrymen. They were large and brown and mysterious, and
the light of another race was in their odd depths.

To hint such a thing would have meant a breach of friendship, for Lawson
was very proud of his birth. When he first made his fortune he had gone
to the Heralds to discover his family, and those obliging gentlemen had
provided a pedigree. It appeared that he was a scion of the house of
Lowson or Lowieson, an ancient and rather disreputable clan on the
Scottish side of the Border. He took a shooting in Teviotdale on the
strength of it, and used to commit lengthy Border ballads to memory. But
I had known his father, a financial journalist who never quite
succeeded, and I had heard of a grandfather who sold antiques in a back
street at Brighton. The latter, I think, had not changed his name, and
still frequented the synagogue. The father was a progressive Christian,
and the mother had been a blonde Saxon from the Midlands. In my mind
there was no doubt, as I caught Lawson's heavy-lidded eyes fixed on me.
My friend was of a more ancient race than the Lowsons of the Border.

'Where are you thinking of looking for your house?' I asked. 'In Natal
or in the Cape Peninsula? You might get the Fishers' place if you paid a
price.'

'The Fishers' place be hanged!' he said crossly. 'I don't want any
stuccoed overgrown Dutch farm. I might as well be at Roehampton as in
the Cape.'

He got up and walked to the far side of the fire, where a lane ran down
through thornscrub to a gully of the hills. The moon was silvering the
bush of the plains, forty miles off and three thousand feet below us.

'I am going to live somewhere hereabouts,' he answered at last.

I whistled. 'Then you've got to put your hand in your pocket, old man.
You'll have to make everything, including a map of the countryside.'

'I know,' he said; 'that's where the fun comes in. Hang it all, why
shouldn't I indulge my fancy? I'm uncommonly well off, and I haven't
chick or child to leave it to. Supposing I'm a hundred miles from
a railhead, what about it? I'll make a motor-road and fix up a telephone.
I'll grow most of my supplies, and starta colony to provide labour. When
you come and stay with me, you'll get the best food and drink on earth,
and sport that will make your mouth water. I'll put Lochleven trout in
these streams--at 6000 feet you can do anything. We'll have a pack of
hounds, too, and we can drive pig in the woods, and if we want big game
there are the Mangwe flats at our feet. I tell you I'll make such a
country-house as nobody ever dreamed of. A man will come plumb out of
stark savagery into lawns and rose-gardens.' Lawson flung himself into
his chair again and smiled dreamily at the fire.

But why here, of all places?' I persisted. I was not feeling very well
and did not care for the country.

'I can't quite explain. I think it's the sort of land I have always been
looking for. I always fancied a house on a green plateau in a decent
climate looking down on the tropics. I like heat and colour, you know,
but I like hills too, and greenery, and the things that bring back
Scotland. Give me a cross between Teviotdale and the Orinoco, and, by
Gad! I think I've got it here.'

I watched my friend curiously, as with bright eyes and eager voice he
talked of his new fad. The two races were very clear in him--the one
desiring gorgeousness, the other athirst for the soothing spaces of the
North. He began to plan out the house. He would get Adamson to design
it, and it was to grow out of the landscape like a stone on the
hillside. There would be wide verandahs and cool halls, but great
fireplaces against winter time. It would all be very simple and fresh
--'clean as morning' was his odd phrase; but then another idea
supervened, and he talked of bringing the Tintorets from Hill Street. 'I
want it to be a civilised house, you know. No silly luxury, but the best
pictures and china and books...I'll have all the furniture made after
the old plain English models out of native woods. I don't want
second-hand sticks in a new country. Yes, by Jove, the Tintorets are a
great idea, and all those Ming pots I bought. I had meant to sell them,
but I'll have them out here.'

He talked for a good hour of what he would do, and his dream grew richer
as he talked, till by the time we went to bed he had sketched something
liker a palace than a country-house. Lawson was by no means a luxurious
man. At present he was well content with a Wolseley valise, and shaved
cheerfully out of a tin mug. It struck me as odd that a man so simple in
his habits should have so sumptuous a taste in bric-Ó-brac. I told
myself, as I turned in, that the Saxon mother from the Midlands had done
little to dilute the strong wine of the East.

It drizzled next morning when we inspanned, and I mounted my horse in a
bad temper. I had some fever on me, I think, and I hated this lush yet
frigid table-land, where all the winds on earth lay in wait for one's
marrow. Lawson was, as usual, in great spirits. We were not hunting, but
shifting our hunting-ground, so all morning we travelled fast to the
north along the rim of the uplands.

At midday it cleared, and the afternoon was a pageant of pure colour.
The wind sank to a low breeze; the sun lit the infinite green spaces,
and kindled the wet forest to a jewelled coronal. Lawson gaspingly
admired it all, as he cantered bareheaded up a bracken-clad slope.
'God's country,' he said twenty times. 'I've found it.' Take a piece of
Saxon downland; put a stream in every hollow and a patch of wood; and at
the edge, where the cliffs at home would fall to the sea, put a cloak of
forest muffling the scarp and dropping thousands of feet to the blue
plains. Take the diamond air of the G÷rnergrat, and the riot of colour
which you get by a West Highland lochside in late September. Put flowers
everywhere, the things we grow in hothouses, geraniums like sun-shades
and arums like trumpets. That will give you a notion of the countryside
we were in. I began to see that after all it was out of the common.

And just before sunset we came over a ridge and found something better.
It was a shallow glen, half a mile wide, down which ran a blue-grey
stream in linns like the Spean, till at the edge of the plateau it
leaped into the dim forest in a snowy cascade. The opposite side ran up
in gentle slopes to a rocky knoll, from which the eye had a noble
prospect of the plains. All down the glen were little copses, half moons
of green edging some silvery shore of the burn, or delicate clusters of
tall trees nodding on the hill brow. The place so satisfied the eye that
for the sheer wonder of its perfection we stopped and stared in silence
for many minutes.

Then 'The House,' I said, and Lawson replied softly, 'The House!'

We rode slowly into the glen in the mulberry gloaming. Our transport
waggons were half an hour behind, so we had time to explore. Lawson
dismounted and plucked handfuls of flowers from the water-meadows. He
was singing to himself all the time--an old French catch about Cadet
Rousselle and his trois maisons.

'Who owns it?' I asked.

'My firm, as like as not. We have miles of land about here. But whoever
the man is, he has got to sell. Here I build my tabernacle, old man.
Here, and nowhere else!'

In the very centre of the glen, in a loop of the stream, was one copse
which even in that half light struck me as different from the others.
It was of tall, slim, fairy-like trees, the kind of wood the monks
painted in old missals. No, I rejected the thought. It was no Christian
wood. It was not a copse, but a 'grove,'--one such as Diana may have
flitted through in the moonlight. It was small, forty or fifty yards in
diameter, and there was a dark something at the heart of it which for a
second I thought was a house.

We turned between the slender trees, and--was it fancy?--an odd tremor
went through me. I felt as if I were penetrating the temenos of some
strange and lovely divinity, the goddess of this pleasant vale. There
was a spell in the air, it seemed, and an odd dead silence.

Suddenly my horse started at a flutter of light wings. A flock of doves
rose from the branches, and I saw the burnished green of their plumes
against the opal sky. Lawson did not seem to notice them. I saw his keen
eyes staring at the centre of the grove and what stood there.

It was a little conical tower, ancient and lichened, but, so far as I
could judge, quite flawless. You know the famous, Conical Temple at
Zimbabwe, of which prints are in every guide-book. This was of the same
type, but a thousand-fold more perfect. It stood about thirty feet high,
of solid masonry, without door or window or cranny, as shapely as when
it first came from the hands of the old builders. Again I had the sense
of breaking in on a sanctuary. 'What right had I, a common vulgar
modern, to be looking at this fair thing, among these delicate trees,
which some white goddess had once taken for her shrine?

Lawson broke in on my absorption. 'Let's get out of this,' he said
hoarsely, and he took my horse's bridle (he had left his own beast at
the edge) and led him back to the open. But I noticed that his eyes were
always turning back, and that his hand trembled.

'That settles it,' I said after supper. 'What do you want with your
mediaeval Venetians and your Chinese pots now? You will have the finest
antique in the world in your garden--a temple as old as time, and in a
land which they say has no history. You had the right inspiration this
time.'

I think I have said that Lawson had hungry eyes. In his enthusiasm they
used to glow and brighten; but now, as he sat looking down at the olive
shades of the glen, they seemed ravenous in their fire. He had hardly
spoken a word since we left the wood.

'Where can I read about those things?' he asked, and I gave him the
names of books.

Then, an hour later, he asked me who were the builders. I told him the
little I knew about Phoenician and Sabaean wanderings, and the ritual of
Sidon and Tyre. He repeated some names to himself and went soon to bed.

As I turned in, I had one last look over the glen, which lay ivory and
black in the moon. I seemed to hear a faint echo of wings, and to see
over the little grove a cloud of light visitants. 'The Doves of
Ashtaroth have come back,' I said to myself. 'It is a good omen. They
accept the new tenant.' But as I fell asleep I had a sudden thought that
I was saying something rather terrible.

* * * * *

Three years later, pretty nearly to a day, I came back to see what
Lawson had made of his hobby. He had bidden me often to Welgevonden, as
he chose to call it--though I do not know why he should have fixed a
Dutch name to a countryside where Boer never trod. At the last there had
been some confusion about dates, and I wired the time of my arrival, and
set off without an answer. A motor met me at the queer little wayside
station of Taqui, and after many miles on a doubtful highway I came to
the gates of the park, and a road on which it was a delight to move.
Three years had wrought little difference in the landscape. Lawson had
done some planting,--conifers and flowering shrubs and such-like--but
wisely he had resolved that Nature had for the most part forestalled
him. All the same, he must have spent a mint of money. The drive could
not have been beaten in England, and fringes of mown turf on either hand
had been pared out of the lush meadows. When we came over the edge of
the hill and looked down on the secret glen, I could not repress a cry
of pleasure. The house stood on the farther ridge, the view-point of the
whole neighbourhood; and its brown timbers and white rough-cast walls
melted into the hillside as if it had been there from the beginning of
things. The vale below was ordered in lawns and gardens. A blue lake
received the rapids of the stream, and its banks were a maze of green
shades and glorious masses of blossom. I noticed, too, that the little
grove we had explored on our first visit stood alone in a big stretch of
lawn, so that its perfection might be clearly seen. Lawson had excellent
taste, or he had had the best advice.

The butler told me that his master was expected home shortly, and took
me into the library for tea. Lawson had left his Tintorets and Ming pots
at home after all. It was a long, low room, panelled in teak half-way up
the walls, and the shelves held a multitude of fine bindings. There were
good rugs on the parquet floor, but no ornaments anywhere, save three.
On the carved mantelpiece stood two of the old soapstone birds which
they used to find at Zimbabwe, and between, on an ebony stand, a half
moon of alabaster, curiously carvedwith zodiacal figures. My host had
altered his scheme of furnishing, but I approved the change.

He came in about half-past six, after I had consumed two cigars and all
but fallen asleep. Three years make a difference in most men, but I was
not prepared for the change in Lawson. For one thing, he had grown fat.
In place of the lean young man I had known, I saw a heavy, flaccid
being, who shuffled in his gait, and seemed tired and listless. His
sunburn had gone, and his face was as pasty as a city clerk's. He had
been walking, and wore shapeless flannel clothes, which hung loose even
on his enlarged figure. And the worst of it was, that he did not seem
over-pleased to see me. He murmured something about my journey, and then
flung himself into an arm-chair and looked out of the window.

I asked him if he had been ill.

'Ill! No!' he said crossly. 'Nothing of the kind. I'm perfectly well.'
'You don't look as fit as this place should make you. What do you do
with yourself? Is the shooting as good as you hoped?'

He did not answer, but I thought of heard him mutter something like
'shooting be damned.'

Then I tried the subject of the house. I praised it extravagantly, but
with conviction. 'There can be no place like it in the world,' I said.
He turned his eyes on me at last, and I saw that they were as deep and
restless as ever. With his pallid face they made him look curiously
Semitic. I had been right in my theory about his ancestry.

'Yes,' he said slowly, 'there is no place like it--in the world.'

Then he pulled himself to his feet. 'I'm going to change,' he said.
'Dinner is at eight. Ring for Travers, and he'll show you your room.'

I dressed in a noble bedroom, with an outlook over the garden-vale and
the escarpment to the far line of the plains, now blue and saffron in
the sunset. I dressed in an ill temper, for I was seriously offended
with Lawson, and also seriously alarmed. He was either very unwell or
going out of his mind, and it was clear, too, that he would resent any
anxiety on his account. I ransacked my memory for rumours, but found
none. I had heard nothing of him except that he had been extraordinarily
successful in his speculations, and that from his hill-top he directed
his firm's operations with uncommon skill. If Lawson was sick or mad,
nobody knew of it.

Dinner was a trying ceremony. Lawson, who used to be rather particular
in his dress, appeared in a kind of smoking suit with a flannel collar.
He spoke scarcely a word to me, but cursed the servants with a brutality
which left me aghast. A wretched footman in his nervousness spilt some
sauce over his sleeve. Lawson dashed the dish from his hand, and volleyed
abuse with a sort of epileptic fury. Also he, who had been the most
abstemious of men, swallowed disgusting quantities of champagne and
old brandy.

He had given up smoking, and half an hour after we left the dining-room
he announced his intention of going to bed. I watched him as he waddled
upstairs with a feeling of angry bewilderment. Then I went to the
library and lit a pipe. I would leave first thing in the morning--on
that I was determined. But as I sat gazing at the moon of alabaster and
the soapstone birds my anger evaporated, and concern took its place. I
remembered what a fine fellow Lawson had been, what good times we had
had together. I remembered especially that evening when we had found
this valley and given rein to our fancies. What horrid alchemy in the
place had turned a gentleman into a brute? I thought of drink and drugs
and madness and insomnia, but I could fit none of them into my
conception of my friend. I did not consciously rescind my resolve to
depart, but I had a notion that I would not act on it.

The sleepy butler met me as I went to bed. 'Mr. Lawson's room is at the
end of your corridor, sir,' he said. 'He don't sleep over well, so you
may hear him stirring in the night. At what hour would you like
breakfast, sir? Mr. Lawson mostly has his in bed.'

My room opened from the great corridor, which ran the full length of the
front of the house. So far as I could make out, Lawson was three rooms
off, a vacant bedroom and his servant's room being between us. I felt
tired and cross, and tumbled into bed as fast as possible. Usually I
sleep well, but now I was soon conscious that my drowsiness was wearing
off and that I was in for a restless night. I got up and laved my face,
turned the pillows, thought of sheep coming over a hill and clouds
crossing the sky; but none of the old devices were any use. After about
an hour of make-believe I surrendered myself to facts, and, lying on my
back, stared at the white ceiling and the patches of moonshine on the
walls.

It certainly was an amazing night. I got up, put on a dressing-gown, and
drew a chair to the window. The moon was almost at its full, and the
whole plateau swam in a radiance of ivory and silver. The banks of the
stream were black, but the lake had a great belt of light athwart it,
which made it seem like a horizon, and the rim of land beyond it like a
contorted cloud. Far to the right I saw the delicate outlines of the
little wood which I had come to think of as the Grove of Ashtaroth. I
listened. There was not a sound in the air. The land seemed to sleep
peacefully beneath the moon, and yet I had a sense that the peace was an
illusion. The place was feverishly restless.

I could have given no reason for my impression, but there it was.
Something was stirring in the wide moonlit landscape under its deep mask
of silence. I felt as I had felt on the evening three years ago when I
had ridden into the grove. I did not think that the influence, whatever
it was, was maleficent. I only knew that it was very strange, and kept
me wakeful.

By-and-by I bethought me of a book. There was no lamp in the corridor
save the moon, but the whole house was bright as I slipped down the
great staircase and over the hall to the library. I switched on the
lights and then switched them off. They seemed a profanation, and I did
not need them.

I found a French novel, but the place held me and I stayed. I sat down
in an arm-chair before the fireplace and the stone birds. Very odd those
gawky things, like prehistoric Great Auks, looked in the moonlight. I
remember that the alabaster moon shimmered like translucent pearl, and I
fell to wondering about its history. Had the old Sabaeans used such a
jewel in their rites in the Grove of Ashtaroth?

Then I heard footsteps pass the window. A great house like this would
have a watchman, but these quick shuffling footsteps were surely not the
dull plod of a servant. They passed on to the grass and died away. I
began to think of getting back to my room.

In the corridor I noticed that Lawson's door was ajar, and that a light
had been left burning. I had the unpardonable curiosity to peep in. The
room was empty, and the bed had not been slept in. Now I knew whose were
the footsteps outside the library window.

I lit a reading-lamp and tried to interest myself in 'La Cruelle
Enigme.' But my wits were restless, and I could not keep my eyes on the
page. I flung the book aside and sat down again by the window. The
feeling came over me that I was sitting in a box at some play. The glen
was a huge stage, and at any moment the players might appear on it. My
attention was strung as high as if I had been waiting for the advent of
some world-famous actress. But nothing came. Only the shadows shifted
and lengthened as the moon moved across the sky.

Then quite suddenly the restlessness left me, and at the same moment the
silence was broken by the crow of a cock and the rustling of trees in a
light wind. I felt very sleepy, and was turning to bed when again I
heard footsteps without. From the window I could see a figure moving
across the garden towards the house. It was Lawson, got up in the sort
of towel dressing-gown that one wears on board ship. He was walking
slowly and painfully, as if very weary. I did not see his face, but the
man's whole air was that of extreme fatigue and dejection.

I tumbled into bed and slept profoundly till long after daylight.

* * * * *

The man who valeted me was Lawson's own servant. As he was laying out my
clothes I asked after the health of his master, and was told that he had
slept ill and would not rise till late. Then the man, an anxious-faced
Englishman, gave me some information on his own account. Mr. Lawson was
having one of his bad turns. It would pass away in a day or two, but
till it had gone he was fit for nothing. He advised me to see Mr.
Jobson, the factor, who would look to my entertainment in his master's
absence.

Jobson arrived before luncheon, and the sight of him was the first
satisfactory thing about Welgevonden. He was a big, gruff Scot from
Roxburghshire, engaged, no doubt, by Lawson as a duty to his Border
ancestry. He had short grizzled whiskers, a weatherworn face, and a
shrewd, calm blue eye. I knew now why the place was in such perfect
order.

We began with sport, and Jobson explained what I could have in the way
of fishing and shooting. His exposition was brief and business-like, and
all the while I could see his eye searching me. It was clear that he had
much to say on other matters than sport.

I told him that I had come here with Lawson three years before, when he
chose the site. Jobson continued to regard me curiously. 'I've heard
tell of ye from Mr. Lawson. Ye're an old friend of his, I understand.'

'The oldest,' I said. 'And I am sorry to find that the place does not
agree with him. Why it doesn't I cannot imagine, for you look fit
enough. Has he been seedy for long?'

'It comes and goes,' said Mr. Jobson. 'Maybe once a month he has a bad
turn. But on the whole it agrees with him badly. He's no' the man he was
when I first came here.'

Jobson was looking at me very seriously and frankly. I risked a
question.

'What do you suppose is the matter?'

He did not reply at once, but leaned forward and tapped my knee.

'I think it's something that doctors canna cure. Look at me, sir. I've
always been counted a sensible man, but if I told you what was in my
head you would think me daft. But I have one word for you. Bide till
to-night is past and then speir your question. Maybe you and me will be
agreed.'

The factor rose to go. As he left the room he flung me back a remark over
his shoulder--'Read the eleventh chapter of the First Book of Kings.'


After luncheon I went for a walk. First I mounted to the crown of the
hill and feasted my eyes on the unequalled loveliness of the view. I saw
the far hills in Portuguese territory, a hundred miles away, lifting up
thin blue fingers into the sky. The wind blew light and fresh, and the
place was fragrant with a thousand delicate scents. Then I descended to
the vale, and followed the stream up through the garden. Poinsettias and
oleanders were blazing in coverts, and there was a paradise of tinted
water-lilies in the slacker reaches. I saw good trout rise at the fly,
but I did not think about fishing. I was searching my memory for a
recollection which would not come. By-and-by I found myself beyond the
garden, where the lawns ran to the fringe of Ashtaroth's Grove.

It was like something I remembered in an old Italian picture. Only, as
my memory drew it, it should have been peopled with strange figures
--nymphs dancing on the sward, and a prick-eared faun peeping from the
covert. In the warm afternoon sunlight it stood, ineffably gracious and
beautiful, tantalising with a sense of some deep hidden loveliness. Very
reverently I walked between the slim trees, to where the little conical
tower stood half in sun and half in shadow. Then I noticed something
new. Round the tower ran a narrow path, worn in the grass by human feet.
There had been no such path on my first visit, for I remembered the
grass growing tall to the edge of the stone. Had the Kaffirs made a
shrine of it, or were there other and stranger votaries?

When I returned to the house I found Travers with a message for me. Mr.
Lawson was still in bed, but he would like me to go to him. I found my
friend sitting up and drinking strong tea--a bad thing, I should have
thought, for a man in his condition. I remember that I looked over the
room for some sign of the pernicious habit of which I believed him a
victim. But the place was fresh and clean, with the windows wide open,
and, though I could not have given my reasons, I was convinced that
drugs or drink had nothing to do with the sickness.

He received me more civilly, but I was shocked by his looks. There were
great bags below his eyes, and his skin had the wrinkled puffy
appearance of a man in dropsy. His voice, too, was reedy and thin. Only
his great eyes burned with some feverish life.

'I am a shocking bad host,' he said, 'but I'm going to be still more
inhospitable. I want you to go away. I hate anybody here when I'm off
colour.'

'Nonsense,' I said; 'you want looking after. I want to know about this
sickness. Have you had a doctor?'

He smiled wearily. 'Doctors are no earthly use to me. There's nothing
much the matter, I tell you. I'll be all right in a day or two, and then
you can come back. I want you to go off with Jobson and hunt in the
plains till the end of the week. It will be better fun for you, and I'll
feel less guilty.'

Of course I pooh-poohed the idea, and Lawson got angry. 'Damn it, man,'
he cried, 'why do you force yourself on me when I don't want you? I tell
you your presence here makes me worse. In a week I'll be as right as the
mail, and then I'll be thankful for you. But get away now; get away, I
tell you.'

I saw that he was fretting himself into a passion. 'All right,' I said
soothingly; Jobson and I will go off hunting. But I am horribly anxious
about you, old man.'

He lay back on his pillows. 'You needn't trouble. I only want a little
rest. Jobson will make all arrangements, and Travers will get you
anything you want. Good-bye.'

I saw it was useless to stay longer, so I left the room. Outside I found
the anxious-faced servant. 'Look here,' I said, 'Mr. Lawson thinks I
ought to go, but I mean to stay. Tell him I'm gone if he asks you. And
for Heaven's sake keep him in bed.'

The man promised, and I thought I saw some relief in his face.

I went to the library, and on the way remembered Jobson's remark about
1st Kings. With some searching I found a Bible and turned up the
passage. It was a long screed about the misdeeds of Solomon, and I read
it through without enlightenment. I began to re-read it, and a word
suddenly caught my attention--

'For Solomon went after Ashtaroth, the goddess of the Zidonians.'

That was all, but it was like a key to a cipher. Instantly there flashed
over my mind all that I had heard or read of that strange ritual which
seduced Israel to sin. I saw a sunburnt land and a people vowed to the
stern service of Jehovah. But I saw, too, eyes turning from the austere
sacrifice to lonely hill-top groves and towers and images, where dwelt
some subtle and evil mystery. I saw the fierce prophets, scourging the
votaries with rods, and a nation penitent before the Lord; but always
the backsliding again, and the hankering after forbidden joys. Ashtaroth
was the old goddess of the East. Was it not possible that in all Semitic
blood there remained, transmitted through the dim generations, some
craving for her spell? I thought of the grandfather in the back street
at Brighton and of those burning eyes upstairs.

As I sat and mused my glance fell on the inscrutable stone birds. They
knew all those old secrets of joy and terror. And that moon of alabaster!
Some dark priest had worn it on his forehead when he worshipped, like
Ahab, 'all the host of Heaven.' And then I honestly began to be afraid.
I a prosaic, modern Christian gentleman, a half-believer in casual
faiths, was in the presence of some hoary mystery of sin far older than
creeds or Christendom. There was fear in my heart,--a kind of uneasy
disgust, and above all a nervous eerie disquiet. Now I wanted to go
away, and yet I was ashamed of the cowardly thought. I pictured
Ashtaroth's Grove with sheer horror. What tragedy was in the air? what
secret awaited twilight? For the night was coming, the night of the Full
Moon, the season of ecstasy and sacrifice.

I do not know how I got through that evening. I was disinclined for
dinner, so I had a cutlet in the library and sat smoking till my tongue
ached. But as the hours passed a more manly resolution grew up in my
mind. I owed it to old friendship to stand by Lawson in this extremity.
I could not interfere,--God knows, his reason seemed already
rocking,--but I could be at hand in case my chance came. I determined
not to undress, but to watch through the night. I had a bath, and
changed into light flannels and slippers. Then I took up my position in
a corner of the library close to the window, so that I could not fail to
hear Lawson's footsteps if he passed.

Fortunately I left the lights unlit, for as I waited I grew drowsy, and
fell asleep. When I woke the moon had risen, and I knew from the feel of
the air that the hour was late. I sat very still, straining my ears, and
as I listened I caught the sound of steps. They were crossing the hall
stealthily, and nearing the library door. I huddled into my corner as
Lawson entered.

He wore the same towel dressing-gown, and he moved swiftly and silently
as if in a trance. I watched him take the alabaster moon from the
mantelpiece and drop it in his pocket. A glimpse of white skin showed
that the gown was his only clothing. Then he moved past me to the
window, opened it, and went out.

Without any conscious purpose I rose and followed, kicking off my
slippers that I might go quietly. He was running, running fast, across
the lawns in the direction of the grove--an odd shapeless antic in the
moonlight. I stopped, for there was no cover, and I feared for his
reason if he saw me. When I looked again he had disappeared among the
trees.

I saw nothing for it but to crawl, so on my belly I wormed my way over
the dripping sward. There was a ridiculous suggestion of deer-stalking
about the game which tickled me and dispelled my uneasiness. Almost I
persuaded myself I was tracking an ordinary sleep-walker. The lawns were
broader than I imagined, and it seemed an age before I reached the edge
of the grove. The world was so still that I appeared to be making a most
ghastly amount of noise. I remember that once I heard a rustling in the
air, and looked up to see the green doves circling about the treetops.

There was no sign of Lawson. On the edge of the grove I think that all
my assurance vanished. I could see between the trunks to the little
tower, but it was quiet as the grave, save for the wings above. Once
more there came over me the unbearable sense of anticipation I had felt
the night before. My nerves tingled with mingled expectation and dread.
I did not think that any harm would come to me, for the powers of the
air seemed not malignant. But I knew them for powers, and felt awed and
abased. I was in the presence of the 'host of Heaven,' and I was no
stern Israelitish prophet to prevail against them.

I must have lain for hours waiting in that spectral place, my eyes
riveted on the tower and its golden cap of moonshine. I remember that my
head felt void and light, as if my spirit were becoming disembodied and
leaving its dew-drenched sheath far below. But the most curious
sensation was of something drawing me to the tower, something mild and
kindly and rather feeble, for there was some other and stronger force
keeping me back. I yearned to move nearer, but I could not drag my limbs
an inch. There was a spell somewhere which I could not break. I do not
think I was in any way frightened now. The starry influence was playing
tricks with me, but my mind was half asleep. Only I never took my eyes
from the little tower. I think I could not, if I had wanted to.

Then suddenly from the shadows came Lawson. He was stark-naked, and he
wore, bound across his brow, the half moon of alabaster. He had
something, too, in his hand--something which glittered.

He ran round the tower, crooning to himself, and flinging wild arms to
the skies. Sometimes the crooning changed to a shrill cry of passion,
such as a maenad may have uttered in the train of Bacchus. I could make
out no words, but the sound told its own tale. He was absorbed in some
infernal ecstasy. And as he ran, he drew his right hand across his
breast and arms, and I saw that it held a knife.

I grew sick with disgust--not terror, but honest physical loathing.
Lawson, gashing his fat body, affected me with an overpowering
repugnance. I wanted to go forward and stop him, and I wanted, too, to
be a hundred miles away. And the result was that I stayed still. I
believe my own will held me there, but I doubt if in any case I could
have moved my legs.

The dance grew swifter and fiercer. I saw the blood dripping from
Lawson's body, and his face ghastly white above his scarred breast. And
then suddenly the horror left me; my head swam; and for one second--one
brief second--I seemed to peer into a new world. A strange passion
surged up in my heart. I seemed to see the earth peopled with forms--not
human, scarcely divine, but more desirable than man or god. The calm
face of Nature broke up for me into wrinkles of wild knowledge. I saw
the things which brush against the soul in dreams, and found them
lovely. There seemed no cruelty in the knife or the blood. It was a
delicate mystery of worship, as wholesome as the morning song of birds.
I do not know how the Semites found Ashtaroth's ritual; to them it may
well have been more rapt and passionate than it seemed to me. For I saw
in it only the sweet simplicity of Nature, and all riddles of lust and
terror soothed away as a child's nightmares are calmed by a mother. I
found my legs able to move, and I think I took two steps through the
dusk towards the tower.

And then it all ended. A cock crew, and the homely noises of earth were
renewed. While I stood dazed and shivering, Lawson plunged through the
Grove towards me. The impetus carried him to the edge, and he fell
fainting just outside the shade.

My wits and common-sense came back to me with my bodily strength. I got
my friend on my back, and staggered with him towards the house. I was
afraid in real earnest now, and what frightened me most was the thought
that I had not been afraid sooner. I had come very near the 'abomination
of the Zidonians.'

At the door I found the scared valet waiting. He had apparently done
this sort of thing before.

'Your master has been sleep-walking, and has had a fall,' I said. 'We
must get him to bed at once.'

We bathed the wounds as he lay in a deep stupor, and I dressed them as
well as I could. The only danger lay in his utter exhaustion, for
happily the gashes were not serious, and no artery had been touched.
Sleep and rest would make him well, for he had the constitution of a
strong man. I was leaving the room when he opened his eyes and spoke. He
did not recognise me, but I noticed that his face had lost its
strangeness, and was once more that of the friend I had known. Then I
suddenly bethought me of an old hunting remedy which he and I always
carried on our expeditions. It is a pill made up from an ancient
Portuguese prescription. One is an excellent specific for fever. Two are
invaluable if you are lost in the bush, for they send a man for many
hours into a deep sleep, which prevents suffering and madness, till help
comes. Three give a painless death. I went to my room and found
the little box in my jewel-case. Lawson swallowed two, and turned
wearily on his side. I bade his man let him sleep till he woke, and went
off in search of food.

* * * * *

I had business on hand which would not wait. By seven, Jobson, who had
been sent for, was waiting for me in the library. I knew by his grim
face that here I had a very good substitute for a prophet of the Lord.

'You were right,' I said. 'I have read the 11th chapter of 1st Kings,
and I have spent such a night as I pray God I shall never spend again.'

'I thought you would,' he replied. 'I've had the same experience
myself.'

'The Grove?' I said.

'Ay, the wud,' was the answer in broad Scots.

I wanted to see how much he understood.

'Mr. Lawson's family is from the Scotch Border?'

'Ay. I understand they come off Borthwick Water side,' he replied, but I
saw by his eyes that he knew what I meant.

'Mr. Lawson is my oldest friend,' I went on, 'and I am going to take
measures to cure him. For what I am going to do I take the sole
responsibility. I will make that plain to your master. But if I am to
succeed I want your help. Will you give it to me? It sounds like
madness, and you are a sensible man and may like to keep out of it. I
leave it to your discretion.'

Jobson looked me straight in the face. 'Have no fear for me,' he said;
'there is an unholy thing in that place, and if I have the strength in
me I will destroy it. He has been a good master to me, and forbye, I am
a believing Christian. So say on, sir.'

There was no mistaking the air. I had found my Tishbite. 'I want men,' I
said,--'as many as we can get.'

Jobson mused. 'The Kaffirs will no' gang near the place, but there's
some thirty white men on the tobacco farm. They'll do your will, if you
give them an indemnity in writing.'

'Good,' said I. 'Then we will take our instructions from the only
authority which meets the case. We will follow the example of King
Josiah.' I turned up the 23rd Chapter of 2nd Kings, and read;

  And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right
  hand of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had
  builded for Ashtaroth the abomination of the Zidonians...did the king
  defile.

  And he brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled
  their places with the bones of men.

  Moreover the altar that was at Beth-el, and the high place which
  Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that
  altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high place, and
  stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove.

Jobson nodded. 'It'll need dinnymite. But I've plenty of yon down at the
workshops. I'll be off to collect the lads.'


Before nine the men had assembled at Jobson's house. They were a hardy
lot of young farmers from home, who took their instructions docilely
from the masterful factor. On my orders they had brought their
shot-guns. We armed them with spades and woodmen's axes, and one man
wheeled some coils of rope in a hand-cart.

In the clear, windless air of morning the Grove, set amid its lawns,
looked too innocent and exquisite for ill. I had a pang of regret that a
thing so fair should suffer; nay, if I had come alone, I think I might
have repented. But the men were there, and the grim-faced Jobson was
waiting for orders. I placed the guns, and sent beaters to the far side.
I told them that every dove must be shot.

It was only a small flock, and we killed fifteen at the first drive. The
poor birds flew over the glen to another spinney, but we brought them
back over the guns and seven fell. Four more were got in the trees, and
the last I killed myself with a long shot. In half an hour there was a
pile of little green bodies on the sward.

Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy
task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the
ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange
emotion.

It was as if someone were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not
threatening, but pleading--something too fine for the sensual ear, but
touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that
I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless,
bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of
the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all
loveliness. It seemed a woman's voice, some lost lady who had brought
nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me
was that I was destroying her last shelter.

That was the pathos of it--the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed
in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading
with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a
world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings,
of hardly won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she
sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it, no thought of
wrongdoing. The spell which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil,
was to me, of the Northern race, only delicate and rare and beautiful.
Jobson and the rest did not feel it, I with my finer senses caught
nothing but the hopeless sadness of it. That which had stirred the
passion in Lawson was only wringing my heart. It was almost too pitiful
to bear. As the trees crashed down and the men wiped the sweat from
their brows, I seemed to myself like the murderer of fair women and
innocent children. I remember that the tears were running over my
cheeks. More than once I opened my mouth to countermand the work, but
the face of Jobson, that grim Tishbite, held me back. I knew now what
gave the Prophets of the Lord their mastery, and I knew also why the
people sometimes stoned them.

The last tree fell, and the little tower stood like a ravished shrine,
stripped of all defence against the world. I heard Jobson's voice
speaking. 'We'd better blast that stane thing now. We'll trench on four
sides and lay the dinnymite. Ye're no' looking weel, sir. Ye'd better go
and sit down on the brae-face.'

I went up the hillside and lay down. Below me, in the waste of shorn
trunks, men were running about, and I saw the mining begin. It all
seemed like an aimless dream in which I had no part. The voice of that
homeless goddess was still pleading. It was the innocence of it that
tortured me. Even so must a merciful Inquisitor have suffered from the
plea of some fair girl with the aureole of death on her hair. I knew I
was killing rare and unrecoverable beauty. As I sat dazed and heartsick,
the whole loveliness of Nature seemed to plead for its divinity. The sun
in the heavens, the mellow lines of upland, the blue mystery of the far
plains, were all part of that soft voice. I felt bitter scorn for
myself. I was guilty of blood; nay, I was guilty of the sin against
light which knows no forgiveness. I was murdering innocent gentleness,
and there would be no peace on earth for me. Yet I sat helpless. The
power of a sterner will constrained me. And all the while the voice was
growing fainter and dying away into unutterable sorrow.

Suddenly a great flame sprang to heaven, and a pall of smoke. I heard
men crying out, and fragments of stone fell around the ruins of the
grove. When the air cleared, the little tower had gone out of sight.

The voice had ceased and there seemed to me to be a bereaved silence in
the world. The shock moved me to my feet, and I ran down the slope to
where Jobson stood rubbing his eyes.

'That's done the job. Now we maun get up the tree-roots. We've no time
to howk. We'll just dinnymite the feck o' them.'

The work of destruction went on, but I was coming back to my senses. I
forced myself to be practical and reasonable. I thought of the night's
experience and Lawson's haggard eyes, and I screwed myself into a
determination to see the thing through. I had done the deed; it was my
business to make it complete. A text in Jeremiah came into my head:
'Their children remember their altars and their groves by the green
trees upon the high hills.' I would see to it that this grove should be
utterly forgotten.

We blasted the tree roots, and, yoking oxen, dragged the debris into a
great heap. Then the men set to work with their spades, and roughly
levelled the ground. I was getting back to my old self, and Jobson's
spirit was becoming mine.

'There is one thing more,' I told him. 'Get ready a couple of ploughs.
We will improve upon King Josiah.' My brain was a medley of Scripture
precedents, and I was determined that no safeguard should be wanting.

We yoked the oxen again and drove the ploughs over the site of the
grove. It was rough ploughing, for the place was thick with bits of
stone from the tower, but the slow Afrikander oxen plodded on, and
sometime in the afternoon the work was finished. Then I sent down to the
farm for bags of rock-salt, such as they use for cattle. Jobson and I
took a sack apiece, and walked up and down the furrows, sowing them with
salt.

The last act was to set fire to the pile of tree-trunks. They burned
well, and on the top we flung the bodies of the green doves. The birds
of Ashtaroth had an honourable pyre.

Then I dismissed the much-perplexed men, and gravely shook hands with
Jobson. Black with dust and smoke I went back to the house, where I bade
Travers pack my bags and order the motor. I found Lawson's servant, and
heard from him that his master was sleeping peacefully. I gave some
directions, and then went to wash and change.

Before I left I wrote a line to Lawson. I began by transcribing the
verses from the 23rd Chapter of 2nd Kings. I told him what I had done,
and my reason. 'I take the whole responsibility upon myself,' I wrote.
'No man in the place had anything to do with it but me. I acted as I did
for the sake of our old friendship, and you will believe it was no easy
task for me. I hope you will understand. Whenever you are able to see me
send me word, and I will come back and settle with you. But I think you
will realise that I have saved your soul.'


The afternoon was merging into twilight as I left the house on the road
to Taqui. The great fire, where the grove had been, was still blazing
fiercely, and the smoke made a cloud over the upper glen, and filled all
the air with a soft violet haze. I knew that I had done well for my
friend, and that he would come to his senses and be grateful. My mind was
at ease on that score, and in something like comfort I faced the future.
But as the car reached the ridge I looked back to the vale I had
outraged. The moon was rising and silvering the smoke, and through the
gaps I could see the tongues of fire. Somehow, I know not why, the lake,
the stream, the garden-coverts, even the green slopes of hill, wore an
air of loneliness and desecration.

And then my heartache returned, and I knew that I had driven something
lovely and adorable from its last refuge on earth.




SPACE

'Est impossibile? Certum est.'
Tertullian.


Leithen told me this story one evening in early September as we sat
beside the pony track which gropes its way from Glenavelin up the Correi
na Sidhe. I had arrived that afternoon from the south, while he had been
taking an off-day from a week's stalking, so we had walked up the glen
together after tea to get the news of the forest. A rifle was out on the
Correi na Sidhe beat, and a thin spire of smoke had risen from the top
of Sgurr Dearg to show that a stag had been killed at the burn-head. The
lumpish hill pony with its deer-saddle had gone up the Correi in a
gillie's charge, while we followed at leisure, picking our way among the
loose granite rocks and the patches of wet bogland. The track climbed
high on one of the ridges of Sgurr Dearg, till it hung over a caldron of
green glen with the Alt-na-Sidhe churning in its linn a thousand feet
below. It was a breathless evening, I remember, with a pale-blue sky
just clearing from the haze of the day. West-wind weather may make the
North, even in September, no bad imitation of the Tropics, and I
sincerely pitied the man who all these stifling hours had been toiling
on the screes of Sgurr Dearg. By-and-by we sat down on a bank of
heather, and idly watched the trough swimming at our feet. The clatter
of the pony's hoofs grew fainter, the drone of bees had gone, even the
midges seemed to have forgotten their calling. No place on earth can be
so deathly still as a deer forest early in the season before the stags
have begun roaring, for there are no sheep with their homely noises, and
only the rare croak of a raven breaks the silence. The hillside was far
from sheer--one could have walked down with a little care--but something
in the shape of the hollow and the remote gleam of white water gave it
an air of extraordinary depth and space. There was a shimmer left from
the day's heat, which invested bracken and rock and scree with a curious
airy unreality. One could almost have believed that the eye had tricked
the mind, that all was mirage, that five yards from the path the solid
earth fell away into nothingness. I have a bad head, and instinctively
I drew further back into the heather. Leithen's eyes were looking vacantly
before him.

Did you ever know Hollond?' he asked.

Then he laughed shortly. 'I don't know why I asked that, but somehow
this place reminded me of Hollond. That glimmering hollow looks as if it
were the beginning of eternity. It must be eerie to live with the
feeling always on one.'

Leithen seemed disinclined for further exercise. He lit a pipe and
smoked quietly for a little. 'Odd that you didn't know Hollond. You must
have heard his name. I thought you amused yourself with metaphysics.'

Then I remembered. There had been an erratic genius who had written some
articles in Mind on that dreary subject, the mathematical conception of
infinity. Men had praised them to me, but I confess I never quite
understood their argument. 'Wasn't he some sort of mathematical
professor?' I asked.

'He was, and, in his own way, a tremendous swell. He wrote a book on
Number which has translations in every European language. He is dead
now, and the Royal Society founded a medal in his honour. But I wasn't
thinking of that side of him.'

It was the time and place for a story, for the pony would not be back
for an hour. So I asked Leithen about the other side of Hollond which
was recalled to him by Correi na Sidhe. He seemed a little unwilling to
speak...

'I wonder if you will understand it. You ought to, of course, better
than me, for you know something of philosophy. But it took me a long
time to get the hang of it, and I can't give you any kind of
explanation. He was my fag at Eton, and when I began to get at the Bar I
was able to advise him on one or two private matters, so that he rather
fancied my legal ability. He came to me with his story because he had to
tell someone, and he wouldn't trust a colleague. He said he didn't want
a scientist to know, for scientists were either pledged to their own
theories and wouldn't understand, or, if they understood, would get
ahead of him in his researches. He wanted a lawyer, he said, who was
accustomed to weighing evidence. That was good sense, for evidence must
always be judged by the same laws, and I suppose in the long-run the
most abstruse business comes down to a fairly simple deduction from
certain data. Anyhow, that was the way he used to talk, and I listened
to him, for I liked the man, and had an enormous respect for his brains.
At Eton he sluiced down all the mathematics they could give him, and he
was an astonishing swell at Cambridge. He was a simple fellow, too, and
talked no more jargon than he could help. I used to climb with him in
the Alps now and then, and you would never have guessed that he had any
thoughts beyond getting up steep rocks.

'It was at Chamonix, I remember, that I first got a hint of the matter
that was filling his mind. We had been taking an off-day, and were
sitting in the hotel garden, watching the Aiguilles getting purple in
the twilight. Chamonix always makes me choke a little--it is so crushed
in by those great snow masses. I said something about it--said I liked
open spaces like the Gornergrat or the Bel Alp better. He asked me why:
if it was the difference of the air, or merely the wider horizon? I said
it was the sense of not being crowded, of living in an empty world. He
repeated the word "empty" and laughed.

'"By 'empty' you mean," he said, "where things don't knock up against
you?"'

'I told him No. I meant just empty, void, nothing but blank aether.

"You don't knock up against things here, and the air is as good as you
want. It can't be the lack of ordinary emptiness you feel."

'I agreed that the word needed explaining. "I suppose it is mental
restlessness," I said. "I like to feel that for a tremendous distance
there is nothing round me. Why, I don't know. Some men are built the
other way and have a terror of space."

'He said that that was better. "It is a personal fancy, and depends on
your knowing that there is nothing between you and the top of the Dent
Blanche. And you know because your eyes tell you there is nothing. Even
if you were blind, you might have a sort of sense about adjacent matter.
Blind men often have it. But in any case, whether got from instinct or
sight, the knowledge is what matters."

'Hollond was embarking on a Socratic dialogue in which I could see
little point. I told him so, and he laughed.

"I am not sure that I am very clear myself. But yes--there is a point.
Supposing you knew--not by sight or by instinct, but by sheer
intellectual knowledge, as I know the truth of a mathematical
proposition--that what we call empty space was full, crammed. Not with
lumps of what we call matter like hills and houses, but with things as
real--as real to the mind. Would you still feel crowded?"

"No," I said, "I don't think so. It is only what we call matter that
signifies. It would be just as well not to feel crowded by the other
thing, for there would be no escape from it. But what are you getting
at? Do you mean molecules or electric currents or what?"

'He said he wasn't thinking about that sort of thing, and began to talk
of another subject.

'Next night, when we were pigging it at the GÚant cabane, he started
again on the same tack. He asked me how I accounted for the fact that
animals could find their way back over great tracts of unknown country.
I said I supposed it was the homing instinct.

'"Rubbish, man," he said. "That's only another name for the puzzle, not
an explanation. There must be some reason for it. They must know
something that we cannot understand. Tie a cat in a bag and take it
fifty miles by train and it will make its way home. That cat has some
clue that we haven't."

'I was tired and sleepy, and told him that I did not care a rush about
the psychology of cats. But he was not to be snubbed, and went on
talking.

"How if Space is really full of things we cannot see and as yet do not
know? How if all animals and some savages have a cell in their brain or
a nerve which responds to the invisible world? How if all Space be full
of these landmarks, not material in our sense, but quite real? A dog
barks at nothing, a wild beast makes an aimless circuit. Why? Perhaps
because Space is made up of corridors and alleys, ways to travel and
things to shun? For all we know, to a greater intelligence than ours the
top of Mont Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus."

'But at that point I fell asleep and left Hollond to repeat his
questions to a guide who knew no English and a snoring porter.

'Six months later, one foggy January afternoon, Hollond rang me up at
the Temple and proposed to come to see me that night after dinner. I
thought he wanted to talk Alpine shop, but he turned up in Duke Street
about nine with a kit-bag full of papers. He was an odd fellow to look
at--a yellowish face with the skin stretched tight on the cheek-bones,
clean-shaven, a sharp chin which he kept poking forward, and deep-set,
greyish eyes. He was a hard fellow, too, always in a pretty good
condition, which was remarkable considering how he slaved for nine
months out of the twelve. He had a quiet, slow-spoken manner, but that
night I saw that he was considerably excited.

'He said that he had come to me because we were old friends. He proposed
to tell me a tremendous secret. "I must get another mind to work on it
or I'll go crazy. I don't want a scientist. I want a plain man."

'Then he fixed me with a look like a tragic actor's. "Do you remember
that talk we had in August at Chamonix--about Space? I daresay you
thought I was playing the fool. So I was in a sense, but I was feeling
my way towards something which has been in my mind for ten years. Now I
have got it, and you must hear about it. You may take my word that it's
a pretty startling discovery."

'I lit a pipe and told him to go ahead, warning him that I knew about as
much science as the dustman.

'I am bound to say that it took me a long time to understand what he
meant. He began by saying that everybody thought of Space as an "empty
homogeneous medium." "Never mind at present what the ultimate
constituents of that medium are. We take it as a finished product, and
we think of it as mere extension, something without any quality at all.
That is the view of civilised man. You will find all the philosophers
taking it for granted. Yes, but every living thing does not take that
view. An animal, for instance. It feels a kind of quality in Space. It
can find its way over new country, because it perceives certain
landmarks, not necessarily material, but perceptible, or if you like
intelligible. Take an Australian savage. He has the same power, and I
believe, for the same reason. He is conscious of intelligible
landmarks."

"You mean what people call a sense of direction," I put in.

"Yes, but what in Heaven's name is a sense of direction? The phrase
explains nothing. However incoherent the mind of the animal or the
savage may be, it is there somewhere, working on some data. I've been
all through the psychological and anthropological side of the business,
and after you eliminate clues from sight and hearing and smell and
half-conscious memory there remains a solid lump of the inexplicable."

'Hollond's eye had kindled, and he sat doubled up in his chair,
dominating me with a finger.

"Here, then, is a power which man is civilising himself out of. Call it
anything you like, but you must admit that it is a power. Don't you see
that it is a perception of another kind of reality that we are leaving
behind us?...Well, you know the way nature works. The wheel comes full
circle, and what we think we have lost we regain in a higher form. So
for a long time I have been wondering whether the civilised mind could
not recreate for itself this lost gift, the gift of seeing the quality
of Space. I mean that I wondered whether the scientific modern brain
could not get to the stage of realising that Space is not an empty
homogeneous medium, but full of intricate differences, intelligible and
real, though not with our common reality."

'I found all this very puzzling, and he had to repeat it several times
before I got a glimpse of what he was talking about.

"I've wondered for a long time," he went on, "but now, quite suddenly, I
have begun to know.' He stopped and asked me abruptly if I knew much
about mathematics.

"It's a pity," he said, "but the main point is not technical, though I
wish you could appreciate the beauty of some of my proofs." Then he
began to tell me about his last six months' work. I should have
mentioned that he was a brilliant physicist besides other things. All
Hollond's tastes were on the borderlands of sciences, where mathematics
fades into metaphysics and physics merges in the abstrusest kind of
mathematics. Well, it seems he had been working for years at the
ultimate problem of matter, and especially of that rarefied matter we
call aether or space. I forget what his view was--atoms or molecules or
electric waves. If he ever told me I have forgotten, but I'm not certain
that I ever knew. However, the point was that these ultimate
constituents were dynamic and mobile, not a mere passive medium but a
medium in constant movement and change. He claimed to have
discovered--by ordinary inductive experiment--that the constituents of
aether possessed certain functions, and moved in certain figures
obedient to certain mathematical laws. Space, I gathered, was
perpetually "forming fours" in some fancy way.

'Here he left his physics and became the mathematician. Among his
mathematical discoveries had been certain curves or figures or something
whose behaviour involved a new dimension. I gathered that this wasn't
the ordinary Fourth Dimension that people talk of but that
fourth-dimensional inwardness or involution was part of it. The
explanation lay in the pile of manuscripts he left with me, but though I
tried honestly I couldn't get the hang of it. My mathematics stopped
with desperate finality just as he got into his subject.

'His point was that the constituents of Space moved according to these
new mathematical figures of his. They were always changing, but the
principles of their change were as fixed as the law of gravitation.
Therefore, if you once grasped these principles you knew the contents of
the void. What do you make of that?'

I said that it seemed to me a reasonable enough argument, but that it
got one very little way forward. 'A man,' I said, 'might know the
contents of Space and the laws of their arrangement and yet be unable to
see anything more than his fellows. It is a purely academic knowledge.
His mind knows it as the result of many deductions, but his senses
perceive nothing.'

Leithen laughed. 'Just what I said to Hollond. He asked the opinion of
my legal mind. I said I could not pronounce on his argument, but that I
could point out that he had established no trait d'union between the
intellect which understood and the senses which perceived. It was like a
blind man with immense knowledge but no eyes, and therefore no peg to
hang his knowledge on and make it useful. He had not explained his
savage or his cat. "Hang it, man," I said, "before you can appreciate
the existence of your Spacial forms you have to go through elaborate
experiments and deductions. You can't be doing that every minute.
Therefore you don't get any nearer to the use of the sense you say that
man once possessed, though you can explain it a bit."'

'What did he say?' I asked.

The funny thing was that he never seemed to see my difficulty. When I
kept bringing him back to it he shied off with a new wild theory of
perception. He argued that the mind can live in a world of realities
without any sensuous stimulus to connect them with the world of our
ordinary life. Of course that wasn't my point, I supposed that this
world of Space was real enough to him, but I wanted to know how he got
there. He never answered me. He was the typical Cambridge man, you know
--dogmatic about uncertainties, but curiously diffident about the
obvious. He laboured to get me to understand the notion of his
mathematical forms, which I was quite willing to take on trust from him.
Some queer things he said, too. He took our feeling about Left and Right
as an example of our instinct for the quality of Space. But when I
objected that Left and Right varied with each object, and only existed
in connection with some definite material thing, he said that that was
exactly what he meant. It was an example of the mobility of the Spacial
forms. Do you see any sense in that?'

I shook my head. It seemed to me pure craziness.

'And then he tried to show me what he called the "involution of Space,"
by taking two points on a piece of paper. The points were a foot away
when the paper was flat, but they coincided when it was doubled up. He
said that there were no gaps between the figures, for the medium was
continuous, and he took as an illustration the loops on a cord. You are
to think of a cord always looping and unlooping itself according to
certain mathematical laws. Oh, I tell you, I gave up trying to follow
him. And he was so desperately in earnest all the time. By his account
Space was a sort of mathematical pandemonium.'

* * * * *

Leithen stopped to refill his pipe, and I mused upon the ironic fate
which had compelled a mathematical genius to make his sole confidant of
a philistine lawyer, and induced that lawyer to repeat it confusedly to
an ignoramus at twilight on a Scotch hill. As told by Leithen it was a
very halting tale.

'But there was one thing I could see very clearly,' Leithen went on,
'and that was Hollond's own case. This crowded world of Space was
perfectly real to him. How he had got to it I do not know. Perhaps his
mind, dwelling constantly on the problem, had unsealed some atrophied
cell and restored the old instinct. Anyhow, he was living his
daily life with a foot in each world.

'He often came to see me, and after the first hectic discussions he
didn't talk much. There was no noticeable change in him--a little more
abstracted perhaps. He would walk in the street or come into a room with
a quick look round him, and sometimes for no earthly reason he would
swerve. Did you ever watch a cat crossing a room? It sidles along by the
furniture and walks over an open space of carpet as if it were picking
its way among obstacles. Well, Hollond behaved like that, but he had
always been counted a little odd, and nobody noticed it but me.

'I knew better than to chaff him, and we had stopped argument, so there
wasn't much to be said. But sometimes he would give me news about his
experiences. The whole thing was perfectly clear and scientific and
above-board, and nothing creepy about it. You know how I hate the washy
supernatural stuff they give us nowadays. Hollond was well and fit, with
an appetite like a hunter. But as he talked, sometimes--well, you know I
haven't much in the way of nerves or imagination--but I used to get a
little eerie. Used to feel the solid earth dissolving round me. It was
the opposite of vertigo, if you understand me--a sense of airy realities
crowding in on you--crowding the mind, that is, not the body.

'I gathered from Hollond that he was always conscious of corridors and
halls and alleys in Space, shifting, but shifting according to
inexorable laws. I never could get quite clear as to what this
consciousness was like. When I asked he used to look puzzled and worried
and helpless. I made out from him that one landmark involved a sequence,
and once given a bearing from an object you could keep the direction
without a mistake. He told me he could easily, if he wanted, go in a
dirigible from the top of Mont Blanc to the top of Snowdon in the
thickest fog and without a compass, if he were given the proper angle to
start from. I confess I didn't follow that myself. Material objects had
nothing to do with the Spacial forms, for a table or a bed in our world
might be placed across a corridor of Space. The forms played their game
independent of our kind of reality. But the worst of it was, that if you
kept your mind too much in one world you were apt to forget about the
other, and Hollond was always barking his shins on stones and chairs and
things.

'He told me all this quite simply and frankly. Remember his mind and no
other part of him lived in his new world. He said it gave him an odd
sense of detachment to sit in a room among people, and to know that
nothing there but himself had any relation at all to the infinite
strange world of Space that flowed around them. He would listen, he said,
to a great man talking, with one eye on the cat on the rug, thinking to
himself how much more the cat knew than the man.'

'How long was it before he went mad?' I asked.

It was a foolish question, and made Leithen cross. 'He never went mad in
your sense. My dear fellow, you're very much wrong if you think there
was anything pathological about him--then. The man was brilliantly sane.
His mind was as keen as a keen sword. I couldn't understand him, but I
could judge of his sanity right enough.'

I asked if it made him happy or miserable.

'At first I think it made him uncomfortable. He was restless because he
knew too much and too little. The unknown pressed in on his mind, as bad
air weighs on the lungs. Then it lightened, and he accepted the new
world in the same sober practical way that he took other things. I think
that the free exercise of his mind in a pure medium gave him a feeling
of extraordinary power and ease. His eyes used to sparkle when he
talked. And another odd thing he told me. He was a keen rock-climber,
but, curiously enough, he had never a very good head. Dizzy heights
always worried him, though he managed to keep hold on himself. But now
all that had gone. The sense of the fulness of Space made him as
happy--happier I believe--with his legs dangling into eternity, as
sitting before his own study fire.

'I remember saying that it was all rather like the mediaeval wizards who
made their spells by means of numbers and figures.

'He caught me up at once. "Not numbers," he said. "Number has no place
in Nature. It is an invention of the human mind to atone for a bad
memory. But figures are a different matter. All the mysteries of the
world are in them, and the old magicians knew that at least, if they
knew no more."

'He had only one grievance. He complained that it was terribly lonely.
"It is the Desolation," he would quote, "spoken of by Daniel the
prophet." He would spend hours travelling those eerie shifting corridors
of Space with no hint of another human soul. How could there be? It was
a world of pure reason, where human personality had no place. What
puzzled me was why he should feel the absence of this. One wouldn't, you
know, in an intricate problem of geometry or a game of chess. I asked
him, but he didn't understand the question. I puzzled over it a good
deal, for it seemed to me that if Hollond felt lonely, there must be
more in this world of his than we imagined. I began to wonder if there
was any truth in fads like psychical research. Also, I was not so sure
that he was as normal as I had thought: it looked as if his nerves might
be going bad.

'Oddly enough, Hollond was getting on the same track himself. He
had discovered, so he said, that in sleep everybody now and then lived
in this new world of his. You know how one dreams of triangular railway
platforms with trains running simultaneously down all three sides and
not colliding. Well, this sort of cantrip was "common form," as we say
at the Bar, in Hollond's Space, and he was very curious about the why
and wherefore of Sleep. He began to haunt psychological laboratories,
where they experiment with the charwoman and the odd man, and he used to
go up to Cambridge for seances. It was a foreign atmosphere to him, and
I don't think he was very happy in it. He found so many charlatans that
he used to get angry, and declare he would be better employed at
Mothers' Meetings!'

* * * * *

From far up the Glen came the sound of the pony's hoofs. The stag had
been loaded up, and the gillies were returning. Leithen looked at his
watch. 'We'd better wait and see the beast,' he said.

Well, nothing happened for the better part of a year. Then one evening
in May he burst into my rooms in high excitement. You understand quite
clearly that there was no suspicion of horror or fright or anything
unpleasant about this world he had discovered. It was simply a series of
interesting and difficult problems. All this time Hollond had been
rather extra well and cheery. But when he came in I thought I noticed a
different look in his eyes, something puzzled and diffident and
apprehensive.

'"There's a queer performance going on in the other world," he said.
"It's unbelievable. I never dreamed of such a thing. I--I don't quite
know how to put it, and I don't know how to explain it, but--but I am
becoming aware that there are other beings--other minds--moving in Space
besides mine."

'I suppose I ought to have realised then that things were beginning to
go wrong. But it was very difficult, he was so rational and anxious to
make it all clear. I asked him how he knew. There could, of course, on
his own showing be no change in that world, for the forms of Space moved
and existed under inexorable laws. He said he found his own mind failing
him at points. There would come over him a sense of fear--intellectual
fear--and weakness, a sense of something else, quite alien to Space,
thwarting him. Of course he could only describe his impressions very
lamely, for they were purely of the mind, and he had no material peg to
hang them on, so that I could realise them. But the gist of it was that
he had been gradually becoming conscious of what he called "Presences"
in his world. They had no effect on Space--did not leave footprints in
its corridors, for instance--but they affected his mind. There was some
mysterious contact established between him and them. I asked him if the
affection was unpleasant, and he said. "No, not exactly." But I could
see a hint of fear in his eyes.

'Think of it. Try to realise what intellectual fear is. I can't, but it
is conceivable. To you and me fear implies pain to ourselves or some
other, and such pain is always in the last resort pain of the flesh.
Consider it carefully and you will see that it is so. But imagine fear
so sublimated and transmuted as to be the tension of pure spirit. I
can't realise it, but I think it possible. I don't pretend to understand
how Hollond got to know about these Presences. But there was no doubt
about the fact. He was positive, and he wasn't in the least mad--not in
our sense. In that very month he published his book on Number, and gave
a German professor who attacked it a most tremendous public trouncing.

'I know what you are going to say--that the fancy was a weakening of the
mind from within. I admit I should have thought of that, but he looked
so confoundedly sane and able that it seemed ridiculous. He kept asking
me my opinion, as a lawyer, on the facts he offered. It was the oddest
case ever put before me, but I did my best for him. I dropped all my own
views of sense and nonsense. I told him that, taking all that he had
told me as fact, the Presences might be either ordinary minds traversing
Space in sleep; or minds such as his which had independently captured
the sense of Space's quality; or, finally, the spirits of just men made
perfect, behaving as psychical researchers think they do. It was a
ridiculous task to set a prosaic man, and I wasn't quite serious. But
Hollond was serious enough.

'He admitted that all three explanations were conceivable, but he was
very doubtful about the first. The projection of the spirit into Space
during sleep, he thought, was a faint and feeble thing, and these were
powerful Presences. With the second and the third he was rather
impressed. I suppose I should have seen what was happening and tried to
stop it; at least, looking back that seems to have been my duty. But it
was difficult to think that anything was wrong with Hollond; indeed the
odd thing is that all this time the idea of madness never entered my
head. I rather backed him up. Somehow the thing took my fancy, though I
thought it moonshine at the bottom of my heart. I enlarged on the
pioneering before him. "Think," I told him, "what may be waiting for
you. You may discover the meaning of Spirit. You may open up a new
world, as rich as the old one, but imperishable. You may prove to
mankind their immortality and deliver them for ever from the fear of
death. Why, man, you are picking at the lock of all the world's
mysteries."

'But Hollond did not cheer up. He seemed strangely languid and
dispirited. "That is all true enough," he said, "if you are right, if
your alternatives are exhaustive. But suppose they are something else,
something..." What that "something" might be he had apparently no idea,
and very soon he went away.

'He said another thing before he left. He asked me if I ever read
poetry, and I said, Not often. Nor did he: but he had picked up a little
book somewhere and found a man who knew about the Presences. I think his
name was Traherne, one of the seventeenth-century fellows. He quoted a
verse which stuck to my fly-paper memory. It ran something like this:

'Within the region of the air,
Compassed about with Heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found,
Where many numerous hosts,
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

Hollond was positive he did not mean angels or anything of the sort. I
told him that Traherne evidently took a cheerful view of them. He
admitted that, but added: "He had religion, you see. He believed that
everything was for the best. I am not a man of faith, and can only
take comfort from what I understand. I'm in the dark, I tell you..."

'Next week I was busy with the Chilian Arbitration case, and saw nobody
for a couple of months. Then one evening I ran against Hollond on the
Embankment, and thought him looking horribly ill. He walked back with me
to my rooms, and hardly uttered one word all the way. I gave him a stiff
whisky-and-soda, which he gulped down absent-mindedly. There was that
strained, hunted look in his eyes that you see in a frightened animal's.
He was always lean, but now he had fallen away to skin and bone.

'"I can't stay long," he told me, "for I'm off to the Alps tomorrow and
I have a lot to do." Before then he used to plunge readily into his
story, but now he seemed shy about beginning. Indeed I had to ask him a
question.

"Things are difficult," he said hesitatingly, "and rather distressing.
Do you know, Leithen, I think you were wrong about--about what I spoke
to you of. You said there must be one of three explanations. I am
beginning to think that there is a fourth..."

'He stopped for a second or two, then suddenly leaned forward and
gripped my knee so fiercely that I cried out. "That world is the
Desolation," he said in a choking voice, "and perhaps I am getting near
the Abomination of the Desolation that the old prophet spoke of. I tell
you, man, I am on the edge of a terror, a terror," he almost screamed,
"that no mortal can think of and live."

'You can imagine that I was considerably startled. It was lightning out
of a clear sky. How the devil could one associate horror with
mathematics? I don't see it yet...At any rate, I--You may be sure I
cursed my folly for ever pretending to take him seriously. The only way
would have been to have laughed him out of it at the start. And yet I
couldn't, you know--it was too real and reasonable. Anyhow, I tried a
firm tone now, and told him the whole thing was arrant raving bosh. I
bade him be a man and pull himself together. I made him dine with me,
and took him home, and got him into a better state of mind before he
went to bed. Next morning I saw him off at Charing Cross, very haggard
still, but better. He promised to write to me pretty often...'

* * * * *

The pony, with a great eleven-pointer lurching athwart its back, was
abreast of us, and from the autumn mist came the sound of soft Highland
voices. Leithen and I got up to go, when we heard that the rifle had
made direct for the Lodge by a short cut past the Sanctuary. In the wake
of the gillies we descended the Correi road into a glen all swimming
with dim purple shadows. The pony minced and boggled; the stag's antlers
stood out sharp on the rise against a patch of sky, looking like a
skeleton tree. Then we dropped into a covert of birches and emerged on
the white glen highway.

Leithen's story had bored and puzzled me at the start, but now it had
somehow gripped my fancy. Space a domain of endless corridors and
Presences moving in them! The world was not quite the same as an hour
ago. It was the hour, as the French say, 'between dog and wolf,' when
the mind is disposed to marvels. I thought of my stalking on the morrow,
and was miserably conscious that I would miss my stag. Those airy forms
would get in the way. Confound Leithen and his yarns!

'I want to hear the end of your story,' I told him, as the lights of the
Lodge showed half a mile distant.

'The end was a tragedy,' he said slowly; 'I don't much care to talk
about it. But how was I to know? I couldn't see the nerve going. You see
I couldn't believe it was all nonsense. If I could I might have seen.

But I still think there was something in it--up to a point. Oh, I agree
he went mad in the end. It is the only explanation. Something must have
snapped in that fine brain, and he saw the little bit more which we call
madness. Thank God, you and I are prosaic fellows...

'I was going out to Chamonix myself a week later. But before I started I
got a postcard from Hollond, the only word from him. He had printed my
name and address, and on the other side had scribbled six words--"I know
at last--God's mercy.--H.G.H." The handwriting was like a sick man of
ninety. I knew that things must be pretty bad with my friend.

'I got to Chamonix in time for his funeral. An ordinary climbing
accident--you probably read about it in the papers. The Press talked
about the toll which the Alps took from intellectuals--the usual rot.
There was an inquiry, but the facts were quite simple. The body was only
recognised by the clothes. He had fallen several thousand feet.

'It seems that he had climbed for a few days with one of the Kronigs and
Dupont, and they had done some hair-raising things on the Aiguilles.
Dupont told me that they had found a new route up the Montanvert side of
the Charmoz. He said that Hollond climbed like a Viable fou,' and if you
know Dupont's standard of madness you will see that the pace must have
been pretty hot. "But Monsieur was sick," he added; "his eyes were not
good. And I and Franz, we were grieved for him and a little afraid. We
were glad when he left us."

'He dismissed the guides two days before his death. The next day he
spent in the hotel, getting his affairs straight. He left everything in
perfect order, but not a line to a soul, not even to his sister. The
following day he set out alone about three in the morning for the
GrŔpon. He took the road up the Nantillons glacier to the Col, and then
he must have climbed the Mummery crack by himself. After that he left
the ordinary route and tried a new traverse across the Mer de Glace
face. Somewhere near the top he fell, and next day a party going to the
Dent du Requin found him on the rocks thousands of feet below.

'He had slipped in attempting the most foolhardy course on earth, and
there was a lot of talk about the dangers of guideless climbing. But I
guessed the truth, and I am sure Dupont knew, though he held his
tongue...'

We were now on the gravel of the drive, and I was feeling better. The
thought of dinner warmed my heart and drove out the eeriness of the
twilight glen. The hour between dog and wolf was passing. After all,
there was a gross and jolly earth at hand for wise men who had a mind to
comfort.

Leithen, I saw, did not share my mood. He looked glum and puzzled, as if
his tale had aroused grim memories. He finished it at the Lodge door.

'...For, of course, he had gone out that day to die. He had seen the
something more, the little bit too much, which plucks a man from his
moorings. He had gone so far into the land of pure spirit that he must
needs go further and shed the fleshly envelope that cumbered him. God
send that he found rest! I believe that he chose the steepest cliff in
the Alps for a purpose. He wanted to be unrecognisable. He was a brave
man and a good citizen. I think he hoped that those who found him might
not see the look in his eyes.'




BASILISSA

When Vernon was a very little boy he was the sleepiest of mortals, but
in the spring he had seasons of bad dreams, and breakfast became an idle
meal. Mrs Ganthony, greatly concerned, sent for Dr Moreton from Axby,
and homely remedies were prescribed.

'It is the spring fever,' said the old man. 'It gives the gout to me and
nightmares to this baby; it brings lads and lasses together, and
scatters young men about the world. An antique complaint, Mrs Ganthony.
But it will right itself, never fear. Ver non semper viret.' Chuckling
at his ancient joke, the doctor mounted his horse, leaving the nurse
only half comforted. 'What fidgets me,' she told the housekeeper, 'is
the way his lordship holds his tongue. For usual he'll shout as lusty as
a whelp. But now I finds him in the morning with his eyes like moons and
his skin white and shiny, and never a cheep has he given the whole
blessed night, with me laying next door, and it open, and a light
sleeper at all times, Mrs Wace, ma'am.'

Every year the dreams came, generally--for his springs were spent at
Severns--in the big new night-nursery at the top of the west wing, which
his parents had built not long before their death. It had three windows
looking over the moorish flats which run up to the Lancashire fells, and
from one window, by craning your neck, you could catch a glimpse of the
sea. It was all hung, too, with a Chinese paper whereon pink and green
parrots squatted in wonderful blue trees, and there seemed generally to
be a wood fire burning. Vernon's recollections of his childish nightmare
are hazy. He always found himself in a room different from the nursery
and bigger, but with the same smell of wood smoke. People came and went,
such as his nurse, the butler, Simon the head-keeper, Uncle Appleby his
guardian, Cousin Jennifer, the old woman who sold oranges in Axby, and a
host of others. Nobody hindered them from going away, and they seemed to
be pleading with him to come too. There was danger in the place;
something was going to happen in that big room, and if by that time he
was not gone there would be mischief. But it was quite clear to him that
he could not go.

He must stop there, with the wood smoke in his nostrils, and await the
advent of a terrible Something. But he was never quite sure of the
nature of the compulsion. He had a notion that if he made a rush for the
door at Uncle Appleby's heels he would be allowed to escape, but that
somehow he would be behaving badly. Anyhow, the place put him into a
sweat of fright, and Mrs Ganthony looked darkly at him in the morning.


Vernon was nine before this odd spring dream began to take definite
shape--at least he thinks he must have been about that age. The
dream-stage was emptying. There was nobody in the room now but himself,
and he saw its details a little more clearly. It was not any apartment
in the modern magnificence of Severns. Rather it looked like one of the
big old panelled chambers which the boy remembered from visits to
Midland country-houses, where he had arrived after dark and had been put
to sleep in a great bed in a place lit with dancing firelight. In the
morning it had looked only an ordinary big room, but at that hour of the
evening it had seemed an enchanted citadel. The dream-room was not
unlike these, for there was the scent of a wood fire and there were
dancing shadows, but he could not see clearly the walls or the ceiling,
and there was no bed. In one corner was a door which led to the outer
world, and through this he knew that he might on no account pass.
Another door faced him, and he knew that he had only to turn the handle
and enter it. But he did not want to, for he understood quite clearly
what was beyond. There was another room like the first one, but he knew
nothing about it, except that opposite the entrance another door led out
of it. Beyond was a third chamber, and so on interminably. There seemed
to the boy no end to this fantastic suite. He thought of it as a great
snake of masonry, winding up hill and down dale away to the fells or the
sea. Yes, but there was an end. Somewhere far away in one of the rooms
was a terror waiting on him, or, as he feared, coming towards him. Even
now it might be flitting from room to room, every minute bringing its
soft tread nearer to the chamber of the wood fire.

About this time of life the dream was an unmitigated horror. Once it
came while he was ill with a childish fever, and it sent his temperature
up to a point which brought Dr Moreton galloping from Axby. In his
waking hours he did not, as a rule, remember it clearly; but during the
fever, asleep and awake, that sinuous building, one room thick, with
each room opening from the other, was never away from his thoughts. It
fretted him to think that outside were the cheerful moors where he
hunted for plovers' eggs, and that only a thin wall of stone kept him
from pleasant homely things. The thought used to comfort him for a
moment when he was awake, but in the dream it never came near him.
Asleep, the whole world seemed one suite of rooms, and he, a forlorn
little prisoner, doomed to wait grimly on the slow coming through the
many doors of a Fear which transcended word and thought.

He was a silent, self-absorbed boy, and though the fact of his
nightmares was patent to the little household, the details remained
locked in his heart. Not even to Uncle Appleby would he tell them when
that gentleman, hurriedly kind, came down to visit his convalescent
ward. His illness made Vernon grow, and he shot up into a lanky, leggy
boy--weakly, too, till the hills tautened his sinews again. His Greek
blood--his grandmother had been a Karolides--had given him a face
curiously like the young Byron, with a finely-cut brow and nostrils, and
hauteur in the full lips. But Vernon had no Byronic pallor, for his
upland home kept him sunburnt and weather-beaten, and below his straight
Greek brows shone a pair of grey and steadfast and very English eyes.

He was about fifteen--so he thinks--when he made the great discovery.
The dream had become almost a custom now. It came in April at Severns
during the Easter holidays--a night's discomfort (it was now scarcely
more) in the rush and glory of the spring fishing. There was a moment of
the old wild heart-fluttering; but a boy's fancy is quickly dulled, and
the endless corridors were now more of a prison than a witch's
ante-chamber. By this time, with the help of his diary, he had fixed the
date of the dream: it came regularly on the night of the first Monday of
April. Now the year I speak of he had been on a long expedition into the
hills, and had stridden homewards at a steady four miles an hour among
the gleams and shadows of an April twilight. He was alone at Severns, so
he had his supper in the big library, where afterwards he sat watching
the leaping flames in the open stone hearth. He was very weary, and
sleep fell upon him in his chair. He found himself in the wood-smoke
chamber, and before him the door leading to the unknown. But it was no
indefinite fear that lay beyond. He knew clearly--though how he knew he
could not tell--that each year the Something came one room nearer, and
was even now but ten rooms off. In ten years his own door would open,
and then--

He woke in the small hours, chilled and mazed, but with a curious new
assurance in his heart. Hitherto the nightmare had left him in gross
terror, unable to endure the prospect of its recurrence, till the kindly
forgetfulness of youth had soothed him. But now, though his nerves were
tense with fright, he perceived that there was a limit to the mystery.
Some day it must declare itself, and fight on equal terms. As he thought
over the matter in the next few days he had the sense of being
forewarned and prepared for some great test of courage. The notion
exhilarated as much as it frightened him. Late at night, or on soft
dripping days, or at any moment of lessened vitality, he would bitterly
wish that he had been born an ordinary mortal. But on a keen morning of
frost, when he rubbed himself warm after a cold tub, or at high noon of
summer, the adventure of the dream almost pleased him. Unconsciously he
braced himself to a harder discipline. His fitness, moral and physical,
became his chief interest, for reasons which would have been
unintelligible to his friends and more so to his masters. He passed
through school an aloof and splendid figure, magnificently athletic,
with a brain as well as a perfect body--a good fellow in everybody's
opinion, but a grave one. He had no intimates, and never shared the
secret of the spring dream. For some reason which he could not tell, he
would have burned his hand off rather than breathe a hint of it. Pure
terror absolves from all conventions and demands a confidant, so terror,
I think, must have largely departed from the nightmare as he grew older.
Fear, indeed, remained, and awe and disquiet, but these are human
things, whereas terror is of hell.

Had he told any one, he would no doubt have become self-conscious and
felt acutely his difference from other people. As it was, he was an
ordinary schoolboy, much beloved, and, except at odd moments, unaware of
any brooding destiny. As he grew up and his ambition awoke, the moments
when he remembered the dream were apt to be disagreeable, for a boy's
ambitions are strictly conventional and his soul revolts at the
abnormal. By the time he was ready for the University he wanted above
all things to run the mile a second faster than any one else, and had
vague hopes of exploring wild countries. For most of the year he lived
with these hopes and was happy; then came April, and for a short season
he was groping in dark places. Before and after each dream he was in a
mood of exasperation; but when it came he plunged into a different
atmosphere, and felt the quiver of fear and the quick thrill of
expectation. One year, in the unsettled moods of nineteen, he made an
attempt to avoid it. He and three others were on a walking tour in
Brittany in gusty spring weather, and came late one evening to an inn by
an estuary where seagulls clattered about the windows. Youth--like they
ordered a great and foolish feast, and sat all night round a bowl of
punch, while school songs and 'John Peel' contended with the dirling of
the gale. At daylight they took the road again, without having closed an
eye, and Vernon told himself that he was rid of his incubus. He wondered
at the time why he was not more cheerful. Next April he was at Severns,
reading hard, and on the first Monday of the month he went to bed with
scarcely a thought of what that night used to mean. The dream did not
fail him. Once more he was in the chamber with the wood fire; once again
he was peering at the door and wondering with tremulous heart what lay
beyond. For the Something had come nearer by two rooms, and was now only
five doors away. He wrote in his diary at that time some lines from
Keats' 'Indian Maid's Song':

'I would deceive her,
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind.'

* * * * *

And there is a mark of exclamation against the 'she,' as if he found
some irony in it.

From that day the boy in him died. The dream would not suffer itself to
be forgotten. It moulded his character and determined his plans like the
vow of the young Hannibal at the altar. He had forgotten now either to
fear or to hope; the thing was part of him, like his vigorous young
body, his slow kindliness, his patient courage. He left Oxford at
twenty-two with a prodigious reputation which his remarkable athletic
record by no means explained. All men liked him, but no one knew him; he
had a thousand acquaintances and a hundred friends, but no comrade.
There was a sense of brooding power about him which attracted and
repelled his little world. No one forecast any special career for him;
indeed, it seemed almost disrespectful to condescend upon such details.
It was not what Vernon would do that fired the imagination of his
fellows, but what they dimly conceived that he already was. I remember
my first sight of him about that time, a tall young man in his corner of
a club smoking-room, with a head like Apollo's and eyes which received
much but gave nothing. I guessed at once that he had foreign blood in
him, not from any oddness of colouring or feature but from his silken
reserve. We of the North are angular in our silences; we have not
learned the art of gracious reticence.

His twenty-third April was spent in a hut on the Line, somewhere between
the sources of the Congo and the Nile, in the trans-African expedition
when Waldemar found the new variety of okapi. The following April I was
in his company in a tent far up on the shoulder of a Kashmir mountain.
On the first Monday of the month we had had a heavy day after ovis, and
that night I was asleep almost before my weary limbs were tucked into my
kaross. I knew nothing of Vernon's dream, but next morning I remember
that I remarked a certain heaviness of eye, and wondered idly if the
frame of this Greek divinity was as tough as it was shapely.

* * * * *

Next year Vernon left England early in March. He had resolved to visit
again his grandmother's country and to indulge his passion for cruising
in new waters.

His 20-ton yawl was sent as deck cargo to Patras, while he followed by
way of Venice. He brought one man with him from Wyvenhoe, a lean gypsy
lad called Martell, and for his other hand he found an Epirote at Corfu,
who bore a string of names that began with Constantine. From Patras with
a west wind they made good sailing up the Gulf of Corinth, and, passing
through the Canal, came in the last days of March to the Piraeus. In
that place of polyglot speech, whistling engines, and the odour of
gas-works, they delayed only for water and supplies, and presently had
rounded Sunium, and were beating up the Euripus with the Attic hills
rising sharp and clear in the spring sunlight. Vernon had no plan. It
was a joy to him to be alone with the racing seas and the dancing winds,
to scud past little headlands, pink and white with blossom, or to lie of
a night in some hidden bay beneath the thymy crags. It was his habit on
his journeys to discard the clothes of civilisation. In a blue jersey
and old corduroy trousers, bare-headed and barefooted, he steered his
craft and waited on the passing of the hours. Like an acolyte before the
temple gate, he believed himself to be on the threshold of a new life.

Trouble began under the snows of Pelion as they turned the north end of
Euboea. On the morning of the first Monday in April the light west winds
died away, and scirocco blew harshly from the south. By midday it was
half a gale, and in those yeasty shallow seas with an iron coast on the
port the prospect looked doubtful. The nearest harbour was twenty miles
distant, and as no one of the crew had been there before it was a
question if they could make it by nightfall. With the evening the gale
increased, and Constantine advised a retreat from the maze of rocky
islands to the safer deeps of the Ăgean. It was a hard night for the
three, and there was no chance of sleep. More by luck than skill they
escaped the butt of Skiathos, and the first light found them far to the
east among the long seas of the North Ăgean, well on the way to Lemnos.
By eight o'clock the gale had blown itself out, and three soaked and
chilly mortals relaxed their vigil. Soon bacon was frizzling on the
cuddy-stove, and hot coffee and dry clothes restored them to comfort.

The sky cleared, and in bright sunlight, with the dregs of the gale
behind him, Vernon stood in for the mainland, where the white crest of
Olympus hung in the northern heavens. In the late afternoon they came
into a little bay carved from the side of a high mountain. The slopes
were gay with flowers, yellow and white and scarlet, and the young green
of crops showed in the clearings. Among the thyme a flock of goats was
browsing, shepherded by a little girl in a saffron skirt, who sang
shrilly in snatches. Midway in the bay and just above the anchorage rose
a great white building, which showed to seaward a blank white wall
pierced with a few narrow windows. At first sight Vernon took it for a
monastery, but a look through the glasses convinced him that its purpose
was not religious. Once it had been fortified, and even now a broad
causeway ran between it and the sea, which looked as if it had once held
guns. The architecture was a jumble, showing here the enriched Gothic of
Venice and there the straight lines and round arches of the East. It had
once, he conjectured, been the hold of some Venetian sea-king, then the
palace of a Turkish conqueror, and now was, perhaps, the homely
manor-house of this pleasant domain.

A fishing-boat was putting out from the shore. He hailed its occupant
and asked who owned the castle.

The man crossed himself and spat overboard. 'Basilissa,' he said, and
turned his eyes seaward.

Vernon called Constantine from the bows and asked him what the word
might mean. The Epirote crossed himself also before he spoke. 'It is the
Lady of the Land,' he said, in a hushed voice. 'It is the great witch
who is the Devil's bride. In old days in spring they made sacrifice to
her, but they say her power is dying now. In my country we do not speak
her name, but elsewhere they call her "Queen".' The man's bluff sailorly
assurance had disappeared, and as Vernon stared at him in bewilderment
he stammered and averted his eyes.

By supper-time he had recovered himself, and the weather-beaten three
made such a meal as befits those who have faced danger together.
Afterwards Vernon, as was his custom, sat alone in the stern, smoking
and thinking his thoughts. He wrote up his diary with a ship's lantern
beside him, while overhead the starless velvet sky seemed to hang low
and soft like an awning. Little fires burned on the shore at which folk
were cooking food--he could hear their voices, and from the keep one
single lit window made an eye in the night.

He had leisure now for the thought which had all day been at the back of
his mind. The night had passed and there had been no dream. The
adventure for which he had prepared himself had vanished into the
Ăgean tides. He told himself that it was a relief, that an old folly was
over, but he knew in his heart that he was bitterly disappointed. The
fates had prepared the stage and rung up the curtain without providing
the play. He had been fooled, and somehow the zest and savour of life
had gone from him. No man can be strung high and then find his
preparation idle without suffering a cruel recoil.

As he scribbled idly in his diary he found some trouble about dates.
Down in his bunk was a sheaf of Greek papers bought at the Piraeus and
still unlooked at. He fetched them up and turned them over with a
growing mystification. There was something very odd about the business.
One gets hazy about dates at sea, but he could have sworn that he had
made no mistake. Yet here it was down in black and white, for there was
no question about the number of days since he left the Piraeus. The day
was not Tuesday, as he had believed, but Monday, the first Monday of
April.

He stood up with a beating heart and that sense of unseen hands which
comes to all men once or twice in their lives. The night was yet to
come, and with it the end of the dream. Suddenly he was glad, absurdly
glad, he could almost have wept with the joy of it. And then he was
conscious for the first time of the strangeness of the place in which he
had anchored. The night was dark over him like a shell, enclosing the
half-moon of bay and its one lit dwelling. The great hills, unseen but
felt, ran up to snows, warding it off from a profane world. His nerves
tingled with a joyful anticipation. Something, some wonderful thing, was
coming to him out of the darkness.

Under an impulse for which he could give no reason, he called
Constantine and gave his orders. Let him be ready to sail at any
moment--a possible thing, for there was a light breeze off shore. Also
let the yacht's dinghy be ready in case he wanted it. Then Vernon sat
himself down again in the stern beside the lantern, and waited...


He was dreaming, and did not hear the sound of oars or the grating of a
boat alongside. Suddenly he found a face looking at him in the ring of
lamplight--an old bearded face curiously wrinkled. The eyes, which were
grave and penetrating, scanned him for a second or two, and then a voice
spoke--

'Will the Signor come with me? There is work for him to do this night.'

Vernon rose obediently. He had waited for this call these many years,
and he was there to answer it. He went below and put a loaded revolver
in his trouser-pocket, and then dropped over the yacht's side into
a cockleshell of a boat. The messenger took the oars and rowed for
the point of light on shore.

A middle-aged woman stood on a rock above the tide, holding a small
lantern. In its thin flicker he made out a person with the air and dress
of a French maid. She cast one glance at Vernon, and then turned wearily
to the other. 'Fool, Mitri!' she said. 'You have brought a peasant.'

'Nay,' said the old man, 'he is no peasant. He is a Signor, and as I
judge, a man of his hands.'

The woman passed the light of her lantern over Vernon's form and face.
'His dress is a peasant's, but such clothes may be a nobleman's whim. I
have heard it of the English.'

'I am English,' said Vernon in French.

She turned on him with a quick movement of relief.

'You are English and a gentleman? But I know nothing of you, only that
you have come out of the sea. Up in the House we women are alone, and my
mistress has death to face, or a worse than death. We have no claim on
you, and if you give us your service it means danger--ah, what danger!
The boat is waiting. You have time to go back and go away and forget
that you have seen this accursed place. But, 0 Monsieur, if you hope for
Heaven and have pity on a defenceless angel, you will not leave us.'

'I am ready,' said Vernon.

'God's mercy,' she sighed, and, seizing his arm, drew him up the steep
causeway, while the old man went ahead with the lantern. Now and then
she cast anxious glances to the right where the little fires of the
fishers twinkled along the shore. Then came a point when the three
entered a narrow uphill road, where rocky steps had been cut in a
tamarisk thicket. She spoke low in French to Vernon's ear--

'My mistress is the last of her line, you figure; a girl with a wild
estate and a father long dead. She is good and gracious, as I who have
tended her can witness, but she is young and cannot govern the wolves
who are the men of these parts. They have a long hatred of her house,
and now they have rumoured it that she is a witch and blights the crops
and slays the children. No one will look at her; the priest--for they
are all in the plot--signs himself and crosses the road; the little ones
run screaming to their mothers. Once, twice, they have cursed our
threshold and made the blood mark on the door. For two years we have
been prisoners in the House, and only Mitri is true. They name her
Basilissa, meaning the Queen of Hell, whom the ancients called
Proserpine. There is no babe but will faint with fright if it casts eyes
on her, and she as mild and innocent as Mother Mary...'

The woman stopped at a little door and in a high wall of masonry. 'Nay,
wait and hear me out. It is better that you hear the tale from me than
from her. Mitri has the gossip of the place through his daughter's
husband, and the word has gone round to burn the witch out. The winter
in the hills has been cruel, and they blame their sorrow on her. The
dark of the moon in April is the time fixed, for they say that a witch
has power only in moonlight. This is the night, and down on the shore
the fishers are gathered. The men from the hills are in the higher
woods.'

'Have they a leader?' Vernon asked.

'A leader?' her voice echoed shrilly. 'But that is the worst of our
terrors. There is one Vlastos, a lord in the mountains, who saw my
mistress a year ago as she looked from the balcony at the
Swallow-singing, and was filled with a passion for her. He has
persecuted her since with his desires. He is a king among these savages,
being himself a very wolf in man's flesh. We have denied him, but he
persists, and this night he announces that he comes for an answer. He
offers to save her if she will trust him, but what is the honour of his
kind? He is like a brute out of a cave. It were better for my lady to go
to God in the fire than to meet all Hell in his arms. But this night we
must choose, unless you prove a saviour.'

Did you see my boat anchor in the bay?' Vernon asked, though he already
knew the answer.

'But no,' she said. 'We live only to the landward side of the House. My
lady told me that God would send a man to our aid. And I bade Mitri
fetch him.'

The door was unlocked and the three climbed a staircase which seemed to
follow the wall of a round tower. Presently they came into a stone hall
with curious hangings like the old banners in a church. From the open
flame of the lantern another was kindled, and the light showed a
desolate place with crumbling mosaics on the floor and plaster dropping
from the cornices. Through another corridor they went, where the air
blew warmer and there was that indefinable scent which comes from human
habitation. Then came a door which the woman held open for Vernon to
enter. 'Wait there, Monsieur,' she said. 'My mistress will come to you.'

It was his own room, where annually he had waited with a fluttering
heart since he was a child at Severns. A fire of wood--some resinous
thing like juniper--burned on the hearth, and spirals of blue smoke
escaped the stone chimney and filled the air with their pungent
fragrance. On a Spanish cabinet stood an antique silver lamp, and there
was a great blue Chinese vase filled with spring flowers. Soft
Turcoman rugs covered the wooden floor--Vernon noted every detail for
never before had he been able to see his room clearly. A woman had lived
here, for an embroidery frame lay on a table and there were silken
cushions on the low divans. And facing him in the other wall there was a
door.

In the old days he had regarded it with vague terror in his soul. Now he
looked at it with the hungry gladness with which a traveller sees again
the familiar objects of home. The hour of his destiny had struck. The
thing for which he had trained himself in body and spirit was about to
reveal itself in that doorway...

It opened, and a girl entered. She was tall and very slim, and moved
with the free grace of a boy. She trod the floor like one walking in
spring meadows. Her little head on the flower-like neck was bent
sideways as if she were listening, and her eyes had the strange
disquieting innocence of a child's. Yet she was a grown woman, nobly
made, and lithe and supple as Artemis herself when she ranged with her
maidens through the moonlit gades. Her face had the delicate pallor of
pure health, and above it the masses of dark hair were bound with a thin
gold circlet. She wore a gown of some soft white stuff, and had thrown
over it a cloak of russet furs.

For a second--or so it seemed to Vernon--she looked at him as he stood
tense and expectant like a runner at the start. Then the hesitation fled
from her face. She ran to him with the confidence of a child who has
waited long for the coming of a friend and has grown lonely and fearful.
She gave him both her hands and in her tall pride looked him full in the
eyes. 'You have come,' she sighed happily. 'I did not doubt it. They
told me there was no help, but, you see, they did not know about you.
That was my own secret. The Monster had nearly gobbled me, Perseus, but
of course you could not come quicker. And now you will take me away with
you? See, I am ready. And Elise will come too, and old Mitri, for they
could not live without me. We must hurry, for the Monster is very near.'

In that high moment of romance, when young love had burst upon him like
spring, Vernon retained his odd discipline of soul. The adventure of the
dream could not be satisfied by flight, even though his companion was a
goddess.

'We will go, Andromeda, but not yet. I have something to say to the
Monster.'

She broke into a ripple of laughter. 'Yes, that is the better way. Mitri
will admit him alone, and he will think to find us women. But you will
be here and you will speak to him.' Then her eyes grew solemn. 'He is
very cruel, Perseus, and he is full of evil. He may devour us both. Let
us begone before he comes.'

It was Vernon's turn to laugh. At the moment no enterprise seemed too
formidable, and a price must be paid for this far-away princess. And
even as he laughed the noise of a great bell clanged through the house.

Mitri stole in with a scared face, and it was from Vernon that he took
his orders. 'Speak them fair, but let one man enter and no more. Bring
him here, and see that the gate is barred behind him. After that make
ready for the road.' Then to the girl: 'Take off your cloak and wait
here as if you were expecting him. I will stand behind the screen. Have
no fear, for I will have him covered, and I will shoot him like a dog if
he lays a finger on you.'

From the shelter of the screen Vernon saw the door open and a man enter.
He was a big fellow of the common mountain type, gorgeously dressed in a
uniform of white and crimson, with boots of yellow untanned leather, and
a beltful of weapons. He was handsome in a coarse way, but his slanting
eyes and the heavy lips scarcely hidden by the curling moustaches were
ugly and sinister. He smiled, showing his white teeth, and spoke
hurriedly in the guttural Greek of the north. The girl shivered at the
sound of his voice, and to the watcher it seemed like Pan pursuing one
of Dian's nymphs.

'You have no choice, my Queen,' he was saying. 'I have a hundred men at
the gate who will do my bidding, and protect you against these fools of
villagers till you are safe with me at Louko. But if you refuse me I
cannot hold the people. They will burn the place over your head, and by
to-morrow's morn these walls will be smouldering ashes with your fair
body in the midst of them.'

Then his wooing became rougher. The satyr awoke in his passionate eyes.
'Nay, you are mine, whether you will it or not. I and my folk will carry
you off when the trouble begins. Take your choice, my girl, whether you
will go with a good grace, or trussed up behind a servant. We have rough
ways in the hills with ungracious wenches.'

'I am going away,' she whispered, 'but not with you!'

The man laughed. 'Have you fetched down friend Michael and his angels to
help you? By Saint John the Hunter, I would I had a rival. I would carve
him prettily for the sake of your sweet flesh.'

Vernon kicked aside the screen. 'You will have your chance,' he said. 'I
am ready.'

Vlastos stepped back with his hand at his belt. 'Who in the devil's name
are you?' he asked.

'One who would dispute the lady with you,' said Vernon.

The man had recovered his confidence. 'I know nothing of you or
whence you come, but to-night I am merciful. I give you ten seconds to
disappear. If not, I will spit you, my fine cock, and you will roast in
this oven.'

'Nevertheless the lady goes with me,' said Vernon, smiling.

Vlastos plucked a whistle from his belt, but before it reached his mouth
he was looking into the barrel of Vernon's revolver. 'Pitch that thing
on the floor,' came the command. 'Not there! Behind me! Off with that
belt and give it to the lady. Quick, my friend.'

The dancing grey eyes dominated the sombre black ones. Vlastos flung
down the whistle, and slowly removed the belt with its silver-mounted
pistols and its brace of knives.

'Put up your weapon,' he muttered, 'and fight me for her, as a man
should.'

'I ask nothing better,' said Vernon, and he laid his revolver in the
girl's lap.

He had expected a fight with fists, and was not prepared for what
followed. Vlastos sprang at him like a wild beast and clasped him round
the waist. He was swung off his feet in a grip that seemed more than
human. For a second or two he swayed to and fro, recovered himself, and
by a back-heel stroke forced his assailant to relax a little. Then,
locked together in the middle of the room, the struggle began. Dimly out
of a corner of his eye he saw the girl pick up the silver lamp and stand
by the door holding it high.

Vernon had learned the rudiments of wrestling among the dalesmen of the
North, but now he was dealing with one who followed no ordinary methods.
It was a contest of sheer physical power. Vlastos was a stone or two
heavier, and had an uncommon length of arm; but he was clumsily made,
and flabby from gross living. Vernon was spare and hard and clean, but
he lacked one advantage--he had never striven with a man save in
friendly games, and the other was bred to kill. For a minute or two they
swayed and stumbled, while Vernon strove for the old Westmorland 'inside
click.' Every second brought him nearer to it, while the other's face
was pressed close to his shoulder.

Suddenly he felt a sharp pain. Teeth met in his flesh, and there was the
jar and shiver of a torn muscle. The thing sickened him, and his grip
slackened. In a moment Vlastos had swung him over in a strangle-hold,
and had his neck bent almost to breaking.

On the sickness followed a revulsion of fierce anger. He was contending
not with a man, but with some shaggy beast from the thicket. The passion
brought out the extra power which is dormant in us all against the last
extremity. Two years before he had been mauled by a leopard on the
Congo, and had clutched its throat with his hand and torn the life out.
Such and no other was his antagonist. He was fighting with one who knew
no code, and would gouge his eyes if he got the chance. The fear which
had sickened him was driven out by fury. This wolf should go the way of
other wolves who dared to strive with man.

By a mighty effort he got his right arm free, and though his own neck
was in torture, he forced Vlastos' chin upward. It was a struggle of
sheer endurance, till with a snarl the other slackened his pressure.
Vernon slipped from his grasp, gave back a step, and then leaped for the
under-grip. He seemed possessed with unholy strength, for the barrel of
the man gave in his embrace. A rib cracked, and as they swayed to the
breast-stroke, he felt the breath of his opponent coming in harsh gasps.
It was the end, for with a twist which unlocked his arms he swung him
high, and hurled him towards the fireplace. The head crashed on the
stone hearth, and the man lay stunned among the blue jets of wood-smoke.

Vernon turned dizzily to the girl. She stood, statue-like, with the lamp
in her hand, and beside her huddled Mitri and Elise.

'Bring ropes,' he cried to the servants. 'We will truss up this beast.
The other wolves will find him and learn a lesson.' He bound his legs
and arms and laid him on a divan.

The fire of battle was still in his eyes, but it faded when they fell
upon the pale girl. A great pity and tenderness filled him. She swayed
to his arms, and her head dropped on his shoulder. He, picked her up
like a child, and followed the servants to the sea-stair.

But first he found Vlastos' whistle, and blew it shrilly. The answer was
a furious hammering at the castle door...

Far out at sea, in the small hours, the yacht sped eastward with a
favouring wind. Behind in the vault of night at a great distance shone a
point of brightness, which flickered and fell as if from some mighty
fire.

The two sat in the stern in that first rapture of comradeship which has
no words to fit it. Her head lay in the crook of his arm, and she sighed
happily, like one awakened to a summer's dawn from a night of ill
dreams. At last he spoke.

'Do you know that I have been looking for you for twenty years?' She
nestled closer to him.

'And I,' she said, 'have been waiting on you from the beginning of the
world.'




FULLCIRCLE

'Between the Windrush and the Colne
I found a little house of stone
A little wicked house of stone.'

The October day was brightening toward late afternoon when Leithen and I
climbed the hill above the stream and came in sight of the house. All
morning a haze with the sheen of pearl in it had lain on the folds of
downland, and the vision of far horizons, which is the glory of
Cotswold, had been veiled, so that every valley seemed as a place
inclosed and set apart. But now a glow had come into the air, and for a
little the autumn lawns stole the tints of summer. The gold of sunshine
was warm on the grasses, and only the riot of color in the berry-laden
edges of the fields and the slender woodlands told of the failing year.

We were looking into a green cup of the hills, and it was all a garden.
A little place, bounded by slopes that defined its graciousness with no
hint of barrier, so that a dweller there, though his view was but half a
mile on any side, would yet have the sense of dwelling on uplands and
commanding the world. Round the top edge ran an old wall of stones,
beyond which the October bracken flamed to the skyline. Inside were
folds of ancient pasture, with here and there a thorn-bush, falling to
rose gardens and, on one side, to the smooth sward of a terrace above a
tiny lake.

At the heart of it stood the house like a jewel well-set. It was a
miniature, but by the hand of a master. The style was late seventeenth
century, when an agreeable classic convention had opened up to sunlight
and comfort the dark magnificence of the Tudor fashion. The place had
the spacious air of a great mansion, and was furnished in every detail
with a fine scrupulousness. Only when the eye measured its proportions
with the woods and the hillside did the mind perceive that it was a
small dwelling.

The stone of Cotswold takes curiously the color of the weather. Under
thunderclouds it will be as dark as basalt; on a gray day it will be gray
like lava but in sunshine it absorbs the sun. At the moment the little
house was pale gold, like honey.

Leithen swung a long leg across the stile.

'Pretty good, isn't it?' he said. 'It's pure, authentic Sir Christopher
Wren. The name is worthy of it, too. It is called Fullcircle.'

He told me its story. It had been built after the Restoration by the
Carteron family, whose wide domains ran into these hills. The Lord
Carteron of the day was a friend of the Merry Monarch; but it was not as
a sanctuary for orgies that he built the house. Perhaps he was tired of
the gloomy splendor of Minster Carteron, and wanted a home of his own
and not of his ancestors' choosing. He had an elegant taste in letters,
as we can learn from his neat imitations of Martial, his pretty Bucolics
and the more than respectable Latin hexameters of his Ars Vivendi. Being
a great nobleman, he had the best skill of the day to construct his
hermitage, and thither he would retire for months at a time, with
like-minded friends, to a world of books and gardens. He seems to have
had no ill-wishers; contemporary memoirs speak of him charitably and
Dryden spared him four lines of encomium. 'A selfish old dog,' Leithen
called him. 'He had the good sense to eschew politics and enjoy life.
His soul is in that little house. He only did one rash thing in his
career--he anticipated the King, his master, by some years in turning
Papist.'

I asked about its later history.

'After his death it passed to a younger branch of the Carterons. It left
them in the eighteenth century, and the Applebys got it. They were a
jovial lot of hunting squires and let the library go to the dogs. Old
Colonel Appleby wsa still alive when I came to Borrowby. Something went
wrong in his inside when he was nearly seventy, and the doctors knocked
him off liquor. Not that he drank too much, though he did himself well.
That finished the poor old boy. He told me that it revealed to him the
amazing truth that during a long and, as he hoped, publicly useful life
he had never been quite sober. He was a good fellow and I missed him
when he died. The place went to a remote cousin called Giffen.'

Leithen's eyes as they scanned the prospect, seemed amused.

'Julian and Ursula Giffen--I dare say you know the names. They always
hunt in couples, and write books about sociology and advanced ethics and
psychics--books called either "The New This or That" or "The Truth about
Something or Other." You know the sort of thing. They're deep in all the
pseudo-sciences. They're decent souls, but you can guess the type. I
came across them in a case I had at the Old Bailey--defending a ruffian
who was charged with murder. I hadn't a doubt he deserved hanging
on twenty counts, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him
on this one. Dodderidge was at his worst--it was just before they
induced him to retire--and his handling of the jury was a masterpiece
of misdirection. Of course, there was a shindy. The thing was a
scandal, and it stirred up all the humanitarians till the murderer
was almost forgotten in the iniquities of old Dodderidge. You must
remember the case. It filled the papers for weeks. Well, it was in that
connection that I fell in with the Giffens. I got rather to like them,
and I've been to see them at their house in Hampstead. Golly, what a
place! Not a chair fit to sit down on, and colors that made you want to
howl. I never met people whose heads were so full of feathers.'

I said something about that being an odd milieu for him.

'Oh, I like human beings, all kinds. It's my profession to study them,
for without that the practice of the law would be a dismal affair. There
are hordes of people like the Giffens--only not so good, for they really
have hearts of gold. They are the rootless stuff in the world to-day. In
revolt against everything and everybody with any ancestry. A kind of
innocent self-righteousness--wanting to be the people with whom wisdom
begins and ends. They are mostly sensitive and tenderhearted, but they
wear themselves out in an eternal dissidence. Can't build, you know, for
they object to all tools, but very ready to crab. They scorn any form of
Christianity, but they'll walk miles to patronize some wretched sect
that has the merit of being brand-new. "Pioneers" they call
themselves--funny little unclad people adventuring into the cold desert
with no maps. Giffen once described himself and his friends to me as
"forward-looking," but that, of course, is just what they are not. To
tackle the future you must have a firm grip of the past, and for them,
the past is only a pathological curiosity. They're up to their necks in
the mud of the present--but good, after a fashion; and innocent--sordidly
innocent. Fate was in an ironical mood when she saddled them with that
wicked little house.'

'Wicked' did not seem to me to be a fair word. It sat honey-colored
among its gardens with the meekness of a dove.

The sound of a bicycle on the road behind made us turn round, and
Leithen advanced to meet a dismounting rider.

He was a tallish fellow, some forty years old, perhaps, with one of
those fluffy blond beards that have never been shaved. Short-sighted, of
course, and wore glasses. Biscuit-colored knickerbockers and stockings
clad his lean limbs.

Leithen introduced me. 'We are walking to Borrowby and stopped to admire
your house. Could we have just a glimpse inside? I want Jardine to see
the staircase.'

Mr. Giffen was very willing. 'I've been over to Clyston to send a
telegram. We have some friends for the week-end who might interest You.
Won't you stay to tea?'

He had a gentle, formal courtesy about him, and his voice had the facile
intonations of one who loves to talk. He led us through a little gate,
and along a shorn green walk among the bracken, to a postern which gave
entrance to the garden. Here, though it was October, there was still a
bright show of roses, and the jet of water from the leaden Cupid dripped
noiselessly among fallen petals. And then we stood before the doorway
above which the old Carteron had inscribed a line of Horace.

I have never seen anything quite like the little hall. There were two,
indeed, separated by a staircase of a wood that looked like olive. Both
were paved with black-and-white marble, and the inner was oval in shape,
with a gallery supported on slender walnut pillars. It was all in
miniature, but it had a spaciousness which no mere size could give. Also
it seemed to be permeated by the quintessence of sunlight. Its air was
of long-descended, confident, equable happiness.

There were voices on the terrace beyond the hall. Giffen led us into a
little room on the left. 'You remember the house in Colonel Appleby's
time, Leithen. This was the chapel. It had 'always been the chapel. You
see the change we have made.--I beg your pardon, Mr. Jardine. You're not
by any chance a Roman Catholic?'

The room had a white paneling and, on two sides, deep windows. At one
end was a fine Italian shrine of marble, and the floor was mosaic, blue
and white, in a quaint Byzantine pattern. There was the same air of
sunny cheerfulness as in the rest of the house. No mystery could find a
lodgment here. It might have been a chapel for three centuries, but the
place was pagan. The Giffens' changes were no sort of desecration. A
green baize table filled most of the floor, surrounded by chairs like a
committee room. On new raw-wood shelves were files of papers and stacks
of blue-books and those desiccated works into which reformers of society
torture the English tongue. Two typewriters stood on a side table.

'It is our workroom,' Giffen explained. 'We hold our Sunday moots here.
Ursula thinks that a week-end is wasted unless it produces some piece of
real work. Often a quite valuable committee has its beginning here. We
try to make our home a refuge for busy workers, where they need not idle
but can work under happy conditions.'

'"A college situate in a clearer air,"' Leithen quoted.

But Giffen did not respond except with a smile; he had probably never
heard of Lord Falkland.

A woman entered the room, a woman who might have been pretty if she had
taken a little pains. Her reddish hair was drawn tightly back and
dressed in a hard knot, and her clothes were horribly incongruous in a
remote manor-house. She had bright eager eyes, like a bird, and hands
that fluttered nervously. She greeted Leithen with warmth.

'We have settled down marvelously,' she told him. 'Julian and I feel as
if we had always lived here, and our life has arranged itself so
perfectly. My mothers' cottages in the village will soon be ready, and
the Club is to be opened next week. Julian and I will carry on the
classes ourselves for the first winter. Next year we hope to have a
really fine programme. And then it is so pleasant to be able to
entertain one's friends. Won't you stay to tea? Dr. Swope is here, and
Mary Elliston, and Mr. Percy Blaker--you know, the Member of Parliament.
Must you hurry off? I'm so sorry.--What do you think of our workroom? It
was utterly terrible when we first came here--a sort of decayed chapel,
like a withered tuberose. We have let the air of heaven into it.'

I observed that I had never seen a house so full of space and light.

'Ah, you notice that? It is a curiously happy place to live in.
Sometimes I'm almost afraid to feel so light-hearted. But we look on
ourselves as only trustees. It is a trust we have to administer for the
common good. You know, it's a house on which you can lay your own
impress. I can imagine places which dominate the dwellers, but
Fullcircle is plastic, and we can make it our own as much as if we had
planned and built it. That's our chief piece of good fortune.'

We took our leave, for we had no desire for the company of Dr. Swope and
Mr. Percy Blaker. When we reached the highway we halted and looked back
on the little jewel. Shafts of the westering sun now caught the stone
and turned the honey to ripe gold. Thin spires of amethyst smoke rose
into the still air. I thought of the well-meaning, restless couple
inside its walls, and somehow they seemed out of the picture. They
simply did not matter. The house was the thing, for I had never met in
inanimate stone such an air of gentle masterfulness. It had a
personality of its own, clean-cut and secure, like a high-born old dame
among the females of profiteers. And Mrs. Giffen claimed to have given
it her impress!

That night, in the library at Borrowby, Leithen discoursed of the
Restoration. Borrowby, of which, by the expenditure of much care and a
good deal of money, he had made a civilized dwelling, is a Tudor manor
of the Cotswold type, with its high-pitched narrow roofs and tall stone
chimneys, rising sheer from the meadows with something of the
massiveness of a Border keep.

He nodded toward the linen-fold paneling and the great carved
chimney-piece.

'In this kind of house you have the mystery of the elder England. What
was Raleigh's phrase? "High thoughts and divine contemplations." The
people who built this sort of thing lived close to another world, and
thought bravely of death. It doesn't matter who they were--Crusaders or
Elizabethans or Puritans--they all had poetry in them and the heroic and
a great unworldliness. They had marvelous spirits, and plenty of joys
and triumphs; but they had also their hours of black gloom. Their lives
were like our weather--storm and sun. One thing they never
feared--death. He walked too near them all their days to be a bogey.

'But the Restoration was a sharp break. It brought paganism into
England; paganism and the art of life. No people have ever known better
the secret of bland happiness. Look at Fullcircle. There are no dark
corners there. The man that built it knew all there was to be known
about how to live. The trouble was that they did not know how to die.
That was the one shadow on the glass. So they provided for it in a pagan
way. They tried magic. They never become true Catholics--they were
always pagan to the end, but they smuggled a priest into their lives. He
was a kind of insurance premium against unwelcome mystery.'

* * *  *

It was not till nearly two years later that I saw the Giffens again. The
May-fly season was about at its close, and I had snatched a day on a
certain limpid Cotswold river. There was another man on the same beat,
fishing from the opposite bank, and I watched him with some anxiety, for
a duffer would have spoiled my day. To my relief I recognized Giffen.
With him it was easy to come to terms, and presently the water was
parceled out between us.

We foregathered for luncheon, and I stood watching while he neatly
stalked, rose, and landed a trout. I confessed to some surprise--first
that Giffen should be a fisherman at all, for it was not in keeping with
my old notion of him; and second, that he should cast such a workmanlike
line. As we lunched together, I observed several changes. He had shaved
his fluffy beard, and his face was notably less lean, and had the clear
even sunburn of the countryman. His clothes, too, were different. They
also were workmanlike, and looked as if they belonged to him--he no
longer wore the uneasy knickerbockers of the Sunday golfer.

'I'm desperately keen,' he told me. 'You see it's only my second
May-fly season, and last year I was no better than a beginner. I wish I
had known long ago what good fun fishing was. Isn't this a blessed
place?' And he looked up through the canopy of flowering chestnuts to
the June sky.

'I'm glad you've taken to sport,' I said, 'even if you only come here
for the week-ends. Sport lets you into the secrets of the countryside.'

'Oh, we don't go much to London now,' was his answer. 'We sold our
Hampstead house a year ago. I can't think how I ever could stick that
place. Ursula takes the same view. I wouldn't leave Oxfordshire just now
for a thousand pounds. Do you smell the hawthorn? Last week this meadow
was scented like Paradise.--D'you know, Leithen's a queer fellow?'

I asked why.

'He once told me that this countryside in June made him sad. He said it
was too perfect a thing for fallen humanity. I call that morbid. Do you
see any sense in it?'

I knew what Leithen meant, but it would have taken too long to explain.

'I feel warm and good and happy here,' he went on. 'I used to talk about
living close to nature. Rot! I didn't know what nature meant. Now--' He
broke off. 'By Jove, there's a kingfisher. That is only the second I've
seen this year. They're getting uncommon with us.'

'With us.' I liked the phrase. He was becoming a true countryman.

We had a good day,--not extravagantly successful, but satisfactory,--and
he persuaded me to come home with him to Fullcircle for the night,
explaining that I could catch an early train next morning at the
junction. So we extricated a little two-seater from the midst of a clump
of lilacs, and drove through four miles of sweet-scented dusk, with
nightingales shouting in every thicket.

I changed into a suit of his flannels in a room looking out on the
little lake where trout were rising, and I remember that I whistled from
pure light-heartedness. In that adorable house one seemed to be still
breathing the air of the spring meadows.

Dinner was my first big surprise. It was admirable--plain, but perfectly
cooked, and with that excellence of basic material which is the glory of
a well-appointed country house. There was wine, too, which I am certain
was a new thing. Giffen gave me a bottle of sound claret, and afterwards
some more than decent port. My second surprise was my hostess. Her
clothes, like her husband's, must have changed, for I did not notice
what she was wearing, and I had noticed it only too clearly the last
time we met. More remarkable still was the difference in her face. For
the first time I realized that she was a pretty woman. The contours had
softened and rounded, and there was a charming well-being in her eyes,
very different from the old restlessness. She looked content, infinitely
content.

I asked about her mothers' cottages. She laughed cheerfully.

'I gave them up after the first year. They didn't mix well with the
village people. I'm quite ready to admit my mistake, and it was the
wrong kind of charity. The Londoners didn't like it--felt lonesome and
sighed for the fried-fish shop; and the village women were shy of
them--afraid of infectious complaints, you know. Julian and I have
decided that our business is to look after our own people.'

It may have been malicious, but I said something about the wonderful
scheme of village education.

'Another relic of Cockneyism,' laughed the lady, but Giffen looked a
trifle shy.

'I gave it up because it didn't seem worth while. What is the use of
spoiling a perfectly wholesome scheme of life by introducing unnecessary
complications? Medicine is no good unless a man is sick, and these
people are not sick. Education is the only cure for certain diseases the
modern world has engendered, but if you don't find the disease, the
remedy is superfluous. The fact is, I hadn't the face to go on with the
thing. I wanted to be taught rather than to teach. There's a whole world
round me of which I know very little, and my first business is to get to
understand it. Any village poacher can teach me more of the things that
matter than I have to tell him.'

'Besides, we have so much to do,' his wife added. 'There's the house and
the garden and the home farm and the property. It isn't large, but it
takes a lot of looking after.'

The dining-room was long and low-ceilinged, and had a white paneling in
bold relief. Through the deep windows came odors of the garden and a
faint tinkle of water. The dusk was deepening and the engravings in
their rosewood frames were dim, but sufficient light remained to reveal
the picture above the fireplace. It showed a middle-aged man in the
clothes of the later Stuarts. The plump tapering fingers of one hand
held a book; the other was hidden in the folds of a flowered waistcoat.
The long curled wig framed a delicate face with something of the grace
of youth left to it. There were quizzical lines about the mouth, and the
eyes smiled pleasantly yet very wisely. It was the face of a man I
should have liked to dine with. He must have been the best of company.

Giffen answered my question.

'That's the Lord Carteron who built the house. No--no relation. Our
people were the Applebys, who came in 1753. We've both fallen
so deep in love with Fullcircle that we wanted to see the man who
conceived it. I had some trouble getting it. It came out of the Minster
Carteron sale, and I had to give a Jew dealer twice what he paid for it.
It's a jolly thing to live with.'

It was indeed a curiously charming picture. I found my eyes straying to
it till the dusk obscured the features. It was the face of one wholly at
home in a suave world, learned in all the urbanities. A good friend, I
thought, the old lord must have been, and a superlative companion. I
could imagine neat Horatian tags coming ripely from his lips. Not a
strong face, but somehow a dominating one. The portrait of the long-dead
gentleman had still the atmosphere of life. Giffen raised his glass of
port to him as we rose from table, as if to salute a comrade.

We moved to the room across the hall which had once been the Giffens'
workroom, the cradle of earnest committees and weighty memoranda. This
was my third surprise. Baize-covered table and raw-wood shelves had
disappeared. The place was now half smoking-room, half library. On the
walls hung a fine collection of colored sporting prints, and below them
were ranged low Hepplewhite bookcases. The lamplight glowed on the ivory
walls, and the room, like everything else in the house, was radiant.

Above the mantelpiece was a stag's head--a fair eleven-pointer. Giffen
nodded proudly toward it. 'I got that last year at Machray. My first
stag.'

There was a little table with an array of magazines and weekly papers.
Some amusement must have been visible in my face, as I caught sight of
various light-hearted sporting journals, for he laughed apologetically.
'You mustn't think that Ursula and I take in that stuff for ourselves.
It amuses our guests, you know.'

I dared say it did, but I was convinced that the guests were no longer
Dr. Swope and Mr. Percy Blaker.

One of my many failings is that I can never enter a room containing
books without scanning the titles. Giffen's collection won my hearty
approval. There were the very few novelists I can read myself--Miss
Austen and Sir Walter and the admirable Marryat; there was a shelf full
of memoirs, and a good deal of seventeenth--and eighteenth-century
poetry; there was a set of the classics in fine editions. Bodonis and
Baskervilles and such like; there was much county history and one or two
valuable old Herbals and Itineraries. I was certain that two years
earlier Giffen would have had no use for literature except some muddy
Russian oddments, and I am positive that he would not have known the
name of Surtees. Yet there stood the tall octavos recording the
unedifying careers of Mr. Jorrocks, Mr. Facey Romford, and Mr. Soapy
Sponge.

I was a little bewildered as I stretched my legs in a very deep
armchair. Suddenly I had a strong impression of looking on at a play. My
hosts seemed to be automata, moving docilely at the orders of a
masterful stage manager, and yet with no sense of bondage. And as I
looked on, they faded off the scene, and there was only one
personality--that house so serene and secure, smiling at our modern
antics, but weaving all the while an iron spell around its lovers.

For a second I felt an oppression as of something to be resisted. But
no. There was no oppression. The house was too well-bred and disdainful
to seek to captivate. Only those who fell in love with it could know its
mastery, for all love exacts a price. It was far more than a thing of
stone and lime: it was a creed, an art, a scheme of life--older than any
Carteron, older than England. Somewhere far back in time, in Rome, in
Attica, or in an Ăgean island, there must have been such places; and
then they called them temples, and gods dwelt in them.

I was roused by Giffen's voice discoursing of his books. 'I've been
rubbing up my classics again,' he was saying. 'Queer thing, but ever
since I left Cambridge I have been out of the mood for them. And I'm
shockingly ill-read in English literature. I wish I had more time for
reading, for it means a lot to me.'

'There is such an embarrassment of riches here,' said his wife. 'The
days are far too short for all there is to do. Even when there is nobody
staying in the house I find every hour occupied. It's delicious to be
busy over things one really cares for.'

'All the same I wish I could do more reading,' said Giffen. 'I've never
wanted to so much before.'

'But you come in tired from shooting and sleep sound till dinner,' said
the lady, laying an affectionate hand on his shoulder.

They were happy people, and I like happiness. Self-absorbed, perhaps,
but I prefer selfishness in the ordinary way of things. We are most of
us selfish dogs, and altruism makes us uncomfortable. But I had somehow
in my mind a shade of uneasiness, for I was the witness of a
transformation too swift and violent to be wholly natural. Years, no
doubt, turn our eyes inward and abate our heroics, but not a trifle of
two or three. Some agency had been at work here, some agency other and
more potent than the process of time. The thing fascinated and partly
frightened me. For the Giffens--though I scarcely dared to admit it--had
deteriorated. They were far pleasanter people, I liked them infinitely
better, I hoped to see them often again. I detested the type they used
to represent, and shunned it like the plague. They were wise now, and
mellow, and most agreeable human beings. But some virtue had
gone out of them. An uncomfortable virtue, no doubt, but still
a virtue; something generous and adventurous. In the earlier time,
their faces had had a sort of wistful kindness. Now they had
geniality--which is not the same thing.

What was the agency of this miracle? It was all around me: the ivory
paneling, the olive-wood staircase, the lovely pillared hall.

I got up to go to bed with a kind of awe on me. As Mrs. Giffen lit my
candle, she saw my eyes wandering among the gracious shadows.

'Isn't it wonderful,' she said, 'to have found a house which fits us
like a glove? No! Closer. Fits us as a bearskin fits the bear. It has
taken our impress like wax.'

Somehow I didn't think that impress had come from the Giffens' side.

* * * * *

A November afternoon found Leithen and myself jogging homeward from a
run with the Heythrop. It had been a wretched day. Twice we had found
and lost, and then a deluge had set in which scattered the field. I had
taken a hearty toss into a swamp, and got as wet as a man may be, but
the steady downpour soon reduced everyone to a like condition. When we
turned toward Borrowby the rain ceased, and an icy wind blew out of the
east which partially dried our sopping clothes. All the grace had faded
from the Cotswold valleys. The streams were brown torrents, the meadows
lagoons, the ridges bleak and gray, and a sky of scurrying clouds cast
leaden shadows. It was a matter of ten miles to Borrowby; we had long
ago emptied our flasks, and I longed for something hot to take the chill
out of my bones.

'Let's look in at Fullcircle,' said Leithen, as we came out on the
highroad from a muddy lane. 'We'll make the Giffens give us tea. You'll
find changes there.'

I asked what changes, but he only smiled and told me to wait and see.

My mind was busy with surmises as we rode up the avenue. I thought of
drink or drugs, and promptly discarded the notion. Fullcircle was, above
all things, decorous and wholesome. Leithen could not mean the change in
the Giffens' ways which had so impressed me a year before, for he and I
had long ago discussed that. I was still puzzling over his words when we
found ourselves in the inner hall, with the Giffens making a hospitable
fuss over us.

The place was more delectable than ever. Outside was a dark November
day, yet the little house seemed to be transfused with sunshine. I do not
know by what art the old builders had planned it; but the airy
pilasters, the perfect lines of the ceiling, the soft coloring of the
wood seemed to lay open the house to a clear sky. Logs burned brightly
on the massive steel andirons, and the scent and the fine blue smoke of
them strengthened the illusion of summer.

Mrs. Giffen would have us change into dry things, but Leithen pleaded a
waiting dinner at Borrowby. The two of us stood by the fireplace,
drinking tea, the warmth drawing out a cloud of vapor from our clothes
to mingle with the wood-smoke. Giffen lounged in an armchair and his
wife sat by the tea-table. I was looking for the changes of which
Leithen had spoken.

I did not find them in Giffen. He was much as I remembered him on the
June night when I had slept here--a trifle fuller in the face, perhaps,
a little more placid about the mouth and eyes. He looked a man
completely content with life. His smile came readily, and his easy
laugh. Was it my fancy, or had he acquired a look of the picture in the
dining-room? I nearly made an errand to go and see it. It seemed to me
that his mouth had now something of the portrait's delicate complacence.
Lely would have found him a fit subject, though he might have boggled at
his lean hands.

But his wife! Ah, there the changes were unmistakable. She was comely
now rather than pretty, and the contours of her face had grown heavier.
The eagerness had gone from her eyes and left only comfort and good
humor. There was a suspicion, ever so slight, of rouge and powder. She
had a string of good pearls--the first time I had seen her wear jewels.
The hand that poured out the tea was plump, shapely, and well cared for.
I was looking at a most satisfactory mistress of a country house, who
would see that nothing was lacking to the part.

She talked more and laughed oftener. Her voice had an airy lightness
which would have made the silliest prattle charming.

'We are going to fill the house with young people and give a ball at
Christmas,' she announced. 'This hall is simply clamoring to be danced
in. You must come, both of you. Promise me. And, Mr. Leithen, it would
be very nice if you brought a party from Borrowby. Young men, please. We
are overstocked with girls in these parts. We must do something to make
the country cheerful in winter-time.'

I observed that no season could make Fullcircle other than cheerful.

'How nice of you!' she cried. 'To praise a house is to praise the
householders, for a dwelling is just what its inmates make it. Borrowby
is you, Mr. Leithen, and Fullcircle us.'

'Shall we exchange?' Leithen asked.

She made a mouth. 'Borrowby would crush me, but it suits a Gothic
survival like you. Do you think you would be happy here?'

'Happy?' said Leithen thoughtfully. 'Happy? Yes, undoubtedly. But it
might be bad for my soul.--There's just time for a pipe, Giffen, and
then we must be off.'

I was filling my pipe as we crossed the outer hall, and was about to
enter the smoking-room that I so well remembered, when Giffen laid a
hand on my arm.

'We don't smoke there now,' he said hastily.

He opened the door and I looked in. The place had suffered its third
metamorphosis. The marble shrine which I had noticed on my first visit
had been brought back, and the blue mosaic pavement and the ivory walls
were bare. At the eastern end stood a little altar, with, above it, a
copy of a Correggio Madonna.

A faint smell of incense hung in the air, and the fragrance of hothouse
flowers. It was a chapel, but, I swear, it was a more pagan place than
when it had been workroom or smoking-room.

Giffen gently shut the door. 'Perhaps you may not have heard, but some
months ago my wife became a Catholic. It is a good thing for women, I
think. It gives them a regular ritual for their lives. So we restored
the chapel, which had always been there in the days of the Carterons and
the Applebys.'

'And you?' I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

'I don't bother much about that sort of thing. But I propose to follow
suit. It will please Ursula and do no harm to anybody.'

We halted on the brow of the hill and looked back on the garden valley.
Leithen's laugh, as he gazed, had more awe than mirth in it.

'That wicked little house! I'm going to hunt up every scrap I can find
about old Tom Carteron. He must have been an uncommon clever fellow.
He's still alive down there and making people do as he did. In that kind
of place you may expel the priest and sweep it and garnish it, but he
always returns.'

The wrack was lifting before the wind, and a shaft of late watery sun
fell on the gray walls. It seemed to me that the little house wore an
air of gentle triumph.




THE MAGIC WALKING STICK

When Bill came back for long-leave that autumn half he had before him a
complex programme of entertainment. Thomas, the Keeper, whom he revered
more than anyone else in the world, was to take him in the afternoon to
try for a duck in the big marsh called Alemoor. In the evening
Hallowe'en would be celebrated in the nursery with his small brother
Peter, and he would be permitted to sit up after dinner till ten
o'clock. Next day, which was Sunday, would be devoted to wandering about
with Peter, hearing from him all the appetising home news, and pouring
into his greedy ears the gossip of the foreign world of school. On
Monday morning, after a walk with the dogs, he was to motor to London,
lunch with Aunt Alice, go to a conjuring show, and then, after a noble
tea, return to school in time for lock-up.

It seemed to Bill all that could be desired in the way of excitement.
But he did not know just how exciting that long leave was destined to
be.

The first shadow of a cloud appeared after luncheon, when he had changed
into knickerbockers, and Peter and the dogs were waiting at the gun-room
door. Bill could not find his own proper stick. It was a long hazel
staff, given him by the second stalker in a Scotch deer-forest the year
before--a staff rather taller than Bill, of glossy hazel, with a shapely
polished crook, and without a ferrule, like all stalking sticks. He
hunted for it high and low, but it could not be found. Without it in his
hand Bill felt that an expedition lacked something vital, and he was not
prepared to take instead one of his father's shooting sticks, as Groves,
the butler, recommended. Nor would he accept a knubbly cane proffered by
Peter. Feeling a little aggrieved and imperfectly equipped, he rushed
out to join Thomas. He would cut himself an ashplant in the first hedge.

But as the two ambled down the lane which led to Alemoor, they came on
an old man sitting under a hornbeam. He was a funny little wizened old
man, in a shabby long green overcoat, which had once been black, and he
wore on his head the oldest and tallest and greenest bowler hat
that ever graced a human head. Thomas walked on as if he did
not see him, and Gyp, the spaniel, and Shawn, the Irish setter, at the
sight of him dropped their tails between their legs, and remembered an
engagement a long way off. But Bill stopped, for he saw that the old man
had a bundle under his arm, a bundle of ancient umbrellas and queer
ragged sticks.

The old man smiled at him, and he had very bright eyes. He seemed to
know what was wanted, for he at once took from his bundle a stick. You
would not have said that it was the kind of stick Bill was looking for.
It was short, and heavy, and made of some dark foreign wood, and instead
of a crook it had a handle shaped like a crescent, cut out of some white
substance which was neither bone nor ivory. Yet Bill, as soon as he saw
it, felt that it was the one stick in the world for him.

'How much?' he asked.

'One farthing,' said the old man, and his voice squeaked like a winter
wind in a chimney.

Now a farthing is not a common coin, but Bill happened to have one--a
gift from Peter on his arrival that day, along with a brass cannon, five
empty cartridges, a broken microscope, and a badly-printed
brightly-illustrated narrative called 'Two Villains Foiled.' But a
farthing sounded too little, so Bill proffered one of his scanty
shillings.

'I said one farthing,' said the old man rather snappily.

The small coin changed hands, and the little old wizened face seemed to
light up with an elfish glee. ''Tis a fine stick, young sir,' he
squeaked, 'a noble stick, when you gets used to the ways of it.'

Bill had to run to catch up Thomas, who was plodding along with the
dogs, now returned from their engagement.

'That's a queer chap--the old stick-man, I mean,' he said.

'I ain't seen no old man, Maaster Bill,' said Thomas. 'What be 'ee
talkin' about?'

'The fellow back there. I bought this stick of him.'

Thomas cast a puzzled glance at the stick. 'That be a craafty stick,
Maaster Bill--' but he said no more, for Bill had shaken it playfully at
the dogs. As soon as they saw it they set off to keep another
engagement--this time, apparently, with a hare--and Thomas was yelling
and whistling for ten minutes before he brought them to heel.

It was a soft grey afternoon, and Bill was stationed beside one of the
deep dykes in the moor, well in cover of a thorn bush, while Thomas and
the dogs went off on a long circuit to show themselves beyond the big
mere, so that the duck might move in Bill's direction. It was rather
cold, and very wet underfoot, for a lot of rain had fallen in the past
week, and the mere, which was usually only a sedgy pond, had now grown to
a great expanse of shallow floodwater. Bill began his vigil in high
excitement. He drove his new stick into the ground, and used the handle
as a seat, while he rested his gun in the orthodox way in the crook of
his arm. It was a double-barrelled, sixteen bore, and Bill knew that he
would be lucky if he got a duck with it; but a duck was to him a bird of
mystery, true wild game, and he preferred the chance of one to the
certainty of many rabbits.

The minutes passed, the grey afternoon sky darkened towards twilight,
but no duck came. Bill saw a wedge of geese high up in the sky and
longed to salute them; also he heard snipe, but could not locate them in
the dim weather. Far away he thought he detected the purring noise which
Thomas made to stir the duck, but no overhead beat of wings followed.
Soon the mood of eager anticipation died away, and he grew bored and
rather despondent. He scrambled up the bank of the dyke and strained his
eyes over the moor between the bare boughs of the thorn. He thought he
saw duck moving--yes, he was certain of it--they were coming from the
direction of Thomas and the dogs. It was perfectly clear what was
happening. There was far too much water on the moor, and the birds,
instead of fighting across the mere to the boundary slopes, were simply
settling on the flood. From the misty grey water came the rumour of many
wildfowl.

Bill came back to his wet stand grievously disappointed. He did not dare
to leave it in case a flight did appear, but he had lost all hope. He
tried to warm his feet by moving them up and down in the squelchy turf.
His gun was now under his arm, and he was fiddling idly with the handle
of the stick which was still embedded in earth. He made it revolve, and
as it turned he said aloud: 'I wish I was in the middle of the big
flood.'

Then a remarkable thing happened. Bill was not conscious of any
movement, but suddenly his surroundings were completely changed. He had
still his gun under his left arm and the stick in his right hand, but
instead of standing on wet turf he was up to the waist in water...And
all around him were duck--shovellers, pintail, mallard, teal, widgeon,
pochard, tufted--and bigger things that might be geese--swimming or
diving or just alighting from the air. In a second Bill realised that
his wish had been granted. He was in the very middle of the flood water.

He got a right and left at mallards, missing with his first barrel. Then
the birds rose in alarm, and he shoved in fresh cartridges and fired
wildly into the brown. His next two shots were at longer range, but he
was certain that he had hit something. And then the duck vanished in the
brume, and he was left alone with the grey waters running out to the
dimness.

He lifted up his voice and shouted wildly for Thomas and the dogs,
and looked about him to retrieve what he had shot. He had got two
anyhow--a mallard drake and a young teal, and he collected them.
Presently he heard whistling and splashing, and Gyp the spaniel appeared
half swimming, half wading. Gyp picked up a second mallard, and Bill
left it at that. He thought he knew roughly where the deeper mere lay so
as to avoid it, and with his three duck he started for where he believed
Thomas to be. The water was often up to his armpits and once he was
soused over his head, and it was a very wet, breathless and excited boy
that presently confronted the astounded keeper.

'Where in goodness ha' ye been, Maaster Bill? Them ducks was tigglin'
out to the deep water and I was feared ye wouldn't get a shot. Three on
'em, no less! My word, ye 'ave poonished 'em.'

'I was in the deep water,' said Bill, but he explained no more, for it
had just occurred to him that he couldn't. It was a boy not less puzzled
than triumphant that returned to show his bag to his family, and at
dinner he was so abstracted that his mother thought he was ill and sent
him early to bed. Bill made no complaint, for he wanted to be alone to
think things out.

It was plain that a miracle had happened, and it must be connected with
the stick. He had wished himself in the middle of the flood-water--he
remembered that clearly--and at the time he had been doing something to
the stick. What was it? It had been stuck in the ground, and he had been
playing with the handle. Yes, he had it. He had been turning it round
when he uttered the wish. Bill's mind was better stored with fairy tales
than with Latin and Greek, and he remembered many precedents. The stick
was in the rack in the hall, and he had half a mind to slip downstairs
and see if he could repeat the performance. But he reflected that he
might be observed, and that this was a business demanding profound
secrecy. So he resolutely composed himself to sleep. He had been allowed
for a treat to have his old bed in the night-nursery, next to Peter, and
he realised that he must be up bright and early to frustrate that alert
young inquirer.

* * * * *

He woke before dawn, and at once put on socks and fives-shoes and a
dressing-gown, and tiptoed downstairs. He heard a housemaid moving in
the direction of the dining-room, and Groves opening the library
shutters, but the hall was deserted. He groped in the rack and found the
stick, struggled with the key of the garden door, and emerged into the
foggy winter half-light. It was very cold, as he padded down the
lawn to a retired half-moon of shrubbery beside the pond, and his shoes
were soon soaked with hoar-frost. He shivered and drew his dressing-gown
around him, but he had decided what to do. In this kind of weather he
wished to be warm. He planted his stick in the turf.

'I want to be on the beach in the Solomon Islands,' said Bill, and three
times twisted the handle.

In a second his eyes seemed to dazzle with excess of light and something
beat on his body like a blast from an open furnace....He was standing
on an expanse of blinding white sand at which a lazy blue sea was
licking. Behind him at a distance of perhaps two hundred yards was a
belt of high green forest, out of which stuck a tall crest of palms. A
hot wind was blowing and tossing the tree-tops, but it only crisped the
sea.

Bill gasped with joy to find his dream realised. He was in the far
Pacific where he had always longed to be...But he was very hot, and
could not endure the weight of winter pyjamas and winter dressing-gown.
Also he longed to bathe in those inviting waters. So he shed everything
and hopped gaily down to the tide's edge, leaving the stick still
upright in the sand.

The sea was as delicious as it looked, but Bill, though a good swimmer,
kept near the edge for fear of sharks. He wallowed and splashed, with
the fresh salt smell which he loved in his nostrils. Minutes passed
rapidly, and he was just on the point of striking out for a little reef,
when he cast a glance towards the shore...

At the edge of the forest stood men--dark-skinned men, armed with
spears.

Bill scrambled to his feet with a fluttering heart, and as he rose the
men moved forward. He was, perhaps, fifty yards from the stick, which
cast its long morning shadow on the sand, and they were two hundred
yards on the farther side. At all costs he must get there first. He
sprang out of the sea, and as he ran he saw to his horror that the men
ran also--ran in great bounds--shouting and brandishing their spears.

Those fifty yards seemed miles, but Bill won the race. No time to put on
his clothes. He seized his dressing-gown with one hand and the stick
with the other, and as he twirled the handle a spear whizzed by his ear.
'I want to be home,' he gasped, and the next second he stood naked
between the shrubbery and the pond, clutching his dressing-gown. The
Solomon Islands had got his fives-shoes and his pyjamas.

The cold of a November morning brought him quickly to his senses. He
clothed his shivering body in his dressing-gown and ran by devious paths
to the house. Happily the gun-room door was unlocked, and he
was able to ascend by way of empty passages and back-stairs to the
nursery floor. He did not, however, escape the eagle eye of Elsie, the
nurse, who read a commination service over a boy who went out of doors
imperfectly clad on such a morning. She prophesied pneumonia, and
plumped him into a hot bath.

Bill applied his tongue to the back of his hand. Yes. It tasted salt,
and the salt smell was still in his nose. It had not been a dream...He
hugged himself in the bath and made strange gurgling sounds of joy. Life
had suddenly opened up for him in dazzling vistas of adventure.

* * * * *

His conduct in church that morning was exemplary, for while Peter at his
side had his usual Sunday attack of St. Vitus's Dance, Bill sat
motionless as a mummy. On the way home his mother commented on it and
observed that Lower Chapel seemed to have taught him how to behave. But
his thoughts during the service had not been devotional. The stick lay
beside him on the floor, and for a moment he had a wild notion of
twisting it during the Litany and disappearing for a few minutes to
Kamschatka. Then prudence supervened. He must go very cautiously in this
business, and court no questions. That afternoon he and Peter would seek
a secluded spot and make experiments. He would take the stick back to
school and hide it in his room--he had a qualm when he thought what a
'floater' it would be if a lower boy appeared with it in public! For him
no more hours of boredom. School would no longer be a place of exile,
but a rapturous holiday. He would slip home now and then and see what
was happening--he would go often to Glenmore--he would visit any spot in
the globe which took his fancy. His imagination reeled at the prospect,
and he cloaked his chortles of delight in a fervent Amen.

At luncheon it was decided that Peter and he should go for a walk
together, and should join the others at a place called the Roman Camp.
'Let the boys have a chance of being alone,' his father had said. This
exactly suited Bill's book, and as they left the dining-room he clutched
his small brother. 'Shrimp,' he said in his ear, 'You're going to have
the afternoon of your life.'

It was a mild, grey day, with the leafless woods and the brown
ploughlands lit by a pale November sun. Peter, as he trotted beside him,
jerked out breathless inquiries about what Bill proposed to do, and was
told to wait and see.

Arrived at a clump of beeches which promised privacy, Bill first swore
his brother to secrecy by the most awful oaths which he could imagine.

'Put your arm round my waist and hang on to my belt,' he told him. 'I'm
going to take you to have a look at Glenmore.'

'Don't be silly,' said Peter. 'That only happens in Summer, and we
haven't packed yet.'

'Shut up and hold tight,' said Bill as he twirled the stick and spoke
the necessary words...

The boys were looking not at the smooth boles of beeches, but at a
little coppice of rowans and birches above the narrow glen of the hill
burn. It was Glenmore in very truth. There was the strip of mossy lawn,
the white-washed gable end of the lodge; there to the left beside the
walled garden was the smoking chimney of the keeper's cottage; there
beyond the trees was the long lift of brown moorland and the blue top of
Stob Ghabhar. To the boys Glenmore was the true home of the soul, but
they had seen it only in the glory of late summer and early autumn. In
its winter dress it seemed for a moment strange. Then the sight of an
old collie waddling across the lawn gave the connecting link.

'There's Wattie,' Peter gasped, and lifted up his voice in an excited
summons. His brother promptly scragged him.

'Don't be an ass, Shrimp,' he said fiercely. 'This is a secret, you
fathead. This is magic. Nobody must know we are here. Come on and
explore.'

For an hour--it must have been an hour, Bill calculated afterwards, but
it seemed like ten minutes--the two visited their favourite haunts. They
found the robbers' cave in the glen where a raven nested, and the pool
where Bill had caught his first pound trout, and the stretch in the
river where their father that year had had the thirty pound salmon.
There were no blaeberries or crowberries in the woods, but there were
many woodcock, and Bill had a shot with his catapult at a wicked old
blackcock on a peat-stack. Also they waylaid Wattie, the collie, and
induced him to make a third in the party. All their motions were as
stealthy as an Indian's, and the climax of the adventure was reached
when they climbed the garden wall and looked in at the window of the
keeper's cottage.

Tea was laid before a bright peat fire in the parlour, so Mrs. Macrae
must be expecting company. It looked a very good tea, for there were
scones and pancakes, and shortbread and currant-loaf and heather honey.
Both boys felt suddenly famished at the sight.

'Mrs. Macrae always gives me a scone and honey,' Peter bleated. 'I'm
hungry. I want one.'

So did Bill. His soul longed for food, but he kept hold of his prudence.

'We daren't show ourselves,' he whispered. 'But, perhaps, we might
pinch a scone. It wouldn't be stealing, for if Mrs. Macrae saw us she
would say "Come awa in, laddies, and get a jeely piece." I'll give you a
back, Shrimp, and in you get.'

The window was open, and Peter was hoisted through, falling with a bang
on a patch-work rug. But he never reached the table, for at that moment
the parlour door opened and someone entered. After that things happened
fast. Peter, urged by Bill's anguished whisper, turned back to the
window, and was hauled through by the scruff of the neck. A woman's
voice was heard crying, 'Mercy on us, it's the bairns,' as the culprits
darted to the shelter of the gooseberry bushes.

Billy realised that there was no safety in the garden, so he dragged
Peter over the wall by the way they had come, thereby seriously damaging
a pear tree. But they had been observed, and as they scrambled out of a
rose-bed, they heard cries and saw Mrs. Macrae appearing round the end
of the wall, having come through the stable yard. Also a figure, which
looked like Angus, the river gillie, was running from the same
direction.

There was nothing for it but to go. Bill seized Peter with one hand and
the stick with the other, and spoke the words, with Angus not six yards
away...As he looked once more at the familiar beech boles, his ears
were still full of the cries of an excited woman and the frenzied
howling of Wattie, the dog.

The two boys, very warm and flustered and rather scratched about the
hands and legs, confronted their father and mother and their sister,
Barabara, who was sixteen and very proud.

'Hullo, hullo,' they heard their father say. 'I thought you'd be hiding
somewhere hereabouts. You young rascals know how to take cover, for you
seemed to spring out of the ground. You look as if you'd been playing
football. Better walk home with us and cool down...Bless my soul,
Peter, what's that you've got? It's bog myrtle! Where on earth did you
find it? I've never seen it before in Oxfordshire.'

Then Barbara raised a ladylike voice. 'Oh, Mummy, look at the mess
they've made of themselves. They've been among the brambles, for Peter
has two holes in his stockings. Just look at Bill's hands!' And she
wrinkled her finical nose, and sniffed.

Bill kept a diplomatic silence, and Peter, usually garrulous, did the
same, for his small wrist was in his brother's savage clutch.

* * * * *

That night, before Peter went to bed, he was compelled once more to
swear solemn oaths, and Bill was so abstracted that his mother
thought that he was sickening for some fell disease. He lay long awake,
planning out the best way to use his marvellous new possession. His
thoughts were still on the subject next morning, and to his family's
amazement he made no protest when, to suit his mother's convenience, it
was decided to start for London soon after breakfast, and the walk with
the dogs was cancelled. He departed in high spirits, most unlike his
usual leave-takings, and his last words to Peter were fierce
exhortations to secrecy.

All the way to London he was in a happy dream, and at luncheon he was so
urbane that Aunt Alice, who had strong and unorthodox views about
education, announced that in Bill's case, at any rate, the public school
system seemed to answer, and gave him double her customary tip.

Then came the conjuring show at the Grafton Hall. Bill in the past had
had an inordinate appetite for such entertainments, and even in his new
ecstasy he looked forward to this one. But at the door of the hall he
had a shock. Hitherto he had kept close to his stick, but it was now
necessary to give it up and receive a metal check for it. To his
mother's surprise he protested hotly. 'It won't do any harm,' he
pleaded. 'It will stay beside me under the seat.' But the rule was
inexorable and he had to surrender it. 'Don't be afraid, darling,' his
mother told him. 'That funny new stick of yours won't be lost. The check
is a receipt for it, and they are very careful.'

The show was not up to his expectations. What were all these
disappearing donkeys and vanishing ladies compared to the performances
he had lately staged? Bill was puffed up with a great pride. With the
help of his stick he could make rings round this trumpery cleverness. He
was the true magician...He wished that the thing would end that he
might feel the precious stick again in his hand. At the counter there
was no sign of the man who had given him the check. Instead there was a
youth who seemed to be new to the business, and who was very slow in
returning the sticks and umbrellas. When it came to Bill's turn he was
extra slow, and presently announced that he could find no Number 229.

Bill's mother, seeing his distress, intervened, and sent the wretched
youth to look again, while other people were kept waiting, but he came
back with the same story. There was no duplicate Number 229, or any
article to correspond to the check. After that he had to be allowed to
attend to the others, and Bill, almost in tears, waited hysterically
till the crowd had gone. Then there was a thorough search, and Bill and
his mother were allowed to go behind the counter. But no Number 229
could be found, and there were no sticks left, only three umbrellas.

Bill was now patently in tears.

'Never mind, darling,' his mother said, 'we must be off now, or you will
be late for lock-up. I promise that your father will come here to-morrow
and clear up the whole business. Never fear--the stick will be found.'

But it is still lost.

* * * * *

When Bill's father went there next day, and cross-examined the wretched
youth--for he had once been a barrister--he extracted a curious story.
If the walking-stick was lost, so also was the keeper of the
walking-sticks, for the youth was only an assistant. The keeper--his
name was Jukes and he lived in Hammersmith--had not been seen since
yesterday afternoon during the performance, and Mrs. Jukes had come
round and made a scene last night, and that morning the police had been
informed. Mr. Jukes, it appeared, was not a very pleasant character, and
he had had too much beer at luncheon. When the audience had all gone in,
he had expressed to his assistant his satiety of life. The youth's
testimony ran as follows: 'Mr. Jukes, 'e was wavin' his arm something
chronic and carryin' on about 'ow this was no billet for a man like 'im.
He picks up a stick, and I thought he was goin' to 'it me. "Percy, me
lad," says 'e, "I'm fed up--fed up to the back teeth." He starts
twisting the stick, and says 'e "I wish to 'eaven I was out of 'ere."
After that I must 'ave come over faint, for when I looks again, 'e 'ad
'opped it.'

Mr. Jukes' case is still a puzzle to Mrs. Jukes and the police, but Bill
understands only too clearly what happened. Mr. Jukes and the stick have
gone 'out of 'ere', and where that may be neither Bill nor I can guess.

But he still lives in hope, and he wants me to broadcast this story in
case the stick may have come back to earth. So let every boy and girl
keep a sharp eye on shops where sticks are sold. The magic walking-stick
is not quite four feet long, and about one inch and a quarter thick. It
is made of a heavy dark-red wood, rather like the West Indian
purpleheart. Its handle is in the shape of a crescent with the horns
uppermost, made of some white substance which is neither bone nor ivory.
If anyone sees such a stick, then Bill will give all his worldly wealth
for news of it.

Failing that, he would like information about the man who sold it to
him. He is very old, small and wizened, but his eyes are the brightest
you ever saw in a human head. He wears a shabby, greeny-black overcoat
which reaches down to his heels, and a tall, greeny-black bowler hat. It
is possible that the stick may have returned to him. So if you meet
anyone like him, look sharply at his bundle, and if it is there and he
is willing to sell, buy it--buy it--buy it, or you will regret it all
your days. For this purpose it is wiser always to have a farthing in
your pocket, for he won't give change.




THE STRANGE ADVENTURE OF MR. ANDREW HAWTHORN

Any disappearance is a romantic thing, especially if it be unexpected
and inexplicable. To vanish from the common world and leave no trace,
and to return with the same suddenness and mystery, satisfies the
eternal human sense of wonder. That is why the old stories make so much
of it. Tamlane and Kilmeny and Ogier the Dane retired to Fairyland, and
Oisin to the Land of the Ever Living, and no man knows the manner of
their going or their return. The common world goes on, but they are far
away in a magic universe of their own.

But even ordinary folk can disappear. Sometimes they never come back and
leave only blank mystery behind them. But sometimes they return and can
explain what happened. Here is a true tale of what befell a most prosaic
Scots gentleman rather less than two centuries ago.

Let us call him Andrew Hawthorn. He was thirty-two years of age and had
no wife, but lived with his sister, Barbara, in a steep-roofed, stone
house a dozen miles from Edinburgh. The house stood above a narrow
wooded glen, what is called in Scotland a 'dean,' at the bottom of which
ran a brawling stream.

Mr. Hawthorn was a stiff gentleman, very set in his ways. His wig was
always carefully powdered, his clothes were trim, and his buckles
bright. He enjoyed a modest competence, which enabled him to devote his
life to his hobbies. These were principally antiquities, and he had been
busy for some years on a great work on the Antonines.

He was in the habit of breakfasting at seven with his sister, and being
particular in his habits, he liked to have his meal served punctually at
that hour. He was always in the little dining-room as the clock struck,
while his sister was usually a few minutes late. His custom was to take
a walk after breakfast and be at his books at eight o'clock. Therefore
he liked to finish his meal by a quarter after seven, and this meant
punctilious service. In especial he disliked having his porridge so hot
that he had to delay some minutes before he could begin on it. On a fine
May morning, Mr. Hawthorn appeared in the breakfast room at the exact
hour. His sister was not down, but two steaming bowls of porridge stood
on the table. Mr. Hawthorn was annoyed. He strode into the little hall
and shouted upstairs.

'Babbie,' he cried, 'how often have I told you the porridge should be
dished up earlier? They are scalding hot again. I am going out of doors
until they cool.'

He walked out into the garden. He also walked out of the world for five
years and seven months.

There was a great hue and cry in the countryside. The Procurator Fiscal
made his precognitions, and even the capital city was stirred by the
mystery, but no trace could be found of Mr. Andrew Hawthorn. His
footsteps were followed on the coarse dewy turf which ran along the edge
of the dean, and there they disappeared. In the dean itself there were
signs of an old fire on a little shelf of ground, and a good deal of
trampled grass and broken underwood; but the latter might have been due
to the cattle-beasts that were always straying in from the neighbouring
hillside.

Mr. Hawthorn had no near kin besides his sister, but his lawyers offered
a considerable reward for news of him. None came, and most people
assumed that he was dead. His sister, who was his heir-at-law, would
have succeeded to his estate had his death been presumed, but she
resolutely refused to admit the presumption. Andrew, she said, would
come back, though she would give no grounds for her belief. She
conducted the household as usual, and every morning she had a plate of
porridge set for him at breakfast, as if at any moment he might appear
from the garden. She even remembered his wishes and saw to it that the
porridge was dished up a little earlier.

* * * * *

Mr. Hawthorn went out into the bright sunshine and impatiently sniffed
the morning freshness. He walked to the edge of the dean, and there, on
the well trodden path among the fir trees, he saw one Bauldy Grieve, a
packman, whose rounds took him up and down the Lowlands. Bauldy was an
old friend who had often provided him with minor antiquities. It
appeared that he had something important to communicate, for he was
sitting there to intercept the laird on his morning walk.

'I've some michty wonders to show your honour,' he announced.
'The pleughman at the Back o' the Buss turned up an auld kist in the
field. He didn't let on to his master, but he telled me. I bocht what
was in it, a wheen auld siller coins and some muckle flaigons. The
pleughman--Tam Dod is his name--thocht the flaigons were brass, so I got
them cheap, though he haggled sair over the siller. But they are no
brass, your honour--they're gowd, as sure as I'm a living man. Nae doot
they were buried by the ancient Romans. So I cam off post haste to see
ye, and have gotten them in my pack. Will your honour step doun wi' me
and hae a look at them?'

Mr. Hawthorn was excited and forgot all about breakfast. He followed the
packman down through the bracken to a shelf above the burn, where Bauldy
had spent the night. At the first sight of the flagons his eyes opened
wide. They were amphorae of exquisite design, probably vessels used for
some ceremonial rite. He scraped off a little of the encrusted dirt, and
saw the gleam of bright metal.

Now, as ill-luck would have it, news of the find had got abroad, perhaps
because Bauldy had gossiped in his cups. Anyhow three tinkler ruffians
of the Baillie clan were on the trail, and had followed Bauldy to his
camp for the night. They had seen him speak to the laird and were now
lurking in the undergrowth.

'Guid save us, Bauldy,' said Mr. Hawthorn. 'This is a most remarkable
discovery. The like has not been seen in Scotland.' 'Are they gowd, your
honour?' the packman asked.

'I have little doubt of it,' said Mr. Hawthorn. 'Things so beautiful
could be made of no baser metal.'

This was enough for the tinklers. They leaped out upon the two, and one,
with his big staff, or 'kent,' struck the packman a savage blow on the
back of his head. Mr. Hawthorn, though taken by surprise, put up a stout
fight, for the passion of the antiquarian put fire into his manhood. But
he was soon overpowered and knocked senseless by a blow from behind.

After that Mr. Hawthorn's memory became confused. The tinklers were men
of caution and foresight. It was not enough to annex the contents of the
pedlar's pack, they must get rid of compromising evidence. The pedlar
looked pretty bad, and the gentleman not much better. It would never do
to leave them on the scene of the assault, for they had seen too much of
their assailants.

Now, on the highway on the other side of the dean, the tinklers had a
covered cart, which they were accustomed to use for nefarious business.
They swung their two victims on their shoulders and cautiously made
their way to the cart, and some time that evening were safe in a hovel
near the water-front in Leith.

The pedlar never recovered, for his neck had been broken. Mr. Hawthorn
came back to consciousness with an intolerable headache and a raging
thirst; he was given a drink, which must have been hocussed, for he lost
his senses again. The body of the pedlar was secretly buried, a ceremony
for which the tinklers had their own contrivances, and it was not likely
that a wandering packman would be missed.

But Mr. Hawthorn was a different matter. The hue and cry over his loss
alarmed them, and they saw no other course but to get rid of him too.
Murder was their first idea, but presently a better presented itself.
They had already done some traffic in kidnapping and exporting the
able-bodied to the American plantations, and they had a shipmaster who
was in their secret. One dark night Mr. Hawthorn, still hocussed, was
smuggled aboard a vessel, and when his wits fully returned to him he was
a prisoner on the broad Atlantic.

* * * * *

It would take a long time to tell the full story of Mr. Hawthorn's life
in the Carolinas. He was sold under an indenture to a tobacco planter,
which meant that till the period of his indenture expired he was
virtually a slave. His ill-treatment at the hands of the tinklers had
affected both his memory and his wits, and it was a long time before his
head cleared. Bit by bit, however recollection came back to him, but the
last scene he remembered clearly was leaving his steaming porridge in
the little dining-room of his house. All that had happened in the dean
remained in a misty confusion.

He was strong in body and of careful habits, and this stood him well in
the hard toil of the plantation. Also he was a prudent soul, and, having
decided that there was nothing for it but to submit, he did his work and
kept his thoughts to himself. His companions were mostly the scum of
British prisons, and he might have endured a good deal of rough usage at
their hands. But Mr. Hawthorn had a stiff temper of his own, and his
fellows realised that there was a point when he would show fight and
defend himself. So slowly he won a position of some respect among the
others, while his industry and docility secured him reasonable treatment
from the overseer.

His master was a man of pleasure who spent his days chiefly in
horse-racing and card-playing. Several times Mr. Hawthorn, after his
memory returned to him, tried to approach him to state his case, but it
was long before he got an opportunity. When it came he found that he was
not believed. Such yarns had often been heard before from redemptioners.
But the superior breeding of Mr. Hawthorn impressed his master.
Here was one who in deportment and speech appeared to be a
gentleman, though he looked a dull dog and spoke with a strong Scots
accent. The upshot was that when the butler broke his neck one dark
night Mr. Hawthorn was promoted to fill his place. Among his other gifts
it appeared that he had a very fair knowledge of wine.

Now it happened some months later, when the household under Mr.
Hawthorn's sway had acquired a new precision, that a neighbouring squire
came to dinner. The guest was of a very different type from the master
of the house, for he was something of a politician and something of a
scholar. During the meal he quoted a tag from Horace, but could not
remember its conclusion. His host could not help him out, but, to his
surprise, the butler volunteered the missing line.

The result was that the guest had some speech with Mr. Hawthorn before
he left, heard his story, and believed it. He was a man of a
philanthropic spirit, and his first aim was to remove this unhappy
scholar to more congenial surroundings. So after various negotiations,
which had something to do with a young thoroughbred filly, Mr. Hawthorn
was transferred to the establishment of his new-found friend.

There he dwelt not unhappily for a considerable time. At his request his
new master wrote to a Scottish correspondent, and, without revealing Mr.
Hawthorn's existence, secured the full details of the events which had
mystified all Lothian. He learned that Miss Barbara was living in the
house, confident that her brother would some day return. Mr. Hawthorn
would not let him proceed further. Somewhere in his sober bosom was a
spark of romance; as he had departed mysteriously, so he would return.
His new life interested him, he had formed an attachment to his new
master, and he had almost forgotten about his great work on the
Antonines. Also, Mr. Hawthorn was proud. He was determined to be
beholden to no man for the cost of his return, and he was waiting until
he had saved sufficient money from his wages.

* * * * *

At last the day arrived when he was ready and willing to leave. But in
those days of continuous war with France it was no slight business to
cross the Atlantic, and there were many adventures in store for him
before he reached his native land.

He embarked on a ship which was taken off Land's End by a French
privateer. He was carried to Havre and found himself a prisoner in
the enemy's hands. This misfortune achieved what none of his sufferings
in Carolina had achieved--it broke Mr. Hawthorn's temper. He managed to
escape, and for several months was a fugitive on the French roads.
Having some command of the French tongue, and dwelling much upon his
Scottish nationality and the old friendship between Scotland and France,
he managed to secure the good offices of a priest, who facilitated his
journey to the capital.

In Paris, Mr. Hawthorn had a friend, a fellow antiquarian, to whom he
appealed for help. This was willingly given, but it was not easy at the
moment to leave France, and Mr. Hawthorn had to spend several months in
Paris, where, after his proud fashion, he insisted on supporting himself
by teaching. He had to pass as a Scottish Jacobite, a disguise which
gave him intense annoyance, for he was a zealous supporter of the
Hanoverian Government.

It was April when he found it possible to depart from French soil. A
smuggler's sloop landed him by night on the Sussex coast, and he was
free once more to assume the character of a law-abiding Scotsman. He had
enough money for the journey to the North, but, having acquired frugal
habits during his wanderings, he insisted on making that journey in the
most inexpensive fashion. Late on the evening of a day in early May, a
timber barque from Hull deposited him at the pier at Leith.

He slept the night in a waterside inn, and before dawn next morning he
was well on the road for his home. It was a fresh, bright day, very much
the same weather as when he had left. He ascended the dean and crossed
the strip of rough lawn. As he entered the dining-room the clock was
striking seven.

There were two plates of smoking porridge on the table, much too hot to
eat.

He strode into the hall. Babby!' he cried, 'how often have I told you
that the porridge should be dished up earlier?'

But he did not go out into the garden again to wait until it cooled.



THE END





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