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Title: Twelve Short Stories
Author: John Buchan
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: April 2009
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Twelve Short Stories
Author: John Buchan





CONTENTS

The Company of the Marjolaine
The Herd of Standlan
The Last Crusade
The Black Fishers
At the Rising of the Waters
The Grove of Ashtaroth
At the Article of Death
Comedy in the Full Moon
'Divus' Johnston
Politics and the Mayfly
The Wife of Flanders
The Frying-pan and the Fire




The Company of the Marjolaine


Qu'est-c' qui passe ici si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine?

--CHANSONS DE FRANCE


[This extract from the unpublished papers of the Manorwater family has
seemed to the Editor worth printing for its historical interest. The
famous Lady Molly Carteron became Countess of Manorwater by her second
marriage. She was a wit and a friend of wits, and her nephew, the
Honourable Charles Hervey-Townshend (afterwards our Ambassador at The
Hague), addressed to her a series of amusing letters while making, after
the fashion of his contemporaries, the Grand Tour of Europe. Three
letters, written at various places in the Eastern Alps and dispatched
from Venice, contain the following short narrative.  (JB)]

...I came down from the mountains and into the pleasing valley of the
Adige in as pelting a heat as ever mortal suffered under. The way
underfoot was parched and white; I had newly come out of a wilderness of
white limestone crags, and a sun of Italy blazed blindingly in an azure
Italian sky. You are to suppose, my dear aunt, that I had had enough and
something more of my craze for foot-marching. A fortnight ago I had gone
to Belluno in a post-chaise, dismissed my fellow to carry my baggage by
way of Verona, and with no more than a valise on my back plunged into the
fastnesses of those mountains. I had a fancy to see the little sculptured
hills which made backgrounds for Gianbellin, and there were rumours of
great mountains built wholly of marble which shone like the battlements
of the Celestial City. So at any rate reported young Mr Wyndham, who had
travelled with me from Milan to Venice. I lay the first night at Piave,
where Titian had the fortune to be born, and the landlord at the inn
displayed a set of villainous daubs which he swore were the early works
of that master. Thence up a toilsome valley I journeyed to the Ampezzan
country, where indeed I saw my white mountains, but, alas! no longer
Celestial. For it rained like Westmoreland for five endless days, while I
kicked my heels in an inn and turned a canto of Ariosto into halting
English couplets. By and by it cleared, and I headed westward towards
Bozen, among the tangle of wild rocks where the Dwarf King had once his
rose garden. The first night I had no inn, but slept in the vile cabin of
a forester, who spoke a tongue half Latin, half Dutch, which I could not
master. The next day was a blaze of heat, the mountain paths lay thick
with dust, and I had no wine from sunrise to sunset. Can you wonder that,
when the following noon I saw Santa Chiara sleeping in its green circlet
of meadows, my thought was only of a deep draught and a cool chamber? I
protest that I am a great lover of natural beauty, of rock and cascade,
and all the properties of the poet; but the enthusiasm of M. Rousseau
himself would sink from the stars to earth if he had marched since
breakfast in a cloud of dust with a throat like the nether millstone.

Yet I had not entered the place before Romance revived. The little
town--a mere wayside halting-place on the great mountain road to the
North--had the air of mystery which foretells adventure. Why is it that a
dwelling or a countenance catches the fancy with the promise of some
strange destiny? I have houses in my mind which I know will some day and
somehow be intertwined oddly with my life; and I have faces in memory of
which I know nothing save that I shall undoubtedly cast eyes again upon
them. My first glimpses of Santa Chiara gave me this earnest of romance.
It was walled and fortified, the streets were narrow pits of shade, old
tenements with bent fronts swayed to meet each other. Melons lay drying
on flat roofs, and yet now  and then would come a high-pitched northern
gable. Latin and Teuton met and mingled in the place, and, as Mr Gibbon
has taught us, the offspring of this admixture is something fantastic and
unpredictable. I forgot my grievous thirst and my tired feet in
admiration and a certain vague expectation of wonders. Here, ran my
thought, it is fated, maybe, that Romance and I shall at last compass a
meeting. Perchance some princess is in need of my arm, or some affair of
high policy is afoot in this jumble of old masonry. You will laugh at my
folly, but I had an excuse for it. A fortnight in strange mountains
disposes a man to look for something at his next encounter with his kind,
and the sight of Santa Chiara would have fired the imagination of a judge
in Chancery.

I strode happily into the courtyard of the Tre Croci, and presently had
my expectation confirmed. For I found my fellow, Gianbattista--a faithful
rogue I got in Rome on a Cardinal's recommendation--hot in dispute with a
lady's maid. The woman was old, harsh-featured--no Italian clearly,
though she spoke fluently in the tongue. She rated my man like a
pick-pocket, and the dispute was over a room.

'The signor will bear me out,' said Gianbattista. 'Was not I sent to
Verona with his baggage, and thence to this place of ill manners? Was I
not bidden engage for him a suite of apartments? Did I not duly choose
these fronting on the gallery, and dispose therein the signer's baggage?
And lo! an hour ago I found it all turned into the yard and this woman
installed in its place. It is monstrous, unbearable! Is this an inn for
travellers, or haply the private mansion of these Magnificences?'

'My servant speaks truly,' I said, firmly yet with courtesy, having had
no mind to spoil adventure by urging rights. 'He had orders to take these
rooms for me, and I know not what higher power can countermand me.'

The woman had been staring at me scornfully, for no doubt in my dusty
habit I was a figure of small count; but at the sound of my voice she
started, and cried out, 'You are English, signor?' I bowed an admission.
'Then my mistress shall speak with you,' she said, and dived into the inn
like an elderly rabbit.

Gianbattista was for sending for the landlord and making a riot in that
hostelry; but I stayed him, and bidding him fetch me a flask of white
wine, three lemons, and a glass of eau de vie  I sat down peaceably at
one of the little tables in the courtyard and prepared for the quenching
of my thirst. Presently, as I sat drinking that excellent compound which
was my own invention, my shoulder was touched, and I turned to find the
maid and her mistress. Alas for my hopes of a glorious being, young and
lissom and bright with the warm riches of the south! I saw a short, stout
little lady, well on the wrong side of thirty. She had plump red cheeks,
and fair hair dressed indifferently in the Roman fashion. Two candid blue
eyes redeemed her plainness, and a certain grave and gentle dignity. She
was notably a gentlewoman, so I got up, doffed my hat, and awaited her
commands.

She spoke in Italian. 'Your pardon, signor, but I fear my good Cristine
has done you unwittingly a wrong.'

Cristine snorted at this premature plea of guilty, while I hastened to
assure the fair apologist that any rooms I might have taken were freely
at her service.

I spoke unconsciously in English, and she replied in a halting parody of
that tongue. 'I understand him,' she said, 'but I do not speak him
happily. I will discourse, if the signor pleases, in our first speech.'

She and her father, it appeared, had come over the Brenner, and arrived
that morning at the Tre Croci, where they purposed to lie for some days.
He was an old man, very feeble, and much depending upon her constant
care. Wherefore it was necessary that the rooms of all the party should
adjoin, and there was no suite of the size in the inn save that which I
had taken. Would I therefore consent to forgo my right, and place her
under an eternal debt?

I agreed most readily, being at all times careless where I sleep, so the
bed be clean, or where I eat, so the meal be good. I bade my servant see
the landlord and have my belongings carried to other rooms. Madame
thanked me sweetly, and would have gone, when a thought detained her.

'It is but courteous,' she said, 'that you should know the names of those
whom you have befriended. My father is called the Count d'Albani, and I
am his only daughter. We travel to Florence, where we have a villa in the
environs.'

'My name,' said I, 'is Hervey-Townshend, an Englishman travelling abroad
for his entertainment.'

'Hervey?' she repeated. 'Are you one of the family of Miladi Hervey?'

'My worthy aunt,' I replied, with a tender recollection of that
preposterous woman.

Madame turned to Cristine, and spoke rapidly in a whisper.

'My father, sir,' she said, addressing me, 'is an old frail man, little
used to the company of strangers; but in former days he has had kindness
from members of your house, and it would be a satisfaction to him, I
think, to have the privilege of your acquaintance.'

She spoke with the air of a vizier who promises a traveller a sight of
the Grand Turk. I murmured my gratitude, and hastened after Gianbattista.
In an hour I had bathed, rid myself of my beard, and arrayed myself in
decent clothing. Then I strolled out to inspect the little city, admired
an altar-piece, chaffered with a Jew for a cameo, purchased some small
necessaries, and returned early in the afternoon with a noble appetite
for dinner.

The Tre Croci had been in happier days a bishop's lodging, and possessed
a dining-hall ceiled with black oak and adorned with frescoes. It was
used as a general salle a manger for all dwellers in the inn, and there
accordingly I sat down to my long-deferred meal. At first there were no
other diners, and I had two maids, as well as Gianbattista, to attend on
my wants.  Presently Madame d'Albani entered, escorted by Cristine and by
a tall gaunt serving-man, who seemed no part of the hostelry. The
landlord followed, bowing civilly, and the two women seated themselves at
the little table at the farther end. 'Il Signer Conte dines in his room,'
said Madame to the host, who withdrew to see to that gentleman's needs.

I found my eyes straying often to the little party in the cool twilight
of that refectory. The man-servant was so old and battered, and yet of
such a dignity, that he lent a touch of intrigue to the thing. He stood
stiffly behind Madame's chair, handing dishes with an air of silent
reverence--the lackey of a great noble, if ever I had seen the type.
Madame never glanced towards me, but conversed sparingly with Cristine,
while she pecked delicately at her food. Her name ran in my head with a
tantalising flavour of the familiar. Albani! D'Albani! It was a name not
uncommon in the Roman States, but I had never heard it linked to a noble
family. And yet I had--somehow, somewhere; and in the vain effort at
recollection I had almost forgotten my hunger. There was nothing
bourgeois in the little lady. The austere servants, the high manner of
condescension, spake of a stock used to deference, though, maybe,
pitifully decayed in its fortunes. There was a mystery in these quiet
folk which tickled my curiosity. Romance after all was not destined to
fall me at Santa Chiara.

My doings of the afternoon were of interest to myself alone. Suffice it
to say that when I returned at nightfall I found Gianbattista the trustee
of a letter. It was from Madame, written in a fine thin hand on a
delicate paper, and it invited me to wait upon the signor, her father,
that evening at eight o'clock. What caught my eye was a coronet stamped
in a corner. A coronet, I say, but in truth it was a crown, the same as
surmounts the Arms Royal of England on the signboard of a Court
tradesman. I marvelled at the ways of foreign heraldry. Either this
family of d'Albani had higher pretensions than I had given it credit for,
or it employed an unlearned and imaginative  stationer. I scribbled a
line of acceptance and went to dress.

The hour of eight found me knocking at the Count's door. The grim
serving-man admitted me to the pleasant chamber which should have been
mine own. A dozen wax candles burned in sconces, and on the table, among
fruits and the remains of supper, stood a handsome candelabra of silver.
A small fire of logs had been lit on the hearth, and before it in an
armchair sat a strange figure of a man. He seemed not so much old as
aged. I should have put him at sixty, but the marks he bore were clearly
less those of Time than of Life. There sprawled before me the relics of
noble looks. The fleshy nose, the pendulous cheek, the drooping mouth,
had once been cast in the lines of manly beauty. Heavy eyebrows above and
heavy bags beneath spoiled the effect of a choleric blue eye, which age
had not dimmed. The man was gross and yet haggard; it was not the padding
of good living which clothed his bones, but a heaviness as of some
dropsical malady. I could picture him in health a gaunt loose-limbed
being, high-featured and swift and eager. He was dressed wholly in black
velvet, with fresh ruffles and wrist-bands, and he wore heeled shoes with
antique silver buckles. It was a figure of an older age which rose slowly
to greet me, in one hand a snuff-box and a purple handkerchief, and in
the other a book with finger marking place. He made me a great bow as
Madame uttered my name, and held out a hand with a kindly smile.

'Mr Hervey-Townshend,' he said, 'we will speak English, if you please. I
am fain to hear it again, for 'tis a tongue I love. I make you welcome,
sir, for your own sake and for the sake of your kin. How is her
honourable ladyship, your aunt? A week ago she sent me a letter.'

I answered that she did famously, and wondered what cause of
correspondence my worthy aunt could have with wandering nobles of Italy.

He motioned me to a chair between Madame and himself, while a servant set
a candle on a shelf behind him. Then he  proceeded to catechise me in
excellent English, with now and then a phrase of French, as to the doings
in my own land. Admirably informed this Italian gentleman proved himself.
I defy you to find in Almack's more intelligent gossip. He inquired as to
the chances of my Lord North and the mind of my Lord Rockingham. He had
my Lord Shelburne's foibles at his fingers' ends. The habits of the
Prince, the aims of their ladyships of Dorset and Buckingham, the
extravagance of this noble Duke and that right honourable gentleman were
not hid from him. I answered discreetly yet frankly, for there was no
ill-breeding in his curiosity. Rather it seemed like the inquiries of
some fine lady, now buried deep in the country, as to the doings of a
forsaken Mayfair. There was humour in it and something of pathos.

'My aunt must be a voluminous correspondent, sir,' I said.

He laughed. 'I have many friends in England who write to me, but I have
seen none of them for long, and I doubt I may never see them again. Also
in my youth I have been in England.' And he sighed as at a sorrowful
recollection.  Then he showed the book in his hand. 'See,' he said, 'here
is one of your English writings, the greatest book I have ever happened
on.' It was a volume of Mr Fielding.

For a little he talked of books and poets. He admired Mr Fielding
profoundly, Dr Smollett somewhat less, Mr Richardson not at all. But he
was clear that England had a monopoly of good writers, saving only my
friend M. Rousseau, whom he valued, yet with reservations. Of the
Italians he had no opinion. I instanced against him the plays of Signer
Alfieri. He groaned, shook his head, and grew moody.

'Know you Scotland?' he asked suddenly.

I replied that I had visited Scotch cousins, but had no great estimation
for the country. 'It is too poor and jagged,' I said, 'for the taste of
one who loves colour and sunshine and suave outlines.'

He sighed. 'It is indeed a bleak land, but a kindly. When the  sun shines
at all he shines on the truest hearts in the world. I love its bleakness
too. There is a spirit in the misty hills, and the harsh sea-wind which
inspires men to great deeds. Poverty and courage go often together, and
my Scots,  they are poor, are as untamable as their mountains.'

'You know the land, sir?' I asked.

'I have seen it, and I have known many Scots. You will find them in Paris
and Avignon and Rome, with never a plack in their pockets. I have a
feeling for exiles, sir, and I have pitied these poor people. They gave
their all for the cause they followed.'

Clearly the Count shared my aunt's views of history--those views which
have made such sport for us often at Carteron. Stalwart Whig as I am,
there was something in the tone of the old gentleman which made me feel a
certain majesty in the lost cause.

'I am a Whig in blood and Whig in principle,' I said, 'but I have never
denied that those Scots who followed the Chevalier were too good to waste
on so trumpery a leader.'

I had no sooner spoken the words than I felt that somehow I had been
guilty of a betise.

'It may be so,' said the Count. 'I did not bid you here, sir, to argue on
politics, on which I am assured we should differ. But I will ask you one
question. The King of England is a stout upholder of the right of kings.
How does he face the defection of his American possessions?'

'The nation takes it well enough, and as for His Majesty's feelings,
there is small inclination to inquire into them. I conceive of the whole
war as a blunder out of which we have come as we deserved. The day is
gone by for the assertion of monarchic rights against the will of a
people.'

'May be. But take note that the King of England is suffering today
as--how do you call him?--the Chevalier suffered forty years ago. "The
wheel has come full circle", as your Shakespeare says. Time has wrought
his revenge.'  He was staring into a fire, which burned small and
smokily.

'You think the days for kings is ended. I read it differently. The world
will ever have need of kings. If a nation cast out one it will have to
find another. And mark you, those later kings, created by the people,
will bear a harsher hand than the old race who ruled as of right. Some
day the world will regret having destroyed the kindly and legitimate line
of monarchs and put in their place tyrants who govern by the sword or by
flattering an idle mob.'

This belated dogma would at other times have set me laughing, but the
strange figure before me gave no impulse to merriment. I glanced at
Madame, and saw her face grave and perplexed, and I thought I read a
warning gleam in her eye. There was a mystery about the party which
irritated me, but good breeding forbade me to seek a clue.

'You will permit me to retire, sir,' I said. 'I have but this morning
come down from a long march among the mountains east of this valley.
Sleeping in wayside huts and tramping those sultry paths make a man think
pleasantly of bed.'

The Count seemed to brighten at my words. 'You are a marcher, sir, and
love the mountains? Once I would gladly have joined you, for in my youth
I was a great walker in hilly places. Tell me, now, how many miles will
you cover in a day?'  I told him thirty at a stretch.  'Ah,' he said, 'I
have done fifty, without food, over the roughest and mossiest mountains.
I lived on what I shot, and for drink I had spring water. Nay, I am
forgetting. There was another beverage, which I wager you have never
tasted. Heard you ever, sir, of that eau de vie which the Scots call
usquebagh? It will comfort a traveller as no thin Italian wine will
comfort him. By my soul, you shall taste it. Charlotte, my dear, bid
Oliphant fetch glasses and hot water and lemons. I will give Mr
Hervey-Townshend a sample of the brew. You English are all tetes-de-fer,
sir, and are worthy of it.'

The old man's face had lighted up, and for the moment his air  had the
jollity of youth. I would have accepted the entertainment had I not again
caught Madame's eye. It said, unmistakably and with serious pleading,
'Decline.' I therefore made my excuses, urged fatigue, drowsiness, and a
delicate stomach, bade my host goodnight, and in deep mystification left
the room.

Enlightenment came upon me as the door closed. There on the threshold
stood the man-servant whom they called Oliphant, erect as a sentry on
guard. The sight reminded me of what I had once seen at Basle when by
chance a Rhenish Grand Duke had shared the inn with me. Of a sudden a
dozen clues linked together--the crowned notepaper, Scotland, my aunt
Hervey's politics, the tale of old wanderings.

'Tell me,' I said in a whisper. 'Who is the Count d'Albani, your master?'
and I whistled softly a bar of "Charlie is my darling".

'Ay,' said the man, without relaxing a muscle of his grim face. 'It is
the King of England--my king and yours.'

II

In the small hours of the next morning I was awoke by a most unearthly
sound. It was as if all the cats on all the roofs of Santa Chiara were
sharpening their claws and walling their battle-cries. Presently out of
the noise came a kind of music--very slow, solemn, and melancholy. The
notes ran up in great flights of ecstasy, and sunk anon to the tragic
deeps. In spite of my sleepiness I was held spellbound, and the musician
had concluded with certain barbaric grunts before I had the curiosity to
rise. It came from somewhere in the gallery of the inn, and as I stuck my
head out of my door I had a glimpse of Oliphant, nightcap on head and a
great bagpipe below his arm, stalking down the corridor.

The incident, for all the gravity of the music, seemed to give a touch of
farce to my interview of the past evening. I had gone  to bed with my
mind full of sad stories of the deaths of kings. Magnificence in tatters
has always affected my pity more deeply than tatters with no such
antecedent, and a monarch out at elbows stood for me as the last irony of
our mortal life. Here was a king whose misfortunes could find no
parallel. He had been in his youth the hero of a high adventure, and his
middle age had been spent in fleeting among the courts of Europe, and
waiting as pensioner on the whims of his foolish but regnant brethren. I
had heard tales of a growing sottishness, a decline in spirit, a squalid
taste in pleasures. Small blame, I had always thought, to so ill-fated a
princeling. And now I had chanced upon the gentleman in his dotage,
travelling with a barren effort at mystery, attended by a sad-faced
daughter and two ancient domestics. It was a lesson in the vanity of
human wishes which the shallowest moralist would have noted. Nay, I felt
more than the moral. Something human and kindly in the old fellow had
caught my fancy. The decadence was too tragic to prose about, the
decadent too human to moralise on. I had left the chamber of the--shall I
say de jure King of England?--a sentimental adherent of the cause. But
this business of the bagpipes touched the comic. To harry an old valet
out of bed and set him droning on pipes in the small hours smacked of a
theatrical taste, or at least of an undignified fancy. Kings in exile, if
they wish to keep the tragic air, should not indulge in such fantastic
serenades.

My mind changed again when after breakfast I fell in with Madame on the
stair. She drew aside to let me pass, and then made as if she would speak
to me. I gave her good-morning, and, my mind being full other story,
addressed her as 'Excellency'.

'I see, sir,' she said, 'that you know the truth. I have to ask your
forbearance for the concealment I practised yesterday. It was a poor
requital for your generosity, but it is one of the shifts of our sad
fortune. An uncrowned king must go in disguise or risk the laughter of
every stable-boy. Besides, we are too poor to travel in state, even if we
desired it.'

Honestly, I knew not what to say. I was not asked to sympathise, having
already revealed my politics, and yet the case cried out for sympathy.
You remember, my dear aunt, the good Lady Culham, who was our Dorsetshire
neighbour, and tried hard to mend my ways at Carteron? This poor
Duchess--for so she called herself--was just such another. A woman made
for comfort, housewifery, and motherhood, and by no means of racing about
Europe in charge of a disreputable parent. I could picture her settled
equably on a garden seat with a lapdog and needlework, blinking happily
over green lawns and mildly rating an errant gardener. I could fancy her
sitting in a summer parlour, very orderly and dainty, writing lengthy
epistles to a tribe of nieces. I could see her marshalling a household in
the family pew, or riding serenely in the family coach behind fat bay
horses. But here, on an inn staircase, with a false name and a sad air of
mystery, she was woefully out of place. I noted little wrinkles forming
in the corners of her eyes, and the ravages of care beginning in the
plump rosiness other face. Be sure there was nothing appealing in her
mien. She spoke with the air of a great lady, to whom the world is matter
only for an after-thought. It was the facts that appealed and grew
poignant from her courage.

'There is another claim upon your good nature,' she said. 'Doubtless you
were awoke last night by Oliphant's playing upon the pipes. I rebuked the
landlord for his insolence in protesting, but to you, a gentleman and a
friend, an explanation is due. My father sleeps ill, and your
conversation seems to have cast him into a train of sad memories. It has
been his habit on such occasions to have the pipes played to him, since
they remind him of friends and happier days. It is a small privilege for
an old man, and he does not claim it often.'

I declared that the music had only pleased, and that I would welcome its
repetition. Whereupon she left me with a little bow and an invitation to
join them that day at dinner, while I departed into the town on my own
errands. I returned before  midday, and was seated at an arbour in the
garden, busy with letters, when there hove in sight the gaunt figure of
Oliphant. He hovered around me, if such a figure can be said to hover,
with the obvious intention of addressing me. The fellow had caught my
fancy, and I was willing to see more of him. His face might have been
hacked out of grey granite, his clothes hung loosely on his spare bones,
and his stockinged shanks would have done no discredit to Don Quixote.
There was no dignity in his air, only a steady and enduring sadness.
Here, thought I, is the one of the establishment who most commonly meets
the shock of the world's buffets. I called him by name and asked him his
desires.

It appeared that he took me for a Jacobite, for he began a rigmorale
about loyalty and hard fortune. I hastened to correct him, and he took
the correction with the same patient despair with which he took all
things. 'Twas but another of the blows of Fate.

'At any rate,' he said in a broad Scotch accent, 'ye come of kin that has
helpit my maister afore this. I've many times heard tell o' Herveys and
Townshends in England, and a' folk said they were on the richt side.
Ye're maybe no a freend, but ye're a freend's freend, or I wadna be
speirin' at ye.'

I was amused at the prologue, and waited on the tale. It soon came.
Oliphant, it appeared, was the purse-bearer of the household, and woeful
straits that poor purse-bearer must have been often put to. I questioned
him as to his master's revenues, but could get no clear answer. There
were payments due next month in Florence which would solve the
difficulties for the winter, but in the meantime expenditure had beaten
income. Travelling had cost much, and the Count must have his small
comforts. The result, in plain words, was that Oliphant had not the
wherewithal to frank the company to Florence; indeed, I doubted if he
could have paid the reckoning in Santa Chiara. A loan was therefore
sought from a friend's friend, meaning myself.

I was very really embarrassed. Not that I would not have given willingly,
for I had ample resources at the moment and was mightily concerned about
the sad household. But I knew that the little Duchess would take
Oliphant's ears from his head if she guessed that he had dared to borrow
from me, and that, if I lent, her back would for ever be turned against
me. And yet, what would follow on my refusal? In a day or two there would
be a pitiful scene with mine host, and as like as not some of their
baggage detained as security for payment. I did not love the task of
conspiring behind the lady's back, but if it could be contrived 'twas
indubitably the kindest course. I glared sternly at Oliphant, who met me
with his pathetic, dog-like eyes.

'You know that your mistress would never consent to the request you have
made of me?'

'I ken,' he said humbly. 'But payin' is my job, and I simply havena the
siller. It's no' the first time it has happened, and it's a sair trial
for them both to be flung out o' doors by a foreign hostler because they
canna meet his charges. But, sir, if ye can lend to me, ye may be certain
that her leddyship will never hear a word o't. Puir thing, she takes nae
thocht o' where the siller comes frae, ony mair than the lilies o' the
field.'

I became a conspirator. 'You swear, Oliphant, by all you hold sacred, to
breathe nothing of this to your mistress, and if she should suspect, to
lie like a Privy Councillor?'

A flicker of a smile crossed his face. 'I'll lee like a Scots packman,
and the Father o' lees could do nae mair. You need have no fear for your
siller, sir. I've aye repaid when I borrowed, though you may have to wait
a bittock.' And the strange fellow strolled off.

At dinner no Duchess appeared till long after the appointed hour, nor was
there any sign of Oliphant. When she came at last with Cristine, her eyes
looked as if she had been crying, and she greeted me with remote
courtesy. My first thought was that Oliphant had revealed the matter of
the loan, but presently I found that the lady's trouble was far
different. Her father, it  seemed, was ill again with his old complaint.
What that was I did not ask, nor did the Duchess reveal it.

We spoke in French, for I had discovered that this was her favourite
speech. There was no Oliphant to wait on us, and the inn servants were
always about, so it was well to have a tongue they did not comprehend.
The lady was distracted and sad. When I inquired feelingly as to the
general condition of her father's health she parried the question, and
when I offered my services she disregarded my words. It was in truth a
doleful meal, while the faded Cristine sat like a sphinx staring into
vacancy. I spoke of England and of her friends, of Paris and Versailles,
of Avignon where she had spent some years, and of the amenities of
Florence, which she considered her home. But it was like talking to a
nunnery door. I got nothing but 'It is indeed true, sir,' or 'Do you say
so, sir?' till my energy began to sink. Madame perceived my discomfort,
and, as she rose, murmured an apology. 'Pray forgive my distraction, but
I am poor company when my father is ill. I have a foolish mind, easily
frightened. Nay, nay!' she went on when I again offered help, 'the
illness is trifling. It will pass off by tomorrow, or at the latest the
next day. Only I had looked forward to some ease at Santa Chiara, and the
promise is belied.'

As it chanced that evening, returning to the inn, I passed by the north
side where the windows of the Count's room looked over a little flower
garden abutting on the courtyard. The dusk was falling, and a lamp had
been lit which gave a glimpse into the interior. The sick man was
standing by the window, his figure flung into relief by the lamplight. If
he was sick, his sickness was of a curious type. His face was ruddy, his
eye wild, and, his wig being off, his scanty hair stood up oddly round
his head. He seemed to be singing, but I could not catch the sound
through the shut casement. Another figure in the room, probably Oliphant,
laid a hand on the Count's shoulder, drew him from the window, and closed
the shutter.

It needed only the recollection of stories which were the  property of
all Europe to reach a conclusion on the gentleman's illness. The
legitimate King of England was very drunk.

As I went to my room that night I passed the Count's door. There stood
Oliphant as sentry, more grim and haggard than ever, and I thought that
his eye met mine with a certain intelligence. From inside the room came a
great racket. There was the sound of glasses falling, then a string of
oaths, English, French, and for all I knew, Irish, rapped out in a loud
drunken voice. A pause, and then came the sound of maudlin singing. It
pursued me along the gallery, an old childish song, delivered as if
'twere a pot-house catch--

Qu'est-c' qui passe id si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine--

One of the late-going company of the Marjolaine hastened to bed. This
king in exile, with his melancholy daughter, was becoming too much for
him.

III

It was just before noon next day that the travellers arrived. I was
sitting in the shady loggia of the inn, reading a volume of De Thou, when
there drove up to the door two coaches. Out of the first descended very
slowly and stiffly four gentlemen; out of the second four servants and a
quantity of baggage. As it chanced there was no one about, the courtyard
slept its sunny noontide sleep, and the only movement was a lizard on the
wall and a buzz of flies by the fountain. Seeing no sign of the landlord,
one of the travellers approached me with a grave inclination. 'This is
the inn called the Tre Croci, sir?' he asked. I said it was, and shouted
on my own account for the host. Presently that personage arrived with a
red face and a short wind, having ascended rapidly from his own cellar.
He was awed by the dignity of the travellers, and made none of his usual
protests of incapacity. The servants filed off solemnly with the
baggage, and the four gentlemen set themselves down beside me in the
loggia and ordered each a modest flask of wine.

At first I took them for our countrymen, but as I watched them the
conviction vanished. All four were tall and lean beyond the average of
mankind. They wore suits of black, with antique starched frills to their
shirts; their hair was their own and unpowdered. Massive buckles of an
ancient pattern adorned their square-toed shoes, and the canes they
carried were like the yards of a small vessel. They were four merchants,
I had guessed, of Scotland, maybe, or of Newcastle, but their voices were
not Scotch, and their air had no touch of commerce. Take the heavy-browed
preoccupation of a Secretary of State, add the dignity of a bishop, the
sunburn of a fox-hunter, and something of the disciplined erectness of a
soldier, and you may perceive the manner of these four gentlemen. By the
side of them my assurance vanished. Compared with their Olympian serenity
my person seemed fussy and servile. Even so, I mused, must Mr Franklin
have looked when baited in Parliament by the Tory pack. The reflection
gave me the cue. Presently I caught from their conversation the word
'Washington', and the truth flashed upon me. I was in the presence of
four of Mr Franklin's countrymen. Having never seen an American in the
flesh, I rejoiced at the chance of enlarging my acquaintance.

They brought me into the circle by a polite question as to the length of
road to Verona. Soon introductions followed. My name intrigued them, and
they were eager to learn of my kinship to Uncle Charles. The eldest of
the four, it appeared, was Mr Galloway  out of Maryland. Then came two
brothers, Sylvester by name, of Pennsylvania, and last Mr Fish, a lawyer
of New York. All four had campaigned in the late war, and all four were
members of the Convention, or whatever they call their rough-and-ready
Parliament. They were modest in their behaviour, much disinclined to
speak of their past, as great men might be whose reputation was
world-wide. Somehow the  names stuck in my memory. I was certain that I
had heard them linked with some stalwart fight or some moving civil deed
or some defiant manifesto. The making of history was in their steadfast
eye and the grave lines of the mouth. Our friendship flourished mightily
in a brief hour, and brought me the invitation, willingly accepted, to
sit with them at dinner.

There was no sign of the Duchess or Cristine or Oliphant. Whatever had
happened, that household today required all hands on deck, and I was left
alone with the Americans. In my day I have supped with the Macaronies, I
have held up my head at the Cocoa Tree, I have avoided the floor at hunt
dinners, I have drunk glass to glass with Tom Carteron. But never before
have I seen such noble consumers of good liquor as those four gentlemen
from beyond the Atlantic. They drank the strong red Cyprus as if it had
been spring water. 'The dust of your Italian roads takes some cleansing,
Mr Townshend,' was their only excuse, but in truth none was needed. The
wine seemed only to thaw their iron decorum. Without any surcease of
dignity they grew communicative, and passed from lands to peoples and
from peoples to constitutions. Before we knew it we were embarked upon
high politics.

Naturally we did not differ on the war. Like me, they held it to have
been a grievous necessity. They had no bitterness against England, only
regret for her blunders. Of His Majesty they spoke with respect, of His
Majesty's advisers with dignified condemnation. They thought highly of
our troops in America;  less highly of our generals.

'Look you, sir,' said Mr Galloway, 'in a war such as we have witnessed
the Almighty is the only strategist. You fight against the forces of
Nature, and a newcomer little knows that the success or failure of every
operation he can conceive depends not upon generalship, but upon the
conformation of a vast country. Our generals, with this in mind and with
fewer men, could make all your schemes miscarry. Had the English soldiery
not been of such stubborn stuff, we should have been victors from  the
first. Our leader was not General Washington, but General America, and
his brigadiers were forests, swamps, lakes, rivers, and high mountains.'

'And now,' I said, 'having won, you have the greatest of human
experiments before you. Your business is to show that the Saxon stock is
adaptable to a republic.'

It seemed to me that they exchanged glances.

'We are not pedants,' said Mr Fish, 'and have no desire to dispute about
the form of a constitution. A people may be as free under a king as under
a senate. Liberty is not the lackey of any type of government.'

These were strange words from a member of a race whom I had thought
wedded to the republicanism of Helvidius Priscus.

'As a loyal subject of a monarchy,' I said, 'I must agree with you. But
your hands are tied, for I cannot picture the establishment of a House of
Washington, and--if not, where are you to turn for your sovereign?'

Again a smile seemed to pass among the four.

'We are experimenters, as you say, sir, and must go slowly. In the
meantime, we have an authority which keeps peace and property safe. We
are at leisure to cast our eyes round and meditate on the future.'

'Then, gentleman,' said I, 'you take an excellent way of meditation in
visiting this museum of old sovereignties. Here you have the relics of
any government you please--a dozen republics, tyrannies, theocracies,
merchant confederations, kingdoms, and more than one empire. You have
your choice. I am tolerably familiar with the land, and if I can assist
you I am at your service.'

They thanked me gravely. 'We have letters,' said Mr Galloway; 'one in
especial is to a gentleman whom we hope to meet in this place. Have you
heard in your travels of the Count of Albany?'

'He has arrived,' said I, 'two days ago. Even now he is in the chamber
above us at dinner.'

The news interested them hugely.

'You have seen him?' they cried. 'What is he like?'

'An elderly gentleman in poor health, a man who has travelled much, and,
I judge, has suffered something from fortune. He has a fondness for the
English, so you will be welcome, sirs;  but he was indisposed yesterday,
and may still be unable to receive you. His daughter travels with him and
tends his old age.'

'And you--you have spoken with him?'

'The night before last I was in his company. We talked of many things,
including the late war. He is somewhat of your opinion on matters of
government.'

The four looked at each other, and then Mr Galloway rose.

'I ask your permission, Mr Townshend, to consult for a moment with my
friends. The matter is of some importance, and I would beg you to await
us.' So saying, he led the others out of doors, and I heard them withdraw
to a corner of the loggia. Now, thought I, there is something afoot, and
my long-sought romance approaches fruition. The company of the
Marjolaine, whom the Count had sung of, have arrived at last.

Presently they returned and seated themselves at the table.

'You can be of great assistance to us, Mr Townshend, and we would fain
take you into our confidence. Are you aware who is this Count of Albany?'

I nodded. 'It is a thin disguise to one familiar with history.'

'Have you reached any estimate of his character or capabilities? You
speak to friends, and, let me tell you, it is a matter which deeply
concerns the Count's interests.'

'I think him a kindly and pathetic old gentleman. He naturally bears the
mark of forty years' sojourn in the wilderness.'

Mr Galloway took snuff.

'We have business with him, but it is business which stands in need of an
agent. There is no one in the Count's suite with whom we could discuss
affairs?'

'There is his daughter.'

'Ah, but she would scarcely suit the case. Is there no man--a  friend,
and yet not a member of the family, who can treat with us?'

I replied that I thought that I was the only being in Santa Chiara who
answered the description.

'If you will accept the task, Mr Townshend, you are amply qualified. We
will be frank with you and reveal our business. We are on no less an
errand than to offer the Count of Albany a crown.'

I suppose I must have had some suspicion of their purpose, and yet the
revelation of it fell on me like a thunderclap. I could only stare
owlishly at my four grave gentlemen.

Mr Galloway went on unperturbed. 'I have told you that in America we are
not yet republicans. There are those among us who favour a republic, but
they are by no means a majority. We have got rid of a king who
misgoverned us, but we have no wish to get rid of kingship. We want a
king of our own choosing, and we would get with him all the ancient
sanctions of monarchy. The Count of Albany is of the most illustrious
stock in Europe--he is, if legitimacy goes for anything, the rightful
King of Britain. Now, if the republican party among us is to be worsted,
we must come before the nation with a powerful candidate for its favour.
You perceive my drift? What more potent appeal to American pride than to
say: "We have got rid of King George;  we choose of our own free will the
older line and King Charles"?'

I said foolishly that I thought monarchy had had its day, and that 'twas
idle to revive it.

'That is a sentiment well enough under a monarchical government; but we,
with a clean page to write upon, do not share it. You know your ancient
historians. Has not the repository of the chief power always been the
rock on which republicanism has shipwrecked? If that power is given to
the chief citizen, the way is prepared for the tyrant. If it abides
peacefully in a royal house, it abides with cyphers who dignify, without
obstructing, a popular constitution. Do not mistake me, Mr Townshend.
This is no whim of a sentimental girl, but the reasoned  conclusion of
the men who achieved our liberty. There is every reason to believe that
General Washington shares our views, and Mr Hamilton, whose name you may
know, is the inspirer of our mission.'

'But the Count is an old man,' I urged; for I knew not where to begin in
my exposition of the hopelessness of their errand.

'By so much the better. We do not wish a young king who may be fractious.
An old man tempered by misfortune is what our purpose demands.'

'He has also his failings. A man cannot lead his life for forty years and
retain all the virtues.'

At that one of the Sylvesters spoke sharply. 'I have heard such gossip,
but I do not credit it. I have not forgotten Preston and Derby.'

I made my last objection. 'He has no posterity--legitimate posterity--to
carry on his line.'

The four gentlemen smiled. 'That happens to be his chiefest
recommendation,' said Mr Galloway. 'It enables us to take the House of
Stuart on trial. We need a breathing-space and leisure to look around;
but unless we establish the principle of monarchy at once the republicans
will forestall us. Let us get our king at all costs, and during the
remaining years of his life we shall have time to settle the succession
problem. We have no wish to saddle ourselves for good with a race who
might prove burdensome. If King Charles falls he has no son, and we can
look elsewhere for a better monarch. You perceive the reason of my view?'

I did, and I also perceived the colossal absurdity of the whole business.
But I could not convince them of it, for they met my objections with
excellent arguments. Nothing save a sight of the Count would, I feared,
disillusion them.

'You wish me to make this proposal on your behalf?' I asked.

'We shall make the proposal ourselves, but we desire you to prepare the
way for us. He is an elderly man, and should first be informed of our
purpose.'

'There is one person whom I beg leave to consult--the Duchess, his
daughter. It may be that the present is an ill moment for approaching the
Count, and the affair requires her sanction.'

They agreed, and with a very perplexed mind I went forth to  seek the
lady. The irony of the thing was too cruel, and my heart ached for her.
In the gallery I found Oliphant packing some very shabby trunks, and when
I questioned him he told me that the family were to leave Santa Chiara on
the morrow. Perchance the Duchess had awakened to the true state of their
exchequer, or perchance she thought it well to get her father on the road
again as a cure for his ailment.

I discovered Cristine, and begged for an interview with her mistress on
an urgent matter. She led me to the Duchess's room, and there the
evidence of poverty greeted me openly. All the little luxuries of the
menage had gone to the Count. The poor lady's room was no better than a
servant's garret, and the lady herself sat stitching a rent in a
travelling cloak. She rose to greet me with alarm in her eyes.

As briefly as I could I set out the facts of my amazing mission. At first
she seemed scarcely to hear me. 'What do they want with him?' she asked.
'He can give them nothing. He is no friend to the Americans or to any
people who have deposed their sovereign.' Then, as she grasped my
meaning, her face flushed.  'It is a heartless trick, Mr Townshend. I
would fain think you no party to it.'

'Believe me, dear madame, it is no trick. The men below are in sober
earnest. You have but to see their faces to know that theirs is no wild
adventure. I believe sincerely that they have the power to implement
their promise.'

'But it is madness. He is old and worn and sick. His day is long past for
winning a crown.'

'All this I have said, but it does not move them.' And I told her rapidly
Mr Galloway's argument.

She fell into a muse. 'At the eleventh hour! Nay, too late, too  late.
Had he been twenty years younger, what a stroke of fortune! Fate bears
too hard on us, too hard!'

Then she turned to me fiercely. 'You have no doubt heard, sir, the gossip
about my father, which is on the lips of every fool in Europe. Let us
have done with this pitiful make-believe. My father is a sot. Nay, I do
not blame him. I blame his enemies and his miserable destiny. But there
is the fact. Were he not old, he would still be unfit to grasp a crown
and rule over a turbulent people. He flees from one city to another, but
he cannot flee from himself. That is his illness on which you condoled
with me yesterday.'

The lady's control was at breaking-point. Another moment and I expected a
torrent of tears. But they did not come. With a great effort she regained
her composure.

'Well, the gentlemen must have an answer. You will tell them that the
Count, my father--nay, give him his true title if you care--is vastly
obliged to them for the honour they have done him, but would decline on
account of his age and infirmities. You know how to phrase a decent
refusal.'

'Pardon me,' said I, 'but I might give them that answer till doomsday and
never content them. They have not travelled many thousand miles to be put
off by hearsay evidence. Nothing will satisfy them but an interview with
your father himself.'

'It is impossible,' she said sharply.

'Then we must expect the renewed attentions of our American friends. They
will wait till they see him.'

She rose and paced the room.

'They must go,' she repeated many times. 'If they see him sober he will
accept with joy, and we shall be the laughing-stock of the world. I tell
you it cannot be. I alone know how immense is the impossibility. He
cannot afford to lose the last rags of his dignity, the last dregs of his
ease. They must not see him. I will speak with them myself.'

They will be honoured, madame, but I do not think they will be convinced.
They are what we call in my land "men of  business". They will not be
content till they get the Count's reply from his own lips.'

A new Duchess seemed to have arisen, a woman of quick action and sharp
words.

'So be it. They shall see him. Oh, I am sick to death of fine sentiments
and high loyalty and all the vapouring stuff I have lived among for
years. All I ask for myself and my father is a little peace, and, by
Heaven! I shall secure it. If nothing will kill your gentlemen's folly
but truth, why, truth they shall have. They shall see my father, and this
very minute. Bring them up, Mr Townshend, and usher them into the
presence of the rightful King of England. You will find him alone.' She
stopped her walk and looked out of the window.

I went back in a hurry to the Americans. 'I am bidden to bring you to the
Count's chamber. He is alone and will see you. These are the commands of
madame his daughter.'

'Good'.' said Mr Galloway, and all four, grave gentlemen as they were,
seemed to brace themselves to a special dignity as befitted ambassadors
to a king. I led them upstairs, tapped at the Count's door, and, getting
no answer, opened it and admitted them.

And this was what we saw. The furniture was in disorder, and on a couch
lay an old man sleeping a heavy drunken sleep. His mouth was open and his
breath came stertorously. The face was purple, and large purple veins
stood out on the mottled forehead. His scanty white hair was draggled
over his cheek. On the floor was a broken glass, wet stains still lay on
the boards, and the place reeked of spirits.

The four looked for a second--I do not think longer--at him whom they
would have made their king. They did not look at each other. With one
accord they moved out, and Mr Fish, who was last, closed the door very
gently behind him.

In the hall below Mr Galloway turned to me. 'Our mission is ended, Mr
Townshend. I have to thank you for your courtesy.' Then to the others,
'If we order the coaches now, we may get well on the way to Verona ere
sundown.'

An hour later two coaches rolled out of the courtyard of the Tre Croci.
As they passed, a window was half-opened on the upper floor, and a head
looked out. A line of a song came down, a song sung in a strange
quavering voice. It was the catch I had heard the night before:

Qu'est-c' qui passe ici si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine?

It was true. The company came late indeed--too late by forty years...



THE HERD OF STANDLAN


When the wind is nigh and the moon is high
And the mist on the riverside,
Let such as fare have a very good care
Of the Folk who come to ride.
For they may meet with the riders fleet
Who fare from the place of dread;
And hard it is for a mortal man
To sort at ease with the Dead.



THE BALLAD OF GREY WEATHER


When Standlan Burn leaves the mosses and hags which gave it birth, it
tumbles over a succession of falls into a deep, precipitous glen, whence
in time it issues into a land of level green meadows, and finally finds
its rest in the Gled. Just at the opening of the ravine there is a pool
shut in by high, dark cliffs, and black even on the most sunshiny day.
The rocks are never dry but always black with damp and shadow. There is
scarce any vegetation save stunted birks, juniper bushes, and draggled
fern; and the hoot of owls and the croak of hooded crows is seldom absent
from the spot. It is the famous Black Linn where in winter sheep stray
and are never more heard of, and where more than once an unwary shepherd
has gone to his account. It is an Inferno on the brink of a Paradise, for
not a stone's throw off is the green, lawn-like turf, the hazel thicket,
and the broad, clear pools, by the edge of which on that July day the
Herd of Standlan and I sat drowsily smoking and talking of fishing and
the hills. There he told me this story, which I here set down as I
remember it, and as it bears repetition.

'D'ye mind Airthur Morrant?' said the shepherd, suddenly. I did remember
Arthur Mordaunt. Ten years past he and I had been inseparables, despite
some half-dozen summers difference in age. We had fished and shot
together, and together we had tramped every hill within thirty miles. He
had come up from the South to try sheep-farming, and as he came of a
great family and had no need to earn his bread, he found the profession
pleasing. Then irresistible fate had swept me southward to college, and
when after two years I came back to the place, his father was dead and he
had come into his own. The next I heard of him was that in politics he
was regarded as the most promising of the younger men, one of the
staunchest and ablest upstays of the Constitution. His name was rapidly
rising into prominence, for he seemed to exhibit that rare phenomenon of
a man of birth and culture in direct sympathy with the wants of the
people.

'You mean Lord Brodakers?' said I.

'Dinna call him by that name,' said the shepherd, darkly. 'I hae nae
thocht o' him now. He's a disgrace to his country, servin' the Deil wi'
baith hands. But nine year syne he was a bit innocent callant wi' nae
Tory deevilry in his heid. Well, as I was sayin', Airthur Morrant has
cause to mind that place till his dying day;' and he pointed his finger
to the Black Linn.

I looked up the chasm. The treacherous water, so bright and joyful at our
feet, was like ink in the great gorge. The swish and plunge of the
cataract came like the regular beating of a clock, and though the weather
was dry, streams of moisture seamed the perpendicular walls. It was a
place eerie even on that bright summer's day.

'I don't think I ever heard the story,' I said casually.

'Maybe no,' said the shepherd. 'It's no yin I like to tell;' and he
puffed sternly at his pipe, while I awaited the continuation.

'Ye see it was like this,' he said, after a while. 'It was just the
beginning o' the back-end, and that year we had an awfu' spate o' rain.
For near a week it poured hale water, and a' doon by Drumeller and the
Mossfennan haughs was yae muckle loch. Then it stopped, and an awfu' heat
came on. It dried the grund in nae time, but it hardly touched the burns;
and it was rale  queer to be pourin' wi' sweat and the grund aneath ye as
dry as a potato-sack, and a' the time the water neither to haud nor bind.
A' the waterside fields were clean stripped o' stocks, and a guid wheen
hay-ricks gaed doon tae Berwick, no to speak o' sheep and nowt beast. But
that's anither thing.

'Weel, ye'll mind that Airthur was terrible keen on fishing. He wad gang
oot in a' weather, and he wasna feared for only mortal or nateural thing.
Dod, I've seen him in Gled wi' the water rinnin' ower his shouthers yae
cauld March day playin' a saumon. He kenned weel aboot the fishing, for
he had traivelled in Norroway and siccan outlandish places, where there's
a heap o' big fish. So that day--and it was a Setterday tae and far ower
near the Sabbath--he maun gang awa' up Standlan Burn wi' his rod and
creel to try his luck.

'I was bidin' at that time, as ye mind, in the wee cot-house at the back
o' the faulds. I was alane, for it was three year afore I mairried Jess,
and I wasna begun yet to the coortin'. I had been at Gledsmuir that day
for some o' the new stuff for killing sheep-mawks, and I wasna very fresh
on my legs when I gaed oot after my tea that night to hae a look at the
hill-sheep. I had had a bad year on the hill. First the lambin'-time was
snaw, snaw ilka day, and I lost mair than I wad like to tell. Syne the
grass a' summer was so short wi' the drought that the puir beasts could
scarcely get a bite and were as thin as pipe-stapples. And then, to crown
a', auld Will Broun, the man that helpit me, turned ill wi' his back, and
had to bide at hame. So I had twae man's work on yae man's shouthers, and
was nane so weel pleased.

'As I was saying, I gaed oot that nicht, and after lookin' a' the Dun Rig
and the Yellow Mire and the back o' Cramalt Craig, I cam down the burn by
the road frae the auld faulds. It was geyan dark, being about seven
o'clock o' a September nicht, and I keepit weel back frae that wanchancy
hole o' a burn. Weel, I was comin' kind o' quick, thinkin' o' supper and
a story-book that I was readin' at the time, when just abune that place
there, at the foot o' the Linn, I saw a man fishing. I wondered what ony
body  in his senses could be daein' at that time o' nicht in sic a
dangerous place, so I gave him a roar and bade him come back. He turned
his face round and I saw in a jiffeyjiffey that it was Mr Airthur.

'"O, sir," I cried, "What for are ye fishing there? The water's awfu'
dangerous, and the rocks are far ower slid."

'"Never mind, Scott," he roars back cheery-like. "I'll take care o'
mysel'."

'I lookit at him for twa-three meenutes, and then I saw by his rod he had
yin on, and a big yin tae. He ran it up and doon the pool, and he had
uncommon wark wi' 't, for it was strong and there was little licht. But
bye and bye he got it almost tae his feet, and was just about to lift it
oot when a maist awfu' thing happened. The tackets o' his boots maun hae
slithered on the stane, for the next thing I saw was Mr Airthur in the
muckle hungry water.

'I dinna exactly ken what happened after that, till I found myself on the
very stone he had slipped off. I maun hae come doon the face o' the
rocks, a thing I can scarcely believe when I look at them, and a thing no
man ever did afore. At ony rate I ken I fell the last fifteen feet or
sae, and lichted on my left airm, for I felt it crack like a rotten
branch, and an awfu' sairness ran up it.

'Now, the pool is a whirlpool as ye ken, and if anything fa's in, the
water first smashes it against the muckle rock at the foot, then it
brings it round below the fall again, and syne at the second time it
carries it doon the burn. Weel, that was what happened to Mr Airthur. I
heard his held gang dunt on the stane wi' a sound that made me sick. This
must hae dung him clean senseless, and indeed it was a wonder it didna
knock his brains oot. At ony rate there was nae mair word o' swimming,
and he was swirled round below the fa' just like a corp.

'I kenned fine that nae time was to be lost, for if he once gaed doun the
burn he wad be in Gled or ever I could say a word, and nae wad ever see
him mair in life. So doon I got on my hunkers  on the stane, and waited
for the turnin'. Round he came, whirling in the foam, wi' a lang line o'
blood across his brow where the stane had cut him. It was a terrible
meenute. My heart fair stood still. I put out my airm, and as he passed I
grippit him and wi' an awfu' pu' got him out o' the current into the
side.

'But now I found that a waur thing still was on me. My left airm was
broken, and my richt sae numbed and weak wi' my fall that, try as I
micht, I couldna raise him ony further. I thocht I wad burst a
blood-vessel i' my face and my muscles fair cracked wi' the strain, but I
would make nothing o' 't. There he stuck wi' his held and shouthers abune
the water, pu'd close until the edge of a rock.

'What was I to dae? If I once let him slip he wad be into the stream and
lost forever. But I couldna hang on here a' nicht, and as far as I could
see there wad be naebody near till the mornin', when Ebie Blackstock
passed frae the Head o' the Hope. I roared wi' a' my power; but I got nae
answer, naething but the rummie o' the water and the whistling o' some
whaups on the hill.

'Then I turned very sick wi' terror and pain and weakness and I kenna
what. My broken airm seemed a great lump o' burnin' coal. I maun hae
given it some extra wrench when I hauled him out, for it was sae sair now
that I thocht I could scarcely thole it. Forbye, pain and a', I could hae
gone off to sleep wi' fair weariness. I had heard tell o' men sleepin' on
their feet, but I never felt it till then. Man, if I hadna warstled wi'
mysel, I wad hae dropped off as deid's a peery.

'Then there was the awfu' strain o' keepin' Mr Airthur up. He was a great
big man, twelve stone I'll warrant, and weighing a terrible lot mair wi'
his fishing togs and things. If I had had the use o' my ither airm I
micht hae taen off his jacket and creel and lichtened the burden, but I
could do naething. I scarcely like to tell ye how I was tempted in that
hour. Again and again I says to mysel, "Gidden Scott," say I, "what do ye
care for this man?  He's no a drap's bluid to you, and forbye ye'll never
be able to save him. Ye micht as weel let him gang. Ye've dune a' ye
could. Ye're a brave man, Gidden Scott, and ye've nae cause to be ashamed
o' givin' up the fecht." But I says to mysel again:  "Gidden Scott, ye're
a coward. Wad ye let a man die, when there's a breath in your body? Think
shame o' yoursel, man." So I aye kept haudin' on, although I was very
near bye wi' 't. Whenever I lookit at Mr Airthur's face, as white's death
and a' blood, and his een sae stelled-like, I got a kind o' groo and felt
awfu' pitiful for the bit laddie. Then I thocht on his faither, the auld
Lord, wha was sae built up in him, and I couldna bear to think o' his son
droonin' in that awfu' hole. So I set mysel to the wark o' keepin' him up
a' nicht, though I had nae hope in the matter. It wasna what ye ca'
bravery that made me dae't, for I had nae ither choice. It was just a
kind o' dourness that runs in my folk, and a kind o' vexedness for sae
young a callant in sic an ill place.

'The nicht was hot and there was scarcely a sound o' wind. I felt the
sweat standin' on my face like frost on tatties, and abune me the sky was
a' misty and nae mune visible. I thocht very likely that it micht come a
thunder-shower and I kind o' lookit forrit tae 't. For I was aye feared
at lichtning, and if it came that nicht I was bound to get clean dazed
and likely tummie in. I was a lonely man wi' nae kin to speak o', so it
wouldna maitter muckle.

'But now I come to tell ye about the queer side o' that nicht's wark,
whilk I never telled to nane but yoursel, though a' the folk about here
ken the rest. I maun hae been geyan weak, for I got into a kind o' doze,
no sleepin', ye understand, but awfu' like it. And then a' sort o' daft
things began to dance afore my een. Witches and bogles and brownies and
things oot o' the Bible, and leviathans and brazen bulls--a' cam fleerin'
and flauntin' on the tap o' the water straucht afore me. I didna pay
muckle heed to them, for I half kenned it was a' nonsense, and syne they
gaed awa'. Then an auld wife wi' a mutch and a hale  procession o' auld
wives passed, and just about the last I saw yin I thocht I kenned.

'"Is that you, grannie?" says I.

'"Ay, it's me, Gidden," says she; and as shure as I'm a leevin' man, it
was my auld grannie, whae had been deid thae sax year. She had on the
same mutch as she aye wore, and the same auld black stickle in her hand,
and, Dod, she had the same snuff-box I made for her out o' a sheep's horn
when I first took to the herdin'. I thocht she was lookin' rale weel.

'"Losh, Grannie," says I, "Where in the warld hae ye come frae? It's no
canny to see ye danderin' about there."

'"Ye've been badly brocht up," she says, "and ye ken nocht about it. Is't
no a decent and comely thing that I should get a breath o' air yince in
the while?"

'"Deed," said I, "I had forgotten. Ye were sae like yoursel I never had a
mind ye were deid. And how d' ye like the Guid Place?"

'"Wheesht, Gidden," says she, very solemn-like, "I'm no there."

'Now at this I was fair flabbergasted. Grannie had aye been a guid
contentit auld wumman, and to think that they hadna let her intil Heeven
made me think ill o' my ain chances.

'"Help us, ye dinna mean to tell me ye're in Hell?" I cries.

'"No exactly," says she, "But I'll trouble ye, Gidden, to speak mair
respectful about holy things. That's a name ye uttered the noo whilk we
dinna daur to mention."

'"I'm sorry. Grannie," says I, "but ye maun allow it's an astonishin'
thing for me to hear. We aye counted ye shure, and ye died wi' the Buik
in your hands."

'"Weel," she says, "it was like this. When I gaed up till the gate o'
Heeven a man wi' a lang white robe comes and says, 'Wha may ye be?' Says
I, 'I'm Elspeth Scott.' He gangs awa' and consults awee and then he says,
'I think, Elspeth my wumman, ye'll hae to gang doon the brae a bit. Ye're
no quite guid eneuch for this place, but ye'll get a very comfortable
doonsittin' whaur  I tell ye.' So off I gaed and cam' to a place whaur
the air was like the inside of the glass-houses at the Lodge. They took
me in wi'oot a word and I've been rale comfortable. Ye see they keep the
bad part o' the Place for the reg'lar bad folk, but they've a very nice
half-way house where the likes o' me stop."

'"And what kind o' company hae ye?"

'"No very select," says she. "There's maist o' the ministers o' the
countryside and a pickle fairmers, tho' the maist o' them are further
ben. But there's my son Jock, your ain faither, Gidden, and a heap o'
folk from the village, and oh, I'm nane sae bad."

'"Is there naething mair ye wad like then, Grannie?"

'"Oh aye," says she, "we've each yae thing which we canna get. It's a'
the punishment we hae. Mine's butter. I canna get fresh butter for my
bread, for ye see it winna keep, it just melts. So I've to tak jeely to
ilka slice, whilk is rale sair on the teeth. Ye'll no hae ony wi' ye?"

'"No," I says, "I've naething but some tobaccy. D' ye want it? Ye were
aye fond o' 't."

'"Na, na," says she. "I get plenty o' tobaccy doon bye. The pipe's never
out o' the folks' mouth there. But I'm no speakin' about yoursel, Gidden.
Ye're in a geyan ticht place."

'"I'm a' that," I said. "Can ye no help me?"

'"I micht try." And she raxes out her hand to grip mine. I put out mine
to tak it, never thinkin' that that wasna the richt side, and that if
Grannie grippit it she wad pu' the broken airm and haul me into the
water. Something touched my fingers like a hot poker; I gave a great
yell; and ere ever I kenned I was awake, a' but off the rock, wi' my left
airm aching like hell-fire. Mr Airthur I had let slunge ower the held and
my ain legs were in the water.

'I gae an awfu' whammle and edged my way back though it was near bye my
strength. And now anither thing happened. For the cauld water roused Mr
Airthur frae his dwam. His een opened and he gave a wild look around him.
"Where am I?" he cries, "Oh God!" and he gaed off intil anither faint.

'I can tell ye, sir, I never felt anything in this warld and I hope never
to feel anything in anither sae bad as the next meenutes on that rock. I
was fair sick wi' pain and weariness and a kind o  fever. The lip-lap o'
the water, curling round Mr Airthur, and the great crush o' the Black
Linn itsel dang me fair silly. Then there was my airm, which was bad
eneuch, and abune a' I was gotten into sic a state that I was fleyed at
ilka shadow just like a bairn. I felt fine I was gaun daft, and if the
thing had lasted anither score o' meenutes I wad be in a madhouse this
day. But soon I felt the sleepiness comin' back, and I was off again
dozin' and dreamin'.

'This time it was nae auld wumman but a muckle black-avised man that was
standin' in the water glowrin' at me. I kenned him fine by the bandy-legs
o' him and the broken nose (whilk I did mysel), for Dan Kyle the poacher
deid thae twae year. He was a man, as I remembered him weel, wi' a great
black beard and een that were stuck sae far in his held that they looked
like twae wull-cats keekin' oot o' a hole. He stands and just stares at
me, and never speaks a word.

'"What d'ye want?" I yells, for by this time I had lost a' grip o' mysel.
"Speak, man, and dinna stand there like a dummy."

'"I want naething," he says in a mournfu' sing-song voice;  "I'm just
thinkin'."

'"Whaur d' ye come frae?" I asked, "and are ye keepin' weel?"

'"Weel," he says bitterly. "In this warld I was ill to my wife, and
twa-three times I near killed a man, and I stole like a pyet, and I was
never sober. How d' ye think I should be weel in the next?"

'I was sorry for the man. "D' ye ken I'm vexed for ye, Dan," says I; "I
never likit ye when ye were here, but I'm wae to think ye're sae ill off
yonder."

'"I'm no alane," he says. "There's Mistress Courhope o' the Big House,
she's waur. Ye mind she was awfu' fond o' gum-flowers. Weel, she canna
keep them Yonder, for they a' melt wi'  the heat. She's in an ill way
about it, puir body." Then he broke off. "Whae's that ye've got there?
Is't Airthur Morrant?"

'"Ay, it's Airthur Morrant," I said.

'"His family's weel kent doon bye," says he. "We've maist o' his
forbears, and we're expectin' the auld Lord every day. May be we'll sune
get the lad himsel."

'"That's a damned lee," says I, for I was angry at the man's presumption.

'Dan lookit at me sorrowfu'-like. "We'll be gettin' you tae, if ye swear
that gate," says he, "and then ye'll ken what it's like."

'Of a sudden I fell into a great fear. "Dinna say that, Dan," I cried;
"I'm better than ye think. I'm a deacon, and'll maybe sune be an elder,
and I never swear except at my dowg."

'"Tak care, Gidden," said the face afore me. "Where I am, a' things are
taken into account."

'"Then they'll hae a gey big account for you," says I. "What-like do they
treat you, may be?"

'The man groaned.

'"I'll tell ye what they dae to ye doon there," he said. "They put ye
intil a place a' paved wi' stanes and wi' four square walls around. And
there's naething in 't, nae grass, nae shadow. And abune you there's a
sky like brass. And sune ye get terrible hot and thirsty, and your tongue
sticks to your mouth, and your eyes get blind wi' lookin' on the white
stane. Then ye gang clean fey, and dad your held on the ground and the
walls to try and kill yoursel. But though ye dae 't till a' eternity ye
couldna feel pain. A' that ye feel is just the awfu' devourin' thirst,
and the heat and the weariness. And if ye lie doon the ground burns ye
and ye're fain to get up. And ye canna lean on the walls for the heat,
and bye and bye when ye're fair perished wi' the thing, they tak ye out
to try some ither ploy."

'"Nai mair," I cried, "nae mair, Dan!"

'But he went on malicious-like, "Na, na, Gidden, I'm no dune yet. Syne
they tak you to a fine room but awfu' warm. And there's a big fire in the
grate and  thick woollen rugs on the floor. And in the corner there's a
braw feather bed. And they lay ye down on 't, and then they pile on the
tap o' ye mattresses and blankets and sacks and great rolls o' woollen
stuff miles wide. And then ye see what they're after, tryin' to suffocate
ye as they dae to folk that a mad dowg has bitten. And ye try to kick
them off, but they're ower heavy, and ye canna move your feet nor your
airms nor gee your heid. Then ye gang clean gyte and skirl to yoursel,
but your voice is choked and naebody is near. And the warst o' 't is that
ye canna die and get it ower. It's like death a hundred times and yet
ye're aye leevin'. Bye and bye when they think ye've got eneuch they tak
you out and put ye somewhere else."

'"Oh," I cries, "stop, man, or you'll ding me silly." 'But he says never
a word, just glowrin' at me. '"Aye, Gidden, and waur than that. For they
put ye in a great loch wi' big waves just like the sea at the Pier o'
Leith. And there's nae chance o' soomin', for as sune as ye put out your
airms a billow gulfs ye down. Then ye swallow water and your heid dozes
round and ye're chokin'. But ye canna die, ye must just thole. And down
ye gang, down, down, in the cruel deep, till your heid's like to burst
and your een are fu' o' bluid. And there's a' kind o' fearfu' monsters
about, muckle slimy things wi' blind een and white scales, that claw at
ye wi' claws just like the paws o' a drooned dog. And ye canna get away
though ye fecht and fleech, and bye and bye ye're fair mad wi' horror and
choking and the feel o' thae awfu' things. Then--"

'But now I think something snapped in my heid, and I went daft in
doonricht earnest. The man before me danced about like a lantern's shine
on a windy nicht and then disappeared. And I woke yelling like a pig at a
killing, fair wud wi' terror, and my skellochs made the rocks ring. I
found mysel in the pool a' but yae airm--the broken yin--which had hankit
in a crack o' rock. Nae wonder I had been dreaming o' deep waters among
the torments o' the Place, when I was in them mysel. The pain in my airm
was sae fearsome and my heid was gaun round sae wi'  horror that I just
skirled on and on, shrieking and groaning wi'oot a thocht what I was
daein'. I was as near death as ever I will be, and as for Mr Airthur he
was on the very nick o' 't, for by this time he was a' in the water,
though I still kept a grip o' him.

'When I think ower it often I wonder how it was possible that I could be
here the day. But the Lord's very gracious, and he works in a queer way.
For it so happened that Ebie Blackstock, whae had left Gledsmuir an hour
afore me and whom I thocht by this time to be snorin' in his bed at the
Head o' the Hope, had gone intil the herd's house at the Waterfit, and
had got sae muckle drink there that he was sweered to start for hame till
aboot half-past twal i' the night. Weel, he was comin' up the burnside,
gae happy and contentit, for he had nae wife at hame to speir about his
ongaeings, when, as he's celled me himsel, he heard sic an uproar doon by
the Black Linn that made him turn pale and think that the Deil, whom he
had long served, had gotten him at last. But he was a brave man, was
Ebie, and he thinks to himsel that some fellow-creature micht be
perishin'. So he gangs forrit wi' a' his pith, trying to think on the
Lord's Prayer and last Sabbath's sermon. And, lookin' ower the edge, he
saw naething for a while, naething but the black water wi' the awfu'
yells coming out o' 't. Then he made out something like a held near the
side. So he rins doon by the road, no ower the rocks as I had come, but
round by the burnside road, and soon he gets to the pool, where the
crying was getting aye fainter and fainter. And then he saw me. And he
grips me by the collar, for he was a sensible man, was Ebie, and hauls me
oot. If he hadna been geyan strong he couldna hae dune it, for I was a
deid wecht, forbye having a heavy man hanging on to me. When he got me
up, what was his astonishment to find anither man at the end o' my airm,
a man like a corp a' bloody about the heid. So he got us baith out, and
we wae baith senseless; and he laid us in a safe bit back frae the water,
and syne gaed off for help. So bye and bye we were baith got home, me to
my house and Mr Airthur up to the Lodge.'

'And was that the end of it?' I asked.

'Na,' said the shepherd. 'I lay for twae month there raving wi' brain
fever, and when I cam to my senses I was as weak as a bairn. It was many
months ere I was mysel again, and my left airm to this day is stiff and
no muckle to lippen to. But Mr Airthur was far waur, for the dad he had
gotten on the rock was thocht to have broken his skull, and he lay long
atween life and death. And the warst thing was that his faither was sae
vexed about him that he never got ower the shock, but dee'd afore Airthur
was out o' bed. And so when he cam out again he was My Lord, and a
monstrously rich man.'

The shepherd puffed meditatively at his pipe for a few minutes.

'But that's no a' yet. For Mr Airthur wad tak nae refusal but that I maun
gang awa' doon wi' him to his braw house in England and be a land o'
factor or steward or something like that. And I had a rale fine cottage
a' to mysel, wi' a very bonny gairden and guid wages, so I stayed there
maybe sax month and then I gaed up till him. "I canna bide nae longer,"
says I. "I canna stand this place. It's far ower laigh, and I'm fair sick
to get hills to rest my een on. I'm awfu' gratefu' to ye for your
kindness, but I maun gie up my job." He was very sorry to lose me, and
was for giein' me a present o' money or stockin' a fairm for me, because
he said that it was to me he owed his life. But I wad hae nane o' his
gifts. "It wad be a terrible thing," I says, "to tak siller for daein'
what ony body wad hae dune out o' pity." So I cam awa' back to Standlan,
and I maun say I'm rale contentit here. Mr Airthur used whiles to write
to me and ca' in and see me when he cam North for the shooting; but since
he's gane sae far wrang wi' the Tories, I've had naething mair to dae wi'
him.'

I made no answer, being busy pondering in my mind on the depth of the
shepherd's political principles, before which the ties of friendship were
as nothing.

'Ay,' said he, standing up, 'I did what I thocht my duty at the time and
I was rale glad I saved the callant's life. But now, when  I think on a'
the ill he's daein' to the country and the Guid Cause, I whiles think I
wad hae been daein' better if I had just drappit him in.

'But whae kens? It's a queer warld.' And the shepherd knocked the ashes
out of his-pipe.



THE LAST CRUSADE


FRANCIS MARTENDALE'S STORY


'It is often impossible, in these political inquiries, to find any
proportion between the apparent force of any moral causes we may assign,
and their known operation. We are therefore obliged to deliver up chat
operation to mere chance; or, more piously (perhaps more rationally), to
the occasional interposition and the irresistible hand of the Great
Disposer.'--BURKE.

One evening the talk at dinner turned on the Press. Lamancha was of
opinion that the performances of certain popular newspapers in recent
years had killed the old power of the anonymous printed word. 'They
bluffed too high,' he said, 'and they had their bluff called. All the
delphic oracle business has gone from them. You haven't today what you
used to have--papers from which the ordinary man docilely imbibes all his
views. There may be one or two still, but not more.'

Sandy Arbuthnot, who disliked journalism as much as he liked journalists,
agreed, but there was a good deal of difference of opinion among the
others. Pallister-Yeates thought that the Press had more influence than
ever, though it might not be much liked; a man, he said, no longer felt
the kind of loyalty towards his newspaper that he felt towards his club
and his special brand of cigar, but he was mightily influenced by it all
the same. He might read it only for its news, but in the selection of
news a paper could wield an uncanny power.

Francis Martendale was the only journalist among us, and he listened with
half-closed sleepy eyes. He had been a war correspondent as far back as
the days of the South African War, and since then had seen every serious
row on the face of the globe. In  France he had risen to command a
territorial battalion, and that seemed to have satisfied his military
interest, for since 1919 he had turned his mind to business. He was
part-owner of several provincial papers, and was connected in some way
with the great Ladas news agency. He had several characters which he kept
rigidly separate. One was a philosopher, for he had translated Henri
Poincare, and published an acute little study of Bergson; another was a
yachtsman, and he used to race regularly in the twelve-metre class at
Cowes. But these were his relaxations, and five days in the week he spent
in an office in the Fleet Street neighbourhood. He was an enthusiast
about his hobbies and a cynic about his profession, a not uncommon
mixture; so we were surprised when he differed from Lamancha and Sandy
and agreed with Palliser-Yeates.

'No doubt the power of the leader-writer has waned,' he said. 'A paper
cannot set a Cabinet trembling because it doesn't like its policy. But it
can colour the public mind most damnably by a steady drip of tendencious
news.'

'Lies?' Sandy asked.

'Not lies--truths judiciously selected--half-truths with no context.
Facts--facts all the time. In these days the Press is obliged to stick to
facts. But it can make facts into news, which is a very different class
of goods. And it can interpret facts--don't forget that. It can report
that Burminster fell asleep at a public dinner--which he did--in such a
way as to make everybody think that he was drunk--which he wasn't.'

'Rather a dirty game?' someone put in.

'Sometimes--often perhaps. But now and then it works out on the side of
the angels. Do any of you know Roper Willinck?'

There was a general confession of ignorance.

'Pity. He would scarcely fit in here, but he is rather a great man and
superbly good company. There was a little thing that Willinck once
did--or rather helped to do, with about a million other people who hadn't
a notion what was happening. That's the fun of journalism. You light a
match and fling it away, and  the fire goes smouldering round the globe,
and ten thousand miles off burns down a city. I'll tell you about it if
you like, for it rather proves my point.'

It all began--said Martendale--with an old Wesleyan parson of the name of
Tubb, who lived at a place called Rhenosterspruit on the east side of the
Karroo. He had been a missionary, but the place had grown from a small
native reserve to an ordinary up-country dorp; the natives were all
Christians now, and he had a congregation of store-keepers, and one or
two English farmers, and the landlady of the hotel, and the workmen from
an adjacent irrigation dam. Mr Tubb was a man of over seventy, a devoted
pastor with a gift of revivalist eloquence, but not generally considered
very strong in the head. He was also a bachelor. He had caught a chill
and had been a week in bed, but he rose on the Sunday morning to conduct
service as usual.

Now about that time the Russian Government had been rather distinguishing
themselves. They had had a great function at Easter, run by what they
called the Living Church, which had taken the shape of a blasphemous
parody of the Christian rites and a procession of howling dervishes who
proclaimed that God was dead and Heaven and Hell wound up. Also they had
got hold of a Patriarch, a most respected Patriarch, put him on trial for
high treason, and condemned him to death. They had postponed the
execution, partly by way of a refinement of cruelty, and partly, I
suppose, to see just how the world would react; but there seemed not the
slightest reason to doubt that they meant to have the old man's blood.
There was a great outcry, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope
had something to say, and various Governments made official
re-presentations, but the Bolshies didn't give a hoot. They felt that
they needed to indulge in some little bit of extra blackguardism just to
show what stout fellows they were.

Well, all this was in the cables from Riga and Warsaw and Helsingfors,
and it got into the weekly edition of the Cape  Times. There Mr Tubb read
it, as he lay sick in bed, and, having nothing else to worry about, it
fretted him terribly. He could not bear to think of those obscene orgies
in Moscow, and the story of the Patriarch made him frantic. This, it
seemed to him, was a worse persecution than Nero's or Diocletian's, and
the Patriarch was a nobler figure than any martyr of the Roman
amphitheatre; and all the while the Christian peoples of the world were
doing nothing. So Mr Tubb got out of bed on that Sunday morning, and,
having had no time to prepare a sermon, delivered his soul from the
pulpit about the Bolshies and their doings. He said that what was needed
was a new crusade, and he called on every Christian man and woman to
devote their prayers, their money, and, if necessary, their blood to this
supreme cause. Old as he was, he said, he would gladly set off for Moscow
that instant and die beside the Patriarch, and count his life well lost
in such a testimony of his faith.

I am sure that Mr Tubb meant every word he said, but he had an
unsympathetic audience, who were not interested in Patriarchs; and the
hotel-lady slumbered, and the store-keepers fidgeted and the girls
giggled and whispered just as usual. There the matter would have dropped,
had not a young journalist from Cape Town been spending his holidays at
Rhenosterspruit and out of some caprice been present at the service. He
was an ambitious lad, and next morning despatched to his paper a brightly
written account of Mr Tubb's challenge. He wrote it with his tongue in
his cheek, and headed it, 'Peter the Hermit at Rhenosterspruit' with, as
a sub-title, 'The Last Crusade'. His editor cut it savagely, and left out
all his satirical touches, so that it read rather bald and crude. Still
it got about a quarter of a column.

That week the Ladas representative at Cape Town was rather short of
material, and just to fill up his budget of outgoing news put in a short
message about Rhenosterspruit. It ran: 'On Sunday Tubb Wesleyan Minister
Rhenosterspruit summoned congregation in name Christianity release
Patriarch and  announced intention personally lead crusade Moscow.' That
was the result of the cutting of the bright young correspondent's
article. What he had meant as fantasy and farce was so summarised as to
appear naked facts. Ladas in London were none too well pleased with the
message. They did not issue it to the British Press, and they cabled to
the Cape Town people that, while they welcomed 'human interest' stories,
they drew the line at that sort of thing. What could it matter to the
world what a Wesleyan parson in the Karroo thought about Zinovieff? They
wanted news, not nonsense.

Now behold the mysterious workings of the Comic Spirit. Ladas, besides
their general service to the Canadian Press, made special services to
several Canadian papers. One of these was called, shall we say, the
Toronto Watchman. The member of the Ladas staff who had the compiling of
the Watchman budget was often hard-pressed, for he had to send news which
was not included in the general service. That week he was peculiarly up
against it, so he went through the files of the messages that had come in
lately and had not already been transmitted to Canada, and in the Cape
Town section he found the Rhenosterspruit yarn. He seized on it joyfully,
for he did not know of the disfavour with which his chief had regarded
it, and he dressed it up nicely for Toronto. The Watchman he knew was a
family paper, with a strong religious connection, and this would be meat
and drink to it. So he made the story still more matter-of-fact. Mr Tubb
had sounded a call to the Christian Church, and was himself on the eve of
setting out against Trotsky like David against Goliath. He left the
captions to the Toronto sub-editors, but of his own initiative he
mentioned John Knox. That, he reflected comfortably, as he closed up and
went off to play golf, would fetch the Presbyterian-minded Watchman.

It did. The Editor of the Watchman, who was an elder of the Kirk and
Liberal Member of Parliament, had been getting very anxious about the
ongoings in Russia. He was not very clear what a Patriarch was, but he
remembered that various Anglican  ecclesiastics had wanted to affiliate
the English and Greek Churches, so he concluded that he was some kind of
Protestant. He had, like most people, an intense dislike of Moscow and
its ways, and he had been deeply shocked by the Easter sacrilege. So he
went large on the Ladas message. It was displayed on his chief page, side
by side with all the news he could collect about the Patriarch, and he
had no less than two leaders on the subject. The first, which he wrote
himself, was headed 'The Weak Things of the World and the Strong'. He
said that Mr Tubb's clarion-call, 'the voice of a simple man of God
echoing from the lonely veld', might yet prove a turning-point in
history, and he quoted Burke about a child and a girl at an inn changing
the fate of nations. It might--it should--arouse the conscience of the
Christian world, and inaugurate a new crusade, which would lift mankind
out of the rut of materialism and open its eyes to the eternal verities.
Christianity had been challenged by the miscreants in Russia, and the
challenge must be met. I don't think he had any very clear idea what he
meant, for he was strongly opposed to anything that suggested war, but it
was a fine chance for 'uplift' writing. The second leader was called 'The
Deeper Obligations of Empire', and, with a side glance at Mr Tubb,
declared that unless the British Empire was a spiritual and moral unity
it was not worth talking about.

The rest of the Canadian Press did not touch the subject. They had not
had the Rhenosterspruit message, and were not going to lift it. But the
Watchman had a big circulation, and Mr Tubb began to have a high, if
strictly local, repute. Several prominent clergymen preached sermons on
him, and a weekly paper printed a poem in which he was compared to St
Theresa and Joan of Arc.

The thing would have been forgotten in a fortnight, if McGurks had not
chosen to take a hand. McGurks, as you probably know, is the biggest
newspaper property in the world directed by a single hand. It owns
outright well over a hundred papers, and has a controlling interest in
perhaps a thousand. Its  tone is strictly national, not to say
chauvinistic; its young men in Europe at that time were all
hundred-per-cent Americans, and returned to the States a hundred and
twenty per cent, to allow for the difference in the exchange. McGurks
does not love England, for it began with strong Irish connections, and it
has done good work in pointing out to its immense public the predatory
character of British Imperialism and the atrocities that fill the shining
hours in India and Egypt. As a matter of fact, however, its politics are
not very serious. What it likes is a story that can be told in thick
black headlines, so that the stupidest of its free-born readers, glancing
in his shirt-sleeves at the first page of his Sunday paper, can extract
nourishment. Murders, rapes, fires and drownings are its daily bread, and
it fairly revels in details--measurements and plans, names and addresses
of witnesses, and appalling half-tone blocks. Most unfairly it is called
sensational, for the stuff is as dull as a directory.

With regard to Russia, McGurks had steered a wavy course. It had begun in
1917 by flaunting the banner of freedom, for it disliked monarchies on
principle. In 1919 it wanted America to recognise the Russian Government,
and take hold of Russian trade. But a series of rebuffs to its special
correspondents changed its view, and by 1922 it had made a speciality of
Bolshevik horrors. The year 1923 saw it again on the fence, from which in
six months it had tumbled off in a state of anti-Bolshevik hysteria. It
was out now to save God's country from foreign microbes, and it ran a
good special line of experts who proved that what America needed was a
cordon sanitaire to protect her purity from a diseased world. At the time
of which I speak it had worked itself up into a fine religious
enthusiasm, and had pretty well captured the 'hick' public. McGurks was
first and foremost a business proposition, and it had decided that crime
and piety were the horses to back. I should add that, besides its papers,
it ran a news agency, the P.U., which stood for Press Union, but which
was commonly and affectionately known as Punk.

McGurks seized upon the story in the Toronto Watchman as a gift from the
gods, and its headlines were a joy for ever. All over the States men read
'Aged Saint Defies Demoniacs--Says That In God's Name He Will Move
Mountains'--'Vengeance From The Veld'--'The First Trumpet Blast'--'Who Is
On The Lord's Side--WHO?' I daresay that in the East and beyond the
Rockies people were only mildly interested, but in the Middle West and in
the South the thing caught like measles. McGurks did not leave its stunts
to perish of inanition. As soon as it saw that the public was intrigued
it started out to organise that interest. It circularised every parson
over big areas, it arranged meetings of protest and sympathy, it opened
subscription lists, and, though it refrained from suggesting Government
action, it made it clear that it wanted to create such a popular feeling
that the Government would be bound to bestir itself. The home towns
caught fire, the Bible Belt was moved to its foundations, every Methodist
minister rallied to his co-religionist of Rhenosterspruit, the Sunday
Schools uplifted their voice, and even the red-blooded he-men of the
Rotary Clubs got going. The Holiness Tabernacle of Sarcophagus, Neb.,
produced twenty volunteers who were ready to join Mr Tubb in Moscow, and
the women started knitting socks for them, just as they did in the War.
The First Consecration Church of Jumpersville, Tenn., followed suit, and
McGurks made the most of the doings of every chapel in every one-horse
township. Punk, too, was busy, and cabled wonderful stories of the new
crusade up and down the earth. Old-established papers did not as a rule
take the Punk service, so only a part of it was printed, but it all
helped to create an atmosphere.

Presently Concord had to take notice. This, as you know, is the foremost
American press agency--we call it the C.C.--and it had no more dealings
with Punk than the Jews with the Samaritans. It was in close alliance
with Ladas, so it cabled testily wanting to know why it had not received
the Rhenosterspruit message. Ladas replied that they had considered the
story too absurd to waste tolls on, but, since the C.C. was now carrying
a lot of stuff about the new crusade, they felt obliged to cable to Cape
Town to clear things up. Punk had already got on to that job, and was
asking its correspondents for pictures of Rhenosterspruit, interviews
with the Reverend Tubb, details about what he wore and ate and drank,
news of his mother and his childhood, and his premonitions of future
greatness. Haifa dozen anxious journalists converged upon
Rhenosterspruit.

But they were too late. For Mr Tubb was dead--choked on a chicken-bone at
his last Sunday dinner. They were only in time to attend the funeral in
the little, dusty, sun-baked cemetery. Very little was to be had from his
congregation, which, as I have said, had been mostly asleep during the
famous sermon; but a store-keeper remembered that the minister had not
been quite like himself on that occasion and that he had judged from his
eyes that he had still a bad cold. McGurks made a great fuss with this
scrap of news. The death of Mr Tubb was featured like the demise of a
President or a film star, and there was a moving picture of the old man,
conscious that he was near his end (the chicken-bone was never
mentioned), summoning his falling strength to one supreme appeal--'his
eyes,' said McGurks, 'now wet with tears for the world's sins, now
shining with the reflected radiance of the Better Country'.

I fancy that the thing would have suddenly died away, for there was a big
prize-fight coming on, and there seemed to be a risk of the acquittal of
a nigger who had knifed a bootlegger in Chicago, and an Anti-Kink Queen
was on the point of engaging herself to a Dentifrice King, and similar
stirring public events were in the offing. But the death of Mr Tubb kept
up the excitement, for it brought in the big guns of the Fundamentalists.
It seemed to them that the old man had not died but had been miraculously
translated, just like Elijah or William Jennings Bryan after the Dayton
trial. It was a Sign, and they were bound to consider what it signified.

This was much heavier metal than the faithful of Sarcophagus  and
Jumpersville. The agitation was now of national importance; it had
attained 'normalcy', as you might say, the 'normalcy' of the periodic
American movement. Conventions were summoned and addressed by divines
whose names were known even in New York. Senators and congressmen took a
hand, and J. Constantine Buttrick, the silver trumpet of Wisconsin, gave
tongue, and was heard by several million wireless outfits. Articles even
appeared about it in the intellectual weeklies. Congress wasn't in
session, which was fortunate, but Washington began to be uneasy, for
volunteers for the crusade were enrolling fast. The C.C. was compelled to
carry long despatches, and Ladas had to issue them to the English Press,
which usually printed them in obscure corners with the names misspelt.
England is always apathetic about American news, and, besides, she had a
big strike on her hands at the time. Those of us who get American
press-clippings realised that quite a drive was starting to do something
to make Moscow respectful to religion, but we believed that it would be
dropped before any serious action could be taken. Meanwhile Zinovieff and
Trotsky carried on as usual, and we expected any day to hear that the
Patriarch had been shot and buried in the prison yard.

Suddenly Fate sent Roper Willinck mooning round to my office. I suppose
Willinck is the least known of our great men, for you fellows have never
even heard his name. But he is a great man in his queer way, and I
believe his voice carries farther than any living journalist's, though
most people do not know who is speaking. He doesn't write much in the
Press here, only now and then a paper in the heavy monthlies, but he is
the prince of special correspondents, and his 'London Letters' in every
known tongue are printed from Auckland to Seattle. He seems, to have
found the common denominator of style which is calculated to interest the
whole human family. On the Continent he is the only English journalist
whose name is known to the ordinary reader--rather like Maximilian Harden
before the War. In America they reckon him a sort of Pope, and his stuff
is  syndicated in all the country papers. His enthusiasms make a funny
hotch-potch--The League of Nations and the British Empire, racial purism
and a sentimental socialism; but he is a devout Catholic, and Russia had
become altogether too much for him. That was why I thought he would be
interested in McGurks' stunt, of which he had scarcely heard; so he sat
down in an armchair and, during the consumption of five caporal
cigarettes, studied my clippings.

I have never seen a man so roused. 'I see light,' he cried, pushing his
double glasses up on his forehead. 'Martendale, this is a revelation. Out
of the mouths of babes and sucklings...Master Ridley, Master Ridley,
we shall this day kindle a fire which will never be extinguished...'

'Nonsense,' I said. 'The thing will fizzle out in a solemn protest from
Washington to Moscow with which old Trotsky will light his pipe. It has
got into the hands of highbrows, and in a week will be clothed in the
jargon of the State Department, and the home towns will wonder what has
been biting them.'

'We must retrieve it,' he said softly. 'Get it back to the village green
and the prayer-meeting. It was the prayer-meeting, remember, which
brought America into the War.'

'But how? McGurks has worked that beat to death.'

'McGurks!' he cried contemptuously. 'The time is past for slobber, my
son. What they want is the prophetic, the apocalyptic, and by the bones
of Habbakuk they shall have it. I am going to solemnise the remotest
parts of the great Republic, and then,' he smiled serenely, 'I shall
interpret that solemnity to the world. First the fact and then the
moral--that's the lay-out.'

He stuffed my clippings into his pocket and took himself off, and there
was that in his eye which foreboded trouble. Someone was going to have to
sit up when Willinck looked like that. My hope was that it would be
Moscow, but the time was getting terribly short. Any day might bring the
news that the Patriarch had gone to his reward.

I heard nothing for several weeks, and then Punk suddenly  became active,
and carried some extraordinary stuff. It was mostly extracts from
respectable papers in the Middle West and the South, reports of meetings
which seemed to have worked themselves into hysteria, and rumours of
secret gatherings of young men which suggested the Ku-Klux-Klan. Moscow
had a Press agency of its own in London, and it began to worry Ladas for
more American news. Ladas in turn worried the C.C., but the C.C. was
reticent. There was a Movement, we were told, but the Government had it
well in hand, and we might disregard the scare-stuff Punk was sending;
everything that was important and reliable would be in its own service. I
thought I detected Willinck somewhere behind the scenes, and tried to get
hold of him, but learned that he was out of town.

One afternoon, however, he dropped in, and I noticed that his high-boned
face was leaner than ever, but that his cavernous eyes were happy. '"The
good work goes cannily on",' he said--he was always quoting--and he flung
at me a bundle of green clippings.

They were articles of his own in the American Press, chiefly the Sunday
editions, and I noticed that he had selected the really influential
country papers--one in Tennessee, one in Kentucky, and a batch from the
Corn States.

I was staggered by the power of his stuff--Willinck had never to my
knowledge written like this before. He didn't rave about Bolshevik
crimes--people were sick of that--and he didn't bang the religious drum
or thump the harmonium. McGurks had already done that to satiety. He
quietly took it for granted that the crusade had begun, and that plain
men all over the earth, who weren't looking for trouble, felt obliged to
start out and abolish an infamy or never sleep peacefully in their beds
again. He assumed that presently from all corners of the Christian world
there would be an invading army moving towards Moscow, a thing that
Governments could not check, a people's rising as irresistible as the
change of the seasons. Assuming this, he told them just exactly what they
would see.  I can't do justice to Willinck by merely describing these
articles; I ought to have them here to read to you. Noble English they
were, and as simple as the Psalms...He pictured the constitution of
the army, every kind of tongue and dialect and class, with the same kind
of discipline as Cromwell's New Model--Ironsides every one of them,
rational, moderate-minded fanatics, the most dangerous kind. It was like
Paradise Lost--Michael going out against Belial...And then the
description of Russia--a wide grey world, all pale colours and watery
lights, broken villages, tattered little towns ruled by a few miscreants
with rifles, railway tracks red with rust, ruinous great palaces
plastered over with obscene posters, starving hope-less people, children
with old vicious faces...God knows where he got the stuff
from--mainly his macabre imagination, but I daresay there was a lot of
truth in the details, for he had his own ways of acquiring knowledge.

But the end was the masterpiece. He said that the true rulers were not
those whose names appeared in the papers, but one or two secret madmen
who sat behind the screen and spun their bloody webs. He described the
crusaders breaking through shell after shell, like one of those Chinese
boxes which you open only to find another inside till you end with a
thing like a pea. There were layers of Jew officials and Lett mercenaries
and camouflaging journalists, and always as you went deeper the thing
became more inhuman and the air more fetid. At the end you had the
demented Mongol--that was a good touch for the Middle West--the
incarnation of the back-world of the Orient. Willinck only hinted at this
ultimate camarilla, but his hints were gruesome. To one of them he gave
the name of Uriel--a kind of worm-eaten archangel of the Pit, but the
worst he called Glubet. He must have got the word out of a passage in
Catullus which is not read in schools, and he made a shuddering thing of
it--the rancid toad-man, living among the half-lights and blood, adroit
and sleepless as sin, but cracking now and then into idiot laughter.

You may imagine how this took hold of the Bible Belt. I never made out
what exactly happened, but I have no doubt that there were the rudiments
of one of those mass movements, before which Governments and newspapers,
combines and Press agencies, Wall Street and Lombard Street and common
prudence are helpless. You could see it in the messages C.C. sent and its
agitated service cables to its people. The Moscow Agency sat on our
doorstep and bleated for more news, and all the while Punk was ladling
out fire-water to every paper that would take it.

'So much for the facts,' Willinck said calmly. 'Now I proceed to point
the moral in the proper quarters!'

If he was good at kindling a fire he was better at explaining just how
hot it was and how fast it would spread. I have told you that he was
about the only English journalist with a Continental reputation. Well, he
proceeded to exploit that reputation in selected papers which he knew
would cross the Russian frontier. He was busy in the Finnish and Latvian
and Lithuanian Press, he appeared in the chief Polish dally, and in
Germany his stuff was printed in one big Berlin paper and--curiously
enough--in the whole financial chain. Willinck knew just how and where to
strike. The line he took was very simple. He quietly explained what was
happening in America and the British Dominions--that the outraged
conscience of Christiandom had awakened among simple folk, and that
nothing on earth could hold it. It was a Puritan crusade, the most deadly
kind. From every corner of the globe believers were about to assemble,
ready to sacrifice themselves to root out an infamy. This was none of
your Denikins and Koltchaks and Czarist emigre affairs; it was the
world's Christian democracy, and a business democracy. No flag-waving or
shouting, just a cold steady determination to get the job done, with
ample money and men and an utter carelessness of what they spent on both.
Cautious Governments might try to obstruct, but the people would compel
them to toe the line. It was a militant League of Nations, with the Bible
in one hand and the latest brand of munition in the other.

We had a feverish time at Ladas in those days. The British Press was too
much occupied with the strike to pay full attention, but the Press of
every other country was on its hind legs. Presently things began to
happen. The extracts from Pravda and Izvestia, which we got from Riga and
Warsaw, became every day more like the howling of epileptic wolves. Then
came the news that Moscow had ordered a very substantial addition to the
Red Army. I telephoned this item to Willinck, and he came round to see
me.

'The wind is rising,' he said. 'The fear of the Lord is descending on the
tribes, and that we know is the beginning of wisdom.'

I observed that Moscow had certainly got the wind up, but that I didn't
see why. 'You don't mean to say that you have got them to believe in your
precious crusade.'

He nodded cheerfully. 'Why not? My dear Martendale, you haven't studied
the mentality of these gentry as I have. Do you realise that the
favourite reading of the Russian peasant used to be Milton? Before the
War you could buy a translation of Paradise Lost at every book kiosk in
every country fair. These rootless intellectuals have cast off all they
could, but at the back of their heads the peasant superstition remains.
They are afraid in their bones of a spirit that they think is in
Puritanism. That's why this American business worries them so. They think
they are a match for Rome, and they wouldn't have minded if the racket
had been started by the Knights of Columbus or that kind of show. But
they think it comes from the meeting-house, and that scares them cold.'

'Hang it all,' I said, 'they must know the soft thing modern Puritanism
is--all slushy hymns and inspirational advertising.'

'Happily they don't. And I'm not sure that their ignorance is not wiser
than your knowledge, my emancipated friend. I'm inclined to think that
something may yet come out of the Bible Christian that will surprise the
world...But not this time. I fancy the trick has been done. You might
let me know as soon as  you hear anything.' And he moved off, whistling
contentedly through his teeth.

He was right. Three days laser we got the news from Warsaw, and the
Moscow Agency confirmed it. The Patriarch had been released and sent
across the frontier, and was now being coddled and feted in Poland. I
rang up Willinck, and listened to his modest Nunc dimittis over the
telephone.

He said he was going to take a holiday and go into the country to sleep.
He pointed out for my edification that the weak things of the
world--meaning himself--could still confound the strong, and he advised
me to reconsider the foundations of my creed in the light of this
surprising miracle.

Well, that is my story. We heard no more of the crusade in America,
except that the Fundamentalists seemed to have got a second wind from it
and started a large-scale heresy hunt. Several English bishops said that
the release of the Patriarch was an answer to prayer; our Press pointed
out how civilisation, if it spoke with one voice, would be listened to
even in Russia; and Labour papers took occasion to enlarge on the
fundamental reasonableness and urbanity of the Moscow Government.

Personally I think that Willinck drew the right moral. But the main
credit really belonged to something a great deal weaker than he--the aged
Tubb, now sleeping under a painted cast-iron gravestone among the
dust-devils and meerkats of Rhenosterspruit.



THE BLACK FISHERS


Once upon a time, as the story goes, there lived a man in Gledsmuir,
called Simon Hay, who had born to him two sons. They were all very proper
men, tall, black-avised, formed after the right model of stalwart folk,
and by the account of the place in fear of neither God nor devil. He
himself had tried many trades before he found the one which suited his
talent; but in the various professions of herd, gamekeeper, drover,
butcher, and carrier he had not met with the success he deserved. Some
makeshift for a conscience is demanded sooner or later in all, and this
Simon could not supply. So he flitted from one to the other with decent
haste, till his sons came to manhood and settled the matter for
themselves. Henceforth all three lived by their wits in defiance of the
law, snaring game, poaching salmon, and working evil over the green
earth. Hard drinkers and quick fighters, all men knew them and loved them
not. But with it all they kept up a tincture of reputability, foreseeing
their best interest. Ostensibly their trade was the modest one of the
small crofter, and their occasional attendance at the kirk kept within
bounds the verdict of an uncensorious parish.

It chanced that in spring, when the streams come down steely-blue and
lipping over their brims, there came the most halcyon weather that ever
man heard of. The air was mild as June, the nights soft and clear, and
winter fled hot-foot in dismay. Then these three girded themselves and
went to the salmon-poaching in the long shining pools of the Callowa in
the haughlands below the Dun Craigs. The place was far enough and yet not
too far from the town, so that an active walker could go there, have four
hours' fishing, and return, all well within the confines of the dark.

On this night their sport was good, and soon the sacks were  filled with
glittering bucks.  Then, being drowsy from many nights out o' bed, they
bethought them of returning. It would be well to get some hours of sleep
before the morning, for they must be up betimes to dispose of their fish.
The hardship of such pursuits lies not in the toil but the fate which
hardens expediency into necessity.

At the strath which leads from the Callowa vale to Gled they halted. By
crossing the ridge of hill they would save three good miles and find a
less frequented path. The argument was irresistible; without delay they
left the highway and struck over the bent and heather. The road was
rough, but they were near its end, and a serene glow of conscious labour
began to steal over their minds.

Near the summit is a drystone dyke which girdles the breast of the hill.
It was a hard task to cross with a great load offish even for the young
men. The father, a man of corpulent humours and maturing years, was nigh
choked with his burden. He mounted slowly and painfully on the loose
stones, and prepared to jump. But his foothold was insecure, and a stone
slipped from its place. Then something terrible followed. The sack swung
round from his neck, and brought him headlong to the ground. When the
sons ran forward he was dead as a herring, with a broken neck.

The two men stood staring at one another in hopeless bewilderment. Here
was something new in their experience, a disturbing element in their
plans. They had just the atom of affection for the fellow-worker to make
them feel the practical loss acutely. If they went for help to the
nearest town, time would be lost and the salmon wasted; and indeed, it
was not unlikely that some grave suspicion would attach to their
honourable selves.

They held a hurried debate. At first they took refuge in mutual
recriminations and well-worn regrets. They felt that some such sentiments
were due to the modicum of respectability in their reputations. But their
minds were too practical to  linger long in such barren ground. It was
demanded by common feeling of decency that they should have their
father's body taken home. But were there any grounds for such feeling?
None. It could not matter much to their father, who was the only one
really concerned, whether he was removed early or late. On the other
hand, they had trysted to meet a man seven miles down the water at five
in the morning. Should he be disappointed? Money was money; it was a hard
world, where one had to work for beer and skittles; death was a
misfortune, but not exactly a deterrent. So picking up the old man's
sack, they set out on their errand.

It chanced that the shepherd of the Lowe Moss returned late that night
from a neighbour's house, and in crossing the march dyke came on the
body. He was much shocked, for he recognised it well as the mortal
remains of one who had once been a friend. The shepherd was a dull man
and had been drinking; so as the subject was beyond his special domain he
dismissed its consideration till some more convenient season. He did not
trouble to inquire into causes--there were better heads than his for the
work--but set out with all speed for the town.

The Procurator-fiscal had been sitting up late reading in the works of M.
de Maupassant, when he was aroused by a con-stable, who told him that a
shepherd had come from the Callowa with news that a man lay dead at the
back of a dyke. The Procurator-fiscal rose with much grumbling, and
wrapped himself up for the night errand. Really, he reflected with Hedda
Gabler, people should not do these things nowadays. But, once without,
his feelings changed. The clear high space of the sky and the whistling
airs of night were strange and beautiful to a town-bred man. The round
hills and grey whispering river touched his poetic soul. He began to feel
some pride in his vocation.

When he came to the spot he was just in the mood for high sentiment. The
sight gave him a shudder. The full-blown face  ashen with the grip of
death jarred on his finer sensibilities. He remembered to have read of
just such a thing in the works of M. Guy. He felt a spice of anger at
fate and her cruel ways.

'How sad!' he said; 'this old man, still hale and fit to enjoy life, goes
out into the hills to visit a friend. On returning he falls in with those
accursed dykes of yours; there is a slip in the darkness, a cry, and
then--he can taste of life no more. Ah, Fate, to men how bitter a
taskmistress,' he quoted with a far-off classical reminiscence.

The constable said nothing. He knew Simon Hay well, and guessed shrewdly
how he had come by his death, but he kept his own counsel. He did not
like to disturb fine sentiment, being a philosopher in a small way.

The two fishers met their man and did their business all in the most
pleasant fashion. On their way they had discussed their father's demise.
It would interfere little with their profits, for of late he had grown
less strong and more exacting. Also, since death must come to all, it was
better that it should have taken their father unawares. Otherwise he
might have seen fit to make trouble about the cottage which was his, and
which he had talked of leaving elsewhere. On the whole, the night's
events were good; it only remained to account for them.

It was with some considerable trepidation that they returned to the town
in the soft spring dawning. As they entered, one or two people looked out
and pointed to them, and nodded significantly to one another. The two men
grew hotly uncomfortable. Could it be possible? No. All must have
happened as they expected. Even now they would be bringing their father
home. His finding would prove the manner of his death. Their only task
was to give some reason for its possibility.

At the bridge-end a man came out and stood before them. 'Stop,' he cried.
'Tarn and Andra Hay, prepare to hear bad news. Your auld faither was fund
this morning on the back o'  Callowa hill wi' a broken neck. It's a sair
affliction. Try and thole it like men.'

The two grew pale and faltering. 'My auld faither,' said the chorus. 'Oh
ye dinna mean it. Say it's no true. I canna believe it, and him aye sae
guid to us. What'll we dae wi'oot him?'

'Bear up, my poor fellows,' and the minister laid a hand on the shoulder
of one. 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.' He had a talent for
inappropriate quotation.

But for the two there was no comfort. With dazed eyes and drawn faces,
they asked every detail, fervently, feverishly. Then with faltering
voices they told of how their father had gone the night before to the
Harehope shepherd's, who was his cousin, and proposed returning in the
morn. They bemoaned their remissness, they bewailed his kindness; and
then, attended by condoling friends, these stricken men went down the
street, accepting sympathy in every public.



AT THE RISING OF THE WATERS


In mid-September the moors are changing from red to a dusky brown, as the
fire of the heather wanes, and the long grass yellows with advancing
autumn. Then, too, the rain falls heavily on the hills, and vexes the
shallow upland streams, till every glen is ribbed with its churning
torrent. This for the uplands;  but below, at the rim of the plains,
where the glens expand to vales, and trim fields edge the wastes, there
is wreck and lamentation. The cabined waters lip over cornland and
meadow, and bear destruction to crop and cattle.

This is the tale of Robert Linklater, farmer in Clachlands, and the
events which befell him on the night of September 20th, in the year of
grace 1880. I am aware that there are characters in the countryside which
stand higher in repute than his, for imagination and love of point and
completeness in a story are qualities which little commend themselves to
the prosaic. I have heard him called 'Leein' Rob', and answer to the same
with cheerfulness; but he was wont in private to brag of minutest
truthfulness, and attribute his ill name to the universal dullness of
man.

On this evening he came home, by his own account, from market about the
hour of six. He had had a week of festivity. On the Monday he had gone to
a distant cattle-show, and on Tuesday to a marriage. On the Wednesday he
had attended upon a cousin's funeral, and, being flown with whisky,
brought everlasting disgrace upon himself by rising to propose the health
of the bride and bridegroom. On Thursday he had been at the market of
Gledsmuir, and, getting two shillings more for his ewes than he had
reckoned, returned in a fine fervour of spirit and ripe hilarity.

The weather had been shower and blast for days. The grey skies dissolved
in dreary rain, and on that very morn there had come a downpour so fierce
that the highways ran like a hillside torrent. Now, as he sat at supper
and looked down at the green vale and red waters leaping by bank and
brae, a sudden fear came to his heart. Hitherto he had had no
concern--for was not his harvest safely inned? But now he minds of the
laigh parks and the nowt beasts there, which he had bought the week
before at the sale of Inverforth. They were Kyloe and Galloway mixed, and
on them, when fattened through winter and spring, lay great hopes of
profit. He gulped his meal down hurriedly, and went forthwith to the
garden-foot. There he saw something that did not allay his fears. Gled
had split itself in two, at the place where Clachlands water came to
swell its flow, and a long, gleaming line of black current stole round by
the side of the laigh meadow, where stood the huddled cattle. Let but the
waters rise a little, and the valley would be one uniform, turgid sea.

This was pleasing news for an honest man after a hard day's work, and the
farmer went grumbling back. He took a mighty plaid and flung it over his
shoulders, chose the largest and toughest of his many sticks, and set off
to see wherein he could better the peril.

Now, some hundreds of yards above the laigh meadow, a crazy wooden bridge
spanned the stream. By this way he might bring his beasts to safety, for
no nowt could hope to swim the red flood. So he plashed through the
dripping stubble to the river's brink, where, with tawny swirl, it licked
the edge of banks which in summer weather stood high and flower-decked.
Ruefully he reflected that many good palings would by this time be
whirling to a distant sea.

When he came to the wooden bridge he set his teeth manfully and crossed.
It creaked and swayed with his weight, and dipped till it all but touched
the flow. It could not stand even as the water was, for already its mid
prop had lurched forward, like a drunken man, and was groaning at each
wave. But if a rise  came, it would be torn from its foundations like a
reed, and then heigh-ho! for cattle and man.

With painful haste he laboured through the shallows which rimmed the
haughlands, and came to the snake-like current which had even now spread
itself beyond the laigh meadow. He measured its depth with his eye and
ventured. It did not reach beyond his middle, but its force gave him much
ado to keep his feet. At length it was passed, and he stood triumphant on
the spongy land, where the cattle huddled in mute discomfort and terror.

Darkness was falling, and he could scarcely see the homestead on the
affronting hillside. So with all speed he set about collecting the
shivering beasts, and forcing them through the ring of water to the
bridge. Up to their flanks they went, and then stood lowing helplessly.
He saw that something was wrong, and made to ford the current himself.
But now it was beyond him. He looked down at the yellow water running
round his middle, and saw that it had risen, and was rising inch by inch
with every minute. Then he glanced to where aforetime stood the crazy
planking of the bridge. Suddenly hope and complacency fled, and the
gravest fear settled in his heart; for he saw no bridge, only a ragged,
saw-like end of timber where once he had crossed.

Here was a plight for a solitary man to be in at nightfall. There would
be no wooden bridge on all the water, and the nearest one of stone was at
distant Gledsmuir, over some score of miles of weary moorland. It was
clear that his cattle must bide on this farther bank, and he himself,
when once he had seen them in safety, would set off for the nearest farm
and pass the night. It seemed the craziest of matters, that he should be
thus in peril and discomfort, with the lights of his house blinking not a
quarter mile away.

Once more he tried to break the water-ring and once more he failed. The
flood was still rising, and the space of green which showed grey and
black beneath a fitful moon was quickly lessening. Before, irritation had
been his upper feeling, now  terror succeeded. He could not swim a
stroke, and if the field were covered he would drown like a cat in a bag.
He lifted up his voice and roared with all the strength of his mighty
lungs, 'Sammie', 'Andra', 'Jock', 'come and help's', till the place rang
with echoes. Meantime, with strained eyes he watched the rise of the
cruel water, which crept, black and pitiless, over the shadowy grey.

He drove the beasts to a little knoll, which stood somewhat above the
meadow, and there they stood, cattle and man, in the fellowship of
misfortune. They had been as wild as peat-reek, and had suffered none to
approach them, but now with some instinct of peril they stood quietly by
his side, turning great billowy foreheads to the surging waste. Upward
and nearer came the current, rising with steady gurgling which told of
great storms in his hills and roaring torrents in every gorge. Now the
sound grew louder and seemed almost at his feet, now it ceased and nought
was heard save the dull hum of the main stream pouring its choking floods
to the sea. Suddenly his eyes wandered to the lights of his house and the
wide slope beyond, and for a second he mused on some alien trifle. Then
he was brought to himself with a pull as he looked and saw a line of
black water not three feet from the farthest beast. His heart stood
still, and with awe he reflected that in half-an-hour by this rate of
rising he would be with his Maker.

For five minutes he waited, scarce daring to look around him, but
dreading each instant to feel a cold wave lick his boot. Then he glanced
timorously, and to his joy it was scarce an inch higher. It was stopping,
and he might yet be safe. With renewed energy he cried out for aid, till
the very cattle started at the sound and moved uneasily among themselves.

In a little there came an answering voice across the dark, 'Whae's in the
laigh meedy?' and it was the voice of the herd of Clachlands, sounding
hoarse through the driving of the stream.

'It's me,' went back the mournful response.

'And whae we ye?' came the sepulchral voice.

'Your ain maister, William Small, forewandered among water and nowt
beast.'

For some time there was no reply, since the shepherd was engaged in a
severe mental struggle; with the readiness of his class he went straight
to the heart of the peril, and mentally reviewed the ways and waters of
the land. Then he calmly accepted the hopelessness of it all, and cried
loudly through the void,--

'There's nae way for't but juist to bide where ye are. The water's
stoppit, and gin mornin' we'll get ye aff. I'll send a laddie down to the
Dow Pule to bring up a boat in a cairt. But that's a lang gait, and it'll
be a sair job gettin' it up, and I misdoot it'll be daylicht or he comes.
But haud up hour hert, and we'll get ye oot. Are the beasts a' richt?'

'A' richt, William; but, 'od man! their maister is cauld. Could ye no
fling something ower?'

'No, when there's twae hunner yairds o' deep water atween.'

'Then, William, ye maun licht a fire, a great muckle roarin' fire, juist
fornenst me. It'll cheer me to see the licht o' 't.'

The shepherd did as he was bid, and for many minutes the farmer could
hear the noise of men heaping wood, in the pauses of wind and through the
thicker murmur of the water. Then a glare shot up, and revealed the dusky
forms of the four serving-men straining their eyes across the channel.
The gleam lit up a yard of water by the other bank, but all mid-way was
inky shadow. It was about eight o'clock, and the moon was just arisen.
The air had coldened and a light chill wind rose from the river.

The farmer of Clachlands, standing among shivering and dripping oxen,
himself wet to the skin and cold as a stone, with no wrapping save his
plaid, and no outlook save a black moving water and a gleam of fire--in
such a position, the farmer of Clachlands collected his thoughts and
mustered his resolution. His first consideration was the safety of his
stock. The effort gave him comfort. His crops were in, and he could lose
nothing  there; his sheep were far removed from scaith, and his cattle
would survive the night with ease, if the water kept its level. With some
satisfaction he reflected that the only care he need have in the matter
was for his own bodily comfort in an autumn night. This was serious, yet
not deadly, for the farmer was a man of many toils and cared little for
the rigours of weather. But he would gladly have given the price of a
beast for a bottle of whisky to comfort himself in this emergency.

He stood on a knuckle of green land some twenty feet long, with a crowd
of cattle pressing around him and a little forest of horns showing
faintly. There was warmth in these great shaggy hides if they had not
been drenched and icy from long standing. His fingers were soon as numb
as his feet, and it was in vain that he stamped on the plashy grass or
wrapped his hands in a fold of plaid. There was no doubt in the matter.
He was keenly uncomfortable, and the growing chill of night would not
mend his condition.

Some ray of comfort was to be got from the sight of the crackling fire.
There at least was homely warmth, and light, and ease. With gusto he
conjured up all the delights of the past week, the roaring evenings in
market ale-house, and the fragrance of good drink and piping food.
Necessity sharpened his fancy, and he could almost feel the flavour of
tobacco. A sudden hope took him. He clapped hand to pocket and pulled
forth pipe and shag. Curse it! He had left his match-box on the
chimney-top in his kitchen, and there was an end to his only chance of
comfort.

So in all cold and damp he set himself to pass the night in the midst of
that ceaseless swirl of black moss water. Even as he looked at the
dancing glimmer of fire, the moon broke forth silent and full, and lit
the vale with misty glamour. The great hills, whence came the Gled, shone
blue and high with fleecy trails of vapour drifting athwart them. He saw
clearly the walls of his dwelling, the light shining from the window, the
struggling fire on the bank, and the dark forms of men. Its transient
flashes on the waves were scarce seen in the broad belt of moonshine
which girdled the valley. And around him, before and behind, rolled the
unending desert waters with that heavy, resolute flow, which one who
knows the floods fears a thousand-fold more than the boisterous stir of a
torrent.

And so he stood till maybe one o'clock of the morning, cold to the bone,
and awed by the eternal silence, which choked him, despite the myriad
noises of the night. For there are few things more awful than the calm of
nature in her madness--the stillness which follows a snow-slip or the
monotony of a great flood. By this hour he was falling from his first
high confidence. His knees stooped under him, and he was fain to lean
upon the beasts at his side. His shoulders ached with the wet, and his
eyes grew sore with the sight of yellow glare and remote distance.

From this point I shall tell his tale in his own words, as he has told it
me, but stripped of its garnishing and detail. For it were vain to
translate Lallan into orthodox speech, when the very salt of the night
air clings to the Scots as it did to that queer tale.

'The mune had been lang out,' he said, 'and I had grown weary o' her
blinkin'. I was as cauld as death, and as wat as the sea, no to speak o'
haein' the rheumatics in my back. The nowt were glowrin' and glunchin',
rubbin' heid to heid, and whiles stampin' on my taes wi' their cloven
hooves. But I was mortal glad o' the beasts' company, for I think I wad
hae gane daft mysel in that muckle dowie water. Whiles I thocht it was
risin', and then my hert stood still; an' whiles fa'in', and then it
loupit wi' joy. But it keepit geyan near the bit, and aye as I heard it
lip-lappin' I prayed the Lord to keep it whaur it was.

'About half-past yin in the mornin', as I saw by my watch, I got sleepy,
and but for the nowt steerin', I micht hae drappit aff. Syne I begood to
watch the water, and it was rale interestin', for a' sort o' queer things
were comin' doun. I could see bits o' brigs and palin's wi'oot end
dippin' in the tide, and whiles swirlin' in sae near that I could hae
grippit them. Then beasts began to come by, whiles upside doun, whiles
soomin' brawly, sheep and  stirks frae the farms up the water. I got
graund amusement for a wee while watchin' them, and notin' the marks on
their necks.

'"That's Clachlands Mains," says I, "and that's Nether Fallo, and the
Back o' the Muneraw. Gudesake, sic a spate it maun hae been up the muirs
to work siccan a destruction!" I keepit coont o' the stock, and feegured
to mysel what the farmer-bodies wad lose. The thocht that I wad keep a'
my ain was some kind o' comfort.

'But about the hour o' twae the mune cloudit ower, and I saw nae mair
than twenty feet afore me. I got awesome cauld, and a sort o' stound o'
fricht took me, as I lookit into that black, unholy water. The nowt
shivered sair and drappit their heids, and the fire on the ither side
seemed to gang out a' of a sudden, and leave the hale glen thick wi'
nicht. I shivered mysel wi' something mair than the snell air, and there
and then I wad hae gien the price o' fower stirks for my ain bed at hame.

'It was as quiet as a kirkyaird, for suddenly the roar o' the water
stoppit, and the stream lay still as a loch. Then I heard a queer lappin'
as o' something floatin' doun, and it sounded miles aff in that dreidfu'
silence. I listened wi' een stertin', and aye it cam' nearer and nearer,
wi' a sound like a dowg soomin' a burn. It was sae black, I could see
nocht, but somewhere frae the edge o' a cloud, a thin ray o' licht
drappit on the water, and there, soomin' doun by me, I saw something that
lookit like a man.

'My hert was burstin' wi' terror, but, thinks I, here's a droonin' body,
and I maun try and save it. So I waded in as far as I daured, though my
feet were sae cauld that they bowed aneath me.

'Ahint me I heard a splashin' and fechtin', and then I saw the nowt, fair
wild wi' fricht, standin' in the water on the ither side o' the green
bit, and lookin' wi' muckle feared een at something in the water afore
me.

'Doun the thing came, and aye I got caulder as I looked. Then  it was by
my side, and I claught at it and pu'd it after me on to the land.

'I heard anither splash. The nowt gaed farther into the water, and stood
shakin' like young birks in a storm.

'I got the thing upon the green bank and turned it ower. It was a drooned
man wi' his hair hingin' back on his broo, and his mouth wide open. But
first I saw his een, which glowered like scrapit lead out o' his
clay-cauld face, and had in them a' the fear o' death and hell which
follows after.

'The next moment I was up to my waist among the nowt, fechtin' in the
water aside them, and spowkin' into their wet backs to hide mysel like a
feared bairn.

'Maybe half an 'oor I stood, and then my mind returned to me. I misca'ed
mysel for a fule and a coward. And my legs were sae numb, and my strength
sae far gane, that I kenned fine that I couldna lang thole to stand this
way like a heron in the water.

'I lookit round, and then turned again wi' a stert, for there were thae
leaden een o' that awfu' deid thing staring at me still.

'For anither quarter-hour I stood and shivered, and then my guid sense
returned, and I tried again. I walkit backward, never lookin' round,
through the water to the shore, whaur I thocht the corp was lyin'. And a'
the time I could hear my hert chokin' in my breist.

'My God, I fell ower it, and for one moment lay aside it, wi' my heid
touchin' its deathly skin. Then wi' a skelloch like a daft man, I took
the thing in my airms and flung it wi' a' my strength into the water. The
swirl took it, and it dipped and swam like a fish till it gaed out o'
sicht.

'I sat doun on the grass and grat like a bairn wi' fair horror and
weakness. Yin by yin the nowt came back, and shouthered anither around
me, and the puir beasts brocht me yince mair to mysel. But I keepit my
een on the grund, and thocht o' hame and a' thing decent and kindly, for
I daurna for my life look out to the black water in dreid o' what it
micht bring.

'At the first licht, the herd and twae ither men cam' ower in a  boat to
tak me aff and bring fodder for the beasts. They fand me still sitting
wi' my heid atween my knees, and my face like a peeled wand. They lifted
me intil the boat and rowed me ower, driftin' far down wi' the angry
current. At the ither side the shepherd says to me in an awed voice--

'"There's a fearfu' thing happened. The young laird o' Manorwater's
drooned in the spate. He was ridin' back late and tried the ford o' the
Cauldshaw foot. Ye ken his wild cantrips, but there's an end o' them noo.
The horse cam' hame in the nicht wi' an empty saiddle, and the Gled Water
rinnin' frae him in streams. The corp'll be far on to the sea by this
time, and they'll never see 't mair."

'"I ken," I cried wi' a dry throat, "I ken; I saw him floatin' by." And
then I broke yince mair into a silly greetin', while the men watched me
as if they thocht I was out o' my mind.'

So much the farmer of Clachlands told me, but to the countryside he
repeated merely the bare facts of weariness and discomfort. I have heard
that he was accosted a week later by the minister of the place, a
well-intentioned, phrasing man, who had strayed from his native city with
its familiar air of tea and temperance to those stony uplands.

'And what thoughts had you, Mr Linklater, in that awful position? Had you
no serious reflection upon your life?'

'Me,' said the farmer; 'no me. I juist was thinkin' that it was dooms
cauld, and that I wad hae gien a guid deal for a pipe o' tobaccy.' This
in the racy, careless tone of one to whom such incidents were the merest
child's play.



THE GROVE OF ASHTAROTH


C'est enfin que dans leurs prunelles
Rit et pleure-fastidieux
L'amour des choses eternelles,
Des vieux morts et des anciens dieux!--PAUL VERLAINE.

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 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 a conventional English gentleman. He refused to
buy a place in the country, though half the Homes of England were at his
disposal. He was a very busy man, he declared, and had not time to be a
squire. Besides, every few months he used to rush out to South Africa. I
saw that he was restless, for he was always badgering me to go big game
hunting with him in some remote part of the earth. There was that in his
eyes, too, which marked him out from the ordinary blond type of our
countrymen. They were large and brown and mysterious, and the light of
another race was in their odd depths.

To hint such a thing would have meant a breach of his friendship, for
Lawson was very proud of his birth. When he first made his fortune he had
gone to the Heralds to discover his family, and these obliging gentlemen
had provided a pedigree. It appeared that he was a scion of the house of
Lowson or Lowieson, an ancient and rather disreputable clan on the
Scottish side of the Border. He took a shooting in Teviotdale on the
strength of it, and used to commit lengthy Border ballads to memory. But
I had known his father, a financial journalist who never quite succeeded,
and I had heard of a grandfather who sold antiques in a back street in
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  blond 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 thorn-scrub 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. Hang it all, why
shouldn't I indulge my fancy? I'm uncommonly well off, and I haven't
chick or child to leave it to. Supposing I'm a hundred miles from
rail-head, what about it? I'll make a motor-road and fix up a telephone.
I'll grow most of my supplies, and start a colony to provide labour. When
you come and stay with me, you'll get the best food and drink on earth,
and sport that will make your mouth water. I'll put Lochleven trout in
these streams--at 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, and 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 verandas 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 he went to bed he had sketched something
more like a palace than a country-house. Lawson was by no means a
luxurious man. At present he was well content with a Wolseley valise, and
shaved cheerfully out of a tin mug. It struck me as odd that a man so
simple in his habits should have so sumptuous a taste in bric-a-brac. I
told myself, as I turned in, that the Saxon mother from the Midlands had
done little to dilute the strong wine of the East.

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

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

And just before sunset we came over a ridge and found something better.
It was a shallow glen, half a mile wide, down which ran a blue-grey
stream in 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
wagons 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 Cade Roussell
and his trois maisons.

'Who owns it?' I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, an hour later, he asked me who were the builders. I told him the
little I knew about Phoenician and 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.

II

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 land-scape. 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 viewpoint of the whole neighbourhood; and
its dark 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 carved with zodiacal figures. My host had altered
his scheme of furnishing, but I approved the change.

He came in about half-past six, after I had consumed two cigars and all
but fallen asleep. Three years make a difference in most men, but I was
not prepared for the change in Lawson. For one thing, he had grown fat.
In place of the lean young man I had known, I saw  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 I heard him mutter something like
'shooting be damned.'

Then I tried the subject of the house. I praised it extravagantly, but
with conviction. 'There can be no place like it in the world,' I said.

He turned his eyes on me at last, and I saw that they were as deep and
restless as ever. With his pallid face they made him look curiously
Semitic. I had been right in my view 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 and 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 of any use. After
about an hour of make-believe I surrendered myself to facts, and, lying
on my back, stared at the white ceiling and the patches of moonshine on
the walls.

It certainly was an amazing night. I got up, put on a dressing-gown, and
drew a chair to the window. The moon was almost at its full, and the
whole plateau swam in a radiance of ivory and silver. The banks of the
stream were black, but the lake had a great belt of light athwart it,
which made it seem like a horizon, and the rim of land beyond 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 across 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 armchair 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 Sabasans 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 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.

III

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 weather-worn 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 tonight
is past and then speir your question. Maybe you and me will be agreed.'

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

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

It was like something I remembered in an old Italian picture. Only, as my
memory drew it, it should have been peopled with strange figures--nymphs
dancing on the sward, and a prick-eared faun peeping from the covert. In
the warm afternoon sunlight it stood, ineffably gracious and beautiful,
tantalising with a sense of some deep hidden loveliness. Very reverently
I walked between the slim trees, to where the little conical tower stood
half in the sun and half in shadow. Then I noticed something new. Round
the tower ran a narrow path, worn in the grass by human feet. There had
been no such path on my first visit, for I remembered the grass growing
tall to the edge of the stone. Had the Kaffirs made a shrine of it, or
were there other and 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 about the
room for some sign of the pernicious habit of which I believed him a
victim. But the place was fresh and clean, with the windows wide open,
and, though I could not have given my reasons, I was convinced that drugs
or drink had nothing to do with the sickness.

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

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 an 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 peered 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.

IV

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 First 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 Scottish Border?'

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

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

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

There was no mistaking the air. I had found my Tishbite.

'I want men,' I said--'as many as we can get.'

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

'Good,' said I. 'Then we will take our instructions from the only
authority which meets the case. We will follow the  example of King
Josiah.' I turned up the 3rd chapter of Second 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 Zidomans...did the king
defile.

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

'Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, 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 handcart.

In the clear, windless air of morning the Grove, set amid its lawns,
looked too innocent and exquisite for evil. 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 some one 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 a different 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 defences 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 blast the feck o' them.'

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

We blasted the tree roots, and, 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 him 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 Second 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...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.



AT THE ARTICLE OF DEATH


Nullum Sacra caput Proserpina fugit.

A noiseless evening fell chill and dank on the moorlands. The Dreichil
was mist to the very rim of its precipitous face, and the long, dun sides
of the Little Muneraw faded into grey vapour. Underfoot were plashy moss
and dripping heather, and all the air was choked with autumnal heaviness.
The herd of the Lanely Bield stumbled wearily homeward in this, the late
afternoon, with the roof-tree of his cottage to guide him over the waste.

For weeks, months, he had been ill, fighting the battle of a lonely
sickness. Two years agone his wife had died, and as there had been no
child, he was left to fend for himself. He had no need for any woman, he
declared, for his wants were few and his means of the scantiest, so he
had cooked his own meals and done his own household work since the day he
had stood by the grave in the Gledsmuir kirkyard. And for a little he did
well; and then, inch by inch, trouble crept upon him. He would come home
late in the winter nights, soaked to the skin, and sit in the peat-reek
till his clothes dried on his body. The countless little ways in which a
woman's hand makes a place healthy and habitable were unknown to him, and
soon he began to pay the price of his folly. For he was not a strong man,
though a careless onlooker might have guessed the opposite from his
mighty frame. His folk had all been short-lived, and already his was the
age of his father at his death. Such a fact might have warned him to
circumspection; but he took little heed till that night in the March
before, when, coming up the Little Muneraw and breathing hard, a chill
wind on the summit cut him to the bone. He rose the next morn, shaking
like a leaf, and then for weeks he lay ill in bed, while a young shepherd
from the next sheep-farm did  his work on the hill. In the early summer
he rose a broken man, without strength or nerve, and always oppressed
with an ominous sinking in the chest; but he toiled through his duties,
and told no man his sorrow. The summer was parchingly hot, and the
hillsides grew brown and dry as ashes. Often as he laboured up the
interminable ridges, he found himself sickening at heart with a poignant
regret. These were the places where once he had strode so freely with the
crisp air cool on his forehead. Now he had no eye for the pastoral
loveliness, no ear for the witch-song of the desert. When he reached a
summit, it was only to fall panting, and when he came home at nightfall
he sank wearily on a seat.

And so through the lingering summer the year waned to an autumn of storm.
Now his malady seemed nearing its end. He had seen no man's face for a
week, for long miles of moor severed him from a homestead. He could
scarce struggle from his bed by midday, and his daily round of the hill
was gone through with tottering feet. The time would soon come for
drawing the ewes and driving them to the Gledsmuir market. If he could
but hold on till the word came, he might yet have speech of a fellow man
and bequeath his duties to another. But if he died first, the charge
would wander uncared for, while he himself would lie in that lonely cot
till such time as the lowland farmer sent the messenger. With anxious
care he tended his flickering spark of life--he had long ceased to
hope--and with something like heroism looked blankly towards his end.

But on this afternoon all things had changed. At the edge of the
water-meadow he had found blood dripping from his lips, and half-swooned
under an agonising pain at his heart. With burning eyes he turned his
face to home, and fought his way inch by inch through the desert. He
counted the steps crazily, and with pitiful sobs looked upon mist and
moorland. A faint bleat of a sheep came to his ear; he heard it clearly,
and the hearing wrung his soul. Not for him any more the hills of sheep
and a shepherd's free and wholesome life. He was creeping, stricken, to
his homestead to die, like a wounded fox crawling to its earth. And the
loneliness of it all, the pity, choked him more than the fell grip of his
sickness.

Inside the house a great banked fire of peats was smouldering. Unwashed
dishes stood on the table, and the bed in the corner was unmade, for such
things were of little moment in the extremity of his days. As he dragged
his leaden foot over the threshold, the autumn dusk thickened through the
white fog, and shadows awaited him, lurking in every corner. He dropped
carelessly on the bed's edge, and lay back in deadly weakness. No sound
broke the stillness, for the clock had long ago stopped for lack of
winding. Only the shaggy collie which had lain down by the fire looked to
the bed and whined mournfully.

In a little he raised his eyes and saw that the place was filled with
darkness, save where the red eye of the fire glowed hot and silent. His
strength was too far gone to light the lamp, but he could make a
crackling fire. Some power other than himself made him heap bog-sticks on
the peat and poke it feebly, for he shuddered at the ominous long shades
which peopled floor and ceiling. If he had but a leaping blaze he might
yet die in a less gross mockery of comfort.

Long he lay in the firelight, sunk in the lethargy of illimitable
feebleness. Then the strong spirit of the man began to flicker within him
and rise to sight ere it sank in death. He had always been a godly liver,
one who had no youth of folly to look back upon, but a well-spent life of
toil lit by the lamp of a half-understood devotion. He it was who at his
wife's death-bed had administered words of comfort and hope; and had
passed all his days with the thought of his own end fixed like a bull's
eye in the target of his meditations. In his lonely hill-watches, in the
weariful lambing days, and on droving journeys to faraway towns, he had
whiled the hours with self-communing, and self-examination, by the help
of a rigid Word. Nay, there had been far more than the mere punctilios of
obedience to the letter; there had been the living fire of love, the
heroical altitude  of self-denial, to be the halo of his solitary life.
And now God had sent him the last fiery trial, and he was left alone to
put off the garments of mortality.

He dragged himself to a cupboard where all the appurtenances of the
religious life lay to his hands. There were Spurgeon's sermons in torn
covers, and a dozen musty 'Christian Treasuries'. Some antiquated
theology, which he had got from his father, lay lowest, and on the top
was the gaudy Bible, which he had once received from a grateful Sabbath
class while he yet sojourned in the lowlands. It was lined and re-lined,
and there he had often found consolation. Now in the last faltering of
mind he had braced himself to the thought that he must die as became his
possession, with the Word of God in his hand, and his thoughts fixed on
that better country, which is an heavenly.

The thin leaves mocked his hands, and he could not turn to any
well-remembered text. In vain he struggled to reach the gospels; the
obstinate leaves blew ever back to a dismal psalm or a prophet's
lamentation. A word caught his eye and he read vaguely: 'The shepherds
slumber, O King...the people is scattered upon the mountains...
and no man gathereth them...there is no healing of the hurt, for the
wound is grievous.' Something in the poignant sorrow of the phrase caught
his attention for one second, and then he was back in a fantasy of pain
and impotence. He could not fix his mind, and even as he strove he
remembered the warning he had so often given to others against death-bed
repentance. Then, he had often said, a man has no time to make his peace
with his Maker, when he is wrestling with death. Now the adage came back
to him; and gleams of comfort shot for one moment through his soul. He at
any rate had long since chosen for God, and the good Lord would see and
pity His servant's weakness.

A sheep bleated near the window, and then another. The flocks were
huddling down, and wind and wet must be coming. Then a long dreary wind
sighed round the dwelling, and at the same moment a bright tongue of
flame shot up from the fire,  and queer crooked shadows flickered over
the ceiling. The sight caught his eyes, and he shuddered in nameless
terror. He had never been a coward, but like all religious folk he had
imagination and emotion. Now his fancy was perturbed, and he shrank from
these uncanny shapes. In the failure of all else he had fallen to the
repetition of bare phrases, telling of the fragrance and glory of the
city of God. 'River of the water of Life,' he said to himself...'the
glory and honour of the nations...and the street of the city was pure
gold...and the saved shall walk in the light of it...and God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.'

Again a sound without, the cry of sheep and the sough of a lone wind. He
was sinking fast, but the noise gave him a spasm of strength. The dog
rose and sniffed uneasily at the door, a trickle of rain dripped from the
roofing, and all the while the silent heart of the fire glowed and hissed
at his side. It seemed an uncanny thing that now in the moment of his
anguish the sheep should bleat as they had done in the old strong days of
herding.

Again the sound, and again the morris-dance of shadows among the rafters.
The thing was too much for his falling mind. Some words of hope--'streams
in the desert, and'--died on his lips, and he crawled from the bed to a
cupboard. He had not tasted strong drink for a score of years, for to the
true saint in the uplands abstinence is a primary virtue; but he kept
brandy in the house for illness or wintry weather. Now it would give him
strength, and it was no sin to cherish the spark of life.

He found the spirits and gulped down a mouthful--one, two, till the
little flask was drained, and the raw fluid spilled over beard and coat.
In his days of health it would have made him drunk, but now all the
fibres of his being were relaxed, and it merely stung him to a fantasmal
vigour. More, it maddened his brain, already tottering under the assaults
of death. Before he had thought feebly and greyly, now his mind surged in
an ecstasy.

The pain that lay heavy on his chest, that clutched his throat,  that
tugged at his heart, was as fierce as ever, but for one short second the
utter weariness of spirit was gone. The old fair words of Scripture came
back to him, and he murmured promises and hopes till his strength failed
him for all but thought, and with closed eyes he fell back to dream.

But only for one moment; the next he was staring blankly in a mysterious
terror. Again the voices of the wind, again the shapes on floor and wall
and the relentless eye of the fire. He was too helpless to move and too
crazy to pray; he could only lie and stare, numb with expectancy. The
liquor seemed to have driven all memory from him, and left him with a
child's heritage of dreams and stories.

Crazily he pattered to himself a child's charm against evil fairies,
which the little folk of the moors still speak at their play--

Wearie, Ovie, gang awa',
Dinna show your face at a',
Ower the muir and down the burn,
Wearie, Ovie, ne'er return.

The black crook of the chimney was the object of his spells, for the
kindly ingle was no less than a malignant twisted devil, with an awful
red eye glowering through smoke.

His breath was winnowing through his worn chest like an autumn blast in
bare rafters. The horror of the black night without, all filled with the
wail of sheep, and the deeper fear of the red light within, stirred his
brain, not with the far-reaching fanciful terror of men, but with the
crude homely fright of a little child. He would have sought, had his
strength suffered him, to cower one moment in the light as a refuge from
the other, and the next to hide in the darkest corner to shun the
maddening glow. And with it all he was acutely conscious of the last
pangs of mortality. He felt the grating of cheekbones on skin, and the
sighing, which did duty for breath, rocked him with agony.

Then a great shadow rose out of the gloom and stood shaggy  in the
firelight. The man's mind was tottering, and once more he was back at his
Scripture memories and vague repetitions. Aforetime his fancy had toyed
with green fields, now it held to the darker places. 'It was the day when
Evil Merodach was king in Babylon,' came the quaint recollection, and
some lingering ray of thought made him link the odd name with the
amorphous presence before him. The thing moved and came nearer, touched
him, and brooded by his side. He made to shriek, but no sound came, only
a dry rasp in the throat and a convulsive twitch of the limbs.

For a second he lay in the agony of a terror worse than the extremes of
death. It was only his dog, returned from his watch by the door, and
seeking his master. He, poor beast, knew of some sorrow vaguely and afar,
and nuzzled into his side with dumb affection.

Then from the chaos of faculties a shred of will survived. For an instant
his brain cleared, for to most there comes a lull at the very article of
death. He saw the bare moorland room, he felt the dissolution of his
members, the palpable ebb of life. His religion had been swept from him
like a rotten garment. His mind was vacant of memories, for all were
driven forth by purging terror. Only some relic of manliness, the
heritage of cleanly and honest days, was with him to the uttermost. With
blank thoughts, without hope or vision; with naught save an aimless
resolution and a causeless bravery, he passed into the short anguish
which is death.



COMEDY IN THE FULL MOON


'I dislike that man,' said Miss Phyllis, with energy.

'I have liked others better,' said the Earl.

There was silence for a little as they walked up the laurelled path,
which wound by hazel thicket and fir-wood to the low ridges of moor.

'I call him Charles Surface,' said Miss Phyllis again, with a meditative
air. 'I am no dabbler in the water-colours of character, but I think I
could describe him.'

'Try,' said the Earl.

'Mr Charles Eden,' began the girl, 'is a man of talent. He has edged his
way to fortune by dint of the proper enthusiasms and a seductive manner.
He is a politician of repute and a lawyer of some practice, but his
enemies say that like necessity he knows no law, and even his friends
shrink from insisting upon his knowledge of politics. But he believes in
all honest enthusiasms, temperance, land reform, and democracy with a
capital D; he is, however, violently opposed to woman suffrage.'

'Every man has his good points,' murmured the Earl.

'You are interrupting me,' said Miss Phyllis, severely. 'To continue, his
wife was the daughter of a baronet of ancient family and scanty means.
Her husband supplied the element which she missed in her father's
household, and today she is popular and her parties famous. Their house
is commonly known as the Wilderness, because there the mixed multitude
which came out of Egypt mingle with the chosen people. In character he is
persuasive and good-natured; but then good-nature is really a vice which
is called a virtue because it only annoys a man's enemies.'

'I am learning a great deal tonight,' said the man.

'You are,' said Miss Phyllis. 'But there, I have done. What I  dislike in
him is that one feels that he is the sort of man that has always lived in
a house and is out of place anywhere but on a pavement.'

'And you call this a sketch in water-colours?'

'No, indeed. In oils,' said the girl, and they walked through a gate on
to the short bent grass and the bouldered face of a hill. Something in
the place seemed to strike her, for she dropped her voice and spoke
simply.

'You know I am town-bred, but I am not urban in nature. I must chatter
daily, but every now and then I grow tired of myself, and I hate people
like Charles Eden who remind me of my weakness.'

'Life,' said the Earl, 'may be roughly divided into--But there, it is
foolish to be splitting up life by hairs on such a night.'

Now they stood on the ridge's crest in the silver-grey light of a
midsummer moon. Far up the long Gled valley they looked to the towering
hills whence it springs; then to the left, where the sinuous Callowa
wound its way beneath green and birk-clad mountains to the larger stream.
In such a flood of brightness the far-distant peaks and shoulders stood
out clear as day, but full of that hint of subtle and imperishable
mystery with which the moon endows the great uplands in the height of
summer. The air was still, save for the falling of streams and the
twitter of nesting birds.

The girl stared wide-eyed at the scene, and her breath came softly with
utter admiration.

'Oh, such a land!' she cried, 'and I have never seen it before. Do you
know I would give anything to explore these solitudes, and feel that I
had made them mine. Will you take me with you?'

'But these things are not for you, little woman,' he said. 'You are too
clever and smart and learned in the minutiae of human conduct. You would
never learn their secret. You are too complex for simple, old-world
life.'

'Please don't say that,' said Miss Phyllis, with pleading eyes. 'Don't
think so hardly of me. I am not all for show.' Then with fresh wonder she
looked over the wide landscape.

'Do you know these places?' she asked.

'I have wandered over them for ten years and more,' said the Earl, 'and I
am beginning to love them. In other ten, perhaps, I shall have gone some
distance on the road to knowledge. The best things in life take time and
labour to reach.'

The girl made no answer. She had found a little knoll in the opposite
glen, clothed in a tangle of fern and hazels, and she eagerly asked its
name.

'The folk here call it the Fairy Knowe,' he said. 'There is a queer story
about it. They say that if any two people at mid-summer in the full moon
walk from the east and west so as to meet at the top, they will find a
third there, who will tell them all the future. The old men speak of it
carefully, but none believe it.'

'Oh, let us go and try,' said the girl, in glee. 'It is quite early in
the evening, and they will never miss us at home.'

'But the others,' said he.

'Oh, the others,' with a gesture of amusement. 'We left Mr Eden talking
ideals to your mother, and the other men preparing for billiards. They
won't mind.'

'But it's more than half a mile, and you'll be very tired.'

'No, indeed,' said the girl, 'I could walk to the top of the farthest
hills tonight. I feel as light as a feather, and I do so want to know the
future. It will be such a score to speak to my aunt with the prophetic
accent of the things to be.'

'Then come on,' said the Earl, and the two went off through the heather.

II

If you walk into the inn-kitchen at Callowa on a winter night, you will
find it all but deserted, save for a chance traveller who is
storm-stayed among the uncertain hills. Then men stay in their homes, for
the place is little, and the dwellers in the remoter parts have no errand
to town or village. But in the long nights of summer, when the moon is up
and the hills dry underfoot, there are many folk down of an evening from
the glens, and you may chance on men drinking a friendly glass with half
a score of miles of journey before them. It is a cheerful scene--the wide
room, with the twilight struggling with the new-lit lamp, the brown faces
gathered around the table, and the rise and fall of the soft southern
talk.

On this night you might have chanced on a special gathering, for it was
the evening of the fair-day in Gledfoot, and many shepherds from the
moors were eating their suppers and making ready for the road. It was
then that Jock Rorison of the Redswirehead--known to all the world as
Lang Jock to distinguish him from his cousin little Jock of the Nick o'
the Hurlstanes--met his most ancient friend, the tailor of Callowa. They
had been at school together, together they had suffered the pains of
learning; and now the one's lot was cast at the back of Creation, and the
other's in a little dark room in the straggling street of Callowa. A
bottle celebrated their meeting, and there and then in the half-light of
the gloaming they fell into talk. They spoke of friends and kin, and the
toils of their life; of village gossip and market prices. Thence they
drifted into vague moralisings and muttered exhortation in the odour of
whisky. Soon they were amiable beyond their wont, praising each other's
merit, and prophesying of good fortune. And then--alas for human
nature!--there came the natural transition to argument and reviling.

'I wadna be you, Jock, for a thousand pounds', said the tailor. 'Na, I
wadna venture up that lang mirk glen o' yours for a' the wealth o' the
warld.'

'Useless body,' said the shepherd, 'and what for that?'

'Bide a' nicht here,' said the tailor, 'and step on in the mornin'. Man,
ye're an auld freend, and I'm wae to think that aucht ill should befa'
ye.'

'Will ye no speak sense for yince, ye doited cratur?' was the ungracious
answer, as the tall man rose to unhook his staff from the chimney corner.
'I'm for stertin' if I'm to win hame afore mornin'.

'Weel,' said the tailor, with the choked voice of the maudlin, 'a' I've
to say is that I wis the Lord may protect ye, for there's evil lurks i'
the dens o' the way, saith the prophet. 'Stop, John Rorison, stop,' again
the tailor groaned. 'O man, bethink ye o' your end.'

'I wis ye wad bethink o' yin yoursel'.'

The tailor heeded not the rudeness...'for ye ken a' the auld queer
owercomes about the Gled Water. Yin Thomas the Rhymer made a word on 't.
Quoth he,

By the Gled side
The guid folk bide.

'Dodsake, Robin, ye're a man o' learnin' wi' your poetry,' said the
shepherd, with scorn. 'Rhymin' about auld wives' havers, sic wark for a
grown man!'

A vague recollection of wrath rose to the tailor's mind. But he answered
with the laborious dignity of argument--

'I'm no sayin' that a' things are true that the body said. But I say
this--that there's a heap o' queer things in the warld, mair nor you nor
me nor onybody kens. Now, it's weel ken't that nane o' the folk about
here like to gang to the Fairy Knowe...'

'It's weel ken't nae siccan thing,' said the shepherd, rudely, 'I wonder
at you, a kirk member and an honest man's son, crakin' siccan blethers.'

'I'm affirmin' naething,' said the other, sententiously. 'What I say is
that nae man, woman, or child in this parish, which is weel ken't for an
intelligent yin, wad like to gang at the rising o' the mune up the side
o' the Fairy Knowe. And it's weel ken't, tae, that when the twae daft
lads frae the Rochan tried it in my faither's day and gaed up frae
opposite airts, they met at the tap  that which celled them a' that they
ever did and a' that was ever like to befa' them, and put the fear o'
death on them for ever and ever. Mind, I'm affirmin' naething; but what
think ye o'  that?'.

'I think this o' 't--that either the folk were mair fou than the Baltic
or they were weak i' the held afore ever they set out. But I'm tired o'
hearin' a sensible man bletherin', so I'm awa' to the Redswirehead.'

But the tailor was swollen with pride and romance, and filled with the
audacity which comes from glasses replenished.

'Then I'll gang a bit o' the road wi' ye.'

'And what for sae?' said the shepherd, darkly suspicious. Whisky drove
care to his head, and made him the most irritable of friends.

'I want the air, and it's graund munelicht. Your road gangs by the Knowe,
and we micht as weel mak the experiment. Mind ye, I'm affirmin'
naething.'

'Will ye no haud your tongue about what ye're affirmin'?'

'But I hold that it is a wise man's pairt to try all things, and whae
kens but there micht be some queer sicht on that Knowe-tap? The auld folk
were nane sae ready to be inventin' havers.'

'I think the man's mad,' was the shepherd's loud soliloquy. 'You want me
to gang and play daft-like pranks late at nicht among birks and stanes on
a muckle knowe. Weel, let it be. It lies on my road hame, but ye'd be
weel serv't if some auld Druid cam out and grippit ye.'

'Whae's bletherin' now,' cried the tallor, triumphantly. 'I dinna gang
wi' only supersteetions. I gang to get the fresh air and admire the
wonderfu' works o' God. Hech, but they're bonny.' And he waved a
patronising finger to the moon.

The shepherd took him by the shoulder and marched him down the road.
'Listen,' said he, 'I maun be hame afore the morn, and if ye're comin'
wi' me ye'll hae to look smerter.' So down the white path and over Gled
bridge they took their way, two argumentative figures, clamouring in the
silent, amber spaces of the night.

III

The farmer of the Lowe Moss was a choleric man at all times, but every
now and again his temper failed him utterly. He was florid and
full-blooded, and the hot weather drove him wild with discomfort. Then
came the torments of a dusty market and completed the task; so it fell
out that on that evening in June he drove home at a speed which bade fair
to hurry him to a premature grave, and ate his supper with little
thankfulness.

Then he reflected upon his manifold labours. The next day was the
clipping, and the hill sheep would have to be brought down in the early
morning. The shepherds would be at the folds by seven, and it would mean
rising in the small hours to have the flocks in the low fields in time.
Now his own shepherd was gone on an errand and would not be back till the
morrow's breakfast. This meant that he, the wearied, the sorely tried,
must be up with the lark and tramping the high pastures. The thought was
too much for him. He could not face it. There would be no night's rest
for his wearied legs, though the Lord knew how he needed it.

But as he looked through the window a thought grew upon his mind. He was
tired and sore--but he might yet manage an hour or two of toil, if a sure
prospect of rest lay at the end. The moon was up and bright, and he might
gather the sheep to the low meadows as easily as in the morning. This
would suffer him to sleep in peace to the hour of seven, which was
indulgence indeed to one who habitually rose at five. He was a man of
imagination and hope, who valued a prospect. Far better, he held, the
present discomfort, if the certainty of ease lay before him. So he
gathered his aching members, reached for his stick, whistled on his dogs,
and set out.

It was a long climb up the ridges of the Lowe Burn to the stell of
fir-trees which marked his boundaries. Then began the gathering of the
sheep, and a great scurry of dogs,--black dots on the sleepy, moon-lit
hill. With much crying of master and barking of man the flocks were
massed and turned athwart the slopes in the direction of the steading.
All the while he limped grumblingly behind, thinking on bed, and leaving
everything to his shaggy lieutenants. Then they crossed the Lowe Burn,
skirted the bog, and came in a little to the lower meadows, while afar
off over the rough crest of the Fairy Knowe twinkled the lights of the
farm.

Meanwhile from another point of the hill there came another wayfarer to
the same goal. The Sentimentalist  was a picturesque figure on holiday,
enjoying the summer in the way that still remains the best. Three weeks
before he had flung the burden of work from his shoulders, and gone with
his rod to the Callowa foot, whence he fished far and near even to the
utmost recesses of the hills. On this evening the soft airs and the
triumphant moon had brought him out of doors. He had a dim memory of a
fragrant hazelled knoll above the rocky Gled, which looked up and down
three valleys. The place drew him, as it lived in his memory, and he must
needs get his plaid and cross the miles of heather to the wished-for
sleeping-place. There he would bide the night and see the sunrise, and
haply the next morning make a raid into the near village to receive
letters delayed for weeks.

He crossed the hill when the full white glory of the moon was already
apparent in the valleys. The air was so still and mild that one might
have slept there and then on the bare hillside and been no penny the
worse. The heart of the Sentimentalist was cheered, and he scanned the
prospect with a glad thankfulness. To think that three weeks ago he had
been living in sultriness and dreary over-work, with a head as dazed as a
spinning-top and a ruin of nerves. Now every faculty was alive and keen,
he had no thought of nerves, and his old Norfolk jacket, torn and  easy,
now stained with peat---water and now bleached with weather, was an index
to his immediate past. In a little it would be all over, and then once
more the dust and worry and heat. But  meantime he was in fairyland,
where there was little need for dreary prognostication.

And in truth it was a fairyland which dawned on his sight at the crest of
the hill. A valley filled with hazy light, and in the middle darkly
banded by the stream. All things, village, knoll, bog, and coppice,
bright with a duskiness which revealed nought in detail, but only hints
of form and colour. A noise of distant sheep rose from the sleeping
place, and the single, solitary note of a night-bird far over the glen.
At his foot were crushed thickets of little hill-flowers, thyme and
pansies and the odorous bog-myrtle. Beneath him, not half a mile distant,
was a mound with two lone birches on its summit, and he knew the place of
his quest. This was the far-famed Fairy Knowe, where at midsummer the
little folk danced, and where, so ran the tale, lay the mystic entrance,
of which True Thomas spake, to the kingdom of dreams and shadows.
Twenty-five miles distant a railway ran, but here there were still
simplicity and antique tales. So in a fine spirit he set himself to the
tangled meadow-land which intervened.

IV

Miss Phyllis looked long and wonderingly at the tangled, moonlit hill.
'Is this the place?' she asked.

The Earl nodded. 'Do you feel devout, madam,' said he, 'and will you make
the experiment?'

Miss Phyllis looked at him gravely. 'Have I not scrambled over miles of
bog, and do you think that I have risked my ankles for nothing? Besides I
was always a devout believer.'

'Then this is the way of it. You wait here and walk slowly up, while I
will get to the other side. There is always a wonderful view at least on
the top.'

'But I am rather afraid that I...'

'Oh, very well,' said the Earl. 'If we don't perform our part, how can we
expect a hard-worked goblin to do his?'

'Then,' said Miss Phyllis, with tight lips and a sigh of melodrama, 'lead
on, my lord.' And she watched his figure disappear with some misgiving.

For a little she scanned the patched shadow of birk and fern, and
listened uneasily to the rustle of grasses. She heard the footsteps
cease, and then rise again in the silence. Suddenly it seemed as if the
place had come to life. A crackling, the noise of something in lumbering
motion, came from every quarter. Then there would be a sound of
scampering, and again the echo of heavy breathing. Now Miss Phyllis was
not superstitious, and very little of a coward. Moreover, she was a young
woman of the world, with a smattering of most things in heaven and earth,
and the airs of an infinite experience. But this moonlit knoll, this
wide-stretching, fantastic landscape, and the lucid glamour of the night,
cast a spell on her, and for once she forgot everything. Miss Phyllis
grew undeniably afraid.

She glanced timorously to the left, whence came the sounds, and then with
commendable spirit began to climb the slope. If things were so queer she
might reasonably carry out the letter of her injunctions, and in any case
the Earl would be there to meet her. But the noise grew stranger, the
sound of rustling and scrambling and breathing as if in the chase. Then
to her amazement a crackle of twigs rose from her right, and as she
hastily turned her head to meet the new alarum, she found herself face to
face with a tall man in a plaid.

For one moment both stared in frank discomfiture. Miss Phyllis was
horribly alarmed and in deepest mystery. But, she began to reflect,
spirits have never yet been known to wear Norfolk jackets and
knickerbockers, or take the guise of stalwart, brown-faced men. The
Sentimentalist, too, after the natural surprise, recovered himself and
held out his hand.

'How do you do, Miss Phyllis?' said he.

The girl gasped, and then a light of recognition came into her  eyes.

'What are you doing here, Mr Grey?' she asked.

'Surely I have the first right to the question,' the man said, smiling.

'Then, if you must know, I am looking for the customary spirit to tell
the future. I thought you were the thing, and was fearfully scared.'

'But who told you that story, Miss Phyllis? I did not think you would
have been so credulous. Your part was always the acute critic's.'

'Then you were wrong,' said the girl, with emphasis. 'Besides, it was
Charlie Erskine's doing. He brought me here, and is faithfully keeping
his compact at the other side of the hill.'

'Well, well, Callowa had always a queer way of entertaining his guests.
But there, Miss Phyllis, I have not seen civilisation for weeks, and am
half inclined to believe in things myself. Never again shall you taunt me
with "boyish enthusiasm". Was not that your phrase?'

'I have sinned,' said the girl, 'but don't talk of it. Henceforth I
belong to the sentimentalists. But you must not spoil my plans. I must
get to the top and wait devoutly on the tertium quid. You can wait here
or go round the foot and meet us at the other side. You have made me feel
sceptical already.'

'I am at your service, my lady, and I hope you will get good news from
the fairy-folk when...'

But at this juncture something held the speech and eyes of both. A figure
came wildly over the brow of the hill, as if running for dear life, and
took the slope in great bounds through brake and bramble and
heather-tussock. Onward it came with frantic arms and ineffectual cries.
Suddenly it caught sight of the two as they stood at the hill-foot, the
girl in white which showed dimly beneath her cloak, and the square figure
of the man. It drew itself up in a spasm, stood one moment in
uncomprehending terror, and then flung itself whimpering at their feet.

The full history of the events of these minutes has yet to be written.
But such is the rough outline of the process of disaster.

It appears that the farmer of the Lowe Moss was driving his sheep in
comfort with the aid of his collies, and had just crossed the meadowland
and come to the edge of the Knowe. He was not more than half a mile from
home, and he was wearied utterly. There still remained the maze of
tree-roots and heaps of stones known as the Broken Dykes, and here it was
hard to drive beasts even in the clear moonlight. So as he looked to the
far lights of his home his temper began to break, and he vehemently
abused his dogs.

Just at the foot of the slope there is a nick in the dyke, and far on
either side stretches the hazel tangle. If once sheep get there it is
hard for the best of collies to recover them in short time. But the flock
was heading right, narrow in front, marshalled by vigilant four-footed
watchmen, with the leaders making straight for the narrow pass. Then
suddenly something happened beyond human expectation. In front of the
drove the figure of a man arose as if from the ground. It was enough for
the wild hill-sheep. To right and left they scattered, flanked in their
race by the worn-out dogs, and in two minutes were far and wide among the
bushes.

For a moment in the extremity of his disgust the farmer's power of
thought and speech forsook him. Then he looked at the cause of all the
trouble. He knew the figure for that of a wandering dealer with whom he
had long fought bitter warfare. Doubtless the man had come there by night
to spy out the nakedness of his flock and report accordingly. In any case
he had been warned off the land before, and the farmer had many old
grudges against him. The memory of all overtook him at the moment and
turned his brain. He rubbed his eyes. No, there could be no mistaking
that yellow top-coat and that scraggy figure. So with stick upraised he
ran for the intruder.

When the Earl saw the sheep fleeing wide and an irate man rushing toward
him, his first impulse was to run. What possible cause could lead a man
to drive sheep at night among rough meadows? But the next instant all
hope of escape was at an end, for the foe was upon him. He had just time
to leap aside and escape a great blow from a stick, and then he found
himself in a fierce grapple with a thick-set, murderous ruffian.

Meanwhile the shepherd of the Redswirehead and the tailor of Callowa had
left the high-road and tramped over the moss to the Knowe-foot. The
tailor's wine-begotten bravery was somewhat lessened by the still spaces
of country and the silent eye of night. His companion had no thought in
the matter save to get home, and if his way lay over the crest of the
Fairy Knowe it mattered little to him. But when they left the high-road
it became necessary to separate, if the correct fashion of the thing were
to be observed. The shepherd must slacken pace and make for the near side
of the hill, while the tailor would hasten to the other, and the twain
would meet at the top.

The shepherd had no objection to going slowly. He lit his pipe and
marched with measured tread over the bracken-covered meadows. The tailor
set out gaily for the farther side, but ere he had gone far his spirits
sank. Fairy tales and old wives' fables had still a measure of credence
with him, and this was the sort of errand on which he had never before
embarked. He was flying straight in the face of all his most cherished
traditions in company with a godless shepherd who believed in nothing but
his own worthiness. He began to grow nervous and wish that he were safe
in the Callowa Inn instead of scrambling on a desert hill. Yet the man
had a vestige of pluck which kept him from turning back, and a fragment
of the sceptical which gave him hope.

At the Broken Dykes he halted and listened. Some noise came floating over
the tangle other than the fitful bleat of sheep or the twitter of birds.
He listened again, and there it came, a crashing and swaying, and a
confused sound as of a man muttering. Every several hair bristled on his
unhappy head, till he reflected that it must be merely a bullock astray
among the bushes, and with some perturbation hastened on his way. He
fought through the clinging hazels, knee-deep in bracken, and stumbling
ever and again over a rock of heather. The excitement of the climb for a
moment drove out his terrors, and with purple face and shortened breath
he gained the open. And there he was rooted still, for in the middle a
desperate fight was being fought by two unearthly combatants.

He had the power left to recognise that both had the semblance of men and
the dress of mortals. But never for a moment was he deceived. He knew of
tales without end which told of unearthly visitants meeting at midnight
on the lone hillside to settle their ghostly feuds. And even as he looked
the mantle of one blew apart, and a glimpse of something strange and
white appeared beneath. This was sufficient for the tailor. With a gasp
he turned to the hill and climbed it like a deer, moaning to himself in
his terror. Over the crest he went and down the other slope, flying
wildly over little craigs, diving headlong every now and again into
tussocks of bent, or struggling in a maze of birches. Then, or ever he
knew, he was again among horrors. A woman with a fluttering white robe
stood before him, and by her a man of strange appearance and uncanny
height. He had no time to think, but his vague impression was of sheeted
ghosts and awful terrors. His legs failed, his breath gave out at last,
and he was floundering helplessly at Miss Phyllis' feet.

Meantime, as the young man and the girl gazed mutely at this new
visitant, there entered from the left another intruder, clad in
home-spun, with a mighty crook in his hand and a short black pipe between
his teeth. He raised his eyes slightly at the  vision of the two, but
heaven and earth did not contain what might disturb his composure. But at
the sight of the prostrate tailor he stopped short, and stared. Slowly
the thing dawned upon his brain. The sense of the ludicrous, which
dwelled far down in his heart, was stirred to liveliness, and with legs
apart he woke the echoes in boisterous mirth.

'God, but it's guid,' and he wiped his eyes on his sleeve. 'That man,'
and again the humour of the situation shook him, 'that man thocht to
frichten me wi' his ghaists and bogles, and look at him!'

The tallor raised his scared eyes to the newcomer. 'Dinna blaspheme, Jock
Rorison,' he moaned with solemn unction. 'I hae seen it, the awfu'
thing--twae men fechtin' a ghaistly battle, and yin o' them wi' the licht
shinin' through his breist-bane.'

'Hearken to him,' said the shepherd, jocularly. 'The wicked have digged a
pit,' he began with dignity, and then farcically ended with 'and tumbled
in 't themsel'.'

But Miss Phyllis thought fit to seek a clue to the mystery. 'Please tell
me what is the meaning of all this,' she asked her companion.

'Why, the man has seen Callowa, and fled.'

'But he speaks of two and a "ghaistly combat".'

'Then Callowa with his usual luck has met the spirit of the place and
fallen out with him. I think we had better go and see.'

But the tailor only shivered at the thought, till the long shepherd
forcibly pulled him to his feet, and dragged his reluctant steps up the
side of the hill.

The combat at the back of the knowe had gone on merrily enough till the
advent of the tallor. Both were men of muscle, well-matched in height and
years, and they wrestled with vigour and skill. The farmer was weary at
the start, but his weariness was less fatigue than drowsiness, and as he
warmed to his work he felt his strength returning. The Earl knew nothing
of the game; he had not wrestled in his youth with strong out-of-door
labourers, and his only resources were a vigorous frame and uncommon
agility. But as the minutes passed and both breathed hard, the younger
man began to feel that he was losing ground. He could scarce stand out
against the strain on his arms, and his ankles ached with the weight
which pressed on them.

Now it fell out that just as the tailor arrived on the scene the farmer
made a mighty effort and all but swung his opponent from his feet. In the
wrench that followed, the buttons of the Earl's light overcoat gave way,
and to the farmer's astonished gaze an expanse of white shirt-front was
displayed. For a second he relaxed his hold, while the other freed
himself and leaped back to recover breath.

Slowly it dawned upon the farmer's intelligence that this was no
cattle-dealer with whom he contended. Cattle-dealers do not habitually
wear evening clothes when they have any work of guile on hand. And then
gradually the flushed features before him awoke recognition. The next
moment he could have sunk beneath the ground with confusion, for in this
nightly marauder who had turned his sheep he saw no other than the figure
of his master, the laird of all the countryside.

For a little the power of speech was denied him, and he stared blankly
and shamefacedly while the Earl recovered his scattered wits. Then he
murmured hoarsely,--

'I hope your lordship will forgi'e me. I never thocht it was yoursel',
for I wad dae onything rather than lift up my hand against ye. I thocht
it was an ill-daein' dealer frae east the country, whae has cheated me
often, and I was vexed at his turnin' the sheep, seein' that I've had a
lang day's wander.' Then he stopped, for he was a man of few words and he
could go no further in apology.

Then the Earl, who had entered into the fight in a haphazard spirit,
without troubling to enquire its cause, put the fitting end to the
strained relations. He was convulsed with laughter,  deep and
overpowering. Little by little the farmer's grieved face relaxed, and he
joined in the mirth, till these two made the silent place echo with
unwonted sounds.

To them thus engaged entered a company of four, Miss Phyllis, the
Sentimentalist, the shepherd, and the tallor. Six astonished human beings
stood exchanging scrutinies under the soft moon. With the tailor the mood
was still terror, with the shepherd careless amazement, and with the
other two unquenchable mirth. For the one recognised the irate, and now
apologetic, farmer of the Lowe Moss and the straggling sheep which told a
tale to the observant; while both saw in the other of the dishevelled and
ruddy combatants the once respectable form of a friend.

Then spoke the farmer:--

'What's ta'en a' the folk? This knowe's like a kirk skallin'. And, dod,
there's Jock Rorison. Is this your best road to the Redswirehead, Jock?'

But the shepherd and his friend were speechless for they had recognised
their laird, and the whole matter was beyond their understanding.

'Now,' said Miss Phyllis, 'here's a merry meeting. I have seen more
wonders tonight than I can quite comprehend. First, there comes Mr Grey
from nowhere in particular with a plaid on his shoulders; then a man with
a scared face tumbles at our feet;  then another comes to look for him;
and now here you are, and you seem to have been fighting. These hills of
yours are worse than any fairyland, and, do you know, they are rather
exhausting.'

Meantime the Earl was solemnly mopping his brow and smiling on the
assembly. 'By George,' he muttered, and then his breath failed him and he
could only chuckle. He looked at the tallor, and the sight of that
care-ridden face again choked him with laughter.

'I think we have all come across too many spirits tonight,' he said, 'and
they have been of rather substantial flesh and bone. At  least so I found
it. Have you learned much about the future, Miss Phyllis?'

The girl looked shyly at her side, 'Mr Grey has been trying to teach me,'
said she.

The Earl laughed with great good-nature. 'Midsummer madness,' he said.
'The moon has touched us all.' And he glanced respectfully upward, where
the White Huntress urged her course over the steeps of heaven.



'DIVUS' JOHNSTON


LORD LAMANCHA'S STORY

In deorum numerum relatus est non ore modo decementium sed et persuasione
vulgi.--SUETONIUS.


We were discussing the vagaries of ambition, and decided that most of the
old prizes that humanity contended for had had their gilt rubbed off.
Kingdoms, for example, which younger sons used to set out to conquer. It
was agreed that nowadays there was a great deal of drudgery and very
little fun in being a king.

'Besides, it can't be done,' Leithen put in. 'The Sarawak case.
Sovereignty over territory can only be acquired by a British subject on
behalf of His Majesty.'

There was far more real power, someone argued, in the profession of
prophet. Mass-persuasion was never such a force as today. Sandy
Arbuthnot, who had known Gandhi and admired him, gave us a picture of
that strange popular leader--ascetic, genius, dreamer, child. 'For a
little,' he said, 'Gandhi had more absolute sway over a bigger lump of
humanity than anybody except Lenin.'

I once knew Lenin,' said Fulleylove, the traveller, and we all turned to
him.

'It must have been more than twenty years ago he explained. 'I was
working at the British Museum and lived in lodgings in Bloomsbury, and he
had a room at the top of the house. Ilyitch was the name we knew him by.
He was a little, beetle-browed chap, with a pale face and the most
amazing sleepy black eyes, which would suddenly twinkle and blaze as some
thought passed through his mind. He was very pleasant and good-humoured,
and would spend hours playing with the landlady's  children. I remember I
once took him down with me for a day into the country, and he was the
merriest little grig...Did I realise how big he was? No, I cannot say
I did. He was the ordinary Marxist, and he wanted to resurrect Russia by
hydraulics and electrification. He seemed to be a funny compound of
visionary and terre-a-terre scientist. But I realised that he could lay a
spell on his countrymen. I have been to Russian meetings with him--I talk
Russian, you know--and it was astounding the way he could make his
audience look at him like hungry sheep. He gave me the impression of
utter courage and candour, and a king of demoniac simplicity...No, I
never met him again, but oddly enough I was in Moscow during his funeral.
Russian geographers were interesting themselves in the line of the old
silk-route to Cathay, and I was there by request to advise them. I had
not a very comfortable time, but everybody was very civil to me. So I saw
Lenin's funeral, and unless you saw that you can have no notion of his
power. A great black bier like an altar, and hundreds and thousands of
people weeping and worshipping--yes, worshipping.'

'The successful prophet becomes a kind of god,' said Lamancha. 'Have you
ever known a god, Sandy?...No more have I. But there is one living
today somewhere in Scotland. Johnston is his name. I once met a very
particular friend of his. I will tell you the story, and you can believe
it or not as you like.'

I had this narrative--he said--from my friend Mr Peter Thomson of
'Jessieville', Maxwell Avenue, Strathbungo, whom I believe to be a man
incapable of mendacity, or, indeed, of imagination. He is a prosperous
and retired ship's captain, dwelling in the suburbs of Glasgow, who plays
two rounds of golf every day of the week, and goes twice every Sunday to
a pink, new church. You may often see his ample figure, splendidly
habited in broadcloth and finished off with one of those square felt hats
which are the Scottish emblem of respectability, moving sedately by Mrs
Thomson's side down the avenue of  'Balmorals' and 'Bellevues' where
dwell the aristocracy of Strathbungo. It was not there that I met him,
however, but in a Clyde steamboat going round the Mull, where I spent a
comfortless night on my way to a Highland fishing. It was blowing what he
called 'a wee bit o' wind', and I could not face the odorous bunks which
opened on the dining-room. Seated abaft the funnel, in an atmosphere of
ham-and-eggs, bilge and fresh western breezes, he revealed his heart to
me, and this I found in it.

'About the age of forty'--said Mr Thomson--'I was captain of the steamer
Archibald McKelvie, 1,700 tons burthen, belonging to Brock, Rattray, and
Linklater of Greenock. We were principally engaged in the China trade,
but made odd trips into the Malay Archipelago and once or twice to
Australia. She was a handy bit boat, and I'll not deny that I had many
mercies vouchsafed to me when I was her skipper. I raked in a bit of
salvage now and then, and my trading commission, paid regularly into the
British Linen Bank at Maryhill, was mounting up to a fairish sum. I had
no objection to Eastern parts, for I had a good constitution and had
outgrown the daftnesses of youth. The berth suited me well, I had a
decent lot for ship's company, and I would gladly have looked forward to
spending the rest of my days by the Archibald McKelvie.

'Providence, however, thought otherwise, for He was preparing a judgment
against that ship like the kind you read about in books. We were five
days out from Singapore, shaping our course for the Philippines, where
the Americans were then fighting, when we ran into a queer lown sea. Not
a breath of air came out of the sky; if you kindled a match the flame
wouldna leap, but smouldered like touchwood; and every man's body ran
with sweat like a mill-lade. I kenned fine we were in for the terrors of
hell, but I hadna any kind of notion how terrible hell could be. First
came a wind that whipped away my funnel, like a potato-peeling. We ran
before it, and it was like the swee-gee we used to play at when we were
laddies. One moment the  muckle sea would get up on its hinder end and
look at you, and the next you were looking at it as if you were on top of
Ben Lomond looking down on Luss. Presently I saw land in a gap of the
waters, a land with great blood-red mountains, and, thinks I to myself,
if we keep up the pace this boat of mine will not be hindered from ending
two or three miles inland in somebody's kall-yard. I was just wondering
how we would get the Archibald McKelvie back to her native element when
she saved me the trouble; for she ran dunt on some kind of a rock, and
went straight to the bottom.

'I was the only man saved alive, and if you ask me how it happened I
don't know. I felt myself choking in a whirlpool;  then I was flung
through the air and brought down with a smack into deep waters; then I
was in the air again, and this time I landed amongst sand and tree-trunks
and got a bash on the head which dozened my senses.

'When I came to it was morning, and the storm had abated. I was lying
about half-way up a beach of fine white sand, for the wave that had
carried me landwards in its flow had brought me some of the road back in
its ebb. All round me was a sort of free-coup--trees knocked to
matchwood, dead fish, and birds and beasts, and some boards which I
jaloused came from the Archibald McKelvie. I had a big bump on my head,
but otherwise I was well and clear in my wits, though empty in the
stomach and very dowie in the heart. For I knew something about the
islands, of which I supposed this to be one. They were either barren
wastes, with neither food nor water, or else they were inhabited by the
bloodiest cannibals of the archipelago. It looked as if my choice lay
between having nothing to eat and being eaten myself.

'I got up, and, after returning thanks to my Maker, went for a walk in
the woods. They were full of queer painted birds, and it was an awful job
climbing in and out of the fallen trees. By and by I came into an open
bit with a burn where I sleekened my thirst. It cheered me up, and I was
just beginning to think that  this was not such a bad island, and looking
to see if I could find anything in the nature of coconuts, when I heard a
whistle like a steam-siren. It was some sort of signal, for the next I
knew I was in the grip of a dozen savages, my arms and feet were lashed
together, and I was being carried swiftly through the forest.

'It was a rough journey, and the discomfort of that heathen handling kept
me from reflecting upon my desperate position. After nearly three hours
we stopped, and I saw that we had come to a city. The streets were not
much to look at, and the houses were mud and thatch, but on a hillock in
the middle stood a muckle temple not unlike a Chinese pagoda. There was a
man blowing a horn, and a lot of folk shouting, but I paid no attention,
for I was sore troubled with the cramp in my left leg. They took me into
one of the huts and made signs that I was to have it for my lodging. They
brought me water to wash, and a very respectable dinner, which included a
hen and a vegetable not unlike greens. Then they left me to myself, and I
lay down and slept for a round of the clock.

'I was three days in that hut. I had plenty to eat and the folk were very
civil, but they wouldna let me outbye and there was no window to look out
of. I couldna make up my mind what they wanted with me. I was a prisoner,
but they did not behave as if they bore any malice, and I might have
thought I was an honoured guest, but for the guards at the door. Time
hung heavy on my hands, for I had nothing to read and no light to read
by. I said over all the chapters of the Bible and all the Scots songs I
could remember, and I tried to make a poem about my adventures, but I
stuck at the fifth line, for I couldna find a rhyme to McKelvie.

'On the fourth morning I was awakened by the most deafening din. I saw
through the door that the streets were full of folk in holiday clothes,
most of them with flowers in their hair and carrying palm branches in
their hands. It was like something out of a Bible picture book. After I
had my breakfast four lads in long white gowns arrived, and in spite of
all my protests they  made a bonny spectacle of me. They took off my
clothes, me blushing with shame, and rubbed me with a kind of oil that
smelt of cinnamon. Then they shaved my chin, and painted on my forehead a
mark like a freemason's. Then they put on me a kind of white nightgown
with a red sash round the middle, and they wouldna be hindered from
clapping on my head a great wreath of hothouse flowers, as if I was a
funeral.

'And then like a thunder-clap I realised my horrible position. I was a
funeral. I was to be offered up as a sacrifice to some heathen god--an
awful fate for a Free-kirk elder in the prime of life.

'I was so paralytic with terror that I never tried to resist. Indeed, it
would have done me little good, for outside there were, maybe, two
hundred savages, armed and drilled like soldiers. I was put into a sort
of palanquin, and my bearers started at a trot with me up the hill to the
temple, the whole population of the city running alongside, and singing
songs about their god. I was sick with fear, and I durstna look up, for I
did not know what awesome sight awaited me.

'At last I got my courage back. "Peter," I says to myself, "be a man.
Remember your sainted Covenanting forefathers. You have been chosen to
testify for your religion, though it's no likely that yon savages will
understand what you say." So I shut my jaw and resolved before I died to
make a declaration of my religious principles, and to loosen some of the
heathens' teeth with my fists.

'We stopped at the temple door and I was led through a court and into a
muckle great place like a barn, with bats flying about the ceiling. Here
there were nearly three thousand heathens sitting on their hunkers. They
sang a hymn when they saw me, and I was just getting ready for action
when my bearers carried me into another place, which I took to be the
Holy of Holies. It was about half the size of the first, and at the end
of it was a great curtain of leopards' skins hanging from roof to floor.
My bearers set me in the middle of the room, and then rolled about on
their  stomachs in adoration before the curtain. After a bit they
finished their prayers and crawled out backwards, and I was left alone in
that fearsome place.

'It was the worst experience of my life. I believed that behind the skins
there was a horrible idol, and that at any moment a priest with a knife
would slip in to cut my throat. You may crack about courage, but I tell
you that a man who can wait without a quiver on his murderers in the
middle of a gloomy kirk is more than human. I am not ashamed to confess
that the sweat ran over my brow, and my teeth were knocking in my head.

'But nothing happened. Nothing, except that as I sat there I began to
notice a most remarkable smell. At first I thought the place was on fire.
Then I thought it was the kind of stink called incense that they make in
Popish kirks, for I once wandered into a cathedral in Santiago. But
neither guess was right, and then I put my thumb on the proper
description. It was nothing but the smell of the third-class carriages on
the Coatbridge train on a Saturday night after a football match--the
smell of plug tobacco smoked in clay pipes that were no just very clean.
My eyes were getting accustomed to the light, and I found the place no
that dark; and as I looked round to see what caused the smell; I spied
something like smoke coming from beyond the top of the curtain.

'I noticed another thing. There was a hole in the curtain, about six feet
from the floor, and at that hole as I watched I saw an eye. My heart
stood still, for, thinks I, that'll be the priest of Baal who presently
will stick a knife into me. It was long ere I could screw up courage to
look again, but I did it. And then I saw that the eye was not that of a
savage, which would be black and blood-shot. It was a blue eye, and, as I
looked, it winked at me.

'And then a voice spoke out from behind the curtain, and this was what it
said. It said, "Godsake, Peter, is that you? And how did ye leave them a'
at Maryhill?"

'And from behind the curtain walked a muckle man, dressed in a pink
blanket, a great red-headed man, with a clay pipe in his mouth. It was
the god of the savages, and who do ye think it was? A man Johnston, who
used to bide in the same close as me in Glasgow...'

Mr Thomson's emotion overcame him, and he accepted a stiff drink from my
flask. Wiping away a tear, which may have been of sentiment or of mirth,
he continued:

'You may imagine that I was joyful and surprised to see him, and he, so
to speak, fell on my neck like the father of the Prodigal Son. He hadna
seen a Scotch face for four years. He raked up one or two high priests
and gave instructions, and soon I was comfortably lodged in a part of the
temple close to his own rooms. Eh, man, it was a noble sight to see
Johnston and the priests. He was a big, red-haired fellow, six feet four,
and as strong as a stot, with a voice like a north-easter, and yon
natives fair crawled like caterpillars in his presence. I never saw a man
with such a natural talent for being a god. You would have thought he had
been bred to the job all his days, and yet I minded him keeping a
grocer's shop in the Dalmarnock Road.

'That night he told me his story. It seemed that he had got a post at
Shanghai in a trading house, and was coming out to it in one of those
God-forgotten German tramps that defile the China seas. Like me, he fell
in with a hurricane, and, like me, his ship was doomed. He was a powerful
swimmer, and managed to keep afloat until he found some drifting
wreckage, and after the wind had gone down he paddled ashore. There he
was captured by the savages, and taken, like me, to their city. They were
going to sacrifice him, but one chief, wiser than the rest, called
attention to his size and strength, and pointed out that they were at war
with their neighbours, and that a big man would be of more use in the
fighting line than on an altar in the temple.

'So off went Johnston to the wars. He was a bonny fighter, and very soon
they made him captain of the royal bodyguard,  and a fortnight later the
general commanding-in-chief over the whole army. He said he had never
enjoyed himself so much in his life, and when he got back from his
battles the whole population of the city used to meet him with songs and
flowers. Then an old priest found an ancient prophecy about a Red God who
would come out of the sea and lead the people to victory. Very soon there
was a strong party for making Johnston a god, and when, with the help of
a few sticks of trade dynamite, he had blown up the capital of the other
side and brought back his army in triumph with a prisoner apiece, popular
feeling could not be restrained. Johnston was hailed as divine. He hadna
much grip of the language, and couldna explain the situation, so he
thought it best to submit.

'"Mind you," he said to me, "I've been a good god to these poor blind
ignorant folk." He had stopped the worst of their habits and put down
human sacrifices, and got a sort of town council appointed to keep the
city clean, and he had made the army the most efficient thing ever heard
of in the islands. And now he was preparing to leave. This was what they
expected, for the prophecy had said that the Red God, after being the
saviour of his people, would depart as he had come across the sea. So,
under his directions, they had built him a kind of boat with which he
hoped to reach Singapore. He had got together a considerable fortune,
too, chiefly in rubies, for as a god he had plenty of opportunities of
acquiring wealth honestly. He said there was a sort of greengrocer's and
butcher's shop before his altar every morning, and he got one of the
priests, who had some business notions, to sell off the goods for him.

'There was just one thing that bothered Mr Johnston. He was a good
Christian man and had been an elder in a kirk in the Cowcaddens, and he
was much in doubt whether he had not committed a mortal sin in accepting
the worship of these heathen islanders. Often I argued it out with him,
but I did not seem able to comfort him rightly. "Ye see," he used to say
to me, "if I have broken anything, it's the spirit and no the letter of
the commandment. I havena set up a graven image, for ye canna call me a
graven image."

'I mind that I quoted to him the conduct of Naaman, who was allowed to
bow in the house of Rimmon, but he would not have it. "No, no," he cried
"that has nothing to do with the point. It's no a question of my bowing
in the house of Rimmon. I'm auld Rimmon himself."

'That's a strange story, Mr Thomson,' I said. 'Is it true?'

'True as death. But you havena heard the end of it. We got away, and
by-and-by we reached Singapore, and in course of time our native land.
Johnston, he was a very rich man now, and I didna go without my portion;
so the loss of the Archibald McKelvie turned out the best piece of luck
in my life. I bought a share in Brock's Line, but nothing would content
Johnston but that he must be a gentleman. He got a big estate in
Annandale, where all the Johnstons came from long ago, and one way and
another he has spent an awful siller on it. Land will swallow up money
quicker than the sea.'

'And what about his conscience?' I asked.

'It's keeping quieter,' said Mr Thomson. 'He takes a great interest in
Foreign Missions, to which he subscribes largely, and they tell me that
he has given the funds to build several new kirks. Oh yes, and he's just
been adopted as a prospective Liberal candidate. I had a letter from him
no further back than yesterday. It's about his political career, as he
calls it. He told me, what didna need telling, that I must never mention
a word about his past. "If discretion was necessary before," he says,
"it's far more necessary now, for how could the Party of Progress have
any confidence in a man if they heard he had once been a god?"'



POLITICS AND THE MAYFLY


The farmer of Clachlands was a Tory, stern and unbending. It was the
tradition of his family, from his grandfather, who had been land-steward
to Lord Manorwater, down to his father, who had once seconded a vote of
confidence in the sitting member. Such traditions, he felt, were not to
be lightly despised; things might change, empires might wax and wane, but
his obligation continued; a sort of perverted noblesse oblige was the
farmer's watchword in life; and by dint of much energy and bad language,
he lived up to it.

As fate would have it, the Clachlands ploughman was a Radical of
Radicals. He had imbibed his opinions early in life from a speaker on the
green of Gledsmuir, and ever since, by the help of a weekly penny paper
and an odd volume of Gladstone's speeches, had continued his education.
Such opinions in a conservative countryside carry with them a reputation
for either abnormal cleverness or abnormal folly. The fact that he was a
keen fisher, a famed singer of songs, and the best judge of horses in the
place, caused the verdict of his neighbours to incline to the former, and
he passed for something of an oracle among his fellows. The blacksmith,
who was the critic of the neighbourhood, summed up his character in a few
words. 'Him,' said he, in a tone of mingled dislike and admiration, 'him!
He would sweer white was black the morn, and dod! he would prove it tae.'

It so happened in the early summer, when the land was green and the trout
plashed in the river, that Her Majesty's Government saw fit to appeal to
an intelligent country. Among a people whose politics fight hard with
their religion for a monopoly of their interests, feeling ran high and
brotherly kindness departed. Houses were divided against themselves. Men
formerly of no consideration found themselves suddenly important, and
discovered that their intellects and conscience, which they had hitherto
valued at little, were things of serious interest to their betters. The
lurid light of publicity was shed upon the lives of the rival candidates;
men formerly accounted worthy and respectable were proved no better than
white sepulchres;  and each man was filled with a morbid concern for his
fellow's character and beliefs.

The farmer of Clachlands called a meeting of his labourers in the great
dusty barn, which had been the scene of many similar gatherings. His
speech on the occasion was vigorous and to the point. 'Ye are a' my men,'
he said, 'an' I'll see that ye vote richt. Y're uneddicated folk, and ken
naething aboot the matter, sae ye just tak' my word for't, that the
Tories are in the richt and vote accordingly. I've been a guid maister to
ye, and it's shurely better to pleesure me, than a wheen leein'
scoondrels whae tramp the country wi' leather bags and printit trash.'

Then arose from the back the ploughman, strong in his convictions.
'Listen to me, you men,' says he; 'just vote as ye think best. The
maister's a guid maister, as he says, but he's nocht to dae wi' your
votin'. It's what they ca' inteemedation to interfere wi' onybody in this
matter. So mind that, an' vote for the workin'-man an' his richts.'

Then ensued a war of violent words. 'Is this a meerin' in my barn, or a
pennywaddin?'

'Ca 't what ye please. I canna let ye mislead the men.'

'Whae talks about misleadin'? Is 't misleadin' to lead them richt?'

'The question,' said the ploughman, solemnly, 'is what you ca' richt.'

'William Laverhope, if ye werena a guid plooman, ye wad gang post-haste
oot o' here the morn.'

'I carena what ye say. I'll stand up for the richts o' thae men.'

'Men'.'--this with deep scorn. 'I could mak  better men than thae wi' a
stick oot o' the plantin'.'

'Ay, ye say that noo, an' the morn ye'll be ca'in' ilka yin o' them
Mister, a' for their votes.'

The farmer left in dignified disgust, vanquished but still dangerous; the
ploughman in triumph mingled with despair. For he knew that his
fellow-labourers cared not a whit for politics, but would follow to the
letter their master's bidding.

The next morning rose clear and fine. There had been a great rain for the
past few days, and the burns were coming down broad and surly. The
Clachlands Water was chafing by bank and bridge and threatening to enter
the hay-field, and every little ditch and sheep-drain was carrying its
tribute of peaty water to the greater flood. The farmer of Clachlands, as
he looked over the landscape from the doorstep of his dwelling, marked
the state of the weather and pondered over it.

He was not in a pleasant frame of mind that morning. He had been crossed
by a ploughman, his servant. He liked the man, and so the obvious way of
dealing with him--by making things uncomfortable or turning him off--was
shut against him. But he burned to get the upper hand of him, and
discomfit once for all one who had dared to question his wisdom and good
sense. If only he could get him to vote on the other side--but that was
out of the question. If only he could keep him from voting--that was
possible but unlikely. He might forcibly detain him, in which case he
would lay himself open to the penalties of the law, and be nothing the
gainer. For the victory which he desired was a moral one, not a triumph
of force. He would like to circumvent him by cleverness, to score against
him fairly and honour-ably on his own ground. But the thing was hard,
and, as it seemed to him at the moment, impossible.

Suddenly, as he looked over the morning landscape, a thought struck him
and made him slap his legs and chuckle hugely. He walked quickly up and
down the gravelled walk. 'Losh, it's guid. I'll dae't. I'll dae't, if the
weather juist bauds.'

His unseemly mirth was checked by the approach of someone who found the
farmer engaged in the minute examination of  gooseberry leaves. 'I'm
concerned aboot thae busses,' he was saying; 'they've been ill lookit to,
an' we'll no hae half a crop.' And he went off, still smiling, and spent
a restless forenoon in the Gledsmuir market.

In the evening he met the ploughman, as he returned from the
turnip-singling, with his hoe on his shoulder. The two men looked at one
another with the air of those who know that all is not well between them.
Then the farmer spoke with much humility.

'I maybe spoke rayther severe yestreen,' he said. 'I hope I didna hurt
your feelings.'

'Na, na! No me!' said the ploughman, airily.

'Because I've been thinking ower the matter, an' I admit that a man has a
richt to his ain thochts. A body should hae principles an' stick to
them,' said the farmer, with the manner of one making a recondite
quotation.  'Ay,' he went on, 'I respect ye, William, for your
consistency. Ye're an example to us a'.'

The other shuffled and looked unhappy. He and his master were on the best
of terms, but these unnecessary compliments were not usual in their
intercourse. He began to suspect, and the farmer, who saw his mistake,
hastened to change the subject.

'Graund weather for the fishin',' said he.

'Oh, is it no?' said the other, roused to excited interest by this home
topic. 'I tell ye by the morn they'll be takin' as they've never ta'en
this 'ear. Doon in the big pool in the Clachlands Water, at the turn o'
the turnip-field, there are twae or three pounders, and aiblins yin o'
twae pund. I saw them mysel' when the water was low. It's ower big the
noo, but when it gangs doon the morn, and gets the colour o' porter, I'll
warrant I could whup them oot o' there wi' the flee.'

'D' ye say sae?' said the farmer, sweetly. 'Weel, it's a lang time since
I tried the fishin', but I yince was keen on't. Come in bye, William;
I've something ye micht like to see.'  From a corner he produced a rod,
and handed it to the other.

It was a very fine rod indeed, one which the owner had gained in a
fishing competition many years before, and treasured accordingly. The
ploughman examined it long and critically. Then he gave his verdict.
'It's the brawest rod I ever saw, wi' a fine hickory butt, an' guid
greenhert tap and middle. It wad cast the sma'est flee, and haud the
biggest troot.'

'Weel,' said the farmer, genially smiling, 'ye have a half-holiday the
morn when ye gang to the poll. There'll be plenty o' time in the evening
to try a cast wi' 't. I'll lend it ye for the day.'

The man's face brightened. 'I wad tak' it verra kindly,' he said, 'if ye
wad. My ain yin is no muckle worth, and, as ye say, I'll hae time for a
cast the morn's nicht.'

'Dinna mention it. Did I ever let ye see my flee-book? Here it is,' and
he produced a thick flannel book from a drawer. 'There's a maist
miscellaneous collection, for a' waters an' a' weathers. I got a heap o'
them frae auld Lord Manorwater, when I was a laddie, and used to cairry
his basket.'

But the ploughman heeded him not, being deep in the examination of its
mysteries. Very gingerly he handled the tiny spiders and hackles,
surveying them with the eye of a connoisseur.

'If there's anything there ye think at a' like the water, I'll be verra
pleased if ye'll try 't.'

The other was somewhat put out by this extreme friendliness. At another
time he would have refused shamefacedly, but now the love of sport was
too strong in him. 'Ye're far ower guid,' he said; 'thae twae paitrick
wings are the verra things I want, an' I dinna think I've ony at hame.
I'm awfu' gratefu' to ye, an' I'll bring them back the morn's nicht.'

'Guid-e'en,' said the farmer, as he opened the door, 'an' I wish ye may
hae a guid catch.' And he turned in again, smiling sardonically.

The next morning was like the last, save that a little wind had risen,
which blew freshly from the west. White cloudlets drifted across the
blue, and the air was as clear as spring-water.

Down in the hollow the roaring torrent had sunk to a full, lipping
stream, and the colour had changed from a turbid yellow to a clear,
delicate brown. In the town of Gledsmuir, it was a day of wild
excitement, and the quiet Clachlands road bustled with horses and men.
The labourers in the fields scarce stopped to look at the passers, for in
the afternoon they too would have their chance, when they might journey
to the town in all importance, and record their opinions of the late
Government.

The ploughman of Clachlands spent a troubled forenoon. His nightly dreams
had been of landing great fish, and now his waking thoughts were of the
same. Politics for the time were forgotten. This was the day which he had
looked forward to for so long, when he was to have been busied in
deciding doubtful voters, and breathing activity into the ranks of his
cause. And lo! the day had come and found his thoughts elsewhere. For all
such things are, at the best, of fleeting interest, and do not stir men
otherwise than sentimentally; but the old kindly love of field-sports,
the joy in the smell of the earth and the living air, lie very close to a
man's heart. So this apostate, as he cleaned his turnip rows, was filled
with the excitement of the sport, and had no thoughts above the memory of
past exploits and the anticipation of greater to come.

Mid-day came, and with it his release. He roughly calculated that he
could go to the town, vote, and be back in two hours, and so have the
evening clear for his fishing. There had never been such a day for the
trout in his memory, so cool and breezy and soft, nor had he ever seen so
glorious a water. 'If ye dinna get a fou basket the nicht, an' a feed the
morn, William Laverhope, your richt hand has forgot its cunning,' said he
to himself.

He took the rod carefully out, put it together, and made trial casts on
the green. He tied the flies on a cast and put it ready for use in his
own primitive fly-book, and then bestowed the whole in the breast-pocket
of his coat. He had arrayed himself in his best, with a white rose in his
button-hole, for it behoved a man  to be well dressed on such an occasion
as voting. But yet he did not start. Some fascination in the rod made him
linger and try it again and again.

Then he resolutely laid it down and made to go. But something caught his
eye--the swirl of the stream as it left the great pool at the hay-field,
or the glimpse of still, gleaming water. The impulse was too strong to be
resisted. There was time enough and to spare. The pool was on his way to
the town, he would try one cast ere he started, just to see if the water
was good. So, with rod on his shoulder, he set off.

Somewhere in the background a man, who had been watching his movements,
turned away, laughing silently, and filling his pipe.

A great trout rose to the fly in the hay-field pool, and ran the line
upstream till he broke it. The ploughman swore deeply, and stamped on the
ground with irritation. His blood was up, and he prepared for battle.
Carefully, skillfully he fished, with every nerve on tension and
ever-watchful eyes. Meanwhile, miles off in the town the bustle went on,
but the eager fisherman by the river heeded it not.

Late in the evening, just at the darkening, a figure arrayed in Sunday
clothes, but all wet and mud-stained, came up the road to the farm. Over
his shoulder he carried a rod, and in one hand a long string of noble
trout. But the expression on his face was not triumphant; a settled
melancholy overspread his countenance, and he groaned as he walked.

Mephistopheles stood by the garden-gate, smoking and surveying his
fields. A well-satisfied smile hovered about his mouth, and his air was
the air of one well at ease with the world.

'Weel, I see ye've had guid sport,' said he to the melancholy Faust.
'By-the-bye, I didna notice ye in the toun. And losh! man, what in the
warld have ye dune to your guid claes?'

The other made no answer. Slowly he took the rod to pieces and strapped
it up; he took the fly-book from his pocket; he  selected two fish from
the heap; and laid the whole before the farmer.

'There ye are,' said he, 'and I'm verra much obleeged to ye for your
kindness.' But his tone was of desperation and not of gratitude; and his
face, as he went onward, was a study in eloquence repressed.



THE WIFE OF FLANDERS


From the bed set high on a dais came eerie spasms of laughter, a harsh
cackle like fowls at feeding time.

'Is that the last of them, Anton?' said a voice.

A little serving-man with an apple-hued face bowed in reply. He bowed
with difficulty, for in his arms he held a huge grey cat, which still
mewed with the excitement of the chase. Rats had been turned loose on the
floor, and it had accounted for them to the accompaniment of a shrill
urging from the bed. Now the sport was over, and the domestics who had
crowded round the door to see it had slipped away, leaving only Anton and
the cat.

'Give Tib a full meal of offal,' came the order, 'and away with yourself.
Your rats are a weak breed. Get me the stout grey monsters like Tuesday
se'ennight.'

The room was empty now save for two figures both wearing the habit of the
religious. Near the bed sat a man in the full black robe and hood of the
monks of Cluny. He warmed plump hands at the brazier and seemed at ease
and at home. By the door stood a different figure in the shabby clothes
of a parish priest, a curate from the kirk of St Martin's who had been a
scandalised spectator of the rat hunt. He shuffled his feet as if
uncertain of his next step--a thin, pale man with a pinched mouth and
timid earnest eyes.

The glance from the bed fell on him. 'What will the fellow be at?' said
the voice testily. 'He stands there like a sow about to litter, and
stares and grunts. Good e'en to you, friend. When you are wanted you will
be sent for. Jesu's name, what have I done to have that howlet glowering
at me?'

The priest at the words crossed himself and turned to go, with a tinge of
red in his sallow cheeks. He was faithful to his  duties and had come to
console a deathbed, though he was well aware that his consolations would
be spurned. As he left there came again the eerie laughter from the bed.
'Ugh, I am weary of that incomparable holiness. He hovers about to give
me the St John's Cup, and would fain speed my passing. But I do not die
yet, good father. There's life still in the old wolf.'

The monk in a bland voice spoke some Latin to the effect that mortal
times and seasons were ordained of God. The other stretched out a skinny
hand from the fur coverings and rang a silver bell. When Anton appeared
she gave the order 'Bring supper for the reverend father', at which the
Cluniac's face mellowed into complacence.

It was a Friday evening in a hard February. Out-of-doors the snow lay
deep in the streets of Bruges, and every canal was frozen solid so that
carts rumbled along them as on a street. A wind had risen which drifted
the powdery snow and blew icy draughts through every chink. The
small-paned windows of the great upper-room were filled with oiled
vellum, but they did not keep out the weather, and currents of cold air
passed through them to the doorway, making the smoke of the four charcoal
braziers eddy and swirl. The place was warm, yet shot with bitter gusts,
and the smell of burning herbs gave it the heaviness of a chapel at high
mass. Hanging silver lamps, which blazed blue and smoky, lit it in
patches, sufficient to show the cleanness of the rush-strewn floor, the
glory of the hangings of cloth-of-gold and damask, and the burnished
sheen of the metal-work. There was no costlier chamber in that rich city.

It was a strange staging for death, for the woman on the high bed was
dying. Slowly fighting every inch of the way with a grim tenacity, but
indubitably dying. Her vital ardour had sunk below the mark from which it
could rise again, and was now ebbing as water runs from a little crack in
a pitcher. The best leeches in all Flanders and Artois had come to doctor
her. They had prescribed the horrid potions of the age: tinctures of
earth-worms; confections of spiders and wood-lice and viper's flesh;
broth of human skulls, oil, wine, ants' eggs, and crabs' claws; the bufo
preparatus, which was a live toad roasted in a pot and ground to a
powder; and innumerable plaisters and electuaries. She had begun by
submitting meekly, for she longed to live, and had ended, for she was a
shrewd woman, by throwing the stuff at the apothecaries' heads. Now she
ordained her own diet, which was of lamb's flesh lightly boiled, and
woman's milk, got from a wench in the purlieus of St Sauveur. The one
medicine which she retained was powdered elk's horn, which had been taken
from the beast between two festivals of the Virgin. This she had from the
foresters in the Houthulst woods, and swallowed it in white wine an hour
after every dawn.

The bed was a noble thing of ebony, brought by the Rhine road from
Venice, and carved with fantastic hunting scenes by Hainault craftsmen.
Its hangings were stiff brocaded silver, and above the pillows a great
unicorn's horn, to protect against poisoning, stood out like the beak of
a ship. The horn cast an odd shadow athwart the bed, so that a big claw
seemed to lie on the coverlet curving towards the throat other who lay
there. The parish priest had noticed this at his first coming that
evening, and had muttered fearful prayers.

The face on the pillows was hard to discern in the gloom, but when Anton
laid the table for the Cluniac's meal and set a lamp on it, he lit up the
cavernous interior of the bed, so that it became the main thing in the
chamber. It was the face of a woman who still retained the lines and the
colouring of youth. The voice had harshened with age, and the hair was
white as wool, but the cheeks were still rosy and the grey eyes still had
fire. Notable beauty had once been there. The finely arched brows, the
oval of the face which the years had scarcely sharpened, the proud,
delicate nose, all spoke of it. It was as if their possessor recognised
those things and would not part with them, for her attire had none of the
dishevelment of a sick-room. Her coif of fine silk was neatly adjusted,
and the great  robe of marten's fur which cloaked her shoulders was
fastened with a jewel of rubies which glowed in the lamplight like a
star. Something chattered beside her. It was a little brown monkey which
had made a nest in the warm bedclothes.

She watched with sharp eyes the setting of the table. It was a Friday's
meal and the guest was a monk, so it followed a fashion, but in that
house of wealth, which had links with the ends of the earth, the monotony
was cunningly varied. There were oysters from the Boulogne coast, and
lampreys from the Loire, and pickled salmon from England. There was a
dish of liver dressed with rice and herbs in the manner of the Turk, for
liver, though contained in flesh, was not reckoned as flesh by liberal
churchmen. There was a roast goose from the shore marshes, that barnacle
bird which pious epicures classed as shell-fish and bought fit for fast
days. A silver basket held a store of thin roasted rye-cakes, and by the
monk's hand stood a flagon of that drink most dear to holy palates, the
rich syrupy hippocras.

The woman looked on the table with approval, for her house had always
prided itself upon its good fare. The Cluniac's urbane composure was
stirred to enthusiasm. He said a Confiteor tibi Domine, rolling the words
on his tongue as if in anticipation of the solider mouthfuls awaiting
him. The keen weather had whetted his appetite and he thanked God that
his northern peregrinations had brought him to a house where the Church
was thus honoured. He had liked the cavalier treatment of the lean parish
priest, a sour dog who brought his calling into disfavour with the rich
and godly. He tucked back his sleeves, adjusted the linen napkin
comfortably about his neck, and fell to with a will. He raised his first
glass of hippocras and gave thanks to his hostess. A true mother in
Israel!

She was looking at him with favour. He was the breed of monk that she
liked, suave, well-mannered, observant of men and cities. Already he had
told her entertaining matter about the French King's court, and the new
Burgrave of Ghent, and the escapades of Count Baldwin. He had lived much
among  gentlefolk and kept his ears open...She felt stronger and
cheerfuller than she had been for days. That rat-hunt had warmed her
blood. She was a long way from death in spite of the cackle of idiot
chirurgeons, and there was much savour still in the world. There was her
son, too, the young Philip...Her eye saw clearer, and she noted the
sombre magnificence of the great room, the glory of the brocade, the
gleam of silver. Was she not the richest woman in all Bruges, aye and in
all Hainault and Guelderland? And the credit was her own. After the
fashion of age in such moods her mind flew backward, and she saw very
plain a narrow street in a wind-swept town looking out on a bleak sea.
She had been cold, then, and hungry, and deathly poor. Well, she had
travelled some way from that hovel. She watched the thick carved stems of
the candlesticks and felt a spacious ease and power.

The Cluniac was speaking. He had supped so well that he was  in love with
the world.

'Your house and board, my lady, are queen-like. I have seen worse in
palaces.'

Her laugh was only half pleased. 'Too fine, you would add for a burgher
wife. Maybe, but rank is but as man makes it. The Kings of England are
sprung of a tanner. Hark you, father! I made a vow to God when I was a
maid, and I have fulfilled my side of the bargain. I am come of a nobler
race than any Markgrave, aye, than the Emperor himself, and I swore to
set the seed of my body, which the Lord might grant me, again among the
great ones. Have I not done it? Is not Philip my son, affianced to that
pale girl of Avesnes, and with more acres of pleasant land to his name
than any knightlet in Artois?'

The Cluniac bowed a courtly head. 'It is a great alliance--but not above
the dignity of your house.'

'House you call it, and I have had the making of it. What was Willebald
but a plain merchant-man, one of many scores at the Friday Market?
Willebald was clay that I moulded and gilded till God put him to bed
under a noble lid in the New Kirk. A worthy man, but loutish and slow
like one of his own hookers. Yet when I saw him on the plainstones by the
English harbour I knew that he was a weapon made for my hand.' Her voice
had become even and gentle as of one who remembers far-away things. The
Cluniac, having dipped his hands in a silver basin, was drying them in
the brazier's heat. Presently he set to picking his teeth daintily with a
quill, and fell into the listener's pose. From long experience he knew
the atmosphere which heralds confidences, and was willing to humour the
provider of such royal fare.

'You have never journeyed to King's Lynn?' said the voice from the bed.
'There is little to see there but mudbars and fens and a noisy sea. There
I dwelt when I was fifteen years of age, a maid hungry in soul and body.
I knew I was of the seed of Forester John and through him the child of a
motley of ancient kings, but war and famine had stripped our house to the
bone. And now I, the last of the stock, dwelt with a miserly mother's
uncle who did shipwright's work for the foreign captains. The mirror told
me that I was fair to look on, though ill-nourished, ind my soul assured
me that I had no fear. Therefore I had hope, but I ate my heart out
waiting on fortune.'

She was looking at the monk with unseeing eyes, her head half turned
towards him.

'Then came Willebald one March morning. I saw him walk up the jetty in a
new red cloak, a personable man with a broad beard and a jolly laugh. I
knew him by repute as the luckiest of the Flemish venturers. In him I saw
my fortune. That night he supped at my uncle's house and a week later he
sought me in marriage. My uncle would have bargained, but I had become a
grown woman and silenced him. With Willebald I did not chaffer, for I
read his heart and knew that in a little he would be wax to me. So we
were wed, and I took to him no dowry but a ring which came to me from my
forebears, and a brain that gold does not buy.'

The monkey by her side broke into a chattering. 'Peace,  Peterkin,' she
said.   'You mind me of the babbling of the merchant-folk, when I spurred
Willebald into new roads. He had done as his father before him, and
bought wool and sake fish from the English, paying with the stuffs of our
Flemish looms. A good trade of small and sure profits, but I sought
bigger quarries. For, mark you, there was much in England that had a
value in this country of ours which no Englishman guessed.'

'Of what nature?' the monk asked with curiosity in his voice.

'Roman things. Once in that land of bogs and forests there were bustling
Roman towns and rich Roman houses, which disappeared as every tide
brought in new robbers from the sea. Yes, but not all. Much of the
preciousness was hidden and the place of its hiding forgotten. Bit by bit
the churls found the treasure-trove, but they did not tell their lords.
They melted down jewels and sold them piecemeal to Jews for Jews' prices
and what they did not recognise as precious they wantonly destroyed. I
have seen the marble heads of heathen gods broken with the hammer to make
mortar of, and great cups of onyx and  alabaster used as water troughs
for a thrall's mongrels...Knowing the land, I sent pedlars north and
west to collect such stuff, and what I bought for pence I sold for much
gold in the Germanies and throughout the French cities. Thus Willebald
amassed wealth, till it was no longer worth his while to travel the seas.
We lived snug in Flanders, and our servants throughout the broad earth
were busy getting us gear.'

The Cluniac was all interest. The making of money lay very near the heart
of his Order. 'I have heard wondrous tales of your enterprise,' he told
her. 'I would fain know the truth.'

'Packman's tricks,' she laughed. 'Nevertheless it is a good story. For I
turned my eyes to the East, whence come those things that make the pride
of life. The merchants of Venice were princes, and it was in my head to
make those of Bruges no worse. What did it profit that the wind turned
dally the sails of our three hundred mills if we limited ourselves to
common burgher wares and the narrow northern markets? We sent emissaries
up the Rhine and beyond the Alps to the Venice princes, and brought
hither the spices and confections of Egypt and the fruits and wines of
Greece, and the woven stuffs of Asia, till the marts of Flanders had the
savour of Araby. Presently in our booths could be seen silks of Italy,
and choice metals from Innsbruck, and furs from Muscovy, and strange
birds and beasts from Prester John's country, and at our fairs such a
concourse of outlandish traders as put Venice to shame.

'Twas a long fight and a bitter for Willebald and me, since, mark you, we
had to make a new road over icy mountains, with a horde of freebooters
hanging on the skirts of our merchant trains and every little burg on the
way jealous to hamper us. Yet if the heart be resolute, barriers will
fall. Many times we were on the edge of beggary, and grievous were our
losses, but in the end we triumphed. There came a day when we had so many
bands of the Free Companions in our pay that the progress of our
merchandise was like that of a great army, and from rivals we made the
roadside burgs our allies, sharing modestly in our ventures. Also there
were other ways. A pilgrim travels unsuspect, for who dare rob a holy
man? and he is free from burgal dues; but if the goods be small and very
precious, pilgrims may carry them.'

The monk, as in duty bound, shook a disapproving head. 'Sin, doubtless,'
said the woman, 'but I have made ample atonement. Did I not buy with a
bushel of gold a leg of the blessed St George for the New Kirk, and give
to St Martin's a diamond as big as a thumb nail and so bright that on a
dark day it is a candle to the shrine? Did not I give to our Lady at Aix
a crown of ostrich feathers the marrow of which is not in Christendom?'

'A mother in Israel, in truth,' murmured the cleric.

'Yea, in Israel,' said the old wife with a chuckle. 'Israel was the
kernel of our perplexities. The good Flemings saw no farther than their
noses, and laughed at Willebald when he began his  ventures. When success
came, it was easy to win them over, and by admitting them to a share in
our profits get them to fling their caps in the air and huzza for their
benefactors. But the Jew were a tougher stock. Mark you, father, when God
blinded their eyes to the coming of the Lord Christ, He opened them very
wide to all lower matters. Their imagination is quick to kindle and they
are as bold in merchant-craft as Charlemagne in war, They saw what I was
after before I had been a month at it, and  were quick to profit by my
foresight. There are but two ways to  deal with Israelites--root them
from the face of the earth or make them partners with you. Willebald
would have fought them; I, more wise, bought them at a price. For two
score year they have wrought faithfully for me. You say well, a mother of
Israel!'

'I could wish that a Christian lady had no dealings with that accursed
race,' said the Cluniac.

'You could wish folly', was the tart answer. 'I am not as you burgher
folk, and on my own affairs I take no man's guiding, be he monk or
merchant. Willebald is long dead; may he sleep in peace. He was no mate
for me, but for what he gave me I repaid  him in the coin he loved best.
He was a proud man when he walked through the Friday Market with every
cap doffed. He was ever the burgher, like the child I bore him.'

'I had thought the marriage more fruitful. They spoke of two children, a
daughter and a son.'

The woman turned round in her bed so that she faced him. The monkey
whimpered and she cuffed its ears. Her face was sharp and exultant, and
for a sick person her eyes were oddly bright.

'The girl was Willebald's. A poor slip of vulgar stock with the spirit of
a house cat. I would have married her well, for she was handsome after a
fashion, but she thwarted me and chose to wed a lout of a huckster in the
Bredestreet. She shall have he portion from Willebald's gold, but none
from me. But Philip is true child of mine, and sprung on both sides of
high race. Nay, I name no names, and before men he is of my husband's
getting. But to you at the end of my days I speak the truth. That son of
wrath has rare blood in him. Philip...'

The old face had grown kind. She was looking through the monk to some
happy country of vision. Her thoughts were retracing the roads of time,
and after the war of age she spoke them aloud. Imperiously she had
forgotten her company.

'So long ago,' came the tender voice. 'It is years since they told me he
was dead among the heathen, fighting by the Lord Baldwin's side. But I
can see him as if it were yesterday, when he rode into these streets in
spring with April blooms at his saddle-bow. They called him Phoebus in
jest, for his face was like the sun...Willebald, good dull man, was
never jealous, and was glad that his wife should be seen in brave
company. Ah, the afternoons at the baths when we sported like sea-nymphs
and sang merry ballads! And the proud days of Carnival where men and
women consorted freely and without guile like the blessed in Paradise!
Such a tide for lovers!...Did I not lead the dance with him at the
Burgrave's festival, the twain of us braver than morning? Sat I not with
him in the garden of St Vaast, his head in my lap, while he sang me
virelays of the south? What was Willebald to me or his lean grey wife to
him? He made me his queen, me the burgher wife, at the jousting at
Courtrai, when the horses squealed like pigs in the mellay and I wept in
fear for him. Ah, the lost sweet days! Philip, my darling, you make a
grave gentleman, but you will not equal him who loved your mother.'

The Cluniac was a man of the world whom no confidences could scandalise.
But he had business of his own to speak of that night, and he thought it
wise to break into this mood of reminiscence.

'The young lord, Philip, your son, madam? You have great plans for him?
What does he at the moment?'

The softness went out of the voice and the woman's gaze came back to the
chamber. 'That I know not. Travelling the ways of  the world and plucking
roadside fruits, for he is no home-bred and womanish stripling. Wearing
his lusty youth on the maids, I fear. Nay, I forget. He is about to wed
the girl of Avesnes and is already choosing his bridal train. It seems he
loves her. He writes me she has a skin of snow and eyes of vair. I have
not seen here. A green girl, doubtless with a white face and cat's eyes.
But she is of Avesnes, and that blood comes pure from Clovis, and there
is none prouder in Hainault. He will husband her well, but she will be a
clever woman if she tethers to her side a man of my bearing. He will be
for the high road and the battle-front.'

'A puissant and peaceable knight, I have heard tell,' said the Cluniac.

'Puissant beyond doubt, and peaceable--when his will is served. He will
play boldly for great things and will win them. Ah, monk! What knows a
childless religious of a mother's certainty? 'Twas not for nothing that I
found Willebald and changed the cobbles of King's Lynn for this fat
country. It is gold that brings power, and the stiffest royal neck must
bend to him who has the deep coffers. It is gold and his high hand that
will set my Philip by the side of kings. Lord Jesus, what a fortune I
have made for him! There is coined money at the goldsmiths' and in my
cellars, and the ships at the ports, and a hundred busy looms, and lands
in Hainault and Artois, and fair houses in Bruges and Ghent. Boats on the
Rhine and many pack-trains between Antwerp and Venice are his, and a
wealth of preciousness lies in his name with the Italian merchants.
Likewise there is this dwelling of mine, with plenishing which few kings
could buy. My sands sink in the glass, but as I lie a-bed I hear the
bustle of wains and horses in the streets, and the talk of shipfolk, and
the clatter of my serving men beneath, and I know that dally, hourly,
more riches flow hither to furnish my son's kingdom.'

The monk's eyes sparkled at this vision of wealth, and he remembered his
errand.

'A most noble heritage. But if the Sire God in His inscrutable providence
should call your son to His holy side, what provision have you made for
so mighty a fortune? Does your daughter then share?'

The face on the pillows became suddenly wicked and very old. The eyes
were lit with hate.

'Not a bezant of which I have the bequeathing. She has something from
Willebald, and her dull husband makes a livelihood. 'Twill suffice for
the female brats, of whom she has brought three into the world to cumber
it...By the Gospels, she will lie on the bed she has made. I did not
scheme and toil to make gold for such leaden souls.'

'But if your most worthy son should die ere he has begot children, have
you made no disposition?' The monk's voice was pointed with anxiety, for
was not certainty on this point the object of his journey?

The woman perceived it and laughed maliciously. 'I have made
dispositions. Such a chapel will be builded in the New Kirk as Rome
cannot equal. Likewise there will be benefactions for the poor and a
great endowment for the monks at St Sauveur. If my seed is not to
continue on earth I will make favour in Paradise.'

'And we of Cluny, madam?' The voice trembled in spite of its training.

'Nay, I have not forgotten Cluny. Its Abbot shall have the gold flagons
from Jerusalem and some wherewithal in money. But what is this talk?
Philip will not die, and like his mother he loves Holy Church and will
befriend her in all her works...Listen, father, it is long past the
hour when men cease from labour, and yet my provident folk are busy. Hark
to the bustle below. That will be the convoy from the Vermandois. Jesu,
what a night!'

Flurries of snow beat on the windows, and draughts stirred the hot ashes
in the braziers and sent the smoke from them in odd  spirals about the
chamber. It had become perishing cold, and the monkey among the
bedclothes whimpered and snuggled closer into his nest. There seemed to
be a great stir about the house-door. Loud voices were heard in gusts,
and a sound like a woman's cry. The head on the pillow was raised to
listen.

'A murrain on those folk. There has been bungling among the pack-riders.
That new man Derek is an oaf of oafs.'

She rang her silver bell sharply and waited on the ready footsteps. But
none came. There was silence now below, an ominous silence.

'God's curse upon this household,' the woman cried. The monkey whimpered
again, and she took it by the scruff and tossed it to the floor. 'Peace,
ape, or I will have you strangled. Bestir yourself, father, and call
Anton. There is a blight of deafness in this place.'

The room had suddenly lost its comfort and become cold and desolate. The
lamps were burning low and the coloured hangings were in deep shadow. The
storm was knocking fiercely at the lattice.

The monk rose with a shiver to do her bidding, but he was forestalled.
Steps sounded on the stairs and the steward entered. The woman in the bed
had opened her mouth to upbraid, when something in his dim figure struck
her silent.

The old man stumbled forward and fell on his knees beside her.

'Madam, dear madam,' he stammered, 'ill news has come to this house...
There is a post in from Avesnes...The young master...'

'Philip,' and the woman's voice rose to a scream. 'What of my son?'

'The Lord has taken away what He gave. He is dead, slain in a scuffle
with highway robbers...Oh, the noble young lord! The fair young
knight! Woe upon this stricken house!'

The woman lay very still, while the old man on his knees drifted into
broken prayers. Then he observed her silence,  rambled to his feet in a
panic, and lit two candles from the nearest brazier. She lay back on the
pillows in a deathly faint, her face drained of blood. Only her tortured
eyes showed that life was still in her. Her voice came at last, no louder
than a whisper. It was soft now, but more terrible than the old
harshness.

'I follow Philip,' it said. 'Sic transit gloria...Call me Arnulf the
goldsmith and Robert the scrivener...Quick, man, quick. I have much
to do ere I die.'

As the steward hurried out, the Cluniac, remembering his office, sought
to offer comfort, but in his bland worldling's voice the consolations
sounded hollow. She lay motionless, while he quoted the Scriptures.
Encouraged by her docility, he spoke of the certain reward promised by
Heaven to the rich who remembered the Church at their death. He touched
upon the high duties of his Order and the handicap of its poverty. He
bade her remember her debt to the Abbot of Cluny.

She seemed about to speak and he bent eagerly to catch her words.

'Peace, you babbler,' she said. 'I am done with your God. When I meet him
I will outface Him. He has broken His compact and betrayed me. My riches
go to the Burgrave for the comfort of this city where they were won. Let
your broken rush of a Church wither and rot!'

Scared out of all composure by this blasphemy, the Cluniac fell to
crossing himself and mumbling invocations. The diplomat had vanished and
only the frightened monk remained. He would fain have left the room had
he dared, but the spell of her masterful spirit held him. After that she
spoke nothing...

Again there was a noise on the stairs and she moved a little, as if
mustering her falling strength for the ultimate business. But it was not
Arnulf the goldsmith. It was Anton, and he shook like a man on his way to
the gallows.

'Madam, dear madam,' he stammered, again on his knees.  'There is another
message. One has come from the Bredestreet with word of your lady
daughter. An hour ago she has borne a child...A lusty son, madam.'

The reply from the bed was laughter.

It began low and hoarse like a fit of coughing, and rose to the high
cackling mirth of extreme age. At the sound both Anton and the monk took
to praying. Presently it stopped, and her voice came full and strong as
it had been of old.

'Mea culpa,' it said, 'mea maxima culpa. I judged the Sire God over
hastily. He is merry and has wrought a jest on me. He has kept His
celestial promise in His own fashion. He takes my brave Philip and gives
me instead a suckling...So be it. The infant has my blood, and the
race of Forester John will not die. Arnulf will have an easy task. He
need but set the name of this newborn in Philip's place. What manner of
child is he, Anton? Lusty, you say, and well-formed? I would my arms
could have held him...But I must be about my business of dying. I
will take the news to Philip.'

Hope had risen again in the Cluniac's breast. It seemed that here was a
penitent. He approached the bed with a raised crucifix, and stumbled over
the whimpering monkey. The woman's eyes saw him and a last flicker woke
in them.

'Begone, man,' she cried. 'I have done with the world. Anton, rid me of
both these apes. And fetch the priest of St Martin's, for I would confess
and be shriven. Yon curate is no doubt a fool, but he serves my jesting
God.'



THE FRYING-PAN AND THE FIRE


THE  DUKE OF BURMINSTER'S STORY

From the Bath, in its most exotic form, degenerate patrician youth passed
to the coarse delights of the Circus, and thence to that parody of public
duties which it was still the fashion of their class to patronise.
--VON LETTERBECK: Imperial Rome.


PART I: The Frying-pan

Lamancha had been staying for the weekend at some country house, and had
returned full of wrath at the way he had been made to spend his evenings.
'I thought I hated bridge,' he said, 'but I almost longed for it as a
change from cracking my brain and my memory to find lines from poets I
had forgotten to describe people I didn't know. I don't like games that
make me feel a congenital idiot. But there was one that rather amused me.
You invented a preposterous situation and the point was to explain
naturally how it came about. Drink, lunacy and practical joking were
barred as explanations. One problem given was the bishop of London on a
camel, with a string of sea-trout round his neck, playing on a penny
whistle on the Hoe at Plymouth. There was a fellow there, a Chancery
K.C., who provided a perfectly sensible explanation.'

'I have heard of stranger things,' said Sandy Arbuthnot, and he winked at
Burminster, who flushed and looked uncomfortable. As the rest of our eyes
took the same direction the flush deepened on that round cheerful face.

'It's no good, Mike,' said Arbuthnot. 'We've been waiting months for that
story of yours, and this is the place and the hour for it. We'll take no
denial.'

'Confound you, Sandy, I can't tell it. It's too dashed silly.'

'Not a bit of it. It's full of profound philosophical lessons, and sheer
romance, as somebody has defined the thing--strangeness flowering from
the commonplace. So pull up your socks and get going.'

'I don't know how to begin,' said Burminster.

'Well, I'll start it for you...The scene is the railway station of
Langshiels on the Scottish Borders on a certain day last summer. On the
platform are various gentlemen in their best clothes with rosettes in
their buttonholes--all strictly sober, it being but the third hour of the
afternoon. There are also the rudiments of a brass band. Clearly a
distinguished visitor is expected. The train enters the station, and from
a third-class carriage descends our only Mike with a muddy face and a
scratched nose. He is habited in dirty white cord breeches, shocking old
butcher boots, a purple knitted waistcoat, and what I believe is called a
morning coat; over all this splendour a ticky ulster--clearly not his own
since it does not meet--and on his head an unspeakable bowler hat. He is
welcomed by the deputation and departs, attended by the band, to a
political meeting in the Town Hall. But first--I quote from the local
paper--"The Duke, who had arrived in sporting costume, proceeded to the
Station Hotel, where he rapidly changed." We want to know the reason of
these cantrips.'

Burminster took a long pull at his tankard, and looked round the company
with more composure.

'It isn't much of a story, but it's true, and, like nearly every scrape I
ever got into, Archie Roylance was at the bottom of it. It all started
from a discussion I had with Archie. He was staying with me at
Larristane, and we got talking about the old Border raiders and the way
the face of the countryside had changed and that sort of thing. Archie
said that, now the land was as bare as a marble-topped table and there
was no cover on the hills to hide a tomtit, a man couldn't ride five
miles anywhere between the Cheviots and the Clyde without being seen by a
dozen people. I said that there was still plenty of cover if you knew how
to use it--that you could hide yourself as well on bent and heather as in
a  thick wood if you studied the shadows and the lie of  the land, same
as an aeroplane can hide itself in an empty sky. Well, we argued and
argued, and the upshot was that I backed myself to ride an agreed course,
without Archie spotting me. There wasn't much money on it--only an even
sovereign--but we both worked ourselves up into considerable keenness.
That was where I fell down. I might have known that anything Archie was
keen about would end in the soup.

'The course we fixed was about fifteen miles long, from Gledfoot bridge
over the hills between Gled and Aller and the Blae Moor to the Mains of
Blae. That was close to Kirk Aller, and we agreed, if we didn't meet
before, to foregather at the Cross Keys and have tea and motor home.
Archie was to start from a point about four miles north-east of Gledfoot
and cut in on my road at a tangent. I could shape any course I liked, but
I couldn't win unless I got to the Mains of Blae before five o'clock
without being spotted. The rule about that was that he must get within
speaking distance of me--say three hundred yards--before he held me up.
All the Larristane horses were at grass, so we couldn't look for pace. I
chose an old hunter of mine that was very leery about bogs; Archie picked
a young mare that I had hunted the season before and that he had wanted
to buy from me. He said that by rights he ought to have the speedier
steed, since, if he spotted me, he had more or less to ride me down.

'We thought it was only a pleasant summer day's diversion. I didn't want
to give more than a day to it, for I had guests arriving that evening,
and on the Wednesday--this was a Monday--I had to take the chair for
Deloraine at a big Conservative meeting at Langshiels, and I meant to
give a lot of time to preparing a speech. I ought to say that neither of
us knew the bit of country beyond its general lines, and we were
forbidden to carry maps. The horses were sent on, and at 9.30 a.m. I was
at Gledfoot bridge ready to start. I was wearing khaki riding breeches,
polo boots, an old shooting coat, and a pretty old felt hat. I mention my
costume, for later it became important.

'I may as well finish with Archie, for he doesn't come any more into this
tale. He hadn't been half an hour in the saddle  when he wandered into a
bog, and it took him till three in the afternoon to get his horse out.
Consequently he chucked in his hand, and went back to Larristane. So all
the time I was riding cunning and watching out of my right eye to see him
on the skyline he was sweating and blaspheming in a peat moss.

'I started from Gledfoot up the Rinks burn in very good spirits, for I
had been studying the big Ordnance map and I relieved I had a soft thing.
Beyond the Rinks Hope I would cross the ridge to the top of the Skyre
burn, which at its head is all split up into deep grassy gullies. I had
guessed this from the map, and the people at Gledfoot had confirmed it.
By one or other of these gullies I could ride in good cover till I
reached a big wood of firs that stretched for a mile down the left bank
of the burn. Archie, to cut in on me, had a pretty steep hill to cross,
and I calculated that by the time he got on the skyline I would be in the
shelter of one of the gullies or even behind the wood. Not seeing me on
the upper Skyre, he would think that I had bustled a bit and would look
for me lower down the glen. I would lie doggo and watch for him, and when
I saw him properly started I meant to slip up a side burn and get into
the parallel glen of the Hollin. Once there I would ride like blazes, and
either get to the Blae Moor before him--in which case I would simply
canter at ease up to the Mains of Blae--or, if I saw him ahead of me,
fetch a circuit among the plantings and come in on the farm from the
other side. That was the general layout, but I had other dodges in hand
in case Archie tried to be clever.

'So I tittuped along the hill turf beside the Rinks burn, feeling happy
and pretty certain I would win. My horse, considering he was fresh from
the grass, behaved very well, and we travelled in good style. My head was
full of what I was going to  say at Langshiels, and I thought of some
rather fine things--"Our opponents would wreck the old world in order to
build a new, but you cannot found any system on chaos, not even
Communism"--I rather fancied that. Well, to make a long story short, I
got to the Rinks Hope in thirty minutes, and there I found the herd
gathering his black-faced lambs.

'Curiously enough I knew the man--Prentice they called him--for he had
been one of the young shepherds at Larristane. So I stopped to have a
word with him, and watched him at work. He was short-handed for the job,
and he had a young collie only half-trained, so I offered to give him a
hand and show my form as a mounted stockman. The top of that glen was
splendid going, and I volunteered to round up the west hirsel. I
considered that I had plenty of time and could spare ten minutes to help
a pal.

'It was a dashed difficult job, and it took me a good half-hour, and it
was a mercy my horse didn't get an over-reach among the mossy well-heads.
However, I did it, and when I started off again both I and my beast were
in a lather of sweat. That must have confused me, and the way I had been
making circles round the sheep, for I struck the wrong feeder, and
instead of following the one that led to the top of the Skyre burn I kept
too much to my left. When I got to the watershed I looked down on a
country utterly different from what I had expected. There was no delta of
deep gullies, but a broad green cup seamed with stone walls, and below it
a short glen which presently ran out into the broader vale of the Aller.

'The visibility was none too good, so I could not make out the further
prospect. I ought to have realised that this was not the Skyre burn. But
I only concluded that I had misread the map and besides, there was a big
wood lower down which I thought was the one I had remarked. There was no
sign of Archie as yet on the high hills to my right, so I decided I had
better get off the skyline and make my best speed across that bare green
cup.

'It took me a long time, for I had a lot of trouble with the stone dykes.
The few gates were all fastened up with wire, and I couldn't manage to
undo them. So I had to scramble over the first dyke, and half pull down
the next, and what with one thing and another I wasted a shocking amount
of time. When I got to the bottom I found that the burn was the merest
trickle, not the strong stream of the Skyre, which is a famous water for
trout. But there, just ahead of me, was the big wood, so I decided I must
be right after all.

'I had kept my eye lifting to the ridge on the right, and suddenly I saw
Archie. I know now that it wasn't he, but it was man on a horse and it
looked his living image. He was well down the hillside and he was moving
fast. He didn't appear to have seen me, but I realised that he would in a
minute, unless I found cover.

'I jogged my beast with the spur, and in three seconds was under cover of
the fir-wood. But here I found a track, and it struck me that it was this
track which Archie was following, and that he would soon be up with me.
The only thing to do seemed to be to get inside the wood. But this was
easier said than done, for a great wall with broken bottles on the top
ran round that blessed place. I had to do something pretty quick, for I
could hear the sound of hoofs behind me, and on the left there was
nothing but the benty side of a hill.

'Just then I saw a gate, a massive thing of close-set oak splints, and
for a mercy it was open. I pushed through it and slammed it behind me. It
shut with a sharp click as if it was a patent self-locking arrangement. A
second later I heard the noise of a horse outside and hands trying the
gate. Plainly they couldn't open it. The man I thought was Archie said
"Damn" and moved away.

'I had found sanctuary, but the question now was how to get out of it. I
dismounted and wrestled with the gate, but it was as firm as a rock.
About this time I began to realise that something was wrong, for I
couldn't think why Archie should have wanted to get through the gate if
he hadn't seen me, and, if he had seen  me, why he hadn't shouted,
according to our rules. Besides, this wasn't a wood, it was the grounds
of some house, and the map had shown no house in the Skyre glen...The
only thing to do was to find somebody to let me out. I didn't like the
notion of riding about in a stranger's policies, so I knotted my bridle
and let my beast graze, while I proceeded on foot to prospect.

'The ground shelved steeply, and almost at once my feet went from under
me and I slithered down a bank of raw earth. You see there was no grip in
the smooth soles of my polo boots. The next I knew I had banged hard into
the back of a little wooden shelter which stood on a sunny mantelpiece of
turf above the stream. I picked myself up and limped round the erection,
rubbing the dirt from my eyes, and came face to face with a group of
people.

'They were all women, except one man, who was reading aloud to them, and
they were all lying in long chairs. Pretty girls they seemed to be from
the glimpse I had of them, but rather pale, and they all wore
bright-coloured cloaks.

'I daresay I looked a bit of a ruffian, for I was very warm and had got
rather dirty in slithering down, and had a rent in my breeches. At the
sight of me the women gave one collective bleat like a snipe, and
gathered up their skirts and ran. I could see their cloaks glimmering as
they dodged like woodcock among the rhododendrons.

'The man dropped his book and got up and faced me. He was a young fellow
with a cadaverous face and side-whiskers, and he seemed to be in a funk
of something, for his lips twitched and his hands shook as if he had
fever. I could see that he was struggling to keep calm.

'"So you've come back, Mr Brumby," he said. "I hope you had a g-good
time?"

'For a moment I had a horrid suspicion that he knew me, for they used to
call me "Brummy" at school. A second look convinced me that we had never
met, and I realised that the word he had used was Brumby. I hadn't a
notion what he meant, but the only thing seemed to be to brazen it out.
That was where  I played the fool. I ought to have explained my mistake
there and then, but I still had the notion that Archie was hanging about,
and I wanted to dodge him. I dropped into a long chair, and said that I
had come back and that it was a pleasant day. Then I got out my pipe.

'"Here, you mustn't do that," he said. "It isn't allowed."

'I put the pipe away, and wondered what lunatic asylum I had wandered
into. I wasn't permitted to wonder long, for up the path from the
rhododendrons came two people in a mighty hurry. One was an anxious-faced
oldish man dressed like a valet, and the other a middle-aged woman in
nurse's uniform. Both seemed to be excited, and both to be trying to
preserve an air of coolness.

'"Ah, Schwester," said the fellow with the whiskers. "Here is Mr Brumby
back again and none the worse."

'The woman, who had kind eyes and a nice gurgling voice, looked at me
reproachfully.

'"I hope you haven't taken any harm, sir," she said. "We had better go
back to the house, and Mr Grimpus will give you a nice bath and a change,
and you'll lie down a bit before luncheon. You must be very tired, sir.
You'd better take Mr Grimpus's arm."

'My head seemed to be spinning, but I thought it best to lie low and do
what I was told till I got some light. Silly ass that I was, I was still
on the tack of dodging Archie. I could easily have floored Grimpus, and
the man with the whiskers wouldn't have troubled me much, but there was
still the glass-topped wall to get over, and there might be heftier
people about, grooms and gardeners and the like. Above all, I didn't want
to make any more scenes, for I had already scared a lot of sick ladies
into the rhododendrons.

'So I went off quite peaceably with Grimpus and the sister, and presently
we came to a house like a small hydropathic, hideously ugly but
beautifully placed, with a view south to the Aller Valley. There were
more nurses in the hall and a porter  with a jaw like a prize-fighter.
Well, I went up in a lift to the second floor, and there was a bedroom
and a balcony, and several trunks, and brushes on the dressing-table
lettered H. B. They made me strip and get into a dressing-gown, and then
a doctor arrived, a grim fellow with gold spectacles and a soft, bedside
manner. He spoke to me soothingly about the beauty of the weather and how
the heather would soon be in bloom on the hill; he also felt my pulse and
took my blood pressure, and talked for a long time in a corner with the
sister. If he said there was anything wrong with me he lied, for I had
never felt fitter in my life except for the bewilderment of my brain.

'Then I was taken down in a lift to the basement, and Grimpus started out
to give me a bath. My hat! That was a bath! I lay in six inches of
scalding water, while a boiling cataract beat on my stomach; then it
changed to hot hail and then to gouts that hit like a pickaxe; and then
it all turned to ice. But it made me feel uncommonly frisky. After that
they took me back to my bedroom and I had a gruelling massage, and what I
believe they call violet rays. By this time I was fairly bursting with
vim, but I thought it best to be quite passive, and when they told me I
must try to sleep before luncheon, I only grinned and put my head on the
pillow like a child. When they left me I badly wanted to smoke, but my
pipe had gone with my clothes, and I found laid out for me a complete
suit of the man Brumby's flannels.

'As I lay and reflected I began to get my bearings. I knew where I was.
It was a place called Craigiedean, about six miles from Kirk Aller, which
had been used as a shell-shock hospital during the War and had been kept
on as a home for nervous cases. It wasn't a private asylum, as I had
thought at first; it called itself a Kurhaus, and was supposed to be the
last thing in science outside Germany. Now and then, however, it got some
baddish cases, people who were almost off their rocker, and I fancied
that Brumby was one. He was apparently my double, but I didn't believe in
exact doubles, so I guessed that he had  just arrived, and hadn't given
the staff time to know him well before he went off on the bend. The
horseman whom I had taken for Archie must have been out scouring the
hills for him.

'Well, I had dished Archie all right, but I had also dished myself. At
any moment the real Brumby might wander back, ad then there would be a
nice show up. The one thing that terrified me was that my identity should
be discovered, for this  as more or less my own countryside, and I should
look a proper ass if it got about that I had been breaking into a
nerve-cure  place, frightening women, and getting myself treated like a
gentle loony. Then I remembered that my horse was in the wood and might
be trusted to keep on grazing along the inside of the wall where nobody
went. My best plan seemed to be to wait my chance, slip out of the house,
recover my beast and find some way out of the infernal park. The wall
couldn't be everywhere, for after all the place wasn't an asylum.

'A gong sounded for luncheon, so I nipped up, and got into Brumby's
flannels. They were all right for length, but a bit roomy. My money and
the odds and ends from my own pockets were laid out on the
dressing-table, but not my pipe and pouch, which I judged had been
confiscated.

'I wandered downstairs to a big dining-room, full of little tables, with
the most melancholy outfit seated at them that you ever saw in all your
days. The usual thing was to have a table to oneself, but sometimes two
people shared one--husband and wife, no doubt, or mother and daughter.
There were eight males including me, and the rest were females of every
age from flappers to grandmothers. Some looked pretty sick, some quite
blooming, but all had a watchful air, as if they were holding themselves
in and pursuing some strict regime. There was no conversation, and
everybody had brought a book or a magazine which they diligently studied.
In the centre of each table, beside the salt and pepper, stood a little
fleet of medicine bottles. The sister who led me to my place planted down
two beside me.

'I soon saw the reason of the literary absorption. The food was  simply
bestial. I was hungry and thirsty enough to have eaten two beefsteaks and
drunk a quart of beer, and all I got was three rusks, a plate of thin
soup, a puree of vegetables and a milk pudding in a teacup. I envied the
real Brumby, who at that moment, if he had  any sense, was doing himself
well in a public-house. I didn't dare to ask for more in case of inviting
awkward questions, so I had plenty of leisure to observe the company.
Nobody looked at anybody else, for it seemed to be the fashion to pretend
you were alone in a wilderness, and even the couples did not talk to each
other. I made a cautious preliminary survey to see if there was anyone I
knew, but they were all strangers. After a time I felt so lonely that I
wanted to howl.

'At last the company began to get up and straggle out. The sister whom I
had seen first--the others called her Schwester and she seemed to be
rather a boss--appeared with a bright smile and gave me my medicine. I
had to take two pills and some horrid drops out of a brown bottle. I
pretended to be very docile, and I thought that I'd take the chance to
pave the way to getting to my horse. So I said that I felt completely
rested, and would like a walk that afternoon. She shook her head.

'"No, Mr Brumby. Dr Miggle's orders are positive that you rest today."

'"But I'm feeling really very fit," I protested. "I'm the kind of man who
needs a lot of exercise."

'"Not yet," she said with a patient smile. "At present your energy is
morbid. It comes from an irregular nervous complex, and we must first
cure that before you can lead a normal life. Soon you'll be having nice
long walks. You promised your wife, you know, to do everything that you
were told, and it was very wrong of you to slip out last night and make
us all so anxious. Dr Miggle says that must never happen again." And she
wagged a reproving finger.

'So I had a wife to add to my troubles. I began now to be really worried,
for not only might Brumby turn up any moment, but  his precious spouse,
and I didn't see how I was to explain to her hat I was doing in her
husband's trousers. Also the last sentence disquieted me. Dr Miggle was
determined that I should not bolt again, and he looked a resolute lad.
That meant that I would be always under observation, and that at night my
bedroom door would be locked?

'I made an errand to go up to my room, while Grimpus  waited for me in
the hall, and had a look at the window. There was a fine thick Virginia
creeper which would make it easy to get to the floor beneath, but it was
perfectly impossible to reach he ground, for below was a great chasm of a
basement. There was nothing doing that way, unless I went through the
room beneath, and that meant another outrage and probably an appalling
row.

'I felt very dispirited as I descended the stairs, till I saw a woman
coming out of that identical room...Blessed if it wasn't my Aunt
Letitia!

'I needn't have been surprised, for she gave herself out as a martyr to
nerves, and was always racing about the world looking for a cure. She saw
me, took me for Brumby, and hurried away. Evidently Brumby's doings had
got about, and there were suspicions of his sanity. The moment was not
propitious for following her, since Grimpus was looking at me.

I was escorted to the terrace by Grimpus, tucked up in a long chair, and
told to stay there and bask in the sun. I must not read, but I could
sleep if I liked. I never felt less like slumber, for I was getting to be
a very good imitation of a mental case. I must get hold of Aunt Letitia.
I could see her in her chair at the other end of the terrace, but if I
got up and went to her she would take me for that loony Brumby and have a
fit.

'I lay cogitating and baking in the sun for about two hours. Then I
observed that sisters were bringing out tea or medicines to some of the
patients and I thought I saw a chance of a move. I called one of them to
me, and in a nice invalidish voice complained that the sun was too hot
for me and that I wanted to be  moved to the other end where there was
more shade. The sister went off to find Grimpus and presently that
sportsman appeared.

'"I've had enough of this sun-bath," I told him, "and I feel a headache
coming. I want you to shift me to the shade of the beeches over there."

'"Very good, sir," he said, and helped me to rise, while he picked up
chair and rugs. I tottered delicately after him, and indicated a vacant
space next to Aunt Letitia. She was dozing, and mercifully did not see
me. The chair on my other side was occupied by an old gentleman who was
sound asleep.

'I waited for a few minutes and began to wriggle my chair a bit nearer.
Then I made a pellet of earth from a crack in the paving stones and
jerked it neatly on to her face.

'"Hist!" I whispered. "Wake up, Aunt Letty."

'She opened one indignant eye, and turned it on me, and I thought she was
going to swoon.

'"Aunt Letty," I said in an agonised voice. "For Heaven's sake don't
shout. I'm not Brumby. I'm your nephew Michael."

'Her nerves were better than I thought, for she managed to take a pull on
herself and listen to me while I muttered my tale. I could see that she
hated the whole affair, and had some kind of grievance against me for
outraging the sanctity of her pet cure. However, after a bit of
parleying, she behaved like a brick.

'"You are the head of our family, Michael," she said, "and I am bound to
help you out of the position in which your own rashness has placed you. I
agree with you that it is essential to have no disclosure of identity. It
is the custom here for patients to retire to their rooms at eight-thirty.
At nine o'clock I shall have my window open, and if you enter by it you
can leave by the door. That is the most I can do for you. Now please be
silent, for I am ordered to be very still for an hour before tea."

'You can imagine that after that the time went slowly. Grimpus brought me
a cup of tea and a rusk, and I fell asleep and only woke when he came at
half-past six to escort me  indoors. I would have given pounds for a
pipe. Dinner was at seven, and I said that I would not trouble to change,
though Brumby's dress-clothes were laid out on the bed. I had the needle
badly, for I had a horrid fear that Brumby might turn up before I got
away.

'Presently the doctor arrived, and after cooing over me a bit and feeling
my pulse, he started out to cross-examine me about my past life. I
suppose that was to find out the subconscious complexes which were
upsetting my wits. I decided to go jolly carefully, for I suspected that
he had either given Brumby the once-over or had got some sort of report
about his case. I was right, for the first thing he asked me was about
striking my sister at the age of five. Well, I haven't got a sister, but
I had to admit to beating Brumby's, and I said the horrible affair still
came between me and my sleep. That seemed to puzzle him, for apparently I
oughtn't to have been thinking about it; it should have been buried deep
in my unconscious self, and worrying me like a thorn in your finger which
you can't find. He asked me a lot about my nurse, and I said that she had
a brother who went to gaol for sheep stealing. He liked that, and said it
was a fruitful line of inquiry. Also he wanted to know about my dreams,
and said I should write them down. I said I had dreamed that a mare
called Nursemaid won the Oaks, but found there was no such animal
running. That cheered him up a bit, and he said that he thought my nurse
might be the clue. At that I very nearly gave the show away by laughing,
for my nurse was old Alison Hyslop, who is now the housekeeper at
Larristane, and if anybody called her a clue she'd have their blood.

'Dinner was no better than luncheon--the same soup and rusks and
vegetables, with a bit of ill-nourished chicken added. This time I had to
take three kinds of medicine instead of two. I told the sister that I was
very tired, and Grimpus took me upstairs at eight o'clock. He said that
Dr Miggle proposed to give me another go of violet rays, but I protested
so strongly that I was too sleepy for his ministrations that Grimpus,
after  going off to consult him, announced that for that evening the rays
would be omitted. You see I was afraid that they would put me to bed and
remove my clothes, and I didn't see myself trapesing about the country in
Brumby's pyjamas.

'As Grimpus left me I heard the key turn in the lock. It was as well that
I had made a plan with Aunt Letitia.

'At nine o'clock I got out of my window. It was a fine night, with the
sun just setting and a young moon. The Virginia creeper was sound, and in
less than a minute I was outside Aunt Letitia's window. She was waiting
in a dressing-gown to let me in, and I believe the old soul really
enjoyed the escapade. She wanted to give me money for my travels, but I
told her that I had plenty. I poked my nose out, saw that the staircase
and hall were empty, and quietly closed the door behind me.

'The big hall door was shut, and I could hear the prize-fighting porter
moving in his adjacent cubby hole. There was no road that way, so I
turned to the drawing-room, which opened on the terrace. But that was all
in darkness, and I guessed that the windows were shuttered. There was
nothing for it but to try downstairs. I judged that the servants would be
at supper, so I went through a green-baize swing-door and down a long
flight of stone steps.

'Suddenly I blundered into a brightly lit kitchen. There was no one in
it, and beyond was a door which looked as if it might lead to the open
air. It actually led to a scullery, where a maid was busy at a tap. She
was singing to herself a song called "When the kye come hame", so I knew
she belonged to the countryside. So did I, and I resolved to play the
bold game.

'"Hey, lassie," I said. "Whaur's the road out o' this hoose? I maun be
back in Kirk Aller afore ten."

'The girl stopped her singing and stared at me. Then in response to my
grin she laughed.

'"Are ye frae Kirk Aller?" she asked.

'"I've gotten a job there," I said. "I'm in the Cally station,  and I
cam' up about a parcel for one o' the leddies here. But I come frae
further up the water, Larristane way."

'"D'ye say sae? I'm frae Gledside mysel'. What gars ye be in sic a hurry?
It's a fine nicht and there's a mune."

'She was a flirtatious damsel, but I had no time for dalliance.

'"There's a lassie in Kirk Aller will take the held off me if I keep her
waitin'."

'She tossed her head and laughed. "Haste ye then, my mannie. Is it
Shanks' powny?"

'"Na, na, I've a bicycle ootbye."

'"Well, through the wash-hoose and up the steps and roond by the
roddydendrums and ye're in the yaird. Guid nicht to ye."

'I went up the steps like a lamplighter and dived into the rhododendrons,
coming out on the main avenue. It ran long and straight to the lodge
gates, and I didn't like the look of it. My first business was to find my
horse, and I had thought out more or less the direction. The house stood
on the right bank of the burn, and if I kept to my left I would cross the
said burn lower down and could then walk up the other side. I did this
without trouble. I forded the burn in the meadow, and was soon climbing
the pine-wood which clothed the gorge. In less than twenty minutes I had
reached the gate in the wall by which I had entered.

'There was no sign of my horse anywhere. I followed the wall on my left
till it curved round and crossed the burn, but the beast was not there,
and it was too dark to look for hoof-marks. I tried to my right and got
back to the level of the park, but had no better luck. If I had had any
sense I would have given up the quest, and trusted to getting as far as
Gledfoot on my own feet. The horse might be trusted to turn up in his own
time. Instead I went blundering on in the half-light of the park, and
presently I blundered into trouble.

'Grimpus must have paid another visit to my room, found me gone, seen the
open window, and started a hue-and-cry. They would not suspect my Aunt
Letitia, and must have thought that  I had dropped like a cat into the
basement. The pursuit was coming down the avenue, thinking I had made for
the lodge--gates, and as ill-luck would have it, I had selected that
moment to cross the drive, and they spotted me. I remember that out of a
corner of one eye I saw the lights of a fly coming up the drive, and I
wondered if Brumby had selected this inauspicious moment to return.

'I fled into the park with three fellows after me. Providence never meant
me for a long-distance runner, and, besides, I was feeling weak from lack
of nourishment. But I was so scared of what would happen if I was caught
that I legged it like a miler, and the blighters certainly didn't gain on
me.

'But what I came to was the same weary old wall with the bottle glass on
the top of it. I was pretty desperate, and I thought I saw a way. A young
horse-chestnut tree grew near the wall and one bough overhung it. I made
a jump at the first branch, caught it, and with a bit of trouble swung
myself up into the crutch. This took time, and one of the fellows came up
and made a grab at my leg, but I let him have Brumby's rubber-soled heel
in the jaw.

'I caught the bigger branch and wriggled along it till I was above and
beyond the-wall. Then the dashed thing broke with my twelve stone, and I
descended heavily on what looked like a high road.

'There was no time to spare, though I was a bit shaken, for the pursuit
would not take long to follow me. I started off down that road looking
for shelter, and I found it almost at once. There was a big covered
horse-van moving ahead of me, with a light showing from the interior. I
sprinted after it, mounted the step and stuck my head inside.

'"Can I come in?" I panted. "Hide me for ten minutes and I'll explain."

'I saw an old, spectacled, whiskered face. It was portentously solemn,
but I thought I saw a twinkle in the eye.

'"Ay," said a toothless mouth, "ye can come in." A hand grabbed my
collar, and I was hauled inside. That must have been just when the first
of my pursuers dropped over the wall.

PART II: The Fire

'I had got into a caravan which was a sort of bedroom, and behind the
driver's seat was a double curtain. There I made myself inconspicuous
while the old man parleyed with the pursuit.

'"Hae ye seen a gentleman?" I could hear a panting voice. "Him that
drappit ower the wa'? He was rinnin' hard."

'"What kind of a gentleman?"

'"He had on grey claithes--aboot the same height as mysel'." The speaker
was not Grimpus.

'"Naebody passed me," was the strictly truthful answer. "Ye'd better seek
the ither side o' the road among the bracken. There's plenty hidy-holes
there. Wha's the man?"

'"Ane o' the doctor's folk." I knew, though I could not see, that the man
had tapped his forehead significantly. "Aweel, I'll try back. Guid nicht
to ye."

'I crept out of my refuge and found the old man regarding me solemnly
under the swinging lamp.

'"I'm one of the auld-fashioned Radicals," he announced, "and I'm for the
liberty o' the individual. I dinna hold wi' lockin'  folks up because a
pernickettypernicketty doctor says they're no wise. But I'd be glad to be
assured, sir, that ye're no a dangerous lunattic. If ye are, Miggle has
nae business to be workin' wi' lunattics. His hoose is no an asylum."

'"I'm as sane as you are," I said, and as shortly as I could I told him
my story. I said I was a laird on Gledwater-side--which was true, and
that my name was Brown--which wasn't. I told him about my bet with Archie
and my ride and its disastrous ending. His face never moved a muscle;
probably he didn't believe me,  but because of his political principles
he wasn't going to give me away.

'"Ye can bide the night with me," he said. "The morn we'll be busy and ye
can gang wherever ye like. It's a free country in spite o' our
God-forsaken Government."

'I blessed him, and asked  to whom I was indebted for this hospitality.

'"I'm the Great McGowan," he said. "The feck o' the pawraphernalia is on
ahead. We open the morn in Kirk Aller."

'He had spoken his name as if it were Mussolini or Dempsey, one which all
the world should know. I knew it too, for it had been familiar to me from
childhood. You could have seen it any time in the last twenty years
flaming upon hoardings up and down the Lowlands--The Great McGowan's
Marvellous Multitudinous Menagerie--McGowan's Colossal Circassian
Circus--The Only Original McGowan.

'We rumbled on for another half-mile, and then turned from the road into
a field. As we bumped over the grass I looked out of the door and saw
about twenty big caravans and wagons at anchor. There was a strong smell
of horses and of cooking food, and above it I seemed to detect the odour
of unclean beasts. We took up our station apart from the rest, and after
the proprietor had satisfied himself by a brief inspection that the whole
outfit was there, he announced that it was time to retire. Mr McGowan had
apparently dined, and he did not offer me food, which I would have
welcomed, but he mixed me a rummer of hot toddy. I wondered if it would
disagree with the various medicines I had been compelled to take, and
make me very sick in the night. Then he pointed out my bunk, undressed
himself as far as his shirt, pulled a nightcap over his venerable head,
and in five minutes was asleep. I had had a wearing day, and in spite of
the stuffiness of the place it wasn't long before I dropped off also.

'I awoke next morning to find myself alone in the caravan. I opened the
window and saw that a fine old racket was going on. The show had started
to move, and as the caravans bumped over  the turf various specimens
inside were beginning to give tongue. It was going to be a gorgeous day
and very hot. I was a little bit anxious about my next move, for Kirk
Aller was unpleasantly near Craigiedean and Dr Miggle. In the end I
decided that my best plan would be to take the train to Langshiels and
there hire a car to Larristane, after sending a telegram to say I was all
right, in case my riderless steed should turn up before me. I hadn't any
headgear, but I thought I could buy something in Kirk Aller, and trust to
luck that nobody from the Kurhaus spotted me in the street. I wanted a
bath and a shave and breakfast, but I concluded I had better postpone
them till I reached the hotel at Langshiels.

'Presently Mr McGowan appeared, and I could see by his face that
something had upset him. He was wearing an old check dressing-gown, and
he had been padding about in his bare feet on the dewy grass.

'"Ye telled me a story last night, Mr Brown," he began solemnly, "which I
didna altogether believe. I apologise for being a doubting Thomas. I
believe every word o't, for I've just had confirmation."

'I mumbled something about being obliged to him, and he went on.

'"Ay, for the pollis were here this morning--seeking you. Yon man at
Craigiedean is terrible ill-set against ye, Mr Brown. The pollisman--his
name's Tarn Doig, I ken him fine--says they're looking for a man that
personated an inmate, and went off wi' some o' the inmate's belongings.
I'm quotin' Tarn Doig. I gave Tarn an evasive answer, and he's off on his
bicycle the other road, but--I ask ye as a freend, Mr Brown--what is
precisely the facts o' the case?"

'"Good God!" I said. "It's perfectly true. These clothes I'm wearing
belong to the man Brumby, though they've got my own duds in exchange. He
must have come back after I left. What an absolutely infernal mess! I
suppose they could have me up for theft."

'"Mair like obtaining goods on false pretences, though I think ye have a
sound answer. But that's no the point, Mr Brown. The doctor is set on
payin' off scores. Ye've entered his sawnatorium and gone through a' the
cantrips he provides, and ye've made a gowk o' him. He wants to make an
example o you. Tarn Doig was sayin' that he's been bleezin' half the
night on the telephone, an' he'll no rest till ye're grippit. Now ye tell
me that ye're a laird and a man o' some poseetion, and I believe ye. It
wad be an ill job for you and your freends if ye was to appear before the
Shirra."

'I did some rapid thinking. So far I was safe, for there was nothing
about the clothes I had left behind to identify me. I was pretty certain
that my horse had long ago made a bee-line for the Larristane stables. If
I could only get home without being detected, I might regard the episode
as closed.

'"Supposing I slip off now," I said. "I have a general notion of the
land, and I might get over the hills without anybody seeing me."

'He shook his head. "Ye wouldn't travel a mile. Your description has been
circulated and a' body's lookin' for ye--a man in a grey flannel suit and
soft shoes wi' a red face and nae hat. Guid kens what the doctor has said
about ye, but the countryside is on the look-out for a dangerous, and
maybe lunattic, criminal. There's a reward offered of nae less than
twenty pound."

'"Can you not take me with you to Kirk Aller?" I asked despairingly.

'"Ay, ye can stop wi' me. But what better wad ye be in Kirk Aller?
That's where the Procurator Fiscal bides."

'Then he put on his spectacles and looked at me solemnly.

'"I've taken a fancy to ye, Mr Brown, and ye can tell the world that. I
ask you, are ye acquaint wi' horses?"

'I answered that I had lived among them all my life, and had been in the
cavalry before I went into the Air Force.

'"I guessed it by your face. Horses have a queer trick o' leavin'  their
mark on a body. Now, because I like ye, I'll make a  proposeetion to ye
that I would make to no other man...I'm without a ring-master. Joseph
Japp, who for ten years has had the job with me, is lyin' wi' the
influenzy at Berwick. I could make shift with Dublin Davie, but Davie has
no more presence than a messan dog, and forbye Joseph's clothes wouldna
fit him. When I cast my eyes on ye this mornin' after hearin' Tarn Doig's
news, I says to mysel', 'Thou art the man.'"

'Of course I jumped at the offer. I was as safe in Kirk Aller, as Joseph
Japp's understudy, as I was in my own house. Besides, I liked the notion;
it would be a good story to tell Archie. But I said it could only be for
one night, and that I must leave tomorrow, and he agreed. "I want to make
a good show for a start in Kirk Aller--forbye, Joseph will be ready to
join me at Langshiels."

'I borrowed the old boy's razor and had a shave and a wash, while he was
cooking breakfast. After we had fed he fetched my predecessor's kit. It
fitted me well enough, but Lord! I looked a proper blackguard. The cord
breeches had been recently cleaned, but the boots were like a pair of
dilapidated buckets, and the coat would have made my tallor weep. Mr
McGowan himself put on a frock-coat and a high collar and spruced himself
up till he looked exactly like one of those high-up Irish dealers you see
at the Horse Show--a cross between a Cabinet Minister and a Methodist
parson. He said the ring-master should ride beside the chief exhibit, so
we bustled out and I climbed up in front of a wagon which bore a cage
containing two very low-spirited lions. I was given a long whip, and told
to make myself conspicuous.

'I didn't know Kirk Aller well, so I had no fear of being recognised
either as myself or as the pseudo-Brumby. The last time I had been there
was when I had motored over from Larristane to dine with the Aller
Shooting Club. My present entry was of a more sensational kind. I decided
to enjoy myself and to attract all the notice I could, and I certainly
succeeded.  Indeed, you might say I received an ovation. As it happened
it was a public holiday, and the streets were pretty full. We rumbled up
the cobbled Westgate, and down the long High Street, with the pavements
on both sides lined with people and an attendant mob of several hundred
children. The driver was a wizened little fellow in a jockey cap, but I
was the principal figure on the box. I gave a fine exhibition with my
whip, and when we slowed down I picked out conspicuous figures in the
crowd and chaffed them. I thought I had better use Cockney patter, as
being more in keeping with my job, and I made a happy blend of the
table-talk of my stud-groom and my old batman in the regiment. It was
rather a high-class performance and you'd be surprised how it went down.
There was one young chap with a tremendous head of hair that I invited to
join his friends in the cage, and just then one of the dejected lions let
out a growl, and I said that Mamma was calling to her little Percy. And
there was an old herd from the hills, who had been looking upon the
wine-cup, and who, in a voice like a fog-horn, wanted to know what we fed
the beasts on. Him I could not refrain from answering in his own tongue.
"Braxy, my man," I cried, "The yowes ye lost when we were fou last
Boswell's Fair." I must have got home somehow, for the crowd roared, and
his friends thumped the old chap on the back and shouted: "That's a guid
ane! He had you there, Tarn."

'My triumphant procession came to an end on the Aller Green, where the
show was to be held. A canvas palisade had been set up round a big
stretch of ground, and the mob of children tailed off at the gate. Inside
most of our truck had already arrived. The stadium for the circus had
been marked off, and tiers of wooden seats were being hammered together.
A big tent had been set up, which was to house the menagerie, and several
smaller tents were in process of erection. I noticed that the members of
the troupe looked at me curiously till Mr McGowan arrived and introduced
me. "This is Mr Brown, a friend of mine," he said, "who will take on Joe
Japp's job for the  night." And, aside to me, "Man, I heard ye comin'
down the High Street. Ye did fine. Ye're a great natural talent for the
profession." After that we were all very friendly, and the whole company
had a snack together in one of the tents--bread and cheese and bottled
beer.

'The first thing I did was to make a bundle of Brumby's clothes, which Mr
McGowan promised to send back to Craigiedean when the coast was clear.
Then I bribed a small boy to take a telegram to the Post Office--to
Archie at Larristane, saying I had been detained and hoped to return next
day. After that I took off my coat and worked like a beaver. It was
nearly six o'clock before we had everything straight, and the show opened
at seven, so we were all a bit the worse for wear when we sat down to
high tea. It's a hard job an artiste's, as old McGowan observed.

'I never met a queerer, friendlier, more innocent company, for the
proprietor seemed to have set out to collect originals, and most of them
had been with him for years. The boss of the menagerie was an ex-sailor,
who had a remarkable way with beasts; he rarely spoke a word, but just
grinned and whistled through broken teeth. The clown, who said his name
was Sammie Dreep, came from Paisley, and was fat enough not to need the
conventional bolster. Dublin Davie, my second in command, was a small
Irishman who had been an ostler, and limped owing to having been with the
Dublin Fusiliers at Gallipoli. The clown had a wife who ran the
commissariat, when she wasn't appearing in the ring as Zenobia, the Pride
of the Sahara. Then there were the Sisters Wido--a young married couple
with two children; and the wife of a man who played the
clarionet--figured in the bill as Elise the Equestrienne. I had a look at
the horses, which were the ordinary skinny, broad-backed, circus ponies.
I found out later that they were so well trained that I daresay they
could have done their turns in the dark.

'At a quarter to seven we lit the naphtha flares and our orchestra
started in. McGowan told me to get inside Japp's dress  clothes, and
rather unwillingly I obeyed him, for I had got rather to fancy my
morning's kit. I found there was only a coat and waistcoat, for I was
allowed to retain the top-boots and cords. Happily the shirt was clean,
but I had a solitaire with a sham diamond as big as a shilling, and the
cut of the coat would have been considered out-of-date by a
self-respecting waiter in Soho. I had also a scarlet silk handkerchief to
stuff in my bosom, a pair of dirty white kid gloves, and an immense coach
whip.

'The menagerie was open, but that night the chief attraction was the
circus, and I don't mind saying that about the best bit of the circus was
myself. In one of the intervals McGowan insisted on shaking hands and
telling me that I was wasted in any other profession than a showman's.
The fact is I was rather above myself, and entered into what you might
call the spirit of the thing. We had the usual Dick Turpin's ride to
York, and an escape of Dakota Dan (one of the Sisters Wido) from Red
Indians (the other Wido, Zenobia and Elise, with about a ton of feathers
on their heads). The Equestrienne equestered, and the Widos hopped
through hoops, and all the while I kept up my patter and spouted all the
rot I could remember.

'The clown was magnificent. He had a Paisley accent you could have cut
like a knife, but he prided himself on talking aristocratic English. He
had a lot of badinage with Zenobia about her life in the desert. One bit
I remember. She kept on referring to bulbuls, and asked him if he had
ever seen a bull-bull. He said he had, for he supposed it was a male
coo-coo. But he was happiest at my expense. I never heard a chap with
such a flow of back-chat. A funny thing--but when he wasn't calling me
"Little Pansy-face", he addressed me as "Your Grace" and "Me Lord Dook",
and hoped that the audience would forgive my neglige attire, seeing my
coronet hadn't come back from the wash.

'Altogether the thing went with a snap from beginning to end, and when
old McGowan, all dressed up with a white waistcoat, made a speech at the
end and explained about the next  performances he got a perfect hurricane
of applause. After that we had to tidy up. There was the usual trouble
with several procrastinating drunks, who wanted to make a night of it.
One of them got into the ring and tried to have a row with me. He was a
big loutish fellow with small eyes and red hair, and had the look of a
betting tout. He stuck his face close to mine and bellowed at me:

'"I ken ye fine, ye------! I seen ye at Lanerick last back-end...Ye
ca'd yoursel' Gentleman Geordie, and ye went off wi' my siller. By God,
I'll get it out o' ye, ye------welsher."

'I told him that he was barking up the wrong tree, and that I was not a
bookie and had never been near Lanerick, but he refused to be convinced.
The upshot was that Davie and I had to chuck him out, blaspheming like a
navvy and swearing that he was coming back with his pals to do me in.

'We were a very contented lot of mountebanks at supper that night. The
takings were good and the menagerie also had been popular, and we all
felt that we had been rather above our form. McGowan, for whom I was
acquiring a profound affection, beamed on us, and produced a couple of
bottles of blackstrap to drink the health of the Colossal Circassian
Circus. That old fellow was a nonesuch. He kept me up late--for I stopped
with him in his caravan--expounding his philosophy of life. It seemed he
had been intended for the kirk, but had had too much joie de vivre for
the pulpit. He was a born tramp, and liked waking up most days in a new
place, and he loved his queer outfit and saw the comedy of it. "For three
and thirty years I've travelled the country," he said, "and I've been a
public benefactor, Mr Brown. I've put colour into many a dowie life, and
I've been a godsend to the bairns. There's no vulgarity in my
performances--they're a' as halesome as spring water." He quoted Burns a
bit, and then he got on to politics, for he was a great Radical, and
maintained that Scotland was about the only true democracy, because a man
was valued precisely for what he was and no more. "Ye're a laird, Mr
Brown, but ye're a guid fellow,  and this night ye've shown yourself to
be a man and a brither. What do you and me care for mawgnates? We take no
stock in your Andra Carnegies and your Dukes o' Burminster." And as I
dropped off to sleep he was obliging with a verse of "A man's man for a'
that."

'I woke in excellent spirits, thinking what a good story I should have to
tell when I returned to Larristane. My plan was to get off as soon as
possible, take the train to Langshiels, and then hire. I could see that
McGowan was sorry to part with me, but he agreed that it was too
unhealthy a countryside for me to dally in. There was to be an afternoon
performance, so everybody had to hustle, and there was no reason for me
to linger. After breakfast I borrowed an old ulster from him, for I had
to cover up my finery, and a still older brown bowler to replace the
topper I had worn on the preceding day.

'Suddenly we heard a fracas, and the drunk appeared who had worried me
the night before. He had forced his way in and was pushing on through an
expostulating crowd. When he saw me he made for me with a trail of
blasphemy. He was perfectly sober now and looked very ugly.

'"Gie me back my siller," he roared. "Gie me back the five-pund note I
won at Lanerick when I backed Kettle o' Fish." If I hadn't warded him off
he would have taken me by the throat.

'I protested again that he was mistaken, but I might as well have
appealed to a post. He swore with every variety of oath that I was
Gentleman Geordie, and that I had levanted with his winnings. As he raved
I began to see a possible explanation of his madness. Some bookmaker,
sporting my sort of kit, had swindled him. I had ridden several times in
steeplechases at Lanerick and he had seen me and got my face in his head,
and mixed me up with the fraudulent bookie.

'It was a confounded nuisance, and but for the principle of the thing I
would have been inclined to pay up. As it was we had to fling him out,
and he went unwillingly, doing all the damage he could. His parting words
were that he and his pals weren't  done with me, and that though he had
to wait fifty years he would wring my neck.

'After that I thought I had better waste no time, so I said good-bye to
McGowan and left the show-ground by the back entrance close to the Aller.
I had a general notion of the place, and knew that if I kept down the
river I could turn up a lane called the Water Wynd, and get to the
station without traversing any of the main streets. I had ascertained
that there was a train at 10.30 which would get me to Langshiels at
11.15, so that I could be at Larristane for luncheon.

'I had underrated the persistence of my enemy. He and his pals had
picketed all the approaches to the show, and when I turned into the Water
Wynd I found a fellow there, who at the sight of me blew a whistle. In a
second or two he was joined by three others, among them my persecutor.

'"We've gotten ye noo," he shouted, and made to collar me.

'"If you touch me," I said, "it's assault, and a case for the police."

'"That's your game, is it?" he cried. "Na, na, we'll no trouble the
pollis. They tell me the Law winna help me to recover a bet, so I'll just
trust to my nieves. Will ye pay up, ye------, or take the bloodiest
bashin' ye ever seen?"

'I was in an uncommon nasty predicament. There was nobody in the Wynd but
some children playing, and the odds were four to one. If I fought I'd get
licked. The obvious course of safety was to run up the Wynd towards the
High Street, where I might find help. But that would mean a street row
and the intervention of the police, a case in court, and the disclosure
of who I was. If I broke through and ran back to McGowan I would be no
farther forward. What was perfectly clear was that I couldn't make the
railway station without landing myself in the worst kind of mess.

'There wasn't much time to think, for the four men were upon me. I hit
out at the nearest, saw him go down, and then doubled up the Wynd and
into a side alley on the right.

'By the mercy of Providence this wasn't a cul-de-sac, but twisted below
the old walls of the burgh, and then became a lane between gardens. The
pursuit was fairly hot, and my accursed boots kept slipping on the
cobbles and cramped my form. They were almost upon me before I reached
the lane, but then I put on a spurt, and was twenty yards ahead when it
ended in a wall with a gate. The gate was locked, but the wall was low,
and I scrambled over it, and dropped into the rubbish heap of a garden.

'There was no going back, so I barged through some gooseberry bushes,
skirted a lawn, squattered over a big square of gravel, and charged
through the entrance gates of a suburban villa. My enemies plainly knew a
better road, for when I passed the entrance they were only a dozen yards
off on my left. That compelled me to turn to the right, the direction
away from Kirk Aller. I was now on a highway where I could stretch
myself, and it was not long before I shook off the pursuit. They were
whiskyfied ruffians and not much good in a hunt. It was a warm morning,
but I did not slacken till I had put a good quarter of a mile between us.
I saw them come round a turn, lumbering along, cooked to the world, so I
judged I could slow down to an easy trot.

'I was cut off from my lines of communication, and the only thing to do
was to rejoin them by a detour. The Aller valley, which the railway to
Langshiels followed, gave me a general direction. I remembered that about
six miles off there was a station called Rubersdean, and that there was
an afternoon train which got to Langshiels about three o'clock. I
preferred to pick it up there, for I didn't mean to risk showing my face
inside Kirk Aller again.

'By this time I had got heartily sick of my adventures. Being chased like
a fox is amusing enough for an hour or two, but it soon palls. I was
becoming a regular outlaw--wanted by the police for breaking into a
nursing-home and stealing a suit, and very much wanted by various private
gentlemen on the charge of  bilking. Everybody's hand seemed to be
against me, except old McGowan's, and I had had quite enough of it. I
wanted nothing so much as to be back at Larristane, and I didn't believe
would tell Archie the story, for I was fed up with the whole business.

'I didn't dare go near a public-house, and the best I could do for
luncheon was a bottle of ginger-beer and some biscuits which I bought at
a sweetie-shop. To make a long story short, I reached Rubersdean in time,
and as there were several people on the platform I waited till the train
arrived before showing myself. I got into a third-class carriage at the
very end of it.

'The only occupants were a woman and a child, and my appearance must have
been pretty bad, for the woman looked as if she wanted to get out when
she saw me. But I said it was a fine day and 'guid for the crops', and I
suppose she was reassured by my Scotch tongue, for she quieted down. The
child was very inquisitive, and they discussed me in whispers. "What's
that man, Mamaw?" it asked. "Never mind, Jimmie." "But I want to ken,
Mamaw." "Wheesht, dearie. He's a crool man. He kills the wee mawpies." At
that the child set up a howl, but I felt rather flattered, for a
rabbit-trapper was a respectable profession compared to those with which
I had recently been credited.

'At the station before Langshiels they collect the tickets. I had none,
so when the man came round I could only offer a Bank of England
five-pound note. He looked at it very suspiciously, asked me rudely if I
had nothing smaller, consulted the station-master, and finally with a
very ill grace got me change out of the latter's office. This hung up the
train for a good five minutes, and you could see by their looks that they
thought I was a thief. The thing had got so badly on my nerves that I
could have wept. I counted the minutes till we reached Langshiels, and I
was not cheered by the behaviour of my travelling companion. She was
clearly convinced of the worst, and when we came out of a tunnel she was
jammed into the farthest corner, clutching her child and her bag, and
looking as if she had escaped from death. I can tell you it was a
thankful man that shot out on to the platform at Langshiels...

'I found myself looking into the absolutely bewildered eyes of  Tommy
Deloraine...I saw a lot of fellows behind him with rosettes and scared
faces, and I saw what looked like a band...

'It took me about a hundredth part of a second to realise that I had
dropped out of the frying-pan into the fire. You will scarcely believe
it, but since I had rehearsed my speech going up the Rinks burn, the
political meeting at Langshiels had gone clean out of my head. I suppose
I had tumbled into such an utterly new world that no link remained with
the old one. And as my foul luck would have it, I had hit on the very
train by which I had told Deloraine I would travel.

"For heaven's sake, Tommy, tell me where I can change," I hissed. "Lend
me some clothes or I'll murder you."

'Well, that was the end of it. I got into a suit of Tommy's at the
Station Hotel--luckily he was about my size--and we proceeded with the
brass band and the rosetted committee to the Town Hall. I made a dashed
good speech, though I say it who shouldn't, simply because I was past
caring what I did. Life had been rather too much for me the last two
days.'

Burminster finished his tankard, and a light of reminiscence came into
his eye.

'Last week,' he said, 'I was passing Buckingham Palace. One of the
mallards from St James's Park had laid away, and had hatched out a brood
somewhere up Constitution Hill. The time had come when she wanted to get
the ducklings back to the water. There was a big crowd, and through the
midst of it marched two bobbies with the mother-duck between them, while
the young ones waddled behind. I caught the look in her eye, and, if you
believe me, it was the comicalest mixture of  relief and embarrassment,
shyness, self-consciousness and desperation.

'I would like to have shaken hands with that bird. I knew exactly how she
felt.'



THE END



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