THE LAST GALLEY
IMPRESSIONS AND TALES
By Arthur Conan Doyle
I have written "Impressions and Tales" upon the title-page of this
volume, because I have included within the same cover two styles of work
which present an essential difference.
The second half of the collection consists of eight stories, which
The first half is made up of a series of pictures of the past which
maybe regarded as trial flights towards a larger ideal which I have
long had in my mind. It has seemed to me that there is a region
between actual story and actual history which has never been adequately
exploited. I could imagine, for example, a work dealing with some great
historical epoch, and finding its interest not in the happenings to
particular individuals, their adventures and their loves, but in the
fascination of the actual facts of history themselves. These facts might
be coloured with the glamour which the writer of fiction can give, and
fictitious characters and conversations might illustrate them; but none
the less the actual drama of history and not the drama of invention
should claim the attention of the reader. I have been tempted sometimes
to try the effect upon a larger scale; but meanwhile these short
sketches, portraying various crises in the story of the human race, are
to be judged as experiments in that direction.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
WINDLESHAM, CROWBOROUGH, April, 1911.
THE LAST GALLEY
THE CONTEST THROUGH THE VEIL
THE COMING OF THE HUNS
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
THE FIRST CARGO
THE RED STAR
THE SILVER MIRROR
THE BLIGHTING OF SHARKEY
THE MARRIAGE OF THE BRIGADIER
THE LORD OF FALCONBRIDGE
OUT OF THE RUNNING
THE GREAT BROWN-PERICORD MOTOR
THE TERROR OF BLUE JOHN GAP
PART I. THE LAST GALLEY
"Mutato nomine, de te, Britannia, fabula narratur."
It was a spring morning, one hundred and forty-six years before the
coming of Christ. The North African Coast, with its broad hem of golden
sand, its green belt of feathery palm trees, and its background of
barren, red-scarped hills, shimmered like a dream country in the opal
light. Save for a narrow edge of snow-white surf, the Mediterranean lay
blue and serene as far as the eye could reach. In all its vast expanse
there was no break but for a single galley, which was slowly making its
way from the direction of Sicily and heading for the distant harbour of
Seen from afar it was a stately and beautiful vessel, deep red in
colour, double-banked with scarlet oars, its broad, flapping sail
stained with Tyrian purple, its bulwarks gleaming with brass work. A
brazen, three-pronged ram projected in front, and a high golden figure
of Baal, the God of the Phoenicians, children of Canaan, shone upon the
after deck. From the single high mast above the huge sail streamed the
tiger-striped flag of Carthage. So, like some stately scarlet bird, with
golden beak and wings of purple, she swam upon the face of the waters--a
thing of might and of beauty as seen from the distant shore.
But approach and look at her now! What are these dark streaks which foul
her white decks and dapple her brazen shields? Why do the long red oars
move out of time, irregular, convulsive? Why are some missing from the
staring portholes, some snapped with jagged, yellow edges, some trailing
inert against the side? Why are two prongs of the brazen ram twisted and
broken? See, even the high image of Baal is battered and disfigured! By
every sign this ship has passed through some grievous trial, some day of
terror, which has left its heavy marks upon her.
And now stand upon the deck itself, and see more closely the men who man
her! There are two decks forward and aft, while in the open waist are
the double banks of seats, above and below, where the rowers, two to
an oar, tug and bend at their endless task. Down the centre is a narrow
platform, along which pace a line of warders, lash in hand, who cut
cruelly at the slave who pauses, be it only for an instant, to sweep the
sweat from his dripping brow. But these slaves--look at them! Some are
captured Romans, some Sicilians, many black Libyans, but all are in the
last exhaustion, their weary eyelids drooped over their eyes, their
lips thick with black crusts, and pink with bloody froth, their arms
and backs moving mechanically to the hoarse chant of the overseer. Their
bodies of all tints from ivory to jet, are stripped to the waist, and
every glistening back shows the angry stripes of the warders. But it is
not from these that the blood comes which reddens the seats and tints
the salt water washing beneath their manacled feet. Great gaping wounds,
the marks of sword slash and spear stab, show crimson upon their naked
chests and shoulders, while many lie huddled and senseless athwart the
benches, careless for ever of the whips which still hiss above them. Now
we can understand those empty portholes and those trailing oars.
Nor were the crew in better case than their slaves. The decks were
littered with wounded and dying men. It was but a remnant who still
remained upon their feet. The most lay exhausted upon the fore-deck,
while a few of the more zealous were mending their shattered armour,
restringing their bows, or cleaning the deck from the marks of combat.
Upon a raised platform at the base of the mast stood the sailing-master
who conned the ship, his eyes fixed upon the distant point of Megara
which screened the eastern side of the Bay of Carthage. On the
after-deck were gathered a number of officers, silent and brooding,
glancing from time to time at two of their own class who stood apart
deep in conversation. The one, tall, dark, and wiry, with pure, Semitic
features, and the limbs of a giant, was Magro, the famous Carthaginian
captain, whose name was still a terror on every shore, from Gaul to
the Euxine. The other, a white-bearded, swarthy man, with indomitable
courage and energy stamped upon every eager line of his keen, aquiline
face, was Gisco the politician, a man of the highest Punic blood, a
Suffete of the purple robe, and the leader of that party in the State
which had watched and striven amid the selfishness and slothfulness of
his fellow-countrymen to rouse the public spirit and waken the public
conscience to the ever-increasing danger from Rome. As they talked, the
two men glanced continually, with earnest anxious faces, towards the
"It is certain," said the older man, with gloom in his voice and
bearing, "none have escaped save ourselves."
"I did not leave the press of the battle whilst I saw one ship which I
could succour," Magro answered. "As it was, we came away, as you saw,
like a wolf which has a hound hanging on to either haunch. The Roman
dogs can show the wolf-bites which prove it. Had any other galley won
clear, they would surely be with us by now, since they have no place of
safety save Carthage."
The younger warrior glanced keenly ahead to the distant point which
marked his native city. Already the low, leafy hill could be seen,
dotted with the white villas of the wealthy Phoenician merchants. Above
them, a gleaming dot against the pale blue morning sky, shone the brazen
roof of the citadel of Byrsa, which capped the sloping town.
"Already they can see us from the watch-towers," he remarked. "Even from
afar they may know the galley of Black Magro. But which of all of them
will guess that we alone remain of all that goodly fleet which sailed
out with blare of trumpet and roll of drum but one short month ago?"
The patrician smiled bitterly. "If it were not for our great ancestors
and for our beloved country, the Queen of the Waters," said he, "I could
find it in my heart to be glad at this destruction which has come upon
this vain and feeble generation. You have spent your life upon the seas,
Magro. You do not know of know how it has been with us on the land. But
I have seen this canker grow upon us which now leads us to our death.
I and others have gone down into the market-place to plead with the
people, and been pelted with mud for our pains. Many a time have
I pointed to Rome, and said, 'Behold these people, who bear arms
themselves, each man for his own duty and pride. How can you who hide
behind mercenaries hope to stand against them?'--a hundred times I have
"And had they no answer?" asked the Rover.
"Rome was far off and they could not see it, so to them it was nothing,"
the old man answered. "Some thought of trade, and some of votes, and
some of profits from the State, but none would see that the State
itself, the mother of all things, was sinking to her end. So might the
bees debate who should have wax or honey when the torch was blazing
which would bring to ashes the hive and all therein. 'Are we not rulers
of the sea?' 'Was not Hannibal a great man?' Such were their cries,
living ever in the past and blind to the future. Before that sun sets
there will be tearing of hair and rending of garments; what will that
now avail us?"
"It is some sad comfort," said Magro, "to know that what Rome holds she
"Why say you that? When we go down, she is supreme in all the world."
"For a time, and only for a time," Magro answered, gravely. "Yet you
will smile, perchance, when I tell you how it is that I know it. There
was a wise woman who lived in that part of the Tin Islands which juts
forth into the sea, and from her lips I have heard many things, but not
one which has not come aright. Of the fall of our own country, and even
of this battle, from which we now return, she told me clearly. There is
much strange lore amongst these savage peoples in the west of the land
"What said she of Rome?"
"That she also would fall, even as we, weakened by her riches and her
Gisco rubbed his hands. "That at least makes our own fall less bitter,"
said he. "But since we have fallen, and Rome will fall, who in turn may
hope to be Queen of the Waters?"
"That also I asked her," said Magro, "and gave her my Tyrian belt with
the golden buckle as a guerdon for her answer. But, indeed, it was too
high payment for the tale she told, which must be false if all else she
said was true. She would have it that in coining days it was her own
land, this fog-girt isle where painted savages can scarce row a wicker
coracle from point to point, which shall at last take the trident which
Carthage and Rome have dropped."
The smile which flickered upon the old patrician's keen features died
away suddenly, and his fingers closed upon his companion's wrist. The
other had set rigid, his head advanced, his hawk eyes upon the northern
skyline. Its straight, blue horizon was broken by two low black dots.
"Galleys!" whispered Gisco.
The whole crew had seen them. They clustered along the starboard
bulwarks, pointing and chattering. For a moment the gloom of defeat was
lifted, and a buzz of joy ran from group to group at the thought that
they were not alone--that some one had escaped the great carnage as well
"By the spirit of Baal," said Black Magro, "I could not have believed
that any could have fought clear from such a welter. Could it be young
Hamilcar in the _Africa_, or is it Beneva in the blue Syrian ship? We
three with others may form a squadron and make head against them yet. If
we hold our course, they will join us ere we round the harbour mole."
Slowly the injured galley toiled on her way, and more swiftly the two
newcomers swept down from the north. Only a few miles off lay the
green point and the white houses which flanked the great African city.
Already, upon the headland, could be seen a dark group of waiting
townsmen. Gisco and Magro were still watching with puckered gaze the
approaching galleys, when the brown Libyan boatswain, with flashing
teeth and gleaming eyes, rushed upon the poop, his long thin arm
stabbing to the north.
"Romans!" he cried. "Romans!"
A hush had fallen over the great vessel. Only the wash of the water and
the measured rattle and beat of the oars broke in upon the silence.
"By the horns of God's altar, I believe the fellow is right!" cried old
Gisco. "See how they swoop upon us like falcons. They are full-manned
"Plain wood, unpainted," said Magro. "See how it gleams yellow where the
sun strikes it."
"And yonder thing beneath the mast. Is it not the cursed bridge they use
"So they grudge us even one," said Magro with a bitter laugh. "Not even
one galley shall return to the old sea-mother. Well, for my part, I
would as soon have it so. I am of a mind to stop the oars and await
"It is a man's thought," answered old Gisco; "but the city will need us
in the days to come. What shall it profit us to make the Roman victory
complete? Nay, Magro, let the slaves row as they never rowed before, not
for our own safety, but for the profit of the State."
So the great red ship laboured and lurched onwards, like a weary panting
stag which seeks shelter from his pursuers, while ever swifter and ever
nearer sped the two lean fierce galleys from the north. Already
the morning sun shone upon the lines of low Roman helmets above the
bulwarks, and glistened on the silver wave where each sharp prow shot
through the still blue water. Every moment the ships drew nearer, and
the long thin scream of the Roman trumpets grew louder upon the ear.
Upon the high bluff of Megara there stood a great concourse of the
people of Carthage who had hurried forth from the city upon the news
that the galleys were in sight. They stood now, rich and poor, effete
and plebeian, white Phoenician and dark Kabyle, gazing with breathless
interest at the spectacle before them. Some hundreds of feet beneath
them the Punic galley had drawn so close that with their naked eyes
they could see those stains of battle which told their dismal tale. The
Romans, too, were heading in such a way that it was before their very
faces that their ship was about to be cut off; and yet of all this
multitude not one could raise a hand in its defence. Some wept in
impotent grief, some cursed with flashing eyes and knotted fists, some
on their knees held up appealing hands to Baal; but neither prayer,
tears, nor curses could undo the past nor mend the present. That broken,
crawling galley meant that their fleet was gone. Those two fierce
darting ships meant that the hands of Rome were already at their throat.
Behind them would come others and others, the innumerable trained hosts
of the great Republic, long mistress of the land, now dominant also
upon the waters. In a month, two months, three at the most, their armies
would be there, and what could all the untrained multitudes of Carthage
do to stop them?
"Nay!" cried one, more hopeful than the rest, "at least we are brave men
with arms in our hands."
"Fool!" said another, "is it not such talk which has brought us to our
ruin? What is the brave man untrained to the brave man trained? When
you stand before the sweep and rush of a Roman legion you may learn the
"Then let us train!"
"Too late! A full year is needful to turn a man to a soldier. Where
will you--where will your city be within the year? Nay, there is but one
chance for us. If we give up our commerce and our colonies, if we strip
ourselves of all that made us great, then perchance the Roman conqueror
may hold his hand."
And already the last sea-fight of Carthage was coming swiftly to an end
before them. Under their very eyes the two Roman galleys had shot in,
one on either side of the vessel of Black Magro. They had grappled with
him, and he, desperate in his despair, had cast the crooked flukes of
his anchors over their gunwales, and bound them to him in an iron
grip, whilst with hammer and crowbar he burst great holes in his own
sheathing. The last Punic galley should never be rowed into Ostia, a
sight for the holiday-makers of Rome. She would lie in her own waters.
And the fierce, dark soul of her rover captain glowed as he thought that
not alone should she sink into the depths of the mother sea.
Too late did the Romans understand the man with whom they had to deal.
Their boarders who had flooded the Punic decks felt the planking sink
and sway beneath them. They rushed to gain their own vessels; but they,
too, were being drawn downwards, held in the dying grip of the great red
galley. Over they went and ever over. Now the deck of Magro's ship is
flush with the water, and the Romans, drawn towards it by the iron bonds
which held them, are tilted downwards, one bulwark upon the waves, one
reared high in the air. Madly they strain to cast off the death grip
of the galley. She is under the surface now, and ever swifter, with
the greater weight, the Roman ships heel after her. There is a rending
crash. The wooden side is torn out of one, and mutilated, dismembered,
she rights herself, and lies a helpless thing upon the water. But a last
yellow gleam in the blue water shows where her consort has been dragged
to her end in the iron death-grapple of her foemen. The tiger-striped
flag of Carthage has sunk beneath the swirling surface, never more to be
seen upon the face of the sea.
For in that year a great cloud hung for seventeen days over the African
coast, a deep black cloud which was the dark shroud of the burning city.
And when the seventeen days were over, Roman ploughs were driven from
end to end of the charred ashes, and salt was scattered there as a sign
that Carthage should be no more. And far off a huddle of naked, starving
folk stood upon the distant mountains, and looked down upon the desolate
plain which had once been the fairest and richest upon earth. And they
understood too late that it is the law of heaven that the world is given
to the hardy and to the self-denying, whilst he who would escape the
duties of manhood will soon be stripped of the pride, the wealth, and
the power, which are the prizes which manhood brings.
In the year of our Lord 66, the Emperor Nero, being at that time in the
twenty-ninth year of his life and the thirteenth of his reign, set sail
for Greece with the strangest company and the most singular design that
any monarch has ever entertained. With ten galleys he went forth
from Puteoli, carrying with him great stores of painted scenery and
theatrical properties, together with a number of knights and senators,
whom he feared to leave behind him at Rome, and who were all marked for
death in the course of his wanderings. In his train he took Natus, his
singing coach; Cluvius, a man with a monstrous voice, who should bawl
out his titles; and a thousand trained youths who had learned to applaud
in unison whenever their master sang or played in public. So deftly had
they been taught that each had his own role to play. Some did no more
than give forth a low deep hum of speechless appreciation. Some clapped
with enthusiasm. Some, rising from approbation into absolute frenzy,
shrieked, stamped, and beat sticks upon the benches. Some--and they
were the most effective--had learned from an Alexandrian a long droning
musical note which they all uttered together, so that it boomed over the
assembly. With the aid of these mercenary admirers, Nero had every hope,
in spite of his indifferent voice and clumsy execution, to return
to Rome, bearing with him the chaplets for song offered for free
competition by the Greek cities. As his great gilded galley with two
tiers of oars passed down the Mediterranean, the Emperor sat in his
cabin all day, his teacher by his side, rehearsing from morning to
night those compositions which he had selected, whilst every few hours
a Nubian slave massaged the Imperial throat with oil and balsam, that it
might be ready for the great ordeal which lay before it in the land of
poetry and song. His food, his drink, and his exercise were prescribed
for him as for an athlete who trains for a contest, and the twanging of
his lyre, with the strident notes of his voice, resounded continually
from the Imperial quarters.
Now it chanced that there lived in those days a Grecian goatherd named
Policles, who tended and partly owned a great flock which grazed upon
the long flanks of the hills near Heroea, which is five miles north of
the river Alpheus, and no great distance from the famous Olympia. This
person was noted all over the countryside as a man of strange gifts and
singular character. He was a poet who had twice been crowned for his
verses, and he was a musician to whom the use and sound of an instrument
were so natural that one would more easily meet him without his staff
than his harp. Even in his lonely vigils on the winter hills he would
bear it always slung over his shoulder, and would pass the long hours
by its aid, so that it had come to be part of his very self. He was
beautiful also, swarthy and eager, with a head like Adonis, and in
strength there was no one who could compete with him. But all was
ruined by his disposition, which was so masterful that he would brook
no opposition nor contradiction. For this reason he was continually at
enmity with all his neighbours, and in his fits of temper he would spend
months at a time in his stone hut among the mountains, hearing nothing
from the world, and living only for his music and his goats.
One spring morning, in the year of 67, Policles, with the aid of his
boy Dorus, had driven his goats over to a new pasturage which overlooked
from afar the town of Olympia. Gazing down upon it from the mountain,
the shepherd was surprised to see that a portion of the famous
amphitheatre had been roofed in, as though some performance was being
enacted. Living far from the world and from all news, Policles could
not imagine what was afoot, for he was well aware that the Grecian
games were not due for two years to come. Surely some poetic or musical
contest must be proceeding of which he had heard nothing. If so, there
would perhaps be some chance of his gaining the votes of the judges; and
in any case he loved to hear the compositions and admire the execution
of the great minstrels who assembled on such an occasion. Calling to
Dorus, therefore, he left the goats to his charge, and strode swiftly
away, his harp upon his back, to see what was going forward in the town.
When Policles came into the suburbs, he found them deserted; but he was
still more surprised when he reached the main street to see no single
human being in the place. He hastened his steps, therefore, and as he
approached the theatre he was conscious of a low sustained hum which
announced the concourse of a huge assembly. Never in all his dreams had
he imagined any musical competition upon so vast a scale as this. There
were some soldiers clustering outside the door; but Policles pushed his
way swiftly through them, and found himself upon the outskirts of the
multitude who filled the great space formed by roofing over a portion of
the national stadium. Looking around him, Policles saw a great number of
his neighbours, whom he knew by sight, tightly packed upon the benches,
all with their eyes fixed upon the stage. He also observed that there
were soldiers round the walls, and that a considerable part of the hall
was filled by a body of youths of foreign aspect, with white gowns
and long hair. All this he perceived; but what it meant he could not
imagine. He bent over to a neighbour to ask him, but a soldier prodded
him at once with the butt end of his spear, and commanded him fiercely
to hold his peace. The man whom he had addressed, thinking that Policles
had demanded a seat, pressed closer to his neighbour, and so the
shepherd found himself sitting at the end of the bench which was nearest
to the door. Thence he concentrated himself upon the stage, on which
Metas, a well-known minstrel from Corinth and an old friend of Policles,
was singing and playing without much encouragement from the audience.
To Policles it seemed that Metas was having less than his due, so he
applauded loudly, but he was surprised to observe that the soldiers
frowned at him, and that all his neighbours regarded him with some
surprise. Being a man of strong and obstinate character, he was the more
inclined to persevere in his clapping when he perceived that the general
sentiment was against him.
But what followed filled the shepherd poet with absolute amazement.
When Metas of Corinth had made his bow and withdrawn to half-hearted and
perfunctory applause, there appeared upon the stage, amid the wildest
enthusiasm upon the part of the audience, a most extraordinary figure.
He was a short fat man, neither old nor young, with a bull neck and a
round, heavy face, which hung in creases in front like the dewlap of an
ox. He was absurdly clad in a short blue tunic, braced at the waist
with a golden belt. His neck and part of his chest were exposed, and his
short, fat legs were bare from the buskins below to the middle of his
thighs, which was as far as his tunic extended. In his hair were two
golden wings, and the same upon his heels, after the fashion of the
god Mercury. Behind him walked a negro bearing a harp, and beside him
a richly dressed officer who bore rolls of music. This strange creature
took the harp from the hands of the attendant, and advanced to the front
of the stage, whence he bowed and smiled to the cheering audience. "This
is some foppish singer from Athens," thought Policles to himself, but
at the same time he understood that only a great master of song could
receive such a reception from a Greek audience. This was evidently some
wonderful performer whose reputation had preceded him. Policles settled
down, therefore, and prepared to give his soul up to the music.
The blue-clad player struck several chords upon his lyre, and then burst
suddenly out into the "Ode of Niobe." Policles sat straight up on his
bench and gazed at the stage in amazement. The tune demanded a rapid
transition from a low note to a high, and had been purposely chosen for
this reason. The low note was a grunting, a rumble, the deep discordant
growling of an ill-conditioned dog. Then suddenly the singer threw up
his face, straightened his tubby figure, rose upon his tiptoes, and
with wagging head and scarlet cheeks emitted such a howl as the same dog
might have given had his growl been checked by a kick from his master.
All the while the lyre twanged and thrummed, sometimes in front of and
sometimes behind the voice of the singer. But what amazed Policles most
of all was the effect of this performance upon the audience. Every Greek
was a trained critic, and as unsparing in his hisses as he was lavish
in his applause. Many a singer far better than this absurd fop had been
driven amid execration and abuse from the platform. But now, as the
man stopped and wiped the abundant sweat from his fat face, the whole
assembly burst into a delirium of appreciation. The shepherd held his
hands to his bursting head, and felt that his reason must be leaving
him. It was surely a dreadful musical nightmare, and he would wake soon
and laugh at the remembrance. But no; the figures were real, the faces
were those of his neighbours, the cheers which resounded in his ears
were indeed from an audience which filled the theatre of Olympia.
The whole chorus was in full blast, the hummers humming, the shouters
bellowing, the tappers hard at work upon the benches, while every now
and then came a musical cyclone of "Incomparable! Divine!" from the
trained phalanx who intoned their applause, their united voices sweeping
over the tumult as the drone of the wind dominates the roar of the sea.
It was madness--insufferable madness! If this were allowed to pass,
there was an end of all musical justice in Greece. Policles' conscience
would not permit him to be still. Standing upon his bench with waving
hands and upraised voice, he protested with all the strength of his
lungs against the mad judgment of the audience.
At first, amid the tumult, his action was hardly noticed. His voice was
drowned in the universal roar which broke out afresh at each bow and
smirk from the fatuous musician. But gradually the folk round Policles
ceased clapping, and stared at him in astonishment. The silence grew in
ever widening circles, until the whole great assembly sat mute, staring
at this wild and magnificent creature who was storming at them from his
perch near the door.
"Fools!" he cried. "What are you clapping at? What are you cheering? Is
this what you call music? Is this cat-calling to earn an Olympian prize?
The fellow has not a note in his voice. You are either deaf or mad, and
I for one cry shame upon you for your folly."
Soldiers ran to pull him down, and the whole audience was in confusion,
some of the bolder cheering the sentiments of the shepherd, and others
crying that he should be cast out of the building. Meanwhile the
successful singer having handed his lyre to his negro attendant, was
inquiring from those around him on the stage as to the cause of the
uproar. Finally a herald with an enormously powerful voice stepped
forward to the front and proclaimed that if the foolish person at the
back of the hall, who appeared to differ from the opinion of the rest
of the audience, would come forward upon the platform, he might, if he
dared, exhibit his own powers, and see if he could outdo the admirable
and wonderful exhibition which they had just had the privilege of
Policles sprang readily to his feet at the challenge, and the great
company making way for him to pass, he found himself a minute later
standing in his unkempt garb, with his frayed and weather-beaten harp in
his hand, before the expectant crowd. He stood for a moment tightening
a string here and slackening another there until his chords rang
true. Then, amid a murmur of laughter and jeers from the Roman benches
immediately before him, he began to sing.
He had prepared no composition, but he had trained himself to improvise,
singing out of his heart for the joy of the music. He told of the land
of Elis, beloved of Jupiter, in which they were gathered that day, of
the great bare mountain slopes, of the swift shadows of the clouds, of
the winding blue river, of the keen air of the uplands, of the chill of
the evenings, and the beauties of earth and sky. It was all simple and
childlike, but it went to the hearts of the Olympians, for it spoke
of the land which they knew and loved. Yet when he at last dropped his
hand, few of them dared to applaud, and their feeble voices were drowned
by a storm of hisses and groans from his opponents. He shrank back in
horror from so unusual a reception, and in an instant his blue-clad
rival was in his place. If he had sung badly before, his performance
now was inconceivable. His screams, his grunts, his discords, and harsh
jarring cacophanies were an outrage to the very name of music. And yet
every time that he paused for breath or to wipe his streaming forehead a
fresh thunder of applause came rolling back from the audience. Policles
sank his face in his hands and prayed that he might not be insane.
Then, when the dreadful performance ceased, and the uproar of admiration
showed that the crown was certainly awarded to this impostor, a horror
of the audience, a hatred of this race of fools, and a craving for the
peace and silence of the pastures mastered every feeling in his mind. He
dashed through the mass of people waiting at the wings, and emerged
in the open air. His old rival and friend Metas of Corinth was waiting
there with an anxious face.
"Quick, Policles, quick!" he cried. "My pony is tethered behind yonder
grove. A grey he is, with red trappings. Get you gone as hard as hoof
will bear you, for if you are taken you will have no easy death."
"No easy death! What mean you, Metas? Who is the fellow?"
"Great Jupiter! did you not know? Where have you lived? It is Nero
the Emperor! Never would he pardon what you have said about his voice.
Quick, man, quick, or the guards will be at your heels!"
An hour later the shepherd was well on his way to his mountain home, and
about the same time the Emperor, having received the Chaplet of Olympia
for the incomparable excellence of his performance, was making inquiries
with a frowning brow as to who the insolent person might be who had
dared to utter such contemptuous criticisms.
"Bring him to me here this instant," said he, "and let Marcus with his
knife and branding-iron be in attendance."
"If it please you, great Caesar," said Arsenius Platus, the officer of
attendance, "the man cannot be found, and there are some very strange
rumours flying about."
"Rumours!" cried the angry Nero. "What do you mean, Arsenius? I tell you
that the fellow was an ignorant upstart, with the bearing of a boor and
the voice of a peacock. I tell you also that there are a good many who
are as guilty as he among the people, for I heard them with my own ears
raise cheers for him when he had sung his ridiculous ode. I have half
a mind to burn their town about their ears so that they may remember my
"It is not to be wondered at if he won their votes, Caesar," said the
soldier, "for from what I hear it would have been no disgrace had you,
even you, been conquered in this conquest."
"I conquered! You are mad, Arsenius. What do you mean?"
"None know him, great Caesar! He came from the mountains, and he
disappeared into the mountains. You marked the wildness and strange
beauty of his face. It is whispered that for once the great god Pan has
condescended to measure himself against a mortal."
The cloud cleared from Nero's brow. "Of course, Arsenius! You are right!
No man would have dared to brave me so. What a story for Rome! Let
the messenger leave this very night, Arsenius, to tell them how their
Emperor has upheld their honour in Olympia this day."
THROUGH THE VEIL.
He was a great shock-headed, freckle-faced Borderer, the lineal
descendant of a cattle-thieving clan in Liddesdale. In spite of his
ancestry he was as solid and sober a citizen as one would wish to see, a
town councillor of Melrose, an elder of the Church, and the chairman of
the local branch of the Young Men's Christian Association. Brown was his
name--and you saw it printed up as "Brown and Handiside" over the
great grocery stores in the High Street. His wife, Maggie Brown, was an
Armstrong before her marriage, and came from an old farming stock in
the wilds of Teviothead. She was small, swarthy, and dark-eyed, with a
strangely nervous temperament for a Scotch woman. No greater contrast
could be found than the big tawny man and the dark little woman; but
both were of the soil as far back as any memory could extend.
One day--it was the first anniversary of their wedding--they had driven
over together to see the excavations of the Roman Fort at Newstead. It
was not a particularly picturesque spot. From the northern bank of the
Tweed, just where the river forms a loop, there extends a gentle slope
of arable land. Across it run the trenches of the excavators, with here
and there an exposure of old stonework to show the foundations of the
ancient walls. It had been a huge place, for the camp was fifty acres
in extent, and the fort fifteen. However, it was all made easy for them
since Mr. Brown knew the farmer to whom the land belonged. Under his
guidance they spent a long summer evening inspecting the trenches, the
pits, the ramparts, and all the strange variety of objects which were
waiting to be transported to the Edinburgh Museum of Antiquities. The
buckle of a woman's belt had been dug up that very day, and the farmer
was discoursing upon it when his eyes fell upon Mrs. Brown's face.
"Your good leddy's tired," said he. "Maybe you'd best rest a wee before
we gang further."
Brown looked at his wife. She was certainly very pale, and her dark eyes
were bright and wild.
"What is it, Maggie? I've wearied you. I'm thinkin' it's time we went
"No, no, John, let us go on. It's wonderful! It's like a dreamland
place. It all seems so close and so near to me. How long were the Romans
here, Mr. Cunningham?"
"A fair time, mam. If you saw the kitchen midden-pits you would guess it
took a long time to fill them."
"And why did they leave?"
"Well, mam, by all accounts they left because they had to. The folk
round could thole them no longer, so they just up and burned the fort
aboot their lugs. You can see the fire marks on the stanes."
The woman gave a quick little shudder. "A wild night--a fearsome night,"
said she. "The sky must have been red that night--and these grey stones,
they may have been red also."
"Aye, I think they were red," said her husband. "It's a queer thing,
Maggie, and it may be your words that have done it; but I seem to see
that business aboot as clear as ever I saw anything in my life. The
light shone on the water."
"Aye, the light shone on the water. And the smoke gripped you by the
throat. And all the savages were yelling."
The old farmer began to laugh. "The leddy will be writin' a story aboot
the old fort," said he. "I've shown many a one over it, but I never
heard it put so clear afore. Some folk have the gift."
They had strolled along the edge of the foss, and a pit yawned upon the
right of them.
"That pit was fourteen foot deep," said the farmer. "What d'ye think we
dug oot from the bottom o't? Weel, it was just the skeleton of a man wi'
a spear by his side. I'm thinkin' he was grippin' it when he died. Now,
how cam' a man wi' a spear doon a hole fourteen foot deep? He wasna'
buried there, for they aye burned their dead. What make ye o' that,
"He sprang doon to get clear of the savages," said the woman.
"Weel, it's likely enough, and a' the professors from Edinburgh couldna
gie a better reason. I wish you were aye here, mam, to answer a' oor
difficulties sae readily. Now, here's the altar that we foond last week.
There's an inscreeption. They tell me it's Latin, and it means that the
men o' this fort give thanks to God for their safety."
They examined the old worn stone. There was a large deeply-cut "VV" upon
the top of it. "What does 'VV' stand for?" asked Brown.
"Naebody kens," the guide answered.
"_Valeria Victrix_," said the lady softly. Her face was paler than ever,
her eyes far away, as one who peers down the dim aisles of overarching
"What's that?" asked her husband sharply.
She started as one who wakes from sleep. "What were we talking about?"
"About this 'VV' upon the stone."
"No doubt it was just the name of the Legion which put the altar up."
"Aye, but you gave some special name."
"Did I? How absurd! How should I ken what the name was?"
"You said something--'_Victrix_,' I think."
"I suppose I was guessing. It gives me the queerest feeling, this place,
as if I were not myself, but someone else."
"Aye, it's an uncanny place," said her husband, looking round with an
expression almost of fear in his bold grey eyes. "I feel it mysel'. I
think we'll just be wishin' you good evenin', Mr. Cunningham, and get
back to Melrose before the dark sets in."
Neither of them could shake off the strange impression which had been
left upon them by their visit to the excavations. It was as if some
miasma had risen from those damp trenches and passed into their blood.
All the evening they were silent and thoughtful, but such remarks as
they did make showed that the same subject was in the minds of each.
Brown had a restless night, in which he dreamed a strange connected
dream, so vivid that he woke sweating and shivering like a frightened
horse. He tried to convey it all to his wife as they sat together at
breakfast in the morning.
"It was the clearest thing, Maggie," said he. "Nothing that has ever
come to me in my waking life has been more clear than that. I feel as if
these hands were sticky with blood."
"Tell me of it--tell me slow," said she.
"When it began, I was oot on a braeside. I was laying flat on the
ground. It was rough, and there were clumps of heather. All round me
was just darkness, but I could hear the rustle and the breathin' of men.
There seemed a great multitude on every side of me, but I could see
no one. There was a low chink of steel sometimes, and then a number of
voices would whisper 'Hush!' I had a ragged club in my hand, and it had
spikes o' iron near the end of it. My heart was beatin' quickly, and I
felt that a moment of great danger and excitement was at hand. Once I
dropped my club, and again from all round me the voices in the darkness
cried, 'Hush!' I put oot my hand, and it touched the foot of another
man lying in front of me. There was some one at my very elbow on either
side. But they said nothin'.
"Then we all began to move. The whole braeside seemed to be crawlin'
downwards. There was a river at the bottom and a high-arched wooden
bridge. Beyond the bridge were many lights--torches on a wall. The
creepin' men all flowed towards the bridge. There had been no sound
of any kind, just a velvet stillness. And then there was a cry in the
darkness, the cry of a man who has been stabbed suddenly to the hairt.
That one cry swelled out for a moment, and then the roar of a thoosand
furious voices. I was runnin'. Every one was runnin'. A bright red light
shone out, and the river was a scarlet streak. I could see my companions
now. They were more like devils than men, wild figures clad in skins,
with their hair and beards streamin'. They were all mad with rage,
jumpin' as they ran, their mouths open, their arms wavin', the red light
beatin' on their faces. I ran, too, and yelled out curses like the rest.
Then I heard a great cracklin' of wood, and I knew that the palisades
were doon. There was a loud whistlin' in my ears, and I was aware that
arrows were flyin' past me. I got to the bottom of a dyke, and I saw a
hand stretched doon from above. I took it, and was dragged to the top.
We looked doon, and there were silver men beneath us holdin' up their
spears. Some of our folk sprang on to the spears. Then we others
followed, and we killed the soldiers before they could draw the spears
oot again. They shouted loud in some foreign tongue, but no mercy was
shown them. We went ower them like a wave, and trampled them doon into
the mud, for they were few, and there was no end to our numbers.
"I found myself among buildings, and one of them was on fire. I saw the
flames spoutin' through the roof. I ran on, and then I was alone among
the buildings. Some one ran across in front o' me. It was a woman. I
caught her by the arm, and I took her chin and turned her face so as the
light of the fire would strike it. Whom think you that it was, Maggie?"
His wife moistened her dry lips. "It was I," she said.
He looked at her in surprise. "That's a good guess," said he. "Yes,
it was just you. Not merely like you, you understand. It was you--you
yourself. I saw the same soul in your frightened eyes. You looked white
and bonny and wonderful in the firelight. I had just one thought in my
head--to get you awa' with me; to keep you all to mysel' in my own home
somewhere beyond the hills. You clawed at my face with your nails. I
heaved you over my shoulder, and I tried to find a way oot of the light
of the burning hoose and back into the darkness.
"Then came the thing that I mind best of all. You're ill, Maggie. Shall
I stop? My God! You nave the very look on your face that you had last
night in my dream. You screamed. He came runnin' in the firelight. His
head was bare; his hair was black and curled; he had a naked sword in
his hand, short and broad, little more than a dagger. He stabbed at me,
but he tripped and fell. I held you with one hand, and with the other--"
His wife had sprung to her feet with writhing features.
"Marcus!" she cried. "My beautiful Marcus! Oh, you brute! you brute! you
brute!" There was a clatter of tea-cups as she fell forward senseless
upon the table.
They never talk about that strange isolated incident in their married
life. For an instant the curtain of the past had swung aside, and some
strange glimpse of a forgotten life had come to them. But it closed
down, never to open again. They live their narrow round--he in his shop,
she in her household--and yet new and wider horizons have vaguely formed
themselves around them since that summer evening by the crumbling Roman
It was daybreak of a March morning in the year of Christ 92. Outside
the long Semita Alta was already thronged with people, with buyers and
sellers, callers and strollers, for the Romans were so early-rising a
people that many a Patrician preferred to see his clients at six in the
morning. Such was the good republican tradition, still upheld by the
more conservative; but with more modern habits of luxury, a night of
pleasure and banqueting was no uncommon thing. Thus one, who had learned
the new and yet adhered to the old, might find his hours overlap, and
without so much as a pretence of sleep come straight from his night of
debauch into his day of business, turning with heavy wits and an aching
head to that round of formal duties which consumed the life of a Roman
So it was with Emilius Flaccus that March morning. He and his fellow
senator, Caius Balbus, had passed the night in one of those gloomy
drinking bouts to which the Emperor Domitian summoned his chosen friends
at the high palace on the Palatine. Now, having reached the portals of
the house of Flaccus, they stood together under the pomegranate-fringed
portico which fronted the peristyle and, confident in each other's tried
discretion, made up by the freedom of their criticism for their long
self-suppression of that melancholy feast.
"If he would but feed his guests," said Balbus, a little red-faced,
choleric nobleman with yellow-shot angry eyes. "What had we? Upon my
life, I have forgotten. Plovers' eggs, a mess of fish, some bird or
other, and then his eternal apples."
"Of which," said Flaccus, "he ate only the apples. Do him the justice to
confess that he takes even less than he gives. At least they cannot say
of him as of Vitellius, that his teeth beggared the empire."
"No, nor his thirst either, great as it is. That fiery Sabine wine of
his could be had for a few sesterces the amphora. It is the common drink
of the carters at every wine-house on the country roads. I longed for
a glass of my own rich Falernian or the mellow Coan that was bottled in
the year that Titus took Jerusalem. Is it even now too late? Could we
not wash this rasping stuff from our palates?"
"Nay, better come in with me now and take a bitter draught ere you go
upon your way. My Greek physician Stephanos has a rare prescription for
a morning head. What! Your clients await you? Well, I will see you later
at the Senate house."
The Patrician had entered his atrium, bright with rare flowers, and
melodious with strange singing birds. At the jaws of the hall, true to
his morning duties, stood Lebs, the little Nubian slave, with snow-white
tunic and turban, a salver of glasses in one hand, whilst in the other
he held a flask of a thin lemon-tinted liquid. The master of the house
filled up a bitter aromatic bumper, and was about to drink it off, when
his hand was arrested by a sudden perception that something was much
amiss in his household. It was to be read all around him--in the
frightened eyes of the black boy, in the agitated face of the keeper of
the atrium, in the gloom and silence of the little knot of ordinarii,
the procurator or major-domo at their head, who had assembled to greet
their master. Stephanos the physician, Cleios the Alexandrine reader,
Promus the steward each turned his head away to avoid his master's
"What in the name of Pluto is the matter with you all?" cried the amazed
senator, whose night of potations had left him in no mood for patience.
"Why do you stand moping there? Stephanos, Vacculus--is anything amiss?
Here, Promus, you are the head of my household. What is it, then? Why do
you turn your eyes away from me?"
The burly steward, whose fat face was haggard and mottled with anxiety,
laid his hand upon the sleeve of the domestic beside him.
"Sergius is responsible for the atrium, my lord. It is for him to tell
you the terrible thing that has befallen in your absence."
"Nay, it was Datus who did it. Bring him in, and let him explain it
himself," said Sergius in a sulky voice.
The patience of the Patrician was at an end. "Speak this instant,
you rascal!" he shouted angrily. "Another minute, and I will have you
dragged to the ergastulum, where, with your feet in the stocks and the
gyves round your wrists, you may learn quicker obedience. Speak, I say,
and without delay."
"It is the Venus," the man stammered; "the Greek Venus of Praxiteles."
The senator gave a cry of apprehension and rushed to the corner of the
atrium, where a little shrine, curtained off by silken drapery, held the
precious statue, the greatest art treasure of his collection--perhaps
of the whole world. He tore the hangings aside and stood in speechless
anger before the outraged goddess. The red perfumed lamp which always
burned before her had been spilled and broken; her altar fire had
been quenched, her chaplet had been dashed aside. But worst of
all--insufferable sacrilege!--her own beautiful nude body of glistening
Pantelic marble, as white and fair as when the inspired Greek had hewed
it out five hundred years before, had been most brutally mishandled.
Three fingers of the gracious outstretched hand had been struck off, and
lay upon the pedestal beside her. Above her delicate breast a dark mark
showed, where a blow had disfigured the marble. Emilius Flaccus, the
most delicate and judicious connoisseur in Rome, stood gasping and
croaking, his hand to his throat, as he gazed at his disfigured
masterpiece. Then he turned upon his slaves, his fury in his convulsed
face; but, to his amazement, they were not looking at him, but had
all turned in attitudes of deep respect towards the opening of the
peristyle. As he faced round and saw who had just entered his house,
his own rage fell away from him in an instant, and his manner became as
humble as that of his servants.
The newcomer was a man forty-three years of age, clean shaven, with a
massive head, large engorged eyes, a small clear-cut nose, and the
full bull neck which was the especial mark of his breed. He had entered
through the peristyle with a swaggering, rolling gait, as one who walks
upon his own ground, and now he stood, his hands upon his hips, looking
round him at the bowing slaves, and finally at their master, with a
half-humorous expression upon his flushed and brutal face.
"Why, Emilius," said he, "I had understood that your household was the
best-ordered in Rome. What is amiss with you this morning?"
"Nothing could be amiss with us now that Caesar has deigned to come
under my roof," said the courtier. "This is indeed a most glad surprise
which you have prepared for me."
"It was an afterthought," said Domitian. "When you and the others had
left me, I was in no mood for sleep, and so it came into my mind that
I would have a breath of morning air by coming down to you, and seeing
this Grecian Venus of yours, about which you discoursed so eloquently
between the cups. But, indeed, by your appearance and that of your
servants, I should judge that my visit was an ill-timed one."
"Nay, dear master; say not so. But, indeed, it is truth that I was in
trouble at the moment of your welcome entrance, and this trouble was, as
the Fates have willed it, brought forth by that very statue in which you
have been graciously pleased to show your interest. There it stands, and
you can see for yourself how rudely it has been mishandled."
"By Pluto and all the nether gods, if it were mine some of you should
feed the lampreys," said the Emperor, looking round with his fierce eyes
at the shrinking slaves. "You were always overmerciful, Emilius. It is
the common talk that your catenoe are rusted for want of use. But surely
this is beyond all bounds. Let me see how you handle the matter. Whom do
you hold responsible?"
"The slave Sergius is responsible, since it is his place to tend the
atrium," said Flaccus. "Stand forward, Sergius. What have you to say?"
The trembling slave advanced to his master. "If it please you, sir, the
mischief has been done by Datus the Christian."
"Datus! Who is he?"
"The matulator, the scavenger, my lord. I did not know that he belonged
to these horrible people, or I should not have admitted him. He came
with his broom to brush out the litter of the birds. His eyes fell upon
the Venus, and in an instant he had rushed upon her and struck her two
blows with his wooden besom. Then we fell upon him and dragged him away.
But alas! alas! it was too late, for already the wretch had dashed off
the fingers of the goddess."
The Emperor smiled grimly, while the Patrician's thin face grew pale
"Where is the fellow?" he asked.
"In the ergastulum, your honour, with the furca on his neck."
"Bring him hither and summon the household."
A few minutes later the whole back of the atrium was thronged by the
motley crowd who ministered to the household needs of a great Roman
nobleman. There was the arcarius, or account keeper, with his stylum
behind his ear; the sleek praegustator, who sampled all foods, so as to
stand between his master and poison, and beside him his predecessor, now
a half-witted idiot through the interception twenty years before of a
datura draught from Canidia; the cellarman, summoned from amongst his
amphorae; the cook, with his basting-ladle in his hand; the pompous
nomenclator, who ushered the guests; the cubicularius, who saw to
their accommodation; the silentiarius, who kept order in the house; the
structor, who set forth the tables; the carptor, who carved the food;
the cinerarius, who lit the fires--these and many more, half-curious,
half-terrified, came to the judging of Datus. Behind them a chattering,
giggling swarm of Lalages, Marias, Cerusas, and Amaryllides, from the
laundries and the spinning-rooms, stood upon their tiptoes and extended
their pretty wondering faces over the shoulders of the men. Through this
crowd came two stout varlets leading the culprit between them. He was a
small, dark, rough-headed man, with an unkempt beard and wild eyes which
shone, brightly with strong inward emotion. His hands were bound behind
him, and over his neck was the heavy wooden collar or furca which was
placed upon refractory slaves. A smear of blood across his cheek showed
that he had not come uninjured from the preceding scuffle.
"Are you Datus the scavenger?" asked the Patrician.
The man drew himself up proudly. "Yes," said he, "I am Datus."
"Did you do this injury to my statue?"
"Yes, I did."
There was an uncompromising boldness in the man's reply which compelled
respect. The wrath of his master became tinged with interest.
"Why did you do this?" he asked.
"Because it was my duty."
"Why, then, was it your duty to destroy your master's property?"
"Because I am a Christian." His eyes blazed suddenly out of his dark
face. "Because there is no God but the one eternal, and all else are
sticks and stones. What has this naked harlot to do with Him to whom the
great firmament is but a garment and the earth a footstool? It was in
His service that I have broken your statue."
Domitian looked with a smile at the Patrician. "You will make nothing of
him," said he. "They speak even so when they stand before the lions in
the arena. As to argument, not all the philosophers of Rome can break
them down. Before my very face they refuse to sacrifice in my honour.
Never were such impossible people to deal with. I should take a short
way with him if I were you."
"What would Caesar advise?"
"There are the games this afternoon. I am showing the new
hunting-leopard which King Juba has sent from Numidia. This slave
may give us some sport when he finds the hungry beast sniffing at his
The Patrician considered for a moment. He had always been a father to
his servants. It was hateful to him to think of any injury befalling
them. Perhaps even now, if this strange fanatic would show his sorrow
for what he had done, it might be possible to spare him. At least it was
"Your offence deserves death," he said. "What reasons can you give why
it should not befall you, since you have injured this statue, which is
worth your own price a hundred times over?"
The slave looked steadfastly at his master. "I do not fear death," he
said. "My sister Candida died in the arena, and I am ready to do the
same. It is true that I have injured your statue, but I am able to find
you something of far greater value in exchange. I will give you the
truth and the gospel in exchange for your broken idol."
The Emperor laughed. "You will do nothing with him, Emilius," he said.
"I know his breed of old. He is ready to die; he says so himself. Why
save him, then?"
But the Patrician still hesitated. He would make a last effort.
"Throw off his bonds," he said to the guards. "Now take the furca off
his neck. So! Now, Datus, I have released you to show you that I trust
you. I have no wish to do you any hurt if you will but acknowledge your
error, and so set a better example to my household here assembled."
"How, then, shall I acknowledge my error?" the slave asked.
"Bow your head before the goddess, and entreat her forgiveness for
the violence you have done her. Then perhaps you may gain my pardon as
"Put me, then, before her," said the Christian.
Emilius Flaccus looked triumphantly at Domitian. By kindness and tact he
was effecting that which the Emperor had failed to do by violence. Datus
walked in front of the mutilated Venus. Then with a sudden spring he
tore the baton out of the hand of one of his guardians, leaped upon the
pedestal, and showered his blows upon the lovely marble woman. With
a crack and a dull thud her right arm dropped to the ground. Another
fierce blow and the left had followed. Flaccus danced and screamed
with horror, while his servants dragged the raving iconoclast from his
impassive victim. Domitian's brutal laughter echoed through the hall.
"Well, friend, what think you now?" he cried. "Are you wiser than your
Emperor? Can you indeed tame your Christian with kindness?"
Emilius Flaccus wiped the sweat from his brow. "He is yours, great
Caesar. Do with him as you will."
"Let him be at the gladiators' entrance of the circus an hour before
the games begin," said the Emperor. "Now, Emilius, the night has been a
merry one. My Ligurian galley waits by the river quay. Come, cool your
head with a spin to Ostia ere the business of State calls you to the
I THE COMING OF MAXIMIN
Many are the strange vicissitudes of history. Greatness has often sunk
to the dust, and has tempered itself to its new surrounding. Smallness
has risen aloft, has flourished for a time, and then has sunk once more.
Rich monarchs have become poor monks, brave conquerors have lost their
manhood, eunuchs and women have overthrown armies and kingdoms. Surely
there is no situation which the mind of man can invent which has not
taken shape and been played out upon the world stage. But of all the
strange careers and of all the wondrous happenings, stranger than
Charles in his monastery, or Justin on his throne, there stands the case
of Giant Maximin, what he attained, and how he attained it. Let me tell
the sober facts of history, tinged only by that colouring to which the
more austere historians could not condescend. It is a record as well as
In the heart of Thrace some ten miles north of the Rhodope mountains,
there is a valley which is named Harpessus, after the stream which runs
down it. Through this valley lies the main road from the east to the
west, and along the road, returning from an expedition against the
Alani, there marched, upon the fifth day of the month of June in
the year 210, a small but compact Roman army. It consisted of three
legions--the Jovian, the Cappadocian, and the men of Hercules. Ten
turmae of Gallic cavalry led the van, whilst the rear was covered by
a regiment of Batavian Horse Guards, the immediate attendants of the
Emperor Septimus Severus who had conducted the campaign in person. The
peasants who lined the low hills which fringed the valley looked with
indifference upon the long files of dusty, heavily-burdened infantry,
but they broke into murmurs of delight at the gold-faced cuirasses
and high brazen horse-hair helmets of the guardsmen, applauding their
stalwart figures, their martial bearing, and the stately black chargers
which they rode. A soldier might know that it was the little weary men
with their short swords, their heavy pikes over their shoulders, and
their square shields slung upon their backs, who were the real terror of
the enemies of the Empire, but to the eyes of the wondering Thracians it
was this troop of glittering Apollos who bore Rome's victory upon their
banners, and upheld the throne of the purple-togaed prince who rode
Among the scattered groups of peasants who looked on from a respectful
distance at this military pageant, there were two men who attracted
much attention from those who stood immediately around them. The one was
commonplace enough--a little grey-headed man, with uncouth dress and
a frame which was bent and warped by a long life of arduous toil,
goat-driving and wood-chopping among the mountains. It was the
appearance of his youthful companion which had drawn the amazed
observation of the bystanders. In stature he was such a giant as is
seen but once or twice in each generation of mankind. Eight feet and two
inches was his measure from his sandalled sole to the topmost curls of
his tangled hair. Yet for all his mighty stature there was nothing heavy
or clumsy in the man. His huge shoulders bore no redundant flesh, and
his figure was straight and hard and supple as a young pine tree. A
frayed suit of brown leather clung close to his giant body, and a cloak
of undressed sheep-skin was slung from his shoulder. His bold blue
eyes, shock of yellow hair and fair skin showed that he was of Gothic or
northern blood, and the amazed expression upon his broad frank face as
he stared at the passing troops told of a simple and uneventful life in
some back valley of the Macedonian mountains.
"I fear your mother was right when she advised that we keep you at
home," said the old man anxiously. "Tree-cutting and wood-carrying will
seem but dull work after such a sight as this."
"When I see mother next it will be to put a golden torque round her
neck," said the young giant. "And you, daddy; I will fill your leather
pouch with gold pieces before I have done."
The old man looked at his son with startled eyes. "You would not leave
us, Theckla! What could we do without you?"
"My place is down among yonder men," said the young man. "I was not born
to drive goats and carry logs, but to sell this manhood of mine in the
best market. There is my market in the Emperor's own Guard. Say nothing,
daddy, for my mind is set, and if you weep now it will be to laugh
hereafter. I will to great Rome with the soldiers."
The daily march of the heavily laden Roman legionary was fixed at twenty
miles; but on this afternoon, though only half the distance had been
accomplished, the silver trumpets blared out their welcome news that a
camp was to be formed. As the men broke their ranks, the reason of their
light march was announced by the decurions. It was the birthday of Geta,
the younger son of the Emperor, and in his honour there would be games
and a double ration of wine. But the iron discipline of the Roman
army required that under all circumstances certain duties should be
performed, and foremost among them that the camp should be made secure.
Laying down their arms in the order of their ranks, the soldiers seized
their spades and axes, and worked rapidly and joyously until sloping
vallum and gaping fossa girdled them round, and gave them safe refuge
against a night attack. Then in noisy, laughing, gesticulating crowds
they gathered in their thousands round the grassy arena where the sports
were to be held. A long green hillside sloped down to a level plain, and
on this gentle incline the army lay watching the strife of the chosen
athletes who contended before them. They stretched themselves in the
glare of the sunshine, their heavy tunics thrown off, and their naked
limbs sprawling, wine-cups an baskets of fruit and cakes circling
amongst them, enjoying rest and peace as only those can to whom it comes
The five-mile race was over, and had been won as usual by Decurion
Brennus, the crack long-distance champion of the Herculians. Amid the
yells of the Jovians, Capellus of the corps had carried off both the
long and the high jump. Big Brebix the Gaul had out-thrown the long
guardsman Serenus with the fifty pound stone. Now, as the sun sank
towards the western ridge, and turned the Harpessus to a riband of gold,
they had come to the final of the wrestling, where the pliant Greek,
whose name is lost in the nickname of "Python," was tried out against
the bull-necked Lictor of the military police, a hairy Hercules, whose
heavy hand had in the way of duty oppressed many of the spectators.
As the two men, stripped save for their loin-cloths, approached the
wrestling-ring, cheers and counter-cheers burst from their adherents,
some favouring the Lictor for his Roman blood, some the Greek from their
own private grudge. And then, of a sudden, the cheering died, heads were
turned towards the slope away from the arena, men stood up and peered
and pointed, until finally, in a strange hush, the whole great assembly
had forgotten the athletes, and were watching a single man walking
swiftly towards them down the green curve of the hill. This huge
solitary figure, with the oaken club in his hand, the shaggy fleece
flapping from his great shoulders, and the setting sun gleaming upon a
halo of golden hair, might have been the tutelary god of the fierce and
barren mountains from which he had issued. Even the Emperor rose from
his chair and gazed with open-eyed amazement at the extraordinary being
who approached him.
The man, whom we already know as Theckla the Thracian, paid no heed
to the attention which he had aroused, but strode onwards, stepping as
lightly as a deer, until he reached the fringe of the soldiers. Amid
their open ranks he picked his way, sprang over the ropes which guarded
the arena, and advanced towards the Emperor, until a spear at his breast
warned him that he must go no nearer. Then he sunk upon his right knee
and called out some words in the Gothic speech.
"Great Jupiter! Whoever saw such a body of a man!" cried the Emperor.
"What says he? What is amiss with the fellow? Whence comes he, and what
is his name?"
An interpreter translated the Barbarian's answer. "He says, great
Caesar, that he is of good blood, and sprung by a Gothic father from a
woman of the Alani. He says that his name is Theckla, and that he would
fain carry a sword in Caesar's service."
The Emperor smiled. "Some post could surely be found for such a man,
were it but as janitor at the Palatine Palace," said he to one of the
Prefects. "I would fain see him walk even as he is through the forum.
He would turn the heads of half the women in Rome. Talk to him, Crassus.
You know his speech."
The Roman officer turned to the giant. "Caesar says that you are to come
with him, and he will make you the servant at his door."
The Barbarian rose, and his fair cheeks flushed with resentment.
"I will serve Caesar as a soldier," said he, "but I will be
house-servant to no man-not even to him. If Caesar would see what manner
of man I am, let him put one of his guardsmen up against me."
"By the shade of Milo this is a bold fellow!" cried the Emperor. "How
say you, Crassus? Shall he make good his words?"
"By your leave, Caesar," said the blunt soldier, "good swordsmen are too
rare in these days that we should let them slay each other for sport.
Perhaps if the Barbarian would wrestle a fall--"
"Excellent!" cried the Emperor. "Here is the Python, and here Varus the
Lictor, each stripped for the bout. Have a look at them, Barbarian, and
see which you would choose. What does he say? He would take them both?
Nay then he is either the king of wrestlers or the king of boasters,
and we shall soon see which. Let him have his way, and he has himself to
thank if he comes out with a broken neck."
There was some laughter when the peasant tossed his sheep-skin mantle to
the ground and, without troubling to remove his leathern tunic, advanced
towards the two wrestlers; but it became uproarious when with a quick
spring he seized the Greek under one arm and the Roman under the other,
holding them as in a vice. Then with a terrific effort he tore them both
from the ground, carried them writhing and kicking round the arena, and
finally walking up to the Emperor's throne, threw his two athletes down
in front of him. Then, bowing to Caesar, the huge Barbarian withdrew,
and laid his great bulk down among the ranks of the applauding soldiers,
whence he watched with stolid unconcern the conclusion of the sports.
It was still daylight, when the last event had been decided, and the
soldiers returned to the camp. The Emperor Severus had ordered his
horse, and in the company of Crassus, his favourite prefect, rode down
the winding pathway which skirts the Harpessus, chatting over the future
dispersal of the army. They had ridden for some miles when Severus,
glancing behind him, was surprised to see a huge figure which trotted
lightly along at the very heels of his horse.
"Surely this is Mercury as well as Hercules that we have found among
the Thracian mountains," said he with a smile. "Let us see how soon our
Syrian horses can out-distance him."
The two Romans broke into a gallop, and did not draw rein until a good
mile had been covered at the full pace of their splendid chargers. Then
they turned and looked back; but there, some distance off, still
running with a lightness and a spring which spoke of iron muscles and
inexhaustible endurance, came the great Barbarian. The Roman Emperor
waited until the athlete had come up to them.
"Why do you follow me?" he asked. "It is my hope, Caesar, that I may
always follow you." His flushed face as he spoke was almost level with
that of the mounted Roman.
"By the god of war, I do not know where in all the world I could find
such a servant!" cried the Emperor. "You shall be my own body-guard, the
one nearest to me of all."
The giant fell upon his knee. "My life and strength are yours," he said.
"I ask no more than to spend them for Caesar."
Crassus had interpreted this short dialogue. He now turned to the
"If he is indeed to be always at your call, Caesar, it would be well to
give the poor Barbarian some name which your lips can frame. Theckla is
as uncouth and craggy a word as one of his native rocks."
The Emperor pondered for a moment. "If I am to have the naming of him,"
said he, "then surely I shall call him Maximus, for there is not such a
giant upon earth."
"Hark you," said the Prefect. "The Emperor has deigned to give you a
Roman name, since you have come into his service. Henceforth you are no
longer Theckla, but you are Maximus. Can you say it after me?"
"Maximin," repeated the Barbarian, trying to catch the Roman word.
The Emperor laughed at the mincing accent. "Yes, yes, Maximin let it
be. To all the world you are Maximin, the body-guard of Severus. When
we have reached Rome, we will soon see that your dress shall correspond
with your office. Meanwhile march with the guard until you have my
So it came about that as the Roman army resumed its march next day, and
left behind it the fair valley of the Harpessus, a huge recruit, clad
in brown leather, with a rude sheep-skin floating from his shoulders,
marched beside the Imperial troop. But far away in the wooden farmhouse
of a distant Macedonian valley two old country folk wept salt tears, and
prayed to the gods for the safety of their boy who had turned his face
II THE RISE OF GIANT MAXIMIN
Exactly twenty-five years had passed since the day that Theckla the huge
Thracian peasant had turned into Maximin the Roman guardsman. They had
not been good years for Rome. Gone for ever were the great Imperial days
of the Hadrians and the Trajans. Gone also the golden age of the two
Antonines, when the highest were for once the most worthy and most
wise. It had been an epoch of weak and cruel men. Severus, the swarthy
African, a stark grim man, had died in far away York, after fighting all
the winter with the Caledonian Highlanders--a race who have ever
since worn the martial garb of the Romans. His son, known only by his
slighting nick-name of Caracalla, had reigned during six years of insane
lust and cruelty, before the knife of an angry soldier avenged the
dignity of the Roman name. The nonentity Macrinus had filled the
dangerous throne for a single year before he also met a bloody end,
and made room for the most grotesque of all monarchs, the unspeakable
Heliogabalus with his foul mind and his painted face. He in turn was cut
to pieces by the soldiers, and Severus Alexander, a gentle youth, scarce
seventeen years of age, had been thrust into his place. For thirteen
years now he had ruled, striving with some success to put some virtue
and stability into the rotting Empire, but raising many fierce enemies
as he did so-enemies whom he had not the strength nor the wit to hold in
And Giant Maximin--what of him? He had carried his eight feet of manhood
through the lowlands of Scotland, and the passes of the Grampians.
He had seen Severus pass away, and had soldiered with his son. He
had fought in Armenia, in Dacia, and in Germany. They had made him a
centurion upon the field when with his hands he plucked out one by
one the stockades of a northern village, and so cleared a path for
the stormers. His strength had been the jest and the admiration of the
soldiers. Legends about him had spread through the army and were the
common gossip round the camp fires--of his duel with the German axeman
on the Island of the Rhine, and of the blow with his fist which broke
the leg of a Scythian's horse. Gradually he had won his way upwards,
until now, after quarter of a century's service he was tribune of the
fourth legion and superintendent of recruits for the whole army. The
young soldier who had come under the glare of Maximin's eyes, or had
been lifted up with one huge hand while he was cuffed by the other, had
his first lesson from him in the discipline of the service.
It was nightfall in the camp of the fourth legion upon the Gallic shore
of the Rhine. Across the moonlit water, amid the thick forests which
stretched away to the dim horizon, lay the wild untamed German tribes.
Down on the river bank the light gleamed upon the helmets of the Roman
sentinels who kept guard along the river. Far away a red point rose and
fell in the darkness--a watch-fire of the enemy upon the further shore.
Outside his tent, beside some smouldering logs, Giant Maximin was
seated, a dozen of his officers around him. He had changed much since
the day when we first met him in the Valley of the Harpessus. His huge
frame was as erect as ever, and there was no sign of diminution of his
strength. But he had aged none the less. The yellow tangle of hair was
gone, worn down by the ever-pressing helmet. The fresh young face was
drawn and hardened, with austere lines wrought by trouble and privation.
The nose was more hawk-like, the eyes more cunning, the expression more
cynical and more sinister. In his youth, a child would have run to
his arms. Now it would shrink screaming from his gaze. That was what
twenty-five years with the eagles had done for Theckla the Thracian
He was listening now--for he was a man of few words--to the chatter of
his centurions. One of them, Balbus the Sicilian, had been to the main
camp at Mainz, only four miles away, and had seen the Emperor Alexander
arrive that very day from Rome. The rest were eager at the news, for it
was a time of unrest, and the rumour of great changes was in the air.
"How many had he with him?" asked Labienus, a black-browed veteran from
the south of Gaul. "I'll wager a month's pay that he was not so trustful
as to come alone among his faithful legions."
"He had no great force," replied Balbus. "Ten or twelve cohorts of the
Praetorians and a handful of horse."
"Then indeed his head is in the lion's mouth," cried Sulpicius, a
hot-headed youth from the African Pentapolis. "How was he received?"
"Coldly enough. There was scarce a shout as he came down the line."
"They are ripe for mischief," said Labienus. "And who can wonder, when
it is we soldiers who uphold the Empire upon our spears, while the lazy
citizens at Rome reap all of our sowing. Why cannot a soldier have what
a soldier gains? So long as they throw us our denarius a day, they think
that they have done with us."
"Aye," croaked a grumbling old greybeard. "Our limbs, our blood, our
lives--what do they care so long as the Barbarians are held off, and
they are left in peace to their feastings and their circus? Free bread,
free wine, free games--everything for the loafer at Rome. For us the
frontier guard and a soldier's fare."
Maximin gave a deep laugh. "Old Plancus talks like that," said he; "but
we know that for all the world he would not change his steel plate for a
citizen's gown. You've earned the kennel, old hound, if you wish it. Go
and gnaw your bone and growl in peace."
"Nay, I am too old for change. I will follow the eagle till I die. And
yet I had rather die in serving a soldier master than a long-gowned
Syrian who comes of a stock where the women are men and the men are
There was a laugh from the circle of soldiers, for sedition and mutiny
were rife in the camp, and even the old centurion's outbreak could not
draw a protest. Maximin raised his great mastiff head and looked at
"Was any name in the mouths of the soldiers?" he asked in a meaning
There was a hush for the answer. The sigh of the wind among the pines
and the low lapping of the river swelled out louder in the silence.
Balbus looked hard at his commander.
"Two names were whispered from rank to rank," said he. "One was Ascenius
Pollio, the General. The other was--"
The fiery Sulpicius sprang to his feet waving a glowing brand above his
"Maximinus!" he yelled, "Imperator Maximinus Augustus!"
Who could tell how it came about? No one had thought of it an hour
before. And now it sprang in an instant to full accomplishment. The
shout of the frenzied young African had scarcely rung through the
darkness when from the tents, from the watch-fires, from the sentries,
the answer came pealing back: "Ave, Maximinus! Ave Maximinus Augustus!"
From all sides men came rushing, half-clad, wild-eyed, their eyes
staring, their mouths agape, flaming wisps of straw or flaring torches
above their heads. The giant was caught up by scores of hands, and sat
enthroned upon the bull-necks of the legionaries. "To the camp!" they
yelled. "To the camp! Hail! Hail to the soldier Caesar!"
That same night Severus Alexander, the young Syrian Emperor, walked
outside his Praetorian camp, accompanied by his friend Licinius Probus,
the Captain of the Guard. They were talking gravely of the gloomy
faces and seditious bearing of the soldiers. A great foreboding of evil
weighed heavily upon the Emperor's heart, and it was reflected upon the
stern bearded face of his companion.
"I like it not," said he. "It is my counsel, Caesar, that with the first
light of morning we make our way south once more."
"But surely," the Emperor answered, "I could not for shame turn my back
upon the danger. What have they against me? How have I harmed them that
they should forget their vows and rise upon me?"
"They are like children who ask always for something new. You heard the
murmur as you rode along the ranks. Nay, Caesar, fly tomorrow, and your
Praetorians will see that you are not pursued. There may be some loyal
cohorts among the legions, and if we join forces--"
A distant shout broke in upon their conversation--a low continued roar,
like the swelling tumult of a sweeping wave. Far down the road upon
which they stood there twinkled many moving lights, tossing and sinking
as they rapidly advanced, whilst the hoarse tumultuous bellowing broke
into articulate words, the same tremendous words, a thousand-fold
repeated. Licinius seized the Emperor by the wrist and dragged him under
the cover of some bushes.
"Be still, Caesar! For your life be still!" he whispered. "One word and
we are lost!"
Crouching in the darkness, they saw that wild procession pass, the
rushing screaming figures, the tossing arms, the bearded, distorted
faces, now scarlet and now grey, as the brandished torches waxed or
waned. They heard the rush of many feet, the clamour of hoarse voices,
the clang of metal upon metal. And then suddenly, above them all, they
saw a vision of a monstrous man, a huge bowed back, a savage face, grim
hawk eyes, that looked out over the swaying shields. It was seen for an
instant in a smoke-fringed circle of fire, and then it had swept on into
"Who is he?" stammered the Emperor, clutching at his guardsman's sleeve.
"They call him Caesar."
"It is surely Maximin the Thracian peasant." In the darkness the
Praetorian officer looked with strange eyes at his master.
"It is all over, Caesar. Let us fly your tent."
But even as they went a second shout had broken forth tenfold louder
than the first. If the one had been the roar of the oncoming wave, the
other was the full turmoil of the tempest. Twenty thousand voices from
the camp had broken into one wild shout which echoed through the night,
until the distant Germans round their watch-fires listened in wonder and
"Ave!" cried the voices. "Ave Maximinus Augustus!"
High upon their bucklers stood the giant, and looked round him at the
great floor of upturned faces below. His own savage soul was stirred
by the clamour, but only his gleaming eyes spoke of the fire within.
He waved his hand to the shouting soldiers as the huntsman waves to the
leaping pack. They passed him up a coronet of oak leaves, and clashed
their swords in homage as he placed it on his head. And then there came
a swirl in the crowd before him, a little space was cleared, and there
knelt an officer in the Praetorian garb, blood upon his face, blood upon
his bared forearm, blood upon his naked sword. Licinius too had gone
with the tide.
"Hail, Caesar, hail!" he cried, as he bowed his head before the giant.
"I come from Alexander. He will trouble you no more."
III THE FALL OF MAXIMIN
For three years the soldier Emperor had been upon the throne. His palace
had been his tent, and his people had been the legionaries. With them he
was supreme; away from them he was nothing. He had gone with them from
one frontier to the other. He had fought against Dacians, Sarmatians,
and once again against the Germans. But Rome knew nothing of him, and
all her turbulence rose against a master who cared so little for her or
her opinion that he never deigned to set foot within her walls. There
were cabals and conspiracies against the absent Caesar. Then his heavy
hand fell upon them, and they were cuffed, even as the young soldiers
had been who passed under his discipline. He knew nothing, and cared as
much for consuls, senates, and civil laws. His own will and the power
of the sword were the only forces which he could understand. Of commerce
and the arts he was as ignorant as when he left his Thracian home. The
whole vast Empire was to him a huge machine for producing the money by
which the legions were to be rewarded. Should he fail to get that money,
his fellow soldiers would bear him a grudge. To watch their interests
they had raised him upon their shields that night. If city funds had to
be plundered or temples desecrated, still the money must be got. Such
was the point of view of Giant Maximin.
But there came resistance, and all the fierce energy of the man, all the
hardness which had given him the leadership of hard men, sprang forth to
quell it. From his youth he had lived amidst slaughter. Life and death
were cheap things to him. He struck savagely at all who stood up to him,
and when they hit back, he struck more savagely still. His giant shadow
lay black across the Empire from Britain to Syria. A strange subtle
vindictiveness became also apparent in him. Omnipotence ripened every
fault and swelled it into crime. In the old days he had been rebuked for
his roughness. Now a sullen dangerous anger arose against those who had
rebuked him. He sat by the hour with his craggy chin between his
hands, and his elbows resting on his knees, while he recalled all the
misadventures, all the vexations of his early youth, when Roman wits had
shot their little satires upon his bulk and his ignorance. He could not
write, but his son Verus placed the names upon his tablets, and they
were sent to the Governor of Rome. Men who had long forgotten their
offence were called suddenly to make most bloody reparation.
A rebellion broke out in Africa, but was quelled by his lieutenant. But
the mere rumour of it set Rome in a turmoil. The Senate found something
of its ancient spirit. So did the Italian people. They would not be for
ever bullied by the legions. As Maximin approached from the frontier,
with the sack of rebellious Rome in his mind, he was faced with every
sign of a national resistance. The countryside was deserted, the farms
abandoned, the fields cleared of crops and cattle. Before him lay the
walled town of Aquileia. He flung himself fiercely upon it, but was met
by as fierce a resistance. The walls could not be forced, and yet there
was no food in the country round for his legions. The men were starving
and dissatisfied. What did it matter to them who was Emperor? Maximin
was no better than themselves. Why should they call down the curse of
the whole Empire upon their heads by upholding him? He saw their sullen
faces and their averted eyes, and he knew that the end had come.
That night he sat with his son Verus in his tent, and he spoke softly
and gently as the youth had never heard him speak before. He had spoken
thus in old days with Paullina, the boy's mother; but she had been dead
these many years, and all that was soft and gentle in the big man had
passed away with her. Now her spirit seemed very near him, and his own
was tempered by its presence.
"I would have you go back to the Thracian mountains," he said. "I have
tried both, boy, and I can tell you that there is no pleasure which
power can bring which can equal the breath of the wind and the smell of
the kine upon a summer morning. Against you they have no quarrel.
Why should they mishandle you? Keep far from Rome and the Romans. Old
Eudoxus has money, and to spare. He awaits you with two horses outside
the camp. Make for the valley of the Harpessus, lad. It was thence
that your father came, and there you will find his kin. Buy and stock
a homestead, and keep yourself far from the paths of greatness and of
danger. God keep you, Verus, and send you safe to Thrace."
When his son had kissed his hand and had left him, the Emperor drew his
robe around him and sat long in thought. In his slow brain he revolved
the past--his early peaceful days, his years with Severus, his memories
of Britain, his long campaigns, his strivings and battlings, all leading
to that mad night by the Rhine. His fellow soldiers had loved him then.
And now he had read death in their eyes. How had he failed them? Others
he might have wronged, but they at least had no complaint against him.
If he had his time again, he would think less of them and more of his
people, he would try to win love instead of fear, he would live
for peace and not for war. If he had his time again! But there were
shuffling Steps, furtive whispers, and the low rattle of arms outside
his tent. A bearded face looked in at him, a swarthy African face that
he knew well. He laughed, and, bearing his arm, he took his sword from
the table beside him.
"It is you, Sulpicius," said he. "You have not come to cry 'Ave
Imperator Maximin!' as once by the camp fire. You are tired of me, and
by the gods I am tired of you, and glad to be at the end of it. Come
and have done with it, for I am minded to see how many of you I can take
with me when I go."
They clustered at the door of the tent, peeping over each other's
shoulders, and none wishing to be the first to close with that laughing,
mocking giant. But something was pushed forward upon a spear point, and
as he saw it, Maximin groaned and his sword sank to the earth.
"You might have spared the boy," he sobbed. "He would not have hurt you.
Have done with it then, for I will gladly follow him."
So they closed upon him and cut and stabbed and thrust, until his knees
gave way beneath him and he dropped upon the floor.
"The tyrant is dead!" they cried. "The tyrant is dead," and from all the
camp beneath them and from the walls of the beleaguered city the joyous
cry came echoing back, "He is dead, Maximin is dead!"
I sit in my study, and upon the table before me lies a denarius of
Maximin, as fresh as when the triumvir of the Temple of Juno Moneta
sent it from the mint. Around it are recorded his resounding
titles--Imperator Maximinus, Pontifex Maximus, Tribunitia potestate, and
the rest. In the centre is the impress of a great craggy head, a massive
jaw, a rude fighting face, a contracted forehead. For all the pompous
roll of titles it is a peasant's face, and I see him not as the Emperor
of Rome, but as the great Thracian boor who strode down the hillside on
that far-distant summer day when first the eagles beckoned him to Rome.
THE COMING OF THE HUNS
In the middle of the fourth century the state of the Christian religion
was a scandal and a disgrace. Patient, humble, and long-suffering in
adversity, it had become positive, aggressive, and unreasonable with
success. Paganism was not yet dead, but it was rapidly sinking, finding
its most faithful supporters among the conservative aristocrats of the
best families on the one hand, and among those benighted villagers on
the other who gave their name to the expiring creed. Between these
two extremes the great majority of reasonable men had turned from the
conception of many gods to that of one, and had rejected for ever the
beliefs of their forefathers. But with the vices of polytheism they had
also abandoned its virtues, among which toleration and religious good
humour had been conspicuous. The strenuous earnestness of the Christians
had compelled them to examine and define every point of their own
theology; but as they had no central authority by which such definitions
could be checked, it was not long before a hundred heresies had put
forward their rival views, while the same earnestness of conviction led
the stronger bands of schismatics to endeavour, for conscience sake, to
force their views upon the weaker, and thus to cover the Eastern world
with confusion and strife.
Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople were centres of theological
warfare. The whole north of Africa, too, was rent by the strife of the
Donatists, who upheld their particular schism by iron flails and the
war-cry of "Praise to the Lord!" But minor local controversies sank to
nothing when compared with the huge argument of the Catholic and the
Arian, which rent every village in twain, and divided every household
from the cottage to the palace. The rival doctrines of the Homoousian
and of the Homoiousian, containing metaphysical differences so
attenuated that they could hardly be stated, turned bishop against
bishop and congregation against congregation. The ink of the theologians
and the blood of the fanatics were spilled in floods on either side, and
gentle followers of Christ were horrified to find that their faith was
responsible for such a state of riot and bloodshed as had never yet
disgraced the religious history of the world. Many of the more earnest
among them, shocked and scandalized, slipped away to the Libyan Desert,
or to the solitude of Pontus, there to await in self-denial and prayer
that second coming which was supposed to be at hand. Even in the deserts
they could not escape the echo of the distant strife, and the hermits
themselves scowled fiercely from their dens at passing travellers who
might be contaminated by the doctrines of Athanasius or of Arius.
Such a hermit was Simon Melas, of whom I write. A Trinitarian and a
Catholic, he was shocked by the excesses of the persecution of the
Arians, which could be only matched by the similar outrages with which
these same Arians in the day of their power avenged their treatment on
their brother Christians. Weary of the whole strife, and convinced
that the end of the world was indeed at hand, he left his home in
Constantinople and travelled as far as the Gothic settlements in Dacia,
beyond the Danube, in search of some spot where he might be free from
the never-ending disputes. Still journeying to the north and east, he
crossed the river which we now call the Dneister, and there, finding
a rocky hill rising from an immense plain, he formed a cell near its
summit, and settled himself down to end his life in self-denial and
meditation. There were fish in the stream, the country teemed with
game, and there was an abundance of wild fruits, so that his spiritual
exercises were not unduly interrupted by the search of sustenance for
his mortal frame.
In this distant retreat he expected to find absolute solitude, but the
hope was in vain. Within a week of his arrival, in an hour of worldly
curiosity, he explored the edges of the high rocky hill upon which he
lived. Making his way up to a cleft, which was hung with olives and
myrtles, he came upon a cave in the opening of which sat an aged man,
white-bearded, white-haired, and infirm--a hermit like himself. So long
had this stranger been alone that he had almost forgotten the use of his
tongue; but at last, words coming more freely, he was able to convey
the information that his name was Paul of Nicopolis, that he was a Greek
citizen, and that he also had come out into the desert for the saving of
his soul, and to escape from the contamination of heresy.
"Little I thought, brother Simon," said he, "that I should ever find
any one else who had come so far upon the same holy errand. In all these
years, and they are so many that I have lost count of them, I have never
seen a man, save indeed one or two wandering shepherds far out upon
From where they sat, the huge steppe, covered with waving grass and
gleaming with a vivid green in the sun, stretched away as level and as
unbroken as the sea, to the eastern horizon. Simon Melas stared across
it with curiosity.
"Tell me, brother Paul," said he, "you who have lived here so long--what
lies at the further side of that plain?"
The old man shook his head. "There is no further side to the plain,"
said he. "It is the earth's boundary, and stretches away to eternity.
For all these years I have sat beside it, but never once have I seen
anything come across it. It is manifest that if there had been a further
side there would certainly at some time have come some traveller from
that direction. Over the great river yonder is the Roman post of
Tyras; but that is a long day's journey from here, and they have never
disturbed my meditations."
"On what do you meditate, brother Paul?"
"At first I meditated on many sacred mysteries; but now, for twenty
years, I have brooded continually on the nature of the Logos. What is
your view upon that vital matter, brother Simon?"
"Surely," said the younger man, "there can be no question as to that.
The Logos is assuredly but a name used by St. John to signify the
The old hermit gave a hoarse cry of fury, and his brown, withered face
was convulsed with anger. Seizing the huge cudgel which he kept to beat
off the wolves, he shook it murderously at his companion.
"Out with you! Out of my cell!" he cried. "Have I lived here so long
to have it polluted by a vile Trinitarian--a follower of the rascal
Athanasius? Wretched idolater, learn once for all, that the Logos is in
truth an emanation from the Deity, and in no sense equal or co-eternal
with Him! Out with you, I say, or I will dash out your brains with my
It was useless to reason with the furious Arian, and Simon withdrew in
sadness and wonder, that at this extreme verge of the known earth the
spirit of religious strife should still break upon the peaceful solitude
of the wilderness. With hanging head and heavy heart he made his way
down the valley, and climbed up once more to his own cell, which lay
at the crown of the hill, with the intention of never again exchanging
visits with his Arian neighbour.
Here, for a year, dwelt Simon Melas, leading a life of solitude and
prayer. There was no reason why any one should ever come to this
outermost point of human habitation. Once a young Roman officer--Caius
Crassus--rode out a day's journey from Tyras, and climbed the hill to
have speech with the anchorite. He was of an equestrian family, and
still held his belief in the old dispensation. He looked with interest
and surprise, but also with some disgust, at the ascetic arrangements of
that humble abode.
"Whom do you please by living in such a fashion?" he asked.
"We show that our spirit is superior to our flesh," Simon answered. "If
we fare badly in this world, we believe that we shall reap an advantage
in the world to come."
The centurion shrugged his shoulders. "There are philosophers among our
people, Stoics and others, who have the same idea. When I was in the
Herulian Cohort of the Fourth Legion we were quartered in Rome itself,
and I saw much of the Christians, but I could never learn anything
from them which I had not heard from my own father, whom you, in your
arrogance, would call a Pagan. It is true that we talk of numerous gods;
but for many years we have not taken them very seriously. Our thoughts
upon virtue and duty and a noble life are the same as your own."
Simon Melas shook his head.
"If you have not the holy books," said he, "then what guide have you to
direct your steps?"
"If you will read our philosophers, and above all the divine Plato, you
will find that there are other guides who may take you to the same end.
Have you by chance read the book which was written by our Emperor Marcus
Aurelius? Do you not discover there every virtue which man could have,
although he knew nothing of your creed? Have you considered, also, the
words and actions of our late Emperor Julian, with whom I served my
first campaign when he went out against the Persians? Where could you
find a more perfect man than he?"
"Such talk is unprofitable, and I will have no more of it," said Simon,
sternly. "Take heed while there is time, and embrace the true faith;
for the end of the world is at hand, and when it comes there will be no
mercy for those who have shut their eyes to the light." So saying, he
turned back once more to his praying-stool and to his crucifix, while
the young Roman walked in deep thought down the hill, and mounting his
horse, rode off to his distant post. Simon watched him until his brazen
helmet was but a bead of light on the western edge of the great plain;
for this was the first human face that he had seen in all this long
year, and there were times when his heart yearned for the voices and the
faces of his kind.
So another year passed, and save for the chance of weather and the slow
change of the seasons, one day was as another. Every morning, when Simon
opened his eyes, he saw the same grey line ripening into red in the
furthest east, until the bright rim pushed itself above that far-off
horizon across which no living creature had ever been known to come.
Slowly the sun swept across the huge arch of the heavens, and as the
shadows shifted from the black rocks which jutted upward from above his
cell, so did the hermit regulate his terms of prayer and meditation.
There was nothing on earth to draw his eye, or to distract his mind,
for the grassy plain below was as void from month to month as the heaven
above. So the long hours passed, until the red rim slipped down on the
further side, and the day ended in the same pearl-grey shimmer with
which it had begun. Once two ravens circled for some days round the
lonely hill, and once a white fish-eagle came from the Dneister and
screamed above the hermit's head. Sometimes red dots were seen on the
green plain where the antelopes grazed, and often a wolf howled in the
darkness from the base of the rocks. Such was the uneventful life of
Simon Melas the anchorite, until there came the day of wrath.
It was in the late spring of the year 375 that Simon came out from his
cell, his gourd in his hand, to draw water from the spring. Darkness had
closed in, the sun had set, but one last glimmer of rosy light rested
upon a rocky peak, which jutted forth from the hill, on the further side
from the hermit's dwelling. As Simon came forth from under his ledge,
the gourd dropped from his hand, and he stood gazing in amazement.
On the opposite peak a man was standing, his outline black in the
fading light. He was a strange almost a deformed figure, short-statured,
round-backed, with a large head, no neck, and a long rod jutting out
from between his shoulders. He stood with his face advanced, and his
body bent, peering very intently over the plain to the westward. In a
moment he was gone, and the lonely black peak showed up hard and naked
against the faint eastern glimmer. Then the night closed down, and all
was black once more.
Simon Melas stood long in bewilderment, wondering who this stranger
could be. He had heard, as had every Christian, of those evil spirits
which were wont to haunt the hermits in the Thebaid and on the skirts
of the Ethiopian waste. The strange shape of this solitary creature,
its dark outline and prowling, intent attitude, suggestive rather of a
fierce, rapacious beast than of a man, all helped him to believe that
he had at last encountered one of those wanderers from the pit, of whose
existence, in those days of robust faith, he had no more doubt than
of his own. Much of the night he spent in prayer, his eyes glancing
continually at the low arch of his cell door, with its curtain of deep
purple wrought with stars. At any instant some crouching monster, some
homed abomination, might peer in upon him; and he clung with frenzied
appeal to his crucifix, as his human weakness quailed at the thought.
But at last his fatigue overcame his fears, and falling upon his couch
of dried grass, he slept until the bright daylight brought him to his
It was later than was his wont, and the sun was far above the horizon.
As he came forth from his cell, he looked across at the peak of rock,
but it stood there bare and silent. Already it seemed to him that that
strange dark figure which had startled him so was some dream, some
vision of the twilight. His gourd lay where it had fallen, and he picked
it up with the intention of going to the spring. But suddenly he was
aware of something new. The whole air was throbbing with sound. From all
sides it came, rumbling, indefinite, an inarticulate mutter, low, but
thick and strong, rising, falling, reverberating among the rocks, dying
away into vague whispers, but always there. He looked round at the blue,
cloudless sky in bewilderment. Then he scrambled up the rocky pinnacle
above him, and sheltering himself in its shadow, he stared out over the
plain. In his wildest dream he had never imagined such a sight.
The whole vast expanse was covered with horse-men, hundreds and
thousands and tens of thousands, all riding slowly and in silence, out
of the unknown east. It was the multitudinous beat of their horses'
hoofs which caused that low throbbing in his ears. Some were so close
to him as he looked down upon them that he could see clearly their
thin wiry horses, and the strange humped figures of the swarthy riders,
sitting forward on the withers, shapeless bundles, their short legs
hanging stirrupless, their bodies balanced as firmly as though they were
part of the beast. In those nearest he could see the bow and the quiver,
the long spear and the short sword, with the coiled lasso behind the
rider, which told that this was no helpless horde of wanderers, but a
formidable army upon the march. His eyes passed on from them and swept
further and further, but still to the very horizon, which quivered
with movement, there was no end to this monstrous cavalry. Already the
vanguard was far past the island of rock upon which he dwelt, and he
could now understand that in front of this vanguard were single scouts
who guided the course of the army, and that it was one of these whom he
had seen the evening before.
All day, held spell-bound by this wonderful sight, the hermit crouched
in the shadow of the rocks, and all day the sea of horsemen rolled
onward over the plain beneath. Simon had seen the swarming quays of
Alexandria, he had watched the mob which blocked the hippodrome of
Constantinople, yet never had he imagined such a multitude as now
defiled beneath his eyes, coming from that eastern skyline which had
been the end of his world. Sometimes the dense streams of horsemen
were broken by droves of brood-mares and foals, driven along by mounted
guards; sometimes there were herds of cattle; sometimes there were lines
of waggons with skin canopies above them; but then once more, after
every break, came the horsemen, the horsemen, the hundreds and the
thousands and the tens of thousands, slowly, ceaselessly, silently
drifting from the east to the west. The long day passed, the light
waned, and the shadows fell; but still the great broad stream was
But the night brought a new and even stranger sight. Simon had marked
bundles of faggots upon the backs of many of the led horses, and now he
saw their use. All over the great plain, red pin-points gleamed through
the darkness, which grew and brightened into flickering columns of
flame. So far as he could see both to east and west the fires extended,
until they were but points of light in the furthest distance. White
stars shone in the vast heavens above, red ones in the great plain
below. And from every side rose the low, confused murmur of voices, with
the lowing of oxen and the neighing of horses.
Simon had been a soldier and a man of affairs before ever he forsook the
world, and the meaning of all that he had seen was clear to him. History
told him how the Roman world had ever been assailed by fresh swarms of
Barbarians, coming from the outer darkness, and that the Eastern Empire
had already, in its fifty years of existence since Constantine had moved
the capital of the world to the shores of the Bosphorus, been tormented
in the same way. Gepidae and Heruli, Ostrogoths and Sarmatians, he was
familiar with them all. What the advanced sentinel of Europe had seen
from this lonely outlying hill, was a fresh swarm breaking in upon the
Empire, distinguished only from the others by its enormous, incredible
size and by the strange aspect of the warriors who composed it. He
alone of all civilized men knew of the approach of this dreadful shadow,
sweeping like a heavy storm-cloud from the unknown depths of the east.
He thought of the little Roman posts along the Dneister, of the
ruined Dacian wall of Trajan behind them, and then of the scattered,
defenceless villages which lay with no thought of danger over all the
open country which stretched down to the Danube. Could he but give them
the alarm! Was it not, perhaps, for that very end that God had guided
him to the wilderness?
Then suddenly he remembered his Arian neighbour, who dwelt in the cave
beneath him. Once or twice during the last year he had caught a glimpse
of his tall, bent figure hobbling round to examine the traps which he
laid for quails and partridges. On one occasion they had met at the
brook; but the old theologian waved him away, as if he were a
leper. What did he think now of this strange happening? Surely their
differences might be forgotten at such a moment. He stole down the side
of the hill, and made his way to his fellow-hermit's cave.
But there was a terrible silence as he approached it. His heart sank
at that deadly stillness in the little valley. No glimmer of light came
from the cleft in the rocks. He entered and called, but no answer came
back. Then, with flint, steel, and the dry grass which he used for
tinder, he struck a spark, and blew it into a blaze. The old hermit,
his white hair dabbled with crimson, lay sprawling across the floor.
The broken crucifix, with which his head had been beaten in, lay
in splinters across him. Simon had dropped on his knees beside him,
straightening his contorted limbs, and muttering the office for the
dead, when the thud of a horse's hoofs was heard ascending the little
valley which led to the hermit's cell. The dry grass had burned down,
and Simon crouched trembling in the darkness, pattering prayers to the
Virgin that his strength might be upheld.
It may have been that the newcomer had seen the gleam of the light, or
it may have been that he had heard from his comrades of the old man whom
they had murdered, and that his curiosity had led him to the spot. He
stopped his horse outside the cave, and Simon, lurking in the shadows
within, had a fair view of him in the moonlight. He slipped from his
saddle, fastened the bridle to a root, and then stood peering through
the opening of the cell. He was a very short, thick man, with a dark
face, which was gashed with three cuts upon either side. His small eyes
were sunk deep in his head, showing like black holes in the heavy, flat,
hairless face. His legs were short and very bandy, so that he waddled
uncouthly as he walked.
Simon crouched in the darkest angle, and he gripped in his hand that
same knotted cudgel which the dead theologian had once raised against
him. As that hideous stooping head advanced into the darkness of the
cell, he brought the staff down upon it with all the strength of his
right arm, and then, as the stricken savage fell forward upon his face,
he struck madly again and again, until the shapeless figure lay limp and
still. One roof covered the first slain of Europe and of Asia.
Simon's veins were throbbing and quivering with the unwonted joy of
action. All the energy stored up in those years of repose came in a
flood at this moment of need. Standing in the darkness of the cell, he
saw, as in a map of fire, the outlines of the great Barbaric host, the
line of the river, the position of the settlements, the means by which
they might be warned. Silently he waited in the shadow until the moon
had sunk. Then he flung himself upon the dead man's horse, guided it
down the gorge, and set forth at a gallop across the plain.
There were fires on every side of him, but he kept clear of the rings
of light. Round each he could see, as he passed, the circle of sleeping
warriors, with the long lines of picketed horses. Mile after mile and
league after league stretched that huge encampment. And then, at last,
he had reached the open plain which led to the river, and the fires of
the invaders were but a dull smoulder against the black eastern
sky. Ever faster and faster he sped across the steppe, like a single
fluttered leaf which whirls before the storm. Even as the dawn whitened
the sky behind him, it gleamed also upon the broad river in front, and
he flogged his weary horse through the shallows, until he plunged into
its full yellow tide.
So it was that, as the young Roman centurion--Caius Crassus--made his
morning round in the fort of Tyras he saw a single horseman, who rode
towards him from the river. Weary and spent, drenched with water and
caked with dirt and sweat, both horse and man were at the last stage of
their endurance. With amazement the Roman watched their progress, and
recognized in the ragged, swaying figure, with flying hair and staring
eyes, the hermit of the eastern desert. He ran to meet him, and caught
him in his arms as he reeled from the saddle.
"What is it, then?" he asked. "What is your news?"
But the hermit could only point at the rising sun. "To arms!" he
croaked. "To arms! The day of wrath is come!" And as he looked, the
Roman saw--far across the river--a great dark shadow, which moved slowly
over the distant plain.
THE LAST OF THE LEGIONS
Pontus, the Roman viceroy, sat in the atrium of his palatial villa by
the Thames, and he looked with perplexity at the scroll of papyrus which
he had just unrolled. Before him stood the messenger who had brought
it, a swarthy little Italian, whose black eyes were glazed with want
of sleep, and his olive features darker still from dust and sweat. The
viceroy was looking fixedly at him, yet he saw him not, so full was his
mind of this sudden and most unexpected order. To him it seemed as if
the solid earth had given way beneath his feet. His life and the work of
his life had come to irremediable ruin.
"Very good," he said at last in a hard dry voice, "you can go."
The man saluted and staggered out of the hall.
A yellow-haired British major-domo came forward for orders.
"Is the General there?"
"He is waiting, your excellency."
"Then show him in, and leave us together."
A few minutes later Licinius Crassus, the head of the British military
establishment, had joined his chief. He was a large bearded man in a
white civilian toga, hemmed with the Patrician purple. His rough, bold
features, burned and seamed and lined with the long African wars, were
shadowed with anxiety as he looked with questioning eyes at the drawn,
haggard face of the viceroy.
"I fear, your excellency, that you have had bad news from Rome."
"The worst, Crassus. It is all over with Britain. It is a question
whether even Gaul will be held."
"Saint Albus save us! Are the orders precise?"
"Here they are, with the Emperor's own seal."
"But why? I had heard a rumour, but it had seemed too incredible."
"So had I only last week, and had the fellow scourged for having spread
it. But here it is as clear as words can make it: 'Bring every man of
the Legions by forced marches to the help of the Empire. Leave not a
cohort in Britain.' These are my orders."
"But the cause?"
"They will let the limbs wither so that the heart be stronger. The
old German hive is about to swarm once more. There are fresh crowds of
Barbarians from Dacia and Scythia. Every sword is needed to hold the
Alpine passes. They cannot let three legions lie idle in Britain."
The soldier shrugged his shoulder's.
"When the legions go no Roman would feel that his life was safe here.
For all that we have done, it is none the less the truth that it is no
country of ours, and that we hold it as we won it by the sword."
"Yes, every man, woman, and child of Latin blood must come with us to
Gaul. The galleys are already waiting at Portus Dubris. Get the orders
out, Crassus, at once. As the Valerian legion falls back from the Wall
of Hadrian it can take the northern colonists with it. The Jovians can
bring in the people from the west, and the Batavians can escort the
easterns if they will muster at Camboricum. You will see to it." He sank
his face for a moment in his hands. "It is a fearsome thing," said he,
"to tear up the roots of so goodly a tree."
"To make more space for such a crop of weeds," said the soldier
bitterly. "My God, what will be the end of these poor Britons! From
ocean to ocean there is not a tribe which will not be at the throat of
its neighbour when the last Roman Lictor has turned his back. With these
hot-headed Silures it is hard enough now to keep the swords in their
"The kennel might fight as they chose among themselves until the best
hound won," said the Roman Governor. "At least the victor would keep the
arts and the religion which we have brought them, and Britain would be
one land. No, it is the bear from the north and the wolves from oversea,
the painted savage from beyond the walls and the Saxon pirate from over
the water, who will succeed to our rule. Where we saved, they will slay;
where we built, they will burn; where we planted, they will ravage. But
the die is cast, Crassus. You will carry out the orders."
"I will send out the messengers within an hour. This very morning there
has come news that the Barbarians are through the old gap in the wall,
and their outriders as far south as Vinovia." The Governor shrugged his
shoulders. "These things concern us no longer," said he. Then a bitter
smile broke upon his aquiline clean-shaven face. "Whom think you that I
see in audience this morning?"
"Nay, I know not."
"Caradoc and Regnus, and Celticus the Icenian, who, like so many of the
richer Britons, have been educated at Rome, and who would lay before me
their plans as to the ruling of this country."
"And what is their plan?"
"That they themselves should do it." The Roman soldier laughed. "Well,
they will have their will," said he, as he saluted and turned upon his
heel. "Farewell, your excellency. There are hard days coming for you and
An hour later the British deputation was ushered into the presence of
the Governor. They were good steadfast men, men who with a whole heart,
and at some risk to themselves, had taken up their country's cause, so
far as they could see it. At the same time, they well knew that under
the mild and beneficent rule of Rome it was only when they passed from
words to deeds that their backs or their necks would be in danger.
They stood now, earnest and a little abashed, before the throne of the
viceroy. Celticus was a swarthy black-bearded little Iberian. Caradoc
and Regnus were tall middle-aged men of the fair flaxen British type.
All three were dressed in the draped yellow toga after the Latin
fashion, instead of in the bracae and tunic which distinguished their
more insular fellow-countrymen.
"Well?" asked the Governor.
"We are here," said Celticus boldly, "as the spokesmen of a great
number of our fellow-countrymen, for the purpose of sending our petition
through you to the Emperor and to the Roman Senate, that we may urge
upon them the policy of allowing us to govern this country after our own
ancient fashion." He paused, as if awaiting some outburst as an answer
to his own temerity; but the Governor merely nodded his head as a sign
that he should proceed. "We had laws of our own before ever Caesar
set foot in Britain, which have served their purpose since first our
forefathers came from the land of Ham. We are not a child among the
nations, but our history goes back in our own traditions--further even
than that of Rome, and we are galled by this yoke which you have laid
"Are not our laws just?" asked the Governor.
"The code of Caesar is just, but it is always the code of Caesar. Our
own laws were made for our own uses and our own circumstances, and we
would fain have them again."
"You speak Roman as if you had been bred in the Forum; you wear a Roman
toga; your hair is filleted in Roman fashion--are not these the gifts of
"We would take all the learning and all the arts that Rome or Greece
could give, but we would still be Britain, and ruled by Britons."
The viceroy smiled. "By the rood of Saint Helena," said he, "had you
spoken thus to some of my heathen ancestors, there would have been an
end to your politics. That you have dared to stand before my face and
say as much is a proof for ever of the gentleness of our rule. But I
would reason with you for a moment upon this your request. You know well
that this land has never been one kingdom, but was always under many
chiefs and many tribes, who have made war upon each other. Would you in
very truth have it so again?"
"Those were in the evil pagan days, the days of the Druid and the
oak-grove, your excellency. But now we are held together by a gospel of
The viceroy shook his head. "If all the world were of the same way
of thinking, then it would be easier," said he. "It may be that this
blessed doctrine of peace will be little help to you when you are face
to face with strong men who still worship the god of war. What would you
do against the Picts of the north?"
"Your excellency knows that many of the bravest legionaries are of
British blood. These are our defence."
"But discipline, man, the power to command, the knowledge of war, the
strength to act--it is in these things that you would fail. Too long
have you leaned upon the crutch."
"The times may be hard, but when we have gone through them, Britain will
be herself again."
"Nay, she will be under a different and a harsher master," said the
Roman. "Already the pirates swarm upon the eastern coast. Were it not
for our Roman Count of the Saxon shore they would land tomorrow. I see
the day when Britain may, indeed, be one; but that will be because you
and your fellows are either dead or are driven into the mountains of the
west. All goes into the melting-pot, and if a better Albion should come
forth from it, it will be after ages of strife, and neither you nor your
people will have part or lot in it."
Regnus, the tall young Celt, smiled. "With the help of God and our own
right arms we should hope for a better end," said he. "Give us but the
chance, and we will bear the brunt."
"You are as men that are lost," said the viceroy sadly. "I see this
broad land, with its gardens and orchards, its fair villas and its
walled towns, its bridges and its roads, all the work of Rome. Surely
it will pass even as a dream, and these three hundred years of settled
order will leave no trace behind. For learn that it will indeed be as
you wish, and that this very day the orders have come to me that the
legions are to go."
The three Britons looked at each other in amazement. Their first impulse
was towards a wild exultation, but reflection and doubt followed close
upon its heels.
"This is indeed wondrous news," said Celticus. "This is a day of days to
the motherland. When do the legions go, your excellency, and what troops
will remain behind for our protection?"
"The legions go at once," said the viceroy. "You will doubtless rejoice
to hear that within a month there will be no Roman soldier in the
island, nor, indeed, a Roman of any sort, age, or sex, if I can take
them with me."
The faces of the Britons were shadowed, and Caradoc, a grave and
thoughtful man, spoke for the first time.
"But this is over sudden, your excellency," said he. "There is much
truth in what you have said about the pirates. From my villa near the
fort of Anderida I saw eighty of their galleys only last week, and I
know well that they would be on us like ravens on a dying ox. For many
years to come it would not be possible for us to hold them off."
The viceroy shrugged his shoulders. "It is your affair now," said he.
"Rome must look to herself."
The last traces of joy had passed from the faces of the Britons.
Suddenly the future had started up clearly before them, and they quailed
at the prospect.
"There is a rumour in the market-place," said Celticus, "that the
northern Barbarians are through the gap in the wall. Who is to stop
"You and your fellows," said the Roman.
Clearer still grew the future, and there was terror in the eyes of the
spokesmen as they faced it.
"But, your excellency, if the legions should go at once, we should have
the wild Scots at York, and the Northmen in the Thames within the month.
We can build ourselves up under your shield, and in a few years it would
be easier for us; but not now, your excellency, not now."
"Tut, man; for years you have been clamouring in our ears and raising
the people. Now you have got what you asked. What more would you have?
Within the month you will be as free as were your ancestors before
Caesar set foot upon your shore."
"For God's sake, your excellency, put our words out of your head. The
matter had not been well considered. We will send to Rome. We will ride
post-haste ourselves. We will fall at the Emperor's feet. We will kneel
before the Senate and beg that the legions remain."
The Roman proconsul rose from his chair and motioned that the audience
was at an end.
"You will do what you please," said he. "I and my men are for Italy."
And even as he said, so was it, for before the spring had ripened into
summer, the troops were clanking down the via Aurelia on their way to
the Ligurian passes, whilst every road in Gaul was dotted with the
carts and the waggons which bore the Brito-Roman refugees on their weary
journey to their distant country. But ere another summer had passed
Celticus was dead, for he was flayed alive by the pirates and his skin
nailed upon the door of a church near Caistor. Regnus, too, was dead,
for he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows when the painted men came
to the sacking of Isca. Caradoc only was alive, but he was a slave to
Elda the red Caledonian, and his wife was mistress to Mordred the wild
chief of the western Cymri. From the ruined wall in the north to Vectis
in the south blood and ruin and ashes covered the fair land of Britain.
And after many days it came out fairer than ever, but, even as the Roman
had said, neither the Britons nor any men of their blood came into the
heritage of that which had been their own.
THE FIRST CARGO
"Ex ovo omnia"
When you left Briton with your legion, my dear Crassus, I promised that
I would write to you from time to time when a messenger chanced to be
going to Rome, and keep you informed as to anything of interest which
might occur in this country. Personally, I am very glad that I remained
behind when the troops and so many of our citizens left, for though the
living is rough and the climate is infernal, still by dint of the three
voyages which I have made for amber to the Baltic, and the excellent
prices which I obtained for it here, I shall soon be in a position to
retire, and to spend my old age under my own fig tree, or even perhaps
to buy a small villa at Baiae or Posuoli, where I could get a good
sun-bath after the continued fogs of this accursed island. I picture
myself on a little farm, and I read the Georgics as a preparation; but
when I hear the rain falling and the wind howling, Italy seems very far
In my previous letter, I let you know how things were going in this
country. The poor folk, who had given up all soldiering during the
centuries that we guarded them, are now perfectly helpless before these
Picts and Scots, tattoed Barbarians from the north, who overrun the
whole country and do exactly what they please. So long as they kept to
the north, the people in the south, who are the most numerous, and also
the most civilized of the Britons, took no heed of them; but now the
rascals have come as far as London, and the lazy folk in these parts
have had to wake up. Vortigern, the king, is useless for anything but
drink or women, so he sent across to the Baltic to get over some of the
North Germans, in the hope that they would come and help him. It is bad
enough to have a bear in your house, but it does not seem to me to mend
matters if you call in a pack of ferocious wolves as well. However,
nothing better could be devised, so an invitation was sent and very
promptly accepted. And it is here that your humble friend appears upon
the scene. In the course of my amber trading I had learned the Saxon
speech, and so I was sent down in all haste to the Kentish shore that I
might be there when our new allies came. I arrived there on the very day
when their first vessel appeared, and it is of my adventures that I
wish to tell you. It is perfectly clear to me that the landing of these
warlike Germans in England will prove to be an event of historical
importance, and so your inquisitive mind will not feel wearied if I
treat the matter in some detail.
It was, then, upon the day of Mercury, immediately following the Feast
of Our Blessed Lord's Ascension, that I found myself upon the south bank
of the river Thames, at the point where it opens into a wide estuary.
There is an island there named Thanet, which was the spot chosen for the
landfall of our visitors. Sure enough, I had no sooner ridden up than
there was a great red ship, the first as it seems of three, coming in
under full sail. The white horse, which is the ensign of these rovers,
was hanging from her topmast, and she appeared to be crowded with
men. The sun was shining brightly, and the great scarlet ship, with
snow-white sails and a line of gleaming shields slung over her side,
made as fair a picture on that blue expanse as one would wish to see.
I pushed off at once in a boat, because it had been arranged that none
of the Saxons should land until the king had come down to speak with
their leaders. Presently I was under the ship, which had a gilded dragon
in the bows, and a tier of oars along either side. As I looked up, there
was a row of helmeted heads looking down at me, and among them I saw, to
my great surprise and pleasure, that of Eric the Swart, with whom I do
business at Venta every year. He greeted me heartily when I reached the
deck, and became at once my guide, friend, and counsellor. This helped
me greatly with these Barbarians, for it is their nature that they are
very cold and aloof unless one of their own number can vouch for you,
after which they are very hearty and hospitable. Try as they will, they
find it hard, however, to avoid a certain suggestion of condescension,
and in the baser sort, of contempt, when they are dealing with a
It was a great stroke of luck meeting Eric, for he was able to give me
some idea of how things stood before I was shown into the presence of
Kenna, the leader of this particular ship. The crew, as I learned from
him, was entirely made up of three tribes or families--those of Kenna,
of Lanc, and of Hasta. Each of these tribes gets its name by putting the
letters "ing" after the name of the chief, so that the people on
board would describe themselves as Kennings, Lancings, and Hastings. I
observed in the Baltic that the villages were named after the family who
lived in them, each keeping to itself, so that I have no doubt if these
fellows get a footing on shore, we shall see settlements with names like
these rising up among the British towns.
The greater part of the men were sturdy fellows with red, yellow, or
brown hair, mostly the latter. To my surprise, I saw several women among
them. Eric, in answer to my question, explained that they always take
their women with them so far as they can, and that instead of finding
them an incumbrance as our Roman dames would be, they look upon them
as helpmates and advisers. Of course, I remembered afterwards that our
excellent and accurate Tacitus has remarked upon this characteristic of
the Germans. All laws in the tribes are decided by votes, and a vote has
not yet been given to the women, but many are in favour of it, and it
is thought that woman and man may soon have the same power in the State,
though many of the women themselves are opposed to such an innovation.
I observed to Eric that it was fortunate there were several women on
board, as they could keep each other company; but he answered that
the wives of chiefs had no desire to know the wives of the inferior
officers, and that both of them combined against the more common women,
so that any companionship was out of the question. He pointed as he
spoke to Editha, the wife of Kenna, a red-faced, elderly woman, who
walked among the others, her chin in the air, taking no more notice than
if they did not exist.
Whilst I was talking to my friend Eric, a sudden altercation broke out
upon the deck, and a great number of the men paused in their work, and
flocked towards the spot with faces which showed that they were deeply
interested in the matter. Eric and I pushed our way among the others,
for I was very anxious to see as much as I could of the ways and manners
of these Barbarians. A quarrel had broken out about a child, a little
blue-eyed fellow with curly yellow hair, who appeared to be greatly
amused by the hubbub of which he was the cause. On one side of him stood
a white-bearded old man, of very majestic aspect, who signified by his
gestures that he claimed the lad for himself, while on the other was a
thin, earnest, anxious person, who strongly objected to the boy being
taken from him. Eric whispered in my ear that the old man was the tribal
high priest, who was the official sacrificer to their great god Woden,
whilst the other was a man who took somewhat different views, not upon
Woden, but upon the means by which he should be worshipped. The majority
of the crew were on the side of the old priest; but a certain number,
who liked greater liberty of worship, and to invent their own prayers
instead of always repeating the official ones, followed the lead of the
younger man. The difference was too deep and too old to be healed among
the grown men, but each had a great desire to impress their view upon
the children. This was the reason why these two were now so furious with
each other, and the argument between them ran so high that several of
their followers on either side had drawn the short saxes, or knives
from which their name of Saxon is derived, when a burly, red-headed man
pushed his way through the throng, and in a voice of thunder brought the
controversy to an end.
"You priests, who argue about the things which no man can know, are more
trouble aboard this ship than all the dangers of the sea," he cried.
"Can you not be content with worshipping Woden, over which we are all
agreed, and not make so much of those small points upon which we may
differ? If there is all this fuss about the teaching of the children,
then I shall forbid either of you to teach them, and they must be
content with as much as they can learn from their mothers."
The two angry teachers walked away with discontented faces; and
Kenna--for it was he who spoke--ordered that a whistle should be
sounded, and that the crew should assemble. I was pleased with the free
bearing of these people, for though this was their greatest chief, they
showed none of the exaggerated respect which soldiers of a legion might
show to the Praetor, but met him on a respectful equality, which showed
how highly they rated their own manhood.
From our Roman standard, his remarks to his men would seem very wanting
in eloquence, for there were no graces nor metaphors to be found in
them, and yet they were short, strong and to the point. At any rate it
was very clear that they were to the minds of his hearers. He began by
reminding them that they had left their own country because the land was
all taken up, and that there was no use returning there, since there was
no place where they could dwell as free and independent men. This island
of Britain was but sparsely inhabited, and there was a chance that every
one of them would be able to found a home of his own.
"You, Whitta," he said, addressing some of them by name, "you will found
a Whitting hame, and you, Bucka, we shall see you in a Bucking hame,
where your children, and your children's children will bless you for the
broad acres which your valour will have gained for them." There was no
word of glory or of honour in his speech, but he said that he was aware
that they would do their duty, on which they all struck their swords
upon their shields so that the Britons on the beach could hear the
clang. Then, his eyes falling upon me, he asked me whether I was the
messenger from Vortigern, and on my answering, he bid me follow him
into his cabin, where Lanc and Hasta the other chiefs were waiting for a
Picture me, then, my dear Crassus, in a very low-roofed cabin, with
these three huge Barbarians seated round me. Each was clad in some sort
of saffron tunic, with chain-mail shirts over it, and helmets with the
horns of oxen on either side, laid upon the table before them. Like most
of the Saxon chiefs, their beards were shaved, but they wore their hair
long and their huge light-coloured moustaches drooped down on to their
shoulders. They are gentle, slow, and somewhat heavy in their bearing,
but I can well fancy that their fury is the more terrible when it does
Their minds seem to be of a very practical and positive nature, for they
at once began to ask me a series of questions upon the numbers of the
Britons, the resources of the kingdom, the conditions of its trade, and
other such subjects. They then set to work arguing over the information
which I had given, and became so absorbed in their own contention that I
believe there were times when they forgot my presence. Everything, after
due discussion, was decided between them by vote, the one who found
himself in the minority always submitting, though sometimes with a very
bad grace. Indeed, on one occasion Lanc, who usually differed from the
others, threatened to refer the matter to the general vote of the whole
crew. There was a constant conflict in the point of view; for whereas
Kenna and Hasta were anxious to extend the Saxon power, and to make it
greater in the eyes of the world, Lanc was of opinion that they should
give less thought to conquest and more to the comfort and advancement of
their followers. At the same time it seemed to me that really Lanc was
the more combative of the three; so much so that, even in time of peace,
he could not forego this contest with his own brethren. Neither of the
others seemed very fond of him, for they were each, as was easy to
see, proud of their chieftainship, and anxious to use their authority,
referring continually to those noble ancestors from whom it was derived;
while Lanc, though he was equally well born, took the view of the common
men upon every occasion, claiming that the interests of the many were
superior to the privileges of the few. In a word, Crassus, if you
could imagine a free-booting Gracchus on one side, and two piratical
Patricians upon the other, you would understand the effect which my
companions produced upon me.
There was one peculiarity which I observed in their conversation which
soothed me very much. I am fond of these Britons, among whom I have
spent so much of my life, and I wish them well. It was very pleasing,
therefore, to notice that these men insisted upon it in their
conversation that the whole object of their visit was the good of the
Islanders. Any prospect of advantage to themselves was pushed into the
background. I was not clear that these professions could be made to
agree with the speech in which Kenna had promised a hundred hides of
land to every man on the ship; but on my making this remark, the three
chiefs seemed very surprised and hurt by my suspicions, and explained
very plausibly that, as the Britons needed them as a guard, they
could not aid them better than by settling on the soil, and so being
continually at hand in order to help them. In time, they said, they
hoped to raise and train the natives to such a point that they would be
able to look after themselves. Lanc spoke with some degree of eloquence
upon the nobleness of the mission which they had undertaken, and the
others clattered their cups of mead (a jar of that unpleasant drink was
on the table) in token of their agreement.
I observed also how much interested, and how very earnest and intolerant
these Barbarians were in the matter of religion. Of Christianity they
knew nothing, so that although they were aware that the Britons were
Christians, they had not a notion of what their creed really was. Yet
without examination they started by taking it for granted that their
own worship of Woden was absolutely right, and that therefore this
other creed must be absolutely wrong. "This vile religion," "This sad
superstition," and "This grievous error," were among the phrases which
they used towards it. Instead of expressing pity for any one who had
been misinformed upon so serious a question, their feelings were those
of anger, and they declared most earnestly that they would spare
no pains to set the matter right, fingering the hilts of their long
broad-swords as they said so.
Well, my dear Crassus, you will have had enough of me and of my Saxons.
I have given you a short sketch of these people and their ways. Since
I began this letter, I have visited the two other ships which have come
in, and as I find the same characteristics among the people on board
them, I cannot doubt that they lie deeply in the race. For the rest,
they are brave, hardy, and very pertinacious in all that they undertake;
whereas the Britons, though a great deal more spirited, have not the
same steadiness of purpose, their quicker imaginations suggesting always
some other course, and their more fiery passions being succeeded by
reaction. When I looked from the deck of the first Saxon ship, and saw
the swaying excited multitude of Britons on the beach, contrasting them
with the intent, silent men who stood beside me, it seemed to me more
than ever dangerous to call in such allies. So strongly did I feel it
that I turned to Kenna, who was also looking towards the beach.
"You will own this island before you have finished," said I.
His eyes sparkled as he gazed. "Perhaps," he cried; and then suddenly
collecting himself and thinking that he had said too much, he added--
"A temporary occupation--nothing more."
In the spring of the year 528, a small brig used to run as a passenger
boat between Chalcedon on the Asiatic shore and Constantinople. On the
morning in question, which was that of the feast of Saint George, the
vessel was crowded with excursionists who were bound for the great city
in order to take part in the religious and festive celebrations which
marked the festival of the Megalo-martyr, one of the most choice
occasions in the whole vast hagiology of the Eastern Church. The day was
fine and the breeze light, so that the passengers in their holiday mood
were able to enjoy without a qualm the many objects of interest which
marked the approach to the greatest and most beautiful capital in the
On the right, as they sped up the narrow strait, there stretched the
Asiatic shore, sprinkled with white villages and with numerous villas
peeping out from the woods which adorned it. In front of them, the
Prince's Islands, rising as green as emeralds out of the deep sapphire
blue of the Sea of Marmora, obscured for the moment the view of the
capital. As the brig rounded these, the great city burst suddenly upon
their sight, and a murmur of admiration and wonder rose from the crowded
deck. Tier above tier it rose, white and glittering, a hundred brazen
roofs and gilded statues gleaming in the sun, with high over all the
magnificent shining cupola of Saint Sophia. Seen against a cloudless
sky, it was the city of a dream-too delicate, too airily lovely for
In the prow of the small vessel were two travellers of singular
appearance. The one was a very beautiful boy, ten or twelve years of
age, swarthy, clear-cut, with dark, curling hair and vivacious black
eyes, full of intelligence and of the joy of living. The other was an
elderly man, gaunt-faced and grey-bearded, whose stern features were lit
up by a smile as he observed the excitement and interest with which his
young companion viewed the beautiful distant city and the many vessels
which thronged the narrow strait.
"See! see!" cried the lad. "Look at the great red ships which sail out
from yonder harbour. Surely, your holiness, they are the greatest of all
ships in the world."
The old man, who was the abbot of the monastery of Saint Nicephorus in
Antioch, laid his hand upon the boy's shoulder.
"Be wary, Leon, and speak less loudly, for until we have seen your
mother we should keep ourselves secret. As to the red galleys they are
indeed as large as any, for they are the Imperial ships of war, which
come forth from the harbour of Theodosius. Round yonder green point is
the Golden Horn, where the merchant ships are moored. But now, Leon, if
you follow the line of buildings past the great church, you will see
a long row of pillars fronting the sea. It marks the Palace of the
The boy looked at it with fixed attention. "And my mother is there," he
"Yes, Leon, your mother the Empress Theodora and her husband the great
Justinian dwell in yonder palace."
The boy looked wistfully up into the old man's face.
"Are you sure, Father Luke, that my mother will indeed be glad to see
The abbot turned away his face to avoid those questioning eyes.
"We cannot tell, Leon. We can only try. If it should prove that there is
no place for you, then there is always a welcome among the brethren of
"Why did you not tell my mother that we were coming, Father Luke? Why
did you not wait until you had her command?"
"At a distance, Leon, it would be easy to refuse you. An Imperial
messenger would have stopped us. But when she sees you, Leon--your
eyes, so like her own, your face, which carries memories of one whom she
loved--then, if there be a woman's heart within her bosom, she will take
you into it. They say that the Emperor can refuse her nothing. They have
no child of their own. There is a great future before you, Leon. When it
comes, do not forget the poor brethren of Saint Nicephorus, who took you
in when you had no friend in the world."
The old abbot spoke cheerily, but it was easy to see from his anxious
countenance that the nearer he came to the capital the more doubtful
did his errand appear. What had seemed easy and natural from the quiet
cloisters of Antioch became dubious and dark now that the golden domes
of Constantinople glittered so close at hand. Ten years before, a
wretched woman, whose very name was an offence throughout the eastern
world where she was as infamous for her dishonour as famous for her
beauty, had come to the monastery gate, and had persuaded the monks to
take charge of her infant son, the child of her shame. There he had been
ever since. But she, Theodora, the harlot, returning to the capital, had
by the strangest turn of Fortune's wheel caught the fancy and finally
the enduring love of Justinian the heir to the throne. Then on the death
of his uncle Justin, the young man had become the greatest monarch upon
the earth, and had raised Theodora to be not only his wife and Empress,
but to be absolute ruler with powers equal to and independent of his
own. And she, the polluted one, had risen to the dignity, had cut
herself sternly away from all that related to her past life, and had
shown signs already of being a great Queen, stronger and wiser than her
husband, but fierce, vindictive, and unbending, a firm support to her
friends, but a terror to her foes. This was the woman to whom the Abbot
Luke of Antioch was bringing Leon, her forgotten son. If ever her mind
strayed back to the days when, abandoned by her lover Ecebolus, the
Governor of the African Pentapolis, she had made her way on foot through
Asia Minor, and left her infant with the monks, it was only to persuade
herself that the brethren cloistered far from the world would never
identify Theodora the Empress with Theodora the dissolute wanderer, and
that the fruits of her sin would be for ever concealed from her Imperial
The little brig had now rounded the point of the Acropolis, and the
long blue stretch of the Golden Horn lay before it. The high wall of
Theodosius lined the whole harbour, but a narrow verge of land had been
left between it and the water's edge to serve as a quay. The vessel
ran alongside near the Neorion Gate, and the passengers, after a short
scrutiny from the group of helmeted guards who lounged beside it, were
allowed to pass through into the great city.
The abbot, who had made several visits to Constantinople upon the
business of his monastery, walked with the assured step of one who
knows his ground; while the boy, alarmed and yet pleased by the rush
of people, the roar and glitter of passing chariots, and the vista of
magnificent buildings, held tightly to the loose gown of his guide,
while staring eagerly about him in every direction. Passing through the
steep and narrow streets which led up from the water, they emerged into
the open space which surrounds the magnificent pile of Saint Sophia, the
great church begun by Constantine, hallowed by Saint Chrysostom, and now
the seat of the Patriarch, and the very centre of the Eastern Church.
Only with many crossings and genuflections did the pious abbot succeed
in passing the revered shrine of his religion, and hurried on to his
Having passed Saint Sophia, the two travellers crossed the marble-paved
Augusteum, and saw upon their right the gilded gates of the hippodrome
through which a vast crowd of people was pressing, for though the
morning had been devoted to the religious ceremony, the afternoon was
given over to secular festivities. So great was the rush of the populace
that the two strangers had some difficulty in disengaging themselves
from the stream and reaching the huge arch of black marble which formed
the outer gate of the palace. Within they were fiercely ordered to halt
by a gold-crested and magnificent sentinel who laid his shining spear
across their breasts until his superior officer should give them
permission to pass. The abbot had been warned, however, that all
obstacles would give way if he mentioned the name of Basil the eunuch,
who acted as chamberlain of the palace and also as Parakimomen--a
high office which meant that he slept at the door of the Imperial
bed-chamber. The charm worked wonderfully, for at the mention of that
potent name the Protosphathaire, or Head of the Palace Guards, who
chanced to be upon the spot, immediately detached one of his soldiers
with instructions to convoy the two strangers into the presence of the
Passing in succession a middle guard and an inner guard, the travellers
came at last into the palace proper, and followed their majestic guide
from chamber to chamber, each more wonderful than the last. Marbles and
gold, velvet and silver, glittering mosaics, wonderful carvings, ivory
screens, curtains of Armenian tissue and of Indian silk, damask from
Arabia, and amber from the Baltic--all these things merged themselves
in the minds of the two simple provincials, until their eyes ached and
their senses reeled before the blaze and the glory of this, the most
magnificent of the dwellings of man. Finally, a pair of curtains,
crusted with gold, were parted, and their guide handed them over to a
negro mute who stood within. A heavy, fat, brown-skinned man, with a
large, flabby, hairless face was pacing up and down the small apartment,
and he turned upon them as they entered with an abominable and
threatening smile. His loose lips and pendulous cheeks were those of
a gross old woman, but above them there shone a pair of dark malignant
eyes, full of fierce intensity of observation and judgment.
"You have entered the palace by using my name," he said. "It is one of
my boasts that any of the populace can approach me in this way. But it
is not fortunate for those who take advantage of it without due cause."
Again he smiled a smile which made the frightened boy cling tightly to
the loose serge skirts of the abbot.
But the ecclesiastic was a man of courage. Undaunted by the sinister
appearance of the great chamberlain, or by the threat which lay in his
words, he laid his hand upon his young companion's shoulder and faced
the eunuch with a confidential smile.
"I have no doubt, your excellency," said he, "that the importance of my
mission has given me the right to enter the palace. The only thing which
troubles me is whether it may not be so important as to forbid me from
broaching it to you, or indeed, to anybody save the Empress Theodora,
since it is she only whom it concerns."
The eunuch's thick eyebrows bunched together over his vicious eyes.
"You must make good those words," he said. "If my gracious master--the
ever-glorious Emperor Justinian--does not disdain to take me into his
most intimate confidence in all things, it would be strange if there
were any subject within your knowledge which I might not hear. You
are, as I gather from your garb and bearing, the abbot of some Asiatic
"You are right, your excellency, I am the abbot of the Monastery of St.
Nicephorus in Antioch. But I repeat that I am assured that what I have
to say is for the ear of the Empress Theodora only."
The eunuch was evidently puzzled, and his curiosity aroused by the old
man's persistence. He came nearer, his heavy face thrust forward, his
flabby brown hands, like two sponges, resting upon the table of yellow
jasper before him.
"Old man," said he, "there is no secret which concerns the Empress which
may not be told to me. But if you refuse to speak, it is certain that
you will never see her. Why should I admit you, unless I know your
errand? How should I know that you are not a Manichean heretic with
a poniard in your bosom, longing for the blood of the mother of the
The abbot hesitated no longer. "If there be a mistake in the matter,
then on your head be it," said he. "Know then that this lad Leon is the
son of Theodora the Empress, left by her in our monastery within a month
of his birth ten years ago. This papyrus which I hand you will show you
that what I say is beyond all question or doubt."
The eunuch Basil took the paper, but his eyes were fixed upon the boy,
and his features showed a mixture of amazement at the news that he
had received, and of cunning speculation as to how he could turn it to
"Indeed, he is the very image of the Empress," he muttered; and then,
with sudden suspicion, "Is it not the chance of this likeness which has
put the scheme into your head, old man?"
"There is but one way to answer that," said the abbot. "It is to ask the
Empress herself whether what I say is not true, and to give her the glad
tidings that her boy is alive and well."
The tone of confidence, together with the testimony of the papyrus,
and the boy's beautiful face, removed the last shadow of doubt from the
eunuch's mind. Here was a great fact; but what use could he make of it?
Above all, what advantage could he draw from it? He stood with his fat
chin in his hand, turning it over in his cunning brain.
"Old man," said he at last, "to how many have you told this secret?"
"To no one in the whole world," the other answered. "There is Deacon
Bardas at the monastery and myself. No one else knows anything."
"You are sure of this?"
The eunuch had made up his mind. If he alone of all men in the palace
knew of this event, he would have a powerful hold over his masterful
mistress. He was certain that Justinian the Emperor knew nothing of
this. It would be a shock to him. It might even alienate his affections
from his wife. She might care to take precautions to prevent him from
knowing. And if he, Basil the eunuch, was her confederate in those
precautions, then how very close it must draw him to her. All this
flashed through his mind as he stood, the papyrus in his hand, looking
at the old man and the boy.
"Stay here," said he. "I will be with you again." With a swift rustle of
his silken robes he swept from the chamber.
A few minutes had elapsed when a curtain at the end of the room was
pushed aside, and the eunuch, reappearing, held it back, doubling his
unwieldy body into a profound obeisance as he did so. Through the gap
came a small alert woman, clad in golden tissue, with a loose outer
mantle and shoes of the Imperial purple. That colour alone showed
that she could be none other than the Empress; but the dignity of her
carriage, the fierce authority of her magnificent dark eyes, and the
perfect beauty of her haughty face, all proclaimed that it could only be
that Theodora who, in spite of her lowly origin, was the most majestic
as well as the most maturely lovely of all the women in her kingdom.
Gone now were the buffoon tricks which the daughter of Acacius the
bearward had learned in the amphitheatre; gone too was the light charm
of the wanton, and what was left was the worthy mate of a great king,
the measured dignity of one who was every inch an empress.
Disregarding the two men, Theodora walked up to the boy, placed her two
white hands upon his shoulders, and looked with a long questioning
gaze, a gaze which began with hard suspicion and ended with tender
recognition, into those large lustrous eyes which were the very
reflection of her own. At first the sensitive lad was chilled by the
cold intent question of the look; but as it softened, his own spirit
responded, until suddenly, with a cry of "Mother! mother!" he cast
himself into her arms, his hands locked round her neck, his face buried
in her bosom. Carried away by the sudden natural outburst of emotion,
her own arms tightened round the lad's figure, and she strained him
for an instant to her heart. Then, the strength of the Empress gaining
instant command over the temporary weakness of the mother, she pushed
him back from her, and waved that they should leave her to herself. The
slaves in attendance hurried the two visitors from the room. Basil the
eunuch lingered, looking down at his mistress, who had thrown herself
upon a damask couch, her lips white and her bosom heaving with the
tumult of her emotion. She glanced up and met the chancellor's crafty
gaze, her woman's instinct reading the threat that lurked within it.
"I am in your power," she said. "The Emperor must never know of this."
"I am your slave," said the eunuch, with his ambiguous smile. "I am an
instrument in your hand. If it is your will that the Emperor should know
nothing, then who is to tell him?"
"But the monk, the boy? What are we to do?"
"There is only one way for safety," said the eunuch.
She looked at him with horrified eyes. His spongy hands were pointing
down to the floor. There was an underground world to this beautiful
palace, a shadow that was ever close to the light, a region of dimly-lit
passages, of shadowed corners, of noiseless, tongueless slaves, of
sudden, sharp screams in the darkness. To this the eunuch was pointing.
A terrible struggle rent her breast. The beautiful boy was hers, flesh
of her flesh, bone of her bone. She knew it beyond all question or
doubt. It was her one child, and her whole heart went out to him. But
Justinian! She knew the Emperor's strange limitations. Her career in the
past was forgotten. He had swept it all aside by special Imperial decree
published throughout the Empire, as if she were new-born through the
power of his will, and her association with his person. But they were
childless, and this sight of one which was not his own would cut him to
the quick. He could dismiss her infamous past from his mind, but if it
took the concrete shape of this beautiful child, then how could he wave
it aside as if it had never been? All her instincts and her intimate
knowledge of the man told her that even her charm, and her influence
might fail under such circumstances to save her from ruin. Her divorce
would be as easy to him as her elevation had been. She was balanced
upon a giddy pinnacle, the highest in the world, and yet the higher the
deeper the fall. Everything that earth could give was now at her feet.
Was she to risk the losing of it all--for what? For a weakness which was
unworthy of an Empress, for a foolish new-born spasm of love, for that
which had no existence within her in the morning? How could she be so
foolish as to risk losing such a substance for such a shadow?
"Leave it to me," said the brown watchful face above her.
"Must it be--death?"
"There is no real safety outside. But if your heart is too merciful,
then by the loss of sight and speech--"
She saw in her mind the white-hot iron approaching those glorious eyes,
and she shuddered at the thought.
"No, no! Better death than that!"
"Let it be death then. You are wise, great Empress, for there only is
real safety and assurance of silence."
"And the monk?"
"But the Holy Synod? He is a tonsured priest. What would the Patriarch
"Silence his babbling tongue. Then let them do what they will. How are
we of the palace to know that this conspirator, taken with a dagger in
his sleeve, is really what he says?"
Again she shuddered and shrank down among the cushions.
"Speak not of it, think not of it," said the eunuch. "Say only that you
leave it in my hands. Nay, then, if you cannot say it, do but nod your
head, and I take it as your signal."
In that moment there flashed before Theodora's mind a vision of all
her enemies, of all those who envied her rise, of all whose hatred
and contempt would rise into a clamour of delight could they see the
daughter of the bearward hurled down again into that abyss from which
she had been dragged. Her face hardened, her lips tightened, her little
hands clenched in the agony of her thought. "Do it!" she said.
In an instant, with a terrible smile, the messenger of death hurried
from the room. She groaned aloud, and buried herself yet deeper amid the
silken cushions, clutching them frantically with convulsed and twitching
The eunuch wasted no time, for this deed, once done, he became--save
for some insignificant monk in Asia Minor, whose fate would soon be
sealed--the only sharer of Theodora's secret, and therefore the only
person who could curb and bend that most imperious nature. Hurrying into
the chamber where the visitors were waiting, he gave a sinister signal,
only too well known in those iron days. In an instant the black mutes in
attendance seized the old man and the boy, pushing them swiftly down a
passage and into a meaner portion of the palace, where the heavy smell
of luscious cooking proclaimed the neighbourhood of the kitchens. A side
corridor led to a heavily-barred iron door, and this in turn opened upon
a steep flight of stone steps, feebly illuminated by the glimmer of wall
lamps. At the head and foot stood a mute sentinel like an ebony statue,
and below, along the dusky and forbidding passages from which the cells
opened, a succession of niches in the wall were each occupied by a
similar guardian. The unfortunate visitors were dragged brutally down
a number of stone-flagged and dismal corridors until they descended
another long stair which led so deeply into the earth that the damp
feeling in the heavy air and the drip of water all round showed that
they had come down to the level of the sea. Groans and cries, like those
of sick animals, from the various grated doors which they passed showed
how many there were who spent their whole lives in this humid and
At the end of this lowest passage was a door which opened into a single
large vaulted room. It was devoid of furniture, but in the centre was
a large and heavy wooden board clamped with iron. This lay upon a rude
stone parapet, engraved with inscriptions beyond the wit of the eastern
scholars, for this old well dated from a time before the Greeks founded
Byzantium, when men of Chaldea and Phoenicia built with huge unmortared
blocks, far below the level of the town of Constantine. The door was
closed, and the eunuch beckoned to the slaves that they should remove
the slab which covered the well of death. The frightened boy screamed
and clung to the abbot, who, ashy-pale and trembling, was pleading hard
to melt the heart of the ferocious eunuch.
"Surely, surely, you would not slay the innocent boy!" he cried. "What
has he done? Was it his fault that he came here? I alone--I and Deacon
Bardas--are to blame. Punish us, if some one must indeed be punished.
We are old. It is today or tomorrow with us. But he is so young and so
beautiful, with all his life before him. Oh, sir! oh, your excellency,
you would not have the heart to hurt him!"
He threw himself down and clutched at the eunuch's knees, while the boy
sobbed piteously and cast horror-stricken eyes at the black slaves who
were tearing the wooden slab from the ancient parapet beneath. The only
answer which the chamberlain gave to the frantic pleadings of the abbot
was to take a stone which lay on the coping of the well and toss it
in. It could be heard clattering against the old, damp, mildewed walls,
until it fell with a hollow boom into some far distant subterranean
pool. Then he again motioned with his hands, and the black slaves threw
themselves upon the boy and dragged him away from his guardian. So
shrill was his clamour that no one heard the approach of the Empress.
With a swift rush she had entered the room, and her arms were round her
"It shall not be! It cannot be!" she cried. "No, no, my darling! my
darling! they shall do you no hurt. I was mad to think of it--mad and
wicked to dream of it. Oh, my sweet boy! To think that your mother might
have had your blood upon her head!"
The eunuch's brows were gathered together at this failure of his plans,
at this fresh example of feminine caprice.
"Why kill them, great lady, if it pains your gracious heart?" said he.
"With a knife and a branding iron they can be disarmed for ever."
She paid no attention to his words. "Kiss me, Leon!" she cried. "Just
once let me feel my own child's soft lips rest upon mine. Now again! No,
no more, or I shall weaken for what I have still to say and still to do.
Old man, you are very near a natural grave, and I cannot think from
your venerable aspect that words of falsehood would come readily to your
lips. You have indeed kept my secret all these years, have you not?"
"I have in very truth, great Empress. I swear to you by Saint
Nicephorus, patron of our house, that, save old Deacon Bardas, there is
none who knows."
"Then let your lips still be sealed. If you have kept faith in the past,
I see no reason why you should be a babbler in the future. And you,
Leon"--she bent her wonderful eyes with a strange mixture of sternness
and of love upon the boy, "can I trust you? Will you keep a secret
which could never help you, but would be the ruin and downfall of your
"Oh, mother, I would not hurt you! I swear that I will be silent."
"Then I trust you both. Such provision will be made for your monastery
and for your own personal comforts as will make you bless the day you
came to my palace. Now you may go. I wish never to see you again. If
I did, you might find me in a softer mood, or in a harder, and the
one would lead to my undoing, the other to yours. But if by whisper or
rumour I have reason to think that you have failed me, then you and your
monks and your monastery will have such an end as will be a lesson for
ever to those who would break faith with their Empress."
"I will never speak," said the old abbot; "neither will Deacon
Bardas; neither will Leon. For all three I can answer. But there are
others--these slaves, the chancellor. We may be punished for another's
"Not so," said the Empress, and her eyes were like flints. "These slaves
are voiceless; nor have they any means to tell those secrets which they
know. As to you, Basil--" She raised her white hand with the same deadly
gesture which he had himself used so short a time before. The black
slaves were on him like hounds on a stag.
"Oh, my gracious mistress, dear lady, what is this? What is this? You
cannot mean it!" he screamed, in his high, cracked voice. "Oh, what have
I done? Why should I die?"
"You have turned me against my own. You have goaded me to slay my own
son. You have intended to use my secret against me. I read it in your
eyes from the first. Cruel, murderous villain, taste the fate which
you have yourself given to so many others. This is your doom. I have
The old man and the boy hurried in horror from the vault. As they
glanced back they saw the erect inflexible, shimmering, gold-clad figure
of the Empress. Beyond they had a glimpse of the green-scummed lining of
the well, and of the great red open mouth of the eunuch, as he screamed
and prayed while every tug of the straining slaves brought him one step
nearer to the brink. With their hands over their ears they rushed away,
but even so they heard that last woman-like shriek, and then the heavy
plunge far down in the dark abysses of the earth.
THE RED STAR
The house of Theodosius, the famous eastern merchant, was in the best
part of Constantinople at the Sea Point which is near the Church of
Saint Demetrius. Here he would entertain in so princely a fashion that
even the Emperor Maurice had been known to come privately from the
neighbouring Bucoleon palace in order to join in the revelry. On the
night in question, however, which was the fourth of November in the
year of our Lord 630, his numerous guests had retired early, and there
remained only two intimates, both of them successful merchants like
himself, who sat with him over their wine on the marble verandah of his
house, whence on the one side they could see the lights of the shipping
in the Sea of Marmora, and on the other the beacons which marked out the
course of the Bosphorus. Immediately at their feet lay a narrow strait
of water, with the low, dark loom of the Asiatic hills beyond. A thin
haze hid the heavens, but away to the south a single great red star
burned sullenly in the darkness.
The night was cool, the light was soothing, and the three men talked
freely, letting their minds drift back into the earlier days when they
had staked their capital, and often their lives, on the ventures which
had built up their present fortunes. The host spoke of his long journeys
in North Africa, the land of the Moors; how he had travelled, keeping
the blue sea ever upon his right, until he had passed the ruins of
Carthage, and so on and ever on until a great tidal ocean beat upon a
yellow strand before him, while on the right he could see the high rock
across the waves which marked the Pillars of Hercules. His talk was
of dark-skinned bearded men, of lions, and of monstrous serpents. Then
Demetrius, the Cilician, an austere man of sixty, told how he also had
built up his mighty wealth. He spoke of a journey over the Danube and
through the country of the fierce Huns, until he and his friends had
found themselves in the mighty forest of Germany, on the shores of the
great river which is called the Elbe. His stories were of huge men,
sluggish of mind, but murderous in their cups, of sudden midnight broils
and nocturnal flights, of villages buried in dense woods, of bloody
heathen sacrifices, and of the bears and wolves who haunted the forest
paths. So the two elder men capped each other's stories and awoke each
other's memories, while Manuel Ducas, the young merchant of gold and
ostrich feathers, whose name was already known all over the Levant, sat
in silence and listened to their talk. At last, however, they called
upon him also for an anecdote, and leaning his cheek upon his elbow,
with his eyes fixed upon the great red star which burned in the south,
the younger man began to speak.
"It is the sight of that star which brings a story into my mind," said
he. "I do not know its name. Old Lascaris the astronomer would tell me
if I asked, but I have no desire to know. Yet at this time of the year
I always look out for it, and I never fail to see it burning in the same
place. But it seems to me that it is redder and larger than it was.
"It was some ten years ago that I made an expedition into Abyssinia,
where I traded to such good effect that I set forth on my return with
more than a hundred camel-loads of skins, ivory, gold, spices, and other
African produce. I brought them to the sea-coast at Arsinoe, and carried
them up the Arabian Gulf in five of the small boats of the country.
Finally, I landed near Saba, which is a starting-point for caravans,
and, having assembled my camels and hired a guard of forty men from the
wandering Arabs, I set forth for Macoraba. From this point, which is
the sacred city of the idolaters of those parts, one can always join
the large caravans which go north twice a year to Jerusalem and the
sea-coast of Syria.
"Our route was a long and weary one. On our left hand was the Arabian
Gulf, lying like a pool of molten metal under the glare of day, but
changing to blood-red as the sun sank each evening behind the distant
African coast. On our right was a monstrous desert which extends, so far
as I know, across the whole of Arabia and away to the distant kingdom
of the Persians. For many days we saw no sign of life save our own long,
straggling line of laden camels with their tattered, swarthy guardians.
In these deserts the soft sand deadens the footfall of the animals, so
that their silent progress day after day through a scene which never
changes, and which is itself noiseless, becomes at last like a strange
dream. Often as I rode behind my caravan, and gazed at the grotesque
figures which bore my wares in front of me, I found it hard to believe
that it was indeed reality, and that it was I, I, Manuel Ducas, who
lived near the Theodosian Gate of Constantinople, and shouted for the
Green at the hippodrome every Sunday afternoon, who was there in so
strange a land and with such singular comrades.
"Now and then, far out at sea, we caught sight of the white triangular
sails of the boats which these people use, but as they are all pirates,
we were very glad to be safely upon shore. Once or twice, too, by the
water's edge we saw dwarfish creatures-one could scarcely say if they
were men or monkeys--who burrow for homes among the seaweed, drink the
pools of brackish water, and eat what they can catch. These are the
fish-eaters, the Ichthyophagi, of whom old Herodotus talks--surely the
lowest of all the human race. Our Arabs shrank from them with horror,
for it is well known that, should you die in the desert, these little
people will settle on you like carrion crows, and leave not a bone
unpicked. They gibbered and croaked and waved their skinny arms at us
as we passed, knowing well that they could swim far out to sea if we
attempted to pursue them; for it is said that even the sharks turn with
disgust from their foul bodies.
"We had travelled in this way for ten days, camping every evening at the
vile wells which offered a small quantity of abominable water. It was
our habit to rise very early and to travel very late, but to halt during
the intolerable heat of the afternoon, when, for want of trees, we would
crouch in the shadow of a sandhill, or, if that were wanting, behind
our own camels and merchandise, in order to escape from the insufferable
glare of the sun. On the seventh day we were near the point where one
leaves the coast in order to strike inland to Macoraba. We had concluded
our midday halt, and were just starting once more, the sun still
being so hot that we could hardly bear it, when, looking up, I saw a
remarkable sight. Standing on a hillock to our right there was a man
about forty feet high, holding in his hand a spear which was the size
of the mast of a large ship. You look surprised, my friends, and you
can therefore imagine my feelings when I saw such a sight. But my reason
soon told me that the object in front of me was really a wandering
Arab, whose form had been enormously magnified by the strange distorting
effects which the hot air of the desert is able to cause.
"However, the actual apparition caused more alarm to my companions
than the imagined one had to me, for with a howl of dismay they shrank
together into a frightened group, all pointing and gesticulating as they
gazed at the distant figure. I then observed that the man was not alone,
but that from all the sandhills a line of turbaned heads was gazing down
upon us. The chief of the escort came running to me, and informed me
of the cause of their terror, which was that they recognized, by some
peculiarity of their headgear, that these men belonged to the tribe of
the Dilwas, the most ferocious and unscrupulous of the Bedouin, who had
evidently laid an ambuscade for us at this point with the intention of
seizing our caravan. When I thought of all my efforts in Abyssinia, of
the length of my journey and of the dangers and fatigues which I had
endured, I could not bear to think of this total disaster coming upon me
at the last instant and robbing me not only of my profits, but also of
my original outlay. It was evident, however, that the robbers were too
numerous for us to attempt to defend ourselves, and that we should be
very fortunate if we escaped with our lives. Sitting upon a packet,
therefore, I commended my soul to our blessed Saint Helena, while I
watched with despairing eyes the stealthy and menacing approach of the
"It may have been our own good fortune, or it may have been the handsome
offering of beeswax candles--four to the pound--which I had mentally
vowed to the blessed Helena, but at that instant I heard a great outcry
of joy from among my own followers. Standing up on the packet that I
might have a better view, I was overjoyed to see a long caravan--five
hundred camels at least-with a numerous armed guard coming along the
route from Macoraba. It is, I need not tell you, the custom of all
caravans to combine their forces against the robbers of the desert, and
with the aid of these newcomers we had become the stronger party. The
marauders recognized it at once, for they vanished as if their native
sands had swallowed them. Running up to the summit of a sandhill, I was
just able to catch a glimpse of a dust-cloud whirling away across the
yellow plain, with the long necks of their camels, the flutter of their
loose garments, and the gleam of their spears breaking out from the
heart of it. So vanished the marauders.
"Presently I found, however, that I had only exchanged one danger for
another. At first I had hoped that this new caravan might belong to some
Roman citizen, or at least to some Syrian Christian, but I found that
it was entirely Arab. The trading Arabs who are settled in the numerous
towns of Arabia are, of course, very much more peaceable than the
Bedouin of the wilderness, those sons of Ishmael of whom we read in Holy
Writ. But the Arab blood is covetous and lawless, so that when I saw
several hundred of them formed in a semi-circle round our camels,
looking with greedy eyes at my boxes of precious metals and my packets
of ostrich feathers, I feared the worst.
"The leader of the new caravan was a man of dignified bearing and
remarkable appearance. His age I would judge to be about forty. He
had aquiline features, a noble black beard, and eyes so luminous, so
searching, and so intense that I cannot remember in all my wanderings
to have seen any which could be compared with them. To my thanks and
salutations he returned a formal bow, and stood stroking his beard and
looking in silence at the wealth which had suddenly fallen into his
power. A murmur from his followers showed the eagerness with which they
awaited the order to tall upon the plunder, and a young ruffian, who
seemed to be on intimate terms with the leader, came to his elbow and
put the desires of his companions into words.
"'Surely, oh Revered One,' said he, 'these people and their treasure
have been delivered into our hands. When we return with it to the holy
place, who of all the Koraish will fail to see the finger of God which
has led us?'
"But the leader shook his head. 'Nay, Ali, it may not be,' he answered.
'This man is, as I judge, a citizen of Rome, and we may not treat him as
though he were an idolater.'
"'But he is an unbeliever,' cried the youth, fingering a great knife
which hung in his belt. 'Were I to be the judge, he would lose not only
his merchandise, but his life also, if he did not accept the faith.'
"The older man smiled and shook his head. 'Nay, Ali; you are too
hot-headed,' said he, 'seeing that there are not as yet three hundred
faithful in the world, our hands would indeed be full if we were to take
the lives and property of all who are not with us. Forget not, dear lad,
that charity and honesty are the very nose-ring and halter of the true
"'Among the faithful,' said the ferocious youth.
"'Nay, towards every one. It is the law of Allah. And yet'--here
his countenance darkened, and his eyes shone with a most sinister
light--'the day may soon come when the hour of grace is past, and woe,
then, to those who have not hearkened! Then shall the sword of Allah be
drawn, and it shall not be sheathed until the harvest is reaped. First
it shall strike the idolaters on the day when my own people and kinsmen,
the unbelieving Koraish, shall be scattered, and the three hundred and
sixty idols of the Caaba thrust out upon the dungheaps of the town. Then
shall the Caaba be the home and temple of one God only who brooks no
rival on earth or in heaven.'
"The man's followers had gathered round him, their spears in their
hands, their ardent eyes fixed upon his face, and their dark features
convulsed with such fanatic enthusiasm as showed the hold which he had
upon their love and respect.
"'We shall be patient,' said he; 'but some time next year, the year
after, the day may come when the great angel Gabriel shall bear me the
message that the time of words has gone by, and that the hour of the
sword has come. We are few and weak, but if it is His will, who can
stand against us? Are you of Jewish faith, stranger?' he asked.
"I answered that I was not.
"'The better for you,' he answered, with the same furious anger in his
swarthy face. 'First shall the idolaters fall, and then the Jews, in
that they have not known those very prophets whom they had themselves
foretold. Then last will come the turn of the Christians, who follow
indeed a true Prophet, greater than Moses or Abraham, but who have
sinned in that they have confounded a creature with the Creator. To each
in turn--idolater, Jew, and Christian--the day of reckoning will come.'
"The ragamuffins behind him all shook their spears as he spoke. There
was no doubt about their earnestness, but when I looked at their
tattered dresses and simple arms, I could not help smiling to think of
their ambitious threats, and to picture what their fate would be upon
the day of battle before the battle-axes of our Imperial Guards, or the
spears of the heavy cavalry of the Armenian Themes. However, I need not
say that I was discreet enough to keep my thoughts to myself, as I had
no desire to be the first martyr in this fresh attack upon our blessed
"It was now evening, and it was decided that the two caravans should
camp together--an arrangement which was the more welcome as we were by
no means sure that we had seen the last of the marauders. I had invited
the leader of the Arabs to have supper with me, and after a long
exercise of prayer with his followers he came to join me, but my attempt
at hospitality was thrown away, for he would not touch the excellent
wine which I had unpacked for him, nor would he eat any of my dainties,
contenting himself with stale bread, dried dates, and water. After this
meal we sat alone by the smouldering fire, the magnificent arch of the
heavens above us of that deep, rich blue with those gleaming, clear-cut
stars which can only be seen in that dry desert air. Our camp lay before
us, and no sound reached our ears save the dull murmur of the voices
of our companions and the occasional shrill cry of a jackal among the
sandhills around us. Face to face I sat with this strange man, the glow
of the fire beating upon his eager and imperious features and reflecting
from his passionate eyes. It was the strangest vigil, and one which will
never pass from my recollection. I have spoken with many wise and famous
men upon my travels, but never with one who left the impression of this
"And yet much of his talk was unintelligible to me, though, as you are
aware, I speak Arabian like an Arab. It rose and fell in the strangest
way. Sometimes it was the babble of a child, sometimes the incoherent
raving of a fanatic, sometimes the lofty dreams of a prophet and
philosopher. There were times when his stories of demons, of miracles,
of dreams, and of omens, were such as an old woman might tell to please
the children of an evening. There were others when, as he talked with
shining face of his converse with angels, of the intentions of the
Creator, and the end of the universe, I felt as if I were in the
company of some one more than mortal, some one who was indeed the direct
messenger of the Most High.
"There were good reasons why he should treat me with such confidence. He
saw in me a messenger to Constantinople and to the Roman Empire. Even as
Saint Paul had brought Christianity to Europe, so he hoped that I might
carry his doctrines to my native city. Alas! be the doctrines what they
may, I fear that I am not the stuff of which Pauls are made. Yet he
strove with all his heart during that long Arabian night to bring me
over to his belief. He had with him a holy book, written, as he said,
from the dictation of an angel, which he carried in tablets of bone in
the nose-bag of a camel. Some chapters of this he read me; but, though
the precepts were usually good, the language seemed wild and fanciful.
There were times when I could scarce keep my countenance as I listened
to him. He planned out his future movements, and indeed, as he spoke,
it was hard to remember that he was only the wandering leader of an Arab
caravan, and not one of the great ones of the earth.
"'When God has given me sufficient power, which will be within a few
years,' said he, 'I will unite all Arabia under my banner. Then I will
spread my doctrine over Syria and Egypt. When this has been done, I will
turn to Persia, and give them the choice of the true faith or the sword.
Having taken Persia, it will be easy then to overrun Asia Minor, and so
to make our way to Constantinople.'
"I bit my lip to keep from laughing. 'And how long will it be before
your victorious troops have reached the Bosphorus?' I asked.
"'Such things are in the hands of God, whose servants we are,' said he.
'It may be that I shall myself have passed away before these things are
accomplished, but before the days of our children are completed, all
that I have now told you will come to pass. Look at that star,' he
added, pointing to a beautiful clear planet above our heads. 'That is
the symbol of Christ. See how serene and peaceful it shines, like His
own teaching and the memory of His life. Now,' he added, turning his
outstretched hand to a dusky red star upon the horizon--the very one on
which we are gazing now--'that is my star, which tells of wrath, of war,
of a scourge upon sinners. And yet both are indeed stars, and each does
as Allah may ordain.'
"Well, that was the experience which was called to my mind by the sight
of this star tonight. Red and angry, it still broods over the south,
even as I saw it that night in the desert. Somewhere down yonder that
man is working and striving. He may be stabbed by some brother fanatic
or slain in a tribal skirmish. If so, that is the end. But if he lives,
there was that in his eyes and in his presence which tells me that
Mahomet the son of Abdallah--for that was his name--will testify in some
noteworthy fashion to the faith that is in him."
PART II. THE SILVER MIRROR
Jan. 3.--This affair of White and Wotherspoon's accounts proves to be
a gigantic task. There are twenty thick ledgers to be examined and
checked. Who would be a junior partner? However, it is the first big bit
of business which has been left entirely in my hands. I must justify
it. But it has to be finished so that the lawyers may have the result in
time for the trial. Johnson said this morning that I should have to get
the last figure out before the twentieth of the month. Good Lord! Well,
have at it, and if human brain and nerve can stand the strain, I'll win
out at the other side. It means office-work from ten to five, and then a
second sitting from about eight to one in the morning. There's drama in
an accountant's life. When I find myself in the still early hours, while
all the world sleeps, hunting through column after column for those
missing figures which will turn a respected alderman into a felon, I
understand that it is not such a prosaic profession after all.
On Monday I came on the first trace of defalcation. No heavy game hunter
ever got a finer thrill when first he caught sight of the trail of his
quarry. But I look at the twenty ledgers and think of the jungle through
which I have to follow him before I get my kill. Hard work--but rare
sport, too, in a way! I saw the fat fellow once at a City dinner, his
red face glowing above a white napkin. He looked at the little pale man
at the end of the table. He would have been pale too if he could have
seen the task that would be mine.
Jan. 6.--What perfect nonsense it is for doctors to prescribe rest when
rest is out of the question! Asses! They might as well shout to a man
who has a pack of wolves at his heels that what he wants is absolute
quiet. My figures must be out by a certain date; unless they are so, I
shall lose the chance of my lifetime, so how on earth am I to rest? I'll
take a week or so after the trial.
Perhaps I was myself a fool to go to the doctor at all. But I get
nervous and highly-strung when I sit alone at my work at night. It's not
a pain--only a sort of fullness of the head with an occasional mist over
the eyes. I thought perhaps some bromide, or chloral, or something of
the kind might do me good. But stop work? It's absurd to ask such a
thing. It's like a long-distance race. You feel queer at first and your
heart thumps and your lungs pant, but if you have only the pluck to
keep on, you get your second wind. I'll stick to my work and wait for my
second wind. If it never comes--all the same, I'll stick to my work. Two
ledgers are done, and I am well on in the third. The rascal has covered
his tracks well, but I pick them up for all that.
Jan. 9.--I had not meant to go to the doctor again. And yet I have had
to. "Straining my nerves, risking a complete breakdown, even endangering
my sanity." That's a nice sentence to have fired off at one. Well, I'll
stand the strain and I'll take the risk, and so long as I can sit in my
chair and move a pen I'll follow the old sinner's slot.
By the way, I may as well set down here the queer experience which
drove me this second time to the doctor. I'll keep an exact record of my
symptoms and sensations, because they are interesting in themselves--"a
curious psycho-physiological study," says the doctor--and also because I
am perfectly certain that when I am through with them they will all seem
blurred and unreal, like some queer dream betwixt sleeping and waking.
So now, while they are fresh, I will just make a note of them, if only
as a change of thought after the endless figures.
There's an old silver-framed mirror in my room. It was given me by a
friend who had a taste for antiquities, and he, as I happen to know,
picked it up at a sale and had no notion where it came from. It's a
large thing--three feet across and two feet high--and it leans at the
back of a side-table on my left as I write. The frame is flat, about
three inches across, and very old; far too old for hall-marks or other
methods of determining its age. The glass part projects, with a bevelled
edge, and has the magnificent reflecting power which is only, as it
seems to me, to be found in very old mirrors. There's a feeling of
perspective when you look into it such as no modern glass can ever give.
The mirror is so situated that as I sit at the table I can usually see
nothing in it but the reflection of the red window curtains. But a queer
thing happened last night. I had been working for some hours, very much
against the grain, with continual bouts of that mistiness of which I had
complained. Again and again I had to stop and clear my eyes. Well,
on one of these occasions I chanced to look at the mirror. It had the
oddest appearance. The red curtains which should have been reflected in
it were no longer there, but the glass seemed to be clouded and steamy,
not on the surface, which glittered like steel, but deep down in the
very grain of it. This opacity, when I stared hard at it, appeared
to slowly rotate this way and that, until it was a thick white cloud
swirling in heavy wreaths. So real and solid was it, and so reasonable
was I, that I remember turning, with the idea that the curtains were
on fire. But everything was deadly still in the room--no sound save the
ticking of the clock, no movement save the slow gyration of that strange
woolly cloud deep in the heart of the old mirror.
Then, as I looked, the mist, or smoke, or cloud, or whatever one may
call it, seemed to coalesce and solidify at two points quite close
together, and I was aware, with a thrill of interest rather than of
fear, that these were two eyes looking out into the room. A vague
outline of a head I could see--a woman's by the hair, but this was very
shadowy. Only the eyes were quite distinct; such eyes--dark, luminous,
filled with some passionate emotion, fury or horror, I could not say
which. Never have I seen eyes which were so full of intense, vivid life.
They were not fixed upon me, but stared out into the room. Then as I sat
erect, passed my hand over my brow, and made a strong conscious effort
to pull myself together, the dim head faded into the general opacity,
the mirror slowly cleared, and there were the red curtains once again.
A sceptic would say, no doubt, that I had dropped asleep over my
figures, and that my experience was a dream. As a matter of fact, I was
never more vividly awake in my life. I was able to argue about it
even as I looked at it, and to tell myself that it was a subjective
impression--a chimera of the nerves--begotten by worry and insomnia.
But why this particular shape? And who is the woman, and what is the
dreadful emotion which I read in those wonderful brown eyes? They come
between me and my work. For the first time I have done less than the
daily tally which I had marked out. Perhaps that is why I have had no
abnormal sensations tonight. Tomorrow I must wake up, come what may.
Jan. 11.--All well, and good progress with my work. I wind the net, coil
after coil, round that bulky body. But the last smile may remain with
him if my own nerves break over it. The mirror would seem to be a sort
of barometer which marks my brain-pressure. Each night I have observed
that it had clouded before I reached the end of my task.
Dr. Sinclair (who is, it seems, a bit of a psychologist) was so
interested in my account that he came round this evening to have a look
at the mirror. I had observed that something was scribbled in crabbed
old characters upon the metal-work at the back. He examined this with
a lens, but could make nothing of it. "Sanc. X. Pal." was his final
reading of it, but that did not bring us any farther. He advised me to
put it away into another room; but, after all, whatever I may see in
it is, by his own account only a symptom. It is in the cause that the
danger lies. The twenty ledgers--not the silver mirror--should be packed
away if I could only do it. I'm at the eighth now, so I progress.
Jan. 13.-Perhaps it would have been wiser after all if I had packed away
the mirror. I had an extraordinary experience with it last night. And
yet I find it so interesting, so fascinating, that even now I will keep
it in its place. What on earth is the meaning of it all?
I suppose it was about one in the morning, and I was closing my books
preparatory to staggering off to bed, when I saw her there in front of
me. The stage of mistiness and development must have passed unobserved,
and there she was in all her beauty and passion and distress, as
clear-cut as if she were really in the flesh before me. The figure
was small, but very distinct--so much so that every feature, and every
detail of dress, are stamped in my memory. She is seated on the extreme
left of the mirror. A sort of shadowy figure crouches down beside her--I
can dimly discern that it is a man--and then behind them is cloud, in
which I see figures--figures which move. It is not a mere picture upon
which I look. It is a scene in life, an actual episode. She crouches and
quivers. The man beside her cowers down. The vague figures make abrupt
movements and gestures. All my fears were swallowed up in my interest.
It was maddening to see so much and not to see more.
But I can at least describe the woman to the smallest point. She is
very beautiful and quite young--not more than five-and-twenty, I should
judge. Her hair is of a very rich brown, with a warm chestnut shade
fining into gold at the edges. A little flat-pointed cap comes to an
angle in front, and is made of lace edged with pearls. The forehead is
high, too high perhaps for perfect beauty; but one would not have it
otherwise, as it gives a touch of power and strength to what would
otherwise be a softly feminine face. The brows are most delicately
curved over heavy eyelids, and then come those wonderful eyes--so
large, so dark, so full of over-mastering emotion, of rage and horror,
contending with a pride of self-control which holds her from sheer
frenzy! The cheeks are pale, the lips white with agony, the chin and
throat most exquisitely rounded. The figure sits and leans forward in
the chair, straining and rigid, cataleptic with horror. The dress is
black velvet, a jewel gleams like a flame in the breast, and a golden
crucifix smoulders in the shadow of a fold. This is the lady whose image
still lives in the old silver mirror. What dire deed could it be which
has left its impress there, so that now, in another age, if the spirit
of a man be but worn down to it, he may be conscious of its presence?
One other detail: On the left side of the skirt of the black dress was,
as I thought at first, a shapeless bunch of white ribbon. Then, as I
looked more intently or as the vision defined itself more clearly, I
perceived what it was. It was the hand of a man, clenched and knotted in
agony, which held on with a convulsive grasp to the fold of the dress.
The rest of the crouching figure was a mere vague outline, but that
strenuous hand shone clear on the dark background, with a
sinister suggestion of tragedy in its frantic clutch. The man is
frightened-horribly frightened. That I can clearly discern. What has
terrified him so? Why does he grip the woman's dress? The answer lies
amongst those moving figures in the background. They have brought danger
both to him and to her. The interest of the thing fascinated me. I
thought no more of its relation to my own nerves. I stared and stared
as if in a theatre. But I could get no farther. The mist thinned.
There were tumultuous movements in which all the figures were vaguely
concerned. Then the mirror was clear once more.
The doctor says I must drop work for a day, and I can afford to do
so, for I have made good progress lately. It is quite evident that the
visions depend entirely upon my own nervous state, for I sat in front of
the mirror for an hour tonight, with no result whatever. My soothing day
has chased them away. I wonder whether I shall ever penetrate what they
all mean? I examined the mirror this evening under a good light, and
besides the mysterious inscription "Sanc. X. Pal.," I was able to
discern some signs of heraldic marks, very faintly visible upon the
silver. They must be very ancient, as they are almost obliterated. So
far as I could make out, they were three spear-heads, two above and one
below. I will show them to the doctor when he calls tomorrow.
Jan. 14.--Feel perfectly well again, and I intend that nothing else
shall stop me until my task is finished. The doctor was shown the marks
on the mirror and agreed that they were armorial bearings. He is deeply
interested in all that I have told him, and cross-questioned me
closely on the details. It amuses me to notice how he is torn in two by
conflicting desires--the one that his patient should lose his symptoms,
the other that the medium--for so he regards me--should solve this
mystery of the past. He advised continued rest, but did not oppose me
too violently when I declared that such a thing was out of the question
until the ten remaining ledgers have been checked.
Jan. 17.--For three nights I have had no experiences--my day of rest has
borne fruit. Only a quarter of my task is left, but I must make a forced
march, for the lawyers are clamouring for their material. I will give
them enough and to spare. I have him fast on a hundred counts. When they
realize what a slippery, cunning rascal he is, I should gain some credit
from the case. False trading accounts, false balance-sheets, dividends
drawn from capital, losses written down as profits, suppression of
working expenses, manipulation of petty cash--it is a fine record!
Jan. 18.--Headaches, nervous twitches, mistiness, fullness of the
temples--all the premonitions of trouble, and the trouble came sure
enough. And yet my real sorrow is not so much that the vision should
come as that it should cease before all is revealed.
But I saw more tonight. The crouching man was as visible as the
lady whose gown he clutched. He is a little swarthy fellow, with a
black-pointed beard. He has a loose gown of damask trimmed with fur. The
prevailing tints of his dress are red. What a fright the fellow is in,
to be sure! He cowers and shivers and glares back over his shoulder.
There is a small knife in his other hand, but he is far too tremulous
and cowed to use it. Dimly now I begin to see the figures in the
background. Fierce faces, bearded and dark, shape themselves out of the
mist. There is one terrible creature, a skeleton of a man, with hollow
cheeks and eyes sunk in his head. He also has a knife in his hand. On
the right of the woman stands a tall man, very young, with flaxen hair,
his face sullen and dour. The beautiful woman looks up at him in appeal.
So does the man on the ground. This youth seems to be the arbiter of
their fate. The crouching man draws closer and hides himself in the
woman's skirts. The tall youth bends and tries to drag her away from
him. So much I saw last night before the mirror cleared. Shall I never
know what it leads to and whence it comes? It is not a mere imagination,
of that I am very sure. Somewhere, some time, this scene has been acted,
and this old mirror has reflected it. But when--where?
Jan. 20.--My work draws to a close, and it is time. I feel a tenseness
within my brain, a sense of intolerable strain, which warns me that
something must give. I have worked myself to the limit. But tonight
should be the last night. With a supreme effort I should finish the
final ledger and complete the case before I rise from my chair. I will
do it. I will.
Feb. 7.--I did. My God, what an experience! I hardly know if I am strong
enough yet to set it down.
Let me explain in the first instance that I am writing this in Dr.
Sinclair's private hospital some three weeks after the last entry in my
diary. On the night of January 20 my nervous system finally gave way,
and I remembered nothing afterwards until I found myself three days ago
in this home of rest. And I can rest with a good conscience. My work was
done before I went under. My figures are in the solicitors' hands. The
hunt is over.
And now I must describe that last night. I had sworn to finish my work,
and so intently did I stick to it, though my head was bursting, that I
would never look up until the last column had been added. And yet it was
fine self-restraint, for all the time I knew that wonderful things were
happening in the mirror. Every nerve in my body told me so. If I looked
up there was an end of my work. So I did not look up till all was
finished. Then, when at last with throbbing temples I threw down my pen
and raised my eyes, what a sight was there!
The mirror in its silver frame was like a stage, brilliantly lit, in
which a drama was in progress. There was no mist now. The oppression
of my nerves had wrought this amazing clarity. Every feature, every
movement, was as clear-cut as in life. To think that I, a tired
accountant, the most prosaic of mankind, with the account-books of a
swindling bankrupt before me, should be chosen of all the human race to
look upon such a scene!
It was the same scene and the same figures, but the drama had advanced
a stage. The tall young man was holding the woman in his arms. She
strained away from him and looked up at him with loathing in her face.
They had torn the crouching man away from his hold upon the skirt of
her dress. A dozen of them were round him--savage men, bearded men. They
hacked at him with knives. All seemed to strike him together. Their
arms rose and fell. The blood did not flow from him-it squirted. His red
dress was dabbled in it. He threw himself this way and that, purple upon
crimson, like an over-ripe plum. Still they hacked, and still the jets
shot from him. It was horrible--horrible! They dragged him kicking to
the door. The woman looked over her shoulder at him and her mouth gaped.
I heard nothing, but I knew that she was screaming. And then, whether it
was this nerve-racking vision before me, or whether, my task finished,
all the overwork of the past weeks came in one crushing weight upon me,
the room danced round me, the floor seemed to sink away beneath my feet,
and I remembered no more. In the early morning my landlady found me
stretched senseless before the silver mirror, but I knew nothing myself
until three days ago I awoke in the deep peace of the doctor's nursing
Feb. 9.--Only today have I told Dr. Sinclair my full experience. He
had not allowed me to speak of such matters before. He listened with an
absorbed interest. "You don't identify this with any well-known scene
in history?" he asked, with suspicion in his eyes. I assured him that I
knew nothing of history. "Have you no idea whence that mirror came and
to whom it once belonged?" he continued. "Have you?" I asked, for he
spoke with meaning. "It's incredible," said he, "and yet how else can
one explain it? The scenes which you described before suggested it, but
now it has gone beyond all range of coincidence. I will bring you some
notes in the evening."
Later.--He has just left me. Let me set down his words as closely as I
can recall them. He began by laying several musty volumes upon my bed.
"These you can consult at your leisure," said he. "I have some notes
here which you can confirm. There is not a doubt that what you have seen
is the murder of Rizzio by the Scottish nobles in the presence of
Mary, which occurred in March, 1566. Your description of the woman is
accurate. The high forehead and heavy eyelids combined with great beauty
could hardly apply to two women. The tall young man was her husband,
Darnley. Rizzio, says the chronicle, 'was dressed in a loose
dressing-gown of furred damask, with hose of russet velvet.' With one
hand he clutched Mary's gown, with the other he held a dagger. Your
fierce, hollow-eyed man was Ruthven, who was new-risen from a bed of
sickness. Every detail is exact."
"But why to me?" I asked, in bewilderment. "Why of all the human race to
"Because you were in the fit mental state to receive the impression.
Because you chanced to own the mirror which gave the impression."
"The mirror! You think, then, that it was Mary's mirror--that it stood
in the room where the deed was done?"
"I am convinced that it was Mary's mirror. She had been Queen of France.
Her personal property would be stamped with the Royal arms. What you
took to be three spear-heads were really the lilies of France."
"And the inscription?"
"'Sanc. X. Pal.' You can expand it into Sanctae Crucis Palatium. Some
one has made a note upon the mirror as to whence it came. It was the
Palace of the Holy Cross."
"Holyrood!" I cried.
"Exactly. Your mirror came from Holyrood. You have had one very singular
experience, and have escaped. I trust that you will never put yourself
into the way of having such another."
THE BLIGHTING OF SHARKEY
Sharkey, the abominable Sharkey, was out again. After two years of the
Coromandel coast, his black barque of death, _The Happy Delivery_, was
prowling off the Spanish Main, while trader and fisher flew for dear
life at the menace of that patched fore-topsail, rising slowly over the
violet rim of the tropical sea.
As the birds cower when the shadow of the hawk falls athwart the field,
or as the jungle folk crouch and shiver when the coughing cry of the
tiger is heard in the night-time, so through all the busy world of
ships, from the whalers of Nantucket to the tobacco ships of Charleston,
and from the Spanish supply ships of Cadiz to the sugar merchants of the
Main, there spread the rumour of the black curse of the ocean.
Some hugged the shore, ready to make for the nearest port, while others
struck far out beyond the known lines of commerce, but none were
so stout-hearted that they did not breathe more freely when their
passengers and cargoes were safe under the guns of some mothering fort.
Through all the islands there ran tales of charred derelicts at sea,
of sudden glares seen afar in the night-time, and of withered bodies
stretched upon the sand of waterless Bahama Keys. All the old signs were
there to show that Sharkey was at his bloody game once more.
These fair waters and yellow-rimmed, palm-nodding islands are
the traditional home of the sea rover. First it was the gentleman
adventurer, the man of family and honour, who fought as a patriot,
though he was ready to take his payment in Spanish plunder.
Then, within a century, his debonnaire figure had passed to make room
for the buccaneers, robbers pure and simple, yet with some organized
code of their own, commanded by notable chieftains, and taking in hand
great concerted enterprises.
They, too, passed with their fleets and their sacking of cities, to make
room for the worst of all, the lonely outcast pirate, the bloody Ishmael
of the seas, at war with the whole human race. This was the vile brood
which the early eighteenth century had spawned forth, and of them all
there was none who could compare in audacity, wickedness, and evil
repute with the unutterable Sharkey.
It was early in May, in the year 1720, that _The Happy Delivery_ lay
with her fore-yard aback some five leagues west of the Windward Passage,
waiting to see what rich, helpless craft the trade-wind might bring down
Three days she had lain there, a sinister black speck, in the centre of
the great sapphire circle of the ocean. Far to the south-east the low
blue hills of Hispaniola showed up on the skyline.
Hour by hour as he waited without avail, Sharkey's savage temper had
risen, for his arrogant spirit chafed against any contradiction, even
from Fate itself. To his quartermaster, Ned Galloway, he had said
that night, with his odious neighing laugh, that the crew of the next
captured vessel should answer to him for having kept him waiting so
The cabin of the pirate barque was a good-sized room, hung with
much tarnished finery, and presenting a strange medley of luxury and
disorder. The panelling of carved and polished sandal-wood was blotched
with foul smudges and chipped with bullet-marks fired in some drunken
Rich velvets and laces were heaped upon the brocaded settees, while
metal-work and pictures of great price filled every niche and corner,
for anything which caught the pirate's fancy in the sack of a hundred
vessels was thrown haphazard into his chamber. A rich, soft carpet
covered the floor, but it was mottled with wine-stains and charred with
Above, a great brass hanging-lamp threw a brilliant yellow light
upon this singular apartment, and upon the two men who sat in their
shirt-sleeves with the wine between them, and the cards in their hands,
deep in a game of piquet. Both were smoking long pipes, and the thin
blue reek filled the cabin and floated through the skylight above them,
which, half opened, disclosed a slip of deep violet sky spangled with
great silver stars.
Ned Galloway, the quartermaster, was a huge New England wastrel, the one
rotten branch upon a goodly Puritan family tree. His robust limbs and
giant frame were the heritage of a long line of God-fearing ancestors,
while his black savage heart was all his own. Bearded to the temples,
with fierce blue eyes, a tangled lion's mane of coarse, dark hair,
and huge gold rings in his ears, he was the idol of the women in every
waterside hell from the Tortugas to Maracaibo on the Main. A red cap,
a blue silken shirt, brown velvet breeches with gaudy knee-ribbons, and
high sea-boots made up the costume of the rover Hercules.
A very different figure was Captain John Sharkey. His thin, drawn,
clean-shaven face was corpse-like in its pallor, and all the suns of the
Indies could but turn it to a more deathly parchment tint. He was
part bald, with a few lank locks of tow-like hair, and a steep, narrow
forehead. His thin nose jutted sharply forth, and near-set on either
side of it were those filmy blue eyes, red-rimmed like those of a white
bull-terrier, from which strong men winced away in fear and loathing.
His bony hands, with long, thin fingers which quivered ceaselessly like
the antennae of an insect, were toying constantly with the cards and the
heap of gold moidores which lay before him. His dress was of some sombre
drab material, but, indeed, the men who looked upon that fearsome face
had little thought for the costume of its owner.
The game was brought to a sudden interruption, for the cabin door was
swung rudely open, and two rough fellows--Israel Martin, the boatswain,
and Red Foley, the gunner--rushed into the cabin. In an instant Sharkey
was on his feet with a pistol in either hand and murder in his eyes.
"Sink you for villains!" he cried. "I see well that if I do not shoot
one of you from time to time you will forget the man I am. What mean you
by entering my cabin as though it were a Wapping alehouse?"
"Nay, Captain Sharkey," said Martin, with a sullen frown upon his
brick-red face, "it is even such talk as this which has set us by the
ears. We have had enough of it."
"And more than enough," said Red Foley, the gunner. "There be no
mates aboard a pirate craft, and so the boatswain, the gunner, and the
quarter-master are the officers."
"Did I gainsay it?" asked Sharkey with an oath.
"You have miscalled us and mishandled us before the men, and we scarce
know at this moment why we should risk our lives in fighting for the
cabin and against the foc'sle."
Sharkey saw that something serious was in the wind. He laid down his
pistols and leaned back in his chair with a flash of his yellow fangs.
"Nay, this is sad talk," said he, "that two stout fellows who have
emptied many a bottle and cut many a throat with me, should now fall out
over nothing. I know you to be roaring boys who would go with me against
the devil himself if I bid you. Let the steward bring cups and drown all
unkindness between us."
"It is no time for drinking, Captain Sharkey," said Martin. "The men are
holding council round the mainmast, and may be aft at any minute. They
mean mischief, Captain Sharkey, and we have come to warn you."
Sharkey sprang for the brass-handled sword which hung from the wall.
"Sink them for rascals!" he cried. "When I have gutted one or two of
them they may hear reason."
But the others barred his frantic way to the door.
"There are forty of them under the lead of Sweetlocks, the master," said
Martin, "and on the open deck they would surely cut you to pieces. Here
within the cabin it may be that we can hold them off at the points of
He had hardly spoken when there came the tread of many heavy feet upon
the deck. Then there was a pause with no sound but the gentle lipping
of the water against the sides of the pirate vessel. Finally, a crashing
blow as from a pistol-butt fell upon the door, and an instant afterwards
Sweetlocks himself, a tall, dark man, with a deep red birthmark blazing
upon his cheek, strode into the cabin. His swaggering air sank somewhat
as he looked into those pale and filmy eyes.
"Captain Sharkey," said he, "I come as spokesman of the crew."
"So I have heard, Sweetlocks," said the captain, softly. "I may live to
rip you the length of your vest for this night's work."
"That is as it may be, Captain Sharkey," the master answered, "but if
you will look up you will see that I have those at my back who will not
see me mishandled."
"Cursed if we do!" growled a deep voice from above, and glancing upwards
the officers in the cabin were aware of a line of fierce, bearded,
sun-blackened faces looking down at them through the open skylight.
"Well, what would you have?" asked Sharkey. "Put it in words, man, and
let us have an end of it."
"The men think," said Sweetlocks, "that you are the devil himself, and
that there will be no luck for them whilst they sail the sea in such
company. Time was when we did our two or three craft a day, and every
man had women and dollars to his liking, but now for a long week we have
not raised a sail, and save for three beggarly sloops, have taken never
a vessel since we passed the Bahama Bank. Also, they know that you
killed Jack Bartholomew, the carpenter, by beating his head in with a
bucket, so that each of us goes in fear of his life. Also, the rum has
given out, and we are hard put to it for liquor. Also, you sit in your
cabin whilst it is in the articles that you should drink and roar with
the crew. For all these reasons it has been this day in general meeting
Sharkey had stealthily cocked a pistol under the table, so it may have
been as well for the mutinous master that he never reached the end of
his discourse, for even as he came to it there was a swift patter of
feet upon the deck, and a ship lad, wild with his tidings, rushed into
"A craft!" he yelled. "A great craft, and close aboard us!"
In a flash the quarrel was forgotten, and the pirates were rushing to
quarters. Sure enough, surging slowly down before the gentle trade-wind,
a great full-rigged ship, with all sail set, was close beside them.
It was clear that she had come from afar and knew nothing of the ways of
the Caribbean Sea, for she made no effort to avoid the low, dark craft
which lay so close upon her bow, but blundered on as if her mere size
would avail her.
So daring was she, that for an instant the Rovers, as they flew to loose
the tackles of their guns, and hoisted their battle-lanterns, believed
that a man-of-war had caught them napping.
But at the sight of her bulging, portless sides and merchant rig a shout
of exultation broke from amongst them, and in an instant they had swung
round their fore-yard, and darting alongside they had grappled with her
and flung a spray of shrieking, cursing ruffians upon her deck.
Half a dozen seamen of the night-watch were cut down where they stood,
the mate was felled by Sharkey and tossed overboard by Ned Galloway, and
before the sleepers had time to sit up in their berths, the vessel was
in the hands of the pirates.
The prize proved to be the full-rigged ship _Portobello_--Captain Hardy,
master--bound from London to Kingston in Jamaica, with a cargo of cotton
goods and hoop-iron.
Having secured their prisoners, all huddled together in a dazed,
distracted group, the pirates spread over the vessel in search of
plunder, handing all that was found to the giant quartermaster, who in
turn passed it over the side of _The Happy Delivery_ and laid it under
guard at the foot of her mainmast.
The cargo was useless, but there were a thousand guineas in the ship's
strong-box, and there were some eight or ten passengers, three of them
wealthy Jamaica merchants, all bringing home well-filled boxes from
their London visit.
When all the plunder was gathered, the passengers and crew were dragged
to the waist, and under the cold smile of Sharkey each in turn was
thrown over the side--Sweetlocks standing by the rail and ham-stringing
them with his cutlass as they passed over, lest some strong swimmer
should rise in judgment against them. A portly, grey-haired woman, the
wife of one of the planters, was among the captives, but she also was
thrust screaming and clutching over the side.
"Mercy, you hussy!" neighed Sharkey, "you are surely a good twenty years
too old for that."
The captain of the _Portobello_, a hale, blue-eyed grey-beard, was the
last upon the deck. He stood, a thick-set resolute figure, in the glare
of the lanterns, while Sharkey bowed and smirked before him.
"One skipper should show courtesy to another," said he, "and sink me if
Captain Sharkey would be behind in good manners! I have held you to the
last, as you see, where a brave man should be; so now, my bully, you
have seen the end of them, and may step over with an easy mind."
"So I shall, Captain Sharkey," said the old seaman, "for I have done my
duty so far as my power lay. But before I go over I would say a word in
"If it be to soften me, you may save your breath. You have kept us
waiting here for three days, and curse me if one of you shall live!"
"Nay, it is to tell you what you should know. You have not yet found
what is the true treasure aboard of this ship."
"Not found it? Sink me, but I will slice your liver, Captain Hardy, if
you do not make good your words! Where is this treasure you speak of?"
"It is not a treasure of gold, but it is a fair maid, which may be no
"Where is she, then? And why is she not with the others?"
"I will tell you why she is not with the others. She is the only
daughter of the Count and Countess Ramirez, who are amongst those whom
you have murdered. Her name is Inez Ramirez, and she is of the best
blood of Spain, her father being Governor of Chagre, to which he was now
bound. It chanced that she was found to have formed an attachment, as
maids will, to one far beneath her in rank aboard this ship; so her
parents, being people of great power, whose word is not to be gainsaid,
constrained me to confine her close in a special cabin aft of my own.
Here she was held straitly, all food being carried to her, and she
allowed to see no one. This I tell you as a last gift, though why I
should make it to you I do not know, for indeed you are a most bloody
rascal, and it comforts me in dying to think that you will surely be
gallow's-meat in this world, and hell's-meat in the next."
At the words he ran to the rail, and vaulted over into the darkness,
praying as he sank into the depths of the sea, that the betrayal of this
maid might not be counted too heavily against his soul.
The body of Captain Hardy had not yet settled upon the sand forty
fathoms deep before the pirates had rushed along the cabin gangway.
There, sure enough, at the further end, was a barred door, overlooked in
their previous search. There was no key, but they beat it in with their
gunstocks, whilst shriek after shriek came from within. In the light of
their outstretched lanterns they saw a young woman, in the very prime
and fullness of her youth, crouching in a corner, her unkempt hair
hanging to the ground, her dark eyes glaring with fear, her lovely form
straining away in horror from this inrush of savage blood-stained men.
Rough hands seized her, she was jerked to her feet, and dragged with
scream on scream to where John Sharkey awaited her. He held the light
long and fondly to her face, then, laughing loudly, he bent forward and
left his red hand-print upon her cheek.
"'Tis the Rover's brand, lass, that he marks his ewes. Take her to the
cabin and use her well. Now, hearties, get her under water, and out to
our luck once more."
Within an hour the good ship _Portobello_ had settled down to her doom,
till she lay beside her murdered passengers upon the Caribbean sand,
while the pirate barque, her deck littered with plunder, was heading
northward in search of another victim.
There was a carouse that night in the cabin of _The Happy Delivery_, at
which three men drank deep. They were the captain, the quartermaster,
and Baldy Stable, the surgeon, a man who had held the first practice in
Charleston, until, misusing a patient, he fled from justice, and took
his skill over to the pirates. A bloated fat man he was, with a creased
neck and a great shining scalp, which gave him his name. Sharkey had put
for the moment all thought of the mutiny out of his head, knowing that
no animal is fierce when it is over-fed, and that whilst the plunder of
the great ship was new to them he need fear no trouble from his crew.
He gave himself up, therefore, to the wine and the riot, shouting and
roaring with his boon companions. All three were flushed and mad, ripe
for any devilment, when the thought of the woman crossed the pirate's
evil mind. He yelled to the negro steward that he should bring her on
Inez Ramirez had now realized it all--the death of her father and
mother, and her own position in the hands of their murderers. Yet
calmness had come with the knowledge, and there was no sign of terror
in her proud, dark face as she was led into the cabin, but rather a
strange, firm set of the mouth and an exultant gleam of the eyes, like
one who sees great hopes in the future. She smiled at the pirate captain
as he rose and seized her by the waist.
"'Fore God! this is a lass of spirit," cried Sharkey, passing his arm
round her. "She was born to be a Rover's bride. Come, my bird, and drink
to our better friendship."
"Article Six!" hiccoughed the doctor. "All _bona robas_ in common."
"Aye! we hold you to that, Captain Sharkey," said Galloway. "It is so
writ in Article Six."
"I will cut the man into ounces who comes betwixt us!" cried Sharkey, as
he turned his fish-like eyes from one to the other. "Nay, lass, the man
is not born that will take you from John Sharkey. Sit here upon my knee,
and place your arm round me so. Sink me, if she has not learned to love
me at sight! Tell me, my pretty, why you were so mishandled and laid in
the bilboes aboard yonder craft?"
The woman shook her head and smiled. "No Inglese--no Inglese," she
lisped. She had drunk off the bumper of wine which Sharkey held to
her, and her dark eyes gleamed more brightly than before. Sitting on
Sharkey's knee, her arm encircled his neck, and her hand toyed with
his hair, his ear, his cheek. Even the strange quartermaster and the
hardened surgeon felt a horror as they watched her, but Sharkey laughed
in his joy. "Curse me, if she is not a lass of metal!" he cried, as he
pressed her to him and kissed her unresisting lips.
But a strange intent look of interest had come into the surgeon's eyes
as he watched her, and his face set rigidly, as if a fearsome thought
had entered his mind. There stole a grey pallor over his bull face,
mottling all the red of the tropics and the flush of the wine.
"Look at her hand, Captain Sharkey!" he cried. "For the Lord's sake,
look at her hand!"
Sharkey stared down at the hand which had fondled him. It was of a
strange dead pallor, with a yellow shiny web betwixt the fingers. All
over it was a white fluffy dust, like the flour of a new-baked loaf. It
lay thick on Sharkey's neck and cheek. With a cry of disgust he flung
the woman from his lap; but in an instant, with a wild-cat bound, and a
scream of triumphant malice, she had sprung at the surgeon, who vanished
yelling under the table. One of her clawing hands grasped Galloway by
the beard, but he tore himself away, and snatching a pike, held her off
from him as she gibbered and mowed with the blazing eyes of a maniac.
The black steward had run in on the sudden turmoil, and among them they
forced the mad creature back into a cabin and turned the key upon her.
Then the three sank panting into their chairs, and looked with eyes
of horror upon each other. The same word was in the mind of each, but
Galloway was the first to speak it.
"A leper!" he cried. "She has us all, curse her!"
"Not me," said the surgeon; "she never laid her finger on me."
"For that matter," cried Galloway, "it was but my beard that she
touched. I will have every hair of it off before morning."
"Dolts that we were!" the surgeon shouted, beating his head with his
hand. "Tainted or no, we shall never know a moment's peace till the year
is up and the time of danger past. 'Fore God, that merchant skipper has
left his mark on us, and pretty fools we were to think that such a maid
would be quarantined for the cause he gave. It is easy to see now that
her corruption broke forth in the journey, and that save throwing her
over they had no choice but to board her up until they should come to
some port with a lazarette."
Sharkey had sat leaning back in his chair with a ghastly face while
he listened to the surgeon's words. He mopped himself with his red
handkerchief, and wiped away the fatal dust with which he was smeared.
"What of me?" he croaked. "What say you, Baldy Stable? Is there a chance
for me? Curse you for a villain! speak out, or I will drub you within an
inch of your life, and that inch also! Is there a chance for me, I say?"
But the surgeon shook his head. "Captain Sharkey," said he, "it would be
an ill deed to speak you false. The taint is on you. No man on whom the
leper scales have rested is ever clean again."
Sharkey's head fell forward on his chest, and he sat motionless,
stricken by this great and sudden horror, looking with his smouldering
eyes into his fearsome future. Softly the mate and the surgeon rose from
their places, and stealing out from the poisoned air of the cabin, came
forth into the freshness of the early dawn, with the soft, scent-laden
breeze in their faces and the first red feathers of cloud catching the
earliest gleam of the rising sun as it shot its golden rays over the
palm-clad ridges of distant Hispaniola.
That morning a second council of the Rovers was held at the base of
the mainmast, and a deputation chosen to see the captain. They were
approaching the after-cabins when Sharkey came forth, the old devil in
his eyes, and his bandolier with a pair of pistols over his shoulder.
"Sink you all for villains!" he cried, "Would you dare to cross my
hawse? Stand out, Sweetlocks, and I will lay you open! Here, Galloway,
Martin, Foley, stand by me and lash the dogs to their kennel!"
But his officers had deserted him, and there was none to come to his
aid. There was a rush of the pirates. One was shot through the body, but
an instant afterwards Sharkey had been seized and was triced to his own
mainmast. His filmy eyes looked round from face to face, and there was
none who felt the happier for having met them.
"Captain Sharkey," said Sweetlocks, "you have mishandled many of us, and
you have now pistolled John Masters, besides killing Bartholomew, the
carpenter, by braining him with a bucket. All this might have been
forgiven you, in that you have been our leader for years, and that we
have signed articles to serve under you while the voyage lasts. But
now we have heard of this bona roba on board, and we know that you are
poisoned to the marrow, and that while you rot there will be no
safety for any of us, but that we shall all be turned into filth and
corruption. Therefore, John Sharkey, we Rovers of _The Happy Delivery_,
in council assembled, have decreed that while there be yet time, before
the plague spreads, you shall be set adrift in a boat to find such a
fate as Fortune may be pleased to send you."
John Sharkey said nothing, but slowly circling his head, he cursed them
all with his baleful gaze. The ship's dinghy had been lowered, and he
with his hands still tied, was dropped into it on the bight of a rope.
"Cast her off!" cried Sweetlocks.
"Nay, hold hard a moment, Master Sweetlocks!" shouted one of the crew.
"What of the wench? Is she to bide aboard and poison us all?"
"Send her off with her mate!" cried another, and the Rovers roared their
approval. Driven forth at the end of pikes, the girl was pushed towards
the boat. With all the spirit of Spain in her rotting body she flashed
triumphant glances on her captors. "Perros! Perros Ingleses! Lepero,
Lepero!" she cried in exultation, as they thrust her over into the boat.
"Good luck, captain! God speed you on your honeymoon!" cried a chorus of
mocking voices, as the painter was unloosed, and _The Happy Delivery_,
running full before the trade-wind, left the little boat astern, a tiny
dot upon the vast expanse of the lonely sea.
Extract from the log of H.M. fifty-gun ship _Hecate_ in her cruise off
the American Main.
"Jan. 26, 1721.--This day, the junk having become unfit for food, and
five of the crew down with scurvy, I ordered that we send two boats
ashore at the nor'-western point of Hispaniola, to seek for fresh fruit,
and perchance shoot some of the wild oxen with which the island abounds.
"7 p.m.--The boats have returned with good store of green stuff and two
bullocks. Mr. Woodruff, the master, reports that near the landing-place
at the edge of the forest was found the skeleton of a woman, clad in
European dress, of such sort as to show that she may have been a person
of quality. Her head had been crushed by a great stone which lay beside
her. Hard by was a grass hut, and signs that a man had dwelt therein for
some time, as was shown by charred wood, bones and other traces. There
is a rumour upon the coast that Sharkey, the bloody pirate, was marooned
in these parts last year, but whether he has made his way into the
interior, or whether he has been picked up by some craft, there is no
means of knowing. If he be once again afloat, then I pray that God send
him under our guns."
THE MARRIAGE OF THE BRIGADIER
I am speaking, my friends, of days which are long gone by, when I had
scarcely begun to build up that fame which has made my name so familiar.
Among the thirty officers of the Hussars of Conflans there was nothing
to indicate that I was superior in any way to the others. I can well
imagine how surprised they would all have been had they realized that
young Lieutenant Etienne Gerard was destined for so glorious a career,
and would live to command a brigade and to receive from the Emperor's
own hands that cross which I can show you any time that you do me the
honour to visit me in my little cottage. You know, do you not, the
little white-washed cottage with the vine in front, in the field beside
People have said of me that I have never known what fear was. No doubt
you have heard them say it. For many years, out of a foolish pride, I
have let the saying pass. And yet now, in my old age, I can afford to
be honest. The brave man dares to be frank. It is only the coward who is
afraid to make admissions. So I tell you now that I also am human; that
I also have felt my skin grow cold, and my hair rise; that I have even
known what it was to run away until my limbs could scarce support me. It
shocks you to hear it? Well, some day it may comfort you, when your own
courage has reached its limits, to know that even Etienne Gerard has
known what it was to be afraid. I will tell you now how this experience
befell me, and also how it brought me a wife.
For the moment France was at peace, and we, the Hussars of Conflans,
were in camp all that summer a few miles from the town of Les Andelys
in Normandy. It is not a very gay place by itself, but we of the Light
Cavalry make all places gay which we visit, and so we passed our time
very pleasantly. Many years and many scenes have dulled my remembrance,
but still the name Les Andelys brings back to me a huge ruined castle,
great orchards of apple trees, and above all, a vision of the lovely
maidens of Normandy. They were the very finest of their sex, as we may
be said to have been of ours, and so we were well met in that sweet
sunlit summer. Ah, the youth, the beauty, the valour, and then the dull,
dead years that blurr them all! There are times when the glorious
past weighs on my heart like lead. No, sir, no wine can wash away such
thoughts, for they are of the spirit and the soul. It is only the gross
body which responds to wine, but if you offer it for that, then I will
not refuse it.
Now of all the maidens who dwelt in those parts there was one who was
so superior in beauty and in charm that she seemed to be very specially
marked out for me. Her name was Marie Ravon, and her people, the Ravons,
were of yeoman stock who had farmed their own land in those parts since
the days when Duke William went to England. If I close my eyes now, I
see her as she then was, her cheeks, dusky like moss roses; her hazel
eyes, so gentle and yet so full of spirit; her hair of that deepest
black which goes most fitly with poetry and with passion; her finger as
supple as a young birch tree in the wind. Ah! how she swayed away from
me when first I laid my arm round it, for she was full of fire and
pride, ever evading, ever resisting, fighting to the last that her
surrender might be the more sweet. Out of a hundred and forty women--But
who can compare where all are so near perfection!
You will wonder why it should be, if this maiden was so beautiful,
that I should be left without a rival. There was a very good reason, my
friends, for I so arranged it that my rivals were in the hospital. There
was Hippolyte Lesoeur, he visited them for two Sundays; but if he lives,
I dare swear that he still limps from the bullet which lodges in his
knee. Poor Victor also--up to his death at Austerlitz he wore my mark.
Soon it was understood that if I could not win Marie, I should at least
have a fair field in which to try. It was said in our camp that it was
safer to charge a square of unbroken infantry than to be seen too often
at the farmhouse of the Ravons.
Now let me be precise for a moment. Did I wish to marry Marie? Ah! my
friends, marriage is not for a Hussar. Today he is in Normandy; tomorrow
he is in the hills of Spain or in the bogs of Poland. What shall he do
with a wife? Would it be fair to either of them? Can it be right that
his courage should be blunted by the thought of the despair which his
death would bring, or is it reasonable that she should be left fearing
lest every post should bring her the news of irreparable misfortune?
A Hussar can but warm himself at the fire, and then hurry onwards, too
happy if he can but pass another fire from which some comfort may come.
And Marie, did she wish to marry me? She knew well that when our silver
trumpets blew the march it would be over the grave of our married life.
Better far to hold fast to her own people and her own soil, where she
and her husband could dwell for ever amid the rich orchards and within
sight of the great Castle of Le Galliard. Let her remember her Hussar in
her dreams, but let her waking days be spent in the world as she finds
it. Meanwhile we pushed such thoughts from our minds, and gave ourselves
up to a sweet companionship, each day complete in itself with never a
thought of the morrow. It is true that there were times when her father,
a stout old gentleman with a face like one of his own apples, and her
mother, a thin anxious woman of the country, gave me hints that they
would wish to be clearer as to my intentions; but in their hearts they
each knew well that Etienne Gerard was a man of honour, and that their
daughter was very safe as well as very happy in his keeping. So the
matter stood until the night of which I speak.
It was the Sunday evening, and I had ridden over from the camp. There
were several of our fellows who were visiting the village, and we all
left our horses at the inn. Thence I had to walk to the Ravons, which
was only separated by a single very large field extending to the very
door. I was about to start when the landlord ran after me. "Excuse
me, lieutenant," said he, "it is farther by the road, and yet I should
advise you to take it."
"It is a mile or more out of my way."
"I know it. But I think that it would be wiser," and he smiled as he
"And why?" I asked.
"Because," said he, "the English bull is loose in the field."
If it were not for that odious smile, I might have considered it. But to
hold a danger over me and then to smile in such a fashion was more than
my proud temper could bear. I indicated by a gesture what I thought of
the English bull.
"I will go by the shortest way," said I.
I had no sooner set my foot in the field than I felt that my spirit had
betrayed me into rashness. It was a very large square field, and as I
came further out into it I felt like the cockle-shell which ventures out
from land and sees no port save that from which it has issued. There was
a wall on every side of the field save that from which I had come. In
front of me was the farmhouse of the Ravons, with wall extending to
right and left. A back door opened upon the field, and there were
several windows, but all were barred, as is usual in the Norman farms.
I pushed on rapidly to the door, as being the only harbour of safety,
walking with dignity as befits a soldier, and yet with such speed as
I could summon. From the waist upwards I was unconcerned and even
debonnaire. Below, I was swift and alert.
I had nearly reached the middle of the field when I perceived the
creature. He was rooting about with his fore feet under a large beech
tree which lay upon my right hand. I did not turn my head, nor would
the bystander have detected that I took notice of him, but my eye was
watching him with anxiety. It may have been that he was in a contented
mood, or it may have been that he was arrested by the nonchalance of my
bearing, but he made no movement in my direction. Reassured, I fixed my
eyes upon the open window of Marie's bed-chamber, which was immediately
over the back door, in the hope that those dear, tender, dark eyes,
were surveying me from behind the curtains. I flourished my little cane,
loitered to pick a primrose, and sang one of our devil-may-care choruses
in order to insult this English beast, and to show my love how little
I cared for danger when it stood between her and me. The creature was
abashed by my fearlessness, and so, pushing open the back door, I was
able to enter the farmhouse in safety and in honour.
And was it not worth the danger? Had all the bulls of Castile guarded
the entrance, would it not still have been worth it? Ah, the hours, the
sunny hours, which can never come back, when our youthful feet seemed
scarce to touch the ground, and we lived in a sweet dreamland of our own
creation! She honoured my courage, and she loved me for it. As she lay
with her flushed cheek pillowed against the silk of my dolman, looking
up at me with her wondering eyes, shining with love and admiration, she
marvelled at the stories in which I gave her some pictures of the true
character of her lover.
"Has your heart never failed you? Have you never known the feeling of
fear?" she asked. I laughed at such a thought. What place could fear
have in the mind of a Hussar? Young as I was, I had given my proofs.
I told her how I had led my squadron into a square of Hungarian
Grenadiers. She shuddered as she embraced me. I told her also how I had
swum my horse over the Danube at night with a message for Davoust. To be
frank, it was not the Danube, nor was it so deep that I was compelled to
swim, but when one is twenty and in love, one tells a story as best one
can. Many such stories I told her, while her dear eyes grew more and
"Never in my dreams, Etienne," said she, "did I believe that so brave a
man existed. Lucky France that has such a soldier, lucky Marie that has
such a lover!"
You can think how I flung myself at her feet as I murmured that I was
the luckiest of all--I who had found some one who could appreciate and
It was a charming relationship, too infinitely sweet and delicate for
the interference of coarser minds. But you can understand that the
parents imagined that they also had their duty to do. I played dominoes
with the old man, and I wound wool for his wife, and yet they could not
be led to believe that it was from love of them that I came thrice a
week to their farm. For some time an explanation was inevitable, and
that night it came. Marie, in delightful mutiny, was packed off to her
room, and I faced the old people in the parlour as they plied me with
questions upon my prospects and my intentions.
"One way or the other," they said, in their blunt country fashion. "Let
us hear that you are betrothed to Marie, or let us never see your face
I spoke of my honour, my hopes, and my future, but they remained
immovable upon the present. I pleaded my career, but they in their
selfish way would think of nothing but their daughter. It was indeed a
difficult position in which I found myself. On the one hand, I could
not forsake my Marie; on the other, what would a young Hussar do with
marriage? At last, hard pressed, I begged them to leave the matter, if
it were only for a day.
"I will see Marie," said I, "I will see her without delay. It is her
heart and her happiness which come before all else."
They were not satisfied, these grumbling old people, but they could
say no more. They bade me a short good night and I departed, full
of perplexity, for the inn. I came out by the same door which I had
entered, and I heard them lock and bar it behind me.
I walked across the field lost in thought, with my mind entirely filled
with the arguments of the old people and the skilful replies which I
had made to them. What should I do? I had promised to see Marie without
delay. What should I say to her when I did see her? Would I surrender
to her beauty and turn my back upon my profession? If Etienne Gerard's
sword were turned to a scythe, then indeed it was a bad day for the
Emperor and France. Or should I harden my heart and turn away from
Marie? Or was it not possible that all might be reconciled; that I might
be a happy husband in Normandy but a brave soldier elsewhere? All these
thoughts were buzzing in my head, when a sudden noise made me look up.
The moon had come from behind a cloud, and there was the bull before me.
He had seemed a large animal beneath the beech tree, but now he appeared
enormous. He was black in colour. His head was held down, and the moon
shone upon two menacing and bloodshot eyes. His tail switched swiftly
from side to side, and his fore feet dug into the earth. A more
horrible-looking monster was never seen in a nightmare. He was moving
slowly and stealthily in my direction.
I glanced behind me, and I found that in my distraction I had come
a very long way from the edge of the field. I was more than half-way
across it. My nearest refuge was the inn, but the bull was between me
and it. Perhaps if the creature understood how little I feared him, he
would make way for me. I shrugged my shoulders and made a gesture of
contempt. I even whistled. The creature thought I called it, for he
approached with alacrity. I kept my face boldly towards him, but I
walked swiftly backwards. When one is young and active, one can almost
run backwards and yet keep a brave and smiling face to the enemy. As I
ran I menaced the animal with my cane. Perhaps it would have been
wiser had I restrained my spirit. He regarded it as a challenge--which,
indeed, was the last thing in my mind. It was a misunderstanding, but a
fatal one. With a snort he raised his tail and charged.
Have you ever seen a bull charge, my friends? It is a strange sight. You
think, perhaps, that he trots, or even that he gallops. No, it is worse
than this. It is a succession of bounds by which he advances, each more
menacing than the last. I have no fear of anything which man can do.
When I deal with man, I feel that the nobility of my own attitude, the
gallant ease with which I face him, will in itself go far to disarm him.
What he can do, I can do, so why should I fear him? But when it is a ton
of enraged beef with which you contend, it is another matter. You
cannot hope to argue, to soften, to conciliate. There is no resistance
possible. My proud assurance was all wasted upon the creature. In
an instant my ready wit had weighed every possible course, and had
determined that no one, not the Emperor himself, could hold his ground.
There was but one course--to fly.
But one may fly in many ways. One may fly with dignity or one may fly in
panic. I fled, I trust, like a soldier. My bearing was superb though
my legs moved rapidly. My whole appearance was a protest against the
position in which I was placed. I smiled as I ran--the bitter smile of
the brave man who mocks his own fate. Had all my comrades surrounded
the field, they could not have thought the less of me when they saw the
disdain with which I avoided the bull.
But here it is that I must make my confession. When once flight
commences, though it be ever so soldierly, panic follows hard upon it.
Was it not so with the Guard at Waterloo? So it was that night with
Etienne Gerard. After all, there was no one to note my bearing--no one
save this accursed bull. If for a minute I forgot my dignity, who would
be the wiser? Every moment the thunder of the hoofs and the horrible
snorts of the monster drew nearer to my heels. Horror filled me at the
thought of so ignoble a death. The brutal rage of the creature sent a
chill to my heart. In an instant everything was forgotten. There were
in the world but two creatures, the bull and I--he trying to kill me, I
striving to escape. I put down my head and I ran--I ran for my life.
It was for the house of the Ravons that I raced. But even as I reached
it, it flashed into my mind that there was no refuge for me there. The
door was locked. The lower windows were barred. The wall was high upon
either side. And the bull was nearer me with every stride. But oh, my
friends, it is at that supreme moment of danger that Etienne Gerard
has ever risen to his height. There was one path to safety, and in an
instant I had chosen it.
I have said that the window of Marie's bedroom was above the door. The
curtains were closed, but the folding sides were thrown open, and a lamp
burned in the room. Young and active, I felt that I could spring high
enough to reach the edge of the window sill and to draw myself out
of danger. The monster was within touch of me as I sprang. Had I been
unaided, I should have done what I had planned. But even as in a superb
effort I rose from the earth he butted me into the air. I shot through
the curtains as if I had been fired from a gun, and I dropped upon my
hands and knees in the centre of the room.
There was, as it appears, a bed in the window, but I had passed over
it in safety. As I staggered to my feet I turned towards it in
consternation, but it was empty. My Marie sat in a low chair in the
corner of the room, and her flushed cheeks showed that she had been
weeping. No doubt her parents had given her some account of what had
passed between us. She was too amazed to move, and could only sit
looking at me with her mouth open.
"Etienne!" she gasped. "Etienne!"
In an instant I was as full of resource as ever. There was but one
course for a gentleman, and I took it.
"Marie," I cried, "forgive, oh forgive the abruptness of my return!
Marie, I have seen your parents tonight. I could not return to the camp
without asking you whether you will make me for ever happy by promising
to be my wife?"
It was long before she could speak, so great was her amazement. Then
every emotion was swept away in the one great flood of her admiration.
"Oh, Etienne! my wonderful Etienne!" she cried, her arms round my neck.
"Was ever such love! Was ever such a man! As you stand there, white and
trembling with passion, you seem to me the very hero of my dreams. How
hard you breathe, my love, and what a spring it must have been which
brought you to my arms! At the instant that you came, I heard the tramp
of your war-horse without."
There was nothing more to explain, and when one is newly betrothed, one
finds other uses for one's lips. But there was a scurry in the passage
and a pounding at the panels. At the crash of my arrival the old folk
had rushed to the cellar to see if the great cider cask had toppled off
the trestles, but now they were back and eager for admittance. I flung
open the door, and stood with Marie's hand in mine.
"Behold your son!" I said.
Ah, the joy which I had brought to that humble household! It warms my
heart still when I think of it. It did not seem too strange to them
that I should fly in through the window, for who should be a hot-headed
suitor if it is not a gallant Hussar? And if the door be locked, then
what way is there but the window? Once more we assembled all four in
the parlour, while the cobwebbed bottle was brought up and the ancient
glories of the House of Ravon were unrolled before me. Once more I see
the heavy-raftered room, the two old smiling faces, the golden circle
of the lamp-light, and she, my Marie, the bride of my youth, won so
strangely, and kept for so short a time.
It was late when we parted. The old man came with me into the hall.
"You can go by the front door or the back," said he. "The back way is
"I think that I will take the front way," I answered. "It may be a bit
longer, but it will give me the more time to think of Marie."
THE LORD OF FALCONBRIDGE
A LEGEND OF THE RING
Tom Cribb, Champion of England, having finished his active career by his
two famous battles with the terrible Molineux, had settled down into the
public house which was known as the Union Arms, at the corner of Panton
Street in the Haymarket. Behind the bar of this hostelry there was a
green baize door which opened into a large, red-papered parlour, adorned
by many sporting prints and by the numerous cups and belts which were
the treasured trophies of the famous prize-fighter's victorious career.
In this snuggery it was the custom of the Corinthians of the day to
assemble in order to discuss, over Tom Cribb's excellent wines, the
matches of the past, to await the news of the present, and to arrange
new ones for the future. Hither also came his brother pugilists,
especially such as were in poverty or distress, for the Champion's
generosity was proverbial, and no man of his own trade was ever turned
from his door if cheering words or a full meal could mend his condition.
On the morning in question--August 25, 1818--there were but two men in
this famous snuggery. One was Cribb himself--all run to flesh since the
time seven years before, when, training for his last fight, he had done
his forty miles a day with Captain Barclay over the Highland roads.
Broad and deep, as well as tall, he was a little short of twenty stone
in weight, but his heavy, strong face and lion eyes showed that the
spirit of the prize-fighter was not yet altogether overgrown by the fat
of the publican. Though it was not eleven o'clock, a great tankard of
bitter ale stood upon the table before him, and he was busy cutting up
a plug of black tobacco and rubbing the slices into powder between his
horny fingers. For all his record of desperate battles, he looked what
he was--a good-hearted, respectable householder, law-abiding and kindly,
a happy and prosperous man.
His companion, however, was by no means in the same easy circumstances,
and his countenance wore a very different expression. He was a tall
and well-formed man, some fifteen years younger than the Champion, and
recalling in the masterful pose of his face and in the fine spread of
his shoulders something of the manly beauty which had distinguished
Cribb at his prime. No one looking at his countenance could fail to see
that he was a fighting man by profession, and any judge of the fancy,
considering his six feet in height, his thirteen stone solid muscle,
and his beautifully graceful build, would admit that he had started his
career with advantages which, if they were only backed by the driving
power of a stout heart, must carry him far. Tom Winter, or Spring--as
he chose to call himself--had indeed come up from his Herefordshire home
with a fine country record of local successes, which had been enhanced
by two victories gained over formidable London heavy-weights. Three
weeks before, however, he had been defeated by the famous Painter, and
the set-back weighed heavily upon the young man's spirit.
"Cheer up, lad," said the Champion, glancing across from under his
tufted eyebrows at the disconsolate face of his companion. "Indeed, Tom,
you take it overhard."
The young man groaned, but made no reply. "Others have been beat before
you and lived to be Champions of England. Here I sit with that very
title. Was I not beat down Broadwater way by George Nicholls in 1805?
What then? I fought on, and here I am. When the big Black came from
America it was not George Nicholls they sent for. I say to you--fight
on, and by George, I'll see you in my own shoes yet!"
Tom Spring shook his head. "Never, if I have to fight you to get there,
"I can't keep it for ever, Tom. It's beyond all reason. I'm going to lay
it down before all London at the Fives Courts next year, and it's to you
that I want to hand it. I couldn't train down to it now, lad. My day's
"Well, Dad, I'll never bid for it till you choose to stand aside. After
that, it is as it may be."
"Well, have a rest, Tom; wait for your chance, and, meantime, there's
always a bed and crust for you here."
Spring struck his clenched fist on his knee. "I know, Daddy! Ever since
I came up from Fownthorpe you've been as good as a father to me."
"I've an eye for a winner."
"A pretty winner! Beat in forty rounds by Ned Painter."
"You had beat him first."
"And by the Lord, I will again!"
"So you will, lad. George Nicholls would never give me another shy. Knew
too much, he did. Bought a butcher's shop in Bristol with the money, and
there he is to this day."
"Yes, I'll come back on Painter, but I haven't a shilling left. My
backers have lost faith in me. If it wasn't for you, Daddy, I'd be in
"Have you nothing left, Tom?"
"Not the price of a meal. I left every penny I had, and my good name as
well, in the ring at Kingston. I'm hard put to it to live unless I can
get another fight, and who's going to back me now?"
"Tut, man! the knowing ones will back you. You're the top of the list,
for all Ned Painter. But there are other ways a man may earn a bit.
There was a lady in here this morning--nothing flash, boy, a real
tip-top out-and-outer with a coronet on her coach--asking after you."
"Asking after me! A lady!" The young pugilist stood up with surprise and
a certain horror rising in his eyes. "You don't mean, Daddy--"
"I mean nothing but what is honest, my lad. You can lay to that!"
"You said I could earn a bit."
"So, perhaps, you can. Enough, anyhow, to tide you over your bad time.
There's something in the wind there. It's to do with fightin'. She asked
questions about your height, weight, and my opinion of your prospect.
You can lay that my answers did you no harm."
"She ain't making a match, surely?"
"Well, she seemed to know a tidy bit about it. She asked about George
Cooper, and Richmond the Black, and Tom Oliver, always comin' back to
you, and wantin' to know if you were not the pick of the bunch. _And_
trustworthy. That was the other point. Could she trust you? Lord,
Tom, if you was a fightin' archangel you could hardly live up to the
character that I've given you."
A drawer looked in from the bar. "If you please, Mr. Cribb, the lady's
carriage is back again."
The Champion laid down his long clay pipe. "This way, lad," said he,
plucking his young friend by the sleeve towards the side window. "Look
there, now! Saw you ever a more slap-up carriage? See, too, the pair of
bays--two hundred guineas apiece. Coachman, too, and footman--you'd find
'em hard to beat. There she is now, stepping out of it. Wait here, lad,
till I do the honours of my house."
Tom Cribb slipped off, and young Spring remained by the window, tapping
the glass nervously with his fingers, for he was a simple-minded country
lad with no knowledge of women, and many fears of the traps which await
the unwary in a great city. Many stories were afloat of pugilists who
had been taken up and cast aside again by wealthy ladies, even as the
gladiators were in decadent Rome. It was with some suspicion therefore,
and considerable inward trepidation, that he faced round as a tall
veiled figure swept into the room. He was much consoled, however, to
observe the bulky form of Tom Cribb immediately behind her as a proof
that the interview was not to be a private one. When the door was
closed, the lady very deliberately removed her gloves. Then with fingers
which glittered with diamonds she slowly rolled up and adjusted her
heavy veil. Finally, she turned her face upon Spring.
"Is this the man?" said she.
They stood looking at each other with mutual interest, which warmed
in both their faces into mutual admiration. What she saw was as fine a
figure of a young man as England could show, none the less attractive
for the restrained shyness of his manner and the blush which flushed his
cheeks. What he saw was a woman of thirty, tall, dark, queen-like, and
imperious, with a lovely face, every line and feature of which told of
pride and breed, a woman born to Courts, with the instinct of command
strong within her, and yet with all the softer woman's graces to temper
and conceal the firmness of her soul. Tom Spring felt as he looked at
her that he had never seen nor ever dreamed of any one so beautiful, and
yet he could not shake off the instinct which warned him to be upon his
guard. Yes, it was beautiful, this face--beautiful beyond belief.
But was it good, was it kind, was it true? There was some strange
subconscious repulsion which mingled with his admiration for her
loveliness. As to the lady's thoughts, she had already put away all idea
of the young pugilist as a man, and regarded him now with critical eyes
as a machine designed for a definite purpose.
"I am glad to meet you, Mr.--Mr. Spring," said she, looking him over
with as much deliberation as a dealer who is purchasing a horse. "He
is hardly as tall as I was given to understand, Mr. Cribb. You said six
feet, I believe?"
"So he is, ma'am, but he carries it so easy. It's only the beanstalk
that looks tall. See here, I'm six foot myself, and our heads are level,
except I've lost my fluff."
"What is the chest measurement?"
"Forty-three inches, ma'am."
"You certainly seem to be a very strong young man. And a game one, too,
Young Spring shrugged his shoulders.
"It's not for me to say, ma'am."
"I can speak for that, ma'am," said Cribb. "You read the _Sporting
Chronicle_ for three weeks ago, ma'am. You'll see how he stood up to Ned
Painter until his senses were beat out of him. I waited on him, ma'am,
and I know. I could show you my waistcoat now--that would let you guess
what punishment he can take."
The lady waved aside the illustration. "But he was beat," said she,
coldly. "The man who beat him must be the better man."
"Saving your presence, ma'am, I think not, and outside Gentleman Jackson
my judgment would stand against any in the ring. My lad here has beat
Painter once, and will again, if your ladyship could see your way to
find the battle-money."
The lady started and looked angrily at the Champion.
"Why do you call me that?"
"I beg pardon. It was just my way of speaking."
"I order you not to do it again."
"Very good, ma'am."
"I am here incognito. I bind you both upon your honours to make no
inquiry as to who I am. If I do not get your firm promise, the matter
"Very good, ma'am. I'll promise for my own part, and so, I am sure,
will Spring. But if I may be so bold, I can't help my drawers and potmen
talking with your servants."
"The coachman and footman know just as much about me as you do. But my
time is limited, so I must get to business. I think, Mr. Spring, that
you are in want of something to do at present?"
"That is so, ma'am."
"I understand from Mr. Cribb that you are prepared to fight any one at
"Anything on two legs," cried the Champion. "Who did you wish me to
fight?" asked the young pugilist.
"That cannot concern you. If you are really ready to fight any one,
then the particular name can be of no importance. I have my reasons for
"Very good, ma'am."
"You have been only a few weeks out of training. How long would it take
you to get back to your best?"
"Three weeks or a month."
"Well, then, I will pay your training expenses and two pounds a week
over. Here are five pounds as a guarantee. You will fight when I
consider that you are ready, and that the circumstances are favourable.
If you win your fight, you shall have fifty pounds. Are you satisfied
with the terms?"
"Very handsome, ma'am, I'm sure."
"And remember, Mr. Spring, I choose you, not because you are the best
man--for there are two opinions about that--but because I am given to
understand that you are a decent man whom I can trust. The terms of this
match are to be secret."
"I understand that. I'll say nothing."
"It is a private match. Nothing more. You will begin your training
"Very good, ma'am."
"I will ask Mr. Cribb to train you."
"I'll do that, ma'am, with pleasure. But, by your leave, does he have
anything if he loses?"
A spasm of emotion passed over the woman's face and her hands clenched
white with passion.
"If he loses, not a penny, not a penny!" she cried. "He must not, shall
"Well, ma'am," said Spring, "I've never heard of any such match. But
it's true that I am down at heel, and beggars can't be choosers. I'll
do just what you say. I'll train till you give the word, and then I'll
fight where you tell me. I hope you'll make it a large ring."
"Yes," said she; "it will be a large ring."
"And how far from London?"
"Within a hundred miles. Have you anything else to say? My time is up."
"I'd like to ask, ma'am," said the Champion, earnestly, "whether I can
act as the lad's second when the time comes. I've waited on him the last
two fights. Can I give him a knee?"
"No," said the woman, sharply. Without another word she turned and
was gone, shutting the door behind her. A few moments later the trim
carriage flashed past the window, turned down the crowded Haymarket, and
was engulfed in the traffic.
The two men looked at each other in silence.
"Well, blow my dicky, if this don't beat cockfightin'!" cried Tom Cribb
at last. "Anyhow, there's the fiver, lad. But it's a rum go, and no
mistake about it."
After due consultation, it was agreed that Tom Spring should go into
training at the Castle Inn on Hampstead Heath, so that Cribb could drive
over and watch him. Thither Spring went on the day after the interview
with his patroness, and he set to work at once with drugs, dumb-bells,
and breathers on the common to get himself into condition. It was hard,
however, to take the matter seriously, and his good-natured trainer
found the same difficulty.
"It's the baccy I miss, Daddy," said the young pugilist, as they sat
together on the afternoon of the third day. "Surely there can't be any
harm in my havin' a pipe?"
"Well, well, lad, it's against my conscience, but here's my box and
there's a yard o' clay," said the Champion. "My word, I don't know what
Captain Barclay of Ury would have said if he had seen a man smoke when
he was in trainin'! He was the man to work you! He had me down from
sixteen to thirteen the second time I fought the Black."
Spring had lit his pipe and was leaning back amid a haze of blue smoke.
"It was easy for you, Daddy, to keep strict trainin' when you knew what
was before you. You had your date and your place and your man. You knew
that in a month you would jump the ropes with ten thousand folk round
you, and carrying maybe a hundred thousand in bets. You knew also the
man you had to meet, and you wouldn't give him the better of you. But
it's all different with me. For all I know, this is just a woman's whim,
and will end in nothing. If I was sure it was serious, I'd break this
pipe before I would smoke it."
Tom Cribb scratched his head in puzzlement.
"I can make nothing of it, lad, 'cept that her money is good. Come to
think of it, how many men on the list could stand up to you for half an
hour? It can't be Stringer, 'cause you've beat him. Then there's Cooper;
but he's up Newcastle way. It can't be him. There's Richmond; but you
wouldn't need to take your coat off to beat him. There's the Gasman; but
he's not twelve stone. And there's Bill Neat of Bristol. That's it, lad.
The lady has taken into her head to put you up against either the Gasman
or Bill Neat."
"But why not say so? I'd train hard for the Gasman and harder for Bill
Neat, but I'm blowed if I can train, with any heart when I'm fightin'
nobody in particular and everybody in general, same as now."
There was a sudden interruption to the speculations of the two
prize-fighters. The door opened and the lady entered. As her eyes fell
upon the two men her dark, handsome face flushed with anger, and she
gazed at them silently with an expression of contempt which brought them
both to their feet with hangdog faces. There they stood, their long,
reeking pipes in their hands, shuffling and downcast, like two great
rough mastiffs before an angry mistress.
"So!" said she, stamping her foot furiously. "And this is training!"
"I'm sure we're very sorry, ma'am," said the abashed Champion. "I didn't
think--I never for one moment supposed--"
"That I would come myself to see if you were taking my money on false
pretences? No, I dare say not. You fool!" she blazed, turning suddenly
upon Tom Spring. "You'll be beat. That will be the end of it."
The young man looked up with an angry face.
"I'll trouble you not to call me names, ma'am. I've my self-respect,
the same as you. I'll allow that I shouldn't have smoked when I was in
trainin'. But I was saying to Tom Cribb here, just before you came in,
that if you would give over treatin' us as if we were children, and if
you would tell us just who it is you want me to fight, and when, and
where, it would be a deal easier for me to take myself in hand."
"It's true, ma'am," said the Champion. "I know it must be either the
Gasman or Bill Neat. There's no one else. So give me the office, and
I'll promise to have him as fit as a trout on the day."
The lady laughed contemptuously.
"Do you think," said she, "that no one can fight save those who make a
living by it?"
"By George, it's an amateur!" cried Cribb, in amazement. "But you don't
surely ask Tom Spring to train for three weeks to meet a Corinthian?"
"I will say nothing more of who it is. It is no business of yours," the
lady answered fiercely. "All I _do_ say is, that if you do not train
I will cast you aside and take some one who will. Do not think you can
fool me because I am a woman. I have learned the points of the game as
well as any man."
"I saw that the very first word you spoke," said Cribb.
"Then don't forget it. I will not warn you again. If I have occasion to
find fault I shall choose another man."
"And you won't tell me who I am to fight?"
"Not a word. But you can take it from me that at your very best it will
take you, or any man in England, all your time to master him. Now, get
back this instant to your work, and never let me find you shirking it
again." With imperious eyes she looked the two strong men down, and
then, turning on her heel, she swept out of the room.
The Champion whistled as the door closed behind her, and mopped his brow
with his red bandanna handkerchief as he looked across at his abashed
companion. "My word, lad," said he, "it's earnest from this day on."
"Yes," said Tom Spring, solemnly, "it's earnest from this day on."
In the course of the next fortnight the lady made several surprise
visits to see that her champion was being properly prepared for the
contest which lay before him. At the most unexpected moments she would
burst into the training quarters, but never again had she to complain of
any slackness upon his part or that of his trainer. With long bouts
of the gloves, with thirty-mile walks, with mile runs at the back of
a mailcart with a bit of blood between the shafts, with interminable
series of jumps with a skipping-rope, he was sweated down until his
trainer was able to proudly proclaim that "the last ounce of tallow is
off him and he is ready to fight for his life." Only once was the
lady accompanied by any one upon these visits of inspection. Upon this
occasion a tall young man was her companion. He was graceful in figure,
aristocratic in his bearing, and would have been strikingly handsome had
it not been for some accident which had shattered his nose and broken
all the symmetry of his features. He stood in silence with moody eyes
and folded arms, looking at the splendid torso of the prize-fighter as,
stripped to the waist, he worked with his dumbbells.
"Don't you think he will do?" said the lady.
The young swell shrugged his shoulders. "I don't like it, _cara mia_. I
can't pretend that I like it."
"You must like it, George. I have set my very heart on it."
"It is not English, you know. Lucrezia Borgia and Mediaeval Italy.
Woman's love and woman's hatred are always the same, but this particular
manifestation of it seems to me out of place in nineteenth-century
"Is not a lesson needed?"
"Yes, yes; but one would think there were other ways."
"You tried another way. What did you get out of that?"
The young man smiled rather grimly, as he turned up his cuff and looked
at a puckered hole in his wrist.
"Not much, certainly," said he.
"You've tried and failed."
"Yes, I must admit it."
"What else is there? The law?"
"Good gracious, no!"
"Then it is my turn, George, and I won't be balked."
"I don't think any one is capable of balking you, _cara mia_. Certainly
I, for one, should never dream of trying. But I don't feel as if I could
"I never asked you to."
"No, you certainly never did. You are perfectly capable of doing it
alone. I think, with your leave, if you have quite done with your
prize-fighter, we will drive back to London. I would not for the world
miss Goldoni in the Opera."
So they drifted away; he, frivolous and dilettante, she with her face as
set as Fate, leaving the fighting men to their business.
And now the day came when Cribb was able to announce to his employer
that his man was as fit as science could make him.
"I can do no more, ma'am. He's fit to fight for a kingdom. Another week
would see him stale."
The lady looked Spring over with the eye of a connoisseur.
"I think he does you credit," she said at last. "Today is Tuesday. He
will fight the day after tomorrow."
"Very good, ma'am. Where shall he go?"
"I will tell you exactly, and you will please take careful note of all
that I say. You, Mr. Cribb, will take your man down to the Golden Cross
Inn at Charing Cross by nine o'clock on Wednesday morning. He will take
the Brighton coach as far as Tunbridge Wells, where he will alight at
the Royal Oak Arms. There he will take such refreshment as you advise
before a fight. He will wait at the Royal Oak Arms until he receives
a message by word, or by letter, brought him by a groom in a mulberry
livery. This message will give him his final instructions."
"And I am not to come?"
"No," said the lady.
"But surely, ma'am," he pleaded, "I may come as far as Tunbridge Wells?
It's hard on a man to train a cove for a fight and then to leave him."
"It can't be helped. You are too well known. Your arrival would spread
all over the town, and my plans might suffer. It is quite out of the
question that you should come."
"Well, I'll do what you tell me, but it's main hard."
"I suppose," said Spring, "you would have me bring my fightin' shorts
and my spiked shoes?"
"No; you will kindly bring nothing whatever which may point to your
trade. I would have you wear just those clothes in which I saw you
first, such clothes as any mechanic or artisan might be expected to
Tom Cribb's blank face had assumed an expression of absolute despair.
"No second, no clothes, no shoes--it don't seem regular. I give you my
word, ma'am, I feel ashamed to be mixed up in such a fight. I don't know
as you can call the thing a fight where there is no second. It's just
a scramble--nothing more. I've gone too far to wash my hands of it now,
but I wish I had never touched it."
In spite of all professional misgivings on the part of the Champion and
his pupil, the imperious will of the woman prevailed, and everything
was carried out exactly as she had directed. At nine o'clock Tom Spring
found himself upon the box-seat of the Brighton coach, and waved his
hand in goodbye to burly Tom Cribb, who stood, the admired of a ring of
waiters and ostlers, upon the doorstep of the Golden Cross. It was in
the pleasant season when summer is mellowing into autumn, and the
first golden patches are seen amid the beeches and the ferns. The young
country-bred lad breathed more freely when he had left the weary streets
of Southwark and Lewisham behind him, and he watched with delight the
glorious prospect as the coach, whirled along by six dapple greys,
passed by the classic grounds of Knowle, or after crossing Riverside
Hill skirted the vast expanse of the Weald of Kent. Past Tonbridge
School went the coach, and on through Southborough, until it wound down
a steep, curving road with strange outcrops of sandstone beside it, and
halted before a great hostelry, bearing the name which had been given
him in his directions. He descended, entered the coffee-room, and
ordered the underdone steak which his trainer had recommended. Hardly
had he finished it when a servant with a mulberry coat and a peculiarly
expressionless face entered the apartment.
"Beg your pardon, sir, are you Mr. Spring--Mr. Thomas Spring, of
"That is my name, young man."
"Then the instructions which I had to give you are that you wait for one
hour after your meal. After that time you will find me in a phaeton at
the door, and I will drive you in the right direction."
The young pugilist had never been daunted by any experience which had
befallen him in the ring. The rough encouragement of his backers, the
surge and shouting of the multitude, and the sight of his opponent had
always cheered his stout heart and excited him to prove himself worthy
of being the centre of such a scene. But his loneliness and uncertainty
were deadly. He flung himself down on the horse-hair couch and tried to
doze, but his mind was too restless and excited. Finally he rose, and
paced up and down the empty room. Suddenly he was aware of a great
rubicund face which surveyed him from round the angle of the door. Its
owner, seeing that he was observed, pushed forward into the room.
"I beg pardon, sir," said he, "but surely I have the honour of talking
to Mr. Thomas Spring?"
"At your service," said the young man.
"Bless me! I am vastly honoured to have you under my roof! Cordery is
my name, sir, landlord of this old-fashioned inn. I thought that my eyes
could not deceive me. I am a patron of the ring, sir, in my own humble
way, and was present at Moulsey in September last, when you beat Jack
Stringer of Rawcliffe. A very fine fight, sir, and very handsomely
fought, if I may make bold to say so. I have a right to an opinion, sir,
for there's never been a fight for many a year in Kent or Sussex that
you wouldn't find Joe Cordery at the ring-side. Ask Mr. Gregson at the
Chop-house in Holborn and he'll tell you about old Joe Cordery. By the
way, Mr. Spring, I suppose it is not business that has brought you down
into these parts? Any one can see with half an eye that you are trained
to a hair. I'd take it very kindly if you would give me the office."
It crossed Spring's mind that if he were frank with the landlord it was
more than likely that he would receive more information than he could
give. He was a man of his word, however, and he remembered his promise
to his employer.
"Just a quiet day in the country, Mr. Cordery. That's all."
"Dear me! I had hoped there was a mill in the wind. I've a nose for
these things, Mr. Spring, and I thought I had a whiff of it. But, of
course, you should know best. Perhaps you will drive round with me this
afternoon and view the hop-gardens--just the right time of year, sir."
Tom Spring was not very skilful in deception, and his stammering excuses
may not have been very convincing to the landlord, or finally persuaded
him that his original supposition was wrong. In the midst of the
conversation, however, the waiter entered with the news that a phaeton
was waiting at the door. The innkeeper's eyes shone with suspicion and
"I thought you said you knew no one in these parts, Mr. Spring?"
"Just one kind friend, Mr. Cordery, and he has sent his gig for me. It's
likely that I will take the night coach to town. But I'll look in after
an hour or two and have a dish of tea with you."
Outside the mulberry servant was sitting behind a fine black horse in
a phaeton, which had two seats in front and two behind. Tom Spring
was about to climb up beside him, when the servant whispered that his
directions were that he should sit behind. Then the phaeton whirled
away, while the excited landlord, more convinced than ever that there
was something in the wind, rushed into his stable-yard with shrieks to
his ostlers, and in a very few minutes was in hot pursuit, waiting at
every cross-road until he could hear tidings of a black horse and a
The phaeton meanwhile drove in the direction of Crowborough. Some miles
out it turned from the high-road into a narrow lane spanned by a tawny
arch of beech trees. Through this golden tunnel a lady was walking, tall
and graceful, her back to the phaeton. As it came abreast of her she
stood aside and looked up, while the coachman pulled up the horse.
"I trust that you are at your best," said she, looking very earnestly at
the prize-fighter. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty tidy, ma'am, I thank you."
"I will get up beside you, Johnson. We have some way to go. You will
drive through the Lower Warren, and then take the lane which skirts the
Gravel Hanger. I will tell you where to stop. Go slowly, for we are not
due for twenty minutes."
Feeling as if the whole business was some extraordinary dream, the young
pugilist passed through a network of secluded lanes, until the phaeton
drew up at a wicket gate which led into a plantation of firs, choked
with a thick undergrowth. Here the lady descended and beckoned Spring to
"Wait down the lane," said she to the coachman. "We shall be some little
time. Now, Mr. Spring, will you kindly follow me? I have written a
letter which makes an appointment."
She passed swiftly through the plantation by a tortuous path, then
over a stile, and past another wood, loud with the deep chuckling of
pheasants. At the farther side was a fine rolling park, studded with
oak trees, and stretching away to a splendid Elizabethan mansion, with
balustraded terraces athwart its front. Across the park, and making for
the wood, a solitary figure was walking.
The lady gripped the prize-fighter by the wrist. "That is your man,"
They were standing under the shadow of the trees, so that he was very
visible to them, while they were out of his sight. Tom Spring looked
hard at the man, who was still some hundreds of yards away. He was a
tall, powerful fellow, clad in a blue coat with gilt buttons, which
gleamed in the sun. He had white corded breeches and riding-boots. He
walked with a vigorous step, and with every few strides he struck
his leg with a dog-whip which hung from his wrist. There was a great
suggestion of purpose and of energy in the man's appearance and bearing.
"Why, he's a gentleman!" said Spring. "Look 'ere, ma'am, this is all a
bit out of my line. I've nothing against the man, and he can mean me no
harm. What am I to do with him?"
"Fight him! Smash him! That is what you are here for."
Tom Spring turned on his heel with disgust. "I'm here to fight, ma'am,
but not to smash a man who has no thought of fighting. It's off."
"You don't like the look of him," hissed the woman. "You have met your
"That is as may be. It is no job for me."
The woman's face was white with vexation and anger.
"You fool!" she cried. "Is all to go wrong at the last minute? There are
fifty pounds here they are in this paper--would you refuse them?"
"It's a cowardly business. I won't do it."
"Cowardly? You are giving the man two stone, and he can beat any amateur
The young pugilist felt relieved. After all, if he could fairly earn
that fifty pounds, a good deal depended upon his winning it. If he could
only be sure that this was a worthy and willing antagonist!
"How do you know he is so good?" he asked.
"I ought to know. I am his wife."
As she spoke she turned, and was gone like a flash among the bushes. The
man was quite close now, and Tom Spring's scruples weakened as he looked
at him. He was a powerful, broad-chested fellow, about thirty, with a
heavy, brutal face, great thatched eyebrows, and a hard-set mouth. He
could not be less than fifteen stone in weight, and he carried himself
like a trained athlete. As he swung along he suddenly caught a glimpse
of Spring among the trees, and he at once quickened his pace and sprang
over the stile which separated them.
"Halloa!" said he, halting a few yards from him, and staring him up and
down. "Who the devil are you, and where the devil did you come from, and
what the devil are you doing on my property?"
His manner was even more offensive than his words. It brought a flush of
anger to Spring's cheeks.
"See here, mister," said he, "civil words is cheap. You've no call to
speak to me like that."
"You infernal rascal!" cried the other. "I'll show you the way out of
that plantation with the toe of my boot. Do you dare to stand there on
my land and talk back at me?" He advanced with a menacing face and his
dog-whip half raised. "Well, are you going?" he cried, as he swung it
into the air.
Tom Spring jumped back to avoid the threatened blow.
"Go slow, mister," said he. "It's only fair that you should know where
you are. I'm Spring, the prize-fighter. Maybe you have heard my name."
"I thought you were a rascal of that breed," said the man. "I've had the
handling of one or two of you gentry before, and I never found one that
could stand up to me for five minutes. Maybe you would like to try?"
"If you hit me with that dog-whip, mister----"
"There, then!" He gave the young man a vicious cut across the shoulder.
"Will that help you to fight?"
"I came here to fight," said Tom Spring, licking his dry lips. "You can
drop that whip, mister, for I _will_ fight. I'm a trained man and ready.
But you would have it. Don't blame me."
The man was stripping the blue coat from his broad shoulders. There
was a sprigged satin vest beneath it, and they were hung together on an
"Trained are you?" he muttered. "By the Lord, I'll train you before I am
Any fears that Tom Spring may have had lest he should be taking some
unfair advantage were set at rest by the man's assured manner and by the
splendid physique, which became more apparent as he discarded a black
satin tie, with a great ruby glowing in its centre, and threw aside
the white collar which cramped his thick muscular neck. He then, very
deliberately, undid a pair of gold sleeve-links, and, rolling up his
shirt-sleeves, disclosed two hairy and muscular arms, which would have
served as a model for a sculptor.
"Come nearer the stile," said he, when he had finished. "There is more
The prize-fighter had kept pace with the preparations of his formidable
antagonist. His own hat, coat, and vest hung suspended upon a bush. He
advanced now into the open space which the other had indicated.
"Ruffianing or fighting?" asked the amateur, coolly.
"Very good," said the other. "Put up your hands, Spring. Try it out."
They were standing facing one another in a grassy ring intersected by
the path at the outlet of the wood. The insolent and overbearing look
had passed away from the amateur's face, but a grim half-smile was on
his lips and his eyes shone fiercely from under his tufted brows. From
the way in which he stood it was very clear that he was a past-master at
the game. Tom Spring, as he paced lightly to right and left, looking for
an opening, became suddenly aware that neither with Stringer nor with
the redoubtable Painter himself had he ever faced a more business-like
opponent. The amateur's left was well forward, his guard low, his body
leaning back from the haunches, and his head well out of danger. Spring
tried a light lead at the mark, and another at the face, but in an
instant his adversary was on to him with a shower of sledge-hammer blows
which it took him all his time to avoid. He sprang back, but there was
no getting away from that whirlwind of muscle and bone. A heavy blow
beat down his guard, a second landed on his shoulder, and over went the
prize-fighter with the other on the top of him. Both sprang to their
feet, glared at each other, and fell into position once more.
There could be no doubt that the amateur was not only heavier, but also
the harder and stronger man. Twice again he rushed Spring down, once by
the weight of his blows, and once by closing and hurling him on to his
back. Such falls might have shaken the fight out of a less game man, but
to Tom Spring they were but incidents in his daily trade. Though bruised
and winded he was always up again in an instant. Blood was trickling
from his mouth, but his steadfast blue eyes told of the unshaken spirit
He was accustomed now to his opponent's rushing tactics, and he was
ready for them. The fourth round was the same as to attack, but it was
very different in defence. Up to now the young man had given way and
been fought down. This time he stood his ground. As his opponent
rushed in he met him with a tremendous straight hit from his left hand,
delivered with the full force of his body, and doubled in effect by the
momentum of the charge. So stunning was the concussion that the pugilist
himself recoiled from it across the grassy ring. The amateur staggered
back and leaned his shoulder on a tree-trunk, his hand up to his face.
"You'd best drop it," said Spring. "You'll get pepper if you don't."
The other gave an inarticulate curse, and spat out a mouthful of blood.
"Come on!" said he.
Even now the pugilist found that he had no light task before him. Warned
by his misadventure, the heavier man no longer tried to win the battle
at a rush, nor to beat down an accomplished boxer as he would a country
hawbuck at a village fair. He fought with his head and his feet as well
as with his hands. Spring had to admit in his heart that, trained to
the ring, this man must have been a match for the best. His guard was
strong, his counter was like lightning, he took punishment like a man
of iron, and when he could safely close he always brought his lighter
antagonist to the ground with a shattering fall. But the one stunning
blow which he had courted before he was taught respect for his adversary
weighed heavily on him all the time. His senses had lost something of
their quickness and his blows of their sting. He was fighting, too,
against a man who, of all the boxers who have made their names great,
was the safest, the coolest, the least likely to give anything away, or
lose an advantage gained. Slowly, gradually, round by round, he was worn
down by his cool, quick-stepping, sharp-hitting antagonist. At last he
stood exhausted, breathing hoarsely, his face, what could be seen of it,
purple with his exertions. He had reached the limit of human endurance.
His opponent stood waiting for him, bruised and beaten, but as cool, as
ready, as dangerous as ever.
"You'd best drop it, I tell you," said he. "You're done."
But the other's manhood would not have it so. With a snarl of fury he
cast his science to the winds, and rushed madly to slogging with both
hands. For a moment Spring was overborne. Then he side-stepped swiftly;
there was the crash of his blow, and the amateur tossed up his arms and
fell all asprawl, his great limbs outstretched, his disfigured face to
For a moment Tom Spring stood looking down at his unconscious opponent.
The next he felt a soft, warm hand upon his bare arm. The woman was at
"Now is your time!" she cried, her dark eyes aflame. "Go in! Smash him!"
Spring shook her off with a cry of disgust, but she was back in an
"I'll make it seventy-five pounds--"
"The fight's over, ma'am. I can't touch him."
"A hundred pounds--a clear hundred! I have it here in my bodice. Would
you refuse a hundred?"
He turned on his heel. She darted past him and tried to kick at the face
of the prostrate man. Spring dragged her roughly away, before she could
do him a mischief.
"Stand clear!" he cried, giving her a shake. "You should take shame to
hit a fallen man."
With a groan the injured man turned on his side. Then he slowly sat
up and passed his wet hand over his face. Finally, he staggered to his
"Well," he said, shrugging his broad shoulders, "it was a fair fight.
I've no complaint to make. I was Jackson's favourite pupil, but I give
you best." Suddenly his eyes lit upon the furious face of the woman.
"Hulloa, Betty!" he cried. "So I have you to thank. I might have guessed
it when I had your letter."
"Yes, my lord," said she, with a mock curtsey. "You have me to thank.
Your little wife managed it all. I lay behind those bushes, and I saw
you beaten like a hound. You haven't had all that I had planned for you,
but I think it will be some little time before any woman loves you for
the sake of your appearance. Do you remember the words, my lord? Do you
remember the words?"
He stood stunned for a moment. Then he snatched his whip from the
ground, and looked at her from under his heavy brows.
"I believe you're the devil!" he cried.
"I wonder what the governess will think?" said she.
He flared into furious rage and rushed at her with his whip. Tom Spring
threw himself before him with his arms out.
"It won't do, sir; I can't stand by."
The man glared at his wife over the prize-fighter's shoulder.
"So it's for dear George's sake!" he said, with a bitter laugh. "But
poor, broken-nosed George seems to have gone to the wall. Taken up with
a prize-fighter, eh? Found a fancy man for yourself!"
"You liar!" she gasped.
"Ha, my lady, that stings your pride, does it? Well, you shall stand
together in the dock for trespass and assault. What a picture--great
Lord, what a picture!"
"You wouldn't, John!"
"Wouldn't I, by--! you stay there three minutes and see if I wouldn't."
He seized his clothes from the bush, and staggered off as swiftly as he
could across the field, blowing a whistle as he ran.
"Quick! quick!" cried the woman. "There's not an instant to lose." Her
face was livid, and she was shivering and panting with apprehension.
"He'll raise the country. It would be awful--awful!"
She ran swiftly down the tortuous path, Spring following after her and
dressing as he went. In a field to the right a gamekeeper, his gun in
his hand, was hurrying towards the whistling. Two labourers, loading
hay, had stopped their work and were looking about them, their
pitchforks in their hands.
But the path was empty, and the phaeton awaited them, the horse cropping
the grass by the lane-side, the driver half asleep on his perch. The
woman sprang swiftly in and motioned Spring to stand by the wheel.
"There is your fifty pounds," she said, handing him a paper. "You were
a fool not to turn it into a hundred when you had the chance. I've done
with you now."
"But where am I to go?" asked the prize-fighter, gazing around him at
the winding lanes.
"To the devil!" said she. "Drive on, Johnson!"
The phaeton whirled down the road and vanished round a curve. Tom Spring
Everywhere over the countryside he heard shoutings and whistlings. It
was clear that so long as she escaped the indignity of sharing his fate
his employer was perfectly indifferent as to whether he got into trouble
or not. Tom Spring began to feel indifferent himself. He was weary
to death, his head was aching from the blows and falls which he had
received, and his feelings were raw from the treatment which he had
undergone. He walked slowly some few yards down the lane, but had no
idea which way to turn to reach Tunbridge Wells. In the distance he
heard the baying of dogs, and he guessed that they were being set upon
his track. In that case he could not hope to escape them, and might just
as well await them where he was. He picked out a heavy stake from the
hedge, and he sat down moodily waiting, in a very dangerous temper, for
what might befall him.
But it was a friend and not a foe who came first into sight. Round the
corner of the lane flew a small dog-cart, with a fast-trotting chestnut
cob between the shafts. In it was seated the rubicund landlord of the
Royal Oak, his whip going, his face continually flying round to glance
"Jump in, Mr. Spring jump in!" he cried, as he reined up. "They're all
coming, dogs and men! Come on! Now, hud up, Ginger!" Not another word
did he say until two miles of lanes had been left behind them at racing
speed and they were back in safety upon the Brighton road. Then he let
the reins hang loose on the pony's back, and he slapped Tom Spring with
his fat hand upon the shoulder.
"Splendid!" he cried, his great red face shining with ecstasy. "Oh,
Lord! but it was beautiful!"
"What!" cried Spring. "You saw the fight?"
"Every round of it! By George! to think that I should have lived to have
had such a fight all to myself! Oh, but it was grand," he cried, in a
frenzy of delight, "to see his lordship go down like a pithed ox and
her ladyship clapping her hands behind the bush! I guessed there was
something in the wind, and I followed you all the way. When you stopped,
I tethered little Ginger in a grove, and I crept after you through the
wood. It's as well I did, for the whole parish was up!"
But Tom Spring was sitting gazing at him in blank amazement.
"His lordship!" he gasped.
"No less, my boy. Lord Falconbridge, Chairman of the Bench, Deputy
Lieutenant of the County, Peer of the Realm--that's your man."
"And you didn't know? It's as well, for maybe you wouldn't have whacked
it in as hard if you had; and, mind you, if you hadn't, he'd have beat
you. There's not a man in this county could stand up to him. He takes
the poachers and gipsies two and three at a time. He's the terror of the
place. But you did him--did him fair. Oh, man, it was fine!"
Tom Spring was too much dazed by what he heard to do more than sit and
wonder. It was not until he had got back to the comforts of the inn, and
after a bath had partaken of a solid meal, that he sent for Mr. Cordery
the landlord. To him he confided the whole train of events which had led
up to his remarkable experience, and he begged him to throw such light
as he could upon it. Cordery listened with keen interest and many
chuckles to the story. Finally he left the room and returned with a
frayed newspaper in his hand, which he smoothed out upon his knee.
"It's the _Pantiles Gazette_, Mr. Spring, as gossiping a rag as ever was
printed. I expect there will be a fine column in it if ever it gets its
prying nose into this day's doings. However, we are mum and her ladyship
is mum, and, my word! his lordship is mum, though he did, in his
passion, raise the hue and cry on you. Here it is, Mr. Spring, and I'll
read it to you while you smoke your pipe. It's dated July of last year,
and it goes like this--
"'FRACAS IN HIGH LIFE.--It is an open secret that the differences which
have for some years been known to exist between Lord F---- and his
beautiful wife have come to a head during the last few days. His
lordship's devotion to sport, and also, as it is whispered, some
attentions which he has shown to a humbler member of his household,
have, it is said, long alienated Lady F----'s affection. Of late she
has sought consolation and friendship with a gentleman whom we will
designate as Sir George W----n. Sir George, who is a famous ladykiller,
and as well-proportioned a man as any in England, took kindly to the
task of consoling the disconsolate fair. The upshot, however, was
vastly unfortunate, both for the lady's feelings and for the gentleman's
beauty. The two friends were surprised in a rendezvous near the house
by Lord F---- himself at the head of a party of his servants. Lord F----
then and there, in spite of the shrieks of the lady, availed himself of
his strength and skill to administer such punishment to the unfortunate
Lothario as would, in his own parting words, prevent any woman from
loving him again for the sake of his appearance. Lady F---- has left
his lordship and betaken herself to London, where, no doubt, she is now
engaged in nursing the damaged Apollo. It is confidently expected that a
duel will result from the affair, but no particulars have reached us up
to the hour of going to press.'"
The landlord laid down the paper. "You've been moving in high life, Mr.
Thomas Spring," said he.
The pugilist passed his hand over his battered face. "Well, Mr.
Cordery," said he, "low life is good enough for me."
OUT OF THE RUNNING
It was on the North Side of Butser on the long swell of the Hampshire
Downs. Beneath, some two miles away, the grey roofs and red houses of
Petersfield peeped out from amid the trees which surrounded it. From
the crest of the low hills downwards the country ran in low, sweeping
curves, as though some green primeval sea had congealed in the midst
of a ground swell and set for ever into long verdant rollers. At the
bottom, just where the slope borders upon the plain, there stood a
comfortable square brick farmhouse, with a grey plume of smoke floating
up from the chimney. Two cowhouses, a cluster of hayricks, and a broad
stretch of fields, yellow with the ripening wheat, formed a fitting
setting to the dwelling of a prosperous farmer.
The green slopes were dotted every here and there with dark clumps of
gorse bushes, all alight with the flaming yellow blossoms. To the left
lay the broad Portsmouth Road curving over the hill, with a line of
gaunt telegraph posts marking its course. Beyond a huge white chasm
opened in the grass, where the great Butser chalk quarry had been sunk.
From its depths rose the distant murmur of voices, and the clinking of
hammers. Just above it, between two curves of green hill, might be seen
a little triangle of leaden-coloured sea, flecked with a single white
Down the Portsmouth Road two women were walking, one elderly, florid and
stout, with a yellow-brown Paisley shawl and a coarse serge dress,
the other young and fair, with large grey eyes, and a face which was
freckled like a plover's egg. Her neat white blouse with its trim black
belt, and plain, close-cut skirt, gave her an air of refinement which
was wanting in her companion, but there was sufficient resemblance
between them to show that they were mother and daughter. The one was
gnarled and hardened and wrinkled by rough country work, the other fresh
and pliant from the benign influence of the Board School; but their
step, their slope of the shoulders, and the movement of their hips as
they walked, all marked them as of one blood.
"Mother, I can see father in the five-acre field," cried the younger,
pointing down in the direction of the farm.
The older woman screwed up her eyes, and shaded them with her hand.
"Who's that with him?" she asked.
"Oh, he's nobody. He's a-talkin' to some one."
"I don't know, mother. It's some one in a straw hat. Adam Wilson of the
Quarry wears a straw hat."
"Aye, of course, it's Adam sure enough. Well, I'm glad we're back home
time enough to see him. He'd have been disappointed if he had come over
and you'd been away. Drat this dust! It makes one not fit to be seen."
The same idea seemed to have occurred to her daughter, for she had taken
out her handkerchief, and was flicking her sleeves and the front of her
"That's right, Dolly. There's some on your flounces. But, Lor' bless
you, Dolly, it don't matter to him. It's not your dress he looks at, but
your face. Now I shouldn't be very surprised if he hadn't come over to
ask you from father."
"I think he'd best begin by asking me from myself," remarked the girl.
"Ah, but you'll have him, Dolly, when he does."
"I'm not so sure of that, mother." The older woman threw up her hands.
"There! I don't know what the gals are coming to. I don't indeed. It's
the Board Schools as does it. When I was a gal, if a decent young man
came a-courtin', we gave him a 'Yes' or a 'No.' We didn't keep him
hanging on like a half-clipped sheep. Now, here are you with two of them
at your beck, and you can't give an answer to either of them."
"Why, mother, that's it," cried the daughter, with something between
a laugh and a sob. "May be if they came one at a time I'd know what to
"What have you agin Adam Wilson?"
"Nothing. But I have nothing against Elias Mason."
"Nor I, either. But I know which is the most proper-looking young man."
"Looks isn't everything, mother. You should hear Elias Mason talk. You
should hear him repeat poetry."
"Well, then, have Elias."
"Ah, but I haven't the heart to turn against Adam."
"There, now! I never saw such a gal. You're like a calf betwixt two
hayricks; you have a nibble at the one and a nibble at the other.
There's not one in a hundred as lucky as you. Here's Adam with three
pound ten a week, foreman already at the Chalk Works, and likely enough
to be manager if he's spared. And there's Elias, head telegraph clerk at
the Post Office, and earning good money too. You can't keep 'em both on.
You've got to take one or t'other, and it's my belief you'll get neither
if you don't stop this shilly-shally."
"I don't care. I don't want them. What do they want to come bothering
"It's human natur', gal. They must do it. If they didn't, you'd be the
first to cry out maybe. It's in the Scriptures. 'Man is born for woman,
as the sparks fly upwards.'" She looked up out of the corner of her eyes
as if not very sure of her quotation. "Why, here be that dratted Bill.
The good book says as we are all made of clay, but Bill does show it
more than any lad I ever saw."
They had turned from the road into a narrow, deeply rutted lane, which
led towards the farm. A youth was running towards them, loose-jointed
and long-limbed, with a boyish, lumbering haste, clumping fearlessly
with his great yellow clogs through pool and mire. He wore brown
corduroys, a dingy shirt, and a red handkerchief tied loosely round his
neck. A tattered old straw hat was tilted back upon his shock of coarse,
matted, brown hair. His sleeves were turned up to the elbows, and his
arms and face were both tanned and roughened until his skin looked like
the bark of some young sapling. As he looked up at the sound of the
steps, his face with its blue eyes, brown skin, and first slight down
of a tawny moustache, was not an uncomely one, were it not marred by the
heavy, stolid, somewhat sulky expression of the country yokel.
"Please, mum," said he, touching the brim of his wreck of a hat,
"measter seed ye coming. He sent to say as 'ow 'e were in the five-acre
"Run back, Bill, and say that we are coming," answered the farmer's
wife, and the awkward figure sped away upon its return journey.
"I say, mother, what is Bill's other name?" asked the girl, with languid
"He's not got one."
"No, Dolly, he's a found child, and never had no father or mother that
ever was heard of. We had him from the work'us when he was seven, to
chop mangel wurzel, and here he's been ever since, nigh twelve year. He
was Bill there, and he's Bill here."
"What fun! Fancy having only one name. I wonder what they'll call his
"I don't know. Time to talk of that when he can keep one. But now, Dolly
dear, here's your father and Adam Wilson comin' across the field. I want
to see you settled, Dolly. He's a steady young man. He's blue ribbon,
and has money in the Post Office."
"I wish I knew which liked me best," said her daughter glancing from
under her hat-brim at the approaching figures. "That's the one I should
like. But it's all right, mother, and I know how to find out, so don't
you fret yourself any more."
The suitor was a well-grown young fellow in a grey suit, with a straw
hat jauntily ribboned in red and black. He was smoking, but as he
approached he thrust his pipe into his breast-pocket, and came forward
with one hand outstretched, and the other gripping nervously at his
"Your servant, Mrs. Foster. And how are you, Miss Dolly? Another
fortnight of this and you will be starting on your harvest, I suppose."
"It's bad to say beforehand what you will do in this country," said
Farmer Foster, with an apprehensive glance round the heavens.
"It's all God's doing," remarked his wife piously.
"And He does the best for us, of course. Yet He does seem these last
seasons to have kind of lost His grip over the weather. Well, maybe
it will be made up to us this year. And what did you do at Horndean,
The old couple walked in front, and the other dropped behind, the young
man lingering, and taking short steps to increase the distance.
"I say, Dolly," he murmured at last, flushing slightly as he glanced at
her, "I've been speaking to your father about--you know what."
But Dolly didn't know what. She hadn't the slightest idea of what.
She turned her pretty little freckled face up to him and was full of
curiosity upon the point.
Adam Wilson's face flushed to a deeper red. "You know very well," said
he, impatiently, "I spoke to him about marriage."
"Oh, then it's him you want."
"There, that's the way you always go on. It's easy to make fun, but I
tell you that I am in earnest, Dolly. Your father says that he would
have no objection to me in the family. You know that I love you true."
"How do I know that then?"
"I tell you so. What more can I do?"
"Did you ever do anything to prove it?"
"Set me something and see if I don't do it."
"Then you haven't done anything yet?"
"I don't know. I've done what I could."
"How about this?" She pulled a little crumpled sprig of dog-rose, such
as grows wild in the wayside hedges, out of her bosom. "Do you know
anything of that?"
He smiled, and was about to answer, when his brows suddenly contracted,
his mouth set, and his eyes flashed angrily as they focussed some
distant object. Following his gaze, she saw a slim, dark figure, some
three fields off, walking swiftly in their direction. "It's my friend,
Mr. Elias Mason," said she.
"Your friend!" He had lost his diffidence in his anger. "I know all
about that. What does he want here every second evening?"
"Perhaps he wonders what you want."
"Does he? I wish he'd come and ask me. I'd let him see what I wanted.
"He can see it now. He has taken off his hat to me," Dolly said,
Her laughter was the finishing touch. He had meant to be impressive,
and it seemed that he had only been ridiculous. He swung round upon his
"Very well, Miss Foster," said he, in a choking voice, "that's all
right. We know where we are now. I didn't come here to be made a fool
of, so good day to you." He plucked at his hat, and walked furiously off
in the direction from which they had come. She looked after him, half
frightened, in the hope of seeing some sign that he had relented, but he
strode onwards with a rigid neck, and vanished at a turn of the lane.
When she turned again her other visitor was close upon her--a thin,
wiry, sharp-featured man with a sallow face, and a quick, nervous
"Good evening, Miss Foster. I thought that I would walk over as the
weather was so beautiful, but I did not expect to have the good fortune
to meet you in the fields."
"I am sure that father will be very glad to see you, Mr. Mason. You must
come in and have a glass of milk."
"No, thank you, Miss Foster, I should very much prefer to stay out here
with you. But I am afraid that I have interrupted you in a chat. Was not
that Mr. Adam Wilson who left you this moment?" His manner was subdued,
but his questioning eyes and compressed lips told of a deeper and more
furious jealousy than that of his rival.
"Yes. It was Mr. Adam Wilson." There was something about Mason, a
certain concentration of manner, which made it impossible for the girl
to treat him lightly as she had done the other.
"I have noticed him here several times lately."
"Yes. He is head foreman, you know, at the big quarry."
"Oh, indeed. He is fond of your society, Miss Foster. I can't blame him
for that, can I, since I am equally so myself. But I should like to come
to some understanding with you. You cannot have misunderstood what my
feelings are to you? I am in a position to offer you a comfortable home.
Will you be my wife, Miss Foster?"
Dolly would have liked to make some jesting reply, but it was hard to be
funny with those two eager, fiery eyes fixed so intently upon her own.
She began to walk slowly towards the house, while he paced along beside
her, still waiting for his answer.
"You must give me a little time, Mr. Mason," she said at last. "'Marry
in haste,' they say, 'and repent at leisure.'"
"But you shall never have cause to repent."
"I don't know. One hears such things."
"You shall be the happiest woman in England."
"That sounds very nice. You are a poet, Mr. Mason, are you not?"
"I am a lover of poetry."
"And poets are fond of flowers?"
"I am very fond of flowers."
"Then perhaps you know something of these?" She took out the humble
little sprig, and held it out to him with an arch questioning glance. He
took it and pressed it to his lips.
"I know that it has been near you, where I should wish to be," said he.
"Good evening, Mr. Mason!" It was Mrs. Foster who had come out to meet
them. "Where's Mr.----? Oh--ah! Yes, of course. The teapot's on the
table, and you'd best come in afore it's over-drawn."
When Elias Mason left the farmhouse that evening, he drew Dolly aside at
"I won't be able to come before Saturday," said he.
"We shall be glad to see you, Mr. Mason."
"I shall want my answer then."
"Oh, I cannot give any promise, you know."
"But I shall live in hope."
"Well, no one can prevent you from doing that." As she came to realize
her power over him she had lost something of her fear, and could answer
him now nearly as freely as if he were simple Adam Wilson.
She stood at the door, leaning against the wooden porch, with the long
trailers of the honeysuckle framing her tall, slight figure. The great
red sun was low in the west, its upper rim peeping over the low hills,
shooting long, dark shadows from the beech-tree in the field, from the
little group of tawny cows, and from the man who walked away from her.
She smiled to see how immense the legs were, and how tiny the body in
the great flat giant which kept pace beside him. In front of her in
the little garden the bees droned, a belated butterfly or an early
moth fluttered slowly over the flower-beds, a thousand little creatures
buzzed and hummed, all busy working out their tiny destinies, as she,
too, was working out hers, and each doubtless looking upon their own
as the central point of the universe. A few months for the gnat, a few
years for the girl, but each was happy now in the heavy summer air. A
beetle scuttled out upon the gravel path and bored onwards, its six legs
all working hard, butting up against stones, upsetting itself on ridges,
but still gathering itself up and rushing onwards to some all-important
appointment somewhere in the grass plot. A bat fluttered up from behind
the beech-tree. A breath of night air sighed softly over the hillside
with a little tinge of the chill sea spray in its coolness. Dolly Foster
shivered, and had turned to go in when her mother came out from the
"Whatever is that Bill doing there?" she cried.
Dolly looked, and saw for the first time that the nameless farm-labourer
was crouching under the beech, his browns and yellows blending with the
bark behind him.
"You go out o' that, Bill!" screamed the farmer's wife.
"What be I to do?" he asked humbly, slouching forward.
"Go, cut chaff in the barn." He nodded and strolled away, a comical
figure in his mud-crusted boots, his strap-tied corduroys and his
"Well, then, you've taken Elias," said the mother, passing her hand
round her daughter's waist. "I seed him a-kissing your flower. Well, I'm
sorry for Adam, for he is a well-grown young man, a proper young man,
blue ribbon, with money in the Post Office. Still some one must suffer,
else how could we be purified. If the milk's left alone it won't ever
turn into butter. It wants troubling and stirring and churning. That's
what we want, too, before we can turn angels. It's just the same as
Dolly laughed. "I have not taken Elias yet," said she.
"No? What about Adam then?"
"Nor him either."
"Oh, Dolly girl, can you not take advice from them that is older. I tell
you again that you'll lose them both."
"No, no, mother. Don't you fret yourself. It's all right. But you can
see how hard it is. I like Elias, for he can speak so well, and is so
sure and masterful. And I like Adam because--well, because I know very
well that Adam loves me."
"Well, bless my heart, you can't marry them both. You'd like all the
pears in the basket."
"No, mother, but I know how to choose. You see this bit of a flower,
"It's a common dog-rose."
"Well, where d'you think I found it?"
"In the hedge likely."
"No, but on my window-ledge."
"Oh, but when?"
"This morning. It was six when I got up, and there it lay fresh and
sweet, and new-plucked. 'Twas the same yesterday and the day before.
Every morning there it lies. It's a common flower, as you say, mother,
but it is not so common to find a man who'll break short his sleep day
after day just to show a girl that the thought of her is in his heart."
"And which was it?"
"Ah, if I knew! I think it's Elias. He's a poet, you know, and poets do
nice things like that."
"And how will you be sure?"
"I'll know before morning. He will come again, whichever it is. And
whichever it is he's the man for me. Did father ever do that for you
before you married?"
"I can't say he did, dear. But father was always a powerful heavy
"Well then, mother, you needn't fret any more about me, for as sure as I
stand here, I'll tell you to-morrow which of them it is to be."
That evening the farmer's daughter set herself to clearing off all those
odd jobs which accumulate in a large household. She polished the dark,
old-fashioned furniture in the sitting-room. She cleared out the cellar,
re-arranged the bins, counted up the cider, made a great cauldron full
of raspberry jam, potted, papered, and labelled it. Long after the whole
household was in bed she pushed on with her self-imposed tasks until the
night was far gone and she very spent and weary. Then she stirred up the
smouldering kitchen fire and made herself a cup of tea, and, carrying
it up to her own room, she sat sipping it and glancing over an old bound
volume of the _Leisure Hour_. Her seat was behind the little dimity
window curtains, whence she could see without being seen.
The morning had broken, and a brisk wind had sprung up with the dawn.
The sky was of the lightest, palest blue, with a scud of flying
white clouds shredded out over the face of it, dividing, coalescing,
overtaking one another, but sweeping ever from the pink of the east to
the still shadowy west. The high, eager voice of the wind whistled and
sang outside, rising from moan to shriek, and then sinking again to a
dull mutter and grumble. Dolly rose to wrap her shawl around her, and as
she sat down again in an instant her doubts were resolved, and she had
seen that for which she had waited.
Her window faced the inner yard, and was some eight feet from the
ground. A man standing beneath it could not be seen from above. But she
saw enough to tell her all that she wished to know. Silently, suddenly,
a hand had appeared from below, had laid a sprig of flower upon her
ledge, and had disappeared. It did not take two seconds; she saw no
face, she heard no sound, but she had seen the hand and she wanted
nothing more. With a smile she threw herself upon the bed, drew a rug
over her, and dropped into a heavy slumber.
She was awakened by her mother plucking at her shoulder.
"It's breakfast time, Dolly, but I thought you would be weary, so I
brought you lip some bread and coffee. Sit up, like a dearie, and take
"All right, mother. Thank you. I'm all dressed, so I'll be ready to come
"Bless the gal, she's never had her things off! And, dearie me, here's
the flower outside the window, sure enough! Well, and did you see who
put it there?"
"Yes, I did."
"Who was it then?"
"It was Adam."
"Was it now? Well, I shouldn't have thought that he had it in him. Then
Adam it's to be. Well, he's steady, and that's better than being clever,
yea, seven-and-seventy fold. Did he come across the yard?"
"No, along by the wall."
"How did you see him then?"
"I didn't see him."
"Then how can you tell?"
"I saw his hand."
"But d'you tell me you know Adam's hand?"
"It would be a blind man that couldn't tell it from Elias' hand. Why,
the one is as brown as that coffee, and the other as white as the cup,
with great blue veins all over it."
"Well, now I shouldn't have thought of it, but so it is. Well, it'll be
a busy day, Dolly. Just hark to the wind!"
It had, indeed, increased during the few hours since dawn to a very
violent tempest. The panes of the window rattled and shook. Glancing
out, Dolly saw cabbage leaves and straw whirling up past the casement.
"The great hayrick is giving. They're all out trying to prop it up. My,
but it do blow!"
It did indeed! When Dolly came downstairs it was all that she could do
to push her way through the porch. All along the horizon the sky was
brassy-yellow, but above the wind screamed and stormed, and the torn,
hurrying clouds were now huddled together, and now frayed off into
countless tattered streamers. In the field near the house her father
and three or four labourers were working with poles and ropes, hatless,
their hair and beards flying, staving up a great bulging hayrick. Dolly
watched them for a moment, and then, stooping her head and rounding her
shoulders, with one hand up to her little black straw hat, she staggered
off across the fields.
Adam Wilson was at work always on a particular part of the hillside, and
hither it was that she bent her steps. He saw the trim, dapper figure,
with its flying skirts and hat-ribbons, and he came forward to meet her
with a great white crowbar in his hand. He walked slowly, however, and
his eyes were downcast, with the air of a man who still treasures a
"Good mornin', Miss Foster."
"Good morning, Mr. Wilson. Oh, if you are going to be cross with me, I'd
best go home again."
"I'm not cross, Miss Foster. I take it very kindly that you should come
out this way on such a day."
"I wanted to say to you--I wanted to say that I was sorry if I made you
angry yesterday. I didn't mean to make fun. I didn't, indeed. It is only
my way of talking. It was so good of you, so noble of you, to let it
make no difference."
"None at all, Dolly." He was quite radiant again. "If I didn't love you
so, I wouldn't mind what that other chap said or did. And if I could
only think that you cared more for me than for him--"
"I do, Adam."
"God bless you for saying so! You've lightened my heart, Dolly. I have
to go to Portsmouth for the firm today. To-morrow night I'll come and
"Very well, Adam, I--Oh, my God, what's that!"
A rending breaking noise in the distance, a dull rumble, and a burst of
shouts and cries.
"The rick's down! There's been an accident!" They both started running
down the hill.
"Father!" panted the girl, "father!"
"He's all right!" shouted her companion, "I can see him. But there's
some one down. They're lifting him now. And here's one running like mad
for the doctor."
A farm-labourer came rushing wildly up the lane. "Don't you go, Missey,"
he cried. "A man's hurt."
"It's Bill. The rick came down and the ridge-pole caught him across the
back. He's dead, I think. Leastwise, there's not much life in him. I'm
off for Doctor Strong!" He bent his shoulder to the wind, and lumbered
off down the road.
"Poor Bill! Thank God it wasn't father!" They were at the edge of
the field now in which the accident had taken place. The rick lay, a
shapeless mound upon the earth, with a long thick pole protruding from
it, which had formerly supported the tarpaulin drawn across it in case
of rain. Four men were walking slowly away, one shoulder humped, one
hanging, and betwixt them they bore a formless clay-coloured bundle.
He might have been a clod of the earth that he tilled, so passive, so
silent, still brown, for death itself could not have taken the burn from
his skin, but with patient, bovine eyes looking out heavily from under
half-closed lids. He breathed jerkily, but he neither cried out nor
groaned. There was something almost brutal and inhuman in his absolute
stolidity. He asked no sympathy, for his life had been without it. It
was a broken tool rather than an injured man.
"Can I do anything, father?"
"No, lass, no. This is no place for you. I've sent for the doctor. He'll
be here soon."
"But where are they taking him?"
"To the loft where he sleeps."
"I'm sure he's welcome to my room, father."
"No, no, lass. Better leave it alone."
But the little group were passing as they spoke, and the injured lad had
heard the girl's words.
"Thank ye kindly, Missey," he murmured, with a little flicker of life,
and then sank back again into his stolidity and his silence.
Well, a farm hand is a useful thing, but what is a man to do with one
who has an injured spine and half his ribs smashed. Farmer Foster shook
his head and scratched his chin as he listened to the doctor's report.
"He can't get better?"
"Then we had better move him."
"To the work'us hospital. He came from there just this time eleven
years. It'll be like going home to him."
"I fear that he is going home," said the doctor gravely. "But it's out
of the question to move him now. He must lie where he is for better or
And it certainly looked for worse rather than for better. In a little
loft above the stable he was stretched upon a tiny blue pallet which
lay upon the planks. Above were the gaunt rafters, hung with saddles,
harness, old scythe blades--the hundred things which droop, like bats,
from inside such buildings. Beneath them upon two pegs hung his own
pitiable wardrobe, the blue shirt and the grey, the stained trousers,
and the muddy coat. A gaunt chaff-cutting machine stood at his head, and
a great bin of the chaff behind it. He lay very quiet, still dumb, still
uncomplaining, his eyes fixed upon the small square window looking out
at the drifting sky, and at this strange world which God has made so
queerly--so very queerly.
An old woman, the wife of a labourer, had been set to nurse him, for the
doctor had said that he was not to be left. She moved about the room,
arranging and ordering, grumbling to herself from time to time at this
lonely task which had been assigned to her. There were some flowers in
broken jars upon a cross-beam, and these, with a touch of tenderness,
she carried over and arranged upon a deal packing-case beside the
patient's head. He lay motionless, and as he breathed there came a
gritty rubbing sound from somewhere in his side, but he followed his
companion about with his eyes and even smiled once as she grouped the
flowers round him.
He smiled again when he heard that Mrs. Foster and her daughter had been
to ask after him that evening. They had been down to the Post Office
together, where Dolly had sent off a letter which she had very carefully
drawn up, addressed to Elias Mason, Esq., and explaining to that
gentleman that she had formed her plans for life, and that he need spare
himself the pain of coming for his answer on the Saturday. As they came
back they stopped in the stable and inquired through the loft door as
to the sufferer. From where they stood they could hear that horrible
grating sound in his breathing. Dolly hurried away with her face quite
pale under her freckles. She was too young to face the horrid details of
suffering, and yet she was a year older than this poor waif, who lay in
silence, facing death itself.
All night he lay very quiet--so quiet that were it not for that one
sinister sound his nurse might have doubted whether life was still in
him. She had watched him and tended him as well as she might, but she
was herself feeble and old, and just as the morning light began to steal
palely through the small loft window, she sank back in her chair in a
dreamless sleep. Two hours passed, and the first voices of the men as
they gathered for their work aroused her. She sprang to her feet.
Great heaven! the pallet was empty. She rushed down into the stables,
distracted, wringing her hands. There was no sign of him. But the stable
door was open. He must have walked-but how could he walk?--he must have
crawled--have writhed that way. Out she rushed, and as they heard her
tale, the newly risen labourers ran with her, until the farmer with his
wife and daughter were called from their breakfast by the bustle, and
joined also in this strange chase. A whoop, a cry, and they were drawn
round to the corner of the yard on which Miss Dolly's window opened.
There he lay within a few yards of the window, his face upon the stones,
his feet thrusting out from his tattered night-gown, and his track
marked by the blood from his wounded knees. One hand was thrown out
before him, and in it he held a little sprig of the pink dog-rose.
They carried him back, cold and stiff, to the pallet in the loft, and
the old nurse drew the sheet over him and left him, for there was no
need to watch him now. The girl had gone to her room, and her mother
followed her thither, all unnerved by this glimpse of death.
"And to think," said she, "that it was only _him_, after all."
But Dolly sat at the side of her bed, and sobbed bitterly in her apron.
So long as the oceans are the ligaments which bind together the great
broad-cast British Empire, so long will there be a dash of romance in
our minds. For the soul is swayed by the waters, as the waters are by
the moon, and when the great highways of an empire are along such roads
as these, so full of strange sights and sounds, with danger ever running
like a hedge on either side of the course, it is a dull mind indeed
which does not bear away with it some trace of such a passage. And
now, Britain lies far beyond herself, for the three-mile limit of every
seaboard is her frontier, which has been won by hammer and loom and pick
rather than by arts of war. For it is written in history that neither
king nor army can bar the path to the man who having twopence in his
strong box, and knowing well where he can turn it to threepence, sets
his mind to that one end. And as the frontier has broadened, the mind of
Britain has broadened too, spreading out until all men can see that the
ways of the island are continental, even as those of the Continent are
But for this a price must be paid, and the price is a grievous one. As
the beast of old must have one young human life as a tribute every year,
so to our Empire we throw from day to day the pick and flower of our
youth. The engine is world-wide and strong, but the only fuel that will
drive it is the lives of British men. Thus it is that in the grey old
cathedrals, as we look round upon the brasses on the walls, we see
strange names, such names as they who reared those walls had never
heard, for it is in Peshawar, and Umballah, and Korti and Fort Pearson
that the youngsters die, leaving only a precedent and a brass behind
them. But if every man had his obelisk, even where he lay, then no
frontier line need be drawn, for a cordon of British graves would ever
show how high the Anglo-Celtic tide had lapped.
This, then, as well as the waters which join us to the world, has done
something to tinge us with romance. For when so many have their loved
ones over the seas, walking amid hillmen's bullets, or swamp malaria,
where death is sudden and distance great, then mind communes with mind,
and strange stories arise of dream, presentiment or vision, where the
mother sees her dying son, and is past the first bitterness of her grief
ere the message comes which should have broken the news. The learned
have of late looked into the matter and have even labelled it with a
name; but what can we know more of it save that a poor stricken
soul, when hard-pressed and driven, can shoot across the earth some
ten-thousand-mile-distant picture of its trouble to the mind which is
most akin to it. Far be it from me to say that there lies no such power
within us, for of all things which the brain will grasp the last will
be itself; but yet it is well to be very cautious over such matters, for
once at least I have known that which was within the laws of nature seem
to be far upon the further side of them.
John Vansittart was the younger partner of the firm of Hudson and
Vansittart, coffee exporters of the Island of Ceylon, three-quarters
Dutchman by descent, but wholly English in his sympathies. For years I
had been his agent in London, and when in '72 he came over to England
for a three months' holiday, he turned to me for the introductions which
would enable him to see something of town and country life. Armed with
seven letters he left my offices, and for many weeks scrappy notes from
different parts of the country let me know that he had found favour
in the eyes of my friends. Then came word of his engagement to Emily
Lawson, of a cadet branch of the Hereford Lawsons, and at the very tail
of the first flying rumour the news of his absolute marriage, for the
wooing of a wanderer must be short, and the days were already crowding
on towards the date when he must be upon his homeward journey. They
were to return together to Colombo in one of the firm's own thousand-ton
barque-rigged sailing ships, and this was to be their princely
honeymoon, at once a necessity and a delight.
Those were the royal days of coffee-planting in Ceylon, before a single
season and a rotten fungus drove a whole community through years of
despair to one of the greatest commercial victories which pluck and
ingenuity ever won. Not often is it that men have the heart when their
one great industry is withered to rear up in a few years another as rich
to take its place, and the tea-fields of Ceylon are as true a monument
to courage as is the lion at Waterloo. But in '72 there was no cloud
yet above the skyline, and the hopes of the planters were as high and
as bright as the hillsides on which they reared their crops. Vansittart
came down to London with his young and beautiful wife. I was introduced,
dined with them, and it was finally arranged that I, since business
called me also to Ceylon, should be a fellow-passenger with them on the
_Eastern Star_, which was timed to sail on the following Monday.
It was on the Sunday evening that I saw him again. He was shown up
into my rooms about nine o'clock at night, with the air of a man who is
bothered and out of sorts. His hand, as I shook it, was hot and dry.
"I wish, Atkinson," said he, "that you could give me a little lime juice
and water. I have a beastly thirst upon me, and the more I take the more
I seem to want."
I rang and ordered a carafe and glasses. "You are flushed," said I. "You
don't look the thing."
"No, I'm clean off colour. Got a touch of rheumatism in my back, and
don't seem to taste my food. It is this vile London that is choking me.
I'm not used to breathing air which has been used up by four million
lungs all sucking away on every side of you." He flapped his crooked
hands before his face, like a man who really struggles for his breath.
"A touch of the sea will soon set you right."
"Yes, I'm of one mind with you there. That's the thing for me. I want
no other doctor. If I don't get to sea to-morrow I'll have an illness.
There are no two ways about it." He drank off a tumbler of lime juice,
and clapped his two hands with his knuckles doubled up into the small of
"That seems to ease me," said he, looking at me with a filmy eye. "Now I
want your help, Atkinson, for I am rather awkwardly placed."
"This way. My wife's mother got ill and wired for her. I couldn't
go--you know best yourself how tied I have been--so she had to go alone.
Now I've had another wire to say that she can't come to-morrow, but that
she will pick up the ship at Falmouth on Wednesday. We put in there,
you know, and in, though I count it hard, Atkinson, that a man should
be asked to believe in a mystery, and cursed if he can't do it. Cursed,
mind you, no less." He leaned forward and began to draw a catchy breath
like a man who is poised on the very edge of a sob.
Then first it came to my mind that I had heard much of the hard-drinking
life of the island, and that from brandy came those wild words and
fevered hands. The flushed cheek and the glazing eye were those of one
whose drink is strong upon him. Sad it was to see so noble a young man
in the grip of that most bestial of all the devils.
"You should lie down," I said, with some severity.
He screwed up his eyes like a man who is striving to wake himself, and
looked up with an air of surprise.
"So I shall presently," said he, quite rationally. "I felt quite swimmy
just now, but I am my own man again now. Let me see, what was I talking
about? Oh ah, of course, about the wife. She joins the ship at Falmouth.
Now I want to go round by water. I believe my health depends upon it.
I just want a little clean first-lung air to set me on my feet again. I
ask you, like a good fellow, to go to Falmouth by rail, so that in case
we should be late you may be there to look after the wife. Put up at
the Royal Hotel, and I will wire her that you are there. Her sister will
bring her down, so that it will be all plain sailing."
"I'll do it with pleasure," said I. "In fact, I would rather go by
rail, for we shall have enough and to spare of the sea before we reach
Colombo. I believe too that you badly need a change. Now, I should go
and turn in, if I were you."
"Yes, I will. I sleep aboard tonight. You know," he continued, as the
film settled down again over his eyes, "I've not slept well the last
few nights. I've been troubled with theolololog--that is to say,
theolological--hang it," with a desperate effort, "with the doubts of
theolologicians. Wondering why the Almighty made us, you know, and why
He made our heads swimmy, and fixed little pains into the small of our
backs. Maybe I'll do better tonight." He rose and steadied himself with
an effort against the corner of the chair back.
"Look here, Vansittart," said I, gravely, stepping up to him, and laying
my hand upon his sleeve, "I can give you a shakedown here. You are
not fit to go out. You are all over the place. You've been mixing your
"Drinks!" He stared at me stupidly.
"You used to carry your liquor better than this."
"I give you my word, Atkinson, that I have not had a drain for two days.
It's not drink. I don't know what it is. I suppose you think this is
drink." He took up my hand in his burning grasp, and passed it over his
"Great Lord!" said I.
His skin felt like a thin sheet of velvet beneath which lies a
close-packed layer of small shot. It was smooth to the touch at any one
place, but to a finger passed along it, rough as a nutmeg grater.
"It's all right," said he, smiling at my startled face. "I've had the
prickly heat nearly as bad."
"But this is never prickly heat."
"No, it's London. It's breathing bad air. But tomorrow it'll be all
right. There's a surgeon aboard, so I shall be in safe hands. I must be
"Not you," said I, pushing him back into a chair. "This is past a joke.
You don't move from here until a doctor sees you. Just stay where you
I caught up my hat, and rushing round to the house of a neighbouring
physician, I brought him back with me. The room was empty and Vansittart
gone. I rang the bell. The servant said that the gentleman had ordered a
cab the instant that I had left, and had gone off in it. He had told the
cabman to drive to the docks.
"Did the gentleman seem ill?" I asked.
"Ill!" The man smiled. "No, sir, he was singin' his 'ardest all the
The information was not as reassuring as my servant seemed to think, but
I reflected that he was going straight back to the _Eastern Star_, and
that there was a doctor aboard of her, so that there was nothing which I
could do in the matter. None the less, when I thought of his thirst, his
burning hands, his heavy eye, his tripping speech, and lastly, of that
leprous forehead, I carried with me to bed an unpleasant memory of my
visitor and his visit.
At eleven o'clock next day I was at the docks, but the _Eastern Star_
had already moved down the river, and was nearly at Gravesend. To
Gravesend I went by train, but only to see her topmasts far off, with
a plume of smoke from a tug in front of her. I would hear no more of my
friend until I rejoined him at Falmouth. When I got back to my offices,
a telegram was awaiting me from Mrs. Vansittart, asking me to meet her;
and next evening found us both at the Royal Hotel, Falmouth, where we
were to wait for the _Eastern Star_. Ten days passed, and there came no
news of her.
They were ten days which I am not likely to forget. On the very day that
the _Eastern Star_ had cleared from the Thames, a furious easterly gale
had sprung up, and blew on from day to day for the greater part of a
week without the sign of a lull. Such a screaming, raving, long-drawn
storm has never been known on the southern coast. From our hotel
windows the sea view was all banked in haze, with a little rain-swept
half-circle under our very eyes, churned and lashed into one tossing
stretch of foam. So heavy was the wind upon the waves that little sea
could rise, for the crest of each billow was torn shrieking from it, and
lashed broadcast over the bay. Clouds, wind, sea, all were rushing to
the west, and there, looking down at this mad jumble of elements, I
waited on day after day, my sole companion a white, silent woman, with
terror in her eyes, her forehead pressed ever against the window, her
gaze from early morning to the fall of night fixed upon that wall
of grey haze through which the loom of a vessel might come. She said
nothing, but that face of hers was one long wail of fear.
On the fifth day I took counsel with an old seaman. I should have
preferred to have done so alone, but she saw me speak with him, and was
at our side in an instant, with parted lips and a prayer in her eyes.
"Seven days out from London," said he, "and five in the gale. Well, the
Channel's swept clear by this wind. There's three things for it. She may
have popped into port on the French side. That's like enough."
"No, no; he knew we were here. He would have telegraphed."
"Ah, yes, so he would. Well, then, he might have run for it, and if he
did that he won't be very far from Madeira by now. That'll be it, marm,
you may depend."
"Or else? You said there was a third chance."
"Did I, marm? No, only two, I think. I don't think I said anything of a
third. Your ship's out there, depend upon it, away out in the Atlantic,
and you'll hear of it time enough, for the weather is breaking. Now
don't you fret, marm, and wait quiet, and you'll find a real blue
Cornish sky tomorrow."
The old seaman was right in his surmise, for the next day broke calm
and bright, with only a low dwindling cloud in the west to mark the last
trailing wreaths of the storm-wrack. But still there came no word from
the sea, and no sign of the ship. Three more weary days had passed, the
weariest that I have ever spent, when there came a seafaring man to the
hotel with a letter. I gave a shout of joy. It was from the captain of
the _Eastern Star_. As I read the first lines of it I whisked my hand
over it, but she laid her own upon it and drew it away. "I have seen
it," said she, in a cold, quiet voice. "I may as well see the rest,
"DEAR SIR," said the letter,
"Mr. Vansittart is down with the small-pox, and we are blown so far
on our course that we don't know what to do, he being off his head and
unfit to tell us. By dead reckoning we are but three hundred miles from
Funchal, so I take it that it is best that we should push on there,
get Mr. V. into hospital, and wait in the Bay until you come. There's
a sailing-ship due from Falmouth to Funchal in a few days' time, as I
understand. This goes by the brig _Marian_ of Falmouth, and five pounds
is due to the master, Yours respectfully,
She was a wonderful woman that, only a chit of a girl fresh from school,
but as quiet and strong as a man. She said nothing--only pressed her
lips together tight, and put on her bonnet.
"You are going out?" I asked.
"Can I be of use?"
"No; I am going to the doctor's."
"To the doctor's?"
"Yes. To learn how to nurse a small-pox case."
She was busy at that all the evening, and next morning we were off with
a fine ten-knot breeze in the barque _Rose of Sharon_ for Madeira. For
five days we made good time, and were no great way from the island; but
on the sixth there fell a calm, and we lay without motion on a sea of
oil, heaving slowly, but making not a foot of way.
At ten o'clock that night Emily Vansittart and I stood leaning on the
starboard railing of the poop, with a full moon shining at our backs,
and casting a black shadow of the barque, and of our own two heads
upon the shining water. From the shadow a broadening path of moonshine
stretched away to the lonely sky-line, flickering and shimmering in the
gentle heave of the swell. We were talking with bent heads, chatting
of the calm, of the chances of wind, of the look of the sky, when there
came a sudden plop, like a rising salmon, and there, in the clear light,
John Vansittart sprang out of the water and looked up at us.
I never saw anything clearer in my life than I saw that man. The moon
shone full upon him, and he was but three oars' lengths away. His face
was more puffed than when I had seen him last, mottled here and there
with dark scabs, his mouth and eyes open as one who is struck with
some overpowering surprise. He had some white stuff streaming from his
shoulders, and one hand was raised to his ear, the other crooked across
his breast. I saw him leap from the water into the air, and in the dead
calm the waves of his coming lapped up against the sides of the vessel.
Then his figure sank back into the water again, and I heard a rending,
crackling sound like a bundle of brushwood snapping in the fire on a
frosty night. There were no signs of him when I looked again, but a
swift swirl and eddy on the still sea still marked the spot where he had
been. How long I stood there, tingling to my finger-tips, holding up
an unconscious woman with one hand, clutching at the rail of the vessel
with the other, was more than I could afterwards tell. I had been noted
as a man of-slow and unresponsive emotions, but this time at least I was
shaken to the core. Once and twice I struck my foot upon the deck to be
certain that I was indeed the master of my own senses, and that this was
not some mad prank of an unruly brain. As I stood, still marvelling, the
woman shivered, opened her eyes, gasped, and then standing erect with
her hands upon the rail, looked out over the moonlit sea with a face
which had aged ten years in a summer night.
"You saw his vision?" she murmured.
"I saw something."
"It was he! It was John! He is dead!"
I muttered some lame words of doubt.
"Doubtless he died at this hour," she whispered. "In hospital at
Madeira. I have read of such things. His thoughts were with me. His
vision came to me. Oh, my John, my dear, dear, lost John!"
She broke out suddenly into a storm of weeping, and I led her down into
her cabin, where I left her with her sorrow. That night a brisk breeze
blew up from the east, and in the evening of the next day we passed the
two islets of Los Desertos, and dropped anchor at sundown in the Bay
of Funchal. The _Eastern Star_ lay no great distance from us, with the
quarantine flag flying from her main, and her Jack half-way up her peak.
"You see," said Mrs. Vansittart, quickly. She was dry-eyed now, for she
had known how it would be.
That night we received permission from the authorities to move on board
the _Eastern Star_. The captain, Hines, was waiting upon deck with
confusion and grief contending upon his bluff face as he sought for
words with which to break this heavy tidings, but she took the story
from his lips.
"I know that my husband is dead," she said. "He died yesterday night,
about ten o'clock, in hospital at Madeira, did he not?"
The seaman stared aghast. "No, marm, he died eight days ago at sea, and
we had to bury him out there, for we lay in a belt of calm, and could
not say when we might make the land."
Well, those are the main facts about the death of John Vansittart, and
his appearance to his wife somewhere about lat. 35 N. and long. 15 W. A
clearer case of a wraith has seldom been made out, and since then it has
been told as such, and put into print as such, and endorsed by a learned
society as such, and so floated off with many others to support the
recent theory of telepathy. For myself, I hold telepathy to be proved,
but I would snatch this one case from amid the evidence, and say that
I do not think that it was the wraith of John Vansittart, but John
Vansittart himself whom we saw that night leaping into the moonlight
out of the depths of the Atlantic. It has ever been my belief that some
strange chance--one of those chances which seem so improbable and yet so
constantly occur--had becalmed us over the very spot where the man had
been buried a week before. For the rest, the surgeon tells me that the
leaden weight was not too firmly fixed, and that seven days bring about
changes which fetch a body to the surface. Coming from the depth to
which the weight would have sunk it, he explains that it might well
attain such a velocity as to carry it clear of the water. Such is my
own explanation of the matter, and if you ask me what then became of
the body, I must recall to you that snapping, crackling sound, with the
swirl in the water. The shark is a surface feeder and is plentiful in
THE GREAT BROWN-PERICORD MOTOR
It was a cold, foggy, dreary evening in May. Along the Strand blurred
patches of light marked the position of the lamps. The flaring shop
windows flickered vaguely with steamy brightness through the thick and
The high lines of houses which lead down to the Embankment were all
dark and deserted, or illuminated only by the glimmering lamp of the
caretaker. At one point, however, there shone out from three windows
upon the second floor a rich flood of light, which broke the sombre
monotony of the terrace. Passers-by glanced up curiously, and drew each
other's attention to the ruddy glare, for it marked the chambers of
Francis Pericord, the inventor and electrical engineer. Long into the
watches of the night the gleam of his lamps bore witness to the untiring
energy and restless industry which was rapidly carrying him to the first
rank in his profession.
Within the chamber sat two men. The one was Pericord himself--hawk-faced
and angular, with the black hair and brisk bearing which spoke of his
Celtic origin. The other--thick, sturdy, and blue-eyed--was Jeremy
Brown, the well-known mechanician. They had been partners in many an
invention, in which the creative genius of the one had been aided by the
practical abilities of the other. It was a question among their friends
as to which was the better man.
It was no chance visit which had brought Brown into Pericord's workshop
at so late an hour. Business was to be done--business which was to
decide the failure or success of months of work, and which might affect
their whole careers. Between them lay a long brown table, stained and
corroded by strong acids, and littered with giant carboys, Faure's
accumulators, voltaic piles, coils of wire, and great blocks of
non-conducting porcelain. In the midst of all this lumber there stood
a singular whizzing, whirring machine, upon which the eyes of both
partners were riveted.
A small square metal receptacle was connected by numerous wires to
a broad steel girdle, furnished on either side with two powerful
projecting joints. The girdle was motionless, but the joints with the
short arms attached to them flashed round every few seconds, with
a pause between each rhythmic turn. The power which moved them came
evidently from the metal box. A subtle odour of ozone was in the air.
"How about the flanges, Brown?" asked the inventor.
"They were too large to bring. They are seven foot by three. There is
power enough there to work them, however. I will answer for that."
"Aluminium with an alloy of copper?"
"See how beautifully it works." Pericord stretched out a thin, nervous
hand, and pressed a button upon the machine. The joints revolved more
slowly, and came presently to a dead stop. Again he touched a spring and
the arms shivered and woke up again into their crisp metallic life. "The
experimenter need not exert his muscular powers," he remarked. "He has
only to be passive, and use his intelligence."
"Thanks to my motor," said Brown.
"_Our_ motor," the other broke in sharply.
"Oh, of course," said his colleague impatiently.
"The motor which you thought of, and which I reduced to practice--call
it what you like."
"I call it the Brown-Pericord Motor," cried the inventor with an angry
flash of his dark eyes. "You worked out the details, but the abstract
thought is mine, and mine alone."
"An abstract thought won't turn an engine," said Brown, doggedly.
"That was why I took you into partnership," the other retorted, drumming
nervously with his fingers upon the table. "I invent, you build. It is a
fair division of labour."
Brown pursed up his lips, as though by no means satisfied upon the
point. Seeing, however, that further argument was useless, he turned
his attention to the machine, which was shivering and rocking with each
swing of its arms, as though a very little more would send it skimming
from the table.
"Is it not splendid?" cried Pericord.
"It is satisfactory," said the more phlegmatic Anglo-Saxon.
"There's immortality in it!"
"There's money in it!"
"Our names will go down with Montgolfier's."
"With Rothschild's, I hope."
"No, no, Brown; you take too material a view," cried the inventor,
raising his gleaming eyes from the machine to his companion. "Our
fortunes are a mere detail. Money is a thing which every heavy-witted
plutocrat in the country shares with us. My hopes rise to something
higher than that. Our true reward will come in the gratitude and
goodwill of the human race."
Brown shrugged his shoulders. "You may have my share of that," he said.
"I am a practical man. We must test our invention."
"Where can we do it?"
"That is what I wanted to speak about. It must be absolutely secret. If
we had private grounds of our own it would be an easy matter, but there
is no privacy in London."
"We must take it into the country."
"I have a suggestion to offer," said Brown. "My brother has a place in
Sussex on the high land near Beachy Head. There is, I remember, a large
and lofty barn near the house. Will is in Scotland, but the key is
always at my disposal. Why not take the machine down tomorrow and test
it in the barn?"
"Nothing could be better."
"There is a train to Eastbourne at one."
"I shall be at the station."
"Bring the gear with you, and I will bring the flanges," said the
mechanician, rising. "Tomorrow will prove whether we have been following
a shadow, or whether fortune is at our feet. One o'clock at Victoria."
He walked swiftly down the stair and was quickly reabsorbed into the
flood of comfortless clammy humanity which ebbed and flowed along the
The morning was bright and spring-like. A pale blue sky arched over
London, with a few gauzy white clouds drifting lazily across it. At
eleven o'clock Brown might have been seen entering the Patent Office
with a great roll of parchment, diagrams, and plans under his arm. At
twelve he emerged again smiling, and, opening his pocket-book, he packed
away very carefully a small slip of official blue paper. At five minutes
to one his cab rolled into Victoria Station. Two giant canvas-covered
parcels, like enormous kites, were handed down by the cabman from the
top, and consigned to the care of a guard. On the platform Pericord was
pacing up and down, with long eager step and swinging arms, a tinge of
pink upon his sunken and sallow cheeks.
"All right?" he asked.
Brown pointed in answer to his baggage.
"I have the motor and the girdle already packed away in the guard's van.
Be careful, guard, for it is delicate machinery of great value. So! Now
we can start with an easy conscience."
At Eastbourne the precious motor was carried to a four-wheeler, and the
great flanges hoisted on the top. A long drive took them to the house
where the keys were kept, whence they set off across the barren Downs.
The building which was their destination was a commonplace white-washed
structure, with straggling stables and out-houses, standing in a grassy
hollow which sloped down from the edge of the chalk cliffs. It was a
cheerless house even when in use, but now with its smokeless chimneys
and shuttered windows it looked doubly dreary. The owner had planted a
grove of young larches and firs around it, but the sweeping spray had
blighted them, and they hung their withered heads in melancholy groups.
It was a gloomy and forbidding spot.
But the inventors were in no mood to be moved by such trifles. The
lonelier the place, the more fitted for their purpose. With the help of
the cabman they carried their packages down the footpath, and laid them
in the darkened dining-room. The sun was setting as the distant murmur
of wheels told them that they were finally alone.
Pericord had thrown open the shutters and the mellow evening light
streamed in through the discoloured windows. Brown drew a knife from his
pocket and cut the pack-thread with which the canvas was secured. As the
brown covering fell away it disclosed two great yellow metal fans. These
he leaned carefully against the wall. The girdle, the connecting-bands,
and the motor were then in turn unpacked. It was dark before all was set
out in order. A lamp was lit, and by its light the two men continued to
tighten screws, clinch rivets, and make the last preparations for their
"That finishes it," said Brown at last, stepping back and surveying the
Pericord said nothing, but his face glowed with pride and expectation.
"We must have something to eat," Brown remarked, laying out some
provisions which he had brought with him.
"No, now," said the stolid mechanician. "I am half starved." He pulled
up to the table and made a hearty meal, while his Celtic companion
strode impatiently up and down, with twitching fingers and restless
"Now then," said Brown, facing round, and brushing the crumbs from his
lap, "who is to put it on?"
"I shall," cried his companion eagerly. "What we do to-night is likely
to be historic."
"But there is some danger," suggested Brown. "We cannot quite tell how
it may act."
"That is nothing," said Pericord, with a wave of his hand.
"But there is no use our going out of our way to incur danger."
"What then? One of us must do it."
"Not at all. The motor would act equally well if attached to any
"That is true," said Pericord, thoughtfully.
"There are bricks by the barn. I have a sack here. Why should not a
bagful of them take your place?"
"It is a good idea. I see no objection."
"Come on then," and the two sallied out, bearing with them the various
sections of their machine. The moon was shining cold and clear though
an occasional ragged cloud drifted across her face. All was still and
silent upon the Downs. They stood and listened before they entered the
barn, but not a sound came to their ears, save the dull murmur of the
sea and the distant barking of a dog. Pericord journeyed backwards and
forwards with all that they might need, while Brown filled a long narrow
sack with bricks.
When all was ready, the door of the barn was closed, and the lamp
balanced upon an empty packing-case. The bag of bricks was laid upon
two trestles, and the broad steel girdle was buckled round it. Then the
great flanges, the wires, and the metal box containing the motor were
in turn attached to the girdle. Last of all a flat steel rudder, shaped
like a fish's tail, was secured to the bottom of the sack.
"We must make it travel in a small circle," said Pericord, glancing
round at the bare high walls.
"Tie the rudder down at one side," suggested Brown. "Now it is ready.
Press the connection and off she goes!"
Pericord leaned forward, his long sallow face quivering with excitement.
His white nervous hands darted here and there among the wires. Brown
stood impassive with critical eyes. There was a sharp burr from the
machine. The huge yellow wings gave a convulsive flap. Then another.
Then a third, slower and stronger, with a fuller sweep. Then a fourth
which filled the barn with a blast of driven air. At the fifth the bag
of bricks began to dance upon the trestles. At the sixth it sprang into
the air, and would have fallen to the ground, but the seventh came to
save it, and fluttered it forward through the air. Slowly rising, it
flapped heavily round in a circle, like some great clumsy bird, filling
the barn with its buzzing and whirring. In the uncertain yellow light
of the single lamp it was strange to see the loom of the ungainly thing,
flapping off into the shadows, and then circling back into the narrow
zone of light.
The two men stood for a while in silence. Then Pericord threw his long
arms up into the air.
"It acts!" he cried. "The Brown-Pericord Motor acts!" He danced about
like a madman in his delight. Brown's eyes twinkled, and he began to
"See how smoothly it goes, Brown!" cried the inventor. "And the
rudder--how well it acts! We must register it tomorrow."
His comrade's face darkened and set. "It _is_ registered," he said, with
a forced laugh.
"Registered?" said Pericord. "Registered?" He repeated the word first in
a whisper, and then in a kind of scream. "Who has dared to register my
"I did it this morning. There is nothing to be excited about. It is all
"You registered the motor! Under whose name?"
"Under my own," said Brown, sullenly. "I consider that I have the best
right to it."
"And my name does not appear?"
"You villain!" screamed Pericord. "You thief and villain! You would
steal my work! You would filch my credit! I will have that patent back
if I have to tear your throat out!" A sombre fire burned in his black
eyes, and his hands writhed themselves together with passion. Brown was
no coward, but he shrank back as the other advanced upon him.
"Keep your hands off!" he said, drawing a knife from his pocket. "I will
defend myself if you attack me."
"You threaten me?" cried Pericord, whose face was livid with anger. "You
are a bully as well as a cheat. Will you give up the patent?"
"No, I will not."
"Brown, I say, give it up!"
"I will not. I did the work."
Pericord sprang madly forward with blazing eyes and clutching fingers.
His companion writhed out of his grasp, but was dashed against the
packing-case, over which he fell. The lamp was extinguished, and the
whole barn plunged into darkness. A single ray of moonlight shining
through a narrow chink flickered over the great waving fans as they came
"Will you give up the patent, Brown?"
There was no answer.
"Will you give it up?"
Again no answer. Not a sound save the humming and creaking overhead.
A cold pang of fear and doubt struck through Pericord's heart. He felt
aimlessly about in the dark and his fingers closed upon a hand. It was
cold and unresponsive. With all his anger turned to icy horror he struck
a match, set the lamp up, and lit it.
Brown lay huddled up on the other side of the packing-case. Pericord
seized him in his arms, and with convulsive strength lifted him across.
Then the mystery of his silence was explained. He had fallen with his
right arms doubled up under him, and his own weight had driven the knife
deeply into his body. He had died without a groan. The tragedy had been
sudden, horrible, and complete.
Pericord sat silently on the edge of the case, staring blankly down, and
shivering like one with the ague, while the great Brown-Pericord Motor
boomed and hurtled above him. How long he sat there can never be known.
It might have been minutes or it might have been hours. A thousand mad
schemes flashed through his dazed brain. It was true that he had been
only the indirect cause. But who would believe that? He glanced down at
his blood-spattered clothing. Everything was against him. It would be
better to fly than to give himself up, relying upon his innocence. No
one in London knew where they were. If he could dispose of the body he
might have a few days clear before any suspicion would be aroused.
Suddenly a loud crash recalled him to himself. The flying sack had
gradually risen with each successive circle until it had struck against
the rafters. The blow displaced the connecting-gear, and the machine
fell heavily to the ground. Pericord undid the girdle. The motor was
uninjured. A sudden strange thought flashed upon him as he looked at it.
The machine had become hateful to him. He might dispose both of it and
the body in a way that would baffle all human search.
He threw open the barn door, and carried his companion out into the
moonlight. There was a hillock outside, and on the summit of this he
laid him reverently down. Then he brought from the barn the motor, the
girdle and the flanges. With trembling fingers he fastened the broad
steel belt round the dead man's waist. Then he screwed the wings into
the sockets. Beneath he slung the motor-box, fastened the wires, and
switched on the connection. For a minute or two the huge yellow fans
flapped and flickered. Then the body began to move in little jumps down
the side of the hillock, gathering a gradual momentum, until at last it
heaved up into the air and soared off in the moonlight. He had not used
the rudder, but had turned the head for the south. Gradually the weird
thing rose higher, and sped faster, until it had passed over the line of
cliff, and was sweeping over the silent sea. Pericord watched it with
a white drawn face, until it looked like a black bird with golden wings
half shrouded in the mist which lay over the waters.
In the New York State Lunatic Asylum there is a wild-eyed man whose name
and birth-place are alike unknown. His reason has been unseated by some
sudden shock, the doctors say, though of what nature they are unable to
determine. "It is the most delicate machine which is most readily put
out of gear," they remark, and point, in proof of their axiom, to the
complicated electric engines, and remarkable aeronautic machines which
the patient is fond of devising in his more lucid moments.
THE TERROR OF BLUE JOHN GAP
The following narrative was found among the papers of Dr. James
Hardcastle, who died of phthisis on February 4th, 1908, at 36, Upper
Coventry Flats, South Kensington. Those who knew him best, while
refusing to express an opinion upon this particular statement, are
unanimous in asserting that he was a man of a sober and scientific turn
of mind, absolutely devoid of imagination, and most unlikely to invent
any abnormal series of events. The paper was contained in an envelope,
which was docketed, "A Short Account of the Circumstances which occurred
near Miss Allerton's Farm in North-West Derbyshire in the Spring of Last
Year." The envelope was sealed, and on the other side was written in
"It may interest, and perhaps pain you, to know that the incredulity
with which you met my story has prevented me from ever opening my mouth
upon the subject again. I leave this record after my death, and perhaps
strangers may be found to have more confidence in me than my friend."
Inquiry has failed to elicit who this Seaton may have been. I may add
that the visit of the deceased to Allerton's Farm, and the general
nature of the alarm there, apart from his particular explanation, have
been absolutely established. With this foreword I append his account
exactly as he left it. It is in the form of a diary, some entries in
which have been expanded, while a few have been erased.
April 17.--Already I feel the benefit of this wonderful upland air.
The farm of the Allertons lies fourteen hundred and twenty feet above
sea-level, so it may well be a bracing climate. Beyond the usual morning
cough I have very little discomfort, and, what with the fresh milk and
the home-grown mutton, I have every chance of putting on weight. I think
Saunderson will be pleased.
The two Miss Allertons are charmingly quaint and kind, two dear little
hard-working old maids, who are ready to lavish all the heart which
might have gone out to husband and to children upon an invalid stranger.
Truly, the old maid is a most useful person, one of the reserve forces
of the community. They talk of the superfluous woman, but what would
the poor superfluous man do without her kindly presence? By the way,
in their simplicity they very quickly let out the reason why Saunderson
recommended their farm. The Professor rose from the ranks himself, and
I believe that in his youth he was not above scaring crows in these very
It is a most lonely spot, and the walks are picturesque in the extreme.
The farm consists of grazing land lying at the bottom of an irregular
valley. On each side are the fantastic limestone hills, formed of rock
so soft that you can break it away with your hands. All this country is
hollow. Could you strike it with some gigantic hammer it would boom like
a drum, or possibly cave in altogether and expose some huge subterranean
sea. A great sea there must surely be, for on all sides the streams run
into the mountain itself, never to reappear. There are gaps everywhere
amid the rocks, and when you pass through them you find yourself in
great caverns, which wind down into the bowels of the earth. I have a
small bicycle lamp, and it is a perpetual joy to me to carry it into
these weird solitudes, and to see the wonderful silver and black effect
when I throw its light upon the stalactites which drape the lofty roofs.
Shut off the lamp, and you are in the blackest darkness. Turn it on, and
it is a scene from the Arabian Nights.
But there is one of these strange openings in the earth which has a
special interest, for it is the handiwork, not of nature, but of man. I
had never heard of Blue John when I came to these parts. It is the name
given to a peculiar mineral of a beautiful purple shade, which is only
found at one or two places in the world. It is so rare that an ordinary
vase of Blue John would be valued at a great price. The Romans, with
that extraordinary instinct of theirs, discovered that it was to be
found in this valley, and sank a horizontal shaft deep into the mountain
side. The opening of their mine has been called Blue John Gap, a
clean-cut arch in the rock, the mouth all overgrown with bushes. It is
a goodly passage which the Roman miners have cut, and it intersects some
of the great water-worn caves, so that if you enter Blue John Gap you
would do well to mark your steps and to have a good store of candles, or
you may never make your way back to the daylight again. I have not
yet gone deeply into it, but this very day I stood at the mouth of the
arched tunnel, and peering down into the black recesses beyond, I vowed
that when my health returned I would devote some holiday to exploring
those mysterious depths and finding out for myself how far the Roman had
penetrated into the Derbyshire hills.
Strange how superstitious these countrymen are! I should have thought
better of young Armitage, for he is a man of some education and
character, and a very fine fellow for his station in life. I was
standing at the Blue John Gap when he came across the field to me.
"Well, doctor," said he, "you're not afraid, anyhow."
"Afraid!" I answered. "Afraid of what?"
"Of it," said he, with a jerk of his thumb towards the black vault, "of
the Terror that lives in the Blue John Cave."
How absurdly easy it is for a legend to arise in a lonely countryside! I
examined him as to the reasons for his weird belief. It seems that from
time to time sheep have been missing from the fields, carried bodily
away, according to Armitage. That they could have wandered away of their
own accord and disappeared among the mountains was an explanation to
which he would not listen. On one occasion a pool of blood had been
found, and some tufts of wool. That also, I pointed out, could be
explained in a perfectly natural way. Further, the nights upon which
sheep disappeared were invariably very dark, cloudy nights with no moon.
This I met with the obvious retort that those were the nights which a
commonplace sheep-stealer would naturally choose for his work. On one
occasion a gap had been made in a wall, and some of the stones scattered
for a considerable distance. Human agency again, in my opinion. Finally,
Armitage clinched all his arguments by telling me that he had actually
heard the Creature--indeed, that anyone could hear it who remained long
enough at the Gap. It was a distant roaring of an immense volume.
I could not but smile at this, knowing, as I do, the strange
reverberations which come out of an underground water system running
amid the chasms of a limestone formation. My incredulity annoyed
Armitage, so that he turned and left me with some abruptness.
And now comes the queer point about the whole business. I was still
standing near the mouth of the cave turning over in my mind the various
statements of Armitage, and reflecting how readily they could be
explained away, when suddenly, from the depth of the tunnel beside me,
there issued a most extraordinary sound. How shall I describe it? First
of all it seemed to be a great distance away, far down in the bowels
of the earth. Secondly, in spite of this suggestion of distance, it was
very loud. Lastly, it was not a boom, nor a crash, such as one would
associate with falling water or tumbling rock, but it was a high whine,
tremulous and vibrating, almost like the whinnying of a horse. It was
certainly a most remarkable experience, and one which for a moment, I
must admit, gave a new significance to Armitage's words. I waited by the
Blue John Gap for half an hour or more, but there was no return of the
sound, so at last I wandered back to the farmhouse, rather mystified
by what had occurred. Decidedly I shall explore that cavern when my
strength is restored. Of course, Armitage's explanation is too absurd
for discussion, and yet that sound was certainly very strange. It still
rings in my ears as I write.
April 20.--In the last three days I have made several expeditions to
the Blue John Gap, and have even penetrated some short distance, but my
bicycle lantern is so small and weak that I dare not trust myself very
far. I shall do the thing more systematically. I have heard no sound
at all, and could almost believe that I had been the victim of some
hallucination, suggested, perhaps, by Armitage's conversation. Of
course, the whole idea is absurd, and yet I must confess that those
bushes at the entrance of the cave do present an appearance as if some
heavy creature had forced its way through them. I begin to be keenly
interested. I have said nothing to the Miss Allertons, for they are
quite superstitious enough already, but I have bought some candles, and
mean to investigate for myself.
I observed this morning that among the numerous tufts of sheep's wool
which lay among the bushes near the cavern there was one which was
smeared with blood. Of course, my reason tells me that if sheep wander
into such rocky places they are likely to injure themselves, and yet
somehow that splash of crimson gave me a sudden shock, and for a moment
I found myself shrinking back in horror from the old Roman arch. A fetid
breath seemed to ooze from the black depths into which I peered. Could
it indeed be possible that some nameless thing, some dreadful presence,
was lurking down yonder? I should have been incapable of such feelings
in the days of my strength, but one grows more nervous and fanciful when
one's health is shaken.
For the moment I weakened in my resolution, and was ready to leave the
secret of the old mine, if one exists, for ever unsolved. But tonight my
interest has returned and my nerves grown more steady. Tomorrow I trust
that I shall have gone more deeply into this matter.
April 22.--Let me try and set down as accurately as I can my
extraordinary experience of yesterday. I started in the afternoon, and
made my way to the Blue John Gap. I confess that my misgivings returned
as I gazed into its depths, and I wished that I had brought a companion
to share my exploration. Finally, with a return of resolution, I lit my
candle, pushed my way through the briars, and descended into the rocky
It went down at an acute angle for some fifty feet, the floor being
covered with broken stone. Thence there extended a long, straight
passage cut in the solid rock. I am no geologist, but the lining of this
corridor was certainly of some harder material than limestone, for there
were points where I could actually see the tool-marks which the old
miners had left in their excavation, as fresh as if they had been done
yesterday. Down this strange, old-world corridor I stumbled, my feeble
flame throwing a dim circle of light around me, which made the shadows
beyond the more threatening and obscure. Finally, I came to a spot where
the Roman tunnel opened into a water-worn cavern--a huge hall, hung with
long white icicles of lime deposit. From this central chamber I could
dimly perceive that a number of passages worn by the subterranean
streams wound away into the depths of the earth. I was standing there
wondering whether I had better return, or whether I dare venture farther
into this dangerous labyrinth, when my eyes fell upon something at my
feet which strongly arrested my attention.
The greater part of the floor of the cavern was covered with boulders
of rock or with hard incrustations of lime, but at this particular point
there had been a drip from the distant roof, which had left a patch
of soft mud. In the very centre of this there was a huge mark--an
ill-defined blotch, deep, broad and irregular, as if a great boulder had
fallen upon it. No loose stone lay near, however, nor was there anything
to account for the impression. It was far too large to be caused by any
possible animal, and besides, there was only the one, and the patch of
mud was of such a size that no reasonable stride could have covered it.
As I rose from the examination of that singular mark and then looked
round into the black shadows which hemmed me in, I must confess that I
felt for a moment a most unpleasant sinking of my heart, and that, do
what I could, the candle trembled in my outstretched hand.
I soon recovered my nerve, however, when I reflected how absurd it was
to associate so huge and shapeless a mark with the track of any known
animal. Even an elephant could not have produced it. I determined,
therefore, that I would not be scared by vague and senseless fears from
carrying out my exploration. Before proceeding, I took good note of
a curious rock formation in the wall by which I could recognize the
entrance of the Roman tunnel. The precaution was very necessary, for
the great cave, so far as I could see it, was intersected by passages.
Having made sure of my position, and reassured myself by examining
my spare candles and my matches, I advanced slowly over the rocky and
uneven surface of the cavern.
And now I come to the point where I met with such sudden and desperate
disaster. A stream, some twenty feet broad, ran across my path, and I
walked for some little distance along the bank to find a spot where I
could cross dry-shod. Finally, I came to a place where a single flat
boulder lay near the centre, which I could reach in a stride. As it
chanced, however, the rock had been cut away and made top-heavy by the
rush of the stream, so that it tilted over as I landed on it and shot
me into the ice-cold water. My candle went out, and I found myself
floundering about in utter and absolute darkness.
I staggered to my feet again, more amused than alarmed by my adventure.
The candle had fallen from my hand, and was lost in the stream, but I
had two others in my pocket, so that it was of no importance. I got one
of them ready, and drew out my box of matches to light it. Only then
did I realize my position. The box had been soaked in my fall into the
river. It was impossible to strike the matches.
A cold hand seemed to close round my heart as I realized my position.
The darkness was opaque and horrible. It was so utter that one put one's
hand up to one's face as if to press off something solid. I stood still,
and by an effort I steadied myself. I tried to reconstruct in my mind a
map of the floor of the cavern as I had last seen it. Alas! the bearings
which had impressed themselves upon my mind were high on the wall, and
not to be found by touch. Still, I remembered in a general way how the
sides were situated, and I hoped that by groping my way along them I
should at last come to the opening of the Roman tunnel. Moving very
slowly, and continually striking against the rocks, I set out on this
But I very soon realized how impossible it was. In that black, velvety
darkness one lost all one's bearings in an instant. Before I had made a
dozen paces, I was utterly bewildered as to my whereabouts. The rippling
of the stream, which was the one sound audible, showed me where it lay,
but the moment that I left its bank I was utterly lost. The idea
of finding my way back in absolute darkness through that limestone
labyrinth was clearly an impossible one.
I sat down upon a boulder and reflected upon my unfortunate plight. I
had not told anyone that I proposed to come to the Blue John mine, and
it was unlikely that a search party would come after me. Therefore I
must trust to my own resources to get clear of the danger. There was
only one hope, and that was that the matches might dry. When I fell into
the river, only half of me had got thoroughly wet. My left shoulder had
remained above the water. I took the box of matches, therefore, and put
it into my left armpit. The moist air of the cavern might possibly be
counteracted by the heat of my body, but even so, I knew that I could
not hope to get a light for many hours. Meanwhile there was nothing for
it but to wait.
By good luck I had slipped several biscuits into my pocket before I
left the farm-house. These I now devoured, and washed them down with
a draught from that wretched stream which had been the cause of all my
misfortunes. Then I felt about for a comfortable seat among the rocks,
and, having discovered a place where I could get a support for my
back, I stretched out my legs and settled myself down to wait. I
was wretchedly damp and cold, but I tried to cheer myself with the
reflection that modern science prescribed open windows and walks in all
weather for my disease. Gradually, lulled by the monotonous gurgle of
the stream, and by the absolute darkness, I sank into an uneasy slumber.
How long this lasted I cannot say. It may have been for an hour, it may
have been for several. Suddenly I sat up on my rock couch, with every
nerve thrilling and every sense acutely on the alert. Beyond all doubt
I had heard a sound--some sound very distinct from the gurgling of the
waters. It had passed, but the reverberation of it still lingered in my
ear. Was it a search party? They would most certainly have shouted, and
vague as this sound was which had wakened me, it was very distinct from
the human voice. I sat palpitating and hardly daring to breathe.
There it was again! And again! Now it had become continuous. It was a
tread--yes, surely it was the tread of some living creature. But what a
tread it was! It gave one the impression of enormous weight carried upon
sponge-like feet, which gave forth a muffled but ear-filling sound.
The darkness was as complete as ever, but the tread was regular and
decisive. And it was coming beyond all question in my direction.
My skin grew cold, and my hair stood on end as I listened to that steady
and ponderous footfall. There was some creature there, and surely by the
speed of its advance, it was one which could see in the dark. I crouched
low on my rock and tried to blend myself into it. The steps grew nearer
still, then stopped, and presently I was aware of a loud lapping and
gurgling. The creature was drinking at the stream. Then again there was
silence, broken by a succession of long sniffs and snorts of tremendous
volume and energy. Had it caught the scent of me? My own nostrils were
filled by a low fetid odour, mephitic and abominable. Then I heard the
steps again. They were on my side of the stream now. The stones rattled
within a few yards of where I lay. Hardly daring to breathe, I crouched
upon my rock. Then the steps drew away. I heard the splash as it
returned across the river, and the sound died away into the distance in
the direction from which it had come.
For a long time I lay upon the rock, too much horrified to move. I
thought of the sound which I had heard coming from the depths of the
cave, of Armitage's fears, of the strange impression in the mud, and
now came this final and absolute proof that there was indeed some
inconceivable monster, something utterly unearthly and dreadful, which
lurked in the hollow of the mountain. Of its nature or form I could
frame no conception, save that it was both light-footed and gigantic.
The combat between my reason, which told me that such things could not
be, and my senses, which told me that they were, raged within me as I
lay. Finally, I was almost ready to persuade myself that this experience
had been part of some evil dream, and that my abnormal condition
might have conjured up an hallucination. But there remained one final
experience which removed the last possibility of doubt from my mind.
I had taken my matches from my armpit and felt them. They seemed
perfectly hard and dry. Stooping down into a crevice of the rocks, I
tried one of them. To my delight it took fire at once. I lit the candle,
and, with a terrified backward glance into the obscure depths of the
cavern, I hurried in the direction of the Roman passage. As I did so
I passed the patch of mud on which I had seen the huge imprint. Now I
stood astonished before it, for there were three similar imprints upon
its surface, enormous in size, irregular in outline, of a depth which
indicated the ponderous weight which had left them. Then a great terror
surged over me. Stooping and shading my candle with my hand, I ran in a
frenzy of fear to the rocky archway, hastened up it, and never stopped
until, with weary feet and panting lungs, I rushed up the final slope of
stones, broke through the tangle of briars, and flung myself exhausted
upon the soft grass under the peaceful light of the stars. It was
three in the morning when I reached the farm-house, and today I am all
unstrung and quivering after my terrific adventure. As yet I have told
no one. I must move warily in the matter. What would the poor lonely
women, or the uneducated yokels here think of it if I were to tell them
my experience? Let me go to someone who can understand and advise.
April 25.--I was laid up in bed for two days after my incredible
adventure in the cavern. I use the adjective with a very definite
meaning, for I have had an experience since which has shocked me almost
as much as the other. I have said that I was looking round for someone
who could advise me. There is a Dr. Mark Johnson who practices some
few miles away, to whom I had a note of recommendation from Professor
Saunderson. To him I drove, when I was strong enough to get about, and I
recounted to him my whole strange experience. He listened intently, and
then carefully examined me, paying special attention to my reflexes and
to the pupils of my eyes. When he had finished, he refused to discuss
my adventure, saying that it was entirely beyond him, but he gave me
the card of a Mr. Picton at Castleton, with the advice that I should
instantly go to him and tell him the story exactly as I had done
to himself. He was, according to my adviser, the very man who was
pre-eminently suited to help me. I went on to the station, therefore,
and made my way to the little town, which is some ten miles away.
Mr. Picton appeared to be a man of importance, as his brass plate was
displayed upon the door of a considerable building on the outskirts of
the town. I was about to ring his bell, when some misgiving came into my
mind, and, crossing to a neighbouring shop, I asked the man behind the
counter if he could tell me anything of Mr. Picton. "Why," said he, "he
is the best mad doctor in Derbyshire, and yonder is his asylum." You can
imagine that it was not long before I had shaken the dust of Castleton
from my feet and returned to the farm, cursing all unimaginative pedants
who cannot conceive that there may be things in creation which have
never yet chanced to come across their mole's vision. After all,
now that I am cooler, I can afford to admit that I have been no more
sympathetic to Armitage than Dr. Johnson has been to me.
April 27. When I was a student I had the reputation of being a man of
courage and enterprise. I remember that when there was a ghost-hunt at
Coltbridge it was I who sat up in the haunted house. Is it advancing
years (after all, I am only thirty-five), or is it this physical malady
which has caused degeneration? Certainly my heart quails when I think
of that horrible cavern in the hill, and the certainty that it has some
monstrous occupant. What shall I do? There is not an hour in the day
that I do not debate the question. If I say nothing, then the mystery
remains unsolved. If I do say anything, then I have the alternative of
mad alarm over the whole countryside, or of absolute incredulity which
may end in consigning me to an asylum. On the whole, I think that my
best course is to wait, and to prepare for some expedition which shall
be more deliberate and better thought out than the last. As a first
step I have been to Castleton and obtained a few essentials--a large
acetylene lantern for one thing, and a good double-barrelled sporting
rifle for another. The latter I have hired, but I have bought a dozen
heavy game cartridges, which would bring down a rhinoceros. Now I am
ready for my troglodyte friend. Give me better health and a little spate
of energy, and I shall try conclusions with him yet. But who and what is
he? Ah! there is the question which stands between me and my sleep.
How many theories do I form, only to discard each in turn! It is all
so utterly unthinkable. And yet the cry, the footmark, the tread in
the cavern--no reasoning can get past these. I think of the old-world
legends of dragons and of other monsters. Were they, perhaps, not such
fairy-tales as we have thought? Can it be that there is some fact which
underlies them, and am I, of all mortals, the one who is chosen to
May 3.--For several days I have been laid up by the vagaries of an
English spring, and during those days there have been developments, the
true and sinister meaning of which no one can appreciate save myself.
I may say that we have had cloudy and moonless nights of late,
which according to my information were the seasons upon which sheep
disappeared. Well, sheep _have_ disappeared. Two of Miss Allerton's, one
of old Pearson's of the Cat Walk, and one of Mrs. Moulton's. Four in
all during three nights. No trace is left of them at all, and the
countryside is buzzing with rumours of gipsies and of sheep-stealers.
But there is something more serious than that. Young Armitage has
disappeared also. He left his moorland cottage early on Wednesday night
and has never been heard of since. He was an unattached man, so there is
less sensation than would otherwise be the case. The popular explanation
is that he owes money, and has found a situation in some other part of
the country, whence he will presently write for his belongings. But
I have grave misgivings. Is it not much more likely that the recent
tragedy of the sheep has caused him to take some steps which may have
ended in his own destruction? He may, for example, have lain in wait
for the creature and been carried off by it into the recesses of the
mountains. What an inconceivable fate for a civilized Englishman of the
twentieth century! And yet I feel that it is possible and even probable.
But in that case, how far am I answerable both for his death and for
any other mishap which may occur? Surely with the knowledge I already
possess it must be my duty to see that something is done, or if
necessary to do it myself. It must be the latter, for this morning I
went down to the local police-station and told my story. The inspector
entered it all in a large book and bowed me out with commendable
gravity, but I heard a burst of laughter before I had got down his
garden path. No doubt he was recounting my adventure to his family.
June 10.--I am writing this, propped up in bed, six weeks after my last
entry in this journal. I have gone through a terrible shock both to mind
and body, arising from such an experience as has seldom befallen a human
being before. But I have attained my end. The danger from the Terror
which dwells in the Blue John Gap has passed never to return. Thus much
at least I, a broken invalid, have done for the common good. Let me now
recount what occurred as clearly as I may.
The night of Friday, May 3rd, was dark and cloudy--the very night for
the monster to walk. About eleven o'clock I went from the farm-house
with my lantern and my rifle, having first left a note upon the table
of my bedroom in which I said that, if I were missing, search should be
made for me in the direction of the Gap. I made my way to the mouth of
the Roman shaft, and, having perched myself among the rocks close to the
opening, I shut off my lantern and waited patiently with my loaded rifle
ready to my hand.
It was a melancholy vigil. All down the winding valley I could see
the scattered lights of the farm-houses, and the church clock of
Chapel-le-Dale tolling the hours came faintly to my ears. These tokens
of my fellow-men served only to make my own position seem the more
lonely, and to call for a greater effort to overcome the terror which
tempted me continually to get back to the farm, and abandon for ever
this dangerous quest. And yet there lies deep in every man a rooted
self-respect which makes it hard for him to turn back from that which
he has once undertaken. This feeling of personal pride was my salvation
now, and it was that alone which held me fast when every instinct of my
nature was dragging me away. I am glad now that I had the strength. In
spite of all that is has cost me, my manhood is at least above reproach.
Twelve o'clock struck in the distant church, then one, then two. It was
the darkest hour of the night. The clouds were drifting low, and there
was not a star in the sky. An owl was hooting somewhere among the rocks,
but no other sound, save the gentle sough of the wind, came to my ears.
And then suddenly I heard it! From far away down the tunnel came those
muffled steps, so soft and yet so ponderous. I heard also the rattle of
stones as they gave way under that giant tread. They drew nearer.
They were close upon me. I heard the crashing of the bushes round the
entrance, and then dimly through the darkness I was conscious of the
loom of some enormous shape, some monstrous inchoate creature, passing
swiftly and very silently out from the tunnel. I was paralysed with fear
and amazement. Long as I had waited, now that it had actually come I was
unprepared for the shock. I lay motionless and breathless, whilst the
great dark mass whisked by me and was swallowed up in the night.
But now I nerved myself for its return. No sound came from the sleeping
countryside to tell of the horror which was loose. In no way could I
judge how far off it was, what it was doing, or when it might be back.
But not a second time should my nerve fail me, not a second time should
it pass unchallenged. I swore it between my clenched teeth as I laid my
cocked rifle across the rock.
And yet it nearly happened. There was no warning of approach now as the
creature passed over the grass. Suddenly, like a dark, drifting shadow,
the huge bulk loomed up once more before me, making for the entrance of
the cave. Again came that paralysis of volition which held my crooked
forefinger impotent upon the trigger. But with a desperate effort I
shook it off. Even as the brushwood rustled, and the monstrous beast
blended with the shadow of the Gap, I fired at the retreating form.
In the blaze of the gun I caught a glimpse of a great shaggy mass,
something with rough and bristling hair of a withered grey colour,
fading away to white in its lower parts, the huge body supported upon
short, thick, curving legs. I had just that glance, and then I heard the
rattle of the stones as the creature tore down into its burrow. In an
instant, with a triumphant revulsion of feeling, I had cast my fears to
the wind, and uncovering my powerful lantern, with my rifle in my hand,
I sprang down from my rock and rushed after the monster down the old
My splendid lamp cast a brilliant flood of vivid light in front of me,
very different from the yellow glimmer which had aided me down the
same passage only twelve days before. As I ran, I saw the great beast
lurching along before me, its huge bulk filling up the whole space from
wall to wall. Its hair looked like coarse faded oakum, and hung down
in long, dense masses which swayed as it moved. It was like an enormous
unclipped sheep in its fleece, but in size it was far larger than the
largest elephant, and its breadth seemed to be nearly as great as its
height. It fills me with amazement now to think that I should have dared
to follow such a horror into the bowels of the earth, but when one's
blood is up, and when one's quarry seems to be flying, the old primeval
hunting-spirit awakes and prudence is cast to the wind. Rifle in hand, I
ran at the top of my speed upon the trail of the monster.
I had seen that the creature was swift. Now I was to find out to my
cost that it was also very cunning. I had imagined that it was in panic
flight, and that I had only to pursue it. The idea that it might turn
upon me never entered my excited brain. I have already explained that
the passage down which I was racing opened into a great central cave.
Into this I rushed, fearful lest I should lose all trace of the beast.
But he had turned upon his own traces, and in a moment we were face to
That picture, seen in the brilliant white light of the lantern, is
etched for ever upon my brain. He had reared up on his hind legs as a
bear would do, and stood above me, enormous, menacing--such a creature
as no nightmare had ever brought to my imagination. I have said that
he reared like a bear, and there was something bear-like--if one could
conceive a bear which was ten-fold the bulk of any bear seen upon
earth--in his whole pose and attitude, in his great crooked forelegs
with their ivory-white claws, in his rugged skin, and in his red, gaping
mouth, fringed with monstrous fangs. Only in one point did he differ
from the bear, or from any other creature which walks the earth, and
even at that supreme moment a shudder of horror passed over me as I
observed that the eyes which glistened in the glow of my lantern were
huge, projecting bulbs, white and sightless. For a moment his great paws
swung over my head. The next he fell forward upon me, I and my broken
lantern crashed to the earth, and I remember no more.
When I came to myself I was back in the farm-house of the Allertons.
Two days had passed since my terrible adventure in the Blue John Gap. It
seems that I had lain all night in the cave insensible from concussion
of the brain, with my left arm and two ribs badly fractured. In the
morning my note had been found, a search party of a dozen farmers
assembled, and I had been tracked down and carried back to my bedroom,
where I had lain in high delirium ever since. There was, it seems, no
sign of the creature, and no bloodstain which would show that my bullet
had found him as he passed. Save for my own plight and the marks upon
the mud, there was nothing to prove that what I said was true.
Six weeks have now elapsed, and I am able to sit out once more in the
sunshine. Just opposite me is the steep hillside, grey with shaly rock,
and yonder on its flank is the dark cleft which marks the opening of
the Blue John Gap. But it is no longer a source of terror. Never again
through that ill-omened tunnel shall any strange shape flit out into the
world of men. The educated and the scientific, the Dr. Johnsons and the
like, may smile at my narrative, but the poorer folk of the countryside
had never a doubt as to its truth. On the day after my recovering
consciousness they assembled in their hundreds round the Blue John Gap.
As the _Castleton Courier_ said:
"It was useless for our correspondent, or for any of the adventurous
gentlemen who had come from Matlock, Buxton, and other parts, to offer
to descend, to explore the cave to the end, and to finally test the
extraordinary narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle. The country people had
taken the matter into their own hands, and from an early hour of the
morning they had worked hard in stopping up the entrance of the tunnel.
There is a sharp slope where the shaft begins, and great boulders,
rolled along by many willing hands, were thrust down it until the
Gap was absolutely sealed. So ends the episode which has caused such
excitement throughout the country. Local opinion is fiercely
divided upon the subject. On the one hand are those who point to Dr.
Hardcastle's impaired health, and to the possibility of cerebral lesions
of tubercular origin giving rise to strange hallucinations. Some _idee
fixe_, according to these gentlemen, caused the doctor to wander down
the tunnel, and a fall among the rocks was sufficient to account for his
injuries. On the other hand, a legend of a strange creature in the
Gap has existed for some months back, and the farmers look upon
Dr. Hardcastle's narrative and his personal injuries as a final
corroboration. So the matter stands, and so the matter will continue
to stand, for no definite solution seems to us to be now possible. It
transcends human wit to give any scientific explanation which could
cover the alleged facts."
Perhaps before the _Courier_ published these words they would have been
wise to send their representative to me. I have thought the matter out,
as no one else has occasion to do, and it is possible that I might
have removed some of the more obvious difficulties of the narrative and
brought it one degree nearer to scientific acceptance. Let me then write
down the only explanation which seems to me to elucidate what I know to
my cost to have been a series of facts. My theory may seem to be
wildly improbable, but at least no one can venture to say that it is
My view is--and it was formed, as is shown by my diary, before my
personal adventure--that in this part of England there is a vast
subterranean lake or sea, which is fed by the great number of streams
which pass down through the limestone. Where there is a large collection
of water there must also be some evaporation, mists or rain, and a
possibility of vegetation. This in turn suggests that there may be
animal life, arising, as the vegetable life would also do, from those
seeds and types which had been introduced at an early period of the
world's history, when communication with the outer air was more easy.
This place had then developed a fauna and flora of its own, including
such monsters as the one which I had seen, which may well have been the
old cave-bear, enormously enlarged and modified by its new environment.
For countless aeons the internal and the external creation had kept
apart, growing steadily away from each other. Then there had come some
rift in the depths of the mountain which had enabled one creature to
wander up and, by means of the Roman tunnel, to reach the open air. Like
all subterranean life, it had lost the power of sight, but this had no
doubt been compensated for by nature in other directions. Certainly it
had some means of finding its way about, and of hunting down the sheep
upon the hillside. As to its choice of dark nights, it is part of my
theory that light was painful to those great white eyeballs, and that it
was only a pitch-black world which it could tolerate. Perhaps, indeed,
it was the glare of my lantern which saved my life at that awful moment
when we were face to face. So I read the riddle. I leave these facts
behind me, and if you can explain them, do so; or if you choose to doubt
them, do so. Neither your belief nor your incredulity can alter them,
nor affect one whose task is nearly over.
So ended the strange narrative of Dr. James Hardcastle.